Sunday, 29 May 2011

if any of them turn out to be males...

I did not know that EF Benson, whose Mapp and Lucia books are fantastic, was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who proposed to his wife Mary when Mary was 12 and he was 23, and who married her when she was 18.

I know it now, because my friend Lisa Gee reviewed a book about Mary, which I am now very keen to read. My favourite fact: the Benson children called their guinea pigs Atahualpa, Ixlitchochitl* and Edith Mitchinson.*

* Presumably the father of the famous "poet-king" Nezahualcoyotl, who witnessed Ixlitchochitl's death from the branches of a nearby tree.

** In these letters from Maggie, one of the children, we see her describing Edith Mitchinson (named after a Lincoln school friend):

Edith Mitchinson has had 3 more.

I shall call these guinea-pigs Lady Victoria,
Lady Blanche, and Lady Edith. If any of them
turn out to be males I shall call them Lord Victoria,

Saturday, 28 May 2011

once bitten, twice bitten

Yo Sushis. I've posted some Simon Raven here and there. In the comments a couple of times back, Sarang alerted me to the poem 'The World of Simon Raven' by Peter Porter, which opens thus (thank you Sarang):

Rooks are raging where great elms were felled,
Family silver's been lent for the Fete,
Nanny's facing Nigel with stained sheets,
Telegrams announce James is expelled,
Mrs. Diamond from Sea View Estate
Tempts a team in training with boiled sweets.

Meanwhile sturgeon from Odessa packed
For Black's and Tan's, renowned St. James's Clubs,
Laced with Spanish fly, cause randy scenes
At Ascot, a Bishop's face is smacked;
Debs and guardsmen break up Chelsea pubs,
Blackmailers send snaps to dons at Queen's.

Makes the books sound great, which they are. But who is this Peter Porter?

I'm glad you asked, if you did ask. Maybe you went, 'Who the hell doesn't know who Peter Porter is?' For the rest of us: he's an Australian poet and 'formidable drinker' who I clearly should have heard of. He went to Toowamba Grammar School, his book titles include Once Bitten, Twice Bitten, and he wrote poems called 'John Marston Advises Anger', 'Death in the Pergola Tea-Rooms', and 'Madame de Merteuil on The Loss of an Eye'. He liked aphorisms and apothegms. Here's one of his ones of the latter:

A million girls
Look for Mr Right: the one who
Finds him is Miss Wrong.

He died last year, at the age of 81. Jamie Grant concluded his obituary in The Australian by saying: 'Liver cancer has removed Porter from among us, though some may wonder how his liver managed to last long enough for cancer to catch up with it.'

Friday, 27 May 2011

almost there

Tall Tales was excellent last night. My favourites were Helen Arney, Emma Beddington, Toby Davies, Gareth Edwards, John Finnemore, Ian Leslie and Kate Ferguson, Marie Phillips and Mike Westcott. Next one is last Thursday in July. For those who requested it, I will very soon have a better TT page on my website, which will have links and similar. Very soon. Multimedia may take a bit longer.

I would do it now, but Damsel in Distress workshop in moments. Sentence? Nearly.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

BBC Legal

This is the BBC Sports Page's legalled version of the Giggs story: 'Ryan Giggs, identified in Parliament as the married footballer named on Twitter as having an injunction over an alleged affair with a reality TV star'. Funny? I thought it was funny. Not a lot, but a bit.

You'll be interested in what I think about this story. On the one hand I think the superinjunctions are silly and wrong, and while the prurience is nasty, we should be very wary of making laws to deal with it. It is legal to be prurient and, up to a point, nasty. Laws are hard to take back, especially if people can make a quick buck out of them.

But the way it's played out in the last week, the 'everybody knows' defence? Hmm. 'Bottom-up'; 'people power'; and so on. Viva la revolution! But at what point does that argument look the same as 'might is right' or some other kind of mob?

It's more complicated than this, obviously, but I need to go and listen to amazing singers, which is all I do at the moment.* As well as the brilliant Damsel cast, I saw Ian 'The Ostritch' Bostridge last night.

* I have a truly wonderful letter to share with you as soon as I have time to transcribe it...

Monday, 23 May 2011

look at me, i'm dancing!

It is quite the sight.

Today am at first day of a week's workshopping our version of Damsel in Distress for Chichester. I will presumably be, this week, mainly rewriting. If not, I will be mainly sitting around. I would prefer the latter. Does that make me sound lazy? If it does, then what I mean is, 'I would prefer it so that I can do loads of other important stuff. My motto is the light at the other end of the tunnel comes from the torches of people bringing me work to do. Anyone who knows me will tell you that.

I had a load of open tabs full of things I wanted to mention, but then Firefox crashed. What a time-saver that was!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

the fog of war

More Raven. This pair make particularly good reading as a counter to lots of the stuff you read about Irag/Afghanistan. We are a profoundly demilitarised generation and I think many people don't think sensibly about what war might be like when they criticise its conduct.*

'Listen my cadets,' he said. 'Officer Cader Strange has spoken what I wished to hear. In battle there is a right way and a wrong way, a near way and a far way, a fast way and a slow way; but a safe way there can never be except for the way home, and that way, my children, we do not take.'


'I've not seen much action myself,' he told them, 'because I kept out of it whenever possible; but I've seen a bit, and of course it's not at all like this. On this exercise we have a plan and we're following it. In action, the plan has to be changed every five minutes, and anyhow everyone's too frightened to remember what it is, even supposing they ever knew in the first place. So you just muddle on and hope for the best.'

After hearing this, they executed several more precisely ordained movements, until Captain Detterling announced that the enemy was defeated and that it was time for lunch.

* Please do not think this means I advocate that soldiers are not scrutinised.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

what are the six fastest birds on earth?

You probably don't think ducks are that fast, but they are. Of the ten fastest birds (in level flight) six are ducks and another is the spur-wing goose, which is not quite a goose and not quite a duck, but it's part of the same shooting match. The chap on the right is a red breasted merganser, which is in there at number four. He doesn't look it, does he?

Anyway, someone asked Yahoo! Answers, 'What are the six fastest birds on earth?' which is an interesting enough question, though I'm not sure why the asker picked 'six'. The best answer, as chosen by voters, was this:

The fastest flying birds are: 1. Peregrine Falcon (90 to 200 mph.) 2. Spine- Tailed Swift ( 90 to 100 mph.) 3. Mallard Duck (65 mph.) 4.Harpy Eagle ( 35 to 50 mph.) 5. Pigeon ( 55 mph.) 6. Humming Bird (15 to 25 mph.
Fastest running birds: 1. Ostrich ( 45 mph.) 2. Road runner (15 mph.) There are only 2 fastest birds on land.
Hope this helps! :D
Bird Studies

It's hard to know what my favourite bit of this is. The fast birds list's implication that all the other species of bird, from red breasted merganser to heron, are slower than a humming bird? The information's 'Source'? They're both good, but I think the prize goes to the statement that 'There are only 2 fastest birds on land.'

cry me a river, mr dentist

On the Finchley Road, this picture fills the window of a dentist.

I am not sure why. What is the sulky, miserable woman saying? Over her shoulder as she angrily leaves your life forever, she snarls, as a kind of heartfelt but enigmatic curse, 'Free dental consultations for new patients.' Or maybe she's an embittered rival dentist unable to compete with this great benefactor of teeth and stalking off furiously to contemplate her business' annihilation and the fact that her children will starve? I don't know. Maybe it is just Art.

Monday, 16 May 2011

i wouldn't want to go out with bernhard langer

Lots of people saying Ryder Cup should go to Spain to honour Seve Ballesteros. He was one of my favourites, and he's one of the very few sportsmen who has been more or less universally loved, and transcended a sport and so on, but I do think the beatifying seriousness of a lot of the commentariat has been gruesome. As it was with Bobby Robson, and various others.

Anyway, in response to the calls to host the Ryder Cup in Spain, Bernhard Langer said, 'There'd be no big problem if it were to return to Spain again but it would be unfair.' Passive aggressive much?

sound the retreat

Simon Raven is one of those authors that somehow are not super famous but whose fans are nuts about them.* I'm in the middle of his ten-novel long Alms For Oblivion cycle, and it's crackerjack. Here are some recruits traveling through India just before the end of Empire:

The train pulled out of the siding and rattle away with them across the dusty Deccan towards Gulbarga. For a while they looked across the yellow, stony plain, until the sun sank behind the Western Ghats and all the ways were dark. Then they wrapped blankets round their thighs and stomachs, dozed and shivered, nodded off and nodded on, snored and dribbled and whimpered, while the distressful night crept by and slunk away at last before the kind old sun.

Two pages later, someone asks whether the Indian Army is any different from the regular army. Young Lord Muscateer replies: 'I had a great-grandfather in the Coldstream who had to transfer to the Indian Army after a row about some other fellow's wife. Usually, after that sort of row, they just sent you to a line regiment to get you out of London. But my great-grandpapa was so awful that they sent him all the way out here. Do you suppose that's any guide to the form?'

And moments later:

'What regiment are you going into, Muscateer' - this from Alister.

'I've been with my county mob so far - the Wiltshires.'

'I'd have thought you'd have gone into the Guards.'

'They haven't been too keen on us since great-grandpapa's little affair. Anyway, my old governor says a man ought to join his local lot. He says that's what the best chaps always did, and that your smart London regiments were just a load of shitstabbing grocers.'

'Rather strong?'

'My old governor always puts things strong.' said Muscateer.

* The other one of these authors I am finally reading: Barbara Pym. Interesting similarities and differences. Also excellent.

Friday, 13 May 2011

just call me nostradamus in the morning

A long time ago, I suggested someone make a documentary about Irish dancing. If I were Apple, I would be suing the arse off Sue Bourne for doing so. I am not Apple. I am really, really looking forward to Jig.

Thursday, 12 May 2011


Eddie Mair on R4's PM has just asked the head Nazi Hunter involved in the Demjanjuk trial something like, 'When you see this old man in a wheelchair and a baseball cap, do think there's a point in doing this?' (Demjanjuk has been found guilty of 30,000 murders, though he's got the right of appeal.)

It's hard to imagine Mair asking that about an old man in a wheelchair who had just been found guilty of raping three five-year-old girls. I also think there would be more fuss about this second old man being released from custody while he appeals.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

un. inspired.

Who goes into cartooning? I don't know any cartoonists, as it happens. I am loving this website. The cartoonist has gone into it for all the right reasons - ie money - and he is a genius. Unlike most comedians (so called) he has not written bad jokes for people with no money. He has focused on 'Humor that Works' and he has trademarked this phrase to prove it. If you are a business, you need guys like this to keep your underlings happy and to explain the need for change. Here is a cartoon (that works) on the theme of change.

As you can see, I am not allowed to reproduce this without permission. You might presume that I have therefore got permission.

I wonder if, since I am basically reviewing a publication, I am allowed to reproduce a small thing from what I am reviewing as fair use. I bet I am. My review of Grantland's cartoons is that Grantland's self-image is that these are 'Good, Safe, Proven' and that his use of cheesy business language to describe cartoons is the funniest thing on his site.

Someone else's review: 'GRANTLAND is to business comic strips what Walt Disney was to animation.'

Monday, 9 May 2011

sexy mermaids and viking seals

Periodically, at Tall Tales, I talk about an erotic fiction novelist who writes about mermaids and elves (Is That a Snorkel in Your Pocket?; The National Elf Service). Basically, there is no subject that someone hasn't at some point turned into a romance genre. Imagine my joy, therefore, when the brilliant Light Reading pointed out Sandra Hill's saucy books about US Navy SEALS getting transported back to the time of the Vikings. For real. (For real the books exist. Not for real about the Vikings.)

I am now considering a viking/seal/mermaid/SEAL crossover book. Maybe it's a step too far. Dark Viking's Amazon description runs as follows:

After a sea operation gone wrong, Navy SEAL Rita Sawyer awakens to find herself still clad in her wetsuit and in a cage with a bunch of Vikings staring at her, including one very tempting warlord.

Steven of Norstead has been in a cold, dark mood for many weeks. But perhaps this unusual woman, with her sharp tongue and irksome ways, could be the one to light his fire.

Oh boy. Here is Sandra Hill's own description. It literally mentions mermaids. I can't say I'm not a bit tempted:

Rita, a former stunt woman, can't believe she signed up to be a female Navy SEAL. She needed the signup money to pay her mother's medical bills.
Easiest money on the planet. All you have to be able to do is balance a ball on your nose and clap every time someone throws you a fish.
Steven, a fierce Viking warrior is depressed over the "death" of his brother Thorfinn. Yep, even Vikings get the blues.
1. He's a fierce viking, not one of the gentle ones. 2. His brother is clearly not dead. Does he not understand quotation marks? 3. Poor old vikings.
Rita can't believe she's been tossed back in time to the tenth century wearing a head-to-toe wetsuit and flippers with her face cammied up.
That's the bit about being tossed back to the tenth century that I wouldn't be able to believe either.
Steven can't believe the gods have sent him a fish woman to ease his woes. Not a beautiful mermaid, but an ugly-as-death fish.
Not even a pretty fish. Or an ugly mermaid.
How dare the brute put her in a cage!
Though, given the nature of this book, I bet she learns a valuable lesson about how much she secretly likes brutes.
How dare the wench teach his people line dancing!
Yes! He's supposed to have the blues!
Love and laughter guaranteed in this trip down Memory Lane...uh Fjord.
I laughed at this line. I think that, if I read crazy erotic fiction, that this would be the crazy erotic fiction I would read.
NOTE: This book was previously titled EVEN VIKINGS GET THE BLUES.
Oh yes! I thought the plot seemed familiar!

Friday, 6 May 2011

don't it make your brown eyes blue?

I watched Invincible in various sittings this week. It's an American football film. I didn't cry throughout, like I did with The Blind Side. Crying at almost any piece of popular entertainment is annoying, as my fellow criers will attest, not because we - those of us who are men - feel unmanly, but because other people misjudge our actual reaction by relating it to how strongly they'd need to feel to cry. It's just one of those things. For what it's worth, I think I also cry more in the wind than most people. Suffice to say, I have almost never got through an episode of West Wing without crying.

Not germane. What I meant to say is that I recognised Elizabeth Banks as one of the absurdly thin women from Scrubs, thought she was excellent and checked out what her career had been like. The personal bit of her Wikipedia biog is basically a (very) short story: On July 5, 2003, Banks married sportswriter and producer Max Handelman, who had been her boyfriend since she met him on her first day at college, September 6, 1992. She converted to Judaism upon marrying him. She and her husband welcomed their first child, a boy named Felix, via gestational host in March 2011.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

exclusive fan content

Album covers as books (see below), by current favourite PMF reader Matt Parker:

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

obl, julio jones

This is going to look frivolous, I suppose. I've just been listening to some idiot on Newsnight talking about how Obama has just shown the American people he had the guts to make the difficult decision and so on. 'Gah!' is what I thought. It's not brave. It was right, probably, but it was hardly brave. It was easy. The 'brave' decision, right or wrong, would have been to say, 'You know, there he is, and everyone is saying I should assassinate him, and it will be a really popular move, obviously, but I think it's morally wrong.'

It made me think of a post I've been trying to work out how to write, and which I've probably written before, about sports coaches and managers almost never being criticised for being bold. Last weekend's NFL draft saw Atlanta trade loads of draft picks in order to get Julio Jones, a guy they really love and who their fans will be excited by. It's possible this turns out well, but the draft is a very inexact process and it's almost certainly not sensible to give away four or five decent shots at a star player in order to get one only slightly better shot at a star. Especially in a position which decent statisticians tend to say is overvalued. But pundit after pundit has weighed in saying that they love Atlanta's boldness, their willingness to bet the farm, and so on.

This might make no sense to non-NFL fans, of course. But think of other sports. Think how often cricket commentators moan about 'defensive captaincy' (all the bloody time) and how seldom they say, 'This is too attacking a field' (I have literally never heard a commentator say that a captain should have fewer slip fielders) even though it is simply not possible that the ONLY mistake captains ever make is to be too defensive.

And, most egregiously, think of football penalty shoot-outs. There is an absurd football rhetoric of manliness, of standing up to be counted. This means that self-consciously brave and manly players - usually unskilful defensive cloggers - can't resist being 'brave'. They stand up, they are counted, they miss, and the commentators praise them for it.

Sometimes, bravery is admitting that some other guy is the guy for the job, or making a decision you think is right even though you know some moron will call you timid. I am absolutely not saying that is what Obama did, but I am saying that morons saying he has demonstrated courage are morons.

The above is a bit incoherent. Sorry, but I've got a lot to do.

firefox down, and albums-as-books

When I was 13, I loved Firefox. I was very surprised to learn that Craig Thomas was Welsh.

A tab that's been open for weeks (via @Sarah_Crown) is albums as book covers. I want to commission more of these. There are quite a lot of artworks I want to commission. When I'm an internationally important collector, I will deal with this. These give you an idea: