Friday, 30 July 2010

geoffrey boycott...

... was interviewed on Radio 5 this morning. He was saying at the usual length (a long length) how much he tells things like they are. He was sycophantically asked what he'd be like as an X Factor judge. He said, 'Well, I suppose I'd be like Simon Cowell. Or he's like me.'

Thursday, 29 July 2010

a different kind of writer

In these times of austerity, one government service I could conceivably do without is The Brent Magazine. Even though I would then miss gems like this, about an author visiting Willesden Library later this month*. All capitalisation and punctuation, and lack of publication, are dutifully transcribed from the original:
X is a different kind of writer. He is an exponent of a new genre in modern literature Thrillosophy or a combination of thriller writing with contemplations on the human condition. He will be speaking about Thrillosophy in the writing of his debut novel...

* I choose not to name the author, because, I don't know. It seems needless and not very classy. You might think I'm prissy. What I say to you, as per the answer to a Quiz Machine question about which of three phrases was not a real saying, is that Patience is a Virgin.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

you're getting off lightly with mermaids

Great letter to McSweeney's, in which author Teddy Wayne learns that people buying his book (Kapitoil looks very interesting, by the way) have also been buying rape and incest erotica. He rounds off:
I have very conflicted feelings about this situation.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

toy story 3

**Housekeeping: I don't do spoilers, but this post describes what I thought of the film. This could affect your enjoyment of it, though it probably won't.**

I loved Toy Story and Toy Story 2. I came out of the first one thinking that this movie should win the Oscar for best script and wouldn't. Both films were extremely funny. There were some good comic bits in Toy Story 3, but I didn't laugh consistently. One of the cast members has said:
Having done the second one I knew the third one would be even better, because the writing kept getting better and I think we were deeper into our characters.
Well, quite. The movie seemed weighted down with a sense of Importance and Theme, with the idea that somehow the franchise had moved past Comedy and into Meaning. Nuts to that. Great comedy's really hard to do, much harder than heartstringtugging if the history of movies is any guide, and if you do the comedy right, you make something that is not just harder to make, but better, and more affecting. I cared more about the characters in TS2 than in TS3, and Wall-E and Up were both both hilarious and moving. I know other people think differently, but for me, TS3 was a bit nothingy.

Monday, 26 July 2010

i should not find this funny...

... but I love the fact that the BBC headline, 'UK Film Council to be abolished' is followed almost immediately by the line, 'UK Film Council chairman Tim Bevan called it "a bad decision".'

(Incidentally, and I have said it before, in a country which has an ongoing paranoia about its manufacturing base, why does the arts not focus more heavily on the fact that it is a major manufacturing industry? It is adding value to raw materials by the use of time, skill and intellectual property, and the resulting artefacts then get sold.)

paul, from carcassonne

You know as well as I do that laughing at people in the comments threads of newspapers, Guardian to Daily Mail, is fish in barrel, but this is great:

'I live in France because of all the immigration in the UK...'
Paul, Carcassonne

(Daily Mail, as it happens. I wouldn't bother going there and reading the article.)

Saturday, 24 July 2010

norman oklahoma

I love the way towns in America make great character names. Norman is the home of the University of Oklahoma (Go Sooners!), the National Weather Centre and he has red telephone boxes. He also has the Fred Jones Jr Museum of Art, which got given America's biggest ever French Impressionists bequest in 2000. Ed Harris lives in him, and Harris is not the only one.

Do not mistake Norman for Tulsa, Oklahoma's second largest city. The former Oil Capital of the World now hosts Oklahoma's only free-standing aquarium.* More importantly, the Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum is America's Favourite Zoo. Who gets to make this prestigious award? It is Microsoft, as you'd imagine. When they were promoting their game Zoo Tycoon 2 in 2005, they did a survey. The place does sound good, but what really interests me here is Zoo Tycoon 2. What are you supposed to do in this game? Catch the most animals? Arrange monkey tennis?

Ok, I have now checked. I was pretty much right. You can also adopt animals and change their skins, get expansion packs with rampaging dinosaurs and exhibit extinct beasts.

* I assume this means 'freestanding public aquarium', or this is a much more extraordinary fact than Wikipedia gives it credit for.

Friday, 23 July 2010

wow. i mean, wow

You, like me, know Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) as the Icelandic author of the Prose Edda, a historico-mythologogical thing-of-some-kind incorporating all kinds of Norse and Christian elements. But this just means we can answer the most basic quiz questions about him. It doesn't give him anything like the credit he deserves, assuming Wikipedia to be right when it says:
As a historian and mythographer, Snorri is remarkable for proposing the theory (in the Prose Edda) that mythological gods begin as human war leaders and kings whose funeral sites develop cults (see euhemerism). As people call upon the dead war leader as they go to battle, or the dead king as they face tribal hardship, they begin to venerate the figure. Eventually, the king or warrior is remembered only as a god. He also proposed that as tribes defeat others, they explain their victory by proposing that their own gods were in battle with the gods of the others.
Wow. I mean, wow. Look at those dates.

Snorri, in addition, was twice elected lawspeaker of the Althing. That has only happened to me once, if at all.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

lisbeth salander

I have not read the third Millennium book yet, but I'm looking forward to it. One tic I really enjoy, and have mentioned before I dare say, is that Stieg Larsson leaves us in absolutely no doubt as to the tech choices favoured by every one of his protagonists.* This, and other things, get brisk and excellent treatment from Nora Ephron in The New Yorker here. For eg:
“I know you’re home,” he said.
Kalle fucking Blomkvist.
She tried to remember whether she was speaking to him or not. Probably not. She tried to remember why. No one knew why. It was undoubtedly because she’d been in a bad mood at some point.

*Another enjoyable tic: anyone with a goatee is evil.

today on pravda

Just think about it: even with a comfortable room temperature of +20 °C, at the moment of orgasm our heart rate sometimes reaches 200 beats per minute, and our blood pressure jumps up to 230/130 mmHg with the normal 120 over 80. Do you need this kind of exercise?
No way, Jose.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

department of crazy magic rhetoric

My love of NFL Films' high rhetorical style is well-established. This week, NFL Films president Steve Sabol filled in on Monday Morning Quarterback, a regular Sports Illustrated column.

NFL Films is constantly ranking the ten top of something or twenty best of something else. Most recently, they've ranked the hundred greatest players. Steve Sabol, in his usual understated way, expresses it thus:
Ranking the great players is, in a way, like rating the saints. Is St. Peter better than St. Paul? Would you pick St. Mark over St. Matthew?
You're probably desperate to know who Sabol thinks was the greatest defensive player of all-time. It was Dick Butkus:
A force of unmanageable proportions, he was Moby Dick in a goldfish bowl. His career as the middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears stands as the most sustained work of devastation ever committed on a football field by anyone, anywhere, anytime.
There's plenty more where that came from.

And from somewhere else, there's this. If you're a regular, you may have seen it here before. You may have seen it and not clicked on it. I am going to keep posting it until I am as sure as I can be that everyone I have ever met or heard of has watched it. I will not apologise for this.

inspiring photo essays

My Inspiring Photo Essays have literally inspired some photo essays. One follows the coleslaw recipe, but with added ingredients. The other, from Tall Tales' very own Miss Jones (she is Tall Tales'! She is!) teaches cheese scones, which I have always wanted to make. Slightly wanted. Now I will make them.

(BBC London News last night. The idiot reporter, reporting on ex-Oxford blonde bombshell former journalist Jo Johnson, brother of Boris and new mayor of Orpington, said: 'It is hard to imagine two more different characters.' It was an astonishing moment.)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

drinking sachin tendulkar's blood

You can do this by spending £49,000 on a deluxe (I'll say) copy of his autobiography, taking the front page, which is tinted because the pulp to make it was mixed with his blood, pulping the page and drinking it.* Then you will probably be a better batsman, assuming witchcraft to work.

The other thing that is vexing me today is Sainsbury's use-your-own-bag policy. If you do, they dutifully give you an extra Nectar point. Since you get two Nectar points for spending a pound, and since a Nectar point is worth a billionth of an ant, who do they think they are incentivizing? I bet it's morons. They think they are incentivizing morons. Are they?

* As Kraken Media's Chief Executive Karl Fowler says, 'It's not everyone's cup of tea, it's not to everyone's taste and some may think it's a bit weird.'

Monday, 19 July 2010

high prices

**Update** Much cheaper than the following and in response to this and a couple of other Stateside comments, your best bet from America is to go here.

The third-most expensive way to buy KSC is as an eBook: at £9.19 it is a mere 20p dearer than the full-price paper version.

The second-most expensive way to buy KSC is to go via the Sunday Times website, where they seem to think that if you'll pay to go through the paywall, you'll pay anything, and the price is £11.69.*

The most expensive way to buy KSC is to get drunk sitting in front of me at Lord's, hear my friends Kate and Zoe talking about how much they like the cover and buy a copy off me for £20.

* Clearly, this must be the price for the trade paperback, so I am being unfair, but it links to the review and picture of the normal paperback and I am doing a joke. Cut me some slack.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

grotesque and remarkable

Opening of something that got delivered this morning:
In writing this book I have done my best to draw a picture of the strange life which exists beneath the surface of the Seven Seas. It is a world of its own, in many ways stranger than that on land.

It would be impossible to describe accurately in words the grotesque and remarkable appearance of many of these inhabitants of the deep seas. I have often been asked: 'How large to you think the biggest fish grow?' and my answer is always: 'I haven't the slightest idea, but they undoubtedly weigh many tons.'

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Inspiring Photo Essay VIII: A Promise Kept

Yo Sushis. IPE VIII is actually a guest post at the excellent Me And My Big Mouth, who must be overjoyed he asked.

If you are new to the IPE genre, then start with the Play-School-Through-The-Round-Window visit to see TKSC printed, and follow up, if you have the stomach, with one of the great bucolic photoessays, featuring an ocean of my mother's food and also small cousins laughing scornfully at my inability to handspring (I had recently had a major back operation, but I don't like to talk about it). Then there is the multi-part odyssey (I do not use the word lightly) that was (and still is) the kitchen refit. (Link is to Pt. 1 - follow link at bottom called 'newer' or similar to get to the other... Well. You can find out for yourself how many other parts there are.)

If you still yearn for more, you can click on the label at the bottom of the post.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

happy birthday, me

It's not my birthday. It's my flatmate's birthday, and it has therefore been particularly special that today's special deliveries have both been for me.

One of these was a big box of paperbacks - released tomorrow. I am well busy, but all the same holding one in my hands is more exciting than holding the original trade paperback was. Simple reason: I have never in my life chosen to own a trade paperback. (Trade paperbacks, by the way, are the large, airport-size paperbacks that are increasingly being released instead of hardbacks, because so few people buy hardbacks any more. Books get released twice, traditionally. The first time is to garner reviews and so on, and the second time for the mass market in paperback. I have barely ever chosen to own a hardback either, but I have been given many.)

Thus, trade paperbacks don't, on some visceral level, feel quite 'real' to me. Lots of books are coming out in trade paperback, and so this will change, but my book was one of the earlier ones. This book feels totally real. If I were not the author, I would have read the reviews of KSC and now is when I would be buying it. That is why this is the version that excites me.

**Update** Normal post brought one more package. Again it was for me.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

pulpo paul

I'll be a bit quiet this week, probably. I am nose to my toes revitalising a show called Farm! which the luckier of you might have seen versions of many aeons ago and which might be on this Christmas if we revitalise it well enough and people like it at a showcase next week.

Late last night, the Telegraph rushed out a report on Paul the mystic octopus. It said:
The odds of all of his forecasts coming good, including for the final, was put at 3,000 to 1, William Hill, the bookmakers, said. Therefore, with a £20 starting bet, and placing the total winnings of each individual bet on the next, his keepers would be £6,000 richer.
I don't think this is good maths. Am I missing something? If I am not, would the journalist like to join me for poker one night?


Paperback's available on Amazon. Is that interesting? I don't know. I was at a roller disco last night. I was wearing great trousers.

Friday, 9 July 2010

letter of note

Wow. A very good basketballer called LeBron James became a free agent this summer and, perfectly legally, left Cleveland for Miami. From what I can tell, his protracted decision-making was fabulously annoying and narcissistic.* This is what the Cleveland Cavalier's majority owner wrote last night when the news broke (LeBron announced where he was going on an ESPN TV special called 'The Decision'):
Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers Supporters Wherever You May Be Tonight; As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment. Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us.

The good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal, and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you.There is so much more to tell you about the events of the recent past and our more than exciting future. Over the next several days and weeks, we will be communicating much of that to you.

You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. You have given so much and deserve so much more. In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:


You can take it to the bank. If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our "motivation" to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels. Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there. Sorry, but that's simply not how it works.

This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown "chosen one" sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And "who" we would want them to grow-up to become. But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called "curse" on Cleveland, Ohio.

The self-declared former "King" will be taking the "curse" with him down south. And until he does "right" by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.

Just watch.

Sleep well, Cleveland. Tomorrow is a new and much brighter day....

I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only: DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue....

Dan Gilbert
Majority Owner
Cleveland Cavaliers
Some of these are quite big promises. I think Dan Gilbert is sweet.

*Like Brett Favre, you are thinking, whose annual NFL 'retirement' dominates headlines all summer every year. Not quite, I think. I'll explain another time. The Favre story is tedious, but I think it is less his fault.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

yorkie bars are on me

I have just found an open, half-eaten Yorkie bar in a bag I know for a fact I have not used in 15 months. It looked ok. I was peckish, like I always am. I ate it. It was perfectly fine. Hmm.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

adventures in narrative: the cake is a lie

Half-Life: Portal is an influential computer game with an intricately self-referential story. The protagonist (and I am eliding wildly and am anyway basing this on Wikipedia) is tricked by GLaDOS, an artificial intelligence into undertaking a series of tests. The protagonist is repeatedly promised cake, as a whimsical sort of reward.

As the game progresses, it becomes clear that GLaDOS has other-than-stated ends. Clearly previous 'players' have been sent through the same tests, and there is graffiti saying 'The Cake is a Lie'. The protagonist has to kill GLaDOS. This has entered some parts of popular culture as a shorthand: you are told by your heartless, manipulative boss that working hard might lead to promotion; you look cynically at your fellow peon and mutter, 'The cake is a lie.'

The game's credits then whisk the viewer through tunnels and etc., and into a central room, with a cake, which is extinguished by a mechanical hand while GLaDOS starts singing:

There are many, many fan versions of this song on YouTube. It's won all kinds of awards and its composer, Jonathan Coulton, played it at a concert for computer game fans because he 'knew it was one of those things that would just make people’s heads explode.'*

Computer game music is very big news, by the way. In a world where pop songs routinely replace the once sweeping scores of movies, computer games are still doing lush, big-style stuff. Japan is where it's at, people. Here's the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra playing pieces from the Final Fantasy series.

* This did not happen

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

hard-to-believe cuppy

Will Cuppy decided he could only write his brilliant books if he became basically a hermit, so he did and a developer built a housing estate around his shack. Then he was an urban hermit and fell out with people and killed himself because it was probably less trouble than moving again (writes Thomas Maeder in the Afterword to The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody). The next year, his posthumously published masterpiece started selling in truckloads.

His last submission to the New Yorker was about the OED's entry on 'blanket', which said that Thomas Blanket, 'to whom gossip attributes the origin of the name, if he really existed, doubtless took his name from the article.' Cuppy laid into the Oxford English Dictionary, which is as sloppy an institution as you'd assume to be honest, firstly for presuming that the well-documented Bristolian corn merchant didn't exist and second for thinking that he would have been such an idiot that he wouldn't have been able to think of a surname until 1339 when, already prosperous, he set up a cloth-producing business and saw blankets emerging from his factory. Cuppy showed that there were plenty of Bristolian Blankets, and that it was much more likely he was one of them than that he named himself after some woollen goods.

The New Yorker returned the piece. They thought it was funny but the editor Katharine S White felt that made up history was confusing and not really their sort of thing. The super-fastidious Cuppy was struck a terrible blow. He took some weeks to gather himself and then replied:
I hate to clutter up your mail, but I did want you to know (just for the record) that it wasn't a 'made up' piece at all. You wouldn't think so if you knew of the ungodly amount of actual physical toil I went through with it, such as getting information form the British Museum and reading the archives of the city of Bristol. As it stands, it is a contribution to history of the most authentic nature--but I thought I would make it funny, too. I intended it simply and solely as a few pertinent facts set down as lucidly as possible in order to right a great wrong, the smothering of Thomas Blanket (which now seems to have succeeded, and the truth will die with me).

animal vocab fact of the day

I heard somewhere recently someone say that it was wrong to call all the claws of an eagle 'talons', because only the rear facing claw is a talon. The front-facing claws are 'pounces'. This is interesting, but it's archaic usage, not current usage. So, talon-users, as you were.

Monday, 5 July 2010

news about trees

My new equal favourite tree (with the Atlas Ceders that fill Kew Gardens, which aren't run by fools) is the Alerce. It's very much its own tree, the only species in its genus, and is also known as the Fitzroya, from its Latin name Fitztroya cupressoides. You will guess, and be right, that it was named for Robert FitzRoy, the captain of Darwin's Beagle who later regretted terribly his accidental place in the promulgation of evolutionary theory, set up the Met Office (these last two facts not connected) and gave his name, recently, to the Shipping Forecast sea area formerly known as Finisterre (these last two facts connected).

Anyway, the alerce is a very large South American tree. It grows into the 70s of metres (Britain's tallest fir is 64m) but I am not so interested in that as I am to learn that in 1993 a Chilean alerce was confirmed as having been 3622 years old. This is the second-oldest confirmed age of a tree, though various living ones, yews included, might be older. An alerce looks like this*:

The old ones tend to have big trunks. But, you are wondering, how do you measure the trunk of a tree when you are assaying its value for timber? A good question. You don't use the measurement at floor level, with all those buttresses. That would be crazy. You use the dbh.** A dbh of 14 inches equates to a value of something like $3,400. If the dbh is 30 inches then, as you can see, we're talking more like $15,500. My record on the wisdom of investing in timber is clear.

* I mean 'some alerces look like this'
** Diameter at breast height. Some people use this for measuring other things

Friday, 2 July 2010

what does it all mean?

Football, as anyone who has ever read a newspaper knows, gives half-baked pundits endless opportunities to crap on about history, war, social trends, national character and all the rest. It never stops being funny/grim when the Japanese or Koreans are described as industrious ('But Koreans are industrious - they played twice as many first round games as anyone else!' -- 'There are two Koreas, Gary.'), the Germans as efficient, the African teams as joyful, dancing, spontaneous, the Scandics as ice-cool and all the other stereotypes. But people really do give a shit about football, and the concatenation of fan fervour and media reception really does say things about societies, even if it's hard to know quite what.

Holland doing well in South Africa is definitely interesting. Holland is a liberal country. White South Africans, historically, have not been liberal. Especially the ones with Dutch names and background. I imagine that many Afrikaners - whose main sporting passion is rugby - will quite naturally be wanting Holland to win. It's just as reasonable as them wanting Ghana to win, which most black South Africans will, and doesn't make them less wedded to South Africa, where their forefathers have been since before there was an America.

But I'd imagine that black South Africans might well have qualms about the most obvious group of their former colonial overlords cheering on the old country.

**UPDATE** Especially if they had been playing each other in the next round, which prickly political issue South Africa got to duck when Ghana were knocked out on penalties tonight.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

kenny young and the eggplants

They were on in the same venue as us the first time I went to Edinburgh. I love them. There are no pictures, except the ones you make with your mind if your mind is up to much.

Rock and roll.

out and about

I have now had two emails from people who have been sent my paperback in the flesh, and one pointing out that it is on ebay. I was tempted, because I've not seen a copy myself. People say it looks nice.