Friday, September 29, 2006

A lot more space to call our own

Well, this is exciting. Long-term readers might remember the woe and lamentations relating to the limited storage space on Furniture Moving In Day.

Well, no more. The flat has taken a big step towards the vision Best Beloved had for it prior to agreeing to marry me.

We have shelves in the airing cupboard.

We have cupboards in the kitchen

Not all with doors attached, yet, but give us time. And the piece de resistance ...

... a clothes airer hanging from the ceiling in the bathroom. Also good (according to the catalogue) for the display of pots and pans plus sausages, dried hams, dead pheasants etc but that would be unhygienic.

Now we just need to wash some clothes to hang on it. The suspense is killing me. (Get it? Suspense? Because it hangs from the ceiling and ... never mind.)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Finally, reality TV I would watch

On the BBC News site: Branson unveils Virgin spaceship. Which is quite fun even on its own terms. But Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn says the company is in negotiations over a reality TV show.
"The indications are that we can create a show that would give people the chance to go into space. It would be a cross between Dr Who, Star Trek and the Krypton Factor."
Does this mean a programme where we get to vote which celebrities get thrown out of the airlock to suffer a horrifying and painful death in the merciless vacuum of space?

Point me at it.

Meanwhile, on the subject of boy’s toys, will the BBC please GET OVER Richard Hammond. Yes, he seems a genuinely nice bloke. Yes, he has an enthusiasm for fast machines that almost killed him in a 300mph crash. At least one of those is a fact that could apply to a lot of people and we don’t get news saturation about them, do we?

You may, if you absolutely have to, run a news item about him being transferred to another hospital. But honestly, accompanying it with a video clip of him being transferred, on a trolley, is just taking the ... taking it a little too far.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Mastercard mastermind

Turns out I accidentally only paid half my credit card bill last month. Until recently I had a Bank of Scotland Mastercard which I used because it supported a good cause. Then without any input from me it transitioned to an MBNA Mastercard, new number, which doesn't support anything except MBNA. MBNA prints its statements on an A4 sheet of paper, but the column of figures stops halfway down with a subtotal and is carried over onto page 2. I had just paid the subtotal balance of the figures on page 1. Quite comfortably over the minimum amount, but twelve pounds interest? Bloody hell, so this is where credit card debt comes from. I can safely say the full sum has now been paid in full.

So, they don't support my charity. They cunningly rephrase the words "available credit" on the statement as "available to spend", which doesn't send exactly the same message. And an employee of theirs was an appallingly bad husband to the daughter of friends of my parents. I may change cards before long.

(That last reason may not technically be a fault of MBNA, but if you (usually) pay the balance in full then there's no material difference between any of the cards on offer, so you have to base your decision on something.)

Anyone who points out that if I kept better track of my spending then I would have realised the page 1 sum was too low may now leave.

Monday, September 25, 2006

More fuel for the digital rant

Further to what I was saying on Thursday ...

Most of my downloaded music collection comes from allofmp3, which I have yet to see a convincing argument is illegal. Prior to that it came from, which is indisputably legal but has the annoying habit of slapping DRM protection on its files. Before playing each track it has to check with HQ that you are in fact the genuine owner. But at least you can move tracks between machines, as long as they're connected to the internet, though this does preclude playing them on portable players or converting them to other formats.

I also had three tracks, for some reason, from Napster - the reborn, legal version which is even more paranoid and requires you to install its software on your machine before it will let you play a track. Move machines, reinstall software - or so I thought. I reinstalled the software at the weekend. When I try to play those tracks I get the message:
"Sorry, this track is not currently available in the Napster service. We are working hard to make it available so please check back later."
In other words, it turns out I didn't purchase the tracks way back when - I simply hired them.

Okay, the loss of Hazel O'Connor's "Will You?" and "Eighth Day", and (ahem) They Might Be Giants's "The House at the Top of the Tree" doesn't leave a bleeding hole where the heart of my collection used to be. But it's one more item of evidence, if one were needed, that the best way the corporate downloaders could get one up on allofmp3 would be to scrap their paranoid, overprotective and frankly insulting DRM. Dunno why, but something deep within human nature resents forking up money and STILL being viewed as a potential criminal.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Wake-up words

Yesterday a word popped into my head as I was waking up. Ahasuerus.

Today it was another word. Capercaillie.

Does this happen every day, but it's a normal word so I don't notice?

If this carries on I may blog some more ...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A hombre called Horseradish

My faith in AltaVista's Babel Fish translation service is not as high as it might have once been. If my name appears in any text translated from Spanish to English, it comes out as Horseradish Tree.

I suspected a deliberate bug implanted by the programmers because I know full well horseradishes don't grow on trees. But guess what, there is a tree called a horseradish tree, or Moringa oleifera. And from the horseradish tree, you get Ben oil. If I was still a teenager, I'd resent that.

Moringa - now that's a name with a certain no sé quien. A bandit hiding high in the Sierra Morena, maybe. The dreaded El Moringa, scourge of the rich and corrupt, beloved of the senoritas, writer of wrongs, probably a deposed nobleman. Nope, I don't mind being a Moringa.

Perversely, if you try to translate Horseradish Tree into Spanish, you get exactly what you asked for, i.e. Árbol Del Rábano picante. Put a Don in front of that and you have the full name of said nobleman.

Digital dark age

I had no idea how this rant was going to end until I got there. Anyway ...

There’s a great scene in the second Back to the Future movie where Marty wanders around his home town, 30 years in the future. We see extrapolations of the present, we see some things that have barely changed, and we see some things that we can only guess at.

At the weekend I realised I was in such a scene already. Abingdon's town centre hasn’t changed much since I moved there years ago. Boots and Woolworths are where they always were. There used to be a Dixons, now gone, and a fairly minging Menzies which has been replaced by a jewellers. Unlike the Menzies, the jewellers doesn’t sell Dr Who videos so only gets my custom when I want to buy something nice for my lovely wife. And there’s a photo shop that does a small business selling photo frames and albums – but most of its business is through the machines that line each wall. Friendly, brightly coloured, touch screen controlled, with voice instructions to guide you through turning images stored on your stick or SD card or CD into printed photographs. This shop could not have existed 15 years ago. The technology, the market and the perceived need were completely absent. A time traveller from 1991 could maybe make an inspired guess as to what it did (and watching the customers would give the biggest clue) but would still come away with more questions than answers.

Meanwhile I walk around with a phone in my pocket with more memory than the first PC I bought, a 386 laptop in 1994.

My employer runs a 10 Gbit/s network. A lady in the office opposite joined our company’s predecessor 25 years ago this week. She told me one of her first jobs was standing over a network connection with a stopwatch, timing the round trip of a single IP packet to Manchester and back. About 45 seconds was the norm.

So there’s been progress, of a sort. The downside? The downside ...

The said 386 laptop ran Windows 3.1, which was rubbish by anyone’s standards. Fortunately there was a neat little third-party shell that ran on top of it – I can’t remember what it was called, but it essentially gave Windows 3.1 the same desktop-based functionality as Windows 95 and its successors. So that was what I used until Windows 95 came along properly. The shell ran perfectly well, on a 386 PC, with 5Mb RAM and a 30Mb hard disk, with never a problem. And I honestly don’t think I do a single thing on my present XP-based computer that I didn’t do on that old laptop. (Actually I do – DTP, but since I have fond memories of DOS-based Ventura, I know for a fact the laptop could have handled it as well.)

And yet, if I work on exactly the same file on my computer at home (Word 2000) and at work (Word 2002), keeping exactly the same word count and exactly the same formatting – there’s a 20K difference in file size. Why?? No doubt because Word 2002 crams in all kinds of crap code that I just don’t need. And before Word 2000 looks all proud and pleased with itself, I bet there’s stuff in its files that Word 6 or earlier quite rightly would not have thought necessary. My computer is much bigger and faster than the old 386 but only because it has to be, to run all the unnecessary bells and whistles that come with it in the first place. And is it any surprise that the helpdesk industry has burgeoned exponentially over the last decade? Sloppy workmanship isn’t just tolerated more than it used to be, it’s actively expected.

If you’re an open source / OpenOffice / Linux / whatever geek then you may now step forward and tell me how it’s all the fault of Microsoft, and I’ll probably agree. I’ll also not change over for the same reason I don’t try to disestablish the Church of England. It’s a mess but it’s the mess I’m used to.

We’re halfway to the Back to the Future future. We have a lot of the tech, and we have the mindset and vision to use it in previously unthought of ways. But until you can use a computer as thoughtlessly as you can scribble a note on the back of an envelope, we’ll be forever stuck in a digital dark age.

The ABC of Me

A meme that seems to be doing the blog rounds, so who am I to fight it?

  • A - Accent: probably posher than I realise but with the occasional awareness of Oxford.
  • B - Breakfast Item: coffee, fruit & fibre, fruit juice.
  • C - Chore you hate: anything you keep on putting off if only because you know it will need doing again very soon after. Like cleaning.
  • D - Dad's Name: Sir.
  • E - Essential everyday item: my door keys.
  • F - Flavour ice cream: mint / chocolate / toffee / raspberry ripple
  • G - Gold or Silver?: neither really, but wedding ring is gold.
  • H - Hometown: technically Belfast. Now I would just say Abingdon as it's the first place I've lived in for more than five years.
  • I - Insomnia: occasionally.
  • J - Job Title: Documentation Officer Technical Editor.
  • K - Kids: No blood descendants but a few spiritual connections.
  • L - Living arrangements: converted flat in much older house.
  • M - Mum's birthplace: Farnborough.
  • N - Number of significant others you've had: just the one of any real significance.
  • O - Overnight hospital stays: one, to have my adenoids out (because they 'ad annoyed me).
  • P - Phobia: heights, no. Falling from one, yes.
  • Q - Queer: Elizabeth II. Oh, sorry, queer. No.
  • R - Religious Affiliation: Christian of approximately CofE affiliation, though I tend to go with what works.
  • S - Siblings: 1 sister.
  • T - Time you wake up: 6 a.m. weekdays; when it seems a good idea at weekends.
  • U - Unnatural hair colours you've had: none.
  • V - Vegetable you refuse to eat: none, though I've never been fond of beetroot and would really rather not. (The exception being when I had some really quite nice borscht in Russia. But not since.) And would really really rather not eat raw onion. Oh, and do fried onion rings count?
  • W - Worst habit: being practically perfect in every way. Failing that, tuning out when I think someone is beginning to bang on, giving the perfect imitation of a sympathetic interested listener.
  • X - X-rays you've had: teeth a few times, and my back on a couple of occasions. Also, I'm (just) of the generation that could freely irradiate its feet when you went to buy new shoes.
  • Y - Yummy: Chocolate. Christmas dinner with all the trappings. Crumble and custard. Could go on. Won't.
  • Z - Zodiac sign: Kasterborous (at galactic coordinates ten-zero-eleven-zero-zero by zero-two from galactic zero centre).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Situation Heightened

Amber isn't really the colour of danger, is it? Unless you're a fly about to be trapped in it. If a starship goes onto amber alert it probably means mood music playing in the turbolifts. It's hardly blaring alarms and shrieks of "so this is it, we're going to die."

Meanwhile, black is not a reassuring colour. It's the colour of death and funerals, not situation normal. So you have to wonder why the former three-stage Government Alert State System went Black (look out for terrorists), Black Special (terrorists have been spotted) and Amber (the person next to you is a terrorist and he's fiddling with his shoes). I believe the last time we were at Amber was shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

Someone has finally woken up to the non-intuitive nature of the alert system and replaced it with Normal, Heightened and Exceptional. For the record, we are now at Heightened.

It still reminds me of the moment in Red Dwarf where Rimmer, having declared blue alert (the word "alert" lights up, in blue) decides to go to red alert instead. Kryten asks: "Sir, are you absolutely sure? It does mean changing the bulb."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pet seminary

The Boy's fish has moved house and location. His name is Jimmy, though to preserve this blog's tradition of anonymity I should maybe refer to him as the Fish.

The Fish (or Jimmy) used to live in a rectangular tank in the Boy's room; now he has moved into a bowl in the living room, giving him (I calculate, having googled how to work out the volume of a sphere) an extra 800 cubic cm.

I have a sneaking suspicion that bringing him more into the family area is a cunning means of making him our responsibility. Which may not be wise. The pets of Ben to date have been:

  • Some goldfish when I was about five. Forget what happened to them, or how many there were.
  • Owly. Guinea pig, inherited from neighbours when they moved. Foully murdered one day by neighbour-across-the-road's champion ratter, who couldn't understand what the fuss was about. Owly was buried with full honours and a verse of the National Anthem.
  • Huffles, Susie, Blackie and Ginger. Guinea pigs. Huffles and Susie were purchased with blood money donated by champion ratter's owner. Huffles (mine) was a light brown abyssinian with fur in tufts; Susie (my sister's) was smooth haired with patches of brown and black and white. Huffles turned out to be not rodento intacto when she came from the shop (or we'd have required a discount) and before long turned out the other two whose names were bestowed on them for not entirely impenetrable reasons. The four of them were eventually sold on before we moved to Bangladesh in 1977. Because I never saw them go I still have the occasional fantasy that they may be alive ...
  • Peter, née Genevieve. Guinea pig, very elderly but not so elderly he couldn't have his way with Ginger before pegging it. The ambiguity over his name is because he was acquired from an elderly friend of my grandmother who gave him his birth name. Honestly! Even I, aged 10, could tell at one look that Genevieve was not really applicable so a hasty renaming was in order. Was told he had died in his sleep. In fact my father had gone in to feed the animals one morning and found maggots crawling in Peter's flesh, so zotted him on the head. My father forgot he had never actually told me this, hence the slightly traumatising conversation many years later that began "Do you remember that guinea pig of yours that I killed?"
  • UPDATE: Apparently it wasn't an elderly friend of my grandmother, it was her doctor (military), making the failure to recognise the fundamental Peter/Genevieve dichotomy even more baffling.
  • Piglet. Guinea pig. Lovechild of Peter and Ginger. Always sickly, didn't last long.
  • Tass. Dog. Domesticated Bangladeshi pye dog, to be precise; brown/ginger, short haired, with pointy ears and curly tail typical of the breed (though the ears flopped down at the top; he probably had a bit of European ancestry). Acquired from fellow ex-pats moving back to Blighty. Got his name because as a puppy he escaped from the Soviet Embassy (YES REALLY) which might explain his constant breaks for freedom whenever the gate was opened, to fight everything on four feet within a half mile radius. He never really twigged that he now had the diplomatic and military protection of the free West. On second thoughts, if he wasn't fighting with it then he was mating with it, so maybe he did. You could follow his progress around the suburbs by the sound of furious barking. Sadly, his loose ways proved his downfall and he died of a dose of canine clap one summer while we were in England.
  • Bruno. Cat. Acquired with our house in 1984 (strangely from the same original owners of Owly's murderer, 11 years earlier; the army throws up coincidences like that), died of respectable old age in 1998 after a further two house moves. Or rather: euthenased with dignity in the vet's surgery, though I gather a close relative had to be talked out of taking cat and rifle on the long walk to the end of the garden.
So there you have it. A sad tale of premature death or being sold; only Bruno had everything mostly his own way but what would you expect of the species? Jimmy should watch out.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Oxford Lights

I have to tread carefully here because you have to sign a non-disclosure agreement to get a day pass to get on set. (Which fact I think I am allowed to disclose.) Anyway ...
  • There is a film currently being filmed in Oxford, based on the first volume of a children's fantasy trilogy set in multiple alternate worlds. Atheism and the death of God play a small part in the plot.
  • Ly- The young heroine is indeed played by a young girl. Panta- Her good metamorphic friend is occasionally played for shooting purposes by a stuffed cat. (For purposes of the part the girl has to look like she shares the DNA of Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman, which she could do. Well, she comes closer than Keira Knightley in last year's Pride and Prejudice, whom we had to believe shares the DNA of Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn. Nah.)
  • Her attic bedroom looks atticy and bedroomy.
  • Unless it ends up on the cutting room floor, at one point a cat runs down a stone passage. As that's all I saw being filmed, I'll be very cross if it does end up on the cutting room floor.
And there you have it. The inside goss on next year's blockbuster, no less.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Never a frown

I enjoy listening to Wogan on the morning drive in but I wish someone would tell him there's one joke that's been done to death. Yes, Tel, thanks, we all know that the names of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and one of the Stranglers's greatest hits are very similar. We don't need the joke every time you play it.

Anyway, one is a blatant advertisement for recreational drug use and the other is a wistful, slightly offbeat ditty led by a harpsichord.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Chinese puzzle

You can have endless, if borderline xenophobic, fun speculating about our downstairs neighbours.

The downstairs flat is slightly smaller than ours, which has two bedrooms and a living room. They lack the living room. Generally one of the larger rooms has been their living room and the other the bedroom. The flat is rented out and tenants tend to be couples who stay for a couple of years before moving on. Once a baby was born there and once there was a couple with a primary school age girl, who were just waiting for a house sale to come through. Otherwise, two neighbours is the norm down below.

We currently have five. And a half.

Last year a couple of Chinese people moved in - maybe students, maybe not, dunno. One of them works at Tesco. Every now and then a white, middle aged man rolls up, parks his car smack in the middle of a space that would be wide enough for two cars parked side by side, and spends a night or nights before disappearing again.

Then a third Chinese girl joined the mix. All three now live in one of the large rooms - in fact, the smaller of the two, beneath the Boy's room - and sublet the other to another couple (white, mid-to-eastern European extraction). Mr McCantparkstraight still stays over from time to time, possibly packed into an overhead locker.

I'd be very surprised if the letting agency, or indeed the owner, knew of this arrangement. But we don't let on because they're clean and quiet, and if they were Al-Qaeda they would have blown us up long ago. My former neighbours have included the Chippy Scot, the Laughing Hyena (whose sense of humour tended to be tickled at about 2am) and Satan's very own double glazing salesman. So I don't complain.

Today they got a letter addressed to "The Legal Occupier". It's still sitting in the hallway because they've forgotten whose turn it is to be the legal one today.

Cisterns are doing it for themselves

Came home last night to find Best Beloved, an open DIY manual and the toilet all locked in a dynamic tableau of Woman Against the Cistern (that Won’t Stop Flushing). We could diagnose but not fix a blocked valve-or-summat in that plasticy thingy that the water disappears into. Therefore, the cistern wouldn't fill, therefore the ballcock wouldn't rise, therefore water kept pouring into it. So, the ballcock was jammed in the up position and a phone call first thing this morning ascertained that (of course) our plumbing insurance only covers emergency emergencies, not yer general sort of emergency. But at least we got pointed to an approved-hence-expensive plumber (first cheque drawn on the new joint account!) and two hours later we had a new summat. So we can’t complain.

“At least we get a new cistern out of it,” said the Boy before heading off to school, before the plumber’s arrival, with a naïve innocence that almost brings a tear to the eye. He still hasn’t twigged that he lives with a soldier’s son and a farmer’s daughter and we don’t do new – not when old, patched up and perfectly serviceable still works just fine.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem

We have normality, or what will become it. Until the start of this week, of course, normality has consisted of me going off to work every day leaving wife and child behind to enjoy their summer break. So maybe it’s more accurate to say we now have full unusuality, which after six and a half weeks (which is how long we’ve been married) will become the new normality.

Best Beloved started back at work on Monday and the Boy returns to school today. Three of us looking reasonably smart before 8 a.m. – a whole new experience. Once again I have to look carefully from left to right as the car crawls out of the drive, to dodge the swarms of children on bikes, and the roads are clogged. This is what life is all about.

What I don’t get is why the roads are clogged on the way to work. I can understand the roads leading to schools being fuller than usual but not the roads leading to far-flung high energy research establishments. We don’t have children here ... um ... do we? I suppose they have to send someone down to clean the pipes.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Plant crossing

Last month I mentioned the introduction of vegetable matter into my lunchtime rolls. Now I can no longer even mention my lunchtime rolls because it has become a lunchtime roll, singular. It still contains plants, though, and its missing twin has been replaced by a much bigger plant. In fact, a very juicy, tasty, roundish plant with red and yellow skin and a stalk and pips. But a plant none the less.

The new lunchtime ethos is "healthier, and less of it." Still, that's why we have vending machines. I will just have to work hard and tighten the belt until this evening.

Current music: Genesis, 'Return of the Giant Hogweed'

It looks like you're writing a letter ...

New (to me) PC installed over the weekend. Fun!

Its predecessor was acquired in January 2001 and ran Windows ME. It's no concidence that Windows ME was named after a painful and debilitating disease. After a couple of years it was upgraded to Windows 2000 by a passing teenage whizkid. It ran a little slower, but much, much better. Earlier this year I installed Nortons 2006 on it and it went from a little slower to massively slower.

So, a faster PC was always on the cards. The present one is only on loan, part and parcel of some freelance work that I've taken on, so will have to be given back eventually. But for the time being it has speed. It has Sophos. It has XP ... hmm. XP. Does exactly the same as 2000, but lets Microsoft take their insistence on micromanaging your computing experience to unprecedented levels, with a brutal blocky colour scheme reminiscent of Windows 3.1 (and why anyone would want to reminisce about that is beyond me).

Microsoft do so love to be helpful. They give you that bloody paperclip. They categorise the control panel so you can't find anything. But when it comes to being usefully helpful ...

I was working on some text in Word on the new PC. I instinctively pressed CTRL+W to get a word count, and the document closed itself. I was forgetting. You see, there are two keyboard shortcuts I always set up when I get a new copy of Word. One is the word count. This exists under the Tools menu, but I don't want to go to a menu everytime I want a word count (which is often). CTRL+W is the most cripplingly obvious keyboard shortcut imaginable to get a word count. So why doesn't Word have it? Why instead does it have two separate ways of closing a document? (Small prize for anyone who can tell me the other.)

The other is one that doesn't exist at all in Word, so I have to set it up as a macro. In fact it hasn't existed in any word processor I have ever used except Protext, which was an imperfection-free ASCII text editor on my old Amstrad PCW. Just about the most common typing error in the whole wide world is transposing two letters. eBn instead of Ben, natidisestablishmentarianism instead of antidisestablishmentarianism, etc. With Protext you could press two keys and swap the wrong letters the right way round. With any copy of Word that has passed through my hands, you can press ALT+A to do the same thing.

The micromanagers of Microsoft have set things up so that when I put my memory stick in the USB port, I am now told that there are a variety of file formats on this, what would I like to do? Strangely, I already knew what was on my own memory stick so I would like you to JUST OPEN THE F*&^ING THING like Windows 2000 did. See? They've found yet another way to be fascistically helpful. But, in all the years Word has been around, they still haven't got round to adding those two simple keystrokes.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Statcounter tales

For some time I've been using Statcounter to get the details of who comes calling to this blog. Hence for instance I know that yesterday someone working at (Headquarters Usaaisc) in New Jersey came here via a search for "naked girls". And, now I've written that, will probably come here again.

Lately Statcounter has done a deal with Google Analytics so that I can display a map of where everyone has come from. Except that the map stops at about 150 degrees W and 150 degrees E - in other words it leaves out a full 60 degrees of the planet, which includes the east coast of Australia, most of the Pacific and all of New Zealand. (And the west bit of Alaska, but who cares?)

So apologies to you eastern Aussies, Kiwis and Polynesians. Google doesn't care but I still think you're lovely.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Slicker Wicker

In what may not be the wisest casting decision ever, Nicolas Cage is starring in a high-budget American remake of low-budget seventies British classic The Wicker Man. Production costs for the original were helped by Christopher Lee giving his services for free. Cage’s paycheck is most likely higher.

I won’t spoil the original for anyone whose years are too tender to have seen it yet. Let’s just say it comes down to a clash between two inimical traditions, yer basic Christianity and a much older pagan religion as practiced on a remote Scottish island. The clash is embodied in the interaction of the two lead characters: slightly dour Scottish Presbyterian Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) and the local laird, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee in the role of his life; anyone who just associates him with Saruman has some unlearning to do). A key but underplayed-till-it’s-important plot point is the fact that Howie is a virgin.

This was where my heart really started to sink, because I read in the latest SFX that this point has been removed from the remake as there’s no way the director thought Middle America would buy the idea of Nicolas Cage knowing not the love of women. Logic would suggest that if your lead actor can’t convince your paying audience of a key aspect of his character’s persona, then you’ve cast the wrong actor. But what do I know.

You may be thinking – wow, a film that shows a clash between Christians and pagans, jeewhillickers, I haven’t seen one of those before. What makes it distinct is the sympathy shown to Howie’s character. No, he’s not the life and soul of the party (and is ribbed by his police colleagues for it) but he is a humbly steadfast, righteous man. He resists the seduction of Britt Ekland when his every molecule wants to go for it, and he quietly reconsecrates a deserted church with the help of a broken packing crate, giving his God what honour he can. Faced with insuperable odds, he simply sticks to doing right as he is best able, and trusts God to fill in the gaps. If he’s a tad puritanical then it’s through personal choice and conviction, not smug hypocrisy or any personal inadequacy.

The people of Summerisle are the dark side of the New Age, seemingly all fun-loving and in touch with nature, but don’t look too deep. Lord Summerisle is confident and assured throughout the movie (and he gets all the best lines*), right until the end when Howie asks him what will happen if his intended plan to revive the island’s fortunes (and it’s an extreme plan) doesn’t work. The mask slips; for just a moment there is no smile, no smugness, indeed it’s almost a snarl as Summerisle declares dogmatically that it will work. Then the smile and the poise are back, and the plot is led to its downbeat fulfilment.

But it stays with you. Howie is physically, instinctively afraid but his convictions never slip. Not once. Summerisle’s distinctly slipped.

A few years ago, Chocolat showed a clash between rules-based Christianity and allegedly free-spirited paganism in a small community. There, the pagan was in the minority. Thankfully, both sides were shown to be flawed, with the lead character just as enslaved by her own personal demons as the villagers were by the pointless rules of the church, and both parties are freed by the end of the feature. But critic Roger Ebert wondered if anyone would ever make "a film in which the glowing, life-affirming local Christians prevailed over glowering, prejudiced, puritan and bitter Druid worshippers".

The original Wicker Man is not that film, and as you watch the final denouement and the credits start to roll, you may think it never even came near. But once the credits are done and the ad break has come up, and you start to think back to the examples set by the characters, you realise that for all its emphatically unhappy ending it was pretty close.

How close the remake comes remains to be seen. Anyway, closeness is a relative term. Sometimes Mars is quite close to Earth.

[* An aghast Howie has just seen naked teenage girls jumping over a bonfire.

- Summerisle: They do love their divinity lessons.
- Howie: But they’re naked!
- Summerisle: Of course. It’s very dangerous to jump over a bonfire with your clothes on.]

Not the first to mention this, but ...

Today's BBC News website has two stories, one above the other: