Friday, December 28, 2007
-is pretty well perfect as Ebenezer Scrooge, but the production as a whole still can't quite approach the sheer joie de vivre of Michael Caine taking the role in A Muppet Christmas Carol.
2. Russell T. Davies -
- given a choice between crowd-pleasing emotion and something that makes sense in terms of plot logic, will generally plump for the former.
Now, he can do plot logic. He has to pilot entire seasons of a TV show and make them all string together. But the man simply can't be trusted with a one-off - like the Christmas Dr Who special.
It had much going for it and the occasional screeching clunk to remind us whose hands we are in. There are some people who can see Kylie reduced to a dispersed cloud of atoms fated forever to drift throughout the universe and think, aaahh!! And there's some people who think 'Gawd, I'd rather just be dead.' I'm one of the latter, and I think so would anyone be who actually got to experience it for more than a second or two. But because this is the Christmas special, and he's playing to an audience that likes to watch Celebrity Chef X Idol and all the other mind-numbing pap that traditionally clogs our airwaves, and he has to keep them happy, Mr Davies goes for the emotion.
I wish he wouldn't. I know, he's a showman, he has to appeal to a wide audience, and he's enough of a fan of the original series to know what happens when the series only reaches out to the fans. But there's a middle ground. Surely.
3. Talking heads-
- (not the group) are the veriest spawn of Satan and I fell into their trap twice over the break. That's my eternal unquenchable optimism for you. Once was a programme revealing to a breathlessly waiting nation the no. 1 Morecambe & Wise sketch of all time. It turned out to be the breakfast sketch, for what it's worth, because they didn't actually show the thing in its entirety - they showed snatches interspersed with various prannies telling us exactly why it was all so clever.
Soon after that there was a programme billed as containing a whole load of seasonal clippings from various classic shows - Are You being Served, Only Fools and Horses and so on. I have fond memories of many of those and it would have been enjoyable, undemanding viewing. But I turned off the moment the first person popped up to explain why what I was about to see was so funny.
Is there, breathes there a producer, anywhere out there in TVland, who has the sheer guts to make a compilation show and broadcast it without any kind of commentary, simply trusting the audience to make up their own minds based upon the content and nothing else? Or do young producers nowadays dream of going to producer school to learn to spoil people's enjoyment with little homilies just in case they've missed the point?
A little over a year ago, Google paid nearly $2 billion for YouTube. Would it have even a fraction of that value if every video it offers was interspersed with talking heads telling you what a great time you were having by not watching the video they were interrupting? I somehow think not. YouTube points the viewer at the content and stands back. That's the way it used to be done and that's still the only way to do it properly.
So here is the Morecambe & Wise breakfast sketch, courtesy of YouTube, with absolutely no talking heads.
|I received 85 credits on |
The Sci Fi Sounds Quiz
How much of a Sci-Fi geek are you?
|Take the Sci-Fi Movie Quiz canon s5 is|
There's 14 questions, so assuming this means 85% that means I got 12. The two I got wrong were probably the two I guessed.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
Da burth of Jesuz Christ
18 Now, teh burth of teh Christ was liek dis: After Marry and Joseph waz all "We's gonna get marrieded, kthnx", but before dey could had hankiez pankiez Mary was all pr3ggerz from Teh Forse.19 Joseph was liek "I has virjn - NOOOO dey be stealin my virjn! Must hied hur".20 But when he was tihnkin, zomg, a WallCat frm Ceiling Cat was liek, "Oh hai! I'm in ur dreemz, givin u messij. Don't be scairdy cat. Take Mary as ur wife - is virjn. But teh Forse is strong in tihs wun, lol! HoverCat is on hur, givn hur feetus, srsly.21 "And she gonna made a son, and you gonna call him Jeezus, cuz he save kittehs frum bein bad kittehs. Kthxbye."22 So all dis was all did cuz Ceiling Cat had sed it wud be. His proffet was all liek:23 "Hay guise, look! teh virjn iz all preggers, and dey gonna call him Immanuel", dat be joospeek for "Ceiling Cat wit us"24 Then Joseph waked up, done wat teh angel frm Ceiling Cat tolded him to, and was all liek "U wit me now lol" at Mary.25 And dey didnt has teh HARBL GOES WHERE!?!? til affer dey gets a son and calleded him Jeezus. Ktnx.
Have a good one, everyone.
Friday, December 21, 2007
The five foot boa belonged to the neighbour of the flat I was visiting. He has an understanding landlord. And could I resist the chance to hold, um, her?
Snakes feel astonishingly like ... snakeskin, really. Who'd have guessed? Waxy, room temperature snakeskin that creaks when they flex themselves, stretched over corded muscle. First her owner held her while she sampled my fingers with her tongue, but as they probably tasted of WD40 (see yesterday's post) she didn't seem to think much of them. Then he passed her to me. She wrapped her tail tight around my left wrist, not quite enough to cut off the blood but enough that I couldn't have retrieved my hand quickly if I'd wanted to. Then she generally twined herself round my right arm, stuck her neck out and surveyed the room with a proud sort of "I has a tree" look.
Sadly no photo exists of this event as my hands were full in every way, so here's one of me aged 19, in Thailand, similar situation, much bigger snake.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Is it fluid draining out of the power steering? Not so far.
Is it one of the battery terminals corroding off and thus leaving the car completely dead (only a miraculous residual charge meaning you can even unlock the thing)? No, but focus on the unlocking.
I have discovered that the driver side passenger door only responds fitfully to the central locking. It may lock or unlock with the rest of the car ... or it may not. Thus making life interesting by choosing to stay locked when the rest of the car is open - which isn't really such a problem - or choosing to stay open when the rest of the car is locked. Which could lead to awkwardness.
I shall squirt WD40 into the lock, and if that doesn't work then it's beyond economical repair.
UPDATE: it's beyond economical repair, but I expect I'll get it done anyway.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
I only opened it in the first place because I'm too weak-willed to resist the siren calls of my friends who kept inviting me in. At least I've been strong enough to keep a 1:1 ratio between what I would call my real world friends, or at least acquaintances, and what Facebook calls friends. The balance was tipped by an increasing number of complete strangers who want to be my friends too. It just seems unkind to reject them while accepting others - so much easier not to present them with the temptation. Sorry, people. I'm flattered and I'm sure you're all lovely, but if you want to say nice things to me, my e-mail is publicly available. I'm also well in touch with my inner grumpy old sod and I simply don't want to write on your Fun Wall or fill in a quiz or play Mornington Crescent or see if I'm within six degrees of separation from Daniel Craig or generally tell you what I'm doing.
For anyone else wanting to follow in my footsteps, which felt quite pioneering but obviously were not, here's how to do it.
Facebook sows the seeds of its own destruction by presenting you with a checklist of reasons why you're doing this. You click on one of them and a counter-reason pops up. I clicked on "I don't find it useful". Up came: well, you might if you interacted with your friends more.
Which irritated me so much I clicked "Finish". Hah! I might have been wavering up till that point.
Even so, here's how it made me feel.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
It took a few more years to learn what the deeper jokes were actually about but even then I was entranced by the cleverness of the wordplay. Who can fail to love the sheer genius of the frantic, feverish Nightmare Song from Iolanthe?
... For you dream you are crossing the Channel, and tossingSo, hold that thought.
about in a steamer from Harwich;
Which is something between a large bathing machine
and a very small second-class carriage.
And you're giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat)
to a party of friends and relations;
They're a ravenous horde and they all came on board
at Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations.
And bound on that journey you find your attorney,
who started that morning from Devon;
He's a bit undersized and you don't feel surprised
when he tells you he's only eleven.
Well, you're driving like mad with this singular lad
(by the by, the ship's now a four-wheeler)
And you're playing round games and he calls you bad names
when you tell him that "ties pay the dealer";
But this you can't stand, so you throw up your hand,
and you find you're as cold as an icicle,
In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks)
crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle ...
The Kennington & District United Church Choirs Gilbert & Sullivan productions are like putting on an old comfy slipper. They do one every year in the most barebones format possible, cramming into Kennington Methodist Church with everyone up at the front all at once, with only the leads in any kind of convincing costume. More of a concert than a performance, really. The average age must be 60 at least, which they play for laughs whenever they come across a line emphasising the youth of the characters. And they do it so well, with such love and affection, you couldn't help loving it even if it wasn't G&S.
Last night's show was Princess Ida. This, apparently (and rarely for G&S) was a relative bomb; after its initial run in London it wasn't seen in the West End again until after WW1. Its feminist themes were maybe a bit too outre for the time. Ida, having been betrothed to Hilarion 20 years ago at the age of 1 (he was twice her age, 2, but concedes she has now almost caught him up) has decided this is a mug's game and gone off to found an all-female academy.
Obviously, the thought of educated wimmin is given the ha-ha-ha treatment, and Ida ends by seeing the error of her ways and falling for Hilarion after all. It is pointed out that given her ideal, man-free world, there would soon be no posterity to carry on her ideals. Oops, she hadn't thought of that, what a gurl. So, Gilbert's Victorian audience breathes a sigh of relief.
But here and there, like tiny nuggets of uranium - small but very potent - you get the impression that Gilbert was maybe, just maybe, like, you know, suggesting a society run on more feminine ideals might be preferable to ... well, the height of the British Empire as it then was.
But, back to the songs. Another song on the aforesaid LPs was King Gama's "If you give me your attention". Gama is the most disagreeable old man under the sun and, in a stroke of genius, in last night's performance was played as a crabby old Scot, complete with ginger wig and tartan tamoshanter. Yet Gama considers himself the life and soul of the party, and can't understand why no one likes him.
Herewith his song.
If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am:
I'm a genuine philanthropist, all other kinds are sham.
Each little fault of temper and each social defect
In my erring fellow-creatures I endeavour to correct.
To all their little weaknesses I open people's eyes;
And little plans to snub the self-sufficient I devise;
I love my fellow creatures, I do all the good I can;
Yet ev'rybody says I'm such a disagreeable man!
And I can't think why!
To compliments inflated I've a withering reply;
And vanity I always do my best to mortify;
A charitable action I can skillfully dissect;
And interested motives I'm delighted to detect;
I know ev'rybody's income and what ev'rybody earns;
And I carefully compare it with their income-tax returns;
But to benefit humanity however much I plan,
Yet ev'rybody says I'm such a disagreeable man!
And I can't think why!
I'm sure I'm no ascetic; I'm as pleasant as can be;
You'll always find me ready with a crushing repartee.
I've an irritating chuckle, I've a celebrated sneer,
I've an entertaining snigger, I've a fascinating leer.
To ev'rybody's prejudice I know a thing or two;
I can tell a woman's age in half a minute (and I do).
But although I try to make myself as pleasant as I can,
Yet ev'rybody says I'm such a disagreeable man!
And I can't think why!
- Pork chops [though loin steaks are similar and don't have those pesky bones]
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- 2 tsp tomato puree
- 1/2 pint beef stock
- 1 tbsp Worcester sauce
- 2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
- Heat some oil, brown chops on both sides. Remove from the pan and place in an overproof dish or casserole.
- Fry the onion until lightly browned.
- Stir in sugar, mustard powder and puree. [If you have previously mixed sugar and mustard powder together, battle evil temptation when stepson indicates intention of eating the mixture. Resist and warn him off.] Add stock and bring to the boil.
- Stir in Worcester sauce and lemon juice. Season to taste.
- Pour over chops and cook in an oven at gas mark 4 for 40-45 minutes until the meat is tender.
- Optional: if your stepson has gone out to feed his grandmother's neighbour's cats, and still hasn't come back, move food to lower down in the oven. All that happens is the meat gets even more tender. When he eventually saunters back home and asks "when's food ready?", reply "in minus twenty minutes."
Thursday, December 13, 2007
On comes the Huddersfield Choral Society (I think he said) on Classic FM, singing "Gaudete", and everything is better. The volume, the power, and of course the words which thanks to a classical education I can understand.
Sadly they're not on YouTube, so here's Steeleye Span.
Another ambition to add to the list, except that I don't really see Daniel Craig filling a role in any adaptation of my books. Though there's a couple of parts for Russell Crowe in the full Ben corpus.
But I've been using the time to re-read Northern Lights, which my UKcentric old school mentality still prefers as the title, so I can do a proper compare and contrast when the time comes. Wow! There's so much I'd forgotten. In fact, maybe because I've now read all three books and understand it all better, I think I'm enjoying it even more second time round.
And take passages like this, as two kids, one Texan and a polar bear head north in a balloon, towed and accompanied by a squadron of witches:
"As far as the eye could see, to the very horizon in all directions, a tumbled sea of white extended without a break. Soft peaks and vaporous chasms rose or opened here and there, but mostly it looked like a solid mass of ice.I'm warning New Line now: if that scene isn't replicated exactly as I picture it, there will be Consequences.
And rising through it in ones and twos and larger groups as well came small black shadows, those ragged figures of such elegance, witches on their branches of cloud-pine."
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Like, as of today I now know that we all have twelve cranial nerves, i.e. nerves that don't exit the skull via the spinal cord but come directly through the skull itself.
More here by Jim Macdonald courtesy of Making Light.
One of these is the vagus nerve, which controls heart rate and hooks into various parts of the digestive system (among many other things). In fact it terminates at, um, the same point that the digestive system does. And stimulating the vagus slows the heart.
Thus, when you're having a really satisfying strain, this can apply pressure to the vagus and lower your heart rate. In fact it can lower it so far that, in the elderly or infirm, the heart can give up altogether. Hence the fact that so many heart attacks occur in that position.
This is known as the Elvis presentation after the most likely cause of the great man's death. The King upon his throne, as it were.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
From The Cook's Recipe Collection, compiled by Jillian Stewart, ISBN 1-85833-441-1
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 30g butter
- bits of chicken [recommends 3lb to serve 4-6. We just used three thighs to serve 3.]
- 1 clove garlic [oh come on - 3 minimum]
- 1/4 pint white wine
- 1/4 pint chicken stock
- 4 courgettes [2 sufficed nicely], trimmed & cut into 1.25cm pieces
- as many pitted olives as you care to mention
- 2 tbsps chopped parsley
Turn the chicken skin-side up and add the garlic, wine, stock, and salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover the pan and allow to simmer for a further 30mins or so over a gentle heat. The bits of bird are about half submerged in the resulting sauce, which thickens quite nicely, and go very tender.
Add the courgettes and cook for a further ten minutes. Add the olives, cook to heat through, add the parsley and serve. We had it with rice which absorbs the sauce very nicely. The courgettes don't go all soft and squishy but do absorb the chicken flavour.
Optional: for dessert, for the third week running, use Tesco ready mix cheesecake mixture because your stepson can't be bothered to tax his braincells with anything more time consuming. Resist urge to punch air and go "yes!" when he asks if we can have a different dessert next week.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Just a couple of weeks ago we booked tickets for next year's Sweden holiday. Two hundred quid on Ryanair. Fools! For today I get a nice letter from American Express congratulating me on being selected for the final stage of approval for the British Airways American Express credit card. Once I have my card, and have spent my first £20,000, I'll have enough BA Miles for a return ticket to ... you guessed it ... Sweden!
Ah well, I'll just put it down to experience.
Friday, December 07, 2007
I’m delighted to see that the BBC's director general will not be prosecuted for blasphemy over the screening of "Jerry Springer - The Opera" in 2005. This action had been brought by Stephen Green, director of Christian Voice, an organisation for which Matthew 7:21-23 was specially penned.
Sadly the High Court only interprets laws, it doesn't make new ones or strike old. So it couldn't quite go far enough. Says the Beeb:
"the two senior judges at the High Court said the 1968 Theatres Act prevented any prosecution for blasphemy in relation to public performances of plays. The 1990 Broadcasting Act, they continued, prevented any prosecution in relation to broadcasts."Says Ben: nothing should be prosecuted for blasphemy. Such a prosecution should not exist in the laws of the country. Any country.
I don't claim to have learnt any major life lessons (so far), but a fairly useful one came somewhere between the ages of 5 and 10. There are people out there who are basically gits, and who like to wind you up by saying unkind things. Boo hoo, get used to it, move on. Be better.
Let's look further afield. Hello, Christians circulating emails to all their friends urging a boycott of The Golden Compass. ("I'd be far more offended if I was a polar bear," says the Catholic Herald’s art critic.)
Hello, anyone who resorts to Creation Science to bolster up their beliefs.
Why stick to Christianity? Hello, rioting Sudanese people.
While Gillian Gibbons was in jail last week, mobs in Sudan were baying for her to face the firing squad. A BBC reporter talked to a pleasant looking, fresh faced young man who explained that this was reasonable because we love our Prophet so much. It brought to mind the Satanic Verses controversy from 20 years ago, only that time it was a saintly old granddad being interviewed, weeping in genuine distress over the affront to his beloved Prophet.
Except that, you don’t love him. You obsess about him, and you can’t bear the thought of him possibly being bigger and better than your tiny little mind can encompass. Stop and think. Your God is annoyed because a teddy bear is named after his prophet / he features in a stage show satirising something I’m certain he already hates (chat shows) / someone writes a book criticising those who abuse authority in his name?
I would gladly be sent to Hell by such a God because the prospect of an eternity in Paradise with him is profoundly depressing. An eternity of walking on eggshells in case I blinked the wrong way.
Voltaire again: "Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies."
Best line: "A spokeswoman for Royal Wigan Infirmary said they were unable to comment about the incident." Without giggling? Or just, you know, unable?
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
I always knew calling someone a liar was one of them. (Churchill's "terminological inexactitude" is much more fun anyway.) According to Wikipedia, our MPs may also not say blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, ignoramus, rat, swine, stoolpigeon or traitor.
(I'm reasonably certain that Freddie Uncle Charlie Katie should be included here, (a) because I can't picture any MP actually being allowed to say it in the House and (b) because I'm sure I remember circumstances forcing a slightly surprised George Thomas to add it to the list. It's hard to be certain because the papers were all so coy in reporting it at the time. I gathered an MP had actually used the offending word X, in describing a telephone prostitution racket as "phone them and X them". So alliteration and a sense of rhythm suggests what the word was, but I can't be sure.)
But compare that to the list of things Canadian MPs aren't allowed to say: parliamentary pugilist; a bag of wind; inspired by forty-rod whiskey; coming into the world by accident; blatherskite; the political sewer pipe from Carleton County; lacking in intelligence; a dim-witted saboteur; liar; a trained seal; evil genius; Canadian Mussolini; pompous ass; fuddle duddle; pig; jerk; sleaze bag; racist; scuzzball and weathervane.
Just the fact that all these terms at one point or another must have been used suggests Canadian politics may be much more interesting than our own.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
My first thought was: "it goes up to 6?"
My second was: "oh, it's that one."
The verse was penned in the 18th century when a victorious English army marched north of the border under the command of General Wade and put down the Scottish rebels. "Wuffly", as Pontius Pilate might have put it. From memory, since I can't be bothered to look it up:
God grant that General WadeYou can of course immediately spot what's wrong with it. Unlike every other verse in the anthem it's quite specific about rhyming with "King"; the sole virtue of the national anthem as a song is that it's interchangeable between King and Queen (neither really rhyming), thus minimising the fuss when there's a changeover at the top.
By thy almighty aid
May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush
The rebellious Scots to crush
God save the King.
Note that I say its sole virtue as a song. Face it, it's a dirge. But it is a powerful, stirring tune - without words and for one verse only - to make the breast swell with pride on the right occasion. As both song and anthem, though, the Marseillaise knocks it into a cocked hat. (Witness the great scene in Casablanca.) Aux armes, citoyens! Formez vos bataillons! Closely followed by the Soviet national anthem of old, which is only nudged off first place by sentiments I don't entirely agree with. Something about Communism, I think it was.
Of course, everyone on Jeremy Vine was chipping in with their own alternative verses, with the emotional righteousness and depth of a Christmas card. Here's Ben's solution: drop that verse ... In fact, drop every one except the first. Easy.
Meanwhile, Scots, Welsh and anyone else who feels slighted by the national anthem in its present form can hum along to verse 3 of the Star Spangled Banner, national anthem of our beloved close friends the Americans. That's us they're talking about, guys.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.
And the star-spangled banner, in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Sunday, December 02, 2007
- Update: very pleased to report that while MADD does exist, it disowns this particular poem. They also give good advice on much more constructive courses of action.
I do not forward circular emails, warnings, prayers, or any other of that ilk. Ever. No exceptions.
A recent and interesting essay by Orson Scott Card points out the dangers of doing so. Who among us hasn't received (or, blushingly, passed on) a hoax virus warning that we believed, or a cute little snippet of wisdom that we want to share, or an online petition for something years out of date ...
"... it is my firm belief that the forward button on your email software should be disabled until you can prove you have visited Hoaxbusters," says Mr C. Absolutely right. But he also goes on to point out that very often what you are forwarding is actually copyright to someone, which opens a whole new can of worms. Anyway, read the article. It's salutory, and apart from anything else will give you ammunition the next time someone sends you something that will allegedly amuse you.
But I wouldn't be saying this now if my ire hadn't coincidentally been raised by an online petition recently received. Well, it calls itself a petition, though as far as I can see it it doesn't actually petish anything. It just consists of a poem about someone killed by a drunk driver. At the end of this is:
"MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) IS HOPING TO GET 5,000 SIGNATURES ON THIS, THEN PASS IT ON TO SIGN."When it reaches 5000 we are asked to pass it on to the MADD address in Dallas, TX. It currently has 1243 signatures, of which the last is the distant New Zealand (nowhere near Dallas) relative who passed it on to me. Oh, and let's not forget its final parting shot, in 48pt bold red text.
"If you receive this petition and do nothing but delete it, your selfishness knows no bounds.Um - I beg your pardon?
Signing is such a small effort to make."
You preachy judgemental sanctimonious smug self-satisfied obnoxious odious conceited little creep, excuse me?? How dare you - how dare you judge me for not sharing your little crusade? Let me not for one second devalue or disrespect the suffering of people who have lost loved ones to the drink-driving morons out there (the ones whose selfishness really does know no bounds, I might add). People who have had the core of their lives ripped out by some fool with an avoidable one too many. But don't you dare judge me for not sharing your values. Especially as, can I point out again, you haven't actually asked me to sign any kind of petition or do anything that will make the blindest bit of difference. You have asked me to add my name after an unattributed, maudlin poem and then clog up the bandwidth of a server somewhere in Texas, breaking the news to some official that I have never heard of and who has never heard of me that I'm against drink driving.
No. Won't. Kindly pull down your trousers, sit on something very spiky - the Eiffel Tower would work, or the Seattle Space Needle - and swivel. Very quickly.