Friday, May 30, 2008

"You're Meddling With Powers You Cannot Possibly Comprehend."

Look, I know it's several different kinds of wrong, and the vast majority of me revolts at the very idea, but there is a certain shameless and questionable part of me that really, really, likes the idea of owning these items.

Am I alone in this, or does anyone else feel it too?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Against The 'graine

About five or six times a year, I get migraine headaches.

Migraines are all a bit of a mystery on a medical level - the triggers and symptoms vary from person to person, and the exact cause of them is still not quite clear - but they're also rather oddly viewed on a social level; a lot of people seem to equate a migraine with a very bad headache, so people will say 'I think I'm getting a migraine' when it’s really not the case.

'Classic migraines' are preceded by what’s known as an 'aura' - a period of blurry or otherwise distorted vision; in many cases (and in mine) what's called a scotoma appears as a metallic-looking disturbance within the field of vision, shimmering as if moving or reflecting light. It's an odd thing, but to be honest since a lot of migraines are accompanied by feelings of nausea or active vomiting, it's only one of many things that a person with a migraine has to go through.

In a lesser number of cases (again, including me), the onset of a migraine is accompanied by pins and needles in the hands and face, difficulty with speech, and a general sense of confusion. It's always nice to feel special or part of a limited group, but on this occasion I'd rather not, as this is a profoundly weird stage when a migraine hits - before now, I've been lying down in the dark, and though I've been able to think 'My name is John', there's some sort of scrambling going on in the language centres of my head, rendering any attempt to say the phrase more like something you'd expect to hear from Joseph 'John' Merrick.

Having a migraine is a strange experience, and it's far from pleasant. There are a number of tablets available which treat migraines (though I'm not aware of any which prevent them), and I've tried the herb feverfew, but for me it seems the best cure is just to lie in a darkened room, away from light or noise or strong smells, until it passes.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because I recently read a 'beginner's guide'-type booklet on the subject (you can get a copy of the booklet here). If you or someone you care about does have the misfortune to have migraines, it might be useful. If you're a more seasoned migraine sufferer, or just keen to learn more about this strange phenomenon, you could do far worse than to read Oliver Sacks's book on the subject, though a 'learned reflex' on my part means that the illustrations of the scotoma make me feel slightly as if I'm going to be unwell.

There was one bit of the booklet which I thought was rather misjudged, though; page three refers to famous people who suffered from migraines, and by way of historic examples, they offer Julius Caesar, Vincent van Gogh, and Elvis Presley. High-profile chaps, all three, but let's just take a moment to examine their fates, shall we?

- Caesar died after being stabbed repeatedly by people he'd thought were his allies.
- Van Gogh suffered depression for much of his life before fatally wounding himself with a gunshot to the chest
- Presley died on the toilet with what appears to have been a violent heart attack, amongst other medical conditions

Rather a running theme of tragic, painful death there - hardly makes a 'migraineur' feel as if their story's going to end happily, does it?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In The Event Of Them Just Adding Another Blade Like They Usually Do, All Entries Will Be Null And Void

Fusion! Power! Stealth!

Manly words! Grr! Words dripping with testosterone and sweat, words which could render women pregnant by reading them individually, but when they're put together in a row like that… well, we're clearly talking about a product used by hairy-chested sex gods.

But! Having already plonked two manly words after 'Fusion', have Gillette backed themselves into a corner? Are there any remaining words which are so butch they have a Y chromosome? That, my bloggy pals, is the question in today's competition*, and you - yes, YOU - could win yourself a fantastic prize**!

So, what word or words should Gillette slap on their razors the next time they re-brand? Here are a few of my ideas, but I want to hear from you!

- War
- Goal
- Bomb
- Rottweiler
- Tackle
- Pint
- Geezer
- Transit
- Cock

Post your entry as a Comment, and you could win a very special prize indeed!***

Enter now! This minute! Please enter now! Oh god, I can't stop using exclamation marks! Help me! Someone! Please!


*It’s not a competition. There is no prize.
**No you couldn't. He's lying to you.
***He's lying again. Frankly, he's as trustworthy as an ITV phone-in quiz.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

This Said, I Am Painfully Aware There's A Paucity Of Decent Roles For Non-White And/Or Non-Male Actors In Many Films And TV Programmes

I'm not really posting this as one of my ongoing 'Twins' series of posts, as the Denzil film came out a good five years before the Dalton film (1984 and 1989, film fans). But instead it reminded me of a topic which I'd been intending to post about for a while, and which is partly triggered by the fact that tomorrow is the centenary of Ian Fleming's birth.

When they were talking about the search for a new actor to portray Bond in the films, one thing which I heard several times was 'they should do a black Bond' or 'they should do a female Bond'. Indeed, some folks suggested Colin Salmon should play Bond (he seems a pretty good actor, though having appeared in the films as another character might be seen as making this a bit weird, though then again it didn't stop Joe Don Baker or Maud Adams), though offhand I can't recall any casting suggestions being made for a woman to play Bond.

My feelings on this sort of thing (and this applies to suggestions of a female Doctor Who as well, really, though the regeneration aspect at least gives this a slight increase in story logic, if nothing else) are slightly mixed, but I think they tend to boil down to one word: why?

I can see the thinking behind it, and agree with it completely, that there aren't really that many high-profile non-white or female characters in English-language films (or, indeed, other media), but taking an established character and making them black or female just doesn't seem the way to remedy this, to my mind.

Taking a comic-based example, I think it's probably fair to say that the best-known female superhero is Wonder Woman, who was created without reference to existing male superheroes. There are a number of female superheroes who are, effectively, female versions of well-known characters (for example, Spider-Woman or She-Hulk - and no, non-comic readers, I'm not making those up), but they've never really taken off, and I rather suspect that's because their rather derivative origins are all too obvious. Wonder Woman, conversely, is a distinct character, not just a transparent copy.

And in the same way, just 'making Bond a woman' seems to be a pretty cheap way to try to make a character popular, as does making him black (similarly, I'm not quite sure if the 'Ultimate' Marvel comics version of Nick Fury is really that much more interesting by the change in his race, though I gather it did make the post-credits scene of 'Iron Man' inevitable).

Surely the right thing to do is to try to create a female or non-white characters who have their own appeal to an audience? It would certainly seem the more creative way to go about it.

It's not necessarily easy to do that, sure, but I genuinely believe that characters like Jane Tennison or Blade are much more memorable for not just being knock-offs of existing figures. The origin of a character - in a story and also a more meta- sense - is always likely to be far more interesting if it's not simply something like "Well, The Fall Guy was popular, so we just made Colt Seavers female and called her Stephanie Plum" (because I'm pretty sure that's not what Janet Evanovich did, and her novels are wildly popular).

People seem to be pretty good at sussing out when stuff is calculated or even tokenistic, and so I think that trying to make characters popular or appealing by simply tweaking one aspect of a previous hit to re-sell to a different section of your perceived audience is a bit obvious, and will be spotted pretty quickly.

At least, I like to think it's the case that audiences are smarter than they're often assumed to be; on a purely selfish level, I'd like to think that because it'll mean that there will be drama and comedy features that need scripts from people like me, and not just a never-ending slew of reality TV or makeover shows.

Monday, May 26, 2008

You May Have Seen This Already...

... but it's worth sharing, I think; just to give the background; Barack Obama suggested it might be quite a good thing to talk to the USA's enemies, and various people - including, I gather, Bush - accused him of appeasement, and referred to Neville Chamberlain.

Cue one of Bush's supporters repeating this sentiment, and then demonstrating the perils of swallowing the party line and not actually knowing what you're talking about.

(Hope this works out all right, my first time embedding a Youtube video...)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Review: 'Born Standing Up' by Steve Martin

Again, it was one year ago today when I suggested Steve Martin's skill now seems to lie in his precisely-written novels, and this non-fiction memoir of his experiences doing stand-up comedy seems to suggest this is still, or indeed, the case.

As noted in m'colleague's mini-review, there was a time when Steve Martin's stand-up talent was such that he could well have been voted the funniest man in the world; he filled huge venues and sold vast numbers of LPs (yes, it was back in the days before CDs and downloads), and in this book he tells you how he did it.

Well, not exactly, as his comedy was far more fragmented and intuitive than that, so it's not like it worked to a formula which you could learn from this book and then copy - unless the lack of a formula could be seen as an approach in itself, much like I often fear that the 'ethical relativist' stance is, in its way, a positive position. But in this book, Steve talks about how his stage act gradually developed, what worked and what didn't, and how he felt about his success.

If you're interested in comedy, both the jokes at the front of it and the process that goes into their creation, this book will almost certainly be of interest; his writing is very precise and easy to understand, and the book's short and to the point - given that it's a small-sized hardback (a format I really like), the phrase that kept coming to mind as I read it was that it's 'a bonsai book' - there's not a lot of it, but everything that's there is there for a reason.

I've read a few books purporting to tell you how to write and/or perform comedy, but they're usually written by people I've never heard of, which hardly inspires confidence; this book, though, is written by a man who rose to the very top of the comedy ladder, and who honed his act carefully and thoughtfully for some time before finding success. A great read, and most definitely recommended - but if you have any lingering doubts about whether it'd be for you, you can read the first chapter here.

Startling Candour At A Time When The Property Market's Supposed To Be In Trouble

I know it's a bit cheap of me just to post links to things, but I like to think that doing so twice in one day is offset by the fact I'm posting some more meaty content in the form of two reviews...

Anyway, honesty from an estate agent is both rare and welcome, so I felt I had to share this from Normandy.

(Link swiped from this week's B3ta newsletter, which I heartily recommend you subscribe to. It's free, and there's always something of interest in it.)

Review: 'Blind Faith' by Ben Elton

Exactly one year ago, I wrote about how Ben Elton seems to do more interesting work in his books than his stage and screen work ('Get A Grip', his most recent TV work, was pretty weak, though I think that was partly due to the format and his co-host; Alexa Chung may be popular with the papers and fashion magazines, but her presenting skills are, I feel, doubtful - compare her to, say, Mikita Oliver, and it's all too obvious who's most comfortable and natural on-camera. But I digress).

And lo and behold, here I am 365 days on, reviewing his most recent novel, 'Blind Faith'. As you could guess from the cover and the title, it's very much a novel about belief.

Set in a future London after a disastrous flood (which, now I think of it, links with several religious stories), the book features a man called Trafford who starts to have doubts about the society he lives in - everyone shares everything (literally - sex and childbirth are public events) on constantly-streamed websites, people walk the streets barely-clothed, and there are vast religious events which have more in common with a political rally than, say, a charismatic gathering.

Science and reason are actively frowned upon and punished, meaning that vaccination is outlawed, and Trafford begins to wonder if all this is right, especially after his wife gives birth to their daughter. His wondering turns into active doubt, and he begins to seek people who, like him, think that things could be different.

As you've probably guessed, there are definite parallels with Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', but to be honest this is almost impossible to avoid in a dystopian novel, as Orwell's book casts a long shadow. Elton's take on these things, though, is more acute in its attacks on what he sees as being wrong in the present day (the current obsessions with 'sharing', public emoting, celebrity and the like), and as a result is, to my mind, more satirical.

And it's not toothless satire or restrained prose, either - here's an example from one of the book's key scenes:
"... no society based on nothing more constructive than fear and brutish ignorance could survive for ever. No people who raised up the least inventive, the least challenging, the least interesting of their number while crushing individual curiosity and endeavour could prosper for long."
… those are meant to be Trafford's thoughts, but I think it's not too much of a reach to imagine that it's what Ben Elton thinks too.

This isn't a gut-bustingly laugh-out-loud gagfest, but is certainly one of Elton's stronger books, and the points it makes are, to my mind, solid ones, and it's well-written. It just came out in paperback last week, and I heartily recommend it to you as a good read, and one which might well set you thinking about some of the issues it raises.

Probably Not A Result Of Feng Shui In The Workplace. At Least, I Hope Not.

I don't know if I'd keep quiet about it, or conversely be incapable of shutting up about it, if I arrived one morning and found out that I now worked here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Newman's Salad Dressings Were Just The Beginning...

Maybe it's just me, but this feels wrong - a step too far.

What next? Jack Black brings out his own range of scotch eggs? Diane Lane's pre-cooked tagines?

And hey, why restrict this stuff to food? Go on, knock yourself out!

Sylvester Stallone's range of dungarees! Denzel Washington's series of external hard drives! Scarlett Johansson's range of CDs of Tom Waits covers!


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When I Worked In A Bookshop, People Used To Ask For Recommendations. And Now, I Find Myself Doing The Same Sort Of Thing... Only I'm Asking You.

As this here blog has been linked in Rich Johnson's comic gossip column Lying In The Gutters, I seem to be attracting a few more readers of a graphic-fiction-sequential-art mind. Welcome, welcome - hope you'll come for the comics but stay for … er, well, more than just that, I guess.

Anyway, I wanted to ask the comics-knowledgeable amongst you for advice or recommendations on a specific theme; I'm fairly au fait with what's going on in the UK and US mainstream (and occasionally the small press), but am only just starting to venture further into reading manga.

The problem I have is that there seem to be just so many titles to choose from, and I'm looking for pointers on stuff of interest. I'm less aware of what I'm after than what I want to avoid, if that makes sense - I'm not really interested in post-apocalyptic stuff (I liked the film of Akira, but got a bit bored after the first few issues of the Epic translation) or fantasy stuff with dragons and the like in, and I'm not really looking for anything featuring psychic schoolgirls and/or panty shots (this latter aspect made me less keen on Battle Royale v1, which I read recently, and the violence and pantie-flashing seemed a bit calculated, though the linework was nice).

Manga I have read and enjoyed are:

Lone Wolf and Cub - Read the entire series (in the really rather delightfully-sized Dark Horse reprints), and though it was a bit long, it was always interesting, especially as the over-arching plots became clear.

Old Boy - recently finished this, and though the ending didn't justify the length or the bad guy's motivation at all to my mind, it was well-drawn. I preferred the film, but this was enjoyable enough to read.

Death Note - I'm seven volumes into this now, and am enjoying it a lot. For a book which often features people standing round talking or thinking, it's genuinely exciting in places, and the characters are interesting if not necessarily likeable. There's a fantasy element to this one, yes, but the real-world grounding of it works for me.

Monster - Oddly enough, I picked this up after it was recommended by Masi Oka (who plays Hiro in 'Heroes') in an interview, and I'm only just starting the second book, but I like the general mood and premise, so I'll probably continue.

Buddha - I'm onto the third volume of this, and can see why Tezuka's so well respected; there's sense of fun and pace to it all, as well as it being the story of a chap I'm genuinely interested in.

… and that's about it. As I say, I'm not mad keen on the kind of stories mentioned above, but then again, if there's a really good story about a psychic schoolgirl that I really, REALLY ought to read, then just ignore my prejudices and recommend away. It's not as if I haven't been wrong on things before, after all.

If you've got recommendations (or even warnings about works to avoid), please feel free to post a comment. I'm genuinely keen to learn more about manga, and as it seems that there are a lot of different genres within it, I feel rather spoiled for choice. So if you could let me know stuff you've read and enjoyed, I'd appreciate it (and so would my wallet, as it'll save me wasting my hard-earned).

And for the jokers amongst you, no I don't think I want to read loads of Yaoi or Shojo stuff (blimey, there's a whole new set of terms for me to learn, isn't there?)...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oh, For Faulks' Sake

So, this book comes out next week - Sebastian Faulks (whose work I must admit I haven't read, though people whose opinions I trust speak highly of his writing) has written a new James Bond novel (with the blessing of Fleming's estate). All very well and good, but what's that in the bottom right-hand corner?

'Sebastian Faulks Writing As Ian Fleming', it seems.

Now, maybe I'm just exacting to the point of pedantry, but you can't really claim that, can you? Oh, sure, when Virginia 'Flowers In The Attic' Andrews died the family got another author to be cover-credited as 'The New Virginia Andrews', rather bewilderingly, but I don't think I've ever seen the phrase 'writing as' used (by which I mean misused) in such a way.

'Writing as' is, you see, used when you're writing under a pseudonym, not trying to write something in the style of another author. There are high-profile authors who've 'written as' - Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman or Norah Roberts as JD Robb , but that's because those were made-up names and not real people they were seeking to emulate (given that Bachman allegedly claimed his religion was 'rooster worship', that's probably for the best in Steve K's case).

For crying out loud, when Kingsley Amis wrote a Bond book, he did so under a pseudonym, but the editions of that book which state his true identity say it was 'Kingsley Amis writing as Robert Markham' (as you can just about see if you peer at the bottom of the cover here).

I'm guessing it's not Mr Faulks's fault; he seems to be a genuine fan of Fleming's work, and is trying to emulate the style of Fleming - but then again, so was Raymond Benson, the previous author who wrote authorised Bond novels, and his cover credit wasn't that he was writing as Ian Fleming, it was just his name. Unlike Faulks, who's well-known in his own right, Benson could probably have used that kind of promotional push. And marketing is where I think the idea for this bizarre bit of branding probably originated, to be honest - I just wish that they'd put something like 'After' or 'In The Style Of' or… I dunno, maybe come up with their own set of words to describe it, rather than using a phrase which already has a meaning.

Unless, of course, this is the way the popular kids are using the phrase 'writing as' now. That being the case, this post is by John Soanes, Writing As Charles Dickens.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Look, This Is Just Getting Stupid Now. Would Any Book Designers Care To Put Me On A Retainer Or Something?

Friday, 6.53pm, a designer is on the phone:
"Look, I know I said I'd be home in time to say goodnight to the kids, but I... no, it won't wait until Monday, it's got to be done before I go home.
What? Oh, I dunno, it's about a Chinese policeman or something... anyway, I need to - what? Hang on... yeah, you might be onto something there, actually.
Yeah, I can do that - just take that Japanese novel from a couple of years ago, and maybe take off the knife... hmm, still looks a bit similar, someone might notice. Oh, I know, it's a thriller, I'll just colour the whole image red. Brilliant. Blurbs top and bottom... and I'm done.
Yeah, yeah, all done now, tell the kids I'll be back in less than an hour.
Yes, I love you too. Bye."

Friday, May 16, 2008

If All Else Fails, I Could Always Offer It To PublishAmerica*

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently sent off some sample chapters of my novel 'Human Noises' to a literary agent, asking if they'd like to represent me.

They replied quite quickly, and this week I got a nice polite e-mail back saying that it wasn't for them. Which is fine - in fact, I was rather pleased that they added a note to the effect that this sort of thing is very subjective, and that I should see what other agencies thought of it. I was planning on doing so anyway, but it was nice of them to add that it's a subjective thing - which, of course, it is; one man's Da Vinci Code is… well, okay, my Da Vinci Code, but you know what I mean - there are countless schadenfreude-filled reports of the people who rejected The Beatles, Fred Astaire, Joanne Rowling, and so on. Not that I'm saying my work is of that calibre, of course, but there's some reassurance for the rest of us in the fact that even those folks knew what it was like to get a 'thank you, but not for us' reaction.

So I'm undeterred, and will find another vict- er, I mean agent to send it on to. It may well be that it's going to be rejected by every agent in town until I'm forced to face the fact it's unpublishable because it's a load of garbage (you can reach your own conclusions by checking out the sample chapters here - feel free to let me know what you think), but until then I'll be sending it out and hoping for some good news… and, of course, working on 'The Body Orchard', my next novel.

Well, it's important to keep the words flowing, wouldn't you agree?

*PublishAmerica very nearly published Atlanta Nights, so I like to think they might consider me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sometimes The Devil (Or In This Case The Demon Agat) Is In The Details

In September, DC Comics will be publishing a deluxe reprint of Frank Miller's 1983-4 comic series Ronin.

Here's hoping that the oversized, super-deluxe edition restores the line of dialogue which was in the final panel of page 48 of chapter six, and which seems to have been absent from printings of the reprint volume for the last decade or so (see comparison of original and reprint, above).

As with the single digit '5' that was missing from the final chapter of printings of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four following an error in the 1951 edition (it's what Winston is 'almost unconsciously tracing with his finger in the dust on the table'), it's a small omission, but one which seriously detracts from the meaning of the tale's ending.

All images are, of course, utterly (c) copyright Frank Miller 1983, 2008. No infringement is intended, I'm just an eagle-eyed reader.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

LINK: Good Science (Not Bad Science) Podcast

I'm always interested in the work of Chris Morris - it might not always have me laughing out loud, but it's never dull or unoriginal - so was intrigued to find that he'd recently visited the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and recorded a podcast about the subject.

As I said last week, I like a good podcast, and whilst the sound quality often leaves a bit to be desired (I'm guessing they only had one microphone), it's interesting and worth a listen.

You can read more about how it came to be here, or if you just want to get on with downloading it, right-click and 'Save Target As…' here.

Hope you find it as interesting as I did.

The Truth Isn't Always A Beacon That Lights Our Way, Sometimes We Stumble Upon It

Me, ranting on Sunday afternoon:

"I really don't get it when people are so keen on Sex And The City, I really don't.

I mean, it's totally phony and unrealistic, and seems to suggest that if you go out and buy some stuff, your life will be perfect, which has to be unhealthy.

And the worst thing about it is that people seem to take it seriously - a worrying number of women I know quote from things in it as if they're real situations and as if you can learn from it, despite the fact that half the things they say sound cool or seem to make some kind of sense at first, but when you actually think about them, they're meaningless, and total breakdowns in logical thinking and… oh my god. I've just realised.

Sex And The City is Top Gear for women, isn't it?"

The Best Man For The Job, Rather Alarmingly

So, my best Oscar Wilde impression there. I'm certainly working on the rotundity of the post-Reading years, I fear.

Anyway, as you can probably deduce from the picture, I was at a wedding over the weekend - and a fab one it was too, probably one of the best I've ever attended, as it was amazingly relaxed. And I say this despite being the Best Man, so you'd think I'd have been all stressed and harried because of my role, but not so.

Doing the speech was, for an egomaniac like me, a delight, and it went over well; I'll cheerfully admit that I wanted to get tears from some members of the audience for some of the bits of the speech, and indeed there was some dabbing at the corner of the eyes from some of the attendees (though the cynical might suspect this is more to do with suffering than a surge of emotion). And laughter at other points in the speech, which made my ego swell in a way that I only later realised I'd known before.

It was, I suddenly thought, like the times when I used to dabble at stand-up comedy; when it was going well, you could get the crowd to go with you on some of the more fanciful notions, and the brain seemed to think of things and put them into words faster than you might otherwise have thought possible. Like in writing or painting or many other fun pursuits (yes, even that one) you feel very much one with the moment, and the gap between thought and action is startlingly small.

When it goes badly, on the other hand, it's embarrassing (though that doesn't really worry me much, on the basis that it's only a handful of minutes out of my life, usually in front of people I'll never see again) but more than anything it feels clunky and awkward, as if the words and the ideas themselves are fundamentally wrong in some way. Professional comedians speak of how a joke that kills one night will itself die a death the next, and though I hardly did that many stand-up spots, I certainly had my fair share of 'hmm, that one worked fine last time' moments.

Anyway, that's all rather by the by (and certainly in the past), though it was interesting to have a taste of it once again. M'colleague has suggested that perhaps I should see about becoming a professional best man, which - like so many things he says - I doubt is at all plausible, but one does see adverts offering the services of professional speechwriters, after all. Maybe I could become the Sam Seaborn of the Wedding Speech world ?

Yes, I know, he's better-looking than me, but I'm talking about the writing of speeches here, not the power to make women swoon...

Monday, May 12, 2008

This Week's Puerile Post (Getting It Done Early)

Whilst it's good that they've adhered to a suitably letter-based system for naming the follow-up, I do think that fans of the first film are going to be disappointed by the absence of any of the original cast and characters.

The rest of us will probably be relieved.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Fed Up With Hearing My Words In Your Head? Other Voices Are Available

Despite the fact that the word itself is almost irritatingly ubiquitous, I have to say that I like a good podcast. And, as you'll see from the following, I may not be averse to the odd bad one either.

I'm pretty certain (read: I can't be bothered to check the archives) that I've mentioned a few of my favoured podcasts before, but as it's Friday and it's been a stunningly busy week, I thought I'd do a semi-cheat post and collate a list of the ones I enjoy, and want to recommend. They're all issued on a weekly basis (most of the time), and are speech-based (though a couple of them are effectively radio shows with the songs removed for what I guess are copyright and royalty-related reasons), and I find them a pretty good way to cheer up a commute or jog or similar block of time where you may not want to, or be able to, read.

Anyway, onto the list, with - inevitably - my thoughts on them:

Adam and Joe - not quite on a par with their XFM podcasts (which I'm pretty sure are available on iTunes, and are worth hunting down), but these BBC 6Music shows are nonetheless very funny indeed. The 'Song Wars' feature is impressive - they put a lot of effort into nonsense songs on a particular theme, and the songs are frequently as accomplished as anything that makes the charts. Their banter is relaxed and suitably idiotic, and they make often each other laugh in a deeply unprofessional fashion, which makes it feel all the more jolly. In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Adam is apparently a friend of a friend of mine, but I've never met him, and used to watch their Channel 4 show before I knew of this, so I consider this recommendation to be fairly free of nepotism. The show goes out on Saturday, and the pod is usually cast by midday on Monday.

Word Magazine - a weekly podcast only tenuously related to my (current) favourite 'music and stuff' magazine, with a rotating cast of voices, though it's usually chaired by publisher David Hepworth and/or editor Mark Ellen. Recent weeks have seen guests such as Supergrass, Chris Difford and Claire Grogan, which adds amusing variety, though it's not really needed; the subjects vary wildly, and given that most of the people involved have worked in music magazines or TV or radio for a long time, a lot of silly behind-the-scene experiences get shared. The sound quality's pretty variable - though they acknowledge that and recent weeks have seen it improve - but it's worth trying to ignore that and have a listen, as it often feels like a virtual version of sitting in the pub with some interesting people. There's usually one podcast a week, issued on Tuesday (occasionally) or Wednesday (more frequently).

Russell Brand - I've mentioned more than once before that I like Brand, and this podcast, the edited highlights of his weekly BBC Radio 2 show, pretty amply demonstrates why. Alternately egged on and held back by his friend and producer Matt Morgan (who's known him long enough to remind him of embarrassing incidents in his life, and not to take any guff when Brand gets prima-donna-y), there are frequently insane flights of fancy and all sorts of quick-witted wordplay, much of which will, I suspect, come as a surprise to people who think that Brand spends all his time having sex, or trying to have sex, with women (though that aspect of his life is a recurrent theme). Noel Gallagher of Oasis frequently phones the show to provide an antidote to the dandified behaviour, and as Brand's recently been in the USA shooting and promoting a film, he's had guests such as Kristen Bell and Seth Rogan in the studio, for semi-interviews which are more playful and less riddled with plugs than the average radio or TV appearance. The show goes out on Saturday nights, and the podcast is usually available by Wednesday.

Collings and Herrin - or, to use their proper names, Andrew Collins and Richard Herring. This gloriously lo-fi podcast started a couple of months ago, as Collins and Herring realised they used to enjoy their stupid discussions of the news and newspapers when they were on BBC 6Music together. It's recorded on a laptop, often with them eating as they go, and they cheerfully admit they don't listen to it or re-edit it in any way. It sounds like it, to be honest, but Herring's tendency to take an idea and run with it beyond any usual boundaries of taste (a hallmark of his recent stand-up shows) makes it all worthwhile, as he often ends up making ludicrous comments which somehow aren't quite as ridiculous as they should be. Collins is a good writer and broadcaster, so is able to marshal this madness into some kind of coherent shape, and is also very good at pointing out the hypocrisies of the press (such as them pretending to be appalled at photos of starlets spilling out of their dresses whilst still printing the pictures). They record this (usually at one of their homes) on Friday, and it's often available to download the very same day. The wonders of technology, eh ?

… well, that wasn't such a lazy-cheat post after all, was it ? As ever, I ended up running away at the mouth (well, keyboard). All of the above, by the way, are totally free of charge, and should work equally well on most mp3 players and iPods alike (the 'pod' bit of 'podcast' is rather misleading, I think), but I'm afraid I can't offer any kind of techie advice or customer support, you download them at your own risk, and I will not be held liable. You must be *this* tall to go on the ride, please keep your hands inside the car at all times.

Now, I've shown you mine, you show me yours - am I missing out on any really good podcasts? Some people say that Mark Kermode's film reviews are worth reviewing, and I've heard some good things (and some bad things too) about Ricky Gervais's podcast, so point me in the right direction, I beg of you.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sometimes, It's Not The Front Covers Of Books Which Make Me Roll My Eyes In Despair

Yesterday, I bought the paperback of Sir Ranulph Feinnes's autobiography; he's climbed Everest and been to at least one of the Poles, and the other year he ran seven marathons in as many days, or something equally insane-sounding, so I think he's a chap whose life story will be an interesting one. And besides, it was half price in Books etc.

On the back cover, though, there are a number of quotes, including the following from the Daily Mail:

"Sir Ranulph has earned his place in the heroic roll call of Scott, Shackleton and the rest."

… I get the idea that the Mail reviewer was struggling to find people to name-drop who were, y'know, British. Hillary and Norgay, Amundsen, and even Columbus spring to mind, and oddly enough I have no problem in doffing my hat (or at the very least touching the brim) to people who've achieved things but happen to have been born outside of this sceptred isle.

The Daily Mail, on the other hand...

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

This Book Cover Reprinted In The Spirit Of Irony, And Acknowledgement Of How Time, Experience And Emotion Conspire To Make Fools And Liars Of Us All

A number of people, including m'colleague, have pointed to the election of Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, and suggested it's a bad thing, and that we who live in London should hang down our heads in shame.

As I think I've said before, I'm registered to vote, but find none of the candidates credible or worthy of my vote, and there's no 'None Of The Above' option on the ballot paper for me to express that dissatisfaction; indeed, if you spoil your voting paper, not only do you slow the count down for people who have voted, but your spoiled paper is discounted from the final 'adjusted' figures as if it was never there. So, consider me disenfranchised.

And please don't give me any of that 'if you don't vote you can't complain' piffle - I consider myself eminently placed to complain both about the system which excludes me, and the calibre of the candidates. As a vegetarian of many years standing, I compare it to a restaurant which doesn't offer a veggie option. Am I allowed to say I think that restaurant's limited in its offerings? I think that only the most rabid of carnivores would say no.

I think it was very much an election of personalities, with Londoners deciding that they'd rather see how the possibly racist candidate fared in office, as opposed to the present incumbent with his apparent tendency to compare people to nazis. Well, when I say 'Londoners', I mean less than half of those registered to vote, as the turnout was just under 50%. Hardly what you'd call a mandate.

Of course, the people who stand to lose the most from Johnson's election to power are also those who are currently most happy about it - and by that, of course, I mean the Evening Standard newspaper. Even to my politically uninterested eye, they've been blatantly anti-Livingstone all the way (and yesterday's front cover relegated the news that 20,000 people may be dead in Burma in favour of a large picture of Boris cycling to work), so they're currently very pleased to have their candidate in office. But the way they've pimped him so shamelessly and built up expectations of enormous change sweeping through London has to be hopelessly unrealistic. Boris will, like all politicians, make mistakes and suffer setbacks to his plans and all the usual stuff which is wheeled out whenever election pledges aren't met, and I think the staff of the Evening Standard are likely to have something of a rude awakening.

Being the gullible dupe I am, of course, I've been taken in completely by their support and outrageous claims for Johnson, and firmly believe that there is nothing at all which will stand in Boris's way. So by the time the Olympics come to London in 2012, I expect the city to be paved with crushed diamonds, the toilets to flush champagne, and for the skyline to have been transformed into something out of the Jetsons.

I mean, it's not as if politicians and/or the media have ever lied to me before, is it ?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"I'm Walking Round London In My Bra!"

Those words, my friends, comprised the subject line of an e-mail I recently received from my friend Debs. Good attention-grabbing trick, I have to say.

Anyway, lest you should think it was a message mistakenly sent as a result of tipsy texting, fear not: Debs is taking part in this year's Playtex Moonwalk here in London on 17 May. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this event, which does sound less like a charitable event and more like the wish-fulfilment of a hormonal teenage boy, a large number of women gather by night and walk 26.2 miles (yes, a marathon) to raise money for breast cancer research. And yes, they do all this with their bras on show.

I know that Debs usually prefers to walk back and forth between the bar and her seat in the pub, so I'm impressed by this charitable gesture, and yes, you guessed it, I'm asking you to sponsor her. It's a good cause and a substantial challenge, so if you good people could find it in your hearts to donate a couple of quid, it'd be much appreciated. Debs is aiming to raise £500, and is about 80% of the way there, so any donation, no matter how small (or indeed large) would be smashing.

You can donate online by clicking here, and your donations are - unlike a GMTV phone-in - completely secure, and if you're a UK Taxpayer, the magic of Gift Aid could bump up your donation by 28% at no extra charge to you. Debs will thank you, and so do I.

And if you're the hormonal teenage boy I mentioned earlier, and have found this by Googling in some sauciness-seeking fashion, don't be dismayed, there's even a picture of some women in their bras if you follow the link. But if you do that, you're legally obliged to make a donation, as Debs has friends who can track which computer IP addresses have been to the site to donate, and which ones visited solely to perv.

Oh yes, friends in high places. And low ones too, but that's a story for another time.

Friday, May 02, 2008

I May Write A Pilot Starring A Close-Knit Group Of Ear Specialists In A West Country Hospital. Working Titles Are 'Aural Sects' And 'Dolby City'.*

At the Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharaoh Q&A the other week, Kate Rowland of the BBC Writersroom said that they'd soon be kicking off a talent search called Sharps, and that people should keep their eyes on the website for further details.

So I did - and if you're interested in writing, you should probably do the same, as there are often posts with details of writing competitions or other opportunities in a variety of bradcast media - and lo and behold, details of 'Sharps' have now been posted.

It seems pretty interesting to my mind - the brief is for a half-hour TV script on the topic of 'the nation's health', which it seems you can interpret pretty broadly. After the entries have all been received and sorted, 20 writers will be selected for a workshop, and then eight of them will be asked to attend a week-long residential course with what sounds like a lot of mentoring, as well as £500. Loads of writing-based skills practice, and money? I suspect I won't be the only one who'll be sufficiently enticed to send something in.

I do wonder, though, if they may have made something of a rod for their own backs in regard to the period of time they're allowing to complete the sifting process - the closing date is Monday 16 June, and people who've been shortlisted will be notified by the following Monday, 23 June. That would mean they'll really have to churn through the submissions, especially as the workshop is currently scheduled for 28 June, the Saturday after that.

Still, that's a logistical thing for the good people at the BBC to sort out, and certainly no reason not to enter, as far as I'm concerned. And given that known troublemaker Lucy has today sent a mass e-mail to those of us lucky enough to be listed in her virtual black book, drawing our attention to Sharps, I suspect that many other people who blog on such things may well be thinking of entering too.

Are you planning on having a go? Do feel free to post a comment, or e-mail me at john[at], I'd curious to know.

*I am very, VERY sorry about this.

A (Cover) Design For Life?

These two book covers aren't quite twins (more like half-siblings), though they have both been published recently.

More alarming, though, is the sentence which is created by reading their titles in sequence.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Health And Safety In My Workplace

Spotted in the kitchen in my place of work.

Microwave energy? Emanating from a microwave oven ? No! Surely you kid!