Tuesday, February 28, 2006

My brother was at St Mary's

Not sure what the press embargo stuff is on V for Vendetta, and don't want to steal the thunder of Boss Joe's forthcoming review on Film Focus, but that was not nearly as bad as it might have been.

As a general rule, any time they stray from the comic the logic starts to unravel. Yeah, the effort to update it, to make it about political shit now, kind of works - and they get some good gags out of it. But John Hurt being a Tory is 10 years out of date, and wish they'd asked if we still do the 11+, or checked a map to see where the tube runs. Natalie's accent wobbles a bit, bless her, and they'd lost some of my favourite stuff.

Of course, I'm hugely protective of the comic 'cos it really blew my head off as a kid. A friend at school - St Mary's, as it happens - leant me the DC run. Wrote GCSE and MA coursework about it, trying to understand why. Will look out the latter as a bonus-post here sometime.

But basically, it works. It's the first good adaptation of an Alan Moore comic, which is something of a feat in itself. (Though he's foregone a credit, so its oddly described as "Based on the comic illustrated by David Lloyd".) The Dr, who won points the first time I met her for saying she too loved the comic, was also very pleased.

Odd to watch work exploding, too. Right, back to the Terroism Bill.

Monday, February 27, 2006

"The slightly less funny version..."

Just off the phone to Dave McKean, interviewing him for Film Focus. My review of Mirrormask is now up, and there’ll be a transcript of our chat shortly (am about halfway through typing).

It’s odd getting to speak to your heroes. I remember discussing McKean’s work in “The Face” (a hip style magazine) with my sister, back when we both lived at home. Didn’t know who had done these weird, scary images – or how you could even do that with photos – but his were the ones I stuck into my notebooks.

Always been in awe of people who can draw well and make things. Spend most of my time these days working on Word documents, which don’t ever look much when I hand them in. Clever people transform the words I come up with into lavish magazine spreads, proper-looking books, or bring them alive on CD.

Of course it’s the design we see first, then the words. But the design doesn’t just draw our eye, it shapes our reading as well.

McKean’s stuff is certainly striking. Liadnan bought Varjak Paw for my birthday some years ago just on the strength of the cover, and I suspect a lot of Sandman got shifted on the same principle. That’s how I first read it, anyway.

And he seems, in the 28 minutes and 10 seconds that I spoke to him, a decent enough sort of fellow.

My review of Kidulthood is also now available. And I like this story, via a chum, about a shotgun wedding for a goat.

Now hurrying off to see V.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sixth weekday

Today I wrote a review, chased some things and sent notes on three scripts. One more set of “No, do this!” to go for the year. Hopefully Monday.

Still hoping to speak to Someone about Something that day, but no details have yet been sent. Fingers crossed, but now have an exciting booking at 6 which may scupper everything. Will speak more of both the Someone and the booking when I can.

My dad rang to discuss a trip over to France in June, though explaining how we’ll have to make our own way home because his car will be full of booze. “Wanted to fix this before you both got booked up,” he said as we compared diaries. “Oh, actually you’re mother and I are quite busy that month…”

The wee brother flies to Australia on Monday to begin his shoot. There’s a website but am unsure whether I’m meant to link to it yet. Just rang to see, and he’s having a last tea with his mrs. Will endeavour to get my instructions some time tomorrow.

Also washed up, done the cat poo, and generally moved some things around the house. Cat has already claimed the rocking chair which the in-laws dropped round yesterday. The rocking bit took some getting used to, though. I think he shifts about all the time just to check it keeps happening.

The Dr is in Birmingham at one of her clever things, so am about to make my own tea. The last time this happened (on Monday) I ate four chicken breasts in one go. Num. Wonder what there is left I shouldn't touch...

Friday, February 24, 2006

Bright helm

Spent much of the day in Brighton today, discussing and agreeing the Great Plan. Announcments of things in due course, of course, but it's all a bit exciting in my mind.

Brighton was freezing bloody cold - and my idea of strolling up a bit of the beach seemed somewhat less genius after quarter of an hour. Still, the sun was out and the goth ruin of a pier seemed all the more eerie and cool. In fact, with the wintry sun flattening everything bleakly, the skeletal structure seemed to float above the sea.

Or perhaps that's just frostbite of the brain.

Back home in the afternoon to buy meat and admire our new chair. Then some phonecalls and chasing of work stuff. Have two Very Exciting Things as work on Monday, of which more as and when.

And now off to eat tea and watch Mirrormask.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Links effect

Sometimes it is more fun just to link to other people’s nice things. Cannot be fagged with my own thoughts.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I think I'm buff

Yesterday's post needn't have worried. Last night's movie got cancelled (or misplaced) and tonights was rilly, rilly good. Alarming and awful in subject, but brilliant and funny as well.

Proper review of Kidulthood to follow shortly, but I won't be chucking Noel Clarke...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Yeah well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man

Matt Michael seems chuffed with the History of Christmas in the shiny new DWM. He’s impressed that there are “no stinkers” - which I’m very pleased about – and singles out some for high praise. So hooray!

Off to the pictures tonight and tomorrow, to declare them hit, miss or maybe. Reviews to follow on Film Focus sometime.

Chatted with a colleague only last week about being both a judge and defendant. It changes your perspective slating some trashy film when you can be / have been similarly bashed. Or, at least, it ought to.

No one has to like what you do, and reviewers aren’t required to engage with what you’ve done or explain their marks out of ten. Responding to critics, and explaining what you meant, is really quite rubbish.

You’re not owed anything, let alone love.

Many friends simply avoid reading reviews of their efforts, and are probably much happier that way.

But what do you do when you don’t like something a friend’s written? Do you back out of reviewing it, or use a pseudonym, or try a kindly critique of why it fails to excite?

The latter is a bit like splitting up with someone. Saying, “It’s not you, it’s me…” doesn’t actually lessen the blow. It’s more about assuaging your own guilt. Nor does it help forewarning your target, nor offering to buy them pints.

No, if you’re giving someone a bad review (or chucking them), you have to accept you’re the villain. If you really have to be the villain, just get on with it. Be honest, be clear, be concise. Be as nice about it as you can be.

But it’s not your call whether you’re still best mates afterwards.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Learnt this splendid word today for work-type reasons, and am annoyed not to have spotted it in the increasingly squawky coverage of bird flu. Perhaps I’m not reading the hysteria with due diligence.

Playing with the BBC’s flu spreader wossname, it looks like, you know, not that bad. Your normal flu drops people far more readily.

(Entirely crass, of course, to try some lame gag about the difference between bird and bloke flu, and how they exhibit almost entirely the same symptoms, but you can still struggle into work if it’s bird flu. No, I shall not stoop to such depths.)

Zoonoses is the proper name for diseases we can catch off animals – rabies, BSE, and cheery things like that.

WHO says (more or less) that it’s newly found-out-about zoonoses that gets the mob worked up, while ones we already know about are simply not as cool. Even in sickness there’s fashion.

Sadly, it’s not “zoo noses” like what orang-utans sniff with. Being a technical word, it’s got the same, double-syllable “zoo” as “zoology”, rather than rhyming with “goo”. And the -ses is pronounced “seize” – that is, the same long plural of an –sis ending you get in “analyses” and “crises”.

Oh well. It still looks good on the page and screen.

Also for work-type reasons (therefore being paid for the privilege) I have discussed such a thing as an oocyst of cryptosporidium. It’s like black-ops, radar-invisible transport for top-secret spores (the cryptosporidium) to get about in.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Grown up stuff

Window people turned up at half seven yesterday, which was a bit of a shock after a night on the tiles seeing A. off. The Dr scooted into the shower and then into work, and I spent the day making tea and keeping the cat from escaping.

Blimey, I'd recommend Crystal to anyone thinking mature thoughts about double-glazing. Quick and efficient, the whole job done even before the football was over.

(Look, it wasn't like that. Me and the cat were shut up in the living room, which was the one they'd windowed first. And I was tidying up with the telly on. No, really. But goaaaaal!)

Once they'd gone, I did some more tidying (and txtd some Scouser chums). There is dust just everywhere, and no sooner have you dysoned than it's there again.

But the place is suddenly so weirdly quiet - we can now barely hear the trains, cars and youths passing the house. And the cat approves of the window sills.

Then, shagged out, I nestled down with the cat to watch some Quatermass. Report on that sometime else.

Also came up with some pitch ideas, and worked on something that's not going to be easy at all to make happen. Ng.

The Dr rolled in from work and we did some tidying, dusting and unblocked the drain. She also had news that C. is up the duff. Wahey! We were then off to see chums in Greenwich, where much booze and good stew got ate. And I got to play with the baby.

Late up today, but we've got more tidying to do, and a clever bloke coming with a drill to sort out curtain rails. Ah, domestic bliss.

She sees where others stumble blindToday just happens to be the sixth anniversary of a party in Catford where I stumbled up drunkenly to the not-then-a-Doctor and said I thought her fantastic. We tend do things today rather than Valentine's day, but this year got caught up with windows. So, just to really annoy her: you're still fantastic, dear.

The picture is by Nimbos, taken on Friday night on our way back from a caff that sold wine (hooray!). The eminent academic and seriously minded sage is cooing over thisPosted by Picasa

Friday, February 17, 2006

300 and 9

Do this morning was rather sweet, though the grooms were both wearing sweaters.

Nipped off afterward to a gig near Waterloo, and this afternoon I’ve learnt something. They’ve changed how you calculate UCAS points.

In 1994 I had 24 points (and got seven rejections on one day). According to this helpful calculator, my stock’s now at 300.

A rise of merely 1250% in 12 years. I should have invested.

Also, got sent this list which is as baffling as it is brilliant. The boss says he’ll check to see if it’s in any way not Damn, Damn Lies. But blimey.

(Historical note, in case the page is updated or I happen to wake up: Gardner’s top 10 bestsellers this month has Time Travellers at number 9. I’m fast catching up Dan Brown, Penny Vincenzi and a book of Scrabble challenges. And I beat that Cartmel fellow, too.)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Will we both wear white?

It's all been a bit last minute, but tomorrow I attend my first civil partnership. The girls in the office are flapping about what to wear. M'colleague A. and I have just manfully discussed the delicate subject of jackets.

Keen to see how the order of service will go, because civil partnerships are emphatically not to be seen as gay marriages. Though, er, that is what they are, isn't it?

So, will we be allowed readings, confetti and things? And will there be bubbly drinks? I can't wait.

Since it's a civil do, you can't make mention of God - not even to acknowledge his poor, breaking heart. Having opted for a secular wedding ourselves, the Dr and I weren't allowed any of the God stuff (despite the best efforts of our mothers). Which meant we missed out on some of the madder bits of the Book of Common Prayer.

Looking up the reference to such joyous, puritanical roaring, was entertained to see it begins:
"[Matrimony] is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men..."

The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony, The Book of Common Prayer (1662).

That sounds worrying like official sanction for the hitching of chaps who can't catch. Don't try protesting that the use of "men" isn't gender specific and means "all mankind". That's balls; especially since the thing's then so keen to point out the fundamental differences between men ("love her, comfort her...") and women ("obey him, service him..."). If it meant "men and women", it could say "men and women".

Anyway, the bit I'd have quite happily wed to comes next:
"...and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding..."


That's right, marriage is for shackling down the rutting beast within. Down boy!
"It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body."


Now I realise that "continency" is referring to being able to contain one's urges, rather than being incontinent. But I love even the wilful misreading that the church wants us married to stop us pooing ourselves.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

They invented gayness

After a morning rushing about getting keys cut and important bits of paper signed, I ambled my way to Ladbroke Grove for reasons which will be made clear in time. Met some chums, and some talented people I'd not met before. Discussed the joys of real swearing, the problems of when there's too many people, and the various ploys of my Great Plan.

Also nattered to Scottie about Simon Goldhill's Love, Sex and Tragedy - Why Classics Matters, which I finished last week. The Dr bought it ages ago as part of her ongoing efforts to civilise me. It's excellent, divided into sections that cover our attitudes to sex, Christianity, politics, culture and history, and detailing the debt each of these owes to the Greeks and Romans of old.

There's some fascinating top facts. It was the Victorians who invented homosexuality, for instance. At least, they came up with the term. The development of the early church is also seen as a reaction to Roman religion, which in some cases is just boggling.

The stuff on politics was also very interesting.
"The Athenian citizen was expected to attend the Assembly, to serve on the Council at some point, to act as a juror on occasion, to vote, to do the business of the deme, to take part in festivals and to fight in the state's army or navy. Modern democracies talk obsessively about rights. Ancient democracy thought of citizenship more as an issue of duties and activities."

Simon Goldhill, Love, Sex and Tragedy - Why Classics Matters, pp. 179-180.

No armchair anarchists in Anthens, then. You had to get your hands dirty.

The Dr tells me that the Guardian review of the book, though generally very impressed, felt the book could have covered imperialism. It also lacks any great detail on scientific enquiry and the enlightenment's debt to classics.

Also, Goldhill's argument falls into two kinds. The first - that our attitudes to sex, religion, politics etc. cannot be understood without knowledge of their Greek and Roman origins - is strongly articulated and, in some cases, amazing. But Goldhill, when he can't give evidence of such direct inheritance, also argues that the "different-ness" of the ancient world is therefore a model by which we can scrutinise our own society.

This, I feel, is less effective an argument, because surely any "different" culture would work just as well as a mirror. A study of the Navaho, or the court of Kublai Khan, would likewise challenge our social assumptions by not taking them for granted.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Found my way to the War Tunnels yesterday, which were pretty amazing. Slave-built by the Nazis, the place was meant to be a hospital. Now it's an eerie memorial to the occupation. You get an identity card as an entrance ticket, and afterwards get to check whether your card is that of a restistance martyr or collaborator. Mine was a collobarator.

Not a monkey.Then to the airport, where I fended calls from estate agents and brothers. Took an age to get home from City Airport, and the Dr seemed pleased with her toys. We nattered into the small hours. And this morning I have poetry.

Off for a day's running about across London sorting things out, now. To right is a picture of the offending bear.
 Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 12, 2006

We're the dirty rascals

Cocking bloody castle is not open until 2 April. Pootled across the slippy, skinny causeway anyway, and then rather mournfully picked over some rocks and glowered at the high walls in our way.

Got a glimpse of the exciting 16th century bailey and fortifications when a car drove up and went through the gates - probably a warden or somesuch. Then the doors slammed shut and we were bereft.

Place only fell to starvation I'm told, and is full of different keeps and baileys, and the German-built towers are much further off than they look. Dammit dammit dammit.

It is a cold, grey Sunday afternoon and the fims on offer in the cinema failed to excite. Tourist office not open on Sundays either, so we've stopped off for a coffee in another netted caff to check when the war tunnels are open. Likely to do that tomorrow though, as we have an engagement at five.

Stayed in the trendy bar last night and had nice food and red booze. Then ambled back to Liadnan's and watched 12 Monkeys, which I'd not seen in yonks. Bit depressing that it's ten years old now, and 1996 does seem an age ago. Brad Pitt's performance remains as riveting and brilliant as ever, and I think this must have been the first time Bruce Willis died in a movie. It's easily the best thing he's done.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Does it look like a monkey?

I carve these runes from inside an trendy pub on the St Helier waterfront, while Liadnan and I sip Chianti. Also, you get about a third off the price of DVDs here as compared to London. Truly this is a heaven.

On the piss with legal beagles last night, and Thai hot food I could still taste when I woke up this morning. Nice. We made a heroic trip to the shops (had to stop for a coffee though), and I have picked up a Jersey Evening Post starring my boss Joe's first column as Film Guru Dude.

Thence to the zoo, which was a bit top actually. Even included talks on the gorillas and the orang-utans. The males in each case are shagging like rabbits, which is a Good Thing. We had a happy time watching the gorillaz sunbathe and eat sprouts.

Also saw some pyschedelic frogs. The vivid yellow ones are the most poisonous thing ever, apparently, and the freaky blue ones were shagging as we passed.

The wolves were not anywhere to be seen, but we did go into a darkened room (to be like Madagascar time) and spied the Aye-aye, high up in the top corner of the den. He did a bit of stretching and staring back. And they have freakishly skinny fingers. (Yes, pots and kettles.)

Sent the Dr a mobile-photograph of one of the bears, which reminded me of our dimness of cat. Was rung up on the bus back into town and told off for sending monkey pics. My wife is a city girl, and can just about tell the difference between horses and cows. I shall post the offending pic when I am back at home and Picasad, so you can judge for yourselves.

Mmmm, wine. Off back to Liadnan's for local pub grub and - like as not - some ranting about the state of the world / legal system / books with spaceships and robots in them. And tomorrow (hooray!) an CASTLE!

"It is a good castle," says the not-quite-reading-over-my-shoulder-as-we-are-sat-opposite-each-other Liadnan. Woo and woopee! Oh, and happy birthday Charles Darwin if I have that right.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Jersey, part one

Apologies to those who've been mailing me off-blog. Am currently in an Internet caff in St Helier, and it's probably costing me limbs. I have replied to the must-reply-to stuff, but read the rest. Proper replies next week, if you're lucky.

(Apologies also if this post is all over the place. Trying to remember how Macs work, too.)

Cab picked me up this morning at six to get me to City Airport. Surprised how busy the roads were - and there was a nasty queue into the Blackwall Tunnel that threatened to spoil my weekend for a bit. But it all turned out groovy, the flight was fine and I arrived in a sunny-but-not-hot Jersey at just gone ten.

The taxi driver proudly pointed out the famous cows and the changes to the waterfront in the last 12 years as we made our way into town. More impressed by the space-age dome on the top of the hill overlooking St Helier - they've roofed Fort Regent and turned it into a sports centre, it turns out. Bit like any other sports centre, but the steep steps up the rockface are worth it for the view.

Met Liadnan, who gave me a quick walk round the block as a smoke-break before returning to work. He showed me the square where the best bits of the 1781 Battle of Jersey was fought, and the famous "V" cut into the ground during the Nazi oocupation.

He then headed back to work, and I had two museums to myself. The Island Fortress Occupation Museum is a bit shabby, with yellowed, original newspapers and smudgy handwritten testimonies in the way (if you're of a tallish persuasion) of the dusty old dioramas.

Still, the scope of the first-hand accounts is very impressive, and the 45 minute documentary also covers a lot of perspectives - from the locals, the resistance, and even the occupiers. Judging by the glasses and clothes, these interviews were conducted in the 60s and 70s, so the memories are still fresh and vivid.

In fact, there's palpable bitterness about the way black marketeers were able to exchange their Marks for Sterling after the war - as it was like the British Government condoned the profiteering. Evidence about collaboration and so on also seems to have gone unremarked on, to the consternation of those who reported in. Especially when girls who'd perhaps had little choice but to "Jerry-bag" were hounded through the streets...

Then to the Jersey Museum, which is more up-to-date and interactive. Learnt all sorts of top facts, like the fact that now cows have been imported since 1812, so as to preserve the famous breed. I can also now tell the distinctive features of the Jersey arch.

The Dr would have liked the 1861 merchant's house (part of the Jersey museum), especially the nursery-room drawings of different nations' characters. Also delighted by the museum shop pushing it's Lily Langtree biography. The Jersey born-and-buried toffs' crumpet was famous, they say, for her acting. And so was the John Nettles of her day.

After an American-sized sandwich with Liadnan for lunch, I climbed up to Fort Regent in the hope of some fun castle-y bits to look at, but there weren't any. Plodded back down and have spent the last hour in the Maritime Museum.

Clearly aimed at kids, there were lots of buttons to press and so on. Don't remember the Greenwich one being this much fun, but then a) I'm usually there with the distinguished academic, and b) there was no one else there so I could play.

Best thing was a globe with bright blue liquid inside that swirled around, and you pressed a button and the breeze coming in from the top picked up, and MADE A WHIRLPOOL!

The exhibtion also passes through a real, live boat-fixing workshop, which was the only point I wished there'd been other people round me. Felt a bit of a tit watching the experts on my own.

After the Nettles-narrated film about local sea-life, I pootled round the Occupation Tapestry, each pannel lovingly knitted by a different local parish. I like the colours in the sky.

Short time to kill before Liadnan's off work, and he promises drinkies tonight. He also wants to do the top-looking castle in the bay, which is why I've resisted that temptation so far.

Oh, and a correspondent tells me to check out the zoo. He says they have an Aye-aye, which - even more pleasingly - "there was no chance of seeing in Madagascar".

Will endeavour to report back soon.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I'll ruin everything you are

As part of China in London, the Doctor got me along to a screening last night, which also included free booze and eats. The goodie bag had sweets and soy sauce, too. Hurrah!

Leaving Me Loving You is a romantic comedy set in Shanghai. A pretty young couple split up, then find that they're both working for the same client.

The film is a showcase for Shangai itself, with lots of oppulent views of the river amid space-age skyscrapers. Though there's a lot of musing on life and love, it's not particularly complex or plotty, and sometimes the beautiful shots - to various versions of "Moon River" - go on a bit long.

Yet it's often very funny and there's some great moments. We were both rather charmed.

Found it odd that Zhou (the young bloke) is a doctor touting for work - and has a mate handing out business cards at any opportunity. And he's a bit of a nit, anyway, with stalker tendencies that include moving house to be able to watch his intended.

Xiaoyue would have been better of with Mr Man's driver, even if he is a bit married.

The Dr (my Dr) now wants to go to Shanghai - which suggests that the promotion worked. My grandpa was born there in 1914, too, so it'd count as checkin' out ma roots.

Will add it to the list of stop-offs on the round-the-world Grand Tour we're planning for... oh, sometime.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Odds and ends

Draft version of book cover.Found this among the old files, while looking for something else. It's what I sent BBC Books last summer, when we talked about covers.

A nasty cold sits just behind my eyes and tongue, waiting to catch me off-guard. My throat is raw and miserable, and I keep getting shivers. Last night, I think I kept the Dr awake with strange dreams and feverish fidgets. Ho hum – just in time for my holiday. Have already drunk a litre of orange juice.

This morning, the man with a van arrived sooner than I’d expected. Been asked to explain how you can have 1½ bookcases. The one is seven feet tall, the half is a corner unit which is about 3½ feet tall. Simple, really.

It’s taken longer to re-stack the shelves than it did to drive to my old flat, get the shelves into the van, drive back and lug them into the living room.

Did this while listening to Night Thoughts, which is good fun and spooky. The ending is especially chilling, with a brilliant performance from Bernard Kay. Apparently it freaked out the director when they recorded it. Can see why.

Now have the Clever Plumbing Man trying to make our boiler less noisy. He’s found a small bit of metal that was inside something it shouldn’t have been, and is now flushing the system to be sure it’s okay.

Off to see some Shanghai films or something tonight, to do with Chinese New Year. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"A doubly powerful lodestone"

Got sent another review of Time Travellers, which scores an okay 7 out of 10:
"This parallel world story grips the reader’s attention [...]

After a while, however, the narrative strays over that fine [line] between 'intriguing' and 'confusing'. Complex theories about alternate branches of time are offered to explain the temporal duplications. Science teacher Ian Chesterton finds these difficult to grasp, so what hope does the reader have? [...]

Despite some temporal confusion, this book is an impressive debut novel and well worth your time."

Richard McGinlay, Review: the Time Travellers.

Been working away on the pile of Benny stuff needing doing - more of which soon, I promise.

This morning realised that two on-spec projects I've had various thoughts about should swap titles. And the bouncer should make him drink all the beer.

Also hired, I think, a man with a van for a bookcase and a half. Only taken me two days, and it's still not confirmed. This is my life.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Rubbish blokes

Long ago in the mists of time, I challenged a chef mate whose food I (and Big Finish) adore to outfeed me and the two younger brothers.

On Saturday, she won that contest hands down with a great vat of coc-au-vin, a sausage thing, veg and apple crumble. Still feel full and it's been two days, and the brothers were escorted home by Greenpeace. Hurrah!

Then it was off to the pub till 1 in the morning for B's birthday thing. A great deal of bollocks talked, of course, though I did agree some stylistic sound-things for Benny. Spent yesterday not feeling too chipper...

Got B Sideways, which an academic mate of the Dr's had recommended, and drew him a card making fun of his rubbish knees. The film's won various awards and is about two blokes (30-somethings, so the packaging says), off on a week's wine-tasting in California, 'cos one of them's about to get hitched.

They're both rubbish blokes, in different ways. One of them's a narcissistic actor who's never gonna make the big time, the other's a despressed, divorcee schoolteacher whose novel no one wants to publish.

They arse about, drink too much, meet some women, and it's an easy, hippy sort of comedy with some hippy sort of musings on life. In the vein, I guess of Hal Ashby, who did (my faves) Harold and Maude and Being There.

As well as very funny, it's also pretty damning of men's bullshitting, and the damage such fantasies do. Talking shit, it seems, can really hurt people - especially when the lies catch up with you. And as an adamant writer, boozer and bullshitter, it really struck a chord.

Also read books 3-6 of Y: The Last Man, which offers some chance that rubbish old Yorick is not the last, best hope for humanity. All-but-one of the men dying out is a cod-sf wheeze, done by everyone from Mary Shelley to soft-porn. And the comic acknowledges and plays with that. And though there's sex and violence and boy-comic tropes a-plenty, it's actually really good and quite bright.

Liked the shitty revelation why Yorick alone was spared, and it's full of near-credible details about the rest of the world, like the attacks on sperm banks and the nuclear meltdown abroad. Even the sea-bent sapphism of the rest of the population is not too exploitatively handled. There's a geeky gag about the Golden Gate Bridge which had me giggling, and the plot keeps coming with nice reveals and reversals.

Still, I'm feeling the same characters recur a little too often - especially when the thing's gone into such detail about the vastness of ground to be covered and the time taken in getting across America. It's that irritating feeling of plot convenience in something that's otherwise so deftly crafted.

One day I shall share with you my (brilliant) theory on the three kinds of bloke. In the meantime, it's fun to read something lefty that doesn't automatically assume the world is much better by getting shot of all the rubbish blokes. As a rubbish bloke myself, I'm grateful.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Back to the future

In September 2004, when commissioning the Time Travellers, the august J Richards said I had to explain the physics of my time machine or people would write in. So I read some stuff about quantum mechanics, and came up with a theory.

With whopping great SPOILERS for the book (which of course you've all now read), here's what I came up with. Bit in italics are comments from Dr "Beard" Kelly, a proper particle physicist.

"As threatened when I saw you in Bristol, I’d like to pick your brains for a Dr Who thing I am writing. It’s about time travel, and I need to make sure that what I’m saying isn’t picked to pieces by the [Nimboses] of this world. Pints will be bought for your assistance, oh yes.

The first principle of the story is that, concordant with Heisenberg, whenever the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS, he changes history. TARDISs are designed for observing, and can slip discreetly and unnoticed into any surrounding to watch what happens. But opening the doors and actually interacting with people alters things. Indeed, bringing down a government overnight alters things a lot. So, over the course of his adventures, the Doctor changes things a lot. He just doesn’t admit it.

The wheeze of my story is that the first Doctor, towards the end of his first year on telly, arrives in London 2006. Only it’s a London, 2006 where he hasn’t yet stopped all those alien invasions in the 70s and 80s, and where in 1966, WOTAN (the computer up in the Post Office Tower) was able to take over the world by (and yes, I know this is horrifying) being able to TALK TO OTHER COMPUTERS VIA THE TELEPHONE LINE.

Scary, huh?

So, the people of the Earth having defeated WOTAN, they now don’t have phones and televisions and broadcast media. But, in a secret laboratory at Canary Wharf, they have designed a time machine. It’s conveniently powered by the nuclear power station at the Millennium Dome. Yes, I’m afraid the story’s full of silly gags like that.

For story purposes, the time machine is a large metal hoop, stood upright from the floor. It’s big enough for people to step through, and wide enough for them to get the TARDIS through, too. That will be part of the story.

Oh no, not a big hoop thing like in the TimeCop film is it? Or are you ripping off the big metal hoop idea from Stargate?

As I see it, the ways it works is like this. Particle physicists have already sussed how to make a wormhole, by exploiting quarks that are inexplicably linked across space.

The old "Quantum entanglement". You can do it with any particle I think, on a basic level. Sounds an interesting idea, as quarks like to be bound with other quarks, one has (currently) never been seen on its own due to the weird effect of the strong nuclear force. It gets stronger the further you try to pull a quark from its partner, unlike any other known force...

Also, you get quarks in pairs (a normal + an antiquark) in the form of particles known as Mesons, these are kind of like light versions of protons and neutrons (who normally have 3 quarks). Mesons were known about i think from maybe the late 40's (The pion, the lightest of these was found at Bristol Uni in '47...)

My time machine exploits quarks inexplicably linked across time. Special conditioning equipment (left behind by the Daleks, as it happens) allowed you to create these special quarks in the lab. This you do at exactly 12:00, right at the centre of the metal hoop. At 13:00, you create another, identical quark at the centre of the hoop. This second quark in linked to the first, and in effect creates a wormhole back to the first one.

This takes a lot of energy (so they do it at night). A lot more energy allowed you to stretch the wormhole wider, so that it fills out to the metal sides of the hoop. Then you can step through it.

The 13:00 quark sees the 12:00 quark as an anchor, or lodestone. It actually seeks it to create the wormhole. The wormhole bridges the vortex of time and space, through which the TARDIS travels. And this is where things get complicated: the TARDIS has special properties to help it navigate time and space. And these properties also act like a lodestone. So, when the TARDIS materialises down the road from the metal hoop, the 13:00 quark doesn’t link to the 12:00 quark, it fixes on the TARDIS. So people stepping through the 13:00 hole end up strewn all the way down the street.

There are also some other effects which I won’t go in to now.

So, does that make sense? Is there anything I’ve got glaringly wrong? Is there anything I should specifically refer to?

No, seems rather good actually, the best thing with high energy physics is that you can do very weird things... and they are allowed! There are all kinds of weird particles in various theories, some that we can't detect, other we can't get the energy up to create yet.

Some things to be aware of:

1. The world completely changes from what we know in 1966, so they won’t even be called ‘quarks’ (which was coined in ’68). There will have been parallel scientific research, but they won’t necessarily know in this London, 2006 what we know.

I'm not sure, SLAC discovered the evidence for the quark conclusivly in 68, but the theory of their existance was there since about '63 by a various people like Murray Gell-Mann who thought that protons and mesons were made of smaller things. I don't know where or what the particles in their theories were called.

The earlist reference to "quarks" I can find in the journal database we use is 1964. There existed particle-physics machines around that era (1950s/60s) that had enough energy to make quarks (just that people of the time didn't detect them). You can make then in electron-antielectron collisons pretty easily. Well, easy if you have a large enough machine :)

In the 50's 60's the UK had the Rutherford Labs near Didcot doing that kind of madness, next door to the Harwell nuclear research labs. And frankly if you ever get the chance to visit the place you'll see it was MADE for a Dr Who connection, has plenty of buildings of dubious nature and various large earth mounds that cover other dubious things. I mean, look at the place.

2. The scientists get a headstart. The Daleks have a matter transmitter in London in 1963, and my idea is that it is this that kickstarted the research. The matter transmitter actually uses time technology, rather than breaking the subject up into little bits and then reassembling. However, the reason the subject appears to materialise from the inside out (you see wiggly Dalek innards, then the shell) is that you’re observing the materialisation in linear time, but the subject isn’t actually materialising in linear time. So you see through them to begin with.

Makes sense, you can get computer programs that do a simular thing and simulate what looking at a 4 dimentional object (usually a cube) would look like projected into our normal 3D space. Its kind of freaky. So that sounds like the same effect above, only with time not space being the weird dimension.

3. Essentials for the story:
  • The time machine has to fit people and the TARDIS through it
  • The subjects have to be drawn off course by the TARDIS being in the area
  • It has to use nuclear power (allowing me to blow the power station up at the end)
Needless to say, the scientist in charge of the experiments is a beardie Dr Kelly, who dies before the end.

Pip pip,


Friday, February 03, 2006

Before the fall

We tend to define ourselves by what we are not. Lifestyle mags, like Cosmo for example, define their idea of woman-ness by contrast to man-ness. They’re about how to get/keep/chuck Your Man, and so could be argued to bolster rather than break down gender stereotypes.

Lads mags, of course, do exactly the same in reverse – lots of stuff about birds, footie, gadgets and motors, and none of that girly, gay stuff.

There’s an argument that modern Western values – a rejection of anti-Semitism and racism in favour of human rights, democracy and, in this country at least, a caring welfare state for all – are the result of World War 2.

Certainly those values weren’t seen as intrinsically “right” in the 1930s. No, whatever the reasons for our going to war, by 1945 we were defining ourselves by what the Nazis were not. We fought Hitler together and, for the last 60 years, together we’ve opposed all he stood for.

But how we define ourselves is prone to change. Liadnan recently railed against Gordon Brown’s mission statement for Britain, and then yesterday there was this:
“There are concerns about how to strengthen a sense of shared national community in our younger generation, for whom the old national symbols of wartime solidarity are a distant story and among whom respect for cherished national traditions and social habits is limited. There is a recognition that we cannot go on living on the legend of the Second World War as our shared national experience now that no one under the age of 70 has direct experience of that war.”

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, House of Lords, 2 February 2006; col. 343.

The debate was about engendering pride in the nation and national identity. Pride, too, defines itself by its opposite. Gay pride is about there being nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about being gay. “I’m black and I’m proud,” is about not being kowtowed by the white folk.

But national pride is not quite the same. In a lot of ways being part of a particular nation is like supporting a particular football team. It is, actually, something we can change if we really want to, for example. And what nationality we are or what team we support is not the same as what we feel – good or bad – about that team or nation.

Pride is the feeling when our team does well. We might not have won the match, but we’re proud of how we played. We’re proud of how few bookings we’ve had, or how we’ve encouraged new players. Sometimes our team can play so badly (think Liverpool v Chelsea last October) that, though we’re adamant they’re still our team, pride’s the last thing we’re feeling.

Again, we define ourselves by opposition. So we’ll wear our team colours when there’s a match on, or in celebrating a particular victory. In the UK, the Jack and the George are, generally, for the Queen, public buildings and big sporting events.

When there’s opposition to be faced, we come together. So we still celebrate, as if they were yesterday, one football match from 40 years ago and wars won against the Germans and French from last century and the century before.

The English, of course, still have funny delusions of empire, of having some kind of say in the world. Yet we’re not any different to anyone else in viewing other nations inferior, whatever the evidence to the contrary. That’s dangerously close to pride in the Biblical sense – falsely so, and asking for fate to prove you wrong.

I’m less sure about flag-waving when there’s no clear opposition about because at best it’s unnecessary and at worst downright sinister. It’s more about uniformity of thought than solidarity. On my first trip to the States in 1999, the number of stars and stripes on display was amazing and, I felt, a bit alarming. Huge flags hanging from every porch, neighbours competing for who was most proud. With only each other to parade to, you wondered who they were trying to convince and of what.

Yes, I appreciate things have changed since 2001, and that the flags stand in defiance of terrorist aggression. But they were there before, and there does seem to be a “you’re either with us or against us” attitude to TWOT.

Part of me wonders, then, how America sees itself as a nation. Certainly not as an empire, though that’s what it quite clearly is. The rhetoric is all of the underdog, fighting the good fight against all the odds.

In some ways, its always been the country of the bullied kids – the French (who helped win its liberty) celebrated America’s call for the world’s “tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” You could probably argue that US foreign policy now has the mentality of a bullied kid who grew up bigger than the bullies.

National pride has to be earned. It’s not just enough to love England blindly because of being English. We should be proud of our country because of what it does, not just because we live here. We should be proud of what our country continues to do that’s good, not just celebrate old glories. We should certainly not let those old glories slip.

For all the gains made in this country since 1945 – gains we can be justly proud of – it’s still amazing that women get paid less than men for doing the same jobs, while many claim racism is still endemic (reactions to Sir Ian Blair’s comments last week and Nick Griffin’s victory yesterday are what got me thinking on this post).

Likewise, we should be proud of our army when it upholds people’s rights and the rule of law, and not merely because it’s being shot at. It’s not disloyal to question why troops are sent to war, and that the war’s legitimate. It’s more supportive of the troops themselves than endangering them needlessly.

Sometimes it’s right to be ashamed:
“Channel 4 News tonight reveals extraordinary details of George Bush and Tony Blair's pre-war meeting in January 2003 at which they discussed plans to begin military action on March 10th 2003, irrespective of whether the United Nations had passed a new resolution authorising the use of force […] President Bush said that:

’The US would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would “twist arms” and “even threaten”. But he had to say that if ultimately we failed, military action would follow anyway.’

Prime Minister Blair responded that he was: ‘solidly with the President and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam.’

But Mr Blair said that: ‘a second Security Council resolution would provide an insurance policy against the unexpected, and international cover, including with the Arabs.’”

Gary Gibbon, "The White House memo", Channel 4 News, 2 February 2006.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sons of the Spider-Man

"The important thing about songs is that they're just like stories. They don't mean a damn unless there's people listenin' to them."

Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys, p. 304.

Finished this on the nose of midnight last night, after a late finish at wurk. An easily embarrased young bloke (whose racial heritage is subtly played) discovers that his recently-deceased dad was more than he seemed. What's more, the e.e. bloke has a brother he never knew about. A cooler, spunkier brother who's about to take over his life...

In style, it reminded me a lot of Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (my favourite of Adams's fiction). There's a similar casual collapse of the solid world-as-you-know-it for the hapless, meaning-well chap caught up with old gods. That's not to accuse Gaiman of copying; the backgrounds of characters (both gods and monsters) are quite distinct, and the books are about different things.

Didn't feel it particularly horrifying, though, despite what Gaiman said about how the thing came about (Lenny Henry muttering that there b'ain't be black horror stuff). It's more strange and kooky, and though there are some violent and icky bits... it's not too scary, say, to be read by the timid wife. The problem is (if it is actually a problem) that the whole's things too charming, too pleasurable a read to horrify.

It's full of lovely incidents and gags, but it'd be spoiling the surprises to describe them here. No mention, though, of the old gag about special spider abilities; Peter Parker can never get out of the bath.

As I write this post, snow is swirling gently round one of the courtyards of the (aptly goth) Palace of Westminster. "It's ash," suggests m'colleague B. He should stop smoking on the roof.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"Yes, we discriminate"

The Dr is unwell today, and much-miffed to miss some drinkies tonight, upstairs in the Gherkin. Probably just as well, though. They can't have had time to fix the windows.

Her wellness was not helped by yesterday's feature on her old school in the lefty propaganda. The Dr is, of course, a passionate, academic and professional believer in inclusion and access, and not keeping "the wrong sorts" out. She's written in and everything.

I, too, went to a faith school, but one that was open to everyone. Was the only practicing Caff-lick in my year by the end. And did horrendously badly at Religion GCSE 'cos I pretty much assumed I already knew the stuff. Knew, yes; thought about, not really...

A concern with faith schools is that discriminating in favour of particular demographics isn't just about which flavour of God you believe in. The Guardian article makes it quite clear that the religion bracket overlaps with the region's economic and class divisions, and I'd be surprised if there wasn't also a case for it overlapping racial divides, too.

Of course, all this over-subscription and ability to choose stems from perceptions of school success. Which basically means exam results. And note that it's the school choosing the pupils, not the pupils/parents choosing which school best suits them.

The reason schools want to cherry-pick their pupils is it's not the school that is judged in exams, it's the pupils. So you want kids from middle-class backgrounds with pushy parents... and again I'd venture that the faith school's demographic also overlaps there.

Only the other week, I heard an alternative to listing schools by their highest achievers:
"I was engaged in writing a report for the government back in 1993, in which I advocated the argument that schools were there to add value, and that the best measure of performance was value added.

It would be helpful to the parents of kids who do not look like doing well if their school profiles could declare for, say, children who had not achieved level 1 in key stage 1, how they had improved in performance by the end of key stage 2, and similarly, for a secondary school, for those who have come in with, say, level 2 or less in English and maths, how they had done by the end of key stage 3. Parents could then look not at who is top of the GCSE league, but at which schools are good at caring for and helping kids like theirs."

Lord Dearing, House of Lords, 19 January 2006, Cols. 792-3.

See also the next speaker, Baroness Massey of Darwen, discussing a school's responsibilities to its local community - the complete antithesis of the faith school's approach.

My main objection, I think, is that the selection process does not fit the teachings of the faith that the school claims to profess. Imagine a church arguing that its focus was not the parish and community immediately around it (making links with other faiths, helping the homeless and poor, etc.), but attracting those from other parishes more likely to get into Heaven, and prepared to make the commute...