Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Enter Sydney Newman

Dirty crew escape the cavemen.Watched The Beginning’s various documentaries last night (“researched” the actual episodes this time last year, so in less of a rush). Lots of fab stuff and New Things To Learn despite how much of it's been told before.

The Corridor Sketch includes some alarmingly young (and slim) colleagues, which is probably the funniest thing about it. It’s not, with the best will in the world, that brilliant – a factor not helped by being in among the Gatiss/Walliams skits. But glad it’s included, just to laugh at my friends.

Really impressed by the Origins documentary, but the bit that most impressed was the visit to the Radiophonic Workshop. Can see why people who knew her so enthused about Delia Derbyshire. She really comes across as dedicated, talented and lovely.

Liked linking Edge of Destruction to stuff in New Show, and wonder if maybe Mr Rusty and the 10th Dr could do commentaries on Old Show they particularly like. Do we know what their favourites are, anyway?

Been sent a picture of something groovy you all have to wait a month for. And other fab announcements will be made around then, too. Aaaaaah.

And to be even more teasing, tonight I will be attempting to agree an important few words somebody else has to say.

Monday, January 30, 2006

How it all started

As a favour to a mate, I spent this morning at a primary school, working with three classes of Year 4 kids on creating their own Dr Who companions.

Started by reading them a bit of Time Travellers and showing a clip from the Christmas Invasion, and then answered some questions before they had to work.

Frightening how media savvy the kids are – and they had no shortage of questions to ask about the series (new and old), writing in general and the state of television today. They were extremely adept analysing stuff they’d seen (not just what I showed them), taking stories apart and rethinking them. Wish I’d been that bright at that age.

Or now, even.

One class really took to rearranging the letters of their friends' names to create something good for an alien. Another was much more interested in how the Doctor met these new friends. And the third wanted to make the weirdest companions possible - one made of fire, another a lemur, another a robotised dog...

I’d been told to expect short attention spans, but it seemed more that they just took in the details absurdly quickly, moving immediately on to the next cool thing. You just have to keep the cool things coming. Amazed watching the teachers – calm and encouraging when they could, terrifying and stern when they had to.

The kids agreed that Mr Hughes especially would make a really scary Dr Who monster. Yeah, New Show should do evil teachers…

Some highlights:
  • One kid knew and could spell "Raxacoricofallapatorius", but got stuck spelling "his"
  • I asked one girl what her companion was scared of and she replied, very carefully, "Looming over her is the fear of ice cream melting"
  • A boy explained the plot of his treasured DVD - a gold man with funny eyes turns into evil spaghetti and the Doctor ties him up (I guessed correctly which one)
  • And there was a fierce argument between two boys about whether “Who” is his surname...
Have donated a bag of old Target books, because the whole wheeze was to get the boys reading. (In between tasks, the girls were reading 500-page novels about fantasy ponies and magic, the boys mostly struggling to read the captions in a Shoot! annual).

Will check back in a few weeks and see how the book have gone down. But vividly recall my own great thrill of discovering The Invasion in the library, the joy of boning up on old show.

Knackered, got into town around oneish to resume a more grown-up freelancing gig. And to pick up The Beginning.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

By the power of Grayskull

Did my first bit of direct commissioning today, following a nice lunch with my boss where he approved my Great Plans. Three splendid fellows should now find themselves writing me things for cash. I have that power...

We'll be making official announcements in about a month (giving me time to get something together to show people), but I am giddy and excitable about it all.

Oh, and someone we won't name has already referred in something we won't mention to my newly created Mim. Hooroo!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Predicting the future

Have been listening to Douglas Adams at the BBC, some of which is just brilliant.

Some of the sketches are not quite so brilliant, though I’m glad to have heard them all the same. But what really stands out is his insight into and clarity explaining some really very complicated stuff.

All kinds of very complicated stuff at that.

Yeah, it's the non-fiction that impresses the most (I think). It’s made me want to re-listen to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Future and track down the Radio 4 version of Last Chance To See…? For years the book has been an ideal present for anyone I’m stuck buying a present for.

I was going to talk more generally about Douglas and his influence on me – or rather, his influences (plural) – but kept getting a weird déjà vu. So checked some email archives, and sure enough:

From 8 May 2002:
“I'm 160 pages into Salmon of Doubt, and am really enjoying it. Agree with what you say about a CD-Rom being a more suitable record - especially in mind of what Adams says about printed matter and dead wood. Also, I've read an awful lot of this stuff before - great swathes is available on the Internet [such as here and here].

Which seems rather to be missing the point. And there's loads of things from various publications - magazines, books etc. that as an Adams fanboy I've tracked down already.

This isn't then ‘the best of Douglas's hard drive’. It's ‘the best of Douglas’. Though that's not necessarily a bad thing.

One of the things I find fascinating is how much the myriad works fit together. Sometimes he repeats himself - you certainly hear the same jokes reused (reminding me of Oscar Wilde in From Hell).

More importantly, his ideas fit into a consistent worldview - so his musing on Bali fits like sticklebricks to his ideas about language and identity. His reckoning about God fits his ideas about left-handed guitars.

At the same time, you get a sense of his thinking as work-in-progress. That's especially true of the stuff he was writing for MacUser in the late 80s. Much of what he said then is outdated now, and many of the issues have become irrelevant.

But, as he says in his Artificial God lecture, the whole point of science is that you put up a theory and see if other people can knock it down. He's quite prepared to go out on a limb and talk about irrational beliefs and evolutionary theory, and to have that attacked and questioned and jeered, but as part of a process.

What he's interested in is gedankenexperiment. And as his ideas get tested and questioned and pulled apart, he's emerging into something reasonably comprehensive.

Though this may be the result of the editing process on the book - consistency brought about on the material because of the way it was selected.

What this means is I really want more: to pick over the not-so-brilliant stuff, to see the bits of writing he didn't put much thought into, the whims he didn't finish.

And more than that, I want to talk to him. For ages. And have an argument.

And I’d always kidded myself that someday I would. Shit.”

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Books of human folly

Ten years ago - give or take a week - I used Reading Week to go see my elder brother in Madrid. This was in the days when I was learning Spanish, so it counted as work.

As well as drinking drinks you had to set fire to, going to the "English" bars and discussing the collections of the Prado with the bro's non-English-speaking housemate, I also got taken to the cinema. The brother wanted me to see Smoke.

"It's like Pulp Fiction," he said as we took our seats, "but without the violence."

And it was: various people and bits of their stories interweaving and bouncing off each other. It's such a brilliant film, and was my first introduction to both Paul Auster and Tom Waits.

Auster's stuff I've now read most of - all his novels, his four films, most of his prose, almost none of his poetry and even his translation of a Frenchman's anthropoligical studies. Am currently two thirds through his latest, The Brooklyn Follies. And adoring it.

Like Smoke, it's pretty ambling, rambling and all over the place, with various kooky people bumping into each other, telling stories, doing odd stuff.

Funny and strange and sad, it's essentially the tale of a man dying of cancer, people-watching and trying to sort out the lives of two members of his family. And mostly that's by talking to them, and telling odd stories, and hatching odd plots. It means it's full of top facts and digressions: an image from Kafka's Amerika, the Statue of Liberty wielding a sword not a torch, leads into a story about Kafka writing letters to a small girl who'd lost her doll. And then that's picked up by our narrator "adopting" a runaway...

A fun bit: little Lucy doesn't want to be dumped at her auntie's, so when they stop off for petrol and something to eat, she sneaks off to the toilet. Nathan (the narrator) and Tom carry on chatting:
"Tom was still going at full verbal tilt, and I got so caught up in what he was saying that I lost track of Lucy. Little did we know at the time (the facts didn't come out until later) that our girl had left the restaurant through a rear door and was frantically feeding coins and dollar bills into the Coke machine outside. She bought at least twenty cans of that gooey, sugar-laden concoction, and one by one she poured the entire contents of each can into the gas tank of my once healthy Oldsmobile Cutlass. How could she have known that sugar was a deadly poison to internal combustion engines? How could the brat have been so damn clever? Not only did she bring our journey to an abrupt and conclusive halt, but she managed to do it in record time. Five minutes would be my guess, seven at the most. However long it was, we were still waiting for our food when she returned to the table. She was suddenly full of smiles again, but how could I have guessed the cause of her happiness? If I had bothered to think about it at all, I would have assumed it was because she had taken a good shit."

Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies, p. 159.

Languid and easy, there's not really a plot or purpose and it could be accused of being a bit indulgent. This and Auster's last were both heavilly criticised in Private Eye for being "easy". But it's far more frustrating than that - at least to me. It's seemingly effortless.

Auster recommendations:

1. Timbuktu
A shaggy dog story, told by the shaggy dog. This is the one I got the Dr to read and, like me, she cried.

2. Mr Veritgo
You'll believe an orphan can fly. Walt's apprenticeship to Master Yehudi is more than just becoming an illusionist.

3. In the country of last things
A haunting sci-fi type thing, with civilisation fading away whenever you're not looking. The sort of book that's good enough you have to point out to people afterwards that it is sci-fi. Like Cold Comfort Farm.

(Oh, but that's another post entirely...)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Head full of bung, and fed up with being so cold. Nothing else to say. Nothing.

(Turn your speakers on.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Any sweet jumps?

We’re getting double-glazing. Had the Man come round to explain it all yesterday and now it’s all booked. How grown up.

Also joined the Blockbuster in Penge, which just goes to show how plenty-domestic we’ve become.

The Dr watched Vanity Fair, but thought it a bit silly and Not Like The Book.

Napoleon Dynamite is not quite the work of genius I’d been led to expect, but is often very, very funny. Some of the dorkiness is especially cringe-worthy for being so well observed. I liked the cow-shooting and the world-weary sighing the best.

Can already hear the obvious comments from those who have experienced my clubbing / wedding disco form. You do not appreciate my Moves.

Still, overall it felt more like a sitcom-type thing than a movie. A good, kooky sitcom off of late-night E4. (Have also been enjoying My Name Is Earl, despite nagging doubts that I should know better. But Jason Lee is always fab.)

Also oddly not-a-movie is The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, which felt more like a Christmas special than something you’d pay for. The po-mo premise (the fictional characters hunt down their creators) is grotesquely self-indulgent, but it more or less comes off.

Wished they could have resisted Royston Vasey. (And anyway, they’d already killed off Tubbs and Edward…)

Loved the C-plot film, with three diabolic Catholics trying to kill Theodon-King in the most fiendishly diabolic of ways. More of that sort of thing – and more David Warner, and Victoria Wood saying “cock”!

Again, there’s lots of very good stuff in the thing, but I’d much rather see the talented bunch play the whole cast of an entirely new story. Something grotesque and disgusting, with plenty of icky stuff going on. Something to give them new life.

The League of Gentlemen’s Renaissance, perhaps?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Cat test

Since Elephant's days are numbered, here's a test of free imaging wossanme Picasa. Hope it works. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 21, 2006


The great boiler saga drifts on. Not that it’s of any interesting to anyone else, but yesterday was also a rather expensive day. Paid my tax (twice what I’d expected, because they now want six months in advance) and the second instalment for the Clever Man who fixed the boiler.

He’s had fun today, drilling a waste-pipe into our cast-iron drains. The Victorians really built things to last, and it took about 20 minutes to cut a bit about the size of two £1 coins stuck together.

But the leak seems fixed, and things all approved and dandy. Just the electrics and windows and loft insulating to do now. And some re-pointing, and other odds and ends.

To celebrate this steady progress, the Dr took me out to the Comedy Caff on Rivington Street last night, with some friends and some friends of theirs. Marvellous night full of beer and good jokes, though I’d not heard of any of the acts before.

Not that this particularly signifies anything. But the line-up was Brendan Bourke (hawking his DVD afterwards), Stuart Hudson and Mickey Flanagan, with Drew Barr as MC. If that helps.

Bit pissed on the way home, and the Dr failed to recognise I. who was stood right next to her on the train. Even when he came up to say hello. And he was round at ours only last week…

She did, however, recognise S., though they’ve only met once before. Thing is, they’d talked that time about ancient Greeks.

Maybe if I slip in the word “Acropolis” now and then, she’ll listen to the important things that I’m telling her.

Among the important things discussed between comedy acts was the difference between teepees and wigwams. Wigwams are rounder-roofed, while teepees are conical, and built in the same sort of way as the cone of twigs you make when lighting a fire.

Something on the telly a while back looked at whether the Ancient British roundhouses (like the groovy remakes at Butser) had holes in the top of their roofs, as chimneys. Otherwise, wouldn’t the place fill with smoke and suffocate everyone?

A practical experiment, using state-of-the-art paper models, showed why not. The heat around the chimney – a heat-building cone – sets fire to the building.

Without a chimney though, smoke leaks gently through the thatching, and the carbon dioxide extinguishes any stray sparks.

So, I wonder, why doesn’t that happen with wigwams? They have fires in them (in the movies I've seen), and holes in the top of 'em that'd act like chimneys. And they don't burn down.


Got an eagerly awaited cheque through this morning which paying for the house a lot easier. And should have more monies soon, too.

Much work delivered this week. Done the requested rewrites on two unannounced things, totalling some 15,000 words. Edited something else and delivered it, and have just begun a new on-spec thing I’ve been meaning to get started for ages.

All this to stay warm. I will quote some Clements:
“There is still a perilously thin line that separates you from the hungry and the cold, and from the need to secure food and warmth. Few of us are more than a few months from bankruptcy […] While the Vikings are inhabitants of the past, the forces that created them are not.”

Jonathan Clements, A Brief History of the Vikings, p. 229.

To which I say, in my best Scandinavian accent, "Raaaaaahr!"

Friday, January 20, 2006

Vozravschayetes v Norwegioo s sakrovischem

Into the last straight on the big book of Vikings, which I heartily recommend. It's not an area I knew very well, but Jonathan Clements (admittedly, my chum) tells a compelling story, weaving together myriad sources from all over the place, and plenty of top-hole top facts.

Like the best detective he follows the money, so there's a fair amount on trade and its related migrations. I must admit my heart sank a bit when he brought up the economics, but it's sparingly used to give context and insight into why these burly blokes beat the shit out of everyone. Including each other.

The story of the Vikings also interweaves with the spread of Christianity in Europe - several Vikings get canonised - and the fortunes of the continent's royals. There's some good details on such famous folk as kings Arthur, Alfred, Canute, Macbeth and William the Conqueror (nee Bastard).

The chapter on Harald Hardraada is particularly exciting, with battles all over the world and more intrigue and familial back-stabbing than a whole week's EastEnders.

Starting as the Romans flee Britain, and ending with 1066, it nicely fills the gap in my schooling. And for all Jonathan gives broad context and specific motives to the various cast and crew, the Vikings remain to the core a vicious and brutal bunch of pirates. Right to the end, they're still going (a lovely phrase) a-viking.

Still, no mention of Vicky, Kirk Douglas or Tim Robbins - my Viking education till now. A shocking and uncharacteristic oversight, that.

Normally I'd quote a bit of the book for your pleasure and interest, but there's excerpts aplenty at Jonathan's own webthing.

So instead, here's some Sylvester:
"We hope to return to the North Way, carrying home the oriental treasures from the Silk Lands in the east, but the dark curse follows our dragonship.

Black fog turned day into night, and the fingers of death reached out from the waters to reclaim the treasure we have stolen. I carve these stones in memory of Asmund, Rognvald, Torkel, Halfdan, brave Viking warriors slain by the curse.

We sought haven in North Umbria, and took refuge at a place called Maidens' Bay, but the curse of the treasure has followed us to this place."

Ian Briggs, The Curse of Fenric, episode one.
(Transcript from the Dr Who scripts project.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

But what's it for?

Psychonomy's comments on Tuesday's post reminded me of something else we've haggled over: the question of why we are here.

His argument - I think, anyway, and he'll no doubt correct me - is that a Cartesian, evidence-based perspective of the world has to begin with "Because I am even thinking this, I must exist in the first place". Cartesius did put it a little simpler.

This, Psychonomy goes on, immediately brings into play questions about the nature of our existence, our perception, and our relationship to anything and anyone else.

The thing is, goes the argument, that science can tell us how we are here - and detail the mechanics and mechanisms - but it falls short of providing a reason.

I think the idea of there being a reason is misguided. "Why" means "for what purpose" - something more evident in the Latin-rooted "pourquoi" and "porqué" of French and Spanish. "Why?" means "What for?"

We can look for and find motives in human activity - to get the money; for revenge; so as to spread DNA meme - and we can also find reason in the actions of other living things. Animals and plants can have motives; though care's needed not to apply our own motives and morals to their activities.

But as to why space is like it is, or why there was a vacuum fluctuation and then a big explosion, we're a bit stuck. "It just happens," is about as far as we get.

Grasping for a reason, though - usually that "creation" is all part of someone's grand design - is anthropomorphising non-conscious events. The universe didn't start for a reason, any more than gravity gets something out of us not being able to fly.

Our existence just happens. Best just get on with it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Monsters of Death

Still have to reply to Liadnan on his response to yesterday’s post, but will get there. I'm not beaten yet, oh no...

In the meantime, here’s a bit of fun from which I sent to a mate in late 2001. The idea was to write it up properly and send it to Big Finish, in the hope they might turn it into a CD. Some chance.

The mate – who'd also just leant me Sapphire and Steel, which I’d never encountered before – pointed out the rather awkward resemblance to Gaiman’s High Cost of Living. Which I’d not then read. Have done now. Damn.

I’m also told it’s similar to one of Terry Pratchett’s books – again one I’ve not read. And then there’s what Joe did in Master.

Like I said, damn. Anyway, here it is:
Dr Who & the Monsters of Death

One of the things about Sapphire and Steel I've noticed already is the juxtaposition of these strange, incredibly powerful godly persons, who stalk the night and talk in riddles to each other, and the lowly, jumper-wearing, earnest British everyday folk who get caught up in the machinations of these gods and never quite understand what's going on. So that's the feel I'm going for. The companion (and I'm think 7th and Benny) spends her time with the humans, and she and the other cast, while being the 'focus' of the events, are actually just so much chaff.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is having talks with Death.

Death, you see, isn't that skeletal grim reaper, nor is he a teenage goth chick. Death is a craftsman, a farmer. Benny describes him as ‘having big, powerful hands... and eyes like the Doctor's.’ Death is a harvester of men – and, in fact, is known as The Harvester in the story - because the bit about him being Death isn't explicitly stated. He just gets on with his job, out in the open, reaping. And reaping is about life and feasting and progress, and it's all organic and environmental and natural, and part of the great cycle of life.

Except, like a farmer who starts to be bothered by the squealing of pigs at the abattoir, Death begins to wonder about this job of his. He watches humans throw everything they can to postpone or hide or beat the inevitable; all their clever technology, their ingenuity... and it's all entirely futile. And Death thinks that's terribly sad and misguided of them.

But he's curious. So he decides to try some time as a mortal. He sets up one of his trusted henchmen-monsters in his place, to run the shop while he's away. He tells the monster to come looking for him if he should be away too long, just to be on the safe side, and sets out. And then he disappears.

Because Death rather likes life. He finds delight in snow and sunflowers and bad jokes. He even falls in love.

However, he knows his monster will be looking for him. And he knows that his monster will be there when anyone dies. So Death has to avoid being near people who die. Which is harder than it sounds.

Especially when his beloved wife first mentions that she's ill. Death just walks away from her.

Anyway. The plot. The Doctor and Benny, perhaps by coincidence, find themselves in the middle of nowhere during a storm. They head to a house to shelter and call a taxi, with Benny muttering about living in Horror Movie clichés, and the fact that wherever the Doctor goes, something horrible always happens.

The old man who lets them in has already had unexpected guests that night, and insists they stay for dinner. The Doctor is taken by the old man somehow, and despite Benny's reservations they agree. The old man cooks beautifully - he is, of course, in love with the smells and textures of cooking, and could give up all his powers just for the smell and crackle of bacon on a grill.

Benny gets to know some of the other people who've turned up. One's an old friend of the old man's wife, who's finally tracked him down having nursed his wife to her grave. We later discover she's going to kill him, furious at the way he just walked out on the dying woman, gave up their love and left her to die slowly and miserably in despair. Another visitor is interested in the way that killings and unlikely deaths have followed this old man wherever he's been. Anyway, the humans are all sure that he's up to no good, and determined to unravel his secrets.

Death, meanwhile, is preoccupied. His monster is chasing him, and strange and unusual deaths are getting closer as the monster moves in.

Anyway. End of part three. The assassin attempts to kill Death, and Death, confronted, is appalled to be judged for the love of his wife. He kills the assassin, which obviously summons the monster. And, it turns out, Death's got just as inevitable and unavoidable an end as all the little people. He'll have to go back and do his job, his role.

Except, the Doctor isn't having that. He identifies with Death, and helps him escape. And the Doctor has a quiet word with the Monster - who's actually very affable - and asks him whether he's not due a promotion...”

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Make the most of it

Watched the second part of Root of all Evil? last night. The Doctor arrived just in time for the chimps, and quickly ran away again.

There's an unbearable smugness about evangelical atheists, which I'm conscious of if myself. And I know Dawkins is constantly criticised for the same.

It's difficult, then, to know whether his programme impressed me for preaching to the choir. It seemed, quite fairly, to argue against "demonstrable falsehoods" and how they muddy our lives. There was good evidence of the downright pessimism of religion - that we can only behave ourselves if we live in fear of God.

While there was much made of the gays and abortionists going to Hell, it's not Jesus who talked of damnation. No, Hel was a Viking (thus pagan) god, part of their brutal, pillaging "morality".

The punishment of the wicked by some authoritarian power speaks of huge inadequacy - the equivalent of an child wailing, "I'm telling mum". We should do what's right because we should do what's right, not because some invisible Bogey Man will get us in the end.

The Dr points out that of course many Christians refute the idea of Hell. And, answering her criticism of the first episode, Dawkins did interview a moderate. While Dawkins found the Bishop of Oxford's arguments for tolerance and calm were "music to my ears", he then refuted the man for fence-sitting, for picking and choosing which bits of the Good Book to hold dear.

The need for the Bible to be literally true also speaks of inadequacy. Jesus taught by telling stories, so there's no reason at all the good book can't still hold moral worth while not being right about dinosaurs.

I always thought Jesus was a far more impressive figure without the God stuff. As the perfect son of an omniscient God, part of a divine trinity and blessed with special powers, he's amazing. But because he's got special powers, what he does isn't special.

As just a bloke who stood up to authority and said, "You could be nicer..." he's incredible. And imitable. He was the bastard son of a lowly carpenter, and look what he achieved... I note Dawkins quickly glossed over the not-easy-to-argue-with teaching of Jesus in favour of a pop at St Paul.

At the end, Dawkins was good on dealing with the real world and not seeing it as a test-run for the real thing. There's sheer wonder in what we do know - the hugeness of statistical probability against our very existence, the vastness of the universe, the complexity in the detail.

Yet, he's also keen to admit what we don't know, what we can't prove, what we haven't worked out yet. Which contrasts with the "easy truths" of religion: again that resolute need for certainty speaks of inadequacy. Like people who can't admit when they're lost.

And I couldn't help feeling that by exploring the world as it's given to us, striving never to bear false witness, to pursue truth and morality whatever the received wisdom from the leaders of church and state... Well, Dawkins is probably doing God proud.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Terms of endearment

Started a new freelance gig today, which involves much cutting a pasting.

Also discovered the wonderous term meat crime.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

How swarming

After lunch with the folks, mosied back to London in time for the Dr’s housewarming. Yes, technically I live here too, but she did all the work, remembered to invite people, that kind of thing. And deserves all the credit.

Lots of booze and food, and saw some people I’d not seen in ages. Broke the pad in by dousing it in red wine.

Also did pretty well on reading. Have copies of Parallel Lives and Something Changed, which are just smashing – and the dedication went down well.

Clements very kindly provided a copy of his Vikings book, which is already proving immensely enjoyable, and full of top facts about the weather, migration and the various forms of Finn.

He also delighted the hostess by knowing her as “the Dr” from off this ‘ere blog. Ah, the infamy.

Speaking of fame, we have also been immortalised in the latest issue of Mr Bean magazine, which its editor handed over. The Dr is spot on – though she does seem to be stood in a caravan. And I am a brave knight, which was somewhat unkindly remarked on by ladies.

The brother also gave me the new Viz Profanisauraus – updating my treasured old paperback. It is quite, quite the most wonderful thing. Quinnion’s review is spot on.

Also chatted shop, and may have some writing things to announce sometime soon. But nothing like as exciting as J’s news, which warranted my changing from beer to fine wines. Ouch. But well the hell done him.

Tided the place up today, and then watched Life on Mars from last week, which was fun. Loved them jumping over the desk, and the general wheeze of mixing modern coppery with the elan of the Sweeney. Also, in his 70s clobber John Simm looks like Martin Freeman.

Then the Root of all Evil?, which was brilliant. We were both much impressed by Dawkins’s patience and care, especially in the face of two rabidly hostile nuts. The Dr felt, though, that he should have spoken to some more liberal godsquaddies.

More on this after part two, and when I’ve had some think. But we had A Discussion about, from my side, the obviously godless universe, with our actions, ethics and kindnesses the only things to mitigate the otherwise vicious awfulness of existence. If we face the bleak truth of our situation, we can make life better…

And then, thinking I’d type something about that up, heard the shitty news from Sin.

Just shit. Only met his mum a couple of times, but the news over the last months has been more and more awful. There simply aren’t words.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Am down to see the folks as my Grandpa is 92 today. Happy birthday him.

Fun in the pub with some old friends last night, who'd I not seen since their wedding a year ago. Quite a lot of stupid natter, then a visit to the kebab shoppe of olde and lary booze-rant with the Dr about Dennis Potter and abuse. As one does.

This morning I plodded through the rain to buy the Dr her lefty propaganda, to discover the place round the corner has been half-closed. The Coop twice as far down the road has bought it out and shut all but the Post Office bit of it. Apparently the locals were in uproar.

Too right. This was the shop where I used to buy my comics and sweets. And the Coop, despite being a good place to stand outside when I was 15, never gave me a job. Rah.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Another first for the blog: a post about tags and my own woefully dirty code.

Posting the book covers yesterday, was a bit confused that the <CENTER> tag didn’t want to play. Was this Blogger being screwy, I wondered, and went for a <P ALIGN> instead. So sly.

Now I’ve had HTML4 explained, it all makes some kind of sense. Blimey, <FONT>’s about the only bit of this ‘ere hippo-tetchy muck-up lingo I understand. And <IMG SRC...> is out in favour of this OBJECT business… Hell.

Wonder how many classicists feel like this after they’ve gone and bothered to learn Latin? Will have to buckle down and learn CSS. Or read Jason’s book.

And I wish someone had explained TAT to me ages ago (hover over the acronym to see what I mean). Would have saved a lot of effort in the last 12 months on something I been working on.

Work proceeds: The School has been delivered, and I've had notes back on the thing I sent in on Tuesday which is yet to be announced. Got some rewrites to do, but it all makes sense.

Finished scribbling about 9 last night, and the Dr fed me and took me to the local pub, where the locals (one in a very fetching brown tracksuit) mocked me for being a scouser. Think I can cope after Saturday.

And on an unrelated matter, thought this the right thing to mark the best mate’s 30th today – though he is deep within jungle and so radio silent. He doesn’t sleep, he waits.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Benny books

Blimey, they're here! My first efforts as Benny's story editor are now on release.

Both have come out together, though the strict reading order is Parallel Lives first. You can read my open chapters, the blurbs and contributor details at the Big Finish site (or click on the lovely pix below).

Adrian Salmon has once more created wonders from my hasty and vague briefs:

Benny and the Parallel Lives

Benny and the Something Changed

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Death sucks, doesn’t it?

Am now 8 eps into Lost series 2, which has really come on in spades. Splitting characters up into groups, so there’s been three “stories” running at once, has helped. There’s been revelation ‘pon revelation, and buckets of Good Plot Stuff.

Appreciate that some people don’t dig it – looking at you, Liadnan – but I’ve found it hugely compelling. Partly, that is just the need to know what happens next, which is also largely the appeal of the uberplotty 24. But the characters also work, playing off nicely against each other. Rose’s simple belief that her husband survived the crash has been really nicely delivered. And the more we learn from people’s flashbacks, the more there’s still to know.

I worried last year that it wasn’t gonna go anywhere and didn’t take due risks, but that’s certainly not how it feels now.

A few bits of thought (with MAJOR SPOILERS UP TO AND INCLUDING2.8):



The polar bear seems to have come from Walt’s comic, and possibly his imaginings. Certainly, there’s a psychic element to this – Locke’s miracle recovery, Jack’s vision of his dad leading him to the cave, those ever elusive numbers…

So is the huge reactor (if that’s what it is) powering some psychic experiment gone wrong? Something that’s been going on since the 70s – which is where it all seems to originate with the science project and the Peace Corps? Some big project to enhance people’s potential, perhaps?

Goodwin said they took “good people”, which is why they’ve been taking the kids. So those left are “bad”. Or at least, have backstories to resolve.

I wonder if this is a kind of purgatory then, where they’re all working out their shit. Boone died once he’d sorted out his issues with his sister. Shannon died once she had someone believe in her. Maybe death’s the way off the island, and it’s otherwise all in their heads.

But what about the bloke that got dynamited? And why aren’t nice people like Rose and Bernard in trouble? Or, now that they’ve been reunited, are they?

And what the hell was the scary black smoke? Ghosties? Returning consciousness, threatening to break them all out of this? Some cheap CGI?

Hoping it’s not all some big virtual reality wossname. Am avoiding looking at message boards ‘cos I’m so enjoying puzzling it out for myself.




Tuesday, January 10, 2006


G. kindly leant The Originals, written and drawn by Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen and DWM1 fame). His unique, chunky style is like an old friend, but I don’t think I’ve ever read something he’s wrote before.

It’s a competent and well-drawn story, effectively mods and rockers fighting over each others’ space-bikes. The juxtaposition works well, sci-fi props (the hover bikes, the far-out designer drugs) playing off a firm grounding in nostalgia (the mods, the suburban setting and, I guess, teen-angst and Gibbons’s own art-style). It’s got the requisite sex and violence for a “grown-up” comic, and it rumbles along quiet nicely.

But it didn’t feel very original. It’s Quadrophenia with space-bikes – the space-bikes not quite enough a twist.

Never really understood the appeal of Quadrophenia, anyway. Yes, Phil Daniels delivers a brilliant angry young man. But one desperately needing a slap. Never bought the “truth” of his horror when he finds that his idol (a peacock played, ably, by Sting) has a day-job.

Yeah, it’s got the anger of teenagerdom right, but even in my teens it rang hollow. Another stroppy, sulky kid who thinks he’s owed something for nothing. Just not… compelled by the betrayal of Sting “selling out” as a hotel porter, kow-towing to The Man. Nor am I bovvered by Phil’s subsequent choice (AIUI) to live free or die.

Not very groovy of me, I know. But then the real revelation of the film is that actually


(Was a hotel porter myself for a summer, when I was 17. Remember the amazement of mates – the ones who had money without working – at my knackeredness. “Couldn’t you do something else?” asked one. And as soon as I could, I did.)

Likewise, the bullying, vicious and manipulative thug at the heart of the Originals never won me over. As another character says at the end (who I’ll not name for spoilers), the bugger should just bloody grow up.

Of far more appeal is Fin Fang Four, leant by E. I’ve loved Scott Gray and Roger Langridge’s stuff (again in DWM), and it’s good to see them getting gigs with the yanks.

It’s a one-off story with a neat central wheeze – some rubbish monsters long since thrashed by the Fantastic 4 are released to work in the community. The monstrous Googam! son of Goom! parks cars for celebrities, while terrifying Elektro (with a brain of 32K) runs errands round an office, trying to summon enough courage to ask out the receptionist.

The gags come thick and fast throughout, and the thing zips along, building to a satisfying end. It might also win because it’s about these four rubbish blokes trying to make things right. Redemption’s more fun than fighting.

Inevitably there are websites discussing whether this silly take on such corny old monsters can possibly be canon. Pah. Besides “canon” being a silly idea anyhow, yes it should. Be a shame not to embrace stuff this good.

1 - Well, DWW, if you want to split hairs. He’s the bloke as drew the transfers free with issue 1, which I’ve always thought is a pretty marvellous thing to have on your CV. Transfers are cool.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Time works

Lots of writing done today: a thank you letter, a note for the ex-pats, a final draft of a feature that’s now gone for approval, and the third episode of The School. I also nipped down the hill to take apart a bed.

So don’t think you’re getting an original post tonight. Sod that.

Instead, here’s something written on 16 May 2005 for a mailing list (which I sent to a couple of other people too). Father’s Day had been on two days before.

People were arguing that the time-stuff didn’t make sense. I’d delivered Time Travellers two weeks before, and so had this kind of stuff in my blood.

(Since learnt that Father’s Day did have lots of explanation in it originally, but it all got cut to move the thing along. And all the better for it.)

Father’s Day timeline

How I thought it went (but what do I know?):

Rose watches her dad die but mucks up holding his hand, so asks for another go.

The Doctor says okay, but warns her that they should stay back from their earlier selves, because meeting other selves is bad. (Cf. Mawdryn Undead).

Rose, however, runs forward and changes history: not just the history of her dad dying, but also of her earlier self standing by and watching passively. The first time round, she didn't see herself run in front of her, and she saw her dad die.

So she's over-written that past version, so the past pastDoctor and pastRose wink out of existence.

That change (both the Doctor winking out of existence and Pete staying alive) create a hole in time. Normally, this would ring a bell on a desk of some poor civil servant on Gallifrey, who'd then despatch someone to sort out Time Being Sodded Up.

(Or, at least, having seen that it was the Bloody Doctor Again, to fill in the usual form).

But there's no Gallifrey, so Other Things come along instead, things attracted to Kooky Time Shit. These may be related to Chronovores, or they may be some other kind of time monster altogether. They feed on history, so they eat people who are older - thus the groom's dad and the vicar over anyone else.

And Mickey gets to live because he's younger than anyone else. (Though, er, his mates being eaten before his mum rather gets in the way of that theory.)

Anyway. The monsters are eating people, changing history with every bite. Which makes time go haywire - so the radio picks up music from Rose's own time, while the mobiles pick up Alexander Bell. The monsters eat more people and time somersaults over itself.

The TARDIS, which (as I'm sure we all know) exists outside of time and space but with an outer-plasmic shell (the police box) that creates a portal to a specific place, loses it's link (so the shell is just a shell, not a shortcut through to the console room).

And it all gets a lot worse, and the monsters get stronger, when Rose again, er, touches herself. If you see what I mean.

You've then got the Killer Car that's chasing Pete. I'll get to why it's following him in a sec, but when Pete throws himself in front of it, everything works out. Why?

Because if he's died - as he was meant to - not only does he cancel out the Things-Are-Wrong-Because-He's-Alive glitch, he also cancels out the Multiple Doctors and Roses. If he's died in front of the church, Rose would never have been taken back to see him die on that other street, and therefore it never happens and blah.

So the car is following Pete, I'd argue, because time is stretched to breaking point. It's like pressure on a vacuum. And the car hitting Pete is the easiest outlet for all the pressure on time to escape to.


Well, it makes sense to me anyway.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A bit more lost

"This turns out to be one of Benny's darkest and most realistic adventures. There are some lighter moments, including a genuinely funny rooftop chase...

Although well-scripted and tense, The Lost Museum doesn't quite have enough characters or story to sustain itself for 50 minutes. [...] Both [Enil and Markwood] are eventually revealed to be more complex and interesting than they first appear, but it's too little development too late. This is a great - albeit uncomfortable - play."

Vanessa Bishop, "Off the shelf", Dr Who Magazine 365, 1 February 2006, p. 63.

All fair criticism, and I've thought a bit about what could have been added. A visit to Markwood's estranged family could have been good, and Enil could have run off to rally her troops after the revelation about her, which would make her seem more antagonistic...

Well, it's too late now.

Been reading some forthcoming Benny stuff this week, which is really very exciting. Should be some updates on the Big Finish site shortly, too.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The pledge

So, Charlie.

Will is likely to be far more insightful on this – and already links to some interesting stuff.

I like, though, the idea that grog means Charlie isn’t fit to lead a political party, let alone bid for the premiership.
“[Pitt the Younger]’s final years were difficult. His health faltered, no doubt partly owing to excessive drink (he had been told after an early illness to drink plenty of port wine, which he surely did).”

Bartom Swaim, “Young man eloquent”.

Indeed, it’s likely the booze killed him. The last line from Marjie Bloy’s biography:
“He drank heavily and probably died of renal failure and cirrhosis of the liver at the age of forty-six.”
I believe, though can't verify, that on his deathbed his doctor prescribed "just a pint of port per day". And in the days that port was a bit cruder and bolshier than now.

And what about Winston?
“Churchill's drinking was perennially overblown, thanks largely to Churchill, who revelled in his alleged capacity. ‘He was not an alcoholic,’ quipped one waggish observer, ‘no alcoholic could drink that much.’ Another suggested WSC was perhaps ‘alcohol-dependent.’ Whether or not, Churchill once abstained from hard liquor for a year to win a bet with Beaverbrook, so it is difficult to judge exactly what he depended on.”

Michael McMenamin, "Winston's Whisky" – The Churchill Centre.

This is not to suggest that a premier should be boozed up and rioting, nor that times haven’t changed. But Charlie does seem to be dealing with the problem. And the cack-handed way his party have mismanaged all this suggest the words brewery and piss-up…

Appropriately enough, having seen the news I wandered to pub, though it was too cold and me too tired to stay long. Said hello to a few people. K. is delighted I killed her, G. has leant me The Originals, and I now know a wordcount for something. Am currently 1,000 words over.

Monster Maker and Unloveable discussed blogging, both busy diarising the past. I promised reciprocal links and details of SiteMeter. So they’d better be reading.

Richard Dinnick told me what he’s got Sapphire and Steel up to, which sounds fab. We’ve both got a week now to get our scripts in. Eek. And S. was so delighted to remember Richard’s name, he even did a little dance.

And then home, where the heating now works – much to the cat’s delight. Fell asleep, toasty, watching Baker Street Babylon. Courtesy, it seems, of a fellow story editor…

Hot shower this morning. Mmmm.

And Christmas is over. On the way into town this morning I saw my first ad for Cadburys cream eggs.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Churchillian KBO

Seems every time we edge towards solving a problem, we only expose several more.

Imagine our surprise yesterday on taking down the old not-working boiler to discover a great big hole in the wall. A pretty big, ragged hole, too. Certainly big enough for the cat to have leapt through quite easily, had he been so minded.

The narrow exhaust pipe (is that what it’s called?) from the old boiler had not so much been secured in this as just sat in it. You could have fitted at least half a dozen pipes of that size into the breach.

Thus a hasty trip to the builders for cement. Which hadn’t sufficiently dried last night for drilling into, so installation delayed and we’re still without hot water. Maybe by end of today... but I'm learnt now not to hope.

Drilling also dislodged lots of plaster – which has been put on without preparation or PVA. In some cases round the flat, the plaster’s just been slapped on to raw brick. So that’s something else that needs sorting.

But the clingfilm on the windows really does seem to keep some heat in. And the Nice Man is checking our brand new washing machine today, to see if it’s the cause of the water dribbling from our bathroom ceiling.

(Realise I should probably have a diagram now. Kitchen – with washing machine – on top floor; bathroom directly below. Yes, funky and odd conversion.)

B. generously offered hot water and tea. Had said we’d do lunch but, due to hole and work and whatnot, got there about 6. Oops. Glorious, glorious bath, and afterwards I felt so warm (warm!) I could have never gone home.

Manfully plodded back to the igloo in time for the shopping delivery. The driver was also having a bad day. The light had gone out in the back of his van, so he couldn’t see whose shopping was whose. Had to unload bag by bag, checking the name and address via streetlight.

Work continues apace. It has to, what with all the renovations to be paid for. And a tax bill which is twice what I'd expected 'cos they want some of nexy year's dosh in advance. Joy.

Top baby merchandiseOfficially confirmed a job title – I am “story editor” of Bernice. Oh, and you can also buy Benny knick-knacks. My own personal faves are the bib and the tea towel.

Also delighted by something very clever from Very Clever Lee. In which he cameos, in fact. But you’ll have to wait to join the rejoicing. Should get announced sometime soon, and I'm sure many of you can guess anyway. Lee's blog is fun, too.

Slowly getting towards the end of the unannounced writing thing. Got the last of my interviews done yesterday, and also some guidance on what not to reveal. So, er, I can’t explain any of this. Give it a year, though, and it’ll all make perfect sense. Promise.

All interviewees get to check what I’ve written, to which some have expressed surprise. But, I explained yesterday, I’d rather make this small bit of effort at this stage than get things wrong. Responsible journo-hack, me. It's not exactly difficult to check details.

Hadn’t, at that point, heard the news. Christ.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Great not good

Very much enjoying the book about a spy in Central Asia, as recommended to me last month – which is all the boy’s own stuff you could hope for. Though I question the “master of disguise” bit, as Bailey keeps being spotted by anyone who looks at him.

“I had learnt that, in the eyes of the type of man in the employ of the Bolsheviks, the House of Commons was an assembly of riff-raff who were almost Bolsheviks themselves; the name itself lends colour to this idea. The House of Lords, on the other hand, was a kind of counter-revolutionary White Guard; the two coming to some sort of compromise over the government of the country! They badly wanted the good opinion of the House of Commons.”

FM Bailey, Mission to Tashkent, p. 75.

The introduction by Peter Hopkirk refers to Bailey being a “Great Game player to his very fingertips”. Really uncomfortable about referring to the period as a great game, (also the name of Hopkirk’s own book).

The body count is alarming – whole towns decimated by the Bolsheviks, prisoners shot while awaiting trial (sometimes by drunk soldiers, sometimes just to forgo the trials). All round Bailey there are people being questioned, arrested and shot. “Great” here just means “bloody awful”.

Like, I guess, in the “Great War”.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bobbies on the beat

The play last night began with some New Labour newspeak about freedom being the price we pay for our liberty. Which reminded me of this, gleaned from one of the Doctor’s learned periodicals, and which I’d meant to post before.
"17 October. No newspaper that I’ve seen discusses the police in institutional terms or sees them as subject to the same compulsions as govern other large corporate organisations. […]

Ninety days’ detention suits the police not so much because thereby more evidence is forthcoming and with it an increased likelihood of convictions but because it will result in them having more power: more staff, more premises, more funds. This has nothing to do with justice, civil liberty or the preservation of order and the prevention of terrorism. It is the law of institutions. Like Tesco, the police must grow."

Alan Bennett, Diary,
London Review of Books vol. 28, no.1
(5 January 2006), p. 39.

Will link to the LRB when my broadband isn't all up the spout. Or maybe it's my PC that's all screwy.

Spent all day in with the plumber cleaning the gak from inside our boiler and radiators, and am generally in despair at things made. Ng.

I said you’d better not have it when the big one comes

Been writing about schools and odd things that happen in them these last few days.

A formative thing: a parents’ evening at my sixth form, where I got to go along to get told what to do with my A-levels. Were I to get any. ‘I remember his brother,’ said the teachers one after another. ‘What’s he doing these days?’

And then one teacher beamed and said ‘Simon’s essays are a pleasure to read. Marking, I always save his and another boy’s till last.’

I sat there beaming and blinking, trying to remember if I’d ever made anyone enthuse before. ‘You see,’ said the teacher, ‘they’re not always any good, but they are usually different.’

That nice thing decided me on doing English rather than history. And it’s meant conscious effort for things written to be a bit… well, differenty. Twistish. More often than not, silly.

Not that this is necessarily what gets achieved, but that there’s intent at this end not to be dull. (Typing this now, Martin Amis’s War Against Cliché springs to mind. Not that I’ve read it, but I do like the title).

Which all sparked thoughts tonight, watching the History Boys at the National – a Christmas present from the cat, in lieu of in-binning his sick and his poos.

Without spoilering the very enjoyable play (nor the forthcoming film version), there’s a lot said about flashy writing, of taking a contrary point of view just to be noticed. And then rooting around for soundbites of quote to bolster this pre-formed j’accuse.

Think I get away with it inventing stories not history. And I agree with the distrust of people who speak reverently of “words”.

Less convinced that applying “history” to, say, the Holocaust – trying to understand how it came about – somehow makes it less awful. That attempting to answer why? softens the thing being examined.

Even leafed through Richard Dawkins’s A Devil’s Chaplain, looking for a quote about how doctors learning about cancer don’t like cancer any more for understanding it. Couldn’t find one. Bah.

Think the play would also have been less… glib about government, been more insightful of politics, if we’d had more about why the headmaster is so keen for better results and more places at Oxbridge. The education of the history boys is itself the product of history, of choices, of dictats from on-high.

And troubled that education might be played as pass-the-parcel, a hot potato handed on like Wilde’s good advice. Until what? Surely not until it’s found vulgar use. Seems nostalgic for a pre-curricular age, when teachers could fritter the years away wittering. Indulgently. About themselves.

Like bloggers.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Merry new year

Saw in twenty-oh-six at a fun party in Lancaster – where get quite a mansion, just for not living in London.

As well as enjoying Andrew Marr in a kilt, we discussed nearly every topic there is. Somewhat railed into the small hours against Serge Gainsbourg, and his inexplicable appeal to the ladies.

I mean, his most famously erotic song is all about slipping in and out between his intended’s kidneys – a vivid and intimate image, but not a very nice one. He’s also done jolly pop-nonsense about the antics of that amusing cad, Jack.

Therefore “translated” some of the other tunes warbling from the music machine. A serenade for Ian Brady, for example. And Dr Crippen despairing how, when getting shot of a girl he fancies, she’s only goes and clogs the plughole.

Made the ladies laugh, anyway. Though not as much as with my Serge-is-a-tit “dancing”.

Strangely, have felt a bit rough all day, even in swanky first-class with it’s complimentary flap-jacks. Stinking of beer ‘cos I’d run out of clothes, and all.

New year’s resolution #1: drink a bit less sometimes