Archive for December, 2009

The Christmas Truce

24 December 2009

A seasonal moment of filial respect – I went this week to see the premiere of ‘Christmas Truce‘, about the spontaneous truce in the trenches in 1914, for which my brother, Graeme Curry, wrote the narration (Jonathan Rathbone wrote the music). Disappointingly, there seem to be no eye-witness reports of the ‘football match’ – perhaps unsurprisingly, since no-man’s land was not renowned for its large flat spaces.

But the truth, from soldiers’ letters, seems more moving. On Christmas Eve, German troops started singing carols to the Allies, and then invited them to sing in turn. We even know the carols which they sang, some all but forgotten now, and after they had sung they met ton Christmas Day in no-mans land to bury their dead and exchange gifts.

The piece tells the story of the truce through the eyes of a young (fictional) volunteer – a soldier’s tale, perhaps – and the carols, German and English, are woven into his story. The work is all but book-ended by two extracts from Edward Thomas, the Anglo-Welsh poet who volunteered in 1915, and was killed at the age of 39 in 1917. It ends. though, or did at the premiere in Walthamstow, with a recital of some of the names of the Great War dead on the local war memorial.

Graeme and Jonathan had hoped to write the piece last year, to mark the centenary of the Armistice. In the meantime, the last two survivors of the Great War have died, which made the memorial seem more appropriate.


Freedom as glass

22 December 2009

I’ve just come back from a trip to Estonia (my first) and I visited the independence monument in Tallinn which was unveiled earlier this year. It stands 24 metres high and commemorates Estonia’s first independence in 1918 (from the Russians in the wake of the revolution; their second, from the Soviet Union, was in 1991). The cross is based on the Cross of Liberty, awarded for military and civilian service during the War of Independence.

The picture doesn’t quite capture the appearance of the monument, which looks as if it is built on a column of glass.

Why glass? It’s a deliberate choice.

“The glass column symbolises freedom, which is difficult to attain as well as fragile and easily destroyed”.

Politicians and bridges

21 December 2009

There’s a cafe under Tower Bridge in London which has a couple of quotes painted outside of it. One of them – the irony – is this line from the one-time Soviet leader Khruschev, that politicians, everywhere, “promise to build a bridge even where there is no river”.

The marketing is the message

20 December 2009

Accenture has announced that it has ended its sponsorship deal with Tiger Woods, and staff are supposed to have removed all of those embarrassing advertising posters which say that the company ‘knows what it takes to be a Tiger’. Well, obviously word travels slowly across the Atlantic these days, since there were big Accenture posters with the golfing superstar on them in Copenhagen and Heathrow airports on Friday. One of them, at least, seemed appropriate to the moment, even if it was shot in the days when Woods’ putting was more interesting than his private life, and the ball is impossibly placed off the edge of the green. The caption reads: “It’s what you do next that counts“.

Beatles Rock Band 1 Paul McCartney 0

5 December 2009

While it’s still possible to mention the Times and have people see it for themselves – before the great paywall of Rupert comes tumbling down – I thought I’d mention an amusing question in Robert Crampton’s interview with Paul McCartney today.

Crampton’s first question is whether McCartney’s played Beatles Rock Band yet:

“Yeah,” McCartney says, once I’ve been ushered inside, “my assistant showed me how to set it up ’cos I’m not Mr Tech. I lost twice. On Easy.” You lost on Easy trying to simulate songs you wrote in the first place? “Yeah, and I was playing bass, I’m ashamed to say. It’s all red and green and yellow buttons. I said, ‘Can we start this again?’ ”

In terms of the Beatles, I preferred Lennon’s sharpness – in every sense of the word. But McCartney comes across very well in Crampton’s account – as a human being, despite his hundreds of millions – as he also does in John Deering’s engaging cycling book Team On The Run.

Orson Welles and stinging the frog

1 December 2009

The launch of Richard Linklater’s film Me and Orson Welles is a reminder of how enigmatic the career of Orson Welles remains, a quarter of a century after his death. He had the world at his feet as a young man, after the success de scandale of The War of the Worlds, and the success d’estime of Citizen Kane, which routinely tops critics’ polls of the greatest film ever made.

But he died poor after over-eating at the relatively young age of 70, having made only a handful of films since Kane, always struggling with financing. (One remains unreleased even now because of contractual issues to do with its funding).

So why couldn’t he just bite his tongue and charm the money people rather than feeling the need to insult them? In a characteristically sharp article in The Guardian, about a month ago, David Thomson reminds us that Welles liked to tell, against himself, the story of the scorpion and the frog:

Of how the scorpion begged a lift across a stream; how the frog did not trust the scorpion; of how the scorpion said, but if I sting you, froggie, you will die, and I will drown. And so they set out and the frog had gone halfway when he felt the pain of the stinger. Why? he cries out, why did you do it? Now we will all die. I know, says the scorpion, but it is my character.

But Thomson also points out that dying rich isn’t necessarily a good quality in a film-maker. George Lucas, who only ever had one good idea (OK, perhaps one and a half), is currently worth $3 billion.

[Welles] may have died broke – his abiding condition – but he did not do it for the money. He did it for the sake of the medium and his artistic soul. That is a dangerous way to go, but it’s a big reason why the young honour him. Hollywood has always fancied it could undermine and destroy the great talents that came its way by giving them money. … Orson died alone in 1985 and you can read the reports as signs of sadness. On the contrary, I suspect he was exhilarated at the end. Real sadness is being worth $5bn and not knowing what to do with it.