Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Today's Amazing Celebrity Fact

Jeffrey Beaumont from Blue Velvet and Rick Deckard from Blade Runner heavily influenced Kanye West's distinctive eyewear.

Monday, March 30, 2009

BBC Writersroom : Armando Iannucci Q&A

This seems to be tucked away in one of the back pockets of the BBC Writersroom site, so it may have escaped your notice...

On Wednesday 15 April 2009 from 5:00pm to 6:30pm at the Soho Theatre in London, Armando Iannucci will be talking about In The Loop, the new film semi-spin-off from The Thick Of It. No doubt, though, he'll be asked (and hopefully answering) questions about other work from his resume.

It's free to attend, though you need to get your name on the list, which you can do by e-mailing writersroom.events@bbc.co.uk, with the subject line "Armando Iannucci Q&A."

That's about all you need to know, but if you want to be sure I'm not just making it all up (I might be hopped up on a dangerous combo of tea and chocolate), the official page about it is here.

I'm planning on attending, howsabout you?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Everything I Know About The Devil I Learned From Films

According to Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist”. And yet the devil seems to have left us quite a lot of information about him/herself, and a lot of it is recorded via the medium of film.

So, let’s take a look at some of the evidence, and see if we can begin to form an idea of where the Devil might be lurking. Because from what little I know about such matters, the Devil’s meant to be something of a rotter, and should probably be tracked down and apprehended as soon as possible.

The Devil is a woman, has seven faces, and wears Prada, notably a blue dress.

The Devil has been known to associate with Miss Jones, Max Devlin, Daniels Webster and Johnston (and, though this is unverified, Robert Johnson). The Devil has a daughter, and another child of unspecified gender. The Devil also has a muse. Whilst the Devil takes some people on as his own, some people are rejected. Anecdotally, the Devil has my woman, though I see little evidence to this effect.

The Devil owns a playground, containing a chair. This chair is presumed to have orthopaedic qualities, the better to support the backbone.

The Devil reportedly came on horseback, and is known to ride out. You may ride or race with the devil, possibly simultaneously.

The Devil is skilled at arithmetic. It is possible to dance with the Devil (this is corroborated by previous reports of the Devil having access to the best tunes).

Whilst reportedly originating from Akasava, reports have more recently come in of the Devil from Doubt, Hot Springs and Hollywood (all claims currently being verified).

The Devil has been known to accept candles, handshakes and sympathy.

...Given all this, taking the investigative approach from the detection training system Guess Who? as illustrated above, how difficult should it be to find the Devil? A seven-faced woman in a blue Prada dress on horseback should be pretty easy to spot, surely.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Yes, He Appears To Have Dropped An H From The Album Title, But Otherwise His Diction Is Impeccable

As Steve reported back in November, he and I went to see The IT Crowd being filmed. Afterwards I pretty much forced Matt Berry, one of the stars, to shake my hand as he left the Green Room, and I rather stumblingly congratulated him on a good performance that evening. He was very pleasant about this, and seemed like a nice chap.

Flashforward to now, and as if to emphasise his decency, Matt's made a free download of his new album Witchazel available on the interweb. Look, there's a picture of it above. And it appears that none other than Paul McCartney is featured on one of the tracks. Crikey.

I don't know what it's like where you are, but I've just looked out of the window and it's rather rainy, so why not stay in, get yourself a cup of tea (or coffee, or even absinthe if you prefer), and listen to some music?

You can download it here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

REVIEW : Knowing

This is the new film from director Alex Proyas, and starring Nicolas Cage. It concerns a chap who realises that a list of numbers found in a time capsule from 1959 are a code which gives details of disasters (both man-made and natural) which occurred after the time capsule was buried - and, he realises, there are numbers covering future dates as well. An intriguing premise, which is why I went to see it.

I'm not entirely sure that the film quite makes good on the promise in the premise, mind, and given the way it's been advertised, other audience members may be left feeling slightly duped; it's been trailed more like a thriller with supernatural undertones, which isn't really very accurate at all, as it's much more of a science fiction film. And I know that's not everyone's cup of tea - one woman outside the cinema complained rather loudly about the sudden veer into SF towards the end (if you've ever seen The Watcher In The Woods, it's in that sort of vein).

Anyway, it's not a bad film, for all that; Cage isn't an actor who draws me to the cinema just by his name being on the poster, but he turns in a decent enough performance here - though the grieving widower father isn't a million miles away from Mel Gibson's role in Signs, though that's more to do with the script than his playing of it, I think. The rest of the cast are perfectly fine, too.

The pacing of the film is a bit uneven; it's a bit slow at the start when the story's being laid out, then it kicks into a much faster pace when the disasters start happening (the first major one is very effective indeed, and is all in one take; the second is more grisly but none the less well done), and then it keeps going with a gradual unravelling of what's going on until the aforementioned ending. The direction of the film kind of matches this, only really livening up when there's mayhem on the screen, but it's perfectly watchable, and you're never in any doubt what's going on.

While I was watching the film, I enjoyed it, but afterwards, a few stray plot threads kind of niggled at me (skip to the next paragraph to avoid the semi-spoilers); why, if the various fates were inevitable, were people given the power to predict them? Since the film bothers to bring up pre-destination versus free will, why were the results of the former all so gloomy? Given the 'EE' situation, what could Koestler or any of the other characters have done to show they were learning from the events ? What were the tall strangers there for - help, or just watching the end times? And what were the black stones for?

These questions aside - and only one of them (the first, but don't look back if you don’t want spoilage) is a really huge plot problem to my mind - Knowing is an enjoyable enough film, as long as you don't mind a side order of science fiction with your on-screen destruction. Worth seeing at the cinema for the well-filmed disaster sequences (which are suitably unnerving), but if you have a big screen and good speakers, you can quite cheerfully wait for it to come out on rental.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

In The Olden Days We Used To Make Our Own Entertainment

And film poster manopods used to have to make their own pretend scissors.

Now? They get real scissors, and act irresponsibly with them.

It's a sign of the end times, I tells ya.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Classic Example Of Token Gesture Posting

It's bedlam in Johnworld today, so I won't stop, but let me just point you towards what, by any measure, must be a terrific bargain of a deal:

99 well-known pieces of classical music for £3 - might be a pricing error, so grab it while you can.

And then play them loudly. Nessun dorma, and all that.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Tend To Call Them 'Comics' Because The Term 'Graphic Novel' Could Apply To American Psycho

There are many problems facing the US comic industry right now; sales of individual issues have generally dropped, there are now minimum orders which can be placed before the main distributor will carry an item, comic shops are closing down, and whilst the sales of collected volumes are up, it's hard to gather the individual issues into a bundle if the issues run, oh I dunno, three years late.

Anyway, one way that Marvel comics recently(ish) tried to attract new readers was by creating a new range of comics for new readers, which stripped away the decades of continuity attached to many well-known characters, and started from scratch. I think the idea was that these, unlike many comics, would be sold in places like Wal-Mart as well as specialist comic shops, but that plan didn't pan out, and the titles have kind of ended up being another, slightly alternate, mini-line from Marvel. A pretty good idea at heart, but the distribution of the issues seems to have dented the plan, and now they're winding the line up.

One of the final issues in this particular line of comics is shown above, and you'll notice that I've avoided naming either the comic line or any of the titles, because I want to ask non-comic readers this question: if you saw this comic on the shelf, what would you say its name was ?

(If you said Ultimatum, it's a good guess, but not quite; the correct answer is …this.)

I think it was Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, and many other characters) who once suggested that every issue of a comic is someone's first issue, and in terms of accessibility that's something worth bearing in mind; is it so hard to make sure this approach extends to the front bleeding cover?

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Little Night Music

I nicked this from Kevin Lehane's blog (hi, Kevin, hope you don't mind); a great song, performed across national borders...

Stand By Me from David Johnson on Vimeo.

Good, innit? Go on, play it again. You know you wanna.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

You Only Need To Do One Thing To Ensure Your Novel Is Acclaimed ...

... title it with reference to something a girl is wearing.

NB: Works just as well for tattoos as clothes or accessories.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tch, It's As Bad As The Rejuvenation (And Shaving) of Cap'n Birdseye

Illustrated for your comparison pleasure, the old and new versions of the advertising character Mr Muscle.

His appearance seems to have changed from Clark Kent* to Superman, which is a bit disconcerting.

Are steroids involved, do you think?

*Or a young Stephen Merchant.

Friday, March 20, 2009

This Web Is Big Enough For The Both Of Us

I've mentioned his skills as a photographer before, but my official wedding photographer and pal Toby has started blogging.

As well as being skilled at filling SD cards with choice images, Toby's rather a fan of eastern philosophy and the more ambient end of the musical spectrum, so I'm certain that his blog will provide a counterpoint to, say, this blog, which is all too often a series of cheap digs at things in the public eye, with the occasional comment on things related to writing.

So, hop over to his blog for a less sarcastic, and more mellow, outlook on things.

Now I've said that, I bet he posts something brimful with venom and bile. He's contrary like that...

It's Friday Afternoon, And That Means It's Time For A Juvenile Question

If Philadelphia cheese spread is so good for you, how come all the people in Philadelphia adverts are dead?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Really Should Have Realised, Given That The Oft-Used Software Is Called Final Draft

Ah, there you are. Good to see you again.

Y'know, it occurred to me this morning that if I've made one discernible bit of progress recently in relation to my writing, it's almost certainly in my increasing willingness to re-draft.

It may be because I started writing in my teens, using a manual typewriter, so much of what I submitted was - through an equal combination of teenage arrogance and an unwilliness to re-type whole pages - pretty much the first typed draft of the item in question. It seems alien now, with the facility to make changes to entire documents with a few mouse-clicks and keystrokes, but that's how it used to be; if I decided, for example, that I wanted to rename my central character, that would have meant a whole lot of typing. And besides, with the hubris of youth, I felt my first drafts were works of genius which required no further work.

Well, after a number of years in which a number of my first-pressing masterworks were politely passed on by a number of editors and producers, I came to wonder if maybe I didn't have a golden-goose-like ability to create perfection first time, and so I began to play at re-drafting.

Now, it might have been prompted by the realisation that acknowledged genius-types like Michelangelo did rough drafts first, or reading that A Fish Called Wanda went through 13 drafts - whatever the reason, I started to finish things, and then go over them again.

And to my surprise, I found it rather enjoyable.

Granted, there's something immensely satisfying about getting something right first time, but frequently, I find I'm better off giving things another go - usually by printing it off, grabbing my red pen, and being callous about the bits I'm most proud of. Living each day as if it were your last sounds like a great idea, but I somehow doubt that's the way to go about making great art (or anything on the rungs of the ladder leading up to 'great' - I don't kid myself about my ability).

In its way, though, I'm increasingly finding that the act of re-drafting, and re-re-re-drafting and so on, is one I derive some intellectual satsifaction from; not because I'm pleased to have found a duff line or a scene that doesn't really advance the story, but because spotting it means I can eliminate it from this draft before it goes out, and it reduces the chances of me making the same mistake again. And that can't hurt.

I'm very much aware that this is probably no revelation to many of you, but for me, this more-recent-than-I-really-care-to-admit discovery has been something of an eye-opener, and rather than the re-drafting seeming like some kind of chore, I've actually come to enjoy it - I invariably feel that the work's better for it, and that I've learned something, howsoever small, about writing.

Given that I enjoy the ideas stage, and the first draft, and the process of re-drafting, it actually means that more of the practice of writing is enjoyable. Yes, it's going over old ground to some extent, but I'd rather do that and make the work shine, as opposed to sending it out into the world with its promise buried beneath its imperfections.

(Incidentally, I don't want to discount the input of other folks here - Chip, Dom, and most recently Laurence have all provided me with loads of useful and friendly comments and suggestions, and I tip my hat to them all.)

And the pleasing conclusion to all this - well, pleasing for me, it may well leave you utterly cold - is that I seem to be getting a better handle on what works and what doesn't, and that means I spend less time on the stuff which doesn't work. As much as my past self would flinch at the idea that I could write anything other than absolute perfection, I think it's probably healthier for me to accept that possibility and find ways to exclude the garbage.

Right, that pretty much covers what I wanted to say about redrafting, so I'll stop here… though, as you can probably guess from the preceding, that means I'll be running through this blog post again to try to make sure it makes some kind of sense, so I'll just head back up to the first line of it.

If you want to meet me there, I'll be just beneath the title.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

BBC Writersroom Hit The Road Again

Those free-wheelin' road-burnin' script-readin' folks at the BBC Writersroom are hitting the highway again, and have announced new roadshow dates in the following locations:

- Bristol on Thursday 26 March 2009 from 5:30pm - 7:00pm
- Leicester on Thursday 7 May 2009 from 5:30pm - 7:00pm

As is usual for these things, you need to get your name on the guest list, and you can do that by e-mailing writersroom.events@bbc.co.uk with the subject line '[Location] Roadshow'.

It is, as ever, free to attend, and you can even save postage money by handing them your latest work of genius (as long as it's a script, that is - they don't assess sculptures or pieces of abstract dance, as far as I know).

Full and frankly naked details can be found here. Though I might have lied about the naked.

More roadshows to come in Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool, and you should watch the above, not-at-all naked link, for more details.

That is all. As you were. Or are. Or indeed will be.

Reluctant Post, As It Might Be Seen As Providing The Oxygen Of Publicity, But...

... seriously, I wasn't overkeen on providing yet more coverage of a topic which is already very much covered elsewhere, and yet another post which just makes a cheap joke about something I've spotted, but I felt I had to comment on the latest issue of OK! magazine.

It is, as you can see, a tribute to Jade Goody, with the dates of her life and death given on the cover. This strikes me as rather questionable for two related reasons:

1. As of this writing, Jade Goody is still alive (very ill, granted, but alive), so they could have waited.

2. If they had waited a week, it would have meant that their Jade Goody Official Tribute Issue would not have been issue number 666.

I mean, come on...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Best Things In Life Are Free, But You Can Give This To The Birds And Bees

Free (well, you have to collect tokens) with the News Of The World last weekend: a pair of hair straighteners, as demonstrated by Nikki Sanderson, ex of Coronation Street, in the picture here.

Well, they're saying that they're hair straighteners, but on the basis of the picture, you'll be getting something more like a stapler.

I can only hope Nikki doesn't have to be anywhere in any kind of hurry, as with hair that long, and a pair of 'straighteners' that small, I think it'll be a while yet before she's ready to go out.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Please Stand By

If any of you good people have sent me an e-mail in the last 24 hours or so, please be aware that my e-mail provider appears to be suffering from... well, let's be kind and call them 'technical difficulties'.

I'm told it should be sorted out by the end of the day, but until then, please don't go thinking I'm ignoring you. It's not you, it's me. Well, my online techy buddies, and they're normally so good I'm reluctant to start having a go at them in public.

Anyway, in the meantime, here's some music...

(Fade Up: Wheels by The String-A-Longs)

God Gave Rock And Roll To You, To Me, To You

The chap who appears to be naked on the poster for the rock film Anvil, and Barry Chuckle.

Is there a third Chuckle Brother, or should Anvil be looking for an extra guitar?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Six Of One(self)

Chris ‘Not Gareth’ Hale has tagged me with a meme, the rules of which go as follows:

1) Put the link of the person who tagged you on your blog.

2) Write the rules.

3) Mention 6 things or habits of no real importance about you. Please see below.

4) Tag 6 persons adding their links directly.

5) Alert the persons that you tagged them.

Things of no real importance? Oh, I think I can do that...

a) I’ve been a vegetarian for about 20 years now, but as a teenager I worked in McDonalds (albeit for the grand total of four weekends).

b) Since about the age of 15, I’ve tended to use the word ‘they’ as a gender non-specific pronoun, even in the singular. It may be wrong in grammar terms, but I think it’s less clumsy than ‘s/he’.

c) At school, I was the only boy in the ‘top 6’ recorder players. Much of the time, I’m sorry to say, I was miming.

d) My claim in my blog profile to climb mountains is more true than it appears at first glance; I’ve trekked to the summits of Ararat and Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest Base Camp (the Nepal side)and am currently making plans to go to the top of Toubkal in Morocco. I aim to climb all Seven Summits in my lifetime.

e) Appropriately enough given the title of this post, I was a member of the Prisoner appreciation society ‘Six Of One’ before I’d even seen an episode of it. I was right about the programme, but I have to say that it’s unlikely that I’d join it again.

f) I live in East London, within sight of the winking panopticon eye of One Canada Square (also known as Canary Wharf). When I catch sight of it, I find I am unable to look away until I've seen the light at its peak wink, at least once.

Okay, there’s yer six. Now, I shall pick my victims...

Of course, I shall reach out and touch M’colleague. He loves to be tagged. And touched, but that’s another matter.

Also, I’d be interested to know some trivial things about Laurence, as I’ve exchanged a fair number of e-mails with him recently, and he seems a thoroughly nice chap.

Using this meme to try to provoke Lianne into responding would be fairly reprehensible, wouldn’t it? Perhaps, but that’s what I’m doing. She’s been virtually silent for an alarmingly long time.

Speaking of nudging people to provoke a response, friend and expert photographer Toby has set up a blog, but not posted on it yet. Mayhap this meme-ing could be the nudge needed to set him off a-posting? I hope so...

Penultimately, hello to Lara, who I met the other week. As they say in’t north, consider thissen memed.

And last but quite leastly, on his blog Piers claims to be ‘ludicrously lovely’. Is this true? I don’t know, but let’s see if we can gain some insight into the workings of his mind.

Right, I’m off to tell people that they’re it...

[Edited to add trivial fact (f) - clearly, I consider being able to count a trivial matter, and beneath me. I am an idiot.]

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Memo To Marketing: Did You Look At The Title Of The Item In Question?

The item's called The Who Sell Out and it's being re-released in an expanded 'deluxe edition' ?

Oh, okay, there's no irony or paradox there at all.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Who Gives A Damn About Comic Relief

The absence of a question mark in this post will, hopefully, provide something of a clue to my feelings on this subject; I like Comic Relief a great deal, and I think it's also very wise that 50% of the money raised goes to UK-based charities, and the other 50% to overseas work, because it rather defuses the whole "charity begins at home" argument which some people use instead of saying "I don't want to give to charity".

Granted, a lot of the comedy in the televised sections of Comic Relief doesn't really float my boat, and I suffer a kind of emotional whiplash when they go from a Blackadder sketch to a film about children dying of some preventable illness, but that's more my psychology than anything else, and it's all aimed at making people's lives better, for crying out loud. You can't question that motivation without seeming curmudgeonly (even if it is regrettable that there's a need for charities at all).

So, I support Comic Relief (in both the abstract and practical sense), and was suitably impressed with the group of celebrities who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for Comic Relief (you can find more details here), as I did the same thing a few years ago, and it's hard work, so I recommend you sling them a bit of money by way of a well-done.

However, as well as the red noses and novelty singles which you can buy to funnel your money to Comic Relief, something which appears to have received slightly less publicity is the fact that they've made various Comic Relief Specials available to buy via iTunes. There's a Vicar of Dibley one, a Mr Bean one, and a couple of others, but to my mind, most notable is the fact that you can, for the very reasonable sum of £1.49, download a copy of Doctor Who And The Curse Of Fatal Death.

Just in case you're not familiar with it, this 23-minute special was the first televised DW story written by Steven Moffatt, and features a number of people you might have heard of (surname hints: Atkinson, Sawalha, Pryce, Grant, Broadbent, Lumley). Is it part of the Who canon? I dunno, but it's not been released on DVD, and so here's your chance to have a look at it, have a laugh, and some money to go to a worthwhile cause. If I may put it so crudely, cop this button-style-link (tsk, after that lack of manners, I hope it works):

The Best of Comic Relief - The Best of Comic Relief, Vol. 1 - Doctor Who Does Comic Relief

If you've read this far, I hope you'll see the true meaning of the title of this post; if the Doctor, a fictional character, can support Comic Relief, those of us in this reality can probably make our own contribution, wouldn't you say?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It Could Be A Hoax, But If So It's One Involving A Lot Of Work, Akin To The (Signed) Hitler (Grail) Diaries

Shamelessly swiped from John August's blog, a link to a document which purports to be a 125-page transcript of the discussions between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan which led to the creation of Indiana Jones, and the writing of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It could be fake, but if it is, someone's gone to a fair amount of trouble - see what you think by having a look at it here.

Oh, and I'd also recommend the analysis by blogger MysteryMan here (he also provides an alternative link to the document, though that may involve pop-ups, which I know some of you are less keen on).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unintelligent Design? This Is Just a Gut Reaction, Admittedly, But...

... is this really a good idea?

It has the feel of a wrong turn to me, in all honesty. I would have thought a one-line display (even built into the headphone cord, as the new controls are) would have been more advisable.

We'll see if people go for it, I guess, but it's certainly not a feature I'd want. Perhaps because, to my not-well mind, it all appears rather reminiscent of MC Hawking.

Then again, maybe it's just an April Fool's Day gag that was accidentally released three weeks early...

About The First Part Of The Red Riding Trilogy on Channel 4...

... I have to ask: am I the only one who thought that certain shots were very similar to Lost Highway?

The shots of the road at night were much the same as the opening of the Lynch film, but even more of a match was the final shot of Dunford in the car, shaking his head, which struck me as ... well, pretty much the same as the final shot of Lost Highway.

I'm not knocking it, as I enjoyed 1974 a lot (even if it felt rather overlong, I loved the slightly odd and barren nature of it), but I haven't come across any other mention of this (and I like to think my web-fu is quite good).

And All Of A Sudden, I Post Something About Writing, Causing Many A Startled Double-Take

As I haven't written anything about writing for a while, that's what I'm doing, right here right now.

I like to think I've been fairly productive recently - I've submitted pieces to the following:

- The Quickreads Work Tales competition : not heard yet about this one, but I think an announcement is due around the end of March

- The Tate Modern TH.2058 competition : Didn't get into the final six, but it was fun to write (you can see my short story here).

- Along with something like 700 other people, I sent some sketches in for the forthcoming BBC 7 on 7 radio show. I didn't make in into the group who were invited to a workshop on Monday (9 March), but the notification I received said that they'd be getting back to me about submitting more stuff when they're gearing up for the actual series; I gather that they also said less hope-inspiring e-mails, so this was quite positive.

- And over the weekend, I sent in some vox pops to the BBC Talking And Not Talking radio show. I was quite pleased with some of the lines I sent, so I'm fingers-crossed about this one (not heard anything yet, but it's only been about 48h since the deadline, after all).

I've also managed to rework the structure for my novel The Body Orchard, which I'm happier with now - it should make it more clear to the reader why there's pre-existing bad blood between the detective and the villain of the piece.

And in my head, I'm working on a really-rather-low-budget UK-based horror film screenplay; I know how it starts, and how it ends, and a lot of the stuff in between, but I'm just working on some of the character stuff, and trying to decide whether I could merge it with another idea which I've had knocking around in my head for a while, though that might mean changing the tone a bit.

Oh, and I've having to entirely revamp my far-too-long-on-the-hard-drive radio play to send to the BBC Writersroom, as I've recently discovered that one of the main characters not only has the same name as someone who actually exists, but that real person is also a noted expert on a subject which is one of the themes of the play; anyway, I don't think it'll hurt for me to do another pass through the script generally.

Finally, I'm feeling the urge to send some material in to 2000AD again; I appear to have a semi-tradition of getting stuff published in the Galaxy's Greatest Comic about once a decade (though I'm not fooling myself that the [in]frequency is due to my delicate creative sensitivities requiring some kind of planetary alignment), and I've had a couple of ideas recently which might well be Tooth-appropriate, as it were.

I'm sure I've forgotten something - or some things - but I just, y'know, wanted to make it clear that this blog isn't the sole extent of my recent writing… oh, hang on, I forgot to mention my modernisation of Cyrano de Bergerac and my far-too-late-to-be-a-spec-script-but-I-wanna-write-it-anyway Frasier episode, didn't I ? Ah well, I'll just have to bring those up some other time.

Overall, it's not so scarily productive as to make you all wonder just when I sleep, I know, but on the other hand, I'm feeling suitably fired up both about the ideas and the actual act of putting words on the screen (or page), and so I can feel things gearing up in a way that I find pretty satisfying (not quite as satisfying as typing 'FADE TO BLACK' or 'THE END', granted, but let's face it, very few things are as good as that).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"To Him The Porter Openeth; And The Sheep Hear His Voice: And He Calleth His Own Sheep By Name, And Leadeth Them Out"*

Paul Haggis.
Osama Bin Laden.
Edie Brickell.
Chuck Norris.
Sharon Stone.
Rick Rubin.

What do all the above-named people have in common?

That's right, they were all born on this day, 10 March. And whaddaya know, 38 years ago, so was I.

I don't work on my birthday (and have managed to stick to that rule for over a decade now, and not just so I don't have to supply my workmates with cakes), and so, apart from posting this at the exact time of my birth**, I don't expect to be posting anything else today… let's both enjoy the absence of updates, eh?

*John 10:3, but I'm sure you recognised the source.

**Sorry Mum.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Two Lessons For Monday Morning: Should Take About 20 Minutes In Total

Firstly, here's a little animated video which explains the Credit Crunch in terms that all of us can understand (it's just over 11 minutes):

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

And secondly and more culturally, one of Alan Moore's most acclaimed Swamp Thing stories, The Anatomy Lesson, is available as a free and entirely legit download from DC Comics if you click here. That should take you about ten minutes to read, and hopefully sheds some light on why he's so respected as a writer (not to diminish the art by Steve Bissette and John Totleben, of course; they're both perfectly suited to the material, with the layout and linework is, even twenty-odd years on, very impressive. Though for some reason, the colouring in this freebie version is rather heavy on the yellow, when Tatjana Wood's original colours are more green-centric, for obvious reasons).

It's just after 9am on Monday, but I've already given you pressies, you lucky folks. Let's hope the rest of the week is this shiny and smiley, eh?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Quick Message To My Brother

If you're reading this in the usual location, don't forget to wash your hands afterwards, eh ?

The perils of the Blackberry, ladies and gents.

Oh, how I wish I were kidding about this...

Frostrup Wins!

Rock beats scissors.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I Thought I Saw Some Rhubarb To Go With It, But It Was Just Celery With High Blood Pressure

You can see the details of the story here or here, but I love the way it led to one of the most ridiculous Evening Standard headline boards ever.

And let's face it, that takes some doing.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Should We Really Venerate The Young?

Opening in UK cinemas today, the film Young Victoria, about the life of Queen Victoria.

Interestingly, one of the producers of this film is Sarah Ferguson, along with Martin Scorcese, and the film's written by Julian Fellowes, who wrote Gosford Park. And as you can see if you click the picture here, there's quite an impressive cast too.

But I know what you're thinking: you're wondering if the fact that the film has the word Young in the title bodes well or ill, in a manner akin to the numbering of Star Trek films. Well, m'loves, you're in luck - to assist in knowing whether Young Victoria's title formulation makes it likely to be what we film buffs call 'good' or 'bad', I present a selection of other films beginning with this word...

...hmm, looks like about a 33.3% chance of succeeding, on the basis of my very scientific approach.

I left out Young Guns II, because I felt that would have skewed the numbers. Somehow, I think you'll find it in your heart to forgive me.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

World Book Day 2009

I am both startled and pleased to report that today is World Book Day 2009 (the former reaction because it hardly seems a year since the last one, and the latter because it's good thing).

As with last year, £1 book tokens are given to large numbers of schoolchildren, and a selection of £1 books are made available in bookshops. I'm sure you can see how those two events can be made to interweave happily.

It's not just about young readers, though - a number of Quickreads, short books priced at £1.99 and aimed at occasional or learning adult readers will be published today, featuring popular writers and characters, in the hope of encouraging more people to read.

So, if you know someone who's been given a £1 book token, or someone who doesn't read books very often (a habit a lot of people seem to take pride in, much to my bewilderment), why not encourage them to try one of the WBD books? Or even buy one for them as a pressie.

It could cost less than a cup of coffee, is less likely to end up in the toilet (I hope), and could start, or re-kindle, an appreciation of the written word.

(I have no connection with WBD or any of the authors or publishers involved - I just think it's a really good idea, and want to alert people to the event.)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Actually, I Only Got Into The University Of Life Through Clearing, and Back Then It Was A Polytechnic

In about 1994, I visited a friend of mine who was studying at Cambridge University. Whilst I was there, we went to visit a friend of hers who was having a kind of open afternoon thing, and tea and toast were being served (pretty much the staple of student life, and all too often the culinary accompaniment to late-night discussions about the state of the world).

There were some people there I hadn't met before, and one of them was involved with Cambridge's Tibet Support Group. As I've probably mentioned before, I'm interested in this issue, and when she mentioned that the Dalai Lama had visited to speak to them a few months previously, I asked what he was like.

"Hmm," she said, and paused. Would she say he had a certain presence, I wondered? That he radiated a kind of indefinable warmth and compassion? That, despite everything he and fellow Tibetans have suffered, he was all smiles and laughter?

"He's quite fat," she said eventually. Hmph, thought I. Not quite what I was expecting, but undeterred, I launched into a frankly gripping anecdote from the news a couple of years prior to that date, which involved a student travelling in Tibet and being received very favourably by the local people because he was wearing a T-shirt featuring Phil Silvers (above, star of Sgt Bilko), and the Tibetans mistook it for a representation of the Dalai Lama (also above). But as I regaled the crowd with my tale, I was being met with slightly blank looks, as opposed to the nods and semi-smiles I was expecting as I approached the punchline (well, explanation). And suddenly I realised why.

Oh God, it dawned on me. They don't know who Phil Silvers is.

Now, I wish I could pretend that this (true) story is being presented by way of demonstrating that my intelligence was superior to everyone in the room that day, but that's almost certainly not the case, and so it's not why I'm writing about it; what I've always felt it does demonstrate, though, is that there are often fairly major differences between academic ability and intelligence or general knowledge.

It's not a new insight by any means - I'm sure we've all met people who seem to have a veritable alphabetti spaghetti of initials after their name on their business card, but seem to lack the basic social skills to go into a restaurant and order, for example, a plate of spaghetti. As the old saying goes, there are many things you don't get from 'book-learnin', and anyway, the entry requirements for the University of Life are slightly less stringent, especially if you're an old boy (or girl) of the School of Hard Knocks.

Anyway, all this is a typically Soanesian build-up to a current news story, the fact that the recent winners of the BBC quiz show University Challenge have had their victory withdrawn. One of the winning Oxford Corpus Christi team turned out not to be a student by the time they reached the final, and this is one of the entry requirements (and there now appears to be a suggestion that previous winners may have broken this rule as well).

Now, there's some justifiable debate about whether Granada, the programme's makers, have made this rule harder to comply with as their shooting schedule no longer correlates with the academic year (meaning you could be a member of a college in the opening rounds but have left by the time the team got, say, to the semi-finals), but the fact that attention's now being paid to the practicalities of the way the show is made should also mean that people should also spot the reason why Oxford's team screwed up, and made a mistake which led to the loss of the title: they could have asked a member of the production team if they were still okay to field the team member in question.

But they didn't ask this simple question - and if they had asked and been told no, all teams (as I understand it) have a reserve team member, and so that's who should have filled the chair. Instead, they don't appear to have asked, and this simple mistake - I'd say schoolboy error - led to their disqualification.

If you're not sure if you're allowed to do something, or that you might not be doing it correctly, the best way to find out is to ask someone who knows. If you don't ask, you could get into trouble further down the line, and it might also look slightly arrogant, as if you don't care if the rules apply to you. Social skills and general worldly ability can often be rather over-rated, but even if you want to become a hardcore academic, it's probably a good idea to learn how to deal with people, in case you have to deal with them when you're trying to, for example, get a publisher to turn your PhD thesis into a book. Knowing absolutely everything ever is of pretty limited use if you can't get people to listen to you in the first place because you're rude or otherwise socially lacking.

Incidentally, I've only recently become a regular viewer of University Challenge for the simple reason that it's fun to shout out the answers at home, and it has - in comparison with many other TV quiz shows - a lot of questions; most of them seem keen to pad the proceedings out with bursts of music or lighting effects or pre-scripted insults or other weak links, but UC just has loads of questions, on a good spread of subjects (it's not all questions about Juvenal, some of the topics are pretty juvenile).

It's just unfortunate that, in relation to the issue of eligibility, not one member of this year's Corpus Christi team was willing to ask a question.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Links, Golf, Coarse

A few months ago, I provided a link to an item for sale, the name of which might prove faintly disappointing to men of a certain age (or, I ought to add, preference).

So it's with a childish degree of glee that I offer you a link to something which is less likely to elicit a sense of "Oooh, saucy… oh, that's rather disappointing" and more a case of "is this an actual product name, or just an excuse to put three slightly-rude words in a row?".

Well, that's what I thought anyway. See what you think.

(Thanks to my golf-playing pal Tony for pointing me towards this silly-named item. From what I can gather, Tony's handicap is being forced to sit next to me during the working day.)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Unintelligent Design: DairyStix

Staying in hotels is, of course, one of life's great delights; as well as televisions with fewer channels than one can watch at home, and showers which have two extremes of temperature (Inferno and Arctic) and nothing in between, there's always the thrill of using the 'tea and coffee making facilities'.

If the room has a fridge, you might have some real milk, so you can make a proper cuppa, but more often than not, you're likely to have a kettle, cups, teabags, and, in some form or other, UHT milk. UHT milk is obviously handy for hotel-owners, as it lasts for ages (decades after we humans are dust and gone, the giant radioactive cockroaches will still be finding stashes of it and drinking it in an attempt to fend off Causium-234-induced osteoporosis), but it doesn't taste very good at all… by which I mean it tastes of virtually nothing at all, being more like a homeopathic version of Tipp-Ex than milk.

Anyway, UHT milk used to be supplied in hotel rooms (and on trains and service stations and other strangely neither-here-nor-there places) in little pots, like miniaturised yogurt pots, with a foil lid; as Ben Elton noted in the 1980s, these pots appeared to have been spot-welded shut, so it was a battle to get them open, invariably resulting in you showering what little 'milk' lurked within all over the place. And Ben was right to point this out, but the so-called solution is no better, quite frankly: ladies and gents, the milk processing people and hospitality industry proudly present (while the rest of us just resent)… Dairystix.

Yes, all the lack of flavour of UHT milk, now in a longer-than-it-is-wide foil tube. Apparently taking their design cue from those Mr Freeze ice pops which can be found in the Walls freezers in newsagents in summer, the idea is that you tear the end off the 'stick and then pour the milk (well, it's UHT, so I use the term in its loosest and least-accurate sense) into the cup. Which would be fine, if the ends actually tore off in anything approximating a straight line. But that's not likely to happen with the 'dotted lines' you have to tear along, because they're coated with plastic and so you get an untidy tear along it. Which, when you squeeze the tube, means the milk comes out of two or three places in the end of the tube, like a man trying to urinate after someone's stapled the end of his prepuce (if that comparison appalls you, you may want to stop reading now - there's worse to come before this rant is over).

The reward for all this is a pathetic splash of not-milk, which barely coats the bottom of most cups. So you have to put two in, though you'll be lucky in most hotels to get more than two of the sticks per person, so you'll have to think carefully about when you drink your tea. And even then two isn't really enough to make it look like tea. And the reason for this is pretty pathetic; these milk sticks, like the milk pots before them, contain a minimal amount of milk.

In fact, I'm such a sad pedant that I actually did a bit of research to try and find out just how much (or, rather, how little) UHT milk is contained in a DairyStix. Appallingly, it is 12ml, or about 4% of a can of Diet Coke. So, all that effort wrestling with the end of it and then you squeeze down the length of it several times over, resulting in a spray in unexpected directions? All of which is - frankly - little more than the overall quantity of the average male ejaculation (where do you think the group 10cc got their name)? Perhaps it's in some way connected with the choice of films on the in-room TV.

Anyway, my friends, as something that doesn't work and yet looks quite modern and flashy, this is a pretty classic example of Unintelligent Design. Yes, perhaps I love my tea a bit too much, but it seems that the makers of DairyStix and similar items treat the making of tea and coffee with a little bit less love than they should, given that it's part of how they make their living.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

First In A Possible Series Of Posts In Which I Take Phrases Which Are Used Without The Brain Being Engaged First, And Refute Them With A Picture

The accused:
The fashion phrase "double denim disaster", used to describe someone wearing both jeans and a denim jacket.

The refutation:
Mr S. Stevens of Wales.

Further evidence to be taken into consideration:
Mr E Presley of Memphis (to be confirmed).