Sunday, December 31, 2006

And so that was Christmas

  • The sounds, the smells as the flat's very first Christmas meal is assembled ingredient by ingredient in the kitchen.
  • Classic FM's Top 30 carols playing in the background as we cook and wrap presents to take to the family on Boxing Day. Opinion of Anne-Marie Minhall being severely dented when she reveals that her favourite Christmas tune is "Sleigh Ride", or something of that ilk.
  • The Christmas pudding brandy catching fire. Eventually.
  • Five nights in a conventional double bed. Good grief those things are titchy! How does any couple with one of those things manage not to divorce on the grounds of physical incompatibility, i.e. their spouse takes up more space than a matchbox?
  • One less murdering tyrant in the world than there was a year ago. (In fact two, if you count Pinochet.)
  • "Mummy?" / "I'm not your mummy." / "Mummy?" / "I'm your Uncle Ben." / "Mummy?" / "Mummy's gone into town." / "Mummy?" / "She'll be back soon." / "Mummy?" / "I'm not your mummy ..." 21-month-old niece auditions for a part in Dr Who.
  • Wondering how the mouse traps are doing ...

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

That's my king!

Preach it, brother. Happy Christmas!

Ah well, nice idea

Cunning plan to give partially sighted great aunt an audio copy of The New World Order scuppered by not having enough blank CDs to put it on. I was thinking in terms of storage space - two CDs is quite enough to hold the sound files - versus playing time, when a typical CD won't play much more than an hour or so. So, she gets an audio copy of the wedding instead, and an IOU.

A little alarming to find that Windows Media Player has given ratings to my audio files. I didn't know Windows could critique as well as everything else.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

This comes to you from ...

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Bishop Lord Ben the Subservient of Mellow under Trollness
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title


So there.

Round 2 to the ape descendants

This, children, is what you get for over reaching yourself. Once again it took the bait off one trap without setting it off.

When it came to the other trap, however ...

SQUEAK

A little annoying that it was able to waltz past all the pollyfilla anti-meteorite foam that I carefully squirted into every available crevice I could find behind the sink unit, but so it goes.

By the way - all that stuff about the well 'ard Swedish farmer's daughter who laughs in the face of humaneness? I'm still the one who has to dispose of the body.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Round 1 to the rodents

Disconcerting to take a kitchen utensil out of the drawer and find it mouse-nibbled. Slightly more concerting to remember using the utensil within the last week and it was fine - so whenever the incursion happened, it was recent.

But even so ...

Traps were purchased and set last night. This morning the traps were still there and the bait gone. Round 1 to them. Today we purchase foam to seal up the likely point of ingress (a patch of wainscoat that seems to have been removed when the sink unit was fitted) and we reset the traps. And wait.

"Humane!" pleaded our neighbour when she heard about this. Humane, pah. She was talking to a Swedish farmer's daughter. Where Best Beloved comes from, the nice warm farmhouses at this time of year are under siege from a field of gray undulating across the landscape. You look out into the yard and you can see the mice building trebuchets and assault towers. They know this is a no-prisoners battle. Humane??

Anyway, the woman offered us the use of her cats. She wants humane, and so she hires out her furry Gestapolings? Traps are a lot more humane than anything a cat can offer.

SQUEAK

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Stationery in motion

Once upon a time I accidentally got on the mailing list of Viking Direct, and started to get annoyed by the endless series of stationery catalogues that kept arriving. Asking them to stop didn't help. Marking them as "return to sender" or even "not known" didn't help. Eventually I got to putting them in an unstamped envelope and returning them that way. Took about five minutes after that to fall off the database.

However, they do have some soul, even if they are a large corporation, as this little gem shows.

http://www.stationerymovies.com/

And as I'm stuck on no. 14, I would welcome any assistance.

Sometimes SFX gets it right

Their review of New World Order a couple of years ago was not one such occasion. However, the description in the latest issue of the original Tomorrow People theme as "cybernetically-enhanced whale song" is spot on.

Enjoy.




Who needs drugs, eh?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Are you ready to WASSAIL?


The test of a good caroller, I've decided, is how many notes you think there are in "born the king of angels."

Anyway, that was fun. We carolled in the coffee lounge, mince pies were eaten, >£80 made for NSPCC.

I seem to have discovered my metier as a bass. If I possibly can then I prefer tenor, even if it comes out slightly flat (you don't notice if everyone is joining in). However, one of our number hadn't been able to join in the rehearsals due to a sore throat which has now gone; when I woke up yesterday I had a fair idea of where it had gone to. Sticking to bass seemed less likely to crack on the high notes like a fourteen-year-old. Of course, not actually being able to sight read music, my version of "bass" is the main tune sung a couple of octaves too low. But hey, it works.

We gave them the ever-cheerful Coventry Carol, 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' (with descant), 'King Jesus Hath a Garden', 'Away in a Manger' and 'O Come All ye Faithful' (also with descant). I can just about sing 'Away in a Manger' nowadays without coming out in hives. Well, you try being a five foot kid with choir training in a church of flat-voiced whispering children all at the four foot level, being made to stand out the front with the kiddies and sing the bloody thing year after year.

My editorial nature likes to pick at the inconsistencies in carols - like "Little Lord Jesus no crying he makes" versus "Tears and smiles like us he knew". My new issue is with 'King Jesus Hath a Garden'. I wasn't familiar with this one until a week ago, but take my word for it that in said garden:

" ...naught is heard
but Paradise bird
harp, dulcimer, lute
with cymbal
trump and tymbal
and the tender soothing flute."
So, naught is heard but ... and the song goes on to list eight things you can actually hear, which rather softens the impact of the naught. I can currently hear ... traffic on the road, the computer's fan, keyboard clicking, and very faint noises off from the other end of the flat. So in peaceful Paradise I can hear four more things than I currently can here.

Further, of those total eight, I just can't imagine harp and lute, two very gentle instruments, being accompanied by a cymbal and trumpet. Nor am I entirely sure what a tymbal is, apart from an obvious rhyme with cymbal that I'm coming to suspect they made up. ('Thimble' was probably tried but dropped for not making sense in the context, and they couldn't really tie it in with The Fugitive, so couldn't use Kimble either. They could have got 'nimble' in with a bit of effort.) I understand that birds of paradise have a song like a corncrake so maybe all those instruments are needed to drown the creature out, and the tender soothing flute is the musical analgesic one needs by the end of it all.

It's good to sing carols from different times with different takes on the English language. Filtering through it all helps you focus on the perennial take-home messages rather than anything cute, Victorian and snowy.

I'm all right

At Pirates of Penzance last week, we were sitting at the end of a row. Come the interval, everyone in the row slowly shuffled towards the aisle. Save the woman next to us, who ... stopped. And talked to a couple sitting in the row in front. And talked. And talked.

It was a narrow row. There was no graceful way past her, though several less graceful ways began to occur to me. I'll be charitable and assume 100% loss of peripheral vision in her right eye. Still doesn't excuse the people she was talking to, who very well could see us and could have given her a gentle nudge. In the end we clambered over the chairs into the next row.

How do people do this?

Likewise, I learnt this morning that there are people somewhere in our neighbourhood who think 4.30 a.m. is a good time for shouting "goodbye" very loudly to each other and revving car engines. Though this is a happier sound to hear at this time than "hello" because it does at least imply they are leaving the neighbourhood and soon silence shall fall once again.

We live in a world of six billion people. How how how how how are people able to blot the other 5,999,999,999 from their worldview?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Traditions and innovations

I didn't decorate at Christmas for years and years. Maybe because of childhood flashbacks to perforating my fingers with holly decked over the tops of pictures. Maybe because of laziness. Christmas 2000, my first self-employed Christmas, was when I bought my first tree, tinsel, crib ... Well, everything else in life had changed and I was spending a lot more time at home.

Christmas 2006 is our first married Christmas and hence our first opportunity to combine resources. Which tree do we keep? Which crib? Where do we put the cards? Tinsel? Etc?

(We can answer at least the tree one - the small one goes in the living room, the large one goes in the Boy's room because, well, it can.)

Not to mention this little chappy on the left. You've all seen the kind of thing - candles create an updraft which revolves the decoration, in this case cherubs dangling metal bits which chime against bells every 360 degrees (slow speed) or 180 degrees (faster speed when the metal bits incline slightly more outwards). Either way it produces an irregular ching ... ching ... (silence) ... ching ... that can be compared to Yuletide water torture, but hey, it's festive. It also casts an exciting time/space continuinuinuinum effect on the ceiling.

Another Christmas tradition we have developed over the last couple of years is the Kennington United Choirs Gilbert & Sullivan production, this year Pirates of Penzance. These are more recitals than performances - the performers use the barest minimum of props, stand up at the front of Kennington Methodist church and do the show. All much more fun than a regular production. Grey hair is a noticeable feature, and as G&S scripts tend to emphasise the virileness of the young heroes and the maidenity of the young heroines, seeing them played by people for whom being of a certain age is but a distant memory (and sent up for laughs) just adds to the enjoyment.

And - who knows? - yet another Christmas tradition may have been generated this morning with a churchful of people chanting out a carol to the tune of Queen's "We will rock you", clapping and stamping out the rhythm. Much more fun than po-faced "Once in royal David's city". But I doubt the organisers of Carols at Kings will be using it in the near future. Their loss.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Something for the weekend # 3: Best White Christmas ever

http://badaboo.free.fr/merryxmas.swf

Something for the weekend # 2: Jack Black in Lord of the Rings

Something for the weekend # 1: Bush bumper stickers

Acknowledgement made to the unsung geniuses circulating these by e-mail and posting on sites.
  • Is It Vietnam Yet?
  • That’s OK, I Wasn’t Using My Civil Liberties Anyway.
  • Bush. Like a Rock. Only Dumber.
  • Let’s Fix Democracy in This Country First.
  • If You Want a Nation Ruled By Religion, Move to Iran.
  • If You Can Read This, You’re Not the President.
  • Of Course It Hurts: You’re Getting Screwed by an Elephant.
  • George Bush: Creating the Terrorists Our Kids Will Have to Fight.
  • (over a photo of Bush) Electile Dysfunction.
  • America: One Nation, Under Surveillance.
  • They Call Him “W” So He Can’t Misspell It.
  • Which God Do You Kill For?
  • Jail to the Chief.
  • No, Seriously, Why Did We Invade Iraq?
  • Bush: God’s Way of Proving Intelligent Design is Full of Crap.
  • Bad President! No Banana.
  • We Need a President Who’s Fluent In At Least One Language.
  • We’re Making Enemies Faster Than We Can Kill Them.
  • Guess What? Bush Doesn’t Care About Poor White People, Either.
  • When Bush Took Office, Gas Was $1.46.
  • The Republican Party: Our Bridge to the 11th Century.
  • What Part of “Bush Lied” Don’t You Understand?
  • Bush Lost Iraq. Deal With It.
  • Even Nixon Resigned
  • Republicans for Voldemort.
  • Who Would Jesus Torture?
  • Would Someone Give Him A Blowjob So We Can Impeach Him Already?
  • IRAQ: Arabic for Vietnam.
  • Give Bush an Inch and He Thinks He’s a Ruler.
  • Bring Back Monica Lewinsky.
  • My Country Invaded Iraq and All I Got Was This Expensive Gas.
  • I MISS BILL.
  • If He Were My Bush I’d Shave Him Off.
  • My Kid’s an Honor Student and My President’s a Moron.
  • My Other President Was Elected.
  • When Jesus Said Love Your Enemies, I’m Pretty Sure He Meant Don’t Kill Them.
  • When Clinton Lied, Nobody Died.
  • Vampire Slayers Against Bush.
  • PBS Mind In a Fox News World.
  • I Never Thought I’d Miss Nixon.
  • Re-elect Jeb Bartlett.

Ted

Ted is sixteen years old, a little above medium height, brown eyes, blond-brown hair that he likes to spike. He lives in Salisbury. He is the oldest of three siblings and feels very protective towards the younger two, especially as his brother (the middle of the three) is a full-time resident of the paediatric unit at hospital. His stepfather is a conveyancing solicitor and the two do not get on. He left school after his GCSEs and is spending the summer working in an antiquarian bookshop before doing his A-levels at college. He also has various other issues that I won't go into here. Have you worked out that he's a character in a book yet?

The one problem I have with Ted is ... his name. Sometimes a character goes through several renamings before I hit on the right one. Sometimes I just know what that character's name is, and this one's is Ted, though I couldn't tell you if it's short for Edward or Theodore; probably the former as he's English.

But ...

I'm 13,000 words in to the next book and the number of times I've already had to work around "Ted said" or "said Ted" is getting silly. (Or in one case, "Ted lay on his bed with his hands behind his head.") It's also surprising how often he says said something else that rhymes with his name: thus (e.g.) "'it's red,' said Ted."

I could use synonyms for "said", but while I don't mind doing that occasionally, "said" remains the best word because it is so unobtrusive. The reader's eye glides over it and gets on with the narrative. You can have "answered," "responded", "shouted", "laughed" ... but use them sparingly. (Especially "ejaculated", which technically would work but is more generally taken to mean something else. And it's not that kind of novel.) Ted can't be the only character to get through the novel without ever just saying something.

The other obvious answer is to rename him, but as I've said, Ted (there I go again) is Ted. In my head. You'd think there's lots of boy's names available, but ... I don't like to use the names of people I know reasonably well. I'm not going to use the names of males of any age to whom I'm related. And other names just don't seem to work.

I once knew a Greg(ory), so called because his mother fancied the actor Mr Peck around the time of his birth. The double glazing salesman from hell that I used to live beneath had been named after Roger Moore's character from The Persuaders (seriously - his first and middle names were Brett Sinclair). Ted would have been born in 1990, so who was famous and fanciable then? Gary Lineker? Hmm, a possibility. But of course, the book won't be published for at least three or more years, so maybe I should look at 1993 or later.

Now I think of it, Gary is growing on me, as it were ... damn! I know one!

Ian? Hmm. Don't know where that came from. Knew an Ian at university, haven't seen much of him since ... Ian ... hmm.

Still not Ted, though.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Further thoughts of Ha!Ha!

I've always felt that pubs etc that insist on putting mint and condom vending machines side by side in the gents are asking for trouble. Ha!Ha! goes one step further and sells mints and condoms from the same machine. Which is really playing with fire.

"Well, love, I got us ... um ... uh ... some really nice mints."

It also amuses me that one of these products is labelled "easy on". As opposed to ...?

Ha!Ha! said the clown

The one time I've been done by a speed camera was driving down Botley Road, so being on the same stretch last night I stuck religiously to the limit. Which made it unnerving and annoying to be overtaken on the inside by the Seacourt park-and-ride in the bus lane.

Anyway, to Oxford last night for the first of two divisional Christmas dinners (the advantage of working for two divisions!) at the oddly named Ha!Ha! in what was formerly Oxford Jail/Castle. And all I can say is wow. They've done the place up nice - where once men toiled and groaned in captivity we now have a secluded, swish looking precinct full of trendy wine bars and expensive apartments that could actually make me want to live in the centre of Oxford ... if I was very rich. I could actually feel like a thrusting dynamic IT professional out on the town with colleagues rather than a jobbing editor slumming it in a day job until the phone call from Spielberg.

Ha!Ha! has nice food, reasonably priced, good service, high quality crackers with useful key rings and facts rather than corny jokes, music maybe a bit too loud. And the interesting feature on the left - a bowl of gas fire. My one suggestion would be that they turn the external lights on. You can take the dark, secluded look a bit too far - I only found it eventually on the second circumnavigation of the castle. Though the first circumnavigation was very instructive.

We also popped into Malmaison just to gawk - that's the hotel and restaurant in what was once the main jail building. You too can spend the night in what was a jail cell! And though this also looks very swish, with thick carpets and indirect hidden lighting ... by 'eck, you want to obey the law.

Nor was I the only one thinking of Noel Coward's last scene in The Italian Job.

Next week, Le Bistro Celte in Abingdon ...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Carols to cut your wrists to

A small group from work congregated last night to rehearse some carols that will be performed in the coffee lounge some lunchtime next week. I thought it might be fun - I haven't done organised carols since I was in the choir at school - and it was, even though for the first time I actually looked at the words of the Coventry Carol.

Sometimes I wish I was Jewish just so I could express it properly. Oy vey! The first hint is the cheery note at the bottom of the score: "This song is sung by the women of Bethlehem in the play, just before Herod's soldiers come in to slaughter their children." It's the ultimate lullaby. The women have obviously heard what's on the cards, and rather than flee they seem to have decided to hang around Bethlehem and see what happens. Though they already have a pretty good idea. Little donkeys and sweet singing in the choir this ain't.

Since what happened in Bethlehem once happens in places like Darfur every day, something like the Coventry Carol should be sung in every carol service. You know, just to keep us grounded.

The descendants of whoever wrote it went on to form Pink Floyd.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Windows crash

A year ago, the Buncefield explosion rattled the windows. To mark the anniversary, one of them decided to end it all and plunge to a horrible death on the driveway below. A loud crack at about 11.15 last night, followed a moment later by a distant tinkle. The pane had just snapped. Fortunately three quarters of it are still in situ, including the slightly dodgy bit we had always pegged as most likely to be the first to go. Strange.

Ever tried picking up bits of glass lying on dark tarmac by torchlight with gardening gloves?

Now, what do you do when you have a broken pane of glass in a window that goes up and down, but doesn't swing in or out, and it's thirty feet up off the ground, impossible to repair without scaffolding which will cost a lot of money? Exactly. You plug the hole and wait until the good weather next year when we were getting the frames restored anyway. Like all flaws with windows, we have relabelled our new-look not-very-see-through cardboard window pane as a feature.

Clerihew Corner

Augusto Pinochet
Had a peculiar way
Of safeguarding all we hold dear about western civilisation
By subjecting dissidents to torture and extermination.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Just got back from London City

Just got back from the 2006 Random House Children's Books Christmas Party, my annual excuse to brag that I get invited to the same parties as Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett. (Though if Pterry was there this year I didn't see him.) No interesting overheard conversations this year, though. And even though we were in the same city as the tornado, we didn't see any of that either. At the time of the really foul weather we were sheltering in a Pret in Baker Street, mournful sax solos playing at the back of my mind as they always do when I'm in that part of town.

Best Beloved came to London too to get biometricated at the embassy for a new passport; then we wandered down Park Lane, she went off to express herself through the medium of retail, I popped into Apsley House with an hour to kill and then onwards in the direction of Berkeley Square to drink wine and eat nibbles. Though there seemed to be a zone around me that only attracted wine waiters and repulsed nibble-bearers.

The things that occur to you on the coach. It suddenly struck me on the way in that World War 2 was a great shame. There are some fantastic examples of 1930s architecture on the A40 into town. The Hoover Building is a particular favourite. The way is also lined with 1930s semis, all larger and nicer looking than many of their modern contemporaries with the same number of rooms. The thirties was a time when we had shaken off WW1 and were finally getting the hang of being comfortably modern in the twentieth century. Then along comes WW2 and condemns us all to decades of post-war austerity and a penny pinching meanness of spirit that still lingers.

Of course, there are other reasons why many people disapproved of WW2 and my gripe is a long way down the list. Still, I offer it for consideration.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Eat your heart out, Indiana Jones

Ben the amateur archaeologist has been doing some not very difficult archaeologing. I've known about all these disparate elements at the place that I work for some time but for some reason they all fell into place today.

For a start, I knew that the entire Harwell site used to be RAF Harwell, a bomber field during WW2. Then ...

This monument is right at the edge of the site, next to the A4185 shortly before it joins the A34. On the other side is this plaque:



Just in case your graphics aren't up to it, it reads:
"This stone marks the end of the runway from which aircraft of No. 38 Group, Royal Air Force, took off on the night of 5th June 1944 with troops of the 6th Airborne Division who were the first British soldiers to land in Normandy in the main assault for the liberation of Europe."
(A quick note: I've also been to where the 6th Airborne Division was heading - Pegasus Bridge, in Normandy, the first bit of Europe to be liberated. So I've been to both ends of the flight.)

Turn 180 degrees from the monument and you see this:



The end of the historic runway in question - now just wasteland. You can just make out the curve of the Diamond Light Source doughnut halfway down. Note also the crane sticking up at a 45 degree angle, for reasons I will come to.

In the picture below you can just make out the runways of RAF Harwell, courtesy of Google Maps (picture obviously taken a couple of years ago, hence Diamond being a big circular patch of mud).

Letters (a) and (b) show the two ends of what was presumably the main runway, now Fermi Avenue. (c) and (d) are the two ends of the historic runway; the monument is at (d). And this is why it has attracted my interest because here is a close-up of (c), the start of the historic runway:



... right at the end of our carpark. I've been parking yards away from a bit of history for the last 2.5 years and I had no idea. The crane mentioned above is being used to construct the building shown here. That's how we treat our heritage.

Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy

From somewhere, the Boy got the bare bones of the chorus of that 1970s slice of uberkäse, C.W. McCall's Convoy. To stop him mangling it any further we did some web searching and found this Sims-like video on Youtube. Ah, the memories brought back.



If you want to know what on earth he's saying, it's here. And what it means, here.

If "Mercy sakes alive" was the strongest way your average trucker had of expressing himself, the world might be a slightly nicer place.

There was of course the spoof soon after - Convoy G.B. by Laurie Lingo (ooh, I just got that!), which is actually quite funny (unlike most parodies). Lyrics and a downloadable MP3 here, though you need to listen to the original first to know why something like this amuses me:
"The combine harvester shred a wheel,
And the driver lost control.
And a mobile DJ crashed his van,
So we ain't gonna play no Soul, 10 - 4."

Party like it's 1983

The rules:
1. Go to http://popculturemadness.com/Music/index.html, and find the greatest hits for the year you turned 18. Which in my case was 1983.
2. Select at least the first 40.
3. Bold the ones you like.
4. Strike out the ones you hate.
5. Italicize the ones you are familiar with but neither like nor hate.
6. Leave plain the ones you don't recognize.

And the totally pointless answers are:

1. It's Raining Men - The Weather Girls
2. Come On Eileen - Dexy's Midnight Runners
3. Flashdance (What A Feeling) - Irene Cara
4. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
5. Wanna Be Starting Something - Michael Jackson
6. You and I - Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle
7. Rock The Casbah - The Clash
8. Bang The Drum All Day - Todd Rundgren
9. Ain't Nobody - Rufus and Chaka Khan
10. Kiss The Bride - Elton John
11. Electric Avenue - Eddie Grant
12. Seperate Ways (Worlds Apart) - Journey
13. Let's Go Dancin' (Ooh La, la, La) - Kool and the Gang [but I suspect I would strike it if I heard it.]
14. We've Got Tonight - Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton
15. 1999 - Prince
16. Rio - Duran Duran
17. Sexual Healing - Marvin Gaye
18. New Year's Day - U2
19. Beat It - Michael Jackson
20. I Melt With You - Modern English
21. Down Under - Men At Work
22. Candy Girl - New Edition
23. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me - Culture Club [strike strike strike strike strike. George, don't ask such leading questions.]
24. Pass The Dutchie - Musical Youth
25. Faithfully - Journey
26. Rock of Ages - Def Leppard
27. Tonight I Celebrate My Love - Peabro Bryson & Roberta Flack
28. True - Spandau Ballet
29. Inside Love (So Personal) - George Benson
30. All Night Long (All Night) - Lionel Ritchie
31. Safety Dance - Men Without Hats
32. Little Red Corvette - Prince
33. Our House - Madness
34. Tell Her About It - Billy Joel
35. Mornin' - Al Jarreau
36. Total Eclipse of the Heart - Bonnie Tyler [And bold many times over]
37. Boogie Down - Al Jarreau
38. Sharp Dressed Man - ZZ Top
39. Photograph - Def Leppard
40. Mr. Roboto - Styx

Friday, December 01, 2006

On the matte

Very exciting - the glossy has arrived. This is a brochure advertising a new service and it has had a gestation period as swift and carefree as a breech-born baby elephant. It has gone from a six page fold-out to a four page; the content has been revised more often than the source code for Outlook, and that was after the official editorial sign-off. But it's here and that's what counts.

Just one thing to lead to confusion has been that we constantly refer to it as "the glossy". In actual fact it is not gloss but the exact opposite, matte laminate, meaning it has a very appealing silky smooth moleskin feel. But we can't call it the mattie because that sounds silly, dunnit?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The phrase rhymes with 'clucking bell'

The Boy brought home a bit of paper strongly recommending that we buy him an entirely optional OUP workbook in preparation for the exam he will take on Tuesday 16 January, which will contribute towards his final GCSE grades.

Hang on, that's ... running out of fingers here ... 49 days time.

THE BOY'S GCSEs START IN 49 DAYS TIME??

You can't do that! He's too young! Too young I tell you!

I remember my first O-level, as we called it back in the days when you could still buy 75s to play on your gramophone. History. Spanish Civil War. (The subject of the exam, not the time it happened.) I was ill. Didn't stop me taking the exam, only interrupted by idiot nurse trying to offer me tea and cake halfway through and almost being screamed at to go away in case she invalidated the results or something.

But I was sixteen. Sixteen! That's old enough to marry. I was prepared. I was emotionally and spiritually mature. I got a D but let's not go there.

He's at Scouts at the moment. We have an hour to shriek and wibble and run around the flat, before getting into supportive mode. Must try not to hug him when he comes through the door.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Compare and contrast

Two books finished this week.
  1. Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson. Approx. 200,000 words, took a fortnight to read for review in Vector. Seventh in the back-wrenching Dune series (not counting Brian & Kevin's two prequel trilogies), based on notes left by Frank Herbert; intended by Frank as the series finale, but B&K have thoughtfully decided at least one further volume can be wrung out of it. The first Dune novel I've read since struggling through GodAwful Emperor of Dune all those years ago. It's ... okay. Could have been half the length and lost absolutely nothing. Only finished it out of a sense of reviewer's duty.
  2. Small Steps by Louis Sachar. Approx. 30,000 words, read it within 24 hours. A follow-on from and not quite as good as Holes; still a delight from beginning to end with charm, fun, excitement and a hook that keeps you reading.
I want to be like Louis Sachar. The thought of earning a living like Brian and Kevin is just too depressing. Brian and Kevin are the dinosaurs; massive lumbering beasts that seem to own all they survey. Louis is the small vole-like mammal living underfoot that one day will inherit the earth. Go mammals.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Me and the Maori

I was reminded of this by this from Liz Williams. Let the upmanship begin.

My great great grandfather, George Cleghorn MD, lived in New Zealand and gave a lot of health care to the local Maori. Also because he could do joined up writing, he wrote letters to the Government on their behalf. He was made a paramount chief - Arikinui - as a reward. This being at a time when some of his contemporaries in Australia were clearing the land by driving Aborigines over cliffs, I'm quite proud of him. The routine included being presented with a kiwi feather cloak and other gifts. The title lapsed when he died, and his second wife (who is also my great great great aunt, by a strange quirk of genealogy), not knowing what else to do, loaned the cloak to an Oxford museum, on a 3-year lease. This was 1913.

The first we heard of this was when New Zealand relatives came to visit in the late nineties. "Oh, Ben (rather: 'Ow, Been'), you live in Oxford, go and find the cloak." Apparently Maori culture suggests that after a generation or two an heirloom should be returned to the donor.

Finding it wasn't as hard as it sounds as there was really only one museum in Oxford it could be; and sure enough, in the Maori section in the far left corner of the ground floor of the Pitt Rivers, there it is, along with a load of others. It's dark purple with darker spots - as kiwis are.

(Later we took some relatives to view it. The cloaks are stacked like wrapping paper in a shop and you can only see a little bit of each. "Oh, you're interested in cloaks," deduced a smiling guide, and she pulled back the curtains on a special glass case and switched on the light so that we could see an entire specimen, a quite impressive thing done [if I recall] in red and white and black. "Very nice," we said politely, and turned back to our five square centimetres of personal heritage.)

The museum weren't having any of this "heirloom reverts to the donor" stuff, of course, taking the (not unreasonable) line that even though the tag on the cloak says "loaned by Mrs Cleghorn" an unclaimed loan after a century is pretty well a gift in its own right. But the upside was that contact with the Maori was restored, and they were so touched that we had thought of returning the cloak that when my parents made the trip to the other side of the world Dr George's title was bestowed on my mother. For good measure they made my father a slightly inferior paramount chief (just ariki) so that he could make a thank you speech, as women can be paramount chiefs but they still can't speak publicly. They were presented with cloaks of their own, of pheasant feathers and (ahem) puppy fur, and one day the title will come to me.

But since my mother would have to die first, I'm really in no hurry.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Fewer photo opportunities than an impaled chicken

Take:
  • 400g mushrooms
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 onion
  • as many cloves of garlic as you're comfortable with
  • 40g flour
  • paprika
  • thyme
  • 1/2 pint milk
  • 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice (or just juice the half a lemon that's hanging around in your fridge)
  • 750g potatoes (though we actually went a couple of spuds over this and it was still a bit thin)
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • more paprika
  1. Find a dark, wet, windy November evening requiring warm spicy comfort food.
  2. Simmer spuds for 20 minutes to make tender
  3. Fry chopped onion, celery and garlic for five minutes in butter, then add mushrooms and cook for a further 2 minutes
  4. Sprinkle flour over mushroom mixture, stir, add paprika and thyme. Remove from heat, stir in milk, return to heat until sauce thickens. Remove again and stir in lemon juice. Season to taste and set aside.
  5. Mash potatoes with milk and butter.
  6. Pour mushroom mixture into oven dish, cover with mashed potatoes, sprinkle with paprika, bake for 20 minutes.
  7. Accompany with red wine and follow up with chocolate-intensive dessert.
And that's how we spent Friday evening.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Quote unquote

Poking through the darkest recesses of my documents folder I came across a file of quotes. I have no memory of making it; in fact it probably dates back over a decade to the earliest days of PC ownership. But since I still by and large enjoy and/or agree with most of them, here they are.

"This nightmare occupied some ten pages of manuscript, and wound up with a sermon so destructive of all hope to non-Presbyterians that it took the first prize."
- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Jesus said unto them: Who do you say that I am? And They replied: 'You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationship.' And Jesus said: 'What?'
"It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper."
-- Rod Serling
A bore is someone who persists in holding his own views after we have enlightened him with ours.
"Science investigates: religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complimentary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns and to the broader concerns of all humanity."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
"Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
"It is still one of the tragedies of human history that the 'children of darkness' are frequently more determined and zealous than the 'children of light.'"
- Martin Luther King Jr.
"Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
"Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day, but give him a case of dynamite and soon the village will be showered with mud and seaweed and unidentifiable chunks of fish."
- Anon (but definitely not Martin Luther King)
"We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity."
*** quotation in the FT of a rejection letter from a Chinese journal***
"When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."
- C. S. Lewis, "On Three Ways of Writing for Children"
"It is always the writer's duty to make the world a better place."
- Samuel Johnson
"It's not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, it's that it has so rarely been tried at all." -
GK Chesterton
"I'd like to teach you all a little saying
And learn these words by heart the way you should.
I don't say I'm no better than anybody else --
But I'll be danged if I ain't just as good!"
-- Aunt Eller, Oklahoma!
"It's okay to have something cute on the show (kids, bears) as long as something terrible happens to them by the end"
- J Michael Straczynski, on Babylon 5
This writing business, pencils and whatnot. Overrated if you ask me.
-- Eeyore
"The Army has carried the American ideal to its logical conclusion. Not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on ability."
-- Tom Lehrer
"Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where."
-- C.S. Lewis
"I'm all for teaching creation and allowing prayers in schools, as soon as scholars begin teaching darwinism and geometry in church."
-- J Michael Straczynski
"Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us."
-- Thomas Paine
"You see, I don't believe that libraries should be drab places where people sit in silence, and that's been the main reason for our policy of employing wild animals as librarians."
-- Monty Python
"There is no half-way house and there is no parallel to other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him 'Are you the son of Bramah?' he would have said, 'My son you are still in the vale of illusion.' If you had gone to Socrates and asked, 'Are you Zeus?' he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, 'Are you Allah?' he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius, 'Are you Heaven?' I think he would have probably replied, 'Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.' The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man. If you think you are a poached egg, when you are looking for a piece of toast to suit you, you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you. We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met Him. He produced mainly three effects - Hatred - Terror - Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval."
-- C.S. Lewis
"One of the advantages of pure congregational singing is that you can join in whether you have a voice or not. The disadvantage is that your neighbor can do the same."
-Charles Dudley Warner
"Too narrow is the house of my soul for you to enter into it: Let it be enlarged by you. It lies in ruins; build it up again."
- Saint Augustine, Confessions
"When I consider the extreme corruption prevalent among all orders of men in this old rotten state ... numberless and needless places, enormous salaries, pensions, perquisites, bribes, groundless quarrels, foolish expeditions, false accounts or no accounts, contracts and jobs that devour all revenue ..."
- Benjamin Franklin, on why Britain and the 13 Colonies would not be entering into a closer union
"A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."
--Thomas Jefferson (First Inaugural Address)

Life is art, art is life

From the Internet Movie Database today:
"Pope Benedict XVI has turned down an invitation to attend the premiere of new movie The Nativity Story on Sunday, even though it will be screened in The Vatican. Sixteen-year-old Whale Rider actress Keisha Castle-Hughes stars as Jesus' mother Mary, but the fact the New Zealander is pregnant and unmarried is said to have embarrassed the Catholic Church."
...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Oh-h-h-h yeah, feels go-o-o-o-od ...

The new, charity-supporting credit card has arrived and been activated. It has a small, realistic credit limit. Its statements are concise and easy to read, and do not announce the sum of credit limit minus balance as "available to spend". Nor do its backers send me blank cheques drawn against it, with helpful hints like "why not write yourself a cheque for your current account to give yourself some funds?"

The old MBNA card has been cut in two and returned to its owners with its final statement. Thought of scribbling "that's for my parents' friend's daughter and the git you employed that she married", but felt that would be childish unless by some million-to-one chance he was the one to process the cancellation.

Yes, it feels good.

The other day I got some junk mail from MBNA exhorting me to take out a loan to finance a putative dream holiday. The envelope was emblazoned "Do You Like to Get Away?"

The irony is not lost.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ben: the musical

Okay, of all the various self-revealing memes to be doing the rounds of the blogosphere, this is probably the least meaningful. Well, possibly except the "which tarot card are you" one that I did a couple of days ago and chose not to reproduce here. ("The Hierophant", if you really want to know.)

So, revealing absolutely nuthin' with a big nut, the rules are:
  1. Open your music library
  2. Put it on shuffle
  3. Press play
  4. For every question, type the song that's playing
  5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
  6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool...
The result gets you the soundtrack to the movie of your life. So here we go ...
  1. Opening Credits: Shakespears Sister - I don't care
  2. Waking Up: Cher - The Shoop Shoop Song
  3. First Day at School: Howard Jones - New Song
  4. Falling in Love: The Doors - Light my fire [1]
  5. Fight Song: Gerry Rafferty - Don't speak of my heart
  6. Breaking Up: Marillion- Fugazi
  7. Prom: Cher - Gypsies tramps and thieves [2]
  8. Life is Good: The Hollies - Air that I breathe [1]
  9. Mental Breakdown: Sweet - Blockbuster
  10. Driving: The Doors - People are strange [3]
  11. Flashback: Marillion - Assassing
  12. Getting Back Together: Fun Boy Three - Our lips are sealed
  13. Wedding: Animotion - Obsession [1]
  14. Paying the Dues: Goldfrapp - Ooh la la
  15. The Night Before the War: Al Stewart - Year of the Cat [4]
  16. The Final Battle: Stone Roses - Waterfall
  17. Moment of Triumph: Urge Overkill - Girl you'll be a woman soon [1]
  18. Death Scene: Jonathan Richman - Egyptian reggae [5]
  19. Funeral Song: New Musik - Living by numbers
  20. End Credits: The Stranglers - Genetix [6]
[1] Quite appropriate, really.
[2] I only have three Cher tracks, honest, and one of them features Sonny too. [And no, it's not "I got you babe".] It's just a shame that two of them came up here ...
[3] Especially the ones you meet driving over the double mini roundabouts on Drayton Road.
[4] Actually a song I keep meaning to delete. On the plus side, it manages to rhyme "coolly" and "patchouli", and get away with it.
[5] Oh, please play this at my funeral!
[6] Clearly, Ben will return ...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Money for old rope is not always a bad thing

Depends what you do with the rope, doesn't it?

The Boy didn't fully understand what was being done to Daniel Craig during the torture scene until I explained it on the way home in the car. Then he was writhing.

Anyway. Casino Royale.

Best. Bond. Ever.

It has acting. It has characterisation. The plot is not silly. The credit sequence is not boring and semi-pornographic. And when you finally get to hear the classic Bond theme right at the end, you actually feel it's because Bond has earned it.

Ben's Best Bonds By Bond:

Sean Connery
  • From Russia With Love
  • Goldfinger
George Lazenby
  • On Her Majesty's Secret Service. (This being the only Lazenby it has to be the best and the worst of his offering. It's actually a darn good Bond movie, let down by a not very good Bond. Think of it as The One with Louis Armstrong and Diana Rigg.)
Roger Moore
  • For Your Eyes Only (also with acting and characterisation, and the best line of all the Moores, as a teen nymphette tries to seduce him: "put your clothes on and I'll buy you an ice cream.")
Timothy Dalton
  • The Living Daylights
Pierce Brosnan
  • The World is Not Enough (finally giving M something to do; in fact, I'll be heretical and say Judi Dench brings more to the role than Bernard Lee did.)
You may gather I incline more towards strong story lines featuring international espionage and acts of derring-do rather than scenery chewing megalomaniacs who want to rule the world. Again. So that's where I'm coming from when I repeat - Best. Bond. Ever.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I would say Happy Blogiversary

... except that even in a field renowned for its neologisms, that is a particularly naff one. Still, you get the gist. I started this blog a year ago. A full solar orbit later and that in-depth analytical critique of the music of Men Without Hats has blossomed into commentary on life, death, religion, matrimony (pending, imminent and on-going), writing, chickens and the occasional hint that I'm quite a Dr Who fan.

To mark the occasion I've even changed the picture at the top. No longer Ben and his good mate Cybes, taken at the 2005 World SF Convention in Glasgow; now Ben in his Matrix audition photo (I was smiling too much, I never had a chance), taken on the most important of the last 365 days.

Here's a last chance to see the old. For the record, you had to donate money to (if I recall correctly) cancer research for the privilege of being snapped with a cyberman, so it was all in a good cause. Also included in the background: a TARDIS, a TARDIS console and (if you look very closely at the blue blur on the left) a Stargate. Honestly, I was there for the literary criticism.

Bye bye!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Boom, boom, boom

I wore my red (RED, got that? RED) poppy and I stood for two minutes silence on Sunday. Which is as well, because on Saturday, the actual anniversary of the Armistice, at 11 a.m. on the 11th of the 11th, I was running around in a wood near Andover, shooting at people with paintballs.

This was a company social at which family members were welcome, so a couple of spouses joined us and I brought the Boy too. The opposition was a bunch of chavs, oiks, bounders and general non-gentlemen who didn’t always take their shots unless there was a marshal actually there to tell them to (‘yeah, who does?’ was the response of one of them when challenged). Ours was the moral victory, theirs the actual one. So in a way, this was quite a suitable activity for the day as by the end there was the definite feeling that we were the ones upholding the standards of decency and civilisation. A doomed venture, but one worth fighting for. Come the last game of the day, when we had to defend a fort with our carefully measured remaining ammunition, I could feel the ghosts of Captain Mainwaring and the Alamo defenders looking over my shoulder.

But, back to the war. I have in my mind what I think would be a killer opening chapter to a novel set during WW1. But I can’t get beyond that opening chapter in my head, as every subsequent plot outline I can think of devolves into a fantasy novel of good vs evil, and you just can’t make the real world WW1 a secondary struggle to a purely made-up fantasy one. It would be demeaning and insulting. Nor could you link it to the real WW1, as even if non-Germans at the time thought it had a reasonably happy ending, sadly we in the present day know what came next.

Of course, you can set a novel during WW1. Bird Song. All Quiet on the Western Front. Private Peaceful (which, like Joey in Friends, I wanted to put in the fridge when I finished). Blackadder showed you can even set a comedy during it. But in all of these, even Blackadder, the war is treated with the utmost respect – it’s bigger than any of them, and ultimately it’s the war that wins. There may be a fantasy novel waiting to be written during WW1 and I (who knows?) may be the one to write it, but not yet. Not until I’ve got that angle completely straight.

If it does happen, it might feature another idea I’ve had at the back of my mind for some time – take the cute Victorian/Edwardian kids of E. Nesbit’s novels (The Railway Children, The Treasure Seekers, Five Children and It) and stick ’em in the trenches. Hah.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Vows of sacrifice, headless chickens

For the record, this is what a chicken looks like when impaled on a pierced can of Adnams. Red colour is due to the heavily paprika-based seasoning rubbed into it. Roast at gas mark 6 for 75 minutes and it doesn't so much need carving as poking - the flesh just melts off the bone.

Extreme yum.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Chicken in

Thanks to the fine people at Mostly Books I've been directed to Sophie Grigson's recipe for beer-can chicken. This strikes me as a most responsible use for (a) a chicken and (b) a can of beer. I may well be trying this. Maybe with some Italian arborio rice.

Game on

The Boy despairs of my gaming preferences. If it doesn't require at least 1Gb RAM and come on six CDs, it isn't worth the time of day.

He thinks Luddite, I say classically minded. Minesweeper and Tetris are horrendously addictive. Further up the ladder of complexity, the original Lemmings can still never be beat, even if it's a lot harder now to play the original DOS game on an XP computer. I mean, anything where the background music can segue effortlessly from electronic beepy 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' into electronic beepy 'The Good, the Bad & the Ugly' can only be art.

More accessible to a modern PC, and written in very much the same spirit, is Flea Circus (thanks to friend David C for introducing me): it's still all about getting your little creatures from A to B avoiding various obstacles and using a limited set of props. It's a bit like plotting a novel. You know where you're starting from and you know where you want to end up. How you actually get there, goodness knows.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mushroom for improvement, and fireworks

Friday night is the night the two Bs cook – that’s Ben and Boy. This week’s menu choice was Delia’s oven-baked wild mushroom risotto, an eye rollingly delicious concoction of chestnut and porcini mushrooms, a glass of port (the menu said Madeira, but ...), three cloves of garlic (the menu didn’t call for any, but ...) and Italian Arborio rice.

Which Tesco didn’t have. Ah well, I thought. This is posh, proper cooking so I’ll eschew the easy cook stuff and get some of the decent long grain brown type.

Turned out easy cook would have been wiser ... you live and learn. Come the magic hour, everything was simmered and cooked to perfection and the rice was a mass of small, hard, floaty things bobbing up here and there out of the sauce. Best Beloved took a couple of bites and decreed it would make us ill. Thus our invention of the two stage risotto, in which rice and main ingredients are actually eaten separately. We picked out the mushrooms, ate them, and put the rice + mushroom stock into a saucepan and cooked it for longer. In the meantime we fought off the hunger pangs with mini Pringles and olives. I think it ended up an even nicer meal than it would have if everything had been eaten at once.

Then to the Didcot fireworks last night – a quite impressive display more or less choreographed to music including Queen’s ‘Don’t stop me now’, Carmina Burana, the can-can, and some interchangeable Celtic droning by Enya. Actually that’s not quite fair to Enya, who does at least two types of interchangeable Celtic droning – fast and slow. This was ICD (fast), with lots of twiddly electric guitar and synth chords and was actually the piece that worked best. I hadn’t realised, until hearing it on industrial scale speakers, that she likes to put in lots of blanket bass chords which makes it pretty good Music to Accompany Fireworks With.

After that, back to my Best Man’s house, where our Boy (14) could show his boys (11 and 7) how to get past a particularly vexing level in Lego Star Wars on the PS2, and we could sit in the kitchen and catch up over a couple of glasses of Old Pulteney Liqueur. I’ve not met this before but will pursue the acquaintance now it’s been made. It seems to be to Drambuie what Pepsi is to Coke – i.e. there’s probably a difference between the two that is discernible by those with a more than passing familiarity. Very nice, anyway – single malt scotch with herbs and other ingredients to soften the impact. Highly recommended.

And finally, to celebrate the new availability of Wingèd Chariot I did some redesigning to the web site. Which reminds me I haven’t recorded another chapter of New World Order since Thursday, so will proceed to that now.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

There's a kindred soul out there

Actually I already knew that and I married her. But it turns out there's at least another partially kindred one somewhere. Today's Golden Oldies slot on Radio 2 featured no less than four tracks that I have in my downloaded collection.

On the other hand, the same person who selected them also chose two tracks by artists that I wouldn't give a single byte of hard disk space to. This suggests that it would be a fraught relationship.

So that's six tracks total, that I caught. This is them listed alphabetically by artist - see if you can guess which the offending two were:
  • Emma Bunton - Downtown
  • The Jacksons - ABC
  • The Motors - Airport
  • Stealers Wheel - Stuck in the middle
  • Tina Turner - River deep, mountain high
  • The Tornados - Telstar

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

It lives, I tell you, lives!


My poor drowned kitten - Wingèd Chariot, published 2000, died 2001 when I jumped publishers and Scholastic had no interest in keeping it in print. Not that they had entirely helped matters by giving it a cover straight out of the Junior Book of Bible Stories and, as is usual for Scholastic, publicising it under conditions of complete secrecy.

But no more. With only the effort required from a couple of lunchbreaks, it is available once more to a waiting world, mwah hah hah hah hah! Treeware or e-ware, your choice, downloadable on-demand from lulu.com, with a cover that's a little more interesting than before. Go to http://www.lulu.com/content/496080 and see for yourself.

In fact, if someone would like to buy it just so I know how easy it actually is, that would be very useful research ...

To follow, when I have a moment: His Majesty's Starship.

Anyway, some gratuitous text now follows to hook the attentions of the search engines.
  • novel by Ben Jeapes
  • reprint
  • time travel
  • adventure
  • far future
  • medieval philosophy
  • history of science
  • download

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sound fella

I mentioned my almost-blind great-aunt. Today I finally sat down and started doing what I thought of doing ages ago. She relies heavily on audio books ... so what better Christmas present than The New World Order (about the only one of my titles likely to appeal) narrated by the author, her great-nephew?

Chapter 1 has been recorded for digital posterity already. At the rate of one chapter a night, it should take about a month. Easily doable. And tell me - professional audio titles might be much more swish, but how many times on (say) the author-recorded audiobooks of His Dark Materials do you get Philip Pullman saying "I'm sorry, I read that completely wrong, I'll try again?" Hey?

And fairness makes me report that Windows XP actually impressed me. At the back of the computer there's a green in-socket and a pink in-socket. I plugged the mike into the green one and a little window popped up, asking (almost with a sense of resignation) "what did you just plug into the green socket?" I selected "microphone" and it came back with "you plugged it into the wrong one." A clear, concise, accurate, helpful Windows response. Lucky I was sitting down.

Soldiers of Christ, just shut up

Yea verily I say unto you, just as thou art feeling all smug and holy and secure in your faith, along comes a telling reason why not everyone sees things as you do. I mean, as thou dost. And all you can do is agree, and cringe.

Like the ongoing narration of events in Glastonbury by a friend who is a lovely person, an excellent author, a pagan and the proprietor of a witchcraft shop that opened earlier this year. (As opening day approached, I asked her when it was, purely so I could boycott it as a good evangelical; her reply was along the lines of, yes, please do boycott it, we need the publicity, we're doing very badly on that front, our local vicar has joined our druidic order.)

Anyhoo, there is apparently some kind of Christian rally going on in town. Spin-off incidents she has reported so far include:
  • the man who entered another witchcraft shop, addressed the proprietor as 'witch-whore', produced a cigarette lighter and remarked that he was looking for some witches to burn
  • the rioter who remarked as he was being arrested, 'I've come 150 miles to undertake some ethnic cleansing'
  • a group of marchers blockading the local bakers to stop people buying sandwiches which are allegedly made by Satanists (somehow missing the point that a pagan can't be a Satanist because they don't believe in him)
Guys, we have a problem. Which, of course, the Boss knew about a long time ago.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Two landmarks

First, the Report.

The Report is something we are contractually obliged to deliver to our funding overlords by 31 October each year. It's a full colour fancily-designed glossy brochure detailing all the cool stuff we have done in the last 12 months. Editorship revolves around the editorial team and this year, guess whose turn it was?

The lucky editor gets to trawl through all our quarterly reports and newsletters for the last year, picking out the gems and ignoring the hand-waving "here we are, still alive" pieces. Then it gets woven into a rough sort of coherent narrative. Then the designer is briefed, along the lines of "come up with something we like". (This is one of the few jobs, thankfully, designed out of house.) Then the first draft is drawn up and circulated around the editorial board. At this point it's a good plan to lay down some plastic sheeting for the evisceration that will follow. Some of the board members will return it with a single superfluous comma crossed out. Some will want ... more. Pause to sob - but not as much as the designer - as the carefully designed aesthetic of the layout disappears beneath approximately half as much text again as you had carefully put in. Then remind yourself that you're getting paid for this and you're at best the surrogate mother, not the actual parent.

Anyway, six drafts later, we have our final approved version and the electronic copy has been sent to their fundingnesses. Fortunately that counts as publication. Paper copies to follow.

And so, on to the second landmark. After three years and at least 100,000 words, though edited down to 87,000, I've finished the first draft of the latest novel. Wow. Three years! That's longer than I've had this job. That's about as long as I've been in a remotely serious relationship with Best Beloved. And in the interim I've written three Vampire Plagues and two Midnight Libraries. So it's been a busy three years, but even so. Much of this related to not quite being sure what the hell happened next. There's two brothers. One of them goes on a journey. Fine, I could write that, up until he leaves. Since I hadn't the foggiest what happened to him next (I knew where he was going, but with little idea of what happened when he got there), I then wrote the story of the second brother. Then it had to be back to the first one again - a couple more adventures, and finally I was on ground I had previously thought about, i.e. what happened when they met. (This being science fiction, one brother stays consistently nineteen and the other goes from a day old to almost 40.) So, three distinct yet related strands, written at three distinct times, which had to be untangled and edited together. Not without bloodshed, in the form of two characters who were tentatively written in, before I decided they didn't fit and took them out again. I felt a little sorry for one of them as I had previously tried to fit her into Wingèd Chariot, with exactly the same result. Perhaps this woman exists only to catalyse the stories of other characters. One day she may finally get a book of her own.

Anyway. Now to see what various trusted opinions think of it.

Three years. Suddenly there's this gap in my life. I daresay I'll find a way to fill it. Like, wait for the evisceration of the novel, which will feel a lot more personal ...

I get my affirmation from OKCupid

Not that there was any real doubt ...


Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Dawkins Delusion

A colleague at work tells me that I’m the kind of person Richard Dawkins likes the least. It gives you a warm fuzzy glow, a bit like being denounced by the Daily Mail – the feeling that you must be doing something right.

My crime is not being a fundie religious bigot – the kind (my colleague tells me; Professor Dawkins himself may of course differ) Dawkins can just dismiss as beyond any kind of reason. I commit the faux pas of believing the world to be billions of years old, based on all available evidence, and yet continuing to believe in God too. I cherrypick the best of all worlds and so fall squarely between them. Neither hot not cold, therefore will I spit thee out of my mouth. My colleague says Dawkins says.

The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker are books beyond compare – they should be on every bookshelf. They are two very good reasons I am not a young earth creationist. When I’ve tried to devise various alien species, I’ve always done it from a Dawkinsist point of view, creating creatures that are viable for the environment in which they live. On the other hand, I admit I’m unlikely to be reading his latest work, The God Delusion, unless possibly I get it for Christmas. Which is not impossible, as apparently it’s tipped (not without irony) to be a popular Christmas present. Maybe anyone given a copy to mark a religious festival should return it on principle.

The BBC site is having one of its discussion forums on “Should modern Britain be a more secular society?” (To which I reply, yes.) One of the respondents has said that The God Delusion should be taught in schools to help us all get over this religion thing once and for all. To which I reply, that’s the equivalent of teaching intelligent design. It’s one man’s opinion, it answers nothing and it blithely ignores astonishing amounts of evidence to the contrary.

Why do I believe in an old world? Because people told me so? Well, yes, at first, that was exactly it. Then I got older and looked afresh at the evidence, and drew my own conclusions based on what I saw. Which is that, regardless of the sophistical gymnastics performed by the intelligent design crowd and all that, I see OVERWHELMING evidence for Earth being billions of years old.

Why do I believe in God? Because people told me so? Well, yes, at first, that too was exactly it. And again I took a fresh look at the evidence as I grew up. First it was just the evidence of other people’s lives. God’s Smuggler was the first Christian book I read and it marked me for ever. Further evidence came with time and experience, from sources much closer to home. I just can’t ignore the evidence of testimonies from trusted individuals known to me, who are not fools. And finally there’s the accomplished healings and miracles and fulfilled prophecies – and that’s just the ones that have happened to me, never mind anyone else. So, my worldview has to accommodate both these facts, because both have been experienced by me.
  • The world is old
  • God is real.
Dawkins should title his next book Black is White: Why the Personal Experience of Millions of People, Not to Mention Books Like God’s Smuggler and Run Baby Run, and the Lives of People like Jackie Pullinger and Philip Illot, and Miracles Ben Himself has Experienced, is Wrong, and I, Who Have Experienced None of the Above, Am Right.

I’d read that.

Friday, October 27, 2006

This is just silly

But fun.

So Torchwood is ...

... not unmissable.

Not bad but not unmissable either. However, I liked it more after the second episode than I did after the first, and will probably keep coming back when I have the time without actively clearing my calendar.

It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way about a series – I only kept watching Buffy because I had nothing better to do and Farscape I made the deliberate decision to stop watching, until opinions I trusted told me I was missing out. Both took a while for the hooks to sink in. I’m prepared to believe that could happen this time too.

Torchwood is well made. It’s smart, it’s sassy and I bet Cardiff has never looked so sexy on screen. It has potential. It has a hellmouth rift.

But it doesn’t have a heart. We have five lead characters, only one of whom is remotely likable (and I don’t mean Jack). On the strength of things seen, it looks like Gwen will become the moral conscience of the organisation – but the fact that the others got to where they did without her doesn’t hold out a lot of hope. We have no reason to care for them. In fact, the biggest driver will be learning more about Jack – the Who fans will want to know how he got back from the far future after the TARDIS stranded him, the non-Who fans will still want to pick up on his character’s evident mystery.

Episode 1 also suffered from over-familiarity. It’s by no means the first series in which an innocent bystander is determined to track down the mysterious secret organisation and ends up being recruited. I remember the excellent, underrated, one-season-only Dark Skies, in which I was on the edge of my seat, almost screaming with the desire to know more. And thanks to the recent series of Dr Who we already know what Torchwood is and does. To be honest, they could have left episode 1 out altogether and launched with episode 2. The X-Files gave us five minutes of Mulder meeting Scully and then it was on with the weirdness. Let the back stories of the characters unfurl. Much better.

So far we’ve had boy-girl, boy-boy and girl-girl. There’s one further combination that comes to mind, and if I was the Weevil they have looked away in the cells, I’d be worried.

Finally, if anyone wants proof that John Barrowman isn’t just a pretty face in a Group Captain’s overcoat (why does he keep the insignia?), here it is.



Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My fair ladies

- Knock knock
- Who's there?
- Li'l old lady
- Li'l old lady who?
- Didn't know you could yodel.

In my new capacity as a family man we marked the first two days of half term with an extended weekend with my parents, of which highlights included the Boy being taken (deer) stalking by my father, a trip to Bovington tank museum, and an average of slightly under one quite formidable little old lady per day.

Little old lady #1: great aunt on my mother's side; physically quite rugged for someone in her early nineties, eyesight virtually non-existent, mind in tip-top condition ("I've still got a top storey") despite the necessary perceptual blinkers that come with being to the right of Pinochet. On hearing we were down for a long weekend and we had dropped in on our way, she perceptively remarked: "doing the rounds, are you? Well, I'm delighted to be included," with a knowing twinkle in her eye. This aunt was Senior Wren in Sri Lanka during WW2. (UPDATE: apparently it was after WW2 that she was Senior Wren.) When she was promoted to Commander she wrote to her brother, my grandfather, also on the sub-continent, claiming precidence. He wrote back to say that when she could spell precedence, she could have it. Yes, that man's DNA is in my genes.

Little old lady #2: my grandmother, only grandparent I've had since 1980, aged 97, eyesight and hearing not quite as bad as she can make out but still pretty limited. When you sit down beside her you have to choose the side with the good eye or the good ear, but you're not getting both. I have to admit this visit was more out of a sense of duty, but was very pleasantly surprised to strike conversational gold. Turned out she and my grandfather honeymooned very close to where we did, which led to talking about the penury of their early married years (what you get for marrying a subaltern), but their first married posting was Dover, which was the best place for being poor because the herring were so cheap. A fascinating window into a world that was recognisably modern but not yet buggered up by WW2 and the Cold War.

Little old lady #3: not a relative of mine but almost-family to Best Beloved: the matriarch of the family she used to work for. A mere nipper at 87. Born and bred to White Mischief-type society in Kenya; retired to Ireland at 77; didn't like it and returned to Kenya; didn't like that either and re-retired to Lyme Regis. Wow. Also possessing a top storey but not much hearing to go with it, which led to this conversation when I described myself as a technical editor.

- Her: what exactly do you mean by technical?
- Me: well, I work for a computer network. [She smiles brightly, nods, turns away.]
- Her [conversationally to daughter]: it's jolly hard when you're deaf.
- Daughter: didn't you hear what he told you?
- Her: no, I didn't. ['He', i.e. me, was sitting three feet away from this discussion.]
- Daughter: well, don't act as if you did or he won't repeat it!
- Her: but if you ask everyone to repeat themselves you sound like a ninny.

Bless.

Do other countries have little old ladies like ours? Some nations have withered old things who sit by the fireplace wearing black and gossip with the other women of the village. Others have elderly women who are basically like younger women, but older. Only we have this type: cut glass accents; impeccable manners; a dress sense that can alternate between glamour and animated rummage stall, and make it work either way; political views about as incorrect as a scantily clad page 3 model serving you a whale cutlet while smoking and telling jokes about Muslims; and effortless charm. As you approach their aura, so you move back in time and if you actually touch them you find yourself transported to the height of the British Empire. Which you rule, and don't you forget it.

Gawd bless 'em, every one.

Shiny, let's be bad guys

Haven't done one of these for, oh, weeks.


You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Serenity (Firefly)


75%

Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


63%

SG-1 (Stargate)


56%

Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


56%

Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


50%

Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


50%

Enterprise D (Star Trek)


44%

Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


44%

Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


38%

Moya (Farscape)


38%

Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


25%

FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


19%

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com

Apart from it putting Babylon 5 below Stargate, and Farscape below both Trek and Andromeda (the horror!) I'm reasonably okay with this. I have never seen or indeed heard of Cowboy Bebop. Nor, with a title like that, do I wish to.

Monday, October 23, 2006

More hoodie than hooded

Accidentally found myself watching five minutes of Robin Hood on Saturday evening, as the Boy channel surfed. It featured this priceless dialogue, as a dying assassin believes (wrongly) that at least he hit his desired target:
  • Assassin: "I shot the Sheriff!"
  • Sheriff (Keith Allen, slumming it): "actually you just shot my deputy."
And that is why I don't intend to watch any more Robin Hood, ever.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why editors should rule the world # 5237

Maybe it's because it's just not my thing, but I think I lagged behind the rest of the world in first hearing of Ali G. I finally learnt he existed when it became physically difficult not to know. For similar reasons, I had never heard of Borat until Kazakhstan complained about his misrepresentation of their fine country.

However, today's story that Kazakhstan has managed to issue bank notes that spell "bank" wrong hasn't really helped their case.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Unexpected e-mail of the day

A very nice lady at the University of Massachusetts' Neuroscience & Behavio(u)r Doctoral Program(me), who teaches a writing course to junior undergrads, asks permission to print out my webpage Harry Potter & the Flawed Arguments "to use in class as an example of a well-constructed argument."

She's welcome. Spread the word!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I keep my promises


I said we'd have a photo of my youth stag thing, so here, for the sake of completeness, we are.

I really am quite tall, aren't I?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Winston Smith lives

In a brief flurry of historical revisionism, I have just changed the word "verbal" in my two most recent posts to "oral". Any promise or communication with words in it is verbal, however the communication is delivered. An oral promise or communication can only be spoken, and that is what I meant.

Now off to watch the company six-a-side team. Unless I'm mis-remembering and it's only five a side, in which case this line too will be revised shortly.

*ankers away

Unexpected advice from a senior relative (male) received last night by email:
"Have nothing to do with British Gas. They are all *ankers."
Except that the missing letter was left in. I omit it only out of consideration for any users of cybernanny software.

Even more amusing is that the email was transcribed by a senior relative (female) from an oral communication.

Anyway, having finally got a straight answer out of a very nice lady at British Gas, who took my details over the phone and gave a quote even higher than the too-high quote received a couple of days ago, the contract has been cancelled.

To save the effort of any smart alecs out there, the missing letter was not b, c, d, h, l, r or t.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It's a gas, gas, gas

Margaret Thatcher, bless her insane blue cotton socks. In her delusion that the market is the supreme impartial regulator and arbiter of all matters spiritual and temporal, she genuinely believed that by throwing open the doors of the monolithic nationalised industries she could create a brave new world. Men like her husband and her father, hard headed sharp nosed businessmen, but public spirited with it, would come out of the woodwork and take over. They would run the businesses efficiently and ruthlessly, yes, but also profitably, not only for themselves but for the country.

I think she honestly had no idea she was just empowering a whole new generation of shysters who would gladly run everything into the ground, get rich doing so, and then jump ship just before it hit. Whyever would someone run a railway who had no interest in running railways? British Gas selling electricity? The AA doing personal finance? I mean, come on, in the mindset of 1979 it makes no sense at all. Yet such is the world we now live in.

All on my mind recently because we are Changing Suppliers. Long ago in the Way Back When I got my electricity from Southern Electric and my gas from British Gas. Then, as a result of being accosted by an irritating young twerp in the doorway of the Virgin Megastore, I switched to Virgin (I know, I should have better reasons, but their prices really were cheaper). Virgin's energy division promptly changed their name to EDF Energy and charged more, but I stuck with them.

Until last week, when we decided it was time to re-evaluate our options. Some web searching and price comparing led us to decide we should switch both gas and electric back to British Gas.

All well and good, until we get our customer contract this morning and see that they are planning to charge us more than we currently pay. I call the number they give us, but the nice lady there can't help because that is only for telephone customers whereas we are internet customers. So I call a second number. The slightly less nice lady there can't locate our account and do anything with it, because it's still being set up. But, she says, if we were genuinely quoted a lower price, then we can call back in a few weeks and they will change the amount they charge to match it. In the meantime we will have to go ahead with the present contract.

So, our options are now two.
  • Scrap the contract and stay with the present supplier, on the grounds that the alleged savings aren't worth the hassle.
  • Accept a contract that, in print, quotes the higher price. Do as the lady said, call back in a few weeks and get them to change to the quoted lower price ... all in accordance with a purely oral promise.
Hmm.

Can I just add that we are trying to be green here, and the British Gas deal involves them using sustainable renewable emission-free low calorie fat free CFC friendly sources of electricity like windpower, and planting new trees. The small print said that the promise only applied to the electricity side of the deal, not the gas. You mean, they're not going to kill billions of microscopic marine animals and bury them for millions of years to replenish the supply? I'm shocked.