Friday, February 29, 2008

LINK: Free book! Yes, Free! And Not A Rubbish One, Either!

I think I've mentioned before that I like the work of Neil Gaiman; I first came across his stuff in comics, but he's written for TV and books since then, and he was also involved in the recent films 'Stardust' and 'Beowulf'. So, I think it's obvious he's no slouch in the writing department.

And Neil's not exactly sluggish when it comes to blogging either - his journal is updated regularly, and frequently has interesting links and answers to readers' questions. Certainly worth a look, which is why it's listed in the column to the right. Ah yes.

But the reason for this post is because Neil (and I call him by his first name because, well, that's what I'd do if I was talking with him) recently asked readers of his blog to vote for one of his books to be made available online, for free.

The votes were counted, and the winner was 'American Gods' from a couple of years ago. I bought it when it came out in paperback, and thought it was a cracking read - and I'm clearly not alone in that, as it won the 2002 Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards for Best Novel.

So, if you go here in the next 28 days, you can read American Gods for free.

And, as I paid something like £6.99 for my copy of it, that's money I've saved you, so how about you buy me a cup of tea and some cake next time we meet up, eh ?

Marijuana-Hailing-Water-Boiling-Device Quote Of The Week*

"There's a difference between having surgery and having over-the-top surgery."

- Katie 'Jordan' Price, who had her breasts increased from 32B to 32G, and then reduced to 32F, criticising another woman for having breast implant surgery (quoted in 'Star' magazine, coverdated 3 March 2008)

*Which is to say, pot calling kettle.

You May Need To Enlarge This To Appreciate It... As The Microbiologist Said To The Lab Technician

Spotted in London last week, a sharp reminder of the need to always read the small print at the bottom.

In what way are the sweets like a jacuzzi, I wonder?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

LINK: You're Not The One And Only, As Chesney Hawkes Didn't Sing

Got a blog? Got words to spare or a true story to tell? Then you may be able to assist with a charity project which is currently seeking submissions.

You might remember that around this time last year, Mike collected material from UK bloggers in just one week to create Shaggy Blog Stories, a fundraising book for Comic Relief.

Well, that book (which is a terrific read, and still available via the link) raised over £2000 for charity (yay Mike!), and now a new project aims to do just as well (in fact, better - and why not aim high, say I?), and you can help.

Bon Viveuse and blogger Sarah J Peach, along with some of her pals, is compiling "You're Not The Only One", a book of blog-writing in aid of War Child. As you may know, War Child is an international charity dedicated to helping children affected by war, and also furthering the cause of peace. So, y'know, not exactly shabby aims there.

To get involved, SJP is asking bloggers (from anywhere in the world) to supply a bit of writing on something that's happened to them - sad, funny, inspiring, rueful, or whatever, it's not important as long as it's true, and something which other folks can either relate to or take some comfort in - hence the title.

More info is available HERE, and the closing date is Sunday 9 March, so you've still got time to send something in.

I'll see if I can put a link in the column to the right of this page, and of course as soon as the book is available to buy I will pimp it shamelessly. In fact, I've already donned a pink floppy hat and stackheel shoes, in anticipation (and if that image isn't enough to send you fearfully scurrying to the link given above, I don't know what will be)...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

(Quite Literally) Talking Bollocks

Well, it's been a couple of days since I've posted anything, and it recently occurred to me it's been quite a while since I posted anything personal, so I thought I'd share something from my past. This is a supportive environment, right?

The following is entirely true, but - as is so often the case with my life - a mix of stupidity and more serious matters. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it was a blend of comedy and tragedy, that's for you to decide.


It’s fairly rare for me to have a bath. Don't worry, I'm not grubby (I shower at least once a day), but as I'm over six feet tall, it's often difficult to find a bath which allows me to fully lie down - by which I mean I usually have to decide whether it'll be knees or shoulders and upwards out of the water. Neither of which is ideal. But, one Thursday evening about ten years ago, I was sharing a flat with a friend in Hackney Wick, East London, and as she was out, I thought I'd have a nice hot bath to see if it was as relaxing as all the adverts seem so keen to suggest.

It wasn't very relaxing, as it turned out - though that was less to do with the temperature or the bubble bath I used, and more to do with the fact that, as I was washing in the general groinal area, I felt something which I'd never felt before. No, I don't mean a sense of shame or self-loathing, I'm all too used to that, but my hand passed over something in the scrotal regional which felt out of place. The bath was warm, but my stomach suddenly felt cold - one of those sudden chilling clenches in the gut, like when you realise you left your keys in the house.

I checked again, and there was no doubt about it - on the side of one of my testicles, towards the back, was something that felt oddly hard (don't make the obvious comment, this is the serious part of the story, okay?), like a small pea. It didn't feel right, and I'd never felt it before. Shaken, I hurriedly got out of the bath and dried off, and said nothing about it to my flatmate (or anyone else, for that matter). It felt too big and scary to discuss, and somehow as if it would become more real if the words were said aloud. I slept, but not well.

The next day, Friday, I booked a session to see my doctor. The appointment was for Monday morning before work, which unfortunately left me a solid weekend in which to dwell on it. We lived opposite Victoria Park, and looking out of my window as I mulled the possibility of something being seriously wrong, I remembered how Dennis Potter, when he was aware that he was dying of cancer, said that the blossom on the tree outside his window was "the whitest, frothiest, blossomiest blossom" ever. It being late winter, the trees I was looking at remained steadfastly bare-armed, but I could see what he meant. It felt like one of those “if I turn out to be okay, I'll do all those things I keep putting off” moments. Well, more a series of moments, really; a whole weekend of them.

Monday morning arrived, and I went to see the doctor. He worked in the Wick Health Centre - named after the area, of course, but somehow it seemed only fitting. I entered his office, and explained, and he nodded and asked me to drop my trousers. Reasonable enough, given the issue on my mind, but it had been a bit of a 'dry spell' that year (future biographers will probably suggest it was an extension of the same 'dry spell' I'd experienced in the years since birth, but that's a discussion for another time), and as a straight chap I was slightly disappointed that the first hands in years that were willing to touch my gonads were the hands of a middle-aged man. Still, testicle-lump-worriers can't be choosers and all that, so I stood by his examination bench, my trousers and underwear spooled around my ankles, and he examined my genitals.

You may have read in scary books about how a man's scrotum retracts when he's afraid, and it's true that happens - and it certainly occurred that morning, as I was scared he might say that, yes, there is a lump, and it's probably cancerous, so everything was pretty shrunken down there. Then again, it was a winter morning as well, and as I wasn't actually looking to impress the doc with my package, but just to get a diagnosis, I put that out of my mind as he checked where I explained I'd found the lump.

"Well," he said eventually, "I can't find anything wrong."

"No?" I asked, as I pulled up my trousers. "Nothing ?"

"No, nothing abnormal at all."

"Oh, good," I said, but that was an understatement. I felt as if the sun had broken through the clouds, and I was being given the chance to get on with my life.

"I'll put a note on your records, but I don't think there's anything to worry about," he said, and as good as his word, he added the day's date and a brief description of the session to my medical record card; nothing abnormal detected - or, to quote the all-too appropriate acronym he used, NAD.

I picked up a leaflet on self-examination from the waiting room as I left, and made my way off to work. As I waited for the bus, I read the leaflet, which stressed the importance of chaps checking themselves regularly, which is only sensible; part of the instructions, though, urged men not to get worried and think they had a lump when they had in fact isolated the epididimus (basically, the point where the tubes join the back of the balls). As I read further, I realised that was exactly what I'd done, and was annoyed with myself - for want of a bit of basic biological knowledge, I'd convinced myself that this was definitely it: I was going to die soon, and that I'd never get to climb mountains or woo fair maidens or write novels or anything.

Mind you, I seem to have a fundamental problem with remembering that my testicles are actually attached to my body by tubes; some years earlier, bored and inspired by watching someone on TV skilfully rotating those shiny steel 'stress balls', I'd tried to do the same with my own balls. I haven't attempted such a thing since, mind - I learnt a swift and painful lesson that day on the non-swappable nature of my nads.

Though, given the above tale, it was and is painfully obvious to me now that, in the matter of the human body, it is as the Buddhists say: everything is connected.

Friday, February 22, 2008

LINK: Run, That Boy, Run

As regular readers of the blog will know, last year I ran in the London Marathon. In my write-up for it here, I mentioned that one of the smiley aspects of the day was my friend Chris not only coming to cheer me on, but indeed running alongside me for a bit, which was welcome company.

I don't know if the running bug was transmitted by my sweating onto him or something, but Chris says that he was rather taken with the whole thing, especially the cheerful atmosphere of the crowds lining the route, to the extent he's managed to snare himself a place in this year's London Marathon (taking place on 13th April).

As one would only expect from a friend of mine, Chris has decided to do the Marathon to raise funds for a good cause - in this case, the mental health charity Mind - and as I know that readers of this blog are both smart AND generous, I'd like to ask you to sponsor Chris. You can do this by visiting his online sponsor page, which is here. The site, by the way, is totally secure, and if you're a UK taxpayer the magic of Gift Aid will increase your donation by 28%, so you can look even more generous and impressive.

Please do take a minute to sponsor him - he's a jolly good egg, running for a darned good cause, and I think he deserves as much support as possible. And if you're one of the lucky people who's invited to my wedding later this year, you've got a conversation-opening line if you meet Chris: "Hey, didn't you do the Marathon? Well done - I sponsored you!"

I'll try to put a more lasting link in the column to the right of the screen, and I'll probably remind you repeatedly as we get closer to the Marathon itself, but if you sponsor him today, you can regard all my future reminders with a smug sense of being one step ahead of the game.

As ever, I thank you - and I'm sure Chris does too (or at least he would, if he had any breath left in his lungs after all the training).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

LINK: Google The Names If You Need To, But Trust Me, Them's All Smart Folks

A few years ago, I had the very good fortune to be a member of the audience when Alan Moore interviewed Brian Eno for Radio 4. It was interesting and funny, and one thing I came away with was a sense of the sheer brainpower involved. If only there were more instances of that, I thought…

And lo and behold, whilst searching on the interweb for the first podcast by Stephen Fry, I found a podcast of frankly epic minds in conjunction, discussing a topic which is deserving of their time.

It's almost two years old, I know, but here is a podcast of Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens discussing the issue of blasphemy.

Even if you don't agree with or like what they're saying - and I suspect those of you of a religious nature might take offence at some points - I think you have to accept that these are well-honed minds, expressing opinions which have been well thought out.

Which, unfortunately, is pretty much the polar opposite of the book-, cartoon- and effigy-burning which, if the media are to be believed, are the sole means by which people express their thoughts about religious matters in recent times.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Just A Stone's Bow Away From Identical, If You Ask Me

No wonder the recently-striking members of the Writers' Guild of America feel they generally got a good deal and ended the strike.

Jon Bowman, a member of the WGA negotiating committee, bears a striking resemblance to Oliver Stone, a writer and director who's not exactly known for holding back when it somes to voicing his opinion.

I wouldn't argue with either of them, they both look like they mean business...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Unintelligent Design: Clink The Link If Ye Dare

If ever an item defined 'unintelligent design', this little beauty would be it.

Buy one today for someone you hate.

And I Have Thoughts Like This Going Round My Head Every Waking Second Of The Day. It's Not Right, Surely?

So, first there was the film First Blood, the title of which makes sense.
Then the follow-up was called Rambo :First Blood Part II. So, a sequel number with a subtitle-type-thing. Okay.
But the third film was called Rambo III, which suggests Rambo I and II had preceded it, right? They hadn't, though - unless First Blood Part II was actually called Rambo... but if that was the case, why is the new film in the series just called Rambo? Surely it should be Rambo IV (if it follows Rambo III in the series, which it seems to chronologically), or even Rambo II, to plug the missing gap between Rambo (First Blood Part II) and Rambo III, if it were a 'prequel'... but I don't think it is.
Oh, my head hurts from thinking about it all. We know Sylvester can count - he had no trouble using roman numerals on the Rocky films, did he? Then again, he did call the last one by the character's full name, so maybe I should just stop dwelling on this pedantry.
I have to say, you never have this problem with the work of his french relative Arthur Rambo*.
*This terrible pun first used in my earshot by my father, who used to say that you could tell a person's intellect by asking 'what do you think of the work of [phonetic] Ramm-boe?' I've since seen it in other places, including Grant Morrison and Paul Grist's comic St Swithin's Day.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It Was Five Years Ago Today

On 15 February 2003, an estimated two million people marched to protest against War in Iraq, and this column on the Guardian website says, I think, pretty much all that can be said about it. A very strong bit of writing, I think, and his point about the divide between government and the people is one which I'd cheerfully agree with; I've posted before about how I disagree that 'apathy' is why voting turnout is on the decline, and I think the way the protests were discounted in the rush to declare war is an example of why it's more the fault of the parties, in and out of power, failing to actually listen to the public that makes people feel disenfranchised.

(Mind you, I'm not pretending that publishing this terrific column in any way means the Guardian is a good newspaper, given that within a day of publishing it they also published this, which appears to have been written by the son of someone who's worked for the Guardian before. And which was rapidly given a good kicking by people posting comments, leading to the thread being locked by moderators. And then this response, which contains an amusingly provocative distinction in its final paragraph. So no, I won't be buying the Guardian any time soon - ich bin nicht ein Berliner Leser and all that.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

St Valentine's Day (Virtual) Postbag

Well, despite the fact I'm getting married this year and am thus happily unavailable for propositioning, strangers are still sending me e-mails of a sexual nature. Here are some of the subject lines from e-mails that I've (genuinely) received today.

-Penis Enlargement Facts
-Sharon had never come before when we made love, but since I've become thicker and longer, she comes every night.
-Incredibly fast, unbelievable gains to your sch1ong in just weeks.
-Increase the length and power of the rod in your pants today.
-Do you want enlargge your p]enis? gcfdl
-Don't be ashamed of having a small member, you can add inches today, easily.
-Scarlet Johansson loves Men with huge equipment - do you measure up?
-Tired of losing your erect1on halfway, or having a small weener? Change it today.
-Hot Rods get the chicks
-Make your girlfriend appreciate you more this Valentine's Day
-Give the girls MAXIMUM satisfaction
-Studies have shown that 87% of girls aged 18-26 wish their men had larger pen15e5.
-Be the Stallion you've always wanted to be
-Give your girlfriend MORE this Valentine's Day

One running theme does suggest that they might adore me as a person, but feel I'm lacking in some way… but still, it's always nice to get post on Valentine's Day, isn't it?

Happy St Valentine's / Commercially-Motivated Greetings Card Sales* Day to you all.

*Delete according to your personal degree of scepticism.

Torn From Yesterday's Headlines

It's often disappointing to realise that a lot of the things you learn at school bear little relation to the real world; just yesterday, I realised that all the hours spent dealing with subjects, objects, predicates and the like in sentence construction simply don't apply.

According to the Daily Star, it's perfectly acceptable to construct a headline by putting five nouns in a row.

(I also love the way they've referred to Lewis Hamilton by his forename, as if that makes it immediately apparent who they're talking about. I like to think the staff of the Star did this after a discussion in which they concluded that if they put his surname, the whole nation would have been wondering if they were referring to David, or even Emma Hamilton.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Yes, This Does Mean I'll Remove The 'I Support The WGA' Badge From My Profile*

The US Writers' Strike is over.

Members of the Writers' Guild of America (WGA) voted last night in favour of ending the current strike (92% support for this), so in theory the writers are back at work as of today. I'd imagine it may take a bit longer than that in reality, but it's good news for the writers (who can now get back to work), and also for the casts and crews of suspended shows and films. And of course for the studios, who - even under the new agreement - will still make a nice tidy profit from the work done by the people I've just mentioned.

The WGA members still have to vote to ratify the new agreement, but as it gives them residual rights for internet sales and broadcast (using the figure of 'distributor's gross'), something which the studios were initially extremely opposed to, I'm rather inclined to wonder if the WGA Negotiating Committee were the greatest and most forceful negotiators since Genghis Khan, or if the studios were rather exaggerating when they said there was no money in new media, and so they had none to offer. As is so often the case, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Still, as one who'd like to make his living arranging words in order on pages and screens, it's heartening to see writers get increased financial rewards for their work, and as one who grew up in the UK in the 1980s when strikes were pretty much demonised as the preserve of Socialist agitators, it's been educational to see the way that the WGA have conducted the strike itself and also their campaign to raise awareness of it; whilst a lot of the press and TV is inevitably tied in with the studios who the WGA was disagreeing with, I think they did a terrific job of using the internet (ironically, given that new media was arguably the issue at the heart of the strike) to get the word out, and to involve not only WGA members, but also viewers of TV and film in supporting the WGA cause.

As David Bishop notes, future generations of writers will probably be grateful to the current WGA members. Though of course in the far-flung future, where you experience a film or story by drinking a neuro-narrative-peptide cocktail and sit and enjoy its plot twists whilst your hovercar auto-pilots itself to your gleaming silver spire of a home, the idea of striking may seem as antiquated as valve-based radiograms do now.

*Though I'm so impressed by their efforts, I think I may well join the WG-GB.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Corrective Vandalism

Delighted to spot this in the Dome on Saturday (no, I shan't call it after the phone company who bought it for a tenner, as I, like many other people, paid for the thing to be built, so I'll call it what I blimmin well like).

I like to think the 'vandalism' was by a member of the public, though if it was a later correction by a member of staff, that's not so bad either. Grammar for the people, and used by the people, and all that.

Could The End Be In Strike?

Well, the Writers' Guild of America has come away from negotiations with the studios, and has come to a tentative agreement - you can read a summary of the terms here.

There's a fair amount of speculation that WGA writers could be back to work in the next week or so, but that's rather dependent on whether the writers vote in favour not only of the terms of the agreement, but whether they vote to stop strike action while that's being thrashed out - I get the impression that this is one of the conditions of the proposed agreement. This initial vote is taking place, as I understand it, between now and the close of Tuesday.

I haven't fully scrutinised all the details of the proposed agreement, but people in the know like the ever-readable John August think it could be a lot worse - and as it makes provision for payments for downloaded material, something which the studios had initially said wasn't feasible, I'm inclined to think the WGA Negotiating Committee has done better than many might have expected them to. Especially given that the studios were initially saying a flat 'uh-uh' to that particular notion (but no, I'm not overlooking the 'unpaid online airing window' element of it, which I gather is quite a sticking point).

I've been asked why I give a monkey's about any of this, given that I'm a UK-based scribbler. Fair question, but the answer's pretty simple: I like TV and films and books and plays and all my media to be well written, and when they are well done, I like to think that the writers behind the work (and in TV and film, let's never forget that they are the very foundation of it; no script, no need to even feed the film into the camera) are being well paid. It's partly because I'd like to be a full-time (and for my own convenience, well-paid) writer, but it's mainly because… well, am I going to have to quote Pastor Niemoller about this? Writers are, after all, human beings, and I'd rather they weren't exploited, any more than, say, children in trainer factories. Apologies if that sounds a bit na├»ve, but there it is.

Friday, February 08, 2008

LINK: Found In Translation

I read comics, but I don't know much at all about Japanese comics, or Manga, as I gather they're more properly known.

One thing I do know, though, is that there's a strand of Manga called 'Yaoi', which focus on gay relationships, and which are apparently rather popular with teenage girls.

And this smidgin of background, I hope, explains why I find the title of this Yaoi book so delightful.

(Look at the cover, or the 'Book Description' if the reason why isn't immediately apparent.)

Digital Manga Publishing, I doff my figurative hat to you. You silly people.

LINK: News That Made Me Smile

I really hope this turns out to be true.

It would tie in beautifully with a gag at the end of the third series, after all.

Verily, my digits are interlaced (which explains my typing speed).

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Laygennelmen, We Have A Winner!

Towards the latter end of 2007, you may remember me posting that I'd entered the Red Planet competition, a screenwriting competition that was pretty alluring on account of its broad brief (10 pages of a screenplay, any theme or genre) and its appealing prize (£5000 cash, representation and a commission - basically, everything a growing screenwriter needs).

As a shameless self-publicist egomaniac, you can be sure I would have said if I'd won, and as I haven't (said I've won, that is), you can cheerfully surmise that I didn't (win, that is). But last Friday the winner was announced, so it's a definite shout of 'Oh, Well Done!' and raise of the glass (or, in my case, mug of tea) to Joanna Leigh, whose screenplay about Samuel Johnson sounds pretty darned interesting. Bravo, Joanna!

Tony Jordan and his colleagues at Red Planet have promised another competition for 2008, so it might be wisest to dust off the screenwriting-thinking-cap sooner rather than later…

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sign "O" The Times, Alarmingly

This sign has recently appeared in the Gents at the place where I work.

Given that I'm amongst the youngest there, it's a bit alarming that they feel that we need a refresher course in how to wash your hands, surely?

Monday, February 04, 2008

No Need For Names, This Is More About The What Than The Whom...

How did you spend your Saturday afternoon? Hmm? I spent mine doing something which might well be perceived as rather odd.

As one of my favourite writers was doing a signing in London, I joined the queue (outside in the cold - well, fairly cold), and waited there for the best part of three hours, listening to podcasts on my music player (if you're curious, they were Adam and Joe's BBC6 show, the Word magazine podcast , and Russell Brand's Radio 2 show ), and shuffling forward pretty slowly.

The queue snaked round the outside of the shop, and as if I was at a theme park queuing for a ride, I was never quite sure how close I was to the front of the queue, or if indeed there might be more stairs or corridor waiting round the next corner. But I was in the queue, and I was there for a reason, so I turned up my collar and tried to ignore the cold.

Eventually, the time came, and I was at the front of the queue (and in the warm by then). The immensely talented writer said hello, and I said hello back, and then said that I didn't want anything signed, but had something for him. He looked vaguely bemused, but as I handed over the gift to him and he realised what it was, he smiled. I said a few words about what it was, and why I thought he'd like it, and he nodded in agreement and looked at it, and we chatted briefly, and I said it was just by way of a thank you for the enjoyment I'd had from his work over the years. He thanked me, and said that it was a very thoughtful thing to do.

I extended my hand (now back to normal temperature, thankfully) and he shook it, and he grinned broadly (and I rather suspect I did the same) and said bye.

It might seem rather unusual to attend a signing and queue for a long time but not get anything signed, but I have to say that the grin on his face, and the way he seemed genuinely surprised that someone should give him something (rather than wanting from him, which I guess is the usual way at signings or personal appearances), made it completely and utterly worthwhile.

And if nothing else, it's good karma; should I ever find myself in a position where people queue to have me sign something I've written, maybe someone will bring along a cup of tea or some choccy biccies for me.
Or - even better - both.

Friday, February 01, 2008

"Oh, It's Easy To Mock," They Say. To Which I Reply "All Right Then, Make It Harder To Mock."

Let's face it, this is just perfect.

You'd think someone might have forseen that the chosen turn of phrase might lead to scorn, really, but then again...

Any Colour You Strike*

You're probably wondering what's been going on in the world of the Writers' Guild of America strike. Well, as well as the Screen Actors' Guild awards going ahead without a WGA picket line (not really surprising, as SAG members have been impressively supportive of the WGA), the following highlights are worthy of note...

- The WGA made more deals (links: one, two ) directly with filmmakers.

- The informal talks between the WGA and the studios are continuing, and though there's a news blackout so as not to prejudice anything, there are rumours suggesting the talks are proving productive. We'll see...

And if you're after an eloquent view on the strike from someone directly affected by it, the writer-director of Field of Dreams and Sneakers, Phil Alden Robinson, had this to say.

*Apologies to the mid-70s line-up of Pink Floyd.

"The Importance Of", If We're Being Honest

Over at The Writing Factory, m'colleague has recently given the TV programme 'Newsnight Review' a damn good kicking, and whilst my own opinion on it is slightly less agitated (probably because it often features book reviews, and there are precious few places on TV one can find those), I think he touches on a very valid point (well, he's been blogging for some years now; like the infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters trying to write Shakespeare, statistically it was inevitable at some point).

He refers to the fact that reviewers on such shows - and indeed in the book review sections of the used-to-be-broadsheet newspapers - often say "this is a tremendously important book" or words to that effect. Now, I think I know what they mean by this sort of thing - I've just this week finished reading a book* which satirises alarming aspects of modern life (such as the post-Diana hysteria, religious intolerance, politicians exploiting the mob mentality, and the general rise of superstition), and whilst there were several times when I actively thought 'ooh, very astute' when the author made a point which I thought was worth of proper rational debate in society at large, I can't really see that happening. I rather suspect that the important points made in the book will be largely ignored or undiscussed (and not just because people won't read the book in question; rational debate of too many issues seems to be sidelined in favour of high-volume or high-emotion one-sentence opinions nowadays, unfortunately). As the comedian Mark Thomas once said, if you make an argument on certain subjects, people seem almost chronically incapable of listening properly to what you're saying: "If you say the words "legalise Cannabis" half the people don't hear the words. They hear 'Make heroin compulsory for 6 year olds'."

Leaving aside this kind of 'signal to noise' problem in debate generally, I genuinely believe a lot of books which critics and professional reviewers proclaim as being 'important' have very little importance to the reading population at large. I don't think I'd be saying anything too new if I was to suggest that as far as most people in the UK are concerned, the most important book of 2007 was the final Harry Potter novel. It sold well to a large group of people, many of whom were emotionally invested in the outcome of the series. And yet I suspect that many reviews stated that new books by, say, Martin Amis and Cormac McCarthy were important and vital books (not knocking Amis there - I quite like his stuff; McCarthy, however, leaves me cold and scratching my head in bewilderment at the fuss, like the book equivalent of the Arctic Monkeys).

And of course there's a huge difference between important and popular - I can't imagine that Cancer Ward or Invisible Man (the Ralph Ellison as opposed to the Wells version) were necessarily huge-sellers, but I think it's fair to say that they're important in social and political terms, though that might be more with the benefit of hindsight. Appropriately enough, Germaine Greer's frequently on these review programmes, and there's little doubt that The Female Eunuch was (and remains) an important book.

It's hardly a new insight that there's a disparity between what book critics and reviewers say and/or believe, and the opinions of the broad reading public, but I think there's a distinction to be made between books which deal with important issues (such as those mentioned above) and books which are important to a lot of people, and those which critics feel are important - the latter, I'd argue, is more a kind of verbal shorthand for 'a book which I feel deals with issues which should be more widely discussed'.

Yes, it is important that there are reasoned and detailed debates on all manner of subjects, but I think that for most people these 'important books' are often anything but. Which may be a pity, but more than anything else, I feel it demonstrates the gulf in understanding between professional critics and people who read books for entertainment, illumination, or even both.

Incidentally, I'm not dismissing the idea of books being important to people, not in the slightest; books have been very important to me for pretty much as long as I can remember, and have often served to make me think again on issues I felt I'd reached an opinion on, or to add to my depth of knowledge on subjects. I'd start listing them, but that's not what this post is about - though I'll wager you could think of at least one book which was or is important to you, couldn't you? Feel free to post a comment sharing which book, and why...

*I'll post the review in the next week or so.

Unintelligent Design : TV Watch

Yes, I appreciate that Dick Tracy used to have a wrist-radio-TV thing that enabled him to say "I'm on my way", and I know that it looks like the sort of thing that we should have this side of the year 2000, but logic dictates that the screen is only ever - at best - going to be as big as your wrist.

The model shown above, which is available from Firebox, boasts a screen which measures a full 1.5". Wow-ee. Now you too can see Citizen Kane reduced to the size of a matchbox. Will the wonders of modern science never cease?

As I noted in this post, trying to combine functions with a watch invariably results in something that's too chunky to be a watch, but too small to work as a TV or calculator or whatever. And this seems to be one of those.

Granted, it might be bearable for watching Youtube videos or other short works of cinematic greatness like The Star Wars Kid , but watching a whole film on something so small? Only if you don't mind risking eyestrain at the very least.

As ever, you may disagree wildly, and think that I'm talking pish. You're absolutely entitled to that opinion, but do bear in mind that on this issue, David Lynch has made it clear that he and I are in complete agreement, though he uses stronger language to make his point.