Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good-Bye To All That

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

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

People taking offence on behalf of other people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dropping One, As It Were

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

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

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

Seriously, it's true.

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

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

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

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

Anyway, nicely done stuff, I feel.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Writing For Film - A Good Practice Guide

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

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

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

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

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

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

Apologies to Sally Dali. And Arabella Weir.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Topical And Obscure At The Same Time

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays To You!

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

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

*Please delete as applicable.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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

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

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

But this is just going too far.

I mean, really.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Return Of The 'Jack

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

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

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

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

... looked a lot more like Brendan Fraser.

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

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

And the lesson calls out from antiquity:

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

Videogame Advice Sought

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

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


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spotted In East London...

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

[Insert Predictable Piscine Pun Title Here]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

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

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

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

More images, in the form of screengrabs, here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Eleven Months After I Posted My Theory, Confirmation Arrives

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

Can't hurt, after all...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mind Your Language

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

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

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

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

- Rik Mayall as Richard Richard from Bottom.

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hello Wembley, Goodbye Dome

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

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

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

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

*Not like that, you filthy sort.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Or, In My Case, The Whinging Defective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway: hmm.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

So, Like One Other, Then

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

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

Ah well.

Monday, December 07, 2009

One Of Us Has Matured Into A Deft And Skilled Writer

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

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

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

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

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

Go now. Read columns. Make fire. Ug.

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

Sunday, December 06, 2009

I Could Hardly Believe My Rodent Pies

Spotted in a shop in Holborn, London.

The London version of ratatouille, I suppose.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 04, 2009

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

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

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

Thursday, December 03, 2009

At Least It Was Tastefully Lit

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

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

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You

My eyes! My beautiful eyes!

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Suspended: Disbelief And Animation

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

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

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

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

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

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