Monday, 31 March 2014

Someone on Twitter (Sorry, I can't remember who) said that this was the best opening paragraph on Wikipedia:

Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO (5 May 1880 – 5 June 1963) was a British Army officer of Belgian and Irish descent. He served in the Boer War, First World War and Second World War; was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; survived two plane crashes; tunnelled out of a POW camp; and bit off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. Describing his experiences in World War I, he wrote, "Frankly I had enjoyed the war."

It's certainly a good one but it's a long entry and the pace doesn't really let up. For instance, after tunnelling out of the camp, Carton de Wiart evaded capture for eight days disguised as an Italian peasant (which is surprising considering that he was in northern Italy, couldn't speak Italian, and was 61 years old, with an eye patch, one empty sleeve and multiple injuries and scars). Later, he agrees to carry a message to England so long as the Italians don't dress him up like a gigolo. In fact, there is so much in his life that it's sort of incredible that there are two long periods where he retires to the country (in Poland between the wars and in Ireland after them) to hunt and fish.

What fact have I learned recently that really shocked me? It is that while Henry VIII was paying Holbein £30 a year, his Abraham tapestries (which are amazing) cost £2,000 each.

This is good and angry about politics in the 'neutral' City of London.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

the world's best juggler

Only jugglers know who the best juggler is. Six balls looks not much harder than five but it's ten times harder. Grantland currently features one of my favourite things for ages, by Jason Fagone, about a juggler called Anthony Gatto, who is setting up a new business under his real name. As the piece puts it:

We are committed to offering a cost effective solution to tearing out and replacing old, damaged and deteriorating concrete,” reads the “About” page. “From stained micro-toppings to metallic floor finishes, counter tops and garage floor epoxy coatings, we have the solution for you.” A small head shot shows what looks like a smiling Gatto. Next to the head shot is a name. The name is not the one that has amazed audiences for the last 30 years. “Owned and operated,” the page says, “by Anthony Commarota.”

How did the greatest juggler in the world end up working in concrete?

This American Life is often great, but the episode Except For That One Thing was particularly strong. It has a short story about a date, a finale about a guy who went to prison for a crime he did commit and in the middle was Jon Mooallem talking about the Meat Problem of America's early twentieth century. The USA had run out of frontier, exterminated the passenger pigeon, killed most of the cod and almost all the bison, and it was frightened. What was the answer? Hippos. Breed hippos in Florida.

I was having a drink with two friends the other night. I am 40. They are 36 or so. Neither of them had seen The Commitments. This shocked me. I reckon almost no one who was a student when I was a student missed that film. These two, who were students just afterwards (not even after, because I was a graduate student when they were undergraduates), didn't see it and didn't see that as peculiar. The only way I could make them understand was by asking how surprised they would be if someone five years younger than them hadn't seen The Full Monty.

Friday, 14 March 2014

double penetrator!

Ok, I'm sorry. But I've held off for nearly 36 hours and I couldn't hold off any longer.

 I found it in a second hand bookshop. Two for the price of one. I looked up The Penetrator series, something which leads you to some pretty dark places pretty quickly if you're not careful, and I found a subculture of trash reviewers, like this guy, and this guy. Interestingly, in general, it seems that they are quite good at what they are, which is crazy. (As a result of the second guy's blog, I really want to read the lost sic fi classic, in his opinion, Spawn of the Death Machine.)

There were 53 Penetrators written by two guys (Mark K. Roberts did odd and Chet Cunningham did even, or vice versa) over the course of eleven busy years.

This guy's viewUnlike the Executioner and the Destroyer and the Death Merchant and the Butcher (whew!), I did not read the Penetrator when they first came out in the early 70's. It wasn't until I started this site that I took to reading them and was very pleasantly surprised. Hardin is a very likeable man* and his adventures are very likeable reads. As spy books they are lacking but as the adventures they are meant to be, they are good

Here's a spoof movie trailer done last year. It's funny. The main thing all this made me think of is The Reprisalizer.

* I might read this book just to find out whether I agree that Hardin is 'a very likeable man'.

Monday, 10 March 2014

i don't think i'm dead (i might be, though)

About five years ago, before the last training session of the hockey season, I wrote I might die tonight on a little scrap of paper. I've been adding to it ever since every time I've been afraid I'm going to my last training session or game, or get injured, or whatever. Maybe you think this is tastelessly melodramatic, but it was just for me, and encapsulates something real. I made the first note when I was due to have a big spinal operation a few weeks later, and I didn't know if I would play proper hockey again.*

By proper hockey I mean the kind where I absolutely commit my training nights and my Saturdays to hockey for the season to the end of playing for the best team I can play for. Weddings are an exception, and a couple of work things over the years, but, not counting injury, and I've been pretty lucky on that front, I hadn't missed ten training sessions in the decade before my operation.

Playing sport to the best of my ability is a massive part of who I am. Also, team sport is better than individual sport on a moral level, since it forces you to do something in a group and at inconvenient times that you can't change, which therefore teaches a small degree of humility and submission. When I stop, then something will have changed about something that has made me me since I was ten. That's fine. I know it will happen. The fire doesn't burn quite like it did ten years ago, but it definitely still burns.

This year, actually, I might have died quietly, with a trio of very annoying medium-term injuries that meant I missed preseason, then November to January, then February to now. I hope not but we'll see next year.

 I'm writing all this because I wanted to link to a couple of things. I love - I absolutely love - sportsmen who don't go quietly into the night. The differences between me and Steve Nash could hardly be more radical, but he doesn't care that fans think he should have gone out at the top. He wants to play till he can't contribute. He's not what he was. He knows that. He still thinks he can help. Go Steve Nash. Play till you're dropped, if that's what you want.**

Also, go Helen Richardson-Walsh, who is a GB hockey player who's just undergone her second big back op and is determined to get back into the team, and who is writing about the process here. It's quite new, but I am going to follow it like a hawk. I don't expect you to and think less of you for it.

* The back was fine when I was active; it couldn't be still so I couldn't sleep or work; now it's much crankier for sport but I can do the others; of course, given that I am not a professional hockey player, the others are more important; I miss the sport-adapted back massively, though.

** Do understand this is a problem with Sachin, etc., when it is basically impossible to drop a player for extra-sporting reasons. But this is rare and not the present subject.

Thursday, 6 March 2014


I hope you didn't miss Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe, Mexican skier. In case you did, the Grantland piece on him is vg. Highlights include his matador/mariachi ski outfit, the fact that his mum was a bit underage when she got married but the Pope okayed it (she later acted in movies like The Vatican Affair, My Bed Is Not for Sleeping, and Homo Eroticus, and she now designs jewellery) and the fact that he's been competing in the Olympics longer than most of the contestants have been alive.

American football name watch: I should never link to these things, because names are just names. Here, however, is a single paragraph about College football:

The Aggies' last two recruiting classes have netted seven four- or five-star receivers, according to Rivals, including potential standouts Ricky Seals-Jones -- who missed most of last year with an injury -- Ja'Quay Williams and LaQuvionte Gonzalez from the class of 2013 and new signees Speedy Noil and Frank Iheanacho. The backfield remains deep with running back talent that took a backseat to Manziel last year, with Trey Williams, Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams and Tra Carson all entering their junior seasons.

Boring housing link I couldn't not click on via twitter because I live in London and want to understand what the hell is going on. (And which I therefore don't find boring, obviously, but I wish property hadn't become so much of a thing again.)

(Are we giving corrupt Ukrainian politicians loads of money which they will immediately use to buy houses in Chelsea? I think that is what my friend Matthew is suggesting to me. I am certainly getting better informed about the Ukraine. The key thing seems to be that the Ukrainian coalition currently in power has some real nasty rightists who are virulently anti-Russian and its not totally crazy to be scared of them if you're Russian Crimean, whatever that means.)