Friday, 31 October 2014

i'm behind you

Nearly done with this year's Xmas Show. Details to follow. Also, Marie and I are re-editing our podcast. We won't take them live till we've worked out how to replicate regularly. We're nearly there, I promise...

The labour-intensive world of moderating facebook.

Plant crime of the century. One of the scientists in the story sounds like the hero of an enviro-Indiana-Jones-style action series: The thermal water lily was only successfully grown from seed in 2009, after the last living specimen, which had been in Germany, had died. Its survival was down to Kew’s plant “codebreaker”, a charismatic Spanish horticultural scientist called Carlos Magdalena.

Also: “Personally I have no worries about what has happened,” one British collector said. “I feel there is an arrogance about Kew. They deserved what they got.” Carlos Magdalena told me that he had even been accused of staging the theft to increase publicity for his work.

I've said it before, but Brian Phillips is fantastic. He even feels fresh about the aeons-long rivalry between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning: If it weren’t for Brady, we’d have to think of Manning as a celebrity, but if it weren’t for Manning, we’d have to think of Brady as a guy doing a job — or worse: as a guy who signs paperwork, who wakes up worried in the middle of the night, who gets stuck in traffic, who waits on hold, who wonders where time is going, who feels unexplained pain in his tooth. Instead, we get to imagine Brady as the free citizen of a world of tuxedos, fine wine, lingering eye contact, and beautiful understated cars. We get to do this because there is never a moment, we imagine, when Manning is not signing paperwork, in traffic, while worried, with a toothache. That is how Peyton Manning contributes to our fantasies. That’s the sacrifice he makes for us.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

amazon steals from war hero

Have I written about the Amazon scam where dodgy publishers take books they claim are out of copyright and offer them for (expensive) sale on a print-on-demand basis. Probably. And probably someone else has written about them.

Anyway, my favourite current example is a book called Van Meegeren, Master Forger, which various imprints with curious four letter names (Nabu Press, Ulan Press) are selling, out of the goodness of their scholarly hearts, because it was originally published prior to 1923, and represents a reproduction of an important historical work, maintaining the same format as the original work. While some publishers have opted to apply OCR (optical character recognition) technology to the process, we believe this leads to sub-optimal results (frequent typographical errors, strange characters and confusing formatting) and does not adequately preserve the historical character of the original artifact. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form.

How marvellous of them! This is the long tail at work! Our records will never die.

Except I suppose that the diligent old moles at Nabu and Ulan must have missed the title page, since the forgery which the book is about wasn't uncovered until the end of WW2, so the date, in a book about fakes no less, is pretty wild of the mark.

In fact, the book was written in 1967 by John Godley, Lord Kilbracken. You may know him as the author of The Easy Way of Bird Recognition or as a racing correspondent. Or the chap who gatecrashed the Great Red Square parade in Moscow on the 40th anniversary of the October uprising, wearing a pink Leander tie and with his trousers turned inside out. Or as a Fleet Air Arm pilot who won a DSC flying Fairey Swordfish, a Liberal peer who switch to Labour in 1966 and renounced his British citizenship and medals in 1972 over Britain's policy in Northern Ireland. He sat in the Lord's and was a big speaker for the Kurds.

Also, he sold square yards of Irish bog to Americans, hunted Rommel's treasure, squired Jayne Mansfield to buy cows (he christened his best milker Jayne) and married a much younger Australian spy. His Telegraph obit is great, as you would imagine.

Friday, 24 October 2014

mike read loves chocolate

UKIP news 1: I was at a big party to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the birth of Oscar Wilde, mainly, and so Calypsist Mike Read. He was wearing a poppy long before anyone else, to show how patriotic he is, presumably. You are probably wondering why he was at an Oscar Wilde party? It's because he wrote a musical called Oscar that closed after one performance in 2004 in a hail on non-acclaim. The Guardian wrote: When Mike Read's Oscar Wilde musical closed within hours of its opening night in the West End, five theatregoers suffered more than most: the people who had bought tickets to its second performance.

He's also written musicals about Cliff and Rupert Brooks, and set Betjeman to music. Almost certainly terrible in all cases. Also, as a modern artist, he has worked in the field of confectionary.

 UKIP news 2: I didn't know anything about William Dartmouth, 10th Earl of Dartmouth, who sits as a UKIP MEP for South West England. His grandma was Barbara Cartland, and is married to an Australian ex-model. He has a son whose mother is a 'socialite', or was, and who can't inherit the title for legitimacy reasons.

Short film of joggers in Victoria Park.

Addams Family audition pics. It seems from number ten that Nicholas Lyndhurst was up for Lurch. Lisa Loring played Wednesday. She was born in Hawaii, married her childhood sweetheart and had a baby when she was sixteen. Later, she married a porn star (she met him on a set when she was working as a make-up artist) but she didn't like his work and although he pretended, he couldn't give it up. Drugs, drink, and People magazine wrote a feature on her brilliantly entitled Addams Child Wednesday Has Been Fully of Woe, but she's started acting again. I hope it goes well for her.

Sneakernomics is crazy.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

million sellers


Cover scan of Jacob's Folly

I loved Jacob's Folly. The top cover above gives you a decent sense of it. I think it's the American one. The second cover is the British one I saw, and it's made me think it was a book not aimed at me. Over time, I got over the judging by cover, but it was over time. If I had seen the top cover I'd have read it ages ago. It is by no means anything within a million miles of what looks like the slightly pappy book of the second cover, and I wonder if lots of readers have found that surprising. I should check, maybe. Not now, I have other fish to fry.

I am periodically riveted by huge bestsellers no one today has heard of. My friend Matthew told me about the incredible Peter Cheyney the other day, who grew up in the East End, fought in the Great War, dictated dozens of thrilling tales, shot, golfed, jiu-jitsued and etc., etc.

Among other things, assuming Wikipedia to be correct: Cheyney wrote his first novel, the Lemmy Caution thriller This Man Is Dangerous in 1936 and followed it with the first Slim Callaghan novel, The Urgent Hangman in 1938. The immediate success of these two novels assured a flourishing new career, and Cheyney abandoned his work as a freelance investigator. Sales were brisk; in 1946 alone, 1,524,785 copies of Cheyney books were sold worldwide ... Cheyney dictated his work. Typically Cheyney would "act out" his stories for his secretary, Miss Sprauge, who would copy them down in shorthand and type them up later.

Ernie Hudson played Winston in Ghostbusters and wasn't that well treated in sequels and didn't voice the cartoon. Was race a reason? Well, in this interview, he seems like more or less the gracefullest man on earth. I think of him as Cousin Ernie, increasingly.

What happens when you find a way to beat Vegas because Vegas has screwed up the programming of its machines? Well, among other things, Vegas doesn't like it one little bit, and Vegas is bigger than you, so it takes you to court. Vegas, basically, is the baddies. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


I hadn't heard of Gamergate until last night and the story of a gamer saying he'd massacre people if a woman spoke about tropes games perpetuate against women.

Of course, it's just the usual load of hate-filled bile, and to say this is representative of gamers is like saying ISIS is representative of muslims and so on. But I'm glad to know about it, all the same. And I was already going to link to this great story by Naomi Alderman about British women who were early computer coders because when they started doing it, it was seen as women's work. They started businesses made a lot of money, which totally is and should be part of the story.

Friday, 3 October 2014

almost there

What do I do every day? If you are asking this question about any of the last eight days, I get up, open a script I'm writing, re-plan the relationship of a pair of secondary characters called Banjo and Googoo, feel hopeful that this time I've cracked it, draft between one and all of their scenes, decide that I will have to start again tomorrow.

Also, the internet. For instance, did you know Steven Soderbergh has done a black and white, re-scored cut of Raiders of the Lost Ark? I'd love to watch it in the cinema pictured above, which I walked past in a village in France last month.

Anthony Kim might be fit to play golf again, but his eight figure insurance pay-off might stop him.

American football news: if you can read the cute bits of this story, which you'll know when you get to them, and not be heartwarmed, then you have a heart of stone. (Bonus cute: child asks astronaut about what happens to Voyager if it breaks down.)

Other American football news: I love the series Breaking Madden, in which Jon Bois plays with the settings of a frighteningly lifelike computer game to produce absurd results. One of the best things about it is that it's not entirely predictable. Here, one of the characters Jon has tweaked seems to develop a weird disfunctional artificial intelligence. (Also I love the tiny men running into the giant men.)

The recent This American Life episode on the takeover of a New York school board by Hasidic Jews who don't send their kids to public schools but still have to pay for it is vvg.

Also, I find these posters funny every time I walk past them. Does that make me someone with a heart of stone? Can't I both feel sorry for the dog and the owner AND find the poster sort of hilarious in various ways? I think that's the situation I'm in.