Thursday, July 31, 2008

With His Face At That Size In Front Of You, You Might Feel A Bit Like Sarah Silverman*

I can't go myself, as I'm attending the wedding of a very good friend the next day, but I have to say that this strikes me as one of the most amusing pieces of programming I've seen in some time.

And it's quite prescient too - I'd imagine that come the end of the three films, many people will be red-eyed and senseless with fatigue, able to say little more than "Matt Damon… Matt Damon…"

*Search on Youtube to see what the hell I'm on about. And prepare for adult language.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

This Is A Public Service Blog Posting

Some days are more difficult than others - weather, transport, the pressures of work and home life, or even the poor manners of strangers in this sometimes indifferent world can put a dent in your day, and cast a shadow over your mood.

With that in mind, I wanted to supply the picture to the left of these words as a mood-lifter should you be feeling a bit glum, or in need of something to make you smile; I mean, which of us doesn't feel cheered by the sight of Robert Kilroy-Silk covered with manure?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

From My Virtual Postbag

It’s not all spam offering me the chance to buy some V1@gra - here's a genuine e-mail I received today:

"We thought that you might be interested to know that tickets are now available for a brand new entertainment show taping at The ITV Studios, Waterloo this Sunday! As with all of our shows, the tickets are FREE!

MY LITTLE SOLDIER - hosted by Bradley Walsh

My Little Soldier is a brand new entertainment show for Saturday nights, which will be recorded this Sunday, where children are the stars of the show, but without realising it! Children are given a task by their parents and we follow their hilarious antics on a hidden camera. The children will then be surprised in the studio by our host, Bradley Walsh.

If you would like to join us in the studio, then apply now!

The show will be recorded at The ITV London Studios, Waterloo on Sunday 3rd August 2008 at 1.30pm.

Booking is now open and you may apply online via our website at or by replying to this email"

...No, I shan't be going to watch the filming. To be honest, I doubt I'll be watching the finished product either, as … well, let's just say that it doesn't really sound like my kind of thing.

The words 'ITV' and 'entertainment show for Saturday nights' made me sceptical, and then they mentioned Bradley Walsh was hosting it.

Besides, I've seen 'Child's Play' and 'Hider In The House' (the TV shows, not the films of the same names), and I think that's probably enough of that sort of thing for me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Wanderer, Lonely As A Cloud

I know that David 'Tenth Doctor' Tennant and Cliff Richard both appear to have the ability to regenerate (or otherwise to fight the ravages of time), but I don't know if this was what they want us to associate with his performance as Hamlet, somehow...

Yes, yes, I know it's a reference to this painting. Indulge me, if you will.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The (Man Whose Face Was Rendered) Scarlet (With Rage By The Removal Of A Single) Letter

Did you watch the Supersizers programmes on BBC2 recently? I did, and though I was familiar with (and a fan of) Sue Perkins, I didn't really know much of Giles Coren, the co-presenter, but I was pleased to see he was pretty witty, and he and Perkins made a good match in terms of banter and overall fun. So I'd kind of concluded that he was an 'all right chap'.

But it seems that he's a little bit keen to send … let's call them 'strongly worded' e-mails to people, and not always over issues of burning importance. Here, for your delectation, are three of the e-mails he's purportedly sent to people who've annoyed him (two of them in the last few months, one several years ago). I can understand the frustration on some level, but … well, come on Giles, do you eat restaurant food with that mouth?

Sweary: Giles writes to the Times about the sub-editor removing one letter from one of his reviews.

Swearier: Giles sends an e-mail to a fellow restaurant critic who suggested Giles had used his status as a critic to get a better choice of menu.

Sweariest: Giles writes to a magazine whose sub-editors made a change to his review of Mike Dunn's (clever and funny) book 'Ella Minnow Pea' .

After all, it's now as if changing one letter will substantially amend the meaning of a sentence

Friday, July 25, 2008

REVIEW: The Dark Knight

I think I've written before about my near-obsession with Batman (consider it akin to Jerry Seinfeld's feelings for Superman), so you probably won't be surprised to know that I went to see the new film last night.

There's been a lot of hype and hoo-ha and coverage about it, not least because of the death of one of its stars and recent allegations made against another (hence the picture above, which is something that is oddly appropriate given aspects of the film), but I'm going to stick to commenting on the actual film here, not personal aspects connected to the cast or the marketing push.

Overall, I enjoyed it a lot, and it's probably about as good a Batman film as you could hope to see; the plot's full of twists and genuine surprises, and even though the film lasts something like 150 minutes, I get the feeling that certain storylines or scenes could have been given a bit more room to breathe. That said, it scoots along at a fairly breathless pace, in a nice taut way - even the sequences which look more like character moments tend to have some resonance or ramifications later on in the film.

I'm trying to keep this review spoiler-free, but suffice to say that the overall plot is a logical continuation of the situation at the end of the previous film ('Batman Begins'), with a new District Attorney in place as Gotham's various gangs scramble to take control of the various rackets in the city. Cue the Joker, in a performance by the late Heath Ledger which is more likely to generate nervous laughter than genuine chuckles. The Joker's played here as an agent of chaos, and given that Batman is almost the living embodiment of one man's attempt to impose some kind of order on a chaotic situation (both in his own life and that of his city), it's only right that, as the film goes on, Batman struggles to anticipate the Joker's next move.

You're probably wondering, though, about the explodey-boom bits, and if there are good gadgets and vehicles, and oh my goodness yes there are; some of the stunt-based sequences are really rather spectacular, but like a film such as Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the scenes actually have a reason to be there as the story unfolds.

I mentioned Ledger's performance, but I think it's fair to say that there is not one bad turn in this film; it's a strong cast, and all of them do very creditable jobs, even if some of them have to do less to impress - maybe it's just me, but I do feel that Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman have sufficient goodwill in the bank that just seeing them in a film is a good thing.

The end of the film is interesting, too - whilst it leaves things open for another in the series, the status quo has been shaken quite considerably, so it would be interesting to see how the story would be continued. Given the box office success of the film, a continuation seems likely, but if it wasn't by the same team (cast and crew) a dip in quality would seem pretty much inevitable, though I'd be happy to be surprised.

Overall, then, this is a film I'd wholeheartedly recommend - it functions well as a crime film or a thriller, and has enough character bits and explosions to keep the eyes as well as the brain entertained. If you can see it at an IMAX cinema, by the way, I urge you to do so - some of the sequences have been specially shot to take advantage of the screen and sound capabilities of the IMAX technology, and it's very well used indeed - it enhances the film without being gratuitous.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Clearly, They Don't Know Jack

After my comments about how The New Yorker is noted for its lack of errors, I was rather disappointed to see the mistake shown here, on page 133 of the issue in question.

It is, as many of my fellow Limey readers will immediately realise, Jack Davenport, aka Miles of This Life or the voice of Mastercard. Tut tut.

Still, the Tomine cover is still just as pleasing as ever, so I'm not really complaining.

(The danger of a post like this, of course, is that in it I make some horrible typographical or factual error, and thus find myself open to criticism for exactly the same reason. Still, that's what the Comments facility is for, I suppose...)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Now That's What I Call Proper Journalism

My friend Danny recently entered the Guardian Development Journalism Competition, run by The Guardian in association with the Department for International Development.

The brief was to write an article about the issues and challenges facing the world's poorest countries, and as Danny's a very talented writer (not to mention director, but that's a topic for another time), and has always been much more informed about international affairs and politics than I could ever be, I was pleased to hear that he was amongst the 40 semi-finalists chosen from 400 or so entrants.

His entry's available to read online, and I heartily recommend you have a look at it - it's a topic which gets little coverage, but it's extremely timely and important, and I think Danny's written a good solid article. I have to say, more journalism of this level in actual print newspapers would make me far more inclined to read a paper on a regular basis.

You can read the article here, and I strongly urge you to do so, it's very good.

(Almost) Free Books

This might be limited to the London area, but for the past couple of days, The Times newspaper has been giving away a free book with each copy, if you buy it in certain places.

And not just any old tat book, either - they seem to be giving away a different title from the Penguin Celebrations series each day; on Monday it was Everything Is Illuminated, yesterday it was Freakonomics, and today it was ... well, it was this, which I decided against. But who knows which of the (really quite impressive) list it will be tomorrow?

As The Times costs 70p, it strikes me as a pretty good way to get a cheapie book - comes in at less than 10% of the cover price, and as a bonus they all have that rather classic Penguin livery which I know less from my own experience and more from my father's bookshelves and second-hand bookshops, so they'll all look rather swish on the shelf.

I'm not entirely sure what the locations are where this deal applies, as a quick Google shed no light, but I know that Sainsburys and Starbucks appear to be participating - it's pretty easy to spot if a particular shop is taking part, though, as the copies of the Times are shrinkwrapped in a plastic cover with, er, a book on the front.

Apologies if you're interested but this offer doesn't prove to be running in your neck of the woods, but I thought it was worth sharing. After all, a book for less than a pound (with a free newspaper) is something rather unusual, wouldn't you say?

Monday, July 21, 2008

It Seems That Mercy, And A Lack Of Discrimination, Are Only Supposed To Go In One Direction

Recently, Christian Voice, the group who brought a private blasphemy prosecution against the BBC for broadcasting 'Jerry Springer - The Opera', lost their case, and now the head of the group has to pay legal costs of around £90,000.

Oddly enough, he's called upon the BBC and Avalon (the management company behind JSTO) to not make him pay costs. Funny, really, you would have thought that - like, say, charity performances of the show which had to be called off, meaning cancer charities didn't receive money - this could be seen as God's will, and I can't help but wonder if he would have been lenient had the judgment come down in his favour.

Anyway, the BBC have decided that they'd like to have their legal costs repaid please (probably don't want to go 'wasting licence-payer's money' as the cliché from their critics has it), which means that the head of Christian Voice is in considerable financial trouble. Damn those heathens for insisting on following 'Due Process'… oh, hang on, Christian Voice seem to be in favour of Due Process. Oh, this is all too complicated for me to follow.

Still, I thought I'd have a little look at the Christian Voice website, and it turns out that, like many of us, they've had a bit of a run-in with the bank in the past and had letters in the post (from the Co-Op, in this instance). Christian Voice feel that the Co-Op have been prejudiced and discriminatory towards them, which is a pretty serious charge, isn't it?

The full details of their concern are here, but I'll just excerpt the most choice quote for your delectation:

"The Co-operative Bank has objected to Christian Voice banking with them. The ‘ethical’ bank who claim not to discriminate, have discriminated against Christian Voice because our Christian beliefs lead us to oppose homosexual rights and homosexual practice."

It's a rather tangled and tautologous paragraph, but I think I can probably condense it for you: "I have prejudices, but no-one should be prejudiced against me because of my prejudices."

You know, I really don't think this is the kind of behaviour Jesus had in mind for his followers when he went to the cross.

I'm Going Down To Liverpool To Do Writing, All The Days Of My Life

Oh all right, the above isn't even remotely true, but I couldn't resist the temptation to refer to the song by the Bangles - in which, rather mystifyingly, they sing about having a UB40 in their hands, which I doubt would do them any good, them being non-UK citizens and all.

Anyway, the point is this: you may already have seen it here, but if not, there's a writing-related event from the BBC taking place in Liverpool this week.

Auntie Beeb is sponsoring a couple of events - and they're free of charge - at the Everyword Festival in Liverpool. Specifically, on Friday 25 July (yes, that's this Friday). The sessions are:

From 5:00pm - 6:30pm, there's a Q&A session on 'Writing for BBC Television' with Hilary Martin (Development Executive), Ellen Taylor (Producer), and Daisy Coulam (Writer), talking about what it's like to develop drama series, and also about plans for BBC North to develop links with talents in the Liverpool region.

And from 7:45pm onwards at the Docks, there are nine plays being presented - three each from writers in London, Liverpool and Newcastle, which are apparently going to be inspired by the ports in each of these locations.

More information and details on how to book can be found here.

I probably won't be going along (what with living a couple of hundred miles away), but if you do, let me know if it's useful.

Nice, I think, to see that writing-related events are taking place in what is, after all, the official European Capital of Culture 2008.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

LINK: Feist For The Eyes (Uc-Rated Version)

Those of you with long memories may recall this post, in which I linked to a fun music video by Feist.

And lo and behold, I'm doing it again right here and now - click here to see her recent performance on Sesame Street, which is just as fun and joyous as the 'adult version'.

Look at the smiling (and not just by the puppets)!

I genuinely find it heartwarming. Seriously.

The Issue Of Knife Crime Is A Very Serious One...

... which is why the Daily Mirror's decision to run this item yesterday, with such an innuendal headline, is slightly baffling.

Mind you, the second photo is fairly flattering to the chap in question.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yes, I Know - Updates Are Like A Cluster Of Fallen Catwalk Models At The Moment (That Is, Rather Thin On The Ground)

Please excuse the paucity of updates this week, I'm writing so much for work at the mo that I have little energy left in my fingers at other times for typing things here.

BUT! All is not lost, as - in a frankly staggering turn of events - the artist formerly known only as Mr Factory has cast aside his cloak of mystery, and started a new blog, under his own name. A name which, I am slightly alarmed to realise, I have known for almost half my life… scary.

The blog's not scary, though, so in the absence of me, I urge you to go and spend some eyeball time there.

Although, in the broadest possible sense of the word 'normal', that kind of service will be resumed here very soon indeed (probably tomorrow, in fact).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I Found This In The Street, Honest

Memo To All News Staff - Coverage Of Exam Results In August 2008

Dear All

As you probably know, the annual coverage of A-Level results will soon be upon us (14th August, I think), and unfortunately it coincides with a number of staff members being on holiday, so we're going to be hard-pressed to get everything written and broadcast in time without taking a few pre-emptive measures.

So, with an eye to being helpful, I've had some of the junior staff build up a template for coverage of the exam results, meaning that you should be able to get the stuff out there pretty much straight away, without needing fiddle around with scripts or decide on camera angles or anything like that.

The key element in all of this - and I can't stress this highly enough - is to pick pretty girls, ideally in tight t-shirts. Nobody's interested in teenage boys, they're grotty urchins (I should know, I used to be one), and frankly their acne-riddled faces just ugly up the screen. Just look for the girls, okay? They're opening their A-Level results, so they're over the age of consent. It's all perfectly legal, and as long as you keep to the following you'll be maintaining the standards of journalism for which we're so respected.

Any questions about this, do drop me a line or pop into my office.


Head of News Presentation

Open: a school building.

V/O: The school holidays. Midsummer, and the sun is shining.

Close in on the school entrance, with various students milling about (crop as necessary to keep the boys out of shot)

V/O: But it's not all fun and games. For many of these students, today is a day which could shape their lives for the rest of their days.

Cut to attractive girls looking at pieces of paper in the school car park.

V/O: For some…

The attractive girls smile, and jump out and down screaming with delight. They hug, pressing their young bodies against each other unselfconsciously.

V/O: … the news is good.

Cut to pretty girl talking on her mobile phone, an exam result paper in her other hand.

GIRL: Mum? I passed. I PASSED!

Cut to girl looking forlorn as she reads her results. If you can arrange it, have her cry a bit, but not so it looks snotty or red-faced. Even better, get a prettier friend of hers to stand next to her, looking vaguely guilty because she's got better results. Perhaps she could put her arm round her.

V/O: But for others, the news is … not so good.

Cut to long shot of teenage boys with exam results. Make sure they're far enough away to be out of focus.

V/O: This is the [n]th year in a row that girls have outperformed boys in A-Levels, with the average girl's result being 3 As and a B [check this] as opposed to the average boys' marks being 2 Es and 2 Ns [check this].

Cut to group of teenage girls in t-shirts (and shorts if possible) looking happy and smiling, their hair catching the sun.

V/O: But there have also been criticisms that these higher grades come at the expense of standards.

Cut to man, standing in front of school gates. Get someone to do with school committees or something like that and put an appropriate caption, but try to light him to make him look somehow shabby and disreputable to undermine his comments.

ANGRY MAN: Well, A-Levels don't mean anything any more. In the past, it was all about ability, but now… well, it's all done by computers, and everyone can get an A grade without any problem.

Cut back to another group of girls, looking pleased and excited. Perhaps running through the sprinklers on the school field, or if it's a really posh school, frolicking in the fountain and flicking water at each other so that the wet fabric of their clothes clings to the moist skin of their young bodies.

V/O: Such comments, though, can't dampen the spirits of these teenagers, celebrating a day they'll remember for ever in their lives, until the end of their days.

Cut back to studio, where anchor can read out the number for the helpline we'll inevitably get set up for people who need help with 'clearing' [NB don't give out phone number of local Scientology office, like we did last year]. Then anchor can read it out again slowly to help fill time.

[Please make sure you also use this template for the GCSE results on 21 August - use the intervening week to make the appropriate tweaks. And keep this template on file for future years.]

Monday, July 14, 2008

Are You Quite Sure About That?

Spotted on Arundel Street in London - and no, it's not a trick photo, the bricks go all the way to the left.

(I have a suspicion that it's a former Andersen Consulting building, but I could be wrong...)

Friday, July 11, 2008

In Which I Advance The Startling Theory That Academia, More Particularly College, May Not Always Be The 'Practice For Life' It Is Often Said To Be

I went to college between 1989-1992, and I think it's probably fair to say that the atmosphere, in relation to gender politics, was pretty heated.

I like to think of myself as fairly equal-minded in terms of sex and sexism; I believe women have every right to do and say whatever men do and say, and I'm happy to say as much. I even use the grammatically incorrect 'they' instead of the pronoun 'he/she' or 's/he' for someone whose gender I'm not sure about - I know it's not proper grammar, but if I get, say, a letter from someone called Chris, I'll say 'they wrote to me on Monday' when referring to them. I think it's slightly more elegant, even if it's frowned upon (and I understand why, but I find any 'option/other option' phrases rather break the flow of a sentence, be it written or spoken. Or, perhaps, written/spoken?).

So, given all this, and the fact that, as a chap in his late teens who was keen to appear sensitive and thoughtful to young ladies of my acquaintance, it was amazing how… hmm, hold on a minute, I'd better just make one thing clear; the following is my experience only, and in no way do I see this as representative of all women at all times or anything like that. This is a recollection of stuff that happened to me, and how it coloured my reactions and responses in the years that followed. I'm not daft enough to think that what happened was like some kind of litmus test for women everywhere and all stages in time. As time goes on, it becomes all too clear to me how startlingly and fascinatingly different people can be, even those with similar backgrounds or influences.

Anyway, it was amazing to my late-teens self to spend time with female students and see how much of their conversation seemed to revolve around how fundamentally rubbish men are. There was a lot of shared-experience stuff about boyfriends who were only after one thing, or how they never called after sleeping with them, or even (and there was a mini-outbreak of this) how their fathers had run off with other women (used, oddly enough, as a justification for treating male students badly, because - and these are the exact words used - "they're only going to grow up to run off from their wives anyway").

When called upon to discuss what they looked for in a partner of the opposite sex, many of my male friends were able to provide a list of their preferences (even if much of the time it consisted of words beginning with 'b' - blonde, brunette, and references to more specific body parts), but most of my female friends, I noticed at the time, were more adept at articulating what they didn't want - he wasn't to be too fat, or too short, or too obsessed with work, or too into football, or whatever. A minor point, granted, but I think it may have been symptomatic of a more negative slant.

And particularly in the realms of academia, where there's a lot of emphasis on the ability to formulate, synthesise and articulate theories on various subjects (including, of course, issues of sex and gender), some of my female peers read a lot of material at the time which probably served to make them think that yes, all wars were born of sublimated and frustrated sexual desires on the part of men, that eating disorders have their roots in male wishes for women to be as small as possible so as to appear less significant in intellectual terms, and that a consensual sexual experience which the woman finds unfulfilling is ultimately akin to rape. These are all theories I genuinely heard discussed, and whilst each of them may well contain a kernel of truth or insight, experience in the years since has led me to suspect that the theories, like most blanket statements, were probably a simplification, and that 'one size', as it were, did not fit all. At the risk of sounding like one of David Tennant's more excitable moments as the Tenth Doctor, humanity is often more varied and interesting and surprising than we might well give the species credit for.

I often found myself listening to arguments being advanced which seemed a bit suspicious (particularly the claims that they personally had been oppressed by men all their lives; those who argued this most emphatically were, I later realised, often those whose college years were being funded by their parents, and often their father was the main breadwinner, which was, um, confusing to get my head round), and as a male, I was often made to feel somehow implicated in this, as if I was part of some kind of patriarchal elite whose sole agenda item was the subjugation of women, now and forever. Having been directly told more than once that my opinions on any gender-related subject were inherently questionable because of my sex, I rarely ventured to make any comments as I sat and my female peers talked, often late into the night; theories were exchanged and advanced and piled one upon another until they reached startling and dismaying proportions. The whole world, it seemed, was little more than a machine to rape and mutilate women and render them helplessly subhuman, merely because of the arrangement of their chromosomes. The accumulated theories cast a grim shadow, making the society we'd enter upon leaving college seem dark and daunting, and the shadow loomed large, too, over my relationships with women for a while after I left academia.

Sometimes, however, things were said in seriousness that might have been more plausible as some kind of ironic joke, and I did challenge the ideas put forward; I would say something, because I felt an affront to either reason or my sense of self. Or both. One of my proudest moments, I'm both pleased and ashamed to admit, came when, after an evening of half a dozen female students lamenting the shortcomings of their boyfriends (current, previous and potential) and then men in general, the following exchange took place:

Female student: I mean, the thing is, all men are bastards.
Me: Well, that may be true, but all women generalise.
Female student: What ? God, John, I can't believe you'd say something so sexist.

As I said at the start of this long digressive ramble, the gender-political atmosphere was heated in the late 1980s, and rather clouded, and it was probably another decade before 'irony' would feature more heavily in our lives. But as I say, I'm appallingly proud of that line, and chances are I'll use it again if another suitable opportunity presents itself.

Being someone who wanted (even then) to write for a living, it was also alarming to be told that 'men can’t write women characters'. I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now, and I never got a satisfactory answer to my reversal question: "Does that mean women can't write male characters?" But it was a worrying notion - I could only legitimately attempt to write male characters? That seemed horribly limiting.

But upon leaving college, and entering what is commonly known as 'the real world', it became abundantly clear to me that the hothouse atmosphere of college was a mini-world with very different standards to that of many of the people I met subsequently; in much the same way that I read books or watched plays or films or TV shows in which there were credible female characters written by men, I found that women didn't see all men as predators or oppressors, and indeed large numbers of the women I met laughed at a lot of the more outré theories about gender politics. To my relief as a heterosexual male, I realised that a lot of women actually like men, as friends or more, and that although they were often faintly disappointed or disapproving in relation to their experiences with men, they were laughingly tolerant of this more than anything else. Which came, frankly, as something of a relief.

And that's generally been my experience post-college, thankfully - with the odd exception - and I've come across much more willingness to accept or acknowledge and even celebrate the differences between men and women, and despite what John Gray might have us believe, a recognition of the fact that men and women are both, in fact, from the same planet, and that it's probably best if we all try to get along.

Which is why this article, in a magazine called 'Intelligent Life', unfortunately reminded me of this period of my life. Frankly, I shook my head slightly as I read it, and tried to imagine whether The Economist's spin-off magazine would publish a similar article if its target were women. It seems unlikely… and in fact their follow-up article seems more of an attempt to mine the same seam than to seek some kind of balance.

Once, when the word 'misogyny' had been been thrown around a late-night college conversation with considerable abandon, I asked one of my female friends if there was an equivalent word for being anti-men (perhaps, though I couldn't swear to it, because there was a niggling feeling in my mind that much of what I was hearing amounted to a verbalised hatred of males). I wasn't trying to be clever, or sarcastic, I genuinely wondered if there was such a word. "No," she said. But there is - the word I was seeking exists, and it is 'misandry'.

And just like misogyny, it is a bad thing.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mind You, Nudity Does Tend To Help Sell Stuff

Almost exactly a decade after Lars Von Trier's film made under the 'Dogme' banner, Sigur Ros ... er... pay tribute to it with their latest album cover.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Oftentimes, What's Deliberately Omitted Is More Revealing Than That Which Is Present

Coinciding with the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive being enacted into law in Europe, outlawing (amongst other things) advertising something by taking quotes out of context, is this really an world-leader way to go about quoting someone?

Still, I'm sure he knows best, and that history will place him higher in the pantheon than Jefferson.

Please Be Aware That All Communications With Me May Be Remembered For Anecdotal And/Or Mockery Purposes

During what I now call 'my year off' (when I was unemployed and living with my parents after college - so much for a law degree being a sure-fire guarantee of a job), I received a questionnaire from the local Health Authority.

It was one side of A4, and asked about a dozen questions, with a little box for 'any comments you may have' at the bottom. The first couple of questions were straightforward enough, but then things took a turn for the slightly odd, with queries such as

Are you still able to laugh, and maybe enjoy a programme on the wireless?

Do you sometimes feel a little sad that many of your friends are dying?

Gathering that it was probably aimed at someone of slightly more advanced years, I completed the questionnaire, added 'By the way, I'm 23' in the 'other comments' section and sent it back. Not much to my surprise, I heard nothing more on the subject. I guess whoever it was that was responsible for sending out the paperwork realised that I shouldn't have been on the mailing list.

Flash forward fourteen years, to this week. The scene, the penthouse flat I share with my lovely fiancee. The two of us are reclining on chaises longues (oh, all right, comfy sofas) when the phone rings. I pick up the phone. Cue change of format:

Me: Hello?
Woman: Hello?
Me: Yes, hello. You rang me.
Woman: Is that Mr Soanes?
Me: Yes.
Woman: Oh, hello, this is Debbie from Acorn Stairlifts.
Me (to fiancee):This'll be good.
Woman: We specialise in solutions for people who find it difficult to get upstairs. Would that apply to you?
Me: Not really, I'm 37.
Woman: What ? Oh… (starts to laugh)… probably not, then.
Me: No, I don't think so. Bye.
Woman: (Still laughing) Goodbye.

Despite the fact that I wholeheartedly agree with Groucho Marx's theory on age ("you’re only as old as the woman you feel"), I seem to get this sort of thing a lot - letters arrive every month or two offering me insurance for the over 50s.

Someone must have been telling lies about me, and I wouldn't really mind them adding decades to my age if it meant I'd also gained an appropriate amount of wisdom and experience... but I think it's painfully obvious that's not the case.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Place? A Packaging Design Agency. The Time? 2006, Just After Lunchtime

Boss: Gareth, got a job for you.

Gareth: Really? I was kind of hoping to get to the pub in time for a drink with Terry on his last day.

Boss: Well, you can probably still make it if you can think of a quick packaging design for this.

(Boss hands Gareth a small package)

Gareth: Didn't this film come out a few years ago?

Boss: Yes, but they want us to come up with a new design for the PSP version.

Gareth sighs.

Boss: Anyway, I'll be down the pub with the others, if you can think of something quickly I guess I'll see you down there.

Gareth: Yeah, okay, but it's not like there've been any DVD sleeves on a similar theme that I could just rip off, is there ? ... Oh, wait a minute.

Cut to:
Five minutes later. Gareth is in the pub, drinking with Terry, his Boss, and some other colleagues.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Soundtrack : Opening Of 'Mars' from Holst's Planets Suite

Last year, I got a tad overexcited when I entered the Red Planet Writing Competition. Granted, I didn't win, or even make it to the second round, but it was the first full-length screenplay I'd written, and it was a useful learning experience.

Well, prepare for more blog posts of a similarly giddy nature, as they've just announced the 2008 Red Planet Writing Competition. As with last year, the prize consists of £5000, representation by a literary agency, and a script commission from Red Planet (makers of Holby Blue and Moving Wallpaper)> It's not all the same as 2007, though - there are a couple of changes.

This year, the requirement is for entrants to send in the first ten pages of "a 60 minute pilot script with television series potential", along with a one-page outline. Last year's theme was more on the lines of a screenplay, if memory serves, and this year it sounds more like something for the small screen. Fair enough - especially as there's no specified requirements in terms of genre or subject.

On a practical level, the scripts for this year's competition are to be submitted by post, not e-mail. Like many people, I sent my entry last year and received an e-mail saying that the mailbox was full, which was a bit of a worry at the time, though kindly Danny Stack (who was involved with the competition) provided reassurance to me and folks in my situation to let us know if the script had been received. This year, it's hard copy only (to be accompanied by this downloadable form ) - I suspect that Royal Mail may see a leap in their profits around the closing date of Tuesday 30th September as I, and no doubt many other folks, invest in Recorded Delivery or similar to make sure our entries actually arrive.

Anyway, I plan on entering - I have a vague notion for a TV show idea which I've been semi-mulling over for a while, and I think it's a question of actively seeing if I can shape into something more definite with, as I believe they say, 'legs'. Anybody else planning on sending something in ?

(I realise that posing a question like that, and possibly getting no replies, looks kind of tragic. On the other hand I like to think that this post might alert a few people to the Red Planet scheme who might otherwise have missed it. Which makes me feel socially useful, and assuages any sense that I might just be whistling into the wind. At least for now.)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I Don't Ask For Much From You, Do I? Well, Do I ? Oh, Okay, So Maybe I Do. BUT…

As regular readers will know, this year, I've decided to let someone else be the winner of Marie Claire's 'London's Most Eligible Bachelor Award'. Which is to say, I'm getting married. To a frankly remarkable woman, who I could start to describe my admiration and affection for, but I'd just go on and on and you'd all start to get bored of me doing so, and besides I need to save the good stuff for my speech on the Wedding Day.

Anyway, not only is Jules (for that is her name) kind enough to take me on to try and keep me out of trouble, but she also has an eye on the welfare of society at large - by way of proving this, I’d point to the fact that on Sunday 20th July, for the third year in a row, she's taking part in Cancer Research UK's Race For Life .

She'll be doing the 5K walk round Regent's Park, and whilst the sight of me cheering at the finishing line will be some measure of motivation (especially if I'm holding a gin and tonic), I'm sure it would really help her to keep them feet a-movin' if some of you folks out there in blogland would be kind enough to sling some money towards sponsoring her.

If you click here, you can sponsor my lovely almost-wife online, at a totally secure website which also allows your donation to bulk up through the magic of Gift Aid at no expense to you. And, of course, all the money will go towards Cancer Research UK's vital work fighting cancer.

At the risk of making assumptions about any of you good people reading these words, I rather fear that most of us know someone who's been affected by cancer (either themselves or someone they care about), and so I hope that you can see why this is a worthy cause. No donation too small. Or too large.

If the warm glow of philanthropy (Phil's so much nicer than his sister Miss) isn't enough for you, then perhaps I can entice you to sponsor Jules by pointing out that the sponsor page also features a picture of her, grinning like the cheerful type she is, so if you've ever thought you'd be interested to see what one of the more tolerant women in the world looks like (or maybe she's just hard of hearing), then pop over to the sponsor site and sate your curiosity. And then you should sponsor her, because otherwise I'll get all angry about you lookin at my bird, all right?

Thanks - by all means tell her I sent you, it'll help me prove that the folks of my acquaintance are kinder and more generous than hers, and I'd like to be the one of the two of us who's proven right (it'd be the first time, after all, and I'm keen and eager to see how it feels).

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Keine Klein Samizdat

The new paperback from Naomi 'No Logo' Klein there.

If I understand the reviews and the book's general description correctly, it's a pretty scary and searing indictment of the people who are manipulating world events to create a climate of fear from which they profit financially.

All pretty interesting, and more than a little creepy. But… well, the book sounds like it's going to unnerve me and alarm me about the state of the world today, and it has a cover price of £8.99.

You see what I'm driving at here, right?