Tuesday, January 31, 2006

TRAVEL: Two important travel tips, and an example of my insufferable smugness, all in one post

A number of years ago, I went on holiday to foreign climes with a young lady of my acquaintance (you know the routine, I don't name names).
After we'd flown out and checked into our hotel and all that kind of gubbins, it was lateish in the day, so we decided to go out for something to eat.

"Where are the passports?" she asked as we walked down the stairs to the hotel reception. "Have you got them?"
"No," I replied. "They're in the room."
She stopped walking, and looked at me in a very stern way.
"They're in the room," I said again. "Not just left on the side or anything. I put them under a pillow on the bed - they're too bulky to fit in my jeans."
This was true.
"You do NOT leave passports in a hotel room," she said firmly, and as she'd travelled more than I, I had to assume this was a travel truism I wasn't aware of. "Go and get them. I'll put them in my bag."
"Okay," I said, "but please don't give me orders, or talk to me like that."
She said nothing to that, just folded her arms and made it clear she wasn't going anywhere. I went back up to the hotel room and got the passports, and handed them to her and she zipped them into her bag, and we went out for something to eat as planned.

The incident faded as the evening wore on, and then as the days passed and we had a good time, I'd pretty much forgotten it... until the last night of our holiday.

We were having a meal with a group of other people, and I was feeling strangely tired, though I suspect this was because I'd eaten a huge amount of the local food (in my defence, it was very tasty) and that every drop of blood in my body was diverting to my stomach to digest it. So I decided to turn in, and went back to the hotel room, and fell asleep almost immediately.

I was vaguely aware of some door-slamming noises in the early hours, but apart from that I pretty much slept through to the morning, and woke just in time to grab some breakfast. My companion was not in the mood for food, having ... well, let's say favoured the grape until the early hours, culminating in some sort of drinking contest at the bar next to the hotel's rooftop pool. So she stayed in bed while I went off to eat.

When I returned to the room, she was not only up and about, but was in a state of some distress.
"What's wrong?"
"The passports," she said, looking harried. "I can't find the passports."
This was quite a problem, as we had about ten minutes before a minibus would to take us to the airport.
"O..kay," I said levelly, and then, displaying the flair for logical deduction that has led so many to compare me to the famed London Consulting Detective, asked: "So where were they last?"

"In my bag," she said. "I had them last night, I remember at the restaurant I had them, and then..." She looked around for her bag. "... oh, hang on," she said, and went out of the room.
She came back a few minutes later, looking a bit red-faced, but not brandishing passports. Or her bag. Or anything else which a person might brandish, for that matter.
"I asked at reception," she said, out of breath from running up the stairs. "They said they'd have a look on the roof, maybe behind the bar."
"Right," I said as neutrally as I could.
"But we'd better get packing, and head down to reception," she added, and this was a good point - if the passports weren't on the roof, they could be in the room, and so packing might turn them up.

It didn't, though, and a touch under ten minutes later, we made our way down to reception.
"What if they don't find it?" She said, as we added our bags to the pile starting to accumulate near the hotel entrance. "What are we going t-"
And then she was interrupted by the man from reception, who came over and, with a smile, handed over her bag.
"It was on the roof," he said, "behind the bar."
She thanked him repeatedly, and gave him a generous tip, and we got on the coach to the airport, and caught the 'plane, and flew back to England, and so on.

I never said anything to her about it, either at the time or after the return to England; never suggested it was almost like justice for her being (what I considered to be) rude to me; I never said about how, if the passports had been in our hotel room that night they would actually have been safer than they turned out to be when left in her care, or even mentioned how it was, in its way, a perfect example of karma.

Because, in all honesty, at the time, I never felt particularly panicked about the situation; instead, I felt serenely unflustered by the turn of events - perhaps it was an almost Buddhist sense of calm brought on by the realisation that things would probably work out okay, or even if they didn't there'd always be another flight, or even if I had to live in a foreign land forever, would it really be that bad ? Okay, so I only spoke a handful of words in the native tongue, and the water didn't sit that well with my body's system, but it wouldn't be impossible to make a life for myself, after all.
And besides, any panicking on my part would have made my companion even more worried, and could by implication have appeared to have been me pointing the finger, which wouldn't have helped the situation or made the passports materialise.

Then again, maybe I was relaxed about it because I had, as per a tip she appeared not to have picked up in her travels, made a photocopy of the important pages of my passport, which was tucked into a side pocket of my bag.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Yes, it’s like that Bond film. But with more realistic dialogue. And no invisible car (well, as far as I could discern).

Continuing the ice theme from a couple of posts ago, this is the Ice Bar in London, which is – yes – made of ice. The bar, the walls, the sculpted bottle you can climb inside (I kid you not), all of it made of ice. An amusing experience, and given that it’s just off Regent Street, it feels strangely foreign, if not downright alien, for somewhere that's slap-bang in the middle of London.

A feeling which was amplified by a Jawa couple apparently being at the bar when I took the photo.

Liberal indeed

Maybe it’s just my imagination, but in the last couple of weeks, the Liberal Democrats appear to have become a bit confused about the way people perceive things, and seem to be falling over themselves to admit to things which have previously been seen as political liabilities; granted, they probably came clean to pre-empt press exposure, but in the last month or so their leader’s admitted to an alcohol problem, and two of the potential replacement candidates have been perhaps a tad more forthcoming than is entirely savoury about their previous homosexual activities.

Now, I have no problem with MPs having preferences for the same sex, a different sex, or even root vegetables, as long as it’s all friendly stuff, but I do think that the Lib Dems might need to remember that the way to capture votes is not, historically, to make the main focus of your media attention the amount of Glenmorangie you can put away, or the number of winkles you’ve had the pleasure of handling.

Or perhaps I’m just old-fashioned about these things.

Hillary ? More Clinton than Edmund, I fear

Herewith, a phone-camera picture of me climbing an indoor ice-wall-effect thing recently, with ice axes and boots with spikes on and everything. Not very elegant, I’ll freely admit, and I can only point out that climbing that way is not as easy as it looks.

And when I’m doing it, it doesn’t look even remotely easy.

Someone probably did tell me life was gonna be this way (but I didn’t listen)

One thing which I’ve never really become in any way used to in life, despite my extremely advanced years and startlingly wide and varied experience, is, I suppose, one of the sadder things: that of losing friends.

You can lose friends through time and distance driving a wedge between you until it’s just too far gone to be reeled back in, which is pretty much understandable - people change, after all – but a couple of times in the last few years, I’ve had situations where I’ve actually had to say ‘okay, that’s it, we’re over, this friendship is finished’ for whatever reason. And that feels downright odd when you’re meant to be a grown-up.

At school, friendships were paradoxically both prized and fluid; you were friends with someone one day, but could have a falling-out with them over the slightest thing and end up being sworn enemies after that, or you might be best friends on Monday, then not on Tuesday, but back to Best Pals on Wednesday.

But when you’re meant to be an adult, and skilled in communicating and sorting out things which should be small in comparison with the fact that the two of you are getting on (and this applies to other relationships as well, of course) and are friends, it feels rather disappointing that there are sometimes occasions when all the will to repair just won’t make it work again. It’s a sad thing.

I don’t have any lessons to offer or wise words on this, I’m afraid, though I guess for me it’s a reminder that sometimes, and particularly in terms of relationships, there are times when it doesn’t matter how hard you try, and how much you truly want it; sometimes there are things that just can’t be mended or won’t be attained, and in its way that feels like a kick in the mouth for my firmly-held and probably childish belief that it you want something badly enough, and do everything you can to get to it, then…

Thursday, January 19, 2006


I posted a favourable review of the first issue of ‘All Star Superman’ recently, and the second issue has just been released - the cover’s reproduced to the left.

For some reason, a lot of people are worried about the nature of what Superman’s actually up to in the illustration, but I’ll leave it to you to reach your own conclusions… you filthy beasts.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The hills are alive, with the sound of Stray Thoughts

1. Beware the person who claims to be sensitive, for they may well be sensitive only to their own suffering, and not too worried about yours.

2. You can buy a cheap watch for 99p, but when the battery runs out, it's usually something like £5 just to replace that. Huh?

3. Season One of 'Lost' didn't exactly have the best ending of all time, did it ? Oh, they've opened the hatch, but you're not going to see inside it. And Michael and Walt have sailed into the plot of Deliverance, apparently. Really unsure as to whether I'll bother tuning in when it returns, as it was all pretty much downhill after the excellent Locke-based episode early on (was it episode 3?) - written, if memory serves, by one of the writers of Buffy. Overall: hmph.

4. And on which theme, saw King Kong last week - that's three hours of my life I'm not going to get back. Not recommended at all, and some bits of it were frankly embarrassing (monkey on ice, Ann Darrow doing slapstick for Kong's benefit - ugh, it's like 'is it still raining?' in Four Weddings all over again).

5. Had a minor brush with being unwell recently, and as far as curatives go, I really do recommend the combination of a sofa, a stack of books/DVDs, and plentiful intake of tea. Daytime television, however, will weaken both your mental acuity and your ability to repel infection. Avoid it at all costs.

6. In its way, isn't ethical relativism a positive stance ?

7. After seeing Kill Bill part (NOT chapter) 2 and the episodes of CSI he wrote, I'm beginning to think Quentin Tarantino has a bit of a fear of premature burial.

8. I've often thought that Descartes' alleged 'Cogito ergo sum' is flawed both logically (it presupposes the existence of the thinker) and similarly on a linguistic level, as the conjugation of the verb to think there is in line with the first person singular, again presupposing the thinker. So whilst I'm intrigued to find out that his original Discourse on method didn't actually contain the phrase, I'm reassured to see that the original French phrase he used - "Je pense, donc je suis" contains pretty much the same seeds of its own undoing...

Monday, January 09, 2006

REVIEW (eventually): The Godfather

Yes, yes, I know, this has been out for decades, how can John have lived so long and not seen it ? Well, I think it's due to a variety of factors, such as the length (it's nearly three hours), the whole mythos surrounding it (it's so hyped I felt I was better off not watching it for fear of being disappointed), and one main over-riding factor: I don't really like gangster films.

It may be because I have a childish and simplified view of the way the audience should identify with the main character, but I rarely feel comfortable when watching films where I'm asked to emotionally invest in characters who are criminals, murderers, or gangsters. I don't mind if the protagonists are troubled or unsure if they're doing the right thing or have shades of darkness about them, but fundamentally I want them to be decent and well-meaning. Gangster films are rarely as pleasant as this, and so I tend not to bother watching them as I find myself being uninvolved: "Oh, so Fat Louie's cutting off Big Tony's heroin business in Chinatown? Well, aren't they both drug dealers? Remind me why I should side with one over the other again, will you?”

But a friend lent me the film, so I gave it a go.

And I quite enjoyed it. Granted, it's rather overshadowed by the fact that parts of it are now pop-cultural currency - the horse's head, the puffed-out jowls, and some of the dialogue - but I thought it was a pretty decent film. It's oddly paced, though - the first third or so is all hats and guns and talk of disrespect, and then when Michael legs it to Sicily it looks like a european arthouse film for a while, and then we're back in the USA for the end again. This last bit didn't hold my attention as much as the other sections, though this may well be for the reasons mentioned above, as we gradually see Michael becoming his father - if not surpassing his father in terms of scheming and double-crossing. Which is unlikely to be my cup of tea.

But it's well directed and written, no question about it; the powerful opening scene comes back into play later in the film, I liked the way that Brando's offscreen for much of the film but nonetheless looms over proceedings, the talk of family and respect was done in a way that seemed convincing, and the violence was suitably unpleasant. And the cast was an ongoing case of 'wow, didn't realise THEY were in this too' for me, as well as providing solid performances.

So, a good film, and possibly a great gangster film, but to me that's kind of like a 'great western' - it's just not a genre I have a particular interest in - and I might even watch the first sequel (general consensus tends to be that the third one is to be missed at all costs). And who knows ? I might even do so before I'm 50.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Not enough for ya ?

If you feel the burning urge to see more of my words, you can do so by going to any decent newsagent (and probably some indecent ones as well) picking up the latest issue of the Fortean Times (issue 206), where one of my book reviews is on page 62. It’s the review I referred to in my entry of 29 November 2005.

See ? I’m not just making this stuff up as I go along.

Well, not all the time, anyway.

Contrast and compare

... certainly goes against the traditional perception of the geisha as subservient, I have to say.

LIST: Initially, it appears to be a coincidence. However…

Jerry Siegel
Joe Shuster
Jack Skellington
Jerry Seinfeld
Jack Sparks
Jim Steinman
John Steed
John Shakespeare

A little bit of politics

Charles Kennedy, then, has admitted he's had a drink problem in recent times, and though he claims to have sorted it out now, he's declared a leadership contest will take part in the Liberal Democrats. And various Lib Dem MPs are calling for him just to resign.

However this plays out, I can't help but think that for a party with such a long history, the Lib Dems seem to learn little from previous events; their previous leader 'Paddy' Ashdown's real forename was Jeremy, a name which is hardly linked with positive associations for the Liberal party (as it used to be known), and as for their present leader... well, I would have thought it was one of history's most obvious lessons that things rarely end well if you elect someone with the surname Kennedy to high office.

Thankfully, though, MPs from other parties have been slow to take advantage of Kennedy's currently precarious position. Then again, that may be less because of some sense of decency or honour, and more because they realise that - even assuming the worst about his alcoholism - he may have been utterly rat-arsed on Glenmorangie during Commons debates on the subject, but Kennedy was still able to conclude that sending troops into Iraq was a very bad idea indeed; a fact which Labour and Conservative MPs alike appeared to be incapable of recognising.

Perhaps there's something to be said for the theory of people 'drinking themselves sober' after all.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I just got out my little black book

I discussed this with someone today, but didn’t get into great detail about it for fear of looking like a lunatic, but I’ll try to be lucid about it here…

I have a strange weakness for notebooks.

Not just your Silvine exercise books, mind you, I like a notebook which has a sense of permanence about it, and ideally a hard cover (see the photo for three examples – the floormost one is my currently-in-use notebook, whilst the other two are awaiting their turn). If we’re talking brand names, Moleskine – allegedly used by Hemingway and Matisse, though one should perhaps take that advertising claim with a dollop of salt – seem to have it about right for my tastes; hard cover, slightly off-white paper, pocket at the back to store items in, and a generally-hard-to-resist tactility. Check some out in a shop and you may see what I mean…

… or you may not. It might well be because I like writing, and want to write for a living, but I’ve found that comments like the above tend to fall on deaf ears. They’re only notebooks, after all – and I can’t disagree in rational terms. But still… there’s something about the appeal of a notebook – particularly a new one; as a friend of mine who did performance poetry (don’t snicker at the back; I went to see him once, and it was really rather good) perhaps summed up the appeal best, when he used one word, and a word which probably isn’t really a word at all, but anyway: Potentiality.

And he’s right – the appeal, if you like to write, of a new notebook (or a new pen, come to that, but that’s a topic for another time, I think) is that the pages are just crying out to be filled, and that’s where the potential lies: you could, in this notebook, end up writing a quick note which becomes a really sharp short story, or a couple of lines of dialogue between two characters which develops into the most important sequence in a novel, or maybe just an observation which you later use as a joke in a stand-up routine … the possibilities are almost endless, and that, I think, is pretty intoxicating. Granted, the practicality of it may well be that you end up writing barely-legible notes to yourself like ‘call Karen about Fri Nt’ and the like, but when you start out, it’s like Schrödinger’s notebook, it could turn out to be almost anything.

I used to feel a vaguely similar sense of hopefulness with new school exercise books when they were dished out – more on the lines of ‘maybe this will be the exercise book I keep tidy and get good marks in’, or something similarly swotty, I suspect – but they were local council standard issue, not items of choice, so it was hardly the same.

On consideration, however, I’m not entirely sure that this explanation’s fundamentally any less lunatic than the one I gave earlier on today, but at least I got in a quantum probability reference, and that makes me look clever - which is, of course, the important thing. Ahem.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Magic Faraway Stray Thoughts

1. I received many fine Christmas gifts, but I like to think that I'm one of a very limited number of people who was equally pleased to receive Volume 1 of the recent translation of Marcel Proust's 'A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu' and the new Robbie Williams album.

2. There's an advert on TV at the moment for an insurance firm solely for female drivers, called 'Sheila's Wheels'. Whilst I'll acknowledge that the advert's deliberately kitsch and tacky looking, I think they may have misjudged it - particularly in relation to their arguments about overall safety - by showing three women sitting in the front of a car which is, for much of the advert, driving backwards on the wrong side of the road.

3. In case any of you were unsure of the restorative power of tea, I would direct your attention towards the Doctor Who Christmas Special, in which his regeneration was aided by a cuppa. And if you won't take a medical recommendation of that order, then … well, that's that, I guess.

4. Interesting to see that 'Life of Brian' was voted the top comedy film of all time in one of those end-of-year polls. When it came out, I recall it being seen as naughty and subversive as well as potentially blasphemous. May take the edge off it in a way, but I like to think it shows a certain intellectual development in social terms.

At Last The 2006 Post

Hello, did you miss me ? Hmm? Yes I missed you t- oh, don't be like that, I did miss you, really I did. I know it's been a fortnight, but you mustn't take it so personally. It's been a frankly interesting couple of weeks, for a variety of reasons, and that's kept me away from the keyboard, but you know, I think it's better to be out there doing stuff than just sitting and writing about it, isn't it ? Yes, it is.

That said, I hope you had a cool Yule and that 2006 brings you many pleasant surprises, including at least one thing which you don't really deserve - because we all deserve that every now and then. If not more often.

I'd guess many people will be writing about New Year's Resolutions at present, and although I don't really make resolutions, I do make lists of things I'd like to do over the course of the coming year, and whilst 2005 saw some decent things getting ticked off (Everest Base Camp, for example), I did rather disappointingly only complete 13 of the 31 things in all. Not good enough, I agree, and so (as I frequently promised my parents when my school report had been read), I'll do better this year. May need nudging occasionally, though, particularly as I'll be attempting to be less cynical - as I mentioned recently, it's all too easy to mistake cynicism for sophistication, and it's a trait I'm growing tired of in myself (the cynicism, I mean; couldn't give up the sophistication, obviously). Your assistance is appreciated.

Right, so, into 2006. Who knows what it will hold ? Well, let's set about finding out, shall we ? I raise a mug of tea to you and the year, and what say we meet back here this time next year to compare notes, eh ? Excellent. See you then. But in the meantime -