Saturday, December 20, 2003


Sorry for the long absence - it's been a strange and busy month. In particular I keep getting the feeling I'm mentally too busy - like there's just too much going around in my head, and something important will get lost. Better than too little, I guess.

The family piano resides in my house now (has for ages actually). To negotiate its smooth passage into the spare room, I made a promise that I would take some lessons again. I haven't got around to that...yet.

But I've always wanted to play a harpsichord. I use to particularly love playing Bach, and would have loved to try out some of those pieces on the instrument they were intended for.

A while ago I learned that there is such a thing as a Roxichord, an electronic keyboard that emulates a harpsichord. For some silly reason this filled me with joy. Inexplicably, the idea of a synthesiser version seemed really cool.

In other news, Posh spice doesn't like pips in her grapes. Come to think of it, I much prefer the seedless ones too, but somehow I consider myself above mentioning it too loudly. I still somehow think of seedless grapes as a kind of luxury you shouldn't automatically expect, even though they're pretty much the only kind I've eaten for at least a decade.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Music: on high rotation

Currently going into the CD player very regularly:

The Darkness
Permission to Land

Hilarious British rock band with many obvious influences including Queen. Lead singer has an amazing falsetto, the music is great and they don't take themselves too seriously.

The Beautiful South
Painting it red

One of my favourite bands. They have a knack for sounding sweet while singing weird bitter things. Very clever lyrics but a couple of hooky songs on every album too. The very first time I heard them was on tv, they were playing one of those annual huge British festivals. I was struck by the combination of male and female lead voices on a lot of their songs, which is something you don't hear too often. They have a new female singer, Alison Wheeler, on the latest album, Gaze, but she sounds a lot like the previous one (Jaqueline Abbot).

Robbie Williams
The ego has landed
Sing when you're winning

Um, I don't know if I can explain this.

The New Pornographers
Electric Version

Vancouver 'super group' made up of people from indie bands and country singer Neko Case.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

BOOKS: Possession and Harry Potter

I finished Possession by A.S. Byatt yesterday morning, after dozing off a few times trying to finish it on Friday night. It was a wonderful book, I really enjoyed it and can see what all the fuss was about. Now I'll rent the movie and try not to expect too much. It did get good reviews, if I recall correctly. However, Gwyneth was recently quoted saying she only really likes two of the movies in her back catalogue and it wasn't one of them.

This morning I polished off Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, having started it yesterday. So many people have been telling me I should read those books, and my reply was always that I was just waiting for someone to lend me the first one. No-one seemed to have it handy. My theory is that less adults own the first one or two, they would have borrowed them, then gotten more into the series and by time the last one was released, just about everyone lined up to buy the hardcover the second it came out.

Anyway, I joined the library to borrow it. It actually gives me great pleasure to once again have a library card. I haven't been a member of the public library for ages; it's even been years since I had access to the uni library. I just got into the habit of buying second hand and remaindered books, in far greater quantities than I've ever had time to read. I've been slowing down the buying pace for ages now but I still have probably hundreds of books that I haven't read. (Shaun has read some of them though!). Not to mention Kam's collection as well. A lot of these I still look forward to eagerly; some don't interest me quite as much as they did when I bought them. I used to think I could eventually find time to read every single book that looked interesting and was available cheap. I've started being much more selective now. I have to remember that time wasted reading one thing is time when I could have been reading something else.

Not having used the library for years, it's a real thrill to be back. Since I'm also trying cut down my spending a bit, I'm planning to see how many of the books on my to-read list might be available there.

To get to the point, I enjoyed Harry Potter 1, but it was a bit thin. A lot of things happen without much detail or background. I felt that Rowling simplified a lot of things that could have been more interesting and held the attention longer. Even making allowance for the fact that it's a kids book - I've read and loved kid's books that were more original and better developed. I guess though, that this may be a factor in Pottermania - it's been a book that got children to read, including those who don't like reading (not to mention countless adults in the same boat). It's easy to relate to and quick to digest. Obviously Rowling touched a nerve and reached a lot of people, and I'm not going to complain about that.

I'm planning to read the rest of the books, and I just hope that as she wrote the successive installments, Rowling might have tried to gradually provide a more fulfilling and complex reading experience. Without scaring off those reluctant readers.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Word Nerd!

Yesterday morning, Kam had walked the dogs in the short space of time that it wasn't actually raining, and then they were quite wet and confined to the laundry, waiting for me to find a dry-ish towel to reduce them to merely damp, and therefore suitable for entry to the rest of the house. This caused me to comment on the irony of almost all the dog's towels (ie the old ratty ones) being out on the line, in the rain. I couldn't use them because they were soaking wet, and the time we need them the most is when it rains and we need to dry the dogs and cover the couches.

Recently I pointed out that I didn't think Ethan Hawke's pithy definition of irony in Reality Bites quite hit the mark. Reeling from this bombshell, Jo challenged me to:


"When the actual meaning is the exact opposite of what's said."

This sounded really good in the movie. Pithy, sharp, and off-the-cuff. But it's not exactly my understanding of irony.

I think the Reality Bites definition is probably closer to sarcasm, though even for that it would have to depend on the tone and intention. At face value, it could be just a definition of stupidity.

I'm constantly discovering how much of my vocabulary is based only on in-context understandings. I often find myself grabbing the dictionary as I'm reading (or scribbling the word on my bus ticket to look up later) to check words I once would have happily accepted. My understanding of irony seems to be all in-context, and I was hard-pressed to actually define the word.

Oddly, the several dictionaries I consulted consistently put what seems to be a definition of sarcasm as number 1, under irony.

Witness, the Australian Oxford:

1. the expression of one's meaning by using words of the opposite meaning in order to make one's remarks forceful.
2. (of an occurrence) the quality of being so unexpected or ill-timed that it appears to be deliberately perverse.

Number 2 here is getting towards the way I would use the term, but is still really quite unsatisfying. It sounds a bit like just bad luck. My instinct is that genuine irony needs to have something more to it. This guy, in pulling apart Alanis Morrissette's song "Ironic", contends that bad luck isn't enough.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has a similar definition, but adds Socratic irony up first, which is a bit odd. I would have expected it to be tacked on at the end.

Main Entry: iro·ny
Pronunciation: 'I-r&-nE also 'I(-&)r-nE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -nies
Etymology: Latin ironia, from Greek eirOnia, from eirOn dissembler
Date: 1502
1 : a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other's false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning -- called also Socratic irony
2 a : the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning b : a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony c : an ironic expression or utterance
3 a (1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2) : an event or result marked by such incongruity b : incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play -- called also dramatic irony, tragic irony

Merriam Webster's 3a is, I think, getting towards what I was looking for. It covers some of the different scenarios that are commonly considered ironic.

Surfing the net revealed a few gems, like this one: "Watching Shallow Hal long enough to see the part where the bethonged Gwyneth Paltrow bends over, then shutting off the television." I haven't seen the movie but I think I know enough - the movie is about a guy who is forced (bewitched?) to see the inner beauty of women instead of the exterior. He sees the Gwyneth Paltrow character as gorgeous and slender, and it is only later in the movie when he finds out she is actually obese. The message of the movie would be something about the dangers of judging people by their looks alone.

In my previous post I referred to the irony of forgetting, on the 12th of November, that the previous day had been Remembrance Day.

These examples seem to be irony, and they do fit the definition above. But I still don’t think the definition really covers it. I think you come up with an example that fits the definition but isn’t really ironic.

Anyone care to help me out?