Monday, 16 December 2013

Mighty Fin - Important

Sorry this has been even more boring than usual for a while. Many things are afoot. I have nearly written a short novel, for instance.

If you are coming the Mighty Fin Christmas Show - and I hope you are - then the lovely Network Theatre is incredibly convenient for Waterloo. However, it is a little tricky to find. You head out the side door near the Jubilee Line escalators and turn right towards the Old Vic. Almost immediately, there is an unpromising looking access road on your right called Lower Road. You head down this, into the bowels of the station, past bins and a security gate where you may have to present your e-ticket.

DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED.

Keep your eye out for the small door to the theatre on your left. There is a map and also a video here.

I hope you enjoy it,

Robbie

Friday, 6 December 2013

(mighty fin ticket news)

Tickets for the Monday 16th December open dress rehearsal of Christmas Carol II: Boxing Day are going to be available from Friday lunchtime. If you missed out when the tickets went on sale last month, this is your big chance.

assassins

Maybe everyone else knows about Richard Paul Pavlick. I hadn't heard of him till last week's Slate Political Gabfest.

He was a retired postman who decided to suicide-bomb JFK when JFK was President-elect. He pulled up outside JFK's house. He had a car full of dynamite. But JFK's wife and children came out with him that day so Pavlick decided to wait until he got a clearer chance. Because he had been sending ranty postcards, and because the police finally caught up with him a few days later, Pavlick didn't succeed.

Gosh. I kind of place my trust in Stephen Sondheim for all information regarding assassins and would-be assassins. It's incredible that this guy missed the cut.

Nelson Mandela: when I was growing up, I lived in Conservative heartland south of England. Moreover, remember the IRA and the lived reality of regular domestic terrorism, which people seem unable to. Mandela was easy to paint as a terrorist. When I was a student, I studied South Africa quite deeply. Under those circumstances, you end up focusing on the equivocations and the feet-of-clay of traditionally Great Men. You get used to the excuses they make for morally dubious decisions like using violence.

This was the background to my reading A Long Walk to Freedom. I came away from it thinking that Mandela was amazing.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

come up and see me some time

I have been too busy to look at the internet.

1. We recorded series 3 of Warhorses of Letters yesterday. Stephen Fry, Daniel Rigby and Tamsin Greig are really good.

2. Tall Tales is on Weds at The Good Ship, Kilburn. We have a couple of new faces, and a whole load of old ones.

3. You can't come to the Christmas Show if you haven't bought your tickets already. It's faintly possible we'll be arranging an open dress for Monday 16th Dec. If we do, I'll put details here...

This might not be the most boring post I have ever written, but you can't say I didn't give it a go.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

little things

1. It is now possible to buy tickets for this year's Mighty Fin Christmas Show. I wrote the script but Sue Pearse wrote the songs and they are amazing.

2. I love these big arrows. (Thank you, Simon Kane, who the very lucky will get to see in this year's Mighty Fin Christmas Show.)

3. I am a bit English to be comfortable with anyone saying they should 'be more grateful of their natural beauty' but this video about a forensic artist getting women to describe themselves and then having other people describe them is quite something. (Thank you, Robert Thorogood.)

4. Yes, yes, yes, I know. But I enjoyed this video of a guy in an audience.

5. Among all the collections of artificially collected but still very good photographs taken by different people for different reasons with different levels of artifice, this is the one I enjoyed today. (14, 31, 40.)

Thursday, 14 November 2013

he's behind you!

I have started my book. After briefly consulting with a legal expert (a lawyer), I think I am not going to get into legal trouble. This is because the only person who might misunderstand the book's true nature is what the legal profession calls 'a moron in a hurry' and you don't have to worry about them unless you are trying to cross the road.

Bamber Gascoigne is an interesting character. I've had some BG Wikipedia tabs open for a million years waiting for me to do something about them:

1. You know BG (assuming you to be British and not younger than 35) as the host of the original University Challenge. Fine.

2. While at Oxford, he wrote a musical called Share My Lettuce, which was put on the West End starring Maggie Smith and Kenneth Williams. Fair play.

3. It is extremely hard to find his first novel, Murgatroyd's Empire: a 1972 satirical novel concerning an entrepreneur who finds an island of pygmies, and trades them arms for treasure, recreating the development of European medieval weaponry and armour. I want to, though.

4. In 1983, BG wrote Quest for the Golden Hare, which is about a very weird 1979 publicity stunt sort of thing. Kit Williams wrote and illustrated a beautiful children's book called Masquerade. He filled it with clues to the whereabouts of a beautiful golden hare which he had made and buried in a clay pot.

The book sold hundreds of thousands of copies around the world, and people went treasure hunting.

In 1982, Williams announced that the hare had been found by a guy called Ken Thomas. Triumph? Disaster. Six years later The Sunday Times exposed Ken Thomas as Dugald Thompson, whose business partner John Guard was the boyfriend of Veronica Robertson, who was in turn the former live-in girlfriend (not a phrase you hear much these days) of Kit Williams.

How did Guard solicit Robertson's help? They were both animal rights activists and he said they'd put the money towards the cause.

Robertson guessed vaguely where it was from things she had learned when she lived with Williams and Thompson then tricked Williams by sending him a drawing which convinced him they were right - he told them to dig.

Vexingly, some physics teachers had cracked the code and they dug up the hare in its little clay casket. But they didn't notice it and left it lying in the upturned earth, where it was found by Thompson, who was loitering nervously nearby.

Later, when he found out, he was annoyed. The hare sold for £31,900 in 1988. The story sometimes reemerges when someone who didn't know it finds it interesting. This is one of those times.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

make 'em laugh

Because my stupid knees aren't impervious to being fallen on, I can't play hockey or run at the moment. This usually fills me with all the rage I use hockey to get rid of. At the moment, things are slightly improved by aqua-running, which all the pro sportsmen with torn cartilage and plantar fasciitis have been doing to keep in trim for the last few years. You go in the deep end with a float round your waist and run hard. I will keep you up to speed as to whether it really works, running fitness wise. Other people find me pretty funny, I bet. I try to go when it's quiet.

Via Slate 1 (Politics Gabfest): The Eager Beavers. Why is this not a film? Maybe it is.

Via Slate 2 (Hang Up and Listen): Wendell Scott. Crikey. The only black driver to win a NASCAR race until this year, and he did in 1961 - he was not chequered flagged as the winner and didn't get a kiss from the white beauty queen, but the race organisers eventually had to admit he had won. (On the podcast, which is the best way to get the story, it's the last item, about an hour in.)

Via I Can't Remember: Funny plagiarists on Twitter.

Ok, graduation speeches are often shown around the place. Lots of them are great. It's a pretty easy gig. This one is particularly good, though.

The Selfish Giant is excellent. It is also, by the by, absolutely beautiful. I wanted to own about a dozen stills from it. (Rigorous note of possible bias - I know the producer.)

On Monday I will start writing a new book.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

bad few years

I watched No Way Out the other day. I liked it. Another movie which was massively improved by not having read reviews, previews, anything. I thought: Sean Young. What's her story. This is a bit of it, according to Wikipedia:


She was cast as Vicki Vale in Tim Burton's successful 1989 film Batman. During rehearsals, however, she broke her arm after falling off a horse and was replaced by Kim Basinger. In an unsuccessful attempt to win the role as Catwoman (which was offered to Annette Bening but ultimately played by Michelle Pfeiffer after Bening became pregnant) in the sequel Batman Returns, Young constructed a homemade Catwoman costume and attempted to confront Burton and actor Michael Keaton during production.

Young was cast as Tess Trueheart in the 1990 movie Dick Tracy, but she was fired for not appearing maternal in the role. Young later claimed she was fired because she rebuffed Warren Beatty's advances, a claim Beatty denies. In 1991, she was awarded the Worst Actress and the Worst Supporting Actress Razzies for her roles in A Kiss Before Dying.

Monday, 28 October 2013

gay otter plus cowboy hat

Because I am childish, I was tickled to learn that there was a Tea Party congressman called Raul Labrador (he lives in Eagle, Idaho). I tweeted this information.

My friend Ned replied that he was only upset that Raul Labrador hadn't challenged Butch Otter in the Gubernatorial race.

Idaho's Governor is called Butch Otter.

Among his career highlights (Wikipedia) are: deciding against the priesthood; 30 years of sterling service with a company called Simplot International; marrying a woman called Gay Simplot, daughter of potato magnate JR Simplot, the sometime oldest American billionaire (Butch Otter and Gay Otter - oh boy); later marrying an ex-Miss Idaho called Lori Easley; and this:

In August 1992, Otter was pulled over on Interstate 84 near Meridien for suspicion of driving under the influence. He claimed the arresting officer observed him swerving as he was reaching for his cowboy hat, which had been blown off by the wind in his open car. Otter offered several explanations for failing the field sobriety test including: his stocking feet were stung by weeds and gravel, he had run eight miles (13 km) and his knee hurt, he was hungry, and that he had soaked his chewing tobacco in Jack Daniels. A jury convicted Otter in March 1993...

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

don't make your trombonium out of bombastium


I think this has been all over the internet like a rash the last few days. These guys definitely practised. I found the whole thing mesmerising, but the time poor can focus on 2.30 and 4.30.

One thing you are probably wondering: isn't it tough doing all that stuff with a trombone? Don't you keep whacking people with the slide when you turn round? Good question. The Ohio State Band ('The Best Damn Band in the Land', 'The Pride of the Buckeyes'), has been backwards and forwards over the issue. They do use slide trombones again, and have done since 1980's introduction of the Bach Model 36 Stradivarius small shank tenor trombone. Before that they had been using tromboniums.

Trombonium? Surely that should appear on what I regularly remind people is the best page on the internet?* Nope. The trombonium is a valve trombone wrapped as a euphonium.

They also use mellophones ('drum Corps mellophones in G typically use V-cup cornet-style mouthpieces').

It's a whole world out there.


* 'An element each atom of which, when dropped in a barrel of water, is capable of generating a barrel containing a different flavor of ice cream, according to Carl Barks. It is discovered by the Brutopians. Scrooge McDuck pays one trillion dollars and six kitchen sinks for a soccer ball-sized sample of it in an auction in a 1957 story in Uncle Scrooge comics #17. In a Duck Tales story it is used to power a time machine invented by Gyro Gearloose.'

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

goodbye, shangri-la, or books with red, white and green covers

I've just read Lost in Shangri-La, which is one of those books with red white and green covers. In the last year I have loved The Lost City of Z and Unbroken. I liked Lost in Shangri-La very much but the underlying story, while very good, wasn't quite up there.

I learned some good things though: Shangri-La was a place invented by James Hilton for his 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. Among other people, FDR really liked it, and he used the name for the all-new US Presidential retreat, later re-named Camp David. In 1934 James Hilton wrote Goodbye, Mr Chips. That's a good couple of years' work.

Hilton went on to write movies. He said: Tempted by Hollywood, a writer must decide whether he would rather say a little less exactly what he wants to millions or a little more exactly to thousands.

I thought of this quotation when reading this article about Harvey Weinstein. Of course there are many such articles, but this is a good one.

Also from Lost in Shangri-La: Gremlins. They were originally inter-war RAF folk-mythological beasts. Roald Dahl was in the RAF. Then, during the war, he was posted to Washington by the Air Ministry and he wrote his first book, The Gremlins, about a plane factory built over some gremlins' forest home, and the gremlins which take revenge by sabotaging the planes.

It was an international success, Eleanor Roosevelt was a big fan, it was hampered by paper shortages, it was nearly made into a Disney movie.

Bonus: William Shatner and gremlins.

Bonus 2: I love America, but this is a horrible story about their border guards. The time I got asked really pointed and aggressive questions was also when I was going there from Canada, interestingly. Is that interesting? Yes. If you don't think so, it shows how little you know.



Thursday, 10 October 2013

Tabs

I might have said this before, but I really, really want MS Corley to design my book covers. (I love the cover for The Dazzle but still).

This message from a hellhole Russian prison, by one of the main Pussy Rioters, is shocking. I bet, given [everything] that it is sensationalised, to a degree but I also bet the degree isn't huge and I don't blame her one little bit.

Just in case you've never seen Matthew Albanese's photos of not-landscapes.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

racists

The debate about whether Tottenham's fans should self-describe as Yids - they appropriated the term when opposing fans used it as a term of abuse - shouldn't be any more tricky than whether to stop calling the Washington Redskins the Washington Redskins.

Basically, while the vast majority of fans of both terms don't use them derogatorily, they also use them unthinkingly. The clearest proof that it's a bad idea is that very few Jews would call themselves yids, and very few American Indians would call themselves Redskins. I'm against mimsiness, but this just seems pretty clear to me. The Washington team name will change soon enough - lots of media outlets in the USA have decided not to use the word to describe them. And this should too.

Tottenham fans are subjected to hideous anti-semitic chants, they say. While that's nasty, it is worth remembering that most of them aren't jewish. Is there another way to respond than by proudly self-proclaiming themselves yids? (Remembering that they wouldn't self-proclaim as niggers, because that would obviously be offensive and people don't like other people thinking they're racist.)

I literally have an answer that I think might work. When fans of Chelsea or Man Utd or whoever it is start doing the awful things they do - which includes hissing in mimicry of gas chambers - chant back loudly, and in unison, and over and over again: Chelsea are racists, Chelsea are racists, Chelsea are racists.

People hate being called racists. 

Monday, 7 October 2013

night eyes, burning like chestnuts over an open fire


Warhorses fans will know why I am quoting this bit of Diamonds Are Forever:

"The word in Pinkerton's is that the Jockey Club are going to change to photos of the night eyes."

'"What are night eyes?"

"They're those calluses on the insides of a horse's knees. The English call them 'chestnuts'. Seems they're different on every horse. Like a man's fingerpirints."

Friday, 4 October 2013

closing tabs

1. I have been looking for Hal Hartley's Amateur for years, albeit in a dilatory sort of a way. I loved it when it came out. I've told loads of people how much I loved it. Now I can get it and I'm worried it won't be as good as I remembered. In a double whammy for exactly the same kind of thing, I'm also buying The Kingdom, which I watched on my own in a day-long marathon as part of a film festival and might be the favourite thing I've ever done in a cinema.

2. The Reign of Morons is Here:

We have elected an ungovernable collection of snake-handlers, Bible-bangers, ignorami, bagmen and outright frauds, a collection so ungovernable that it insists the nation be ungovernable, too. We have elected people to govern us who do not believe in government ... We have elected a national legislature in which the true power resides in a cabal of vandals, a nihilistic brigade that believes that its opposition to a bill directing millions of new customers to the nation's insurance companies is the equivalent of standing up to the Nazis in 1938, to the bravery of the passengers on Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, and to Mel Gibson's account of the Scottish Wars of Independence in the 13th Century. We have elected a national legislature that looks into the mirror and sees itself already cast in marble.

Big up Charles P Pierce. It won't help or persuade anyone, so maybe it's pointless, and I agree with his pessimism that the Democrats are unlikely to benefit because the loonies are in safe districts and the Democrats are less likely to risk blowing things up in order to win this fight, but I enjoyed it. Maybe it will make people angrier and more willing to stand firm, but that feels like wishful thinking.

3. All poetry can do, in the end, is make the world bearable. It's engineering that gets you to the moon:

As many times stated, I yield to no one in my love of Brian Phillips. This is about a legendary, and legendarily single-minded, NFL Quarterback called Peyton Manning who, at the age of 37 and with a reconstructed neck, is rewriting the record books.

Again, this is a guy who has been compared to an atom bomb about 176,000 times on the Internet and whom you can absolutely believe would have a special room in his house for folding socks ... Look at it this way: There's a nervous disconnect between the way pop media portrays middle-aged white dads as bumbling dorks and the disproportionate share of American wealth and power that middle-aged white dads continue to enjoy. Manning quietly bridges this gap. He sends the reassuring signal that running the world is punishingly hard and that the world is nevertheless well run. That may be a lie, but on a Sunday afternoon it's often a comforting one. He's stressed out enough that you don't quite want to be him, but benevolent enough that you're glad he's out there. He's the sitcom doofus as culture hero. He is the Prometheus of dad rock.

4. Fisking the Daily Mail is shooting fish in a barrel, but the fish is in our barrel and it's biting us. What is incredible is that I have seen people taking issue with this fisking (for eg: I am sorry but I feel I am going mad, can nobody really see the connections? ... Can no-body see that this whole complaints thing has been dragged up by the labour party themselves to gain publicity for Ed). I almost entered into dialogue with these people, if you can imagine such a thing.

5. Who says who loves their country? Reductive ideas of patriotism are irritating. For a year or so - as I might have mentioned - I've been obsessed with this love song to England, which is not money, and it is not blood.*/**



* I love protest songs and angry songs; I feel a bit of a fraud for loving them so much; 'Do I have the right, when I am not a very angry person?' is my essential question. In this case, I am quite angry, and this isn't a very angry song, so it's definitely ok.

** As also previously stated, I am one of those quite large number of people whose nationality is 'British' rather than English, and who resents that I don't get to vote about the dissolution of that.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

miscellaneous art works inspiring photo essay

It's been a busy couple of weeks including, in no particular order, finishing Warhorses of Letters Series 3 and the first draft of this year's Mighty Fin show, writing my first short story (we'll see where that goes), keeping on researching the Dazzle sequel and a couple of other things.

But the main thing is that I had a massive meal at a friend's house and walked home down Willesden Lane. This is one of London's four or five most magnificent streets, as you can see from the above block of flats.

Irony! Isn't it hilarious! Etc. The thing is, above the bleak plate-glass of the lobby entrance are four little heads poking out like renegades from a very different building or an episode of Doctor Who:


What was the architect thinking? Was he being witty? I think he was (or she was). But the last one, even within the context of this being an odd quartet, is particularly odd. What sort of a mask is that? And what sort of hat? Is it a desert warrior? Or a ninja? I don't know. These figures are surprising, thought-provoking and, frankly, to me, pleasing. Hence: art.
The new shop over the road from the above. The pun would have worked better as Grillas, if we're being pure, but I think they made the right decision because people might not have got that Grillas was anything more than a snazzy spelling.

A missed trick, though: no gorilla branding.
If you go to Ghent to see the Van Eycks's Lamb of God (and you really should, because it is A. Mazing and B. Eautiful), you might fancy a wander round the Cathedral of St Bavo, where it lives. St Bavo is not one of the top saints. His dad was called Pippin and Bavo was no-good when young, and although he reformed, I think a lot of other saints reformed more. He is the patron saint of falconry.

Anyway, one of the other art works in the cathedral is this:
Really? Look more closely at the bit of cloth. That's dead faces. This is a very, very creepy sculpture.

Who was Damiaan? He went to Hawai'i in the late 19th c., ministered to lepers and died of the disease. He is the spiritual saint of lepers and outcasts, he shares his feast day  he seems like he was fantastic guy and in spite of all that this sculpture is still very, very creepy.


In Bruges, we saw a lot of great pictures by Flemish Primitives. One of the most interesting things about them was that the collection was big enough to show how, say, Gerard David, trotted out a load of standard pictures, bish, bash, bosh, and they're ok, but then someone would pay him real cash and give him a major altarpiece to do, and he would concentrate, and the result would be a whole different kettle of fish.

Basically, human beings are not always at their best. Think of that the next time you slag someone off for missing an easy chance at the far post.*

I'm not sure who painted this next painting, which is in the Groeningemuseum, like most of the Primitives. You only get a vague sense from my photo, but God is being really twinkly and proud, and Jesus is doing a massive 'Daaaaaad! Don't embarrasssssss me!' expression as he leans away. It's properly funny, even before you notice the bowling ball.
Finally for Bruges: outside the Sint-Janshospitaal Museum was a sculpture called Pax. You can't get a sense of its serenity-slash-melancholy from any picture, but it is absolutely excellent.

* Petworth House in Sussex is full of Turners. Lots are great. One, of Shakespeare's Jessica, is widely regarded as among Turner's biggest duffs. A critic on its first hanging described it as 'a lady getting out of a large mustard-pot'. I see what he means.

Friday, 20 September 2013

wikifail

I should have been allowed to write a feature about the nascent Wikipedia in 2003 or so, but my boss looked up a few things that should be in an encyclopedia and couldn't find them, and that was that. It has been a long time since I tried to find anything on the site that it might reasonably deal with and drawn a blank. Maybe I could start a googlewhack-style craze?

Ten minutes ago I sat down to link to these pictures of a mansion which hasn't been touched for 30 years. I assumed that the former owner, Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji, who was knighted for using his massive wealth in the allied cause during WW1, would be a colourful sort of character, and that I could quote bits of his Wikipedia page to prove this. No Wikipedia page. Wikiwhack!

I am sure I could find obituaries, certainly in the real world, and I'd like to, but I am incredibly busy and I'd be surprised if it ever gets up the priority list.

On the other hand, Kenneth Gandar-Dower. A friend of mine wrote about him for a book on touring cricket clubs. He was a rich youngest son, multi-blue, aviator and explorer. He played an unorthodox game of tennis, based on fitness (nickname 'the undying retriever') and an even more unorthodox game of real tennis, a game he threatened to break by volleying too much. His real sport was fives.

When he got back from Africa in 1937, he brought a dozen cheetahs with him and started racing them at Romford. On the upside, he disproved the then-held belief that nothing was faster than greyhounds. On the downside, it never really worked because the cheetahs didn't care enough about chasing the hare. (It's like a metaphor about capitalism.)

K G-D took photographs of gorillas, helped the Kenyan government relate to its native population and was sunk to death by the Japanese.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

surprisingly bond

1. Tall Tales is next WEDNESDAY (not Thursday). It is a very important Tall Tales for Warhorses of Letters fans. Apart from anything else, a Special Mystery Guest will be providing a Warhorse-themed earworm. Email talltalesnight at gmail for details. (Does this method of defeating email gathering bots work? I don't know, but we don't get much spam at the TT account, so we're going to keep doing it.)

2. The fact that William Boyd will be writing the next Bond story is more interesting to me than ever, now I have started reading the Bonds. Here is a passage from You Only Live Twice. Bond is supposedly dead, and this is from his obituary:

The nature of Commander Bond's duties with the Ministry, which were, incidentally, recognized by the appointment of CMG in 1954, must remain confidential, nay secret, but his colleagues at the Ministry will allow that he performed them with outstanding bravery and distinction, although occasionally, through an impetuous strain in his nature, with a streak of the foolhardy that brought him in conflict with higher authority. But he possessed what almost amounted to 'The Nelson Touch' in moments of the highest emergency, and he somehow contrived to escape more or less unscathed from the many adventurous paths down which his duties led him. The inevitable publicity, particularly in the foreign Press, accorded some of these adventures, made him, much against his will, something of a public figure, with the inevitable result that a number of books came to be written around him by a personal friend and former colleague of James Bond. If the quality of these books, or their degree of veracity, had been any higher, the author would certainly have been prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.

I didn't expect this, and I was delighted by it.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

philby pere

Kim Philby's dad St John was also a spy. Philby's Partridge is named after him and he immortalised a couple of women he fancied in the scientific names of other birds. Gordon Corera says in MI6:

St John Philby was an oddity, a member of the imperial establishment who had begun in the Colonial Service in India but ended up converting to Islam and receiving as a second wife a slave girl from King Ibn Saud.

This is a cracking rant about commentators glibly saying that sportsmen from hideous backgrounds have 'character issues'. I have spent two days watching gifs of Tyrann Mathieu chasing down Jared Cook and punching the ball out of his hand when the guy behind him has already given up. It might not be noticeably amazing if you don't watch American football, but I just love watching Mathieu play.

This is the dark side - what happens when the hideous background produces a really bad guy.


Friday, 6 September 2013

happy news, diet fans!

Michael Fischbach has found that some people's intestinal bacteria seems to play a role in keeping their weight down: “I’m very excited about this,” he added, saying the next step will be to try using gut bacteria to treat obesity by transplanting feces from thin people. 

I frankly find this less surprising than this from Denmark's public broadcaster, which makes The Killing: DR's series acquisitions executive Karre Schmidt said: "Midsomer Murders is a benchmark in television entertainment and (has been) Danish viewers' favourite programme for more than a decade. "It's an honour and a thrill for us to be able to contribute to the series' distinguished line of murder victims and police detectives," she said.

I'd never heard of the Uluburun shipwreck for some strange reason. I went for the cobalt, I stayed for the oxhide ingots. My favourite thing, though: the two duck-shaped cosmetics boxes in ivory, which sound like the sort of thing Sara Wissenger would give Josh in The West Wing.

I think Me Cheeta is a fantastic novel, one of my favourites written in the last few years - really super until somewhere near the end and then appreciably better than that all of a sudden; I like the fact that James Lever is well-hidden online; I really want to know what he's working on next. His review of Freedom is spectacularly good.


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

a skoffin!* a skoffin! fetch my silver buttons!

I am back from holiday. On the whole, I prefer holiday. I am in the British library. I do a little wander around Humanities 1. Most of the books in here are catalogues, but there's the odd thing that's worth a browse. Oh, I think, A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts - that's worth a look. I open it. The first entry I read is:

Minocane or Homacane A creature found in English heraldry, half-child, half-spaniel.

Gosh. I hurry back to my seat and google minocane looking for pictures. To my disappointment and relief, I can't find any. However, the third hit is Minocane - a name for cute babys (sic).

Children are cute. Spaniels are cute. Still.

The book (by Richard Barber and Anne Riches) is very deadpan, and slightly odd in tone generally. Other early highlights include the opening illustration of a man in a lobster's claw and the entry:

Wayzgoose Neither fabulous nor a beast, though it sounds like both: the printers' name for their annual union (or 'chapel') outing in the nineteenth century.

I kind of hope this was added by the printer and Richard and Anne never noticed it.

* A Skoffin is an icelandic sort of basilisk which you can only kill by aiming another skoffin's glance at it (which kills both of them so don't do this with your favourite skoffin) or by shooting it with a silver button engraved with a cross.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Suarez Bites God

This is your better token dispenser? And it doesn't give any change? What does your worse token dispenser not give? Tokens?

In news of fantastic maps: these forty maps which explain the world are very good, but they're small beer compared to the omnihistomap, which I am always pleased to see again, this time via Slate.

The first half of this feature on the horrible little toe rag Luis Suarez is very funny; the second half is brilliant. It's a dialogue about why we want sportsmen to be 'good'.


"Hmm," said Gary, "I guess because athletes already represent a physical ideal for many people, and there's a natural tendency to want to find correlations between inner and outer qualities. In the same way that, like, if you're talking to a very good-looking person, unless they're really dumb you'll take their ideas more seriously than you would an ugly person's."

"But that's an obvious mistake," said Cassiel.

"I know," said Gary with a shrug. "But it's human nature. Plus the way most sports are organized, athletes explicitly represent a community, so the 'better' they are, the easier it is to see them uncomplicatedly as avatars, the better you feel about the community. It's a convenience, more or less."

Plenty more of that. I love Brian Phillips.

Q. Are you blogging because there are only a few minutes to go in the Liverpool game, and for the millionth time in the last five years they have dominated but are only 1-0 ahead.

A. Does the Pope eat butter?

Q. Why aren't you writing the Mighty Fin Christmas Show?

A. Easy tiger. I'll be doing it in a few minutes.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

business, business, they've all got it infamy


As per often recently, I've got a bit too much to do so I'm not here so often. Don't run away with the idea that I am not wasting time, but when I am wasting time, I am neglecting really important stuff I have to get done, so that makes me feel to guilty to blog. Anyway.

Rewriting: When I wrote my first Mighty Fin Christmas Show, in 2004 or thereabouts, I had two weeks to do it. It was funny and I'm proud of it. That's fine. I have just, in two weeks, written a first draft of this year's MFCS. It's funny. I think you'd enjoy it. But it's not 2004. I have written a lot more things. I can better see which bits are fiddled and jemmied, or put in because I like the jokes even if the they compromise the scenes, and I kind of can't let them sit there. I know it's a thing all professional writers say, but part of being one is being unable not to rewrite under certain circumstances, and it's a pain in the neck.

I am whining about my dream job, I see. How becoming. To repeat, it is my dream job.

To do: I have always liked the cut of Ian Sansom's jib. His book at bedtime on R4 is really fun. I plan to emulate this really excellent page of his website.

A complaint: the BBC headline Hertfordshire Police officer 'raped woman after arrest' reads differently from a headline which reads: Hertfordshire Police officer accused of raping woman after arrest. They might be legally equivalent, but they're not the same and the first, which is on the BBC website, makes me really uncomfortable. I'm a handwringing liberal, of course.

Recommended: This story about bot wars.

Friday, 26 July 2013

agatha maud news

We'll know more about Agatha Maud by the next Tall Tales on the last Wednesday of September. Yes, TT is moving to Wednesdays. That's life. That's hockey. That's all it is.

Also, Mighty Fin fans, the Fin is afoot. Xmas Carol 2: Boxing Day. Coming to a December near you.

I have real trouble with tabs. I can't keep control of them. Some people say it says something about my working practises. What do they know?

These come from the usual collection of people like Jenny Davidson and Everyone on Twitter:

Ninja suffragettes.

Brazilian battleships. Yes, Brazil had the biggest, baddest battleship in the world in 1910. That's fun, but the really good bit is following the links to the sailors rebellion - a lot of them were (black) indentured slaves and they revolted, and then they behaved and sailed with great discipline to protest against their treatment. Filisberto, the 'Black Admiral' sounds great.

The Potosi episode of 100 Objects was amazing. This is about the language that evolved at the mine.

Gosh. Underwater city.

If you do not find this story about Japan's top marathon runner (and Japan LOVES marathons), a government clerk who refuses sponsorship, endearing, then I don't want to know you.

Katja was Sweden on twitter for a while. Here are some recipes - fish soup! - for your coffee maker. Great pictures.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

winston churchill did what?!

Winston Churchill's second novel, Richard Carvell, sold 2m copies in America and it made him rich. He wrote a few more bestsellers. His early novels were historical, and his later ones were about contemporary society. He stopped in 1919.

His first book for twenty years was published in 1940. It was called The Uncharted Way, it covered his feelings on religion, he didn't publicise it and nobody read it.

Shortly before his death he said: 'It is very difficult now for me to think of myself as a writer of novels, as all that seems to belong to another life.'

There was another Winston Churchill around at the same time. The two of them got on well by all accounts.


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

my favourite holiday snap - a minor sort of inspiring photo essay

To repeat: Go to [Redacted].

We did a long walk along the beach one day (two days actually, but it's not relevant to the story). As we returned, the sea idyllic, the beach empty, we saw a great sight. I took a picture.

To contextualise, the view from where I took the picture along the beach was this:
 And the view out towards the sea was this:
 And then there was this pair of guys who had decided to go to the beach, plonk down a couple of chairs and sit steadfastly looking absolutely and directly away from the sea. Maybe how funny this is doesn't translate, but at the time, looking at them, and looking at the great views (see below picture of castle, etc.) they were furiously avoiding, and they just looked so comically anti-fun somehow.
 Also, bonus feature:
You say guillemot. I say guille-NOT!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

pelion

I have decided to turn this into an advice website. My main advice is to go to [Redacted on the advice of people who don't want it to get too busy].

Second, the idea of Eddie Stobart taking over legal aid services has been brilliantly dealt with elsewhere, and elsewhere, and the whole legal aid is blogged about here much more better than I can write today for some reason.

But here is my addition: on the way back from [Redacted] (Go to [Redacted]) I saw some trucks which were part of another Stobart venture, into renewable energy. This made me think about the excellent and depressing recent Guardian feature about how Richard Branson has made a fortune spotting where government is going to hand out subsidies and make ostensibly private ventures essentially risk free.

Basically, it looks like Stobart is spotting the same sort of loopholes. Maybe it's hard to lose money being a private firm being paid by the government. Hence all the private firms paying lobbying money to be allowed to be private firms servicing the government, and all in the name of freedom, people.

(The recent This American Life show When Patents Attack... Part Two! was riveting. It was about hundreds of millions of dollars of ultra-pure wasted money. Also in the name of freedom.)

Thursday, 4 July 2013

why do you bloody well think?

I live in a house with five flats in it. Because I don't really have a job, I do the returning to sender of all the endless letters sent to previous inhabitants.

Yesterday, a letter was redelivered to a guy who lived in Flat 3 before the guys before the guys who live there now.

I had written RETURN TO SENDER on the front.

Underneath this, on redelivery, was the word WHY?

Am I going to have to enter into dialogue with All Aboard or Edgware in Middlesex? What is the etiquette here?


Everyone and their dog knows all about Barbies and their unrealistic measurements, blah blah blah. And yet still I love these pictures of a Barbie looking like a person.

In gay sports news, or olds, do you know about Ernie Griffin, the closeted boxer who fought three huge world title fights with Ernie Paret in the sixties. In the third, Paret taunted him about his sexuality, Griffin was inspired, and the result was that Paret died of injuries received in the ring. In his autobiography, griffin wrote, I killed a man and the world forgave me, yet I loved a man and the world has still never forgiven me. Terence Blanchard, jazz composer, is turning this into an opera.

(There's a South African jazz opera about boxing called King Kong. It's magic.)

There are a hundred different versions of the abandoned places photos, which are astonishing. This is one chosen more or less at random, simply because if I link to it I can finally close the tab and stop gazing at it.

Thursday, 27 June 2013





I am writing so many words every day on not this blog that there are very few left over.


This is the song of the summer (thanks twitter - probably Ian Leslie if history is a judge).

John Lanchester keeps churning out magic things about the banks. Did you know that 'if there hadn’t been so much other lurid wrongdoing in the world of finance, and if mis-sold payment protection insurance had a sexier name, PPI would stand out as the biggest scandal in the history of British banking'? It's big to the tune of at least £16bn. Much more than the Olympics, as he points out.

Would you be more uplifted by a mediaeval child's drawings of Novgorod?

Chris Kluwe is a bleeding heart liberal and NFL punter. Like not many English professional sportsmen, he's written about Ayn Rand.

While you're at Salon, read about Texan senator Wendy Davis. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

It's a tennis golden age. A very interesting thing about one of the reasons.

Mike Cervenak plays minor league baseball for the Toledo Mud Hens. He's a great guy, but he's never going to the Big Show. Like a lot of us in our mid-30s, he has found his career has landed somewhere between optimal happiness and utter futility. These days, Cervenak is more valuable for his reliability than his potential. He would be a tough guy to lose but not a particularly hard guy to replace. He is organizational depth. He is not a prospect.

My Struggle seems like a terrible title for a 6 volume Norwegian novel, but if you're Norwegian you have already read it and if you're not, you should at least be interested.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

the king of prussia and the bad bankers


It's like the title of a children's story.

No. It's just that A) I heard there's a place in America called King of Prussia, named after a pub.

And B) I just wanted to register that I couldn't agree more with the banking commission that jailing a few bankers would be a good idea. As I've said before, this is not because I want revenge and show trials, but because they committed crimes.

I get that they are complicated crimes, and very hard to prosecute, and bankers are rich and will try anything to stay out of jail, but that's the point. They will have to try everything, and even if they don't go to jail, people will think they are guilty. Because a chunk of them are. And they will rat each other out if they're scared, which will help.

They are scared of what other people will think, and when I say people, I mean their friends. I know, because I am one of some of their friends. For the record, I bet the bankers I know haven't committed crimes. They are not bad people but some of them don't get that they and their colleagues done wrong things, and that some of these things will have been over the line.

Believe me, this is one of the few cases where jail, or just the serious, credible threat of jail, will have a deterrent effect, like jail is supposed to. It absolutely would.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

i did not expect this movie


I recorded it because it was a Cary Grant film.

Something happens in it which neither me nor my wife in any way expected. It absolutely delighted us. There is no way you could have gone to the film and been unaware of it. I would still have enjoyed the film a lot.

The script was good, I thought. So, it turns out, did the Oscar judges.

I did some checking into the minor characters (and if you don't want to know what delighted us when we watched it, don't follow this link). I learned the truly interesting fact that in 1965, elephant jokes were all the rage, and Grant 'was very current on the latest jokes'.

(Bonus fact: Cary Grant was offered the role of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady but turned it down to star in this movie. He wanted Audrey Hepburn to play Catherine, but she was already committed to My Fair Lady.)

Friday, 7 June 2013

camouflage


Right. Ok. Back.

Among the most important things I have learned is that cronuts are going crazy and Ian Leslie has written the best thing you'll read about them.

I am so sad Orson Scott Card is a nutter. I really loved Ender's Game when I was fifteen and I hope the film is good, sort of, except I also hope it's so terrible that no one funnels money towards him ever again, because he's so horrible. This is a typical clever nutter piece of writing: it starts with an actually interesting point ('Why don't people believe the things that certain loony leaders say they are going to do?' which is, sorry Godwin, exactly where the world went wrong with Hitler - everyone just assumed he couldn't be that crazy and he must have more sensible plans really, including the people who voted him) and then heads off in a basically crazy and potentially damaging direction.

I have been listening to this song for days. The story of this particular performance is quite moving. It made me like David Letterman more than I did before (I had almost no opinion of David Letterman, really).

How did I not know that Sea Shepherd's ships (for eg, the Steve Irwin) are painted in dazzle camouflage?

You know how you hear something, and a few weeks later you follow up, and the follow up is about a million miles beyond your expectations and you realise that in about five years, when you've circled the story several thousand times in the British Library looking for the right way in, you will be writing a novel about it? That.


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

diseased links

Hey! I went to Hay. And it was hay-ok. I think I might not be on the mend, though it's been so bloody long that who knows what that even feels like? Next Saturday, I'll be in Hay again - The Dazzle this time, rather than Warhorses of Letters.* It's relentless.

Normal service will be resumed shortly. In the meantime, here are some links:

I was going to post about Jeremy Coney, the excellent Kiwi test captain cum commentator cum stage lighting designer, because I like that he's a lighting designer. Then Alex Petridis linked to this ex-sports biog on twitter. Golly.

Gideon Defoe linked to this video of the intro to a short-lived telly comedy about a robot cop the other day. I will not stop re-linking to it until everyone has watched it. And I mean everyone.

While you're in the mood for long lost television, I had literally never heard of Oliver Stone's Wild Palms.

Berlusconi. Isn't he hilarious and awful? Yes. However, when I read about Ruby the Heart Stealer, I remember the (frankly) lies and inventions the Italian police put together and sold to the press during the Amanda Knox affair,** and as much as I don't want to give Silvio the benefit of any doubt...



* Author etiquette moment in Hay: shared a car with Kate Summerscale. I know about one of The Dazzle's minor characters, the lesbian speedboat racer Joe Carstairs, via KS's excellent The Queen of Whale Cay, which was one of the books I read in a 20s/30s decadent glamour binge that eventually led to The Dazzle. It took forty-five minutes and a bit of discussing of our respective works before it was more weird than not to mention her role in my downfall.

** If you doubt me, read The Monster of Florence. If you still doubt me, which no one has yet, get back to me. I will be interested to hear from you.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

moby dick in manhattan

Tall Tales tomorrow. It will be excellent. Must. Finish. Warhorses.

Links:

This, by Joanna Kavenna, interested me for obvious reasons. It reminded me of the all-time great New Yorker article Moby Dick in Manhattan (not for squeamish writers).

Three dimensional sculpture/painting sort of things. Octopuses! Etc.

In case you didn't see the hilarious and awful thing about a driver who boasted on twitter about knocking down a cyclist.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

this and that

For a dreamy 36 hours over the weekend it looked as if my mystery virus might actually turn out to have been malaria, but no such luck. We are back to tests and different smashing doctors proving to their satisfaction that apart from being ill, I'm very well indeed. It is like the world's most boring episode of House except that no one has suggested Lupus and I don't get new life-threatening symptoms every fifteen minutes.

Anyway, tabs, mostly via twitter, sorry they're not being credited:

- The guy who stole thousands of objects from the V&A to furnish his council flat.

- The funniest book review I can remember reading, and funnier even than the Dan Brown thing everyone including me has been loving this week. (Not just funny.)

- White House security is racist (gloopy journalese but shocking).

- Who would kill a monk seal?

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Get Back Steve!

Virus in fourth week. Stupid virus.

I have listened to almost everything on iPlayer. I even cracked after 18 months of cold turkey and tried The Archers. I'm not that sick, it turns out.

One thing I have really been enjoying, as usual, is Paul Temple. In case you don't listen to much radio drama, Temple was a radio hero for decades in the middle 20th century, and he's a nonsensical posh sleuth who gets described as 'the famous author and amateur detective' in that way where no one really questions whether being 'a famous amateur detective' was ever a thing, which it wasn't.

The stories are all very alike. They are ridiculously intricate. There's an average of more than a death per episode and no one takes them that badly. Usually, Paul shouts at his wife Steve (plucky, clever, great actress, spends too much on clothes, has an 'intuition' once ever few episodes which Paul chuckles about) to 'stay away, I don't want you to see this'. This is even though half the deaths end with an obscure half-clue uttered with the final breath and it would be useful if someone were there to hear. Four people per series are killed after arranging to meet Temple to reveal with villain's name. Everyone bumps into everyone else in London as if it as a tiny village. If a spectacular necklace is stolen, it's the sort of crime that Paul and the police know that can only be committed by 'one man in all England'. Everyone has an accent, for clarity. Policemen tend to be Welsh and Scots. In this series, Harry Worth is a German.

On the other hand, they are well-written, line to line. They are ridiculous but they totally inhabit their ridiculousness, and so that's fine. And they are well-performed. And the period snatches you get are great. On one hand this is a couple laughing about the servant problem with respect to what to get your servant for Christmas. On a much more fun hand, the head of Scotland Yard, Sir Graeme, turned up to talk to Paul when he was in the bath. Paul invited him in and they chatted away, completely comfortably. It wasn't played for laughs. These guys had been in public schools and wars. They weren't worried by seeing each other naked. It was my favourite bit.

Anyway, I am bloody bored of being ill.

Monday, 29 April 2013

gay sports news

Long-term readers will be avid to know what I think of the fact that finally an active sportsman in one of America's major leagues (Jason Collins, NBA), has come out.

It's obvious what I think, and what everyone should think, which is thank goodness and it's a pity that it's a thing. I'm sorry it's a hassle for whoever was the first to do it, I can see why that's been putting gay sportsmen off more than any fear that people will be unaccepting, but it's basically great news.

My favourite tweet about it has someone, I'm not outing him, praising Collins for his 'modest and noble heroism'. Dude. The fact someone's done something excellent does not mean he embodies all the virtues. And never, ever take sportsmen at face value when they tell you they are being modest, or humble. I mean, pretty much by definition.

For instance, from Collins's piece in Sports Illustrated:

On the court I graciously accept one label sometimes bestowed on me: "the pro's pro." I got that handle because of my fearlessness and my commitment to my teammates.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

read this book

I never review fiction, so this isn't a review. I'm just saying that Mountains of the Moon by IJ Kay is absolutely sensational. It came out in January 2012, so it has had plenty of time to gather word of mouth, get on prize lists, all these things. It absolutely staggers me that it hasn't.

It didn't get longlisted for the Booker or Orange Prizes. It's not worth worrying too desperately about prizes if you're a writer, but longlisting this book (which is sensational) would have got it in front of more people, and it utterly should be. And however subjective prizes are, surely, surely, this book...

Oh, I don't know. I think pretty much the single most important thing to be aware of when you start writing is that some books will be worse than yours and do better, and that some books will be better than yours and do worse, and that all you can do is make your books as good as you can. IJ Kay has done that.

Seriously, read Mountains of the Moon.

I'm not going to say anything more about it. I don't read reviews because they're full of spoilers. But I couldn't put it down. My wife couldn't put it down. The other two people I know who have read it couldn't put it down.

NB. It is published by my publisher; I was given a copy by the book's agent, who I happen to know. I'm given lots of books; my publisher publishes lots of books. I've never done this for any of them.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

mystery item


My mum, as frequently pointed out by everyone, is amazing. Also a bit mental.

When I was a student (basically: all of the nineties) she would periodically come and see me. She would always bring a care package. This would be a plastic bag containing a collection of (in student terms) pricy groceries, like olive oil, coffee, posh dark chocolate and Alpen. Always, in addition, there would be a mystery item of some kind, that she thought might be useful. Which usually meant something that she had a spare spare of because she thought she might need a spare, and then discovered she already had a spare, and she didn't need two spares. Thus: horseradish, mint sauce, mango chutney, etc. Once in a while, the mystery item would be something a bit crazier. Suede protector. An electric tape-measure. Fingerless gloves.

This was bloody great. In my last couple of years, I played a lot of hockey. She and dad came to every home match. I spent two years in unimaginable oily, Alpenish luxury.

I also got a lot of mystery items. Especially mango chutney. My mother has a gene that means she can't tell if she has mango chutney in the fridge, and which causes her to buy spares at an incredible rate. The gene also means she can't tell if she gave her son some mango chutney two weeks ago.

As a student, I actually didn't need much mango chutney. By the end of those two years, I had eaten the chocolate and Alpen, but I had a cupboard full of mango chutney, and then another cupboard full of horseradish, cranberry relish and mint sauce. (I didn't often do roasts.)

Since the nineties, not a lot has changed. Partly because my financial situation didn't improve for a long time, and partly because my mother is a creature of habit. But I see her less than twice every three weeks (sadly) and I sometimes do roasts, so the build up is less frightening.

But once in a while, the mystery item, still, is a proper left-field zinger. Yesterday's was, I think, the all-time Top of the Pops.

(It was on offer.)

Thursday, 11 April 2013

spellbound

I couldn't agree more than I do with Stefan Fatsis in this article about the muddle-headed plan to make the kids doing America's batty spelling bee learn definitions as well as learning to spell.

Spelling contests are about spelling. They're pure. They're not about reality television or self-improvement. And learning to be good at them does teach really useful skills - commitment, crucially. Learning definitions for all the words you can learn to spell is impossible. It will make the words on in the spelling bee less interesting. And a load of other things.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

pirates! the wild west!

Did you know that concerted international efforts have finally started to deal with the Somalia piracy situation? Great! You can sail your massive yacht around Africa in peace.

Except you can't. Because piracy is booming on the other side of the continent, off Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana. How do I know this? Because I read Ship Management International. Why do I read this? Because it reviewed The Dazzle. Did SMI review Bring Up the Bodies? I doubt it. Who's laughing now, Hilary Mantel?

(You are.)

Friday, 29 March 2013

1. Ok, a new TLS is out so I have transcribed the review and the link is over on the right. My explanation for guiltily doing this is that I don't think a single person would subscribe to the TLS in order to see it, and if I didn't do this, no one would ever read the review, and for obvious reasons, I would prefer people did. I am sorry if that seems shallow. If it makes me seem less shallow, I would prefer it if you read The Dazzle.

2. Tall Tales was smashing last night. We had a last minute drop out for projectile-vomiting reasons, but we have a very deep bench and Matthew Parker stepped through two months in time. The next one is going to be on May 23rd rather than May 30th for reasons of my spending the week of the 30th at Hay.

I told a story which people didn't realise was more than half true. That's the problem with the truth being stranger than fiction.

3. Some fiend borrowed my copy of The Pyrates ages ago and I don't know where it is. Why are people such fiends?

4. Following up from the incredible story about Buzz Bissinger spending half a million dollars on Gucci, Gwen Knapp writes about having Buzz as a boss.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

full

As in 'I am really full, I shouldn't have had that second helping of lunch, but I'm playing hockey later and it's probably going to be really cold.'

Apart from that, I mainly working out what the hell I am going to do at Tall Tales tomorrow and rewriting bits of Farm! after last week's triumphant production at Mayfield Primary School. I loved all of it, but Rocky and Apollo were particularly magic, and Boxer was very funny, and we had the world's most adorable The Knackerman.

Sample question from one of the cast: 'Why did you cut the first half of The Knackerman's song?'
Me: 'Because we were worried your parents might find it scary.'
Her: (Disappointed but understanding) 'Ohhhhh!'

None of this means anything to you, which is a pity, but maybe we'll get it into schools yet. The songs are amazing (I didn't write them) and, and this is the ballgame, the kids were grinning like crazy throughout. It was genuinely exciting.

(By the way, this feature on shopping addiction, via Light Reading over to the right, is jaw-dropping in various ways.)

Friday, 22 March 2013

gone farming

In 2002 or something crazy my friend Susannah Pearse and I wrote a musical called Farm! (SP wrote the songs. She's a genius.) Like a higher proportion of my work that most writer's, it features talking horses and centres around a race between a zebra and a racehorse on which the fate of a poor farm next to a rich farm hangs. A cute little girl rides the zebra, obviously, and the zebra is helped out by a sceptical team of fellow animals.

This is also the plot of the Disney movie Racing Stripes (2005). My mother will never not find this suspicious. I am convinced it's convergent evolution and my bad luck. It was unlucky because, in 2005, after a couple of years of workshops at Greenwich Theatre, it looked like Greenwich were going to put it on properly, and then Racing Stripes came out...*

The show was originally written for Debden Primary School in Essex, where my friend Holly taught. She now teaches at Mayfield School in Cambridge, and, after seven years, Farm! is being performed this afternoon. Sue and I are really excited about it.

(As you can see from the reviews links, there's a TLS review. You can, at present, only get it by paying. Or by reading it in a shop.)


* One of these workshops was professional and properly paid, which was quite something at the time. We suggested keeping the same director and mostly the same cast as we had in the first very successful workshop. Greenwich said 'I think we can do better than your university friends.' Thus, the Greenwich professional workshop did not feature David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Olivia Coleman (who had to pull out of the first workshop because she got paying work) and Gus Brown, and was not directed by Paul King. I regret these things still.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

horse diving. for real, horse diving

How the hell have I never heard about this before? Now I can't think of anything else. Diving horses were a tourist attraction at Atlantic City for years, then they went away, then they came back. This one was from 1993, of all crazy things. Then they went away again.

Wikipedia says Doc Carver got the idea when a bridge broke and his horse fell in. Or, as Carver put it, 'dived'. His partner was Al Floyd Carver, who seems likely to have been a relation, and who married Sonora Webster, one of the riders.

Sonora's horse Red Lips slipped and fell in 1931 (I bet Doc would have called this a dive, but Doc was dead by now). The fall cost Sonora her sight, but she carried on anyway.

As a result of this, I also lost time to a great blog called Redneck Liberals and to the Fahey/Klein photography gallery. What about this! And this. And this. And, of course, this.

I am normally wary about retweeting and reposting reviews, because, you know, for all the obvious reasons. However, my day was genuinely made by Queenie on Amazon: 'This book was on a radio 4 programm and sounded really good. It was the most boring book I have ever read.' This is great! The only way she could have heard about the book on the radio was from listening to me talk about it! I knew I was good on radio.

(By the way, when you saw the diving horses I bet you thought, 'This would be a great way to advertise a President!' You weren't the first.)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

warhorses, tall tales, hay is for horses

Gosh, time flies. You will be interested to learn:

Marie and I are writing the next Warhorses of Letters episode. Series 3 hasn't been commissioned yet, as far as I remember. (I definitely should know for sure, but it's been really busy and I could believe I'd missed it; I am pretty sure the situation is that we have heard, 'Don't worry, it will be commissioned,' but one doesn't make assumptions with these processes). We're going to write on anyway. We know what happens next, and what happens next is that Copenhagen and Marengo will be back in their regular slot at Tall Tales on 28th March, with me and John Finnemore. Do come.

Also, we'll be doing a Warhorses event at the Hay Festival, on Sunday 26th. Come to that too. I am doing something for The Dazzle on the following Saturday, so I might need to buy a tent.

You will also be interested to learn about the big stories in this year's NFL draft. Well, the ones I am following are:

- Barkevious Mingo, because he is called Barkevious Mingo. There's nothing the name doesn't have, but the thing that makes it art is the first 'o'.
- Menelik Watson, because in spite of the name he is from Manchester and he's only played two years of college football. Before that he was a basketballer and boxer.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Hot or not? An uninspiring photo essay.

Obviously, everything to do with bodies in public is much worse for women, and I am sorry for that. But a couple of times in the last week, I have been brought up short by male bodies. Mainly, it was Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. I mean, look at this weedy dude.

He's a super hard soldier in this movie! How does he even pick up a gun? He just looks like a normal fit human being. Cut forward 35 years and this is what a not particularly actiony actor looks like:

Sport is the other one. This is Finlay Calder, who captained the British Lions in 1989. He looks like a normal fit guy. But his head doesn't taper gently in from his shoulders, and his legs go in at the knees. He was a flanker.


So is England captain Chris Robshaw. But he is a professional sportsman, and he doesn't look normal by any means. He's 6'2" and weighs 17st 9lb. 



Wednesday, 27 February 2013

stop the world, i want to get off

I can't keep up with all the tabs I need to clear.

1. Tim Harford on tax: The tax system should be ... a system, with interlocking parts working together to achieve an overall goal. Instead the tax system is a labyrinth for ordinary users, a money factory for the tax advice industry and a stocking full of miscellaneous goodies for successive chancellors of the exchequer

2. The Sweet Valley High industry is really interesting. I loved this interview with Francine Pascal when I heard it on This American Life, and I loved Amy Boesky's piece on ghosting for the series when I read it this week: It seems to me now that part of the compelling power of Sweet Valley High’s vision of identical twins lay not in the obvious assignation between our split selves (id and ego), but instead, in the ways in which writing itself—real writing, difficult, strenuous, hard-won, “under your own name” writing—always stands in an uneasy relationship to its enchanting, seductive, rule-bending twin.

3. Nick Harkaway on conservatism and anti-technologism in mainstream literary fiction ('any fiction which can reasonably expect in the present climate to be discussed extensively on Radio 4'). Especially in light of previous post / comments. Why is Neal Stephenson not taken more seriously?

4. Horrid story about UN causing cholera epidemic and rejecting responsibility.

5. Victor Hugo's paintings are interesting. (Via Isak to the right.)