Sunday, March 31, 2019

and why knot

It's a cliché, of course, but now that the vast majority of the time my work doesn't require me to dress up like an utter nincompoop the number of occasions when I have to wear a suit and tie are pretty small, and fall into the usual traditional categories: weddings, funerals and the odd christening.

I don't have much to say about suits except to crow briefly and unedifyingly about how I can still get into the suit I chose to wear on Wednesday (to a funeral as it happens) despite having purchased it in House Of Fraser in Glasgow in about 1998. The thing that is going to consign that suit to the dustbin of history in the not-too-distant future is not me getting too porky to wear it but the trouser crotch becoming unacceptably threadbare. Hugely conspicuous patching with bits of old underpant is fine for jeans but generally frowned upon for suits.

Ties are a different matter, though. I own quite a lot of ties, for reasons that are no longer particularly clear to me, if they ever were. I mean, you sometimes get one included when you buy a shirt, and if it's known that you have a job that requires tie-wearing then that provides a possible outlet for the unimaginative Christmas-present buyer. I did buy a lot of them myself, though; I can only imagine that I had such a dizzyingly large amount of disposable income back in the day that I had to find something to spaff it on.

I have a couple of problems with ties; firstly the obvious one of the occasions that typically require their wearing being a bit stiff and formal and not the sort of laid-back informal social events that I prefer. That said, in the picture featured here (from the wedding of some friends in Cardiff in about 2007) both I and the tie I'm wearing seem to have, hem hem, "loosened up" a bit. Just as a pointer, this sort of behaviour is generally considered less acceptable at funerals.

The second reason relates to anatomy. What I find is that for old-school formal shirts, certain assumptions are generally made by shirt manufacturers about how the size of your collar relates to the size of the rest of you (chest and waist measurements, principally). Here, for instance, my actual waist measurement of around 34 inches equates to a collar size of 16 inches, which in the unlikely event of it being physically possible at all could only be fastened at the cost of extreme crush injuries to trachea and carotid artery, and, shortly afterwards, death. A comfortable collar size of 17 inches, on the other hand, equates to a waist size of 38-40 inches and a general impression of not so much wearing a shirt as occupying a modestly-sized marquee. So the choice is generally between buying a shirt with a 16-inch collar and being pretty confident of a good fit, but abandoning any idea of ever being able to do the collar up, or buying a 16.5- or 17-inch collar and resigning myself to having to tuck great swathes of it in round the back, like trying to repack a recently-deployed parachute.

There is an alternative angle here: don't imagine that there is only one way to tie a tie. Most people go through their whole lives using the standard four-in-hand knot without ever really imagining that there are alternatives. The trouble with the four-in-hand for the chunky-necked individual is that its very simplicity, and in particular its ease of release, makes it unsuitable for use by those who have to fasten a tie over an unfastened collar button, as every flex of your powerful neck muscles will undo the tie a further notch until eventually you're wearing it as a belt.. In these circumstances a chunkier knot with slightly greater slip resistance is probably the way to go, and the Half Windsor is probably the easiest of these.

I first tied a Half Windsor knot for my wedding, as I felt something a bit grander and chunkier than the norm was in order, and the thing about silk ties (a colourful batch of which we had obtained for the wedding party) is that while they are all classy and shit they are quite slippery and sometimes quite thin.

I think on that occasion I was wearing a shirt that did up round the neck (the picture shows me losing a pint-drinking contest to my wife shortly after the completion of the formal ceremonial part of the day), whereas on Wednesday I found that the 16.5-inch collar attached to the shirt I'd chosen to wear was a bit restrictive, so I picked a chunky non-silk tie with a bit of a textured pattern on it, just to really get some friction going, left the top button undone, and cashed in the Half Windsor again. All seemed to work out OK without constantly having to fiddle and tighten as you sometimes find you have to do otherwise.

Don't imagine that the Half Windsor is the pinnacle of tie complexity or knot size, though: as the name suggests there is a full Windsor option available which is slightly more complex and results in a slightly chunkier knot. Even that is pretty conservative compared to some of the more outlandish stuff out there like the Trinity, the Eldredge or the van Wijk. Most of these are insanely ostentatious (and require an absurdly long tie) and therefore really only the preserve of Premiership footballers.

It's perhaps worth reflecting, though, if you find on reading the above that you have some sort of threshold at which sensible normal tie wear crosses over into absurd peacocking, how ludicrous it is that wearing a piece of coloured fabric round the neck has come to denote smartness and formality in some way.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

celebrity walkeylikey of the day

We've expanded the scope of the lookeylikey posts lately to include things like islands and tubes of effervescent tablets, so it was only a matter of time before we started featuring buildings. And so here's Talley Abbey, near Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire, and from the particular angle portrayed in this picture posted on Facebook doing a pretty remarkable impression of the bow-legged monkey swagger of Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher (itself very probably based on an original walk by Ian Brown of the Stone Roses), as expertly parodied by Kathy Burke here

According to Cadw Talley Abbey is a Premonstratensian Abbey. Now you and I might have thought Premonstratensian was a thing the ladies suffered from once a month, but no, apparently it's some sort of sub-division of Catholicism, distinguishable from the gazillion other sub-divisions of sub-divisions of Christianity only by tiny differences in doctrine and practice that those of us outside the loop might find laughably piddling and inconsequential, but which throughout history have proved significant enough to prompt quite a lot of slaughtering.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

the last book I read

The Glittering Prizes by Frederic Raphael.

University, eh? Well, we've all been there. Well, not literally all of us, though numbers are going up steadily.

Cambridge in the early 1950s was still a pretty exclusive place, though, so the people we meet there at the start of The Glittering Prizes have already lucked out in life's lottery to some extent, and have every expectation that their time at Cambridge will give them an additional leg-up into their chosen careers. But first there is much of the obligatory studenting to be done, with the swilling of ale and the shagging and the general being witty and brittle and ironic and fabulous.

Friendships are made, hearts are broken, people move on and we follow a small group of ex-students through into their subsequent lives. Principally this means following Adam Morris (that's him up there on the front cover, as portrayed by Tom Conti in the TV version - more on that later) into a career as Oscar-winning screenwriter and novelist, but also his friends like theatre and film director Mike Clode, TV chat-show and current affairs host (and fairly obvious satiric version of David Frost) Alan Parks and other more minor characters.

Various questions are explored: to what degree is it acceptable to compromise your artistic vision or your personal morality in pursuit of fame and/or fortune? How much should you trust your friends? How much do a serious of fabulous triumphs in the arena of a Cambridge college debating society prepare you for the complexity and unpredictability of dealings with actual people in the real world?

The Glittering Prizes is best-known as a 6-part television series first broadcast in 1976; if I've understood the chronology correctly this book is a novelisation of the original TV series (rather than, say, the TV series being adapted from an original novel as is slightly more usual). It's obviously partly autobiographical - Raphael is as famous for film work as for novels, being responsible for screenplays for films such as Darling and Far From The Madding Crowd in the 1960s, and more recently Stanley Kubrick's last film Eyes Wide Shut in 1999.

To be honest, while I've never seen the TV series, the novel is curiously unengaging, despite the fabulous wittiness of the badinage between the principal characters. Partly this is down to the number of characters we're expected to engage with in a novel of barely 300 pages - take Bill Bourne for instance, who we barely meet at all before he has his brief moment of being centre-stage in part five. In many ways Bill and his black American wife Joann are the most intriguing characters in the book, but we barely get a chance to get to know them before they're shuffled off stage. And despite Adam Morris being the central character it's hard to know what we're meant to make of him beyond his evident talent as a writer (he is the obvious authorial alter ego here), since despite being apparently touchingly devoted to his wife Barbara he's generally a fairly irritating character. There are a couple of jarring moments that root the book firmly in its era (it was published in 1976), not least the use by one of the characters of a bit of corrective intra-marital rape as a means of concluding a disagreement.

I don't want that to sound as if reading the book was an unenjoyable experience, because it wasn't - the sparkling dialogue zips by entertainingly enough (and it is pretty dialogue-heavy, as befits something that's essentially an adapted screenplay). I just struggled to see what it was for. To quote myself from an earlier book post: I don't want to get all "what was the author trying to say here", but, at the same time, what was the author trying to say here?

That was a fairly short book review by recent standards, so let me entertain you with a showbiz anecdote: a vague acquaintance with Tom Conti (via some family connections) was a key boast of my old school friend Mungo in the early 1980s. I forget the details of the claim, but the connection did inspire me to Google the name (Mungo's, not Tom Conti's) and I find that he is a senior economist at Oxford University, an outcome broadly in line with my expectations for his future life while we were at school together.

Monday, March 04, 2019

slapheadrity lookeylikey of the day

This is a bit of an echo of a long-ago lookeylikey post about bald people; I want to make it clear that I'm trying to do something a bit more considered than saying that all bald people look the same. Whether I have succeeded is for you to judge.

Here are cabinet minister and serial disaster area Chris Grayling, Vic Reeves' comedy sidekick and spirit-level enthusiast Les, and current PDC world darts champion Michael van Gerwen.

You'd expect Les to win the Most-Deranged-Looking Bald Guy contest hands down, but actually I think it's van Gerwen. Grayling evidently keeps his derangement more securely under wraps.

brexit: it's all getting a bit hairy now

One of the reasons I don't do as much blogging as I used to, in addition to the various reasons already mentioned elsewhere, is that the current political climate in both the US and the UK is pretty much anathema to the blogger who might want to make some facile but vaguely satirical points about current affairs. It's been said before, but the current political climate has rendered satire effectively redundant. Brexit is a jaw-droppingly stupid and self-destructive idea? Trump is a moron? Well, duh, as the kids say.

So while this post is tangentially Brexit-related, it's really mainly about other things. I was listening to the Today programme the other day in the car and there was a bit where John Humphrys was interviewing a woman about Brexit-related matters. Nothing out of the ordinary there, you might think, and you'd be right if it were not for the fact that she was sitting in the studio naked. This sort of stuff doesn't come across especially well on the radio, but it was apparently for real. Dr Victoria Bateman's point, as far as I can gather, is that "Brexit leaves Britain naked" and the best way to illustrate this is to turn up on various media outlets literally naked (or, alternatively, in a big coat which can be removed at the right moment) and with slogans daubed on one's torso to make that point.

Now obviously Dr. Bateman (a perfectly respectable academic economist at Cambridge University by day when she's not doing naked protests) is right about Brexit in a general sense (a lengthy lecture wherein she sets out her arguments is here, though you should be aware that she delivers most of it naked, so it's obviously NSFW), but of course being right doesn't automatically lead to you getting your own way, otherwise we'd never have got into this colossal mess in the first place. It might also have occurred to Dr. Bateman that this sort of thing has a distinct air of upper-class types horsing around about it, which might give you pause for thought after reflecting that one element of the Brexit vote (among many others) was a frustrated and self-destructive swipe at a perceived "elite". Imagine how a naked protest would be received if it were a working-class woman doing a tour of betting shops in Sunderland in order to get her kit off.

It should also be noted that Dr. Bateman has a certain amount of previous in this area; as far back as 2014 she was in the news for posing for a fairly mundane full-length nude portrait, the most interesting thing about which was that it was at the centre of a sex discrimination case brought against the company her husband James works for, partly as a result of old Jimbo enthusiastically showing it to people at work. Which is mildly ironic, since the point of the portrait, and indeed the thrust of most of Dr. Bateman's protests, is the objectification of women's bodies. Which is a fine and admirable thing to protest about, but there is just a suspicion - and maybe this is unduly cynical, I don't know - that the Brexit thing is just a convenient vehicle to keep her profile up.

Anyway, that lengthy preamble is really just by way of scene-setting: the thing that really struck me about all this was how the media chose to cover it - the "respectable" outlets did their best to be all groovy and unconcerned about it, while pixelating the hell out of various key areas for TV purposes. Some amusement can be obtained by seeing how people like John Humphrys, Owen Jones and the legendary Richard Madeley react at having to interview a naked woman. At the other end of the scale, you can imagine how the tabloids reacted. Interestingly, while the Daily Mail adhered fairly strictly to the rules regarding acceptable terminology (modesty = fanny, broadly speaking) the Daily Express went off the rails completely:
Dr Victoria Bateman took to the stage in her modesty last night
Hard to imagine what they thought that actually meant, although to be fair they did go on to say later in the same piece:
She then blasted UKIP in Cambridge for criticising a prior naked performance for lacking incredulity
That's even harder to parse; I assume that the last word is meant to be "credibility", but evidently the leering hack was too busy furiously wanking to proof-read his own article. Most of the rest of the reaction on the internet focused on her refreshingly laissez-faire attitude to pubic topiary, apparently an anomaly worthy of mention in these waxed and shaven times. Perhaps it's an ironic commentary on the amount of fannying about, beating about the bush, etc. etc. which has gone on in the Brexit negotiations.

In entirely unconnected news it should also be noted that Dr. Bateman has a book coming out fairly shortly. If only there were some way of getting some advance publicity.