Saturday, August 30, 2008

This One Could Divide The Readership, I Know

You may well have seen it before, but that aside, I suspect you'll fall into one of two camps when you look at this - either amused or appalled.

Which am I? Well, I did post it here for your perusal, so...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Photos From Our Wedding

Thanks to the speedy work of our friend and wedding photographer, I can cheerfully present the following for your amusement...

Jules is my wife now, in a very real, and legally binding sense. That being the case, you may well wonder why she's smiling.

As my expression reveals, I can't quite believe my good fortune. And that's as true now as it was on the day.

The Best Man, The Luckiest Man, The Bride and Bridesmaid. I fully expect this picture to be in the next issue of Tatler, probably in the Society News column.

I told you we'd practiced for the First Dance.
I'll stop there, rather than posting dozens of pictures, but in case you hadn't guessed by now, we had a terrific day, and I'm very pleased and proud to be married to Jules.
Or, as I prefer to call her at any given opportunity, my wife.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And Soon You Will Find There Comes A Time, For Making Your World Up

So, I'm currently working on my entry for this year's Red Planet Writing Competition.

As my series pilot has an element of the supernatural about it (to my own surprise, to be honest), I've had to do some research, but I also get to invent things. One element of the story is that of people talking to ghosts in the style of Doris Stokes or Derek Acorah, but having done a bit of reading about apparent communication between the dead and the living, I found that there seems to be a lot of variation as to how the dead speak, and in itself this is a good thing for me, and within the context of the series pilot that leaves me a lot of latitude to decide how communication with spirits actually happens. Which I like, because it means I get to make it up.

Underlying most TV shows is what is often called the 'mythology' of the show, and those which have some kind of paranormal, fantasy or science-fiction basis often have to make it more explicit than those which are based in what we call reality - I guess this is because the greater suspension of belief, or lack of frame of reference, has to be compensated for by a greater explanation of the environment. To give an obvious example, the viewer needs to be told that The Doctor is (at least ostensibly) the last of a race of people who travel through space and time, which is why he does so; but we don't need to be told that Stacey from EastEnders is a member of the Walford Market Trader's Association, which is why she has a permit to run a stall in Albert Square (I made up that Association name, as those of you who know more Albert Square mythology than I will have immediately spotted). I rather suspect the reason for this is because we've all seen market stalls (even if they're only on cutting-edge documentaries like EastEnders and Albion Market ), and thus they need less explanation.

In a way, it seems like an extension of the principle of Occam's razor, that the more complicated and otherworldly a situation is presented as being, the greater the explanation required of the mechanics of that situation; there are differing degrees of explanation, though, and the creators' intent plays a big part in it - I've never made it past Chapter 5 of the first book of Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings because of the frequent diversions off into world-building (genealogies and songs in particularly), and the folks behind the Star Trek franchise seem pretty happy to detail almost every stage between the present day and the universe of Kirk, Picard, et al, whereas things such as the scientific backdrop to the Star Wars films are (as far as I know) pretty thin on the ground - and indeed, when Lucas started to provide pseudo-explanations for the mystical elements, most folks I know were unimpressed. Midichlorians, indeed.

Whilst I'm thinking about the underlying ideas of my series proposal in detail ahead of time, it's not always the case that TV series have everything worked out in advance; Doctor Who didn't come fully-formed with aspects such as the regeneration built in, many elements of (my favourite TV show ever) Twin Peaks were pretty much made up as the writers went along, and I think it's fair to say that The X-Files put many of us off in its latter years by being pretty obviously weighed down by an increasingly complicated and contradictory mythology - one which it's very hard to imagine was the result of careful planning.

At the moment, however, I'm rather enjoying my little bit of world-building, though the time will soon come to stop messing about with the backdrop and to concentrate on the drama which has to unfold in front of it; that's fine, and I'm well aware that research and preparation can just end up being procrastination, but I'm trying to balance the competition's requirement for a series outline with the need to work out what happens in the first hour of the projected series, and - for want of a better word - playing at being a demiurge is proving a lot of fun.

There's a fine line between obsessing over the details of how your main character is Borin the seventh son of Colin, and establishing the way that your world works, I guess, but - at least for now - I hope I'm staying on the right side of the line.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cover Me, I'm Going In

I was faintly disappointed to read this de-bunking of a rather fun magazine cover… but then my spirits were lifted by the discovery of this one!

… And for some reason, people suggest my sense of humour is akin to that of a teenage boy. Everyone's a critic.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

My Wedding: Part Three Of Three

Previously in John’s life: John has married Jules, but within a number of hours, the bride is holding aloft a knife, with a meaningful look in her eye…

After the Wedding Breakfast, we cut the cake (which is not some childish fart euphemism. Honest), and posed for more photos. Actually, I should talk about the cake – it was designed and made by Claire Lewis, and instead of being made of fruit like many cakes it was a chocolate sponge, because, well, neither of us are big fans of fruit cakes (except as a slightly offhand description of our family and friends), and it was our day, so nyer. Anyway, it was a yummy cake (hopefully I’ll have some pictures to share soon).

The tables and crockery were cleared away, and after a while it was time for the First Dance. I’ve capitalised those two words for a reason. As Jules and I stepped out onto the dance floor, and our DJ filled the air with the strains of Nat King Cole singing The Very Thought Of You, something which no-one in the room knew was this: for the last couple of months, Jules and I had been having ballroom dancing lessons (at the place they rehearse for Strictly Come Dancing, no less). I don’t have any innate sense of rhythm or anything like that, but with the help of our dance teacher , we’d got a few moves choreographed. The lessons aren’t cheap (though nor are they particularly expensive), and practising at home had been quite hard work and sometimes frustrating as my feet and brain had refused to co-ordinate, but I have to be honest and say that as we started to move to the music, as planned, I thought that it had been worth every single penny.

“They’ve been practicing!” at least one onlooker said, and as we reached the middle section of the song and Jules and I circled each other – with an ease that was born more of muscle-memory than mental-memory, at least for me – I felt a great, big, stupid grin spread across my face. Shortly after that, of course, the DJ invited other people to join us on the dance floor, and we were swiftly surrounded by stumbling clods who got in the way of our finely-honed performance, but I decided to be indulgent of the amateurs. Ahem.

The final timetabled event of the wedding was one which the weather literally threatened to put a damper on, as at 10pm last Saturday it was raining heavily, but most of us stumbled outside (some folks stayed indoors and pressed their noses against the glass) to watch a Firework display. It was soggy, yes, but the Fireworks chaps went ahead anyway, and I’m very pleased that they did, because the display was great – lots of sparkly explosions to sate my wife’s desire for shiny things, and noisy booms and bangs and bright lights for … well, the likes of me. The display went on and on, and was frankly fab value for the money. At the end of it, in spite of all my English reserve, I cheered and applauded.

And after that it was drinking and dancing until people could take no more (but they didn’t seem to resent this treatment). And that, m’loves, was my wedding day, and as well as meaning everything to me on an emotional level, it also went really well on a practical level (the only thing I would have changed would be the weather, but that’s not something which is exactly controllable). A lot of people say that their wedding day’s the happiest day of their life, but rather than condemn the rest of my life to run a second-best to last Saturday, I’d have to say it was the happiest day of my life so far.

So, with the exception of the inevitable posting of a few choice pictures from the wedding as soon as I get hold of them, that’s about it for blog posts about the wedding. Well, maybe. I’m sure I’ll have some blistering insights on married life to share… ahem. Coming up, a return to the usual parade of cheap shots at people and things in the public eye, and self-indulgent posts about writing and life in London.

…I bet you can’t wait.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Wedding: Part Two Of Three

In the previous episode, we left our hero standing at the Registrar’s table, his bride beside him. Now read on…

Thankfully, none of the assembled folks decided to object when the Registrar asked if anyone knew of any just cause or impediment why Jules and I shouldn’t be married, and so we scooted through the vows and onto the signing of the Register. My handwriting may be increasingly unreadable, but as I signed my name and she signed hers, I thought of the words of Papa Lazarou: “You’re my wife now…”

And indeed she was. Papers were signed, and pictures were taken, and I kissed the bride and – to the strains of Gimme Some Lovin’, we exited the Regency Room as husband and wife. Pretty much out of sight of the guests, we giddily yelled ‘wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!’ and half-ran down the corridor like the overgrown infants we are.

At many weddings, the photographer calls the shots at this stage, ordering ‘female members of the groom’s family’ to stand with the happy couple, or sending a cousin to retrieve Auntie Susan from the toilet because she’s needed for a picture, but I have to report that the waywardness of all our guests meant our photographer had to give up on any kind of order to the pictures, and do what he could with those who were present. A comparison with herding cats would have been fair, so he had our blessing to go all free-form improv jazz with the sequence of his photos.

The Wedding Breakfast was held at 5pm, which must have been the latest breakfast I’ve ever had (and don’t forget that I was a student for a number of years), but due to the laydee’s clever planning and organization as regards both the table decorations and the seating arrangements, I heard a number of ahhhs as we entered, and a lot of ha ha has during the meal itself.

After the meal – much of which was locally-sourced and I suspect tasted all the better for it – came, of course, the speeches. The father of the bride wasn’t keen to do a speech, and since the day was about having a laugh rather than slavishly following tradition, we let him off, leaving it to myself and my Best Man to do the talking. Both Danny and I have some previous form when it comes to standing in front of people and talking, but I think it’s fair to say that we both felt a bit of pressure to come up with the goods.

Speaking for myself, I was pretty happy with the way my speech went – I managed to elicit tears from a few members of the gathered, and laughter from others, and thankfully at the appropriate stages in the speech; most importantly I managed to make it painfully obvious to everyone there – including my lovely now-wife – just how deliriously happy I was about marrying Jules, so the key point of my speech seemed to hit home.

Danny’s speech was top-notch, to my mind – honest about how we met and why we get along, and even when he referred to my feelings for Geri ‘Ginger Spice’ Halliwell, my bride didn’t flee in horror but instead stayed and laughed along with everyone else. It was just the sort of speech I hoped he’d make, and I was pleased it went over so well. If you’re reading this, Dan, many thanks – I knew you were the man for the job!

To be concluded…

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Wedding: Part One Of Three

So then, last Saturday (16th August), I got married. It was a day my now-wife Jules and I had been planning for over a year, and I’m pleased to report it went well, but of course, as one who uses seventy words when ten will do, I can’t leave it at that. So this is the first of three posts about the day – what I laughingly call ‘normal’ service will be resumed next week, but please indulge me as I regale / bore you with tales of the wedding; posts will be less blatantly self-absorbed soon, I promise.

First things first – we got married at Burton Court in Herefordshire. As you can see if you browse their website, Burton Court is a building with a history, and this is abundantly clear from the stuffed animals and archaeological treasures which litter the house, as well as – of course – its architecture and grounds. Many guests said to me how beautiful and / or interesting they thought the venue was, and I can only praise the tireless assistance of Edward Simpson, Burton Court’s Functions Co-Ordinator, who was friendly and accommodating, and without whom the day wouldn’t have been half the fun it was. If you’re looking for a venue for a wedding (or other event), you could do far worse than consider Burton Court.

Anyway, the civil ceremony was set for 3pm, and my Best Man Danny and I arrived at about 1.30pm. I chatted to him and the ushers a bit, and we finalised some details, until he eventually, and quite rightly, told me to stop faffing about and to go and get changed.

I’d decided that if there was one day in my life which merited lashing out on a made-to-measure suit, then surely it was my wedding day, and so my suit was made for me by Richard Thompson of Exclusive Tailoring (and indeed a testimonial by me appears on this page ). I wanted a suit which looked something like the one on the cover of this book, and Richard did a bang-up job taking this idea and making something which would fit me, and given my hair’s tendency to go wavy, not to look too much like The Eighth Doctor (though many might say that would have been a hell of an improvement).

Anyway, I donned my wedding outfit and went to mingle a bit before the wedding ceremony; in theory, this is the time when a groom’s supposed to get all nervous and unsure and wonder if the bride might not show up, but in all honesty I had no doubts at all about wanting to marry Jules, and she had made it pretty clear that she was intending to show up, so I used the time to swan around like the man of the hour (which I guess I kind of was) and to say hi to the folks who’d been kind enough to come – many of them from places quite a long way from Herefordshire.

The time came, though, for us to enter the Regency Room of Burton Court, where the ceremony was taking place, and after a brief chat with the Registrar, we sat down and waited for the Bride, accompanied by her father, to come in.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Stuart, who’s been married for some years, told me that turning round and seeing your bride come into the room is one of those moments in your life you never forget. When I heard the music and looked and saw her, I knew what he meant – in that real and biting and actual way that you know something, which is very different in practice than in some abstract theoretical way. It was a terrifically exciting moment, one which made my stomach free-fall in the best possible way, and Stu’s right, it’s something that I won’t forget as long as I live.

So she made her way to the front of the room, and the ceremony started, and instead of even the vaguest flicker of doubt, I had an overwhelming feeling of certainty, that I was doing the right thing, that I was marrying the right person, and as I looked at her and she smiled, I thought of the line from the Steve Martin film Roxanne (itself an update of my favourite play ever, Cyrano de Bergerac):

“This is my whole life right now. Standing here talking to you like this.”

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Wedding: Pre(r)amble

I got married last Saturday, and it was a fun day, and I want to post about it (as regular readers will imagine, I'm unlikely to be able to tell the tale in one post, as my logorrhoea increases with my excitement about a subject).

However, before I do that, I feel I ought to refer back to this post, in which I said that my bride and I had been unimpressed to receive a short-notice notification that someone was pulling out of attending the wedding via Facebook.

In that post, I ranted slightly about how it was a rubbish way to decline the invitation to attend, and a rather cowardly one at that... though, my ever-faithful readers, it’s my sad duty to report that someone decided to raise the ante – by telling me they weren’t going to attend at 10.30 on the morning of the wedding, via text message.

I’m fundamentally optimistic about human nature, and like to think that, if they’re given the opportunity and not backed into a corner in any way, people will tend to act in line with the more impressive standards of human behaviour.

Receiving a text message declining the invitation, just over four hours before my wedding ceremony, when guests had been given over a year’s notice of the date and venue, is the sort of thing which makes even an optimist like myself begin to wonder if maybe people aren’t as fundamentally decent as I’d like to think.


Anyway, this frankly infuriating behaviour aside, the day was a great one, and in the next three posts I’ll describe why it was so much fun – including a few hints on how, if you’re planning a wedding, you might be able to make it go more smoothly – but I just wanted to get this grr out of the way first. A metaphorical clearing of the throat, as it were, before I get to the nub of my gist.

Oh, and I don’t have any pictures to share yet, but I’m confident our photographer did a great job, and I’ll share some choice snaps as soon as I can. Honest.

Thanks, by the way, to people such as Steve and Stu, for their kind wishes both before and after the wedding days, it’s much appreciated.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Is This Style Of Picture On A Seven Year Cycle Or Something?

I was reminded of the similarity between the cover of the 1994 graphic novel Brief Lives and the DVD sleeve for the 2001 film Thir13en Ghosts when I saw the DVD cover for the 2008 film Shutter...

Monday, August 18, 2008

REVIEW: Kung Fu Panda

This film's been out for a while now, but I thought it was worth a quick review… if nothing else, it gave me an excuse to put this picture up, which is actually a pretty good summation of the general tone of the film.

Anyway, the basic story is that Po, a rather rotund Panda living in a valley with many other anthropomorphic animals (well, this is a Dreamworks animated feature), ends up being nominated as the 'Dragon Warrior' who will defend the valley and its citizens against the vicious snow leopard Tai Lung. Po, of course, is wildly unsuitable to be the Dragon Warrior, having more enthusiasm for Kung Fu than actual knowledge or ability. The previous five candidates to become Dragon Warrior (Monkey, Tigress, Crane, Viper and Mantis) are also sceptical of Po's credentials, and are open in saying as much to their Kung Fu master, Shifu. Shifu's position is further complicated by the fact that Tai Lung was his student some years ago, and developed his fighting skills under Shifu.

Upon the news that Tai Lung has escaped from prison, the five would-be Dragon Warriors (and Po) set about preparing to defend the valley, and essentially the film is about them finding a way to do this. I'm simplifying a lot here, but I'm keen to avoid any spoilers, as I really would urge you to see this film and enjoy the story for yourself, because it's a lot better than you'd probably imagine or expect - I'll cheerfully admit that I had my reservations about it going in.

My main reason for feeling hmm about Kung-Fu Panda was - aside from the fact that it's yet another CGI film featuring animals - the fact that Po is voiced by Jack Black. I really liked his turn in the film version of High Fidelity, but since then it's felt as if he's been playing the same character, and it's not necessarily a role I want to see over and over again. So, I was wary, but he seems to be well-cast here, and the setting of the story seems to rein in any possible tendency towards overdoing it.

The playing of Po is pretty decent then, and Dustin Hoffman is really good as Shifu, his master, but the stand-out voice performance in the film has to be that of Tai Lung - the villain of the piece - who, I was amazed to find out, is played by Ian McShane. I know, I know, he'll always be Lovejoy to most of the people in the UK, but he snarls and menaces his way through the film like Terence Stamp as General Zod, in a really well-judged performance.

The animation in the film is top-notch too - opening with a great sequence which looks like old-style Chinese paintings brought to life, and featuring some glorious scenery, it's almost a perfect example of how to do CGI. The fight scenes are really busy and action-packed, but you always know what's going on, and the sequence in which Tai Lung escapes from prison is visually very exciting.

The story's not overly demanding, but it's well-paced, with some nice little character bits, and a lot of laughs (many of them slapstick). Perhaps the most telling remark I could make on this would be to point out that in the cinema where we saw the film, there were quite a few children in the audience, and whilst some of them were talking a bit in the first few minutes, they were sufficiently drawn in by the film that they were quiet for the rest of its running time. That, in itself, might be recommendation enough for those of you who have children.

Overall, then, I'd recommend this film - my expectations were only moderate, but I enjoyed it a lot, laughed out loud several times, and thought it looked great (especially on an IMAX screen, where the often beautiful vistas completely fill your field of view). If you can, I'd recommend seeing it on the big screen. It's rated 'PG for Mild Martial Arts Action', but as the BBFC rating decision says, the film's generally light tone means that there's not much to scare in it, and so it strikes me as a pretty perfect film for a family outing. Definitely worth leaving home for.

Friday, August 15, 2008

An Easy Shot, Yes, But It's A Silly Season Spacefiller

As you may have seen here, an academic has suggested that words which are wrongly spelt should be accepted as 'variant spellings'.

I'm not swayed by the argument, to be honest (it smacks slightly of just making it easier for exam papers to be marked), but more to the point, I question Mr Smith's commitment to it as well; if he really meant it, surely he should have said "Insted of complayning abowt the stayte of the educayshun sistem..."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wedding Rubbishness: For Grooms And Guests

Bridegroom, but can't be bothered to write a speech for your big day? Well, just download a Groom's speech template from the internet! Some people might think that this, in itself, shows a lack of commitment to the day, but what do they know?

Guest, but not going to attend? Don't let the people organising the wedding know too early - instead, do it the classy way, by waiting until a week or so before, and then sending a message over Facebook*! All the effectiveness of saying no, but with none of the messiness of having to actually communicate with human beings.

Oh, the fleshy humans, how we all loathe them.

*I don't have a link for this one, but as you can probably guess, it's just happened to me and my fiancee. Imagine how impressed we were.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Methinks The Hairy Men Do Protest Too Much (By Which I Mean 'Frequently')

This was the scene on Friday 8th August, when a number of protesters disrobed on Victoria Street in London and protested about climate change into front of the BERR (formerly the DTI) building.

I was passing by, and thought it was worth capturing for posterity, and sharing with you good people (it's just taken me a few more days than I anticipated, as I couldn't find the cable to connect my phone to the PC. Tch).

Anyway, two thoughts occurred to me about the protest:

Firstly, the BERR staff are predominantly civil servants, and given my experience of the way that civil service flexi arrangements work, on a Friday afternoon it's quite likely that the protest might have gone unnoticed until the following Monday, for want of people actually being in the building.

And secondly, given that the BERR building is a short distance from New Scotland Yard, it did seem to take a surprisingly long time for the protesters to be removed. I can't help but wonder if that would have been the case had it been an all-male protest...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Absurd Person Singular

In a recent comment, Peaches Geldof (mainly famed for being one of the daughters of Bob, though also an occasional DJ and TV Presenter) said that 'Creative people can be allowed to make mistakes.’

I completely agree with her.

...But only as long as she's using that kind of third-person plural sentence structure. If the first person singular starts to creep in, I may have to point to the ratio of publicity to creativity, which could be less favourable.

Monday, August 11, 2008

REVIEW: Buddha Bar, London

Now, I don't normally review bars and/or restaurants on the blog; I leave that sort of thing to Mr Factory and his fancy mediterranean lifestyle), but as this place only opened on Friday, and I was there on Saturday, I thought I might try to get in ahead of Anton Ego and his colleagues.

If you've not come across it before, the Buddha Bar is a small-ish chain of restaurant-bars at various locations around the world which, unsurprisingly, are themed around the orient and Buddha. The picture above shows the Paris venue, and the London branch is very much the same in layout - the whole place is dominated by a massive Buddha statue, and the restaurant and bar alike are more shadow than light (as I mentioned in point 5 of this post, that can mean you fall over things). But it's certainly got an atmosphere about it, despite effectively being within a hollowed-out leg of Waterloo Bridge (well, they call it Victoria Embankment, but it's inside the northmost stump of the bridge, so)…

Anyway, the London branch was due to open some months ago, and its opening date was pushed back by several weeks if not months, meaning that the laydee and I turned out, by chance not design, to be dining there on what was its second night of actually being open. In terms of the environment, this was fine - the place was clearly finished and ready for business - and in terms of service, it meant that we often had several members of staff looking after us at once, which was a pleasant change from most dining experiences (and only once did one of them bump into a piece of furniture, which is more than I'd be able to do in such a darkened workplace).

As for the food and drink, well, take a look at the menu, and you can see if it's your sort of thing or not. The absence of a specific vegetarian main course option on the menu is something of an omission, because there is one - I had a very nice vegetarian curry served within a hollowed-out coconut, which was tasty but not heavy, and nicely presented. The desserts are very good too, and, again, not overly filling.

If you followed the link above to the menu, you'll see that the prices are pretty high (though if you want to see really big numbers, take a look at the bottom right corner of page 2 of the wine list. Crazy). And I won't argue with that - the Buddha Bar isn't cheap, but I think it's not just a place to eat but also an interesting atmosphere to be in; more a place to go to celebrate an anniversary, or someone's birthday, or a date when you want to do something a bit different.

A lot of reviews of the other branches tend to focus on the prices or to suggest it's a slightly pretentious place, and I can't pretend there isn't some validity to that kind of comment, but if you want a change from the usual sort of environment, and don't take it too seriously, I'd say it's worth a visit.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

I Think There's A Comma Missing From The Speech Bubble Too

This cartoon appeared on Thursday (7th August) in 'thelondonpaper' (their rendition, not mine), a free paper which is dished out in London of an evening.

You might like to contrast the cartoon with the following dialogue from the film 'Edward Scissorhands', made in 1990:

EDWARD: Kevin, you want to play scissors-paper-stone?
EDWARD: No, why?
KEVIN: It's boring. I'm tired of always winning.

As with jokes during the 1990s about Daleks being unable to conquer the universe because they can't climb stairs, it's usually a good idea to actually check the source material first...

Friday, August 08, 2008

And I Have Promises To Keep (Part 2 of 2)

In this post, I mentioned the 10 Word Crime Story Competition that was being held as part of the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, and priomised that, if I didn't win, I'd share my entries with you lovely people.

Well, I didn't win (though oddly I can't seem to find the page with the winning entries, which is strange - I've seen it before), and so here are the 10 word crime stories which I submitted (you were allowed to enter as many times as you wanted):

- Corpse! Gun! Locked Room! How? Oh, hang on - a suicide.

- The corpse floated to the surface, ruining the swimming gala.

- Gone With The Wind Murder Mystery? Rhett Butler did it.

- Invite old lady detectives to dinner, and someone will die.

...I only realised after submitting the above that you were allowed/supposed to give each story a title, so I can only assume that was the reason I didn't win, as opposed to any kind of deficiency with the entries themselves. Ahem.

And I Have Promises To Keep (Part 1 of 2)

Back in June, I promised that if I wasn't a winner of the the Waterstones 'What's Your Story?' competition, I'd post my entry here on't blog.

Well, as you can gather from the fact there's a picture above these words, I didn't win, and so I'm sharing (if you click on the image, it'll be more easily legible).

You can find out who did win by clicking here, and while you're at it, why not order a copy of the book version?

All the profits go to charity, and as well as the winning entries it features not-published-anywhere-else material by writers like Neil Gaiman and Joanne 'J.K.' Rowling.

Go on, it's only a fiver...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Tell Me The Truth About Love (Actually, They Seem Keen You Submit Fiction, Probably For Legal Reasons)

Don't know if this has been more generally announced, but The Times is currently running a short story writing competition.

It doesn't seem to have a specified name, but the feature it springs from is called 'Brief Loves', and the entry requirement is that you write a 300-word love story - examples of stories by established authors, and the invitation to submit your own story can be seen here.

They don't give a closing date, and the prize seems to be publication in the Times, but it's only 300 words and you can e-mail your submission, so it's not exactly a lot of hassle to enter.

I think I'll have a go - what about you? Do let me know...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Hey, We're All, Y'Know, People, Flung Together On This Crazy Globe We Call Home. Can't We Just Celebrate Our Differences, and Get Along?

Almost two years ago, in this post, I provided a link to a Youtube video which I thought was rather sweet and heart-warming.

Well, that link doesn't seem to work any more (at least, it didn't when I tried it the other day), but you can still find it here, and I think it's just as charming.

Even better, you can find the latest video in Matt's series here, and I heartily recommend you have a look - if anything, this one's even better than the previous one, and as trite and cliché as it may sound, it's a reminder that we're all, y'know, people, and that when you get down to it, most folks just want to have a good time.

Or a bit of a dance, at least.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Why I Doubt I'll Be Watching The Watchmen

Some people might have felt that my comment in yesterday's post that "a filmed version of Watchmen makes about as much sense as a musical version of the Mona Lisa" was a bit dismissive and reductionist, so I thought I'd expand on my point - unpack it, if you will.

Watchmen, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, was a 12-issue comic series released in 1986-7 by DC Comics, the US-based firm who publish Batman and Superman, and who are a small subdivision within Warner Brothers, or Time Warner as I think it's now known. The series (which was always set at 12 issues, having a self-contained story to tell) was written by Alan Moore and drawn and lettered by Dave Gibbons, with colouring by John Higgins. It was published in monthly(ish) issues, with no adverts, and generally featuring 28 pages of comic story, and 4 pages of background material.

I was going to try to summarise the plot here, but it's so clever and dense I risk under-selling it by trying to precis down to one paragraph; but it's definitely one of the first - and most successful - comics to cover the question of what it would be like if there were superheroes in the real world. The writing is more intelligent than the vast majority of comics (and indeed novels), and the art is perfectly judged in all regards - Watchmen is often said to be the Citizen Kane of comics, and whilst that's true in that it casts a shadow over everything that follows it and remains a standard which few have attained since, the meshing of the creative team feels more like Lennon and McCartney in that they're both at the top of their game and productively nudging each other to do the best work possible.

As you've probably gathered by now, I'm a huge fan, and I'm not alone in that - it won a Hugo Award, and was included in Time Magazine's 2005 list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels ever. There was steady and solid praise for the comic as it was released in its individual issues, and there was a minimal period of time after its completion before it was gathered into a single volume of 360-odd pages. The collection has remained in print pretty much ever since then, and is a consistently good seller.

Now, after many years of a film version being suggested and multiple drafts of screenplay adaptations having been written, the trailer for the film version to be directed by Zack '300' Snyder has been released (you can see it here ), and there's been a surge of interest in the original work, coupled with discussion of whether or not it's a good idea to make it into a film. The creators themselves disagree about this, in fact - Alan Moore thinks it's a bad idea, but Dave Gibbons has been quite supportive (visiting the set etc), and the two of them have been quite gentlemanly about this (Moore's made sure his name's not on it, and has given his share of the money to Gibbons).

My casual point yesterday, though, sums up why I think it's a poor idea - one of the many charms of Watchmen is the fact that it's so very specifically designed to do things in the comic medium which you simply can't do in other medium (obvious example: Chapter 5, 'Fearful Symmetry' is arranged so that the scenes and panel layouts on the page are symmetrical - the first page is the same as the last, the second as the penultimate, and so on until they meet in the middle). This sort of detail is something which you can't transfer to film, and there are many other comic-only narrative tricks and little background elements which won't make the transition.

Terry Gilliam, who was lined up to direct the film version in the late 1980s, has said that "the problem with Watchmen is that it requires about five hours to tell the story properly, and by reducing it to a two or two-and-a-half hour film, it seemed to me to take away the essence of what Watchmen is about.” Well said, Terry - whilst there are some works which I think can be reduced and compressed in the transition to the screen without any genuine deterioration ('American Psycho' and the 'Lord Of The Rings' spring immediately to mind), for any work longer than a couple of hundred pages, you're looking at a question of what to remove. And with something like Watchmen, which is so cohesive and tightly-packed, removal will inevitably equate to loss.

So I think that the creative reasons for the film are pretty feeble, though I'm painfully aware of the commercial reasons - the comic isn’t owned by the creators (I understand that the rights will revert to Moore and Gibbons if the book ever goes out of print for more than two years, which is unlikely since they did such a fine job), and so the surge of interest in the run-up to the film and after its release will mean DC / Time Warner make money from the increased sales of the book and associated merchandise (including some items which are simultaneously ridiculous and creepy ).

On another level, though, the excitement with which comic fans have greeted the film's trailer strikes me as a bit odd; it's often as if having a film made of a comic is in some way a validation of the story in question, or even the comics medium as a whole, as if the commercial plan to build on an existing property (unlike adaptations of novels for the screen, comics come with inbuilt storyboards and costume designs) is in some way the same as comics readers being told "hey, you know, your comics are almost like a real artform… they just need to be made into films".

Okay, I'm overplaying it, but this apparent underdog mentality amongst comic readers (and creators, and publishers, and so on) strikes me as ultimately unhelpful; it's less prevalent in Japan or Europe, to take obvious examples, but it still seems that UK and US comic readers all too often seem to see a film being made of their favourite comic as the ultimate seal of approval.

There's really no need for this, surely - Picasso drew a comic strip, comic-related books have won the Pulitzer Prize not once but twice, Alex 'The Beach' Garland has written a Batman story … I mean, just how many validations or commendations does the medium need ?

Worst of all, if the Watchmen film loses all the subtlety and nuance of the original work, it'll be the only experience people have of it, and - as was the case with the frankly useless Judge Dredd film in the 1990s - it'll mean a lot of people say "Watchmen? Oh, I saw that, it wasn't much cop" and don't bother to look at the source material, which would be a shame, as Watchmen is one of those works which everyone goes on and on and ON about, saying how great it is, and when you actually take a look at it, you know what? It's even better than that.

(Mind you, most alarming is that the Watchmen trailer has been well-received despite featuring music from Batman and Robin, itself a film which hardly helped comics be seen as a serious medium.)

Monday, August 04, 2008

I've Got A Smattering Of Links To Bring You - Tough Links, And Cuff Links, And Um, Doo Be Ding Doo…*

Do you live outside the UK? Then you might be able to access this free 'motion comic' version of Watchmen issue 1. For the record, whilst the film trailer looks quite pretty, a filmed version of Watchmen makes about as much sense as a musical version of the Mona Lisa, to my mind.

Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller revive their characters Craig Children and Martin Baine-Jones for what seems to be a new series of free podcasts.

I'll wager more than a few gents of a certain age have been disappointed by this particular product's name.

I urge you to look at Section 53 of the judgment in the recent case of Mosley v News Group Newspapers Ltd. Nicely put, The Honourable Justice Eady, very nicely put indeed.

*With apologies to Messrs Batt, Pratt and Steele.

My Big Fat Wedding Tip

As long-time readers will be aware, I'm getting married later this month.

If sitcoms and films are to believed, the groom's an almost unwilling participant in the whole business - no doubt I've been guiled into proposing by some crafty female shenanigans, and am almost a non-participant in the preparations, reduced to little more than a bit-part dupe who just says "whatever you want, dear", writes cheques as required, and shows up on the day.

For my part, I prefer to think I've met a remarkable woman who I want to spend the rest of my life with, and that we've worked well together to plan a day which will be both a legal ceremony and a party with music and cake and booze, but it's very much a personal thing, I guess; a lot of grooms don't want to get involved in the specifics of table decorations and the like, and some people see the wedding as being pretty much 'the bride's day', so I can see why the groom might be somewhat sidelined.

Anyway, I wanted to share the one thing which has, as the day draws nigh, been the big and over-riding lesson I've learned about arranging a wedding, and which, if possible, I'd try to impress upon people in a similar situation. I don't think it's necessarily a new insight, but wanted to share it, just in case.

Okay, here we go. You ready? Drum roll…

If you can, tell both sets of parents to bugger off.

Obviously, I don't expect you to actually use those words, but from what I've seen over the years, parental involvement in weddings is a major issue. It's partly to do with generation gaps and the like, but the main problem which often happens is that there's a complicated interference by well-meaning parents, an interference that's often armed with the twin swords of financial control and (this is the more potent and emotionally-charged one) a delayed attempt to make amends for deficiencies in their own wedding.

In many cases, parents (often the bride's parents, though no necessarily) pay for the wedding. And in many of these cases, the parents want to 'be involved with the wedding' as a result - or, as the happy couple are more prone to see it, they want to interfere, and invite relatives and friends of their own. And this latter point is the stickier one, because when Mum and Dad are paying, there's always the implied leverage (or sometimes not so implied) that since they're paying for it, well, it's only reasonable. I seem to recall a terrific exchange on this subject in an episode of All Quiet On The Preston Front, which went roughly as follows:

Mother: Don't forget, we are paying for this wedding.

Bride-To-Be: I know Mum, but you're not buying it off me.

I think that's very true; a lot of parents, with all the best intentions, think that by stumping up the money, they get to be very involved indeed, right down to drawing up a list of 'suitable attendees'. I know that this was the case with my parents' wedding and many others of their generation, and the problem is, this seems to create a residual feeling that their wedding day wasn't quite as they would have wanted, and this niggling feeling takes root in the back of their mind until, a generation later, they start trying to live out their unfulfilled day by inviting Great-Aunt Shirley to their child's wedding, despite the fact that the kid has no idea at all who this person is. And so the cycle begins again.

I'm simplifying, sure, but having told both sets of parents that we'll pay for the wedding, and that as a result they get no input whatsoever into who's invited (and indeed, if they don't behave themselves, that they may not be invited either), m'lady and I have sailed through the whole process with a tiny fraction of the hassle I've seen amongst others in a similar situation. Actually looking at the guest list for the day and knowing that every single person attending is going to be there because we want them there is, surely, much better than (to give a real example from my experience of spectating on such things) being forced to invite someone who was the bride's mother's neighbour when she was growing up, but who the bride hasn't seen in a couple of decades… and all because of the implied leverage of the parents paying for the event.

It's not always possible on financial grounds to pay for your own wedding, I know, but if you're thinking about getting wedded and either or both sets of parents offer to pay a large chunk of it (that is, what business folks might call a controlling interest), if you agree to take their money, I strongly, emphatically, urge that you accept only on condition that they don't think it gives them any kind of right to influence or control the day. This sounds a bit cold, I know, but my experience is that it makes this so, SO much easier.

If the above tip isn't relevant to your wedding arrangements, though, then my other, hot off the press tip is that you do not engage the firm 'Wrapit' to arrange your wedding list* . A tip which, I think, applies across the board, to weddings guests and happy couples alike.

*We actually thought about using them, but didn't really care for the rather perstersome way they kept phoning and telling us to come in for a consultation session. Thank Buddha their poor customer service approach made us go elsewhere - though it does help explain how the company didn't manage to make any profit at all in six years.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Problem Probably Originates With Me Not Just Accepting That The Picture Is There, I Know, But...

The picture here shows the front of the leaflet with which National Car Rental advertise the merits of joining their loyalty club Zoom.

Which is all well and good, but ... well, what the jiggins is that picture supposed to depict? The driver appears to be holding her hand out, and I really wouldn't like to speculate as to why.

... well, save to suggest that it puts me in mind of an gender-reversed version of the film Rita, Sue and Bob Too.