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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

June 30, 2005

Common as muck

Rob was talking yesterday about whether the weather is man made now, and whether it is getting more extreme. Rightly enough, he questioned our notions of proof and veracity when it comes to trends & statistics: we have only accurate data for the last 100 years or so: we can hardly claim to know we've fucked the climate.

You'll know that I've been banging on for months about the UK turning into a new Hurricane Alley. My opinion, unfounded in terms of scientific proof. In other words, typical Internet bullshit.

In a coincidence that smells almost like a viral marketing plot, there was a program on the telly last night about extreme weather. Here's an interesting fact that just goes to prove Rob's point about questioning what the news tells us. Per square mile, the country with the most tornados is the UK. And it always has been. Yes there are more in Hurricane Alley per year than here, but that's a much much larger area of land.

Interesting that.

I've only ever seen one tornado before and that was in Austria. Sunny afternoon, so my mum and dad went out for a walk. Five minutes later the trees were bending over, there was a howling wind, rain, and they came running back up the road to our hotel. Right down the valley you could see the tell-tale V-shape of dark grey, like a giant leech probing down from the clouds to the ground.

Now if you'd asked me, I'd have said that the weather IS getting more like that Austrian weather here in the UK: and more like the weather you see on TV that is associated with tornados and hurricanes. But I've only been looking for a year or two.

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to talk about.

This morning my children were banging on about getting expensive cars and clothes. I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to gain an insite into the mind of the young lifestyle obsessed folk.

So I asked the question. Their replies centred mostly around ostentation of course: "because it proves that you're rich," and so on.

I argued that expensive cars and clothes don't, in fact, indicate wealth but merely a willingness to borrow money and spend it on something that costs more than is necessary.

My daughter replied (in Nottingham accent), "yeah bot if yoo got proppo' cloze peepol wont fink yuze a tramp."

Good point.

But using the grammar of an imbecile is obviously no barrier in giving the impression that you're a slebtoff.

June 29, 2005

I Have Taken Part in these Activities

I've often wondered how people come up with their little black and white rules of good and bad. Not to belittle a system of beliefs, like, but I've never been comfortable around the Nestlé haters, the Esso haters, the McDonald's/Starbucks haters. I find it hard to imagine how they get through a day; to me they're like obsessive compulsives who won't step on the cracks in the pavement.

Some people are trying to drum up a bit of controversy over the fact that a Bob Dylan former bootleg (Gaslight tapes) is being distributed through Starbucks coffee shops. I say "some" people, because you will detect from the 30+ comments on the story that the overwhelming response is a shrug of the shoulders, or outright support for BD.

Bob Dylan, who likes to keep his own counsel, has been married several times and has a number of children. He's in his 60s, and I'm pretty sure he's been a smoker of tobacco among other things. Presumably he knows the state of his own health. He's certainly aware that his once beautiful singing voice isn't what it was, and that he'll perhaps never sell records in the quantities that, say, Blood on the Tracks or Slow Train Coming (which was very popular with religionists as well as regular Dylan fans) sold.

So perhaps he's looking at his legacy and thinking, why not? Take the Starbucks dorrars, and Victoria's Secret, and anything else that's going on. Who knows? Perhaps he's sick of bootleggers making money from his old stuff and exploiting his fans with expensive and poor reproductions. Perhaps he looks at the self-righteous Starbucks haters and thinks, hmm, how can I distance myself from these losers? As one of the commenters on the story points out, retailers charge a lot of money to record companies for rack space. You walk into the shop and the latest products are being pushed at you in special racks - all bought and paid for.

(It can be somewhat shattering to the illusions of the young to learn this kind of thing. Denial will ensue. The products Amazon promotes on its front page? Paid for. The product in the IT catalogue or dealer advertisement in the magazine you're looking at? Paid for. I know of one IT company not a million miles from here that even, sometimes, makes a profit from its marketing.)

So maybe Sony are getting a better deal from Starbucks than from other major retailers in the USA.

Most importantly, and what "some" people don't seem to have paid attention to, Bob Dylan adopted "protest singer" as a persona early in his career, because that was the way to get the gig. As soon as he didn't need to be a protest singer, in 1964, he stopped being one. He never joined in with the hippy culture, he never hung out with the freaks, he was never part of that scene. So to the people who are calling him a "sell out", I ask, have you been paying attention? Have you been listening carefully? Because Bob ain't Sting, and he ain't your dad.

Do you hate Starbucks? Do you shop in Tesco? Do you hate Esso? Do you buy your petrol in, er, Tesco? Do you hate HP, but love Apple? Do you grow your own food and walk barefoot in the dogshit world? Do you smoke? Are you a midnight toker? Was anybody exploited, you think, during the production of that coke you snort up your nose, or the weed you mix with your tobacco, or the tobacco you mix with your weed? Do you wear cotton? Silk? Do you walk around naked and live on fresh air?

People pick on companies like Nestlé and Starbucks, but all it makes me think is that you only know about Nestlé. You just don't know what the others are doing. Who owns Green and Blacks now? Ah, Cadbury, ah Bisto. And anyway, who invented the Caramac Kit Kat? Oh, yeah, it was me.

We can only live in the world. There's nowhere else to go, and the cracks in the pavement will get you in the end.

Ah, that's nice, innit?

There's a story in MediaGuardian.co.uk (registration required) about the Daily Torygraph closing its City of London offices. Here's the bit that struck me:
The Telegraph ha[s] been based in Canary Wharf since 1991 while staff on the City desk worked out of a separate office in Moorgate ... But following this year's job cuts an entire floor has been freed up in the papers' five-storey Canary Wharf office building.
The Daily Telegraph City editor, Neil Collins, is believed to have been against the move to Canary Wharf when it was proposed earlier this year, but is away on holiday in France.

He was against it, but because he's on holiday, it's tough titley, Mr Shitley. Lovely. Everyone, I'm sure, would relax and enjoy their holidays more if they knew that kind of thing was happening back home. Change yer job description, move yer desk, cancel projects, renege on agreements, oh yes.

It's thigh-slappin' back-stabbin' ever-lovin' office life, innit? I'm looking forward to it when I come back from my two-week break in mid-August.

The 4 fuel economy

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian today writes about the potential costs of alternative energy:
ID cards may cost £19bn, as the LSE suggests, or a mere £7bn, as the Home Office claims. But even £7bn is such a monumentally enormous sum you have to pinch yourself to believe it. Would people rather have the plastic card or Britain on the road to partial energy self-sufficiency and a real drop in emissions?

I tend to agree. Against ID cards anyway, not just because I already hate having to have a passport, but because of the monumental waste of money this big-government-computer-project-that-won't-work will be.

If we're going to have a money pit, then let it be the pit of solar panels on every rooftop, and wind turbines wherever there is wind. Let's all live in windmills and drive skycycles!

As for climate change, I'm more ambivalent. It's easy to believe that we're in a period of adjusted climate. Extreme weather seems more common. Or is it that reports of extreme weather are more common, as 24-hour news outlets struggle to fill their schedules? Accept it that they don't require actual news, maybe there is something to climate change.

I've been saying for years that warm wet summers and warm wet winters seem to be the UK norm now. But the rain we get seems to come in the form of deluge rather than in a series of more manageable showers. Hence the twin tropes of UK weather: floods and hosepipe bans, both of which point to inadequate investment in sewerage and water management, which, apparently, is what the British people wanted when they voted for Mrs Thatch.

Well done.

The people of the future, chewing beeswax to make their candles, will surely look back in wonder at a nation that pissed away oil and gas wealth on inefficient transport systems and excessive packaging and closed coal mines that still had coal in them.

If carbon emissions are causing global warming and global warming is related to climate change, and if that climate change is real, what - realistically - is the time frame for turning that oil tanker around? 10 years, 20? 50 or 100? I suspect that 50-100 years is more like it - and few people are capable of planning that far ahead. And what if we run out of oil/gas/coal long before then? Won't reduced carbon emissions happen as a natural consequence, with nobody having to do anything?

Do we need ID cards? No. Why are we having wars/terrorism? Because of the imminent shortage of oil. Do we need alternative forms of energy? Yes. Is it because we can do something about climate change? No. It's because we have an imminent shortage of oil. Ergo, a solar panel on every roof will solve the global terror problem.

Winter is icumen in, everyone sing "fuck you"

Last night we were treated to one of the most spectacular thunderstorms I can remember in the last ten years or so: some wonderful bolts and almost immediate whipcracks of thunder, and in the dark too.

Just before the storm I fancied I could see a large circle of hollow in the otherwise dark grey clouds overhead. I was wishing we could have a hurricane to cause lots of damage and piss everyone off.

The rain was torrential, which was nice, and sure enough when I looked out this morning lots of plants and bushes were laid low to the ground.

I rather enjoyed it all.

This morning though, my children were evil, and as a consequence we were all very late leaving the house. A terrible battle.

Even now I still feel like I've just given up smoking: I feel so angry with everything that it wouldn't take much provocation to induce me to stab somebody in the neck.

The weather this morning (29th June) is a bit like that of a mild winter's day. Just grey enough to make the average motorist think he is justified in driving along with his headlights set to dazzle.

The only consolation this morning is that I saw on the news that Insurance companies have announced that home insurance is likely to increase by 60% over the next two or three years to cover the cost of the additional damage caused by climate change.

GOOD! Fuck the lot of them!

June 28, 2005

How big?

Thanks to my colleague Sammy for this picture of Extreme Packaging by a well known manufacturer of computer comms accessories.

This is a bluetooth adapter apparently.

It's nice to know that in this world of limp-wristed ecologically-conscious political correctness it is still possible to pull the Irony joker card out of the pack.

I thought that all businesses lacked humour and a sense of humanity these days but clearly that is not so.

What next? A packet of crisps in a carrier bag sized gold-leaf packet?

June 27, 2005

things with emissions

Someone told me that it is common practise nowadays for women to have their anus bleached with peroxide to make it look less unsightly (when viewed by the public?)

Sounds reasonable, given our propensity for up-crotch music videos and thongs these days. I mean, young fellows may otherwise easily be forgiven for the mistaken view that the rusty sheriffs badge of yore is primarily intended for shitting rather than the sexually oriented oriface that it is today.

They were talking on TV about recycling and motor vehicles. We've all heard the claim that driving to a recycling station negates the benefit of recycling in the first place, what with the emissions and fuel wastage.

They were throwing some snappy recomendations and facts around...
i) we should all aim at driving a mile less per day than we have been up until now.
ii) We should all be looking at using public transport whenever possible.
iii) The energy saved by recycling 1 aluminium can is equivalent to that needed to run a television for 2 hours.
iv) Getting rid of a four-by-four and replacing it with a normal car would save the same amount of energy as that saved by doing an average household's recycling for 400 years.

The conspiracy-theorist within me is sitting on my shoulder and screaming, "it's obviously much worse than they're letting on!"

I reckon all of that talk about recycling is just a back way in, a gaping hole up the wrong un, to addressing the real issue: that we're actually so near to running out of oil that we're almost certainly fucked already.

A wager of epic proportions

I visted Rufford Abbey yesterday and had a perfect day with my girlfriend, my mother and father and our dog. Beautiful weather and beautiful wildlife.

Rufford was once owned by chap called Saville and due to one thing or another he managed to get the estate into debt and he was in danger of losing it to the banks to whom he owed money.

But he had an idea or rather he had a horse called Cremorne who he rather fancied could win the Derby. So he entered him for the famous race and placed the whole estate as a wager for the horse to win.

The story goes that the bookmakers retired for the day to the Hop Pole hotel in Ollerton where they caroused and toasted their own success, each eagerly anticipating reciept of the keys to the vast Rufford estate whilst they waited for the telegraph to arrive with the results of the race.

I would love to have seen their faces when the telegraph arrived showing Cremorne had romped home and the bookies stood to be ruined by the payout. Saville recieved his winnings and the Abbey and estate stayed open for another 40 odd years. Cremorne was retired with the 100 guineas he had won to live another 10 years in luxury and relative freedom. He's buried in the grounds of the estate and we went to visit his grave - a lovely stone set in the floor with respectful railings around it in a beautiful clearing in the woods.

I love that story. If Cremorne had lost the estate would probably never have ended up how it is today.

Saturday night's alrighert for fightin'

It's a long time since I went into Nottingham on a Saturday night during the witching hour of pub opening times. However this weekend due to an invitation to join a stag night I did exactly this.

As you'll know, Nottingham city centre on weekend evenings is only slightly more dangerous than walking unaccompanied through the streets of Bagdad, unarmed and wearing an American soldiers' uniform without body armour, while carrying a banner saying, in arabic, "My dog bummed your mother when I lived in Manchester United."

And that's just the risk of grievous violence from the girls.

Anyway, we kept away from the youthful theme-pub franchised establishments on the whole, and patronised the dwindling number of old men's pubs with proper beer instead of synthetic lagers. The Poacher and The Peacock, for example.

I was deeply gratified to note that of the young people we saw in the city at least a third of them were so fat they made me look like fooking Jarvis Cocker after a week long smack binge in comparison.

One of our merry bunch also enlightened me as to the reasons for the Porsche phenomenon I mentioned recently: where they have become so common that even if you hire a skip you have to leave a sign on it saying, "please do not fly tip Porsches in this skip."

Apparently it's because they are Boxsters and they only cost £18k with no deposit required. Visa? That'll do nicely sir! As you will know, that is less than the cost of the average child's bicycle. Boxsters, anyway, are not real Porsches so I'm told.

Blah blah blah


I'm obviously not qualified to have opinions about whether it might have been just a little over the top to have coverage of Glastonbury on BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, Radio 1, 6, and 5Live, as well as special reports in other news outlets like the Guardian and the Observer. Just an inkling there that some of the "young people" working for these organs were going anyway, but if they did "special reports" about it, they could claim expenses.

Anyway, there being nothing else at all on TV for most of the weekend, I saw little bits and pieces. Saw a bit of Elvis Costello, but fortunately he was so badly mixed I couldn't hear is horrible voice. Bits and pieces of logo bands. Thought to myself how your heart must sink, if you're at the festival, and fucking Jools Holland comes on stage, and you're stuck with him for an hour with no escape - how remarkable it is that the man sucks all joy out of music, turning it into an academic exercise in one-handed boogie woogie piano.

And I saw what people are already calling the highlight of the whole weekend: Brian Wilson. There's no denying that the band are awesomely good and totally nailed everything, from the harmonies to the arrangements, and also no denying that for summer-themed hit after hit, they seemed to be mining an endless vein, not even approaching the bottom of the barrel.

Wilson himself literally looked wheeled out for most of what I saw, a bewildered stroke victim only vaguely aware of what was going on around him. Reminded me of nothing so much as that early episode of Star Trek (Patterns of Force), where the Great Dictator is kept drugged up and wheeled out behind a large microphone on TV screens, so that recorded speeches could appear to come from him. It was uncomfortable viewing, made me wonder why he puts himself through it.

And why was George Best playing sax?

June 23, 2005

For the sake of completion

I'm hopelessly lost when it comes to filerms. In fact I struggled to remember the names of 10 altogether. So, in no order...

Blue Velvet - for the Roy Orbison moment.

Wild at Heart - who wouldn't want to kick seven shades of shit out of someone while wearing a snakeskin jacket and dancing to thrash?

The red violin - immortality and virtuosity.

The tin drum - freaky and ugly.

Withnail & I - most of us at one point in our lives have been like one or other of these characters (Withnail).

Wings of desire - immortality again and watching while unseen.

Blithe spirit - Elvira reminded me of my girlfriend when I first saw it. And Rex Harrison was a reet cock.

Orlando - same as The Red Violin really just a man-woman rather than a violin.

Once upon a time in the west - who wouldn't want to be a blue-eyed bastard like Henry Fonda, with a full length duster on your shoulders.

The Last Emperor - incredible extremes of circumstances in one lifetime.

I'd probably want to have Blow Up in the three back to backs, and Wings of Desire for the cameo appearances. Then Red Violin. A tenuous music link I spose.

it's the office, jim, but not as we know it

what a surreal experience it is to watch the american version of the office on bbc3. i know this sort of thing has been going on since forever, but i've never seen one so close to the original, yet missing it by miles. and as usual, i'm thinking, what's the point?

groovy movies

ok here are the best films ever:

the man who fell to earth
angel heart
stardust memories
drugstore cowboy
grease
goodfellas
withnail & i
the last picture show
a bout de soufle
wings of desire
naked

3-films-i-could-watch-back-to-back-and-why-they-sit-together-so-well:

empire
empire
empire

they sit together well because they are the same film, and i'd like to know if i could actually do it.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang




I'm on a re-reading jag at the moment, and I've picked up Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by my favourite writer Kate Wilhelm, whom I have mentioned before.

It was first published in 1976, but though it was conceived 30 years ago, it seems more relevant now than it did then.

Science Fiction, as anyone who reads enough of it knows, is always "about" the present in which it is written, whether it is set in the future or not. Quite often, a writer will simply extrapolate or exaggerate present conditions in order to imagine a future. Such fiction is occasionally called Speculative Fiction, carrying the same SF acronym. I don't particularly care what you call it. You can call it Sci Fi if you want - it doesn't hurt me.

So it's interesting to think that WLtSBS was published in the year of the great UK drought, the year of Minister for Drought and bricks in the cistern. And of course, it came just 3 short years after the 1973 oil crises and the subsequent economic shenanigans, for which some African countries are still paying.

WLtSBS is primarily a novel about cloning, but it's also part of that rich subset of SF, the post-apocalyptic novel, so it's also about the conditions that lead a group of people to embark upon an experiment in human cloning.

Imagine, if you will, another drought like that in the summer of '76. Imagine the hosepipe bans, the water shortages, the messages about putting bricks in the toilet cistern and only using 3 inches of bath water. Imagine you have that, and then the next year: same thing. And the year after that. I doubt it would take even three years to bring us to the edge of a real crisis.

Add to the drought, or climate change, the spread of dangerous infections immune to modern antibiotics. MRSA etc. And Avian Flu, and all the other current threats, like increasing levels of infertility. Factor in a collapse in oil supplies, the resulting social breakdown (first the petrol stations close occasionally, then more often, and then forever), and you have the initial premise of WLtSBS.

Although everything I just wrote could be found in any daily newspaper at the moment, Wilhelm was imagining it all in 1975/6.

A closely knit family/clan decides, early on, to build a private hospital in a remote place, and as society collapses around them, the family repair to their valley to wait out the apocalypse. They blow a damn to flood the valley below and clear it of squatters. They build secret laboratories in caves beneath the hospital and start to clone animals and people.

They discover problems early on. Cloning works for 1,2,3 generations, but then defects begin to appear. But that's compensated by the return of fertility in the 3rd and subsequent generations. So they think they can clone for a few generations, and then get what start being called "breeders" back again.

But the cloned generations have different ideas. They share a connection and togetherness that the "naturals" don't have, and a schism forms in the society. One of the last 40-odd humans tries to destroy their experiments, but is caught and exiled.

And so it goes. It's interesting stuff, and it makes you think. I love her descriptions of forests growing to take over roads, rivers changing course, and nature generally taking over. She's a superb writer, which makes it all the more bewildering that her novels aren't easily found - you'll never find her in Waterstones, believe me. I've been looking for 30 years.

But the internet is a wonderful thing, and as such there's no excuse. WLtSBS should be required reading (especially for scientists and politicians), in the same vein as To Kill a Mockingbird.

Two things

There are a couple of news stories I want to make brief comment on this morning. One is the thing about Doctors urging a tough obesity drive. Callers to 5Live last night kept blaming the government and schools and anyone else for the fatness of the nation. But, just as there can surely be no smokers in this country who don't know it's bad for them, people do know that cream cakes and pies, in excess, cause obesity, which causes all kinds of other things.

We know this, but we still keep eating cream cakes and pies. And chips and pizza and Chinese food. And kebabs and biscuits and curry. We don't need government initiatives to point this out to us, we need a bit of self-discipline.

(Incidentally, I was on holiday recently with my family, and we shared a house near the beach with my wife's brother and his girlfriend and baby. Laurent is French and lives in a part of France where you don't see many Brits abroad - he only knows me, really. And as we'd sit in corner cafes drinking coffee, he'd spot the English, not by means of the socks with the sandals [not an exclusively British habit], but by their body shape, their size, their volume.

To our European neighbours, we are well known to be fat. That, and our shockingly bad clothing [football shirts, football shorts etc.] marks us.)

The second story in today's news is the idea being floated of banning door-to-door salesmen from certain areas.

I'm as against cold calling as anyone. I ignore the doorbell, or I close the door on them, I hang up the phone on them, or walk away from the phone, leaving them talking to themselves for a few minutes. But one of the problems with our society, it seems to me, is that we don't have enough people walking around on the streets going about their business. Hardly anyone has milk delivered any more; there's no such thing as second post; there are fewer households with stay-at-home mums or dads; even newspaper deliveries are on the wane; and dog owners keep anti-social hours so that nobody witnesses them shitting up the pavements.

We need more, not fewer, people on the streets. So what if it's a door-to-door salesman? Just say no and close the door. At least there'll be someone out there, and it'll look like a human society and not a ghost town inhabited by hooded thugs.

June 22, 2005

You've seen his so I'm showing you mine

Anthropomorphic cars and romantic slush aside, I like most of the films on Rob's list. But I can't resist adding my own. They're in no particular order.

1. A Matter of Life and Death
2. It's a Wonderful Life
3. Rushmore
4. Profundo Rosso
5. Dawn of the Dead
6. The Lavender Hill mob
7. Halloween
8. Kill Bill (Japanese print)
9. Pedicab Driver
10. Fahrenheit 451

I look forward to Rob slagging this selection off in detail in his next post. In the meantime I'd like to know your ultimate triple bills - 3 films you could watch back to back and why they sit together so well.

Comprehensive

Here is the complete list of the Official Best Films Ever, in no particular order, off the top of my head. I feel no commentary is required. If your favourite isn't on this list, then I pity you.

  • The Love Bug

  • Lake Placid

  • Deep Rising

  • French Kiss

  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off

  • Love With the Proper Stranger

  • The Sweet Smell of Success

  • Bringing Up Baby

  • Let it Be

  • Sleeper

  • The Last Waltz

Boffins

This is interesting.

I think it's valuable to make a distinction when it comes to this sort of thing between an inventor and a discoverer.

The latter implies a certain passivity whereas the former implies a level of responsibility for whatever they've unleashed on the world.

It comes down to this; that an inventor gives something to the world that it wouldn't otherwise have had, whereas a discoverer just happens to be the first to find something (somebody else would have been the discoverer given enough time and the circumstances).

I know in the modern monkey man's media-muddled mind we all tend to think that all boffins are inventors. But I'm more and more inclined to think that there are probably no inventors; just discoverers.

And while discoverers should not be blamed for their discoveries because they just happened to be in the right time and place when they discovered them, neither should they be credited or praised for their discoveries.

If that fella was the inventor of microchips he's got a lot to answer for though.

BBC NEWS | Technology | Microchip pioneer Jack Kilby dies

BBC NEWS | Technology | Microchip pioneer Jack Kilby dies

Probably won't be as much fuss made when the inventor of the McCain's Micro-chip dies.

Upwards and onwards

Rob's had a couple of posts recently that talk about getting older and how that affects you. Here, and in the last paragraph here.

I pretty much remember when I started to feel old. I've had a couple of fundamental life changes when I've become conscious that I have changed.

I used to be, quote, "scrawny" which means I was tall, thin and gangly. I'd always weighed 10 stone 5 pounds. Then once I got to about thirty five I became aware of the occasional fluctuation in weight and size. But in my mind's eye I was always that scrawny person, but now with occasional swellings.

Then one day, a drunken fella on the train said to me in conversation, "no offence, but you're hardly thin, are you?" And lo! It came to pass. I was a fat bastard. In vino veritas therefore.

And so it was with aging. In my mind's eye I was still the same fella as I was at 18, but with added baggage, sagging eyelids sometimes, a dislike of ringtones, shorter hair, and a shorter fuse. Still wide-eyed and big bottomed though.

The moment of realisation came when my father died. It soured my entire world picture and self-image. Intimations of mortality, as Rob put it.

I wouldn't say I was particularly close to my father - I didn't have much of a knowledge about the person he was; inner self or aspirations. Lots of the things he was passionate about held no interest for me at all; football for example.

But I certainly had enormous respect for him and a great deal of trust in him. He was very down to earth about things; practical. He always seemed to know how to do things, fix things.

He had some funny views. I thought he knew everything until one day when I was six I asked him what caused volcanoes and he told me he didn't know. Quite often, as I later found out, he could be quite prejudicial and even wrong about things. A product of his upbringing.

But I think, as far as any of us can be, that he was a good man.

I often think about our world. My father lived under the impression that just as society and his standard of living had generally improved during his lifetime, so it would continue to do so forever.

It probably started with the industrial revolution and the employment of technology. And I guess it took the Labour movement from the 1920s onwards to bring the fruits of that technology within reach of all of us. My father's generation was born into that world, but my grandparents weren't. My grandparents only had the benefits later in life.

There are many of these fruits of technology and socialism that we enjoy and, I think, we probably even take most of them for granted: owning our own home, running water into our homes, a bathroom, cars and the freedom to travel anywhere we wish, electricity, education (as much as we like and whatever flavour we like), piped entertainment, instant communication, pensions, healthcare, social security, 24 x 7 shops, and reasonably stable employment.

We even assume these are our right, rather than a privilege. I guess this affluence peaked in the explosive selfishness of the Tory 80s which has continued since in various liveries. None of us today can remember a time when we were without these benefits.

But this wealth and liberalism is really like a pyramid selling scheme. The resources to fuel it are not limitless or even replenishable. A South Sea Bubble; Dutch tulips, chain letters, housing and property prices spiraling upwards. All these things result in prosperity for those at the top of the pyramid followed by crippling poverty amongst those at the bottom unlucky enough to get caught when the pyramid collapses, the bubble bursts. Somebody has to pay.

And so it is now. The society we are used to will not and cannot continue to improve. We cannot become ever more rich, and we cannot continue to afford ourselves rights.

I think the bubble may burst in my lifetime, certainly in my children's. It's very difficult to accept that the modern world is novelty rather than the norm. My father's generation experienced a one off blip in culture and society, when everyone has been reasonably well-off and secure.

I don't know what my father would have thought about what's happening in the world now. There are so many signs around us that it's coming to an end and reverting back to the way it was but I'm sure he'd be saying that it is all lefty media bullshit.

It's like Bertrand Russell's chicken, that believes that the corn it gets fed in the morning is causally linked to the sunrise. It can't imagine the sun ceasing to rise, and it can't imagine the sun rising without it being fed its corn. And then one day the sun rises and the farmer wrings its neck.

1968



Film of the year this year, as any fule kno, is going to be Herbie: Fully Loaded, good clean family fun and not at all a desperate attempt by a deliquescent Disney to prove they can live without Pixar.

The original Love Bug was not the first film I saw at the cinema (that was The Magnificent Seven, which I saw at the Odeon in Luton with my mum and dad), but it was the first film I got really really really excited about. I remember queuing outside the cinema in Dunstable, all down the street, with hundreds of other excited kids.

My wife was born in '68, and I couldn't tell you know whether I saw the film in the second half of 1968 or in 1969, when it finally landed in the waste land of Dumpstable. And it may well have been the last film I saw there before it became Bingo (as Don McLean might say, the day the movies died).

My wife's first film was E.T. meaning she was deprived of the pleasure of the pictures till she was the ripe old age of 15. Such is the lot of the French paysan.

The Love Bug started in me a love for the pictures that only began to die when I saw a ridiculous number of films in 3 months after winning a free cinema pass in a Guardian film quiz. Seeing everything that comes out in a 3 month period makes you realise how much dross there really is, and causes you to question the ability of film to match the quality of a single season of NYPD Blue etc.

The Love Bug started in me an emotional attachment to Volkswagen cars, too, which is nothing to be proud of, but goes to show how impressionable a child can be when it comes to cinema.

I know plenty of people for whom the original Star Wars had that effect. Unlike me, they can't go out and buy 11 Volkswagens in 20 years, and have to make do with Lego. I pity them.

What was your first impressionable moment of cinema excitement?

June 21, 2005

Typical

According to this story in the Torygraph:
"Modern-day druids, hippies and revellers who turn up at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice may not be marking an ancient festival as they believe.
The latest archaeological findings add weight to growing evidence that our ancestors visited Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice."

I'm sure Simon will have an opinion on this subject, but it makes sense to me. Why would anybody want to participate in a festival that involved getting up so early in the morning? That's just crazy talk.

Perspiring malice

Ee! 'Ave you 'eard the one about my mother-in-law?

This is another trite old moan. This time about solicitors.

Since Friday I've telephoned several times and had to leave voice messages. I've also emailed with full details, explaining to my solicitor exactly why I urgently need to speak to her to try to prevent the sale of my property from falling through.

Not a sausage.

Russian tumbleweed trundles past.

Still emptiness.

Last night my wife says she now prefers to stay where we are and make some improvements on what we have. We've decided to let it all fall through naturally so that our commitment to paying all the various professionals for their services is minimal.

Fine with me. Good work from all of them. I reckon we'll have ended up paying about £3k out by the time it all falls through. Worth it to save the other £290k I would have had to pay out though. It's reassuring to know that their is still enough incompetance in the world to make a simple process so complicated that you reject it.

Dr Woo - what I can't help thinking


The New Doctor
Originally uploaded by Bernard Roth.

It's a sign of impending old age when you start to think policemen, politicians, school crossing guards and the New Doctor Who all look too young.

Did they not think a grumpy older man, Jeremy Clarkson, say, would have played better? After all, the original Doctor was very old, and he's been varying shades of middle-aged.

Since much of the audience was nostalgia-motivated, it wouldn't have hurt. But you get the impression that Tenant got the role because there was a bit of a buzz about him that week, so they looked no further. (I know it was all mateys together, what with the Casanova connection, but c'mon.)

I'm still holding out for Anthony Stewart Head or Sean Pertwee.

As for the series, it was "good in parts". The WWII episodes were good, but the final two were not. The whole Dalek thing was overhyped and did not live up to the hype. Daleks should be a creeping menace that will not go away. They've completely and bombastically destroyed them in the past, and they they've done it again, with a bit of a cop-out ending. Rose saved the Doctor a job, but the Daleks had already bombed the Earth to smithereens, no?

Or are we supposed to have forgotten that?

The Bad Wolf thing was potentially creepy and interesting, but turned out not to be so, which was a real let-down. And though I initially warmed to him, I found the perpetual mugging of Eccleston irritating after a while.

As for the full-on lip kiss between Captain Jack and the Doctor, words fail me.

June 20, 2005

Collections

It is common practise in the offices of the UK to do collections.

A collection is when everyone within the office is invited to contribute a sum of money to be given to another employee in the event of some special occasion, such as a birthday, wedding, termination of employment, and so on.

Sharp witted readers will appreciate how quickly this can get out of hand. In a small business like the one Rob and I work for there may only be 80 members of staff, but even that on average means more than one collection a week for birthdays. Add to that weddings, sackings, barmitzphahs, and partner-suicides and you're quickly up to 2 collections a week.

Interestingly collections, like proverbial London buses, tend to come along all at once, especially in the four or so days running up to the day when your salary gets paid into the bank. That week in the pay cycle when you can't even afford your kids' dinner money.

At the moment there are three collections doing the rounds simultaneously in our office.

I could understand collections in an age when there was no social security, and you'd get sacked just because your haircut made the boss think you were gay or something. But it's not like that now in the UK. Dole money is higher than some wages of the lower paid workforce.

I'd prefer it if they deducted at source. Say £50 a month to go into collections for other people. That would remove the peer pressure, and the gaining of a reputation for being a miserable stingey bastard who nobody likes.

Or then again, it ought all to cancel out when you think about it. In fact, if they didn't do any collections we'd probably all actually be richer.

Jobs on Jobs

Thanks to Macworld UK for this link, which is a transcript of Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford University:
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

It is quite an inspiring speech, though to imagine the young Jobs sleeping on people's floors and eating at the Hare Krishna temple once a week is quite mind boggling.

Shoe box in the middle of the road and all that.

But his speech reminded me that the favourite song of my daughters at the moment is "Live Like You Were Dying," by Tim McGraw, which they call the "Skydiving Song."

It really is the intimations of mortality that you begin to feel that mean you lose your tolerance for the bullshit in life, the shitty treatment at gigs, in the cinema, etc., as previously discussed.

Little boxes made of ticky tacky

One of the many, many things that annoy me, is that new housing estates are appearing everywhere: in large gardens, paddocks, refuse tips, derelict victorian factories, railway embankments, old shopping centres. Everywhere.

And I'm thinking "hmmm! If the population is getting smaller like we've been told, where's the need for all this new housing coming from?" Because it is a big thing going down. And the government love it too. They are setting quotas on property building for local government. I've seen the figures for South Nottinghamshire: 8000+ new homes.

I know that there is a trend, as Bob has pointed out previously, for youngsters to buy property when they leave school and get their feet on the Get Rich Quick Escalator of Fortune. I've also noted a trend amongst people I know for both partners in a couple to retain their pre-marriage properties as a nest egg.

Even so, the supply must be outstripping demand.

Across the road from where we live they knocked the school down and built a housing estate on it. You can imagine my almost orgasmic pleasure when I received a notice from the council stating that the builders had lodged a planning application to reduce the number of properties they are building on the site.

So what's it all for, this headlong multiplication of properties everywhere you look? Conspiracy theory, here we go...

I was talking to somebody the other day. They said they'd seen an advert for a Nottingham housing development saying that people should buy one of these properties to be nearer work during the week rather than having to commute from outlying areas such as Mansfield.

And then the penny dropped. We're just down the road from a society where work will have to be local. We know that the collapse of the oil economy will be the end of commuting as we know it. And what will all those ant-like workers do then?

They'll have to work from home or live next to their offices. As you know, most employees can't be trusted to work under their own steam though. So they'll have to live near to their place of employment. Just like all those rows of victorian terraces alongside the dark satanic mills. We'll have the updated, improved, modernised equivalent: rows of pokey apartments next to our office blocks.

Eutopia for the post sleb-lifestyle masses.

Never had it so good

On Saturday it was quite warm here in the UK. Foolishly I'd agreed to help my friend Iain in his glass-making studio (2 kilns and a flaming glory hole belting away). At Lunchtime we visited the Playhouse bar to replenish our fluids and salt levels.

Unfortunately it has been modernised and upgraded since last time I went there. Staffed by local students with attitude problems and foreign students without attitude problems, we were told that if we wanted crisps we'd have to go to the seperate deli counter.

80p for a packet of sea-salt-and-somerset-cider-vinegar flavour crisps.

"Do you take visa?" (student joke)

Sure enough, outside we were surrounded by the Common People in their mock-sleb peacock finery, all using their credit cards to make themselves look and smell like a posh television presenter or nouveau toff. I didn't like it. I hate it when people publicly pretend to be something they're not.

Funny how the world changes. When I was a kid you only saw cormorants on rocky coasts like Western Scotland, Cornwall, parts of Wales and North Yorkshire. And then, in the 80s you would occasionally see one inland along a river. And then suddenly Cormorants were everywhere. Attracted by a hosepipe left running for example, and now if your kitchen sink is blocked it's probably a cormorant nesting in your plumbing.

And so it was with mobile phones. I had one fairly early. After they had ceased to be the size of a car battery but while they were still the size of a shoe. It was cool. But then one day I travelled on a bus in an emergency and noticed that two other people had mobiles. The world was changing. And now, as you know, everyone including all the poor of the world, has a mobile for their vital texting and gang-rape recording needs.

Outside the Playhouse on Saturday I detected a new trend. There were three Porsche cars parked up. Likewise I noticed that over the last month two people on our road (there are only sixteen houses) have got a Porsche. I have to say too, I've noticed that, at least in Nottingham, Porsches have become as common as dog-eggs on the roads. They're the new cormorants. Why is that?

Anyway. I see there have been flash floods again. Sign Of The Times (ecological rather than biblical, mind). Proof be if proof be need be.

The Numbers Game

It occasionally exercises my mind that the media are both obsessed with numbers (how many dead, how much money etc) and yet so absolutely cavalier about the accuracy of said numbers.
It was apparent last week when various figures for the cost of recording Michael Jackson's Invincible were bandied about. Today's trivial example concerns the Indianapolis Grand Prix:

NY Times:
Michael Schumacher won the United States Grand Prix yesterday, but he and the estimated 100,00 fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway knew it had not been much of a race at all.
The Guardian:
A crowd of more than 200,000 fans watched in anger as all 14 cars running on Michelin tyres pulled into the pits at the end of the opening lap on safety grounds
The Independent:
It needed no genius to figure out what 130,000 spectators, paying an average $100 (£55) per ticket, made of that.
BBC Sport:
Seven teams pulled out of the US GP to boos from 100,000 Indianapolis fans as a row over tyres destroyed the race.

There's a huge difference in the maximum and minimum figures being bandied about here. I think 100,000 is what would be in your mind if you saw the crowd on the TV, and the huge stands of empty seats. 200,000 if you'd just looked up the capacity of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and not bothered to watch the actual race. Not even close, so no cigarette.

Bernie, the Bolt

So, to summarise. In Montreal, we learned that Formula 1 cars aren't really designed to follow each other closely enough to be able to overtake.

This week we learn that they can't really drive very fast or their tyres will blow out.

Hilarious.

I've been saying for 6 years that the Indianapolis circuit wasn't suitable for Formula 1, that the races had been boring, and that the infield Mickey Mouse bit was rubbish. In those 6 years, Americans have seen a series of processions, and the disgraceful Ferrari attempt to engineer a dead heat. Now they see Ferrari involved in a farrago a go go.

Most enjoyable race of the year.

June 19, 2005

magic numbers

did anyone else see the jools holland show on friday night? it's the first programme of this series i've seen. i believe it was the last one. they'll repeat it, anyway.

i really enjoyed the sound made by the magic numbers. really simple yet well-executed guitar playing by the fat beardy singer. wish i had the practice-instinct in me but i do not. it just doesn't exist in me.

i've ordered the magic numbers cd and i'll let you know what it's like.

June 17, 2005

Yeyas. Thaaaans for tryin'

After 4 months of sitting and waiting, we have yet more problems with the sale of our house and purchase of a replacement.

First of all we had a phone call from our estate agents asking if we would consider renting one floor of the property we want to purchase for a while. The reason being the guy at the bottom of The Chain is threatening to pull out. They figure of we break the chain by selling without buying yet it should make everyone happy (except us).

By now you'll be pissing yourself at the fact that we volunteered to drop our price substantially for a quick sale. Now it looks as though we're expected to cough up several more thousands of pounds in rent in the blood bath of professional profiteering that is moving home.

I also had a letter requesting further information about our property. See if you can make any sense of it... (there is no additional information enclosed)
1) If the seller was an applicant for registration of the property, what disclosable overriding interest under the Land Registration Rules 2003 must be disclosed to the registrar?
2) Have your clients observed and performed the covenants referred to in the 3rd schedule of the conveyance dated 21st December 2000?
3) Have your clients made or been asked to make any financial contribution under the terms of clauses 1 and 13 of the 3rd schedule?

You what? Is there something missing?

Finally we've had something else saying that the property we wanted to buy has failed some sort of environmental certification because it is not known whether the ground underneath is contaminated with chemicals.

You know, I'm already thinking there is too much baggage involved with this, and that it would be worth whistling goodbye to the £3k we've already spent just to see the look of pissed-off-ness on everyone else's faces from our pulling out.

Crap Actors

Having run through 3rd Rock From the Sun in double-quick time, ITV2 have started to show Spin City (7 pm nightly, watch out for weekend showings), which seems as fresh and funny now as it did in 1996. In a sitcom world dominated by sofas and coffee bars, Spin City was set in a workplace, and featured characters who unwound in an actual bar, drinking actual alcohol.

Michael J. Fox is superb in it, demonstrating a real gift for both physical comedy and comedy timing, signs of his veteran status as a TV sitcom star. And the excellent supporting cast make it a superb show, with moment after moment to treasure. In the Valentines episode shown a couple of nights ago, the press officer Paul (played by Richard Kind) issued one of the all-time-great lines. Attempting to create a romantic evening for his date, he first almost knocks her out with a too-vigorous dance move, then punctures her mouth with the thorns from a rose he puts in her mouth, then poisons her with strawberries, to which she's allergic. After a night spent in the hospital, he encourages her to have a sip of his drink. "I know that taste..." she says. Paul turns from the bar and says,

"It's a daiquiri... I'll call an ambulance."

Which is somehow a funnier line with The Fast Show's "I'll get my coat," in mind.

Some lines do date it. In the mayor's 50th Birthday episode, Stuart (Alan Ruck) shares the news that he's been playing "phone tag" with (i.e.stalking) Michelle Pfeiffer.

And I thought... mmmm. You don't hear about her much these days. I think the last thing I saw her in was What Lies Beneath and I've been out of touch since then, which is not her fault. What Lies Beneath also starred that awful actor Harrison Ford, who didn't listen to his mother who told him his face would get stuck like that if the wind changed.

Who else is bad? Jude Law, he's awful (and overexposed). Clive Bloody Owen. Marlon Brando, Basil Brush, Keanu Reeves, River Phoenix... I'd name others but I don't know their names. They all look the same to me these days.

I forgot to add that quite the best thing about Spin City is the fabulous Connie Britton, who is my secret girlfriend.

June 16, 2005

On the deadness of cinema

A discussion on the question of whether the cinema is dead is going on over at the new Guardian culture blog. By which they mean the bricks and mortar rather than the actual films.

I posted my own worthless opinion, highlighting my particular disdain for so-called arthouse cinemas in particular (and multiplexes). This was characterised as "narrow-minded" by Don, who claims to work in one, "for nothing, purely for the love of cinema."

Which, I'm afraid, is exactly what I was talking about. I didn't want to get into one of those silly internet slanging matches, but it's precisely this impression that you are interrupting people who are having a good time with their little clique of arthouse cinema buddies that makes arthouses uncomfortable. Or is it just me?

I freely admit that I'm a grumpy old git, but I just don't want to go to a place staffed by volunteers who are there "for the love of cinema." Please don't do me any favours. It's just a horrible experience to pay to enter a place staffed by people who treat punters as inconveniences, getting in the way of their passion.

If the staff are there for the love of cinema (which is to say, to get in for free), why are the customers there? Because they enjoy being ignored by fluffy-jumpered yeah-nos who obviously think their "love of the cinema" outscores "paying to get in" in the Top Trumps game of culture and consumption?

The whole concept of "art house" itself is part of the same Top Trumps game, an artificial marketing construct designed to allow one group of people to set themselves apart from another. The art house film is as subject to crapness and knee-jerk convention as any other form of film, coded to flatter the delusional punter's intelligence. Take a film like Closer, for example, which is being advertised on TV at the moment (on DVD) as if it's some extraordinary, intense, life-changing film. In fact, it's a very very dull filmed play, unsuccessfully transferred to the cinematic medium, and featuring just 4 characters, who blather on for scene after scene in the portentous way of sixth form drama club productions.

But put it on in an art house cinema and people will troop along to see it, as if it mattered, and they'll put up with the boredom, because "art house" films are supposed to be boring, that's how you can tell how intelligent you are.

I call it War and Peace syndrome, named after the kind of people who try to prove how intelligent they are by reading the biggest book they can think of. And the biggest book they can think of is War and Peace.

If you're really intelligent, you can see the art in anything, if it's there to find. In Toy Story, for example, or in The Terminator, Deep Rising, Aliens, Roman Holiday, and all kinds of blockbusters, whether you like them or not. I've seen decent films in art cinemas. Hal Hartley's Trust was one I enjoyed, though I'm not sure I'd enjoy it today. On the other hand, My Own Private Idaho made me want to kill myself. But the implication of the art-house volunteers is that their cause is a worthy one, worth working for for nothing, that everything shown is by definition of a higher quality - a view I simply don't share.

June 15, 2005

it was forty years' ago today (and tomorrow)

when you think of all the amazing things that have happened in world history, it's probably pretty sad that if i had a time machine i would choose, out of all those amazing things, to go to the recording of like a rolling stone. well i can't, i don't have a time machine, so i just want to find out as much as i can about it with as little mediation as possible.

i've just finished reading like a rolling stone: bob dylan at the crossroads by that annoying cunt greil marcus. at the crossroads of what, i don't know. i'm sure gm writes with his trousers around his ankles. it's so tiresome having to wade through all his shit when i just want to know what went on there. there's a bit of a half-arsed transcription of the session towards the end of the book.

i can't remember why gm mentioned it, but i was intrigued by the fact that the singer david thomas out of pere ubu had always misheard tammy wynette's stand by your man as stand by, earthman. for this piece of information alone, i am glad i read the book.

Way on Down

One of many stories doing the rounds about Michael Jackson's debts in the The Guardian today.

The geezer is 270 million dorrar in debt. What were they thinking? As usual, the banks have only themselves to blame. And, as usual, they'll offload the penalty onto their customers to recoup any losses.

But how reminiscent is this of the Elvis story? Surrounded by bloodsucking hangers-on, spending money he didn't actually have, badly managed, Elvis had to keep playing Vegas to pay his debts. Between Vegas residencies, depressed and out of touch, he bloated up and then crash dieted for the next set of shows. Finally, he couldn't be arsed to go on a diet, and went on stage fat, as seen in the video for his last single proper (i.e. released when he was still alive), "Way Down."

Way down like a tidal wave. What does that mean?

Jacko will have to do Vegas. Elton is getting 60 million dorrar for a year's residency. Jacko will have to do that, and sell his house, and sell his stake in the Sony/ABC songbook.

Come on down!

June 14, 2005

A trade for life

So true.

I make no secret of the fact that I believe in 20 years' time the highest paid non-criminal profession will be in slaughtering cows and pigs.

As a vegetarian, that's a somewhat unpleasant truth. But it stands to reason, while everyone will still have the voracious appetite for fleshmeat, precious few will have the stomach to wield the knife. And every village will need its own butcher.

Mark my words. Learn now, and, come the day oil runs out, you'll make, quite literally, a killing.

I thought the name for those sort of fellows would be a shambler, but it turns out that word is reserved for someone who moves awkwardly (like an animal on its way to the shambles?).

Here's a useful fact that may just get you out of a scrape one day. If you need to disembowell a pig you have to cut a ring around its anus. Then you make an incision the length of its belly and remove its intestines through that. Once evacuated you can cut the gut free at the top. Job done.

After the intestines are removed you can always squeeze the feces out of them and reuse them as sausage skins, or love balloons inside the lady or man-lady of your choice.

An interesting party game might be to cut lengths of intestine, knot one end, and fill the inner length with blood and loose offal. Upon closing the other end you could engage in a game of vigorous catch, the loser being he upon whom the pudding bursts.

160 quid an hour, guv

I was talking to Neil about this earlier. I heard on the radio this morning about the ever-increasing prices for car servicing - up to £160 per hour in some garages - and can attest from my own all-too-recent experience that 'tis true. The parts costeth almost nothing because they're made in China (for example), but the labour costeth over 400 quid for a few hours' work.

We live in an unequal society. One of the worst ways in which it is unequal is in the area of knowledge and technical competency. There are some sectors who have cottoned on to this and charge whatever they feel like charging for their services. Plumbers and car mechanics, for example.

Meanwhile, in spite of the rhetoric, we still push our kids towards a "career in IT" or a "qualification to do with computers." We're told endlessly about the importance of IT in the classroom, computers in schools, bringing IT into all subjects, from music and history to science and languages.

Forsooth why? It takes hardly any time at all to learn to use a computer - and yet who among us can change a cam belt and tensioner?

The predominantly IT-based blogging and news community often reports on the levels of ignorance among ordinary punters about 'puters, and how they lack ways to protect themselves from spam, pop-ups, more spam, porn, spyware etc etc. Meanwhile, IT Serfs, over-supplied to the market, are paid a pittance to do a thankless job supporting and repairing all the shitty £300 computers these hapless punters buy.

Ironic that nobody would in their right mind consider paying £300 for a £300 computer to be repaired by a £12k per annum IT engineer. In other words, it's cheaper and easier to "upgrade" and buy new than it is to try to keep a 12-month old computer on the road.

If ordinary punters are suffering the nightmare of existence on the "hinternet" (as Ben Hammersley puts it), well, tough shit, I say. Because these same ordinary non-IT-savvy punters are the same bastards who will charge you a £100 callout fee to fix a tap or £100 per hour to change a part on your car.

(I say "change a part," because nobody fixes anything in this world. No attempt is ever made to mend something, it just gets chucked in the landfill and replaced - because the new part from China is so very cheap.)

So, next time you're ass-raped by your local franchised dealer for a simple service, take comfort in the knowledge that their experience with computers is almost certainly awful, and a great source of pain and frustration. And next time your friendly plumber moans about his computer, say, "Having trouble with spyware your PC? Good."

L'etranger

We're usually out on a Monday night, but last night we stayed in and watched a television program called something like The World's Nuttiest Police Videos.

You'll perhaps know from the RoadRage blog that I secretly fantasize about being a traffic policeman and righteously busting everyone who performs even a trivial road traffic offense.

At first the program made me feel good. The policeman was driving an unmarked car, and as a result he was on the receiving end of all the selfish behaviour in other road users that we, as ordinary powerless road users, see on every journey by car. And then he was busting those angry and selfish road users. Pop pop pop.

It was a thing of beauty to see a snarling red-faced testosterone-boiling idiot transformed into a wimpering coward when faced with the driver-documentation producer and the realisation that they had been made to look stupid on national television.

But then I started to see that most reactions to the police were, to my mind, outrageous: children arguing with the policeman (a nine-year-old said, "I'm not going to tell you my name because I don't like talking to policemen").

And when the policeman spoke to her parents they were equally arsey; "so what? What are you saying?"

There was even a businessman who was caught speeding, tailgating, etc etc - you know the type - and he had the audacity to argue with the policeman that he had the right to drive faster than the speed limit. I needn't go on.

You might think this post belongs on the Roadrage Blog. I decided otherwise, because this isn't just about cars, and motorists' selfishness and hormones. It's about attitudes in general.

The way people argue about everything and snatch anything they want is indicative of a total lack of respect, not just for authority, but for other people in general.

If I'd been caught speeding and then "lipped" the policeman I would expect points on my license, a fine, and a day down the nick. And that's how it should be.

Why? I think that it comes down to there being no empathy anymore. Nobody puts themselves in the other man's shoes. Individuals behave as though they are the only human being and treat everyone else as mere objects, hollow automatons, to be used or ignored depending on their utility.

How like a God? Maybe. But this is existential solipsism. And that is precisely what is wrong with selfishness. It denies humanity.

Sometimes I feel so angry about it that I think most members of our society need to be taught empathy: they need the shit booting out of their selfish arses until they understand pain and acknowledge the pain in others: do unto others is the maxim: they need to think about their actions instead of letting their animal hypothalamus dictate their behaviour.

Until then I don't want to be a member of that sort of monkey society. Call me a filthy lesbian hippy, but I don't want to be that ugly, selfish, contemptible, or that lonely. Access denied.

Noodle Poodle Puddle Battle

Well, it wasn't the thriller they thought it would be; it looked like it was going to be bad for him, but now it really looks as if he's invincible. It was hotter than July outside the courtroom when... etc. etc.

In other news, seeing Roy the other day and noting how good he was looking, having lost weight, I've started a half-assed fad diet. I'm going to try to avoid chocolate and biscuits at work today and eat nowt but fruit (like Steve Jobs, fnar). And a summer of enforced moderate exercise has started, with the office car park closed, so I'm walking to and from the tram stop in the morning.

I'm in a moderate amount of pain right now.

June 13, 2005

How to avoid death by nefarious means

I believe I have found an almost sure-fire way of avoiding a tragic death. If you observe the news in printed, televisual or internetual formats you will note that nearly every single person who leaves this earth due to the foul actions of another has a frankly piss poor picture of themselves displayed for all and sundry.

So when you get home tonight have a good long look in the photo albums. If the only picture you can find of yourself is you in 1987 at your Auntie's 60th birthday party where you have a spiky haircut and a bad jumper and you are looking away from the camera with one eye shut then I'm afraid you'll probably die within a matter of months and that picture will be the world's lasting memory of you. A squint, a shit jumper and a can of Watneys pale ale in your grubby mit and a fag in the corner of your mouth.

The Uncanny Jessi Alexander

jessi_matraca Older readers may remember that I am very fond indeed of the songwriter Matraca Berg, writer of countless hit songs for a multitude of country artists, from Randy Travis to Faith, Martina, and Trisha.

Her own recording career has been chequered, with a couple of early pop/rock releases that did nothing and went nowhere, followed by a long record-company-enforced hiatus that ended in 1997 with the best album of that year: Sunday Morning to Saturday Night, packed full of brilliant songs, from the wit of "Back in the Saddle" to the poignancy of "The Resurrection."

The difficulty with an artist like Berg concerns her willingness to tour and/or suck up to the morons who run Country radio. She does neither, very much, and you can't blame her when you consider the toll taken by the kind of itinerary organised by the morons who run record companies, and the casualties that litter the road.

When you've been making a good living writing songs and staying put, the idea of 200 nights on the road and 200 identical interviews on 200 identical radio franchises must make you think twice.

Add to this a record label (Rising Tide) that sinks without trace, and - unbelievably - 1997 was the last time Ms Berg troubled the shops.

If you ever go to Nashville, you might be lucky enough to see her at the famous Bluebird cafe and other venues. Her Web site after years of not doing much, seems much more active right now.

It's ironic that one of the news items on the web site mentions that one Jessi Alexander appeared at the Bluebird with Matraca. Ironic, because I've played Ms Alexander's record Honeysuckle Sweet several times now, and every single time it strikes me how uncannily like Matraca she sounds. Not just her voice - the whole production sounds like Berg's last album.

I've checked the production credits, and, no, even though one or two of the usual suspects appear on both records, they aren't from the same production team.

I mentioned to my wife how much like Matraca Jessi sounded and she just said, "You mean it isn't?"

So if you're Jonesing for Matraca, you could do worse than get some Jessi Alexander. It's a fine record, and close enough to the real thing to alleviate symptoms, like methadone to a heroin addict.

What's wrong with Formula 1?

Formula 1. Always loved it, grew up with it, and like a lorra people became disenchanted with it in recent years, as it became a procession of advertising hoardings, a corporate money trough, and an excuse for vain celebrities to get on ITV.

I haven't watched any of the races this year, which ironically is being touted as one of the best seasons for a while, but I haven't missed it. Yesterday I caught the start and then went to do something else. Had the radio on though, so I heard the instruction given out to Nick Heidfeld: a couple of laps, and you'll have to pull out of his slipstream and cool the engine.

The commentator/pundit said, yes, that's because the cars aren't designed to follow other cars so closely, so he's not getting enough clean air into the cooling ducts.

What?

A couple of laps later, Heidfeld blew up and that was that for him. They were saying this morning it had been a cracking race, but the bits I saw (apart from the first corner), I didn't see any actual overtaking, just a series of mistakes and breakdowns.

Well, I can see that on the M1 any day of the week thanks. With more overtaking.

"The cars aren't designed to follow other cars."

Is that right? What the fuck do you think they're going to be doing then, you morons?

June 10, 2005

All the girls around her say she's got it coming / But she gets it while she can



Since we briefly discussed the lovely Ms Shelley Wordsworth from Story Makers on CBeebies, and the rest of the slightly cool Wordswoth family on this blog, it is one of the many quirky items that lead people to find this site. As the Story Makers title sequence may be too swift for your tired grown up eyes, I can inform you (due to my photographic memory implant and other skills) that the actress who plays her is called Lauretta Nkwocha and that she appears to be among the cast of 125th Street at the UK's England's London's West End's Apollo Theatre.

Having seen her perform nursery songs with some style on Story Makers, I'm sure she's very good in it. If you like that kind of thing.

This has been a public service announcement.

Blackjack

I thought it was worth mentioning Blackjack, an Australian cop show the BBC have started airing in a late night Monday summer slot. It's often in the summer you'll find some hidden gems in the schedule and I think this is one of them.

With a grainy, filmic look, and feature-length Inspector Morse type storytelling, it's about a blackballed cop (Colin Friels) who finds himself working with a bunch of rookies in the basement archives after ratting a colleague, and starts investigating cold cases.

Nothing new in cold cases, but I've always disappointed in the BBC's own treatment of such things (Weirdy Beardy Trevor Eve, James Bolam and the like). The first episode, he investigated a kidnapping from 1973, and it was a terrific story, well done. My one criticism would be that I didn't know who the hell they were talking about when they mentioned people's names, but it didn't really matter, because you sort of knew what was going on.

There was a nice moment with a scanned photo and a bit of Photoshoppery, that was more believable and realistic than CSI-style discovery of miraculous details ("Zoom in on the reflection in the teaspoon on the table... Enhance... Distort... Rotate... It's... Doctor Evil!!"). She basically got a partial number plate and went off and did a trawl.

Reminded me in a lot of ways of Hack, which is working its way through its second and (sadly) final season on ITV3. Revamped for season 2, it's actually much better: the domestic wife/son stuff has gone (for Mike), and it's darker and meaner, with a sexy new neighbour played by Jacqueline Torres.

Anyway, certainly worth watching the next Blackjack, Monday night on BBC1. I don't think there are many of them, so it's not a long-term commitment.

Thanks

Thanks Adobe
Thanks Adobe,
originally uploaded by swerve.
Quality screenshot captured by James. The Catch 22 updater, or "In order to save the village, we had to destroy it." How many chucks can a woodchuck chuck?

Captain Chaos Theory and the World of Tomorrow

"I'm not a dentist," but over at the Roadrage Blog (which I sometimes think is a much better blog than this one and deserves more readers), we've been talking about the government's plans for road pricing, and a number of things strike me about it which sort of relate to wider issues, if you have a disordered brain.

Now, I am not a scientist, which of course makes me uniquely qualified to comment on scientific theories of complexity, chaos, and systems. I have read the James Gleick book (and, behold, internetters, note how I have correctly spelled his name), so I'm confident I know all you really need to know. Everything else is just grant applications and me-too academics trying to justify their existence.

One of the most interesting things about the figures being bandied about by the government on road congestion is that a 4 (four) percent reduction in traffic would lead to a 46 (forty-six) percent reduction in congestion.

I'll leave that hanging for a moment.

It's ironic how people often describe traffic jams, hold-ups, gridlock etc., as "traffic chaos", when actually the opposite is true. The traffic is chaotic when it is freely moving, but organised when it is standing still. An extra grain of sugar in a super-saturated sugar solution will suddenly generate crystallisation. A few extra cars/trucks/vans on a city streets and the traffic will spontaneously self-organise and we have gridlock.

This is how chaos theory works. Long-range weather forecasting is notoriously difficult simply because of what they call "sensitive dependence on initial conditions," (aka the mythical Butterfly Effect). Your one-day forecast stands a fairly good chance of being right. Two days is iffy, unless there's a major weather system sitting right on top of us. Three days is entering the realm of the impossible: and five days, as we know, is a total joke. Or ask the Williams Formula 1 team: even forecasting a few hours ahead is fraught with difficulty at the local level.

Like the weather, the roads and the economy are systems, and are as difficult to predict. For example, yesterday morning I drove my wife to the airport early and so left for work 40 minutes later than usual. Now, in normal circumstances, I've realised that 4 minutes at the beginning of my commute can make a difference of 20-30 minutes at the other end. In other words, if I take the scenic route to start with, I'll end up sitting in a half-mile queue at Junction 26 of the M1. If I go the 4-minutes-quicker way, I'll be (at worst) halfway down the slip road before I hit the queue.

And yet, yesterday morning, arriving at J26 40 minutes later than usual: no queue. On any other day, any other Thursday, I'd have been queuing from beyond the half-mile sign. On any given day, for whatever reason, conditions will be totally different. Mondays, I've found, being the nation's favourite Sick Day, are an easy drive. Tuesday, being the new Monday, is a bastard. Thursday, as the new Friday, is also a bastard.

What's interesting there is that, most Thursdays and Fridays*, there seems to be substantially less traffic on the road. Looking at the government figures quoted above, I realise that it's probably only as little as four percent less traffic - but it makes a huge difference.

It seems obvious to me, in fact, that instead of expensive satellite systems and black boxes, that between us we could come up with some way of reducing traffic levels by 4%. How about, for example, office workers starting to work from home, by agreement, one day a week? On any given day, there could be anything up to 10 or 15% fewer cars on the road. Why not experiment with that - lost productivity caused by the inevitable goofing off would surely be compensated by the improved productivity of reduced congestion.

Do that, change school hours, adjust school holidays, encourage supermarkets to start closing at a reasonable time instead of staying open 24-hours. Loads of things we can do, not requiring satellites of love. Unless... they want the satellites for another reason they're not telling us about. To monitor your speed, for example.

Finally, and this is what I wanted to say to begin with, have you noticed how all governments and pundits always talk as if things will go on being the way they are now? Arsenal won the league last year, so they were talked up as the inevitable champions this year. Traffic is like this now, so in ten years time, if we reduce it by 4%, it will be better by 46%.

But there is no evidence, and no reason, to ever think that things-as-they-are-now will continue to be. Things change. Wars happen, oil companies announce that, er, their reserves aren't what they said they were, companies go bust, towns are inundated by floods, people come to their senses, Apple switches to Intel. Whatever: nobody knows. Which is not to say you shouldn't make plans; you just shouldn't make plans as if things will go on being as they are now. Pack the kagoul and the bucket and spade.


===
*Friday night traffic is notorious, but my monitoring indicates that this is caused, not by additional traffic, but by people driving drunk after Friday lunch in the pub.

June 09, 2005

Wacko

I can understand why you might want to be in the courtroom for a trial. That makes all kinds of obvious common sense. What I don't understand is why you hang around outside the courtroom waiting for the verdict. What's that about?

You get an hour's notice, anyway, so why not just go and sit in a cafe and read a book?

June 08, 2005

Bicycle Repair Man

I'm not really a gadget-aspiring sort of fellow: however, I've just treated myself to a splendid JoeBlow Sport Pump.

Great for bikes, but also it has a meter on it so it's a nice easy way to check my car tyres (and give them an extra pump if necessary) without having to go to the trouble and confusion of using the expensive air pump at a garage.

Interestingly I checked my wife's car tyres on Sunday using one of these belonging to my brother. The front driver's side was at half pressure. That's low enough to constitute a driving offence. The other three weren't good either.

I suspect that my tyres are also as flat as Johnnie Vegas's arse cheeks when he's sitting down.

And my son's bike has a tyre with a dodgy valve so you have to pump like the devil. It's painful work with a standard bike pump but this should work a treat.

Hopefully it'll also earn its keep when it comes to inflating small mammals.

The image above is not rendered "actual size". It shows the device scaled down to one twentieth of its actual size.

Come on, Tim

Great article by Tim Pears on Bjorn Borg over at The Observer - long one, though.

On a related note, I have to say it's good to realise that people have started to use "Come on, Tim" in an ironic way - and to wind Henman up. Yesterday afternoon, reported 5Live, punters at Queens were getting lashed on Stella at lunchtime and then sitting on court heckling Henman for the afternoon. From the first game, calling out, "Come on, Tim!" Brilliant.

Reminds me of Dennis Skinner calling out, "Resign!" at Mrs Thatcher, soon after one of her triumphant re-elections. I think it's a sign of a nation at ease with itself when we relentlessly pisstake our sporting heroes. Few other nations are capable of this level of sophisticated irony.

I for one am really looking forward to the look on Sebastian "Tory Toff Bastard" Coe's face when Paris win the 2012 Coca Cola Olympics bid.

Trying to find a friend in Oxford Street, or What the Internet is Not For

In spite of their efforts in that direction, I think Supermarkets are on the wrong track when they try to encourage us to buy groceries on-line. Asda and Tesco have woken up to the "non-food" items they can sell, but Saino's, like an old lady who thinks EastEnders is a documentary, are mostly about food.

I may be an old cynic, but if I was a supermarket manager I'd tell all the virtual shoppers to choose the mankiest fruit and veg, the stringiest cuts of meat, and the about-to-expire milk and bread for internet shoppers. After all, what do they care? They can't even be bothered to turn up.

Apart from groceries, another thing you should never, ever buy on the internet is shoes.

Children, don't do what I have done. I tried to run and I couldn't walk.

I bought some Clarks thingies on-line just before my holiday because I couldn't be airsed to go into town to try them on personally. They're a kind of mule thing, but with a low back on rather than no back. Which was dumb because one of my feet is a completely different shape to the other and wouldn't fit in the shoe properly, meaning I kept treading down the back and they're completely shagged, inside a week.

I also bought some Doc Martens online a couple of years ago, thinking that I'd be okay with a pair of Docs, any pair of Docs. But they were RUBBISH, and hurt my feet for SIX MONTHS before I could wear them without agony.

I've always loved Desert Boots, but always forget how bad they can be for your feet when new, when used to walk around too much. Five years ago I wore a new pair on a day trip to Strasbourg and gave myself agonising blisters on both my ankles. This year, I took two new pairs of shoes on holiday: the crappy mules and a new pair of DBs - which I wore on the first day to do a 10 kilometre walk with no socks.

How fucking stupid am I?

This stupid. I've still got the blister remnants, the sore bits where the blisters burst. I've even purchyased some padded plaster thingies to wear. But this morning, knowing I was going to be dropping my car off for a service and walking up the hill to work, I still wore, you guessed it, desert boots (albeit with socks) - with no padded plasters. And my fucking feet are fucking killing me.

June 07, 2005

Apple loves Intel

It isn't that often that you'll hear me talk about computers or any of the other forms of advertising that we have surrounding us today.

I've seen Bob's posts about Apple using Intel processors recently. This alliance was confirmed as fact today.

This is something of a bombshell to many, I'm sure. A bit like the church signing up Satan as a bouncer.

It just occurred to me that this will be a godsend for copy protection. At last there will be the opportunity to apply some sort of foolproof universal copy protection in hardware, right there in the processor.

There has also been some talk about potential upgrade paths and the impact it will have on sales of Apple workstations, but I don't think anyone upgrades hardware anymore. It's just cheaper and less problematic to buy new kit. And it sweeps out all those bugs.

I suppose that they will have to supply some sort of emulation for apps compiled to run on the old G5s: a sort of OS X unClassic mode. But Apple aren't always that kind, are they? They like their customers to move with the times, even if it means employing an electric cattle prod up the jacksy.

I think that we're probably still a long way from Dell PCs running OS X. On the other hand, the Intel logo might help them get kit through the door in all those corporate server rooms.

Hmmm. It doesn't feel that long since Apple's marketing used the alleged superiority of the PowerPC chip over Intel chips as a significant selling point.

Interesting times. This is almost like 9/11 for some geeks.

I'm Too Old For This Shit #1

Thanks to The Register for this link, which goes to an item about some research into exercise. They summarise it thus:
Just six minutes of intense exercise a week could be as effective as an hour of daily moderate activity.

I feel like I've been waiting all my life for a statement like that.

Moderate activity, hmm? I was a fairly active kid, in my youth. I played cricket all summer long, I ran everywhere, and cycled several miles every day from the age of about 14 till I was 27. I lived next to the Dumpstable Downs, too, so a lot of my running around was up and down hills. When I'm out with the family now and we have a hill to climb, I still find it easier to bomb up it than to take it at the same pace as everyone else.

But all that exercise, and where did it leave me? Crippled. Both my hips hurt, and my knees are agony. Sitting in the same position for very long, at work or in the car, and I stiffen up and creak slowly into action.

I'm 42 years old, and I already know I'll have to have one or both hips replaced. I could have had an operation on my left hip a few years ago, but the consultant basically admitted that the scarring would be as painful, and that my joint was probably so worn that I'd need the replacement eventually.

Exercise, mostly, did this to me. If Michael Jackson really has a bad back, what caused that? All that dancing, probably.

Anyway, thinking about all this, and after an email conversation yesterday with an old friend, I realised how much of a grumpy old bloke I've become. Apart from living with pain and the pointless green ring of copper oxide caused by the pointless copper bracelet, it's amazing how little tolerance you have left for daily annoyances and the crapiosity of modern life.

I was complaining to my old friend about gigs, and how insufferable they are. To pay £15 for the privilege of sitting around on a concrete floor for two hours, and then to suffer people talking throughout the gig (unless a song they knew was being played) jostling and shuffling around in front of you, with nowhere to sit, and with unspeakably annoying people walking back and forth to the bar the whole time - well, I just can't face it any more.

Why do we have to bloody stand up? I'm not dancing, I've never danced, I never will dance, so why do I have to fucking stand up for two hours, craning my neck over enormously fat lager swilling fuckwits in order to get a view? Why would I, with limited leisure time and limited disposable income, willingly pay to put myself through this? I love live music, live music brings tears of joy to my eyes, but I have lost my capacity to put up with this crap. It always annoyed me, you understand, but now I just won't tolerate it.

As you get older, you should gain confidence, and part of that means that you're willing to turn round and refuse something or somebody. And if it makes you come across as miserable and grumpy, so be it. My personality hasn't changed that much, I don't think, but when the daily crap comes round for the umpteenth time, you just think, fuck it, I'm not going to make that mistake again.

I had a friend who ended up marrying the wrong girl because he couldn't bring himself to be mean to her, to say no. She just arranged the whole wedding thing, and he went along with it. And then he left her, devastated, after he realised he couldn't stand it. Six months, something like that. Which is worse? Some situations, you just shouldn't put up with it, and while it's great to be loved, and nice to be liked, life really is too short to allow the bloodsuckers to waste your time.

Intel-igence

So, all the nay-saying pundits, including me, were deeply wrong, and Apple really have announced a move to Intel chips, starting next year, 2006, or Year Zero, as Steve "Pol Pot" Jobs seems to have it. What happens to Apple hardware sales in the meantime? As one Macworld Editor Notes:
"And the one big question is: Who is going to buy any Apple hardware between now and next June? Unless I'm missing something, I foresee a huge decrease in sales coming between now and then. Sure, Apple will sell some high-end machines and laptops, but really, why buy now when the technology is a known dead end? Personally, I now know for sure that my 12-inch PowerBook and original dual-2GHz G5 will be with me through at least next June. I was contemplating an upgrade for the PowerBook later in the year, but now, I'm going to wait and see what the future holds. So for the next nine months, Apple sells what, iPods only? Is that enough to sustain the company? Or am I overlooking some large group that will continue to purchase hardware?"

Which is the same question I was asking yesterday.

Clearly Apple think they have a strategy for the next 12-24 months that will get them through. And, as has been clear for some considerable time, they don't give a shit about the dealers who have sustained them for 25 years, who stuck with them through the dark days of the mid-1990s, and who were switch-selling customers to Macs before Apple's own "Switch" campaign was even a gleam in Job-Pots' eye.

The Apple hardware market has tended to buck tech trends, because the people who use Macs in production environments (newspapers, magazines, recording studios, and, increasingly, film and tv production) need the hardware now, not next year or the year after. If you're making a feature film or tv programme today and planning to edit it using Final Cut, then you need that Mac now.

So that's one thing. On the other hand, if you're happily producing a set of magazines on a number of ageing Macs today, well, I think you're gonna want to wait for your next upgrade. And you won't bother upgrading your Quark Xpress or Photoshop licences either.

I've no doubts Apple will handle this transition, just as they did the transitions to Power PC and Mac OS X. But that's the point. Their loyal customers have just got through 10 years of expensive transitions, first with the change of processor from 68k and then with the move from ADB and SCSI to USB and FireWire, and then the operating system. A lot of those customers are only just settling down with OS X and Quark Xpress or Pro Tools running OS X. Those who haven't jumped yet? If you still run a recording studio running Pro Tools under OS 9, what are you going to do now? If it was me, I wouldn't be looking to spend £15k upgrading everything.