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"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life..." -Samuel Johnson
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Ministry of Sound
Three-and-a-half years ago I decided to "embark on an ambitious project to bring myself up-to-speed with music. I thought it would be a delightful idea to compile a DVD (the one with the highest capacity, 9GBish I think) with the world's greatest music of all-time." That's what I wrote here then and today I'm proud to report back to you the fruits of that labour. Before I do, a major round of thanks to everybody who contributed their feedback with tracks and artists I couldn't leave out from a "greatest-ever" list. I think you'll each find something to your liking, even if several other inclusions raise an odd eyebrow or few. In a project like this it's impossible to please everybody. Ultimately, this is my compilation and it caters to my tastes.

The playlist encompasses over seven decades of English (pop) music. The oldest songs are from the 1930s, the most recent is from 2009. I haven't included anything since then because frankly, the majority of them haven't stood the (arbitrary) test of time yet. The playlist is also incomplete so don't be surprised to find tracks missing in it. It's a work-in-progress and will remain so, as long as time doesn't stand still. But there's enough to bring back memories and create new ones. I just happened to have reached the 1000 song milestone.

Unfortunately, I cannot make a DVD of this compilation because quite simply, I do not own CDs or records of most tracks. At the time of making the original post, I intended to download all the MP3s and burn them onto a DVD. I've since realised the importance of copyright infringement and decided to keep the whole thing legal. To my good fortune, I was introduced to Spotify less than a year after making the original post. It's fair to say Spotify is the only reason this project came to fruition. Less than two months of using it for free, I recognised the benefits of a premium subscription. For just £10 a month, I had unlimited access to every Spotify track available in the UK. I can't stress enough how amazing this was for a music lover.

Spotify has its limitations but that's the price you pay for staying on the right side of the law. Artists like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Metallica and Oasis are not available due to lack of licensing agreements. But hopefully that will change in the future. Even so, there's still so much else to choose from. I've even managed to compile a 1000 greatest-ever tracks!

So without further ado, I present you The Best English Songs of All-Time. You can view and play it in Spotify. Or you can view the playlist in a Word document, with links to Spotify.

Please continue leaving your feedback about tracks and artists that I've left out. In the meantime, enjoy!
Ministry of Sound
About two months ago I posted a single playlist of my ongoing best-ever songs in English compilation. But perhaps you'd rather listen to them by time-period? If so this entry is for you.

Links to Spotify [Word Doc]:
Pre-1960s         [Link]
1960s & 70s*      [Link]
1980s             [Link]
1960s, 70s & 80s
1990s             [Link]
20th Century
2000s             [Link]
(* I'm in the process of separating the 60s & 70s songs into their own playlists.)

[ Originally posted on 3 July 2012 @ 00.30 ]
14th-Nov-2014 10:50 pm - 12 data maps that sum up London
South Park Me
A new collection of data maps of London reveals a city heaving with information.

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14th-Nov-2014 10:45 pm - It's The Sun Wot Won It
South Park Me

And wot would an entry about the British fourth estate be without one of my favourite comedy moments making yet another appearance on this blog:

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12th-Nov-2014 09:15 pm - #NailedIt
Bedouin in Desert

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11th-Nov-2014 11:55 pm - Lest We Forget

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11th-Nov-2014 11:35 pm - Lest We Forget

I never knew such a memorial existed in this country. Seems obvious now. I hope to visit it one day.

According to Wikipedia, "Over one million Indian troops served overseas, of whom 62,000 died and another 67,000 were wounded. In total at least 74,187 Indian soldiers died during the war."

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South Park Me

Keen listeners of this delightful programme would not have been surprised to hear the contents of the recorded conversation between Thatcher and Reagan from 1983 that has just been released. The Radio 4 programme was broadcast in August last year, and we learnt from it via the Downing Street note of the conversation, that Reagan initially tried to defuse the situation, by suggesting he would first throw his hat into the room if he was in London, before walking in. We also learn that Reagan used the phrase 'zero hour' before he could do anything about it. Exactly as it is in the recording. If you've got 8 minutes, it's worth listening from about 3:40 to the whole section on Grenada from the UK Confidential episode. It includes a brief interview about the declassified documents with Lord Owen (former British Foreign Secretary) and an American diplomat who was working in the US Embassy (in London) at the time. It is rather instructive that the American diplomat had dinner with Geoffrey Howe (the then British Foreign Secretary), the night before the invasion, and yet neither knew anything about it! It is also worth noting that the American diplomat refers to the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, that killed nearly 300 American and French servicemen just a couple days before the invasion, as a tragedy so severe that it may have resulted in the invasion as a diversion.

On the recording, Reagan says he wanted to inform Thatcher of the invasion before some rogue informant did, but in an interview with the US President's authorised biographer on the wireless last night, this was quickly dismissed. The biographer was convinced Reagan was fibbing and had intentionally delayed informing her before it was too late (about 8 hours). However, the biographer also added that on two counts, Thatcher was somewhat embarrassed. One, was not responding to the situation in Grenada, having been requested (along with the French) to do so by their government, and two, she found herself in a similar situation to that of Reagan after Britain's own invasion of the Falklands, a year earlier. Yet despite these two foreign policy setbacks, they still seemed to share a politically intimate relationship. A point driven home by the biographer's final anecdote about a poster* Reagan kept in his stable, recreating the famous Rhett Butler-Vivien Leigh pose from Gone With The Wind, with the two of them on it instead. The biographer asked if he had shown it to Thatcher, to which Reagan said no-way, she'd get upset. The biographer apparently told him, on the contrary, I think she'd rather like it, mischievously adding that it was probably her ultimate fantasy... 

I also found it interesting that the biographer seemed to suggest that the Americans were justified in their actions on the pretext of protecting the 500 or so American students on the island. In contrast, Lord Owen suggests that the students didn't seem worried at all, lending credence to alternative theories. Either way, the release of the recording has thrown further light onto an important episode in the history of Anglo-American relations. One just wonders what else will be released to us in days, weeks, months, years...even decades to come, 

(* I don't think the picture above is the exact poster. This seems to be some anti-war poster from the 1980s, but I suspect it looked something like this.) This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
8th-Nov-2014 08:55 pm - George Osborne’s European triumph
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5th-Nov-2014 06:35 pm - Words & Phrases: October 2014
Comma Sutra
01. Atavistic
02. Doing a Ratner
03. Rugger bugger
04. Hooray Henry
05. Bump supper
06. Drongo
07. Peak
08. Dram
09. Whiskey Tango
10. Keystone Cops
11. Bucolic
12. Turpitude
13. Shlock
14. Whiffy

It's back after almost exactly a year! Watch out for (7) which in this entry assumes its London urban yoof meaning, while (9) is code for something derogatory. Otherwise, as you were.

Poll #1988063 The Vocab Guru Poll #19

How many did you already know the meaning for?

All of them
5 or fewer
5th-Nov-2014 06:20 pm - Gorra love Sir Winston C
South Park Me

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2nd-Nov-2014 08:25 pm - Home Office Baby of 2 November 1884
South Park Me
This makes for morbid reading.

(HT @LondonHistorian)

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South Park Me

Some time ago, I picked up this gem of a second-hand coat-pocket-sized book at my local market for the magical price of £1.25, a steal from the original RRP of £8.99 for a 2007 publication. Packed within it are 128 pages, including over 100 photographs of notable inn signs, and short insights to the stories behind them. The ideal companion to the history-loving, trivia-obsessed tipple-quenching Londoner. Can you think of anyone...?

Here are some of my favourites:

The Assembly House: (Kentish Town Road NW5)
The name refers to the fact that travellers gathered here before making their journey to the north across Hampstead Heath hoping that as a group they would avoid being attacked by highwaymen.

The Barley Mow: (Dorset Street W1)
Dates back to 1791 claiming to be the 'oldest pub in Marylebone', and it probably did serve farmers who came to the village of Marylebone from what was then countryside surrounding London. Many of its original features are intact including small snugs and a private bar. The name is more often attached to country pubs as a 'mow' is a stack and as barley is an ingredient of beer, the barley mow sign merely indicated that beer was sold in the house.

The Black Friar: (Queen Victoria Street EC4)
This pub, built in 1878, remodelled by H. Fuller Clark 1903-05, and refurbished in the early twentieth century, is a miraculous survival of art nouveau decoration. The area takes its name from the Dominican friary, which was situated here from the thirteenth century until its dissolution in 1536. The friars, founded by St Dominic in 1216, were known as the Black Friars from the colour of their robes. The trial of Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII took place in the Blackfriars Hall. The whole facade and interior of the pub is ornate with friars imbibing drink or having other connections with beer. The vaulted back room was added after the First World War to provide extra seating space.

The Blind Beggar: (Whitechapel Road E1)
The Blind Beggar was Henry, son of Simon de Montfort who was killed at the battle of Evesham in 1265. Henry was left for dead but escaped by assuming the guise of a beggar. The sign shows him accompanied by a nobleman's daughter who is said to have married him in the east of London. The event was recorded in a play, The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, first performed in 1659. General Booth of the Salvation Army 'opened fire' in the pub with his first sermon in 1865. The pub was also the site of the murder of George Connell by the rival gangster Ronnie Kray in March 1966. Connell greeted Kray with the words, 'Well, look who's here' before being shot through the forehead.

The Cannon: (Cannon Street EC4)
The sign shows a trooper by the sign of a cannon, which he is about to fire. Though the name is taken from the street, Cannon Street was once Candelewrithstreet, where candlewrights had their shops.

Cat & Mutton: (Broadway Market E8)
This is a splendid Victorian pub with a sign showing a cat running away on hind legs waving a leg of mutton in its right paw being chased by a furious butcher. There has been a pub on this site since at least 1680 when the building stood on the Porters' Path, a drovers' road leading to Smithfield Market. John Rocque's map of 1745 identifies it as the Leg of Mutton and it has also been known as the Shoulder of Mutton.

The Dublin Castle: (Parkway NW1)
The pub shows a castle purporting to be that in Dublin. The name dates from the time when the main railway line to the North West from Euston was being driven through Camden Town and Chalk Farm. Navvies from all parts of the British Isles dug the line, but this often led to violence between the national groups. To try to stop the fighting separate pubs were built in the Camden area. The Dublin Castle was the base of the Irish navvies, the Windsor Castle served the English, the Edinboro Castle the Scottish and the Pembroke the Welsh. As the pubs were placed far apart this strategy seems to have kept the peace.

The Flask: (Flask Walk NW3)
Dates back to 1663. The sign shows a thirsty soldier drinking from his flask. The pub was originally called the Thatched House then the Lower Flask. There was an Upper Flask, which has now been demolished. Mineral waters, which were discovered in the vicinity, were exploited for their presumed medicinal qualities and flasks of this mineral water could be bought at the pub. The present building dates from a rebuilding of 1874 intended to serve the local workers and at one time had separate bars dividing the gentry from the working class.

The Hand & Shears: (Middle Street EC3)
The pub stands on the site of a twelfth-century alehouse which served the monks and guests of St Bartholomew's Priory. The sign, which is the guild sign of the Merchant Tailors' Co., commemorates their role in the Smithfield Fair or St Bartholomew's Fair held at Michaelmas every September and one of the largest in London. The officials of the company checked the cloth to ensure that the cloth was sold with the right measure. The Lord Mayor opened the fair, first recorded in 1133, by cutting the first piece of cloth, which seems to have given rise to the tradition of cutting a piece of tape to open an event. The last Cloth Fair was held in 1855. The pub claims to have provided refreshment to those who wished to watch the prisoners leave Newgate Prison for their execution at Tyburn.

The Jerusalem Tavern: (Britton Street EC1)
This is a small building dating back to 1720, through having the sign of the head of St John on a platter, has reference to the Knights Templar who protected pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Land. The Templars were suppressed in 1314 and their duties were taken over by the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights of the St John of Jerusalem, whose priory was close by.

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28th-Oct-2014 10:50 pm - Cauliflower
South Park Me
1590s, originally cole florye, from Italian cavoli fiori "flowered cabbage," plural of cavolo "cabbage" + fiore "flower" (from Latin flora; see flora).

First element is from Latin caulis "cabbage" (originally "stem, stalk") which was borrowed into Germanic and is the source of cole in cole-slaw and of Scottish kale. The front end of the word was re-Latinized from 18c.; the back end was influenced by flower (n.). The boxer's cauliflower ear is from 1907.

SOURCE: Online Etymology Dictionary


I was inspired to make this entry after I saw an intriguing tweet which said that the introduction of cauliflower to England could be dated to a dinner given to the Privy Council in November 1590 (Joan Thirsk, Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads and Fashions 1500-1760 (2007) p. 289). A subsequent Google search produced another interesting tidbit from the author's note of Ian Mortimer's historical fiction work, The Final Sacrament (under the pen name James Forrester):While Wikipedia offers a short excerpt into its origins and journey through Europe before its arrival in This Sceptred Isle:
    "For such a highly modified plant, cauliflower has a long history. The oldest record of cauliflower dates back to the 6th century B.C. Pliny wrote about it in the 2nd century after Christ. In the 12th century, three varieties were described in Spain as introductions from Syria, where it had doubtless been grown for more than a thousand years. It is found in the writings of the Arab botanists Ibn al-'Awwam and Ibn al-Baitar, in the 12th and 13th centuries when its origins were said to be Cyprus. They were introduced to France from Genoa in the 16th century, and are featured in Olivier de Serres' Théâtre de l'agriculture (1600), as cauli-fiori "as the Italians call it, which are still rather rare in France; they hold an honorable place in the garden because of their delicacy", but they did not commonly appear on grand tables until the time of Louis XIV."
And there you have it, the etymology and history of the beloved cauliflower. If you're anything like me, you'll never look at another cabbage flower (or the next one, at any rate) the same way again... bon appetit!

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South Park Me
A delightful article from Friday's Telegraph by Rowan Pelling about pop-culture ignoramuses. An epithet for which I should no doubt be held in contempt as it concerns our most-esteemed juridical masters!
    "Some of the greatest examples of British comedy have occurred in our courtrooms, such as Mr Justice Harman’s* bravado performance in 1990, when he affected to have no idea who Paul Gascoigne was, despite presiding over the footballer’s attempt to sue Penguin books for an unauthorised biography. When Gascoigne’s lawyer informed the judge that his client was “a very well-known footballer”, Harman replied, “Rugby or Association?” During evidence, Harman interjected, “Isn’t there an operetta called La Gazza Ladra?” In a final hammy flourish, the judge mused, “Do you think Mr Gascoigne is more famous now than the Duke of Wellington was in 1815?” Almost as delicious was Sir Justice Popplewell’s appeal for further information during a 1998 libel trial, when he asked, “What is Linford Christie’s lunchbox?” Christie replied, “They are making a reference to my genitals, your honour.”"
A similar article from Auntie in February 2004 also shares a couple other amusing pop-cultural anecdotes, along with a couple from the Pelling article as well.

(* And just to remind ourselves of the ignominy with which Justice Harman's career as a High Court judge ended, here are two more articles from The Independent.)

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24th-Oct-2014 11:45 pm - NPR's TED Radio Hour
South Park Me
I'm sure most of you have heard of TEDTalks. What you may not be aware of is a podcast co-produced with America's NPR (National Public Radio) called TED Radio Hour. It's a weekly radio programme hosted by Guy Raz and syndicated in several countries. Each episode has an overarching theme incorporating excerpts from several TED speeches relating to the theme, interspersed with an interview between Raz and the original TED speaker in turn. As the name suggests, the programme lasts sixty minutes and it is easily accessible, either live via online radio streams or as a podcast on your computer, smartphone and tablet. You can also access older episodes via iTunes and the programme's official website. I don't listen to it religiously but two episodes in particular were especially fascinating in the past year:

1) Why We Collaborate (12 July 2013); and
2) What Is Original? (27 June 2014)

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South Park Me

The original version of Cyndi Lauper's cover hit single, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (youtube link).

An interesting article from Auntie with a few surprising listings, including the video above. Cyndie Lauper changed some of the lyrics to alter the original song's meaning, but kept the melody.

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South Park Me
"The new Journal pages will debut in the paper on Tuesday 16 September and will appear up to four times a week. Overseen by Jonathan Freedland, Guardian News & Media’s executive editor, opinion, Journal will incorporate comment, leaders, letters and some reviews alongside a new regular “long read” feature.

The new long reads will be edited by Jonathan Shainin, who recently joined the Guardian from the New Yorker where he was news editor. The first will appear on Tuesday 16 September. The long reads will be between 3,000 and 5,000 words in length and will showcase a wide range of in-depth analysis and essays, as well as detailed profile pieces and on-the-ground reportage. Written by a range of guest contributors, as well as some of the Guardian’s most popular writers and columnists, the pieces will cover politics, both domestic and international, culture, science, technology and everything in between.

Jonathan Freedland said: “The new Journal section will strengthen the heart of the Guardian newspaper, providing a new home for our most reflective journalism. We’re very excited about our plans for long reads, both in the paper and online, and I’m thrilled that Jonathan Shainin has joined us from the New Yorker to get this new venture off the ground.”" (Read more)
And true to their word, here's the first essay of The Grauniad's latest long reads adventure. Let's hope it's here to stay...unlike the last one!

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South Park Me
"One cannot be frivolous about cricket. Americans, viewing the game as an incomprehensible form of baseball, have always been confused by its felicities; the Irish, too. “The English,” wrote George Bernard Shaw, “are not a very spiritual people so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity.” True, but that only proves how enjoyably Stoppardian the Shavian can be. Who else but the English would invent a national sport that stops for lunch and tea? It also stops for rain. Rain is good. It creates more time for lunch and tea. “Rain stopped play,” goes the traditional announcement, which is received by the English with the serenity of the meteorologists who told us so. Cricket ought to be a civilized waiting game. Traditionally, it abolishes all sense of time. “Cricket is a process, not a sport; seepage rather than drama; a summer’s dawdle akin to a picnic or a garden party,” wrote the novelist Paul West. “To ask it to be crisp and spectacular is like asking an oyster to sing the role of Faust.”

Our point, precisely. No sane person would dream of asking an oyster to do any such thing. Cricket isn’t just cricket. It is a social history of England. Cricket was old when the Tudors were young. We know that Englishmen played cricket as well as bowls at the time the Spanish Armada was sighted. The word cricket itself is a diminutive of “cric,” a cric or curved staff, a shepherd’s staff. Moses was a keen cricketer, I hear. Which is where Mr. Stoppard and, indeed, the cricket-loving Harold Pinter, enter the story.

In the tradition of Lord Byron, who played cricket for Harrow, England’s two leading dramatists are mad about the game. Mr. Stoppard plays for Harold Pinter’s team, or used to, and I once saw him in a friendly Sunday game that Mr. Pinter, meticulous in his whites, umpired with the gravity of a bishop. Duty compels me to report that Mr. Stoppard was a little flashy with the bat, though a pleasing risk-taker who scored more than a few that day. I regret that I was too preoccupied enjoying tea to see him bowl (or pitch, if you must), but I cannot imagine him going for the overheated drudgery of the long run that leads laboriously to a cricketing fastball. He would go for the deceptive slow spin or killing googly–the equivalent of the curveball, only better. To be bamboozled by a googly makes you a doozy.

But Mr. Pinter–who names his characters after English cricketers–puts all in perspective. “I tend to believe that cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth,” he has said in his understated way. “Certainly greater than sex, although sex isn’t too bad either. But everyone knows which comes first when it’s a question of cricket or sex–all discerning people recognize that. Anyway, you can either have sex before cricket or after cricket. The fundamental fact is that cricket must be there at the center of things. To put my cards on the table, I must also say that cricket means England to me.”
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