Saturday, June 30, 2007

Picture this

Very kind, but what exactly do I do with it?

(Context: this is in the lobby of a hospital where it's a fair bit that if you shouted "help, he's having a heart attack" there would be trained personnel coming out of the woodwork.)

Next up: but ... that's not my car reg. number.

And for no reason except that all these pics were taken in Cardiff, this is not a sad fanboy tourist taking his own picture in the ToshTorchwood fountain.

Yup - been to Cardiff and back, and T the injured sailor is doing just fine, thanks.

I said it! I said it!

Some background.

My colleague C leaves us this autumn to go to drama school, making a stab at becoming a professional actress. She is already a pretty good amateur one, with numerous stage appearances and even a couple of small speaking parts on TV.

So, she's an actress. Hold that thought.

This year's summer works do was a Kingmaker Feast at Warwick Castle. In honour of the event, most of us dressed up in a variety of medieval costumes. (A photo may follow in a later post.) My colleague B was there as a bishop, with purple skullcap and long black robe and large cross.

A bishop. Hold that thought.

B hadn't done his robe up in a couple of places, so C said, "shouldn't that be buttoned up?"

And I said-

I actually said-

"As the actress said to the bishop."


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cruise control

Yet more Entertainment from the BBC: Germany imposes ban on Tom Cruise!

How very wise.

Something to do with his association with a dodgy organisation founded by a power-mad paranoid nutcase. Hmm. A shame, because he's in Germany to make a film about Claus von Stauffenberg, which is a story worth telling as long as they stick to actual history and don't Hollywoodise it. "This Hitler guy. He, like survives. Can we change that? And can this Stoffenberger have a cute kid"?


Monday, June 25, 2007

'Avin' a time on the Aventine

I’m interested in how governments work. Have been for a long time. I still have copies of the US Constitution and the constitution of the Fifth Republic that I photocopied at school. I once wrote to Helmut Schmidt and got back a nice letter (in German) and a booklet (in English) all about the history and structure of the Bundesrepublik. I was fascinated by the different ways different systems distinguish (or don’t) between head of government and head of state. I spent far too much of my O-level revision – in between learning Cyrillic and other displacement activities – drafting a constitution for a world government. I did a (Philosophy &) Politics degree, though I could never understand all those people who said, “oh, are you going to be a politician?” Like, if I was a medical student studying venereal diseases, I’d want to catch one, right? I think not.

Which is probably why I enjoy The West Wing so much. I watched this when Channel 4 was showing it on terrestrial TV – and the fact that it was shelved after the fourth series, while Big Brother goes on, says everything you need to know about what was once the Great White Hope of British broadcasting. And now I’m rewatching it, on Sunday evenings, on More4. My weekly treat.

I like it because of the wish fulfilment – the Office of President of the United States should belong to someone like Bartlet. I also like it for its doses of realism. I like the fact that the characters are very often flawed, getting it wrong in their enthusiasm to get it right, needing to be reigned in. Hard choices have to be made for the best of reasons. And they can make high drama out of whether or not a particular individual gets appointed to a particular committee, or whether the President gets a three percent rise in a particular poll. And show me anyone who didn’t get misty eyed when (as last night) Bartlet realises he always used to have a decent pen to sign things with because the late Mrs Landingham slipped one into his pocket every morning.

But Sunday evenings now show an interesting reverse side to the government coin, and it conveniently starts just as The West Wing is ending. Yes, Rome is back! Maximus Bonkus resurrexit.

Not that there’s been much Bonkus yet; it seems to have been replaced as a ratings puller by a greater reliance on swearing (profanitus?), with Mark Antony in particular always reliably finding the mot juste. I miss Ciaran Hinds doing his imitation of Peter Cook doing Richard III doing Julius Caesar but it’s great fun watching Antony trying to step into the breach left by his former master, and failing. The Roman Republic lasted 400 years, which is pretty good by anyone's standards, with a system of official posts handed out for fixed terms around the aristocracy, who by and large took their jobs seriously. Here the system is on its last legs because too much power has become concentrated with people who don’t realise that even if a dictator thoroughly despises the people, he still has to keep them happy. Caesar knew that. Antony doesn’t really believe it. Young Octavian is in no doubt at all about it. Inherited aristocratic privilege only gets you a certain amount of credit. Ultimately, your right to lead must still be earned.

And accents are slipping; Pullo is more obviously Irish, Vorenus more obviously a Scot. But what the heck. The huge triumph of Rome – something every fantasy author should take note of – is depicting a society of people very like us yet entirely untouched by 2000 years of Judeo-Christianity. Even the most ardent atheist today has grown up in a world formed first by the social legacy of the Bible, then by the Renaissance and the Reformation and the Enlightenment. We all have a passing acquaintance with the morality of the Ten Commandments, and the Rights of Man, and universal suffrage. These people haven’t. Nothing that we consider ‘normal’ can be taken for granted, and it works. We really can believe a gang fight can be stopped by a bunch of effeminate priests and a wooden idol, and we can find it just as shocking as these hardened murderers when Vorenus announces his opinion of the idol in terms St Paul could only dream of. (For the faint of heart, it translates roughly as “I engage in sexual relations with Concordia via the orifice traditionally associated with defecation.”)

And then to top it all off we get a girly slapfight between Antony and Octavian. Bloody brilliant. Okay, so history has been torn up and thrown out of the window but I still want to know what happens next. I have a shrewd idea Antony and Cleopatra may overcome their dislike for each other. Octavian probably has great things ahead of him; in fact I can see him growing to resemble a younger Brian Blessed and one day having a stammering step-grandson with a strange resemblance to the last incarnation of the Master. Round about 3 or 4 BC he will have a clever idea for a tax throughout the Empire. But here I’m just guessing.

Semi me

Your Score: Semicolon

You scored 23% Sociability and 76% Sophistication!

Congratulations! You are the semicolon! You are the highest expression of punctuation; no one has more of a right to be proud. In the hands of a master, you will purr, sneering at commas, dismissing periods as beneath your contempt. You separate and connect at the same time, and no one does it better. The novice will find you difficult to come to terms with, but you need no one. You are secure in your elegance, knowing that you, and only you, have the power to mark the skill or incompetence of the craftsman.

You have no natural enemies; all fear you.

And never, NEVER let anyone tell you that you cannot appear in dialogue!

Link: The Which Punctuation Mark Are You Test written by Gazda on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reinstalling windows

Ever wondered what a bedroom looks like standing on one end? Well, I can help.

I've been strangely remiss about letting the world know the flat has stood empty for a week with large gaps in the walls where the windows used to be. Must have slipped my mind. Anyway, it's the end of an era. Out with the old, and in with the new. Newish. Actually exactly the same as the old. Reinstallation rather than an upgrade. We moved out, Ventrolla moved in. The original wooden frames (and I think they are original) have been taken out and rubbed down, the sashes repaired, the windows reputtied, and most important of all removable beading has been put in so that in future the windows can be taken out internally and cleaned.

I'm glad we went this way rather than the PVC double glazing, because (a) the original wooden frames have a certain elegance to them that deserved to be retained, and (b) it's a lot cheaper.

"Cheaper" being a relative term, you understand, but hey, who needs a savings account?

This has also meant the retirement of Old Faithful ...

... the sheet of laminated cardboard that has masqueraded as a window pane since December when the old one decided to snap in two all on its own.

The Boy's bedroom used to have just one window that opened - the bottom half, and it had to be wedged. When it was my room I used an old floppy drive casing for the purpose and the window had four settings: floppy drive lying flat, floppy drive lying on its edge, floppy drive standing on its end, or a large metal waste paper bin for really warm weather. In what is now our room, only the top half of one of the windows would open and it helped if you muttered a small prayer to keep Old Faithful's already dodgy predecessor in its frame.

But now all our windows open! Top and bottom! And they stay there! And so does the glass! It's unprecedented. And sound proofed, thanks to draught-proofing in the frames. Shut the windows and you can hardly tell you're on a main road.

Of course, we sleep with the windows open which completely loses the benefit, but come a busy day on the A415 in the depths of winter and we'll hardly notice.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I see it in your eyes; you'll be alright

Hospitals, eh? The only place on earth where you can go in feeling fine and come out feeling like death warmed up. And don't get me started on what the patients feel.

Okay, my friend whom we shall call T went in feeling nothing at all, due to a collision between his head and a steel cable, and now he doesn't really know how he feels, or where he is, or (quite possibly) who I am, but he can register your presence and respond to conversation with nods.

I ate with his parents in a canteen overlooking the hospital's helipad. I remarked that was presumably where T came in. His father explained that, actually, no, having built this superduper helipad they realised the updraft bouncing back up from the helicopter's downdraft would blow out the windows of the buildings surrounding it on three sides. The helicopter apparently had to put down in a field a mile away. But I must say, the helipad looks very smart.

I gave T a holding cross from Best Beloved to, well, hold, which he kept trying to eat. His mother thinks he thinks it's a biscuit. This makes me think I was recognised; I was associated with all the meals he's got off me over the years. When your only food for over a week has been liquid gunge squirted down your nose, you're probably in the mood for something a bit more solid. He kept tapping it on the table. I think he knows he's in the navy but he's got bogged down as to which century.

I've known him, or at least of him, since he was 9, though he once confessed his own memories of me only start at 14. Well, there's gratitude.

I'm lighthearted and flippant. Don't be fooled. I got the title for this post from Athlete's 'Wires'. I know, that one's about the singer's premature baby in an incubator, but I share the emotions.

There have been ups and downs but overall ups. Yesterday he came out of Intensive Care; he's now just Highly Dependent. Today he was out of bed for the first time since the bump. Tomorrow they may well take him around on a wheelchair. He tries to speak, and even though the tubes turn it into a very quiet whisper it sounds like it would make sense if you could hear it. He tries to pull the tubes out; I have to remind him that officers obey orders and the doctor says to leave them in.

My immediate friends reading this know who T is; I haven't dared mention it to my wider audience until today. But I see it in T's eyes; he'll be all right.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Who you are awful

Two things I have learnt about gay Dr Who fans. They're a much bigger interest group than I had previously thought, and they don't have videos.

Apparently the final episode of the present series, "The Last of the Time Lords", overlaps with the London Gay Pride Festival. The festival organisers are sparing their members the agony of choice by broadcasting the episode, live, on a big screen in Trafalgar Square. How sweet.

Just in case the event's gay credentials are still in doubt, it will be co-hosted by John Barrowman and Graham Norton. As Mr Pratchett once put it, gayer than a treeload of monkeys on nitrous oxide.

For some reason, probably quite reprehensible and indicative of my need for fundamental social reconstruction, the title "The Last of the Time Lords" is putting me in mind of Joey from Friends: "so, if homo sapiens were homo sapiens, is that why they're extinct?"

Plenty more phish in the sea

We've all had phishing emails - something along the lines of
Dear Barklays customer,
We has notised some funny activity on your account please click the link. Below to verify your identity wiv us.
Barklays customer relations (no reely)
P.S. Oh what your not a Barklays customer? sorry we ment HSBC please click the link anyway its all the same to us
Anyone can play. If they're not pretending to be a bank with whom you may or may not have ann account, they can pretend to be eBay or Paypal. But today I got my first phish from someone purporting to be ... Amazon Inc.

Someone wants my Amazon details?

What exactly are they going to do with this fraudulently obtained information? Buy books?

I'm almost inclined to say "be my guest".


Sunday, June 10, 2007

The ultimate hoodie

For those tiresome moments when your curtains have been taken down for cleaning, and the westering sun shines direct through your bedroom windows onto your screen, and there is some World of Warcraft that badly needs playing. At least, I think that's what he's doing in there.

The BoyHood(tm) is specially crafted to cover both the head of a single computer use and the screen of the computer, blocking out that awkward life-giving sun thing up in the sky and letting you concentrate fully on the screen action, at approx 100 pixels per braincell.

It also doubles as high-visibility safety wear in murky conditions.

Single user versions only are currently available; the management are not aware of any plans for a double. Yet.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Paris, frankly

The BBC news site, under "Entertainment", has "Paris Hilton is sent back to jail". Indeed, it doesn't get much more entertaining than that.

It makes sense. The four walls of an empty jail cell seal off about 100 square feet of real estate that serves no purpose at all. Paris Hilton serves no purpose at all either. Both are complete wastes of space but, by combining them, we have effectively just one waste of space, a 50% reduction. And the great thing is, this combined single waste of space stays in one place so you can easily avoid it.

The American justice system is not perfect but in this case I'm all for it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Oh what a lovely ... um ...

This week has seen the 40th anniversaries of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the start of the Six Day War. They came out within 24 hours of each other. The irony is not lost on me.

I don't know what the Arab nations think of Sergeant Pepper, but Jerry Timmins, head of Africa and Middle East for the BBC World Service, reports that they don't like referring to the Six Day War as a "war". They prefer to use the term ... "setback".

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I say I say I say

Why are Lothlorien and Rivendell such dangerous places to work?

Because there's no Elfin Safety Commission.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The links effect

Links have started breeding on my blog.

A couple of days ago I got an nice email from Amazon inviting me to add a bit of HTML to the source code. I read it several times, I even looked at their demo page, and I still couldn't quite understand what it did. So I added it anyway out of curiosity.

Oh right, now I get it. Scroll down and look at the reading or read list at the bottom of the sidebar on the left. None of the links there are my own doing. Amazon cleverly scans my content for phrases it can identify with and makes its own links. Hover the cursor over one of them and a little preview window pops up. Neat. Note that it's not actually rewriting my own code to add these links - a quick check on View Page Source tells me that. Somehow these links are overlaid on top of what I've already written. If you follow through and actually buy the thing, I get a cut of your money. Apparently.

And they change. Yesterday, Vice Versa had a link to the 1988 movie of that title, but today it's gone. Maybe someone bought their last copy. This leads to the second unavoidable observation which is that they use guesswork. Amazon had no way of knowing that I was reading the 1880s original of a pompous father and wayward son accidentally swapping bodies, which is still very funny. Likewise the Good Shepherd link is to the Matt Damon movie of that name, not C.S. Forester's harrowing tale of the Atlantic convoys in WW2. Not seen the movie but I'm prepared to hazard a guess as to which is better.

If the pounds start rolling in, I may keep it; if not I'll drop it. Let's see.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lisa Simpson doing something obscene

- is just one of the comments on the BBC site about the London Olympics 2012 logo.

A colleague reports that another is "two cartoon people having sex". Well, you can see what he means. My own would be "Picasso's Cubist rendition of a bird poo". Look closely and you can see it has a "TM". Someone has optimistically registered it as a trademark. Their seeing-eye dog probably helped fill in the form.

You can read the full story, and indeed vote for it: gold, silver, bronze or wooden spoon. So far wooden spoon leads the field with 82% of the vote. The Beeb adds a disclaimer that "Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion", but in this case I really think they may.

Honestly, £400,000 for that? I am so in the wrong job. And clearly I'm not the only one.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A quiet night out

We attend Christ Church on Long Furlong, and like most Christ Churches it's fairly evangelical. Evangelicals won't deal with anyone below the boss's son.

Just down the road from us, though, is St Michael's, which is technically Anglican but which I was put off many years ago by excessive Highness. The high church types have no difficulty in dealing with the senior management team and St Mike is about as senior as you get without actually being a deity.

But I have matured a little in my own tastes and we've just got back from the 6.30 evening service. The two of us swelled the congregation by approximately a third. We listened to readings, we sang a hymn, we sat in pews designed by a secret cabal of chiropractors to boost their trade. All interspersed by periods of silence.

The church was utterly peaceful and full of light. Birds sang outside. All was well with the world.

St Michael's will never have a teenage band member treating the congregation to his indie version of "If I were a butterfly", as ours did this morning. It loses nothing by this fact. In the great body of Christ, Long Furlong is arms or legs - active, visible bits that go out and do things - and St Mike's is the secret, hidden organs that you rarely see but which are just as important.

Long live denominations.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Behold, cake!

Another year, another cake break.

This thoroughly acceptable tradition occurs each year in aid of cancer relief. Famine relief would probably be tactless. Members of staff bring in cake and related confectionary products (a colleague does a very nice line in a sort of rice krispies/flapjack crossover based on melted Mars bars) and you can gorge yourself at a pound a slice, all money taken going to the cancerous.

Pontefract cake does not apply.

These pictures are taken before the gannets struck.

Some people may just buy off the shelf.

Others may have married someone who knows a secret Swedish chocolate cake recipe handed down from mother to daughter since the dawn of time.

The end result is the same. Bloated stomachs, faint nausea, several quid down the drain and still a feeling of having done right. It's a tough job, being charitable, but someone has to do it.

Just think ...

A year ago, we could have said "we'll be married next month".

I may post something subtly revised but equally predictable on 1 July.