Monday, 27 June 2016

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour

by Kate Fox

Long, long time ago, when I was still living and working in England, I bought this book in an Oxfam shop. I loved it so much, I told all my office mates that, if they want to understand anything about the country they live, they have to read it. So they did, in turns. One of my colleagues said that, suddenly, all this (“this” being the weird behaviour of English) started to make sense. I’ve never seen the book again.

As much as I dislike the stereotypes, I found myself agreeing with most of what Ms Fox had to say about the English. Some of these stereotypes are endearing (like sense of fair play, gardening, humour, modesty, etc.), some are not so (hypocrisy, football hooliganism, obsession with class). None of them are exclusively English; it is the particular combination of them that sets the English apart from the rest of humankind.

“Agreeing with most”, I said, but not with everything.

To take a deliberately extreme example, the kind of hand-on-heart, gushing earnestness and pompous, Bible-thumping solemnity favoured by almost all American politicians would never win a single vote in this country — we watch these speeches on our news programmes with a kind of smugly detached amusement, wondering how the cheering crowds can possibly be so credulous as to fall for this sort of nonsense. When we are not feeling smugly amused, we are cringing with vicarious embarrassment: how can these politicians bring themselves to utter such shamefully earnest platitudes, in such ludicrously solemn tones? We expect politicians to speak largely in platitudes, of course — ours are no different in this respect — it is the earnestness that makes us wince.
What?! Watching the English was published in 2004, seven years after New Labour led by precisely this kind of nauseating politician won the general election. With a landslide victory. And that was not the end. Just look at the whole Brexit disaster. Given that Scotland and Northern Ireland, along with Cardiff and English cities of any size to speak of (no doubt, overrun by bloody immigrants), voted Remain, I can’t help thinking that it is exactly the stereotypical English who, in an act of mind-boggling stupidity, just have chosen to reduce Great Britain to Little England. And there is nothing endearing about that.

So, I guess, a new, post-Brexit edition of Watching the English is in order. One could hope that it would be as fun read as the original.

While I have every sympathy for anyone with a genuine food allergy, the fact is that only a very small percentage of the population actually have such identifiable medical conditions – far fewer than the number who believe they are afflicted. These English chattering-class females seem to hope that, like the Princess and the Pea, their extreme sensitivities about food will somehow demonstrate that they are exquisitely sensitive, highly tuned, finely bred people, not like the vulgar hoi-polloi who can eat anything. In these rarefied circles, you are looked down upon if you have no difficulty digesting proletarian substances such as bread and milk.

If you really cannot manage to have any modish food problems yourself, then make sure that your children have some, or at least fret noisily about the possibility that they might be allergic to something: ‘Ooh, no! Don’t give Tamara an apricot! She hasn’t been tested for apricots yet. She had a bit of a reaction to strawberries, so we can’t be too careful.’ ‘Katie can’t have bottled baby food — too much sodium, so I buy organic vegetables and puree them myself . . .’ Even if your children are unfashionably robust, you must take the trouble to keep up with the latest food-fear trends: you should know that carbohydrates are the new fat (like brown is the new black) and homocysteine is the new cholesterol; the F-Plan diet is out, Atkins is in; and on the genetic-modification debate, the official chattering-class party line is ‘two genes good, four genes bad’. As a rule of thumb, assume that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ food, except possibly an organic carrot personally hand-reared by Prince Charles.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


a film by Isao Takahata

One evening, when we were walking home from some live music event which did not impress Timur much, he asked me what is my favourite Studio Ghibli film. A difficult choice to make! I like most of the movies directed by Miyazaki, especially Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Howl’s Moving Castle. The thing with Miyazaki’s films, though, is that they are more or less the same style. Which you cannot say about work by Takahata. I said that of his films, my favourite is Only Yesterday, and Timur noted that he doesn’t remember much of it. And so, last Sunday evening, we sat down to watch it.

Yes, now I can confirm it: it is my favourite. The scenes with ten-year-old Taeko set in 1966 (50 years ago! Only yesterday, indeed...) are among the most touching and funny in all of Ghibli films I’ve seen.

Interestingly, or maybe not, Only Yesterday was not released in the US until this year. I am pretty sure it is because the English dub was not available. In any case, I encourage you to watch it in Japanese.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

LC Grand Concert Multiscale, Florentine Cutaway

by Luca Canteri

We went to Fuerteventura for a weekend and had a chance to see, try and photograph Luca’s latest creation. In spite of similar name, its appearance is quite different from Grand Concert Cutaway (reviewed almost two years ago). The cutaway is deeper, headstock is pointier, armrest is more pronounced; the overall feel is of a more slender, more modern instrument. I couldn’t compare them side by side but I think this one has sweeter, softer sound than Grand Concert Cutaway. (Hmm. I spy a nomenclature problem here. “Non-Florentine Cutaway” just does not feel right.) And I really liked “the thin red line” formally known as purfling which sometimes abandons the edges and wanders across the neck, the headstock and so on.

Timur also had a go and found it “very nice” even though he, like me, still prefers the classical guitar.

I have to mention that this instrument was not made to order, which means it’s still available and could be yours! Contact Luca for details.

Model specification

  • Top: Italian Spruce
  • Back and sides: Madagascar rosewood
  • Fingerboard: Indian Ebony
  • Bridge: Madagascar rosewood/ebony
  • Neck: mahogany
  • Nut, saddle and pins: bone
  • Rosette: maple and Madagascar rosewood
  • Purfling: dyed maple
  • Tuning machines: Gotoh 510
  • Multiscale: 25″—26″
  • Nut: 45 mm
  • String spacing bridge: 57 mm
  • Upper bout: 30 cm
  • Waist: 24 cm
  • Lower bout: 39 cm
  • Max depth: 11 cm
  • Body length: 49 cm
  • Overall length: 110 cm
  • Bevelled armrest
More photos of acoustic guitar @ Shutterstock

Friday, 10 June 2016

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

by Susanna Clarke
Magic is not ended in England. I myself am quite a tolerable practical magician.
Gilbert Norrell

I don’t remember when it was the last time I found reading such a thick book so satisfying. Sure, it is long, at 782 pages and 185 footnotes, but not a bit tedious. The only reason it took me about four months was that I read it strictly on weekends, somewhere between going to bed and falling asleep. What I don’t understand though, why it took me more than ten years to start reading it. Ms. Clarke’s first (and so far the only) novel is a great story beautifully told, inventive, tasteful, with just right balance of general scariness and deadpan English humour. I didn’t care much for its protagonists, who, in spite of being “practical magicians”, are rather boring. On the other hand, I grew rather fond of the main villain, the nameless “gentleman with thistle-down hair”: vain and murderous but also generous and, well, charming. It’s a shame he is getting his comeuppance in the end. Or is he?

If you still need any proof that magic has not ended in England, or at least in Yorkshire, read this book.

“Spain is, as your Royal Highness knows, one of the most uncivilized places in the world, with scarcely any thoroughfare superior to a goat track from one end of the country to the other. But thanks to Mr Strange my men had good English roads to take them wherever they were needed and if there was a mountain or a forest or a city in our way, why! Mr Strange simply moved it somewhere else.”

The Duke of York remarked that King Ferdinand of Spain had sent a letter to the Prince Regent complaining that many parts of his kingdom had been rendered entirely unrecognizable by the English magician and demanding that Mr Strange return and restore the country to its original form.

“Oh,” said the Duke of Wellington, not much interested, “they are still complaining about that, are they?”

Friday, 3 June 2016


by Sebastião Salgado

One day, a small army of huge rusty iron frames appeared in the park of San Telmo. They host Genesis, a project of Sebastião Salgado — another world-famous photographer I never heard about before. Now that I did, and had a chance to investigate, I am telling you: totally worth seeing, especially when it’s free. So if you are in Las Palmas, don’t miss. Until 21 June.