Archive for August, 2006

While I’ve been here, I’ve been taking the occasional snap with my sister’s camera, a choice selection of which are on my brand new Flickr page. I’m thinking of stealing her camera for when I go to South Korea. Actually, when I was in London there was a great image that I’d’ve liked to have photographed: if you walk up Tottenham Court Road you can see the reflection of the BT Tower in the windows of Euston Tower; a bit like this, in fact.

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A friend of mine from university has set up her own page on MySpace.com. There are some pretty decent examples of her poetry and in the last day or two she’s added about a million friends (well, 17; I’m not jealous at all). Find Tray (or Tracy, as I like to call her – a tray, after all, is a flat thing for carrying stuff on) right here.

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Sit on my face again

Do you think that people who wear tops that say ‘Bench’ are declaring to the world that they like being sat on?

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‘Sit on My Face’, Monty Python

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Lit crit crit

The Gradual Interview on Stephen Donaldson’s website is pretty darned amazing. I’m sure many writers are perfectly happy to answer questions about their work and their ideas in personal correspondence and appearances, but how many put such thoughts on the internet for all to see? Both George R R Martin and Robert Jordan have blogs but while they do answer questions they do so briefly and selectively. Donaldson makes a point of answering nearly every question he’s asked; he deletes only those that have been answered before (like, ‘Hey, have you ever thought of having a move made of the Thomas Covenant books?’) or those that he deems too personal.

So far, he answered about a dozen or so of mine, with a couple more in the pipeline (and there’s at least one that he’s failed to answer, which may have fallen into the second of the above categories. He’d said something about having made a long term study of people and their behaviour/psychology and I asked him what he’d learned). The answers he gives are sincere and intelligent and often quite detailed and shot through with dry humour. Today’s answer (on the subject of literary criticism) is a very good example.

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Do you take this geek?

It’s been two weeks since my last post here, and, although it actually feels like longer, that’s too long. Still, here I am. (In fact, I made a couple of somewhat desultory attempts to write a new blog entry over a week ago, but working on my laptop with other things going on in the room wasn’t conducive to success.) Various things have happened in the past fortnight, most notably the marriage of Kitty Blogstar to her partner of the last two years, Mr Blogstar (well, what else would he be called?). (Actually, it’s just occurred to me that a spoonerism-obsessed friend of mine might call her Betty Clogstar, but never mind.)

So after my brief sojourn in Widnes in the house of one brother and girlfriend, I went to St Helens for a similarly brief stay at the home of my other brother and girlfriend. A home which, this time last year, was my home. Taking advantage of living in a town that has some shops (unlike where my sister lives), I did some clothes shopping. I got some Wrangler jeans for ₤20, some heavy, smart grey trousers, a pair of smart black shoes (with zips – apparently they’ll come in useful in South Korea where everyone takes their shoes off when they go into someone’s home) and a trendy white shirt (this from Burton, where I got 20% off for signing up for a Burton store card which I’ll never use again, because from now on it’ll effectively add 1% (insurance) to the cost of anything I buy with it).

The wedding reception (I wasn’t invited to the wedding itself, which is fair enough given that it was apparently a small, registry office affair and I’ve only known the happy couple a year) was held at a social club a mile or so from my brother’s place so I headed off on foot, looking very monochrome in my black suit jacket, white shirt, grey trousers and black shoes (even my under wear was grey). I had with me in a large (white) carrier bag their present. Or rather, my present to them. Which was a white and blue vase in a kind of organic, contemporary style and was purchased from a place in Camden Market. Kitty later said in an e-mail that they were both impressed with it (‘stunning’, I think, was the word used). She didn’t even mention anything about its axis being not quite perpendicular to the horizontal; if pressed, I’ll just say it’s part of its hand-crafted charm.

When I got there it was nice to see everyone from the old roleplay group (including a young guy who joined it after I left and who looks like a 14-year-old version of Dustin Hoffman). Beforehand, I couldn’t quite imagine the groom in formal wear, but he seemed to look quite at home in it in a funny sort of way (he’s not nearly that big but think Patrick Moore … he’s not that old, either … and doesn’t wear a monocle … and he’s got long hair – actually, don’t think Patrick Moore at all). The bride, meanwhile, looked amazing in a big, sensuously red dress.

As I am wont to do, I fairly quickly ran out of conversation, which made me realise that, having only gamed with them for a few months, I maybe moved on too quickly and know them less well than I’d like. There weren’t that many people there, and, while I didn’t have any conscious expectations (especially as I’ve never been to a wedding or wedding do (with the probable exception of my parents’)), subconsciously I was inevitably expecting the kind of thing you see on TV and in films – which is to say lots of people all unequivocally having fun. What actually happened was that RPing friends sat at one table, his family sat at another table, hers at another, his work friends at yet another table and never the twain (quatrain?) did mix.

I imagine this happens at many such events – my experience, certainly, has been that birthdays and other annual celebrations are less than one envisages. I’m sure the media is to blame for this (as it is for so many other things). I wonder how many people get upset about their special events turning out to be less special than they had dreamt – after all, nothing in the real world is ever perfect. On the other hand, maybe it’s just we geeks who are condemned to the modest realisation of dreams.

But anyway, Mr Blogstar got up to make a speech, and though Kitty later said he was very nervous he didn’t come across as such. In fact, he was at his most charismatic and mischievous. For instance, he explained why he’d had two best men: ‘one’s got half a brain and the other’s got a car.’ He exhorted the gathered clusters of friends a relatives to drink and get drunk. And he led by example, downing several shots of alcoholic beverages during his stand-up routine. Kitty also made a speech – less ebulliently, but just as charmingly.

Then we had music, both live and dead – I mean, recorded – and food. Shortly after, we on the table of St Helens-based geeks (naturally, I was an honourary member) realised that our leader and groom wasn’t present. Turns out he’d been sick. We drifted outside to find him, in his vomit-stained shirt, sitting on one of the benches staring at the floor and mumbling at people to leave him alone. And, in a sense, that was the end of the evening, with him feeling not very well and us feeling a bit awkward.

After my first two or three drinks (vodka and lemonade) I was getting suite tipsy, but then came the food (and I hadn’t eaten much during the day), and, what with all the time we were spending out in the fresh air, although I had a few more drinks I didn’t get very drunk. Nevertheless, I was sick a couple of times during the night. Each time immediately after having a crap. The second time I was sitting there having passed some almost foamy diarrhoea and suddenly my mouth was full of watery sick; I managed to hold it in while I got on my knees. I know: you really wanted to know all that didn’t you? One of these days I’ll tell you my favourite vomit-related anecdote.

So the rest of the time in St Helens I spent cataloguing my collection of books and copying my CDs on to my laptop. The former, so I can request books be sent to me in South Korea; the latter, obviously, so I can listen to music. I left most of my books and all of my CDs at the house when I moved out last year. I just took a selection of unread books and all (nearly all, anyway) of my music was on my desktop PC. Clearly, there’s only a limited amount of stuff I’ll want to take to South Korea. I own just over 600 books, of which I’ve read just under half (although this takes into acount a number of reference and roleplaying books that I wouldn’t want to read anyway, just use for reference). My laptop now holds about six gigabytes of music or 900-odd tracks in 256 kbps .mp3s. (Don’t ask me what that means.)

In addition I’ve also put on there a number of .pdfs of roleplaying books, most of which I was given as a birthday present (beforehand I was told my present would be useful and save me money, to which I speculated, ‘A generator?’) and a couple of which I’ve just obtained with Limewire. This is the kind of thing that I actually don’t like – I’m instinctively very law-abiding (for which read ‘cowardly’), but if and when I have the money I’ll buy a lot of these books. And spending a year in another country is clearly a special situation.

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I thought that this would be a fun film to see, but I also got the impression that it could be very naff, too. I was surprised at just how enjoyable it was. It wasn’t the funniest film I’ve ever seen (which title probably goes South Park), but it had plenty of good jokes, and it even got funnier as it went on and the situation became more fraught and ridiculous. This latter effect was also aided by Eddie Izzard’s appearance half-way through the movie.

The film operates on two levels, really. Firstly there’s the ‘What if your girlfriend was not only semi-insane, but had the power to make her semi-insanity really hurt?’ aspect. This generates most of the humour, and while the jokes can be obvious, they’re no less funny. Secondly, there’s the ‘What if a superhero was also emotionally fragile and handled relationships badly?’ aspect. This element is less successful because it’s not really explored fully – G-Girl isn’t the main character – but it was great to see an alternative take on what it means to be a superhero.

The cast was pretty excellent, which helped the comedy an awful lot. Luke Wilson was a perfectly acceptable likeable everyman. I think this is the first film I’ve seen him in and subconsciously I was thinking that this would have been a great vehicle for Owen Wilson – who I’ve seen in several things and quite like. But I warmed to Luke Wilson – he showed a lot of that hapless charm that Owen Wilson does so well. They even look similar. They are, in fact, brothers. Uma Thurman played both/all of her character’s alter-egos as well as you would expect someone of her skill to. The problem with Jenny/G-Girl was that she was a bit too much of a caricature.

Rainn Wilson (not one of the million or so (three) Wilson brothers) is the guy who played the Gareth-character, Dwight, in the American version of The Office, and here he plays basically the same character. And it’s something he does very well. You do wonder a little bit that he and the hero would be friends, but their dialogue makes it work. Eddie Izzard is wonderful, but a little underused. And Anna Faris is a decent actress and a babe to boot. Not that I’d want to boot her. I mean, she’s not a computer.

Finally, although the denouement is perhaps a little to easy, it all gets resolved in a nice way that ties up all the earlier threads.

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Review of Miami Vice

Not as good as Collateral. That’s the short version. The slightly longer version follows.

Miami Vice is a very cold film, it seems to me. The characters tend to be all manly and silent, and what they do say is usually in a mumble. It’s dark – literally so – and often brutal and too long. But on the other hand, it’s undeniably very well-made: the acting’s very good throughout and the cinematography’s fantastic.

When you leave the cinema, though, you’re likely to wonder what the point of it all was. I have nothing against amoral stories or ambiguous endings, but there just wasn’t enough in this film to make it interesting. For a cop-thriller type thingummy it’s surprisingly un-intense: very little happens – no, that’s not right – lots of stuff happens, but it happens in a slow, lingering way, which I suppose was supposed to be atmospheric, but it didn’t work. There’s also very little overall character development – Crockett and Tubbs don’t change much and their crises, such as they are, come from their respective love interests, which is a) unoriginal and dull, and b) neutralised by their manly unemotionalness.

At least three scenes in the film are set to the music of Audioslave, a band I like, but like less than I’d like to like. There’s something very mournful about Chris Cornell’s voice, which Tom Morello’s guitar work picks up on – I prefer the attitude and aggression of Rage Against the Machine. This choice of music adds to the film’s rather frigid air.

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Earlier tonight, while I was using my sister’s friend’s computer (as, indeed, I am now), prompted by the quietude of the house, I logged on to AOL’s All-Metallica radio station. Hell, yeah! OK, the sound quality wasn’t too good, but how good was to hear Mr Hetfield’s sweet, gravelly tones after, what, ten day’s without? I’ve never used this before because my own internet connection was 56k; and I’ve always disregarded upgrading to broadband on the basis of it being too much money for too little benefit. Maybe I’ll change my mind.

Apparently, Koreans sing socially. In other words, at social get-togethers, people just volunteer or get nominated to sing. Solo. In the right circumstances, I have a pretty good voice, and I’ve always harboured ambitions of being a rock star, so this could be a nice challenge, if and when I get put in this position. On the other hand, the right circumstances for my pretty-good-voiceness are that there are no other people present.

The question will be what I choose to sing if asked. Metallica? Indubitably. But I could be tempted by a bit of Queen, too. Or I could, perhaps, introduce them to the wonder of Monty Python’s ‘Medical Love Song’.

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Witness the weirdness of Widnes

Well, this is strange. It’s the middle of the night and I’m the only current occupant of the house of someone I don’t know. (Not including the three cats (one and two kittens, actually) and the two rats. And the rabbit. But that’s in the yard, not the house.)

A friend of my sister’s is away this week and I’m taking advantage of an offer to come and house-mind. For a couple of days – then it’s off to St Helens for another couple of days and a wedding reception. I don’t know this girl – the only times I’ve spoken to her were when answer the phone or the door and telling her my sister wasn’t in. Apparently – I say apparently because nobody tells me these things, and I’m not really that interested, but it’s something to write about – apparently she’s now partnerised with one of my brothers. She also apparently – judging by the number of beds – has about a million children … ie, four.

She lives in Widnes, just across the Mersey from my home town, Runcorn. In West Bank, in fact (no, really), which is one of the shittier parts of the town. The house is, well, a little bit grim; it smells a bit, but compared to my sister’s place (which, in terms of the fabric of the building, is a hell of a lot nicer), it feels a lot less claustrophobic. The house is a bit bigger (maybe even 50% bigger) than my sister’s, but the lack of clutter makes it seems bigger still.

So while I’m here I’ll visit a retired couple that I know from the Liberal Democrats, catch up on my cinema-going, do some more work on the roleplaying game (maybe even finally get the on-line game started), and possibly finish reading The Dark Tower. Oh, and I have a couple of quite long manuscripts to critique for my writers’ group for Saturday (although, as I won’t be going on Saturday, I can let this slip a few days. I think). I would have liked to see my old line manager from the DfES, but she’s away – or, at least, she’s out of the office. I could try her at home (though I’m not sure if I’ve got her number), and, while she works in Runcorn, she lives in Widnes. (I’ve lost contact with my old schoolfriends – all two of them – and I’m not that bothered about reinitiating contact.)

For Saturday, I need to buy, at the very least, a nice shirt. I’ve brought my suit jacket with me, and I think it looks quite decent with casual clothes. I hate formal wear, so I’m shying away from the conventional, boring suit-shirt-tie look, but this is a wedding do, after all, so I need to make some effort. And I could probably do with some new clothes, anyway.

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