Making Colour – National Gallery London

history of pigments

I was glad I made the time last summer to visit the National Gallery’s exhibition of the pigments artists have used over the years.  It was a fascinating business, and it is a bit sobering to remember just how much work the great masters of painting had to do before they even got to the stage of getting to the actual painting.   It was also interesting to note that changes in the availability of raw materials and the technology for processing them have had a big influence on what could be done and therefore what was done. Continue reading Making Colour – National Gallery London

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences by Eugene Wigner

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences is one of those pieces of writing whose title really sums up the whole thing – basically it does what it says on the tin.  It started life as a lecture and was subsequently published in the mathematical literature in 1960.  It is about something that a lot of people have noticed.  It is really quite surprising how often a mathematical idea developed for a particular purpose, or for no other purpose than simple pleasure in the exercise of the mind, turns out to be a useful tool later for something completely different. Continue reading The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences by Eugene Wigner

Reefer Madness – Hawkwind and One Direction

I am shocked that anyone should find a story about pop stars using drugs shocking.  It turns out that the handsome and wholesome One Direction have been caught on film smoking marijuana.  Compared to the behaviour of rock stars in the seventies only smoking marijuana would probably have been enough to count as wholesome, or even as conservative.  If a story had got out that Hawkwind for example had been caught knocking back vitamin tablets and eating a salad that would have been more newsworthy. Continue reading Reefer Madness – Hawkwind and One Direction

What I Learnt in Oxford on May Day

Tower of Magdalen College May Day
Tower of Magdalen College May Day

May day has always seemed to me to be a day in the calendar that cries out to be celebrated.  It is about this time of year that the evenings become light for long enough to enjoy.  If we are lucky we can pack away our winter coats and jumpers for the year.  A bank holiday moved around from year to year to suit commercial requirements has never really seemed adequate to it. Even the bank holiday seems to have been conceded rather grudgingly.  I am old enough to remember the first one.  I seem to remember a conservative politician suggesting dropping it in favour of a day to commemorate the battle of Trafalgar. Continue reading What I Learnt in Oxford on May Day

June Tabor – Freedom and Rain

The folk boom of the sixties carried on into the seventies, but became a lot more commercial in the process.  The three big female folk stars in the UK were Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior and June Tabor.  Of the three I think most people would agree that the one with the best voice was June Tabor.  She also had a seriousness of purpose and a sort of honesty.  Whereas Sandy Denny worked with Fairport Convention and  Maddy Prior fronted Steel Eye Span, June Tabor always seemed more concerned with expressing herself and never really went in for the compromises attendant on being part of a group.  Consequently she was the darling of the critics and didn’t sell that many records. Continue reading June Tabor – Freedom and Rain

Leonard Cohen Live At London


“Nobody listens to me round here.  I feel like a Leonard Cohen record.” – Neil, The Young Ones

Faced with a time consuming and not particularly brain consuming task at my computer the other day, I threw out a request to my Twitter chums.  I’d listen to the first album somebody suggested.  The suggestion that came back was Leonard Cohen Live At London. Continue reading Leonard Cohen Live At London

Hamlet by Johnny Hallyday – the worst thing ever

Johnny Hallyday needs no introduction to the French speaking world, but despite a career that is now over fifty years old you can still not assume that anglophones have even heard of him.  Those that have tend to be a bit bemused.  Back in the early sixties Johnny Hallyday made the momentous decision to sing songs in the style of Elvis Presley but in French.  It was a sensation, and he has never looked back.  He rapidly became a huge star in France and has remained one ever since.  Only a few years ago a concert in Paris had half a million people trying to get tickets.  In the days when these things mattered, his records sold in the millions.  In pure numerical terms his sales make him one of the major figures of the rock world.  When you consider that his success is limited geographically to France, Belgium and parts of Switzerland and Canada it is even more remarkable. Continue reading Hamlet by Johnny Hallyday – the worst thing ever

Women Bishops – Not in the Church of England

Women Bishops
Women Bishops? Not in the Church of England

I was shocked to hear the news that women will not be allowed to become bishops in the Church of England.  I had no idea that they were banned in the first place.  I had thought that when they were allowed to join the clergy in the first place, that opened up the whole hierarchy.  Oh well, it is only the C of E.  It is not as if it is anything that important.  In fact, I should have realised that if there was a crazy option to take on the subject of gender, the established church was likely to take it.

I only have to look at some of the curious arrangements in the churches in the little bit of the patchwork of the English countryside where I happen to live.   The local Catholic priest lives with his wife.  He can only do that on the basis of a special dispensation from the Pope.  He used to be an Anglican vicar who went over to the Catholics over the issue of women priests.  The Catholics were flexible enough to allow married ex-Anglican clergy to sign up even if they were married.  Not too far away a former Catholic priest has turned Anglican.  He was obliged to make the switch when he fell in love and got married.  Not all local clergy have such problems I should point out.  The previous vicar in the Church nearest to me was a confirmed bachelor, who was happy to make do with the companionship of a good friend who lived in with him.  So that was alright. Continue reading Women Bishops – Not in the Church of England

The Fry Chronicles

“If a thing can be said in ten words, I may be relied upon to take a hundred to say it. I ought to apologize for that. I ought to prune, pare and extirpate excess growth, but I will not. I like words – strike that, I love words.” – The Fry Chronicles


A celebrity autobiography can be the story of the persons life, with a narrative arc leading to their final success.  Or it can be an exploration of what makes the person tick.  Or it can be an amusing collection of anecdotes about the famous.  Or if you are Stephen Fry with a love of words and seemingly endless stock of clever turns of phrase, you can mix all three.  The result, the Fry Chronicles, is like a big pile of sweets – the sort some people do for Christmas with lots of different treats in a big bowl.  And as it happens, big piles of sweets feature prominently in the early chapters as we hear in huge detail just how addicted the young Fry was to sugar in all its forms and just how much trouble that got him into. Continue reading The Fry Chronicles

Telstar by the Tornados

Telstar – the satellite (thanks to Wikipedia)

I was 3 when Telstar came out, so I probably don’t remember it when it was actually a hit record. But I heard it often enough as a small boy that it formed part of my experience of growing up.  It was always my favourite.  It was just so space age. This was what the future was going to be about.  Rockets and music without any singing.  I just loved it all so much.  I acquired then and have never lost a profound belief that the future is going to be better, people are going to sort things out and that technological progress is a good thing.   Continue reading Telstar by the Tornados