25 June 2011

More lovely Penguins

I found these in Kirkdale Bookshop. The first is another Elizabeth Bowen, a 1946 printing.
What I particularly like about this generation of Penguins is the happy dancing penguin on the front. Probably someone has done a survey of the different penguin depictions and how they relate to the national mood. In 1946 perhaps there was a mood of optimism. But austerity too. The pages are printed closely, with narrow margins, to save paper. Which wasn't apparently an issue in 1940, when my next book comes from.
I've no idea what the book is about. I'll probably never read it. It seems to be naval stories, and I suppose it has a patriotic intent. Look at the back cover for a summary, though, and this is what you get:
which is just too beautiful for words. It's the reason I bought the book.

Shalimar's a strange nom de plume. There's an old song, a favourite of tight-trousered pre-war tenors, that goes "Pale hands I loved, beside the Shalimar", and I guess that gave the name to Shalimar hand creme. If you've ever waited for a train at Hove, you might have seen the old Dubarry factory, with its tiles that proclaim Shalimar Complexion Creams For Loveliness That Lasts. Here's a blog about it. I'm glad the building's survived. It's pretty, but still not quite a match for the Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir.

18 June 2011

Blackheath booksale 2011

Is it a year since the last Amnesty booksale? It seems barely 12 months. This year didn't seem quite as good; very little grabbed my attention, although I arrived precisely at 9am, joining the queue of about 30 people. People queuing for books! That's nice to see.

In the event all I bought were three Penguins from the 60s, largely because I like the design. Here's the first:

I've really only heard of William Plomer as the librettist of Britten's Gloriana, an opera that flopped largely because of its crap libretto, I believe. But it's a very nice illustration by Robin Jacques, which was clearly already old-fashioned when the book was published (in 1961).

Next is a book by one of those novelists who's always described as unfairly neglected.

Again, a charming illustration (by Paul Hogarth) on the cover of this 1962 edition, which is almost timeless. Only the rather heavy-handed hatching looks dated now. I haven't read any Bowen before and I'm really looking forward to this.

Finally, Jack Trevor Story, a writer who was absurdly prolific in his day, but the brevity of that Wikipedia entry shows how transient his fame has been.

This was published in 1963, and what a sudden transformation there's been. In many ways this is the most dated cover of the three precisely because it was so modern in its time. Designed by Martin Bassett, it clearly comes from the dawn of Beatledom, seen above all in the man's sharp suit (Italian, no doubt) and shoes. But it's a bit cautious: the woman's pose makes you think for a moment she's flashing her thighs,but she's actually wearing quite a sensible skirt. The back-cover matter has an unconvincing bluster to it:

You're bound to laugh at the clipped and bawdy dialogue of this social merry-go-round. But you'll also wince at the cutting edge of this brilliant writing.
Penguin could see it was on the edge of something different, but didn't quite know what to make of it.

I'm very pleased with these slim pickings, though. They were very cheap.

16 June 2011

If Nurse Jackie were a Saturday morning serial

Gather round, children. Once upon a time the grown-ups of Britain didn't know what to do. They all had children, and wanted more children, but so many children in the house meant that the grown-ups couldn't spend special time together. (No-one used to talk about special time in those days, far less discuss it in front of their children.)

And so the grown-ups built cinemas on every high street, just so that on Saturday mornings, they could send their children there to watch some films made especially for them. (In those days, children, most films were made for grown-ups. Can you imagine that? Films for grown-ups!) And while the children were out, the parents could spend some special time together.

When I was your age, children, I used to go to Saturday morning pictures regularly. It was fun. There were cartoons, a sing-song, and a thrilling serial. What I remember most about the thrilling serials is that each week our hero was apparently killed, trapped in an unescapable situation. And then next week you would find out how he had in fact escaped.

What annoyed me even then was the flimsiness of the escape narrative. Say our hero is trapped down a mineshaft. Blank, sheer walls all around him. Up at ground level the villain has found a heavy safe that just about fits the shaft. In the last scene, he heaves it down the shaft and we see a cloud of dust plume out as it plummets. Surely our hero is crushed to a pulp (as a 10 year old, I'd have liked to see that, even in black and white).

Come back next week and we rewind time a little. Back in the mineshaft our hero finds a door which he had somehow failed to see earlier. A quick shoulder charge and it's open and he (and his dog, or some orphans, or a screaming girl) are out of the shaft just as the safe falls. I felt cheated. Almost wanted the hero, his dog, the orphans, and above all the screaming silly girl, dead.

The memory of this eases my pain at the news that Sky Atlantic have bought the third series of Nurse Jackie, which means I won't see it. In fact, I've come to consider this a good thing. For those who haven't seen it, the eponymous Jackie is a senior nurse in a New York hospital. She has a difficult home life, and an addiction to prescription drugs. In series 2, we saw how this got her deeper and deeper into trouble. She lied to her husband and to her only friend and right at the end of the series these lies unravelled. The husband and friend both found out what she had been doing. What will become of Jackie? Will the falling safe smash her to a pulp (in full colour)?

Of course it won't. At the end of series 1, the drug addiction seemed to have single-handedly crushed her and she lay in an apparent coma on the floor of a hospital toilet. At the start of series 2, this was - essentially - forgotten. Jackie just picked herself up and carried on. It was worse than the sudden discovery of a door in the mineshaft. It was the equivalent of acting as if the safe had never been dropped. There never was a safe. I felt cheated.

Of course the safe is never going to hit Jackie. Somehow, the script will find a way for her to continue more or less as before. She has to continue to be a senior nurse with a drug habit and a difficult home life, because that's what people like seeing: that's why there is a third series. I'm sure that if I saw the start of the new series I'd feel cheated again. And this will get worse the more series there are. The end of each series will see Jackie closer and closer to the edge, so that each following series will need increasingly contorted explanations and evasions to return her to the starting point. The only difference really is that Jackie's cliff-hangers take a lot longer than a week to build.

I guess it's economics. It costs a lot to stage a programme like Nurse Jackie and the production company probably doesn't start making profit until the third or fourth series. If a programme survives that long, it becomes increasingly unlikely it's going to change significantly: its very success ossifies it.

So I've added a second rule to my guide to watching American TV: only ever watch the first two series of any long-running show.That way, there's a chance you'll remember it with fondness and not grow to hate it.

Thank you, then, Sky.

02 June 2011

Open Street Map

I don't think the Open Street Map is very well known. It ought to be. It's a collaborative attempt to map the world on a shared, free basis. And I think the results are better than most. Here's a part of the world where I went cycling today. First, here's how Google maps sees it.
While here's the basic view from OSM:
There's simply more information - those red-dotted lines, for example, are footpaths, which Google doesn't show. (I also think it looks better - nicer fonts etc - but that's a personal preference.)

But the real strength of OSM is that users can select the information they want to include. Someone has used the OSM data to produce an OpenCycleMap. Here's its version:
You can see how the roads are rendered differently - cyclists don't need to know that the road is the A225 - some information is left out, but some is included. You can't see it much on this extract, but it shows cycleroutes and - really important for cyclists - it shows contours.

The OSM project is a kind of wikipedia, and like wikipedia is only as good as the people who edit it. The perverse advantage OSM has is that you need a certain level of expertise to edit it, and to create specialised maps from the data. On the other hand, that means that certain parts of the world are poorly covered.

But, if you've got GPS equipment and want to fill in some of the gaps, it's probably not that difficult. Why not try it?