Saturday, 31 January 2009

Marks of indecision

Though at heart a teensy bit traditionalist, Mr Gnome takes a moderate line on discussions regarding usages such as 'less than' and 'fewer than'.

It's all a matter of context, he feels.

Needless to say he was more than a trifle thrilled (a few years back) to discover Mr Marks and Mr Spencer so shamelessly hedging their grammatical bets.

And, when all's said and done, such discussions add a little colour to our daily discourse.

So believes Mr G, whose watchword remains: 'Fewer gnomes, less fun.'


Mr Gnome has taken a break from removal duties to play with

Such fun! One simply pastes a selection of words in to the 'word hopper', click the mouse, and Wordle creates a 'word cloud' from the text, giving prominence to words according to frequency of use.

You can then twiddle to your heart's delight, adjusting fonts, colours and styles.

Mr G popped in the topic list from the right-hand side of this blog - and came up with the image above.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Have you spackled?

No surprise that Mr G maintains a commendable level of sang froid amidst the hoo-ha of the Human Being's imminent home move.

As well as dispensing invaluable advice, he has benefited from the experience by the discovery of a useful American word.

Spackle: to repair (a surface) or fill (a hole or crack)

Thanks to the skilled intervention of a kindly friend, the HB has now spackled (and painted over) a variety of holes and dents in the walls of his soon-to-be-vacated abode.


Thursday, 29 January 2009


On the rare occasions when his spirits dip, Mr Gnome has recourse to a variety of instant, self-boosting treats.

And towards the top of the list is this sublime dance video from the splendid American pop group OK Go.

Shot, it seems, in one take, the routine has a sweetness and insouciance that puts one curiously in mind of Fred Astaire at his most carefree.


Sunday, 25 January 2009

Fast forward

The year is 1862 and Emma Rowe (born 1834) poses proudly with her firstborn Herbert John.The twentieth century begins and a grown-up, bearded Herbert John takes his wife, and sons Fred and Harry (right) to the photographer's studio in Stroud, Gloucestershire.It's 1912 and 24-year old Harry poses with his daughter Lesly Annie (and Jumbo the elephant) in Toronto, Canada.We're halfway through the last century: Lesly (holding baby moi) is a married woman with three sons. Harry stands beside her. Her firstborn (John) sits on the wall.The years fly past and John has a daughter - Harriet.And now it's 2009. Here's Harriet with her two boys J and C, Emma's great-great-great-great grandsons.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Just say gNO!

Mr Gnome, equable of temperament and cheery of outlook, views all human beings as potential chums.

He says: 'How dull the world would be if it were inhabited solely by me and my fellow-gnomes. Peaceful and industrious, no doubt. But lacking the oversized oomph, clatter and bang of the HBs!'

Needless to say, therefore, that Mr G has been totally consistent in pursuing an 'inclusive' agenda when it comes to human - gnome contacts.

'Want to push a wheelbarrow?' he queries. 'Join in, please do!'

'Yearning to dip a fishing rod into your garden pond? Be our guest!'

In short his message to the HBs is a breezy 'Make yourself at gnome!'

Imagine then the distress and confusion that has come upon him in recent days as a result of the following curious circumstance.

For some time Mr G has done a little light voluntary charitable work.

All, he thought, was going swimmingly - until he was gently, but firmly, asked to leave and not return.

Had a customer complained? No.

Had Mr G behaved in a manner to bring the organisation into disrepute? No.

Mr G's only offence was that of being himself.

The charity felt that his presence did not 'fit in' with its overall 'look' and 'image'.

With an overwhelming sense of tristesse, Mr G packed his wee bag and departed. Did he receive a gift, a card, a farewell pat on the pack. He did not.

Needless to say, his robustly optimistic nature has pulled him through this setback - and he continues blithely on his way.

But with a mite more mettle in his soul. And a banner unfurled.

Yes we can

Democratic poster-gnome Mr G cannot leave this remarkable week behind without acknowledging the events that have taken place in Washington DC.

He's happy to point any of his readers (he flatters himself that they exist) to the splendid pictures available via this link.

Thanks once again to BJ for making us aware of this collection.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Michael Burton

Silversmith and musician Michael Burton has been a friend since we met at boarding school forty-nine years ago.

He and his work are featured this week in the Western Morning News (link coming).

Michael is an extraordinarily gifted craftsman, working in silver and ivory (and other materials) to create a rich panoply of objects, many of them based on the natural world, animal life and the architecture of his adopted county of Somerset.

Years ago I became the proud owner of a Burton original, a silver porringer whose lid bears a tiny silver village, with cottages clustering around an ivory-roofed church.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Life - the musical

Mr Gnome frequently yearns to transform his quotidian routines with a liberal application of twinkly stardust.

If only life were a musical comedy. More glitter. More glamour. More music.

Well, thanks to the brainy boffins of Microsoft, Mr G's world is about to be comprehensively musicalised by the genius product that is Songsmith, promoted here in this lusciously seductive commercial....
Yes, I know, you're awestruck. Epiphanic, or what?

Niggling question beneath the euphoria? Yes, me too.

I won't make any decisions until I know the answer to my key question: Does Songsmith have a 'Sondheim button'?

As Mr Gnome sighs: 'An element of sophistication is de rigeur - no Steve, no sale.'

Thanks to the blessed Brett for bringing this very beautiful thing to my notice.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Boys in blue

Fast forward seven years from the preceding post, and here I am again shamelessly parading in public, but watch out - this time I've got a gun.

In line with many boarding schools, ours had a Combined Cadet Force, compulsory, of course.

The boys who were seriously interested in pursuing a military career signed up to the infantry section, while the teckies headed for the Signals platoon.

All the toughs, oiks and alpha males (so it seemed to me at the time) ended up in the naval section.

Which left the RAF squadron to be made up of an assortment of pacifists, misfits, Airfix fans and random boys who had identified it as the least hideous option.

No prizes for guessing my choice.

Actually, though I would never have admitted it at the time, being in the RAF section was terrific fun. Outings to RAF stations (fab food in the mess), flights in training planes ('Take the controls, lad!') and field-day route marches ('We're lost.') more than compensated for the dreary routine of bulling of boots, polishing of brasses and square bashing.

The parade above was for Speech Day 1967, towards the end of my final term at the school.

Days before, the penny finally dropped that if one had to dress up and stomp around like this, then one might as well look as good as possible. At the very least, one owed it to one's fellow conscripts - and, let's face it, to one's audience.

And if that meant mirror-bright boots, knife-edge creases and pin-sharp responses to orders, then I was up for it.

I can't make any pretension to motivation based on military pride. To be frank, from my point of view this was the nearest I was ever going to get to being in a chorus line. And, if I could help it, I wasn't going to be the sad hoofer who was out of step with the rest of the line.

I'm in the centre column. Beret three sizes too big.

The boy yelling the orders (with admirable élan) is Witold Mintowt-Czyz, who is now a distinguished orthopaedic surgeon.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Sporting prowess

A rare image of moi in sportif mode, clearly setting the pace in the finals of the mixed-age standing-around-chatting event. Almost half a century later, this remains my best discipline.

The year must be 1960 and the place is Prior Park Prep School, Cricklade, Wiltshire.

The ladies nearest me are my cousin Ann and my great aunt Marie Louise. Hats were obviously the thing for Sports Day.

I have absolutely no recollection of the sporting events that preceded the tea interlude.

But the prizegiving that followed, I remember vividly.

A massive table was piled with a fabulous selection of merchandise: board games, books, jigsaw puzzles and, unutterably desirable, a paint-by-numbers kit.

It was Santa's sleigh without the inconvenience of wrapping paper. How generous of the Brothers to stump up for so much splendid loot.

Prizes for more or less everyone. And a rather lusciously shiny Victor Ludorum trophy for the day's sporting supremo.

Boys only marginally more robust than me went up for awards. For a few delirious moments I thought there might be a wee something for me.

Needless to say, I came away empty-handed.

Still, the sitting around helped me work out the obvious fact that it was our parents and not the brothers who had funded the goodies.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Road Home

How splendid to come across a contemporary novel that falls effortlessly into the categories of 'couldn't put down' and 'must tell others'.

Lev is a fortyish semi-skilled worker who, like thousands of others, rides the long-distance bus from his native eastern Europe. He arrives at Victoria Coach Station, with a suitcase, a few pounds and a yearning to better himself and his family.

Lev, still grieving following his wife's death from cancer, has left his daughter and mother in his unnamed homeland.

A lesser writer might have been content with creating a sort of 'Every-migrant' figure. Lev is much more than that - complex, troubled, stubborn, determined.

What follows is an unsentimental account of life at the ragged edges of today's Britain. Little victories, crushing setbacks, until Lev lands a job washing dishes in an up-and-coming restaurant.

Tremain has done her homework about the catering industry - the knife-edge margin between success and failure, the feverish intensity of work in a high-end kitchen, the heartless competitiveness, the occasional moments of grace and generosity.

If a mark of a good novel is that it changes how you think about other people, then The Road Home is a definite success.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Si some more

Mr Gnome and I are as one in our enthusiasm for the work of gifted Leeds-based artist/illustrator Simon Smith.

The image above is the first in a series of pictures to illustrate the nineteen 'Stations of the Resurrection' - a kind of 'sequel' to the traditional Stations of the Cross.

This sequence will pick out key incidents in the New Testament narrative of the events from the resurrection of Jesus to his Ascension.

In a bold step, Si has decided to interpret the story as if it were happening in Leeds in 2009.

Were Mr Gnome to pen his autobiography (literary agents, form an orderly queue, please), he would, quite naturally, invite Mr Smith to provide the illustrations

You can explore Si's work through the Proost website.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Claims to fame

Ever indulged in that deliciously embarrassing game of 'claim to fame'?

The activity involves swapping stories of encounters (the more tenuous the better) between oneself (in the role of 'nonentity') and a person who may be described, however loosely, as a 'celebrity'....

For example, exiting the gentlemen's lavatory at Warwick Arts Centre, I found myself holding the door open for pocket-sized film director Mike Leigh.

Or, even more thrilling, I once entered a Little Chef restaurant to find the staff in a state of be-twitterment. Had I arrived five minutes earlier, I would have encountered pop legend Alvin Stardust. That close.

Such random encounters with, er, greatness also enable one to play the linked 'How tall?' quiz.

My revelations on that score reveal: actor Nigel Havers (tiny), Alan Bennett (tall), David Hockney (very tall).

Way back in 1980 I was travelling in Canada's Yukon Territory. We made a brief stop in the town of Whitehorse and I nipped in to the general store to make some minor purchases.

And there, working her way through jumpers in the menswear section, was iconic Blue Peter presenter Valerie Singleton.

How one wishes one had been able to offer a cheery 'Hello Val!' But, as ever, one's innate reserve had the upper hand and I left La Singleton to her sweater selection.

(Apologies to overseas readers - if any! - re the fact that majority of names mentioned/dropped are not exactly 'household' outside the UK.)

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Adam and Joe

Not exactly a pop-music maven, Mr G unexpectedly finds himself a fan of the extraordinarily engaging double act that is Adam and Joe of the BBC 6Music digital channel.

To be honest, Mr G knows A and J best from their weekly podcast, which offers filleted highlights of their three-hour Saturday morning show - and which, for copyright reasons, contains no music apart from the tracks that Adam and Joe create themselves.

Friends since school days, the thirty-something pair sound discocertingly like one another. They are funny, articulate and self-deprecating. They manage to combine unforced charm with a hint of outre insouciance. They speak in sentences.

As with all great radio performers, they create a little world in which the listener feels included and at home. They're now totally part of Mr G's aural furniture.

No swearing, no malice, no ego trips. Yet A and J are hilarious, sharp and deliciously subversive.

Perhaps nice is the new naughty.

Friday, 2 January 2009


Mr Gnome cheered himself today by inspecting the 'transformation' project at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

The new thrust-stage auditorium is in place, as is the framework for the public areas that will link the main theatre with the smaller Swan auditorium.

And the core of the controversial 'viewing tower' is up. We're reserving judgement (on the tower) until all is complete.

Meanwhile a new company of actors is gathering to open the 2009 season in the temporary Courtyard Theater up the street. They are on long-term contract and will stay in town to open the renewed theatre in 2010.

One is excited.