Thursday, 18 December 2008

Fragments shored up etc

Just to confirm I'm still here, more or less. No new photos.

What I have to say is just:

1. London beautiful in December, winter light. The best building in London, since cleaning and restoration, is the Festival Hall. Pure modernism: long horizontal windows, piloti, clean shape, not nervous about big expanses of flat surface. The back is the best view, now that the surrounds have been made lovely with paving and the masonry is pristine.

Much depends on the beauty of Portland stone. Contrast the concrete on the rest of the South Bank, which looks good at fewer times – and most of all when lit at night. The RFH cries out for photographs. I'll try and oblige.

2. I'm all for bikes in cities but they have one feature that can make them dangerous. I saw how today, off Chancery Lane (going to King's College library, the former Public Records Office, and another magnificent building, at least on the inside where it’s been restored and repurposed with flair and sensitivity – the finest library building I know, besides the British Museum Reading Room, Leeds University Brotherton Library (another rotunda) and the 17th century libraries of Oxford and Cambridge). Yes, bikes. One came out of side street into a more major road, causing a van to swerve to give him room – as the cyclist counted on him doing. The problem rarely spoken of is that cyclists don’t like to lose momentum: they value their stored energy and are reluctant to slow down because they’ll have to work hard to get their speed back again. Fit bikes with huge flywheels that could give them a starting boost in such situations.

3. I joined SofaCinema and ordered The World at War without quite realising that the DVDs would come one after the other, using up my whole monthly allocation so I'd be unable to watch anything else until I'd got through the whole series.

It’s great though. From the last episode I watched: a fed-up soldier waiting in a landing craft off the English coast ready to be towed in the next few hours to Normandy and D-Day. He comments cynically on the fatuous messages of cheer issuing from the top brass. Monty, brilliant but a fool: ‘God speed, and good hunting in the fields of Europe!’ Prat. One can appreciate how that went down with the fox-hunters of Wigan and the Gorbals.

One gain from the series: the name and music of Carl Davis, who I hadn’t heard of. The music you get at the start and end of each episode is haunting: thrillingly modernist and discordant with that tragic Central European note one gets in Bartok and Martinu, one to which I always mentally attach the phrase ‘the dark days of 1942’. But not without, too, a suggestion of the ‘broad sunlit uplands’.

I wish I could put a link so you could hear it, but of course it’s copyright. It’s at times like this, when a piece of music affects me profoundly, that I wish I had the musical knowledge to identify the features causing the impact.

I can’t get enough of World War II, while my inclination is to avoid anything about WWI. Is that because WWII’s in living memory – even mine, just; I remember my dad being in the army? Or because it isn’t done to death in school history, poetry anthologies, novels etc?

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