Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bermuda here I come

One must tread carefully in this post-Northern Rock climate, but let me announce that I have closed my Post Office account.

Opening the account some thirty years ago was the most grown up thing I have ever done with my money. Borrowing three and a half times my salary to buy a house was nothing compared to handing a five pound note to the nice lady behind the glass screen, and getting it noted down in my little blue plastic book.

(That book came in handy years later when I wanted to join the local video shop in the town to which we had just moved. They required ID with your name and address on and I had nothing to match that description. [This was Tidworth, a garrison town, which really should have been used to the semi-transient nature of its population.] I went home, got one of our new address stickers, stuck it in the book and took it back. I was accepted.)

A few years later I opened my Investment account, getting a little grey plastic book in return. Now I finally reap the rewards of my financial prudence, though to be honest I thought I had done this years ago until I found the books while clearing out the files. The Investment account had grown from £2.07 to £5.10, but I really struck the jackpot with the ordinary account. The 37p that has lain dormant since 1985 had swelled to a majestic 46p.

I'd retire, but I don't know what I'd do with the time.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The people's king

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is here for a state visit. It took three hours for his luggage to be unloaded at Heathrow.

So, no special treatment for him, obviously ...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tea with Ladies who Present

Watching Mrs Henderson Presents last night I found myself, as I do, thinking "what if?" What if one of the soldiers who come flocking to the Windmill threatre owned by Mrs Henderson (Judi Dench) went on leave to Cornwall where they met a batty old lady madly in platonic love with a Polish violinist who was washed up on shore below her cottage (Ladies in Lavender, starring Judi Dench); then, having rejoined his unit, got posted to the Allied invasion of Italy where he encountered a fearsome old biddy at the head of a coterie of elderly English ladies interned by Mussolini (Tea with Mussolini, starring Judi Dench).

In fact, for an elderly classical actress, Judi Dench has knocked up a fair tranche of WW2 movies. As has Maggie Smith, who co-stars in two of the above.

But Mrs Henderson Presents is my favourite of the three. It is the largely true story of a hugely wealthy ex-Raj ("in India we always had someone to look down on") widow who, apparently on a whim, buys up the ailing Windmill theatre in London. Mrs H is a woman of impeccable taste and breeding, and can instinctively tell the difference between smut and art featuring nudes, even if the difference isn't immediately obvious to others. She is in no doubt that if she packs her stage show full of nude ladies then the seats will sell out - but at the same time is adamant that this is all in the best possible taste, and the ladies will not be taken advantage of.

The Lord Chamberlain, on whom the theatre's licence depends, talks of bosoms. She talks of breasts. "What's the difference?" he asks. "It's in the soul," she replies. She goes on to point out that art galleries are packed full of nude women. He points out that women in pictures don't move about much. And thus is born a fantastically British compromise. The Windmill theatre can feature nude women - as long as they stay absolutely motionless, poised in carefully arranged tableaux that emphasise the B-word and draw attention away from what the Lord Chamberlain (and John Gielgud before him) calls the Midlands.

The argument obviously worked on the present day film licensing board, because I don't think I have ever seen as much exposed flesh in a 12-rated film before. Though any film that can also feature (briefly) a full frontal unexpected naked Bob Hoskins really should have a certificate category all of its own.

The proud claim of the Windmill was that it never closed, not even during the Blitz. It helped being underground, so as safe as any shelter and a lot more fun. Eventually Mrs H's reasoning comes out. Her own son was killed aged 21 in WW1. Going through his things, she found a nude postcard and realised that this was probably the only nude woman her boy ever saw in his short life. Now the country is once again asking its brightest and best to lay down their lives for their King, she reasons the least it can do in return is give them an eyeful before they go.

Well, it's a point of view.

It's a very sweet, innocent and mostly plausible story, with wonderful performances from La Dench and Le Hoskins, playing characters who are entirely platonic and yet love each other fiercely. You only want to punch Will Young in his film debut two or three times, tops. (Mrs H asks his opinion of the dancers; he explains that he has "other inclinations"; she giggles, "oh, how delicious!") And the astonishing thing is, you probably wouldn't feel shy showing it to a party of 12 year olds.

You have to be older to giggle at the Lord Chamberlain, though. He is played by a tall, grey haired, distinguished man, every inch the aristocrat ... Christopher Guest, who I last saw extolling the virtues of an amplifier that goes up to 11 in This is Spinal Tap.

Moments lost like tears in the rain

Just drove back from my monthly writer's group meeting, down the M4 from Chiswick on a dark and wet evening.

At this stage of its evolution, the M4 is a dual carriageway on stilts that winds its way around the third or fourth stories of ultra modern office blocks, festooned with advertisements. An endless stream of red tail lights stretching ahead, reflecting off the wet tarmac; an equally endless stream of headlights coming towards me, white light collecting in the raindrops on the windscreen before being smeared away by the wipers. And everywhere these adverts - not just posters with a spotlight but (as far as I could tell) internally illuminated LCD screens for holidays and clothing companies that, frankly, are going to cause a crash one day.

It seemed the most natural thing in the world to have The Best of Vangelis on the tape deck, because I swear I was in a scene from Blade Runner.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The angels had the phone box

But they put it down again and are now lifting up the unexpected hovering fire engine on the right.

Day to day life in Abo, folks.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I put my red genes on

Neanderthals 'were flame-haired', says the BBC. A DNA study on Neanderthal remains has found "a variant of MC1R in Neanderthals which is not present in modern humans, but which causes an effect on the hair similar to that seen in modern redheads."

Well, of course they were, you fools, cries anyone who has read The New World Order.

Whose author reluctantly admits to basing it as a bit of fun on an off-the-cuff speculation in New Scientist getting on for ten years ago.

But for the sake of argument, let's just say you read it here first.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Come'n'try Coventry

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. If you ever get married, find a wife with a good-...

Hold on, I'll rephrase that. Gentlemen, boys, if you ever get married, find a wife with a good sense of direction. For if, as we did today, you find yourselves on the Coventry ringroad, you will learn that her value is above rubies. Though I knew that already.

The Coventry ringroad was designed by Satan on a particularly off day, when he had just lost a carefully groomed 99 year old mass murdering adulterer to a deathbed repentance and so was in a fouler mood than usual. The spirals within spirals, some going up, some going down, do have a certain Mandelbrot charm to the right kind of mind; but the slip roads, where in-coming and out-going traffic must cut across each other through the same 100 yard gap ... sorry, that's just mean.

Having penetrated to the city centre, parking was a further new experience. We had cunningly chosen Lanchester Polytechnic Coventry University's open day, and everywhere we went we saw signs saying "Open Day: Use Public Car Parks". The public had needed no second bidding. Finally we came across a car park that was half empty, full of university-reserved parking spaces. The attendant wouldn't let us use it because he said that although he wouldn't book us, chances were good that a university jobsworth would. Thanks, guys, that's not a dog in the manger attitude at all. Huh. Once a poly, always a poly ...

Finally we found a car park outside the ringroad near the Coventry Canal Basin. Well, knock me down with a feather. Three years I was at Warwick, and ... Coventry has a canal basin?

Coventry has a canal?


Anyhoos. The purpose of this expedition was to see the mighty Coventry Cathedral. I don't think I've been back since my graduation ceremony twenty years ago ...

and Best Beloved hasn't seen it at all, until today.

I love Coventry Cathedral. (Still not as much as Salisbury, mind ...) I love it because it is modern, timeless and pleasing on the eye. I love it for the way it was designed from the ground up as a symbol of reconciliation, following the city's comprehensive luftwaffing in November 1940. I love it for its sheer proof that contrary to so much counter evidence (much of which is elsewhere in Coventry), we could build decent buildings that were pleasant to behold during the 1950s. If all our post-war reconstruction had taken the same pains, our national character today would be very different.

Take, by way of contrast, Guildford Cathedral, a building of roughly similar vintage, planned before the war and finished after. It's basically a modern copy of yer trad cathedral and looks like something Albert Speer might have built if he had been given a cathedral brief and a pile of red bricks that needed using up. Coventry takes the trad cathedral concept - a big rectangular building where people worship'n'all - and does something brand new with it. It is full of space and light, almost ethereal. It adjoins the remains of the old cathedral, which is still officially consecrated, so that the two are part of a greater whole. It is also distinctly lower than the old one, to symbolise repentance.

And ... and so on. Just go and see it.

The first time I saw the cathedral - as a prospective student staying the night in Coventry prior to my interview at Warwick - I was so moved that I felt in my bones I would one day write the definitive science fictional treatment of its story. Actually this lot was not to fall to me - it fell to Connie Willis with her wonderful, witty and moving To Say Nothing of the Dog. However, though I say it myself, my own little effort ("Cathedral No. 3", published in Interzone November 1996, html or PDF) isn't too bad ... even though I have since realised it should, technically, be Cathedral No. 4.

To which I say, canal basins.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A poster saying beware of the leopard

Our next door neighbour has two cars and no offroad parking, so wants to convert his front garden into a parking space. This seems a thoroughly reasonable venture to me, but given that he is our next door neighbour, we went this morning to the council offices to view the application. No problem, it won't impinge on us as far as we can tell, and he has our blessing.

I do however observe that he has had a failure of imagination. Rather ingeniously (I think) his plans involve a turntable. To save manoeuvring your car into position in a narrow space by means of the forward and reverse gears, you can buy a turntable. You drive straight in off the road, get out, manually turn the turntable so your car is facing its parking space, and - well - park. To get out into the road again, reverse the process.

But - manually? Come on! If I had a turntable for my car there's only one conceivable way it could work. It would require push button control from inside the car, preferably with the Thunderbirds launching music playing in the background. Has this man never seen a Gerry Anderson show? Or for that matter A Close Shave?


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Two trees in one place

It's Autumn. On some trees, the leaves are turning yellow and dropping. On others, inscrutably known as evergreens, they stay green.

But this tree appears to be both. Part of it is resolutely staying green, the other part (of a completely different species, or at least leaf shape) is distinctly deciduous.

Shrewd observation showed the latter to be a vine that is growing into the tree, and indeed all the trees along the side of the park. So it's not really two trees at all. But it's still striking.

If your powers of plant categorisation fall into roughly "tree, flower, other" then this is the kind of thing you need a wife to notice.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Road rage

So there we were, walking down the street on our way back home from shopping. A couple of hundred yards ahead, a car driving into town is stationary in the road, signalling right. Subsequent events show that he intends to do a u-turn across the road, but cannot at this time because of oncoming traffic. The car behind him (to whom this really should have occurred) hoots. The driver of the signalling car gets out and kicks the car that did the hooting, several times. Then gets back into his car and finishes his manoeuvre so as to park in the layby in front of the off-licence. He disappears in.

Shortly after that, we ourselves walk past the parked car. I see that this display of well reasoned adult male maturity has been witnessed by the little boy in the passenger seat, aged about 5 or 6.

So what lessons will he one day teach his own kids, I wonder?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Swing low Time's Chariot

Presenting the new book cover! Not intended in any way to make David jealous but just possible that it might.

I love it. I love it to pieces. Those three slightly distorted guys in the bottom right corner could so easily be on the cover of a Golden Age sf magazine. And here they are on my book. I feel honoured.

T. the now fully recovered sailor, who has recently reread the original (a man of sound judgement if ever there was one) commented that he had forgotten there's a pyramid. To tell the truth, so had I, but on checking the text I find that guess what, there is. And if I can't trust the author, who can?

They'll have to do something about that retail price, though.

I missed the Queen in 1997

I expect she was too tied up with the Diana thing. But we were scheduled a close encounter. It seems to be our lot every ten years ending with a 7.

Today Her Majesty is opening Diamond, a few hundred yards from where I sit at work. She just drove past the office – police rider in front, big black limo (Update @ 15.13: actually a very deep red; just went to wave her off) with flag on the top, and a long train of black 4x4s following. I'm guessing she won't have to stand in quite as many queues as we did on the Diamond Open Day. Let me not dwell on the near treasonable suggestions of some of my colleagues that, worthy though the Royals might be, they are not at the forefront of academic excellence and therefore the whole thing will go straight over their heads. Small talk along the lines of "I've got quite an expensive diamond too, you know" will pass no one's lips.

So, that's 2007. 1997, like I say, other things got in the way. 1987 was our second visit to Buck House so that she could pin something on my father. Or if memory serves, maybe she hung it round his neck. Or both. Quite an entertaining sight: five-foot-nothing Queen vs six-foot-six dad. I got the day off from the job I had just started at (face it, it's a good excuse). We rolled up in a big black army batmobile that could hold me, my sister, our parents and a driver quite comfortably, which was a pleasant contrast to our first visit in 1977. That had also been so that HMQ could pin something on my father, and we were on the verge of parting for Bangladesh. So, everything including the car was packed up and we had to borrow my grandmother's little beige Mini for the trip. We must have looked like something out of a sitcom. A long line of big black Daimlers, Bentleys etc. stretching down the Mall ... and this little Mini in the middle, bursting at the seams with us. Granted that I was 12 and my sister correspondingly even younger and smaller, but still it was clear to all of us even then that God did not intend us to be a Mini-driving family.

Family and guests of the recipients sit in seats around the edge of the throneroom while the centre seats, facing forwards, are empty. They fill up gradually as the recipients are announced one by one, get their gongs, and take a seat. This seemed to go much more quickly in 1987 than in 1977, probably because I was old enough to have actually heard of some of the people involved.

For 1977, my father was announced, the Queen pinned his medal on and, as she did with each person, exchanged a few words. A look of utter bafflement crossed her face before she spoke again. Later we learned she had asked what his next posting was and he had told her. The bafflement was Her Majesty struggling to think what on earth her armed forces were doing in Bangladesh.

"Well ..." she replied, "that will be ... different." The expression passed into family lore.

On the way back I took with me a handful of gravel from the Buckingham Palace courtyard. I lost it somewhere in Bangladesh. There is a small corner of Dhaka's Banani suburb that is forever England.

UPDATE: my mother has noted my omission of a key detail: having carefully micromanaged my grooming from the head down for the occasion, she foolishly called it a day before she reached the feet. Upon being disgorged from the Mini it was observed that I was wearing my cricket shoes. Fury is ... quite a mild word to use to describe her feelings, but on the plus side, when you're in Buck House not even your mother is going to raise her voice that much.

So, roll on 2017 ...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

At last! Location of Purgatory revealed

Okay, since you ask. It's in the Pacific, slightly less than halfway between New Zealand's North Island and Chile.

It's something that has bothered me in my endless quest for precision since I read The Divine Comedy in my teens. Satan dwells at the centre of the Earth, that being (logically) the furthest he could fall from Heaven without starting to rise again. This is also (equally logically) the lowest point of the pit of the Inferno, a.k.a. Hell, which was created by the very earth itself fleeing Satan's presence.

This displaced earth all piled up into the mountain of Purgatory, situated at the antipodes of Jerusalem. And the antipodes of Jerusalem is (are?) ... in the Pacific, slightly less than halfway between New Zealand’s North Island and Chile.

This information brought to you by this fantastic site which will guarantee hours of endless fun. Pick any spot on the surface of the planet and see what lies opposite it.

Embarrassed confession time. Out of interest I checked to see where our antipodes is. Good grief, I thought, it’s slap bang on the international date line. What were the odds?

Oh ...

Yes ...


This woman has a camera in our home

The Mom's Overture, by Anita Renfroe

Monday, October 15, 2007

Be sure always to call it please "research"

I witnessed a train crash once. A very slow one. I was on the platform at Didcot Parkway, waiting for a train to Cardiff. A goods train was going through the station on the other side. The front end stopped, the rear end didn't. Thus the front end of one of the naughty trucks banged into the rear end of another, and kept going, and kept going. Very slowly. The two ends rose up into the air and eventually stopped, firmly wedged against each other several feet above the ground.

Right next to the sign saying "Welcome to Didcot Parkway". That's what made it art. It would have made such a beautiful photo.

There was almost zero damage to property and no lives were in any danger at all, so I wasn't hugely traumatised. But I still remember the shocked feeling of awe - it's happening, I can't stop it and look look look!

The continued tale of the plagiarist is a bit like that. I mentioned this a couple of posts ago. If you have the time - and you'll need a good half hour or more, as the number of comments so far is 538 and counting - then pour yourself a drink, sit back and read for yourself. In summary: the lady who paid someone to plagiarise someone else's book without realising it has apologised, several times, but insists that she did nothing wrong (honest mistake, fair enough, albeit unbearably naive) and continues to promote the ghost-written-ripped-off bit as her own work. It's still (at time of writing, I just checked) on her web site as the prologue of her novel. She apologises for any hurt or embarrassment to David Gemmell's family, she maintains her total innocence, and she waves the incriminating evidence proudly under the noses of the great reading public.


In comment #521, to somehow reinforce her innocence she reproduces all her emailed correspondence with the scammer, showing she already had a shrewd idea of his game. Yet she paid him for the work and it's still there ...

Those trucks just keep on rolling.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Spiders going soft

Today I saw a ladybird fly straight into a web that a spider has set up outside our kitchen window, up near the top left corner. I love this sort of situation - the playground thrill of seeing someone in deep do-do that isn't you. It didn't struggle or flap, just lay there with an "okay, get it over with" sort of resignation. The spider obligingly sidled up, studied it for a moment, and abruptly turned away again.

The ladybird then dropped like a stone a couple of feet straight into a web that another spider has set up directly beneath, by the bottom left corner. Same story. Spider goes up, "oh, sorry, didn't recognise you," and retreats tugging its forelock.

Ladybird finally wriggles free of the second web, lands upside down on windowsill, rights itself and trudges nonchalantly away.

What sort of ladybird holds such sway over the arachnoid community? Normally I give spiders a great deal of latitude. I'm not arachnaphobic, not even of the big hairy ones that land with an audible impact when they try to make it up the sides of the bath. Much of this is due to the valuable service they perform of keeping the air clear of flying wrigglies. Tough job but someone has to do it and it's friendlier to the environment than Raid. But if they have negotiated some kind of "get out of jail free" card scheme with the ladybirds, I want to know why.

And I would remind our eight-legged friends - I'm bigger than they are, and I have a vacuum cleaner.

Unlike most ladybirds which are mostly red with black bits, this one was mostly black with red bits. Maybe it's a gang.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Let no one else's work evade your eyes

There are writers, would-be writers and wannabe writers. (There are also don't-wannabe writers, which is fine and a perfectly valid lifestyle choice and they play no further part in this post.)

Even though neither party has actually been published yet, the would-bes and wannabes are quite easy to distinguish. The would-bes put in the hours, learn, self-criticise and improve. Oh, and they write. Success can never be guaranteed but they're in with as good a chance as any. The wannabes, on the other hand, just wannabe.

The strange thing is that the wannabes are much more precious about what little writing they get done than the would-bes. Another mark of the would-bes is professionalism, making the effort to learn the biz. The wannabes just wanna see their name in print, even if they have to pay for it themselves.

Lack of professionalism is just one of the many flaws revealed in this sad tale of sort-of-accidental plagiarism. In summary: archetypal fantasy writer wannabe, hereafter AFWW, actually hires a ghost writer to write her novel for her. To be fair, she seems to have a serious physical disability that makes it very hard to write coherently. She probably hired the ghost writer to tidy her drafts up. But also to be fair, cruelly and clinically, she doesn't seem to have bothered reading what the ghost writer wrote for her. She doesn't have to realise that he has simply copied out the first chapter of David Gemmell's Dark Prince, changing only the names. She should at least have just realised it wasn't her writing.

Compare and contrast the two here.

It gets worse. AFWW then gets the book, which she has clearly not bothered reading, self-published and then has the gall to announce proudly on her web site that "I feel each person has something unique to share with the world and writing is my gift to share". She also goes on record that every word of her novel is entirely her own.

What is baffling to clearer minds is that she’s probably 100% genuine about this. She totally believes it. Writing is her gift to share, even if she has to hire someone else to do it. There’s no meaningful difference between this and any celebrity "novel" or "autobiography" you care to name, except that in the latter case we know the game. Does anyone really think Jade Goody wrote her autobiography? But this lady, by trying to break into a world that actually takes writing seriously and hold herself up as an equal there, just opens herself up to public crucifixion, which service the public is happy to provide.

Have I ever plagiarised? You could probably say I have. Technically. If for whatever reason I find myself writing something that reminds me of what someone else has done then I assume that other people will also spot the similarity, and try to make it clear that I see it too. Thus as just one example I can without trying too hard think of references to 2001 in His Majesty's Starship (when someone is trying to coax a recalcitrant artificial intelligence) and The New World Order (the last few lines of part 1 are a pretty direct quote). The second vampire plagues novel is set in Paris, 1850, and is replete with references to The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Les Miserables (book, not musical, please) simply because I didn't see how you could write a novel set in Paris in this period and not mention them.

Thieves steal, artists borrow, which a fancy bit of sophistry meaning that the above examples were to add layers of secondary detail to a primary narrative that was already good enough to stand on its own, and anyone else in the biz will know exactly what I did and why. And I doubt they made a penny's difference to the money I received for this writing.

Professionalism, dear, professionalism.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Argh! They got me!

So unfair. I was going to church. To church! To Holiday Club! But I was running a bit late and driving a bit too fast ... and I did 35mph in a 30mph zone and they got me. Ping.

To, I might add, the Boy’s utter delight. ‘That’s the difference between life and death, Ben,’ he intoned, arms folded and face as straight as a laser beam.

But, anything from 31-35mph is the discretionary zone for being offered attendance at a Speed Awareness Workshop, instead of a fine and penalty points. It’s £75 as opposed to the £65 fine, but it’s points free. Not really a deep philosophical conundrum.

Bicester, they said. Upper Heyford, they meant. Self and 22 other crimos (including one policeman ...) drive through some really quite thick morning fog to turn up at a dilapidated RAF base, where the security guy at the main gate ironically whistles the theme from Z Cars as he lets you through. The course is run by DriveTech, who do this kind of thing for companies as well as the Thames Valley Police. Apparently over 70,000 people do this course per year, and you can’t do it voluntarily – you have to be referred by the police. That’s a lot of £75s.

The first 45 minutes is you and the computer doing a questionnaire to evaluate you as a driver. You’re asked questions about your habits, number of hours you drive etc and shown video clips where you indicate your notion of a safe speed, how close behind another car you would follow it, and potential hazards. I can report as a result of this that I’m exactly Average for ‘Speed Choice’, ‘Following Choice’ and ‘Hazard Perception’. Under ‘Attention/Distraction’, I am Slightly Distracted. Under ‘Emotion’, I am Slightly Lower than Average: ‘your responses do not reflect a strong tendency to use driving as an emotional outlet’ (I’m guessing this is good) but also ‘your responses do not indicate a high level of emotional stability’. Excuse me?? I am too emotionally stable, and anyone who says otherwise I will gladly chuck headfirst through the nearest window.

Best bit on the report: ‘You report that you have not fallen asleep at the wheel in the last 2 years. Great.’ As if (a) this was something I’ve been battling against for the 24 years I’ve been driving and (b) it’s something to congratulate a guy about.

After coffee break comes a longer (90min) presentation where stuff starts to dawn. Officially this was the Speed Awareness Scheme Urban Workshop – or SAS Urban Workshop on the invoice, which makes it sound a lot more exciting and very different. Most collisions and fatalities happen in low-speed urban areas – you’re more likely to die if you’re a pedestrian hit by a 40mph car than if you’re tailgated at 70mph by some moron on the M40. So that’s the area they concentrate on. We saw videos of the differences in stopping distances between 30, 35 and 40mph. We went through the stages of an actual real-life car crash, with pictures, though fortunately taken after the bodies were removed. ‘If he’d been doing 30 he’d have stopped here. To stop here he must have been doing at least 39 ...’ The car stopped considerably further down the road than the impact point, and the guy he hit landed even further than that.


I’d expected it to be twee and self-righteous – it isn’t. Did it make a difference apart from keeping my licence clean? One of the deliverables, according to our instructions, is an improved attitude. To be honest I don’t think my attitude has improved because I think it was pretty good to start with. I’m not a boy racer, I stick to the limits ... though clearly not all the time. Awareness is another matter. On the motorway, 5mph here or there probably isn’t going to make much difference. Your car will still be totalled and possibly you with it. But on the local roads it really does.

So, will try not to do it again, guv, honest.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The wait of centuries is over

Wars have been fought, people have died at the stake over the correct language for reading the Bible.

St Jerome? John Wycliffe? Amateurs. A project is underway to translate the Bible into lolcat.

See if you can guess which verse this is:
"So liek teh Ceiling Cat lieks teh ppl lots and he sez 'Oh hai I givez u my only son and ifs u beleevs in him u wont evr diez no moar, k?'"
There are sound reasons why Ceiling Cat = God, but this is a family blog so do your own Googling.

If you don't know what lolcat is, commence your edumacation here. kthxbai

Monday, October 08, 2007

Rest of the week pretty good too

Mentioning The Long Good Friday made me all nostalgic so I went a-browsing, and came across this dimly remembered gem. I think it was Comic Relief, early 90s ...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Michael Clayton

To the cinema today for to see Mr Clooney's latest oeuvre in the medium of motion picture, Michael Clayton. And very good it is too. A thriller that doesn't so much thrill as creep up behind you and tap you on the shoulder, then duck out of view when you look round. In between taps it carries your attention by the sheer quality of performance - George, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton. The final scene, a long unbroken take of Mr Clooney's finely chiselled features, will (a) please his legions of adoring female fans who would pay to watch him read a shopping list and (b) put the rest of us in mind of Bob Hoskins's final drive of shame in The Long Good Friday. But seen from the other side. As it were. No idea what I'm talking about, have you?

No fast-cut incomprehensible action scenes, no car chases, no screeching music. There is one brief moment of clinical violence, all the more unpleasant for its sheer professionalism; most of the driving is simply to get from A to B as people must; and the music is muted Japanese-synthy-wind-chimy tones. And unlike all those movies where the bad guys have armies of morally vacuumed-out hitmen to order, here the baddie barely knows what she's getting into when she calls in some freelance assistance.

Highly recommended.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Even more tasteful than stuffing dead pets

... For a given value of "taste", anyway.

Pet Tribute Creations of Ohio will, for a small fee, take a picture that you provide of your late lamented pet and insert it into an entirely tack-free religious setting. For some samples, see here.

My favourite - though the one of Jesus grappling with a cat that obviously wants to be somewhere else comes a close second - is this one.

I is serious Saviour.

I is holding rather ugly doggy.

Stop licking my stigmata, doggy.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The paper's too shiny for the other use

To Kidlington this morning to approve printed copies of our new corporate plan, 2007-2010.

The last corporate plan was grandly handed out to each member of staff at a plenary meeting. Whereupon the fire alarm went and everyone had to troop straight out into the carpark, not going back to their offices for coats but proudly clutching their plans. And it was pouring. The advantages of a laminated cover were soon appreciated.

No fire alarm this time but a potential flaw identified. The last one was A4 size, but portrait, so it opened out to an A3 size document that was quite good at keeping off the rain all round. This time it's still A4 but landscape. The spine is down the short edge, so it opens out to a long but narrow widescreen format. Good shoulder protection in the event of rain but your face will still get wet.

Honestly, they should have thought of that one.

Always a bigger phish

Who exactly falls for email scams? Obviously someone does. The BBC says that "In 2005 UK losses from phishing scams stood at £23.2m." I'm probably setting myself up for a fall - and if I am, you have my full permission to point and go "ha, ha" when it happens - but I've not yet fallen for a phish and I can't imagine anyone I know doing so either.

My guess is that it's not the reasonably techno-savvy who pay up. It's the grannies out there who have just got their first computer and are justly proud of finally piercing the technology barrier. £23.2m = lots of grannies.

Today eBay and Paypal are the first two big names to sign up to Yahoo's DKIM system, which uses public and private key encryption to weed out the frauds. Now, stop me if I'm missing something, but ... "in order for the technology to work, both the sender and recipient need their mail services to be signed up to DKIM."

The spammers won't be signing up and neither will the grannies. So, really not sure how this solves anything.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

7300 days later (not counting leap years)

Probably wouldn't be doing this if I hadn't got all historical yesterday. Blame Liz Williams for passing on the meme.

20 Years Ago, I...
...was still living at home, just. Within a month I would be moving to London and starting my first full-time job. I was part-time employed by the MOD at Boscombe Down, doing a stultifyingly dull data input job. The sheer pointless grind of it - at one point I was entering data into one computer off a printout from another - did at least inspire my story "The Data Class" some years later, and by a roundabout route help me get published in the first place.

On TV we had Blackadder the Third and Dr Who was back after an 18 month hiatus, with - um - Sylvester McCoy and - double um - Bonnie Langford. Somewhat of a mixed blessing.

At this point in my life I had never heard of Kylie Minogue, but that was to change.

15 Years Ago, I...
...was finally feeling quite good, after 11 months working there, about my new Oxford employer - the one with whom I was to stay for six years. After a very ropy start with an anally retentive inept boss who had personally overseen the decline of the entire publications schedule, we had a new editorial director who took no prisoners and actually valued my abilities.

I had no way of knowing my future stepson was just over two months old.

10 Years Ago, I...
...was on the verge of leaving said employer. See yesterday's post.

5 Years Ago, I...
...had recently returned from my first trip to the USA and was gearing up for the first issue of 3SF, Big Engine's new bimonthly magazine. This reached three published issues and was in fact to sink Big Engine, though it turned out to be a mercy killing, a bit like the torpedoes that finally sent the Bismarck to the bottom quickly even though it would have sunk by and by. I'm still very proud of it.

2 Years Ago, I...
...was identifying and trying to remove perceived obstacles in my life to getting married.

1 Year Ago, I...
...was just starting the next novel.

So far this year, I've...
...revised and resubmitted a novel, signed a contract for another, transferred the mortgage into our joint names, been to Sweden, climbed a mountain, had a close friend nearly killed and rejoiced at his recovery, dressed up as a medieval knight, watched anxiously as our road flooded, had windows restored, got a speeding ticket, broken a toilet bowl, been briefly interviewed on the radio, been to a convention, and doubtless much else.

Yesterday, I...
...twiddled my thumbs a lot.

Today, I...
...went to the Boy's Year 11 Action Target Day. Honestly, can there be anything more demotivating than to be told, in October, that you're already guaranteed a B in a particular GCSE? "But you're bright, you can aim for an A-star!" says the enthusiastic teacher. And I can aim for the north star, but it's not going to happen.

In other news, picked up some new glasses and will now do some InDesign stuff. Homegroup bring'n'share dinner this evening.

Tomorrow, I'll...
...carry on with the InDesign stuff. Probably.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

3650 days later

It’s coming up to ten years, must be. Let’s count back. I started there in March 1998. My second interview was early January 1998. Therefore my first interview was late 1997; I’m pretty certain it was November. So, we’re approaching the tenth anniversary.

I was climbing the walls in my job of six years, publishing IT-related journals, which I had streamlined to the stage where a trained monkey could do it. I knew I could handle much more, and we had become part of the Great Big Dutch International Publishing Company, who showed no sign of promoting me and every sign of wanting to make us all big and corporate and move us down to head office in London. Time to move.

My new employer was a four-year-old medical publishing company. They had about thirty forthcoming titles, all badly behind. In my letter I said, correctly, that I had got a list of journals back onto schedule. They welcomed me with open arms.

Strangely, no one at either interview asked if I was squeamish, which as all the books were fully illustrated in colour would have been useful. As it turned out I can look at pictures of diseased and excised genitalia until the cows came home. My weak spot was the book on knee surgery. Who knew?

Something that did come out at the interview was the oft-repeated mantra from my new boss, ‘I’m not a details man’. He said it right from the start so I have no excuses – I should have realised back then. Sadly I never heard what he was actually saying until it was too late. What I thought he was saying was, ‘I am not a details man, by which I mean, I have a full grasp of the details but choose to delegate them to capable minions such as yourself.’ ‘Knockout,’ I replied. ‘Point me at ’em.’

But no. What he was actually saying was ‘I have no idea what the details are, nor any intention of finding out. This will not stop me making grand and unworkable plans that I will expect you to implement.’

It was not a happy experience - disappointment and disillusion on both sides, for two years.

The really sad thing is that the fool thought things would get better by getting rid of me. This was a minority view amongst the staff, and three further people were to leave after I was given notice: the production manager because (as she told me) she no longer had faith in the man to make sensible decisions, her assistant who had no intention of being lumbered with her job, and the senior editor who was given my job on top of her own, with no commensurate increase in salary. But it all ceased to be my problem on January 7th, 2000. And by the start of the second week of January 2000, it had dawned on me that this was the opportunity to put my years of academic publishing experience to some practical use and start my own company.

Which, no, didn’t work out, but the experience opened doors, gave me a great time and had a knock-on effect of other changes in my life that included meeting my future wife.

So, happy anniversary, whenever it is.