Saturday, 31 December 2011

Kiss Prudence

The other day, I saw Nuts in May for the first time. I only read reviews after seeing shows. IMBD's average score was surprisingly not about 9/10. The reason is a 1 star review which fails to get the point with more heroism than any review I have read since Peter Bradshaw watched Charlie Wilson's War for the Guardian and wrote that the movie didn't seem to understand that arming the Mujahideen against the Russians in the 1980s was to have huge and unintended consequences. (He really did.)

Anyway, off topic: if you like Nuts in May, I really recommend the IMDB review. Here is a highlight:

Towards the end our tree hugging, incoherent, couple get into a fight with some of Ray's friends that have complete disrespect for the rules of camping. Our hero becomes so incensed that a climatic battle ensues between our hero and the head hellraiser. To settle their dispute the two men engage in a stick fight. That's right a stick fight! Now this is where the unintensional humor starts. I laughed so hard at the ineptitude of it all that i thought, "This may make up for the other 80 minutes." After this histerical battle our hero runs behind some bushes to cry his eyes out

I love the thought that this guy was shouting things like 'Haven't these guys ever heard of fight coordinators!' at his screen. The fight in Nuts in May is one of the most painfully realistic things in it, ironically. Go here for the full review

I thought I'd have a laugh at this guy's other work, see if there was anything else to laugh at. The only other film he's written about, however, sees him - to me - sound quite insightful and plausible about a Japanese movie about rape and revenge. The millionth lesson of my life in not being too quick to judge.

***Bonus Feature***
This is a picture of Baranova Nuts in May, son of Evanpark Bruce Almighty, son of Fairweather's A Great Pretender, son of Main Tickle Forbidden Planet, son of Twillin Gate Persuader, son of a dog without a film in its name.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

rose-tinted pigeons

A while ago I missed a brilliant looking exhibition called Ghosts of Gone Birds, which featured dozens of pictures of (mainly) extinct birds. The above is called a Bishop's O'o', and it's by a guy called Ben Newman. Ralph Steadman contributed a number. This next one is less to my taste as a picture, but that's by the by, because it's of the passenger pigeon and I have wanted to write about the passenger pigeon for ages.

You probably know already that when Europeans arrived in North America, perhaps 40% of the continent's birds were passenger pigeons. They flew at 60 mph in flocks miles long that darkened the sky for whole days. Another lost bird project, which again I basically like, says In the 19th century as America’s urban population grew and the demand for wild meat increased, thousands of men became full-time pigeon hunters. It was inconceivable that such natural riches could be destroyed, but they were, and the passenger pigeon is one of the great poster-children for man's unslakeable bloodlust.

One thing these sites do not mention is that if you are a growing population starting to farm on a widespread scale for the first time, then flocks of passenger pigeons are, basically, worse than swarms of locusts. They can eat more than you can grow. I mourn the passing of the pigeon, but we have to remember that these were not jewels of the sky hunted for meat - these were life- and livelihood-destroying pests. Etc.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

don't worry, the bbc's best guys are on it

I flicked to the BBC news website. I saw the headline: Tarzan star Cheetah the chimpanzee 'dies aged 80'. I dare say I am partly seduced by such headlines because I thought Me Cheeta was so brilliant. But also, I wondered what the mystery was. Was he not really 80? Had he not really died? Obviously something suspicious was afoot. I clicked on the link.

Curiouser and curiouser, because the new headline read: 'Tarzan's chimpanzee' Cheetah dies aged 80 in Florida. So... Er...? Does this mean a chimp of that age has died, but he wasn't really Tarzan's? Because Tarzan isn't real? That would fit with the earlier one on the basis that it said he was a star of the film but did not belong to actual Tarzan. But what about the 'dies aged 80' thing?

After long and hard discussion for the amount of time it has taken me to produce this post (with a typing cadence that at least one regular listener has likened to falling rain), I have decided that the most likely thing is that the BBC's website uses inverted commas much too much because it is posted by overworked people who are scared of being criticised.

Friday, 23 December 2011

adopt a snow leopard?

On daytime television at the moment, there are lots of adverts for There aren't enough of these majestic animals to go around, surely? (And if there are, should we be concentrating our efforts on something else?)

Thursday, 22 December 2011

cops and robbers

Amazon is selling Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World, which is about 'the ugliest chapter in global economic affairs since slavery - and secretive offshore tax havens are at the heart of the trouble.' Furthermore, 'Tax havens are the most important single reason why poor people and poor countries stay poor ... They have been instrumental in nearly every major economic event, in every big financial scandal, and in every financial crisis since the 1970s, including the latest global economic downturn.'

People who bought this book also bought The World's Best Tax Havens: How to Cut Your Taxes to Zero and Safeguard Your Financial Freedom, which is 'completely up to date and packed with information to help you reduce or even escape tax altogether.'

who was the queen of the waves?

A few days ago, looking for a picture of a channel swimmer, I found Gertrude Ederle. Today, with the Daily Mail calling the people upset at there being no female candidates on the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist 'sporting suffragettes', here's a bit more about her. (Hmm. I get that this is not a good, direct or neat link. But you can see how the thought process worked.)

She was the daughter of an immigrant German butcher in Manhattan, and at nineteen she was bitterly disappointed by her haul of one gold and two bronze medals in the 1924 Olympics. In 1926, at her second attempt, she swam the channel in 14 hours and 39 minutes (or 30, or 34, depending on which bit of the internet you are looking at), a record for either sex.

'Gosh,' thought the News of the World. 'We'll offer £1,000 to anyone who can beat that!' This was real money.* Dr Dorothy Logan claimed the prize with a swim of 13 hours and 18 minutes, was feted by the paper, and then announced that she hadn't swum it at all and was just trying to show how badly channel swimming, for all that it was a newspaper craze, was being scrutinised.**

The hoax didn't go great for Logan, and because she signed a legal document swearing to having done the deed, she was fined £100. The court accepted she had committed an offence without realising how serious it was and said she expected her to be a credit to the medical profession. She wasn't struck off. I'm going to write more about her, just see if I don't.

Back to Ederle, from who I have now been distracted for about half an hour reading old newspapers***: she got a ticker-tape parade in NY and a dance step was named after her. In 1933 she fell down some stairs and was bedridden for several years. She went deaf in the 1940s and spent much of her life teaching deaf kids to swim. She never married and died in New Jersey at the age of 98.

* £43,000 via retail price index or £142,000 via average earnings.
** Some German guy broke the record later that month anyway.
*** 'Bearded Patriarch Wields Thong on Boys Who Stole'; Bonnie Prince Charlie relic shield sold for £4,000 (present value £172,000/£568,000)

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

gary speed

Gary Speed, manager of the Welsh football team, killed himself last month. He was 42 and suffering from depression. The first thing I thought was: CTE?

In a nutshell, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a rare brain condition which has been found in a shocking number of American Footballers. It seems to be correlated not with huge brain trauma but with repeated sub-concussive impacts. (Thus, helmets make the game more dangerous by persuading players it's safe to suffer these impacts.) Malcolm Gladwell wrote one of the most prominent things about it in the New Yorker a while ago, but he's by no means alone.

The NFL doesn't really want to address it, but it's having to. So is ice hockey, especially in the light of shocking, and stunning, articles/videos like these, about Derek Boogaard, a guy whose job it is to enforce rough justice in the National Hockey League. Job it was, I mean. He died at 28. The story of how he was scouted, aged 15, dreaming of playing in the NHL but not really all that good at hockey, is about 5.20 into the video. It's... Well, it's at least uncomfortable.

Footballs are lighter than they were - I am sure that heading old leather ones used to cause all kinds of problems - but I'm not sure anyone's looked for CTE. Obviously no one knows about Speed specifically unless his brain is autopsied, and depression is by no means confined to people who have been injured. But it seems sensible for football to look into the overall issue, just in case. In the NFL, players are routinely saying making their brains available for study - one shot himself but not in the head because he wanted the brain to be studied. Ex-players, frankly, are best-placed to take the lead. It is certainly not something you can leave to the Blatters of this world.

(By the way, if you look up Gary Speed's death online to see who else has thought this, you find some pretty horrible and/or batty people. Conspiracoids I will not give the oxygen of linking to them answer speculation that he was gay by presenting this alternative:

The typical Illuminati execution is either car crash (air device rams steering to the side triggered by a radio device, with a detonator fixed to the petrol tank), drugs 'overdose' (easily arranged when a star is on medication or has a habit), suicide (hanging or jumping off a balcony) or heart attack. Gary was a bit young for the heart attack treatment.

Gary was getting very big, and wasn't a corrupt character. The World Cup is coming up, with big money involved. Wales was looking like making it to the last few rounds, and could have caused a sensation. Seeking an explanation somewhere around big money, power and corruption is more likely to give us an answer as to why he died, than the suggestion he was unable to face his family, if he was outed as a gay.

It goes on. It's sort of funny, in a black way, and sort of not.)

Monday, 19 December 2011

pen portrait

John Finnemore is doing literal portraits over on Forget What Did and I presume you are loving them. From the Forsyte re-read comes this paragraph, which ends with something special:

Hubert Cherrell stood outside his father's club in Pall Mall, a senior affair of which he was not yet a member. He was feeling concerned, for he had a respect for his father somewhat odd in days when fathers were commonly treated as younger brethren, or alluded to as 'that old man.' Nervously therefore he entered an edifice wherein more people had held more firmly to the prides and prejudices of a lifetime than possibly anywhere else on earth. There was little however, either of pride or prejudice, about the denizens of the room into which he was now shown. A short alert man with a pale face and a tooth-brush moustache was biting the end of a pen, and trying to compose a letter to 'The Times' on the condition of Iraq; a modest-looking little Brigadier General with a
bald forehead and grey moustache was discussing with a tall modest- looking Lieutenant Colonel the flora of the island of Cyprus; a man of square build, square cheek-bones and lion-like eyes, was sitting in the window as still as if he had just buried an aunt and were thinking whether or not he would try and swim the Channel next year.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

who is my favourite author?

Scott Pack is rounding-up of his favourite films, books and so on from the year, and this made me think. I have, as it happens, had a cracking year for reading. War with the Newts is very good for about forty pages and then becomes all-time amazing; Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes joins it in the discussion over the best books I've ever read, and for good measure I have been re-reading The Forsyte Saga, which has been in that discussion for a decade.

All the same, I think Dorothy Dunnett is still my favourite author. Favourite is not quite the same thing as 'best'. I have banged on about the Lymond and Niccolo series' before - fourteen books of high octane historical romance (very much not my genre; you have to push through the first 1.2 Lymonds while DD finds her voice, but thereafter I couldn't put them down) - but I am only just reading the Johnson Johnson mysteries for the first time.

Each is narrated by a different woman, while Johnson himself is a diffident-seeming portrait painter with a yacht called Dolly. Dunnett is clever, the stories are complicated and the characters are super. I am in the middle of Dolly and the Cookie Bird (AKA Ibiza Surprise, AKA Murder in the Round).

The cover, above, is from 1985. It's sort of ghastly, but I love it. If it puts you off, let me tell you that it's got nothing on the most lurid of the Lymonds. The one below isn't the worst, but I haven't got time to dig around my shelves. The covers (and titles) give no insight into the books.

Some people like Dick Francis and liked him even more in their youth. One of the funniest things, which a female friend pointed out to me a long time ago, is the clothes he dresses his characters in. For DF, pretty women wear flounces, frills and a ton of perfume. DD is also very clear on clothes, and lots of the books are set at similar times, and I kept feeling the echo. DD is wildly better than Francis, and she does what she does in a much more self-aware way. It is, quite apart from being fun, an excellent bit of high-society social history. Here we are in Ibiza:

Austin hesitated. I'd expected him to be turned out in white tux, all Washington style, but he was wearing a cream wool-jersey suit by Virgul of Paris, with a strawberry cashmere polo-necked sweater. I saw the label.

Who wouldn't look good in cream wool-jersey and strawberry cashmere? (At this point, incidentally, our heroine, a minor hon, is in white moire silk with clear polythene bands in between. Her daddy would have hit the roof, but it's his murder we're investigating.)

Monday, 12 December 2011

helpful notice

1. The above was taken in Victoria Park by an eagle-eyed regular correspondent. If you can help, you know the number to call.

2. Woo hoo, the Warhorses of Letters book is fully funded. If you want a copy in the first printing, with your literal name in it (or another literal name of your choosing) then head along to Unbound.

3. Woo hoo, the Mighty Fin Christmas Show is on this week. I know lots of you have had trouble with the Drill Hall website. It's still iffy. You may have to phone them up. If you are hoping to pop along casually tomorrow, Weds or Friday, then I'd book this morning and even then you might be out of luck because those have very nearly sold out. If you want to come on Thursday, then you will likely be in luck. Thursday is the new Friday.

Friday, 9 December 2011

the chambered nautilus

Hi. Sorry for low productivity online, which is being caused by high productivity offline in terms of getting the Warhorses of Letters book finished and rehearsing for the show postered below. But this morning, while I was in a very private place, I read a magic bit of Cuppy.

He's talking about an Oliver Wendell Holmes poem about the chambered nautilus - a primitive animal with a shell made up of lots of little chambers - and he discusses the ways in which poets through the ages have got the nautilus' biology wrong.

Then Cuppy returns to the poem, which is about constantly rebuilding the mansion of your soul. The first paragraph here is good, but it's only here to set up the second. You'll see what I mean:

I guess I'm sensitive about my soul. Seems to me it isn't too terrible, surely not in need of any complete overhauling and repair job. I've kept it in mind all along. I won't say it has steadily grown in grace year by year, because I don't believe as much as that was wrong with it in the first place. My soul in early youth was certainly as good as it is now, if not better, and come to think of it I shouldn't wonder if Dr Holmes had something to do with that pleasant state of affairs. As I strode up and down our back yard shouting parts of 'The Chambered Nautilus' at the top of my voice, first in order to learn the words by heart and thus retain my status as teacher's pet, later for the joy of showing off a bit, I don't recall that I thought very much about the meaning of it all. I just liked it. Anyway, it couldn't have harmed me and maybe it helped. Maybe it sank in.

As for those more stately mansions of the soul that Dr Holmes so beautifully recommends, I am not absolutely sure that I qualify there. It doesn't sound like me. I just go along doing the best I can, but nothing too wonderful, nothing sensational. Not that I haven't laid plans for larger mansions than I have achieved. Again and again I did that. I tried. I might have succeeded, too, if I hadn't been crossed up every time by persons I can only describe as lowdown rats - and that's too good for them. If I haven't made the grade you can blame them for it, don't blame me.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A system maintenance is under going. Partial services will not be available during this time.

Today's blog title is my all-time favourite maintenance message.

It is particularly relevant today, because it is part of the concatenation of forces trying desperately to put a barrier between you and things I am in or have written. This is a public service announcement.

1. Warhorses of Letters: the book is selling well and we are having fun answering your questions. Some people have asked whether they can get other names than their own printed in the book. In short, 'Yes.' I have just posted a fuller explanation on the Warhorses of Letters blog.

2. Listen & Often: We were on time with the podcast, and it's a cracker, and it was on iTunes briefly yesterday evening. Now, due to some conniptions at our host (see all-time favourite maintenance message above), it is not. I expect it will be again very shortly. If you are desperate, you can listen to it here.

3. The Devil Gets All the Best Tunes: That's what the brilliant flyer above is all about (big up Jamie Wignall for artwork). It's this year's Mighty Fin Christmas Show and it's on at central London's incredibly convenient Drill Hall Dec 13-16. BUT the Drill Hall's booking site has been down most of the last week, so if you want to book, and you really should want to book, you might have to venture a telephone call. We are sorry for the inconvenience.