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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

July 22, 2004

Closing Down

I'll be away for a week or so. To keep you occupied while I'm gone, there is a coded message concealed in July's postings.
Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

Snapshot + Time = Great Photo

This photo must have been taken with some kind of medium-format roll camera in the mid-1950s. I think the print must have been about the same size as the original (and lost) negative. Made for a quality scan.

This is B's grandmother, 50 years ago, about to embark on a motorcycle trip to Reims. The original (and restored) bike now sits in B's brother's garage, and I have a lovely photo of CJ sitting on it with him.

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

Patron Saint of Mid-Life

Part 19 - You have No Messages just published. This will be the last episode for a couple of weeks.


I felt sufficiently moved to write in a mildly insulting manner to The Register following this silly statement:
"But anyone who wants to suggest that an appearance on national TV makes a band respectable or mainstream should look up a little group called the Sex Pistols"

I called the author a dolt and pointed out that the Pistols were not only on national TV, but all over the tabloids, and beloved of 13 and 14 year olds - the very definition of the mainstream that thinks it's not, like Avril Lavigne, former folkie (or something), turned "punk" rocker.

The author questioned me by email, asking if the Pistols ever met the Royal Family, to which I don't know the answer, but it's a pretty feeble justification. The Pistols, in my memory, were some kind of cod-rock band, featuring a smooth, overproduced, blanket of distorted guitars. And they were surrounded by a circus of tabloid hype and outrage, all guaranteed to sell (mainstream) newspapers and (mainstream) chart records.

Anyway, should she dare to question my wisdom again, my secret weapon is John Lydon's appearance on "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here."

In 1976/77 I looked on as all the dullest kids in my year faked the punk look and bought their Pistols and Damned records. I'm sure it was all very exciting for them, but hardly the anti-establishment global threat it pretended to be. They all went off to work as builders and decorators and Vauxhall assembly line workers, teachers, nurses, policemen and office drones.

Let's emphasise: everything is the opposite of what it is. Fact. Or as my friend Simon puts it:
It's like priests - they're all pervs but they take a vow of celibacy - self defeating: and people-who-think-they-are-experts-on-music constantly seek the rarer path of non-mainstream, but by the time they get to hear of something it already is mainstream, so again their aspirations are self defeating.

July 21, 2004

Coke Nazi Advert Challenge

The Coke Nazi Advert Challenge is interesting. Hit "refresh" a few times to see more examples.

Probably the most interesting thing for me is what the hell people expect the Pokey Pola company to do about it. They're certainly not alone in terms of companies which were active in Germany in the 30s and 40s, and I'm sure nobody is seriously suggesting that, somehow, everyone who works for Pokey Pola now is responsible for Nazi atrocities.

There used to be someone who worked in my office who was "anti-" certain companies. You know, a Nestle-hater, an Esso-hater, an HP-hater. But I always wondered why people pick on those companies in particular, when all multi-national companies tend to engage in similar sorts of activities. Short of giving up consumption entirely and going to live in a cave, we're all culpable, all the time. She was a smoker, for example, and if any market sector can be classed as evil, with their targeting of children and the poor in countries where there are fewer controls, then it's Big Tobacco. And just because they're roll-ups, dear, doesn't mean they don't come from the same factory.


This is what happens when you use the flash in macro mode. This gesture is dedicated to the BMW driver who nearly killed me at the school crossing yesterday.
Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

July 20, 2004

Maura in a dream

I dreamed a strange dream last night, not the kind of thing I usually remember or care to share. But as it had characters and a sort of plot, I might as well.

Maura Tierney appears as a reclusive heiress, forbidden to marry by the terms of somebody's Will, person not named or specified. Possibly dead husband, possibly controlling parent. Puts me in mind of my mother telling me that Jackie Onasis was disinherited by the Kennedys when she married the shipping magnate. As if she cared.

So Maura is kind of cloistered from the world, locked away in a Dakota-style New York apartment, and rarely seen even by her staff. Has very occasional meetings with a lawyer who is charged, among other things, with making sure she doesn't contravene the terms of the Will.

But for all this, she has a secret life, an alter-ego, as a stage actress. So to summarise: she's filthy rich and mostly reclusive, but to get away from all that, she puts on a wig and makeup and appears on the off-Broadway stage in musical reviews and plays.

The plot turns on the lawyer, who sees her in an off-Broadway production and falls hopelessly in love with her. So on the one hand, he keeps making appointments with the recluse, who speaks to him in monosyllables and sits in a darkened room; and on the other, he's writing letters to a slightly obscure young actress.

Maura starts to respond to both the letters and the lawyer -- except she knows that he is absolutely the last person she could start an affair with, because he's the one person she wouldn't want to find out about it.

It's a love/money thing. And a strange way to have a dream about it.

Home on the range

So we're off next week, to Plancher-Bas, my wife's home village. This panorama shows the village from the hillside over the river, where they do the 14th July fireworks display.

Behind the cemetery, you can see a strip of common land (parched-looking grass) and behind that is a cultivated, and green, garden. The house at the left end of the garden, the one with terrace on columns, is where my wife grew up.

At the other end of the garden, behind the hardcourt you can see next to the cemetery, is an almost-finished new house, which is her brother's place, almost entirely built by his own hand, over about 4 years (he had professional roofers in to do the frame of the roof, but that was all the help he got).

By now, he's rendered and painted the walls, and landscaped the garden.

In the distance, the land rises to hills and a forest, and the village of Auxelles-Bas, which is smaller and quieter, and is where my wife's mother grew up, and where her gran and great aunt and uncle still live.

More photos of the area can be seen on the flickr site, follow the link to "Photos" on the right hand side.

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

July 19, 2004

More Paella

For my wife, Paella is comfort food. When we go back to France to visit the in-laws, there is always one paella night, cooked outside, before we leave. I've been exposed, in France, to eating most of the things I swore I would never eat... most of them get put into the paella: rabbit, pigeon...

I don't mind, it's all one big flavour anyway. On the say we visited Arles, my wife sat and ate paella, but I had a steak... a bull steak... and we sat beneath a huge stuffed bull's head in the restaurant. I don't approve of bullfighting, but you couldn't deny the atmosphere: all the old Roman buildings, including the amphitheatre, mariachi bands on every corner, and crowds and crowds of people. Olé.

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.


Yay, I can now post photos. Sit back and wait for the shitstorm.

We arrived in Arles on the day of the bullfights. There was paella everywhere. This was the biggest.

Big Paella
Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.


Another wasted weekend trying to get iDVD to work. I appreciate there's a 4.0.1 update, but I didn't have that this weekend, and can't generally download this kind of thing from home because it takes too long.

I had similar experiences with iDVD 3 when it first came out - for 6 months, I was unable to complete a project with it because it "hung" at the burning stage. The .01 update fixed this, but it was a long wait.

I guess this update may fix the problem I was having this weekend (which was identical, give or take, to the original version 3 problem), but it hit me between the eyes what a colossal waste of time iDVD really is.

When Apple first announced that they'd made some software that enabled you to make your own DVD projects at home, it seemed like a miracle. Just incredible to take your digital camcorder footage, edit it together (and iMovie is still the best software ever), and stick it on a DVD. Still a fantastic way to share photos and videos with grandparents.

But there's the rub. Your own home videos, unless you're an indie film maker doing a showreel, are of interest to a very few people. Unless you are a professional or semi-professional wedding videographer, the use you make of something like iDVD is relatively light.

And the thing is, it's like taking all day to cook a meal and then 10 minutes to eat it. The effort and time involved in production does not scale with the time spent on consumption. I wasted hours of my life waiting for MPEG video to (fail to) encode and burn. Finally, I gave up and went back to iDVD 3.0.1, another few hours, and I ran off three copies.

And after all those hours, what did I have but about 20 minutes of home movies, plus another 8 minutes or so of photo slide show. Half an hour, and you're done, and how often, really, are you going to dip into those?

OK, I'm doing it on an 800MHz G4, which isn't going to set the world on fire with its speed, but again, how much am I willing to spend on a faster machine in order to make that 30 minute DVD project I look at once or twice a year? It's all, ridiculously, out of proportion.

At least with my Pro Tools recording setup, I use it several times a week, and get real ongoing pleasure out of it. I feel out of step with the times though. We live in a visual age, things are supposed to move in front of your eyes. But I'm the same with feature films: watch it once, and I'm generally done. Music on the other hand, I can play quite a few times before I get sick of it...

July 16, 2004


I suspicioned something was up with Jorja Fox, based on the way the last season of CSI finished with Sara being done for DUI... in fact, all season long they kept implying that something was fucking her up in the head.

Clever, really.

Now this is funny

Dear Dogface

This is your chance to win DESlock+ data protection!

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We are conducting a brief survey into IT training issues. As a user of MacUser and of IT in general, your opinion is particularly valuable. The information we receive will help us to develop a dedicated training section in MacUser’s sister magazine, PC Pro. In return for your time, your name will be entered into a free prize draw to win into a free prize draw to win DESlock+ data protection, (worth around GBP 100).

Click through to the following web address now to give us your feedback and for your chance to win the iPod on offer.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Lesley Muir
Research Director – MacUser
Dennis Publishing Ltd

[This is because I registered on their site as "Dogface" of course, with a password of something like "eatshitanddie" just because I resented having to register with them to read something on their site. The unintentional side-effect is hilarious, of course.]

July 15, 2004

Patron Saint of Mid-Life: Part 18

Just published at the other place.

Incidentally, older readers may have realised we're just about getting to the place it stopped before. But think of it like the tide coming in... this time we'll go a little further on before stopping to start again.


Le Cyclysm

Le Tour de France is a funny old event. Televised, yet there is rarely much of interest happening. Some say test cricket over 5 days is ridiculous, but Le Tour is played out over 3 slow weeks. Riders accrue points for sprint finishes, or for mountain stages, but these small things are there to provide a little daily interest. The Green Jersey, the Polka Dot, the stage winners, these are all largely irrelevant when it comes to the overall winner.

Richard Virenque, 34, won the stage yesterday, the longest stage, and the first with serious climbs (I think the first Category 1 climb of this year's Tour). It took him around 6 hours to ride 237 km. For much of this time, he was riding solo, ahead of the peloton on his own, which is of course the hardest way to do it. Last Sunday, around 7,000 tourists rode the same route for fun, for the challenge of it, and while the first over the line managed it in an impressive 6 hours 50 minutes, most of them were taking 9, 10, 11, 12 hours.

How many Weight Watcher's™ exercise points did Virenque accrue? I reckon one hour's vigorous pedalling is worth 6 points. An easy sum, then, 36 points, but actually he accrued more King of the Mountains points than that, and his emotional press conference was typical of the man.

Le Tour is a ridiculously hard event to compete in. Lance Armstrong, going for a record 6th victory, is 9 minutes 35 seconds behind the leader - this after 10 stages. In any reasonable event, it would seem a margin too great to claw back, but in Le Tour, the first week hardly counts for anything. The riders who make the early pace like the flat roads and put some speed on, but most of them fade away once the roads get vertical, and many even drop out.

Other drop outs include those who have horrible accidents. It struck me, watching one rider carried away on a stretcher yesterday, the contrast between the footballers at Euro 2004, who were so intent on cheating that they asked us to believe they were severely injured every time they got a little knock, rolling around like upended wasps. And yet you see riders in Le Tour who fall from their bikes at speed, their shorts ripped from their bodies and horrible scrapes and bruises exposed, just climb back on and continue riding. And footballers who are "tired" after 45 minutes running around after a ball are surely no atheltes compared to those who can do 6+ hours in the saddle and then get up and do it all again, 164km today to follow the 237km of yesterday, and 197km the day after that. Up mountains.

There will come a day in any Tour when the winner will make his decisive move. He will do what Virenque did yesterday and break away on his own, leaving the comfort of the peloton behind, and push his body beyond endurance to climb steep mountain passes ahead of the pack. His rivals will try to stay with him, but the winner will just push harder, until he breaks them, and they will all fall back. Armstrong has done this in previous years. No rider in the 100 years of Le Tour has remained strong enough and fit enough to do it more than 5 times.

And this is the interest of Le Tour, and why, even though there is not much happening on most days, it is compulsive viewing.

July 14, 2004


Now, we all know that the innernet is clogged with all kinds of unnecessary crap, but possibly the most annoying stuff out there are sites that set out to deliberately set out to generate hits so they can sell advertising. These sites are often content-free, but even when they have content, it can be misleading.

I was looking for the lyrics of a Steve Forbert song I used to own many years ago. I wanted to quote it apropros of my bro-in-law's new car, which is an ugly-looking (from the outside) Toyota Avensis. There's a line on one of Forbert's songs which says, "The [insert name here] is a very nice car / But you can't watch it go by". But I can't remember for the life of me what car was in the song.

Back to that in a moment. Meanwhile, a fruitless search for the lyrics generated any number of Google search hits, all of which ended in a message along the lines of, "Sorry we have no [insert name here] lyrics. Please submit them, thankyou."

So, essentially, page after page of Google hits returned saying, "Here is what you were looking for" only to end up saying, "We don't have what you were looking for, but hey, thanks for clicking on this site, I just earned 0.0000001 pence."

Bastards. Because you're not going to "submit them" when you are, you know, looking for them, are you?

Anyway. Someone at work has a new Audi A4 Estate, which is one of the best-looking estate cars around. It just looks brilliant: mean, moody, and magnificient. But sitting inside it, it was a bit of a swizz. Very spartan, very cheap, not even particularly roomy (smaller than my Passat). It even has leather seats, but it's the kind of leather that looks and feels exactly like cheap vinyl. On the other hand, the Avensis looks like a thick-waisted ugly japanese repmobile, but on the inside feels very comfortable and well-appointed. Which is why the "But you can't watch it go by" line came into my head. It's nice to be able to look out of your window and see a well-designed car sitting there. But if driving it is like sitting in a transit van, the point has been missed somewhere.


There's a link to this letter from Groucho Marx to Warner Bros in a story on The Register about Warner Brothers sueing some geezer for a domain name featuring the word "shire" in it.

It's all highly amusing, if the rampant greed involved wasn't so sickening.

Groucho, clearly, was a man after my own heart. This is the kind of letter I love to write myself, when complaining about shoddy goods or services.

July 13, 2004

Very Strange

It seems very odd that a stolen suitcase containing Beatle memorabilia could survive intact, and be sold for a paltry sum, in this day and age.

There's hope yet, I suppose, that all those lost Dr Who episodes will turn up. I saw the one remaining Yetis in the London Underground episode on BBC4 recently. I remember being so scared of the cobwebby stuff.

But it was rubbish, really, wasn't it? I expect John and Paul "experimenting" with different versions of songs will be rubbish, too, but interesting nevertheless. If it's real.

Zen and the Art of House Design

I do wonder whether people who design and build houses actually ever live in, you know, houses. While it's patently obvious they would never live in anything so poky as a 3-bed detached, surely they've looked round one or two? Spoken to people who live in them?

The big issue is always the kitchen. Most people, by inclination, want the kitchen to be big. They want it big enough to prepare the meal, to cook the meal, and to eat the meal. They want a table. They might even want a rocking chair or something. A table and chairs, somewhere to sit and listen to the radio and watch the tv, to sit and have a conversation. The kitchen is the room, I'd argue, that most people would spend most of the time in.

But most houses costing less than half a million quid, ancient and modern, have crappy little kitchens, with layouts so bad that, even if there is enough room, the presence of the table would be a navigational hazard.

Instead, people get oversized so-called living rooms which they fill with furniture and televisions which are ridiculously large so as to make small things like footballs visible from across the room. And they "demand", or so we're told, insist upon, a separate "dining room" for all those dinner parties they don't have. Except the "dining room", so-called, is so small that you have to buy a smallish table and can only fit around 4 people into the room, as long as they don't mind cracking their heads on the wall if they inadvertently lean backwards, for example when laughing (hence the expression, "Ha ha, bonk").

What I really want is a cozy little living room that can be warmed easily, room for a comfy chair or two and a not-too-large TV, and a fecking huge kitchen with a long table, one you can get lots of people round, or do several different things upon. Prepare food at one end while a kid paints or draws at the other. Or just to spread a magazine on with a cup of coffee, the radio on in the background, and a view of what's cooking in the oven.

Looking for a new house, for me, is rather similar in nature to shopping for shoes or clothes. I hate everything I see, but I'll end up getting something, in the end, because I have to buy something, even if I don't like it.

My brother in law, over in Francelandland, designed and built his own house. Were you to buy the same thing on a David Wilson Homes estate, it would cost you a fortune. It's got a big kitchen with a separate walk-in larder/pantry, and there's table and chairs, so you can sit and talk and eat, and still see the over door window, to check whether the mozarella is bubbling up. Through an archway and you're into the comfy chair area, whilst still not being separated from what's going on in the kitchen.

Why do people put up with the shit that gets put up on all these estates?

Blog Burnout

This Wired News article was highlighted on Blogger today. It's amusing to me, all this. I've mentioned before how it bugs me that people who start something for pleasure often end up begging for contributions, as if the world owed them a living. This idea that bloggers get tired up keeping up with it is hilarious. Hadn't anybody noticed that all columnists (which is effectively what bloggers are) have always suffered from this same syndrome?

The journo gets their own column, and begins with strong pieces, building up a following. Then, whoops, it turns out they don't have an iniexhaustible supply of material, and they start to tell us about the builders they had in to build an extension and what a bunch of cowboys they are. Then they do the column which is all about the writing of the column... and then they might as well give up, because that is the wood from the bottom of the barrel.

If it's too hard for you, love, just give it up.

July 12, 2004

Today’s Nostalgia Bulletin

I grew up in Dumpstable, in a house that backed onto the Downs. Not the Dumpstable Downs, but a kind of tributary Downs, called Blows. It was Grade III farming land, good for a few cows or sheep, not much use for anything else, probably no good, even, for housing, though god knows there were enough rumours over the years about housing estates going up there. They never did, though the land has visibly eroded in the years I have been alive, and the trees have grown.

Between our back garden and the Downs was the railway tracks. Used to be a passenger route between Dumpstable and Luton, but they took a dose of Beeching’s Powders in the 60s, and it was a Goods line only. But, in the words of the Steve Earle song, I was born by the railway tracks / The train whistle wailed and I wailed right back. Completely true in my case: I wasn’t born in hospital, but in the back bedroom on a cold winter night (3 weeks late).

Up the garden, through the fence, over the allotment, across the railway line, up the embankment, through another fence, and I was on the Downs. I had my places, the easier climbs up the embankment, the bigger holes in the fence, the in and out spots. I used to play up there: with family, neighbours and friends, often, but also, quite often, on my own. Ten years old, I might have been, and I’d be up there on my own, running about the hills, visiting favourite haunts, hiding places in the trees, dens, dirt slopes to slide down.

Just behind the first row of hills, a chalk pit scarred the hillside. The soil round there was very chalky, and the area of the Blows Downs had, long before, once been a lime quarry. What remained was a deep crater with a central mound topped with a head-shaped chalk boulder. We called it the Bull’s Head. It was chalk white scarred with brown, rusty, stains, which gave the head the appearance of features. My older brother, RGM, used to scare us all as kids with tales of the little boy who had climbed up there and disappeared.

If this story had the intent of keeping me from going up there, it worked, all the way up till I was a teenager. And when I did go there, I was not disappointed in the scariness. You’d climb the hill, then scrabble up the steeper incline of the Head, finding yourself on a chalk peak with a view all around. The steepness of the slope gave the optical illusion of the world falling away into space, and on a windy day it really was terrifying to be up there, with nothing to hold on to.

When I was younger, before I braved it, I did once think I saw a trunk-like appendage swinging out from the top of the head, like an arm beckoning or waving for help. But as long as I watched the spot, I saw no other sign of life or movement.

Now, as you drive down the M1 towards junction 11, you can see the chalk pit from a distance, and what remains of the Bull’s Head, which has, by now, eroded to almost nothing.

The highest point of the Downs was over the back of the chalk pit. Beyond that, a grassy meadow led to farmland proper, Zouche’s farm, which included Bluebell Wood. Farmer Zouche liked to patrol his fields with dogs and guns, taking pleasure now doubt from the terror he inspired in the local children. But from the top of the chalk pit you could see right across our end of town, and it was possible to find details like schools, shops, estates, and the houses of the girls you loved. I’d run up there and sit on the edge, buffeted by the wind, and just look across the town, tracing the lines of the streets with my eyes, not leaving till I’d seen everything there was to see. Lonely summer afternoons I’d go up there, kill a couple of hours, and then go home again.

You learned to put your ear to the track and listen for trains, though after a few years there were only one or two a day, and the trains became a route, a walking route, to take you into Luton or into the centre of Dumpstable. I walked home along those tracks one afternoon, 19, slightly drunk on pink champagne, heart broken by A., who was scared to go out with me, but later changed her mind.

There were ruins up the Downs, we called them that, and there were remnants of bomb shelters, and pits and tunnels dug down. You could play games of dare and crawl the length of tunnels. And there was an old iron bell, it must have been a bell, left there to rust, and we’d play with that, climbing inside it, trapping ourselves, requiring assistance to get out.

My more social hours were spent up the Rec, Bennett’s Recreation Ground, it was there we played kiss chase and tinpanalley and all those other games. Sometimes we played sophisticated and wide ranging games of Hide and Seek up the downs, but what I remember mostly is being there on my own.

When my then-best-friend was about to get married, he came round, and we went out for a walk along the train tracks. We walked all the way to the bridge that was no longer there, the yawning gap of emptiness where the ghost tracks went across the road. We threw stones against the rails in the twilight to make sparks, and we smoked and talked. I hadn’t seen him for six months or so, while he was dating the girl, and I wouldn’t see him again for quite a while after the wedding, until just before the divorce. We sat on the tracks in the dark and he told me all about it. That was the last time I went up there.

On visits to my parents in the years after I’d look up there, but you couldn’t see very much through all the trees, which seemed to have accelerated their growth after I left. You’d see the occasional dog owner out for a walk. But I wonder if any eight or ten year olds get to go up there on their own these days, whether anybody goes up there for something as innocent as solitude.


Another weekend, another Grand Prix I didn't bother to watch (more DIY hell, partly, but also a big chunk of lack of interest).

I grew up loving it, as I've said before, and was watching it when Jackie Stewart was world champ, when Graham Hill was still driving, and listening on the radio as James Hunt won his title in Japan. How exciting it was then, how lethal, how stupidly dangerous. A bunch of rank amateurs tinkering with engines and racing them round airfields etc.

But Bernie Ecclestone turned it into a corporate money pit, and keeps adding more and more races, while fewer and fewer drivers seem capable of winning a race, except under freak conditions.

And it's not just me not watching the last two on telly. Believe it or not, I had a VIP pass and ticket to the Friday practice (some product launch), but I thought the prospect of the queues and traffic wasn't worth the experience of being there. I'd have been even less likely to go for the race, by the way - you get more track action on the practice days than you do on race days.

And I just object to corporate hospitality and ticketing. I loathe events with salespeople and marketing people invited to eat a buffet and attend a conference, with the odd sporting event taking place in the background. It is offensive, but more than that, it's a waste of fucking time and money, because none of the invitees gives a shit. As far as the company inviting me is concerned, nothing I saw or heard on that day would have made a blind bit of difference to the way I sell their products. They're either good products or they're not. The most effective way to "bribe" me is to loan me something so I can try it out and see/hear it working. If I like it, I get behind it. I'm nnot even saying they should give me stuff - I haven't the space for any more stuff. A couple of weeks loan, that's all it takes. Much cheaper than a flaming gold pass (and, no, I'm not in the slightest bit fooled by gold tickets and VIP passes on red lanyards - one of only 100,000, I'm sure).

Formula 1: disenchantment. All those VIPs and liggers - they're as unspeakable as guys in red coats chasing foxes.


I'm reading The Light Ages by Ian R MacLeod, and a marvelous thing it is.

I've read a couple of his things before, like the novella The Summer Isles. He does alternate history things, which I love. The Summer Isles is about how, when the National Socialists come to power in the UK, the UK Jewish community is "encouraged" to move to islands off the coast of Scotland (still a solution for immigrants you often see proposed by Daily Mail readers) - which are, in effect, concentration camps.

The Light Ages starts from the premise that, in the 17th Century, enlightenment scientists actually discovered that thing they were all looking for: Aether. So we have an industrial revolution driven by Aether and magic, so that buildings, bridges, and engines are poorly engineered, but held together beyond their capabilities by Aether, which is mined from the earth in much the same way as coal.

So, 300 years later, anyone who suggests that Aether is holding back progress, and that electricity and better engineering is the future, are seen as lone crazies. Meanwhile Aether itself can have terrible side effects - changing people into otherworldly creatures... and what happens when it runs out?

Reviews of this book compare it to Dickens, Mervyn Peake etc., but I haven't, and wouldn't read any of these people (yes I know them, they're quite lame). MacLeod is a good writer, who takes his time to create a complete world which you can totally immerse yourself in. He's more like the brilliant Tim Powers than those "literary" guys.

July 08, 2004


This sounds all too familiar to me:
"She says there are broadly two types of bully. First there is what Dr Aitkenhead calls: 'The kind of individual who likes to be in control. They tend to be well aware of the effects of their behaviour. They use this to manipulate people.'

These powermongers generally have to be dealt with at a structural level, using organisational procedures to put boundaries on their behaviour and curb the aggression that wasn't properly managed in childhood. In extreme cases this kind of bullying tips into actual psychopathy. 'There is a small group of psychopaths in management who simply shouldn't be there,' says Professor Cooper. 'They are untrainable.'"

You can see the headlines now:


July 07, 2004

Patron Saint of Mid-Life: Part 17: Nihil durare potest tempore perpetuo

Just published, over there.

Something I wrote in it made me think about globalisation, a subject you can't help but be aware of, obviously, what with all the protests and stuff. I was thinking about the odd brands of cigarettes Ronnie once bought in Holland, and how it was less likely to happen these days. You tend to see the same brands everywhere you go.

And just like the gone-but-not-forgotten "local" naming like Marathon, Opal Fruits, and even Jif, that sense of difference, of foreigness, is increasingly hard to come by. Which is a shame, obviously, and there's the puzzle. Most of us just hate it when some global marketing campaign gets imposed locally. I've personally got a real hatred of campaigns like the Apple iPod ones, and Coke adverts, and (going back to the footie) silliness like Canon's "finger football". But still it happens that some robot in a marketing department insists it's going to be a good thing, and the steamroller rolls on.

And the flipside of all this is that, in selling brands globally, people around the globe are encouraged to look away from their locality, and yearn to live in the land(s) of pokey pola, cheap electronic goods, and Marlboro. So they pay their local gangster their life savings, sit in an airless container for a few weeks, and if they survive that, get to pick cockles on the Lancashire coast for their troubles.

And it's all down to the fact that I bet you can't buy those cigarettes with a polar bear on the packet in Holland any more.

July 05, 2004

Mansell - F1 too boring

It's not often you can say you agree with Nigel Mansell but this year has been worse than ever. It's not just that we hate Spoon Face and hate to see him win. I've hated drivers before. It's that he is so obviously in a different league. The last time we had any real excitement was when he broke his legs.

There is the problem of lack of overtaking, which could be helped by reintroducing slick tyres, but there's also the problem of TV coverage, which sometimes consists of lap after lap of the leader going round and round with nobody anywhere near him. If the TV coverage identified areas of genuine interest and showed that, it wouldn't be so bad.

I didn't watch any of the GP this last weekend - I was busy in DIY Hell. As soon as ou see Spoon Face is in the lead, you might as well switch off and going and do something else.

I've been watching (or listening to) F1 all my life and I'm sorry to see it comes to this. You watch it for the politicking and intrigue as much as anything, but when the pre-race build up more interesting than the actual race itself, something's gone badly wrong.

But Seriously

All the stuff about Brando at the weekend made me think. I'd never deny Brando's status as an icon, or minimise his influence, but in terms of sheer quality as a movie star, or even as an actor, I've never rated him. Steve McQueen, on the other hand, was a proper movie star, and a brilliant film actor to boot.

McQueen's greatest gift was the ability to do less, to do less and less, on screen. Several things about Brando make him less than excellent as a film star.
  • Poor films for a start. Examine the evidence. His early outings were overblown glorified stage plays or just overwrought melodramas. Tennessee Williams is rubbish, okay? And A Streetcar Named Desire is utter bilge. As for On the Waterfront, well, *yawn*. And in The Wild One he looks fat and old, which is pretty authentic for a biker these days, but not in 1953.

  • Whiny voice. Jesus, but Brando's voice is weak, whiny, and annoying. "I coulda been Somebody. I coulda been a contender." No, you couldn't. Not with that voice.

  • More crap films. After the crap films he made in the 50s, he went on to make some truly terrible films in the 60s, the decade of crap self-indulgence. Crap films with Liz Taylor, for example. So instead of being at the peak of his powers, he was a combination of Michael Winner and a kind of cowboy Jimmy Tarbuck in a late episode of Twin Peaks: that good.

  • Mumbling and the Method. Whatever Brando brought to a film, it wasn't the inner life of his characters. It was just a bunch of mumbling and pointless improvisation. His legacy is a bunch of ac-tors who take themselves too seriously and generally set about boring the pants off all and sundry with their "projects." Cheers for that, Marlon.

  • Did we mention the crap films? Not content to let the 60s slide by without a decent film to his name, he kicked off the 70s with The Nightcomers, and saw fit to give us The Missouri Breaks. So he was in The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, which are films very popular with Boys... personally I'd rather watch 10 Things I Hate About You than either of those. As for Ultimo tango a Parigi, can you spell boring?

Now, Steve McQueen, though he has his share of self-indulgent flops, can at least point to a few decent (and popular) films, and some iconic scenes that don't involve listening to a whiny voice or a bunch of mumbling. The Great Escape, Love with the Proper Stranger, The Cincinnati Kid, these are all good films. He was cool, he didn't say any more than he had to, and he didn't bore the crap out of you with his "Method" acting. Plus he didn't end up like a fat old queen with sinusitis.

July 02, 2004

Worst film

My own particular Worst Film is prolly My Own Private Idaho. I either walked out or felt like walking out. Did we walk out? Anyway, I would never watch another Gus Van Sandt film on the strength of that, or another River Phoenix film.

Marlon Brando dies aged 80

And the Celebrity Sweepstakes winner is...?

Tonight I will be mostly drinking STELLA!!!! in silent tribute.

Ad bonanza or advertising bozos?

I do wonder about the people who decide that it's worth sponsoring big sporting events like Euro 2004. Consider the evidence. For a start, the Big Stars who have been paid huge sums to appear in adverts, on the whole, have performed badly. And we've ended up with a final featuring the home nation and the rank outsiders.

Thierry Henry, for one, obviously plays better football in his living room and hallway than he does on the pitch, for his country. And anyway, that ad for Nike is not for one of the official sponsors, which helps confuse people.
According to the poll, nearly 60% of UK adults do not know any of Euro 2004's eight official sponsors, each of which have paid about £10m for the privilege.

I actually sneered when the Canon rep told us that they were doing a lot of Euro 2004 tie-ins, as official sponsor. I think their damp squib finger-football campaign is pathetic, and spurious tie-ins only serve to make companies look desperate. True, the photographers around the pitch during the games have been sporting some pretty big Canon lenses and wearing some fetching Canon vests, but I only noticed because I was wondering exactly what Canon hoped to be getting out of it.

Non-photographers probably think "photocopier" when they see the Canon logo, so they wouldn't connect sports/action photography with the brand. I noticed the Portugese director pulled up a few shots of "audience members" using Canon cameras. At half time last night you saw someone using a 300D SLR... but then after the break they did a similar close-up of someone using an Olympus digital camera. Whoops.

That kind of "slip" will keep the lawyers busy for months.

Nike, smartly, usually don't do "official" sponsorship, preferring instead to use guerilla tactics, piggybacking the event with ads, plastering their logos over shirts etc. I noticed one Dutch player, at the end of the penalty shootout, run over to a camera and lift his shirt to reveal the Nike swoosh on his white vest.

But, to quote a friend, it's all a big wash in the end, one brand on top of another brand, and all of them cancelling each other out. I did notice one of the official sponsors' logos was so badly designed that you couldn't read what it said, on the pitch-side billboards or on the interview wall post-match. I still don't know what it says.

Well done to that marketing department.

They'll talk about profiling, but profiling doesn't equal sales. Canon should be aware, the market for home printers is shrinking as people take more photos but view and share them in different ways. Sticking them on a DVD is more effective than putting them in an album. Why would you take 300 photos on a holiday, print them out, and then carefully put them in an album on a shelf? So little ads showing people printing stupid photos and sticking their fingers through them... huh? There's an adage often repeated around here, when they start to talk about brand profiling, it's just another way of admitting failure.

Sainsbury's: massive profile, association with Jamie Oliver, and slipped from #1 to #3 in terms of sales. Resignations, angry shareholders. Apple: massive profile, instantly recogniseable logo, but hardly a blip on the radar in terms of computer sales. Remember the Bladerunner effect: many of those companies whose logos are carefully placed in the film were defunct within a few years.

Advertising is voodoo. I've done analysis of ads I've placed. If they "work" it's never to sell the products you put on the page. You might as well print the company name and phone number. It's just a reassurance to some people that you're still in business, from the last time they ordered from you. I've done other ads that have "won" AdQ awards for reader response - but I can point to the phone records and say, actually, we got one call from that ad.

It's about targeting, it's about timing. The thing about football and sponsorship: it's always the same group that are being targeted, and I seriously doubt that this continual pursuit of the same group of 18-24 males is worth it in the long term. Look at the viewing figures:

  • World Cup 90: England v Germany - 26.2m (BBC One & ITV)

  • Euro 96: England v Germany - 23.8m (BBC One & ITV)

  • World Cup 98: England v Argentina - 23.8m (ITV)

  • Euro 2004: England v Portugal - 20.7m (BBC One, unofficial figures)

Clue: they're shrinking. More importantly, these big figures for big games are twice those of the group stage games: even England drew only 10-12m viewers. There may be a lot of white vans with flags on them, but this doesn't translate into a massive TV audience - especially for games like Greece-Czech Republic. Anyway, I may be wrong, but your average flag-waving white van man isn't going to be too impressed by sports photographers with long lenses, or the odd audience member with a 300D.

Sport: it's just not that popular. Bring on the Olympics: a huge amount of hype and sponsorship and advertising; but the audience will be outside grilling sausages on the barbecue, or on holiday in Spain getting pissed.

July 01, 2004

Punditry #2

Older readers might remember this posting from the 2nd June, wherein I predicted "almost certain" success for Portugal in Euro 2004.

They're in the final now (after most always-wrong pundits, save Graham Taylor, were predicting a win for Holland, incidentally), first hosts to manage this since 1984, so I feel vindicated, even if they don't win.

Ironic that Nuno Maniche scored the goal of the tournament just minutes after Gary Lineker had introduced the BBC's "Goal of the Tournament" competition. Two things about that. First of all, they should fucking wait till the end of the tournament. And second, where in the shortlist was Zidane's free kick against Englandland? Too bitter a memory?