Monday, November 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

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

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

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

This card, however, was withdrawn pretty sharpish because of its dirty vile nature.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

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

I know: Shocking.

Even if it does makes me giggle.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tense and exciting
Evening Standard

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

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

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

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

Grisham never disappoints and this is another fantastic read
The Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Emperor's New Trick

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Should Have Bought A Towel As Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sort-Of Free Comedy CD

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chatsworth Revisited

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

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Never To Be Repeated Offer

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

Buy early for Christmas!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

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

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

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

And now, over to Derek for the sports update.

Friday, November 20, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Startling Pace Of Technological Advancement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Advice? Always Pick The Easy Targets

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nothing New Under The Sun? Whatever.

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

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

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

Young people thenadays, eh? Tch.

Monday, November 16, 2009

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

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

Case in point:

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

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

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

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

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

What fate, you ask?

The boffins at Popjustice have the details.

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Link Will Self-Destruct In 36 Hours

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Week, Three Kings

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 09, 2009

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

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

Saturday, November 07, 2009

My Prejudices Confirmed, In A Way

When I moved to Yorkshire at the age of ten (well, not on my own, it was a family thing), I heard a lot of comments about what life was like 'in the South', and about the people who lived there.

Which was interesting, because I'd never thought of myself as living in any place with a particular allegiance or whatever, it was just, as a child might think, where I lived, and the people who lived there, just, er, lived there. Living there didn't seem like some kind of allegiance to a patricular way of life, it was, at that age, just what my life was like.

So I was often kind of nonplussed at remarks people made about 'southerners' (though I'd be lying if I pretended that every single remark didn't in some way, inform my growing body of opinions about 'northerners'), particularly the comment that the father of a girl I was seeing in my teen years made about my family having moved to the North so we could have a bigger house. Yes, that'll have been the rationale for the move - embarrassingly, my parents didn't go the whole hog and move to Scotland, where we could presumably have had an estate like something out of Monarch Of The Glen, but hey you can't have it all, I guess.

A lot of these comments were, it has to be said, pretty ill-informed, and I know people who've moved from the city to a more bucolic life only to be on the receiving end of comments about 'townies not knowing the ways of the country' (though apparently people who've grown up on a farm and rarely left the village have some kind of innate understanding of the ways of the urban metropolis and its dwellers).

The point I'm trying - and probably failing - to make is that all too often our opinions of other people and their lives are based more on guesswork and suspicion (and in some cases fear) than actual, material facts. I'm almost certainly as guilty of this as everyone else... actually, I take that back, and point you towards a rather fascinating collation of information:

Depiction of BNP membership overlap with non-white populations in the UK

... now, I'd prefer to think I'm less prone to the 'making up reasons to dislike people without actually knowing if the reasons are true' tendency that this image suggests your average BNP member is guilty of, but I think you can see my underlying point: the vast majority of BNP members, it would seem, hold their opinions about non-white people with only very limited knowledge about what they're actually like. I suspect it's that fear of 'other' that somehow gives rise to the dislike, and creates what is, in the strict sense of the word, pre-judice.

Anyway, the site I swiped that link from is run by a chap called David McCandless. There are many similarly interesting conglomerations of information on the rest of his site, it's worth your time.

But to end this post on a note which is probably less contentious than issues of race or north versus south, and which I found unintentionally very amusing, I'd like to illustrate my general point with a comment made by a friend of mine when were chatting about at school, and which harks back to yesterday's post in a way; he said, and these were his exact words,

"I've never read any books by Stephen King, because they're all shit."

(Simon - or, indeed, Mr K: if you're reading this, I disagreed then, and I still disagree now, okay?)

Friday, November 06, 2009

King Dome, But Not The Hospital

As part of their promotional push for the new Stephen King novel Under The Dome, Hodder and Stoughton are holding a writing competition.

The idea is that you 'take your inspiration from the new novel' (in whatever way you interpret that), and send your creative writing in, and if you win Stephen King will read your writing and you get a signed copy of the book. Not a bad prize, all things considered, and you have until 15 December to send in your piece of 2,000 words or less (they're also running some non-writing competitions, but they close tomorrow).

Details of all the competitions are here, but the writing one in particular can be found by clickety-clicking here.

I have a vague notion of an idea for it, and it's not an onerous wordcount to do in a month or so, so I might have a go... if you enter, let me know how you get on.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lying In the Gutter, But ...

Spotted in the gutter yesterday, and I was slightly freaked out by it, I have to admit.

But then again, perhaps my career as a war photographer starts here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

He's Cleared The First Hurdle, But What About The Second?

If you're of a writerly mind, you may remember the stuff I posted in September about the open call for submissions to the BBC radio sketch show, Recorded For Training Purposes.

Well, just to prove that I don't idly post these things - and that I wasn't kidding when I said I didn't need the competition - I sent a couple of sketches in, and crikey o'riley if I didn't get an e-mail today saying that I'd made it past the initial sift.

Which made me grin like an idiot, though the e-mail also cautions that there are something like 250 people in my situation, plus all the actual commissioned writers like Senor Arnopp, and they'll probably be wanting about 100 sketches in total. So I shouldn't get too excited quite yet, though it's stoked the fires of my ego to get this far.

Did any of you folks send anything in, and if so, any response? Are you - cripes - one of my rivals for airtime? Do let me know.

You may, of course, rest assured that I'll let you know when I hear more, be it aye or nay (though the e-mail suggests I shouldn't necessarily expect to hear before Christmas). I may not know much, but I understand enough about narrative to know that people usually like some kind of closure on things.

But anyway: colour me pleased.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

November Projects - Dare Any Of You Combine Them?

So, it's November and those of us who live near the Greenwich Meridian Line are all rejoicing in the benefits of an extra hour on our hands. So, if you're struggling to find ways to fill your time, and are looking for something to do this month, the following November-based projects may be of interest...

National Novel Writing Month
Slightly misnamed, as it's now very much an interNational thing, but the idea of 'NaNoWriMo', as we hipsters call it, remains the same: to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.

Obviously, that's a fair amount of writing (over 1000 words a day), and it takes a bit of dedication, but hey, it's getting cold outside, so staying in with a cup of tea and writing is far from the worst way you could spend your time... on second thought, I might well say that at any time of year, but on this occasion there's a whole community of people (both online and in the real world) who'll support you as you aim for 50,000 words. Go to the NaNoWriMo site and see what I mean.

I've had a go at this a couple of times, and whilst it's to my considerable shame that I've never made it over the finishing line (and for the record, you don't have to stop then, you can carry on writing until you feel the story's finished), I liked the feeling that there were other people who were doing the same crazy thing.

The other suggestion I have is slightly more gender-specific, for it is...

Yes, that's November with an M, for this challenge involves growing a mo...ustache.

Okay, so the name's arguably a bit of a stretch (what were they gonna call it, Philtrum-foliage-February?), but the aim is simple, and the motivation good 'n philanthropic: participants should try to grow a moustache over the course of the month - no sideburns or beard, just the 'tache - and get friends to sponsor you, with the proceeds going to prostate cancer charities. Full details can be found here.

Actually, given that I've met some of you folks face-to-face, perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to suggest that it's only the gents who could grow a moustache... oh dear, I've gone too far, haven't I ? Don't dwell on it, though, check out this link to the manliest moustaches of all time! Grrr, how macho are they? The pictures positively seethe with manly hormones.

In fact, I think - at long last - I can feel puberty coming on.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Something Jolly, But Also Slightly Sinister, For Your Monday : What's In The Jars?

I've mentioned the Adam and Joe 6 Music podcast a number of times before, for they are funny and clever men whose praises should be sung.

But they're not just audio sillymen, no, as the following video featuring Adam demonstrates:

Listen to it twice, and it will play in a loop in your mind forever. For Ever.

Well, all right, until another tune takes over your mental jukebox, but it's a deuced catchy little ditty, wouldn't you say?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

For 'Livejournal', Read 'Blog'

If you're not familiar with the webcomic XKCD, I heartily recommend it.

Or, as it's Sunday afternoon, you might prefer to walk around the world instead.