Monday, 31 October 2011

galloping detectives!

I watched Murder at the Gallop last night. Margaret Rutherford, Robert Morley, what's not to like and so on. Things I did not expect: the fabulously cheesy music; some surprisingly meta moments about the thrillers of Agatha Christie; the odd boyfriend character for Miss Marple ('Mr Stringer'); MR's racy ball dress and a truly great dance scene; the amount of story which was about boots.

Anyway, when we'd watched the film, we wondered what MR's early career had been like. Margaret Rutherford on Wikipedia: gosh.

MR was married to Stringer Davis, who played Mr Stringer, from 1945 to her death in 1972. He died a year later. Love the idea of her saying, 'I'll do it, but Stringer's part of the deal.'


Born in Balham, London, she was the only child of William Rutherford Benn and his wife Florence, née Nicholson. Her father's brother Sir John Benn, 1st Baronet was a British politician, and her first cousin once removed is British politician Tony Benn.

As an infant, Margaret Rutherford and her parents moved to India. She was returned to Britain when she was three to live with an aunt, a professional governess Bessie Nicholson, in Wimbledon, England, after her pregnant mother, Florence, committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree. Her father returned to England as well.

Her father suffered from mental illness, having a nervous breakdown on his honeymoon, and was confined to an asylum. He was eventually released on holiday and on 4 March 1883, he murdered his father, the Reverend Julius Benn, a Congregational church minister, by bludgeoning him to death with a chamberpot; shortly afterward, William tried to kill himself as well, by slashing his throat with a pocketknife. After the murder, William Benn was confined to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Several years later he was released, reportedly cured of his mental affliction, changed his surname to Rutherford, and returned to his wife, Ann (née Taylor). His continued mental illness resulted in his being confined once more to Broadmoor in 1904; he died in 1921.

She was an elocution teacher (I bet she was fun) who came to acting in her thirties. As for her personal life:

Rutherford married character actor Stringer Davis in 1945 and the couple appeared in many productions together. They were happily together until Rutherford's death in 1972. Davis adored Rutherford, with one friend noting: "For him she was not only a great talent but, above all, a beauty." Davis rarely left her side. He was private secretary and general dogsbody – lugging bags, teapots, hot water bottles, teddy bears and nursing Rutherford through periods of depression. These illnesses, often involving stays in mental hospitals and electric shock treatment, were kept hidden from the press during Rutherford's life. In the 1950s, Rutherford and Davis unofficially adopted the writer Gordon Langley Hall, then in his twenties. Hall later had gender reassignment surgery and became Dawn Langley Simmons, under which name she wrote a biography of Rutherford in 1983.

Blood D. Hell was Sunday Evening Film Club's reaction to this, and would be the good name for a character in spoof Halloween story. We also loved the line which went something like:

Every chair in this room is stuffed with hair from one of the horses which I have loved and, I think may say, has loved me.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

not funny

People have been incredibly nice about Warhorses of Letters on Twitter.

My favourite by a country mile: @bbccomedy warhorses getting killed by guns and bombs not quite comedy?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

perfect engleberger versus othello cheeks

Is there anything more magical than a truly crazy name? Does any one of us not have a favourite? How on earth could it be that this is not the most visited site on the internet?

This year's Name of the Year finals involved a host of magical match-ups. My favourite bit is that while eleventh seed Monsterville Horton IV is a top wine expert, number two seed Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson is an armed robber.

You are wondering how I finally found this site. Of course, the answer is American Football. The 2009 winner, who defeated Iris Macadangdang, the number one seed out of Kalamazoo, was Louisiana State linebacker and number four seed, Barkevious Mingo.

Oh wow.

Monday, 24 October 2011

I laughed so much I spilt tea down my front

The above is a direct quote from Marie's section of the Warhorses blog we wrote for Radio 4. Pretty pointed, don't you think, given my current relationship with tea? (Things are much improved, thanks for asking. I will almost certainly be walking normally by the end of the week.)

In other news, may I recommend, as I so seldom do, this video game review?

I don't play video games because I need another time sump like I need another hole in the foot, but I am interested in the ongoing State of the Art, because a new narrative form is emerging, even if a lot of what gets produced is clearly crass. Anyway, Catherine sounds weird; the protagonist Vincent turns into a sheep in his infidelity-inspired nightmares; here is some of the review:

The larger plot of the game involves a surprisingly absorbing and even thought-provoking exploration of fidelity, gender difference, responsibility, and the fear of fatherhood. Vincent has nightmares because he is a cheater, and as the nightmares go on, you realize that almost every guy in the game is a cheater, and you begin to encounter them, too, in similarly sheepified form, in your nightmare puzzle world. These unfaithful boy-men are scared and confused, and, as Vincent, you have the chance to comfort them. If you fail to do that, they start disappearing from the bar, for if you lose faith and die in the nightmare, you die in real life.

It sounds like the writer has clearly had a go at something interesting here.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

all go at planet warhorse

Things are afoot. I have not been as on top of matters as I used to be in my long-lost and much-lamented bipedal days, so here is the news:

1. Warhorses of Letters, the thought of which has filled your every dream these last few months, will be broadcast in four weekly episodes from next Tuesday. Stephen Fry, Daniel Rigby and Tamsin Greig are in it; John Finnemore and I are not.

2. But if only there were a book as well! There is a book as well! Unbound is offering it for sale within three weeks of our first meeting. Marie and I love our novels being published by Jonathan Cape / Vintage but Unbound are super great. The book will contain the letters, obviously, but also features other correspondence involving Copenhagen and Marengo; notes between Copenhagen and an annoying dog he has to share a stall with; extensive hoofnotes; and an Astonishing Bibliographical Essay.

On the books site, incidentally, you get to see a video of Marie and me. My mother's view of this video will be: 'Why did you not iron your shirt?' If you sign up, there will be more such videos. They are in post-production, whatever that is.

3. Listen & Often. Yes, yes, believe me I know. Illness, injury, births and computer failures have ravaged our schedule. Suffice to say, the October episode is in post-production, and we will, from November, have a reliable release date of the start of the month.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

how do you unwind when your life is perfect?

I've been meaning to get back the SS Delphine, as pictured some days back. This is because as well as the yacht's general beauty, it has amazing spaces on deck...

and for sleeping...

but if you think that's good, it's nothing compared to the main lounge, where, sozzled by the general wonderfulness of how your life has turned out, you can dial the excitement up to twelve WITH A GAME OF RUMMIKUB!!!!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Yes, yes! It's an Inspiring Photo Essay!

Now we're talking. It's been ages since we had an IPE. However, I think it's only fair to put a disclaimer up top: it's not a photo essay for the feeble of heart. You've got that? You're not feeble-hearted? Right. We're all on the same page. So, what do you think that picture is at the top of this page? Well, if that's what you think, you're almost certainly wrong.

What is this picture of then?

You are almost certainly right. It is a cup of tea. But not just any cup of tea. It's... No, wait, it is any cup of tea. We all like tea, don't we? NO! Ok, we do, but it's not all been plain sailing.

Let's go back to that first picture again.

Well, early on Friday afternoon, when I was about to demo Scrivener for a friend of mine who is a top hilarious soon-to-be-published writer of novels for girls, and shortly before I beetled off to Essex to feed the children of most people I know, I...

There's something about me you might not know. You would assume from the fact I can catch et cetera that I have all the grace and balance I could want, and maybe I do, but there is one thing I have never in my life particularly been able to grasp and that is keeping tea in cups. I am a dripper. Fundamentally, this is because I am careless. Something in me refuses to sweat the small stuff. I wish it were not so. I am not trying to be all 'Aw shucks'. I don't want to drip. Now I'm a grown up, I frequently have to clean up after myself.

Back to Friday. I made the tea, and didn't quite put it on the counter. It dropped onto my stockinged foot. 'Stockinged', as you well know, is an old-fashioned way of saying I was wearing socks. I was not cross-dressing. Tea, it transpires, is bloody hot, and that picture you have nearly forgotten about features a couple of bits of the skin that came off the top of my foot while I was de-socking.

I put it under cold water and so on for the next hour while I showed my friend how to use Scrivener. She left. I got out of the saucepan I was standing in. Then I got back in it quite quickly. Then I phoned NHS Direct. They told me that you can't mess around with feet and so I went to A&E.

All very quick in triage, and the doctor said: 'Urgent Care Clinic, straight away, there's no queue.' Nor was there, for the UCC, but the queue to be processed by A&E reception was 40 minutes. This was pretty annoying.

Been a while since there was a picture. This is the ancestral town, where I intended to be by this point in the early evening.

Anyway, I got to the counter, gave my date of birth, and name. Then I waited while the receptionist looked shockedly at me. This was the fun bit, up to a point, because then I got to say, 'There are two Robert Hudsons born that day.' The other one died last year, I happen to know, and I am used to this confusion. It is less fun for the other RH, of course.

Anyway, I eventually got bandaged up. This morning, I had to go back and have the dressings re-done. I was more camera-ready this time. Here is my foot in bandage:

Oh, ugh, isn't it a bit discoloured? Indeed it is. It had been seeping as I hobbled to the hospital. Here is the evidence in my sock / stocking:

A trainee nurse started to undo the bandages...

We all sort of know what kind of thing is coming up - I am putting in interim stages to raise the tension. Here is another, of the gauze:

And here is the tea-damaged foot:

In various ways, especially in terms of toes and nails, the foot has also been damaged by hockey.

Ah, I see you are disappointed. 'Couldn't you,' you are thinking, 'have got a more incarnadine version, assuming that word means "redder"?' I could have and did.

This next picture is of the pot I stood in, this morning, days later. I hadn't been able to carry it down yesterday when I got back from Essex (my foot was sore). On seeing this picture, my girlfriend said, 'Oh, it's your room. At first I thought it was an intensive care ward.' Leaving aside what kind of state she must think the National Health is in, take a moment to wonder at the chaos - atypical to be sure - which had been allowed to take over in a few short days of shortfootedness.

But of course there is a reason for my posting this picture. See this final one. Look into the pan.

Yes, there, on the left, sunk into the water, is another bit of flapped off skin. This pan will soon appear again in one of my much-loved cooking IPEs.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

fat virus

BBC story about a new kind of virus.

The largest virus yet discovered has been isolated from ocean water pulled up off the coast of Chile.

Isolation is cruel. Kids know that when they are five, scientists.

Called Megavirus chilensis, it is 10 to 20 times wider than the average virus.

So you isolated a virus which probably already has pretty serious issues? I hope you feel good about yourselves. I bet you look fat to a virus.

It just beats the previous record holder, Mimivirus, which was found in a water cooling tower in the UK in 1992.

Wait. I'm getting more of a grip on this story now. Are we saying some dago virus has beaten a British record-holder? I'm not certain about anything, I'm just saying, but drugs?

Scientists tell the journal PNAS that Megavirus probably infects amoebas, single-celled organisms that are floating free in the sea.

1. Scientists will say anything.
2. I wish I were floating free in the sea.

The particle measures about 0.7 micrometres (thousandths of a millimetre) in diameter. "It is bigger than some bacteria," explained Prof Jean-Michel Claverie, from Aix-Marseille University, Marseille, France.

Yeah? Well what Jean-Michel doesn't know is some bacteria are pretty small.

"You don't need an electron microscope to see it; you can see it with an ordinary light microscope," he told BBC News.

No, I can't.

Viruses cannot copy themselves; they need to invade a host cell if they want to replicate.

I have friends like this.

Like Mimivirus, Megavirus has hair-like structures, or fibrils, on the exterior of its shell, or capsid, that probably attract unsuspecting amoebas looking to prey on bacteria displaying similar features.

What kind of amoeba doesn't suspect a megavirus with hair-like fibrils? I would and the megavirus isn't interested in me. At some point, people and amoebas have to take responsibility for their own mistakes. Look at the banking crisis.

A study of the giant virus's DNA shows it to have more than a thousand genes, the biochemical instructions it uses to build the systems it requires to replicate once inside its host.

I went out with someone who had a thousand genes once, in a walk in wardrobe.

In the lab experiments conducted by Professor Claverie and colleagues, in which they infected fresh-water amoebas, Megavirus was seen to construct large trojan organelles - the "cells within cells" that would produce new viruses to infect other amoebas. "Everything is initiated from a single particle, and then grows and grows to become this virion factory," explained Prof Claverie. "That's why it needs all these genes."

I once went to a Virion factory. I had never realised that this was how Intel built its next-generation chips.

Megavirus was found off the coast of Las Cruces, central Chile. It was recovered as part of a general trawl in the ocean for biology of interest.

My trawls for such biology take place closer to home.

"This is a new way of doing virology," said Prof Claverie.

If there is one thing the world needs more of...

"Previously, we only discovered viruses because they caused disease in humans, or animals and plants. But now we are initiating what might be called environmental virology and we are looking for viruses everywhere.

If you look, ye shall find...

"You just go to lakes, seas and oceans and pick up the water, and then you filter it, and try to rescue the virus by co-cultivating it with some potential host."

You try to rescue the virus. With some people it's donkeys, with some people it's viruses.

More generally, there is interest in ocean viruses because they have a major influence on populations of plankton, the microscopic organisms that form the base of many marine food chains. And when they kill plankton, viruses are also helping to regulate the planet's geochemical cycles as the dead organisms sink into the deep, locking away their carbon for aeons.

I am interested in them for other reasons, myself.

Prof Claverie said the megavirus would not be hazardous to humans.

He would.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

closing tabs

In an article about Massive Yachts at the NYT:

“When it comes to motorboats, ever bigger is still the trend,” Thomas Mee, marketing director for Camper & Nicholsons, the international yacht broker, said in an interview from Antibes.

Mr Mee, no fool he, pointed out that superyacht sales correlate directly with the rising number of billionaires in the world. The problem, some other guy in the Antibes points out, is that supermegayachts, as opposed to normal massive yachts, are all about ego rather than practicality: 'When you see that Eclipse is too big to enter the port and forced to anchor in the open seas, you realize the inconvenience.' It must be incredibly inconvenient. I suppose he has to take one of his three launches when he wants to go to land, or his helicopter, or his minisubmarine.

There's a magazine called Superyacht Times.

Are you interested in that amazing looking yacht in the picture, by the way? You should be. She's super-amazing, and she's sort of the model for a massive yacht in my interminably awaited tuna novel, which I have basically finished.

2. Also in the NYT is a biography of Pete Gent, an ordinary sort of Wide Receiver for the Dallas Cowboys in the late seventies who wrote the novel North Dallas Forty later filmed with Nick Nolte. The movie is about the brutality of the system and what players will do to play. It was, among other things, a very druggy era - uppers, downers and painkillers. The protagonist is coming to the end of his career, and although he's a relatively young man, he's a complete physical wreck. What he writes about football is not what I feel about hockey, which I will retire from sooner or later, but I won't say it didn't resonate:

I still remember vividly the struggle to nourish desperate desires to be alive as a man can be – to live each day as if it were the last – feeling life pumping through us with the hammering of our hearts. It was a great life. A lot of scary high wire work, too many injuries, and lots of pain. But I felt more in one Sunday afternoon than I did later on in whole years – writing is the only thing I have done that comes close to being as terrifying as being a football player.

3. Just in case you haven't read the story about the guy having sex on the moon:

On July 20, 2002, star NASA intern Thad Roberts stole a 600-pound safe, which contained moon rocks from every moon mission since 1969, from the organization's headquarters. He brought the rocks to a cheap Orlando hotel, scattered them out on the bed and had sex with his girlfriend on them. He eventually tried to sell the ill-gotten goods on the internet and was busted by a Belgian mineral collector.

4. An excellent Guardian piece from Marbury (on the right) re Amanda Knox and how people assume all kinds of things from looking at her face. One of the many, many ridiculous things: the cartwheels as a signifier of guilt. Really? I mean, if you were bright and had done a murder, wouldn't that mean you'd be less likely to do cartwheels? But we were told they were associated with guilt rather than innocence and many of us made a connection that makes absolutely no sense.

Monday, 10 October 2011

panicking plutocrats

Paul Krugman has written a great piece at the NYT about the crackers reaction to the Occupy Wall Street protest, which has been terribly well-behaved, on the whole. Basically, it's the latest moment where the response from the right to any kind of criticism is to go hysterically batshit. Some telling paragraphs:

...there has in fact been nothing so far to match the behavior of Tea Party crowds in the summer of 2009.

Nonetheless, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, has denounced “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans against Americans.” The G.O.P. presidential candidates have weighed in, with Mitt Romney accusing the protesters of waging “class warfare,” while Herman Cain calls them “anti-American.”


The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.

Last year, you may recall, a number of financial-industry barons went wild over very mild criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr. Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the so-called Volcker rule, which would simply prohibit banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in risky speculation. And as for their reaction to proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them pay remarkably low taxes — well, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

Seriously, I want to post it all here, but go and read. The only bit I query is where he says it's that these people 'realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is'. I genuinely think most of them live in such a deluded bubble of entitlement that they honestly don't understand that they sold crap most of them didn't understand which undermined society and the taxpayer bailed them out for it. And I still believe they're mostly just these guys and not intrinsically evil, just doing a really bad thing they won't query because their lives are so unfairly great. But until someone calls them on it, they'll stay in the bubble.

Friday, 7 October 2011

the universal panacea

Holly is 'a working parent with a hectic schedule'. If you're like her, you probably looking for ways to 'spend time with the family', 'get in shape' and 'have fun without breaking the bank'. Well, she says:

Wouldn't it be great if you could achieve this with just one product? Sound impossible? I used to think so too, until I discovered Newgy Robopong, a revolutionary product that's changing the way people think about family fun, exercise and home entertainment.

Really? Gosh. I am so behind the times I even think the iPhone 4s might be better than my phone which turns off randomly ten times a day.

I'd like to have transcribed the whole thing, it's magic, but I am about to film a Warhorses video and I have to tidy my bedroom.

This came via Slate's Hang Up and Listen podcast.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

i don't know what to say

Quite a few people said they were waiting breathlessly for my views on the Amanda Knox acquittal. In a nutshell is a nut. But my opinion is simply the obvious one that, since I tediously often have said I think she is innocent, it's great news. Also, such is the Italian legal system in general and the quagmirish bit of it she got mixed up in in particular, I don't blame her for a second for catching the first plane she could.

If you want to know why I think this, then you must be brand new to the blog. In that case, read The Monster of Florence or, at a pinch, my previous posts with that tag. If you have read the book and you still think she might be guilty, I'd genuinely love you to get in touch. It's not happened yet, so I'd be extremely interested.

Monday, 3 October 2011

advertising standards

Forever? Really, forever?

The other one I enjoyed recently was a new twist on restaurants' general victimisation of extremely youthful foods: 'Baby cod'. Er? Do you mean 'very small piece of cod?' I am almost certain that 'baby cod' are something which High F-W would specifically enjoin us not to eat.

For record, baby cods, as things looking unlike adult cods, are fry. Cod start looking a bit coddy after a few months, and are, broadly, six inches long after a year and 10 inches long after two. They are properly mature another year or so down the line at 20 inches. I think it would be pretty hard to call a coddy cod a 'baby' one with any degree of biological confidence. But even if you wanted to stretch to 'less than a year' you are feeding people things the size of sardines. Is that what 'baby cod' is in restaurants. Maybe. I didn't get any. Please tell me if they are. But it seems unlikely. It seems more likely that we just like eating babies. Somewhere in our vile souls, we think they are more delicious. And, interestingly, the more farmers' market the environment, the more baby killy it seems to be.