'All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.'

-- Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales


19th of December, 2004


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Mia Nutick here. Last year I reviewed a CD of Dylan Thomas reading his classic poem A Child's Christmas in Wales. In that review I asked:

Are the Christmases we imagine that we remember really the Christmases we had? Was there always snow; did we really go caroling in the crisp night air; did we sit down together in the warmth of our loving families to bright and tantalizing feasts of turkey and dressing and three different kinds of pie; did we truly have gifts wrapped in shining paper and ribbon piled halfway to the ceiling around the glimmering, glistening, twinkling Christmas tree? Or have we seen too many films and television shows and simply assimilated their Dickensian pictures of Christmas into our own fading recollections?

I still don't know the answer to that, exactly, but I do know that nobody addresses the question better than Dylan Thomas. And yet, I find people in my own circle who are still unfamiliar with Child's Christmas. Just this evening I was talking to a friend, an accomplished and talented poet in her own right, who has never read this poem. 'What do they teach them in these schools?' I found myself muttering, Professor Digory Kirke-style.

This week we'll be celebrating the Winter Solstice in the Great Hall, and taking turns reading the Thomas classic out loud in the Robert Graves Reading Room. I particularly look forward to Huw Collingbourne's rendition, as he is, like Thomas himself, a Welshman. Do try to stop by for some bara brith or a piece of treacle toffee. There will be mulled cider on the hearth.

While I reviewed Dylan Thomas reading his work, Huw Collingbourne takes a look at the A Child's Christmas in Wales itself: 'Many of Dylan Thomas's best stories are evocations of a childhood in which the summers are always sunny, the winters are always snowy, adults are invariably strange, funny, threatening and inexplicable and there is always an undertone of melancholy.'

Faith Cormier has a set of reviews of Barbara Swell's old time cookery books. Of the first she says: 'Children at the Hearth: 19th Century Cooking, Manners and Games is a compendium of just that: recipes, moral and etiquette advice and pioneer games. The recipes are organized pretty much by ingredient or by course, with chapter titles such as Meats, Vegetables, Dessert, Soups & Stews and Weird & Disgusting Foods. This last includes 'foods no modern kid would eat,' such as pickled glazed tongue and peanut-butter-and-catsup sandwiches. (My father has been known to eat them, but he's no kid. He puts catsup on his ice cream, too.)' When you finish shuddering over that image, check out her omnibus reviews of Log Cabin Cooking: Pioneer Recipes and Foodlore and Old Time Farmhouse Cooking: Rural American Recipes, Wisdom & Farm Lore ('From a historical point of view, Log Cabin Cooking and Old-Time Farmhouse Cooking go together nicely to tell the story of rural North American cookery in the 19th and early 20th centuries.') and Take Two & Butter 'Em While They're Hot!: Heirloom Recipes & Kitchen Wisdom, Secrets of the Great Old-Timey Cooks, and Mama's In The Kitchen: Weird & Wonderful Home Cookin' 1900-1950 ('Together, these three books pretty much cover North American cookery and homemaking from the latter third of the 19th century to 1950. This was a period in which the average kitchen moved from cookfires to stoves fueled with wood, coal, gas, electricity or propane.')

Faith also takes an Excellence in Writing Award winning look at the second book in David and Leigh Eddings ongoing Dreamers tetralogy: 'The Treasured One reminds me of nothing so much as a Celtic knot. The story keeps twisting back on itself. The same point is arrived at from several directions. The shifts in viewpoint (from first person to third person to author omniscient and back again) are dizzying. As with a Celtic knot, anyone who tries to follow one strand is likely to get very lost. With a Celtic knot, the result is beauty. In The Treasured One the beauty, while there, is less evident. I enjoyed the story, yet I found myself getting impatient with it by times.'

Chief Cat Eldridge also receives an Excellence in Writing Award for his review of a version of Peter Pan illustrated by Charles Vess: 'If you appreciate classic literature from the Edwardian era that both children -- say early teens -- and adults will appreciate, go read this version, as you'll find both the text and the illustrations by Charles Vess are up to his usual exceedingly high standards, with the crocodile being particularly pleasing!'

Composer Colin McPhee spent years in Bali and wrote lovingly about his time there. Robert Tilendis reviews A House in Bali: 'McPhee is a gentle commentator, although with enough acerbity to keep the narrative from ever becoming bland, and A House in Bali is a graceful and ultimately fascinating picture -- and perhaps one much truer than any anthropologist has managed so far -- of life in Paradise.'

Gary Whitehouse has a double whammy: a book, and the soundtrack CD for the book. In Bonnie Marson's story 'a young professional woman who doesn't realize just how discontented she is with her routine life is suddenly possessed by the spirit of a well-known classical composer.' Gary says that 'It is indeed a good premise, but Marson, an artist writing her first novel [Sleeping with Schubert], fails to deliver.' Of the soundtrack CD of the same title, Gary says 'this disc is a decent overview or sampling from the varied styles in which Schubert composed. If you're looking for an introduction to his works, it's not a bad place to start.'

It's seasonally appropriate to gift Anton Strout with his very own Grinch Award for this week's game review: 'Before I came to the world of reviewing, I wondered if reviewers really read, watched, or played everything they attempted to write about. Now that I am on the writing side rather than the reading side of reviewing, I know the answer. I take no shame in announcing that this review is based solely on partial game play of Vivendi's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (FOTR). I suppose I could get caught up in a journalistically ethical battle over this, but honestly this game caused me so much pain, almost to the point of bleeding from the eyes, that I am gladly doing my job going on only partial play. If any Lothlorien, Mordorian, or Gondorian can convince me that I should finish this game before passing judgement like the Council at Rivendell, grab Glamdring and step right up.' Whoa. That can't be good.

Remember we're looking for new game reviewers to join Anton in the Green Man arcade...

Jack Merry here. It's a light week for music reviews as most of the staff takes time off around the holidays. Indeed we'll be off for the next two weeks in terms of reviewing anything as this is when we have our annual fortnight long midwinter editorial staff party, errr, well-deserved break. Do keep in mind that next week is when Josepha Sherman will recite Her Winter Queen Speech, and the following week is when a bonnie bunch of folks will give their suggestions as to the best reading and listening pleasures of this year, so do drop by. And the Neverending Session is, as always, resident somewhere in the Green Man building so come for some plum pudding, a bit of wassail, and some decidedly not your usual Christmas tunes.

Telyneg's Nadolig Yng Nghymru (Christmas In Wales) was not as good a recording of Welsh music as Huw Collingbourne would've liked: 'I imagine that this eclectic mix of music and narration might work well in a live performance. I'm afraid that, on CD, it is too fragmented to be satisfactory. While there are some good things here, this is not a CD that repays repeated listening.'

Richard Condon lets you in on a secret: 'On the sunlit uplands that surround our publication's multi-billion dollar premises, the Editorial Board of Green Man Review and their cronies swan about, eating chocolate sent in by artists hoping to bribe their way to good reviews, then flit from Charles de Lint's newest champagne-lubricated book launch to cocktails to mark the start of Fairport Convention's latest North American tour, before finally repairing to the luxurious editorial suite and listening to the finest music sent in by the mega-recording companies while plying each other with mead, cider and other delights. Meanwhile, down in the infernal bowels of the GMR complex, the hacks are slaving away to churn out reviews of the bizarre material spurned by the toffs upstairs. Thus it is that I find myself listening to these two oddities. And very odd they are!' The recordings he's referring to are the Charlie Moorland Trio's Excentrique and Jaune Toujours's Barricade. I suggest you grab a flute of Sparkling Shiraz before you read his review! Just don't tell him where you got it!

Alamaailman Vasarat's Käärmelautakunta met with favour, more or less, from Scott Gianelli: ' Entirely self-composed and self-arranged, Käärmelautakunta generally rocks loud and hard, and while the album runs out of steam a bit towards the end, the effort mostly satisfies.'

The Celebrated Renaissance Band's REAL LIVE American Music was to the liking of Peter Massey. And what, you ask, is real live American music? Peter says 'Allied to Bluegrass is Old-Time American music. Old Time as I have come to know it, is derived from a fusion of the Blues, Minstrel show, Gospel, rural South folk song, and even jug band music. In my experience it is usually enjoyed by a group of like minded enthusiasts sitting in a circle having a session or pick as its known in my part of the world. The tunes and rhythms are progressive and inherently similar, making it easy for a stranger to learn and join in.'

Doug B. Smith gets two of his recordings -- Diving For Pearls and A Slight Remove -- reviewed byLiz Milner who has nothing but good things to say about the musician and his music: 'Doug Smith is an English fingerpicking guitar virtuoso. His performance on these two albums is remarkable, but it also put me in a quandary. Seconds into Diving For Pearls, I was thinking how very, very much Smith sounds like Martin Simpson.'

Lenora Rose really, really wanted to review Jim Moray's Sweet England. So much that's she's still doing scullery maid duty for the Unseelie Court and you don't want to know what they feast on. (Just kidding.) Actually Lenora says ' I had just managed to wheedle Kim into letting me review this CD a day or two before the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award Winners were announced -- and Jim Moray collected both the Best Album award and the Horizon award for best new performer. I thought my timing impeccable. The album does live up to its acclaim, though it might throw a listener for a loop if they're expecting his renditions of traditional English ballads to be familiar or entirely comfortable.'

Oisn Mac Diarmada's Ar an bhfidil (Irish Fiddle Music from Sligo) met with the approval of musician Pat Simmonds in large part because it was restrained in its approach: 'There has been a backlash against the excessive speed of playing in the last couple of decades, so it's great to see a record that puts the music back in the middle: not too fast, not too slow. There is a lovely soft quality to it that sits easily on the ear and the overall effect is very calming and satisfactory, almost charming.'

The Wooden Flute Obsession is the other CD Pat reviews this outing: 'This is the first installment in a series of double CD packages put together by Kevin Krell... All the music here is culled from releases from the various artists own CDs so I guess it is more of a compilation than anything else. A review of this album would be a review of the state of the wooden flute -- and let me assure readers that it is in a very good state indeed.'

Robert M. Tilendis considers a trio of CDs by the duo known as Coyote Oldman -- Tear of the Moon, Compassion, and Floating on Evening: Songs from Otter River. Our intrepid reviewer wisely notes: 'I learned a very important concept about making art in a dance class, studying butoh, the contemporary Japanese dance-theater that is at once highly abstract and fundamentally impressionistic: evocation. Our movements were not to describe an action, but to evoke the image of the action. This applies to works done in many media, from dance to poetry to fiction and, of course, music. Coyote Oldman has explored a range of possibilities inherent in this idea, basing their music on the sounds and textures of New World flutes.'

A final note from SPike... We get all sorts of e-mails at GMR, not least are the messages asking us to listen to someone's new CD, or read their book, or see the movie they made for their film class, or whatever! This week a message arrived asking us to listen to...well...he speaks for himself, 'HIYA!! i am Corneilius, a singer/songwriter in the bardic tradition (truth will out so to speak, or sing), and I have released a FREE virtual double a side single, comprising two songs 'I don't like shoppping' 'It's getting close to christmess, and christ what a mess this world is in!' SPike decided he was up for the challenge and visited the site! Here's his comments on it: 'It's bloody Jefro Tull singin' in front of Dave an' I playin' our guitars at the pub. An' this bloke ol' 'Corneilius' (wotsamatter, couldn't jam an A in there, wif all the uvver vowels?) this bloke...'don't like shopping...he likes swapping!' Nice! At least he wants to swap things wot he made wif 'is 'ands! An' on the flip side of this virtual 45 he sings that we still live in the rich part of the world and ignore the poor people. Well, I guess he's right. Somehow he manages to jam John Lennon's 'Imagine' into the mix. Anyway, it's kinda fun, an' 'is Web site is worth a visit too, if you've been smokin' those funny ciggies again! Try the music, if you dare!'

As Jack says, next week we'll have our Winter Queen speech, and the week after that will be our Best of 2004 issue. We hope you've had a lovely Hanukkah, and that you have a wonderful Solstice and the merriest of Christmases. Happy Holidays from all of us at Green Man Review.


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Updated 19 December 2004, 07:15 GMT (MN)