Friday, August 31, 2007

And I'm Bored Of Headlines Playing On The Whole 'Rehab/No, No, No' Thing As Well

Something which I've probably referred to here before, and have certainly tried to capture in writing I've done in the past, is what I like to think of as 'sickening inevitability'. I liken it to the experience of being in a car on an icy surface, slamming on the brakes, and having no option but to sit and watch as you slide towards another vehicle. Nothing you can do, or say, to avoid the inevitable. Not just on terms of driving, of course - in life generally.

Which brings me to the recent media coverage of Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse. Firstly, let's be honest and admit that the press coverage of these musical artistes is in vast disproportion to their importance to the world of music - the way the press give them column inches, you'd think that Doherty was the new Jacques Brel and Winehouse the new Marion Montgomery or something, and that both of them are selling albums in volumes that are making Beyonce Knowles jealous. They're not, and I'm hard pressed to decide whether the excessive coverage is due to them being UK-based (the British press tends to exaggerate in such cases) or simply because it's summer and the papers are in the midst of the 'silly season' (a phrase which is often thrown around by papers as they write about other papers, in a definite plank-in-your-own-eye scenario). Either way, the last few weeks, if not months, have seen loads of reports about these two individuals as they flounder from drink to drugs to rehab and back again.

And yet, when/if either or both of them is found dead with a needle hanging out of their arm or a dozen empty vodka bottles next to the body, I have the slightly bored suspicion that the media and their fans alike will feign surprise, shock, dismay and other such synonyms that Pete or Amy, the spokesperson for a generation, should be so cruelly cut down in the prime of their life, and during such a prolific period of their creativity.

People - me included - often talk about TV programmes such as Big Brother and The X-Factor as being 'car crash TV', where you know it's somehow wrong to look but you somehow can't stop yourself, but the current fascination with these two individuals, who seem to be sorely in need of a decent friend to take them aside and point out what's wrong with their life, seems more like (oh, look, I've cleverly linked back to the opening of this post) watching the slide before the impact.

I wish them both no ill-will at all (I'm utterly unmoved by their music, but the world's big enough for music I don't care for), and I'm happy to be proved wrong by events, but it all just seems … well, as I say: sickening inevitability.

As Russell Brand Might Put It, "'Citing!"

I've been working away on it for a while now, and this week has seen me thrashing at it with some vigour (hence the lack of posts), but I'm pleased - to say the least - to be able to honestly say that I've just e-mailed off my entry to the Red Planet Prize, a screenplay competition.

The prizes are very good indeed - £5000, representation and a commission - and as I've said before, I'm trying to get into film/TV/radio writing, so I was spurred on to submit the first ten pages (as required under the rules) of my first screenplay 'Broken Glass'. Hopefully not my last screenplay, though.

I e-mailed it, along with a synopsis and a mini-biography of me, about an hour ago, and receipt has been acknowledged. So now all I have to do is wait.

Well, that and make sure I've got the other 80-odd pages of 'Broken Glass' ready to hand over if I get to the next round (notification is in October, I think).

But don't be fooled by the measured and sedate tone of this post: basically, my feelings about the subject boil down to one word running through my head: Yeeeeeeeeeeeee!

LIST: Words My Phone Knows But I Don't

This might turn out to be the first entry in a series, not sure; words which predictive text offers me, along with the word I was aiming for.

DUNADRY (for 'dunno')
LONDRINA (for 'London')
FUZHOU (for 'fuzzy')

I have no idea what these three words mean. None whatsoever. Remind me never to challenge my phone to a game of Boggle.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rare Sighting I Thought I'd Share With You

As these are so rarely seen in real life, I thought it was only fair that I share: behold, the lesser-spotted Parcelforce card.

According to Parcelforce's own procedures, they drop these off when they've knocked on the door to deliver an item, but you weren't in.

However, given that Parcelforce claim that they've tried to deliver a parcel to m'lady five times recently and on none of these occasions has a card been left, I have but one thing to say about Parcelforce's claim that this is their standard operating procedure: REALLY, PARCELFORCE? I MEAN, REALLY?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

One Does Indeed Learn A New Thing Every Day

Hearing 'Waterloo' by Abba the other day, I idly wondered what kind of score France had awarded it in the Eurovision Song Contest taht year (1974). Given the Napoleon-related theme and all, I mean.

So I looked it up online, and it turns out that France had withdrawn from the Eurovision that year, scant days before it took place, because their President had died. Though the single was a Top 10 hit in France, so one could cheerfully conclude that the whole Napoleon thing was irrelevant.

Anyway, what did grab my attention was that the Portuguese entry in the same year was the signal to launch the Carnation Revolution, an essentially pacifist uprising against the authoritarian regime of the time (which was successful - yay!).

So, quite the year for Eurovision, 1974. The UK entry this year, by Scooch, somehow looks rather lightweight and rubbish in comparison, doesn't it?

Oh, hang on, that song would look lightweight and rubbish in and of itself, regardless of any comparison. But in comparison to launching a revolution and Abba, even more so.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

LINKS: oder rechts, ich weiss es nicht

I promised here that I’d provide a link to some photos done by ‘Gromit Lad’, who’s a close personal showbiz friend of mine, and twist my nipples if I haven’t been utterly remiss in doing so. So, brace yourself for a sudden influx of class, and remind yourself that this talented man is the official wedding photographer for my and Jules’s nuptials next year. Here, then, is his virtual gallery…

This is deeply immature. I approve heartily.

Mark Steel writes clearly on a rather thorny subject I’ve kind of avoided blogging about, and I think he makes a good point. More than one, in fact…

Boy, talk about your tricky-to-enforce laws!

Free on Bank Holiday Monday? Why not be a Zombie?

And finally, in non-news, do you get the feeling that some of these ‘complaints’ were typed or dialled with only one hand? I know it’s the silly season, and this ‘story’ is in a pathetic excuse for a paper, but this is hardly a possibly a new low: basically, ‘Woman Has Legs Shock’. Pass the tissues – er, I mean the Basildon Bond - I feel a letter of complaint coming on…

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mark*! Lard!

When I went for an eye check-up last week, I was faintly concerned to see that the second line down on the chart (which was not, I hasten to add, the extreme of my post-laser vision) spelled the word LARD. I commented on this to the optometrist, and she assured me that the charts were made in Japan, and that there was no significance to it. Fair enough, I believed her.

But… there's no escaping it, I have put on a considerable amount of weight in the last year or two. It's not been without resistance on my part - I did the London Marathon this April, after all - but I have to face the fact that since I turned 30, my metabolism has slowed down, and I can no longer chuck down a cinema-size bag of Galaxy Minstrels without it having some kind of calorific impact. Cause and, inevitably, effect.

If nothing else, I'm determined that as I approach 40 I shan't just become the cliché of the chap who gives up on health concerns, any more than I intend to fall into any of the other mid-life behaviour (sports car, cringe-inducing attempts to flirt with the babysitter, that kind of nonsense).

I won't turn this blog into some running commentary on my intake of food or anything like that, or on the exercise I do, though I may post sporadic updates; after all, between now and the end of the year, I will be scuba diving in exotic climes, and as I walk along the beach, I'd prefer to resemble Daniel Craig in 'Casino Royale' than a whale which has been washed ashore.

Not to mention how I'll look in my wetsuit (shudders at the thought of how bad that could be).

*In the Shakespearean sense of the word, that is - ie: 'look!'

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

People Seem To Say It's Advertised Earlier Every Year Earlier Every Year, Don't They?

Last week, Cancer Research UK sent me a copy of their 2007 Christmas Gift Catalogue. Yesterday in the supermarket, m'lady pointed out that there were Christmas Puddings on the shelf, available to purchase.

I can deny it no longer: it must be August.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Please Note This Was In The Days I Needed Glasses (And I Wasn't Wearing Them At The Time)

Sauntering through Soho a couple of weeks ago, I spotted a chap who looked familiar.

"Oh," I thought, "that's Kevin Godley of Godley and Creme and 10CC. Perhaps I should go over and say how much I admire his work, particularly the video for Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'Two Tribes'."

Then he drew closer and I realised it was in fact writer and TV presenter Howard Jacobson, who always seems an intelligent chap, but to whom I honestly have nothing to say.
One of the very rare occasions in my life when I actually avoided an embarrassing situation for everyone concerned.

Friday, August 17, 2007

For Some Unfathomable Reason, Private Eye Usually Change His Surname To 'Moron' (Talent Shows: Post 2 of 2)

Whilst I'm unable to source the exact details of the incident, I'm led to believe that whilst judging the TV Talent Show 'America's Got Talent', David Hasselhoff had a disagreement with fellow judge Piers Morgan and called him 'a wanker'. Morgan allegedly responded by saying, 'If you said that in Britain, you'd be beheaded'.

Leaving aside - despite the fun it would involve - the issue of whether or not The Hoff was right in what he said, isn't it just a little odd that a man who, as editor of Daily Mirror, published a front-page story featuring faked photos of Iraqi prisoners being abused by members of the British Army, seems to think that beheading is currently a punishment for calling someone a wanker?

What an odd legal system he must think we have, with major punishments for minor social infractions. Best we keep him away from news reporting, then.

Then Again, What With The Phone Voting Hoo-ha, I Thought She Might Be Deliberately Keeping Her Head Down (Talent Shows: Post 1 of 2)

From a Press Release issued this week:

"Leona Lewis's long awaited first single, set for release in the UK on October 29th is called BLEEDING LOVE and was written and produced by Ryan Tedder in LA. She is putting the final touches to the album this week in LA and then jets back to the UK. The album (as yet untitled) is set for release on the 5th November in the UK and early 2008 in the US."

Interesting approach; given how the vast majority of people who've won these shows have faded from public view within a year or so, she seems to have left herself a window of something like four months to capitalise on winning X-Factor last year.

Could be a zany marketing move, or a disastrous assumption that the people who voted for her last December will be bothered to re-validate their actions almost a year later. We shall see...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Careful Now" / "Down With This Sort Of Thing"*

Spotted in Holborn, a rather extreme bit of graffiti.

As a Vegetarian, I often worry that I look a bit half-hearted by not being a Vegan, but on the basis of this it looks as if Veganism's all gone a bit hardcore, so I'll continue to eat dairy products, I think...

*As Fathers Ted and Dougal put it in 'The Passion of St Tibulus'

A Welcome Break From The Usual Discarded Free Papers

Spotted on a Central Line train recently - alongside some discarded newspapers - a copy of a slim book, left (I like to think) for someone to find and read.

Which book is it, you ask? Well, it was none other than the Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tse, a frankly terrific read if you're looking for a more meaty read than the usual papers dished out to London commuters.

I'd like to think this was my first encounter with the BookCrossing phenomenon, though as I didn't peek at the book itself (I already have a copy), I can neither confirm nor deny...

I Can See Clearly Now The Laser's Done

So, quite a few people have asked me what the laser eye surgery was like. Some in person, and one - bless his sibling heart - by e-mail, urging me to post the full story online. And as I am little more than a whorish blogging jukebox, and am at a little bit of a pause between writing things (five bits of 'flash fiction' and a 30min stage monologue done this week, and a screenplay to kick off in the next day or so, I'm being startlingly productive at the mo), who am I to say no?

All right then, the background; before the treatment (look - foreshadowing! You can tell I take this writing lark seriously), my eyes were slightly short-sighted (a -1.25 prescription, I think) and with astigmatism in the left eye (which is less painful than it sounds). As a result, it was recommended that I have LASIK treatment on them, with Infralase. What does this mean? Well, I'm glad you asked. LASIK treatment is where they cut the surface of the eye itself, flip it up like the top of a boiled egg, and then use lasers to burn at the inside of the eye to make it the right shape (as you may remember from school, people are short- or long-sighted because their eyes are wrongly shaped, meaning that the focal point falls in front of, or behind, the correct point in the eye). There's another treatment, called LASEK, which is the slightly older version of the surgery, I think, which seems to involve using a contact lens-type arrangement instead of the flap process, but I'm not certain. Check elsewhere on the interweb if you want to know. Oh, and the Infralase thing is advisable for astigmatism, as it means that an eye-recognition system is involved, tracking the eye if you move it during the procedure, and making sure the laser continues to reshape things correctly.

Right, that's the science part, let me tell you about what happened on Friday afternoon. I went down to Ultralase (that's who I had it with, as they offer a Lifetime Guarantee, as opposed to some of the other firms, whose impressively low prices could be offset by it, I dunno, being performed by a wild-eyed man with a potato peeler and a souped-up laser pointer), and sat and waited. And waited. And… you get the idea. They were running late. Hmph, a bit.

Anyway, later than it should have been, they took me for another eye check, just to ensure that the procedure I was about to undergo was still suitable for me. And it was, so they put anaesthetic drops into my eyes, and painted around my eyes with some kind of sterilising thing, apparently a bit like the iodine they paint onto the abdomen before performing a caesarean (usually a female abdomen, though I have gained weight in recent years, so perhaps I look a bit pregnant? Anyway, my shirt remained buttoned up). As I was the canvas for this daubing, I couldn't see what this looked like, but the woman doing it assured me I looked a bit like I'd been in a fight, and probably lost. Oh good, glad I didn't miss an opportunity to look ridiculous.

I sat for about ten minutes or so looking like Soo the Panda, and noticed I was able to blink and move my eyes without any hassle, but they did feel a bit heavy, as if I'd been wearing contact lenses and had stayed up all night or similar (hey, it's not a hollow comparison, I used to be a bit of a wildman, but that's a tale for another time). They reapplied the drops a few more times, then put some of those elasticated anti-germ plastic 'shoes' over my shoes, and an anti-germ shower cap on my head. Oddly enough, I don't recall them putting a gown over the rest of my clothes, but maybe that's Crap Memory Syndrome on my part.

They led me into a room with scary signs on the door, saying 'BEWARE - LASER' and with pictures of pacemakers with red diagonal lines through them, and being one of the finest minds of my generation, I guessed this must be the room where it all took place, and narrowed my eyes and nodded like Holmes when my suspicions were confirmed. They asked me to lie down on an elevated bed thing. If you've ever seen someone on a TV programme like House having a PET scan (I think that's the name), then you'll know the kind of bed-table thing I mean. And looming over it was the laser, which looked more like the business end of a Moulinex than something out of Star Wars.

I hopped up onto the table and they pivoted me into the appropriate position, then put in some more drops and did some fiddling with the machine to make sure it was pointing at the right place (so it would burn my eyes, and not, say, burn out my septum, as much as that would be useful in the future should I decide to develop a cocaine habit), and then they put a bandage over one eye (the left, as the right was the first burn-ee) and the doctor came in and started clamping my eyes into place so I wouldn't go blinking and ending up with a laser-ventilated eyelid or anything like that.

This was probably the strangest part of the whole process; it didn't hurt because the eye had been anaesthetised, but … well, if you've ever accidentally poked yourself in the corner of the eye and made it move so that it dealigns from the other eye, leaving you with a weird stereo-image effect, or if you remember the image that the 3-D ViewMaster toy offered when you'd half-pressed down the little black lever… well, then you're getting an idea of what it looked like. One eye, covered by the bandage, was open and looking at the inside of the bandage, whilst the other was being moved around by someone else, and seeing all sorts of things around me as he got the eyeball ready to have a flap made.

Probably fortunately, because he was so very close, I couldn't focus on what he was doing, so didn't see him slice across the surface of my eye with a Swiss army knife (or possibly some other implement), but then things went very blurry all of a sudden in that eye (because he'd flipped up the top surface of it - mmm, lovely), and then after a bit more fiddling about I was under the laser, and they were telling me how many bursts of light there'd be (three for the right eye, four for the left - I guess the astigmatic eyeball needed more work done), and once that was done, they flipped the flap back closed, like putting down the toilet seat, and then repeated the process for the other eye.

It wasn't - let me state this for the record - painful at all. But it was a little odd picking up a strange smell and realising it was the smell of my own eyes burning. Let me say that again: I could smell my eyes burning.

It was probably over in about five minutes, if not less, and when I sat up afterwards, I could see… fuzzily. It was like I'd been swimming underwater too much in a chlorinated pool, as things were a bit grey and indistinct. But I'd been warned to expect this - frankly, things were a lot more clear than I thought they'd be, I was expecting it to look all streaky and strange.

They took me out to the stylish waiting room, where my stylish fiancée was waiting, and then I was led to a darkened room to let my eyes rest a bit. They rested, and then they gave me another quick eye test - no major change from before the process, really, but no damage done, which is reassuring, gave me a bag full of after-care goodies, and told me to come back the next day for a check-up.

Getting home was okay-ish - sunglasses helped, but my eyes kept wanting to close; I'm guessing they were objecting to their treatment and refusing to stay open if they were likely to be sliced and fried again. Fortunately, my lovely companion saw me to the door, and fed me food, and was very tolerant when I suggested an early night (not like that, you perv - they advised against 'contact sports' for a week or two. Or was it a month? Anyway, get out of the gutter, you filthmonger).

You'll be pleased to know that one aspect of the aftercare is that, when sleeping, you have to tape little plastic covers over your eyes - being who I am, they put me in mind of the eyes of the Spider-Man costume as worn by Nicholas Hammond in the old TV show; that is, they're like sunglass lenses, though made of clear plastic, and with holes in to allow air to circulate. So I did that on Friday night, and as I'm sure you can imagine, the sight was ridiculous enough to ensure any amorous feelings m'lady might have had were well and truly cold-showered.

And so to bed. Despite it being a Saturday, I woke the next morning at work-time ("so," any colleagues reading this will think, "around 10, was that, John?"), and … well, to continue the Spider-Man comparisons (and I will), it was like that bit in the first Raimi Spider-Man film where Peter Parker realises that he doesn't need his glasses any more. I could see across the room, and the details were sharp. Unlike Mr Parker, I didn't find that my midsection had suddenly become a clearly-defined six-pack, though (my midriff probably looks more like the contents of a six-pack. Of chocolate cakes. Fried. In chocolate batter), but that wasn't a predicted side-effect of the LASEK anyway, so let’s not feign surprise or dismay, folks.

I went off for my day-after check-up, and the lady there seemed faintly surprised by the speed with which my eyes were recovering, but I wasn't complaining, especially when she gave me an eye test again, and this time I was able to read to the bottom line of the chart (and no, that's not because I'd done it so often I'd learned the letters). Which makes my vision pretty much 20/20, apparently. And the slightly bloodshot nature of the eyeballs is clearing up as the days go by.

Obviously, I'm very pleased, and whilst I'm delighting in being able to see stuff without glasses or contact lenses, it's often in the little moments that it hits home; when it started raining the other day and I instinctively reached up to take off the glasses which weren't there (to stop them getting wet), or when I pat my pockets as I leave home and remember no, I don't need to take the specs along any more. That kind of thing.

So, if you have the money lying around - or you'll pass the credit test for the Interest Free Credit payment scheme - and your eyes are suitable for laser treatment, I'd recommend it, but of course some people like the style aspect of glasses - different frames, etc. That was never the case for me, and what with the whole running / diving / mountain-climbing thing, they were becoming more of a nuisance hence the decision to get them fried. Er, I mean, 'professionally laser-treated'.

Any questions about any of it, feel free to e-mail me at - so many people know someone who knows someone who's had their eyes done, but rather than relegate it to the status of an urban myth or other 'foaf' tale, why not get genuine first-generation info from me?

(Bro, I'm looking at you… and my eyes see you now!)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

As X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (Apocryphally) Put It, "I Can Still See!"

And indeed I can. This has been independently verified by people with certificates on their walls.

Full post about the eye surgery coming soon, but am currently on a deadline re some writing stuff, and (unlike blogging) that might, y'know, bring in some money, so bear with me.

In the meantime, why not visit one of the fine blogs listed in the column to the right? Or, should you need to, you could just do a web search on the title of this post to see what the hell I'm on about this time.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Yes, It May Well Resemble The Ludovico Treatment Apparatus

Well, today I go to get my eyes lasered to (according to the write-up) "remove my reliance on glasses" - or, as I prefer to see it, sort out my short-sightedness. I'm hoping it'll go straightforwardly, as I have things to do in the next few weeks. I'm a busy man, dammit! Get me the Montreal Office on the phone!


Anyway, as the vast majority of people seem to know someone who knows someone who's had their eyes burnt this way, let me hereby volunteer to be your first-generation teller of the tale after I'm done. As well as the inevitable blog post about what it was, how it went, and whether it seems to have worked, etc, you can also e-mail me with any specific questions and the like.

Speaking of e-mail, if it all goes horribly wrong, these next few hours might be the last time you can send me e-mails, so send them now! Now, I say! To the keyboard with you, with all haste!

(So, in summary; might be a bit blog-quiet in the immediate future, but don't lose heart - I shall return with tales of lasers, as well as pictures of rude graffiti, strange books lying on tube seats, and links to classy photos taken by the talented chap who'll be photographing our wedding [yes indeed, you SHOULD be impressed], and, no doubt, the usual drivel.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I Myself Personally

It occurs to me that perhaps in recent times I've slightly depersonalised this blog, and on a number of days it's been little more than a place for me to post links to interesting things (not that I'm knocking interesting things, you understand) or to pontificate about subjects (the vast majority of which, we all know, I have a limited knowledge about, but that's rarely stopped me in real life either). So I thought it was about time I posted something a bit more personal.

I have, for much of my life, confused being a decent chap with being a bit of a doormat. Particularly when it comes to women (historically, that is), I've been inclined to equate a willingness to let other people get what they want with being 'a good guy'. Obviously, I want to be one of the good guys - and hope that in the main part I am - but it does mean that on many occasions I've allowed my own desires to be secondary, or permitted people to be rude to me and not said anything back, in order to keep the peace.

This is partly a result of my upbringing (too much reading of superhero comics and wanting to be the hero, I fear), and also of my previous work in Customer Service (where you have to pretend that The Customer Is Always Right - you don't have to actually believe it, just act accordingly), and almost certainly of the strange political air when I was at college in the late 1980s (a subject I keep starting blog entries on, but which I can't quite get the right words for… yet. I will), and no doubt other experiences and relationships.

It's certainly had a knock-on effect in my life, meaning that I haven't pursued things which I've wanted, or spoken out in my favour when I could have done, lest I should offend or in some way prevent someone else getting what they want. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that it's actually a self-reinforcing behavioural pattern, in that if people think I'm likely to let them have what they want, they'll be more likely to push their luck, and so on.

But as Seymour Krelbourne in 'Little Shop Of Horrors' sings (in 'The Meek Shall Inherit'), "No! No! There's only so far you can bend", and for me that happened on a fairly major level in January of this year.

I won't go into the details, but suffice to say someone did something which pissed months of my time away and hurt my feelings, and when I pointed out what they'd done, they refused to take responsibility or show any remorse, and generally wheedled and lied about it - to me and people close to me. And whilst people close to me have said they understand my position, I think they've been faintly surprised that I've maintained my position on this - that is, that a wrong has been done and that I will never again speak to the person responsible - in the face of quite a lot of pressure, both explicit and implied.

This hasn't necessarily been an easy thing for me to learn to do - though it's abundantly clear to me that I needed to learn how to do it - and it's been by turns upsetting and frustrating, and it's frequently shown how I'm tacitly expected to drop the issue and effectively let the wrongdoer off the hook (and please, don't think that this was the first time this person has behaved like this towards me or those close to me, because it really wasn't). I've been fortunate in that my soon-to-be-wife Jules has had more experience of standing firm in such situations, because at the slightest sign of wavering on my part, she's been there to remind me of the wrong done, and what I need to do.

And I have to say that I feel better for having stood my ground. I think I've written before of how moving from the South of England to the North led to me feeling like a bit of an outsider, or a weirdo, and whilst I have no problem at all with that status (see Colin Wilson's excellent book 'The Outsider' for numerous examples of why this is an important position socially and creatively), it's perhaps telling that I have, more times than not, let other people have what they want for fear of appearing unreasonable or causing offence. Hardly, I realise, the behaviour of a wide-eyed loner who doesn't care if he travels the road to oblivion alone.

This post is, as I say, in the spirit of candour, and as it isn't an essay or argument, I don't have any direct conclusion to share or point to make, other than to suggest that, if you find yourself faltering when you know you're in the right (and in the situation I'm alluding to above, I can provide solid factual evidence that the other person was lying), I heartily recommend that you take a moment to consider whether that faltering comes from a wish to gain approval - and if so, whether approval from the person in question is actually worth having, if they're willing to ignore your side of things. And if course, there are the people who could suffer similar treatment if you let it pass - rewarding or permitting bad behaviour in a so-called adult is just as misplaced as with a child, as they too will carry on behaving that way.

Final thought: I used to work with a chap who would come into work two or three days a week, and frequently announce that he was working from home on Friday at about 4.45 on Thursday afternoon, often inconveniencing other people, and yet there was something about the way he did it which made it seem perfectly normal and reasonable. I commented on it to a friend, saying that his manner made it sound as if he was doing the logical thing, and that any suggestion to the contrary was sheer madness, and I noted that it was as if his words were rewriting reality as we perceived it to bring us into line with his thinking. My friend agreed, though like most people who aren't me, she found a much more succinct way to describe it: "Piss-taking with panache".

So, I say, let's not let people take the piss, be it with panache or not. And if they try, let them know you know what they're doing, and that you won't accept it. You can be pretty sure they won't try it again.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Behold, I Am Indeed Become An Old Fart Who Just Doesn't Get It

Lyrics from the single currently at Number 2 in the youth-beat music charts, 'Foundations' by Kate Nash:

"Your face is pasty 'cause you've gone and got so wasted, what a surprise.
Don't want to look at your face 'cause it's makin' me sick.
You've gone and got sick on my trainers,
I only got these yesterday.
Oh, my gosh, I cannot be bothered with this."

Poetry, sheer poetry, it speaks to the spirit deep inside of me.

And, I suspect, all of us.

(It was a close-run thing; I almost posted something by Mike Skinner, but the repetition of the word 'sick' was what tipped it for me.)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Excess In Moderation, Moderation In Excess

As I may have mentioned, I'm having laser eye surgery at the end of this week, and by way of being a good patient, I'm making sure I've done all the background reading and the like.

However, I'm slightly at a loss as to how, afterwards, I'm supposed to 'avoid using my eyes excessively' - I mean, I use them from pretty much the moment I wake up until ... well, the moment I go to sleep.

Any ideas as to what the jiggins this means, please send them in. Before the end of the week, obviously, as after that time I'll be trying to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on my eyeballs.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Serve The Ego*

It's a Monday, and which of us doesn't feel a certain lassitude every now and again at the start of the week?

Join me in rampant egotism by getting yourself a Hollywood sign of your name here (link nicked from David Bishop's ever-interesting blog, Vicious Imagery).

*A song by Jewel, whose music sells in vast quantities in the USA, but she's barely-known here. I heartily recommend her stuff (except for the album '03/04', which I felt was a bit of a misjudged departure in style, to be honest).

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Not Quite Lovely Spam, Wonderful Spam, But A Step In The Right Direction

Is it just me, or is anyone else finding that the tone of spam e-mails has taken a turn for the more friendly recently?

Over the years, I've become accustomed - indeed, almost numb - to e-mails trying to incite me to buy v1@gra and c1ali$ by offering me startling amounts of ejaculate*, or the ability to perform as if I were an actor in an adult straight-to-DVD feature, or even (less enticingly) to have a member capable of breaking wood, if not harming one's partner on some level.

But now, after a strange transitional phase when many spam e-mails appeared to be doing some kind of Burroughs-meets-Joyce cut-up text merge thing (frequently including long passages of text which, even more bizarrely, featured religious references), the majority of spam I receive now seems more polite, more positive, and in places, even literary.

For example, my spam filter this morning caught uninvited items with the following titles trying to sneak into the exclusive party that is my inbox:
To be or not to be. To be… (x3)
I show you how far the rabbit hole goes
You can…
Take a pride with Cial!s!
Wanna be like me?
Be happy! :)
Are you insecure?

You see? It almost feels as if they care about me, or at least want to engage in a genuine dialogue with me.

I mean, they've got a long way to go before they seem even remotely as friendly as those nice chaps from Nigeria who want to give me the money which is rightly owed to me by the fallen regime there, but it's good to know that the people who are willing to fulfil all my sex-chemical needs read Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll, and want to ensure that my mind is as free of insecurity and unhappiness as it is from thwarted sexual desires.

*That's the noun there, not the verb. Pronounced as if 'twere rhyming with "consulate".

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

And Finally…

You’d hope that the length of this post would mean I’d exhausted all I had to say on the topic, but here’s a related link I couldn’t resist sharing: A Postmodern Essay Generator.

Just click ‘Refresh’ (or equivalent) on your browser to create a new essay. Worryingly convincing, aren’t they?

Mind You, If This Wish Was Granted, Writing Would Be Even More Competitive…

One of my favourite stand-up comedians, as I may well have mentioned before, is the late Bill Hicks. As with many things, the fanbase surrounding Hicks and his work can often get a little over-zealous, proclaiming him as a comedy messiah or preacher, and reciting his lines to the extent that a lot of people frown at the acolytes and understandably feel a bit wary of looking at the work in question. I've often averred that fans are the worst advert for their passions, and I think that this is pretty easily demonstrated - your average Rocky Horror Show fan, or the chap who quotes Monty Python sketches in the pub (as John Hannah does in 'Sliding Doors' much to the delight of those around him, which is at odds with anything I've ever seen) is unlikely to attract people to the subject matter.

But I digress, as the reason I refer to Hicks is that, probably a couple of decades ago now, he said "I've noticed a certain anti-intellectualism in this country", and as a fan of both Hicks and the idea that we should use our brains wherever possible, I always feel a little uncomfortable when saying things which have the ring of anti-intellectualism about them. And the following definitely has that, so please bear in mind it's written with a distinct feeling of 'is it just me, or ..?' about it.


For a while now, I've been wondering about things like literary theories and critical approaches, and keep coming to the semi-conclusion that, well, really, they don't add a great deal to the sum of human knowledge. There seem to be a variety of ways of analysing a 'text' (and this word appears to apply to films as well as the printed word, oddly enough), many of which seem to relate to the issue of Cognitive Relativism - a theory which basically suggests that the veracity of something is relative to an individual or group. One theory, known as the Intentional Fallacy, states that the author's intention is irrelevant when it comes to assessing the literary or aesthetic merits of a text. These are simplistic examples, I'll freely admit, and you can easily find much more involved theories and approaches – here’s an example - but I want to be honest and admit that I've only dabbled in the shallowest ends of this big pool of thought; possibly because - see above - a lot of the advocates of these theories frankly scare me with their choices of words and ferocity of conviction.

The problem I have with all these approaches is one which can be summed up in another quote from Bill Hicks, and which sums up my feelings in four words: "Yeah, and so what?"

I know that sounds simplistic, but … well, if I take a modernist, post-modernist, or most-modernist approach to Hamlet and publish an essay about it, am I necessarily adding anything to the sum of human knowledge? Probably not. The original work still stands, hundreds of years after its first performance, and still speaks to people as a story, regardless of whether it has an oedipal subtext or whatever. And this, for me, is the problem for me with much criticism and theorising - it dwells on subtext or metaphor or possible interpretation, whilst seeming less keen on the actual stated narrative content. Yes, you could say that Hamlet wants to sleep with his Mum or that Iago wants to snog Othello, but it's not there on the page. It might be implied or vaguely alluded to or whatever, but it's faintly insulting to Shaky or any other author to suggest that they didn't put in everything that was important or relevant to the story. It also feels a lot like making a job for oneself - literally - if you're going to spend the rest of your life pumping out papers analysing other people's work.

My feelings on this clearly go back a long way, as I recall a conversation at college where my then-girlfriend told me about her English course:
SHE: Basically, we're being trained to be critics.
ME: But … but we don't need any more critics. We need creators.
And I believe that; we need people making films and books and music and buildings and art and sculptures and plays much more than we need another person trained to analyse it from a post-structuralist angle or whatever. I think it was Colin Wilson (a man whose huge body of work spans both creation and analysis) who said that the reason various critical approaches have been seized upon so readily is because, when you use a specific approach to analyse a piece of art, you almost feel like you're doing something. This, to me, seems to be what it's all about - keeping yourself busy analysing how things are made, which is all very well and good, but we don't need the ratio of critics to creators to be so heavily weighted in favour of the former, especially when some clearly very good minds are effectively being wasted (I'm particularly thinking of the French literary theorists and philosophers here) when they could be, y'know, actually making something.

Subtext and metaphor and irony and the like are all very well indeed, but they have to be the cream on the cake or the sizzle on the steak; there needs to be a story (or, at the very least, series of events) for these to rest on. I've nothing against considering the possibility that Hamlet fancies his Mum as the reason for his hatred of his uncle, but that has to be a side issue compared with analysis of actual, specified events within the play. The danger of Cognitive Relativism is that, taken to its logical conclusion, it allows pretty much any interpretation of any piece of art to have equal merit and weight when compared with the opinions of the creator, which is odd at best, and strangely rude at worst.

Theorising run amok - and on this occasion overlapping with the world of science - was flagged up (and to my mind brilliantly skewered) by the physicist Alan Sokal in 1996. He felt that a lot of modern critics and philosophers were quoting scientific material (especially in relation to quantum physics) sloppily, and without regard to whether it actually made any sense. So, to see how true this might (or might not) be, he wrote a paper called ``Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity'', basically cobbling together a whole load of science and philosophy to lead to a daft conclusion, albeit one phrased convincingly.

Sokal submitted it to a cultural studies journal, Social Text, who published it, despite it containing bizarre assertions such as "It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical ``reality'', no less than social ``reality'', is at bottom a social and linguistic construct" (as Sokal commented when revealing the hoax, "anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. [I live on the twenty-first floor.]").

Suffice to say, when revealed, Sokal's prank was not entirely popular with the people he was parodying and poking fun at, and I suspect this is more than partly because he pointed out to them that much of what they do is, essentially, of limited value. Indeed, there's an old - and surprisingly knowing - joke that the politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low. Though if someone's effectively pointed out (as Sokal did) that your academic stance is bogus, it might put your livelihood in jeopardy, which does make the stakes rather more real, and substantially higher.

(Aside: Sokal's book following the inevitable brouhaha, Intellectual Impostures, is an even more comprehensive demolition of sloppy theorising, but I must admit my brain started aching after several chapters, mainly because of the insanity of the ideas that Sokal and his co-writer were dismantling; if you want a more readable book on this theme, I highly recommend How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World by Francis Wheen.)

As one who's keen to make his living from the written word, I may well be slightly jealous of those people who are able to do so more as a result of commenting on or theorising about existing works, but I truly and sincerely believe that the time and effort expended in training the next generation of critics would be much more profitably pointed in the direction of the creation of new material.

Simply put, would you rather be Samuel Johnson or James Boswell?