today’s obituary

October 20, 2006

The pick of the bunch this morning was that of the improbably named Lieutenant-Colonel John Pine-Coffin, known by his troops in a display of that searing wit the military are famous for, as “Wooden Box”.
P-C  (as I prefer to call him) was serving in Cyprus when he came across a number of heavily bearded men hiding in a monastery, He suspected that they were Eoka terrorists in disguise so he asked  asked his sergeant to apply a politically highly incorrrect test and give their beards a sharp tug. The beards all stayed firmly in place (we aren’t told what happened to the tugs) and P-C had to make a swift tactical withdrawal. The Telegraph continues:
“A series of staff appointments followed. In 1963 he was in Nassau when he was ordered to investigate a party of Cuban exiles that had infiltrated Andros Island, part of the Bahamas. His seaplane landed in thick mud and Pine-Coffin decided that his only chance of reaching dry land was to strip off. On coming ashore, plastered in mud and wearing only a red beret and a pair of flippers, he was confronted by a party of armed Cubans. Mustering as much authority as he could in the circumstances, he informed the group that they were trespassing on British sovereign territory and were surrounded. The following morning, when the Royal Marines arrived to rescue him they were astonished to find him and his radio operator in a clearing standing guard over the Cubans and a pile of surrendered weapons. He was appointed OBE” As usual the Telegraph leaves out the important details- how did he disarm them, was he still wearing the same attire when ‘rescued’ and others.
The other military obituary I enjoyed a while ago was of a a man who had escaped several times while held in POW camps during the war. The writer commented that, while consigned to an old people’s home (what an abomination!) he never forgot his duty as a soldier and escaped on several occasions.


obituary: Eric Newby

October 20, 2006

From the Telegraph’s obituary:
“Eric Newby, who died on Friday aged 86, was the author of some of the best books in the canon of English travel writing, notably A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and Love and War in the Apennines. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958). The central elements of this humorous tradition are its quintessentially English spirit of amateurism and its tone of ironic understatement………..
For Newby’s “short walk” was in reality an arduous journey through the more remote parts of Afghanistan, culminating in a dangerous assault on Mir Samir, an unclimbed glacial peak of 20,000ft.
The sum of his preparation for the mountaineering ahead was a brief weekend on the Welsh hills. Some of the book’s comedy is genuine, as when tribesmen test the waterproof nature of Newby’s watch by immersing it in a goat stew. But much of its humour stems from a self-ridicule that borders on melancholy, such as the description of the exquisite pain Newby suffered from walking in new boots, literally flaying his feet. He was fortunately far tougher than his literary persona suggested.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush climaxes with the most celebrated meeting between travellers since that of Livingstone and Stanley, when a tottering Newby encounters the striding form of Wilfred Thesiger on the banks of the Upper Panjshir. The meeting is presented as that of inept amateur and professional adventurer, with Thesiger representing a certain Englishness to be both admired and satirised. When Newby and his companion begin blowing up air mattresses to cushion their rocky beds, Thesiger reacts with immortal disdain: “God, you must be a couple of pansies.”
Newby’s father was a partner in a firm of wholesale dressmakers but harboured dreams of escape. As a child he had run away to sea, reaching Millwall before he was recaptured. His nautical ambitions resurfaced as a passion for rowing; he spent the afternoon of his wedding day sculling on the Thames with his best man, missing his honeymoon boat train to Paris……………
Newby spent a good part of the war onthe run and hiding from the enemy. Having been initially helped by his future wife, Wanda, he was later sheltered, at great risk, by the Italian peasantry. He passed the winter of 1943 on a farm, clearing the stones from a vast field, and then hid in a cave. Once he met a German officer out butterfly hunting, who recognised Newby but preferred to share a beer rather than ruin a sunny day with the business of war.”

By all accounts Arnold was a musical genius who never received the recognition he was due, either from the BBC or from the music-loving public, possibly because he was unable to write ‘serious’ music without including light-hearted references and snatches as well. Strange this, as many of the great composers were fond of inserting jokes into their music. His life contained quite a few odd moments, too.
‘In 1940 Arnold won second prize in the Cobbett competition for composition with a string quartet. Rebelling against discipline, he eloped with a Welsh redhead and ran away to Plymouth. He was found by detectives playing in a dance band and was persuaded to return to the college.’ A conscientious objector, he was directed into the National Fire Service but was exempted from other war work when he joined the LPO. When he played a solo he would change colour, turning from pink to all shades of red, through purple to puce then, when finished, he would regard his instrument with disgust, as though it had pooped on the carpet. In 1943 he changed his mind and volunteered to join the Army; he was directed into the Buffs’ band. To obtain his discharge when the war ended, he shot himself in the foot and spent four weeks in hospital.Arnold led a troubled and often stormy life which veered into alcoholism and depression. “He had a heart attack in 1988 and attempted suicide a few years later (“took every pill in the house and washed them down with a bottle of brandy”). Schizophrenia and manic depression led to a period in a mental institution.” In 1984 he was given two years to live and in 1992 two months.It was Arnold’s fate to be described as too populist. A critic once wrote of the Fifth Symphony, “the less said about it the better”. I can remember hearing the still freshly composed Grand Grand Overture for organ, three vacuum cleaners, floor polisher, four rifles and orchestra (1956), written for Gerard Hoffnung’s music festival.
One player remembers him thus: “His writing is so idiomatic, always voicing the instruments in a way that exploits their character and makes the player feel good. The clustered seventh chords in the horns, the radiant brass writing, the mellifluous woodwind solos and the huge, arching string tunes are like slipping into a warm bath for those playing them. Perhaps because of his concern for the forgotten or neglected, he wrote more piccolo and tuba solos than everyone else put together.”

Obituary: Madeau Stewart

October 6, 2006

Sad to see this morning of the death of Madeau Stewart, who, with A.L. Lloyd, did more than anyone else to make the folk music (as it was then called) of other countries known in Britain. As the Telegraph writes “she took on the task of augmenting the BBC’s early music and non-British folk and indigenous music archives, a job which involved travelling around the world to collect recordings from far-flung parts and gathering in material from itinerant contributors… As an interviewer she was known for her ability to draw out the particular personality of the artist, from the operatic diva to the shy young instrumentalist.” She also rescued the Victoria and Albert’s collection of historic musical instruments which were then languishing in a sadly neglected backwater of the museum’s department of Woodwork and Furniture. I like the image of her given by the Telegraph: “In the early 1960s she spent time on the island of Inch Kenneth, the home of her half-aunt, Lady Redesdale (she was also related to the Mitfords). There she enjoyed sitting on the rocks, playing her flute while seals flocked around her.”
As one of the ‘itinerant contributors’ I owe a debt of gratitude to Madeau for making it possible for me, whilst a penniless student, to go round France recording hurdy-gurdies (then unknown in Britain, nowadays you can buy plastic ones in Tesco). She lent me from the BBC engineering department what was then cutting edge technology, a device that recorded sound on tape(!), worked off batteries and weighed half a ton. She also introduced me to a French countess who took me from Paris to the Auvergne in a 2cv which she drove as if she was on the last lap at Le Mans, showing at the same time an utter contempt for red lights and traffic police. Madeau’s skill and enthusiasm helped to convert my hair-brained scheme into an eventual programme, which she produced, along with one I did ten years later on the music of the Tuaregs, which was broadcast at a particularly quiet time on the BBC Third Programme but nevertheless made quite a stir among connoisseurs of the genre. After she left I made a fruitless proposal of a programme on pre-Columbian music to some suit who didn’t know the difference between a crumhorn and a Tibetan nose flute.

Sir Robert Megarry, sometimes known as the travelling judge, was ‘equally well known as a witty conversationalist, and for his dry ripostes. Answering criticism in 1973 that judges were hopelessly out of touch, he conceded: “I don’t think they go to drug-taking parties and I have never heard of them taking part in sit-ins and peaceful picketing, strikes, queer-bashing expeditions, ton-up rambles, putting-the-boot-in forays, or using four letter words in public. To that extent, I suppose they are out of touch.”…..
A decade earlier, Megarry had attracted attention for pioneering judicial “site visits”. In 1973 he became the first Chancery judge to sit outside London, attending a mock funeral at Iken, Suffolk, which was designed to discover whether a coffin could be borne easily through a disputed right of way. But his most publicised journey came a couple of years later during what was then the longest recorded action in British legal history, extending over 221 working days. Midway through the case, Megarry and his legal retinue flew to Banaba, a 1,500-acre island on the equator, to see for themselves the ravages of phosphate mining. To preserve Megarry’s impartiality, the advance party had requested that there be no garland greetings, dancing under the moon in grass skirts, or ceremonial roasting of sucking pig.Megarry was later at pains to stress that his 18-day trip to the South Seas was strictly a tour of duty, and he tersely refuted suggestions in The Times that he had enjoyed his visit. Indeed, there were moments of discomfort. For much of the time Megarry was stricken by bekabeka, a local stomach disorder, and at one point he had to be swung into a barge in a cargo net………..As if to reinforce his point, Megarry’s next site visit was to a cesspit in Buckinghamshire (to decide whether it constituted a nuisance)’

obituary: Mr Osama Bin Laden

September 24, 2006

Mr Bin Laden, who died yesterday aged 49, was a successful businessman known for his work for various charities, and a popular figure in radical Islamic circles, as well as a devotee of cricket and the music of Van Halen.
Mr Bin Laden always showed a strong interest in politics and had considered making this his career but he became increasingly disenchanted with politics in his native Saudi Arabia and was a sometimes outspoken critic of US policy towards the Arab world.
Born in 1957 the seventeenth son among fifty brothers and sisters, his father, who was married 22 times, owned the biggest construction company in Saudi Arabia. Osama had a difficult childhood- he was often bullied by his elder brothers (he later developed an aversion to crowds) and his father was a strict disciplinarian. Young Osama’s happiest moments were when his father took him on trips to the sea-side.

img-arab_israel.jpg a small selection of the Bin Laden children
Mr bin Laden attended schools in Jeddah and took a third class degree in public administration 1981 from King Abdul-Aziz university in Jeddah. He was described at the time as ‘non-confrontational, shy and studious’ but his marriage at the age of seventeen clearly adversely affected his studies. Osama developed a taste for travel and attended an English language school in Oxford, where he was a contemporary of Tony Blair, then an aspiring rock musician.

osama_bin_laden_teenager.jpg Mr Bin Laden (right) at Oxford with Tony Blair (centre)
Mr Bin Laden then traveled to Afghanistan where he started a popular guesthouse called the ‘Stars and Stripes B&B’. He was a keen camper and ornithologist and opened a number of camp sites in Afghanistan for like-minded people. Within two years he had built more than six camps and such was his success that he was able to open a resort and spa complex which he called Al-Qa’edah, an Arabic word meaning “The Base.” Tiring of the tourism industry, however, Mr bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia where he became unofficial adviser to the government and prominent in the opposition to Saddam Hussein. Disillusionment with politics, however, set in and he then devoted his time first to farming near Jeddah and then to starting a construction company in Sudan.
As canny as he was in busness, Mr Bin Laden proved unwise in his choice of female companions. After his first marriage failed, he married four other women, all university lecturers, who, friends suspect, were more interested in his money than him as a person, and who complained about his ‘austere’ lifestyle when he declined to buy them expensive presents from America. Mr Bin Laden retaliated that he only married them because they were “spinsters who were going to go without marrying in this world.” He is also believed to have had an affair with a minor Sudanese-American author who described Bin Laden as “obsessed with Whitney Houston, smoking lots of marijuana, and forcing her to dance naked to Van Halen.”
Finding the pressures of balancing his business with the demands of his lady friends excessive, Mr Bin Laden took early retirement and resumed his interest in overseas travel. He was, however, known as a home-loving man who, although left-handed, enjoyed DIY home improvement and cooking simple meals. In retirement he devoted much of his time to speleology and also spent a good deal of time reading. Bin Laden was described by his many friends as a soft-spoken, mild mannered man with a good deal of charm.
He leaves five wives and at least 24 children, one of whom runs his own firm, Fame Advertising, which has offices near a Starbucks in a two-story strip mall in Jeddah. Mr Bin Laden died previously in 2001, 2002 and 2004. His Who’s Who entry lists his recreations as ‘blowing up airliners’.

“William Auld, who died on September 11 aged 81, was a Scottish poet and writer, and the first person to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature for work in Esperanto.” (Hmm probably as much hope as Tony Blair does of knocking off the prize for peace).
“At the Gorbals public library, the young Auld spotted a book on the library shelf written in Esperanto, read it and was hooked. ‘I liked the egalitarian nature of the language,’ he explained, ‘the brotherhood-of-man aspect.’ When writing, Auld considered Esperanto to be his first language and rated it an ideal medium for poetry. ‘Many of the words end in ‘o’ and the lyrical qualities are especially suited to verse,’ he once explained to The Daily Telegraph.”

Here’s an example (courtesy of Wikipedia). I imagine it’s quite hard to write a poem in Esperanto that doesn’t rhyme:

Septembra mateno

de William AULD

aperis en Nica Literatura Revuo, 4/1, p. 7

Kartonajn siluetojn de uzinoj
ĉe l’ horizonto iluminas suno.
Ĉi aŭtobuso glisas tra l’ scenejo
kun plena ŝarĝ’ de plusrolantoj fuŝaj.
Leviĝas la kurteno. Sur fotelo,
cinika karapaca kritikisto —
Dio — la manojn plektas sur la sino
kaj lace atendadas la kutimajn
replikojn netrafitajn, troajn gestojn,
parolojn forgesatajn, de ĉi trupo,
kiu sensuke ludis jam milfoje
gurditan dramon de verkisto Dio.
Diablo! — (ĝemas Dio sur fotelo) —
kia rimedo perlabori panon:
ĉeesti tiajn aĉajn komediojn!
Kaj dum la teatraĵo disvolviĝas,
Li forŝteliras al tavern’ apuda.
He also translated many works from English into Esperanto, including La komedio de eraroj (Shakespeare), La kunularo de l’ ringo (Tolkien) Fenikso tro ofta (Fry)Auld also wrote an erotic poem called Anna, part of which goes like this:

kaj lulus mian kapon milde
sur sia varmodora nudo,
kaj vartus dum momentoj ŝilde
min de l’ turmenta vivokrudo.

Sed post miraklo de orgasmo –
mi bone scias – venus re la
eĉ pli profunda kormarasmo.
Ne solvas splenon fulmo de la

Never having learnt Esperanto I’ve no idea what this means but it certainly sounds as if a jolly good time was had by all.