Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good-Bye To All That

As a year comes to a close, it's traditional to look back on the its various events and achievements.

Being a non-traditional sort, though, I'd just like to take a moment to talk about something which I hope we'll see the end of when midnight chimes. I don't want to sound overly negative, but it'd be nice to see this one thing go when the year ends. And that thing is...

People taking offence on behalf of other people.

Actually, I should probably qualify that slightly - it's more a case of people continuing to take offence (or claiming to, but I'll get to that in a minute) on behalf of other people, when those others have either said they're not bothered or they've accepted an apology.

The obvious example would be the Daily Mail-led campaign to continue to be shocked and horrified about the prank phone calls to Andrew Sachs, but this year we've also seen a fuss about Ben Elton making jokes about the Royal Family; there are probably other examples, but the key thing about all of these events to my mind is the fact that the person who was directly affected by the remarks accepted an apology from the so-called offender (or, in the case of the Elton 'fuss', saw the joke, it seems. So it is a bit odd that people who are not directly involved should continue to stoke the fires of outrage, when the one whose feelings could be legitimately stung is moving on and getting over with it.

I suggested above that the people who get all offended about such matters aren't truly offended, and whilst I don't feel that's the case about all such instances, I think a lot of the time the vicarious offendees are taking a slightly odd delight in feeling affronted. I'd been struggling to verbalise why people might want to do this - beyond the fact that, unfortunately, some people seem to take delight in being angry more often than not - but fortunately, a line on an episode of The West Wing I was watching summed it up for me:

DONNA: ...they're shocked and appalled and disappointed but really, they're none of those things, they just wish they were. So, never miss an opportunity to feel morally superior.
And I think that's at the heart of it - a lot of the time, these 'campaigns' seem to be organised not with the intention of ensuring respect for the monarchy, or ... er, that people don't ring grandfathers and talk about their granddaughters' sexual activity (not actually one of the biggest blights on society today, I suspect), but more of allowing the person being shocked and horrified to feel that they're morally superior to the miscreant whose actions they're so very appalled by.

To use a phrase I've written before, I question their sincerity. Yes, many of the jokes that people claim to be so appalled by may not be incisive or sharp, and may well be ill-judged, but they rarely seem to merit the big hoo-hah that follows; a lot of the time, the involvement of newspapers (especially in cases where the BBC can be given a kicking) makes me wonder how much of it is a crusade for social justice, and how much of it is a decision to try to have their paper spearhead a campaign against [whatever] by way of making newsprint seem important and current and relevant in the face of stiff competition from 24-hour news channels and new media.

On a meta- level, you might well ask why I'm so bothered by this when most of the attacks have been on comedians and writers and the like; surely, one might think, it's paradoxical at best and hypocritical at worst for me to be offended on behalf of these other people. And I might agree, but for the fact that I, and everyone else who spends time watching TV or film or listening to the radio or reading, suffers if we live in an environment in which producers or publishers are constantly examining works in case they offend, they might offend, or someone might take offence at the very possibility that they might offend someone else. Whilst many people are aware of the protests at the time of the release of Monty Python's Life Of Brian (pictured), it's all too easy to forget that now, just under thirty years later, it's seen not only as one of the funniest films ever made, but one of the most insightful about the nature of religion and belief. At the time, it was deeply offensive and shocking and blasphemous, but now it's held up as being a classic of intelligent humour, and without its creators being able to risk offence those insights (and jokes) would never have been made.

I wouldn't want to pretend that Frankie Boyle's joke about the Queen's ladyparts is likely to be as respected as "You've got to think for yourself! You're all individuals!" in years to come, but an intellectual climate in which material which might possibly offend any portion of the audience has to be excised is a perfect breeding ground for intellectual stagnation, and - ironically - TV schedules full of material which, by its sheer blandness, I find deeply offensive (for example, the currently-on programmes All Star Family Fortunes and All Star Mr And Mrs, whose titles and content differ so wildly I'm surprised Trading Standards haven't intervened).

In 1990, Salman Rushdie wrote the Hubert Reid Memorial lecture, entitled "Is Nothing Sacred?"; due to his life being threatened for some words he had written on religious matters, Rushdie was in hiding, and so the lecture was delivered by Harold Pinter. In the lecture, Rushdie argues the case for literature being allowed to say things and propose ideas that people might not like, and compares literature to a small room in a large house, in which anything might be said:

"The room is empty, but there are voices in it, voices that seem to be whispering just to you. You recognize some of the voices, others are completely unknown to you. The voices are talking about the house, about everyone in it, about everything that is happening and has happened and should happen. Some of them speak exclusively in obscenities. Some are bitchy. Some are loving. Some are funny. Some are sad. The most interesting voices are all these things at once."
A similar analogy might be struck for almost any form of media or other means of communication, and whilst I'd strongly urge you to read the entire lecture, if you apply Rushdie's 'room model' to a medium you care about - whether it be film or TV or radio - then the final line of the lecture, even if slightly edited, cannot fail to give pause for thought:

"Wherever in the world the little room [...] has been closed, sooner or later the walls have come tumbling down."
And on that relentlessly cheerful note, this blog bids farewell to 2009 - and, hopefully, to the idea of taking offence, or pretending to take offence, at jokes or comments or ideas, specifically those which relate to another who is notably less concerned by them. I question the sincerity of those who do so on a regular basis, and so perhaps we can close the door (with a hearty slam) on this practice as we leave this year - indeed, this decade.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dropping One, As It Were

As the year draws to a close, I think that I can presume upon your discretion, and make something of a confession.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, the BBC1 station ident looked like this:

The thing was this; I didn't really know what the picture was meant to depict, and so I mistook the negative space to the right of Africa, thinking it was meant to be the depiction of something. And as a child of the 1970s, I thought it was meant to be this:

Seriously, it's true.

...and if the intent behind this post pans out, you might never look at the globe in the same way again. And it works for the Peters version of the world as well.

If you think this post is asinine, you should be glad I didn't post about how I thought pansies the flowers and chimpanzees the primates were the same thing, which made me scared to get too close to flower beds. Mum, Dad, if you're reading this, it's true; at that tender age I was not aware of the concept of a homophone. Oh, the shame of it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Does This Put Anyone Else In Mind Of Monty Python's Galaxy Song?

"Makes you feel sort of insignificant, doesn't it?"

Anyway, nicely done stuff, I feel.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Writing For Film - A Good Practice Guide

It came out a couple of months ago, but embarrassingly, I only thought to mention it when it arrived through my letterbox the other day...

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain has produced a good practice guide to writing film. It's aimed both at screenwriters and people who work with them, and contains information on practical stuff like contracts, all in one place. And whilst I'll openly admit I'm not currently in a position where anyone's asking me to sign contracts for my writing, I like to think it can't hurt to be informed on this sort of thing.

The guide was posted out to Guild members with the latest quarterly magazine, but it's free of charge as a PDF, which you can download here, whether or not you're a member.

Though I'd have to say that it's not as expensive as you might think to join the Writers' Guild (just over £8 per month for Candidate Members, which covers folks like me), so it's worth thinking about, wouldn't you say?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

You Call It Light Content, I Call It Art... With Facile Captions (Day 2 of 2)

Voice over loudhailer:
"I repeat, advanced swimmers only beyond the gorse bush, please. Advanced only."

Apologies to John Everett Millais. And, by association, to Bill Shaky.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

You Call It Light Content, I Call It Art... With Facile Captions (Day 1 of 2)

"Be honest, now. Does this hat make my bum look big?"

Apologies to Sally Dali. And Arabella Weir.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Topical And Obscure At The Same Time

As I've mentioned a tiresome number of times, I'm a fan of TV show Twin Peaks.

And, what with it being Christmas Day and all, it seems the perfect chance to link to this...

The Twelve Days Of Christmas, as performed by the cast of Twin Peaks.

As HM Betty might say, a very Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones.

Happy Holidays To You!

From Mr Hankey, and everyone here at Soanes Towers, a very merry Yule / Christmas / Kwanzaa / Hannukah /Other Festival*.

Today, I hope you're with people you like, and who like you too.

*Please delete as applicable.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I Really Ought To Learn Not To Leave My Christmas Shopping Until The Last Minute

It's not really my fault it happened; I needed to get someone a pressie by the time the shops closed, time and money alike were running out, and then I saw something which looks to be a combination of a respected name and zero expenditure.

There was only one left on the shelf in the department store, so I grabbed it.

For such a small woman, the undercover store detective was surprisingly fast and strong, I have to say. But I was coming quietly, there was no need for that second kick to the, swimsuit area.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Deck The Halls, By All Means, But Let's Not Get Too Carried Away, Eh?

I've written before about my fondness for Moleskine notebooks, and I still use them as my scribble-place of choice.

And I can understand why, as an item of good design and quality, they inspire a certain following and indeed adoration (after all, the list of sites in the right-hand column of this blog includes Moleskinerie).

But this is just going too far.

I mean, really.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Return Of The 'Jack

A second series of BBC7 topical radio comedy Newsjack has been commissioned, and like the first series, they're looking for material from new writers - or old or increasingly-old writers; anyone, really. Which has to be a good thing.

Full details of the show and how you can go about sending them material are located here, and it's got to be worth a go, right?

I mean, you don't even have to pay for a stamp (if you're reading this, I'm going to assume you have internet access). Which is handy, as - let's face it - very few of us feel actively wealthy as January hoves into view.

Monday, December 21, 2009

And No, I Don't Think It's The Result Of A Marty McFly-Style Casting Change After They's Started The FX Work. I'm Just Being Stupid, As Usual.

As you probably know, in the film Avatar, technology allows humans to put their consciousness into artificially-grown bodies (hence the title).

The idea is that the avatars look a bit like the human in question, but all through the film (yes, I've seen it: capsule review - very good, but too long), I kept thinking that the avatar of the character played by Sam Worthington, who looks thus:

... looked a lot more like Brendan Fraser.

Is there a medical term for the tendency to 'pattern recognise' and seek similarities where there may be none? If so, I have it. Or, at least, an analysis of my posts and thought patterns alike seems to suggest just such a pattern of behaviour.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

(Sung) It's Cutting It A Bit Fine For Christmas...

... but nonetheless, if you want to learn some crafty ways to save money on stuff from Amazon, why not have a look here?

The trick about creating your own links to find bargains strikes me as probably the craftiest bit - and it seems to be perfectly legal to do so, in case you're worried about such things.

Though looking at the site-trackback data for visitors to this site, I don't think that'd generally be much of a concern, you bunch of reprobates.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Well-Known Joke Amongst Comic Readers, But One Which Deserves A Wider Audience, I Think...

It's almost impossible to conclude somebody didn't giggle when they suggested the title of this comic to the folks at Marvel.

Probably a good job that search engines didn't exist at the time. How many innocent comic readers* would have been made to look like a filthmaniac by their Internet History?

*Possibly a contradiction in terms, mind you. I've been to enough shops and conventions to know. Oh by jiminy yes.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Those Who Do Not Learn From The Past..."

And the lesson calls out from antiquity:

"Facebook, Blogging, Twitter - as I am now, so you shall be..."

Videogame Advice Sought

Can any of you good people recommend me something that ticks all the following boxes?
  • PS2 game
  • Creepy like Resident Evil or Silent Hill
  • Two people can play at once

Anyone? I'd genuinely appreciate being pointed in a suitable direction, as Mrs S and I would like some creepy game-playing thrills (not like that... you appal me).


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spotted In East London...

... the Ghost of Christmas Fast Food, perhaps?

The idea of being in McDonald's on Christmas Day is one I find strangely troubling, I have to say. And not because I'm a vegetarian.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

[Insert Predictable Piscine Pun Title Here]

Now available to download for free, the final episode (of the current run, anyway) of comedian Richard Herring's podcast series As It Occurs To Me.

In case you're not familiar with it, or Mr Herring generally, it's quite an interesting set up - or, if you prefer, 'business model' for a show. It's recorded live in London before an audience who've paid the nominalish amount of £10, and then released, without editing, the next day to download for free.

Herring's been on TV and radio sporadically over the years, but he's kept working steadily in a variety of areas since his TV shows have failed to be recommissioned, and in the last couple of years he's started doing podcasts for free - firstly with writer Andrew Collins and then the above-linked AIOTM (as he insists on calling it) - and he seems to be doing all right as a result; his stand-up tours sell well, and I think he was on Never Mind The Buzzcocks on BBC2 the other week. Which probably helps pay the bills, while he carries on doing a job he enjoys.

Anyway, whilst the final show - by Herring's own admission - contains so many in-jokes as to be almost meaningless to a first-time listener, I'd recommend the series as a whole; it is, as I say, free, and whilst the unedited nature of it means it's pretty rough round the edges a lot of the time, there are a lot of jokes in the show, as well as (warning) a lot of imaginative profanity.

Mrs Soanes and I were at the live recording on Monday night, and I'd say that, despite (perhaps even because of?) its shameless self-indulgence, it was probably the best of the run, as it contained so many payoffs and callbacks to previous episodes, all tied together in quite a clever way. And some turns of phrase which were both shockingly rude and impressively colourful.

Not one for granny, then, but I'd say it's certainly worth the muscle involved in a bit of clicking and downloading.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

If You Saw The British Comedy Awards At The Weekend...

... you may, like me, have been wondering who did the rather clever depictions of comedians as superheroes.

Wonder no more: Jon Haward did some of them, and jolly well too, I think you'll agree.

More images, in the form of screengrabs, here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Eleven Months After I Posted My Theory, Confirmation Arrives

In January, I asked if this poo level of service had been experienced by anyone else.

In December, a survey by Consumer Focus finds that 55% of people polled had suffered the same stupidity.

I'm actually more jealous than surprised or annoyed; I wish I got paid in advance for failing to provide a decent service, but unfortunately my day job expects me to actually do the work before handing over any money.

Perhaps performance-related pay for parcel deliveries is the way to go?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Curling Up With A Script Which Won't Curl Up At The Edges

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - himself no slouch in writing terms - once observed that "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius”, so with that in mind, I'd point you towards an opportunity to learn about writing, by learning from people who are ... well, let's say they're doing pretty well at it.

Via this link, you can download a slew of PDFs for films which are tipped to win Oscars. For free. Yes, free.

So get clicking and right-clicking, and you can see how it was done in films like Moon, Coraline and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Can't hurt, after all...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mind Your Language

You have to be careful if you're marketing a product overseas; we've all seen articles about funny-named foodstuffs from overseas which have names like Krappi, Bumm and Peroneum.

Take, for example, this current advert for a fine fragrance:

Leaving the whole Catwoman similarities thing, I'd say the name's a bit of a misfire for international use; in the USA and many other countries, the Name Ricci Ricci will make many people think of the Harvey comics character portrayed on the big screen by Macauley Culkin...

...which at least has the cachet of wealth, if not necessarily glamour, but in the UK people are probably more likely to hear "Ricci Ricci" and think of -

- Rik Mayall as Richard Richard from Bottom.

And whilst I'm no marketing guru, I'd guess that kind of association is probably not what sells fancy perfume.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hello Wembley, Goodbye Dome

A lot of people don't care for the work of comedian Michael McIntyre; I've heard complaints that he's too lightweight, that he's too slick, and even (more strangely) that he laughs too much at his own material.

Anyway, I like his stuff - it reminds me, in a way, of Bob Monkhouse, in that it's very slick and polished, which can be slightly offputting, but lurking beneath it is a lot of work and comedy knowledge. It's a funny convention of comedy performance that a lot of the time comedians are expected to deliver lines as if they've just occurred to them, I always think.

All that aside, whether you like or loathe Mr McIntyre, I think that very few people won't see their estimation of him raised by this news report from earlier this week.

As we cool kids say whilst bumping knuckles*, respect is due.

*Not like that, you filthy sort.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cover Design Aside, I'm Currently Reading - And Enjoying - The First Of These Three Books

A smudge under 18 months ago, I suggested that book designers were being rather unimaginative by putting 'a shadowy figure in a corridor' on the covers of thrillers.

I have to report that the trend doesn't seem to be on the wane...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Or, In My Case, The Whinging Defective

In the classic TV series The Singing Detective, written by Dennis Potter, there's a scene where the main character, Philip Marlow, is talking with his psychiatrist.

By trade, Marlow is a writer of detective novels which are more hard- than soft-boiled, but his doctor notes that there's a section about sex in one of his novels which seems out of place; when pressed, Marlow is forced to admit - even if only to himself - that it reflects his own deeper feelings about the subject.

It's not any kind of insight, I know, that people who make things often reveal a lot about themselves in their work - whether intentionally or otherwise - and so I offer an excerpt from my own writing, so you can play 'spot the author lurking within the text'.

It's from a novel called Coming Back To Haunt You (which is unpublished, because it's unfinished - I was forced to abandon it when I realised it bore a shocking similarity to a film which I genuinely hadn't seen until I was about a third of the way into writing it).

The novel is about Nick Peters, a seemingly normal chap who suddenly finds himself the target of what looks like a revenge campaign, though he has no idea who's behind it or why. In the following excerpt, Nick is looking online for any kind of hint as to why he's now being hounded, and he starts to look for information about people from his past.

He went to friendsreunited, and browsed around it for a while, looking up details of the class he'd been in when he did his GCSEs, and then the class in the sixth form, for A-Levels. There were a few jolts at seeing names he'd long forgotten, and at uploaded photos showing fashions and haircuts which were best forgotten, but there was no-one there who he'd crossed in any way.

He'd never bullied anyone, or been bullied, never gone head-to-head with anyone in sports clubs or chess or debating or public speaking, and never denied anyone a prize or an award through a sudden show of academic ability; he'd never broken anyone's heart - or even dented or vaguely bent one, as far as he knew - dished out a black eye or a brutal insult, never scratched a pencil case or broken a pair of glasses; he'd never stolen from anyone, never cheated in an exam or forged a signature on a permission slip or school report; he'd never gone to school drunk or high, even on the last day of his final term when all the A-levels were done and his college place almost certain.

[...] he trawled through the screens of names from the past, photos of buildings which he thought he'd forgotten but still occasionally dreamt of, and read reminiscences about teachers and end-of-year plays and school trips which made it sound as if these funny happenings had been the everyday and usual, and attending lessons or hurrying to hand in coursework on time or copying homework at lunchtime or revising or turning over an exam paper or hearing the words "Stop writing now, please" - all these things had been the exception, the distraction from the whole process of being a teenager, and he had the horrible feeling inside that he'd wasted the best years of his life, that all the best parties with the prettiest most fanciable girls had been taking place somewhere else, and that he wasn't invited, never had been invited, and certainly hadn't been missed.

Further comment seems unnecessary, really; I feel oddly exposed by that chunk of text.

Thinking about it, it may be for the best that it didn't make it into print (though I'd imagine an editor would probably have asked me if this section couldn't have been pruned, if not removed entirely).

Anyway: hmm.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

So, Like One Other, Then

An advert I saw for Wound magazine (no, I don't know if it's pronounced to rhyme with bound or Zounds):

But what's that tagline? 'Like no other'? Er...

Ah well.

Monday, December 07, 2009

One Of Us Has Matured Into A Deft And Skilled Writer

Back in my teen years (yes, that's right, it was a very long time ago), I had a bit of a crush on a music journalist who used to appear on TV occasionally - impressively, she seemed to be about my age, but somehow was a lot more eloquent than my spotty teenage self.

Lo and behold, in the intervening decades, it turns out that Caitlin Moran - for it is she of whom I speak - has become even better at writing, while I... well, my skin's cleared up, if nothing else.

Anyway, here's an example of her current work in reviewing TV shows (cut and pasted from the Times website, as Mr Murdoch likes us all to do):

...the voiceover began with the insistence that the Queen’s story “is all our stories” — surely to the annoyance of everyone’s internal fomenting peasant. You can claim a lot of things on behalf of the Queen — admirably consistent hair, biggest jewel collection in Europe, magically tolerant of Prince Edward — but “being like everyone else” is a difficult ball to lob across the courts of reason. Indeed, when it comes down to it, The Queen is pretty much the apogee of singular stories, given that she is the only person in the world who owns 16 countries.

I like that a lot, and there's more of the same quality of material to be found here. I think her stuff reads like a less venomous, but equally well-honed, version of Charlie Brooker's work.

Go now. Read columns. Make fire. Ug.

Oh dear, I seem to have regressed to my teenage self. Is this a blackhead I see before me?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

I Could Hardly Believe My Rodent Pies

Spotted in a shop in Holborn, London.

The London version of ratatouille, I suppose.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Are The Boyband Auditions Being Held In The Woods Or Something?

Maybe it's just me, but the werewolves in New Moon really don't look as if they're intended to appeal to teenage girls at all.

Add a couple of years to that audience, and multiply the testosterone level by about 50, and I think we might be getting closer to the actual target demographic.

I am, of course, just jealous; the nearest I get to having a six-pack is devouring a multipack of KitKat Chunky Caramel bars. And I have the circumference to show for it.

Friday, December 04, 2009

In America, Archie Comics Are Seen as Child-Friendly. Tch.

Forget the language used, what's actually most offensive about this cover is Archie's ability to walk on water.

You wouldn't get that kind of talk from that nice Carpenter chap with the Mexican name. Shocking.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

At Least It Was Tastefully Lit

Michael's bid to become a professional photographer floundered; not only did he insist on framing the shot like a scene from the 1960s Batman TV show, but he pointed the camera towards himself instead of the subject.

Fascinating fact: Despite media reports, Michael Buble is not a blood relation of Bubble from Big Brother 2001. They are in fact related by marriage.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You

My eyes! My beautiful eyes!

Actually, number 10 is a film I have fond-ish memories of. Mr Cusack's teen films were always a notch or two above the standard fare, mainly because of the surreal elements. But that poster looks like a Vitalite advert.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Suspended: Disbelief And Animation

So, National Novel Writing Month ended at midnight last night, and if you've been taking part, I hope you made it to 50,000 words without going completely bonkers.

On the other hand, if you're trying to write a novel to a deadline but have two months in which to complete it, there's a very interesting post which I'd point you towards. It's called How to write a novel in two months, and is by a chap called Jeff Vandermeer (who, I see, has written Booklife, which I've seen positively reviewed elsewhere).

I think it's a solid article, with some good advice, and the one thing which I thought was particularly of note was point (7), wherein he says:

"Don’t animate what doesn’t need to be animated. This might just apply to any novel, but it’s especially true when you’re under the gun deadline-wise. There’s a lodge in my novel and separate rooms for all of the guests, along with one common room. There’re maybe two scenes in the separate rooms and lots in the common room. So I spent my time detailing the common room and really didn’t describe the other parts of the lodge at all. There was really no point."
I think this is very astute - I've certainly known novels I've been generally enjoying but have struggled to complete because every time a character walks into a room we get a half-page description of the furniture or whatever; in fact, now I think about it, I gave up on a thriller I was reading some years ago because a row of cars parked outside a building was described in terms of the makes - three Renaults, a Ford, etc - and it not only slowed things down but, as I'm a non-petrolhead, it didn't give me enough information to be able to populate the scene in my mind, and in fact there was probably no need to do so in that level of detail.

What I like about Jeff V's use of the word 'animate', though, is that it suggests a writer can choose just to leave some things as background, like the flats in a stage play, whilst others should be active in some way. In the book I'm currently working on, I have a military base, and there are certain places within it which are plot-related - the medical rooms, the sleeping quarters, and the like - but others are only really relevant insofar as they're potential places for the killer to hide, but they're not of great interest (and thus probably not worthy of going into detail about) in their own right. So I'll try to avoid 'animating' these locations more than is at all necessary.

Anyway, that's what I took away from reading the article - hope you find something similarly useful in it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

See The TV Show, Read The Script (This Offer Valid Today Only)

I've only just spotted it, so there's not much time for you to take this up, but better late than never and all that, eh ?

My point is: you can download the Doctor Who episode 'Partners In Crime' from iTunes for nought pence by clicking here, though that offer expires at midnight tonight, so be swift.

And then, by way of wandering backstage after the show has finished and everyone has gone home, you can download a copy of the script from here and see how it was all done.

I think it's a pretty decent episode, even if the scene where the Doctor and Donna are miming to each other always reminds me of the pictured 'reunion' from Halloween H20...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Contains Strong Language: Oh, Won't Somebody Think Of The Children?

So, this is something which my non-UK readers might be aware of, but Blighty folk will probably have been less likely to have seen. Hence my sharing it.

Pictured below, then, is the 1989 Fleer Baseball Cards picture of Billy Ripken, an infielder from the 1980s to the late 1990s:

This card, however, was withdrawn pretty sharpish because of its dirty vile nature. Don't see it? Well, don't say I didn't warn you, and look at it again.

Still not got it? Look at the pommel, as it were, of the bat.

I know: Shocking.

Even if it does makes me giggle.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

You'll Notice I Don't Mention 'Press Packs' Or Other Such Possibilities.

When the Thomas Harris book Hannibal came out in 1999, I was very keen to read it.

I'd enjoyed Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs - even if they were essentially the same story twice (representative of the FBI reluctantly goes to imprisoned serial killer Hannibal Lecter for insight into a current case), they were solid crime thrillers with a good sense of being a race against time, to stop a killer.

In Hannibal, on the other hand, Lecter has escaped, which removes the ticking clock element, and instead of the reality-based investigation, the tone of the book is more one of gothic melodrama, with an ending that left me speechless in the worst possible way (working from memory: Lecter digs up Clarice Starling's dead dad, drugs her and confronts her with the corpse, and after a bit of her boss's brains being eaten, she and Lecter become lovers). It was like I'd recorded LA Confidential and found that someone had taped Friday the 13th over the last third of it. Very disappointing. But I guess these things happen.

More strangely, though, there seemed to be a lot of very positive reviews of the book when it come out (as evinced here), often using words such as grand guignol, but hardly ever referring to the ending and making me suspect that they hadn't actually read it all the way through before getting their reviews in. Anyway, it certainly made me less trustful of reviews, and blurbs and publicity material (I know, it's appalling that I was 28 before that truth hit home; I like to think of it as a charming kind of naivete, but history will be the judge).

A very similar thing happened to me yesterday in relation to the new John Grisham paperback, The Associate; I used to like Grisham's stuff a lot, though the further I went through the world of legal academia the less I enjoyed them, until I just stopped reading them.

But The Associate sounded more like The Firm, with its storyline about a newly-qualified lawyer in trouble, and I wondered if this might be a fun read. The print reviews certainly seem to suggest so - look at this gallery of praise taken from the Amazon page for the book:

It's a damned good read. This is Grisham returning to what he knows best.
Scotland on Sunday

Grisham paints a fascinating picture. Vintage Grisham, with a really believable ending
The Guardian

Tense and exciting
Evening Standard

The suspense is there in what is easily his most recognisably 'back to form' novel since The Firm. Grisham has returned with a vengeance to his trademark territory: the grim world of corporate law and the sinister machinations of the men on its fringes.
The Times

In typical Grisham fashion it does hurtle along at a decent clip
London Lite

Don't wait for the film read the book first this time. The maestro of the legal thriller's new one centres on a brilliant student with an unfortunate secret.
Daily Sport

A classic Grisham plot, similar to his first major success, The Firm, and told with the same elegance and elan.
The Daily Mail

Grisham never disappoints and this is another fantastic read
The Sun

In The Associate, John Grisham returns to the legal milieu he explored so vividly in The Firm. Grisham is such a storyteller that you want to turn the page
The Guardian

Grisham's new book harks back to the one that made him famous, and effectively defined the legal thriller genre: The Firm. Grisham does a fine job of evoking the insanely competitive culture of a major New York law firm.
The Mail on Sunday

... so, lots of praise there, and many of them referring to the book of his which I'd enjoyed so much, which made me feel it could be one for me... until I went onto the Amazon page and saw that the vast majority of the reviews were negative, and repeatedly spoke about one particular failing: the story just ends without resolving anything.

Seriously, check out the customer reviews; over and over again, people say how much they were enjoying the book, wondering where the story was going and how he was going to tie up the loose ends, and over and over they say that he doesn't, that the book just ends.

And so I don't think this is a book I'll be buying (probably for the best, I have a sizey book-queue already), but I find myself remembering the Hannibal experience and starting to wonder how it is that professional reviewers can overlook something so fundamental as a letdown, or an absent, ending.

I'm very keen on stories that reward you for time expended on reading them by showing that, yes, we were going somewhere all along (and even better if the seeds of the end were planted near the start - as in The Shining), and whilst that'd kind of a personal preference, the concept that 'stories should have a beginning, middle and end' is a fairly well-known one, and you'd expect that most reviews would refer to a weak or rubbish ending (as Marie did in this review on Wednesday).

Deadline problems aside, is there a good reason why this sort of thing happens? Is it seem as in some way gauche to address such fundamental elements of a novel?

And of course, the alleged absence of a climax certainly makes the Guardian quote (second in the list above) look pretty strange - unless they're making the point that sometimes life just carries on without tricky situations being resolved, but that seems an odd thing to do in a thriller.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Emperor's New Trick

Rod was so proud as he showed off his dog's ability to sit and stay for hours as he held a biscuit towards it, no-one had the heart to tell him that the dog and biscuit were both imaginary.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Should Have Bought A Towel As Well

So, following a bit of um-ing and er-ing about it, yesterday I bought myself one of those electronic reader devices - specifically, the Sony PRS600 Touch which you can see in the picture.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I've probably railed against electronic readers before on the blog, which is just typical of my hypocrisy and inability to maintain an opinion - well, either that, or maybe I'm the apotheosis of my suspicion that time, experience and emotion conspire to make fools and liars of us all.

That aside, the rather mundane truth is that I've recently been given some very lengthy PDFs which I need to read and review, and given my tendency to migraine headaches, I don't want to spend any more time in front of a screen than I absolutely have to, and the non-backlit nature of the reader, plus its portability, seems a pretty good solution.

So far, I'm find it's very much fit for purpose. I'm not looking to buy loads of eBooks (if any - I already have enough actual paper books waiting to be read), but I've loaded the PDfs successfully and they seem to work fine. Oh, and Sony give me 100 classic (yes, that does mean out-of-copyright) books with it, so it's fairly well stocked pretty much from the start.

The main reason for my posting, though, is to share something I thought was quite amusing, though perhaps only if you have a bit of familiarity with the book in question; there are various sample chapters on the Reader when you buy it (in a variety of languages: Le Rouge Et Le Noir and Les Trois Mousquetaires, to name but deux), and one of those is the opening couple of chapters of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. I think Douglas Adams would be amused by this.

But no, the Reader doesn't have the words 'DON'T PANIC' inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover. Although a customisation plan does spring to mind...

And before you ask why I didn't just get the Stanza app for the iPhone, my simple answer would be 'because I don't have an iPhone'.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sort-Of Free Comedy CD

If you're a fan of the work of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (I'm talking about the more mainstream stuff here, not Derek and Clive...), then you might be interested in this offer via the Chortle website.

For £1.99, you can get a CD of their sketches 'n' stuff - and that CD itself is nominally free, that's the postage charge.

Not a bad deal, I'd say (oh, and there are other CDs on that link at reduced prices too). Worth a look.

Besides, it gives me the opportunity to post this photo of the lovable duo.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chatsworth Revisited

So, over the weekend, Mrs S and I went to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.

Built in the 1500s, and with landscape gardening by Capability Brown, it's - oh, I can't sustain the factual stuff. Here's a picture of me in the sculpture gallery, pointing at a statue's bottom.

(This post is dedicated to my brother - hope this is sufficiently not-about-writing for you.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Never To Be Repeated Offer

Available for a limited time, a boxed set containing a DVD which contains the highlights of two previously-released DVDs, one of which featured the same material as the other but performed in a different venue.

Buy early for Christmas!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fortunately, Both These News Stories Have A Happy Ending For Everyone Except The Criminals

Five years old: given his state, I wonder if he thought she was a ghost or something.

Ninety-One Years Old and Nude: is anyone else reminded of the man in the bobble-hat who runs out of the house in the film Sideways? No? Ah well, just me then.

And now, over to Derek for the sports update.

Friday, November 20, 2009

You're Aware Of Miranda, Right(s)?

So, slightly tucked away in an odd-ish slot of the BBC schedules (8.30pm on BBC2), is a bit of a gem: the sitcom Miranda, starring and written by Miranda Hart - a name you might not recognise, but you'll probably know her by sight; look, there she is in the picture on the left there, not enjoying a cup of tea. See, told you that you'd recognise her.

Anyway, as I said to m'Mrs yesterday after watching the second episode, it's an almost classic sitcom - packed with jokes and silly situations, it's just the sort of thing I'd hope to see in the 8.00pm slot on BBC1, really, but I guess the slightly rude nature of some of it is what's pushed it to the channel next door. Bit of a pity, as I think this is the sort of show which deserves wider exposure because (a) it's very funny and (b) I'd rather see this kind of show as the standard, not the exception.

But enough plugging, you're probably so completely won over by my praise that you're wondering how you can go about catching up on the series so far. Well, lucky you, the BBC iPlayer is your friend, and you can read more about the programme, and play catch-up, by clicking here.

And if slapstick's your thing, be aware that she does some of the best falling-over work I've seen in quite a while. What with that and verbal gags, I reckon that makes it pretty much something for everyone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Startling Pace Of Technological Advancement

Like many people who'd like to earn their living from writing, I read a lot of books about the business of writing - whether it be for the page or screen or stage or whatever.

Here's a picture of my current reading on this theme:

(I couldn't find a decent-sized picture online, so I took the picture myself - see the trouble I go to for this nonsense?)

The book itself is pretty solid so far, but what I wanted to mention more than anything content-related was the cover; more specifically, the state-of-the-art word processing device pictured at the heart of the cover. Let's zoom in on it, shall we?

That, my loves, is a Smith Corona PWP 7000 word processor, and its inclusion on the cover of the book suggests that at the time of the book's publication, this was something pretty standard (or perhaps slightly aspirational) for writers to have and use.

However, just to see if you're as weirded out by the pace of change as I was when I looked at the copyright details of the book, let me ask you this: what year do you think this book was published? Any ideas?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

The book was published in 1994. Fifteen years ago. And that realisation made me feel very old indeed.

Anyway, I'd better get off the internet now, and clamber back into my bath chair. Nursey gets very angry if I stop the other residents using the home computer.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Advice? Always Pick The Easy Targets

I was interested to see that MP Keith Vaz criticised the recent video game release Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - specifically one bit of it in which undercover soldiers pose as terrorists and are asked to help shoot civilians. He was, apparently, "absolutely shocked" by the violence.

He must, I suppose, be absolutely horrified every time he turns on the TV news or reads a paper, what with their constant reports on the war in Iraq - a war which he voted in favour of. Funny, you would have thought that he'd be against conflicts in which civilians might die, given he's so worried about their welfare.

I'm also a little bit unsure how he got to play the game in question ahead of its release date (he was appalled about it prior to its release on 10 November), but then again, since Keith's expense claims from 2004-2007 include £480 on 22 cushions, £2,614 for a pair of leather armchairs and an accompanying foot stool, £1,000 on a dining table and leather chairs, I suppose it's not too much of a stretch to conclude he's also got a time machine and games console as well. Maybe the expense claims for those items are still in the system.

After all, there's no other way he could have come to an informed conclusion on the issue.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nothing New Under The Sun? Whatever.

Obviously, it's fun for the papers to pretend that the youth of today invented disaffection and nonchalance (a stance which appears to forget the popularity of, say, Brando in The Wild One), and of course it means you can fill column inches with Why Oh Why Oh Why Are The Youth Of Today Impregnating Each Other And Causing House Prices To Collapse? and the like.

However, the shoulder-shrugging lack of interest which young people are often accused of displaying can be traced back many years - to my father's generation, if not before that; here, for example, is Tommy Walls, a character who appeared in many issues of the classic comic Eagle, including its first edition in 1950:

Like so many of the young people on my television set in modern shows such as Police Camera Action Stop Or I'll Shoot in HD, Master Walls appears to be showing a lack of respec' for the official standing next to him, and he doesn't seem in the least bothered that another member of his gang of street toughs is being put into a police van in the background.

Young people thenadays, eh? Tch.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's Easy To Mock when You Don't Really Know What You're Talking About. And Often More Fun, Too.

As I mentioned last week, I'm not following The X-Factor, but of course that doesn't mean I won't make jokes about it.

Case in point:

Frequently Asked Questions: Why are the twins known as 'Jedward' when one is called John and the other Edward? Wouldn't it be more fair if John got more than one letter of his name into the merged noun? And why is Edward's name last?

Less Frequently Offered Answer: Because if a more equal approach was taken, their combined name would probably be ArdOhn.

Thanyew, laygennelmen, you're very kind. I'm here all week.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Not Today, Or Next Sunday, Or Even The Sunday After That, But...

That's right, a Sunday many years into the future.

But, as with global warming and the heat-death of the universe, as a species we need to take a step back and think about the long-term view, otherwise a shocking and terrible fate will befall us all.

What fate, you ask?

The boffins at Popjustice have the details.

I don't know about you, but when my time comes, I think the lycra's going to prove a problem. I don't think I could pull it off. In all honesty, I don't think I'll be able to pull it on, either.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Link Will Self-Destruct In 36 Hours

Thanks to the wondrous BBC iPlayer, one can not only watch TV programmes which you've missed, but you can also listen to radio programmes of interest.

One such programme - if you're interested in writing - is called Write Lines, and was broadcast last week on BBC Radio Oxford. It's the first of four parts, and is hosted by Sue Cook, with contributions from two published authors, a chap from Macmillan New Writing, and other folks who know about it.

Until 10.02pm tomorrow night, you can listen to the first episode here. There's a bit more information about the show itself here.

Caution: Contains an isolated outbreak of Boyzone, but it's an ideal point to make a cup of tea.

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's Not Food On The Table, But...

Over at Dan's Media Digest the eponymous Dan recently ran a competition to win copies of the film Moon, asking people to say, in 69 words or fewer, what they reckoned the best thing would be about living on the moon.

Well, paint my shins and call me Spangles, I only went and won it. I know, I'm as shocked as you are that my wordsmithing could lead to some kind of material (if not financial) gain.

Anyway, you can see my foolish but nonetheless winning entry here. And my thanks to Dan for selecting me as winner.

See? I don't put Dan's site in the link of recommended sites in the right-hand column for no reason - it's very regularly updated, with well-written reviews of TV shows, and interesting snippets of media-related news. Definitely worth adding to your regular haunts, I'd say - and no, I'm not just saying that because he's sending me a DVD.

..though it doesn't exactly put me off.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Week, Three Kings

This makes the third mention of Stephen King on the blog in a week, I think, which is slightly unusual - but maybe it'll go some way to balancing out the countless references to Twin Peaks, Alan Moore and tea.

Anyway, just a quick note to point you towards the online version of The New Yorker, where there's a new short story from Mr King - specifically, here.

It's called - as you can see from the picture - Premium Harmony, and I think it's worth a look (as are his other stories for the magazine, which you can find via this page).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"But Professor, Isn't There A Danger That It Could Become... Self-Aware?"

Many years ago, there was a BBC series called The Living Soap. It was a short-lived fly-on-the-wall documentary series about students in Manchester (so, fly-on-the-magnolia-painted-wall, then).

This was back in the early 1990s, and it was prescient of a lot of current TV reality fare, in that the students were filmed going about their everyday lives. However, unlike the majority of such shows which you'll see now, the episodes were put out at much the same time as they were being made, which caused it to become a bit self-regarding; if memory serves, people in the show would find out things others had said or done by watching a previous episode and seeing events they'd not been present at, and this information would affect how they behaved. Or people in the street would insult or otherwise engage with members of the 'cast', on the basis of how they'd been portrayed in previous episodes.

Obviously, you can't really aim for or maintain verite in that kind of situation, and the show was pulled earlier than planned. But I rather enjoyed it at the time - I've often found myself interested in programmes showing what happens when people are shoved together in an environment; perhaps because I've lived in a variety of shared houses in the past, both as a student and later in life. Anyway, the main lesson which seemed to be learned from The Living Soap was that you shouldn't broadcast episodes of this sort of show while it's still being filmed, as you end up with a snake-eating-its-tail situation.

A similar show (which started at around the same time) is MTV's The Real World. Sticking together a handful of young people (have I just coined a collective noun there?) in a flat or apartment and filming what happened, this show's one of MTV's biggest successes, and runs to this day. We can pretend that it's a fascinating social experiment or whatever, but really the appeal of the show is a more base one, that of having a good old nose at people's private(ish) lives. I'm not being snobbish in saying that, as I have a great deal of fondness for The Real World, particularly the Seattle-based season.

The production company wisely chose to film all the episodes of The Real World before airing them, which seems to have worked on the whole, but the fact it's broadcast, and has been for many years now, means cast members occasionally have things like "Real World sucks!" shouted at them in the street during filming. But more pertinently to the point I'll get round to making eventually, the long-running nature of the show means that it's become a bit of a magnet for people who want to be on TV or use it as a springboard to other careers.

I'd see this as a problem in production terms, because instead of having a programme about (say) seven average-ish people trying to get along in a flatshare, you end up with a flat containing a number of almost-stereotypes and wannabes: racists are invariably put alongside people of other races, political conservatives are put with liberals, homophobes with gay men, and so on. Add to that the fact that some of the people see the show as their calling card to stardom (despite all evidence to the contrary about such a ploy), and you can end up with an apartment which appears to have been deliberately populated with wannabes from a number of carefully-selected demographics (as The Onion pointed out).

Sure, it's still interesting to watch (that base level of interest I mentioned above still applied), but it's certainly a drift from the original intent, and a more self-regarding one again; perhaps inevitably over time, seeing people arguing over who gets what bed apparently isn't enough, and instead there's an expectation that the audience will want to see an alcoholic bisexual jumping into a swimming pool and losing her bikini top or something (Real World Hawaii, I think). In much the same way, Big Brother's first series featured a mix of people, but by the time the show was facing the axe, the house appeared to have been populated by caricatures whose motivation for auditioning appeared to be either a desire to seek the attention they didn't get in their childhood, or to get a photospread in Nuts, Zoo, or both. No wonder Big Brother's ratings fell, why watch TV when you can see people attention-seeking or disrobing on any High Street in the UK any night of the week?

All of which brings me, circuitously, to the current series of TV singing talent contest The X Factor. I've not been watching this year, instead preferring to glean my information about the show from the front covers of pretty much all print media in the UK over the past month or so; in terms of long-term imprinting in my brain, this is pretty much the same as following it anyway because - let's all be honest - the turnover of 'stars' in this programme makes a McDonald's counter look like a place where people linger. There's a current thing where Simon Cowell's issuing press statements about an act called Jedward (whose schtick seems to be that they're twins with haircuts like Yahoo Serious in Young Einstein) saying how much he hates them and wants them out, which of course makes the oh-so-wilful (though not very perceptive) audience vote for them to remain in the show... that's phone voting, which of course means that money from each call goes into the coffers of SyCo, the production company behind the show, which is owned by, you guessed it, Simon Cowell. I don't know Cowell personally, but I don't know if the best way to show your disapproval and disagreement with him is to give him money. It looks suspiciously like positive reinforcement to me.

The link between the 'reality shows' I referred to earlier and The X Factor, I feel, is that as time has gone on, the latter has similarly had to up the ante; it's become abundantly clear that the venn diagram-style overlap between the viewing audience and the people who'll buy the winner's CDs is pretty slight, so the voting process (with the call-in votes that cost money) becomes the greatest element of the story; fights - verbal and physical - or romances between the contestants fill acres of newsprint, the judges are friends or bitter rivals depending on which day of the week it is, judges issue decrees stating that certain acts are bound to win or should be kicked out, and there's an amazing amount of speculation about who'll get kicked out this week and who'll win, even though that's almost incidental (as the music is, much of the time) to the majority of the viewing audience.

It doesn't seem to be enough that someone with moderate singing ability (and I say 'someone' as opposed to 'some people' because groups rarely win - in fact, has a group ever won The X Factor?) is plucked from obscurity, given some voice training and a new wardrobe and propelled to the top of the charts by a huge marketing and management campaign - a series of events which is rare and unusual enough to surely be of note; it seems we need them to have overcome some personal hardship such as a life-threatening illness or the death of a supportive relative, a vicious bit of catfighting in bootcamp, a bad choice of song in the semi-finals, and then some pantomime slating from one of the judges, before being crowned the winner and releasing some suitably rousing song in time for Christmas. And then they’re promptly pretty much forgotten about for the best part of a year, when they’re wheeled out to ride the (almost identical) wave of publicity and hoo-hah surrounding the new series (unless they don't bother, which sometimes happens; Leon Jackson, for example). The show may be startlingly aware of itself and the need to feign conflict and drama and tragedy, but it’s reliant on the viewing (and voting) public being oblivious to such machinations.

Many years ago, I went for an interview for a job in Virgin Megastore. The chap asked me what kind of music I liked, and I replied - as I probably would now - that I tended to like bands or artists who had more than one album to them. The chap looked vaguely appalled, and I didn't get the job - only years later did it occur to me that the 'one hit album or single' churn was probably a sizable amount of business for music shops, and by extension the music industry. And in a similar way, I suspect that the production team of The X Factor has realised that the journey (a word which is often used without any kind of self-awareness in such shows) is more important than the destination. You may not be able to convince people to splash out on the Eoghan Quigg CD, but you can issue 'shocking statements' to try to convince them that paying for premium rate phone calls to keep Jedward in the race for first place is worth it. Or pursue any other tactic to keep press coverage running between shows and generate a sense of importance about the whole thing.

I know what you're thinking: John, you think about this stuff waaaaay too much. And you might well be right, but I say this in response: Everything I've said above about The X Factor has almost certainly been thought (if not explicitly stated in meetings) by people on the production team. I'm not a marketing and money-making genius, but you can bet your calls made after this time will not be counted but may still be charged that SyCo has several such geniuses on their payroll.

Anyway, I want Jimmy Nipples to win. He's still in it, right? No? Oh. He must have been knocked the other week or something. See, told you I wasn’t really paying attention to it.

Monday, November 09, 2009

If You Think This Post Is Lame, At Least Give Me Credit For Having Written It All By Myself

Anyone else think this cover makes it look like Alex Cross is having trouble lighting a fag?