Tuesday, 26 June 2012

pirless, or the right stuff theory of penalty-taking

Penalties are fascinating. Very little in sport attracts so many half-baked bullshit narratives built out of a sequence of very few badly-scrutinised events, and that's saying something. I recommend Marbury on why goalkeepers always dive when it's obvious to almost everyone who thinks about it that they shouldn't. (You don't get slagged off for making an obvious effort, even if it's counterproductive.)

My usual spiel is about manly English defenders who 'stand up to be counted' and aren't any good at penalties. At least England didn't do that this time. This time, two good penalty takers missed. Ashley Young's was a high-tariff shot which would have been completely unsavablesix inches lower. Ashley Cole's was eminently savable by a keeper who guessed right.

Well, next time you're watching a shoot-out, I recommend you listen to the praise heaped on penalties just like Ashley Cole's where the keeper guessed wrong. Had that happened, Cole's penalty would have been 'slotted coolly' and he'd have jogged back to his team-mates like a cold-eyed assassin. This happens three or four times every single shootout, and these moderate penalties, whose success is entirely dependent on a keeper guessing wrong and boldly, are usually the difference between winning and losing. There's no logical reason for praising the ones that go in more than Cole's, not really. It's like the Right Stuff. It can leak from any seam and everyone has bought into the pretence that it's somehow not to do with luck. Creating a narrative arc out of the story beats in a shootout is just too irresistible.

(Incidentally, watch Pirlo's penalty again. He cocked it up. He intended for it to enter the goal at about chest height so that there would be no danger of its being knocked away by the keeper's trailing leg, but he underhit it. The moment Pirlo made that kick, his heart was in his mouth. Luckily, Hart guessed wrong too emphatically, but a number of keepers might have left their leg near enough the middle to have booted it away.)

abraham lincoln: glib cash-in

Smashing Zach Baron piece on Grantland about risk-averse summer blockbusters, in which the cynical Abraham Lincoln movie counts as one of the year's most 'original' offerings. This paragraph about the writer is brutal:

It's hard to know what to make of the Seth Grahame-Smith era. Grahame-Smith, who adapted Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter from his 2010 novel of the same name, specializes in public domain horror — he also wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for all you Jane Austen fans out there, and his other film credit so far is Dark Shadows, Tim Burton's slack adaptation of the campy '60s soap opera (Megan Draper's pals are always auditioning for it on Mad Men). Dark Shadows got most of its laughs from Grahame-Smith's knowing references to late Summer of Love culture as it might appear to us now, or to an aristocratic vampire who'd been locked in a coffin for the past 200 years — at one point, Johnny Depp's Barnabas Collins calls Alice Cooper the "ugliest woman I've ever seen." Which is pretty much what Grahame-Smith does, now that he's not writing paeans to the porn industry: He retrofits the past with big winking jokes about whatever is hilarious and in vogue in the present.

Someone on twitter, and I can't remember who, pointed at this Scotsman story about American creationists teaching kids that Nessie is real. It's only a few schools, and I wonder what the lack of wide reporting of it means. It certainly looks like troll-bait, but the Scotsman is a real paper.

Friday, 22 June 2012

i doubt it

Sent off novel to publishers this afternoon. Among the last things I checked up was the origin of the American word 'tony', just to make sure I could use it in the 1930s. Urban Dictionary told me that:


when something is good. great, awesome. exceptional. cool. like tony the tiger from Frosted Flakes.

Man i just got a new car that shit is so tony.

Don't think this right.

(I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I have read a very funny long precis of a bit of it.)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Not updating all that regularly, sorry. I am deep in the dark forests of my last serious rewrite of the tuna book. Few more days, I keep saying. Few more days. It is, and I find this incredible because I was really pleased with it before this rewrite, this has been the hardest piece of work I have ever done. Anyway, I hope you'll like it, having said which:

1. Above is the latest photo from my slow quest to catalogue the results of the strange 'O' drought that afflicted the Scrabble-style-street-sign-makers of North West London at some point in The Past (I'm afraid I can't be more precise). This is a particularly good one because we have a bonus absence of blanks.

2. Brian Phillips at Grantland is smashing, as I've said before. How do you like these apples?:

The current England manager, Roy Hodgson, may be the least postmodern person in existence. He's modest and practical, the sort of coach whose teams are always called "hard to beat" in a way that's only slightly patronizing. The FA's decision to hire him, when almost everyone expected the job to go to self-created media figment Harry Redknapp, was maybe its most canny bit of expectations-tamping since 1966. Hodgson is unimpeachable, but not the sort of manager you'd ever see winning a World Cup, while Redknapp is a quicksilver con artist who'd send hopes sky-high and then, I don't know, sell the whole country to Denmark or something.

3. We all know how much I love Paul Cornell's refusal to let his friends off the hook for downloading his work for free. There's another super essay on the theme that I expect will get similar exposure over the years. It's about music, it's measured, quite long and absolutely worth your time. I particularly like the bit about a generation who will pay huge corporations for hardware and web access but refuse to pay artists for their work. It's the opposite of sticking it to the man.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


Crikey 1: The Olympic Opening Ceremony idea looks as if it might conceivably not be shit.* Danny Boyle is not an idiot.

(I love this comment on BBC website: How false. Most people in the UK do not live in this idylic world. It should portray the inner city slums, the crime, and all the different forms of predjudices that we are famed for. Yeah!)

Crikey 2: Edgar Wallace is a name I must have heard some time, but I knew hardly anything about him before idly googling yesterday after I had listened to the third of the excellently crisp JG Reeder series on Radio 4 Extra. His Wikibiog is bloody long, but it's really worth the time. I particularly dropped my jaw at the cock ups he made when he was working for the Daily Mail. Some extracts:

Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (1 April 1875 – 10 February 1932) was an English crime writer, journalist, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and numerous articles in newspapers and journals. Over 160 films have been made of his novels. In the 1920s, one of Wallace's publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him.

As a result of this extreme intoxication, Richard Horatio Edgar and Polly ended up having a "Boris Becker broom cupboard" style sexual encounter, which everyone was too drunk fortunately to notice.

Superstitiously, Edgar viewed any "economising" as a sign his luck was about to end.

However, at this time Edgar hired a new secretary, a timid, quiet 15-year-old girl named Violet King. Whereas Ivy had tolerated Violet's predecessors with relief, she perceived that Violet would be her successor. Ivy knew that as Violet matured from girl to woman she would be more ideally suited to Edgar's temperament than Ivy herself had ever been. Ivy also knew that when Edgar inevitably became adulterous with Violet, he would condemn himself over his betrayal of Ivy.

There is a famous anecdote [citation needed]** in which Sir Patrick Hastings, a visitor to his home, actually observed him dictate the novel The Devil Man in the course of a weekend. It became a standing joke that if someone telephoned Edgar and was told he was writing a novel, they would promptly reply, "I'll wait!".

Thus, by 1929, Edgar's earnings were almost £50,000 per annum, (equivalent to about £2 million in current terms).

His diet consisted allegedly of over 20 cups of sugary tea and four packets of cigarettes a day, to which he attributed his writing success with the wry comment that such a regime should provide "'sufficient inspiration for anyone'".

At the time of his death, Edgar had been earning £50,000 a year for over two years, yet incredibly was indebted for more than £140,000 and did not have any cash to his name.

Posthumously, Wallace's most famous work would be one he never got the chance to see: Out of the many scripts he'd penned for RKO, Merian C. Cooper's "gorilla picture" would have the most lasting influence, becoming the classic 1933 King Kong.

As far as I can tell, there isn't an even vaguely recent biography. This is crazy, surely.

 * Context: I think the Olympics will be smashing. I just hate the opening/closing ceremony nonsense. I'm all about the games.
** One of my very favourite examples of 'citation needed'

Friday, 8 June 2012


I have embarked on a project called 'Watching Shakespeare's History Plays in Historical Order', the nature of which is too complex to describe here. Suffice to say, it started terrifically with the RSC's current production of King John.

One thing I had completely forgotten (and why wouldn't I, having gone to school in England?) was that the French totally invaded in 1216.* They were supporting the barons who had rebelled over the Magna Carta, they were welcomed in London where the Dauphin was proclaimed king (if not crowned), and they soon held half the kingdom. King John then died (he probably wasn't poisoned, whatever Shakespeare says) and the barons decided to support his son, so long as his son upheld the Magna Carta. Henry didn't mind, he was nine.

Most of the barons switched sides. Fighting carried on until September 1217. By this point Prince Louis has been excommunicated but this seemed to happen to a lot of people at some point so I don't suppose it really worried him.

Maybe if you are French you read about this invasion all the time. I don't suppose I have any French readers. If I do, have you ever heard of Agincourt? I wouldn't be surprised if you hadn't.

Wikipedia says that the Russell Crowe version of Robin Hood was about the Baron's War. Well, I didn't see it.

* I say forgotten because, with the things I have read in my life, there is no way I haven't known this at some point. But still, it came as a surprise to read about the extent and success of the invasion.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


I am going to use this line all the time. It is from a brilliant letter (via @helenarney, via @lettersofnote). Go and see why.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

deep grass

We all agree, presumably, that personalised number plates are a load of old dingo's kidneys, but my friend Dan has quite a good one that I always forget and I bloody love the ones that the butcher on the Kilburn High Road has on its vans. One is above. The other is stubbornly refusing to leave my phone but I will favour you with it when it does.

In other news, I watched This Gun For Hire last night. It's good and was the breakthrough film of Alan Ladd, the film star with the least film star name I can think of. Fourth on the bill was Laird Cregar, who I recognised from this and that. He was playing a villainous middle-aged businessman. Incredibly, when TGFH was made, Cregar was in his twenties.

He was one of six sons of a cricketer who played for the Gentlemen of Philadelphia in the late nineteenth century, before going to Winchester, deciding to be an actor, working as a bouncer in Pasadena and forcing Hollywood to pay attention to him by doing a one man show about Oscar Wilde.

He got obsessed about his weight, and said he wanted to be an actor, rather than a 'type'. He crash dieted in order to play George Bone in Hangover Square. This involved amphetamines among other things, he lost over a hundred pounds, caused himself serious abdominal problems and died. He was thirty-one.

The film of his I most want to see is I Wake Up Screaming, in which he plays a psychopathic detective.