Friday, 31 December 2010

lords of finance (again)

I know I bang on about this book endlessly, but the thing I have been thinking about it for the last month is this: we look back at the Great Depression as a thing which started with a crash, and that was a nightmare, and then it took ages to get over it. When you read the book, what you see is a series of shocks taking place over a number of years, after each of which people - bright people - thought the problems were over, and then there would be another one. The really bad stuff wasn't the stuff that happened immediately.

Then I think: Eurozone.

In addition to these thoughts (depressing, worrying thoughts, in a nutshell), I also think that there is a comical tendency in a lot of pundits to be gloomy about everything, and that if you're a halfway competent historian you should at least remind people that loads of people have always thought everything's going to hell in a handcart. The boy got eaten by the wolf in the end, but I sort of mostly reckon that most things for most people will be better in the future than they are now, like they mostly always have been. They might not be, and let's not use it as an excuse for complacency, and I might not be among the people they will be better for, but they always have been before, and I like those odds.


(Last night I dreamed. Can't remember the details, but there was definitely food poisoning. Now must help cook for twenty people.)

Thursday, 30 December 2010

i have gone mad

I think we can all agree that it is insane to quote people making comments on websites. Everyone knows that, alongside the reasonable ones who do things like comment here, there are driveling lunatics everywhere you look, and the Guardian ones aren't better than the ones at the Daily Mail.

Having said which, Giles Coren wrote a piece about women in comedy today. I am not a website commenter, so I am not going to comment on it. Here is what some other people thought.

'Blame political correctness. No comedian wants to suffer the treatment handed to Benny Hill, Bernard Manning & Jim Davidson.' This is not someone being satirical. It really isn't.

'How about this.. Let men do the jokes..... and put women in charge of the Banks. The world would be a much happier place. Just a thought.' Just.

'The answer is simple. I give you Morgana from Channel 4 as an example why female comedy is not widespread or mainstream.' This answer is simple.

'women arent funny, the only time there funny is if they fall or there being thick without noticing. for the record = miranda = a boring phenom and not technically a woman.' Again, I am 99% certain this is for real.

'The trouble is, there are no decent male comedians either. The rubbish mascarading on TV as comedians is pathetic. None of them can tell a joke without it being full of sex or mocking the disabed. Bring back Ken Dodd, Bernard Manning Jim Davison and the like. They were REAL comedians.' This one is my favourite.

What am I doing here? What am I doing? I'll stop now. As usual, as well as the fools, a lot of people are horrible. Much more horrible than these guys. (These are all guys.)

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

run, white boy, run

Because I am nice, Santa gave me a present this year (normally I am not nice). It's a book about the 1908 Olympics, and I would be shocked if it doesn't provide more anecdotes than the one which opens Chapter One*, which is as far as I have read:

Lieutenant Wyndham Halswelle was representing Great Britain. His talent had been spotted serving with the Highland Light Infantry during the Boer War, and he returned to win all kinds of championships, and 'set a Scottish record for 300 yards that was not beaten until 1961, when Menzies Campbell, later for a time to be the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, took it away from him.'

What? Really? Did you know this? Does everybody? The people I was with didn't, but maybe they were the only ones. It does seem odd that I didn't know it. You probably know it. Sorry. 300 yards is a sort of nonsense event, but Ming held the GB 100m record from 1967-1974, which is for real. He was known for a time (as various others have been since) as 'the fastest white man on the planet.'

* Dr Badger Cries 'Foul!'

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Watch this right now

(It's via @isihac on Twitter, which, I think, is basically Graeme Garden.)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

sky, virgin, bt, talktalk

Is it at least possible that broadband, and internet in general, is a sort of magical technology which has been developed incredibly quickly and that it is not at all easy to provide, and on the whole these companies do it well, but there are lots of things that can go wrong, and when they do they are not very simple to fix unless you really know what you are doing?

I appreciate that they might sell the thing differently - they might say: look, you might be lucky, we have a system which very often works and is like magic but sometimes things go wrong and it could be one of loads of things, most of which are your fault because you're even more inexpert than even our most inexpert engineers. Or they could employ better people. We would have to pay more then, though. That tends to cause a fuss.

And of course it's frustrating for us, because we depend on the magic, like it's electricity or water, but it is fundamentally more complicated to deliver in a working fashion than electricity or water, or the phone, and unlike them it's been around for six hours.

I'm really not saying it's not frustrating. I've been very frustrated by it. But it is also, sort of, like magic. And it's part of the whole, in general, people forgetting that the internet is an amazing piece of engineering, made of real stuff, that is hard to maintain and costs a lot of money.

This was today's bathtime thought. Usually I read.

Monday, 20 December 2010

beaver, utah

Deep down, you knew I'd find out more about Beaver, Utah, where Mr Flake ranched his cattle.

With a population of 2,500, it's the largest city in Beaver County. The second largest city, Milford, only contains 1,500 (with a large Recreation Committee, including volleyball supremo Haylee Beebe, the least likely person ever to be a character in A Void/La Disparition). Stupid Minersvelle hasa population of fewer than 1,000, so it's just a town. Greenville, scarcely worthy of note, is an unincorporated community.

That's pretty much it for Beaver County. Though, I dare say, you would be interested to learn how it got its name. As Wikipedia so clearly puts it, Beaver County 'was named for the abundance of beavers in the area. Its county seat and largest city is Beaver.'

The City is more interesting than the County. It punches well above its weight in terms of famous residents. As well as Mr Flake, who was just passing through, it was the birthplace of Philo T Farnsworth, who invented the television, up to a point*, though what that really means is he worked out cathode ray tubes, and Butch Cassidy.

Butch Cassidy's first crime, as a minor, was to take some jeans and pie from a shop whose proprietor was absent, leaving an IOU. A jury acquitted him. Bet they felt pretty stupid later on.

* He also built a nuclear fusion device.

Friday, 17 December 2010

endearing, arizona

On the ongoing US Tour, we've reached Snowflake, Arizona. It's a little Mormon town (pop. 4958) with a big temple.

It's semi-famous because it was the home of Travis Walton, one of the best-known alien-abductees, and subject of the movie Fire in the Sky. Its Wikipedia page is well sweet, almost as sweet as Bluntisham-cum-Earith's, and similarly local-written:
Football is one of the Biggest Attractions in the White Mountain Area. The Lobos are always a Dominant Football team. When you come to the White Mountains you must be sure to come to a football game, if you come in the fall.
All of which is as nothing, however, compared to this fact: it is called Snowflake because it was founded by Mr Snow* and Mr Flake**. I heard about this on This American Life, where they didn't make anything of it, because they're classier than I am.

* Mr Erastus Snow. He was converted after his brother, Zerubbabel. My brother is called Alex
** Previously a cattle rancher in Beaver, Utah

Monday, 13 December 2010


It is cold, and I have a cold. Coincidence? Or conspiracy! Etc.

On the upside, though the commissioning process was eccentric and details remain unclear, I might have a song on Loose Ends sometime upcoming (fear not, regulars, I did not write the music - that was the excellent Philip Pope); and I more or less know what to say at tomorrow night's Literary Death Match.* More or less.

And if you think that's good news, then you'll love this week's match report, which features the name of a real person that I heard for the first time last night. The name is well worth the click.

* Regulars (again) will be surprised to see me described as the Santa Claus of Kilburn. I don't know why they'll be surprised, because I am. I've only ever heard one person described as that and it was me, on this site. I am the Santa Claus of Kilburn.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

alms for oblivion

One of my various brilliant collaborators has been telling me to read Simon Raven's Alms for Oblivion sequence for about two years. He finally pressed volume one into my hands the other night. It is, predictably, the bomb.

It's mostly humans being vile, frequently in dialogue, but he periodically throws in a passage like this:
Here was the birthplace of the first man, no innocent Adam in a beautiful garden but a cold, hungry beast who must slink and kill. Here was the human spirit in its raw and primordial essence, as it was when it stirred for the first time and awoke to tear its crimson path down the millennia.
Here's another piece. It's just one character's view, and hopelessly reductive and so on, but reminded me a lot of Julian Gough's excellent Prospect piece about how and why the artistic establishment undervalues comedy*:
'That's the boring thing about women,' Carton Weir remarked. 'If you just say, "Let's have a bit of fun," they look shocked. But if you say something portentous, like "Darling, I'm so unhappy," they'll drop flat on the nearest bed. Your unhappiness makes the whole thing serious, you see, not as serious as marriage would, of course, but at least it removes any suspicion of levity, and levity outrages their female conceit. The result is that if one wants a woman one has to go moaning round pretending to be unhappy. Too tedious. Which is why,' he concluded brazenly, 'I prefer boys.'
* It's been linked to a lot on Twitter lately. I think Stephen Fry is at least partly responsible.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


I have a load of open tabs. So:

1. Love's Fowl is an opera, in Italian, inspired by the Chicken Little story but going far beyond it. It sounds unbearably twee, but this year's This American Life collection of Poultry Stories - actually 2003's on repeat - played sections and translated them. They are dry, witty, everything that turns something really high quality but offbeat into the good sort of cult.

2. Actually, that This American Life episode also starts with an amazing story about two sisters and a duck puppet, and follows it with two episodes of the brilliant Chickenman. TAL is about the best thing, and this was a crackerjack episode. Here's more Chickenman. I wish I'd listened to this before I invented Cricketbat (see a couple of posts lower down).

3. Via Light Reading: a story about bees producing red honey because they had been eating vats of sugar dyed with the same dye used for Maraschino cherries. The honey was horrible.

4. Via Marbury: great story about super high-tech cyber-terrorism taking down Iranian nuclear facilities.

5. I'm doing Literary Death Match next week. I have to represent a holiday. Unless I hear of something better, I am going to represent Bhutan's Blessed Rainy Day when you bathe outdoors to get rid of bad deeds, obstructions and defilements, and then you have porridge.

a skill

(Via New Yorker's Out Loud podcast. It's actually quite amazing if you close your eyes.)

Monday, 6 December 2010

martina navratilova - crime writer

You can't stop sports stars from writing mystery novels. I'm reading - very slowly - one written by Jack Hobbs and set at a Lord's Test Match in the 30s. Why Miss Jones gave it to me. Ted Dexter wrote one too.

And I have just bought Breaking Point, which annoyingly turns out to be the second of Martina Navratilova's Jordan Myles books. I think there isn't a third. JM is a spunky tennis-champ-turned-investigator. I love the cover. The publishers had a think and decided, rightly, that the appeal of this book was Martina Navratilova. So they put her on the front, with a laptop, on a Harley. There's nothing not to like.

The opening of paragraph two is one of the great moments in all modern fiction:
It is Paris, eight years ago. The day is unpredictably warm, as it is likely to be in May during the finals of the French Open...