Monday, December 24, 2007

Have A Cool Yule

Well, as today's not-particularly-festive bumper crop of posts comes to an end, it's time for me to take a few days off to spend some time with m'beloved (by which I mean my fiancee as well as the inevitable roast potatoes).

I'll be posting again in a few days, I'd imagine, but until then, in a nod towards the time of year, here's a picture of the Christmas tree in our luxury penthouse flat.

Whether you take a religious or just an overindulgent approach to the holiday, hope you enjoy it, and that you get more than you really deserve in the way of gifts (though not too much - there's always a price to pay for getting everything you want, it seems). Take care and keep smiling, but above all, have fun.

Taken Last Night At County Hall On London's South Bank

As you probably know, I'm very concerned that an exaggerated fear about terrorism is being used as an excuse for the erosion of civil liberies and the introduction of excessive surveillance and the like, but I think most more authoritarian folks would, after a quick glance at this picture, agree that security measures in London might be going a bit far.

Sorry Ladies, It's Not Hugh Jackman

I know it's good when a person likes their job, but Wolverine just looks too damn happy about what he's up to on this comic cover.
I do hope they won't be wiping up anything other than blood.

Vague, More Like

Featuring the not-entirely-ugly Eva Green, this is the cover of the January edition of Vogue. And, magnified, one of the most frankly bewildering coverlines I've ever seen, with what surely has to be a rhetorical question.

If not, though, perhaps the February edition will have special features on whether you can boil thoughts, sell spirituality on eBay, and eat a vague sense of unease.

Then again, physical behaviour towards the intangible isn't entirely without precedent, given the so-called 'War on Terror'...

Yes, You Can Guess What I've Been Shopping For In The Past Couple Of Weeks

Retailers! Tired of customers asking you the same question over and over again at this busy time of year? Well, it doesn't have to be like that! With this handy print-off-n-stick-up notice, you can save your time and their goodwill! Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Get Me To The Church On Time

So, last Saturday, me and my fiancée and a friend set off for a wedding. It was the wedding of two good friends who've (quite frankly) been through the wringer in recent times, and yet they've always come out smiling and generally chipper, so we all wanted to be there for the wedding; clothes and new shoes were bought, a dinner jacket was hired by me (no sense in buying one when my current size of 'fat sod' is, I intend, merely temporary), and we hired a car to get us there.

The wedding was taking place near Uxbridge, which is on the west side of London, so let's call it 9:00 on the clock face. As I've probably said before, we live in East London, so that's at about 3:00 on the clock face. So, the logical route would be one which took us, as far as possible, from east to west in a straight line (though ideally avoiding the city centre). A couple of days before, I logged onto the AA Route Planner website, and - using our starting and destination postcodes, got a printout of our trip, which was estimated to take about 80 mins. We left just after midday for a 2PM wedding, which seemed a sensible margin. The hire car was new and full of petrol, and we all looked quite spiffy, and we set off along the route in an optimistic mood.

That mood lasted about fifteen minutes; I took a wrong turn in Docklands which send us off the wrong way (through the Blackwall Tunnel and almost to the Dome before I could turn around), and that lost us some time, but when we got back to the point of my mistake and started following the instructions again, it became apparent that my error was just the start of our troubles, as the AA's suggested route told us to 'continue straight ahead at the lights' when in fact the road featured a roundabout, with no straight-ahead option.

We tried the various exits in turn, and it gradually dawned on us that not only was the route one which involved travelling on imaginary roads, but that it took us down towards 6:00 on the clock face before circling back up to around 11:00 and then down to a sort-of 9:00 direction. In short, it was hopeless, and driving it on a Saturday was an impossible task, so our friend navigated us to Islington, at which point we followed the Euston Road along to Baker Street, and then got on a main road to the location of the wedding.

Those of you who aren't familiar with London probably won't know or care what the above sentence, with the place names in, means, but it's neither important to know or relevant, really, as the fact of the matter is it was nowhere near as easy as that sentence makes out. After all, we were in Central London on a Saturday.

It became abundantly clear that we weren't going to make the start of the wedding, which was both annoying and upsetting, as we wanted to be there for our friends. Then, as we sat in the car in traffic which I could have outrun even in my present non-running condition, it became clear that we probably wouldn't make the wedding at all. But maybe we could make it to the reception.

And indeed we did - though not after some trouble finding our final destination, because the AA Routeplanner kindly decided not to give us any kind of directions once we got to the village where the wedding and its reception were being held - despite me having put in the postcode of our destination. You'd think that in a village the size of Denham, it wouldn't be too tricky to locate the Golf Club, and indeed it wasn't too hard to find. Shame we found the wrong golf club first and had to wend our way to the right one - past the rather lovely church where the wedding had finished, and where the rose petal confetti on the ground outside the gate was yet another reminder of what we'd missed - so that by the time we actually arrived, it was three hours since we'd left home.

We arrived late, irritated, but most of all upset at missing a once-in-a-lifetime event. If we'd known that it was going to take that long, we would have allowed time for it, but we were misled by directions which were just plain wrong. This isn't the first time we've been scuppered by the AA Routeplanner, I have to say - driving in Warminster a couple of months ago, the route map told us to follow a road which simply wasn't there, and then missed out several of the final stages of our journey, meaning we had to call our destination and be talked through what to do, like something out of an old Airport film (though it could be said that it was more like Airplane!, though that's open to debate).

Several people have said 'well, you should get a sat-nav', which I find a moderately moronic solution since we don't actually own a car, and I'm inclined to agree with m'beloved's assessment that next time, we'll do it the old-fashioned way: by sitting down with a road map. I'm certainly biased that way after the journey home, which took about 75 mins. Granted, it was late at night, but we winged it in terms of the route, and somehow, without the help of major motoring organisation the AA we made it home safely and with no hassle at all, faster than their projected return time.

So, despite having linked to it in the second paragraph, I strongly recommend that you do not use the AA Routeplanner, as my recent experiences with it have shown it to be wildly unreliable. For those of you with a car, a sat-nav might well be the answer (though not necessarily) , or using a map might be old-school but prove oddly reliable. And of course, if you're going to join a road recovery organisation, I recommend the RAC.

Still, it goes some way towards explaining why I recollect seeing members of the AA on the news urging the government to build more roads: clearly, they want the roadways of England re-shaped to match with the version of things that Routeplanner's made up in its mad microprocessor mind.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Last Minute Christmas Ideas

It's that time of year again, when magazines fill up with 'year-end round-up' articles and 'best of' lists, but what if the journalist in your life has left it to the last minute to hand in an article? Well, don't panic, because even at this late stage, there are still article ideas you can give them, for example…

Shopping For Women
This is a perennially popular theme, and you can't really go wrong with it. Remember to start from the premise that all men are eye-rollingly gormless when it comes to this sort of thing - particularly the buying of underwear, when, left to their own devices, men inevitably buy red PVC basques in the wrong size.
Perfume and bathroom products are always a favourite, mainly because the nature of the items can't really be conveyed on the printed page, and you can dupe the testicle-toting fools into buying something which is stunningly well packaged, but actually smells as if a mouse has died behind the radiator. Of course, an article of this nature implies that the gift recipient smells, and if the gift itself smells bad, it's doubly insulting, suggesting that the revolting stench of the gift is none the less preferable to the woman's natural odour.
Shoes and handbags are always a safe bet for an article, too - not only are there so many colour and style variables that you can probably make your word count easily just by dropping in a few big designer names and references to current trends (which you can always contort to fit your brief), but best of all, you can drop in a few references to how men don't understand women and their love for shoes and handbags. God, men are stupid, aren't they girls? Eh? Eh?

Shopping For Men
Again, very popular, and nice and easy. All men love all gadgets, so just take a look at a few websites and make up some stuff about 'this year's hottest trend' or 'really big in the USA at the moment' or something like that.
DVD box sets are always a nice shelf- and page-filler, and as all men love Bond films, you can always recommend whatever the latest version of the Bond boxed set happens to be; this idea has the added attraction of enabling you to make some irrelevant but wordcount-upping comments about people having a favourite Bond actor (with examples), or about Daniel Craig being blonde-haired, or, if all else fails, you can refer to Ursula Andress in her bikini as 'iconic' (perfect excuse to illustrate the article with an appropriate photo, thus filling more space and increasing the sex-factor of the article. Ka-ching!).
If the journalist in your life is writing for something a bit alternative and wants to seem a bit edgy, then they may need to come from a less mainstream angle than the Bond films, so bear in mind that even though all men love Bond films, any men who don't love Bond films will always love all Tarantino films. Don't be afraid to write about the DVD releases of these, peppering the article with quotes from Pulp Fiction, speculation about what's in the briefcase, suggestions that you'd always been a huge fan of Pam Grier's work, and of course you can always refer to Uma Thurman in her tracksuit as 'iconic' (see above re illustrating article, etc).

Shopping Experiences
In the past few years, with the growth of the internet, we've seen an explosion of articles comparing online and real-life shopping experiences, and these are always a good way to fill the bits between adverts in magazines and papers. The benefit of writing about online shopping is that you can do all your research sitting at your desk, cutting and pasting from the websites in question, so it's all in the comfort of your own home.
On the other hand, nothing really beats going out and doing all your Christmas shopping article research in real shops, as you can write about the shop's décor, the crowds of people, the music of Wizzard and Slade pumped at you from speakers, and the rudeness of shop assistants and/or other customers.
This latter is an important element of the shopping experience article, as, unlike web-based shopping, what someone said to you in a shop is hard to verify, whereas with an online shopping article you might get some bored or nosey sub-editor actually looking at the website to see if what you've said in your article is true - which can be a nuisance if you've said that you can buy a brontosaurus from Amazon or something like that. So think carefully about whether online or real-life shopping is the experience for your article.

Shopping For Children
Although over 50% of the homes in the UK don't have children in, it's always a safe bet that an editor will accept an article on shopping for kids at Christmas. Like the 'shopping experience' article, this gives you a lot to work with - the store itself, the experience of trying to find something suitable, and if you write as if you've taken the child shopping with you, you can always end on an emotional note - such as:
"When we got home, Molly looked me in the eye.
'I don't mind about not getting the toy I wanted,' she said, thoughtfully.
'No?' I replied. 'Why's that?'
'Because I enjoyed spending time with you, Mummy. That's all I want for Christmas, really.'
I turned away, so she couldn't see my eyes fill with tears."
Of course, you can also get a lot of mileage out of talking about the latest crazes amongst kids, and how you don't understand them. You can either play this ignorant for humorous effect ('Is an X-Box something to do with Simon Cowell?') or faintly indignant ('When I was growing up, we didn't have games consoles, we were thankful if our Christmas stocking contained a mouldy tangerine and a hardened lump of grandma's excrement'). Don't forget, the semi-nostalgia angle article is like a present without wrapping unless you refer to Raleigh Choppers or Spacehoppers.

Party Season
Many people who work in offices or other shared environs have some kind of work 'do', so this is often a safe bet - as long as you write about it from the standard position, which is that December is an endless whirl of parties for which all female readers must buy new outfits, and at which all male readers will be trying to get a snog from a female member of staff (always try to make this sound like a given, or received wisdom, by giving an example of the sort of department the female in question might work in, but make it sound both casual and plausible - for example, 'the pretty girl in HR' or 'the brunette in goods received').
Regardless of the fact that most people will, at best, have one work do and attend one party thrown by friends, feel free to make December sound like a non-stop carnival of parties, at which all work bashes involve champagne flutes, cocktail dresses and refined environments (as opposed to a meal in the local Harvester, which is more likely to be the reality), and all parties hosted by friends are (if you're writing for a female audience) like something out of a Helen Fielding novel or (if your readers are male) a National Lampoon film.

This Year's Christmas Must-Haves
If you have a page to fill and no time at all, then the Nigella Express of articles is surely 'this year's must-haves'. Take pictures of items from websites or press releases, put in little details of stockists underneath them, repeating until the page is full. If you can find a picture of someone in the public eye using, holding or wearing any of the items, then so much the better.
Remember to use the phrase 'must-haves' in the title or subtitle, or the article will be unfit for print; 'must-have' is a magically-imbued phrase which renders your readers both susceptible and slightly disoriented, so that they'll both feel somehow like they ought to buy whatever random tat you've given pagespace to, whilst simultaneously wiping their memory of the fact that, in the previous issue, you told them that items of an entirely different nature were things they ought to have.
If you do not use the phrase, the article will look like a haphazard collection of images that could have been assembled by an infant with access to a pot of glue and a copy of the latest Argos catalogue and your editor will not consider it a 'must-have' in publication terms.

Last Minute Ideas - Last Resort
If you have to write something shortly before Christmas, and genuinely have nothing at all to say, then the only route left to you is to take the 'last minute' route, and to either write about your own 'trying to get gifts/cook a meal/whatever at the last minute' experience (but do bear in mind this might actually take some effort to create), or - and this is easier - to write an article advising people on what they should do if they find themselves empty-handed (or empty-headed) at this time.
It might seem like a cop-out option, but in fact its timing makes it a sure-fire candidate for publication - not only does it look suitably aligned to the calendar, but the time of year means people tend to have other things on their mind, so the editor's less likely to spot the absence of any real point or merit to the article, and the reader's probably not going to realise that the whole things is just an exercise designed to waste their time and energy to no real purpose.

...Which, of course, applies to these words as well.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Looks As If It Won't All Be Over By Christmas...

You may have noticed I've gone a bit quiet about the US Writers' Strike in the last week or so - the reason for this is simple: things have gone very quiet on that front, because the AMPTP (American Motion Picture and Television Producers - in essence, the major studios) have as good as walked out of the discussions with the Writers Guild of America.

It's all pretty tangled and messy, but it's extremely well summarised and analysed in Robert J Elisberg's report here , but if you can't be bothered to follow the link, then basically what happened went rather like this:

AMPTP: Right, we want you to take your six big issues off the table. Then we can talk.

WGA: No, those are the points at the heart of this. They're the issues we're striking over.

AMPTP: Oh, so you're refusing to talk, eh ? Right, we're off.

And twenty minutes later, the AMPTP issued a press release saying that the WGA was unwilling to talk - as Elisberg notes, that's suspiciously speedy given the number of people such a document would have to go through; a cynical sort might conclude that the AMPTP deliberately brought the talks to a halt because they want to play hardball. And given that they're due to renegotiate contracts with the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild in the next six months or so, you can see why they want to be seen to be tough negotiators. Though the DGA has decided to push back the start of its renegotiations to let the current strike be resolved, and the SAG has recently pledged its support for the WGA, so one could get the feeling that the various unions are pretty much aware of the need to play it tough as well.

The latest I've seen is that the WGA has made two announcements - firstly, that they're willing to negotiate with the studios invidually (so that the 'united' but potentailly competing interests of the six studios don't get in the way), and secondly that they're filing Unfair Labour Practice charges against the AMPTP with the National Labour Relations Board.

I'll be particularly interested to see if the commercial interests of the individual studios make them prone to break ranks and negotiate with the WGA - in a fashion which it seems the AMPTP was rather hoping would happen in relation to the general members of the WGA, and the folks who work on reality TV and animation; it didn't happen there, but since the studios in question are actually in competition with each other (after all, it's not as if Sony, Warners, Disney, Fox, CBS, Paramount, MGM and NBC are obvious bedfellows), it could yet happen.

As ever, I'll let you know what happens. But here's hoping the WGA gets a decent deal for their members, especially in regard to any 'new media' residuals - let's face it, the internet is where it's at, as this blog all too readily demonstrates.

Covered, Yet Bareback

Contrary to what book cover designers would have me believe, I don't actually spend all my time approaching semi-clad women from behind and to the left.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No Idea When The 2008 Edition Is Due, I'm Afraid

You really don't want to know how I found this enticingly-titled tome, but I think we all know you want to order a copy. Oh yes. Yes you do.

Most other countries are also available - search under 'mucilage' and pick your favourite!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Another Reason To Wear Earphones And Try To Cut Yourself Off From Things, I Guess

Go and take a look at this article. Go ahead, read it through, I'll wait.

Back now? Okay, brace yourself while I rant a bit.

It's an interesting use of technology, sure, but the way that the founder of Holosonics seems utterly oblivious to any possible criticisms speaks, to my mind (though thankfully not into it), volumes about the way that marketing and advertising seems to work nowadays; he seems unable to grasp the idea that as you're walking along, you might not want to have someone trying to advertise directly into your head. Sometimes, when people are doing things, they're actually not ready to be sold or marketed to.

Despite the fact that a lot of advertisers and marketers see their work as some kind of artform, and have successfully duped a lot of people into believing this (testimony to their skills of persuasion, I guess), the underlying reason for their existence is to sell stuff. Call it 'building brands' or whatever you like, but they're just selling stuff, not actually adding anything to the sum of human knowledge. And they seem oddly unaware of how sometimes, just sometimes, there are times and places when you don't want to be advertised to.

This basic concept, it seems, is almost impossible for advertisers and marketers to understand; when I'm at home, I don't want them to call me about books clubs or phone services, and when I'm walking along I don't want someone beaming a message directly into my ear telling me about a TV show or something. The Holosonics development - which I'm hoping doesn't really spread any further - is quite different from an ad on TV, radio, a billboard or even in print, as in all of those situations I have the choice to look away and curtail the advert if I'm not interested. If someone beams an audio ad into your head, then you have no choice as to when it ends. And that, it seems to me, is an unpleasant intrusion.

The specious comments about people 'being sensitive' to it, or comparing it with a loudspeaker annoying large numbers of people at one time (as opposed to individuals - what does he think large bodies of people are comprised of if not individuals?) show a slightly dismissive attitude to the idea that people might not want to be advertised to without permission, doesn't it ? How would this chap care to be bombarded with ads for rival companies as he went about his daily business? Not much, I suspect.

I firmly and sincerely believe - and I appreciate this goes against current thinking in commercial and governmental circles - that there are some places which should be free from advertising and marketing. Schools are a key example - they're places of education, not another potential market where Coke or Walkers or whoever can try to build 'brand loyalty' or some other nonsense. If the thinking goes that adverts should be allowed to go anywhere at all - and I can only conclude that this is so, if there's a belief that beaming them directly into a person's ear is acceptable - why are they not trying to advertise within churches, mosques and synagogues? I think we all know why.

There are, then, some limits on where adverts can be (and indeed, should be) placed, though these ad-free zones certainly seem to be on the decline. And I don't find it in the least bit reassuring to see it implied - through the whole Holophonics sales pitch - that my ear canal is no longer seen as being a private place.

Who knows which orifice is next?

Letter to The X-Factor HR Department, SyCo TV, c/o SyCo Music, Bedford House, 69-79 Fulham High Street, London SW6 3JW

December 12 2007

Dear SyCo TV

I'm writing to apply to become the person who does the music on 'The X-Factor' (not the singing, the incidental stuff).

I've been watching the programme over the last couple of years, and think I've pretty much got the gist of how it works - plus (and this is the most important thing) I also own copies of all Craig Armstrong's film scores, Orff's 'Carmina Burana', and Rod Dougan's 'Furious Angels', so apart from the theme tune (a CD of which I assume would be supplied on day one as part of the new starters package), I think we both know that's the whole series covered.

I'm sure you probably get lots of letters asking to get involved with this programme, though, so by way of an audition, I thought I'd give you some examples of the music I'd play in the various situations that arise in the series.

Public Auditions:
For the bits where Simon and the other judges turn up in some city looking for talent, we want to go big, don't we? So it's obviously the opening bit of Carmina Burana.
But as the audition goes on, and Kate/Dermot/TBC says that things look grim for the judges and the mood is dipping, we want something tense and nervy, but also with a hint that a change could be round the corner, so we go to the old 'is that morse code?' beepy-starting bit from Craig Armstrong's track 'Ruthless Gravity'.
And of course, The X-Factor is nothing without tales of personal tragedy, so as a small child waits to hear about whether they've got through, or someone tells Kate/Dermot/TBC the tale of how they overcome a life-threatening disease or were constantly supported by a now-dead loved one, it's time to play that slow bit of music from Love Actually, 'Mark's Video' also written by Craig Armstrong (don't worry, I know this CD's very rare, but I promise you I have a copy - another example of how perfect I am for this job).
Oh, and I have the 'Psycho' theme on CD too, so we can play that over the footage of contestants who refuse to take no for an answer. I've also got the theme to 'Halloween' available, but let's hope they never get that scary.

Studio Shows:
For that shouty bit at the start when the bloke who sounds like Patrick 'Four Minute Warning' Allen (no, I know he isn't the same chap) tells us it's time to 'face the music', you've been using 'O Verona' from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, once again by Craig Armstrong; I think changing it when I take over the job would be fixing something that isn't broken, so I'll leave it as it is. Mind you, I am aware of the challenge this presents - after the opening twenty seconds or so, you have to be careful to stop the track or merge it with something else, or you get the voice of Pete Postlethwaite coming in with the opening lines of the Shakespeare stuff, but don't worry, I can stop the CD in time.
And then, for the filmed bit with the contestants standing on a stage looking all mean and moody, I've got that Rod Dougan CD with 'Clubbed to Death' on it (you know, the one from The Matrix), and that sounds kick-ass. Or we could use it for the bit where the judges stand in front of big air-conditioning fans, looking a bit miffed (presumably as they've somehow got lost and wound up in a warehouse somewhere). I'm a team player, you let me know what you want.
Oh, and as we do the little filmed backstory bit with the contestants where they say how they all want this more than anything and that they would be gutted if they had to go home this week, I think we should go with another sad bit of music from Craig Armstrong - probably from Love Actually again, but maybe a slightly more rousing bit, like 'Restaurant'.

I hope the above gives a flavour of how easily I could fit into your existing setup. As I say, I have all the above on CD, but I could easily put the tracks onto MiniDisc or convert them to .mp3 or .wma files or whatever, and I'd be more than happy to bring my own copies into work. Or, if you wanted me to work from home, I could just post you a compilation of the above tracks and you can send me a cheque.

I don't know who currently does the music for you (mainly because ITV insist on shrinking the credits on the show while they show pictures from whatever's coming next, so I can't make out the small text) but with their imaginative and varied approach to scoring the show I'm sure that they’ll soon be moving on to bigger and better things, so I hope you'll bear me in mind when a vacancy comes up.

Thanks for considering me for this position, hope to hear from you soon.

Lots of Love

PS - Alternatively, I'd be willing to read out the new T&Cs relating to people phoning in to vote for their favourite act: Kate/Dermot/TBC does a terrific job, but I think I could say it more quickly - that way, we can get past the tiresome legal necessities and back to the meat of the show as soon as possible.


(I'll let you know if I hear back from them, of course...)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Released May 1993, Highest UK Chart Position 63

I love the way that the title of the song and the performer's name are put perfectly in order - so as to save infantile people like me from having to make the inevitable joke.

And A Warm Welcome To All Of You Who've Come Here From Google Or Yahoo!

There's a St Trinian's film coming out later this month - I don't know if it's a remake of the originals (or one of them), taken from the original cartoons, a whole new story, or a 'reimagining' (I'm sure you can guess how I feel about that phrase) or what its origin may be, but I might see it, I might not.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post, what I want to talk about here is an element of the whole image of the St Trinian's films, and one which should help garner me a few more hits courtesy of search engines: sexy schoolgirls.

My recollections of the old black and white films are vague and far-off, but I recall being a bit weirded out by the fact that the headmistress was her own brother in drag (I was never quite sure if they were meant to be the same person, which kind of suggests a certain dissociative disorder), or why Arthur Daley used to emerge from the bushes looking shifty. I think I was probably about ten or so the first time I watched (or failed to properly watch) them, but the one thing I used to find a bit disappointing was that the apparently shockingly-naughty schoolkids just didn't seem to be very naughty at all. This might speak more about my behaviour at school (or, rather, misbehaviour), but my recollection of the films seem to be that the 'naughtiness' of the kids usually extended to some scenes where they'd all yell and run at adults with hockey-sticks, and the adults would rather inexplicably be overpowered by them. All very odd.

Still, though my recollection of the St Trinian's films doesn't feature any kind of sexy schoolgirl stuff, the phrase has in itself become a bit of a shorthand for young 'women dressed in short school dress with stockings showing, possibly hair in bunches etc' (which you might imagine would be frowned upon in today's society with paedo-fear and all, but apparently it remains pretty mainstream - I understand the popular music group Girls Aloud are to appear in the new film). The schoolgirl image was all too apparent in the Britney Spears 'One More Time' video - and, of course, in the UK, the School Disco brand (club nights and associated CDs) has been doing big business for years, very much trading on the idea of schoolgirls in a sexualised context (and a weird mix of music from wildly different eras, from what I can see: the aforementioned Britney song, alongside songs from the 80s and Abba and the like, so it's hardly representative of the genuine experience of a school disco for anyone… except maybe teachers or caretakers who've been pressed into helping out, I guess).

My point - and you'll be relieved to know I actually have one - is, I like to think, rather highlighted by the tangled nature of the above paragraph, but it boils down to this: the whole 'sexy schoolgirl' thing is just made up, isn't it ? I was at school for the usual length of time, and at no time did I ever encounter anyone who wore the sort of modified uniform involved in the whole St Trinian's style thing. And apart from possibly in Japan - and that's an uneducated guess born of watching films and reading the odd bit of manga - I don't think that there are any schools which actually have uniforms for female pupils which are even vaguely reminiscent of that look.

On reflection, I can't help but think that the whole thing is not only made up, but probably made up by men in their 30s or beyond with an unhealthy interest in teenage girls (possibly as a result of not being able to talk to them when they were peers). I mean, when I was at school, I looked at some of the girls and thought 'ooh, she's nice', but that was when they were pretty much my only frame of reference for these things, but none of them were wearing that kind of clothing - and let's be honest, when you're a teenage boy, you're onto a bit of a loser as far as the girls in your class (or even year) are concerned, as they're usually more interested in the Sixth Formers. The ones with cars, who can buy drink and cigarettes with impunity (well, with money, but you know what I mean).

All in all, then, I have a sneaking suspicion that people - and by people, on this occasion I mean men - are kind of deluding themselves about this whole thing. There may be a cultural aspect to it - in the same way that the USA doesn't have any kind of 'gas mask fetish', probably because gas masks weren't a feature of life there during World War 2, but here in the UK some people get their jollies from such things - but in a slight echo of my post from the other day, it feels a little bit like the whole 'sexy schoolgirl' thing has little basis in people's genuine experience, and is just a myth which has mutated into a preference which has, itself, made its way into the mainstream. And as with so many things, I think it's worth just taking a moment to examine its roots and see where it came from… and here, I fear, it's probably some older blokes leching at young girls. That's not right, is it ?

You might suggest the reason I'm sceptical about this sort of thing is because, at an age when I was actually spending time with schoolgirls, I wasn't very good at chatting them up, let alone asking them to wear inappropriately sexualised versions of school uniforms, but the fact is, I was pretty happy at the time; I had my comics, a ZX Spectrum, and had accumulated a number of Experience Points for my character in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Not just ordinary Dungeons and Dragons there, note, but Advanced… hmm.

Actually, I might have been aware of the unlikelihood of getting a snog from playing 'AD&D', as there was a joke told at the time which me and my friends laughed at, though not without a stab of self-recognition. The joke, such as it was, went thus:

Q - So, if 'Advanced Dungeons and Dragons' comes after 'Dungeons and Dragons', what comes after 'Advanced Dungeons and Dragons'?
A - Dating.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Unintelligent Design: Recordable Pen

No real need for me to rant at vast length about the stupidity of this existing, I think, as the pointlessness is pretty apparent - to wit: if you've got a pen, why bother recording anything? Why not just write whatever it is you’ve got to remember, even if it’s only on the back of your hand?

Most of these pens only have a recording time of around ten seconds, which just emphasises the sense in using the pen as, duh, a pen, though some of them have (using new digital technology) recording times of up to two hours. Is it genuinely likely that you'll not be able to get to a piece of paper in two hours if you need to? Sure, you could be in the middle of the Sahara or something, but let's face it, in that situation you've got more pressing issues than the presentation that Derek wants to see by the close of play tomorrow.

Ah, you might say, you could use it as a recorder for a long meeting, and then play it back. To which I say counter-ah, how are you going to transcribe the salient points from the meeting - your pen's in use as a playback machine. What's that you say, you'll use it as a pen at the same time? What, and press play and stop repeatedly while you try to keep up with the speed of speech? I doubt it. Huh? What? You'll get a different pen? Ah, so you concede that it's either a pen or a recorder, not both. So why don't you buy a proper recorder, not some executive toy that's neither one thing nor another? Eh? Answer me. I said - oh, stop crying. Just throw the pen away, and we'll let the matter drop.

Recordable pens, then; like the calculator digital watches of the 1980s, an unworkable combination of two different functions - though whereas the calculator watch was too small to work as a calculator and too chunky to work as a watch, the recordable pen actually works against its two aims by providing the possibility of audio or text-based record-keeping, but makes it impossible to use them in tandem. Which is why you should either buy a pen, or a recorder.

I'm reminded of a joke I used to make in my stand-up days (as I'll egotistically call them) about how I was thinking about getting a tattoo, but wanted to get one which I wouldn't be ashamed of in years to come, which would have some resonance for everyone who saw it, and which would mean something to me every time I saw it. The only tattoo that met those criteria, the punchline went, was a tattoo on the back of my hand, saying 'Get Milk'.
And now you understand why there's no live DVD from me on sale this holiday season.

Last Time I Mention This, I Swear. Well, This Year Anyway.

Following on from my arguably self-indulgent post about not reaching my National Novel Writing Month goal, I received (as I suspect many other participants did) a very friendly e-mail from Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, sending the e-mail equivalent of a cup of tea and a reassuring pat on the shoulder, in which he said “Successfully pulling off anything creative given our ridiculously high standards and congenitally overscheduled lives is a miracle, and sometimes that battle just can't be won in a single month”, which I’ll cheerfully admit, made me feel better about it. Thanks, Chris.

Anyway, moving away from me and onto you, my loyal audience, I thought I’d share with you the fact that a number of genuine actual real published authors wrote Pep Talks for people participating in NaNoWriMo, and that these are now available to read on the NaNoWriMo website specifically, here.

Granted, they use a lot of words specific to people writing a novel in a month, but I think that there are many words of wisdom (from, let’s not forget, proper writers) to be found in the Pep Talks – not least in Neil Gaiman’s message, where he rightly says “nobody else is going to write your novel for you”.

Hmm, maybe I should have that printed off and stick up versions of it around the flat, replacing ‘novel’ with ‘screenplay’, ‘radio play’, and any other unfinished items which are currently lurking on my hard drive…

Unintelligent Design: The Waterless Urinal

Welcome, my friends, to a new feature here on the blog - a celebration of all that is pointless and useless in modern design.

It's all too easy to forget, in this age of iPhones and the like, that there's a lot of stuff out there in the world which is ugly, pointless, or doesn't work (or, indeed, all of those things). And so welcome to the first in a projected series of posts intended to shed light on folly in design, whilst giving me an opportunity to rant and rave and possibly even swear. Oh yes.

First up is an item of which I have some experience, but which may be an entirely new item in the eyes of my female readers: the waterless urinal.

It sounds like a joke, but I promise you such things exist - as you can see from the picture above, they're designed without the need for water to rinse out the bowl from an overhanging auto-rinse sump bar or similar. This is because the bowl contains a filtration layer designed to remove the carbamide (or urea) from the urine - and urine is, of course, predominantly water. The water then passes on to the usual outflow pipe. The filters need to be cleaned with specialist foams or sprays, and occasionally replaced.

As you can imagine, the waterless urinal has been quite popular; it uses less water than a standard urinal, so it's both more environmentally friendly, and cheaper to run (a major reason, I'd guess, why the last two places I've worked have had them installed in the gents). Despite its environment- and money-saving credentials, though, waterless urinals are ideally placed to kick off the Unintelligent Design series of posts on my blog for one very simple reason, and that is (drum roll)

They don't work.

Well, perhaps I'm being unfair, and all of the ones ever made and sold apart from the five I've encountered (three in the previous workplace, two in the present) work perfectly well, but that'd not really very likely, is it? As it is, the waterless urinals I've come across all block up in a frankly unsightly manner, though that's not the worst of it - far, far more unpleasant is the smell. It's the smell of urine and chemicals - the sort of odour that you might smell in a grotty underpass, or pick up a whiff of as you pass the doorway of a shop that's closed but unfortunate enough to be close to a pub at chucking-out time on Saturday night. In short: rank.

As I say, these urinals get blocked up, and this appears to be because the plughole at the base is made of some sort of plastic, which starts to rot because of constantly being deluged with urine of varying density, and I'd guess that the urea and other discharged minerals cause it to decay. This, combined with the fact that some people don't just pee into the urinals, but also spit and shed pubic hair into the bowl, means that the plug starts to clog with a number of unplanned-for items, so the urine doesn't pass through as expected, and starts to hang around and smell. Oh, and I'd respectfully suggest that the frequency of application of the appropriate cleaners, and replacement of the filters, should probably take place more often than the manufacturers let on when giving estimated running costs.

The upshot of all this? In essence, gents toilets which smell as if they contain day-old buckets of piss, and urinals which are clogged with pubes and puddles of slowly-darkening urine. Lovely. Granted, it does save money for the organisations that install them - in the short term, at least, I don't know about having to call in the engineers or other facilities management folks - but I think the environmental credentials are pretty arguable, what with the filters that have to be replaced and thrown away, and the chemicals which are introduced into the environment generally.

Don't think I'm some sort of toilet snob here; I've trekked up mountains and roughed it and used toilets that were little more than holes in the ground, and I know that when you need to go, you need to go, but we're not talking about an item for emergency use - the waterless urinal is something that has been thought about, designed, manufactured and sold for use, and in my experience it's far from fit for the purpose.

Frankly, I wouldn't cross the road to wee on one if it was on fire. Though chances are I could smell it from that distance anyway.

Have you been affected by any of the issues covered, or the references to effluvium and excreta, in this post? Do you think the waterless urinal is the greatest invention since the solar-powered tamagochi? Or would you like to share your experiences of urinating into a modern toilet such as the she-inal? If so, then please contact our team of researchers by clicking the comment button below. And for god's sake aim straight, whether ye be man or woman.

Perhaps Dali Should Have Called His Painting 'The Transience Of Memory'

Despite having what many people might consider a shaky grasp of reality, I like to think I have a decent memory. In fact, compared to quite a few people I know, it's a very good memory indeed, because a startling number of people seem all too keen to rewrite events in their mind, for whatever reason. I understand that we often amend our recollections of the past to meet present emotional needs, but … well, that shouldn't extend to blocking things out in their entirety, should it?

To take an unpleasant but true example, some years ago a friend of mine decided to break up with her boyfriend. He took it badly, to say the least, wrestling her into a nearby wardrobe and holding it shut - apparently in an attempt to convince her to stay (yes, that's bound to change her mind, you violent genius! Well done you!). She got out of the wardrobe, got out of the flat they shared, and got on with her life, which is obviously a good thing.
However, not so good was the way she remembered these events a short time later.

"Oh, he wasn't so bad," she said.
"What the hell are you talking about?" I near-shouted. "He was really awful to you at the end!"
"I don't know what you mean. I think a lot of it was my fault, and I -"
"Look," I cut in, "don't give me that. I saw the bruises on your arms."
She stopped talking then, and her face dropped as if something unpleasant had just dawned on her. Because, I realised, she had tried to forget his violence towards her, and put it behind her - to the extent that she'd convinced herself that it hadn't happened.

I seem to come across examples all too often - I referred to an ex denying my involvement in typing her dissertation in this post - and it's worrying to see how people don't even need time to have passed for them to have reframed events; someone I know rewrote their partner saying "You're not putting up that picture in my house" into "We need to have a discussion about the room you're going to put that picture up in" within a matter of minutes.

I'll be honest, I find it maddening and worrying at the same time; maddening because I believe that the present is the result of a gradual and inevitable accretion of events, like layers of paint added to a canvas, and that relationships and situations are examples of this - and how can you have any kind of healthy handle on a relationship or situation if you're always blocking out the truth of it?
And I find it worrying when people seem to be unable to accept and process the meaning of events and actions as they truly are, because … well, that way delusion lies. There's that old adage about 'those who don't learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them', and I think there's a lot of truth to that - but I don't want to have to spend a lot of time working around delusional recollections of empirically verifiable events, nor being treated like some kind of heartless swine because I insist on reminding people of what they actually said as opposed to nodding along with their rewritten version of things.

I appreciate that a lot of people suffer traumas which they'd sooner forget, and I can understand that, but what I'm talking about here are more everyday things, which should be more easily coped with; disagreements with partners or patterns of behaviour which people simply refuse to acknowledge, and all too often repeat over and over again.

What, you may ask, has prompted a lengthy post of such venom on this subject? Well, rather tangentially perhaps, I saw an advert for the Borne Ultimatum DVD which had the tagline 'Remember Everything. Forgive Nothing', and my immediate thought was "Hmm, I dunno if I remember everything exactly, but I remember a hell of a lot more than some people seem to, and as a result I end up forgiving them a lot…"

Well, if not exactly forgiving, then posting a big ranty blog entry, but you know what I mean.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

There's No Way I'm The First Person To Suggest This, I'm Sure

John Simm (of Life on Mars and Doctor Who) and Thom Yorke (of Radiohead) do strike me as looking rather similar... what do you think?

And The Fact I Haven't Blogged Over The Last Couple Of Days Doesn't Make Me Look Prolific Either

Well, November has come to an end, and with it, National Novel Writing Month has finished too.

The aim of Nanowrimo, as I've probably mentioned tiresome times before, is to write a 50,000 novel in one month - at an average of around 1700 words a day. Did I succeed in doing it in 2007, after 2006's unimpressive attempt?

Did I hell.

In fact, I didn't even make it to 5,000 words - 4,300 by my rough count, which is around 8.6%, which is up from last year's 5%, but which is still almost unbearably lame. It's actually quite embarrassing - which is, of course, the point of making a public declaration about this sort of thing, with the aim that the shame will spur one on - but I honestly don't know where the time went in November, or (more importantly) where I could have retrieved the hours I needed to get more done on it.

Which is, all too often, the problem I face with the writing - the day job and the associated commute leave me feeling quite floppy by the end of the day, and BLAH BLAH BLAH… it's all excuses, isn't it? If I truly want to write for a living - and I sincerely believe I do, and that I could be all right (or maybe even better) at it - then I need to make sure that I make time, don't I ?

It's simple, but not necessarily easy - and in that distinction, I suspect, lurks the problem.

Anyway, onwards - Nanowrimo 2007 was a bust for me, but there are other projects to be completed, things to be written, and that can only be done with words as a path is made of stones: by placing one after another until I reach the end.

Friday, November 30, 2007

WGA Strike - Here Now The News*

Well, the news blackout surrounding the WGA Strike has been lifted, as you can see from this press release from the WGA.

Despite some rumours doing the rounds that a settlement has been reached, it looks to be far from the case...

*With apologies to Chevy Chase (who's not so starry as to reject working for scale ) and, by association, Roger Grimsby.

Twins? Quads, more like

This is a picture from the current ad campaign designed to flog Young Persons' Railcards. Doesn't the chap there look a lot like Morpheus from The Matrix (see below)?

This is a picture from The Matrix. Doesn't Morpheus look a lot like King Mob from the comic The Invisibles (see below)?

This is the cover of The Invisibles, issue 19. Doesn't King Mob on the cover there look a lot like Grant Morrison, the comic's creator and writer (see below)?

This is Grant Morrison. Doesn't he... oh, you get the general idea.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


No posting yesterday, by way of showing solidarity with the striking writers in the USA. It was, in case you didn't know, an International Day of Solidarity.

Stand strong, my WGA friends, and you shall soon be free (or, at least, more appropriately remunerated for your work)!

Don't know if you saw any coverage, but there was a gathering outside the TUC here in London - there's a report on the WGGB site , a picture on Elinor's blog here , and James has a write-up on it here .

As for the strike itself, the Studios and the WGA are holding talks this week after agreeing to get round the table again, though as I understand it, information about progress is being kept schtum so that leaks don't prejudice or hamper things. Fair enough, I guess. I will, of course, let you know as soon as I hear anything.

And in the meantime, if you feel cheated by the absence of an update yesterday, maybe that's a sign of just how important writing, and by extension, writers are ? I think so. Oh yes. Yes indeedy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Perhaps I'm Being Unkind. They Might Both Have Migraine Headaches.

I know that Katie 'Jordan' Price has somehow managed to work her way into the mainstream, but I have to say that I think her forthcoming book, with its apparent attempt to emulate an image associated with the film version of a Henry James tale, is a step too far in trying to gain literary clout...

Worlds Will Live. Worlds Will Die. And The DC Universe Will Never Be The Same! (Except That, Y'Know, It Probably Will.)

Back in this review, I asked how DC Comics were going to make it clear which of the 52 universes in their newly-reinstated multiverse they were going to allocate to which characters and scenarios.

Well, they've issued a list, which you can see here.

I've stopped reading a lot of DC Comics in recent times, as they - like their competitors Marvel - seem to be mired in continuity and cross-overs, and that list does nothing at all to make me think I've made a mistake in doing so. Oh, sure, I'll have a look at 'Final Crisis' when it comes out next year, but that's only because it's written by Grant Morrison, and not because I care about the Earth-22 Flash or whatever.

But given that DC have removed the multiverse and then put it back within the last couple of decades, I guess I shouldn't really expect the change to last forever, should I ?

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Peak Experience, As Maslow (Or, Indeed, Colin Wilson) Might Put It

As I've probably written a number of times before, Twin Peaks is very probably my favourite TV series of all time. In fact, you're lucky that I haven't posted about it at great length, but it's probably for the best, as the most rabid fans of something are rarely the best adverts for the item in question (don't believe that assertion? Three words: Rocky, Horror, and Show. Now I think you see my point).

Anyway, although TP was cancelled over 15 years ago, it's still quite well-regarded, and I guess the difficulty of getting hold of it on video (long-deleted) and DVD (a full release has only happened this year, though not yet in the UK) has probably added to the mystique, so it's gone but not forgotten. As I say, the complete series has just been released on DVD, and I guess it's for this reason that they've just released the item illustrated above, which is a soundtrack CD from the show.

I've just got my copy, and have given it a quick skim-listen, and it looks as if I'll pleased with it, but it does occur to me how odd it is that 'Volume 2' should be released over a decade after the first CD. It's probably rather telling that the original release was on a major record label (WEA, if memory serves) and that the new CD appears to be on a small independent label.

Still, I may just be getting a bit giddy because I'm almost unreasonably excited about the CD (as I am about the DVD box set, though it's currently only in Region 1 format) - after all, 'long time after the event' releases aren't so uncommon now; the Beatles Anthology stuff and the restored versions of Blade Runner are obvious examples which spring to mind, and in the classical world there's a tradition of 'restored works' or items pieced together in some form, such as Beethoven's Tenth Symphony and (my father would be appalled if I didn't mention this one) Deryck Cooke's performing version of Mahler's Tenth Symphony.

All that said, though, I still felt a tingle down my spine as the CD started playing, and it reminded me of the show I like so much, and of the time when I first saw it (BBC2 in the early 90s on Tuesday nights); music has a worrying power to drag me back in time, it seems - the opening bars of all too many dodgy 1980s pop hits seem capable of making me feel like a teenager in mere seconds...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"Time To Consult The Book Of Shadows!"

First there, the logo of Pcubed, an international firm of management consultants. And second and more neon-ly , the sign above the door of P3, the nightclub owned by the witch sisters in the TV show Charmed.
Of course, they're very different - one's the logo of a group of people who society frowns on as being versed in dark arts, but who insist they're only using their powers for good, and the other...

Spotted On A Catering Pack Of PG Tips Tea Bags

Just in case you can't quite make it out, it says 'Unilever foodsolutions'.

"Food solutions."

Not quite sure where food puzzles or food problems are to be found, but they're bound to exist, because I'm sure branding consultants wouldn't ever use words out of context, oh no.


LIST: I Am Not As Other Men*

According to the media generally, everyone does, has done, or did, the following. Not I.

-Hidden behind the sofa to watch Doctor Who as a child (in our house, the sofa was up against the wall)
-Discussed a television show around a watercooler (there are often water-fountain-things wherever I've worked, but we don't hang around them and talk)
-Bought 'Candle In The Wind 1997' (it's utter doggerel. Listen to the lyrics and conclude, as Francis Wheen does, that Diana must have been a hill-walking, rose-scented candle)
-Claimed to have had flu when I've had a cold
-Knowing heard any Led Zeppelin (beyond the opening bit of 'Stairway to Heaven'; I know the names of some of their albums, and could probably pick out some of the members in a line-up, but that's it)
-Seen 'Apocalypse Now' (in any of its versions)
-Had a kebab after drinking too many pints
-Had a stand-up row with a partner in IKEA or a supermarket
-Ever seen a full episode of 'Phoenix Nights'

Now, I'm aware that some of these are more like omissions in my cultural exposure, but when I read an article or hear someone talking in a way which presupposes the above, I can't help but wonder if these 'shared experiences' are like received opinions, in that they're not necessarily true for all of us, but are said so often that people start to assume they must be...

*Though you'd probably guessed that.

Monday, November 19, 2007


The absence of posts commenting on my progress with National Novel Writing Month 2007 may well be a bit of a clue - I'm struggling to get anywhere near the allotted target of 50,000 words. In fact, over halfway through the month, I'm struggling to get anywhere near 5,000 words - one glance at the wordcount here shows you my current situation - and the wordcount hasn't been updated in six days either. Lame, isn't it?

I actually find it slightly depressing, as it makes it look as if I don't want to write, whereas sitting down with my notebook and pen, some suitably undistracting music, and a mug of tea are things which I thoroughly enjoy (same goes for sitting at the keyboard, but I tend to do my initial draft longhand). So why, I ask myself, do I seem to find it so difficult to apply myself (and my behind to the appropriate chair), even within the setting and constraints of Nanowrimo?

It partly worries me that I might - and this is something I wrote about last year when I failed to get anywhere near 50,000 words - be more keen on the idea of 'having written' than on actually writing; that is, that I might derive more pleasure from writing if I could just jump to having finished without the hassle of actually having to put one word after another. There are a lot of people like this, I know - the people who say things like "You know, I've always wanted to write a novel…" whereas I suspect that what they actually mean is "I'd like to have written a book, and had it published and in the shops", or something to that effect.

It's only a partial worry to me, though, as I know that I actively enjoy writing - the process of coming up with an idea, then working it into some kind of narrative, figuring out whether it would be best as prose, TV, radio or comics, and then actually putting pen to paper (or digit to keyboard) to tell that story is something I genuinely derive a lot of intellectual pleasure from, and even when I'm trying to figure out what comes next it's fun. So I'm confident that my lack of Nanowrimo progress (so far - I'm not throwing in the towel by any stretch of the imagination) isn't born of some self-sabotage, or that I might not really want to write.

But unfortunately, this last few weeks have seen me awash with mundane but necessary chores which occupy the time I'd otherwise be spending writing - redecorating the shared stairwell of my building, sealing up cracks in the brickwork to keep out mice (yes, somehow mice have made their way into our second-story flat), wedding arrangements, my ongoing hospital radio commitments, and of course the fact that I work 9-5, have all rather eaten away at the time I was hoping to spend writing this month.

As I say, I'm not giving up on Nanwrimo this year (this ramble is by way of an honest update), and in fact having written this (slightly more personal than usual) post, it makes me slightly embarrassed and mindful of how it looks like an attempt to excuse not writing - because there are so many excuses (and occasionally even reasons) not to write, but the reason FOR writing is, for me, a more basic and burning one: I want to tell stories, and hopefully other people will like reading them as much as I enjoy writing 'em (and obviously, if I can earn a living from it, then all the better).

The trick, I realise, is not to allow writing to be one of a number of things that 'I ought to do', but to make sure it's top of the list, and that other activities are only done after the wordcount or pagecount for the day is met. Simple, I know, but there’s all too often a gulf ‘twixt theory and practice, isn’t there?

(Oh, and if you're wondering why I'm wasting time posting to my blog instead of working on 'The Body Orchard', I'm writing this in my lunch-hour at work - not an environment where I can get any novel-writing done, as people are so gosh-darned noisy. Tch).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Someone In Borders Bookshop Doesn't Seem To Be An Arsenal Fan

Well, either that, or Jack from Father Ted has got himself a new job.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Cash Till Bells Go Ka-Ching-A-Ling-A-Ling, For You And Partly For Me

Conspicuous consumption, point one:
If you're having trouble getting your internet connection to work this weekend, then I think we can all safely assume it’s because several million comic readers have all finished reading their hauls of this week, and have logged on simultaneously to post comments about them.
No, seriously - this week sees the release of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's much-anticipated 'Black Dossier' (see Alan explain how it was delayed by the publishers here and here ), the latest issue of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's startlingly fun 'All-Star Superman', and the latest in Bryan Lee O'Malley's very fun series of 'Scott Pilgrim' volumes (as well as a whole load of other stuff which I'm not so interested in).
In comic terms, this is pretty much the equivalent of new films being released by Orson Welles, David Lynch and Stephen Spielberg ON THE SAME DAY.
And that's why the internet has been broken in two.

Conspicuous consumption, point two:
Today, shopping for weddings rings with my fiancee, I learned the following -
a) I take a ring size W. That's quite large, isn't it?
b) All jewellers are conspiring with my betrothed to ensure she has as much spangly jewellery as possible, and so they look at me with a mixture of mockery and pity. Has she, I wonder, been in advance contact with all the shops that sell spangly things to ensure she gets the shiny and they get the money? It certainly feels that way...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sometimes I Almost Regret The Invention Of The Camera-Phone Combo

In the absence of any other event worthy of a headline, my local paper appears to have decided to post aphorisms and general advice for life.

In tomorrow's Roaraway Recorder, an exclusive interview with the local stitch whose timeliness saved 90% of ten.

If You Tolerate This, Then Your Stray Thoughts Will Be Next

1. It's been a while since I did one of my round-up posts like this, I know, and I think it may well be because I've mastered the art of taking what should be a one-line post and making it into a whole paragraph. Perhaps a career in newspaper writing awaits? (Premonition: the King Tut exhibition in London beginning this week, plus the eye make-up Amy Winehouse wears, will surely lead some idiot to claim that 'the Egyptian look has never been hotter!', or some such page-filling piffle).

2. Speaking of whom, a joke I heard the other day:
Q: What's Amy Winehouse's favourite tube station?
A: High Barnet.

3. I find myself, as ever, watching very little TV for fun, and the vast majority of it is imported (Heroes, Flight of the Conchords, Californication, and 30 Rock, to name the majority of my preferred shows). Is there anything on any of the Freeview channels I'm missing out on? Do let me know…

4. Oh, for god's sake.

5. Nanowrimo progress is very slow indeed, but I'm not giving up yet. Will certainly beat last year's effort, but that's hardly a push, I know…

6. Told you (in this post earlier today) that I'd make up for lost time. Should be six posts in one day by the time I'm done. Prolific, I know (though you know there could be a connection between this brag and the comment in point 5, above. Fortunately, I'm too stupid to be able to make any kind of correlation).

7. Want to go and see Steven Poliakoff talking about writing and stuff? Well, it's next Monday in London, and free - click here for more info. I'm going, do let me know if you will be too…

8. Now, I don't want to sound like an old fuddy-duddy (well, the use of the phrase 'fuddy-duddy' is always a headstart, but you know what I mean), but isn't the whole 'lolcatz' meme a bit like 'All Your Base Are Belong To Us'? By which I mean, it's kind of incomprehensible and inaccessible to the general reader, not actually as wildly funny as some people seem to think, and may well out of favour by the time I've posted this...

9. Due to the techy hassles over the past few days, I was unable to post my usual Remembrance Day thoughts, which appears to have become a semi-tradition for me. So, in the spirit of 'better late than never', I'd like to post the following, which is a transcript of an interview which forms the opening and close of Roger Waters's album 'Amused to Death'. The dialogue's taken from an interview with Alfred 'Alf' Razzell, who was a member of the Eighth Batallion of the Royal Fusiliers during WWI.

He was born in 1897, so he would have been in his teens during the events he describes - Alf talks in measured, grandfatherly tones of his time in the WWI trenches, and the last line (where he figures out the number of years) never fails to hit me like a kick to the stomach... For, I like to think, the best possible reasons.

Alf Razzell:
"Two things that have haunted me most are the days when I had to collect the paybooks; and when I left Bill Hubbard in no-man's-land.

I was picked up and taken into [the German] trench. And I'd no sooner taken two or three steps down the trench when I heard a call, 'Ooh, hello Razz, I'm glad to see you. This is my second night here,' and he said 'I'm feeling bad,' and it was Bill Hubbard, one of the men we'd trained in England, one of the original battalion.

I had a look at his wound, rolled him over; I could see it was probably a fatal wound. You could imagine what pain he was in, he was dripping with sweat; and after I'd gone about three shellholes, traversed that, had it been...had there been a path or a road I could have done better.

He pummelled me, 'Put me down, put me down, I'd rather die, I'd rather die, put me down.' I was hoping he would faint. He said 'I can't go any further, let me die.' I said 'If I leave you here Bill you won't be found, let's have another go.' He said 'All right then.' And the same thing happened; he couldn't stand it any more, and I had to leave him there, in no-man's-land."

Years later, I saw Bill Hubbard's name on the memorial to the missing at Arras. And I... When I saw his name, I was absolutely transfixed. It was as though he was now a human being instead of some sort of nightmarish memory that I'd had of leaving him all those years ago.

And I felt relieved. And ever since then I've felt... happy about it, because always before, whenever I thought of him, I was searching myself; "Was there something else that I could have done? And that always sort of worried me. But having seen him, and his name in the register; As you know in the memorials there's a little safe, and there's a register in there with every.. every name... And seeing his name and his name on the memorial.. It sort of lightened.. lightened my heart, if you like."

"When was it that you saw his name on the memorial?"

Alf Razzell:
"Ah, when I was eighty-seven...Ah, that would be the year, ninety f…eighty-four, nineteen eighty-four."

Holiday / Celebrate / Oh, It WAS So Nice

As the cold of winter starts to bite, I thought that I'd show my evil side by posting a picture of the beach in the Dominican Republic where I was recently lazing and reading and writing.

Mind you, as I'm back in London now, I'm tormenting myself as much as you.

But still: lovely, isn't it?

Damn Those Paparazzi, They Get Everywhere

Proving that I'm not just a patron of the art of the written word (stop giggling, you), I just wanted to draw your attention to the most recent addition to the dishonour roll that is the list of links in the column to the right.

My good friend Toby, who posts photos on Flickr under the name GromitLad (don't ask - I didn't), and who is the official wedding photographer of me and m'laydee, is a damn fine snapper, and you can see his work by clicking on the appropriate link in the column an inch or two to the right of these very words - or by clicking here .

And try not to dwell on the semi-nude self-portrait (he wrote, knowing full well that'll make you do just that; but it's not false advertising, you may be pleased to know...)

For The Full Effect, Imagine The Holst Music For Mars Playing As You Read This

So, I didn't make it through to the next round of the Red Planet screenplay competition. I'm far from alone in this - I gather over 2000 people entered - but it was a good spur to get on with writing in the screenplay format, and rather than finding the 'waiting to hear' a torment as some people seem to, I like to think that no news is indeed good news. Plus, it means I have a screenplay in my 'portfolio' now, which has to be a good thing, yes?

As the Red Planet contest involved sending them the first 10 pages of the screenplay, I think I'll see about posting the pages on my website . Yes, I know the website's basic and horribly out of date - I'm working on updating it, I promise. Yes, I know I said that some time ago, but I mean it this time, honest. Really.

The only person I know of who's through to the second round is Laura (well done, Laura!), though Danny Stack, one of the people involved in judging the contest, has posted some comments on the decision-making process here, and you can see a tongue-in-cheek response from Paul Campbell here . Reminds me slightly of the lyrics to The Beatles' Paperback Writer , really (which is far from a bad thing).

LINKS: Strike (Post) Three !

(Firstly, apologies for the absence of posts in the last couple of days, my faithful and ever-growing audience. Had some techy issues, but I think they're sorted out now. Don't worry, I'll make up for lost time, and we'll have at least five posts this week, oh yes indeedy betcha by golly wow.)

Anyway, a few more links on the ongoing Writer's Guild of America Strike. In case you hadn't guessed by now, I'm hoping that the studios and the WGA can get back to negotiating, so everyone can get back to work; but I'm very much of a mind that the writers deserve to get more than the dollar equivalent of 2p for every DVD sold from one of their scripts, and certainly more than 0p (no, that's not a typing error) for shows sold as downloads on iTunes and the like. The argument for this side of things is, I think, rather well put here .

Further to my recent post linking to a number of showrunners who are in support of the strike, here's an ad which was in the US trade press last week from some more writers - some well-known and impressive names there, I think you'll agree.
And finally, this site still rather perplexes me - I genuinely can't tell if it's a wind-up about the strike or not. It looks pretty sincere on the face of it, but when you watch the videos, it's either the most Alan Partridge-esque calling card of all time, or a pretty good spoof. Take a look and see what you make of it, and let me know your conclusions… please. I need the hive mind consensus on this one.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Mysterious Ways? Round In Circles, More Like

(All images copyright their respective owners, of course; no copyright infingement is intended.)

The first image there is from the 'The Adventures of God: The Ultimate Super-Hero' in the Spitting Image Giant Komic Book (1988), and is illustrated by Steve Dillon. The second panel is from 'SuperGod (and The Son Of Man Wonder)' in the latest issue of Viz (170, coverdated November 2007), and unless I miss my guess it's drawn by Davey Jones.

Rather similar, I think you'd agree, but I have to say I genuinely don't think it's a case of plagiarism - the issue of free will and God is one which is endlessly discussed (and is a bit theologically awkward, really), and I don't think that Mr Jones is exactly short of ideas: he came up with the Viz strip The Vibrating Bum-Faced Goats, after all, which hardly suggests a paucity of imagination.

Still, an amusing coincidence, I like to think.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

And Now, The Writing News

If, like me, you've been waiting to hear if Red Planet Pictures want to see more of your screenplay, then this news will be of interest to you. Only a couple more days to go, it seems…

Also, if you're wondering how I'm doing in my Nanowrimo bid this year, then I'll tell you: 2,500 words so far. Not on target yet, but I like the resonance of the fact it's 5% in 1/5 of the target time. Ahem.
I'll see if I can provide a chart of my progress (if indeed it can be called that), and provide the appropriate link, in the next couple of days.

And in international news, the WGA Writer's Strike continues , with cast members from various well-known shows coming out in support of the scribes.

Here's Tom with the weather. Tom?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Deere Santa, I wuld liyke a Dictioniary Fore Crissmus

Last (lah-st) a., n., and adv. After all others, coming at the end.

Whoa, Dude!

Captain America is, like, totally stacked! Check out that rack!

(Actually, that's not fair; Captain America only has a chest like Mount Rushmore when Rob Liefeld draws him. In current continuity, he's dead, I think. And oddly enough, I suspect he has more dignity as worm-food...)

LINK: More On The Writer's Strike

John Bowman was the chap who put forward the WGA's side of things at the start of the negotiations about the current writers' strike (see yesterday's post), and you can read a copy of his speech - which I like for its measured tone, and the way it actively invites discussion - on this page.

Worth a look, I'd say.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Creator And Critic

Watching the film "Ratatouille' last week, I thought that there was something of a similarity (though not in attitude) between the food critic Anton Ego and the writer Will Self... is it just me?

LINK: Now That's What I Call (Use Of) Music…

… to make a point . The horseguards band there, welcoming King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia to London.
His visit was very much dogged by the fact that his nation has a far from impressive record when it comes to human rights.

But at least the music fitted the occasion, right?

Oh My, Have I Just Posted A Bit Of EastEnders 'What If' FanFiction? Lawks.

As part of my whole 'keeping an eye on the state of TV Drama' thing, I've been paying a bit of attention to EastEnders. And I have to ask: am I truly the only person who thinks the whole Max-Bradley-Stacey storyline has gone on way, way too long?

For my money, there are fundamental flaws with the setup:
1. It seems unclear whether there's actually been anything going on between Max and Stacey for the last couple of months
2. The character of Stacey seems to be limited to either scowling at her fiance or scowling at her fiance's father, making her role (as the object of so much attention) frankly baffling
3. The character of Bradley has been reduced to that of a clueless idiot who can't seem to spot that his fiance spends all her time looking on him with a barely-concealed mix of contempt and pity
4. None of the characters are likable as a result of all this, leaving the viewer with no-one who they can even partially root for
5. It's been running since at least the start of the year. There have been a couple of times when it seemed like the whole messy business was going to be either revealed or in some way resolved, but this hasn't been the case (even the 'caught on tape' aspect of recent episodes looks unlikely to be resolved immediately - I have a horrible suspicion that they're saving it for Christmas) .

Maybe it's my short attention span or something to blame, but this strand seems to have been going on since last Christmas or so (correct me if I'm wrong), and I think it would have been far better if, during the vows, it had gone more like….

And do you, Bradley, take Stacey to be your lawfully wedded wife?


BRADLEY looks round, unsure of himself. Meets the concerned looks off various guests. Sees MAX looking surprised.

STACEY (whisper)

BRADLEY looks at her. His look changes to one of certainty.


A ripple of murmurs from the congregation. The VICAR looks taken aback. MAX looks worried. SEAN allows himself a smile.

No, I don't take you to be my lawfully wedded wife.

But -

You've been having it away with my dad for over six months -

STACEY's face drops. Another buzz from the congregation.

- and now you want the security of marrying me ?

I -

What kind of an idiot do you take me for?

BRADLEY shakes his head, smiles coldly. He's in charge of things now.

I just wanted to see how far you'd take the whole getting married idea, and see how far you'd take the lies. All the way, it seems. All the way up the aisle.

Bradley, I -

BRADLEY grits his teeth.

But now, in front of all our friends, I've shown you up for the liar you are.
And the kind of girl you are.

BRADLEY tears the flower from his buttonhole, throws it to the floor. Slowly, he walks out of the church, and as he goes, we see the reactions of the guests - horrified surprise from most of them, but barely-suppressed rage from TANYA, a victorious look from SEAN, and a look of genuine worry from MAX. Close on STACEY's expression as she realises what she's lost. We hear the church door slam.

FX: Drums and end theme

Okay, so maybe the above is a touch OTT, but I really wish they'd resolve the storyline - it feels like it's been spinning its wheels for months, and there was a period of time when it was all too similar to the Dawn-May-Rob plotline (married man having affair with much younger woman). I'm guessing they want to keep it going until the Christmas Day episode - there is, after all, no better way to celebrate a happy family Christmas than by … um, gathering round the TV to watch fictional families' unhappy Christmases.

LINK: Okay, Stop Writing Now. Pencils Down, Please

As you may have heard, the Writer's Guild of America (WGA) has just started a strike over payments.

Specifically, it's about residuals - the money paid to the writers when DVDs of their work are sold, and for when episodes of TV shows are streamed over the internet (a growth area, it's generally predicted, with packages like BT Vision looking the shape of things to come).

At present, the residuals on DVDs are at a rate which was negotiated some years ago (1985, I think), before the format became what it is now (that is, very successful, and a great way for studios to increase the back-end on TV shows in the absence of syndication), and of course online supply cuts out DVD production and distribution costs, so the payback to the creatives (of all stripes) should logically be higher… but currently it isn't going to be higher, hence the strike.

If nothing else, if you take a look at this ad which appeared in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter last week, you'll probably be able to spot at least one writer or showrunner from a high-profile show you like, which gives an indication of how strong the feeling is on this issue.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Spot The Diffidence (Or Lack Thereof)

Twin Peaks, Series 2 Episode 16 (1991)
Hank Jennings : You'll be Big Ed's whore for the rest of your life.
Norma Jennings : I'd rather be his whore than your wife!
(Written by Barry Pullman)

Titanic (1997)
Cal Hockley : You're going to him? To be a whore to a gutter rat?
Rose : I'd rather be his whore than your wife.
(Written by James Cameron)

And We're Back

…well, I am anyway. Hello, how are you? All right ? Yes? Good.

I'm back after a prolonged (though not unforeseen) absence. As well as taking some time off from blogging to concentrate on my novel-related stuff, I also took myself out of dear old Blighty to the Dominican Republic for a couple of weeks (for those of you whose sense of geography is akin to mine, it's in the Caribbean). Very nice, though Tropical Storm Noel was rather on our heels as we were leaving. Still, home safely, and it was a beautiful place, even if I had to go a fortnight without a proper cup of tea (airline tea most definitely does not count).

As for the writing: well, I made some progress with 'Coming Back To Haunt You', and now have the chapter breakdowns until the end of the book, but didn't get it all done. But as per my plan I've started on 'The Body Orchard' as part of National Novel Writing Month - the aim of which is to write a 50,000 novel in one month (that's about 1660 words a day). I don't know if 'TBO' is likely to go over that wordcount (given my tendency to logorrhoea, I wouldn't be surprised), but I'm aiming to get 50,000 words done anyway, and if the story needs more pages after that, then so be it. I started pretty well yesterday, possibly because I'm deliberately 'turning off my inner editor' to thrash out what I know is a first draft, so any mistakes or whatever can be corrected when I re-draft it. It felt quite liberating in a way to put stuff down knowing it's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination - hope the novelty lasts (well, at least until the end of the month).

Whilst I'm quite pleased about the icon to the right, I'll see if I can arrange a link to take you to an ongoing total of my word count. So far it's about 1700 (I'm doing it longhand, so vagueness is inevitable), which is on target, but we'll see how it goes.

Are any of you folks doing NaNoWriMo this year? Let me know if you are. And if you're not, then feel free to post a comment or e-mail me some words of support/abuse (delete as applicable)...