Sunday, May 31, 2009

We Interrupt The Scheduled Internet To Bring You A Newsflash

Sorry if this frankly shocking, and very important, story ruins your Sunday afternoon, but this story really does need as much coverage as possible, so I felt almost compelled to share it.

Anyhow, brace yourself: this is the News.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Order Early For Halloween - Or, Even Better, Not At All

Now, I'll freely admit that being a chap of a certain age means that the release dates of the original Star Wars films coincided with certain ages, and thus stages, in my life; which means that I can understand the gist of the titular plotline in the Friends episode, The One with the Princess Leia Fantasy.

That said, I still find myself slightly worried by the existence of this.

And then even more worried by the fact you can also buy this.

Still, I can only hope anyone willing to buy and wear the items in question is likely to do us all a favour, and confine the wearing - and (shudder) anything that may accompany or follow it - to the privacy of their own homes. Due to the design, you'd be unlikely to go outside wearing them, I guess - one'd probably be too hot, and the other too cold. Thankfully.

I was alerted to the existence of these items, as I so often am when it comes to pop culture tat, by Mike Sterling, whose blog I heartily recommend. 'Tis always good for a laugh.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Dead-Headed League

Offer of the week from the always-interesting DVD firm Network is One Summer, a series from 1983 which was written by Willy Russell and stars - as you can see from the picture - a young David Morrissey.

I'll be honest : I don't know anything at all about the series (though it's clearly got a pretty good pedigree) - what really caught my attention was the quote from the Daily Mirror which is reproduced at the bottom of the DVD cover:

"David Morrissey and Spencer Leigh are most beguiling."

I'm more than willing to believe this is the case, but it's almost impossible to imagine this sort of turn of phrase appearing in a TV review in the Mirror nowadays, isn't it ?

Assuming that quote's contemporaneous with the series's original broadcast date, I find myself somewhat amazed that in 26 years, the Mirror's writing style has changed from sounding like a character from one of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories to... well, sounding how I suspect characters will sound in Guy Ritchie's forthcoming Sherlock Holmes film*.

*This comment is, I realise, the very embodiment of prejudice; however, the idea of a re-imagining of the Holmes canon really does smack of a paucity of originality. Intead of 're-imagining' or otherwise riding the creative coat-tails, how about 'creating', or even plain old 'imagining' new characters?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In Which I Demonstrate How I Will Cheerfully Accept A Compliment, Even If It's Not Even Remotely True

I was at a wedding last weekend. Well, strictly speaking it was a 'civil partnership celebration', but unlike the state of California, I don't count same-sex couples as second-class citizens, so as far as I'm concerned it was a wedding.

Anyway, I'd made a bit of an effort for the occasion, and was wearing a new jacket-n-trouser-combo, so I was quite pleased when another guest told me I looked like someone famous.
"Really?" I asked, genuinely surprised.
"Yes," he said. "That chap from TV... Patrick something... Patrick Macnee."

I was amused by this, and images of the ever-debonair Macnee as John Steed in The Avengers ran through my mind.

"No, hang on, not Macnee," he said. "Patrick... um..."
As he tried to recall the right name, I became pretty sure it was more likely to turn out to be Patrick Moore from The Sky At Night than Patrick Dempsey from Grey's Anatomy.
"That's it!" he said. "Patrick McGoohan!"

As an admirer of The Prisoner, this comparison also amused me (as did the fact that both chaps did some sterling work during what one might see as a classic age of British TV).

"I don't really see it," Mrs Soanes said to me a bit later that evening, and I'm afraid I have to agree with her. Not only is it slightly odd that someone might mistake Mr Macnee for Mr McGoohan, it's also very hard to see many points of similarity between me and either of these two chaps.

Mind you, given that McGoohan was very sharply dressed much of the time in Danger Man and The Prisoner and was reportedly one of the first actors approached to play James Bond onscreen, and that Macnee in The Avengers is seen as sartorially very dapper to this very day, I am more than happy to assume the chap's comments were related to the fact that I was wearing smart clothing.

The moral of this post? Like so many of us, I am more than happy when (to paraphrase A Midsummer Night's Dream) compliments aimed at me, and truth, keep little company.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

All Things Considered, It's Probably Best Not To Read This Whilst Eating

In recent years, rather like M'chum Jed, , my metabolism has slowed down, and so I'm now the not-entirely-proud owner of a bit of a belly.

Now, it's nothing too excessive (though it usually slightly surprises people who've known me for years, as historically I've tended to the scrawny end of things), and I'm all too aware that if I want to shed it - I mean really want to shed it - then all I have to do is to eat less and move more (running's usually the best form of exercise for me, but we all have our preferences). It's pretty straightforward for me, really, though I'm aware there are many people who don't necessarily lose weight they want to lose with such a linear element of causation.

And so, clustering the shelves of your local pharmacy, there are a number of products which are advertised as helping you lose weight, and I'm sure that many of them live up to their claims. However, slighty less advertised are some of the side effects, and of course that's what I want to talk about here.

A couple of products on the market (such as Formaline and Alli) act in an interesting way on the digestive system; they stop fat binding in the usual way within the gut, so that it doesn't hang around, and instead of loitering in the stomach area, it moves on, as undigested fat, through the colon and out into the sunlight.

All very well and good (if you ignore the messing-with-the-natural-order side of things, that is), but it seems that products of this nature are not without side effects. Or, as the website for Alli prefers to call them, "treatment effects". What kind of side effects, you may be wondering? Have some examples:
  • Gas with oily spotting
  • Loose stools
  • More frequent stools that may be hard to control

Is that nice? I don't think so. Surely the risk of soiling yourself in public is a deal-breaker? Well, if it's not, here's Alli's suggestion on how to incorporate the new and ever-present risk of plop leakage into your life:

"You may feel an urgent need to go to the bathroom. Until you have a sense of any treatment effects, it's probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work."

Let me just repeat that, with emphasis: if you take Alli, "it's probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work."

Sweet fancy Moses! If it's a choice between being 'that slightly tubby chap' or being 'that 38-year-old guy who smells like his nappy needs changing', I know which I'd choose.

Just in case you think I'm making this up, here's the link to the page where Alli detail the side - er, treatment effects of their product. I like the way they try to hide the more soggy possibilities amongst other, more bearable, effects. The textual equivalent of wearing dark trousers when you've shat yourself, as it were.

You have been reading the words of John Soanes, sophisticate and high-falutin' fop about town. Thank you and good day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Was It Debussy Or Stravinsky Who Said That Music Occurred In The Spaces Between The Notes?

Consider, if you will, the following lyrics from the recent chart-topping Black Eyed Peas song, Boom Boom Pow:

I'm so 3008
You so 2000 and late
I got that boom, boom, boom
That future boom, boom, boom
Let me get it now

Boom boom boom, gotta get-get
Boom boom boom, gotta get-get
Boom boom boom, gotta get-get
Boom boom boom, gotta get-get

Boom boom boom, now
Boom boom boom, now
Boom boom pow
Boom boom pow

Poetry, I'm sure you'd agree. However, join with me in a flashback to June 2007, the first broadcast of a Flight Of The Conchords episode containing a song featuring the following lyrics:

See ya shaking that boom boom
See ya looking at my boom boom
You want some boom boom
It's clear it's boom some boom boom ahh

Let me buy you a boom boom
You order a fancy boom
You like boom, I like boom
Enough small boom lets boom the boom ahh

And that's why I find that Black Eyed Peas song laughable.

Well, that's the main reason, anyway.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Light Content, Yes, But It Is A Bank Holiday And You're Lucky I'm Here At All When I Could Be Sat In Traffic On the M25 Like So Many Others

Rooting through some old CD boxes this morning, I found my much-played copy of Electronic's Getting Away With It, and was driven to wonder the following:

Am I utterly delusional, or is that one of the most simple yet elegant record cover designs of all time?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review: 'High Crimes' by Michael Kodas

My claim in the profile to the right about climbing mountains isn't an idle one (honest), and so I found this book, detailing some of the not-so-ethical behaviour on Mount Everest, was very interesting. And, at times, unsettling.

Michael Kodas tells the story of his own ill-fated attempt to summit Everest from the Tibetan side, and contrasts it with the death of Nils Antezana, a 69-year-old doctor who died whilst descending on the Nepalese side of the mountain. Whilst Kodas's attempt floundered due to conflicts within the assembled team, Antezana died alone on the mountain after summiting but being left to descend, alone, by his guide.

These two stories are well told and quite unnerving, but there are other snippets as well - one climber was forced to rappel down one of the routes, and it was only by chance that he looked over his shoulder and realised that the (fixed) rope he was descending had, for no apparent reason, been cut off; had he not turned to look, he would have fallen to his death. Other climbers find their tents or equipment have been stolen as they ascend to higher camps on Everest.

There's some good analysis of why 2006 saw so many deaths on Everest, and the chilling fact that almost anyone can claim to be a 'guide' and charge tens of thousands of pounds to lead you up Everest, even if they've had limited - or next to no - experience of guiding.

The book sometimes strays from the central narratives a bit, though it only tends to do this when recounting something else of interest or which adds to the background, so I felt this could be forgiven. The writing style is good and straightforward, and thankfully it generally avoids giving lines of dialogue when no witnesses were to hand, or speculating wildly about events. There's a lot of referencing and quoting from eyewitnesses, and a bibliography and index to back all this up.

So, if you're interested in Everest, or climbing generally, this is a solid account of an aspect of the mountain which doesn't tend to get much coverage. I was lucky enough to be given a copy of the hardback (thanks, Mrs Wife!), but the paperback's out in November, so you could save your recession-hit pennies until then. Either way, I recommend it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

You! Yes, You! I'm Asking You A Question! Speak Up!

When you're as old and jaded as I am, you gradually come to accept that there are certain events on TV programmes and in films that just don't happen.

The example I usually turn to is that of the 'dance-off' amongst disagreeing groups of people, which I have never ever ever seen anything even vaguely approximating, actually taking place out there on the streets. Lord knows I'd like it if people were more willing to settle their ideological differences by busting some funky moves on a street corner by a fire hydrant with a boom box, but unfortunately people seem more keen to use knives and guns and bombs than diplomacy or a good old-fashioned groovin'. Sigh.

Anyway, one thing which shows up in films and on TV quite a bit - and which is certainly more easy to replicate in the real world - is that of someone (usually a woman) throwing a glass of wine in the face of someone else (usually a man who's been behaving like some kind of rotter). Aside from a story I vaguely recall from the 1980s about Anna Ford chucking wine at a TV executive who'd fired her or otherwise acted the cad in a professional sense, I have to say that I have never seen this this in real life, so I wanted to ask : have you ever seen anyone do this?

The first person I asked in this very scientific poll was m'good lady wife, who astutely observed that many people wouldn't want to waste wine on someone they disliked that much, and would probably just throw a punch instead. I can see the logic of that.

So, can any of you report having seen a fine wine arc through the air to land on someone's mush? Perhaps a glass of Pino Grigio was flung facewards by a friend of yours, with dry-cleaning-requiring results. If so - or if the answer's emphatically NO - please let me know by posting a comment. I'm keen to know if this event actually occurs, or if, like ship captains performing marriage ceremonies, it's naught but a fiction within fiction, as it were.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The First Paragraph Of A Novel I May Yet Write

Seeing as how I haven't heard anything yet about my entry into the Guardian's
competition to write the first 150 words of a novel, and the notification date is almost past, and Laurence was kind enough to hassle me to share what I sent them, here it is.

The title of the novel was given as a springboard, so this is my first paragraph of The Letting Go...

“Life’s not about holding on,” her grandfather had once said. “It’s about the letting go.”
Years after his death, when she finally got round to sorting through his possessions, Heather realised that, in his life, he had let go of very little.
At the bottom of the fourth box, in an unmarked manila envelope, she found it: a curl-cornered black and white photograph of her grandfather, aged about twenty. With a full head of hair and an impish grin, he stood in front of a terraced house, with his arm around the shoulders of a woman who was definitely not Heather’s grandmother. And standing in front of them, scowling at the camera, a serious-looking young girl.
Her hand shaking only slightly, Heather flipped the photo over, hoping for a date or other explanation. There was a short sentence in her grandfather’s handwriting.
Don’t tell her you found this, it said.

As ever, comments are welcomed (though do bear in mind it's too late for me to make any changes which might increase my chances of winning the competition).

Review: 'Unwritten' by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

I don't often review single issues of comics here on't blog - or collected comics, for that matter - but this is a good 'un, and I thought it was worth drawing to your attention.

Unwritten is a new series published by Vertigo Comics (the 'mature' wing of DC Comics). It's written by Mike Carey and drawn by Peter Gross, and tells the story of Tommy Taylor. Taylor's father was a writer, and like A.A. Milne, wrote books featuring a character with the same name as his son. Taylor Senior has disappeared, leaving a legacy of books which bear a resemblance to - but, we are told, are more popular than - the Harry Potter series.

As the series opens, Tommy's making a fairly unsuccessful living attending conventions and making personal appearances. It's at one of these conventions that he's asked some questions by an audience member which start to suggest that Tommy may, in a way, not be as real as he might believe. Things unravel pretty quickly from there, and the first issue sets things up very promisingly. The art's good and clear, and flashy and impressive when needed, and the dialogue is - gasp - close to how people actually speak, which has to be a good thing.

So, a good comic, and the final selling point is that this first issue, which contains 32 pages of story, is on sale at the lure-you-in price of $1 (or, here in Blighty, about 75p). You can spend that on a fizzy drink, which your system will just turn into wee, so why not give this comic a read instead ? You may have to go to an actual comic shop to get it, but it's a very decent read. If nothing else, you can smile, as I did, at the opening pages and their similarity to events in the Potter books/films.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

(Mini) Review : Star Trek

As you probably know, this film is the big-screen 'reboot' of the long-running series (though it's possible to interpret it as an altered history thing, given the time-travel elements). It's been getting very positive reviews, and there are all manner of background stories etc to be found elsewhere, so I won't get into that sort of stuff here, I'll just try to stick to giving you a mini-review.

Put simply, it's a lot of fun, and I recommend it highly. I have mixed feelings about the Trek franchise, liking some bits, being left cold by others, and often being frightened by the passion of its fans, but this film has a decent story, solid acting, impressive special effects, and a good balance of action scenes and character interaction. I reckon you could see it with someone who'd never seen an episode or film or even heard the names of the characters before, and they'd still have fun.

For my money, the most impressive thing the film does - and I wouldn't like to guess whether this was a conscious move away from the recent, less-successful films, but it would make sense if it was - is to invest enough time and effort into making the viewer give a damn about what's happening, as opposed to leaning on the fact that these are well-known characters and therefore you're supposed to have some pre-existing affection for them. As a result, when characters are in peril, it's dramatic within the context of the film, and not because you're expected to care because, hey, these are iconiccharacters.

So, a definite thumbs-up from me, and I've often been lukewarm about Trek.

You'll no doubt have noticed that the picture accompanying this review isn't of the film poster or the cast or whatever, but I wanted to draw a smidgin of attention to the fact that the current US Edition of Wired magazine is guest-edited by JJ Abrams, the director of the film. As well as having a number of interesting articles about mysteries and magic and the like, there's a comic strip that leads into the film, drawn by well-respected comic artist Paul Pope, and written by the film's screenwriters, which is worth a look as it provides a nice little bit of background. As I say, this is the USA edition (though the UK edition's worth checking out as well), is labelled as such with a shiny gold sticker, and can be found on the shelves of slightly-larger newsagents.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Presume His Mother Is Called Lois Kane (Or Kathy Lane)*

This young chap may well be the owner of the coolest name ever.

Granted, it could well be a hoax (though maybe not), but if it's for real, no wonder he's smiling.

*I am such a geek.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Writing Opportunity: CBBC

An interesting call for scripts over on the BBC Writersroom website; they're after "the next generation of CBBC writers with fresh perspectives, original voices, and the ability to create unforgettable characters", and they're asking for 30-minute original TV scripts.

Once you've filled out the online application form, all submissions should be sent in hard copy, to CBBC New Writers, BBC writersroom: 1st Floor, Grafton House, 379 Euston Road, London NW1 3AU by 5pm on Wednesday 1 July 2009. There'll then be a masterclass for 15-20 shortlisted writers in July, and then eight of those writers will attend a residential week in late September, and then the finalists out of the eight will receive mentoring and £300.

Full details are here, there's a Frequently Asked Questions page here, and if you want more information on CBBC generally, cast your eyes and mouse here.

My immediate feeling about it? The deadline's a good six weeks or so away, which seems feasible time-wise, and overall it sounds worth having a go. In all honesty, I've never really thought about writing for the 6-12 age range, but on the other hand I've not discounted it either, and I can readily imagine that writing for a younger audience is often more of a challenge than, say, writing for one's peers.

So I'll definitely have a think about it, and see if I've got any stories, or even story ideas or loose structural notions, which might fit the bill.

Anyone else likely to enter this?

Edited: to add in details about the online application form. Whereas I am often forgetful, Piers has a solid memory. Thanks, Mr B!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Reader? I'm Not Wedded To It

I've been rather sceptical about the prospect of e-Readers (or electronic books, or whatever you want to call them) for a while, though I can see the fundamental appeal of being able to take loads of books with you on, say, a lengthy holiday.

My main concern is that they seem to have mutually exclusive operating and formatting systems and the like (what I believe is known as 'proprietary software'), and I'm always rather concerned that that sort of thing usually leads to dwindling availability of content, no matter how good the actual kit might be (like the shelves of pre-recorded MiniDiscs not taking over your local HMV, if you see what I mean).

Anyway, there seems to have been a surge in development in this area; the frankly nice-looking item pictured here is the unfortunately named Cool-Er, which has the advantage of looking a lot like an iPod. Mind you, it doesn't have the wireless capability of Amazon's Kindle device (see John August's report of buying a book wirelessly here - I can see why this would be a handy thing to have for those spur-of-the-moment purchases, though I can also see why that might leave me broke. I'm a sponzanyous kinda guy).

Magazines and newspapers are often cited as being the key items to get onto these devices to really get them to sell, and I can see why; a lot of the magazines I read aren't worth me keeping after I'm done (oh, I used to do this, but space considerations and the question will I ever read these again? eventually led to a purge), and so being able to read the thing and then delete it - or keep a copy on the computer or even print off pages of particular note - would be something of a boon.

And the same for a lot of comics I read - I'm much inclined nowadays to buy single issues and then ditch them and buy collected editions (assuming that it's something I'd see myself reading repeatedly), so being able to buy e-comics of the individual issues and then read them away from the computer would be pretty neat. Though of course, a lot of US comics are printed in colour, and no colour readers are available... yet.

One concern I have, especially with books or comics which might demand a bit of work from the reader, would be the ability to flip back a page or two to re-read a paragraph or panel which has, now you've read a little further, come to have a possible double meaning or heightened relevance. If it's as easy as the manufacturers suggest to turn the page, then that's fine, but if not... well, I'm going to take a bit more convincing before thinking about shifting to the electronic form, especially as paper never has battery issues or suffers data crashes. Well, apart from dropping it in the bath or a puddle.

All that said, though, I like the look of the Cool-Er. But with my backlog of books in the 'to be read' pile (well, on a shelf, but you know what I mean), I doubt I should really be thinking about new ways in which to get hold of books, should I ? Although one might make the argument that holding them electronically would take up less room... hmm.

The photo above is by Jon Snyder from the site. No copyright infringement is intended.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

No, Seriously : Blimey

You might want to close down any unnecessary applications running on your computer, in case they slow down the general working of things, before you click the following link.

No, really, I mean it, you're going to want things running as whizzily as possible on your electronic Babbage difference engine.

Ready? Okay, click here and if it doesn't blow your mind, then... well, I'm kind of surprised, and I'm sorry to have wasted your time.

If it appeals, though... thought you'd like it!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Not So Much Unintelligent Design, More Unfathomable

Continuing the occasional - and unequivocally highbrow - series of posts on the subject of urinals, here's one that, for the chaps, saves you the trouble of shaking.

Though would you really trust that claw-like hand?

And god only knows what the designer of this was thinking. I can only hope it was 4am, the deadline was close, and the Rolling Stones started playing on the radio...

Friday, May 15, 2009

What Are You Doing? What Are You Doing At The Moment? Post Your Thoughts, Interact With People, And More

A friend of mine recently experienced a relationship break-up, and she remarked that one of the things which had most stung had been the fact that her ex-partner had changed their Facebook status to Single.

It struck me that she's not the first person to have commented on this in recent times, and indeed within the last week or so I heard another tale on a similar theme. One of the reasons it can feel like adding insult to injury, I guess, is the fact that it's a very public way to state things, akin to issuing a press release or whatever (indeed, Stephen Fry's explained his use of Twitter as a way to pass information to large numbers of people), and if you're the other party in a break-up you could well be still rattled by the change of circumstances that seeing it online for all your friends or followers or just anyone with a computer could be a bit unpleasant.

However, I'm also inclined to wonder if part of the reason seeing your ex change their status to Single or It's Complicated or whatever is because of the way it quite categorically removes any ambiguity. If you're the split-ee and you're sitting in a state of shock, in the pre-Status Update days you could listen to suitably melancholy music and wonder if the other person's sitting at home feeling the same way and wondering if they've made a mistake. But now, you turn to your friends for some online chat and support (or, in these modern times, the comfort of near-strangers), only to be told that your ex has changed their status to Single and loving it, and that's probably not really going to help.

In a way, the development of the facility to update everyone everywhere with anything you're doing or thinking 24/7/365 means that uncertainty is removed from a lot of time periods which would otherwise be pretty much blank.

Obviously, this is frequently a useful thing:
"Where's Terry? He's meant to be meeting us here."
"He's running late, he tweeted five minutes ago that he was stuck on a bus which had been diverted through Narnia."

... but this ease of communication and update can remove some of the mistiness - or indeed mystery - that sometimes adds a certain something to our lives. That person you've recently met and are thinking about in that way might be thinking about you in the same way, but then again their status from five minutes ago is 'Bored', so you kind of hope that they're not thinking about you if that's the case, but on the other hand you'd kind of like it if they were thinking about you and you'd almost have been better off not knowing that little nugget.

In the worst instances - such as the online changes of relationship status mentioned above - the updates take an almost binary form; the person is happy or not, coupled-up or not, and so on, and for another party to see that one has become the other can make it appear more of a leap than it may actually be, which can be uncomfortable to read.

It's probably because I've historically been the dump-ee (I'm talking about the past; don't get your hopes up about exploiting any desolate desperation on my part, ladies, I'm married now) that I feel empathy with the people I know who've smarted at seeing their recent ex update their personal details online, but there is a part of me that feels that the constant capacity to know what everyone you know is doing or thinking about pretty much constantly isn't necessarily a boon. It's all a question of how you use these capacities, I guess, and the degree of detail you go into about particular subjects; not only does great detail risk boring your more marginal acquaintances, but it also means that your actual meet-up-in-real-life friends, if too well briefed, may not feel the need to meet up for a catch up, as they already know exactly what you've been up to... in more detail than they needed.

You're probably thinking that I sound luddite and slightly preachy on this, but then again you may also realise that I'm fairly well-placed to demonstrate a certain sanctimony on this subject, given that this blog is, more times than not, wildly impersonal and utterly lacking in any kind of content whatsover; the signal to noise ratio, I think you'd agree, is emphatically in favour of noise, leading to the content being, all too often, more of a 0 than a 1.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Trendwatch: The Word That Seems To Be On MPs' Tongues And Printing Presses Alike

I've written several times before about what a rubbish newspaper I consider the London Evening Standard to be, and it's recently taken the unusual - some might say downright strange - step of apologising for its editorial stance (mainly because it has a new owner and change of editorial line-up). A sample of the ad campaign is shown here.

I certainly wouldn't argue with the assessment of it as being negative - the selection of headlines here gives a flavour of its previous approach - but given that the paper's previously been running a loyalty card scheme which enables readers to register and pay a bit upfront and get the paper cheaper , I have one question:

Are people who bought issues of the Evening Standard before the relaunch going to be given refunds?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

This Talk Of Constriction Makes My Eyes Widen... In Surprise

Once again, I'm sharing a link with you, but I simply had to share the not-safe-for-work-ness that is this book.

Granted, much of the apparent lunacy of it probably derives from translating a book through Babelfish and back and then back again (how else to explain the sentences on the sample pages which are visible via the link?), but still, it's very odd.

Actually, I've just realised the comments further down the page are a mix of people giggling in the same childish manner as me, and quite a few saying there might be something in it. What a strange and delightful world we live in.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Death Stalks A Sleepy Country Village... But Nobody Gives A Monkey's, It Seems

Strangely enough, the older I get, the less certain I get about many things, but I often find myself getting more and more convinced (some might say dogmatic) about aspects of the whole business of storytelling (and from that, writing).

One such conviction relates to the notion of 'playing fair' with the audience, especially in tales involving a mystery or last-minute twist revelation. This isn't a new notion by any means - S.S.Van Dine wrote about it over 80 years ago - but I think it's one that remains key, especially as we reach a stage where ever more complicated and convoluted layers of bluff and misdirection are required to surprise an audience.

In murder mysteries, it's pretty poor form to reveal that the killer was someone who we've never met before the final page; for this reason, due to only partly paying attention, I thought that the end of Jagged Edge was a cheat, as I thought it was revealing the killer to be a minor background character - not the case, but that's the kind of thing I'm driving at.

Interestingly, I think that this is an expectation which audiences have carried over into general expectations of narrative, and I'd say that this is why hardly any (I'd go out on a limb and say none, but there's almost inevitably an exception or two on a global scale) of the people who are voted winners of Big Brother are contestants who came into the house towards the end of the show's run: you shouldn't be able to win the game with a piece which hasn't been on the board for the duration. For this reason, if you're doing an exam which features a scenario with characters called A, B and C and you have to write about the scenario, you tend to get pretty short shrift (or, as it's known in academic terms, crappy marks) if you introduce characters D and E and take the story in a direction more in line with the areas you've revised.

Also in murder mysteries, there's pretty much a tacit rule that you will, at some stage, reveal the identity of the murderer (or murderers). It's rare to have a story where you can get away with hooking the reader in with a 'whodunnit?' mystery and then get away with not stating who the killer is because another, more compelling storyline intervenes. David Lynch apparently didn't want to reveal who the killer of Laura Palmer was in Twin Peaks, and as much as I love that show, I'd have felt rather cheated if the mystery hadn't been resolved; similarly, the opening scene of The Wire sets up a murder scene, and whilst I haven't watched enough of the show to know if we find out who killed the delightfully-named Snot Boogie, I rather hope so, though I guess one might argue that in the more naturalistic vein of that show, an unsolved murder may be more part of the setting than a narrative thread in its own right.

In fact, now I muse upon it, I can't think of any entirely satisfying stories that end with a murder left unresolved; I'm perhaps being stupid, but I was left uncertain as to the killer's identity at the end of Grant Morrison and Jon J Muth's The Mystery Play, and so for me the story - unfortunately given its themes - ended without the appropriate Revelation. I have a feeling that the end of the Polanski film The Ninth Gate may have ended with some of its plot threads left dangling, though that might just be my memory playing tricks; I have a vague recollection of it ending with the protagonist standing before the place he's been seeking, and the film just rather ending. On the other hand, that in itself is rather like the end of Browning's poem Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came, which ends in a similarly 'sudden' fashion; no wonder Stephen King was inspired to write about what happened when Roland arrived at The Dark Tower.

I suppose the most famous example of a story finishing with a murder left unsolved would be The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, wherein the death of the chauffeur Owen Taylor isn't solved. Legend has it that when they were making the film version, the screenwriters realised that this wasn't explained in the novel, and sent a telegram to Chandler asking who had killed Taylor... only to receive the reply that he didn't know either.

Anyway, all this sort of thing has been on my mind lately because it seems that the good people behind Emmerdale appear to have decided to just let the Who Killed Tom King? storyline drop away, despite the fact that the murderer has not been brought to justice. Granted, the audience knows who killed him (unsurprisingly, one of his family), but given the publicity that surrounded the murder itself when it was screened in December 2006, it feels a little like a joke without a punchline for there not to have been some equivalent narrative closure, to my mind. In the same way that I as an audience member didn't feel raging hysteria when John Hannah's character recited Monty Python lines in Sliding Doors, for me as an audience member it doesn't quite ring true that people who live in such a small village would be content to go about their lives in the pretty certain knowledge that a killer still walks amongst them.

It's often said - again, I refer you to Mr Van Dine's article linked above - that in a mystery story it's only right that the audience is at an level of knowledge equivalent to that of the detective; that seems fair to me, as it allows you to play along and try to solve it, which adds to the enjoyment and involvement. However, it occurs to me that it's not just that the characters shouldn't be privy to facts which the reader is excluded from, but that the reverse is equally true; unless you're seeking to display the disparity between what characters in a story believe to be true, and the actual situation (as in, say, Peep Show), you probably don't want the audience to be privy to knowledge which, if the characters were aware of it, would make them see things in a very different way. Or, at least, not for a sustained period of time.

It may well be that there's a plan to bring some proper in-world resolution to the Tom King murder storyline in Emmerdale - though I have to hope they're not going to wait until the traditional big-story time of Christmas to wheel it out, as that would make it two years since its inception, including many months where it's not been given much airtime - because at the moment it means that I'm watching the programme with a feeling that something major's going unresolved.

Whilst it's established to the viewer that the death was an accident, a crime of passion unlikely to happen again, the characters living in the village don't know that, and so within the reality of the show it's something that would cast a shadow over their daily lives. What it does, more than anything, is remind me of the artifice of the programme, as if I'm constantly able to see the strings and hear the plot levers moving things, whilst a elephantine item in the middle of the room goes ignored.

And one of the things I've always been sure about, when it comes to the telling of stories, is that you want to utterly absorb your audience in the story; if you're going to tell a tale of events which never happened to people who don't exist in a made-up situation, you want avoid reminding your audience of this by jolting them out of the story, especially on something avoidable and fundamental.

Am I over-thinking this? Very possibly, but I wanted to provide a bit more of a meaty post today by way of balancing out the recent tendency towards just supplying you with links, and it was either this or a rather more facile post about the way that EastEnders seems to want to present the Mitchell sisters as alluring sex kittens but completely blows it by having them spend most of their time either shouting angrily or crying. Perhaps I've got strange tastes, but I don't find that particularly appealing, on my TV screen or in real life.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Delay That Gratification!

Whatever you do, do not click this link and read what you find.

Oh, you disappoint me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Little Bit Of Magic For Sunday Afternoon...

Once again, I gather I'm rather late in discovering this, but if you haven't seen it before, I think you'll like this:

The Colour-Changing Card Trick, Presented by Richard Wiseman.

If, like me, you're new to it, you'll probably do what I did, which was to want to show someone else... which is why I'm posting it here.

Apologies for not embedding it - the Youtube version wouldn't let me, for some reason.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Choc And A Book? They Should Have Thrown In a Mug Of Tea To Complete The Package, Really...

I've said it before, and I'll no doubt say it many more times: chocolate is an evil which must be stamped out - one bar at a time, if need be.

Anyway, tying together chocolate with the not-rubbish pastime of reading, Galaxy are currently running a promotion where their products have little codes inside the wrapper, and you can enter those onto their website and win a book. As the (swiped from their site) picture shows, they have a million books to be won by the end of August, which is a lot of books. Almost as many as are glaring at me from my 'to read' shelf, but that's not something I ought to get into now.

The thing is, you don't have to buy chocolate (or, indeed, anything) to enter - if you go to this page and enter the appropriate details, they'll send you a free code, so you can have a go for nothing. And you're allowed to request a code every day until the promotion ends, which seems pretty fair to me.

You might want to check the list of books to see if the possible prizes are the sort of book you'd like to read, granted, but if you do win one, let me know, eh ? I've tried a couple of times now with no success, and I'm starting to think it's like one of those Reader's Digest Prize Draws that we're told are legit, but no-one really seems to believe in...

Friday, May 08, 2009

I'm Not The Only One Who Sees The Paradox Of Its Name, Am I ?

Final Draft, the software much used by writers (and especially screenwriters) has now come out in version 8.

Ignoring the fact that the design of the box makes it look like a washing machine, I've found it slightly odd that I haven't seen many reviews of it - in fact, when I was looking for information on the new features, Amazon's page for it seemed to have more actual data than FD's own sales pages, which seemed strange.

I'm vaguely thinking about investing in a copy (I gather v8 is Vista-compatible), but was wondering if any of you lovely people had heard anything (good or bad) about it- or even have first-hand experience of using it - which you could share.

As I say, I'm mulling over the possibility of thinking about considering buying a copy, but if it's riddled with bugs - oh, I'm sorry, I mean undocumented features - then I'd appreciate being told before I spend any money. Thanks!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Ah, Me. The Sting Of Rejection.

Tch, I've just found out that a piece of my writing, despite making it into the finalists' enclosure, has not romped over the finish line to publication. A pity, as it would have meant inclusion in a proper real book with an ISBN and indicia and everything, on sale in normal bookshops up and down the land, and I'm sure that you can imagine just how giddy that would have made me (mind you, I probably would have been pretty insufferable about it, so you good readers have probably dodged a metaphorical bullet).

Anyway, my immediate reaction was one of slight disappointment, coupled with a suspicion that, like Thomas Chatterton (pictured), I'm destined to die alone in my artist's garrett, unloved and unrecognised... but then I remembered I live in a flat, with my wife, which pretty much means that suspicion isn't exactly one which is grounded in reality.

Still, the fact it made it into the final round is pretty cool, and I have to be realistic and conclude that it wasn't quite good enough, so the solution has to be to make sure that the next thing I write is good enough... in fact, I want it to be far better than 'good enough', and there's really only one way to make sure that's the case, isn't there ?

And so: to the keyboard!

(In case you're wondering why I'm not naming the book in question, there are two reasons:

1 - I'm not really bitter about it, and I wouldn't want this post to seem like a rant, as it's more like a declaration of intent to re-double my efforts; and

2 - I know how loyal and sympathetic you good people are, and I don't want to be seen to be implicitly condoning any kind of boycott of the book in question. I appreciate your loyalty, I really do, but there's no need for consumer action, I assure you.)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Which Is Worse? The Premise Or The Cover?

I'm sure there's a whole world of funeral (or, indeed, funereal) music which I'm blissfully unaware of, but surely this album is going a bit too far?

A nice touch is the way a lot of the tracks are listed as being 'made famous by' one person, but the version on the compilation is performed by someone else (to my mind, the most egregious example being track two).

The non-original artist nature of some of the tracks (quite a few of them, actually) puts me in mind of the old Top Of The Pops LPs that you see in charity shops or at boot sales - you know the ones, they usually featured a smiling woman in a bikini on the cover.

Or is it just me that recalls that aspect of those LPs? Ah well.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Bet He Doesn't Get Hassled At Traffic Lights By The Windscreen-Washing Folks

Over at his blog, m'chum Steve recently shared the amusing story of an art student's work to make a car blend in with its surroundings - if you haven't already seen the story, I recommend a quick scoot over to look at it. Come back here, though. Please. I get so very lonely.

Back now? Fun story, I think you'd agree. Anyway, within 24 hours of seeing about the vanishing car, I came across a magazine article about Benedict Radcliffe, an artist who, as opposed to making a car disappear, made an illusory Lamborghini, which you can see above. That's right, the orange 'drawing' above isn't a drawing at all, it's a to-scale model of the car's outline which he actually placed on the street.

For more details of how Benedict went about making this eye-startling item, with more pictures, have a look here.

Monday, May 04, 2009

A Worrying Demonstration Of The Power Of Marketing

Don't get me wrong, I like Melody Gardot's work. It reminds me of the music of Madeleine Peyroux, with the vocals of Rachael Yamagata, and that blend is very pleasing to the ear.


Well, the problem is, the style of the promotional material for her releases, as pictured here, makes me hear one thing, and one thing alone, in my head.

"Designer frames now 2 for 1 at Vision Express."

I'm not proud of it, I'm just being honest.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Next Weekend, I Shall Go Into The Woods With The Men's Group And Recite Poetry As Another Man Strikes A Drum

A boyish afternoon yesterday, as Mrs Soanes and I rather belatedly cashed in a wedding pressie from Mr and Mrs Toby; a voyage on a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) down the Thames.

It was, for the record, fab, and if you get the chance to clamber into one of these boats and go wheeeeeeee down the Thames (or any other river, for that matter), I recommend it. Anyway, here are some pictures...
Passing the Houses of Parliament. Look at the spray there! Why, it's almost like the start of The World Is Not Enough).

It may look as if I'm emulating The Shadow, but in fact the lifejacket they gave me was being blown back by the sheer force of the wind as we sped along. That explains the swept-back hair, too. Well, that and my insistence on styling myself like some kind of fop-about-town, but that's a topic for another time.

Mrs Soanes, scooting along at my side in the RIB. How does she keep smiling, when she's married to me? I really don't know, but I'm not going to question it out loud, in case she starts to question it as well, and at the moment I seem to be getting away with it. Shh, don't spoil it.

On getting out of the RIB and once again onto dry land, we wandered along London's South Bank, where, as part of the BFI's James Bond Weekender, they're exhibiting a number of cars from the Bond films.

Here, you can see me pointing at an Aston Martin from Goldeneye, as if mocking its blatancy as an *ahem* extension for the insecure male. Meanwhile, a passer-by points at a part of me as if to suggest that perhaps I'm in need of just such an extension. Tch, everyone's a critic. Still, he could have been pointing about a foot higher at my gut (something which I could actually do something to correct, though in my defence I'd just had a splendid lunch).

So, a positively manly afternoon - racing along the river at a rate of knots, followed by looking at cars from Bond films. Grr, frankly. I can almost feel a hair sprouting on my chest. Which is a first.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

And He Looked From Musician, To Music Journalist, And Back Again; But Already It Was Impossible To Say Which Was Which*

Whilst Neil Tennant is the most obvious example of someone crossing over from writing about music to performing it (from Smash Hits to being in the Pet Shop Boys), it looks as if he may not be the only one.

Presented for your comparison: Roger Daltrey of The Who, and David Hepworth of The Word magazine (a very good magazine - even if it does go on about The Wire to the extent that I sometimes wonder why they don't just change two letters of the mag's title and be done with it).

*Apologies to Eric Arthur Blair.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Yes, I Know The Subject Of MPs' Expenses Has Been Well-Covered Elsewhere, But....

... two thoughts:

1. Isn't allowing MPs to decide the nature and scope of their own expenses a little like letting kleptomaniacs vote on revisions to the 1968 Theft Act?

2. How does the fact that Gordon Brown's attempts to reform the expenses procedure have been kicked out by MPs become something which is interpreted as a dent in his credibity as PM? Surely, by MPs voting to reject the reforms, and therefore voting in favour of maintaining a system which is clearly open to (and indeed subject to) abuse, that reflects far more damningly on MPs generally?

Granted, I'm rather inclined not to trust MPs as an instinctive reaction, but still...