Category Archives: Culture

Who moved my cheese?

From today’s edition of The Globe And Mail:

MONTREAL — Luc Boivin’s lost cheddar is passing into local legend as the Titanic of the cheese world.

The Quebec cheese maker dropped a 2,000-pound cargo of cheese to the bottom of the Saguenay fjord last year in a ripening experiment. Then he spent this summer searching for it. And now, after deploying a team of divers and an arsenal of high-tech tracking equipment, Mr. Boivin has given up the quest.

Apparently, he’s undeterred and going to repeat the experiment again this year!

BBC Podcasts

A pair of white ear speakers for a personal music player

The BBC has started to provide MP3 recordings of some of its radio programmes. In cyberspace this phenomenon is called “podcasting” (after the ubiquitous Apple iPod which can be used to play these files) and it’s all the rage.

I’m a cynic when it comes to the hype surrounding podcasting. It’s been simple to record radio programmes on tape for most of my life, and it’s been possible to make your own MP3 recordings automatically, using software such as Total Recorder, for several years already. So I find it difficult to get excited about recording them digitally now.

Nevertheless, I welcome the BBC’s initiative, if only because one of my favourite Radio 4 programmes is included in the trial — In Business. See the BBC’s Download and Podcast Trial for more information.

Baby Name Wizard

A screen shot of the Baby Name Wizard displaying names beginning KE
Baby Name Wizard

The Baby Name Wizard’s
NameVoyager is interesting. It displays a dynamic frequency distribution for the most popular (top 1,000) first names for American children born since 1880.

Having run some of my relatives’ names through it I can see that my extended family has been pretty conventional in its choice of names over the years, despite not residing in the US.

Let it stand

Excerpts from Stet by Diana Athill, who was apparently considered the best editor in London during the second half of the twentieth century.

Writing about the first book she was responsible for publishing at André Deutshe:

I would soon begin to find such fantasies a waste of time — of my time, anyway — but then, in addition to liking the sobriety and precision of the style, I felt the pull of mystification: ‘I can’t understand this — probably, being beyond me, it is very special.’ This common response to not seeing the point of something has a rather touching humility, but that doesn’t save it — or so I now believe — from being a betrayal of intelligence which has allowed a good deal of junk to masquerade as art. Whether that matters much is another question: throughout my publishing life I thought it did, so I am glad to say that the publication of The Tailor’s Cake in 1946, beautifully translated by Betty Askwith, was the only occasion on which I succumbed to the charm of mystification.

On her love of books:

I loved that book [The Toe-Rags by Daphne Anderson] even more than I loved Morris Stock’s [Parents Unknown: A Ukrainian Childhood]; and both of them I loved not for being well-written (though both were written well enough for their purposes), but because of what those two people were like. They brought home to me the central reason why books have meant so much to me. It is not because of my pleasure in the art of writing, though that has been very great. It is because they have taken me so far beyond the narrow limits of my own experience and have so greatly enlarged my sense of the complexity of life: of its consuming darkness, and also — thank God — of the light which continues to struggle through.

Much to my surprise Diana Athill writes a lot about Caribbean literature in Stet. Not only are there long chapters on Jean Rhys and V. S. Naipaul, but Athill was also Eric Williams’ editor and travelled to both Dominica and Trinidad & Tobago in the course of her career. In addition, she had an affair with Hakim Jamal, an American disciple of Malcolm X, who was involved in the murders in 1972 that formed the subject of Naipaul’s story The Killings in Trinidad. I found it all quite unexpectedly fascinating and would recommend it, not least because it’s exceptionally well-written.


A photograph of a woman struggling against the wind and snow with her umbrella in tatters.
Umbrellas are useless in the snow

A photograph very similar to the one at right appeared on the cover of one of Britain’s national newspapers today, and perfectly illustrates a point I’ve made before: namely that umbrellas are a useless defence against snow.

Almost half of the British Isles is further north than Moscow, yet many of the British still have no idea how to cope with winter weather.

Music in the Kitchen

Music in the Kitchen? Sure, I can play that game; despite not being much of a chef.

A photograph of a BT Voyager Internet radio.
The BT Voyager

In fact, music has recently been rejuvenated in our kitchen with the arrival of a BT Voyager Digital Music Player. Sitting simply in the corner, it allows us to listen to anything our computer can play on CD, MP3, or stream via the Internet. Consequently, I’ve been listening to NPR and the CBC a lot recently.

  1. What is the total number of music files on your computer?
    • No idea. Does it matter? It’s quality that counts.
  2. The last CD you bought?
    • Shortly after Christmas I heard a discussion on CBC Radio about the best Canadian albums of 2004. One of those mentioned was My Favorite Distraction by Coral Egan. Think Sarah McLachlan crossed with Joni Mitchell.
  3. What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?
    • Trouble from the album of the same name by Ray LaMontagne.
  4. Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.
    1. Jack Reardon and Sacha Distel’s The Good Life as performed by Betty Carter on Look What I Got!
    2. Al Jarreau’s interpretation of Lennon and McCartney’s She’s Leaving Home is a marvel, as I’ve said before.
    3. Corcovado as performed by Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Tommy Williams, Milton Banana and Stan Getz. It’s the epitome of cool.
    4. Once in a Lifetime by Aretha Franklin from the album Yeah! Aretha Franklin in Person — a great preformance recorded live at a nightclub in 1965. The crowd obviously doesn’t realize that the young Aretha will become the undisputed Queen of Soul. At one point you can clearly hear a young woman let out an indignant “ouch!” as if she’s just been pinched, and during the next song a man whistles the theme music to the Twilight Zone. Philistines!
    5. Softly, William, Softly from the album Concord on a Summer Night by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. A magical song-without-words on an atmospheric live recording.
  5. Who are you going to pass this stick to and why?
    • Anyone who reads this post and cares enough to reciprocate; because they obviously care.