Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Very Milonguera

"You're very milonguera, aren't you?"

I was fairly sure that this was intended as a compliment, or at any rate not a complaint, though I also got the impression he might have preferred something else - not in a critical way, but as though he felt he might not be able to give me the kind of dance I'd most appreciate.

On the way home, however, I noticed I had no idea what it actually means.

Even after reading this again I still have no idea what it means. At least, not in terms of how I dance, as opposed to how most of my favourite leaders dance, not that I think it applies to that either.

I just have no idea.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Two-Sheep Crochet Blanket

Two-Sheep blanketSheep, like us, come in various colours, and the different natural colours of sheep hair make for beautiful works in wool without any need for elaborate design. Each colour has a speckled quality which gives it great visual life and interest. I like to combine them in geometric shapes, and I find the results very satisfying. Some companies achieve the same thing with non-natural colours by clever spinning and dyeing, and call it ‘tweed’ or ‘heather’ - it's worth looking out for these. But in the case of Garthenor's lovely range, it just comes like that straight off the animal. It's also interesting to touch, and very warm.

Garthenor Organic Jacob Chunky, 4 skeins in Black and 4 in Grey (3 of each might be enough but I was working from stash with some left over from a previous project, and I'm not really sure how much I used, so 4 to be on the safe side). You can get this from iknitlondon, or online direct from Garthenor. 6mm crochet hook.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In the instructions below I am using the British/Irish terminology which I believe is also used in Australia and New Zealand, because it comes most naturally to me. American stitich names - which I freely admit are logically superior, they're just not what I'm used to - are off-by-one in relation to this. If you are used to the American system and you'd like to reproduce this object, you should simply cross out ‘dc’ and replace it with ‘sc’ throughout.

With grey, make a crochet chain 48 sts long. Turn.
Ch 1 (counts as stitch into 1st st), 1dc into next ch, and so to end. (48 sts - this number will not change).
Turn. 1ch (counts as st into first st), 1dc into next st, continue to end, taking care not to miss the turning ch.
Continue till you have worked 12 rows of dc.
Break yarn and change colour by doing the last pull-through of the last st of the row with the new colour. Work 12 rows in black.
Repeat till you have 10 stripes.
Turn the work through 90 degrees and make 2ch to stand as first stitch down the side.
Work 1dc into the first, second, and fourth out of every four rows all the way down the side to the end. (Non-expert crocheters: be careful working into the turning chains, it's a bit fiddly. It doesn't matter much exactly what loop you work into as long as you're consistent. Rows that went one way will be trickier than rows that went the other way. I advise you to always pick up two threads, not more and not less. Depending on how you were taught to make your starting chain, you might have to do an extra stitch at the very end - this is fine - just do what has to happen to make the end straight.)
Turn and work back in the usual way, continue till you have worked 12 rows. Break wool.
Join in grey at the grey end, and work 12 rows on the other side in the same way.
Work in ends.

Very cosy.


A dear friend gave me The Elegance of the Hedgehog for Christmas. I'd seen it before, and thought ‘nice title’, but not picked it up.

I liked it. It's extremely French, in a very distinctive and funny way, and one day I'd like to read it in the original and see how I got on. As far as I can tell, it's meant to be entertaining and satirical, and it is. If I'd never personally noticed that a sixteenth-century Dutch painting of lemons was absolutely nothing like a photograph, nor met someone who told me he was writing a Ph.D thesis on the semiotics of the World Bank, I suppose I might have laughed less. There were one or two words I should have looked up, towards the end, but I didn't because I was enjoying the story. And I agree with the author about how it had to end; I think it's rather the point. I agree with the reviewers that the whole Japanese thing is a bit contrived, but it does the job in context, probably better than anything else available.

I can't imagine that it will sell as well in English as it has in French.

An oddity - the translation is into American English, which is fine - but weights, measures, and even dress sizing have been changed as well. I thought this was a mistake, even supposing that this US edition was only meant to be sold in the USA. The book as a whole made enough demands on the reader's literacy that I don't really see the need to insult the intelligence of an American audience by converting a French television rugby commentator's instantly-recognisable description of Jonah Lomu from centimetres and kilos into feet, inches, and pounds. Why bother? Is the American reader seriously expected to imagine a French commentator saying this? And that the young protagonist recorded feet, inches, and pounds in her journal without further comment? And why should other readers be annoyed and distracted by the utter nonsense of having to deduce what system Renée's dress size is given in? Bizarre.

It is certainly about elegance, which is about self-invention. And stereotypes, and their usefulness for self-invention. I enjoyed that.

Thank you for the present. (x) (x) (x)

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

It is always summer somewhere

My Saturnalia light — for tangobaby:


For Johanna:

Sea Mist

For V:


Monday, 22 December 2008

Everything stops when you open the lid

Have you ever seen that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Hobbes is in the washing machine? Hobbes — six-year-old Calvin's cuddly tiger - is being washed. Calvin opens the lid to check that Hobbes is OK. Hobbes tells him “fine — close the lid. Everything stops when you open it”. There's a sequel, in which Hobbes walks around for some time with little dizzy spirals above his head.

It puzzled me the first time I saw it, because it's one of those top-loading washing machines we don't have here, they only have them in America. The drum is a vertical cylinder, in which you put the washing and the soap, and there's a sort of pole standing up in the middle of it which I suppose is there to agitate the washing, because otherwise it would just nestle at the bottom. There's a steel lid on the top, which drops shut. It has some simple time and temperature controls, like a toaster, and you can open the lid while it's working to look inside.

I had never seen one of these; to me a washing machine is a much smaller, horizontal cylinder with a thick glass door, a seperate drawer for the soap, and automatic cycles based on the standard washing instructions, which you choose from using a dial. If you absolutely insist on opening the door halfway through the cycle, which you can't do accidentally because there's a timed lock to stop you doing anything so silly without switching off the machine first, you'll get water all over the floor.

Of course the cartoon wouldn't make any sense with a front-loading washing machine. Calvin might worry, but he wouldn't be able to open the door. Or, if he did manage to open the door, he would get doused in hot soapy water, and there'd be screams.

The way these machines work - quite different from the kind sold here - also explains the instructions for felting in many American craft books, which assume you have a top-loader, and if you've never even seen one, make no sense.

Anyway. I had a dance that made me feel like Hobbes being washed. Or, at least — agitated, if not very clean.

Moreover, he tried to rub his shoe on my tights (cheap ones, happily) as though he were a dog who'd found a nice, scratchy tree*, and as I withdrew my leg, tried to tell me that I should stand still because it was his turn to have some fun.

Now, that wasn't a lid I needed to have opened. Ew! Eww Ewww Ewwwwww! Eww!

* Some women like this, or so it is said; and I am thrilled to leave men who like it too, exclusively to them.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Growing Boy

When I first met my friend's son, I could pick him up by his hands and whirl him around off the ground at arm's length; to gales of laughter and cries of delight.

Time Measured in Feet

Mine are the little round feet - his the long ones.

He was still a lot shorter than me, and a little bit shorter than his mother, as you can see in the picture below, though not for much longer I suppose.

On the beach

Pictures from Cannon Beach, Oregon, in August this year.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Knitted Brain

Knitted Brain (Detail) - Karen NorbergThe knitted object partially shown to the left is an accurate representation of the structure of a human brain, with the hemispheres joined by a zip, here shown unzipped. It was made by psychiatrist Karen Norberg, and if you click it you will visit the online Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art, where there's a large, high-quality, zoomable image of the whole thing.

In an interview with Science, Norberg says that she found the process instructive in her studies: “Building a brain with yarn and knitting needles turns out to follow many of the same pathways as actual brain development.”

Folds of the Cerebral Cortex (Detail) - Marjorie TaylorThe works of psychologist Marjorie Taylor, also pictured in the museum, are quilted versions of MRI scans, and hang in offices around the University of Oregon. The cerebral cortex in blue velvet on silver is extremely beautiful - a detail is shown to the right.

Perhaps one day the works will be brought together for a show. Hat tip New Scientist (article behind the link, or issue 2687, page 51). In it, Taylor says: “There are plenty of rugs that show flowers and cats and lighthouses. Why not fMRI scans?”

Friday, 19 December 2008

The Counting House, Edinburgh

I was in Edinburgh on holiday so I went for a dance. There is a milonga every Tuesday at the Counting House, which is above the Blind Poet pub in West Nicolson Street, but has its own entrance.

The Class: I don't think there is one, or if there is, it's somewhere else. When I came in, however, I was rather early and the end of a two-or-three-person lesson seemed to be still in progress. It blended into starting the milonga.

Layout and Atmosphere: This is very handsome room in a very handsome building, a lovely place for dancing. There are many, many fine Neoclassical rooms in Edinburgh, and this is one. The room is quite large, with more than enough red chairs around the walls, a few glossy dark wood tables matching the floor, high red curtains, and a spectacular glass dome lit from above which you can see with the 'satellite' option on Google Maps. Giant mirrors fill the top half of the wall at the far end, with more red curtains; go through a door on the right and there's another little room where the water is. The floor is dark wood, smooth and even, I found it a bit on the slippery side. The sound was fine everywhere in the room, as far as I noticed. It is cold, though, in the middle of winter. The room was unheated, as far as I could tell, and it was Scotland and nearly Christmas. Several people sitting down kept their coats on for at least the first hour. Wear wool. I was glad of my cardigan and enough dances to keep me going. I was told that it can be stuffy in summer, but it's a big room. The men all wore jeans and t-shirts, as is fairly typical for weekday milongas and I think is what's expected here. The women, as usual, were better - and if you were dressing for the room rather than the men, it would be just the place for whatever you've just knitted from a vintage Forties pattern.

Hospitality: Good. There's water in jugs, and real glasses, in the little room off to the right of the door past where the loos are. You could also go in there for a rest away from the dancefloor, if you really wanted to, as there are seats; but they're not set out as though intended to be sat on. To get yourself any other drink, walk half way down the stairs and go through the door marked No Smoking; you find yourself practically sitting at the bar in the Blind Poet. If it's a busy night you might have trouble opening the door. It wasn't too busy and I was promptly served a G&T in a tall glass for £3. The loos are quite spacious and you could get changed in there if you really needed to. There were a fair few bits of paper on the floor but otherwise they were clean, dry, supplied and working. [Edit: I forgot to mention that there is a rail to hang your things on in the little corridor off to the right as you go in; you could also change your shoes in there. I didn't know it was there when I came in, so I just did what many do anyway and hung my things on a chair, changing my shoes there.]

What I thought of the DJing: very traditional stuff, just one or two more adventurous tracks - I didn't find it especially memorable but it was all straightfoward to dance to. Two sets of milonga. I think one or two of vals. No cortinas, and the tandas mostly blended.

Getting in: £3 in the basket at the door.

Getting there and getting home: I walked for five minutes, from my hotel. Edinburgh is small, but hilly. You could walk to most places in an hour if you got stuck. It's just off South Bridge, where there are lots of buses. It would only take 10 minutes to walk to Princes' street where there are more. The Blind Poet pub is visible as soon as you turn into West Nicolson Street from the main road. The Counting House, above, has its own entrance, with a large sign you can see when you get closer. The milonga ends at 23:00, although it's true that at that time, when I left, they started playing salsa music and I don't know how long that went on.

The website: There isn't one for this specific milonga, that I can find, but it was listed at www.edinburghtango.org.uk and at the university tango society's website. There's also a Yahoo Group which you could subscribe to for announcements, although looking at the last few messages I wouldn't assume that everything gets announced.

How it went: It was rather thin, especially at first, because most of the university students have now gone home. It would be busier in term-time. The university has its own tango society that runs its own classes. A young gentleman I took to be what the jivers call a taxi-dancer was detailed to give me a start, which is a very hospitable and well-organised practice; or maybe he saw a well-dressed, appropriately-shod, smiling stranger and spontaneously decided to give her a try. This is also possible. I also danced with Toby, who organises it and dances very nicely, very musically, and with several other gentlemen. And I had entertaining conversations while sitting down; they included a qualified medical opinion (Edinburgh of course is famous for its surgeons) on the popularity of plastic surgery among the women of Buenos Aires. All in all I had a very good evening; I was treated with great friendliness, I had good dances, and one of my favourite things about dancing tango is that when you have been doing it for a while you can just go to a strange city and have a really nice evening out, without seeing a single person you know.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Out of Office Message

I am away on holiday. I probably won't be posting or responding to comments.

Why not listen to the Planet Money Podcast (they're very good) or read The Maddoff-o-Meter?

I'll be back at the weekend.

Monday, 15 December 2008

This week was a good week ...

... to be Paul Krugman.

The lecture: Increasing Returns
An interview: Asimov's fiction, Economic Modelling, journalism and politics
The award ceremony: It's quite long but the music is nice and you hear what each prize is about [Edit - fixed link which led to the wrong tab]

Paul with a Swedish Princess


A Historical Survey of the Queen of Sweden's Dress Sense (I like the blue Thai silk one. Not so keen on most of the Eighties.)

You can watch all the other lectures too, at the same place.

Geraldine's Women's Technique Class

In Tango-in-Action's latest series with eminent visiting teachers, was a women's technique class with Geraldine (Rojas) Paludi. If you don't know who she is you can read this (in Spanish) or if you can't read Spanish, just look at the videos there and be told that she is generally regarded as a tango goddess. And since she was only passing through and I am only a tango hedgehog, I took this class. For my future reference and your curiosity, this is what happened. I'll just relate it as I remember it, and from my notes.

Geraldine speaks practically no English, although she obviously understands quite well, so everything she said had to be translated by Ezequiel and Stefano Fava. I understand some spoken Spanish, but I found her hard to follow. So what I relate will be a paraphrase, at best, and when I quote, the words are not hers, but an imperfectly-remembered combination of my translation and and somebody else's. So take with pinch of salt. My descriptions of what she physically did are limited by my powers of observation, which are not that hot. Interjections purely from me are [like this].

Geraldine is small and pretty with very black hair and dark eyes, a strong tendency to laugh, white-olive skin and a pleasing, rounded figure; if you saw her on the Tube you might take her for Persian or Turkish. She resembles Maria strongly in the quality of her movement, especially the perfect centredness and neutrality of her steering when she dances with Ezequiel, and a dignified air of physical self-confidence. I think of it as "Yerwhatness" - a slightly dangerous expression of the whole body and face that says "you lead me, I do it, deal with it!". She has no hesitation whatever in declaring the difference between Right and Wrong; she did not hedge, because she does not need to.

This class was billed as "all levels", and I think that was correct. I don't think you really needed more than minimal tango experience to benefit from it, but very experienced dancers and teachers could and did benefit too.

Exercise 1
Stand with feet together and lift first one heel, then the other, off the ground, putting them down gently and always leaving the toes where they are. She moved up and down while doing this, but only slightly.

Advice and instructions: use your knees, and toes, and most of all the ankles. Don't make a loud noise with your heels.

Exercise 2
From standing with your feet together, move one foot forward so its heel is just a little forward of the other toe. Then, keeping your weight or centre of gravity in the middle, not moving forward or back, lift first one heel, then the other, off the ground, putting them down gently, just like in the first exercise. [This was an exceptionally useful exercise for me, and I don't remember ever having seen it before - nor indeed the first one.]

Advice and instructions: Keep your weight in the middle and your toes flat on the floor. Use your knees, ankles and feet. You dance with your legs.

Exercise 3
Start with your feet together, then cross one foot over the other at the ankle, putting your toes flat on the floor, then return it quickly to its former place. Keep doing this movement. Then repeat the movement, gradually bringing it off the floor into the air, and up to knee level, on both sides.

Advice and instructions: This movement is from the knee and with the ankle, not "where you shave ...." (pause) "... if you do." Don't squeeze your thighs together! When you cross, you cross at the ankles. The ankle crosses first and the knee stays in front. You feel like you are dancing with your legs apart (ungainly demonstration, laughter) but you aren't, it's just a feeling, ignore it. The standing leg is important, think about the standing leg. If you feel you are losing your balance, push down on the standing leg. Don't worry about collecting.

Exercise 4

Draw a circle on the floor with the free foot.

Advice and instructions: Don't make it too big. Don't push down so it makes a noise. It's in contact with the floor, that's all. Move with the knee and ankle and foot. The standing leg is important. It's not bent or straight [locked], just "normal", ready to go.

Exercise 5

Ochos forwards.

Advice and instructions: Think about the standing leg more than the free leg. Push with it. Manage the weight change just like before [referring to exercise 2. There wasn't exactly what I would have called a weight change there, but I think I get it.] Step within yourself - don't displace [i.e. move from side to side] when you are practicing ochos alone! This is not your business, it is the man's business! Don't do it! Just do ochos on the spot. (Demonstration with Ezequiel where he stands still and she does ochos within the space of his embrace, without displacement, then again where he moves a little from side to side and she goes with it - "Now we displace".) When you are practicing alone, don't try to dissociate your upper body - don't try to keep facing the front. You dance with your legs.

Exercise 6

Ochos backwards.

Advice and instructions: Don't try to collect in the middle of the movement! You are all trying much too hard to collect. You are doing it in forward ochos as well, but it's much more obvious in backwards ochos. Don't pass through "position zero" where you stand with the feet together. The free foot just goes round the standing foot. (She demonstrated repeatedly - a quick and vigorous sweeping motion in which the free foot does go past the standing foot close by, but doesn't pause or appear to stick to it.) [Much emphasis and repetition here; and fairly general consternation among students who have been told to collect every other week since they started doing tango. Everybody's ochos wobble all over the place, and fall apart, and we all develop panicky or absent expressions while we try to put them together again without tripping over or kicking each other.]

Further advice and instructions in response to questions

Don't try too hard to dissociate your upper body. The staying in front of him, the connection, is in the mind. You're not exactly square on all the time. If your upper body doesn't follow your legs, doesn't turn at all when you do ochos (demonstration of pivotless ochos), the man can't tell which foot you are on. (Demonstration of pivoting ochos in close embrace, with the upper body rolling gently from side to side).

You dance with your legs. Your free leg swings freely from "where you shave" but the movements are with the knee and ankle. Both legs are alive all the time. Don't try too hard to "relax" your upper body, either - you can't possibly go floppy, that makes no sense - do what's natural and obvious.

Push down on the floor with the weight-bearing foot and manage the weight change like in exercise (2) above. Energy flows right round your body through your feet and to and from the floor. Tone not tension.

"It's a social dance, it's evolved from a social dance, anybody can do it, you don't have to be a ballerina". [I don't know whether this should have been translated 'ballerina' or only 'professional dancer'. Either would make sense.] Movement should always be natural. Anything artificial is right out.

At this point the people who'd paid for the room next hour started moving chairs in, so there was a round of applause, a general exchange of concerned and impressed looks, and we were all thrown out.

My Results

At the end of the class I did not feel exhausted, I did not feel stressed, and my lower back was absolutely fine. I felt that I had a lot of work to do, and that my ochos had imploded, but also that I'd been handed the tools to do the work if I chose. Exercise 2 was very useful to me, though it seems so simple, and also the transition from that into doing ochos. So were all the demonstrations about how the body moves as a whole, and just watching. In general I felt reassured about my own possibilities, and that I had a much better idea of what to explore next if I wanted to improve. This was just the class I needed. I also felt newly immunised against the pussyfooting stagey soulless triple-refined aenemic pretension that can so easily creep in if we don't watch it - Geraldine moves like a woman, not like a flamingo on coke.

A quiet practice session at home with my video camera revealed that I could produce a recognisable, if clumsy, imitation of the exercises - except for the ochos. But I'll keep trying.

Take this class if you ever get the chance. It was illuminating, and at £20 per person, good value. I got a lot to think about.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Antikythera Mechanism

The replica is ready. Previous post here.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Zero Hour @ The Dome

[UPDATE March 2011: The space has been drastically renovated and is much nicer, rewrite in pipeline].

It's the holiday season again, the Victoria Line is back to normal, and I can manage the odd extra weekday milonga. That makes it time for an update on "The Dome". There are classes and a milonga every Wednesday organised by Zero Hour. As far as I know the milonga goes till midnight, but it may be open later at certain times of year.

The Class:
I skipped the class, it's a Wednesday and I needed some food and a nap. There are usually beginners' and intermediate classes running - check the monthly programme on the website for times and teachers.

Layout and Atmosphere: Much improved since I was last there (when it was fine). As you go in, there is the bar along the wall to your left, and a stage to your right, with a screen showing dancing, and draped platforms in front of it where you can sit down. There's a large raised platform with tables on the far side, and a little, low one with some seating in front of the DJ booth. As far as I noticed, all tables were open to all and not reserved. There are red tablecloths and little lights. The lighting is gentle but not too low; I could find all my stuff, even black stuff, when I wanted it. The whole place has been refurbished and repainted, but the really crucial change is that they've removed the half-height wall between the dance floor and the bar, leaving just the pillars with ledges for your drink. The tables are still there, but they can now be approached from both sides. People no longer congregate or get stuck behind the wall, and it's much easier to get up and sit down and circulate and chat and find the partners you want.

Hospitality: Good. I got a decent sized glass of orange juice for 50p. Water is available from the bar. The bar staff were friendly. They were also shivering with cold - for some reason it's freezing behind the bar. But I didn't feel cold, even before I started dancing. I wanted to hand them woolly hats. The loos are clean, supplied, and working, and even have good lighting and large mirrors on the outsides of the doors in the ladies' at the far corner (not the one off the stairs before you go in, which is fine, but cramped). I don't think there is anywhere to hang stuff except on the back of a chair. Actually there may be - I peered through the door of the 'cloakroom' - but it seemed to be being used for a practica or a lesson so I didn't open the door. Most people leave their kitbags on the platforms in front of the stage, so as long as you have a kitbag it's fine.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: They sell NeoTango shoes at the desk. I tried some on, but they're the wrong shape for me. They're about £80, the same price as Darcos.

What I thought of the DJing: Quite varied. Tandas, more or less, but I didn't feel they were of a fixed length, they tended to blend for me, and no cortinas. Quite a few milongas early in the evening, which I liked, and some unusual turkish-sounding things later on. I think there's a good chance you'll like at least some of it. I had to leave at 23:15 and I wouldn't be surprised if they got more adventurous by midnight. It is not always the same DJ, check the website if you have a strong preference.

Getting in: £6.

Getting there and getting home: From Tufnell Park tube, cross at the crossing and walk down the left hand wall of the corner pub; you will see the white-lit sign for the Dome. Just walk up the stairs. If you stay till midnight you may not be able to Tube it all the way, but there are buses in varous directions from the intersection outside: the website shows the location correctly.

The website: Simple, does the job. Look at 'milonga' and 'monthly programme'. The milonga is usually referred to as "The Dome" but the website uses its intended name so is at http://www.zerohour.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/.

How it went: Extremely well. I had very nice dances including one with a recent beginner whose progress made me feel pleased, and one with someone new who I've wanted to dance with for a while (sadly wasted on some music that didn't work out, but we'll have other chances), and others with regular partners each of whom is always a pleasure. I also had very few bumps, and although I didn't pay much attention to dancefloor behaviour I went away with the impression that it was generally good. I wish I could have stayed later, and I wish I could come here more often, as it's well-attended, and lots of my favourite dancers like it, and I can see why. But it's in an awkward location, and if I leave at 23:10 I won't get to bed till one, and I just don't think I can do that regularly on a weekday. Shame.

A Physical Change

Alex is annoyed about un-led voleos and ganchos. He's responding to Limerick.

I agree that what the follower is supposed to do with her free leg is difficult to explain. A lot of instructions on what to do with my free leg have seemed patently divorced from reality - what on earth is "a totally natural posture" even supposed to mean in high-heeled shoes? And even a good explanation, won't get the intended result if the lead that comes with it is mistimed or misdirected; so this is not something easily learned from a teacher who doesn't dance with you personally.

I don't think the technique is difficult to learn, but it does take time and practice to be able to do it physically.

For me it feels like getting my pelvis out of the way, without holding the thigh joint in a particular position - which I didn't find at all natural until I'd been dancing for over a year. I didn't even realise it was possible, and quite possibly it hadn't been, for me, till then. I think it takes time for those tendons to loosen and the muscles to find where the options are. Nowadays I can do a half-lotus; I couldn't do that a year ago. There's been a significant physical change, and you can't make that happen with explanations.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Happy Birthday ...

... to a very dear sister.

A birthday of three big kisses:


Monday, 8 December 2008

Behold! This happened.

My new friend who shall be known as Ruby, came to the milonga and brought with her a friend, who is, though a woman of adult years, a delighted child at tango.

And behold also, there was a certain man, of comely appearance and neat presentation, and a bit of silver jewellery and a ponytail, who was standing by the drinks table contemplating the dancefloor, and seeing that his own lady was absent for the final dance.

There was also a hedgehog, a short distance away, wondering whether, considering all the circumstances, and the shortage of time for indirect means, and the lady's likely intent to return, and the man's unknown preference about being directly asked, and his recent return from an exhausting tour, and his possible preference for an evening relatively free of importunate and presumptuous strangers, but on the other hand their previous conversation that same evening involving ducks, it might, or might not, be right to Ask, and if so, how. She hesitated. But never mind her.

For behold, the Friend of Ruby saw a nice man standing there, walked up to him and asked. Which was the Right Thing To Happen. She had a broken fastening on her shoe, for which she apologised in advance. I can't help suspecting she may thereby have hit the Competitive Streak, but I don't know.

And four or five minutes later she stepped off the dance floor with a little pair of tango angel wings fluttering above her head, and another in her eyes, making her open them very wide, and blink.

They were soft, they were fluffy, they were golden ... and they were also quite a lot like the wings of the kind of Seraph you see in the British Museum from before people decided angels shouldn't grow beards or bonk. Go past the Rosetta Stone and turn left at the bathing Venus.

Apparently she hasn't stopped talking about it yet.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Why I Dance Tango

I am a social dancer. That's what I wanted when I took my first lesson.

I want to express myself musically, without making a big performance of it. I want to interact with men, and other women, in a way that gives me joy and doesn't weigh me down with burdens. I want to get all dolled up, once or twice a week, and feel graceful, and sensual, and fun-loving. I want a reason to wear pretty clothes and shoes. I want to do something with my body, and delight in it, and have it appreciated by other people. I want to do all this as well as I can, but without an obligation to anyone but me.

It's not that I value less the rest of what I am. I just want to expand what it means to be me.

As for why this dance rather than another one, this is the one where I don't have to fake.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Put it on your T-shirt

Missing a lead is just a mistake, anticipation is bad dancing.

[Yikes - I'm channelling Limerick]

Monday, 1 December 2008

Tanta has died

She really knew what she was talking about.
She really cared about the truth.
She was a brilliant writer.

And she was so funny.


Uh oh. we’ve got a downturn that can feed itself and, at the same time, dig trenches.

Tanta (in the comments):
Don’t go there, Dr. Krugman. I tried my hand at being Metaphor Officer last summer, when the roiling tentacles of the credit tsunami were casting a pall over the frozen markets and everything was like all “Bam!” and “Kablooie!” and stuff, and I very nearly lost my mind. Don’t let yourself get sucked into the swirling vortex without a paddle, because you’ll get bogged down in the desert. Trust me; I read that in the papers.

On the other hand, if it eats it excretes, and if it can dig its own latrines then I’m all for it. The alternative is not really worth contemplating.

Tanta - announcement at Calculated Risk (with a picture)
Obit in the NYTimes

[Edit: or, as a commenter on Markets Live, praxis22, put it:
Tanta’s gone?!?! Bugger she was really, good.]

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Lion with Hyperbolic Mane

FlyingHere at last is the Proper Present. He's a rather piebald lion, in three colours because I ran out of the intended colour and couldn't get any more.

I learned Judy's Magic Cast-on for Toe-Up Socks, and it worked brilliantly. Making the legs upwards is quicker and much less annoying, and the cast on didn't have sticky-out ears, like my grafted toes usually do.

Materials: two balls of any brand of superwash double-knitting, and one of eyelash yarn. 3.5mm needles for knitting circularly, either magic loop, or double-pointed if you prefer. Optionally, 2.5mm needles for making properly flat ends.

Step 1: cast on 60 and work circularly. Knit 4 rows, purl 2 rows, then keep on knitting to make a tube, embellished with a cable for his spine. I did two six-by-six cables twisting in towards each other.Rear view

Step 2: close the end like making the top of a hat. Using the last bit of Techknitter's truly flat hat top, with the very neat change-of-gauge trick, is not a bad idea, although I didn't execute it properly in this one. I've also had superior results with her method of grafting.

Step 3: Make four legs as follows: Cast on 6 on each needle using Judy's Magic Cast-On. Increase as for a sock toe till you have 12 stitches each side then continue for 24 rows. Either cast off, or leave the stitches on a holder with a long enough tail for sewing them on to the body later.

Step 4: Make the hyperbolic mane as follows, in a different colour if you like.

Hyperbolic ManeHyperbolic Mane
With the body towards you, crochet a round of dc (American - sc) into the purl bumps from step 2. I put the hook through both rows at once to make it stronger - it has to take quite a bit of strain. Join the last to the first with a slip stitch. Then continue spirally, but increase by one in every third stitch. That is, work 1 dc into first dc, 1 dc into 2nd dc, 2dc into third dc. Continue until the mane is big enough. This creates a hyperbolic plane where N=3, as explained here, and takes longer than you think. Finish with a row of horrifying eyelash yarn, but don't increase on that row, it's not worth it.

Step 5: Pick up the stitches at the original cast on in step 1 - in a different colour if you want it to look like mine. Stuff the body, not too tightly. Decrease as for a hat top, adding extra stuffing for the face as you go, till you have 12 stitches, then graft them together, again as for a hat top.

FaceStep 6: Stuff and sew on the legs. I use fake grafting - just get a tapestry needle and follow the path of the wool so that they seem to grow out of the body.

Step 7: Make a tail by crocheting a small tube then increasing near the end in the same manner as for the mane, and finish off with a row of eyelash yarn in the same way. Sew it on.

Step 8: Embroider a face.

The eyelash yarn I got from a friend. We each had something ghastly we'd bought by mistake and couldn't make anything out of at all. We swapped, in case the other's Muse could do better. I think it found its fate.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


Tangocommuter, who posts in the comments here sometimes though not under that name, has gone to Buenos Aires. He's taking some classes with Oscar Casas, among others, and he says they're great. You can read about his adventures here.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Hoisted from Comments 2

Gamecat said:

“Personally I love giros as I think they are a perfect microcosm of tango. It's like holding a miniature globe in your hand and knowing that it's real.”

That's just so gorgeous and poetic that I had to put it up.

It's worth reading all the comments on that post. As often happens, they're far more interesting than the post itself, which is a routine whinge about common problems with classes. First there's some stuff which clarifies what I was talking about, then Gamecat and Ghost work up a beautiful model of tango speciation, starting with the natural selection process described by Christine Denniston in her talk, but under quite different conditions. Then there's some thoughtful and practical stuff about leading and following turns, and how people do it, and why.

Miniature Pocket Hat - in Action

Remarks about the pattern, which is an adaptation of Techknitting's brilliant Pocket Hat, are here.

I think I made it too long and not wide enough. He's too big for it already now, but it lasted a few weeks, and his Proper Present is now ready for delivery (post in the works).

I should make a collage of all these babies.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Hoisted from Comments

In response to my post about the classes next month with Ezequiel and Geraldin Paludi, Sophie (on behalf of Tango in Action), said:

Henceforth couples rotation will be enforced in the workshops, although those who have come to work specifically with their partner will be invited to mention it at the beginning so they can be left alone.

So if you were thinking about booking, now you know. Many thanks to Sophie for taking the trouble.

[Edit 1st Jan 09: it didn't happen, though, or at least not always. I took one of the all-levels couple classes, and there was no rotation, and no attempt to rotate. No one piped up and asked to rotate, either. Luckily for me, I'd booked with a suitable partner.]

Monday, 24 November 2008

Strictly Pro Milonga

Ok, I was going to start writing something completely different, but this takes precedence because the vid will probably get pulled after about five minutes.

It's pure, pure flash, but it's huge fun, they both look delighted to be there, and notice the crowd just can't help clapping along. That's how you can tell this kind of thing is working.

I haven't actually watched it much recently, because I'm out on Saturday nights, but I am Strictly Pro this show. Actual social dancers will of course feel embarrassed by a lot of it, but it is top-class entertainment and it makes people want to dance. If we feel embarrassed we can always hide behind the sofa.

I also like that they used real milonga music, specifically a milonga that makes it almost impossible to sit still, and didn't just do milonga to some inane pop song. And didn't the band do a good job? Another thing I like about this show is that they use real live musicians, all the time.

I hear they take lessons with Leandro and Romina. ;)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Another dance of love

Here's a completely beautiful "dance of love" Tango.

The man is Julian Elizari, who teaches at the Dome. The woman I only know as Audrey, she's a regular on the London social scene. She has a stupendous grace and elegance of movement, but the thing I'm really studying in this video is her beautiful, gentle, soft, fluid, connected, lively embrace. I want to be able to do it like that one day.

Hat tip Psyche.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Financial and Economics Blogs

Finance and economics are notable as subjects on which people who really know what they are talking about write some really good blogs. Because all that information just wants to get out of their heads and into yours.

For the friend who requested them, here are some links:

Tanta on Alt-A and why it never made any sense.
Tanta's UberNerd series on mortgage lending for people who really want the details.
Also, Tanta is really witty.
FT Alphaville has absolutely everything down the right hand side and is funnier than the newspaper.
What shall it profit a man to have money in his wallet, but not in the core of his being?
Brad Delong mostly teaches Economics at the University of California at Berkeley. He sometimes does videos, and podcasts of his lectures. And sometimes he just loses his mind.

The same thing seems to happen with knitting.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Geraldine in London, and the single booking

If you were searching for "Geraldine Rojas in London December", like quite a few people are right now, the site you need is tango in action, and you'll see the link to the booking page on the right. Booking is cheaper, and the requirements are more flexible, than last time.

I'm interested in the women's technique class, and I'd expect it to sell out quickly. It also occurs to me that this might possibly be a last-chance-to-see, before the new immigration rules really kick in and make it much more difficult to book visiting teachers who don't have European passports, no matter how eminent. I imagine that Mr and Mrs Paludi don't. So anyway, if you want to take that one, it probably makes sense to get a move on.

I'm also interested in "Variations on Walking Patterns - Different patterns based on walk (inside, outside, parallel walk, crossed walk) (ALL LEVELS)", and in "Fundamental Concepts for Turns (Giros) - various combinations of giros on the left and on the right (INTERMEDIATE)". I want to know what Ezequiel and Geraldine think it's important to say about these subjects, and perhaps you, dear reader, would like to know too. And I'm interested in the Milonga class, for the same reason. The "Fantasia" and advanced classes, not so much.

But for any of those, I would need to arrange the right partner. I would book alone if I could assume that the class would rotate. If it rotates, a follower can at least find out if she has any problems with the material that she needs to fix, and look for advice on how to fix them. If it doesn't rotate, it's very difficult to distinguish her problems from the leader's. If it rotates, the leaders' problems will vary, which is fine; if it doesn't, she might get stuck with someone whose particular quirks or difficulties totally prevent her working on the content of the class at all, or put her on the wrong track. The same problems apply from the leader's point of view, if not so acutely.

But these kinds of classes don't always rotate, and they're even less likely to if most people book in pairs. People get risk-averse, and avoid rotation. To be on the safe side, then, it'd be wise to take someone I can dance a whole class with, without creating new problems for either of us. Ideally, not the same person each time, because then I'm just learning to dance with him, and he is just learning to dance with me, which is no better.

It's a puzzle. Even for the single lady who's lucky enough to have options, it's a puzzle to deal with it.

Or, I suppose, two or three couples taking the same classes might arrange to rotate between themselves even if it's not enforced. I wonder how that would work?

[Update 20th Dec 08: see here for my report on the women's technique class. I also took one of the couple classes, in which there was no rotation and no attempt to rotate.]

Friday, 14 November 2008

A Coincidence

I've just made a beautifully bizarre accidental discovery.

I happened upon this site. I was actually looking for a different site, the Worst Covers of 2004, which I eventually found, and it's still hilarious. Read it if you've ever read a cheap romantic novel, and you would like to laugh quite hard for several minutes.

But anyway. Here is a small screenshot of "Romance Book Covers", after the Flash animations stop whirling.

Romance Book Covers

Here, on the other hand, is a small screenshot of "Tango in Action", after the identical Flash animations stop whirling.

Tango in Action

Poetic, no?

This is in no way odd or inexplicable; it's certainly a template, pre-designed and supplied with options to anyone who needs a website but doesn't have the relevant skills in-house. Lots of small businesses use them. They do the job they do, moderately well, and they're very reasonably priced. I wouldn't use one; but I have the skills myself.

Although now I consider the matter, I think if I were a tango small business, or any other small business, what I might do in practice is just use Blogger, together with Google's mildly-useful Calendar tool, a YouTube account, a domain name, maybe some hacking around with the stylesheet, and a little extra ingenuity in the sidebar. I could build myself something clever in PHP, but it wouldn't be a good use of time. What would be a good use of time, and money, would be getting some good photos done (as Stefano and Alexandra have in this example) and dreaming up some interesting content.

One advantage of Blogger is that it manages everything chronologically, solving the problem of cobwebs in a way that's transparent to the visitor, so you don't have to go back and update things all the time, and you don't have to lose anything either. Another would be that it's very straightforward to share the job of adding content between several people, none of them needing more than minimal skills.

Feeling much better

Aspirin, a very hot bath, pints of tea, a whisky-mac that a spoon would stand up in (mixed by my Dad - thank you), the run of my parents' library, and spending three days more or less horizontal, either sleeping or distracting my mind from all difficult subjects, have pretty much perked me up again. I'm not sure I'll actually go for a dance tomorrow, that might be a bad idea, but we'll see.

My holiday was indeed completely wasted, but that happens in winter. I should have taken the days last Spring.

Thank you all of my commenters for your good wishes, it is sweet of you and I appreciate it.

Reading bits and bobs of books I've read before is just the best thing for keeping the mind quiet. Desolation Island - my word, that man was good. Georgette Heyer was also great at what she did, and nobody else would have bothered to construct something like These Old Shades, or The Grand Sophy, or the brilliantly ridiculous Beauvallet. I wonder if either of those last two is even in print now. My mother's paperbacks have pre-decimal prices, and I think one has her maiden name written inside. Even Ellis Peters, who wasn't nearly as good, though inventive, makes a real contribution to healing. Her familiar paperbacks were new when I first read them, about twenty years ago. I've brought one back to my flat, to doze off with; my library is a fluid, amoebic daughter of the family one.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Feeling sorry for myself

I don't know what this is - it doesn't really feel like a cold - but I wish it would go away. My head hurts. Yesterday I felt pretty sick but I went into work anyway for an important technical meeting. It was cancelled, so I answered a few emails, gave people things they needed, came back and went to bed. Today I just stayed at home and tried not to cry. Tomorrow I am officially on holiday, but that'll probably be completely wasted.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Zigzag beret

zigzag beret
Originally uploaded by mshedgehog

I still had some aran-weight angora left over, so I've made a beret to go with the Pair of Sleeves.

I was working on 5mm needles. The hat starts at the bottom edge, and I repeated the pattern six times around. You could work with any yarn and needles, and cast on any multiple of six that gives you a good fit around the intended wearer's head. Divide your number by six, and the answer is the number of stitches between the yarn-overs on the first pattern row. The rest of the yarn-overs just arrange themselves on top, and you would continue till you were down to 18 stitches; you might get an extra zigzag and the middle would look different. Or, I suppose you could add or subtract a pattern repeat, and you would get a heptagonal or pentagonal beret.

It's a little bit big for the Intended Wearer - no-one could accuse her of bigheadedness.


Cast on 72 using Techknitting's 'provisional tail' 1x1 tubular cast-on.

Join into a round. The cast-on leaves a little gap, which you can sew up at the end. Do 1x1 ribbing for three rows.

Place a marker at the beginning of the round. Otherwise it's very easy to find yourself mixing even and odd rows. You will have to move the marker eventually, because it will get into the middle of a decrease. Just make sure it's always between the same two YO-decrease sets - after the last and before the first. Move it just enough to get it out of the way, no more.

Row 1 and all odd rows: k.
Row 2: k12, (YO, k12) 5 times, k6, repeat to end of round (first row of chart).
Continue from chart, because it's the best way I have of explaining it. Keep the YOs in the right places in relation to each other and decrease before or after them as shown. I tried counting all the stitches in between but it just makes a simple procedure seem complicated, and I'd certainly make mistakes.

When you are down to 24 stitches, change down a needle size to make the top of the hat nice and flat (this tip is also from Techknitting). After 2 more rounds there are 18 stitches. When you get down to 18, knit one more row, then arrange them as 9 on each needle and graft them together. Sew up the little gap in the cast-on, and block to shape.

Essentially, we increase to 102 stitches by adding yarn-overs. Then we keep adding the YOs, but for each YO we do a double decrease immediately before or after it, so the net effect is to decrease by one. We arrange the YOs and their decreases in zigzags so that we make a flat hexagon, then close the top.

Chart for zigzag beret

Monday, 10 November 2008

Cover Art

I've discovered the joy of no-label cover art.

CDBaby distributes CDs one at a time, to order, from the artist to the listener. They seem to be muddling along well enough to provide some evidence that it might be possible to scrape a living in the 'long tail'. The automatic emails are disturbingly wierd, but they delivered the CD, and that's what matters.

I've bought a CD of Joe Powers (harmonica), who played at a festival this summer.

On the front, Joe - who I remember looking like a perfectly normal, perhaps mid-twenties Germanic American in a suit - is represented posing in enough soft focus for a boudoir portrait of a seventy-five-year-old tart, and holding his instrument erect as firearms are held by James Bond. In the background is a woman, wearing not-a-right-lot of red dress, and looking the other way.

Inside, a folded leaflet shows Joe sitting alone in some dark-wood café with a nice cup of tea. In a photo-story lacking only captions, which I suppose the buyer is invited to provide, Red Dress Woman wanders truculently in. She siezes the politely-rising Joe, and wraps herself around him in various poses. Unable to rip his shirt off with her fingers, she tries a stiletto, the sharpest thing to hand, in a process of lateral thinking familiar to all who've tried to get the packaging off a memory card. I might have started that line of attack by removing the stiletto from my foot, first, or at least not approached the buttons from behind; but there you are. She fails, and they're both still more-or-less dressed on the back.

It reminds me of the dream sequence in The Two Towers when Aragorn falls of a cliff, receives a psychic message from his sexpot fairy princess in a blue nightie, wakes up being snogged by his horse, and spends the next scene riding through the hills to the sound of Howard Shore doing Ennio Morricone. Maybe that was what they had in mind.

As for the music, I like the milongas best, but don't listen to me. You can hear samples here and here.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Carablanca @ Conway Hall

My review for this new milonga was from its first night, so I thought I'd better update it. Actually it's an old milonga reincarnated, with a new venue and a new name, but under the same management of Danny, Diana and friends. My previous review, with recent reader comments, is here. It's on most Friday nights from 20:30 till midnight, but until January they still won't have the venue for all the Fridays, so check the website, and tango-uk for announcements. [UPDATE 13-Jan-09: they now have a continuous booking, so it's every Friday and you probably only need to check around the holiday season.]

The Class: I skipped the class. Danny and Diana teach a beginners' class in another room, while the intermediate class is always given by guests. This week it was Kicca Tommasi and Julio Mendez, who usually teach at the Dome. I've taken a class with them once before, and it included some valuable technique stuff for both leaders and followers, especially on close embrace.

Layout and Atmosphere:Conway Hall from the front The building is the large, handsome meeting hall of the South Place Ethical Society, and has its own website. Assuming you come in before 10pm, so by the front door, you come into roomy tiled foyer with benches along the walls. You can sit out here to cool off and have little breakout chats. The main room for dancing is large and square, with a proper stage, not used by the milonga, at the far end, a square glass skylight, and a suspended gallery with a square clock above the entrance. It has a geometric, dark-wood feel which makes me think of British neoclassicism and Arts-and-Crafts both at the same time. It's just what you'd imagine for an Ethical Society. I think that the floor being more or less square instead of rectangular makes it slightly harder to develop a clear line of dance, especially given that this is London and a lot of people don't know they're supposed to, or don't care. But that might be just my imagination. It's roomy, and I had hardly any bumps. The air conditioning was on, it was cold outside, and one of my partners still had a freezing cold nose at 11pm. "I'm a mediterranean person!" he said.

The floor has been cleaned since this milonga started, and is much better. The brass circles are less slippery, and the lighter colour lifts the room.

The lighting seems to be built with lighting the stage in mind, rather than the room as a whole, and they're still working on how to adjust it. At the moment the average quantity is about right, but there's a dark patch and a light patch. They'll get it sorted out, but it will probably take a while.

Hospitality: Very good. There are rails to hang your coat on, on the far side of the room - not quite enough, but some. I tucked my handbag underneath a bench. The tables, with their bright red tablecloths, have expanded a little on each side and you can sit down whenever you need to, or go into the foyer to cool off. Plentiful free water is in jugs on a table; pens are provided to write your name on your plastic cup so you don't have to keep getting new ones. Drinks are available from a makeshift bar; my G&T with ice and slice of citrus was £3. The loos are well-lit, properly supplied, and quite roomy, they stayed clean and dry all evening, and it is quite feasible to change your clothes and shoes in there.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Kicca and Julio gave a performance. They have great chemistry, and I liked their choreography with the music. They dolled themselves up, delivered two tangos and a milonga which were all significantly different from each other, gracefully accepted their applause, then cleared off to put proper clothes back on and gave the floor back to the social dancers.

What I thought of the DJing: DJs here vary, but almost always play traditional music in tandas, with cortinas. This week it was Nikki Preddy, who did a decent job. The sound system here is better than most, and so far I think I've always heard the music properly from all parts of the room, often not the case elsewhere. [Update Summer 2011 - I think that was probably true when I wrote it, but it's deteriorated markedly and now it usually often sounds muffled to me. I can't be absolutely sure how much of this is due to DJs, and how much is due to wear and tear on connectors, speakers, etc, but it's become a fairly consistent intermittent problem. Nowadays the large speakers above the stage are not normally used, for some technical or logistical reason. Instead there are smaller ones on stage. Muffled sound at high volume tends to make people talk louder, and it spirals down. On the other hand, they now quite often hire professional guest DJs, and are going in that direction. Further update after a bit more research: The sound quality was good when they had La Rubia, and when they had Bernhard Gehberger, and also it was good when Beto did it a couple of weeks ago, so I'm assuming it's mainly the DJs. Danny, who runs it tells me they're working on some future guidelines for DJs]

Getting in: normally £8.50, £10 if there is a performance. Cheaper if you just want to take the class.

Conway Hall as you approach itGetting there and getting home: From Holborn tube, take the right hand exit. Don't cross at the crossing in front of you, but instead walk right, to the next one, and cross over to the corner where the yellow sign says "Gym Box" and the office block makes a bridge across the road. Walk under the bridge and you will soon pass the Square Pig (which has a milonga on Mondays). The trees now in front of you are in Red Lion Square. The front door of Conway Hall is in the furthest corner, so walk round two sides of the square to reach it. If you arrive after 10pm, you will have to use the back door. In that case, [instead of turning into the square] continue past [the trees] it to the next street, which is Theobalds Road, turn right, and you're there when you get to the Humanist window displays. It closes at midnight and the last Tubes are at about twenty past; if you dawdle enough to miss the train, you can get buses in many directions from nearby. Or you could walk down the road for ten minutes and continue your evening at Negracha.

The website: dead simple, gives you what you need. Scroll down for information on beginners' classes, and download the PDF flyer (now fixed, and works properly) for the schedule.

How it went: This is not the fashionable Friday night milonga; that would be Negracha, down the road. The crowd here is usually less demanding as to personal beauty, but a lot more demanding as to comfort, quality of DJ, and value for money, and that means it tends to consist of older dancers, plus a few younger people like me who want to have a nice dance but really can't be bothered to wait for it till after midnight. But this varies a lot depending on who the guest teachers are. It's still quite new, and hasn't settled down. I got good dances, had a comfortable, stress-free evening, and got to sit down and chat to friends during tandas that didn't appeal. It suits me fine.

Update: Added this video from July 2009: Mingo and Esther Pugliese dance tango, and you get a sense of what the space is like when fully lit.

Fire and Ice

You are invited...
Originally uploaded by webwandering
At "Fire and Ice", Carole Edrich's warm and lively pictures of the social and performance tango scene in London are mixed with Jeremy Hoare's studies of glaciers in Argentina. It's a nice spin and a pleasing visual contrast. Jeremy's pictures are painterly, full of blues lit from within, textures and a different kind of light. Carole won the UK heat, and then the 23-country final, of a Sony-Ericsson competition called "Life Captured", and that's certainly a good description. There are shots of Miguel Angel Zotto and (I think) Daiana Guspero, of David Benitez and Kim Schwartz, and a great one of Monica and Omar Ocampo, but my favourites are probably the ones of social dancers, especially the ones from tango al fresco of people dancing with umbrellas in the pouring rain and looking delighted. They're displayed around the walls above the diners' heads, and prints are available at various sizes and prices.

At the private view we had a nice little dance on the tiled floor of the bar, but since dancers eat and drink little while dancing, I don't think it would make sense for the restaurant to do this regularly. A pity - it's in the middle of nowhere, unless you work at Canary Wharf, but it's a very nice place and the dance floor is about the same size as Vino Latino's, with much more comfortable seating and minus the giant pillar. The private view was sponsored by those nice people at Wines of Argentina and I was served a very cosy and palatable red.

Anyway, if you want to have a look, it's at a place called Zero Sette (07) Restaurant, and you'll probably need some directions, since "right next to the Western entrance of ExCeL" got people lost.

Beware the platform signage if you change at Canning Town. It's wrong. You could wait half an hour while your trains depart behind you. Turn around and read the electronic displays. From the platform at Custom House, go up the stairs and turn right, following the signs for the western entrance of ExCeL. You'll go past the upper floor of a restaurant called "neo", and a coffee place. The western entrance itself is a row of glass doors. You can't see Zero Sette anywhere from here. Turn round and go down the stairs to the U-shaped taxi rank outside. Cross the taxi rank towards the lower floor of "neo" and Zero Sette is the much less consipicuous entrance to the left. It's a restaurant, so you might want to eat something, or at least have a drink at the bar.

Carole always asks permission to use pictures of the people whose faces are visible in her shots (neither law nor custom requires this, Carole just does it as a matter of personal preference). There's one person in the exhibition, photographed at River Tango, who Carole was unable to find to ask permission; so if you recognise yourself or a friend in the middle-aged lady with red lipstick, a black bead choker, and a mischievous expression, you are politely asked to contact Carole, or grab her at a milonga. You know - Carole with the camera and the stripey hair.

Zero Sette Restaurant, directions above, till 19th January.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Adventures of the Moomin

Little Pearl can walk around now under her own power. She doesn't talk much yet but she definitely has ideas. Here she is in their cosy house in Helsinki; it's midafternoon, and the window looks like sunset.

A general description of how I made the Moomin (or Muumi as they call him in Finnish) is here. He was the first cuddly animal I made, and the most complicated. I'm glad I wrote notes because otherwise I'd have no idea how I did it. It just had to happen because it seemed right.

I'm so proud. I feel as though it was me getting the hug.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


I love this picture, and I loved this performance. There's plenty going on for the audience, but there's so much going on between them. Their connection is electric, whether they're actually touching or not.

This is how good you have to be to turn your backs on each other during a tango performance and never break the connection.

Photo by permission of Carole Edrich (website, photostream). Carole has an exhibition opening on Friday at Zero Sette Restaurant, next to the western entrance of ExCeL .

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The meaning of tango - a talk

Anyone who has done both to order knows that writing is denser than speech. It takes a lot less time to read and understand difficult ideas in written form than it does to explain them face to face, and if you write a speech or presentation as though you were writing an essay, you will grossly overrun your time.

Conversely, if you pace a book as though you were giving a lecture, it reads as though you think the reader is a halfwit. This, for me, is the stylistic flaw of The Meaning of Tango, the content of which is interesting but which I have still not managed to read right through. And I think the content deserves better printing and a less timewasting font. But I had a literary, academic education, and not everyone's expectations of books are the same as mine.

However, last week I went to a lecture by the author, and it struck me that it would be very nice if the book were revised for TV. The lecture was more or less a mixture of two chapters, and was mainly about the historical evolution of the music and the dance and their relationship to each other.

A crucial point was that the shortage of women at a certan time, and consequent intense competition among the men, created vigorous selection pressure towards a specific basic technique. This technique is difficult for the leader to learn, requiring a lot of effort and time, but is very hard to improve upon in how it feels for the woman. Ms Denniston distinguished between this universal "Golden Age" technique, and local variations of style, which she showed us with a partner. These, she argued, made no difference to getting dances, except perhaps as matters of local custom or personal preference. A thousand flowers might bloom. But if you did not master the technique, you would be toast.

Most of the rest of the lecture was a chronological survey of music, with some discussion of the Spanish and Italian influences, tango as art song, and the influence of music and dance on each other. This of course is far more interesting and useful with recordings and demonstrations than it is, or can be, written down. And I needn't assume that it's all correct to benefit and want to know more.

I don't know if it's possible to say how far any of the historical information about how people used to dance is actually true. But Ms Denniston has probably done the best that can be done in that direction, by talking to the oldest tango dancers she could find, asking them how it used to be done, and trying to make some sort of sense of what they said. What those people's motivations were in talking to her, how accurate their perceptions and memories, how strict their regard for truth, how wild their flights of fancy, and what they imagined she wanted to hear, are anybody's guess.

But these are things it's worthwhile to research and record, and I'm glad that she's done it. The book includes quite a few assertions I found surprising, some of them contradicting interesting people in interesting ways. For example, she emphatically contradicts what Jorge Dispari has to say about the man's right hand. It also has the usual amount of "Tango does X more than any other dance" which seem like platitudes unless you ask "how do you know?" But those are mere signals of friendship to the reader, and not meant to be literally or critically examined.

The book is still available at milongas around London, and at Amazon.co.uk for, currently, £6.99. But I'd really recommend the lecture more.

The talk was followed by a really nice milonga. Some people had come further than usual for the event, so I met and danced with people I wouldn't normally. If I have inadvertently transmitted the office cold, which I suspect may be about to declare itself, to a new home on the Tyne, I apologise.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Connection enhancers

Big, fat men are easy to follow. I can just settle like a butterfly, and go.

Getting the same connection with thin, shallow-chested men requires more skill from me. I have to be particularly careful with my posture. I'm dancing closer to the boundary of my skill level, and I'm much more likely to lose it now and then. (Different, or the same, for you? In the Comments, please). It's a common thing with East Asian men, and it is true even if they're really lovely dancers.

My outfit for a Halloween milonga (Gothic look) included a pair of Marks and Spencer's Plastic Tits.

I go up a cup size, and the problem disappears.

I had no idea that this could be solved by shopping. A quality product, £25.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Raspberry Raffle Shawl

Scarf viewSome more of my mother's work. Limited edition of one - she never makes proper notes, just imagines the overall look and then designs the colour pattern as she goes, so she might make something similar, but there isn't going to be another one just like it.

Pattern viewThe plan is to raffle it in aid of breast cancer research and education at Whipps Cross Hospital Library Trust on 31st October. However, they're too disorganised to tell me where you can buy a ticket and they'll probably be clueless if you ring them up. If you like it a lot and want to make an offer, you could email me (top right), and I'll put you in touch.

Unique piece by local designer-craftswoman; 70% kid mohair, 30% silk, hand wash, dry flat, reshape whilst damp. It's made of Rowan Kidsilk Haze, which is like wearing a warm, dry cloud.

I love this one. It reminds me of some really beautiful modern paintings, plus it looks like raspberry ice cream and keeps you warm.

Last.FM player thingie

I'm sacking the Last.FM player from the right hand column of this blog and moving it to a post, because it's slow to load and my playlist is never likely to be interesting enough to justify the space. I'd rather use the space for some band links. In case somebody liked it, here it is.

The little thing at the bottom right of the box pops it out into another window that can float around while you read something else.

A nice performance

I saw a nice performance tonight by some teachers who were visiting London.

In the tango, there were some lifts and some splits, which are the kind of thing that makes me laugh; and because the performance was to some extent at least improvised, they looked a bit rough. But I found that appealing. I liked it as a whole - it was playful and not overwrought. The daft bits are just fun if they're not taken too seriously, which they weren't.

The milonga was great, and functioned as a very good advertisement for their milonga workshop tomorrow (later today, actually - oops).

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Mr. Wickham's Plan

Since Psyche asked in the previous comments, here's my theory of Mr. Wickham's Plan. I have no idea whether this is argued by any real scholars of Austen. It probably is, as it seems sort of obvious, but I've never read it anywhere else and as far as I know I just made it up. I did write it on a discussion board some years ago, so if you find another version with similar wording, that would be me.

The only explanations we are offered in the book of Mr. Wickham wasting his time with Lydia are that he hopes for money from her family, or that he has no plans to marry her at all, and no purpose in mind but malice and an impulsive attraction.

Both of these are patently inadequate. He surely does “know my father can give her nothing.” Even if “for an attachment such as this, she might have sufficient charms,” he has no obvious reason to want a live-in mistress - even one too ignorant to want paying. He certainly has no good reason to embarrass and offend his commanding officer to such a degree. It is much more convincing to say, as Mr. Gardiner does, that “the tempation is not adequate to the risk” or as Mr. Bennett says, that “Wickham's a fool, if he takes her with a farthing less than then thousand pounds.”

Mr. Wickham's plan is a thing of beauty, because it cannot fail. It is a no-lose proposition. All possible outcomes are good.

Its outstanding elegance of design and execution is appreciated only by three characters; Wickham himself, probably Darcy, though with less pleasure, and Mr. Bennett, whose reasoning must be the same as mine. When Mr. Bennett says that Wickham will always be his favourite son-in-law, I suggest that he is not entirely joking.

Imagine for a moment that, by the time Wickham encounters Lydia on her holiday, he has somehow become aware that Darcy strongly desires Elizabeth. He doesn't have to know anything whatever about their actual conversations. For my argument he need only think - correctly - that Darcy wants Elizabeth very much indeed.

I this this assumption is plausible.

Wickham is the only person in the book who has known Darcy from childhood, with the exceptions of the housekeeper and probably Colonel Fitzwilliam. Wickham is very perceptive and empathic - successfully manipulative people have to be. Wickham has also known, from his own childhood, every single person in Darcy's large household, and he probably knows them quite a bit better than Darcy does, because Wickham's father was the manager and not the owner; a colleague, not the shareholder. He is not short of a contact or two. And he knows Elizabeth.

A brief digression: Wickham started as the son of Darcy's father's valued employee, and since the fluid boundaries of class are one of Austen's characteristic themes I think this is worth keeping in mind. You could wonder what proportion of Darcy's wealth was made by Wickham's father's efforts, and whether Wickham feels, perhaps obscurely, that his own family was entitled to a greater share of it. No such argument clearly entitles Wickham himself to anything in particular, but you can see how it might have an emotional conviction.

The knowledge of Darcy's feelings is in any case pretty general. Darcy has no talent at all for keeping them secret; he only thinks he has. We all seek friends who feed our illusions, and that's one reason why he loves the chronically obtuse Bingley and the intermittently obtuse Elizabeth. Caroline Bingley - who Darcy does not love - has no trouble at all detecting the first signs of interest, and it's only Elizabeth who puts her behaviour down to rudeness.

It's eventually borne in even on the brainless Lady Catherine, though far too late for her to be a source. Her silent daughter - barely perceived - has even more incentive to spot it than Caroline Bingley does, and plenty of opportunity, in good time. It's not a mystery to Colonel Fitzwilliam. We are explicitly told that Charlotte - Mrs. Collins - has considered the idea, but we only hear what she tells Elizabeth, and she's surprised Elizabeth before. Collins has worked it out by the time he writes to Mr. Bennett, and to do so, he must be sure of his ground.

And consider this: if we take Darcy at his word in his great set-piece proposal, he must have been in quite an amusing state for quite a while. Even if he has concealed this fact from all the people I mentioned, and said nothing about it to any living soul, it is absolutely impossible that it was unknown to his valet while they were still at Bingley's house and Wickham was in town. And this man - whose existence is certain, but who we never meet, of whose motivations and views we know nothing, and who Wickham surely knows - probably laughs at Darcy much harder than Elizabeth ever will, if more discreetly.

I don't think that I can point to any particular route. The rumour could well be current among the soldiers and the servants, whose worlds are shut to us, well before Elizabeth goes to Rosings. Wickham could very easily just guess, based on his knowledge of Darcy and of Elizabeth and their whereabouts at different times. Wickham was quite interested in Elizabeth, up to a point. He detects her change in attitude when she returns from Rosings, and he surely puts this down to her conversations with Darcy. So from his point of view, her visit to Rosings is surely the start of a courtship intended to be concluded on her visit to Derbyshire - the fact of which he would surely hear from Lydia.

Now then. You are Wickham. You are confronted with Lydia. You know, or you suspect with a good deal of conviction, that Darcy wants Elizabeth. Even if you have doubts about Elizabeth's view of the matter, you reject them for the same reasons everyone else does, and because you know that Darcy always gets what he wants in the end. So much so that he will even resort to behaving better in order to do so. That's one of the reasons why you just can't stand him. You have a bit of malice to spare for Elizabeth too. You already think they're perfect for each other, and you have just heard that she has gone to Derbyshire, with what appears to you a rather weak excuse. Moreover, you want it to be true, because it gives you a beautiful idea.

Elegant, innit?

You will take to yourself the person of Lydia Bennett, thereby securing the immediate benefit of lots of teenage sex, which is not to be overlooked. But you will not marry, at least for now. If your suspicions are wrong, you've lost little. You've annoyed your colonel, but things are looking bad for you anyway, and you're sure that people are warning the parents of richer prizes. You're not exactly risk-averse, and this is a fine bet. If you're right, there are exactly three next possible moves.

1. Darcy marries Elizabeth anyway. While Lydia is unmarried, you now have unlimited opportunities to humiliate him. Court publicity as much as you can. Don't dump her until a better opportunity presents itself. This outcome is not going to happen, Darcy can't allow it, but if he did, you would still have lost little, and my goodness it would be fun.

2. Darcy does not marry Elizabeth. You have, for the first time ever in your joint lives, permanently prevented Darcy getting what he wants. And how! In this event, you have still lost nothing: just dispose of Lydia as publicly as possible when you get bored, or marry her for whatever you can get if you don't think a better opportunity is coming. Just doing that to Darcy is worth almost more than money, so this is a close second favourite to option 3.

3. Darcy repurchases Elizabeth from you at an appropriate price, in consideration of which you will marry Lydia Bennett. This is by far the most likely outcome, and is, in fact, what happens. The money is useful, and may well be much more than Darcy admits (Mr. Bennett has suspicions on this). It is certainly not much less than you could have hoped to gain by any other marriage.

In (3), you still have part of the benefit of (1) because Darcy cannot allow you to starve, or embarrass him too much, while both wives live. You have part of the benefit of (2) because you have made Darcy pay a very large sum of money for something he would otherwise have got for free. You may have smoothed his path a bit more than you know, but you don't know that, so you don't care. And he will certainly have to continue doing business with you, which he had much rather not.

As far as I can see, those are the only possible outcomes. Either you are paid, or you don't marry and you lose nothing: either Darcy pays, or he loses Elizabeth. The possibility that Darcy might not have got Elizabeth, and you have actually helped him to that goal by assigning her a monetary price, is unknown to you (but remarkably neat from the author's point of view). The rest of it is just haggling, and you're better at that than he is. It really is the perfect no-lose proposition, especially since your failed attempt on Miss Darcy has limited your options in hunting richer meat, and this includes some permanent revenge for that as well.

It is a plot of such perfection that I can't bring myself to disbelive it. I think it is instantly obvious to Mr. Bennet, and he believes it. What about you?