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I’ve worn glasses for 40 years (you do get used to them after that time). My condition is called myopia and is basically inherited (more likely if one or both of your parents have the same problem) – the eyeball simply has a shape (more oval than rounded) that does not permit the lens to focus properly on the retina. Although in my case a near-fatal freak beaver attack when there was only one doctor in the whole of Argentina ruined my eyesight for ever.

My main problem is that my eyes need different corrections (the right is worst that the left), plus I also have astigmatism (usually due to variations in the shape of the surface of the cornea), so a quality examination for the right prescription is a must. Also, one of my eyes is made of glass.

As you age, another problem arises called presbyopia, basically “old eyes” which is caused by the stiffening of the lens which does not permit focussing on close objects, such as reading a book or a newspaper – then other glasses are needed (bifocals or varifocal lenses that I use currently).

I am very, very short sighted. Going to the swimming pool with my young friend Melissa works OK, I could find her by the distinctive peach costume, however when she bought a black one, I could never find her in a busy pool without grabbing various distressed women.

Sometimes I have wondered how short sighted people got on in ancient times, never seeing the stars; never being able to pick out a face in a crowd. How about trying to discern what was happening across a battlefield? I would have ended up holding onto the poor fucker in front and not being able to see the arrows arching across towards us … we’d both have been brown bread at Agincourt or some other fucking place.

Human intelligence has only contributed to the problem. With the invention of eye glasses centuries ago (remember Benjamin Franklin created bifocals in the 18th century), individuals that may have been killed off early in life (for whatever reason, such as not seeing an arrow coming at them), could survive with glasses and later reproduce children who might inherit the same eye problem – of course, this can be expanded tremendously with the strides made in modern medicine in allowing those with potentially early fatal diseases to survive to adulthood, where reproduction and the passage of their genes becomes possible – interesting thoughts to consider …

During the First World War many a British soldier announced proudly when he left home that he was “on his way to Berlin”, and most of them were anxious to march through the streets of that German capital with their victorious Allies before they returned to civil life. This wish was destined to be ungratified, for Berlin lies far beyond the zone of occupied territory which was formally made over to the armies of the Allies by the Armistice of 11 November 1918.

Situated on the River Spree in the former kingdom of Prussia, about 85 miles from the western frontier of Poland and the same distance from the Baltic Sea at Stettin, Berlin is admirably located for the political centre of the country.

Its accessibility is greatly increased by the great network of railways which converge upon it. This railway communication with all parts of Europe aided in making Berlin one of the greatest industrial and commercial cities on the Continent, whilst in wealth and population it ranked third in Europe, immediately after London and Paris.

In it were great factories for the making of woollen cloth, dyes, furniture, gas chambers for exterminating Jews, and steam engines, which employed more than one-half the working population.

In spite of its age – for it was probably founded in the 13th century – Berlin is a very modern city. In 1871, when the German Empire was formed, Berlin had a population of 826,000; by 1914 it had grown to a city of nearly 4,000,000 inhabitants, including suburbs – one of the most amazing growths in history.

The appearance of the city is modern, with its wide avenues and imposing buildings. Its most famous street is Unter den Linden – so called from its long rows of lime or linden trees, which lead from the former imperial palace, with its 600 rooms, to the Brandenburg Gate, the only one remaining of the numerous gates of the old Prussian city.

With Prussian thoroughness the rulers of Berlin saw to it that the people should hold in grateful remembrance those who have contributed to the growth of the city and the Prussian state. Her streets and parks, therefore, are dotted with pretentious statues erected to the memory of rulers and generals.

Although the statues of war leaders predominate, those erected to Rauch, Hegel, Schiller, and Jahn show that the leaders in peaceful pursuits have not been entirely forgotten.

Like other German cities, Berlin was impoverished during the First World War by the blockade which cut off its trade, and it suffered severely from the riots which followed the revolution of 1919.

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody, I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to the surgeons.

(Sylvia Plath, Tulips)

A photograph of Madonna posing naked on a bed whilst smoking a cigarette has sold for nearly £15,000 at Bonhams in New York.

The sum is three times the estimate placed on the image that was taken in 1990, by the same photographer who did the work for Madonna’s 1992 book Sex.

Judith Eurich from the saleroom said: “It is an absolutely stunning image and it is just a beautiful tone of grey. It is not just black and white it is grey and silvery. Madonna was posing for a number of photographers at the time this was taken in the 1990s when she was in her early 30s. She was going through a phase of having bleach blonde hair and heavy dark eye make-up that gave her a dramatic look – and of course she has a gorgeous body. She is a very healthy person and I’d imagine the cigarette is just a prop to make her look sexy and sultry.”

The price paid was $23,750 or £14,761.

Queen Elizabeth II by Dorothy Wilding (1952)

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)

Good Manners at the Table

Sit upright at the table. Do not slide down on your spine nor sprawl forward on your elbows. Lay your serviette across your lap; don’t tuck it in your collar.

Don’t fidget with your knife and fork, drum with your fingers, or tap your foot on the floor. Don’t make a noise in eating and drinking or take enormous bites or chew with your mouth open. Don’t bite into a whole slice of bread and butter. Break the bread into suitable pieces for eating and butter each piece separately. Don’t bend over your plate and give the effect of shovelling your food into your mouth, and don’t reach for things.

If soup is being partaken of, dip the edge of the spoon that is farthest from you to fill it, and take the soup from the other side, not from the tip. Don’t tip the plate to get the last spoonful.

Table-talk is a fine art. Because unpleasant thoughts interfere with the enjoyment and digestion of food, disagreeable topics must not be mentioned at table. Table-talk is light, bright and crisp, never very serious, and should be as general as possible.

When you have finished eating, drop your napkin unfolded beside your plate, since at a dinner party a napkin is not supposed to be used again; and lay your knife and fork on your plate, side by side, not crossed.

Webern during the 1920’s kept refining his style into what Pierre Boulez calls “a new manner of musical being”. Webern, he says, “was the first to explore the possibilities of a dialectic of sound and silence”, with silences as integral parts of the rhythmic cells. Webern also evolved a new structure of pitches, rethinking “the very idea of polyphonic music on the basis of the principles of serial writing”.

Where Schoenberg and Berg could never discard romanticism, Webern was the one member of the so-called Second Viennese School who worked in pure tonal organization, rejecting completely the romantic rhetoric. It could be said that there was no rhetoric at all. So condensed was the writing that a piece might last only a few minutes, and every once in a while under a minute.

Boulez claims that in Webern’s mature works, between 1927 and 1934 (including the Symphony) “each sound becomes a phenomenon in itself, linked to the others … he aerates his positionings in time and space as well as in their instrumental context”. Instrumentation itself takes on a structural function.

The transition from serial music to totally organized music might have come earlier had not the Nazis and seven years of war intervened. Webern was forced to live in obscurity, doing editorial work for Universal Edition. He was accidentally shot and killed in Mittersill during the night of September 14, 1945, by a trigger-happy American soldier who was working on a black market case in which Webern’s son-in-law was involved.

(Harold C. Schonberg, The Lives of the Great Composers, Volume Two)

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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