We (a group of nine family and friends) chose an ironically pagan thing to do as part of Christmas today - a bracing tramp around Silbury Hill and Avebury.
We'd planned it well before Christmas and were hoping for snow or at least a heavy frost to put us in the mood, but we got a cold, amazingly clear day instead. So we weren't complaining - and we felt as though we earned our dinner at the White Horse in Winterbourne Bassett.
Silbury Hill is the biggest man-made prehistoric mound in Europe and is reckoned to be 4,750 years old. Or, to put it another way, Christmas is a relatively recent invention in its history.
We walked from Avebury, around the hill and back, and then around half of the stone circle, marvelling at how impressive it still is, even after many visits during my lifetime, and even though it's so close to home.
The draw of Avebury is pretty strong. Drive through the village at any time during the hours of daylight, in any weather and at any time of the year, and you will always see people walking around the stones. And if you stop to watch anybody for long enough, they will also feel drawn to go up to one of the stones and touch it. While people with cameras feel compelled to photograph the stones...
December 25, 2009
I don't care how old the kids get; we're not getting rid of the tradition of filling up their Father Csacks with their presents...
Meanwhile, we are feeling pretty pleased with how bright and colourful our Christmas decorations look this year...
December 24, 2009
A Scrooge moment
I had a bit of a Scrooge moment today - which was pretty fitting as it is Christmas Eve and I was watching A Christmas Carol.
My faith has been renewed - not in Christmas (nobody could never accuse me of being 'Bah, humbug' about that), but in the cinema.
After two very disappointing experiences with the last two films I paid to watch (Slumdog Millionaire and the latest Star Trek movie), I was even beginning to wonder whether I might never pay to see a movie on a big screen ever again.
I absolutely loathe violence-for-its-own-sake films and/or pointless action sequences, and as it seemed that every film now made must consist entirely of one or other or both of these elements, I couldn't imagine why I would want to see another.
I understand this is the formula of the new Sherlock Holmes movie, for instance: a silly plot, endless unbelievable stunts and big 'special effects' - which, in my opinion, have now become so commonplace in movies that they couldn't possibly be considered 'special'. I've read the Sherlock Holmes stories - and they are absolutely crying out NOT to be given that sort of treatment.
My nephew, Rich, highly recommended A Christmas Carol on his blog, and as it's made with computer graphics and was in 3D, we decided to go - only just making it to the start after we realised the final 3D screening before Christmas was half an hour away (Sean decided not to jump out of bed to come too, which turned out to be a big mistake).
There were times during the film when I was so mesmerised by it that I actually felt as though I could understand how it must have felt for people watching the first ever moving images. It is a sometimes breathtaking movie.
The scenes are rendered in incredible detail, but also very imaginatively, so even the fantastical aspects seem as though they are real. For instance, there are two sequences where the viewer is 'flown' over a snowy London landscape. These are so incredibly effective, there's almost too much to see and too much to take in - a bit like you feel when you're parachuting.
And this is before you take into account the impact of the 3D effect, which all works perfectly, all the time. It uses a few of the usual tricks that make the most of 3D - like things sticking out of the picture, into the audience - but it's much cleverer than that.
In many scenes, the viewpoint starts off, say, at ground level, and then rises slowly, until you are looking directly down on everything. Or vice versa. But the best bits are when the viewer gets drawn right inside a room, so you feel as though they've somehow drawn the wall behind you. And whatever room you are in is rendered with stunning backgrounds, details and textures. I came out wondering why every film isn't made in 3D, but I don't believe anybody has ever taken it to such artistic heights before.
OK, so it's technically brilliant, but the clincher is in the general treatment of the plot and the characterisation, which is nearly always true to the book. With so much technology at his disposal and so much creative Disney talent, it would have been easy for the director* to get carried away with the action, but he obviously realised that the action sequences must not be overdone, and that, ultimately, it's the dark and disturbing bits which make or break it - and that's where the true genius of the film lies.
It's a truly wonderful piece of art and entertainment, and I absolutely loved it.
*Robert Zemeckis (director of Forrest Gump and the Back to the Future movies, so I suppose I should have expected to be impressed).
December 21, 2009
Snow at last
Swindon finally woke up to the snow that most of the rest of the country has been enjoying for days.
I say 'enjoyed' because I've always loved the novelty that snow brings to everyday life, and especially at Christmas, and I have to say I've been a bit jealous of other places. For some reason that may be due to geography or just bad luck, Swindon doesn't often get its fair share of snow.
I'm too young ever to have known a proper white Christmas, and the moderate fall of snow we had during the night is therefore the closest I've ever come to seeing one. It's a shame that it came exactly four days too early, but it's very welcome and we can still keep our fingers crossed for more on Friday.
This is the biggest consumer victory since CAMRA*, and the fact that it prevents the latest X-Factor winner (whoever he, she or it is) from automatically topping the charts is the best news for music, culture and honest hard work since... since... well, I can't even think what.
I am told they are a heavy metal band, which is far from being the kind of music you'll find on my iPod, but the point is it is produced by people who love it for what it is and not its market value. It's not the type or quality of the music that is important here, but the integrity with which it was conceived, produced and marketed.
And maybe the best thing of all about it is it shows what can happen when right-thinking, imaginative and independent-minded people, empowered by the internet, flex their muscles.
Hopefully this will encourage them (us) to flex them some more.
*I was recently told that CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) now has more members than ever, even though the campaign has been successful for years and they have surely achieved what they set out to achieve. There certainly has never been a better time to be a real ale drinker.
December 19, 2009
That's more like it
It was just my luck to decide to revert to having a Swindon Town season ticket last season, when attitudes and abilities by those blessed with wearing the Red Shirt were probably at their worst in living memory (and I have watched some pretty poor displays in my time, believe me).
I didn't intend to go back to the County Ground for a very, very long time after that, but when your friend is over from Australia, en route to visiting his parents in Hartlepool for Christmas, and he hasn't had the benefit of seeing any of last season's performances so still likes going to football, you are more or less obliged to go along with him. Not even stepping off the plane from sunny Sydney on to snow and then driving to icy (albeit snowless) Swindon could put off Steve (pictured, looking extremely cold at half-time).
But I'm not complaining. The line-up was almost unrecognisable compared with last season, and the new players showed enough desire, speed and skill to win an entertaining game against a surprisingly up-for-it Brighton, 2-1.
In a funny kind of way, I even began to understand why I bought that blasted season ticket in the first place.
I nearly captured the Town's first goal (a Billy Paynter penalty)...
Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow
Tonight saw the biggest drumming challenge of my life as our band, The Misfits, entertained the members of a singles' club as they enjoyed their posh Christmas do at Lydiard House Conference Centre.
We'd played at their summer ball, at the same venue, and they must have been impressed because they invited us back, and therefore expecting great things.
It mostly went well - "You've done us proud again," said the organiser - and with several gigs under my belt, I should be thinking that it is all onwards and upwards from now on. But life is never that simple.
Over the last week I have realised what the real challenge is. The problem is adrenalin. People who have been in car crashes will tell you that a major crisis like that causes your perception of the world to go into slow motion because of the adrenalin that starts pumping when your brain senses you need it. This warping of time is great news if you are trying to handle a car that is skidding out of control, but not very good news if the release of adrenalin is irregular and you are trying to keep a constant rhythm.
The absolute fundamental bottom line of drumming is keeping good time, and although I'm not very good at lots of aspects of drumming, I've always kept good time. Actually, I find that easy if I am relaxed, but when you are playing in front of an audience and you know there is a difficult bit coming up or you dropped a stick the last time you played this song, then your sense of time - and therefore timing - is on the verge of going haywire.
Worst of all is the inclination to want to rush difficult things, which is only natural but absolutely disastrous for drummers.
And, by the same token, those little bursts of confidence you feel when things are going well also threaten to throw you off your timing by possibly over-compensating for the waning adrenalin. In other words, a little confidence can be a dangerous thing.
All this means the enjoyment I thought I was experiencing a few weeks ago is on hold while I try to get over the latest challenges of this fluctuating level of confidence.
December 15, 2009
Before they were famous
One of the advantages of having a son who's well into the local music scene (and is one of the paid helpers/mentors at Swindon Music Service's Rock School) is you get to see some young local bands - some of whom are pretty talented.
Tonight we were able to pop into Rock School's end of term gig - albeit briefly - and although we weren't able to see the band Sean has been helping, we did get to see Guitar Stools and Cigarettes, a Swindon band with plenty of talent.
They played three acoustic guitars, did three-part harmonising and all three of them had good, strong voices, even though they are only about 15 or 16 (I think the bass player, who was good too, was only there for tonight). Not only did they sound really good, but obviously also had a really good attitude, wanting to produce something more ambitious, rather than standard rock.
I always hear snatches of my favourite artistes in others - probably wishful thinking - but I was sure I could hear Al Stewart-like strains coming from the guitars at times. Or, at least, it would have been great to hear them play an Al cover. What I had most hoped to hear from acoustic guitars and harmonising was some trace of Fleet Foxes, who have taken this sort of thing to new levels. I didn't hear that, sadly, but Guitar Stools and Cigarettes are highly thought of and look destined for bigger things. If they are, I can dig out this entry and say I saw them before they were famous, and I told you so.
December 14, 2009
Reviewing (the situation)
Tonight it was time for our pre-Christmas treat - me, Julie and Holly boarding a coach for London to see Oliver! (Sean preferred to stay at home with Becka but somehow ended up going to his ex-school's carol concert).
Oliver! is definitely the family's favourite musical, all of us having watched the video of the classic Ron Moody/Jack Wild/Oliver Reed version over and over again, and this is also at least the fourth time we've seen it on stage.
This version at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, formerly starred Rowan Atkinson as Fagin, but now stars Griff Rhys Jones. In fact, tonight's was his first performance.
Very good he was, too. I've always liked Griff Rhys Jones (ever since the brilliant Not the Nine O'Clock News) and he mostly played himself tonight, putting in more humour than Ron Moody, but without reinventing Fagin too much. When it came to the real test - Reviewing the Situation - he was more than up to the task.
The next best thing about the show was the design of the scenery and the slickness of the scene changes, which were impressive and ingenious without being spectacular. The stage at the Theatre Royal isn't very wide but is pretty deep, and the designer had realised it was therefore important to get the vistas right, such as the London landmarks in the distance and the sunset for Fagin to walk into at the end.
I also thought the big numbers, featuring most of the company (Consider Yourself and Who Will Buy?), were well done.
Another little bit of excitement was three press photographers rushing in for the curtain call, because of Griff's first night, and snapping away, just in front of our seat (in the stalls). So the pictures they got (as seen here) were more or less from our vantage point.
There were three slight downers. Nancy (played by Jodie Prenger who was selected via a BBC TV programme that I never watched) was just a little too brash and Cockney (in other words, too mouthy); Bill Sykes (Steven Hartley) was menacing but not as menacing as Oliver Reed in the film (who could be?); and I would have liked to have seen more of Bullseye (Bill Sykes's dog), who only had a couple of very minor walk-ons.
Otherwise it was exactly the kind of thrilling night out that you would expect from a big West End show, which we would certainly make a habit of if we could afford it.
December 13, 2009
So this is Christmas
This is the time of year when half of my instincts get turned upside down because even though it has absolutely no religious significance for me, I love Christmas and nearly everything about it.
I do think people put their Christmas decorations up too early (you can have too much of a good thing, which is why ours have only just gone up) yet I love them - even the over-the-top and tacky ones.
Most weird is the fact that I especially love the traditions of Christmas, even though I'm not a very conservative person in most things, usually preferring the new and the modern, beause that nearly always means better. And, just to be completely contradictory, I even love carols. My favourite carol is Good King Wenceslas because, if you listen to the words of all the verses, it embodies the true altruistic spirit of Christmas for right-thinking non-religious folk. There is also an interesting story behind it, including the fact that Wenceslas was only a duke, not a king.
This year, our approach to Christmas has changed slightly because we have a son who will turn 18 by this time next year, so things just aren't going to be the same in future years. This means the home traditions we've developed since both Sean and Holly were toddlers are therefore becoming more significant, not less. We realised, years back, that the best Christmas traditions are the ones you install in your own home, so we went out of our way to start and continue some.
We are going to have a problem enforcing the tradition that they both must still put a pillowcase out for Father Christmas (who is never called Santa Claus under our roof), but others will continue for as long as possible, including all of us sitting down to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, which is undoubtedly the best Christmas film ever made and also, appropriately, was made in the year Sean was born.
The star that Sean made when he was at nursery or infant school has been installed at the top of the tree, and we;ve hung up the cardboard stocking that still bears a little sticker saying 'Sean'. Holly didn't seem to be so industrious with the Christmas stuff, but three or four years ago she made a multi-coloured jam jar 'lantern' which has to hang in the middle of the fireplace.
Please God, save us from Manchester United supporters
Ryan Giggs? Sports Personality of the Year?
They're having a laugh, aren't they?
I'd be the first person to agree that he is a truly great player and deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award, but I'm going to need the rest of my lifetime to work out how somebody who only gets picked for the first team every third game could ever be said to be the sports personality of Manchester United for 2009, let alone beat people like Jensen Button and Andy Murray to a national title.
I haven't had much time for the award since 2006, when people voted for Zara Phillips because she is the daughter of Princess Anne, and I have precisely none now.
Ryan Giggs started 15 games for United in 2009 and scored three goals, so I think all the United fans who voted for him are missing the point somewhat. But then that roughly describes what 'supporting' Manchester United is all about - missing the point that being a football fan usually means slavish loyalty to a team for some kind of local reason, which continues not because they can afford the best players and therefore win something every year, but because part of the 'fun' is supposed to be suffering the torture of waiting for years and years before your team wins anything - if they ever do.
There are obviously far too many Manchester United supporters in the world and not enough whose loyalty and objective sporting judgement extends beyond that of the average sheep.
I feel especially sorry for Andrew Strauss who would have got my vote if I could have been persuaded to break the habit of a lifetime and vote in a pointless TV poll. The guy captained a team to the Ashes, for God's sake, and against all the odds, and by leading from the front. Perhaps he should have tried doing it in a red shirt.
My friend Dave has told me about his idea for a sketch about United supporters that we've often talked about, and I think the time is ripe to preview it here. It goes something like this...
Interviewer: So, Jimmy, you're a big United fan. How long have you supported them?
Jimmy: All my life.
Interviewer: You must have seen a lot of matches, then?
Jimmy: Yeah, I never miss them when they're on TV.
Interviewer: No, I meant: you must have been to Old Trafford lots of times?
Jimmy: No, I've never been, but I have got a picture of it on my wall.
Interviewer: I see. Well... I must say you seem to have all the gear: replica shirt, scarf, badges...
Jimmy: Yeah, and I've got Manchester United pants.
Interviewer: Anything else?
Jimmy: I've got a Ryan Giggs alarm clock, a Gary Neville lampshade, two Wayne Rooney mugs, Alex Ferguson slippers, United cufflinks, a United shopping bag, a United towel, a Ronaldo ashtray...
Interviewer: I think we get the idea. So why United?
Interviewer: Were you born in Manchester?
Interviewer: Lancashire, then?
Jimmy: No, Surrey.
Interviewer: Do you have family from Manchester?
Interviewer: Friends in Manchester?
Interviewer: Do you work in Manchester?
Interviewer: Have you ever actually been to Manchester?
Jimmy: Not as such.
Interviewer: So tell me: exactly why do you support Manchester United?
Jimmy: Because I've always supported them.
December 9, 2009
Talking 'bout their generation
If there's one thing I hate about old people, it's when they start generalising about the younger generation. I hated it when I was part of the younger generation myself (now many years ago) and I hate it now.
If you believe what you read in the Daily Mail, then all the boys carry knives and all the girls were single parents at 13, but you only have to talk to a few of them to realise that we - as in Britain - hasn't done a bad job in bringing them up, after all.
I know this first of all because we have two teenagers of our own and I've met their friends. Call me biased if you like, but they're pretty well rounded young people already. And then, today, I had not one but two close encounters with two separate bunches of kids which gave me more reason to think the future is bright.
Firstly I spent an hour and a half talking to 16-year-olds on the journalism course at New College in Swindon - the third time I've been there. To be fair, they don't always look like they're falling over each other to learn, but when you speak to them, you discover they've all got their heads screwed on.
Several of them have already demonstrated a natural gift for writing and all of them had something interesting to say. The only bad thing I have to say about them is they're not very good at punctuation, but as that is a failing of every other generation, let's not hold it against them (the good ones will realise and improve).
And as if that hadn't cheered me up enough, I also got to see the Christmas concert, tonight, by Swindon Young Musicians (SYM), featuring Holly. As Julie was out on a works Christmas do, I was resigned to be a Billy-no-mates on my own all night.
I know what you're thinking: Swindon Young Musicians? Sounds stuffy and pompous, and everybody knows how difficult music can sound, sometimes, when it is played communally by kids.
Not these kids. The show lasted two and a half hours, without an interval, and included no less than ten ensembles/groups/bands/orchestras, each playing three or four pieces, but I can honestly say I would have happily sat there for another two and a half hours and listened to it all again. It was brilliant.
Holly has only recently joined SYM, so I didn't know what to expect from the string group she was in. Fortunately, she is long past the stage in her violin playing where it inevitably resembles something feline and violent, and the string group had also acheived that thankful status whereby they didn't sound like 20 violins fighting each other, but the music all glided into one really sweet sound. They were second on (after the extremely likeable percussion ensemble) and although Holly was all for sneaking home early, her job done, I wasn't going to move from my seat in the front row - a viewpoint that made the whole thing all the more fascinating.
Not even the recorders sounded stuffy. In fact, as they included some kind of bass recorder that looked like a wooden case for another instrument, with a curved pipe sticking out of its middle, they were also interesting, as I don't recall ever seeing a recorder liek that before.
After lovely Spanish-style music from the 20-strong guitar group and being treated to the beautiful sounds of clarinets, xylophones and cellos along the way, we ended up at the climax - the big, wonderful jazz band who played five songs, including Glenn Miller's Tuxedo Junction, which sounded fantastic.
On one of their numbers they brought in a singer from Commonweal School called Caline Conway. She had a stunning voice which was perfect for the song, Sweet About Me by Gabriella Cilmi, who I knew nothing about except I vaguely remember seeing her sing the song on Later With Jools Holland.
Anyway, I have embedded a YouTube video of that performance for reference, because as nicely as it is sung by Gabriella, it's not as good as the version I heard tonight.
Definitely a good day.
December 8, 2009
The full scale of what I have let myself in for was revealed tonight when the Alfred Williams Heritage Society, of which I am a founder member and Vice-Chair, was officially launched by no less than the Mayor of Swindon.
Cllr David Wren - as he is known when he is in civvies - praised our website (which I designed) but otherwise I was able to keep my head down when it came to the speeches, and then mingled with the guests.
These included councillors, anybody who's anybody on the local history scene, bloggers, folk music afficianados (Alfred Williams collected the lyrics to nearly a thousand local folk songs which had otherwise never been written down) and a few senior civil servants, as well as a raft of people already converted to the Alfred cause.
Also present were some leading members of Swindon's Asian community, who were invited because Alfred had a soft spot for India after serving there in the First World War and a fascination for its culture, which I share.
We were also able to reveal the news that Baron Joffe of Liddington has agreed to be our patron. He became world famous as a human rights lawyer when he defended Nelson Mandela in the Sixties, later founded Hambro Life Assurance, was Chairman of Oxfam for six years and is now a Labour peer in the House of Lords, so you could say he has a few qualifications. Even better - he's Baron of Liddington, which is by far the most appropriate place for a patron of an Alfred Williams society to be baron of.
He couldn't be at the launch, but we agreed it had been pretty successful, although I for one am glad to have got it out of the way. I am not a natural host at such events and am really happier ferreting away in the background, designing hand-outs and things, but me and my fellow conspirators (John Cullimore and Caroline Ockwell) are looking forward to working on our strategy for 2010, which includes completing a bid for a Heritage Lottery Board grant of £33,000.
Enough about Alfred for now.
December 4, 2009
Sheds you win
I love Christmas, but we had a bit of a non-starter situation in our house this year. We are unable to get to any of the concerts featuring St Agnes Fountain, which, in the last two years, have been perfect for getting us in a Christmassy mood, and have therefore been the unofficial start of the festive period.
But we were able to get to Bath for a day's shopping today, which proved a good replacement, thanks to their Christmas market.
We'd heard about the market before, but had never been, and it turned out to be well worth the trip. Basically, about 60-70 people hire a shed each, and these are all placed around the Abbey area, making Bath an even better place for mooching around than normal. There was plenty of other things to see, including a tightrope walker, gallopers, a bloke dressed as a Winston Churchill statue that was so convincing the pigeons were sitting on him, and a pipe band (all pictured). I know people are supposed to find bagpipes unpleasant if they are not Scottish, but I have to hold my hands up here and say I really like them (I even like Mull of Kintyre).
Now, I like crafty sort of markets, but they usually have two big drawbacks: the stuff is often pricey, and sometimes I look at a lot of the stuff and think: "I could have made that myself." Not that I ever would make things myself, but it's sometimes not very difficult or imaginative stuff.
But that was certainly not true of much at Bath, where the stuff was not only impressive but reasonably priced. So, while the intention was to make a big inroad into buying presents, we came home with a few things for ourselves, including candles and paper decorations. We even seemed to have picked the best day to go, because the market (which finishes on Sunday) apparently gets so crowded on Saturdays that it becomes difficult to get near the little sheds.
We've decided to make it an annual event. I could even go back as a stallholder next year. I'm thinking of going into the shed business.
Miscarriage of justice
To cap an excellent morning and afternoon at Bath, we also had an enjoyable evening as we attended a Murder Mystery Evening fundraising event at Swindon Supermarine FC.
Six actors from an am dram group called The Western Players acted out a story with an appropriate football theme, while teams of six people tried to work out whodunnit. There was diaglogue and comings and goings, and we were even asked to go out of the room and into one of the changing rooms to view the murder scene, which was all great fun.
I can't say too much about the story in case anybody reading this gets a chance to go to a repeat performance, as I wouldn't want to spoil the fun. But I can say that there were two Carter teams competing, but only one of them - ours - managed to untangle the facts and present a whole stack of evidence that proved why X was the murderer. There was only one problem with it - he/she didn't do it.
That was the only disappointment of an otherwise excellent event: the fact that there didn't seem to be any evidence to incriminate the person who did do it, apart from the fact that he/she had a good motive. But of course, all five of the suspects also had good motives, otherwise it wouldn't have been much of a whodunnit in the first place.
It was a still a novel way to spend an evening, and we're hoping for another murder soon.
December 2, 2009
Joe the Georgian
Some people may have missed it because it possibly clashed with the latest pointless escapades on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of There, but there was an interesting programme about Stalin on BBC2 tonight.
Interesting for me, anyway, who has been intrigued by Russian history since we did the Russian Revolution in A Level history and because that weathervane of interesting stories and characters, Al Stewart, deals with Russia in general in several of his songs, and Stalin in particular in one.
'Joe the Georgian', as Al calls him, ranks as possibly the most evil and ruthless man ever to have walked the earth, which was the indisputable point of Stalin's Back.
But reporter John Sweeney's argument was that the history books are being twisted to present a positive image of Stalin, while either glossing over or completely ignoring such indiscretions as up to 20 million people dying as a result of persecution or because his rapid industrialisation of Russia while he was in power (between 1924 and 1953) caused a few million people to starve to death. There was also the little matter of Stalin collaborating with the Nazis until they invaded Russia in 1941.
The idea that modern Russians all think Stalin was an OK kind of bloke wasn't very convincing. There certainly seems to be a belief in Russia, even now, that they needed somebody strong during the war, and Stalin fitted the bill, but that doesn't mean they would welcome him back now.
Some of the programme was entirely unconvincing. For instance, the BBC were stopped from filming outside a record office and used this to suggest they were being censored. I've never been to Russia, but even I know red tape is a big issue there, no matter what you're filming. And when they interviewed the chief of police about this and the fact that access to records that could damn people who had worked for Stalin was restricted, he seemed to have a valid enough argument - that they were subject to standard privacy rules and you couldn't have every Tom, Dick and Harry going through personal details (not unlike records over here or in any other democracy, in fact).
There certainly is some kind of Stalinist cult status surviving, but it was impossible to work out the extent of it from this programme, or whether it was any worse than the way history is taught over here.
I don't detect a great awareness of the not-so great bits from British history in our kids, and when I was at school, I don't remember being told a single word about the atrocities, injustice and exploitation that took place during the British Empire, nor the sacrifice of British soldiers in the First World War, nor such things as the Highland Clearances or the Irish potato famine - all of which are shameful enough to compete with the worst of Stalin's evil ideas.
When it comes to re-writing history and hushing up the past, you'll probably find we wrote the manual.
Credit to Al Stewart, as usual, who got to the meat of the story when he wrote a song about Stalin's victims awaiting his arrival in Hell, called Joe the Georgian.