Saturday, January 28, 2006

You can ring my be-e-e-e-ell, ring my bell

One more item crossed off the list, when Best Beloved and I went to register our intent to marry. Production of passports, utility bills etc. proved our identities; gruelling questions like "do you know her postcode" (I don't, but can tell you how to get there) served to prove that we had a passing acquaintance and weren't doing this frivolously, for convenience or whatever.

This sign was in the waiting room, though I'm not sure what the registrar's own matrimonial intentions have to do with anything.

Friday, January 27, 2006

True LibDem

To have one bisexual leadership contender in your party is a misfortune, to have two ... Quite an ironic subject to be paraphrasing Oscar Wilde on, really.

But, honestly. Oaten is married with children when not romping with rent boys. Hughes, unmarried, admits to relationships with men and women. Bloody Liberal Democrats, can't even decide if they want to be gay or not ...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Why this is hell, nor am I out of it

Every now and then I feel I am afforded a salutory glance into Hell.

There was the time I looked at a former neighbour's trade weekly, still being sent to his address long after he moved out, so I could get it returned to sender. He was a double glazing salesman. (He also quite distinctly told me he was moving to Kent. After he left he started getting mail from estate agents in Norfolk, and a debt collector came looking for him. Maybe in a story one day ...) The trade weekly read by double glazing salesmen is foul and blasphemous literature for those who have whetted their appetites on the Necronomicon and want to move on to something meatier. Page after page of sales statistics, gloating and preening for those who have milked the life savings out of frail pensioners, snivelling and apologetic for those whose sales have shown a drop. Stakhanovite praise to the high achievers, stark rebukes and thinly veiled threats to the ones falling behind. Not a shred, not a cell, not a particle of decency or humanity at any point between the covers. And perhaps not surprisingly, no editorial address either.

And then there was Tuesday night ... On Monday I taped Life on Mars, on Tuesday I watched it while I did the ironing. But it was a large pile to get through and Life on Mars finished. So I stopped the tape, and found myself in the middle of what seems likely to become a legendary exchange of views on Celebrity Big Brother. Reader, I watched it for 20 minutes. That's 19 minutes and 30 seconds more than I have managed since the show started. I still feel vaguely soiled.

Being locked up with Gorgeous for three weeks must already equate with at least the anteroom to Hell. But when Michael Barrymore is the one rising above the occasion with grace and dignity, and Pete Burns emerges as the voice of maturity, rebuking some child of about 12 whom I totally failed to recognise on what is and what isn't appropriate to say to a man with a drink problem ... That has to take you down the third circle, minimum.

And now George is out. Gorgeous Galloway: hell could not hold him ...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A la recherche du pestes de vampires perdu

San Diego State University runs a Children's Literature Program: details at The Spring 2006 course applies a number of critical approaches "including psychoanalysis, deconstruction, existentialism, feminism, and Marxism" to a list of children's texts, including - um - Sebastian Rook's Vampire Plagues: London.

Sebastian pithily comments: "yer what?"

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Your name in my files

Finally got round to installing some visitor tracking HTML, and interesting viewing it makes.

First, there's many more readers than I had thought there would be out there: hello to all you silent types, you are all groovy people.

Second, David: if I see you've been browsing this site when you should be doing your homework again, I won't tell your mum. Her job to be vigilant, not mine.

And finally, greetings to the Australian individual who came here following an MSN search for "C S Lewis freemason". I presume you found my posting of a few days ago. I hope you weren't too disappointed. Well, you came back three times anyway ...

The days of Grocer Jack

By way of passing on the favour, and for anyone else who shares the belief that digital rights management is a tool of darkness even for those of us who want to buy our tracks legally, let me tell you about, where you can get a huge amount of stuff, not protected, so you can copy it to another computer or your MP3 player or whatever, and it's legal. That huge amount of stuff is because, with a Slavic combination of practicality and disregard for the more irritating aspects of intellectual property law, they rip it straight off CDs.

Yeah, yeah, it can't possibly be legal, especially that last bit. But some googling got me enough to assure me that:

  • you couldn't have a set-up like this under many jurisdictions, but it IS legal under Russian law.
  • the money you pay goes to the artists. Not necessarily to the rights holders, but to the artists. There's a difference.
It's also considerably cheaper than something like, charging by volume rather than per track.

The advantage of this is that if - hypothetically - you hear The Honeycombs's Have I the Right? playing on Wogan's show on the way in to work, then a few short minutes later you too can be the proud and legal owner of a copy. Further, if - hypothetically - you're the kind of person who can't walk into Halfords or a bike shop without being seized with the urge to Buy Accessories, and you track down your copy of Have I the Right in a sixties classics collection, then you can also come away with copies of The Monkees's Daydream Believer, David McWilliams's The Days of Pearly Spencer and Keith West's Excerpt from a Teenage Opera.

If anyone can convince me it's NOT legal then I will - reluctantly - delete all the tracks I've got off it ...

And meanwhile I will wonder if anyone else feels the urge to hum "Postman Pat" in place of "Grocer Jack". Or vice versa.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Shed a tear, but not a big one

Much of last weekend, and of this, and much of the foreseeable future too, has been / will be spent transforming a bachelor pad of 14 years standing into a home fit for a lady + child. First stage is to make room for it all. Here is just some of the room we have made so far. It all - just - fitted into the back of an estate Vectra and was transported up to the dump-... um, the waste recycling centre. 14 years worth of junk. Gone. Juslikat.

Also to be taken into account in the clearout stakes are another delivery of about half the above size to the dump last week; again approximately half the above amount, slightly more sellable, which was denoted to a tsunami relief jumble sale; and eight box files containing my collection of Interzone from #14 (1986) to the present, given to someone through Freecycle.

Also significant is that I finally got rid of several boxes of 3SF magazine and a box full of Big Engine books, which have been knocking around here for the last three years. (The rest of the junk sneered down upon them as mere children.) This led to a slight clash of wills between me ["this is taking up valuable space in my private home; I do not want it; it is unsellable; therefore it is private junk"] and the centre foreman ["this was the product of a company you ran, even though the company has not existed since 2003; therefore it is trade waste"] which was only resolved by the transfer of a £10 note, sadly in the wrong direction from my perspective, but it's one more step taken towards washing my hands of BE forever.

Okay, I admit it:
(1) I brought the Boy back again.
(2) Yes, he is wearing a strip of blue lino like a scarf.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Can we fix it? Yeah, all right

First: the scene from our kitchen window at work last week. Far from ideal - it used to be fields, or at least grass, all the way down to the ugly concrete thing in the background. But preferable to the second pic, which is the scene from the same window today.

The first scene - which is presumably ongoing - is because our beloved landlords thought it would be a good idea to build a brand new accommodation block six feet away from us. They incidentally plan to demolish this building, sooner or later. But just to show they are also caring and sharing types, they are replacing the windows of our building, which work perfectly well. To make it safe for the window people they first have to remove the asbestos that is apparently sealed into our walls. Of this building that has stood for 40 years. Without anyone dying. And which is scheduled for demolition.

So, we are now wrapped up like one of Christo's works in progress and eagerly awaiting next week when Russia's current cold snap hits us.

The builders have cut through the main water supply and there is no cold water feed into the building. Toilets won't refill after flushing and - the unkindest cut - the coffee machines can only be topped up from the watercoolers.

We will be kept informed...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Extremely extreme

We hear today that extremists unfortunately linked to Fathers 4 Justice had the bright idea of kidnapping young Leo Blair to publicise their cause. Since any such attempt would probably have resulted in the Prime Minister's highly trained bodyguards delivering a magazineful of warning shots to the head, it's almost a shame they didn't try it. Leo would soon have got over it - he has a pretty scary mother, so there's probably little that can phase him - and the average intelligence of the human race would have received quite a boost.

I wonder if one extremist can recognise another? If you think abducting a five-year-old would do anything at all to gain sympathy for your cause, do you also think that animal rights are best protected by burning down research labs and the rights of the unborn by gunning down doctors who perform abortions? On the great venn diagram of extremism, do these circles overlap much, or are they distinct from each other, pointing fingers at the others and saying "cor, what a nutter?"

Answers on a fatwa, please.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Flying bishops for tea

The BBC today reports on a compromise plan to prevent the more crustacean bishops of the Church of England from leaving the church if woman bishops are introduced. Somewhat surreally the plan involves tea and flying bishops, but let's leave that for another joke. The Beeb helpfully adds: "The move to consecrate women bishops comes amid a row over the ordination of openly gay priests".

Well, yes, except that these are two pretty well distinct camps. There is a considerable overlap - those who are in favour of both, or neither ("both" outweighs "neither" in my experience) - but for the simplistic purposes of this little rant, I hold that those who have no problem with women clergy are by and large the more evangelical wing of the church, all in favour of modernisation like this, putting the prayer book into comprehensible English etc. but quite opposed to gay clergy (and hence, for ease of media reference, "traditionalist"). Meanwhile, those self-delusionists who like to believe that the whole Reformation thang was just an agreement between friends to differ, and that Jesus Christ - a man whose ministry slashed through accumulated centuries of dead dogma and who honoured and respected women in a society that treated them like dirt - could care less about the gender of his regional vice-presidents (and hence, for ease of media reference, "traditionalist"), tend to belong to the same wing as includes those of, um, progressive sexuality.

One thing that a Jehovah's Witness colleague and I can both agree on is to pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to media depictions of our respective churches. They will get it Wrong with a big Wuh.

Meanwhile, back on the Beeb site, the Bishop of Fulham, John Broadhurst, manages to sound like a child who has unexpectedly been deprived of a treat: "Are people like me to be driven out of the Church of England or not?" He goes on: "If people want to provide for us they really do have to talk to us." Well, yes, if ...

Alternatively, we could just say, Goodbye!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Complete and utter

I don't think I've called anyone a spaz since I was a boy, and even then I knew it wasn't a nice word. But honestly, sometimes it's the only one that fits.

Watch the gun carefully ...

Unwins resurrexit

I'm delighted to report that our local Unwins has been taken over by Threshers and is open again for business once more, with fresh stock and the same manager. So all's well, and all that.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

One for Screwtape

For those who don't read Dave Langford's Ansible, there is a site here that explores and reveals the Satanic, occult and pagan symbology of, um, C.S. Lewis - "the single most useful tool of Satan since his appearance in the Christian community sometime around World War II".

The site makes a valiant stab at a tone of rational debate in the opening paragraph: "John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley all died on the same day. They all went to the same place. Kennedy went to hell because he trusted in the Roman Whore ..."

After that it becomes less evenly balanced. Suffice to say that Lewis apparently managed the quite remarkable trick of being a Roman Catholic Taoist occultist pagan deity worshipping freemason, as should be obvious to anyone who reads his works with half an eye or less.

Sadly, my motivation, desire and ability to be funny about these people all dry up about here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Plague Lending Right

Vampire Plagues 1 cover Vampire Plagues 1 cover Vampire Plagues 1 cover
I think I was just about prepared for it.

As well as Ben I am also Sebastian, at least some of the time - Sebastian Rook, that is, author of the first three Vampire Plagues novels: London, Paris and Mexico. (That's as opposed to Sebastian Rook, author of the next three Vampire Plagues novels: Outbreak, Epidemic and Extermination, who is someone else entirely.) Someone else thinks up the plots, I'm the hack hired to write them.

And they're doing better than my own stuff, at least, according to this year's PLR statement. PLR is Public Lending Right, a fund set up by a grateful nation to reward those authors whose books are loaned by the nation's libraries. In the last 365 days, my own books have ranged between the low and the high 3-figure numbers of withdrawals, while the Vampire Plagues are both safely into 4 figures.

The breakdown in percentages of loans is:

  • London: 32%
  • Paris: 21%
  • The Xenocide Mission pb: 15%
  • The Xenocide Mission hb: 12%
  • New World Order: 8%
  • Winged Chariot: 6%
  • His Majesty's Starship: 6%
Mexico wasn't out in time to register for the period; nor is the paperback New World Order.

Full-time hackwork, here I come. I'm not too proud and I'm sufficiently secure in my identity. No matter what the world may know me as, deep down I will always know that I am Sebastian. I mean Ben. Damn!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Right Honorable Charlie

There's something strangely Lib Dem about Charles Kennedy's fall from leadership. Not quite as spectacular as Caesar's, but a similar sense of finality.

He was an alcoholic, and his years of private and public denial are perfectly consistent with the type. When finally he faced his demons, summoning every atom of strength and willpower, he went public and threw himself on the mercy of those around him. In the real world, if a mate of yours came out like that then it would be unthinkable to knife him in the back. But of course, we're not talking about the real world, we're talking about politics, so out he goes.

Coming out as an alcoholic last week, and still expecting to remain viable as leader, was a Lib Dem solution to his problem: honest, simple, straightforward, fair, just, impractical and totally unworkable.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sic semper tyrannis

Well, I wasn't expecting that! Julius Caesar ending up dead on the Senate floor, covered in knife wounds. Who'd have guessed?

Rome came to a mostly satisfying ending. Vorenus has managed to be at every important event throughout the fall of the Republic, but for perfectly good reasons manages to be away from this one. Everything that seemed to be going swimmingly - Caesar's dictatorship, Vorenus's private and public life - tumbles in ruin while what seemed to be beyond redemption - Pullo - ends on a high note.

For the record (and to save you watching the second series, if you don't really want to), here's what happened to some of the assassins, and others (according to Wikipedia, anyway). Bear in mind Caesar died in 44BC:

  • Decimus Brutus: killed 43BC in the first round of the new civil wars following the assassination.
  • Cassius: wrongly believed Brutus had lost the first Battle of Philippi against Octavian and Antony, and ordered his freeman Pindarus to slay him, 42BC.
  • Marcus Junius Brutus: committed suicide 42BC following defeat at the second (and final) Battle of Philippi.
  • Gaius Trebonius: murdered 43BC in events unrelated to the assassination.
  • Cicero (not actually an assassin, but wished he had been): proscribed by Antony and rubbed out by Antony’s hitmen, 43BC.
Do you start to see a theme (and a timespan) developing? And one last key player in all this:
  • The republic: by my calculations, not seen again until after World War II.

What didn't satisfy in Rome was the meeting of the uberbitches Servilia and Atia, where the latter is summoned by the former to gloat about what's happening over on the Capitoline. It was too reminiscent of monologuing baddies in lesser dramas. But I did enjoy the significant glances between the triumphant Servilia and surly Octavian. She has just made an enemy of the future Emperor Augustus. Oh man, is she in trouble ...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Now to work out a plot that includes them all

I rarely throw anything away, especially valuable, difficult to replace items like the folders I first used as a student. The former cradle of my philosophy notes 20 years ago now holds my bank statements, while my politics folder currently lies vacant but is destined to be the official wedding planning folder.

It's fun doing a forensic examination of the doodles made during lectures. As well as the SCM logo on the front of each (Student Christian Movement or Slightly Christian Marxists, take your pick) I can identify:

Politics folder:
  • The Superman logo
  • A Tripod
  • Thunderbird 2, dorsal view
  • The Terrahawks logo
  • A Zeroid
  • One of Zelda's Cubes
  • Logan's gun, firing
  • A Shogun Warrior, possibly Danguard
  • A Klingon battlecruiser, side view
  • A SHADO Interceptor
  • USS Enterprise (NCC-1701 - all we had in those days)
  • A UFO
  • The SHADO logo
  • The Liberator
  • The TARDIS
  • A SHADO mobile
  • The TARDIS console, with roundels in the background
  • The Liberator, front view
  • Skydiver 1
  • USS Enterprise, front view
  • The Battlehawk
  • Dark Star
  • A Silurian
  • A Cyberman, head shot only

Philosophy folder:
  • a perspective view of the habitation module of the USS Discovery, angled to show the three pod bay doors
  • A space shuttle taking off
  • A gun, possibly modelled on those used by the time travelling guerillas in 'Day of the Daleks'
  • An astronaut
  • A Dalek exterminating someone, with the appropriate negative-exposure effect
  • A zeppelin
  • The TARDIS
  • The Liberator
  • USS Discovery in orbit around Saturn (or possibly, USS Discovery on its own, plus an unidentified ringed planet)
  • A Klingon battlecruiser, dorsal view
  • A TIE fighter, side view
  • Probably an Imperial Stormtrooper, or else a man in futuristic armour of my own devising
  • The names of the leaders of the Soviet Union from Lenin to Gorbachev, written in Cyrillic
I also seem to have spent at least one lecture working out how many words I can get out of 'METAPHYSICS' (itself quite a metaphysical activity). There's quite a lot.

I wonder if I learnt anything?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Matrimony, Christmas and a rant

I feel moved to use the medium of poetry to describe the keyest of recent developments:
Up on the Ridgeway, so it is said
Ben and his loved one got engaged to be wed.
Out in the open for everyone to see [1]
Ben said it in Swedish [2] and on one knee.
The ring belonged to Ben's mother-great-grand
She put up a struggle but we got it off her hand.
[1] i.e. a couple of circling red kites and anyone in Wantage with a really good telescope.
[2] Vill du gifta dig med mig?

At this point my poetic muse breaks free and runs gibbering to the hills but that's the gist of it. This news may introduce additional characters to this blog, who to spare their blushes will be referred to as Best Beloved and her 13-year-old son, the Boy.

The Boy was the first to be told the good news. As he thoughtfully shared with his mother, "I suppose you couldn't really say no, what with it being Christmas and all ..."

Christmas was spent enjoying the cuteness of my 3-year-old nephew and 9-month-old niece, and shuttling between various forms of sleeping accommodation, which depended on whether my sister's family was in residence or not. My parents have bought the second wing of their U-shaped house in the gradual quest for reunification of the building, and have no further territorial ambitions at present. The Sudetenland is now in the throes of severe redecoration but at least has heating, so we spent one night there, then two nights in the main house, then back to exile for a further three.

Christmas TV ...

1. Dr Who. Silly but fun. I wasn't encouraged by advance talk of killer Santas etc. but they downplayed the silliness to a just about acceptable level. It really sagged with David Tennant's non-stop monologuing holding several thousand xenocidal aliens in thrall (why couldn't one of them just shoot him? Hey? Why?) but apart from that ...

2. Rome. Or as my father calls it, Maximus Bonkus, though very little of that this time round. Just Titus Pullo suggesting that relationship counselling may not be his calling but a little anger management couldn't hurt.

3. Return of the Goodies. This should have been 1.5 hours of archive excellence, but deduct at least 30 minutes for talking heads explaining to us why it was funny. After five minutes of people banging on about the Funky Gibbon it was decreed that we should Turn Over to the Magic of Jesus. This proved to be unutterably ghastly, but thankfully it hit a commercial break and we turned back to the Goodies again. By now they had moved on to Kitten Kong and of course we were hooked, with only occasional talking heads popping up from time to time.

WHY DO THEY DO THIS? Did the original episodes have interrupting commentaries to explain the jokes we had just seen? Okay, the contributions of those who were involved are relevant - the three eponynous ones, plus John Cleese and others. But we don't need (say) Martin Freeman sharing his memories. If we ever need to know how Martin Freeman's career was affected by the Goodies in his childhood, that can surely wait until he gets a retrospective documentary on his own career in 20 years time.

Rant over, on with things. Happy New Year!