Sunday 28 February 2010

The United Idiotic Nations

Flags of all nations, #47

Dave's comment yesterday mentioned the international character of this blog's visitors. I use Google Analytics to track the statistics of my vistors, though I have so little faith in what it tells me that I don't look at its analysis too often. However, for what it's worth, here are my February 2010 blog visits so far (one day to go!), counted by country:

United Kingdom 780
United States 240
Sweden 92
Canada 69
Germany 63
Austria 50
Australia 48
Italy 20
France 18
Ireland 13
Mexico 13
Russia 7
Spain 4
India 4
Singapore 4
Brazil 4
Israel 4
Romania 3
Poland 3
Philippines 3
Japan 2
Lithuania 2
Lebanon 2
Belgium 2
Malaysia 2
Norway 1
Colombia 1
Denmark 1
Hungary 1
Greece 1
Hong Kong 1
Oman 1
Bulgaria 1
Iran 1
Netherlands 1
Egypt 1
Taiwan 1
Nigeria 1
Finland 1
Sri Lanka 1
Slovakia 1
South Korea 1
Portugal 1

By the standards of, say, The Online Photographer (which gets THIRTY THOUSAND visits a DAY) this is a modest haul, but I do like its geographic spread. Obviously, you can ignore most of the "oncers" -- they came looking for something else, but were disappointed. And this is a count of visits, not visitors, so many of these countries will be represented by just one or two people. But, even so, I like the picture I see.

You're all very welcome, and if I haven't got around to mentioning or inadvertently insulting your own country, language or culture yet, please be patient. It's quite a long list.

Friday 26 February 2010


Harbinger (-nj-) n. One who harbinges.

I spotted and photographed one of the real harbingers of Spring's arrival today: the afternoon sunshine is finally bright enough and at the right angle through the back door to catch our shiny metal kettle in just the right way to cast a protoplasmic net of reflections over the wall. Still no frogs, though.

Thursday 25 February 2010

The Art of the Possible

Some photographers stalk their subjects like hunters. They study, they calculate, they plan. They figure out angles and elevations, times and tides; I have even read of obsessives who determine exactly where the moon will be in the sky on their chosen night, using tables, so that the composition will be exactly as they imagined it. If you are lugging a view camera and tripod around, this kind of effort is probably necessary. Or if you are someone who, God forbid, tries to earn their living with a camera. Otherwise, I imagine this approach appeals to the same sort of person who has planned and booked their summer holiday before Christmas.

Needless to say, I am not that sort of photographer. I am that other sort of obsessive, the ones who go round and round habitual circuits in the hope of bumping into something. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. As a method, this has something in common with beachcombing (your only plan is to turn up and see what happens) or churchgoing (ditto). Any activity carried out repetitively and hopefully, however secular in nature, tends to take on a devotional aspect; your faith is based on the experience that things change from day to day, that these changes can be revelatory, and that bearing witness to them feels somehow important.

This strange corner, for example. After the disastrous fire that destroyed a large part of our university's electronics and computer research building, a temporary home was found in what had been a "fitness centre" for an optoelectronics laboratory which needed ultra-strict levels of air purity and temperature control. Liquid nitrogen tanks and insulated ducts were lashed up in hurry, resulting in the hulking shapes you see here. I pass them every day, and every day I speculate what a planner would do. Dawn light is especially effective, but the reflective tapes (and, now that demolition has begun, the exposed silver insulation blocks) pose an exposure range problem; a planner would work out the timing, check the weather forecast, and use a tripod to take multiple exposures for blending. There's also the matter of a security fence, through which I have to pass my Panasonic LX3; a planner would arrange access, no doubt.

But the chances are, having planned it perfectly, such a person would only turn up once or twice. As it is, I just keep walking past and popping away. Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes I don't. Once in a while, I get very lucky indeed, and that's something you simply can't plan for.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

A Wop Bop A Loo Bop, Koax Koax

Around this time of year, I start listening out at night for the frogs returning to our "pond". I put the word in inverted commas, because it's really an Early Learning Centre sandpit, whose lid has filled with rainwater and been so thoroughly colonised by waterplants and pondlife that I haven't the heart to clean it out. Slightly surreally, the sandpit is intact beneath the lid, and -- to the best of my memory -- some plastic dinosaurs are still posed down there, frozen in eternal flight and pursuit (think Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn).

Many years ago our kids returned home with a jar of frogspawn from a real pond, and ever since the sandpit-pond has been the ancestral swamp of generations of frogs. Every February, they return from far-flung parts to indulge in a week or two of orgiastic sex, before leaving their bubbly piles of spawn behind to fend for themselves. It must be strange, having sex on your mind for just two weeks of the year. It must leave plenty of time to concentrate on catching flies, and getting to wherever it is frogs go during the rest of the year.

Frog Frenzy in the Valley Garden pond

Our contemporary human world is so super-saturated with sex, that it's hard to imagine that there was ever a time when it wasn't. Of course, our world is not so much saturated with sex, as with a hyper-real eroticization that has about as much similarity to "sex" as Grand Theft Auto does to "street crime". Both appear to have been filtered through the over-heated imaginings of a 15-year old boy.

I can speak with authority, as I was once myself a 15-year old boy. But, unlike today, in those days (40+ years ago!) the world offered very little validation for whatever fevers were going on in our minds. Pictures of bare naked people were a resource as scarce and as carefully controlled as moon rock. We were still practically Victorians, swooning over hints and glimpses, enduring sweet agonies of arousal at the beach or swimming pool, or mesmerised by a Sunday Times colour supplement photograph. It was a simpler time to be adolescent, and in many ways a lot more fun. I remember the first few times I experienced full-frontal (but fully-clothed) contact with a girl at a dance: I fully expected to be arrested for public indecency.

Even the "top shelf" magazines of the day were laughable in their innocence. A typical copy of Parade, even in the late 60s, contained nothing more wicked than some awkward, artless shots of topless girls-next-door with laquered flickup hairstyles, wearing bikini bottoms and a smirk. Even so, the pages did give off that authentic low-life whiff that was associated, in the 1950s, with teddy boys, bikers, and Soho. In those days, the barriers were both lower and much clearer: anyone could transgress, if they dared to. Most people didn't. Why, even to know about sitting in a bath to get your Levis to shrink to fit was pretty far out.* Real 1950s rock'n'roll is all about that reek of sulphur: Shakin' all over! Gene Vincent!! Little Richard!!! But it was something no respectable person could admit to liking. College types listened to trad jazz, parents listened to Perry Como, posh folk had their classical.

But, perhaps backlit by its almost total eclipse, a nascent sexiness flickered around the edges of our lives as children, as it must always have done down the ages. Girls might detain a boy in a field, and subject him to torture by kissing. Sometimes, when you were playing in the woods, you would come across a scatter of pieces of a torn-up magazine page, a lot of which were flesh-coloured. We would amuse ourselves by piecing them back together. Boys would accompany their fathers to the barbers (we used to sit on a plank put across the arms of the barber's chair) where the traditional question, "Something for the weekend, sir?" was asked, without furtiveness, and answered by a hand dipping into the Durex boxes openly displayed by the mirror. And the fashions of the 1950s and early 60s were nothing if not "gendered".

Get a room!

But then, around 1965/66, news of the so-called Moors Murders began to filter into the public consciousness, and things began to change. Children of our age had been abducted, abused, and murdered: "stranger danger" and an awareness of some truly scary transgressive behaviour entered the picture. Gradually -- tragically, in my view -- those simple pleasures of childhood like staying out all day and playing free in the streets, woods and fields, simply came to an end. The world was a scarier place than we'd thought.

Yet, at about the same time, the sexing-up of everyday life had begun. Adverts, magazines, TV programmes, books, films: all began an escalating barrage of sexualisation, that was fun at the time and solemnly endorsed by public intellectuals, but which has now, it seems, all but obliterated childhood, and made adolescence a pretty fraught experience. Sexual practices and attitudes to the body that would once have been the preserve of a secret and semi-professional minority are now commonplace. Why, surely everyone now knows what it means to speculate whether a certain presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today programme has now, or has ever had a "Prince Albert"? So why shouldn't this be the subject of jokey innuendo on popular BBC comedy programmes?**

Despite the brief heyday of feminism in the 1970s and 80s, it sometimes seems that the pornographic imaginings of 15-year old boys have been amplified, endorsed, packaged, and then sold back to the rest of us as "normal"; aspirational, even. How strange is that? And how confusing (not least for a 15-year old girl). Perhaps the time has come when we need to ask whether it has been a price worth paying. Sex is normal, fun, but a private matter between consenting grown-ups. I don't want it used to sell me cars and cornflakes.

It must be so much simpler being a frog.

Frog quest

* Although getting your legs dyed woad blue as a consequence was not at all sexy, as I can testify. I'm pretty sure that's not how the Ancient Britons did it.

** Answer (and I never thought I'd say something like this): Because my daughter is watching, you thoughtless, arrogant, grinning morons.

*** In case you're puzzled, the title of this post combines Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" with the chorus from "The Frogs" by Aristophanes.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Half Term

It's been the half term holiday this past week and, although I no longer need to*, I've taken some time off. Someone had to get my daughter out of bed, after all. Normal service will now be resumed.

Talking of getting people out of bed, has anyone else encountered an adult walking down the street in broad daylight wearing pajamas? I saw this for the first time last summer, and presumed the woman was mental. But I have since since seen several more, and heard recently on the radio that Tesco has had to ban people from shopping who are wearing only nightclothes. What on earth is happening to this country?

* And, thank goodness ... British parents of younger children have to cover a total of around 60-70 days of school closures in the year which -- if you consider the typical annual leave entitlement from work is 25 days or fewer -- can be a considerable challenge. I have nothing but admiration for those saintly people who elect to teach our children, but the arrangement of school holidays is so last century... Reconsidering the need for those 15 days of half term breaks would be a start...

Tuesday 16 February 2010


In his blog a while ago, photographer Pradip Malde drew attention to this poem by Borges, which he says "has always conditioned my still-life work". I don't know why it came to mind today, but it seemed to go with these two photographs I took on the way in to work this morning; perhaps because that intense, washed light you get after heavy rain always seems to bring out the thing-ness of things.

Las Cosas, por Jorge Luis Borges

El bastón, las monedas, el llavero,
la dócil cerradura, las tardías
notas que no leerán los pocos días
que me quedan, los naipes y el tablero,

un libro y en sus páginas la ajada
violeta, monumento de una tarde
sin duda inolvidable y ya olvidada,
el rojo espejo occidental en que arde

una ilusoria aurora. ¡Cuántas cosas,
láminas, umbrales, atlas, copas, clavos,
nos sirven como tácitos esclavos,

ciegas y extrañamente sigilosas!
Durarán más allá de nuestro olvido;
no sabrán nunca que nos hemos ido.

Things, by Jorge Luis Borges

My walking-stick, small change, key-ring,
The docile lock and the belated
Notes my few days left will grant
No time to read, the cards, the table,

A book, in its pages, that pressed
Violet, the leavings of an afternoon
Doubtless unforgettable, forgotten,
The reddened mirror facing to the west

Where burns illusory dawn. Many things,
Files, sills, atlases, wine-glasses, nails,
Which serve us, like unspeaking slaves,

So blind and so mysteriously secret!
They’ll long outlast our oblivion;
And never know that we are gone.

translated by A. S. Kline © 2008

Sunday 14 February 2010

Mysterious Meetings

I'm a big fan of "genre fiction", thrillers in particular. Like a lot of active readers, I simply find most contemporary "literary" fiction anaemic and dull, pedestrian in its pace and stunted in its range of reference. And, worse than that, and most surprising, most of it is terribly badly written. At least, in those respects that I value. I love, for example, the idiomatic vigour achieved by writers who feel an obligation to make their dialogue crackle. Where else can you find characters who say things like, "Oh, a long time, since God's dog was a puppy" (Lee Child), or, "Most people are so dumb they need printed instructions to pound sand down a rathole" (George V. Higgins) ? Not in most of the Booker Prize shortlist, that's for sure.

Of course, the main objection to genre fiction is that "life is not like that". To which the best response is, "What, you mean, it's not composed of words, 300 pages long, and bound between illustrated covers? I guess you're right. But fiction is exactly like that." There's something oddly adolescent about a concern, regarding any artform, that it does not accurately reflect life. Well, duh. I refer you (once more) to the post containing my favourite Picasso anecdote.

That understood, however, it is very pleasing when real life does approach the condition of a thriller. I came across an example recently, following up some references to the Lithuanian/French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (OK, I don't just read thrillers). It appears Levinas -- having spent WW2 interned as a prisoner of war -- had a post-war meeting with a mysterious character, known only as "Monsieur Chouchani", which deeply influenced his thinking. I have lifted this account from the Wikipedia article:
In 1945 Levinas closest friend, Dr. Henri Nerson a Jewish obstetrician, told him about an outstanding and quite bizarre individual he came to know during the years of the War in the area of Vichy. The man was so unusual that even his real name was not known. He used to be called Chouchani but this was more of a nickname than his true one. His external appearance was quite unpleasant, some say even repugnant. However, according to Nerson his knowledge was phenomenal. Nerson, who was known for his sober way to apprehend people and situations, was clearly in a state of excitement as if he would have become an adept of some sect. He strongly recommended to Levinas to meet Chouchani, but for two years Levinas refused. After all Levinas was quite suspicious as to what this "clochard" looking man could contribute to him. Finally in 1947 Levinas agreed to meet Chouchani. We know very little about the meeting itself. But there exists a myth. The myth suggests that they met for an entire night, and in the morning Levinas said to Nerson as he was about to leave: "I can not tell what he knows, all I can say is that all that I know, he knows". Be the accuracy of this myth as it may, one fact remains undisputable. From then on, Levinas became interested in the study of Talmud to a point where most of his free time, he would devote to studying it.
What a cracking setup for an upmarket thriller, eh? I wonder what Levinas' weapon of choice would be? Probably something small but elegant, and easily concealed -- a switchblade, or a spring-loaded cosh? And how much punishment could he take in the cellar of the wicked Nazi Dr. Heidegger? Just imagine the potential for a truly surprising (and philosophically challenging) "reveal" towards the end.

An even more intriguing mysterious meeting, though, is the one between the aforesaid Heidegger (philosopher-king of existentialism and Nazi academic careerist) and the Romanian, German-speaking Jewish poet Paul Celan, who spent the war in forced labour camps and whose family was exterminated by the Nazis and their Romanian collaborators. Celan is notorious for the obscurity of his poems, the most famous of which, "Todesfuge" (Death Fugue), has nonetheless become an anthology piece, and is regarded as perhaps the definitive artistic response to the Holocaust. Heidegger is also known for the difficulty of his writings, but has become even more notorious in recent times (and, to some, discredited as a philosopher) following the revelation of his Nazi Party membership and persecution of Jewish colleagues subsequent to his appointment as Rector of Freiburg University in 1933.

Accounts vary about the meeting between the two. If you're not familiar with the protagonists, then its poignancy and mystery may elude you. It took place in 1967 at Heidegger's secluded Black Forest mountain chalet in Todtnauberg, but no-one knows what actually happened there. Celan wrote a typically elliptical poem about the occasion, "Todtnauberg", which gives little away.

It is known that Celan was an admirer of Heidegger's philosophical work, but was baffled by Heidegger's post-war failure to account for his actions during the Nazi period. It is also know that Heidegger admired Celan's poetry, and that the encounter was at his invitation, following a lecture by Celan at Freiburg. Imagine: a Jewish holocaust survivor, a world-class poet writing in the language of his oppressors, meets in secret a first-order academic existentialist philosopher, who had been a Nazi and remained in Germany throughout the war, as an approved university administrator who gave some philosophical underpinning to National Socialist ideas. You can bet they didn't talk about football. Some think Celan had expected to receive some sort of apology from the philosopher, but was disappointed. Some think Heidegger had expected to be lionized by the poet, but was also disappointed.

A bit of a damp squib, then; or, perhaps, a last hope extinguished. But this is where thrillers differ usefully from life, and from the typical literary novel. What Celan should have done, of course, once he had disarmed Heidegger, was to handcuff him to a radiator. Then sprinkle the petrol he had discovered in an outhouse during his previous night's reconnaissance all over the chalet. Then threaten to set fire to the place unless he got a crystal-clear, uncharacteristically unambiguous written statement of apology ("And none of that cryptic Dasein shit, matey"). And then maybe set fire to the place, anyway.

A far more satisfying ending, perhaps. But, as the critics of genre fiction say, life is not like that. In real life, it was Celan who committed suicide three years later in 1970, aged 50, and Heidegger who died of natural causes at the age of 87 in 1976.

Friday 12 February 2010

Art of the Book

I don't know whether any of my US readers live anywhere near, but I thought I'd mention that I have a couple of my books in an exhibition at Gallery 210 at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The exhibition is called Art of the Book : journals then and now, and runs from February 11th to May 8th 2010.

In case you get the idea that I'm turning into some kind of international superstar, let me disabuse you: the only reason I have any work in the exhibition is that it was co-curated by my colleague Linda Newington of the Winchester School of Art Library, who was kind enough to ask whether I would like to show any work.

I must admit that, these days, I'm quite ambivalent in my view of the "artist's book". For a while, I thought my destiny lay in that direction -- it's an obvious match with my skills and inclinations. It's even in my genes (if you're of a Lamarckian persuasion) -- my paternal grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were all bookbinders or "pocket book makers"; Grandad C. ended up working at the famous Temple Press of J.M. Dent & Sons in Letchworth, makers of "Everyman" classics.

Back in ye pre-digital age I taught myself some basic book-binding techniques, and produced some micro-run editions of hand-made books. I was a big fan of the leporello -- the concertina book -- usually bound in hard covers made using rigid foam board covered in cloth or paper. When photo-quality inkjet printing and desktop publishing software arrived, I began a serious bookmaking addiction. And when Blurb and all the other web-based "print on demand" services started up, I was first in the queue. For me, photography and books go together like ... well, think of two things you like that go really well together.

Now, I love the idea of books that exist solely because a creatively-inclined person has willed them into being: there need be no story to tell, no axe to grind, no news to bring. But a key part of the motivation behind many contemporary artist's books is a curious desire to subvert the book form as such. Hence, endless "books" which are all about not being books.

I can see why people can get caught up in this po-mo lite obsession, but, to me, subverting the book form has about as much point and purpose as subverting the functioning of the kidney. The codex book is a thing of functional beauty, refined over 1000 years until, at its best, it is as close as you'll get to a "degree zero" experience: a transparent medium which does its discreet best not to be the message. Frankly, that is precisely the point that the typical "look at me!" artist's book ends up underlining: books are brilliant, until they get in the way. To read a paperback novel which is too thick, too tightly bound, with too narrow gutters, no margins and an unreadable typeface is not a useful and enlightening experience of subversion, it's just bloody annoying.

For that reason, my own books have become purposefully plain and conventional in recent years, to better serve my photography. I suspect they will look a little unambitious in the context of an artist's books exhibition. What, no pop-ups?

But I remember showing one of my more baroque early efforts -- involving transparent and semi-opaque overlay pages with text, adventurous typography, coloured papers and unconventional layouts -- to an admired photographer at a workshop. His face darkened, as he handled this object. "Mike," he said, "You're going to have to make your mind up, whether you're a photographer or a book artist. I don't think you can be both -- the values are too different." It didn't take me very long to make my mind up.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Paricutin to Quicksand

Today is my 56th birthday, and it seems like I'm now finally into the countdown (or perhaps the holding pattern) for my 60th. When I turned 50, it was like cresting a rise above a valley, in which a village called "Sixty" was visible, but still far off downhill. But now I feel like I'm pounding unstoppably down the slope, with a good view of the sort of village "Sixty" is going to turn out to be. Oh, well. Sixty is the new fifty, they say (but, if so, I really don't understand what they're teaching them at school these days).

I have already described my best ever birthday in the post "When Were You Happiest?", and that would be hard to improve on. Ah, too much, too soon! But I must admit I was never that big on birthdays. I had an aversion to parties when I was small, though I did get the hang of it once alcohol and girls came into the picture. But even then it never occurred to me to have one of my own (what, throw up on our carpet?). I also never seemed to experience that ecstasy of entitlement that descends on some children on their birthday. "It's my birthday today!" Oh, really? Get over yourself, kid.

But birthday presents were always special. In those far-off days when there was less money splashing around, a birthday present really meant something. I still remember many of them, and in particular I remember my eighth birthday, when my parents gave me two volumes of a 16 volume illustrated encyclopaedia: a sort of tentative down payment on a lifetime of bookishness. "Face it, the boy's weird, might as well make a virtue out of it..."

It would be hard to overestimate the impact of those volumes on me. I read them from cover to cover, repeatedly. I gazed at the illustrations, intensely. Above all, I was entranced by the covers. In 1962, full colour illustrations were still a bit of a novelty: full colour image-wrapped glossy covers were totally new in Britain. I'd never see anything as lush, as smooth, as pleasingly sophisticated as those covers. Each volume had a different coloured spine, which harmonised beautifully with an elaborate trompe l'oeuil painting of a collection of objects (tickets, postcards, dolls, beads, even a potato), apparently pinned to a wall or dangling from strings, or sitting in 3D space, and each cover was unique to each volume. Needless to say, I wanted them all! And, in due course, a Christmas and another birthday later, I did have all sixteen.

Today, I had the strong urge to see those pictures again, but realised I couldn't even recall the name of the encyclopaedia. Now, if you work with books, you'll know how frustrating it is trying to help someone who desperately wants something, can see it in their mind's eye, but can't put useful words to it. "It's a big book, it has a very green cover with strange gold lettering" just doesn't help. So, as it's my birthday, I thought I'd set aside an hour of quality time, and help myself.

All I knew was that it was a multi-volume illustrated children's encyclopaedia, published around 1962, with really great covers. I searched the British Library catalogue, the COPAC catalogue, and did some Google searches. Eventually, my professional sixth sense started to twinkle around an American item that kept cropping up, "The Golden Book Encyclopedia". It wasn't the right title, but I recalled that "my" encyclopaedia did have a distinctly North American flavour -- although it had been Anglicized, the boys in the pictures had oddly square crewcuts and unobtainable striped t-shirts. As soon as I found a listing of the volumes and saw the title of volume 12 -- "From Paricutin to Quicksand" -- I knew I had hit paydirt.

How could I forget? That volume started with the appallingly disconcerting tale of a volcano springing up virtually underfoot in a campesino's field in Mexico, and ended with the nightmarish porridge-like substance into which characters in 1950s and 60s TV series regularly sank (it seemed that the rule was, "If in doubt, have the Lone Ranger fall into some quicksand"). Hey, no-one said that acquiring all the knowledge in the world would be comforting.

All that remained was to identify the title of the British edition (which was certainly not "The Golden Book Encyclopedia"), and then find some pictures of the covers. Just a little more triangulation, and I had it: it was "The Junior World Encyclopaedia", of course! Armed with the title, I could find and lift a couple of cover images from the Web. Unsurprisingly, it turned out the American and British editions shared the same cover illustrations.*

So, a nice birthday present to myself: finally to rediscover the source of so much instruction and pleasure, forty-eight years ago. My next quest is to find out who painted those covers.

* To discover the association with Golden Books was particularly satisfying, as it was a direct connection with another book I had tracked down for myself, some years ago, before the internet made such quests relatively trivial. In our Junior School library we had a wonderful (illustrated, image-wrapped) book, which showed how to make your own American indian stuff -- from teepees to peace pipes, from totem poles to beaded mocassins. To cut to the chase, after a considerable paperchase (hard to imagine now, but in 1984 you couldn't just try random keyword searches, even for a book title) it turned out to be the British edition of "The Golden Book of Indian Crafts and Lore" by W. Ben Hunt.

Friday 5 February 2010

In A Silent Way

A bizarre thing happened this week. I was listening to the BBC Radio 3 Breakfast programme on the car radio on the way in to work on Tuesday, when a very nice piece of Baroque music came on, just as I was approaching the campus. I anticipated with pleasure a "car park moment" -- you know, when a piece of music is so good that you stay in the parked car to hear it to the end, and to find out what it was. I keep a little notebook in my coat pocket for just such times. I've had some of my most treasured musical experiences sitting in a car park.

Anyway, the piece finished, and -- instead of Rob Cowan filling me in on the details -- there was an unusually long silence, even for Radio 3, and then a further piece of what sounded like the same composer and performers. Then, when that finished, there was another silence, and then another track of what seemed to be the very same album. Then another. And another.

By this time it occurred to me that maybe good old Rob had died, slumped over the console, and nobody had noticed. But there was nothing I could do for him, and I was late for work, so I got out, and walked to the office, deeply puzzled.

Later on, I looked up the playlist and, sure enough, there were seven tracks of Buxtehude in a row, occupying about 45 minutes of airtime. Extraordinary. I had to go to the "Listen Again" facility, to see whether I could hear Rob Cowan say, "And now for some Buxtehude, which ... arrgh!" It would be like the start of a Dorothy L. Sayers thriller.

But after some scanning backwards and forwards, it emerged -- disappointingly -- that there had merely been a technical fault. No dagger in the back, no poisoned cup of coffee. Ah, well.

Here's another little sequence from this week: