Thursday, August 07, 2008

SBXI - 7th August 2008

Here are the first aggregated results of the SBXI, with one constituent at present, the swings are going to be pretty wild.

Thursday, 7th August 2008 at 12.00noon GMT

↑11.72 points, 11.72%

The SBXI is not meant to be an indicator of sales alone. It indicates profitability and sales movement as well as taking into account the total value of those sales. This is not only for the security of the constituent bookshops, but also to allow new members to be seemlessly incorporated onto the index.

This Thursday's figures show rise on last week. Overall there is reasonable health in the secondhand booktrade at the moment. A single bookshop, such as ours, is as likely to be affected by bad weather, one of us taking ill, or unenthusiastic listing, as much as by the overall cash position in the economy.

As with the wider economy, there is considerable nervousness at the moment at the position of day-to-day sales. The past year has seen a sharp rise in our sales to Europe and a general increase in the volatility of UK sales.

If you would like to participate in the project, please e-mail me on david][midoil]etc. We are very keen that sensitive information such as the profitability of individual firms be kept from the market place. To this end we have produced a downloadable calculator which returns a single number value for secondhand book sales aggregated over a certain time period. The algorithm is not reversable except in the case of exceptionally low sales figures. It should be noted that we bear no responsibility for how these figures will be used. The indicator is still in the early stages of its development and requires considerable refinement.

SBXI - Secondhand Books Exchange Index

At Midnight Oil Books, we have sometimes bemoaned the lack of uptodate price fluctuation information for secondhand and antiquarian books. To this end we are keen to trial a new price index, the SBXI, which will take a starting value of 100 as of the Monday, 4th August 2008. The initial figures are based on our own data and the index will be updated on Mondays and Thursdays every week.

Monday, 4th August 2008 at 12.00noon GMT

If you would like to participate in the project, please let us know. We are very keen that sensitive information such as the profitability of individual firms be kept from the market place. To this end we have produced a downloadable calculator which returns a single number value for secondhand book sales aggregated over a certain time period. The algorithm is not reversable except in the case of exceptionally low sales figures.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Long Weekend Closures

Just to give notice of the fact that Midnight Oil Books shall be closed from 13.00 on Saturday, 19th July 2008 and all day on Monday, 21st July to allow for shelf-building.

We will reopen on Tuesday morning at 09.30.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Carmen - The Awesome and the Awful


This rendition is so much better than any of the others. If you had seen every
other performance of this scene from every Opera company in the world, you
could still not claim to understand it until you had seen this one.

When Bechi enters the stage there is genuine excitement. Forget the cutting to
the audience parts, they distract and are not part of this performance's
brilliance. Look at the way Bechi is the actual focal point of their attention.
There is nothing contrived. Look at the genuine interest on the faces of the men
that he addresses first. Then he moves over to the two girls. When he move them
to the side having first ostensibly noticed Carmen, look at the slight on the
girl's face. This is SO good, SO natural, and SO, SO as opera should be.

The attraction between the Toreador, Escamillo and Carmen is really believable.
There is genuine, haughty affection there, if that is possible. The music is
suitably up tempo and the singing magnificent.

Wow. Just, wow.

I've watched countless times and loved it as exorbitantly the first time as the

Bechi, I salute you.

3.1/5 - RAIMONDI

I'd like to, but can't bring myself to give this four out of five. The costume
is excellent, but the setting lacks an intimacy, that this scene requires.

Raimondi bounds on with enthusiasm, but notice how the girl he grabs FAILS
ABSOLUTELY TO RESPOND TO HIM. This is really bad practice. It makes Raimondi
look so stupid. In a flash you are reminded that this is a stage and these are
actors and the whole suspension of disbelief stuff, just collapses altogether.

Or take the instance where he drops the tumbler. Again, so staged. So terribly
staged. All of the cast are stock still at this point. They have all got into
sitting position, which is a bad error and are in the way and distract, and are
not moving, and it is just all poor, really, really poor. Upsettingly, so.

The budget for this performance must have been almost as enormous as Raimondi's
ego. He really does not come across well on stage: it is more like watching
Flash Gordan than a credible Escamillo.

Look at the way cast members shift position to make themselves comfy. They are
not in raptures. They are not taking him seriously.

Carmen should be standing in the initial scene. I do like the playfulness, but
she has her pride. Boy, she has pride. She is one of the haughtiest, most
pretentious of matrixes. And the chemistry between Escamillo and Carmen is
wrong. It is just not good, not right, not there. There is really nothing going
on to make you sit up and quiver at the prospect of a great stage romance.

Great voices, particularly Carmen.


Tragi-comic. The tone of this piece troubles me. I would love Carmen to be more
feminine, Escamillo to be more natural.

It is a good thing that he is willing to move, but he shouldn't have come
running down the stairs. Thieves and children run.

The sideburns lend Ramey a neaderthalesque appearance, his jumping around
appears to clash with the role. He moves lightfootedly, but not at all
donishly. At times, he can be so static and pole-like and tense. At other
times brash, whirling the scarf around. How ridiculous.

There other flaws, flaws that belie description: mostly one is left with an
unconvinced, uneasy feeling.

On the plus side, the colouration is great. The cast, though not convincing in
their roles, are well togged and the scenery looks splendid.

Ramey's voice convinces without astounding. The contortions that he undergoes to
produce volume and range, rather devalue the end result.

This isn't bad. I would applause after the show. I might even stand up. But I
would not still be standing fifteen minutes later, with tears in my eyes,
having fainted twice. Only Bechi's rendition deserves that degree of adulation.


Once we make it through the credits...

With all the success that Korean musicians are having with Western music, it is
strangely heartening to see that they can still make such a mess of Western

This is a super minimalist stage for a solo piano rendition, not a Bizet opera.
Why are all these costumed opera characters walking about on a forecastle? And
why is Escamillo dressed like a Venetian spiff? His drinking
from the glass convinces no one. It is like watching an annoying little admiral
Lord Nelson parading back and forward. He has no discernable charm. He does
little to ape European mannerisms, and sings at times with his head back at the
most ridiculous angle.

Our Carmen, whoever she is, tots up one of the - VERY, VERY FEW - worthy points
of this production. I like her attitude. She seems genuinely to understand what
is going on romantically here, at quite a deep level. You do not get the
impression, as with some of our other Carmens, that she has simply been told by
some director that she should have such-and-such and attitude and maintains that
throughout the whole of the scene. She has an air of mystique. If I were a sixty
year old patron of this tavern, I could imagine myself going quite potty over

Again though, the whole production suffers for being so riflingly ridiculous.


Forget the fact that the video is awful, and the sound dire, and the likely fact
that it was all shot on someone's mobile phone, this is bad. The set gives
better 3-dimensionality than the Korean one, which our Escamillo immediately
wastes by staying rooted to the one spot.

The cast is furniture - absolute amateurs. They add nothing. Perhaps they are
worried about taking a step back and breaking their collective neck. What has a
staircase to do with pubs and bullfighting? Why are these people on a stage?
They clearly cannot act. None of them can. It is like watching wallpaper, bad
wallpaper, peeling slowly, over a fifty year period.


This at first glance looks a lot better than the Chilean one to follow, but it
is truly awful: so bad that its badness wakes me sometimes in the middle of the

Firstly, forget the costumes, these are clearly C20th Brits, being very British
and not at all continental. The stage setting is awful, so cluttered that
Escamillo is forced to stay rooted to the top of a tiny platform. The men
behind him patently have no idea what he is singing. One man attempts a hand
gesture, but it is pointless, out of turn and so half-hearted, that you feel
like immediately jumping up and down on his stomach just to check and see that
he is alive.

Escamillo throughout is doing his own wee thing. He stands in wrong places,
doesn't know how to flirt, and just looks an English public schoolboy type who
has wandered into an opera set by accident and to tell a joke that only he is
gets. It feels more like the "Please, sir," scene from Oliver Twist. There
is nothing alluring about Carmen, she looks neither interesting nor interested
nor worthy even of being spoken about. The cast immediately break when the
music ends otherwise they are static. They really really don't know what
Escamillo is singing, this is the major flaw. They do not understand what the
implications are. They give no hints as to the sexual politics of his arresting
entrance, if only it were so.

It is just bad. Expensive, no doubt, and very, very bad. When I look at Carmen,
I do not think as I should, that she is aloof, hot property, untouchable, and
utterly enticing, instead I think that she has a bad migrane. I think that her
elderly neighbour is complaining about her hernias over the backyard wall. I
think that she is really beginning to be beaten by a serious of severe
abdominal cramps. I suddenly remember I have my washing to do before Sunday,
anything would be better than watching this. Eating my own shoe would be

The music is turgid too. It drags. There is no life in this scene at all. Mostly
it is some sort of schadenfreude that keeps one watching: perhaps this is all
just a bad joke, someone will jump up at any second and say, "Only kidding,
here is our real cast, and real production!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Ephemera - The German People

[A letter presumably to The Times.]

Edinburgh, December 2, 1940

SIR, "H" states that he does not know what are Sir Robert Vansittart's qualifications to act as Chief Diplomatic Adviser to the Government. Let me enlighten him.

Sir Robert became Assistant Clerk to the Foreign Office in 1914, First Secretary in 1919, Counsellor in the Diplomatic Service in 1920, Secretary to Lord Curzon in 1920, Assistant Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister in 1928, Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office from 1930 to 1938., Diplomatic Adviser to theForeign Secretary since then.

"H's" comment, therefore, that Sir Robert's qualifications do not seem to include any general knowledge of Germany or of the German peoples is manifestly absurd. It would be interesting to know the qualifications which "H" possesses to enable him to state that the Germans are not to be "lumped together as a pack of wolves," and are not a united people in one realm under one leader. I can only say that I see little evidence of regional or racial differences among Germans in their Army or Diplomatic Service. I am &C. Ex-RAF"

A Happy Christmas!

"Made nigh by the blood of Christ."

What an interesting expression. It means brought close, but is rarely found outwith the context of its Ephesians 2 v. 13 origin, in paraphrase or direct quotation.

I have scrawled through the first 150 references of 730 to it on Google Books. Not one gave the phrase being used outwith its sacred context. It is the sort of phrase that really ought to be put to bed. Near-on-all modern writers are enclosing it in brackets, or offering some explanation to its meaning. Language changes and therein there are losses as well as new vocab.

If any one is able to track down a secular, non-mimicking usage of this phrase, then post a comment and let us know.

Kirkcaldy Promenade, The Esplanade and Ravensraig Point

Kirkcaldy's Prom was never its prettiest quarter. (I live off it, so feel I have a certain legitimacy in saying so.)

This view on the postcard is looking north towards the Hutchison's flour mill, which is still in operation. The wall is substantially the same, as is the harbour wall with the boating club shed, which is currently for sale, on the end of it. In general terms, the scene is remarkably similar, unmistakable even, however there are several changes of note.

The harbour currently features a veritable forest of posts, signs and lamposts, all every bit as ugly as the stone ones in this picture. The large white sheds at this end of the harbour have been demolished and replaced with housing, which now strafes the harbour area. The roadway is now wider and the grass verges have been removed. And the church at the far end of the Prom has been demolished.

The car nearest to us is reg. SSP 72, making it pre-1963, but can you identify it?