Friday, 21 November 2014

yikes

[Time passes.]

You will mainly be terrified that tickets for this year's Mighty Fin Xmas Show are on sale and you somehow missed the news. Nil desperandum - we are dealing with a matinee licensing issue.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady, one of the most joyful books ever written, is getting Susannah Pearse songs, which are some of the most joyful things ever written, and the tickets will be on sale next week. Be ready to be quick. The dates for your diary are 17-20 December.

In other news, the new version of Listen & Often will go live and fortnightly in December. We've recorded three. It's been educational and Marie and I do now know what we want them to be.

Tall Tales is next Weds at The Good Ship, as per usual - Burdess, Chalmers, Davies, Finnemore, Kane, Parker, Pearse, 7.30 for an 8.00 start.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

posh girls, cheerleaders, fantastic samurai

This article about Sumo and Japan by Brian Phillips is long and absolutely magnificent. It's also beautifully produced by Grantland. The description of a tragic failed coup is astonishing, and it is only the set-up.

In The Daily Beast is a crazy story about a frightening 38 year old socialite NFL cheerleader.

I hate the knee-jerk tv trope that posh people are ipso facto evil. That's all the throat-clearing I'm going to do.

I love the fact that Game of Thrones is full of girls who sound like they've walked out of an art history seminar at Exeter University saying things like, 'I'll lick your balls and then I will cut them off and serve them to your whore.' Then there's the red-headed one who doesn't sound posh and says 'You know nothing, Jon Snuh'.

She's played by Rose Leslie: Leslie was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and raised at Lickleyhead Castle in Aberdeenshire, her family's 15th-century ancestral seat. Her father is Sebastian Arbuthnot-Leslie, the Aberdeenshire Chieftain of Clan Leslie, and her mother is Candida Mary Sibyl "Candy" Leslie (née Weld), great-granddaughter of Simon Fraser, 13th Lord Lovat (a descendant of Charles II).  Her parents own the 12th-century Warthill Castle in Aberdeenshire.

Taylor Swift (I like her) is well posh. I might have said this on here before, but I think it was on twitter. Anyway, here are some highlights from her Wikipedia page:

Her father, Scott Kingsley Swift, is a Merrill Lynch financial adviser. Scott was raised in Pennsylvania and is the descendant of three generations of bank presidents ... She spent the early years of her life on an eleven-acre Christmas tree farm in Cumru Township, Pennsylvania ... When Swift was fourteen, her father transferred to the Nashville office of Merrill Lynch and the family relocated to a lakefront house in Hendersonville, Tennessee.


Friday, 31 October 2014

i'm behind you

Nearly done with this year's Xmas Show. Details to follow. Also, Marie and I are re-editing our podcast. We won't take them live till we've worked out how to replicate regularly. We're nearly there, I promise...

The labour-intensive world of moderating facebook.

Plant crime of the century. One of the scientists in the story sounds like the hero of an enviro-Indiana-Jones-style action series: The thermal water lily was only successfully grown from seed in 2009, after the last living specimen, which had been in Germany, had died. Its survival was down to Kew’s plant “codebreaker”, a charismatic Spanish horticultural scientist called Carlos Magdalena.

Also: “Personally I have no worries about what has happened,” one British collector said. “I feel there is an arrogance about Kew. They deserved what they got.” Carlos Magdalena told me that he had even been accused of staging the theft to increase publicity for his work.

I've said it before, but Brian Phillips is fantastic. He even feels fresh about the aeons-long rivalry between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning: If it weren’t for Brady, we’d have to think of Manning as a celebrity, but if it weren’t for Manning, we’d have to think of Brady as a guy doing a job — or worse: as a guy who signs paperwork, who wakes up worried in the middle of the night, who gets stuck in traffic, who waits on hold, who wonders where time is going, who feels unexplained pain in his tooth. Instead, we get to imagine Brady as the free citizen of a world of tuxedos, fine wine, lingering eye contact, and beautiful understated cars. We get to do this because there is never a moment, we imagine, when Manning is not signing paperwork, in traffic, while worried, with a toothache. That is how Peyton Manning contributes to our fantasies. That’s the sacrifice he makes for us.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

amazon steals from war hero

Have I written about the Amazon scam where dodgy publishers take books they claim are out of copyright and offer them for (expensive) sale on a print-on-demand basis. Probably. And probably someone else has written about them.

Anyway, my favourite current example is a book called Van Meegeren, Master Forger, which various imprints with curious four letter names (Nabu Press, Ulan Press) are selling, out of the goodness of their scholarly hearts, because it was originally published prior to 1923, and represents a reproduction of an important historical work, maintaining the same format as the original work. While some publishers have opted to apply OCR (optical character recognition) technology to the process, we believe this leads to sub-optimal results (frequent typographical errors, strange characters and confusing formatting) and does not adequately preserve the historical character of the original artifact. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form.

How marvellous of them! This is the long tail at work! Our records will never die.

Except I suppose that the diligent old moles at Nabu and Ulan must have missed the title page, since the forgery which the book is about wasn't uncovered until the end of WW2, so the date, in a book about fakes no less, is pretty wild of the mark.

In fact, the book was written in 1967 by John Godley, Lord Kilbracken. You may know him as the author of The Easy Way of Bird Recognition or as a racing correspondent. Or the chap who gatecrashed the Great Red Square parade in Moscow on the 40th anniversary of the October uprising, wearing a pink Leander tie and with his trousers turned inside out. Or as a Fleet Air Arm pilot who won a DSC flying Fairey Swordfish, a Liberal peer who switch to Labour in 1966 and renounced his British citizenship and medals in 1972 over Britain's policy in Northern Ireland. He sat in the Lord's and was a big speaker for the Kurds.

Also, he sold square yards of Irish bog to Americans, hunted Rommel's treasure, squired Jayne Mansfield to buy cows (he christened his best milker Jayne) and married a much younger Australian spy. His Telegraph obit is great, as you would imagine.

Friday, 24 October 2014

mike read loves chocolate



UKIP news 1: I was at a big party to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the birth of Oscar Wilde, mainly, and so Calypsist Mike Read. He was wearing a poppy long before anyone else, to show how patriotic he is, presumably. You are probably wondering why he was at an Oscar Wilde party? It's because he wrote a musical called Oscar that closed after one performance in 2004 in a hail on non-acclaim. The Guardian wrote: When Mike Read's Oscar Wilde musical closed within hours of its opening night in the West End, five theatregoers suffered more than most: the people who had bought tickets to its second performance.

He's also written musicals about Cliff and Rupert Brooks, and set Betjeman to music. Almost certainly terrible in all cases. Also, as a modern artist, he has worked in the field of confectionary.

 UKIP news 2: I didn't know anything about William Dartmouth, 10th Earl of Dartmouth, who sits as a UKIP MEP for South West England. His grandma was Barbara Cartland, and is married to an Australian ex-model. He has a son whose mother is a 'socialite', or was, and who can't inherit the title for legitimacy reasons.

Short film of joggers in Victoria Park.

Addams Family audition pics. It seems from number ten that Nicholas Lyndhurst was up for Lurch. Lisa Loring played Wednesday. She was born in Hawaii, married her childhood sweetheart and had a baby when she was sixteen. Later, she married a porn star (she met him on a set when she was working as a make-up artist) but she didn't like his work and although he pretended, he couldn't give it up. Drugs, drink, and People magazine wrote a feature on her brilliantly entitled Addams Child Wednesday Has Been Fully of Woe, but she's started acting again. I hope it goes well for her.

Sneakernomics is crazy.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

million sellers

J_F_cover_US_1 


Cover scan of Jacob's Folly





I loved Jacob's Folly. The top cover above gives you a decent sense of it. I think it's the American one. The second cover is the British one I saw, and it's made me think it was a book not aimed at me. Over time, I got over the judging by cover, but it was over time. If I had seen the top cover I'd have read it ages ago. It is by no means anything within a million miles of what looks like the slightly pappy book of the second cover, and I wonder if lots of readers have found that surprising. I should check, maybe. Not now, I have other fish to fry.

I am periodically riveted by huge bestsellers no one today has heard of. My friend Matthew told me about the incredible Peter Cheyney the other day, who grew up in the East End, fought in the Great War, dictated dozens of thrilling tales, shot, golfed, jiu-jitsued and etc., etc.

Among other things, assuming Wikipedia to be correct: Cheyney wrote his first novel, the Lemmy Caution thriller This Man Is Dangerous in 1936 and followed it with the first Slim Callaghan novel, The Urgent Hangman in 1938. The immediate success of these two novels assured a flourishing new career, and Cheyney abandoned his work as a freelance investigator. Sales were brisk; in 1946 alone, 1,524,785 copies of Cheyney books were sold worldwide ... Cheyney dictated his work. Typically Cheyney would "act out" his stories for his secretary, Miss Sprauge, who would copy them down in shorthand and type them up later.

Ernie Hudson played Winston in Ghostbusters and wasn't that well treated in sequels and didn't voice the cartoon. Was race a reason? Well, in this interview, he seems like more or less the gracefullest man on earth. I think of him as Cousin Ernie, increasingly.

What happens when you find a way to beat Vegas because Vegas has screwed up the programming of its machines? Well, among other things, Vegas doesn't like it one little bit, and Vegas is bigger than you, so it takes you to court. Vegas, basically, is the baddies. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

yikes

I hadn't heard of Gamergate until last night and the story of a gamer saying he'd massacre people if a woman spoke about tropes games perpetuate against women.

Of course, it's just the usual load of hate-filled bile, and to say this is representative of gamers is like saying ISIS is representative of muslims and so on. But I'm glad to know about it, all the same. And I was already going to link to this great story by Naomi Alderman about British women who were early computer coders because when they started doing it, it was seen as women's work. They started businesses made a lot of money, which totally is and should be part of the story.

Friday, 3 October 2014

almost there

What do I do every day? If you are asking this question about any of the last eight days, I get up, open a script I'm writing, re-plan the relationship of a pair of secondary characters called Banjo and Googoo, feel hopeful that this time I've cracked it, draft between one and all of their scenes, decide that I will have to start again tomorrow.

Also, the internet. For instance, did you know Steven Soderbergh has done a black and white, re-scored cut of Raiders of the Lost Ark? I'd love to watch it in the cinema pictured above, which I walked past in a village in France last month.

Anthony Kim might be fit to play golf again, but his eight figure insurance pay-off might stop him.

American football news: if you can read the cute bits of this story, which you'll know when you get to them, and not be heartwarmed, then you have a heart of stone. (Bonus cute: child asks astronaut about what happens to Voyager if it breaks down.)

Other American football news: I love the series Breaking Madden, in which Jon Bois plays with the settings of a frighteningly lifelike computer game to produce absurd results. One of the best things about it is that it's not entirely predictable. Here, one of the characters Jon has tweaked seems to develop a weird disfunctional artificial intelligence. (Also I love the tiny men running into the giant men.)

The recent This American Life episode on the takeover of a New York school board by Hasidic Jews who don't send their kids to public schools but still have to pay for it is vvg.

Also, I find these posters funny every time I walk past them. Does that make me someone with a heart of stone? Can't I both feel sorry for the dog and the owner AND find the poster sort of hilarious in various ways? I think that's the situation I'm in.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Boutique Nationalism is Undemocratic

Oh God, Scotland. I really don't want to get into it. I'm not going to persuade anyone. Anything I say will just be screeching into the void. And yet. I haven't got another voice. I've almost never written anything up here because I can't bear not to say it.

The first country I had any form of relationship with was Scotland. I was five, my family supported Scotland in the five nations, I was Scottish. I still am, and I still do. My brother was married in a kilt, which surprised people, but he was brought up Scottish, whatever he sounds like and wherever he lived. That's allowed in Britain, especially if you weren't born in England. I am British, and the subset of British I am is Scottish.

I was born in Zimbabwe of parents who'd been in Africa for generations after their families had, mostly, gone out from Scotland. Identity and nationalism aren't rational.* My identity could disappear and I don't get a vote and it makes me feel utterly sick, and angry, and miserable, and weird.

Of course, there's no way I can divorce this from what I like to think are my more reasoned arguments that Scotland should stay part of the union. It  comes down to this, though: I believe that the rise of me-me-me boutique nationalisms like 'Scottish', where people try to redraw borders so they can pick and choose only the things they like or agree with, is fundamentally anti-democratic. Democracy is not living somewhere where everyone agrees with you, it's having as loud a voice as everyone else in the place where you live.

It's a sort of national version of the Great Sort, and although there are arguments on both sides, I think that in countries like the UK - which are by every rational measure free, democratic and highly functional - it is solipsistic and frankly a bad example to the world to claim that you are being oppressed/victimised/whatever because your democratically elected government doesn't happen to agree with you.

But I am also incredibly upset because if Scotland votes Yes, I don't know what I'll be then.**

* I supported Zim against England too for a very long time, although I've gone kind of agnostic now, for Mugabe reasons. I'm not trying to pretend all this is simple.
** I know some people think that doesn't matter, and countries are bullshit. That's fine, they're allowed to. I'll never change their mind and I'm not trying to.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

watch this, watch this


Inexplicably, I had never seen this brilliant thing until @helenlewis posted it on twitter. If you are in the same unhappy position...

Some people say that the new Apple ad (see it here) is a rip off of the latest amazing Ok Go video. Some of those people are OK Go. They are obviously right. Of course other people have done similar things, but the timing means the Apple guys were just copying, and they clearly would consider themselves creatives. Lots of adverts are like this.

Of course, the OK Go thing is a thousand times wittier and more charming.


I am a big fan of the Stanford University mascot - a tree whose inhabiter gets to to design his or her costume every year. My favourite bit from the Wikipedia page:  In February 2006, then-Tree Erin Lashnits was suspended until the end of her term as the Tree after her blood-alcohol level was found to be 0.157 (almost twice the legal driving limit in California) during a men's basketball game between Stanford and Cal. UC Berkeley police observed her drinking from a flask during the game and cited her for public drunkenness after she failed a breathalyser test.

This year's tree has got a hilarious/awful costume. I can't find a picture of it, but this gif is worth a click.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

the spy who loved another spy

Woo hoo, I am going on holiday. I have finished a decent draft of this year's Christmas show; I have done a draftier draft of Bond episode 2 for Tall Tales on 24 Sept; I have watched the rains, the rains, the endless gloomy rains of August.

I have also learnt that, in his later life, Lord Salisbury took to riding a tricycle for his health. He beavered around the grounds of Hatfield House in a purple velvet poncho. A footman would jump off the back of his tricycle to push him up hills and remount for the downhills. This, and there will be plenty more to follow, I guess, from The War That Ended Peace, by Margaret MacMillan.

For the Dazzle sequel, I went back into the twenties, and reminded myself that I'd downplayed the craziness, if anything. My new favourite is Gerald Tyrwhitt, Lord Berners. He wrote a very hard-to-get-hold-of book called The Girls of Radcliff Hall, satirising his homosexual circle through the medium of a boarding school parody with what might be the greatest title in all literature. The Telegraph obituary says:

... "distinguished" is not quite the right word for Berners. Distinguished men do not normally drive around their estate wearing a pig's-head mask to frighten the locals.

Nor do they place advertisements in The Times announcing that they wish to dispose of two elephants - and, when rung up by a diary column, pretend to be their own manservant and explain that one of the elephants has been sold to Harold Nicolson (who took the joke badly).

Enough for now. I'm out of here.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

archbishops

I read Death Comes to the Archbishop and The Table of Less Valued Knights last week. They are very different, excellent books.

Some excellent sportswriting in Grantland this week. Brian Phillips takes on the hideous Ray Rice mess (Rice and his wife walked into an elevator; he dragged her out, seemingly unconscious; she apologised for causing trouble; he got a tiny little wrist slap from the league authorities). Phillips - well, you should read the whole thing for the sensitive way it tries to understand the knots people have got themselves into over this. It's an exercise in genuine empathy: Internet comments defending Rice and the NFL are — well, many of them are genuinely and chillingly misogynistic, but I think more of them are primarily concerned with protecting football from mainstream cultural norms: Don’t take this away too. Men who post smug explanations of league suspension policy may be secret domestic-violence enthusiasts, but more likely they’re simply trying to keep any trace of sensitivity from softening their cartoon war game. What they’re talking about isn’t precisely what they’re talking about. They don’t support the problem; they just don’t want to think about it. They refuse to be collaterally enlightened.

That last sentence is brilliant.

Michael Weinreb, in a very different piece which has its core a similar attempt to get at just what it is we love about sports, even when so much of it is easy to criticise, writes: at heart, the reason we prefer college football to the pros is that we are sentimental nostalgists, wishing we could retreat back to the time when we felt like maybe we had the potential to be great, too. He's totally convincing, and he knows it has to change because it's built on a system of (racial) peonage.

Back to Elizabeth Gilbert - being a fan is loving something more than it deserves. That's such an excellent insight.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

tabs

I know almost precisely nothing about Eat, Pray, Love and the description of it doesn't appeal. I listened to Mike Pesca interview Elizabeth Gilbert, its author, last week. I really, really liked her (and her new novel does sound up my street, she will be delighted to learn). She was wise and gracious about being a one-hit wonder, whatever the hell that means, and fandom (loving something more than it objectively deserves). It's here.

Some French dude wrote a book in ten minutes and can't stop selling copies. I also really like him. Sample quote: “It is no effort,” he smiles, his blue eyes flashing. “Words come out of me like water from a tap. I write largely on my mobile phone as I move about and queue in the supermarket. I’ve written on chewing gum wrappers and even on my shirt.” 

I think Alexa Meade's photos of people who look like paintings are fun. I don't know whether they are a bit hokey when you see them for real, and I am not sure I want one, and the web is no place to make judgements, but I am, to no purpose, a fan.

Monday, 4 August 2014

peter o'toole

I didn't know that Peter O'Toole loved cricket so much. He played with Omar Sharif while filming Lawrence of Arabia and, aged 50, qualified as a coach so he could teach his new son properly. He coached kids at Cricklewood and Brondesbury Cricket Clubs.

I already liked him.