Monday, 28 May 2012


The thing is, while someone has to work out how to make us pay for it (it's the infrastructure, stupid), I just massively prefer the internet to any newspaper I have ever read. This morning (I am really really busy and should have turned off my router) I have been falling over myself to read fantastic things.

1. This Christian ob/gyn gives an interview on why he performs abortions. It is measured, clear, honourable and persuasive.

2. We've all thought that Disney, etc., tell very troublesome stories about princesses and princes. Been there done that? Well, I've not seen it done as well, or with as many slants and angles, as this piece on Fifty Shades of Grey.*

3. Someone asked my co-writer Marie Phillips 'Why are you so self absorbed?' Her reply is brilliant.

4. Marina Keegan, age 22, got a job as an editorial assistant on the New Yorker before she was killed in a one car motor accident on Saturday. She must have something, you'll be thinking. Yup. This will resonate with a lot of people's student experiences, I guess, but it does so in a way that looks wider and resonates more than almost every expression of the same sentiment does or would. The really good writers do that, and she did it when she'd hardly got going.

* These first two via Anna Clark. Hence: welcome to the blogroll.

Friday, 25 May 2012

closing more tabs

Maybe you had seen the above. 23 million people have. I hadn't until today. (Thank you, AH.)

How much do you know about Sharpe author Bernard Cornwell? I really enjoyed this interview with him. From his Wikipedia page:

Cornwell was born in London in 1944. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother was British, a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted and brought up in Thundersley, Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People,* a strict sect who were pacifists, banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his mother's maiden name, Cornwell.

If you are one of my regular readers, you very unlikely to have heard of Tim Duncan. He's an all-time great basketballer who seems to be this really decent, quiet, backgroundy kind of guy. (Think Paul Scholes, if you're a football fan.) Why might you find this fun? Because of the line on his Wikipedia page which reads, 'Duncan loves Renaissance fairs, Larping** and the fantasy role playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. ' Renaissance fairs!

Grantland is excellent on the upcoming blockbuster season. The piece anatomises MiBIII and all the compromises and duff decisions that go into spending a quarter of a billion dollars on something meh.***

I totally agree with Martin Robbins. There is a massive difference between dressing as a pretty girl and being a pretty girl. There are analogies with books.

* “Joe was angry,” says Cornwell. “He was not a sadist. He genuinely thought he could beat God into me.” 
** Live Action Role Playing 
*** Of Will Smith: “He's become very enamored with aspects of screenwriting," an anonymous source told The Hollywood Reporter, adding, poignantly, that the actor’s process "takes a long time." (Parlor game: Try to guess, while watching Men in Black III, which additions are Smith’s. Shot in the dark: “You look like you come from the Planet Damn!”) 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

holy dolphins, major general, it's friday night lights!

Day of the Dolphin (the book rather than the film, as previously discussed) is a proper, interesting, witty Cold War satire in which the US military industrial complex gets a critical lead over the Russians by teaching dolphins to speak English. There are lots of lovely bits, but I think my favourites are the letters from Yugoslavian philosopher Marco Llepovic to a doctor friend of his in Sarajevo.*

I thought of the book when I saw this, obviously.

Have you read a genuinely excellent recap of the 2011/12 Premier League season done to rhythm of I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General?

Parody fans who find the next quote funny, and who know there's going to be a new Friday Night Lights movie, well, here's the rest of it.

BOB STOOPS knocks on door, kidnaps JULIE TAYLOR. Meanwhile, DILLON ABORTIONIST and DILLON REVEREND both knock on door at same time. TAMI TAYLOR solves everything while also solving the Big East and looking like a million bucks. A BIG OLE TORNADO knocks on door.
TAMI: Y'all, I'm in the middle of tryin' to fix dinner for m' husband in a haunted house on AMC after a long day of work, and I do not have time for this, y'all.

 * In a nutshell, Llepovic is distressed that this great advance (and the dolphins give a very funny press conference wherein they discuss film stars) is interpreted as a sign of manifest destiny AND a symbol of the unique financial power that underpinned it AND is immediately seen by the public as a military rather than a cultural achievement.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

men without women

Not the story of my life but the name of another of Charles K Gerrard's five thousand movies. Another irresistible synopsis*:

Aboard the U.S. submarine S13 in the China seas, Chief Torpedoman Burke goes about his duties. In actuality, he is Quartermaine, the infamous former commander of the British ship Royal Scot, which was sunk by Germans with a Field Marshal aboard. Quartermaine had told his sweetheart that the Field Marshal would be aboard, not knowing that she was an informant for the enemy. When the S13 sinks, Burke takes charge when the commander, Ensign Price, is unable to command. Burke must keep his mates alive long enough on the bottom of the sea for rescuers to arrive

If that isn't interesting enough on its own, the film is right on the silent/talkie boundary and one extant version uses a mix of sound and title cards. John Wayne is in it.

* If someone tries to persuade you that it was based on the play "Submerged" by Clay Shaw**, who was the only person tried for conspiring to assassinate JFK, you can tell them they are out of their tiny minds. Men Without Women was released in 1930, when Shaw was about 17 years old.***

** An interesting life. He was a Chevalier of the Crown of Belgium, among other things. Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) thought Clay (Tommy Lee Jones) was heavily involved in the assassination, far to the right, and closetedly gay.

*** Or can you tell them they are out of their tiny minds? Another website says he wrote the play at High School, and it won a state wide contest. It's still being produced by drama clubs seventy-five years later. Not bad. My guess is that it was not the basis for the movie, but I haven't read it.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

are you sitting comfortably

Yesterday's short trip through the career of an actor who once played someone called Martin as if if he were a Martian led me to various movie synopses. They are all spoiler, but if you can resist them, you're a better man than I am. First up is The Lone Wolf's Daughter (1919):

Princess Sonia (played by Glaum) and her husband, Russian nobleman Prince Victor (played by Stevens), are at an auction. She is bidding against him in an effort to obtain a Corot landscape that has incriminating letters she wrote hidden inside.
 - Not because it is a Corot. Who wants a Corot?

The painting is purchased by Michael Lanyard (played by Grassby), who is suspected of being the mysterious international thief the "Lone Wolf".
- Actually Michael Lanyard isn't the Lone Wolf. How do I know? How do you think.

Lanyard gives the letters to Princess Sonia. She then divorces Prince Victor and marries Lanyard.
- I once married someone who gave me some letters. It didn't work out. You need a stronger base.

With malevolent hatred, Victor threatens to follow Lanyard "to the very gates of Hell." Lanyard replies, "If you do, then I'll push you inside."
- Logically, I think this should be 'pull'. Or maybe 'pull you past me so you go inside while I stay outside.'

Princess Sonia dies after giving birth to their daughter, Sonia. Lanyard is unaware that he has a daughter.
- It was less common for fathers to be at the bedside of birthing mothers then. And if the mother died, no one told the father anything about any children. It was traditional.
Years later, Sonia (also played by Glaum) has grown up not knowing of her parentage or past. She thinks she is the daughter of Princess Sonia's maid.
- I know how she feels.

Sonia is found by Prince Victor, who is now the leader of an underworld gang of Oriental criminals and Bolsheviks.
- Natural bedfellows.

Telling her that he is her father, he brings her to his home in the hope it will entice Lanyard to make an appearance. She falls in love with Roger Karslake (played by Holding), who is Victor's secretary.
- She seems flighty. I don't trust her.

When Sonia learns of the gang's diabolical plan to have poisonous gas pumped into the Houses of Parliament, the homes of Downing Street and of the nobility, even Buckingham Palace, in order to clear the way for Victor to become England's dictator, she tells Karslake.
- This is a diabolical plan. It is not this easy to become England's dictator. You can kill loads and loads of people and still no one will be dictated over by the leader of a gang of Bolsheviks. Bulldog spirit, you know.

Unbeknownst to Sonia or the gang, Lanyard has actually been working in the household, posing as Victor's Oriental butler
- I can see this looking, a hundred years later, less than PC.
, and he and Karslake are both Scotland Yard agents. Lanyard learns that she is, in fact, his daughter. Following Sonia's recognition of her father, the Lone Wolf,
- She can't possibly recognise him. She has literally never seen him outside racist fancy dress. Oh. Wait. Maybe he de-racists and they are spitting images of each other? In which case: unlucky for Karslake.

he and Karslake capture the gang amidst a blazing house fire and a huge fight. Victor makes his way to the roof pursued by Lanyard, who shoves the evil prince down into the flames.
- Being serious for a moment: doesn't this sound smashing?

(The picture is from The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt, a 1939 remake. They basically remade the film every ten years. Although the synopsis for TLWSH is very different.)

Monday, 14 May 2012

heeeere's martin!!

Last Thursday I watched the Bela Lugosi Dracula. Apart from the fact that the characters could have dealt with the problem more easily than they did in terms of securing their mental hospital, and the degree to which every post-Lugosi Dracula is doing a Lugosi impression, the most memorable thing about it was the performance by Charles K Gerrard in the comic relief role of Martin, a hospital attendant. It might be the worst of any kind that I have ever seen, and I have watched John Torode trying to play the part of an expert chef.

It wasn't a titchy part. How did he get it? We looked him up. I am not going to list his eighty or so movies - usually 5 a year during the tens and twenties - but he hit a cliff as the movies went talkie and if you've ever watched Dracula this won't feel like a coincidence. So, there it is. A real life, small scale, Lina Lamont.

I thought for a second that I was wrong when I looked him up on Wikipedia and found he was in plays on Broadway, but they were very few and far between and it's not as if he might not have had a lot of friends who wished him well. During WWII he was in Catherine Was Great, which was successful enough but it did have a cast of 70* and Plan M**, which had a cast of not many but more than the six performances it ran for. CKG played a Rear Admiral.

(My favourite titles of CKG movies? They include The Port of Missing Girls*** and The Lone Wolf's Daughter.****)

* Mae West played Catherine.
** Written by Hollywood's James Edward Grant. A member of the German High Command is a perfect double for the head of the War Office in London and takes over from him.
*** Presume it was the same plot as the 1938 remake: 'A woman framed for a murder she didn't commit stows away on a freighter headed for an island in the South Seas known as a hideout for people on the run from the law.'
**** With sound. There were lots of Lone Wolf movies. Eric Blore***** played Jamison, the Lone Wolf's butler, in eleven of the movies, starting with The Lone Wolf Strikes and ending with The Lone Wolf in London.
***** Eric Blore was the real name of George Orwell.

Friday, 11 May 2012

martin is coming, and some tabs

Martin is coming. You'll like Martin. In the meantime, my desktop has become unmanageable.

1. He played cards with Nixon and LBJ, he was Pablo Escobar's 'partner in grift', he charmed the talk shows and he was so skinny that he 'looked like the advance man for a famine.' He was the biggest name in poker in 1973, before professional poker was anything, and he was still the biggest name in poker in 2003, when it had started to be its current behemoth. Even I'd heard of Amarillo Slim.

2. I worry we've done Harriette Wilson before, just because her memoir starts:

I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven. Whether it was love, or the severity of my father, the depravity of my own heart, or the winning arts of the noble lord, which induced me to leave my paternal roof, and place myself under his protection, does not much signify; or if it does, I am not in the humour to gratify curiosity in this manner

Anyway, this old book review is fun. This one sticks it to people who are sniffy about her writing because she was a bit of a harlot.

3. In response to twitter: yes, I do know that there are professional mermaids: I have been inspired to dedicate a percentage of my earnings as a mermaid towards anti-Whaling Charities...

4. If religious people are right, then I am damned. They get the last laugh. Surely they can live with me finding the idea of conservadox judaism a little comical?

5. A decade ago I reviewed Philippe Legrain's Open World. Its central thesis has never left me and never not seemed right. In a nutshell:

A. Free trade in goods helps poor countries, but rich countries only apply it to goods they want to sell, not to goods that poor countries want to sell.
B. Free trade in money is a destabilising nightmare that does nothing to sensibly allocate goods or resources - it just makes paper profits and leaves a trail of destruction. It's the reason companies can legally do all this kind of tax-avoiding nonsense while they bleat 'free trade, free trade'.

Separate money and goods, people. They don't obey the same rules.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

camelot or camelittle?

Hello, pun fans. As you can tell, Camelot (out of Tarfah by Montjeu) is a horse. He doesn't have a sword. The pun doesn't work pretty much however you cut it.*

The other pun, which in case you can't read it is 'Camelot: Hit or Myth', is just fine.

* The only way I can make it work at all is if it is referring to Camelot's willy, which it isn't.

Monday, 7 May 2012

mad men

So what went on here, do you think? Some crusty old whiskey-makers with a failing, fusty, second-rate product go to Don Draper, and he says nil desperandum, he's going to do such a brilliant job that people will buy the whiskey however bad it tastes, but this finally reawakens the crusty old whiskey-makers' pride in their product and they decide to show this smart-suited young pup and they go off and make some whiskey that might even have sold on its own merits, but this irritates Don Draper so much that he produces an advert which tells the crusty old whisky makers and their customers that they are all idiots, and the crusty old whiskey makers are enraged, but it works?


Tuesday, 1 May 2012


Guess what I saw on my minibreak! I saw this from the kitchen:

I heard it before I saw it. I really, really heard it. I found it hard to mind, though.

He turned around like a satellite dish hunting a signal for about half an hour before we stopped being fascinated. His suitee wandered around pecking the floor and looking bored, as per below. About twenty minutes later there was an almighty noise, so she probably stopped being bored eventually.

We went for a walk and saw this intriguing sign. In case you can't read the notice, it says:


I really want to know the story behind this.

The place we were staying was full of enticing books. Take, for instance:

Joan Conquest! I'm going to have to get a better name. And Joan Conquest is small beer compared to one of the other authors advertised in the back pages of The Hawk of Egypt (long term readers will know how much I like the old novels you find in the back of old novels):

(Victoria Cross was a pseudonym of Annie Sophie Cory, whose first novel, The Woman Who Didn't, was a response to Grant Allen's The Woman Who Did. Her sister, Adela Florence Nicolson, wrote scandalous verse and pretended she was translated esoteric Indians. Hardy liked the poems she wrote as Laurence Hope.)