Nigel Tufnel Day

… It’s 11/11/11 – Nigel Tufnel Day. Go one louder!


World Book Night: why libraries are important

I celebrated the first World Book Night – the slightly but entirely forgivably hyperbolic name for the initiative to give one million books away in Britain and Ireland to people who might not otherwise read them – at Perth’s AK Bell library.

Celebrating the night with me were authors Geoff Holder, who presented on Perth’s grave-robbing history before gruesome dramatic monologues were provided by members of a local drama group dressed in costume as a medical student – in the name of whom most bodies were stolen owing to the law applying to medical students – as well as a grave robber, his wife, and an executioner; and also Christopher Brookmyre, the ‘Tartan Noir’ satirical novelist whose forthcoming work is to be called ‘Where the Bodies Are Buried’. The evening also provided the opportunity to talk to some of the 20,000 people who have championed the books on offer under World Book Night and in whose names the books have first been given (sharing books is very much the theme, and you can record, and then track the progress of, each book you pass on of the 25 titles included in the programme).

Reading may well be a private, individual activity but it has collective dimensions too – libraries are, after all, places where people come together to share information (this motivation for the government’s attacks on libraries is a blog post waiting to be written) – and it’s good not only to be reminded of those dimensions but also to celebrate them.

Altogether, a very well put together theme for World Book Night, and all for the princely sum of a combined £3.50. At a time when libraries are threatened by government cuts, what better way to demonstrate their continued importance to our cultural lives: bringing books, as well as the authors who write them, closer to the people.

ODA money spent in Britain

The Commons International Development select committee today questioned why £1.85m was taken from DFID funds to cover some of the £10m costs of the Pope’s visit to Britain back in September last year. The money was handed to the Foreign Office, and the Committee has asked for answers as to what the money was spent on and why it was imagined that this was compliant with the rules on overseas development aid.

DFID has pointed out that the money is separate to the overseas aid budget – so will have come from departmental running costs, i.e. the bits of DFID that is not ring-fenced from the cuts. (Although it is interesting that Harriet Harman has warned today that the government’s ‘fragile’ commitment to spending 0.7% of GNP on overseas aid by 2013 means it may not be realised.)

Perhaps the comment by a member of the Pope’s entourage that arriving in Britain was like landing in a third world country led to DFID being caught up by this view and thinking that the spending of the money in this country was legitimate …

There’s a rat loose…

… and last spotted in Downing Street, apparently.

<Insert own joke here>

With the outgoing head of the CBI today criticising the coalition government’s lack of vision, the vision may actually be one of greater rubbish in the streets – a sign of what the coalition is doing to public services, perhaps.

Has The Guardian‘s Steve Bell resurrected his 80s-style surfing rats since May’s election, I wonder? Perhaps he should!

Furthermore, with the economy now heading down the tubes – and this one the conscious impact of faulty government decision-making – perhaps an explosion in rat catchers will be the private sector’s contribution to the fufilment of its mission of generating additional jobs to replace those lost in the public sector?

Covering Born to Run

With its title named after a Springsteen lyric, this blog yields to no-one in its respect for the Boss (well, with the possible exceptions of Chris Phillips and Dave Marsh). So it was with some trepidation that I read that one Storm Lee, a contestant in the current X-Factor (a televised talent show, m’lud), had covered Born To Run on last weekend’s show. Not being exactly a regular viewer of the show, I dug out the You Tube videos.

Hmm. It’s a quite dislocating experience to listen to a song you’ve grown up with desperately mangled by someone with a surfeit of enthusiasm over ability; and the performance? well, like Michael Jackson would have done it, and by someone with a more than passing resemblance to Boy George. I won’t bother linking to it: surreal doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Instead, here‘s how it should be covered: by a fan, who gets inside the song and who, by understanding the desperate searching that underpins the song’s surface glory, thus makes something new of it (and her (blonde!) version of Dancing In The Dark is not half bad, either). Bruce is also well-known for re-arranging and re-creating his own stuff, including BTR. I’m aware that I’m just possibly missing the point here: it’s not the function of X-Factor to make great music, or break new ground: it’s a Saturday night TV light entertainment show, delivering visual chewing gum for couch potatoes alongside a Warholian 15 mins of fame for the contestants.

But, still. Have a bit of respect, eh?

Everybody Needs Somebody to Love

News on the Beeb this morning is that Solomon Burke, soul legend, has died aged 70. The news reports are that he died at the airport, while his Wikipedia entry has him dying on the flight: none of us can choose the way or time of our deaths, but either are awful places from which to start your final journey. At least he was on his way to a gig, though, to promote a new album (on which he sounds bang on form, too, to judge by this short clip). And 21 children and 90 grandchildren tells me he packed quite a bit of livin’ into those 70 years.

Here’s Solomon on Jools’s Hootenanny from a few years ago, and Solomon’s song, if not the man himself, was the centre piece of the fabulous Blues Brothers.

RIP Solomon.

Beer better than water: it’s official

Part of my regular jaunts to London involves catching the sleeper between Scotland and London, and I continue to be amazed that the bottles of beer for sale have sell-by dates longer than just about anything else I’ve seen:

OK, alcohol is a preservative but when bottles of water have drink-by dates that are, in comparison, just around the corner, the only conclusion I can come to is that beer is less likely to do damage to you than water.