Friday, October 29, 2004

Anyway, another book. I’ve foisted on you all the works of Italo Calvino (this I know, as I have very few of his books left on my shelves) but I fear I’ve burnt myself out to appreciating him. This month I’ve read The Baron in the Trees (about a nobleman’s son who after a quarrel lives off the ground), The Cloven Viscount (a nobleman is bifurcated by a cannon ball on crusades, and his two halves come back separately), and Invisible Cities (Marco Polo creates fantastical cities for the palace-bound Kublai Khan to appreciate, though they are all in fact aspects of one; Venice.) I’m also still reading, though I might leave it on the partially read pile in my bedroom, The Nonexistent Knight (a suit of armour acts a knight). Invisible Cities is brilliant, short flights of fancy, but then that was this month’s first. The others have got progressively less impressive; I was particularly disappointed by the Baron in the Trees; I think Calvino is a short story writer, and once his imagination is drained in a certain field, only a dull sump is left. The Baron was an odd idea and, for me, it didn’t work. There was a lot for him to do up there in the foliage, but it was mostly the same as what we do down here. So the piece really became a romantic opera-type thing, a Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones piece, which never bore interesting fruit (especially as the more interesting characters, which Calvino has no difficulty creating but problems writing) were sidelined or killed rapidly, and the baron himself was the typical winsomely odd hero. It’d make a good Hollywood movie though, because of the incidental’s humours, and the central love story.

Anyway, must dash – Hallowe’en party to go to, and gotta get tarted up.

Meanwhile, on the book front, I’ve just finished Alan Garner’s Thurlsbitch (he's the author of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, if you're wondering). Set in the Peak District (where my folks live, where we’ve always walked and where I’m going tomorrow), Thurlsbitch is the name of an ancient dale, where two hundred years ago people lived, and is now habituated solely by peripatetic walkers. Both sets take part in the book, and their stories interweave. It has a fascinatingly well-researched section on Pagan ritual, and the most touching approach to severe illness (I’m not sure whether the description is Parkinson’s or MS) I’ve read in any fiction.

I was also surprised to find that Garner is an alumnus (of sorts) of my old Oxford college, Magdalen (as is the recent Booker prize winner Alan Hollinghurst). He went there as an undergraduate, and was obviously genius-level. His tutor took him to one side, and said “Here’s my advice to you; go home now and write a work of genius. If you can't do that, come back and you can study real geniuses with me." As the website says, “He has commented that he does not read fiction because he doesn't want to be subconsciously influenced by other writers' ideas.”

I worry about two things here; first, and minor, that I should care about his attendance at Oxford. I’ve never wanted to belong to any set, and my recognition of his similarity annoys me without my quite being able to understand why. Secondly, that I’ve read a lot of fiction, an awful lot; I get through a good few books a week, it’s my main hobby, and I do it obsessively. I’d like to write properly one day, though friends scoff at that, and if Garner’s thesis is true then I’m crippling myself further with every novel consumed. I feel like a runner taking steroids to bulk up, only to find out they’ve been banned.

I’ve lost my critical faculties, I’m sure I have. I’ve watched so many good movies in the last couple of weeks due to the Bath film festival, I can’t distinguish good from bad. Oldboy is the cause – a genuinely disturbing, beautifully conceived movie; a businessman gets drunk, is arrested and then released, before he is kidnapped and locked in a hotel room for 15 years. I won’t spoil the rest, but it’s a must-watch; a scene where he eats a live octopus, not for kicks, or out of anger or because he wants to disgust people but through a sort of resigned apathy which freedom gives him, is just fantastic; the sight of the tentacles writhing across, clutching at his impassive face as he chews and chews is both hideous and alluring. I think it’s good, but it’s so perfectly made, that you can’t tell if you’re interested or not; the impassivity of the lead character is infectious, and the movie never really takes an emotion and runs with it.
Then there’s The Saddest Music in The World – fantastic, strange story, beautifully shot, slightly spoiled by a more generic than expected ending and not quite surreal enough in places, but great all the same. A tale of an amputee beer baroness in frozen Canada and her attempt to find the saddest music in the world by playing off the countries of the world. A family from her past get involved, and take different sides, playing their various instruments against each other in Dueling Banjos scenes on stage in the beer hall. It’s shot in a 1930s ‘M’ shaky-cam, with snow scattered across the monochrome screen.
Finally there’s Saw – weaker than the rest, an American attempt to do Japanese horror. Nasty, mean obvious but also scary and initially conceptually attention-grabbing. Two men wake up locked in a bathroom, chained to opposite ends by their ankles, with a dead man lying between them. They have six hours to kill each other or their families will die.
People keep criticising me for not putting my personal thoughts up here more regularly. I thought I was; then I looked at the dates of personal posts and realised how much of my life I’m losing to a pretty-much unconscious existence, with intermittent periods of awareness. I wonder if everyone’s lives are like that? So I’ve boshed down a load of stuff that’s been building up on my desktop, in order to sate your vicarious palettes for a while.

They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning

Aah, nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Whatever happened to Flipper, Skippy, The Littlest Hobo, Lassie and the rest? Have animals stopped caring for mankind? Or has the caring animal simply become extinct?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Monday, October 25, 2004

Australian platypus research has implications for understanding the evolution of human sex determination

Good lord. Evidence for a higher will is finally found. Bow down beneath the randomly evolutionary platypus.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Fleeing villagers mistook disco lights for aliens
Squatter sells flat for over £700K

George Weiss, a friend of late comic Peter Cook, says he will use the money to launch a rival to Hello magazine called Goodbye. It will feature dead celebrities and the houses they lived in.

He has also launched a political party - the Wonderfully Egalitarian Association of Creative Thinkers.
Peru develops edible super guinea pig

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Guardian Special reports | Why is war-torn Iraq giving $190,000 to Toys R Us?: "Here is a small sample of who has been getting 'reparation' awards from Iraq: Halliburton ($18m), Bechtel ($7m), Mobil ($2.3m), Shell ($1.6m), Nestl? ($2.6m), Pepsi ($3.8m), Philip Morris ($1.3m), Sheraton ($11m), Kentucky Fried Chicken ($321,000) and Toys R Us ($189,449)."

Watch The Corporation. This edict is not open to discussion.
Some old mini-news which we never ran in the mag that I just found in an old documents folder. Some good links in there.

Following in the illustrious, politically aware footsteps, of George Michael, the thin white duke himself (David Bowie you ankle-biters!) has announced that his latest album is available for free download; indeed, he positively wants you to download it, mix it up with your own tunes a la DJ Danger Mouse, and send it back to him. Then a panel (including Bowie) will decide which is best, the winner mixing it up with Bowie on his next album.

Mr Tony Blair
Assaulted on all sides, Mr Tony Blair must be feeling like his world is caving in, and now a new threat waves its order paper from the sidelines. ‘Bluesnarfing’, the act of taking control of a device via Bluetooth, has been spread to the Palace of Westminister by no less illustrious an organisation than The Times. A hack snuck his laptop into the House of Commons and was able to use it to listen into MP’s conversations over their phones, mainly because most Mps have failed to change the default password. Espionage on the cheap anyone?

Kill Chrille
Remember Star Wars Kid, the chubby Canadian lightsabre dancer. Real name Ghyslain Raza who was an internet hit when a home-movie of him dancing with a broom, Darth Maul-stylee was released onto the net? Well, he’s back in a new feature. Well 106 new features. The latest Kill Bill 1&2 spoof is certainly Class A, but Star Wars kid also features in SWK vs South Park, Raiders of the Lost Dork, Lord of the Onion Rings, and, of course, Dine Another Day.

Old Presents
Sick of passing the same plaid sweaters around the family every Christmas? Well, Orbital Development of Carson City, Nevada (WARNING! Things promised by people from Nevada may well turn out to be false, aliens or indeed weather balloons.) offered people the chance to dump their unwanted gifts on the moon. The auction took place on Ebay, but unfortunately didn’t reach the $6 million reserve price and will go ahead when a buyer is found. It will involve a space vehicle specially built, based on a commercial Russian lander.

British Sports
Sod football, rugby, cricket and curling, such is the decline in sports standards that even fictional British games are now falling to foreign champions. The latest casualty is, alas, not gurning but in fact Pooh Sticks, the creation of A.A. Milne and Winnie the Pooh. This year’s event in Little Wittenham, Oxfordshire was won by the Czech team, with the Brits winning the singles event. PCFormat thinks we should lynch that Henman feller for being a bad influence. Or henman that lynch feller. Dammit Brits, just pull your act together, and get online practice at the link below!

At the end of the day, like, at this moment in time, with all due respect… that short semi-sentence consists of the four most irritating sayings in common use today, as voted for by members of the Plain English Campaign. Spokesman John Lister said “Using these terms is about as professional as wearing a novelty tie or having a wacky ringtone on your phone.” PCFormat’s quick Hansard search found 151 uses of ‘like’, twenty-one ‘with all due respects’, one ‘at the end of the day’, and not one “at this moment…” And that was just Tony Blair – John Prescott’s stats were 231 ‘likes’, 13 ‘at the end of the day’, and not a jot of ‘respect’

German parents are getting the chance to experience life inside the womb, thanks to Sterling efforts of Frankfurt artist Marie Krebs, reports Ananova. Ms Krebs has designed a uterus room for mothers and fathers to crawl into, packed with stratified spongy materials, padded with squashy balloons that yield to every movement of the body, and dimly lit. The sounds of a heartbeat, amniotic and intestinal gurglings, and a distant female voice round off the experience. Oh, and never, ever seach for uterus on the internet, okay?

Couch Pizzatoes
Tired of having all the way to shops, when there’s a snack machine just round the corner? Then worry no further, as the next vendable item popping up will be the Pizza! The Wonder Pizza company UK is planning to install machines that deliver hot pizza in less than two minutes in railway stations and other public places. For £4 the machine tops, cooks and despatches a 9” pizza; the test one in Bournemouth sold about 200 pizzas in its first four days. PCFormat is thinking about getting one for the office.

Tabletop Veneer
Sick of your coaster being totally unabsorbent, but too lazy to go and buy coasters instead of using AOL disks? Thank Sony then, whose latest innovation is a new compact disc made mainly from paper (well, 51%). With the development of new Blu-Ray DVD technology last year, these new 12cm discs will be cheaper to produce, safer to dispose of, and have a 25GB capacity. They’ll be produced by the Toppan Publishing company of Japan.

“People of Mars, I salute you. Well, I would if I hadn’t done my neck in that quad accident. Have you got any green M&Ms?” Yes, the British public, that undeniable argument for tyranny, have voted Ozzy Osborne as the nation’s favourite ambassador to visiting Martians, with 26% of the vote. Yahoo’s internet poll also rated the weird Siamese coupling of Ant and Dec at 15%, closely followed by Tony Blair at 12%, and Dubya and Jordan drawing at 9%. PCF says: send them all out, and bring on the tripods!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

<>I promise to stop it with the Rita stories after this, but her origin sounds like a work of fiction. If you just want to read that skip the next three paragraphs.


I took the train up to Carlisle on the friday, caught the wending country bus to Ecclefechan, and got a lift to Rita’s cottage at the base of Burnswark, the old Roman fort she built her cottage beneath, a great plateau raised above the lowlands of the Borders. Her son Johnny, an Italian with the thickest cross of a mancunian-italian accent a bollixed linguist could imagine, had appeared and collected her ashes from the crematorium. The physical remains of Rita were contained in a cheap plastic urn, like a large cash tube from a deli. When you shook it, it sounded like dice in a well.

<>The following morning I wandered around Ecclefechan, the birthplace of Thomas Caryle. He wrote about and there’s nowhere more in need of his thoughts than Ecclefechan; it’s an empty, lonely town with a huge broad central road leading from nowhere to nowhere, a suburb in search of a city. The kids and teenagers stand around the bus-stop with nothing to do, seeing more than a handful of people on the high street must mean it’s a holiday and most people just drive everywhere. I’m sure its soul is warmer than that really, but to an outsider it feels brawer than a collie’s nose.<>

Anyway, at about
2 O’clock, we all headed up the hill, preceded by the piper blasting away. The farmer brought his quad-bike, with a trailer, and chauffeured the more elderly members up the slope to the stone on the flat top, like Boudiccea in her chariot. The air as we trudged up to the top of the hill was of a ramblers’ outing; we were all glad it was over for her and pleased to see so many people, from such diverse backgrounds, had come a long way to send her off. The wind was rough at the top so we got straight to it. Sir Rupert Buchanan-Jardine (scion of the Opium Warrios) made a little speech, my step-dad Tim read out some poetry he’d heard on Poetry Please, and then Johnny threw what remained of Rita into the wind, where she blew away into the shafts of sunlight over the firth. (apart from the rattley bits that toppled down the hill, where they’ll keep the sheep healthy and confuse future archeologists.


Anyway, Rita’s origins, from what I garnered at the funeral. Turns out I was wrong about her time during the war. Her dad came back to be with her mum as the war broke out, but went off to join the partisans (the anti-Nazi fighters). Her mum’s best friend (as her mum was English and spoke no Italian) was the local dressmaker, the only other Jew in the village. Heavily pregnant, Rita’s mother was walking to the central square where the dressmaker lived, to talk over what they should do as the Germans were coming. Rounding the corner, she sees the dressmaker’s shop has german tanks in front of it, and hears a scream as the dressmaker throws herself out of the first-storey window. Understandably, Rita’s mum faints.

When she comes to, she’s in labour. She crawls off to a relative who looks after her until Rita’s dad and his brothers turn up. They take Rita and her off into the woods, where she tries to give birth. Unfortunately, it’s a breech birth, and the baby dies. Rita’s mother is seriously ill, and bleeding heavily, so Partisan Dad reluctantly takes her to the hospital, sneaking her in and getting a promise from the resident priest not to tell anyone she’s Jewish. The priest, thinking it’s better the Partisans die than innocent villagers are persecuted, shops her to the Germans. (The square where Rita’s mum fainted is now named after that priest, Piazza Luigi Bosco, or so Rita said.) Thankfully, she dies before they get there. Not thankfully, they now know about Rita, who has to go with the partisans to the hills, and hence the cable car and wild child story.<>

Now, after the war, Rita falls for one of the partisans ‘because he looked like Errol Flynn’, though she didn’t really get on with him. Interestingly, this Errol was one of the partisan leaders, well known in the area, so the Nazis had also come for him. When they couldn’t get him, they’d captured his dad, and told him “Get the word out; either your son hands himself over to us, or we hang you in 24 hours.” The son was up in the mountains and didn’t hear until it was too late, and his father was hanging over the town. So Rita fell for this Errol-alike because of his looks, and the shared loss they had over their parents; They didn’t marry, cos he wasn’t the marrying type, but they did have a child, Johnny. Which is enough about Rita I think.
I’ve spent the day in frantic negotiation over a quibble. My boss wants a game to go in the magazine; his boss wants it with an even more frantic desire. I feel that it would be good for the magazine in the short term if it went in, bad in the long term, because the quality of review we’re going to get from a couple of days play for this particular title is likely to be very poor and damage our reputation with people who give one, even a flying one. That said, there’s a certain camaraderie building up between me and the put-upon PR, as we both act as the poultice absorbing the vitriol and tension from the developer and the magazine, and I feel like a soldier crouched in a trench while all sorts of shit flies overhead, who knows that when the war is over he’ll be able to have a pint with his opposite number and slag off the idiots who sent them unprepared into such a fight. Not that I’d use the word idiot with reference to anyone in authority, lawks no. And not that I’m going to tell you what the game is, unless you ask dead nice, like.
Welcome To Flying Thingz

Holy Flying Lawnmowers Batman!
The Deptford Mice - The Rat Lair

Does anyone else remember The Deptford Mice? This series frankly terrified me when I was a kid, and was the most unforgiving, horrifying thing I've ever read. It was like the siege of Munster (nice photo there) or Pol Pot's Cambodia but with anthropomorphised piratical rats and wussy mice and happening beneath our feet, all the time. You know that bit in Star Wars when Obi Wan gets struck down by the baddies, and the way he reappears as a sprite at the end? How it's moving and touching? In the Deptford mice, nigh on every last character is killed, and they all appear as ghosts, tormented monstrous ghosts, slave to a bloated, demonic cat. Equally tormenting was the idea of a leading character being chased down by an Owl, and eaten, and his friends finding his bones amidst the pellets. All those daft Duncton moles and Watership Down rabbits had nothing on it for childish visceral horror. Only Sendak comes anywhere near for.
The Deptford Mice - The Rat Lair

Does anyone else remember The Deptford Mice? This series frankly terrified me when I was a kid, and was the most unforgiving, horrifying thing I've ever read. It was like the siege of Munster (nice photo there) or Pol Pot's Cambodia but with anthropomorphised piratical rats and wussy mice and happening beneath our feet, all the time. You know that bit in Star Wars when Obi Wan gets struck down by the baddies, and the way he reappears as a sprite at the end? How it's moving and touching? In the Deptford mice, nigh on every last character is killed, and they all appear as ghosts, tormented monstrous ghosts, slave to a bloated, demonic cat. Equally tormenting was the idea of a leading character being chased down by an Owl, and eaten, and his friends finding his bones amidst the pellets. All those daft Duncton moles and Watership Down rabbits had nothing on it for childish visceral horror. Only Sendak comes anywhere near for.

Monday, October 11, 2004


Certainly the weirdest collection of writing about, if not the most boring. Give up any notion of being an author, as we all are now.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


Has been what? Oh...

Ben Folds, Aimee Mann, William Shatner. New album, some good tracks, the new Leonard Cohen?
Not really, no.
The new Leonard Nimoy?
Make it so.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Strange find: Soviet shuttle at Persian Gulf emerged - science - MIRROR ON-LINE ONE

Just testing out this photo blogging program with an old Picture of Toby, Phil and me. Posted by Hello
Filmfodder: Mel Brooks: Spaceballs Will Return


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

eBaby - Your Personal Baby Trading Community
More about Rita:

I'm not sure but I think Rita was from Cormayeur in Valle D'Aosta one of Italy's quirkier regions (not like it doesn't have loads), though she herself was Jewish. Her father was head-chef at the Savoy at London, but he left her back in the valley when he was working there. When war broke out, she was still there and her parents were in London, or so I'm told. With no supervision, she turned into something of a wild child, and by the time the Germans had arrived, she was a bit nutty.

Anyway, for her safety the partisans took her up into the mountains. They sat her beneath a tree and said "don't move" and went off to blow up the cable car. Well, she heard the explosion and she crouched down really small, and then she heard a wailing, whipping noise and looked up to see that the cable had snapped like an elastic band, hurtled through the air and wrapped itself around the tree above her head, burying itself deep in the trunk. Apparently, it's still there, or so she told me. Then she went back to being a wild child for the rest of the war.

Monday, October 04, 2004 | Broadcast | Fox News apologises for Kerry fabrication: "'Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!' Comparing himself to the president, Mr Kerry was supposed to have said: 'I'm metrosexual - he's a cowboy.' Women voters, he purportedly added, 'should like me! I do manicures.'"

"I wish I was allowed to make up quotes like that" said Edith Berman, 112, of Swinchaw, New Sidonia.

Astounding. A thorax-rattling piece of computer art.
Ah, my adoptive Irish-Italian-Jewish granny died of lung, lymph and liver cancer Wednesday morning around 4.30am. My mum and step-dad had driven up to Ecclefechan near Lockerbie to be with her on Monday, and she deteriorated rapidly over Monday and Tuesday. Apparently, she bent down to pick something up on Sunday night, couldn’t get back up and was stuck there for three hours.

It’s odd because she was possibly the strongest-willed person I’ve ever met; My mum and step-dad were with her on Tuesday night. She was obviously on the way out, had the morphine drip to stave off the pain, and my parents had been just praying that she’d go. Her friend Nancy (who works in an old folk’s home, and hence was used to it) just said “the heart’s too strong.” It’s soppy but then people are.

Rita’s already booked a piper for her wake (she hated bagpipes, but as she put it “I won’t be feckin there”) and she organised her cremation a couple of weeks back. Impressively, she bargained the funeral director down from £1,500 to £60. When he insisted that he needed all that cash to organise the ceremony, tidy the house, she said she didn’t want any of that, she’d done that herself all he had to do was drive her down to the cremation, and then ‘just burn me.’ Then she had a long go at him about exploiting the grieving. As I said, strong-willed. What she was planning to do with the saved cash isn’t clear.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

"I remember taking the train to Boston when I was a kid, to go record shopping with my allowance money. I usually got about three albums, and if one of them was, say, Yes' Tormato, that was it-- my music for the month. Our children should never live in that hell."

After lengthy disclaimers about suing government agents who access his computer, one user's reason for sharing music. Not logical, but enough.