Monday, March 27, 2006

It's always hardest when the end is in sight

Okay, so this will be the last post about this (probably, anyway); as you can see from the picture, I really did finish the Silverstone Half Marathon on Sunday 19th March, honest; my official time was 2h 04m 26s, which made me 3199th out of 5003 finishers (ahem). I’m not speedy over the longer distances, that much is clear, but I am steady…

Slightly alarmingly, I was under the impression that 7000 people started the race – did 2000 of them drop out as things went along ? I would have thought I would have noticed that many people falling by the wayside…

Anyway, if you’re impressed or appalled or simply flush for cash, please feel free to make a donation to my chosen charity, Radio Forest, by clicking the following link:

Once again, thanks.

REVIEW: Mirrormask

This was apparently commissioned by the Henson company when they realised just what strong sellers their films 'The Dark Crystal' and 'Labyrinth' had proven to be on sell-through video (and, more recently, DVD), so they approached Neil Gaiman (comic writer and novelist) and Dave McKean (artist, to put it mildly) to make a film. And this film is the result, telling the tale of Helena, who finds herself in another world and on a quest to find the Mirrormask, which – she’s told – will save both this dying otherworld, and her life in the world she’s used to.

It’s a very British-feeling film, both in terms of the cast, and the setting (until things go all otherworldly, that is), so in all honesty I don’t know how much of an international appeal it’ll prove to have. That aside, it looks great to see McKean’s style brought to life – I can only begin to imagine how much of a ‘wow’ it would elicit from someone who’s not familiar with his work, as it’s very distinctive.

The story relies perhaps a little bit too much on ‘dream logic’, but it’s ultimately nicely rounded off, and the playing by all the cast is strong, especially the young woman playing Helena. Oddly enough, even though I saw it at the ICA, where you’d expect the sound and vision to be pretty good, it came over as rather poppy and crackly, with the occasional jump in the film, though I guess there might not be too many copies of the film doing the theatrical rounds, so maybe this one was a bit tired?

Anyway, that’s all a side issue, as I’d guess the majority of people will watch it at home. And I’ll certainly do the same, as it feels as if it’d be something to return to. Definitely worth a look.

It's clearly a case of con science

In relation to the issue of the war in Iraq, the Prime Minister recently said that, ultimately, the wisdom of his actions will judged by God.
Two thoughts on this:
1. He knows full well that God isn't registered to vote in the UK
2. Is it just me, or does that sound worryingly reminiscent of something that Annie Wilkes said in ‘Misery’?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

REVIEW : Syriana

I'll freely admit that I didn't fully understand this film, but that was more to do with the fact I'd had a long day and this was a late showing than any real fault with the film.

As you may have heard, some of the cast of this film have come under fire (thankfully, only in figurative terms) for their involvement in this film, which seems a bit of an over-reaction to me, as the basic premise appears to be that people in business are often willing to ignore the law and human rights to make a profit, whether at a personal or corporate level. I can't really see why this suggestion would make some people get so angry (as, er, it's what's commonly known as a fact if you look at the history of the twentieth century), unless some people are particularly prickly because this film deals with corporate misbehaviour and governmental collusion in relation to oil. Though getting angry about that idea at the moment would be even more daft. So I don't understand that particular fuss.

Anyway, the film deals with the above, in a number of interweaving plotlines, where it's not always entirely clear what the nature of the characters' relationships may be - but in its way, this is quite pleasing, as it doesn't patronise you as a viewer by explaining everything to you as if you're simple, and you have to do a bit of work. Which is a nice change, really.

The quite impressive cast are good, and the dialogue, while a little exposition-heavy in places, is pretty solid. Not necessarily a fun film, and certainly not one I'd recommend to watch on a date, but certainly interesting, intelligent, and timely. I suspect it would repay repeated viewings (and not just because I was drifting in and out of consciousness at the end).

And they're coming round the track to haunt me

I once heard a theory advanced that clouds repeat over a long period of time, like the way the background when Scooby and Shaggy are running at a high speed (this was in Grant Morrison's 'Invisibles' comic series, which I'd recommend as a good way to bend your brain out of shape - in the best possible way).

In the same fashion, over time, certain patterns occasionally seem to become evident in my life, and I had an instance of this recently, when on my birthday, I received a communication from a voice from the past. Ten years ago to the day, I'd received a letter from someone who I'd not expected to ever hear from again.
I'm intrigued to see what happens on my 45th birthday.

REVIEW: 'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell

This novel was recommended to me by a friend, and I'm glad I listened; at first glance it appears to be a book of short stories, but they're all interlinked, and run all the way from a historic seafaring journal to a tale of life in a post-apocalyptic future - and then back again.

There are running themes and images in the stories, and they're all written in different voices, and Mitchell does well to make them not only distinct, but also sufficiently interesting and involving that there's a sense of 'aw, I was just getting into that' when one story ends, though the interest is soon diverted to the new tale. The one I found least interesting was what might be seen as the 'central' chapter, but this proved worth persevering with as it paid off later.

Very well written indeed, and I gather Mitchell's written a couple of other novels, which I'll have to look out for. Recommended.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The tedium of the long-distance runner

Well, despite my wish not to be seen as part of – or worse, to look as if I’m following – the herd, yesterday I did the Silverstone Half-Marathon along with some 7000 other people.

I was hoping to do it in two hours, but came in about four minutes later than that, though I’ll blame the winds we were running against, and the fact that I’m unaccustomed to public running… well, as part of such a large crowd, anyway.

It’s kind of difficult to describe the mental series of events I underwent yesterday; at first, the music I had playing distracted me nicely (particularly from the rather pedestrian MOR stuff that Fox FM was so kindly pumping through loudspeakers at various points along the course), but after about mile 7, when I started to see people stopping running and walking instead, or just stopping entirely, I became rather aware of the rhythm of both my breathing and my running, to the point where it was less of a reflex or routine and needed me to focus on it a bit… which of course meant that I was all too able to spot every little twinge or feel of reluctance on my part.

In the final third or so, after about mile 10, it felt as if the end was in sight, so that was more a case of just getting on with it, and getting the last bit done – being 10/13 of the way through, it would have been a shame to stop or walk or whatever, so I just ignored any ideas of stopping, and got on with it. And when I was done, felt pretty pleased with myself, even if I was a few minutes over the target I’d set myself.

I guess that the above may or may not make sense at all, depending on whether you’ve done some task which involved prolonged concentration or effort or whatever, though I’ll wager that there are already many books on the shelves about the ways in which psychology varies in such situations; whether people start off gritting their teeth and trying to get through it, or whether they start off hopeful and that optimism fades with time, or whatever. There may indeed be some kind of extrapolation to be made about one’s general attitude to challenges or problems or the like, but that’s something that’s probably best left to other people, I guess.

Of particular note, though: the chap I saw who was running barefoot, and another chap with a vest marked ‘Blind Runner’, both of whom certainly make me feel suitably humbled.

Still, if you’re even vaguely impressed – or appalled, or any other kind of emotional reaction – in relation to me completing the half-marathon, you can always manifest that in financial terms at

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of Stray Thoughts

1. Unless I’m missing the point quite dramatically, the aim of trailers at the cinema is to make you want to see the film, yes ? Taking that as the case, then I can’t see many people (and certainly not me) racing to see the film ‘Basic Instinct 2’ on the basis of the trailer, which makes it look like a re-made for British TV version of the original film, and appears about as ill-advised as ‘American Psycho 2’ (I’m not making that one up, it does exist). If ‘Basic Instinct’ had anything going for it, I’d guess it was the high-sheen production, the twisty Eszterhaus script, and Verhoeven’s directing, as well as the sheen of the setting and the leads (Michael Douglas’s pullover aside). But this latest film looks … well, it looks rather on the dull side, at best, and the sequel element of it looks marginal; only one member of the original cast, it seems, plus a different writer (writing team, no less), and director, making it more like (to give two examples) ‘Grease 2’ than ‘Blade 2’. And as a friend of mine pointed out, the poster of Sharon Stone sitting backwards on a chair has the unfortunate effect of looking rather as if she’s got some kind of down-pointing metal male genitalia. Which is different from the original film, I guess, but still…

2. The present government is currently facing criticism for allegedly taking ‘loans’ from people who later received honours. Leaving aside the fact that this may not be against parliamentary rules but is obviously not in line with the spirit of those rules, I guess I can partly see why the present administration aren’t really seeming too ruffled; when you’ve managed to get re-elected after going to war against a foreign power without any proper justification, you probably feel that you can get away with pretty much anything.

3. Had an interesting experience recently when I suddenly had cause to think ‘what if I died tomorrow? What would I want to have resolved before then?’, and this led to a phone call to someone I’d become distanced from. I’d recommend mulling over things in this light occasionally, as you may find – as I have – that you can recover or repair something you may have lost for a bad reason.

4. At my recent birthday gathering, I was touched not only by the turnout and the generosity of my friends in terms of presents, but also by the fact that the vast majority of them used the word ‘mountainporn’ in relation to pictures of mountains and the like. Warmed the heart of my cockles, it truly did.

5. Speaking of such things, it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. You still have a few days to get something and look like a good son/daughter/non-gender-specific child. Just trying to help out here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Day of rest, my increasingly well-toned posterior...

As I may well have mentioned, this Sunday (19th March), I’m doing the Adidas London Half-Marathon, which for reasons best known to Adidas, is being held this year at Silverstone (yes, the race track in Northamptonshire). I know - it IS odd, isn’t it?

Anyhow, I’d be very grateful if you’d sponsor me – not for my own benefit, however; I’m running to raise money for Radio Forest, the hospital radio station who have been kind enough to let me use their record library and equipment on Tuesday nights for… ooh, must be a couple of years now. Radio Forest is a registered charity, and runs two channels, which are on 24 hours a day. As this is all done voluntarily, I’m sure you can imagine it’s far from cheap to run (not least because of the number of chocolate biscuits and cups of tea I demand as a backstage perk before I’ll even think about putting on a show).

So if you’d like to sponsor me for doing the 13.1 miles (that’s 21 kilometres in new money, I gather) this weekend, I’d be very grateful. A couple of people have said that they felt faintly uncomfortable about entering their details on online sponsor forms I’ve set up in the past, so you’ll be relieved to know that the arrangement this time doesn’t necessitate having your name or amount in any way displayed online, but instead allows you to go straight to a page which lets you donate to Radio Forest – of course, if you’d prefer to wait until I’ve actually done the running, and for me to let you know how long it took and how much it hurt me, I’ll be happy to let you know about that too. Though just to set some kind of baseline – and here’s where I make a rod for my own back – I’m hoping to complete it in less than two hours… still, we’ll see.

Anyway, if you’d like to donate/sponsor, the following link will take you to the appropriate webpage, which also gives more information about Radio Forest:

Thanks – please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions about any of this!

Monday, March 06, 2006

A brief website from my labours

Many months after it was promised, my website finally has samples available for reading, downloading, and even printing, at . Rather embarrassed about the delays, but I'd be genuinely interested in your comments on the stuff that's there - there are the opening chapters from my first novel, a short story, and a non-fiction journalistic piece, so I like to think there's something for everyone. Let me know what you make of it.

And I may soon be able to share a link to a bit of stand-up I did the other day which was filmed for possible online streaming (ooh, get me with the techie jargon; shame I'm not entirely sure that's the right term, but still). But I'm not sure at this point whether it will be available online. Should that be the case, though, I'll be sure to let you know (or, as the more astute amongst you will translate that phrase, 'to continue with my egocentric and self-absorbed policy of wanton hype and self-promotion').

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Why nerds read comics

As I write this, both the major american comic publishers are publishing lengthy and involved cross-overs. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon - and it's one which is pretty much standard in the shared universes which are so rife in comics, but less frequent in other media - this means that there are stories being told which run through a number of separate comics, but which, when read in sequence, should create the sense of one big story.

This is moderately rare in other media, but comics have been doing it for decades; in the 1980s, when Marvel released 'Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars', all the major Marvel comic characters (including Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, and all the other heroes and villains alike) were whisked to another world where they... er, well, as I understand it, pretty much fought for a series of 12 issues. There were a number of related issues of other comics published featuring the ramifications of what happened during the 'Secret Wars', perhaps the most notable of which was that Spider-Man got a new costume (which I always thought was pretty spiffy, but let's face it, it was unlikely to stick around for marketing reasons if nothing else).

In 1985, DC Comics (publishers of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) published a series called Crisis on Infinite Earths. For DC, this was as much a house-clearing exercise as it was an event, or gimmick to sell more copies. For a long time, DC had tried to explain the fact that many of their characters had been superheroes for so long (Superman fought Nazis in WWII, after all) by saying that the characters existed on a number of parallel earths within the DC Universe. So the Superman who fought in the war was in fact from Earth-2, and as such he had white hair. If memory serves, the Batman of Earth-2 was retired and married to the Catwoman of that alternate, but I could well be wrong. I never really understood the way the alternate earths worked in DC continuity, and looking at it now, whilst I can see a lot of people went to a lot of trouble to make the situation make some kind of sense, howsoever convoluted, to my mind it looks like the kind of world-building that suggests creators in danger of falling in love with the creations. Which is rarely good for subsequent creativity, I feel.

Anyway, DC merged all their earths into one, bumping off a substantial number of alternate earth versions of their heroes (such as the aforementioned elderly Superman), and thus providing themselves with the perfect opportunity to 'reboot' some of their characters and modernise them. Perhaps the most visible example of this would be the fate of Jonathan and Martha Kent, who died when Clark was young in the pre-Crisis era, and thus in the Superman film starring Christopher Reeve, but who are alive and living in the post-Crisis reboot of Superman, and thus are on hand to provide advice etc in the 'Lois and Clark' and 'Smallville' TV shows.

With me so far ? I can understand if not. The thing is, both Marvel and DC found these cross-overs to be extremely lucrative; the completist mentality is a prevalent strand in many comic readers, and so large numbers of comics were sold by virtue of being 'tied in' to the event in question. Over the next decade or so, both companies (and many less well known ones) ran cross-overs, despite them being pretty blatantly a sales ploy more than anything else: Secret Wars II, Legends, Millennium, the X-tinction Agenda, DC One Million, Underworld Unleashed, the Children's Crusade, Total Eclipse, the Age of Apocalypse, and many, MANY more. All pretty difficult to follow unless you bought all the component parts, and not necessarily much more coherent if you did, and damned expensive to do so, as you were effectively committing to buying the vast majority of a publisher's output for a month or more (USA comics are published monthly on the whole, but ship in different weeks, so you could buy the Superman tie-in in week one of a month, the Batman tie-in in week two, and so on).

As I say, both publishers are currently in the process of running large cross-overs; DC found considerable success with a mini-series (that is, limited to a number of issues - 6, I believe) called Identity Crisis written by novelist Brad Meltzer, which gained coverage in the mainstream press for its dark story elements. This led to a number of associated mini-series (the Rann-Thanagar War, Villains United, the OMAC Project), which led into the frankly bewilderingly-titled Infinite Crisis, which is being published as I type this, and will in itself lead to a whole slew of follow-on stories and spin-off series.

Marvel, for their part, have recently finished a series called House of M (a semi-alternate world story in which Magneto, the X-men villain, rules the world), which - as far as I can understand it - had led into more crossovers, called Decimation and the like.

I sound vague about all this, don't I? Well, the simple reason is that I'm not reading any of them. I like only a handful of superhero comics, and though I go to my local comic shop pretty much each week, there are fewer and fewer comics which I feel the inclination to buy. As much as I may like the character of Batman, I'm not going to buy a copy of the monthly comic if it's the 13th tie-in chapter to a much bigger story which will necessitate my buying more stuff. I'm stupid, but I'm not made of money. So I end up buying collected editions (in which I'll get a complete story) or trying new stuff, which is probably healthy.

But what appears to be going on is that the major US comics publishers have decided not to try to reach out to new readers or expand their dwindling marketplace in any fashion, but instead to run a series of stories which are designed to wring every last penny out of their current readership. This happened in the 80s and 90s, and whilst it provided a short-term infusion of cash, it was ultimately unsustainable, and did little if anything to provoke any kind of increase in overall readership. Instead it's appealing to a completist mentality, one which has both money and time enough to fixate on whether the new continuity allows for the idea that Beppo the Supermonkey might still live somewhere in Superman's Fortress of Solitude. It's a mentality which probably medically borders on Asperger's syndrome, and socially is known as nerdy at best, and whilst I could debate the ethics of the publishers shamelessly exploiting the customers with endless cross-overs, I think the worst aspect of it is that it has to be a short-term thing, both for the readers ("What comes after 'Infinite Crisis'?" asks the fanboy, to which the correct answer is probably "Shaving") and for the publishers ("No, I don't buy comics any more" and the like).

This, then, is the reason for the provocative heading to this post. I'm not saying that ONLY nerds read comics, but the publishers have recently started to aggressively target their most obsessive and completist readers, to the exclusion of other readers ... readers like me (meanwhile, manga grows in popularity, stocked and sold out in real bookshops, no less).

You'll also notice that I refer solely to the US publishers here. The main reason being that the mainstream UK comics industry is very limited indeed, essentially being comprised of a handful of comics aimed at young children, 2000AD and Judge Dredd comics, and Viz. A depressingly small number of titles overall, and thus with limited cross-over potential. Though I'd probably pay good money to see a Tweenies-Judge Dredd-Buster Gonad team-up.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

REVIEW: Aeon Flux

Whilst I’m sure that a large number of people will be drawn to see this film by the presence of Charlize Theron in an array of skimpy and skin-tight outfits, as a sophisticated and knowledgeable type, my interest stemmed from an appreciation of the original animated short features. As bizarre in terms of story as they were in unusual in appearance, the second series suffered somewhat from the absence of creator Peter Chung, but was nonetheless still interesting.

Chung doesn’t seem to have had much of a hand in the live-action version, which sets up Flux as an acrobatically-skilled assassin fighting against an oppressive future regime. So far, so standard, but after about 40 minutes, things start unravelling, the status quo proves not to be what either side had really believed it to be, and the film reveals some story ideas which are arguably more interesting than you’d necessarily expect.

However, the film felt like a lot of it was missing, perhaps trimmed to get it down to a multiplex-friendly 90-odd minutes, and I was reminded of the film Event Horizon, where a lot of the plot appeared to be either taking place off-screen or in expository dialogue. This throws the plotting somewhat, and leads to the feeling that certain of the plot holes would have been patched up if the whole film had been up there on the screen.

The performances are all perfectly fine, and the stunts and special effects are pretty good, but there’s a lurking feeling that even though the film’s better than you might have expected, there’s nonetheless a slightly more interesting film lying beneath the surface.

Overall, then, a perfectly serviceable film, and a smidgin above the level I anticipated, though not as interesting as the original cartoons. Still, if you’re going to see it with the more limited expectation that it’ll feature Ms Theron in various states of limited dress and undress, you’ll probably feel you’ve got your money’s worth. I know I certainly did.

Damn. I nearly got away with that, didn’t I? Ah well.

C for Cover-up

As the film’s due to be released in a couple of weeks, it feels like an appropriate time to talk about ‘V for Vendetta’.

V (as I’ll call it from here onwards, though I know that invites confusion with the TV series starring the humanoid lizards with the pseudo-swastika emblem) is something I’ve been a fan of for the best part of twenty years. I first discovered it in black and white in the ground-breaking British comic Warrior, where it was initially published, though when Warrior was cancelled (leaving the story on possibly one of the most startling and reader-tormenting cliffhangers possible), I had to wait for the colour reprint-and-completion by DC Comics in the USA.

It was worth the wait, as despite being a little dated now (events in the story are set in 1997), it’s a remarkable feat of storytelling – the art’s utterly different from the vast majority of comics, the writing’s literate and intelligent, and the story’s one which is arguably even more important in the current political climate. All this, without using any sound effects or thought bubbles.

My fondness hasn’t dimmed over time – lines from the story ring in my mind on a regular basis, I hold that ‘Valerie’ remains one of the most powerful bits of comic work I’ve ever seen, and I’m proud to say that I have an original V sketch (which co-creator David Lloyd did for me) framed and on the wall above my desk as I type this.

So you’re getting the general idea that I like V the comic. How I feel about the film is… well, complicated, I guess. Whilst I like the idea that it might make more people seek out the original work, and that the film might retain even a handful of the 1984ish elements which make the comic so powerful, the general likelihood is that it’ll be diluted in favour of action sequences and the like, and if there’s any truth to the rumours about the ending – which certainly seemed to be evinced by the standee I saw in a cinema last week – then the adaptation by the Wachowski brothers appears likely to have missed the whole point of what V’s anarchy is all about.

The writer of the original comic (and, if I haven’t mentioned it before, possibly one of the finest writers working in any medium), Alan Moore, was sent a copy of the screenplay, and was not impressed, and said so. Despite this, it was claimed by the producer that he’d supported the project. As a result of this blatant untruth on the part of the filmmakers, Moore asked that no future projects based on comics he’s written should bear his name, and that his share of any money should be given to the other creators.

With this in mind, last year, when I heard that production on V had finished shooting in Europe and was moving to the UK, I was curious to see where that was going to take place. As I worked in Westminster at the time, and saw a sign up stating that between midnight and 5am certain areas would be closed (Whitehall and Parliament Square), I guessed that this was probably the location. But I couldn’t help feeling there was a certain hypocrisy to the London authorities decrying terrorism one minute, and permitting the shooting of a film in which a masked anarchist blows up various landmarks in London the next. It smacked of saying something and only meaning it as long as it wasn’t jeopardising some money. And Mr Moore’s comments and treatment struck me as a rather poor show too.

So I called up various authorities in London, my finely-honed but underused journalistic skills telling me there could be a story angle in this. Perhaps appropriately enough, given the transport-related nature of things, I was given the runaround; the local council, road maintenance, and planning people all claimed they didn’t know anything about it, and suggested I called London Transport. When I did so, and explained my question as to whether V was being filmed there, the woman on the line said ‘I can’t tell you that’, and other angles proved equally fruitless. I felt I was being stonewalled, but since I had neither a commission to expend money or effort on the story, and checking it out would being at Westminster at midnight when I had a day job, I let it go.

A few days after the period of road closure, I saw a report in the Evening Standard about, yes, the filming of ‘V for Vendetta’ in Parliament Square, accompanied by pictures of tanks rolling along the London streets, and an ending-spoiling image. The reports referred to V as a ‘revolutionary’, I noted, not a terrorist. So I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a limit on the coverage relating to it, possibly even limited to the Evening Standard so as to woo them – the Standard’s a startlingly kneejerk and insular paper which campaigned against Cronenberg’s ‘Crash’, and which devotes more time than is healthy to coverage of tube delays and the doings of the current mayor. So I wonder if they were given exclusive access or something to pre-empt a negative reaction, especially as it could quite easily have focussed on the terrorist angle. But that’s speculation based on my sense of being stonewalled, I guess.

I’ll probably go and see the film (and if I do, I’ll almost undoubtedly review it here) – if nothing else, I’ll be curious to see if the tales about the ‘Valerie’ sequence being retained are true – though I don’t expect it in any way to have the depth or resonance of the original comic. I am, in the meantime, feeling a weird frisson every time I see an advert for it on the side of a London bus, as V’s been a part of my life for over fifteen years, and suddenly seeing it in the public arena generates a smug sense of ‘knew it was of interest all along’, as well as that slightly regrettable sense that one’s secret pleasure has been discovered by a mass audience.

REVIEW :’The Wild Highway’ by Bill Drummond and Mark Manning

This book is the second part of a projected trilogy by Drummond (also known as King Boy D of The KLF) and Manning (better known as Zodiac Mindwarp of the band Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction). The first book, ‘Bad Wisdom’, was published in 1996 or so.

Relevant flashback: as I was travelling on the tube one Friday morning in 1996 or so, I was reading ‘Bad Wisdom’. An Australian woman asked me what I was reading, and if it was any good. My reply was that it was kind of a travel book, but written by two authors, and one of them was totally unreliable, so you didn’t know how much to believe. This was true, but the reality of the situation was that the woman was friendly and pretty, and I didn’t want to alienate her by telling her the full truth, which is that Bad Wisdom was without a doubt one of the most insane and filthy books I’d ever read in my life.

And that’s the case with the follow-up too; as Drummond and Manning write of their journey up the Congo to perform a Punch and Judy show for the President in an attempt to win back their souls from the Devil (see, told you it was mad), pretty much every taboo is on show: racism, sexism, murder, homophobia, rape, cannibalism, paedophilia, and just about every scatological variation you could think of.

The two authors alternate their sections, though even that’s questionable, as it becomes clear partway through that Manning’s added fictionalised events under Drummond’s name. Drummond, on the whole, tries to give a linear version of events – or at least as linear as can be, given that we’re possibly dealing with a journey which may not have taken place in anything like the form depicted – whilst Manning’s sections are (at least I hope) utter fiction: depicting himself as a serial killer in league with a sexually depraved murderous BBC international reporter, sexual predator and alcoholic, Manning’s sections are at first fairly shocking, and then after a while amusing in so far as he does seem able to keep coming up with scenarios which are more and more designed to shock. It’s pretty obvious that he’s doing it for effect – though quite what effect he’s hoping to achieve, I’m at a bit of a loss to ascertain – and there’s a funny section where Drummond asks the reader why they think Manning writes the stuff he does. It almost suggests a degree of despair at his co-writer, as the gross imagery does tend to overwhelm the insights which lurk within Drummond’s sections.

The book’s about twice the length of its predecessor, and Drummond admits on the penultimate page that a reader would need to be pretty dedicated to have made it that far, and he’s not wrong, really; it feels a bit like a wade in every conceivable kind of filth, so it might be seen as something of an endurance test, but having finished it, I feel it was worthwhile, though I can’t quite tell you why. Whether it’s merely because I feel vaguely as if I’ve read something which could legitimately be classified as ‘obscene’, and have therefore put one over on ‘the man’, or whether I’ve just become so inured to the horror on show in the book and have effectively made myself slightly less sensitised, I couldn’t really say. But it felt worth reading, and I suspect that if the third volume ever sees print (I have some doubts – the first volume was published by Penguin, and the second by the smaller Creation Books, apparently on the grounds that the racism on display, however feigned, put Penguin off), I’ll be back to read that.

Despite some concern about what new obscenities Manning will once again commit to the page, and how much (or how little) they might startle me.

LIST: My list of five, like in that Friends episode

In the Friends episode ‘The One With Frank Junior’ (series 3, episode 5), there’s a plotline about the characters having a list of five famous people who … well, you know, you would. When this episode first went out in the UK in about 1996 or 1997, it was back in the days when it wasn’t seen as twee to talk about Friends (though this was before the show had stopped being a comedy in favour of being more like a soap opera, so there may well be a link between quality and conversational-acceptability there).

Anyway, there was quite a lot of discussion of this at the time amongst people I knew (of both sexes), with various lists being drawn up. As we approach something like ten years since that time, I’m pathetically proud of the fact that my list has not changed at all, so thought I’d share it. So, in hypothetical order (and with the inevitable explanations), here are the details of the five women who I feel have a certain, indefinable…

1. Janeane Garofalo – if you’ve seen her in ‘The Truth About Cats And Dogs’, you’ll understand the appeal, I’m sure. Sharp-witted and equally sharp-tongued, I’m led to believe she sometimes doesn’t get mainstream film work because of a refusal to lose weight, or to go along with corporate thinking. Which makes her all the more attractive, to my mind.

2. Isabella Rossellini – amusingly enough, was almost on Ross Geller’s list, and appears briefly, in the Friends episode in question. Obviously, she resembles her mother, but without the slightly glacial quality which I find rather off-putting. For a long time she was perhaps best known for her modelling work (and if there’s any truth to the persistent rumour that Lancome cancelled her contract because they felt she was too old, then colour me appalled), but she’s actually a rather good actress – her performances in Blue Velvet and Fearless are solid, for example.

3. Thandie Newton –winner of the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress a couple of weeks ago, but I first saw her in the film ‘Flirting’ and thought ‘cripes ablimey, she’s rather fetching’. And I am still not wrong. Suffers to my mind from frequently being in films which don’t really showcase her ability (M:I-2 would be a perfect example). And I gather she interrupted her acting career to do a degree at Cambridge, so she’s clearly as clever as she is attractive.

4. Gabrielle Reece – is an Olympic beach volleyball player and model, and is over six feet tall. In interviews, she comes across as rather bright, but I must admit the immediate and profoundly shallow appeal for me is the idea of a woman who’s taller than me, and as fit as Ms Reece clearly is, in a physical situation.

5. Sherilyn Fenn – has troubled me since I saw her in Twin Peaks, which is one of my favourite TV programmes ever. Is there a connection? I don’t know, and it’s not relevant here. Suffice it to say I find Ms Fenn most alluring, not least because of her striking smile, and the way the mole to the side of her eyebrow makes it look like a reclining exclamation mark (trust me on this).

Don’t know who any of these women are ? I recommend a Google Search. And why not tell me YOUR chosen five ? I’d be interested to know, and if nothing else it would make me feel like this blog entry isn’t the shallowest thing I’ve ever taken the trouble to type. Still, as I say, it’s coming on for ten years now, and the list remains unchanged, which I think speaks well of my taste.