Saturday 6 April 2013


“Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” - Paul Simon

Johann Sebastian Bach for Music Saturday today. Bach must be my favourite composer, and we are lucky to have almost all of his oeuvre with us and available to listen to. How lucky we are nowadays that we can just listen to almost whatever music we wish by simply clicking on a button. In the past, people had to attend concerts or make the music themselves. Lucky, lucky, lucky us!

The four Orchestral Suites or Ouvertures BWV 1066–1069 are a set of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach. The word “ouverture” refers to an opening movement in which a section of slow dotted-note rhythm is followed by a fugue; at the time, this name was also used to refer to a whole suite of dance-pieces in the French baroque style.

Suite No. 1 in C major, BWV 1066
CouranteGavotte I/II
Minuet I/II
Bourrée I/II
Passepied I/II
Instrumentation: Oboe I/II, bassoon, violin I/II, viola, basso continuo

Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067
Bourrée I/II
Polonaise (Lentement) – Double
Instrumentation: Solo flute, violin I/II, viola, basso continuo
The Badinerie has become a show-piece for solo flautists because of its quick pace and difficulty.

Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
Gavotte I/II
Instrumentation: Trumpet I/II/III, timpani, oboe I/II, violin I/II, viola, basso continuo
The Air is one of the most famous pieces of baroque music. An arrangement of the piece by German violinist August Wilhelmj (1845–1908) has come to be known as Air on the G String.

Suite No. 4 in D major, BWV 1069
Bourrée I/II
GavotteMenuet I/II
Instrumentation: Trumpet I/II/III, timpani, oboe I/II/III, bassoon, violin I/II, viola, basso continuo
The opening movement of this suite was reused by Bach as the choral opening to his cantata Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110. The voices come in at the opening of the fugal gigue, so that their singing of Lachen (laughter) sounds like "ha ha ha", a technique Bach used a few times in his vocal works.

Friday 5 April 2013


“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” - Lewis Carroll
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Not only is breakfast the first food and drink your body has had in many hours, but studies find that what you eat for breakfast influences what you eat the rest of the day. Also, people who eat a good healthful breakfast are much less likely to be obese and have diabetes than those who don’t eat breakfast. The most important advice to take heed of is to eat breakfast every day, without exception. This one action alone can make a huge, positive difference in your health. But biscuits, a doughnut or a muffin doesn't count! The key is to choose energy enhancing, health-invigorating foods. Here is a good suggestion: Muesli, served with low fat milk. A cup or two of green tea and a glass of freshly squeezed juice will complete the good breakfast.

4 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup oat bran
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
Handful of dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
Lightly toast all of the bran, wheat germ and oats in a hot oven, turning constantly so that they don’t burn. Remove from oven and toast the nuts and seeds also in the same way. Allow to cool. In a large mixing bowl combine oats, wheat germ, wheat bran, oat bran, dried fruit, nuts, sugar, and seeds. Mix well. Store muesli in an airtight container. It keeps for 2 months at room temperature.
Do you wish to find out more about healthful food, good nutrition and how to improve your health through your diet? Enrol in this free online course!
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 4 April 2013


“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” - Albert Einstein
April is Mathematics Awareness Month. This an annual event that was created to increase public understanding of, and appreciation for, mathematics. It began in 1986, when President Reagan of the USA issued a proclamation establishing National Mathematics Awareness Week. Activities for Mathematics Awareness Month generally are organised on local, state and regional levels by college and university departments, institutional public information offices, student groups, and related associations and interest groups. Although this is a USA event, it is now spilling out to other Anglozone countries and to some other countries as well.
This year, Mathematics Awareness Month will focus on the Mathematics of Sustainability. Being human means continually balancing our needs with the world’s resources while operating within the laws of nature. Mathematics helps us better understand these complex issues and is used by mathematicians and practitioners in a wide range of fields to seek creative solutions for a sustainable way of life. Society and individuals will need to make challenging choices; mathematics provides us with tools to make informed decisions.
Students often start to question the need for learning mathematics at school. Once arithmetic has been mastered, and the more abstract mathematical concepts begin to be taught to them, it is not uncommon to hear in a school: “What is maths good for? Why should I learn it? How on earth is this relevant to me in my future as a..?” It is not difficult to answer these questions, especially if one is a maths teacher, however, putting the answers in the right language and right context for a class of malcontented young people to appreciate is a challenge.
Ever since there were humans in existence, there have been problems that required immediate and practical solutions. Whether the problems were over basic requirements like sustaining sufficient amounts of food or major accomplishments like constructing functional and durable buildings, problems such as these remain with us to this day. Successful problem solvers are able to understand what is expected of the problems they face by understanding the details surrounding the question at hand, which is the most important step to solving problems. After patiently examining the details, paying attention to the details, intelligent choices are made as well as the beginning steps of developing a strategy. The plan must be carried out in an order that makes sense. So careful planning, possibly by justifiable experimentation, must take place. Once an actual solution is obtained, it must be tested to determine whether or not it is reasonable. This is what maths is all about.
Maths problems that are covered in class force us to use many, if not all, of the detailed methods of problem solving. The theory provides us with the methods of arriving at solutions in the most efficient way. Each individual problem becomes a small but important lesson for solving problems in general. Maths is traditionally learned by first doing many smaller problems. Then the small problems are put together to solve bigger problems. For instance, in order to solve algebraic equations, being knowledgeable about arithmetical operations, i.e. addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, is a must. Ordering the steps to be carried out, evaluating expressions, and learning how and when equations are used must be learned, too.
The world is facing a range of serious challenges on issues such as the environment, energy, and climate change. The finances of a globalised economy, the complex budgets of the world’s major countries, international trade, all require mathematics. Especially where sustainable practice is concerned, mathematical modelling is essential. Mathematics plays an important role in understanding and addressing these sustainability problems.
You may not need maths to survive in your every day existence. Pocket calculators taught us that you don’t even have to know arithmetic. Mobile smart phones tell us immediately the answers to simple maths problems: Google can tell you how many square kilometres 12.4 square miles is, or the volume of a hemisphere with 25 cm diameter. In any case, these are simple arithmetical, geometrical and mensuration exercises. Higher mathematics teaches to appreciate the beauty of reasoned thought, the value of logic, and the power of proofs. Mathematics is the foundation of all science: For example, physics, economics, computing, astronomy. How can one understand the world without knowing what calculus is about, without knowing what optimisation is? Without knowing about Noether’s theorems or chaos?
Even if one looks at the arts, and music is an obvious example, you don’t need to know maths to like a concerto or enjoy a symphony. However, maths helps us understand why we like the sound of an interval and why another sounds unpleasant. Why jumping from one note to another is pleasing and why another pair of notes sounds grating. Maths tells us why the composition of one canvas is pleasing to the eye and why another painting’s composition may look “wrong”. Counting and simple arithmetic, ratios, sequences and series may help us understand why a poem doesn’t scan right. Mathematics is the language of nature and learning it provides our connection to the universe.

Wednesday 3 April 2013


“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or faraway.” Henry David Thoreau

Today is the anniversary of the birthday of:
Philip III (“the Bold”), king of France (1245);
Henry IV (Bolingbroke), king of England (1367);
George Herbert, metaphysical poet (1593);
John Hanson, US politician (1715);
Washington Irving, writer (1783);
William Farrer, federation wheat developer (1845);

Daisy (Margaret Mary Julia) Ashford, writer (1881);
Leslie Howard (Leslie Stainer), actor (1893);

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Italian composer (1895);
Henry (Robinson) Luce, publisher (1898);
Marlon Brando, actor (1924);
Doris Day (Doris von Kappelhoff), actress (1924);
Helmut Kohl, German statesman (1930);
Jane Goodall (Baroness Jane van Lawick-Goodall), ethologist of ape fame (1934);
Wayne Newton, singer, (1943);
Tony Orlando (Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis), singer (1944);
Eddie Murphy, US actor (1963).
The yellow crocus, Crocus aureus (= C. flavus = C. luteus), is the birthday flower for this day and it symbolises the gladness of youth. The ancient Greeks had a rather more lugubrious tale to tell. Crocus was a beautiful youth who loved Smilax, a nymph.  His love was unrequited and he pined away and died. The gods turned the hapless youth into the flower while the nymph was changed into the yew tree.
Crocus is classified in the Iridaceae family. It grows wild on the slopes of Greece, former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania and North West Turkey, with fragrant bright orange-yellow flowers, which Tennyson likened to a fire. It is a small crocus (5-6 cm (2-2 in), despite the names of some cultivars, compared to the Giant Dutch crocuses (C. vernus). Its cultivars are used as ornamental plants. It naturalises well, and has been considered a weed.
I So Liked Spring
I so liked Spring last year
Because you were here;-
The thrushes too-
Because it was these you so liked to hear-
I so liked you.

This year's a different thing,-
I'll not think of you.
But I'll like Spring because it is simply Spring
As the thrushes do.

        Charlotte Mew (1869-1928)

Dying on this day: In 1287, Honorius IV (James Savelli), Pope of Rome; in 1682, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Spanish painter; in 1862, Sir James Clark Ross, English polar explorer; in 1868, Franz Adolf Berwald, Swedish composer; in 1897, Johannes Brahms, German composer; in 1901, Richad d'Oyly Carte, English impresario, supporter of Gilbert and Sullivan; in 1950; Kurt Weil, German composer, especially associated with the music to Brecht's lyrics; in 1986, Peter Pears, English tenor; in 1990, Sarah Vaughan, US singer.
Rather appropriate to listen to some Brahms today. His German Requiem (Ein Deutches Requiem, opus 45) would be suitable or alternatively, his Symphony No 3 in F, opus 90. The 3rd movement, Poco Allegretto is absolutely delicious!

Tuesday 2 April 2013


“When God by circumstances of time and place doth call for moderation of carnal appetite, the transgression is more heinous and offensive unto God.” - David Dickson

I have blogged before about the intricate, arresting, surrealist art of Jacek Yerka and it seems that this artist’s canvases brimming with vivid imagery and rich symbolism are a perfect vehicle for Magpie Tales’ creative writing stimulation.

Here is my poem that was written after I considered Yerka’s  “Between Heaven and Hell” (1989) that was selected for this week’s artistic springboard for our imagination.

The Ecstasy of Familiarity

The food of love
Is cooked in the kitchen of familiarity;
Each dish prepared
With consummate carelessness,
Bred by intimacy
That has been carefully cultivated over years.

Your flesh warm,
Inviting and desirable, more succulent
Than any carnivorous
Delectation placed upon dinner table
By a skilful chef,
And dressed by an expert saucier.

We feast on our carnality,
The kitchen table suitable for our excesses
As kiss upon kiss
Leads to our fusion according to our recipe
Perfected by practice
And by our apposite harmony of spicy mixtures.

Once sated to surfeit,
All spent, we gaze out of the windows of our eyes

Seeing both sides of the coin
An Eden and a Gehenna, both prized and reviled;

Our meeting fleeting, but,
Our love eternal, transcending the everyday.

The apple more than temptation,
The larder fuller than hunger would dictate,
The heart brimming with expectation,
The desire more searing than the hotplate,
Our cooking preparations more to feed the soul
Than jaded palates with sweetmeat to cajole.

Monday 1 April 2013


“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon.” Napoleon Bonaparte
We watched Kevin Macdonald’s 2011 movie “The Eagle” at the weekend, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell and Donald Sutherland. This was a sword and sandal typical dick flick, made all the more obvious by its lack of a female lead. This was a UK/USA co-production filmed in the UK, appropriate as the north of the British Jamie were specifically written for adults, of which “The Eagle of the Ninth” is an example. Not having read this novel of hers specifically, I cannot advise how faithfully the film has been to it. However, Jeremy Brock’s screenplay provides material for an interesting film of two distinct halves, the first concentrating on some character development and establishment of the basis of the plot. This first half also provides opportunity for some battle scenes with gory violence (more of that later, so not a film for the squeamish). The second half of the movie is a study in developing friendship, respect and interdependence between two men of different backgrounds, but who share more than they realise at the beginning.
Channing Tatum plays Marcus Flavius Aquila, a Roman soldier and son of a disgraced commander who disappeared along with the entire Ninth Legion and its honoured golden eagle standard in the north of Britain in 120 AD. Twenty years after the loss the legion, Marcus Flavius chooses to be posted in Britain in the hope of gaining back his father’s and Rome’s honour by discovering the fate of the lost legion and recovering the eagle standard. When Marcus is injured in a battle where he valiantly defended his garrison outpost, he recovers under the care of his uncle (Donald Sutherland) in the civilised Roman South of England and he rescues Esca (Jamie Bell), a Celt from death in the arena. Esca now his slave, swears his loyalty to him, even though he despises the Romans as they have killed his family and clan. The film then follows the adventures of the two men, Marcus and Esca, as they travel North of Hadrian’s Wall to find the lost Eagle Standard.
The film is a “bromance” type and this is made more pointed by the absence of a female lead. Adding a female character who contributes nothing to the plot and is just there for token value could spoil a movie. This movie didn’t need that and sexuality was not a theme. There’s is companionship, respect and developing affection between Marcus and Esca, and that is one of the “bromance” type of drivers of the plot. The actors perform well enough although the jarring various accents of the English-speaking Romans contrast with the Scottish Gaelic spoken by the natives. The Gaelic was a distraction for us, although one can understand its inclusion as gesture towards Celtic nationalism and perhaps it was to highlight the “barbarity” of the native population, which is constantly contrasted against that of the Romans (and the “Romanised” Esca, who is bilingual and acts as Marcus’ interpreter).
The movie showed a clash of cultures, but it also highlighted how some features were shared by the two groups. Allegiance to one’s fellow soldiers, one’s people, the idea of honour and the idea of loyalty was well-demonstrated by the movie. The Romans were shown in a rather sympathetic way, while the Seal People were show to be little more than savages.
We enjoyed the film to a certain extent, although I have spoken before of its violent scenes (and one stomach-turning one involving an unsavoury meal…). The film is also quite long, at 114 minutes. The cinematography is quite stunning with the British countryside shown in all of its wild beauty, augmented by the misty, atmospheric weather. The music score by Atli Örvarsson was appropriate and understated, while the costumes and make-up were mostly fine. The Seal People of the north of Britain reminded me a little of American Indians with their mohawks and blue bedaubed faces and bodies. Another distraction, but once again underlined the “barbarity” of the natives.

Sunday 31 March 2013


“Not even the excellent of humans is exempt from a touch of madness.” – Aristotle

Vincent van Gogh, one of the most important 19th century post-impressionist artists was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland on March 30, 1853. He was the son of a pastor and consequently was brought up in a religious and cultured atmosphere. At the same time, his rather constrained family environment contributed to him becoming highly emotional and lacking in self-confidence. Between 1860 and 1880, when he decided to become an artist, van Gogh had had two unsuitable and unhappy romances and had worked unsuccessfully as a clerk in a bookstore, an art salesman, and a preacher in the Borinage (a dreary mining district in Belgium), where he was dismissed for overzealousness.  He remained in Belgium to study art, determined to give happiness by creating beauty.

The works of his early Dutch period are dark and limited in colour, theatrically spot- lit, of a theme that extols the every day life of common people and labourers. “The Potato Eaters” (1885) is the most famous and characteristic of this period. In that year van Gogh went to Antwerp where he discovered the works of Rubens and purchased many Japanese prints. This stimulated the artist to explore the possibility of a colourful palette and find true expression of his talent through the means of pure colour.

In 1886 he went to Paris to join his brother Théo, who at that time was the manager of Goupil’s Gallery. In Paris, van Gogh studied with Cormon, met Pissarro, Monet, and Gauguin, and began to lighten his very dark palette and to paint in the short brushstrokes of the Impressionists. His nervous temperament made him a difficult companion and night-long discussions combined with painting all day undermined his health. He decided to go south to Arles where he hoped his friends would join him and help found a school of art. Gauguin did join him but with disastrous results. Near the end of 1888, an incident led Gauguin to ultimately leave Arles. Van Gogh pursued him with an open razor, was stopped by Gauguin, but ended up cutting a portion of his own ear lobe off.

Van Gogh then began to alternate between fits of madness and lucidity and was sent to the asylum in Saint-Remy for treatment.  In May of 1890, he seemed much better and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr Gachet. Two months later he was dead, having shot himself “for the good of all”. During his brief career he had sold only one painting. Van Gogh’s finest works were produced in less than three years in a technique that grew more and more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense colour, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line.

Van Gogh’s success as a consummate artist stems from his powerful fusion of form and content. His paintings are dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional. The artist was completely immersed in his art and was at all times struggling to explain either his battle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature.

In 1888 Vincent van Gogh painted “A Memory of the Garden at Etten” (seen above), a recollection of his mother and his sister walking through a garden in his boyhood village. This was painted in response to Gauguin’s advice that he work more from imagination and less from nature. In a letter to his sister Wil, Vincent van Gogh explained that the motifs and the colors carried specific meanings. The “sombre violet violently stained by the citron yellow of the dahlias” suggested their mother’s personality, whereas the red and green presented Wil as a character out of a Dickens novel. The painting is a powerful emotional double portrait that is aesthetically pleasing as well as of great significance to the artist. It always reminds me a little of an Indian painting and the women are as though they are wearing saris. The yellow flowers are reminiscent of marigolds - so widespread in India and who knows, maybe Vincent had seen some Indian prints in amongst the Japanese ones we know he had studied.

Happy Easter if you are celebrating it!