Tuesday, December 18, 2012
So here's a graph of the number of times people have been out for each of the scores in a range of ten runs either side of 99 (i.e. 89 to 109). A couple of obvious things stand out, most obviously that 99 clearly isn't a statistical outlier in terms of the number of people who've been dismissed for that score, indeed more people have been out for 89, 90, 91, 92, 93 and 96 than have been out for 99, though you could argue that those are just nervous nineties syndrome getting a grip a bit sooner for some people than for others. However, you'll also notice that more people have been out for 100 than for 99. Perhaps we're seeing two overlapping phenomena here, with twitchiness approaching 100 immediately giving way to relief, euphoria and carelesssness after reaching it.
What you'll also notice, however, if you look at the smaller (beige) columns, is that 99 (with fifteen victims) is a statistical outlier in terms of the number of people who have been run out for that score. The nearest competitor in the range we're looking at here is 90, a score on which seven people have been run out, including the legendary West Indian Sir Everton Weekes, ten runs short of what would have been his sixth Test century in successive innings in January 1949. So while in general there seems no reason to conclude that people are any more likely to get out for 99 than any other score in the immediate vicinity, there certainly does seem to be some reason to believe their judgment of a quick single may be compromised.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Getting run out for 99 seems especially poignant, though - setting off for a run with the expectation of being able to raise your bat in acknowledgement of a century, only to watch in horror as the stumps are demolished with you either still floundering halfway down the pitch, or having to undergo (as Dhoni did) the drawn-out agony of a referral to the third umpire and a prolonged series of TV replays. Here are South Africa's Jacques Kallis and Neil McKenzie getting run out by the same fielder (Australia's Damien Martyn) within 3 months of each other in December 2001 and March 2002 respectively, and, most agonisingly of all, England's Mike Atherton falling over, getting up and then falling over again for what seems like hours before Ian Healy puts him out of his misery against Australia at Lord's in 1993. On the other hand, Atherton did make plenty of Test hundreds (sixteen in fact, although he never made one at Lord's) so perhaps the award should instead go to New Zealand's John Beck, who was run out for 99 against South Africa in 1954 and never made a Test hundred.
The run out for 199 club, by contrast, has only one member: Pakistan's Younis Khan.
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
It's funny how stuff that's been in place since before you were born seems normal and generally passes without question, even when it's fundamentally absurd when you stop to think about it. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this - this is basically how religion works. But that's not what I'm about here.
My concern here is: when does winter start? And, more generally, what are the dates of the seasons? Now obviously I'm taking a northern-hemisphere-temperate-zone-centric view of the world here, because, well, that's where I live, and some of the terms I'm going to be bandying about are only really relevant to that region. If you live at a similar latitude south of the equator you'll find your seasons are out of phase with ours by six months, whereas if you live near the equator you'll probably find significantly less year-round variation.
year-round variation in temperature, but that half the year was designated the "dry season" and the other half the "rainy season", the only difference between the two being that during the rainy season it would rain, torrentially, at 4pm every afternoon, regular as clockwork. One other interesting factoid from that link is that at Indonesia's latitude the difference between the longest and shortest days of the year (in terms of daylight, yes, I know they're 24 hours long everywhere) is a mere 48 minutes (it's about 6-8 hours in the temperate zones).
We're not really getting anywhere here; let's try and focus. When's the first day of winter? The winter solstice? Having December 21st (or thereabouts) as the first day of winter doesn't seem absurd, particularly when we in the UK are used to the coldest months typically being January and February anyway. But it seems somehow less sensible to have June 21st being the first day of summer; most of us would instinctively feel that it should be a bit earlier than that. And what of the convention of calling June 21st "Midsummer's Day"? Or of calling December 21st "Midwinter's Day", come to that? I don't think people would necessarily demand that it be smack dab in the middle of the season, but it being right at the start seems wrong.
So what to do? Well, one could adhere rigidly to the "midsummer"/"midwinter" thing and say, OK, the seasons are 365/4 = 91 days long (give or take the odd day) so we'll just go 45 days each side of the solstices and fill in the gaps from there. This gives you the seasonal dates as follows:
- Spring: 5th February to 6th May
- Summer: 6th May to 5th August
- Autumn: 6th August to 4th November
- Winter: 5th November to 4th February
- Spring: March, April, May
- Summer: June, July, August
- Autumn: September, October, November
- Winter: December, January, February
It's a useful indicator of personality type, though, to see how people respond to the notion that there is no answer - the more authoritarian types (small-c conservative, broadly speaking) get vaguely uncomfortable and annoyed that there isn't some central authority that will TELL THEM THE RUDDY ANSWER, on this topic as on many others where you just have to stick an arbitrary stake in the ground and no two people agree on where it should be: things like the age of consent, the safe weekly intake of alcohol, that sort of thing.
Bob Altemeyer's fascinating, very readable to non-academics, and freely downloadable (in PDF format) The Authoritarians is the canonical work of behavioural research on this topic. It doesn't say much about when winter starts, but, hey, nobody's perfect.
Monday, December 03, 2012
Let's zoom in a bit. Crikey, it's the world's biggest plane parked in a field. Or possibly an up-to-date aeroplane-shaped version of one of those chalk hill figures typically found further west in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire.
Of course what it actually is is a regular aeroplane that just happened to be on a flight path that took it under the Googlecopter at the precise moment that it took its picture of that particular area. Have a look at it on Google Maps here - zoom in on the tail and you'll see it's orange, which would suggest an easyJet plane, but the blue engine nacelles and the suspicion of a logo by the front side windows suggests maybe it isn't. Since Heathrow is probably less than 20 miles away to the north-east it seems more than likely it took off from there, and I don't think easyJet operate out of Heathrow, so I don't know. Nor do I know what sort of plane it is; maybe someone can help me out.
It turns out that this sort of anomaly isn't all that uncommon - here's one in New York, one in Los Angeles, one in South Carolina, one in Chicago, one in Florida, one in Germany and one in Russell Square, London. That last one is from this list, and you'll notice there's another entry in that list which says British Airways Boeing 777 In Flight Over Bagshot, which on the one hand is slightly galling as it means I haven't got a scoop, but on the other hand is good as it identifies the plane and airline, assuming we trust the link, and there isn't very much context at that link to back it up, though this link seems to confirm the identification. The Boeing 777 ticks some basic boxes like having the right number of engines, though; the orange tail must be one of those crazy commemorative ones.
Don't bother actually going to Bagshot to have a look at it, though, as I expect it's gone by now.
Friday, November 30, 2012
- Arthur Shrewsbury took sole possession of the record on making his third Test century in 1893, and held the record with three until 1901;
- Archie MacLaren took over the record on making his fourth Test century in 1901, and had raised it to five by the time he played his last Test in 1905; he was joined on five that same year by Stanley Jackson and they jointly held the record until 1920;
- Jack Hobbs scored his sixth Test century in 1920, and by the time of his last Test in 1930 had raised the record to a lofty fifteen;
- Herbert Sutcliffe, Hobbs' long-time opening partner for England, raised the record to sixteen by making what turned out to be his last Test century in 1932;
- Walter Hammond took over the record in 1937 on making his seventeenth Test century and had raised it to twenty-two by the time of his last Test century in 1939, where it stayed when he retired after a fairly dismal post-war comeback in 1947.
biography of Hammond argues that it was probably an STD of some sort (Hammond apparently being a fairly notorious swordsman), possibly just a really nasty dose of the clap, or possibly something more serious like syphilis, in which case the regular treatment in those pre-antibiotics days would have been doses of either mercury or arsenic, neither of which are particularly effective at curing syphilis, but very effective at giving you, respectively, mercury and arsenic poisoning, with, in the case of mercury in particular, potentially long-lasting neurological effects.
Anyway, enough of this prurient speculation. Elsewhere in the cricketing world Michael Clarke set a new record during the Adelaide Test for the number of double-centuries (four) scored in a calendar year. Since two of these scores were in excess of 250 Clarke becomes the latest addition to my list of people who have made more than one such score. Here's the current list:
- Brian Lara (1994)
- Mahela Jayawardene (2009)
- Sanath Jayasuriya (2004)
- Walter Hammond (1933)
- Don Bradman (1930)
- Chris Gayle (2010)
- Michael Clarke (2012)
- Virender Sehwag (2006)
- Younis Khan (2009)
- Hashim Amla (2012)
- Ramnaresh Sarwan (2009)
- Kumar Sangakkara (2006)
- Javed Miandad (1987)
- Graeme Smith (2003)
- Stephen Fleming (2006)
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Previous winners include Sarah Palin, Pope Benedict XVI, Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed and recent jungle visitor Nadine Dorries. I'm pretty sure if the timing had been slightly different the medical staff involved in the farcical sequence of events leading to the death of Savita Halappanavar would have got a nod in the nominations, and with the outpouring of righteous anger in the aftermath might well have won. Anyone dismissing Nadine Dorries as a lovable harmless Great British Eccentric should reflect that more cases like Savita's would be a direct result of the sort of abortion legislation she advocates.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Finally here's the front page of the menu from our excellent local Indian restaurant, the Jewel Balti.
I'm going to charitably ignore the careless apostrophe abuse in the middle of the page and focus instead on the claim made on the right, about a third of the way down. Here it is:
I'll bet they are. Especially if they had the squid vindaloo.
Friday, November 23, 2012
As you were, calm down, sit down at the back there: this is just a test post to check the functioning of the Blogger mobile app that I've just installed. Imagine a world in which I can just literally BLOG STUFF while walking along the street, gambolling through a meadow, having a shit; the possibilities are endless. I've cracked a semi just thinking about it.
Monday, November 12, 2012
For those in a graphics-poor environment, or those who just can't be arsed to click on the image to enlarge it, here's the relevant e-mail text:
Our friends at Smoky Mountain Knife Works, "The Worlds Largest Knife Showplace", have an amazing offer for all BudsGunShop.com customers. Simply purchase ANY new Glock pistol and receive your choice of FREE knives directly from Smoky Mountain Knife Works! Yes, literally any new model Glock is eligible, as if buying one of the most dependable and reliable pistols ever made wasn’t incentive enough. Simply choose your FREE knife from the drop down selection menu on each new Glock item page. Your FREE knife will automatically be added to your order and shipped directly to you while your new Glock ships to your local FFL dealer. Click here to find out which knife is best for you:So, basically, Bud's have listened to their customers' feedback, and apparently a lot of customers are saying look, this supremely lethal Glock pistol is all very well, but it doesn't have the up-close interactive personal touch that I need. I mean, yes, I can pump my assailant full of hot leady death from several feet away, but I get the nagging feeling as I watch his bullet-ridden body twitching like a ragdoll as the bullets rip through his flesh that I should be participating in his painful demise in a more hands-on way. So as his precious bodily fluids leak away into my carpet, what I'd really like to be able to do is reverently lay the Glock down on an occasional table, cradle his head in my hand as he croaks out his last words, unsheath a glinting blade and slip it firmly between his ribs to usher him into the netherworld in the way that I think, in a very real sense, he would have wanted. Or, heck, I might just stick him repeatedly like a pig, gouge his eyeballs out and then piss in the sockets. Too much? OK then. So, to summarise, a free knife would be great. Yours sincerely, A Maniac.
We are very pleased to offer you this additional value when buying your next new Glock at Budsgunshop.com. Our advertised Glock prices include UPS Blue 2-day shipping to your local FFL dealer and now a FREE knife from Smoky Mountain Knife Works! Go ahead....shop and compare this deal to other online dealers....we're confident you'll come back to Buds for your next new Glock!
At your service,
I should stress at this point that Bud's Gun Shop does indeed appear to be a real establishment, so it's not a scam; I should also stress that I have literally no idea how I got on their mailing list. But it is a fascinating experience to look at their website and marvel at the gargantuan range of lethal weaponry available there, any one of which, as I expect they would say, is ideal for home defence. I marvel also at the sub-headings entitled "Youth Guns" and "For The Ladies". You can also buy a crossbow if, for instance, you feel like re-enacting the killing spree from We Need To Talk About Kevin.
I should also add that while I find the American fetish for guns fascinatingly weird I would defend anyone's right to own some knifeware that could potentially be lethal if used in the wrong way. Knives, after all, have uses other than killing people - I have some weapons in my kitchen that could gut you like a mackerel, but I don't expect the police to start visiting me now I've admitted to possessing them. And then there's my Dartmoor knife.
Friday, November 09, 2012
I think Carver (a heavy-handed satirical caricature of people like Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch) has a strong claim to be one of the most rubbish Bond villains ever. Note that this isn't entirely Pryce's fault, but his characters do always have a sort of sweaty shifty self-doubt about them, and you really want monomaniacal arrogance with a touch of insanity in a Bond villain.
Also, my delaying posting this until after the official announcement means that I can't use the "man who may Welby the next Archbishop of Canterbury" gag I was planning. Finally, Justin Welby's middle name is Portal. Fact.
Wednesday, November 07, 2012
So this is the fourth and final instalment in the Alexandria Quartet, following on from Justine, Balthazar and Mountolive. We join Justine's narrator, Darley, in exile on his Greek island after the events of that first book, thrown into a new perspective in the light of the alternative version of events described by Balthazar in, erm, Balthazar. We're meant to understand that he's been there for five years or so, looking after his ex-lover Melissa's daughter and surviving on food and money from who knows where, given that he's presumably not doing much schoolteaching (theoretically his profession).
Anyway, along with delivering the manuscript that forms the bulk of Balthazar, Balthazar makes it known that now would be an opportune time for Darley to end his exile and return to Alexandria. He does so to find the city ravaged by the Second World War, various wrecked hulks littering the harbour and people occasionally being blown up by random bombings, but otherwise life in the European quarter continuing very much as normal, with much sitting around in cafés drinking coffee, desultory bed-hopping and the like.
Having off-loaded the child (with remarkably little emotion, giving that he'd been in loco parentis pretty much exclusively for the previous five years) to her father, Justine's husband Nessim, and after a brief encounter with Justine herself, Darley returns to Alexandria to take up his previous lodgings with French consular official Pombal. He also runs into Clea, a painter, much mentioned but never actually met in the previous three books, and no sooner has it become apparent that they had had a brief "thing" a while back than they fall into bed together and embark on a proper relationship. This relationship forms the backdrop to some catching up with characters from previous books in the series, principally David Mountolive and his lady friend Liza Pursewarden, sister of suicidal novelist Pursewarden whose writings litter the text. Liza, who is blind, enlists Darley, an aspiring writer, to sift through a trunkload of letters from her brother and assess their suitability for publication. On discovering that the letters describe a torridly incestuous brother/sister affair, including the birth of a child, also blind, who subsequently died, Darley suggests that the best thing to do might be to burn the lot. Wise words.
Just in case we were getting too cosy, Clea now starts behaving oddly, having occasional nightmares seemingly related to some mysterious but unspecified event in her past. To cheer everyone up she organises a day out swimming on a nearby island in the harbour with Darley and Balthazar, whereupon Balthazar, fiddling with a harpoon gun he found in the boat, discharges it accidentally and spears Clea by the hand to a bit of old wooden wreckage underwater. To save her from drowning, Darley grabs a knife and hacks away part of her hand to free her.
Needless to say this puts a bit of a damper on their relationship, and Darley decides to cut his ties with Alexandria and return to Europe. Clea, too, seems to have wearied of the city and offers (in an exchange of letters) just the possibility of the two meeting again.
Clea is the book which adds the fourth dimension (i.e. time) to the multiple views of essentially the same sequence of events described in the previous three books. I wouldn't want you to think that that means Bravo Two Zero levels of narrative drive and excitement, though, because not a lot really happens, even then. But, as with the previous three, that isn't really the point - it's all about the evocation of the city, the real subject of the novels, for all the assorted mooning about and angst-ridden carrying-on of the principal characters.
A lot of this teeters dangerously on the edge of unbearable pretentiousness, and as always John Crace nails its more ridiculous elements in his Digested Reads entry. It's certainly true that the quartet's critical reputation isn't quite what it used to be (although it does still feature in some heavyweight Best 20th Century Novels lists, for instance this one - other novels in this series feature at numbers 2, 4, 21, 55, 63 and 64), but I enjoyed it - for all its pretensions to experimental-ness (mainly in the business with the multiple viewpoints in the first three books) it's all very easy to read, and the four volumes are all fairly slim (Mountolive is the longest at 285 pages).
The business with the Pursewarden siblings provides another entry for my Incest Files as detailed here; while we're on Things That Remind Me Of Similar Things In Other Books the episode with Clea getting harpooned and the frantic hacking with the knife reminded me of a similar incident in Willard Price's Underwater Adventure when the senior scientist, Dr. Blake, gets his foot grabbed by a giant clam and has to try and saw his own leg off, sadly without success.
Incidentally it's the centenary of Durrell's birth this year, so my timing of completing the quartet is opportune (though unintentional). More information can be found here.
Sunday, November 04, 2012
by the junction between Chepstow Road and Hawthorne Avenue, a couple of hundred yards at most from our house. It turns out that not only is this a Grade II listed building, but that it's recently been the recipient of a major repair job worth over £10,000 funded by a grant from the Welsh ancient monuments people Cadw. Incidentally if you click on that Google StreetView link you'll discover that the Googlemobile managed to snap this vital architectural landmark at the precise moment that a skip lorry obscured the view; nice work. Track left or right for a better view, or just click on the unobscured image on the right which I snapped while out for a walk with the bairn yesterday.
So anyway, the significance of the box in historical terms (it being just a big concrete lump painted blue in architectural terms) is that there aren't many original police boxes still around today, most having been demolished since they stopped being actively used by the police in the 1960s. It's surprisingly difficult to answer the obvious next question, i.e. well, how many are left then? Or, at least, it's difficult to answer it by trawling round the internet, not least because of the difficulty in sifting the wheat of actual historical information from the chaff of endless bollocks about Dr. Who.
There is a sort of Dr. Who connection here, though, in that the Newport box is apparently affectionately known as the Somerton TARDIS by locals, and in fact prior to the repairs had a Tom Baker-style scarf painted on it. Anyway, back to the numbers - this map which suggests there are no more than half-a-dozen or so real ones left must be wrong, since it omits the Newport one; this list (map towards the bottom of the page) seems more plausible, and suggests there are maybe 20 or so around Britain, with the Newport box being the only one remaining in Wales. Plan your visit now! Parking is available in a nearby side-street; refreshment and gift-shop facilities are currently minimal (though there is a slightly ropey Chinese take-away up the road). I do plan to set up a stall selling blue TARDIS-shaped fudge any day now, though.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
- No halibuts were involved today when an Afghan policeman opened fire on British troops at a checkpoint. A spokesman for halibuts expressed his relief that no halibuts were involved.
- One halibut was, however, involved in a tragic trawling incident which resulted in him being, erm, trawled. And then cut up and eaten. This is just the latest in a series of giant halibut stories including this one from 2008 (as previously featured on this blog) but also this one from 2009, this one from 2010 and this one from 2011 (this is the fish in the picture - it's the one on the right without the wellies).
Secondly, what is the plural of halibut? I've used "halibuts" in the first couple of paragraphs above, largely for comic effect, but actually I think "halibut" sounds more sensible. I think there may be a rule here, as I can't think of a fish where the plural form sounds sensible compared to just re-using the singular. One cod, two cod, three haddock, five salmon, twelve hake, eighty-six mackerel, four trillion goldfish, and so on. The last one there may hold the key to the mystery - does this rule apply because "fish" is its own plural, and all sub-divisions of the "fish" category therefore inherit their pluralisation rules from it?
Lastly, do not diss the halibut, whether singular or plural. Even a singular one, if it's big enough, can fuck you up pretty good. So watch yourself.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
- Bristol University student Rosie Reid auctioned off her virginity for £8,400 back in February 2004 to a middle-aged businessman called (or possibly not) "Tom". Her lesbian lover kept a lonely vigil in a room a few doors down the corridor.
- A Peruvian model called Graciela put her virginity up for auction in April 2005, but changed her mind before any money changed hands.
- Raffaela Fico, an Italian men's magazine model, put her virginity up for auction, with an ambitious reserve of 1 million euros, in September 2008. This one seems pretty definitely to have been a publicity stunt.
- Natalie Dylan from San Diego, California appears to be the current record-holder in financial terms after attracting bids of up to £2.5 million (or, alternatively, up to one live tiger). There does seem to be some doubt over the genuineness of her, hem hem, "status", and also whether the deal was ever actually done.
- Alina Percea from Romania agreed to surrender the precious flower of her maidenhood to some Italian guy in Venice in May 2009. This one has a happy ending, though: after transacting a deal worth in the region of £8,800 for an unprotected boning the man in question wanted to see her again, presumably to cash in a few more goes for free. Ah, romance.
- Evelyn Duenas, 28, originally from Ecuador but lately resident in Spain, auctioned off her virginity in July 2009 to help pay for her mother's medical care. As with Natalie Dylan, although there were rumours of bids up to a dizzying £2 million, it's unclear whether the deal was ever consummated, as it were.
- An anonymous 16-year-old from Newry, Northern Ireland offered her virginity for sale online in January 2010, but changed her mind, very probably after becoming exasperated by various drooling newspaper hacks wasting her time.
- An anonymous 19-year-old from New Zealand accepted an offer in the region of £20,000 in February 2010.
Now of course you can imagine the sort of unmitigated horror that is the comment thread on a Daily Mail article dealing with this sort of thing, and indeed I would urge you as a general rule never to look at a Daily Mail comment thread on any article on any subject, lest your eyes see things that can never be unseen. Those of us who aspire to a more rational outlook on life, however, can use this as a handy calibration tool to try and analyse our own reactions to these stories, both instinctive and (hopefully) more considered.
What, after all, one might say, is the problem here? As long as the women in question are not being coerced into doing this, as long as the men they end up transacting business with adhere to the specified rules, everyone tries to have a good time within the slightly odd parameters set out in the arrangement, and no-one gets hurt, then surely it's all good. There might be some legal niceties to be straightened out given that this may well be considered to be prostitution in some jurisdictions, but in general as long as you aren't soliciting on the street or giving Hugh Grant a blowjob in a car, then you're probably OK.
On the other hand, one might also say: well, that's all fine, but that blithely ignores that there is a thing called the patriarchy which infects everything everyone does, be they male or female. One could, after all, make the same argument about prostitution in a more general sense being an example of rugged entrepreneurship and business enterprise and all that crap, and in theory it could be, but you know and I know that it's mainly seedy fat blokes running strings of terrified malnourished dead-eyed underage Eastern European refugees out of a warehouse somewhere in East London: i.e. scarcely very empowering at all.
So the whole thing is a little bit problematic in terms of Knowing What To Think. On top of all that, what is this virginity fetish all about anyway? I mean, we all start out that way, and in your formative teenage years there is a pretty good chance that at least one of the involvees in any act of furtive and cack-handed fumblage will be a virgin, but as a general rule sex is like most other things (close harmony singing, yachting, canasta) in that a bit of practice and experience goes a long way. One might also formulate a rule that says any sex-based thing heavily fetishised by Islam, a religion more intensely weird about sex than most others (and, let's face it, they all are to a greater or lesser extent), should legitimately be viewed with a healthy dose of suspicion.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Friday, October 19, 2012
I'm sure that's not true, incidentally, though what certainly is true is that Johnny Ball's huge stock of goodwill among people of a certain age (myself very much included) who loved his science-based shows (principally Think Of A Number and Think Again) back in the early 1980s has been eroded fairly considerably in recent years by his idiocy on the subject of climate change. What is most amusing in his paranoid rantings is the suggestion that, because a Google search on his name came back with some pornographic images, essentially the Illuminati had sabotaged the entire internet in an attempt to discredit him, or something. As someone says in the comments to the Deltoid article:
Anyone who does a search for “Johnny Ball” and is surprised and alarmed by porn coming back as a result needs to be warned that they will continually find the internet confusing and alarming and may want to consider never using it.I'm less concerned by David Bellamy's similar descent into denialism lunacy, as I always thought he was a bit of a pillock.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
It was a dark and stormy night.....well, no, OK, it wasn't, but it was a torrentially rainy afternoon, and some water must have worked its way into the delicate electronic circuitry of the automatic barrier at the entrance to the campsite. So once I'd been into the reception area, handed over some money and returned to my car, blissfully unaware of the cruel fate that was about to befall me, I tapped in the barrier code I'd been given at reception, the barrier rose gracefully and I duly proceeded in a forwardly direction.
At which point all hell broke loose - the barrier, having risen in the designated manner, then decided to drop down sharply onto the top of my car and then rise and fall randomly while scraping along the paintwork, making that cackling OM NOM NOM noise that the big pot plant in Little Shop Of Horrors made. And we're not talking one of those flimsy plastic single-bar barriers like they have on the Severn Bridge either; this was the proper half a level-crossing gate job with the metal curtain/fringe thingy under it to inflict maximum damage. So there was a certain amount of scrapey and denty damage to the car:
Now clearly this was all the campsite's fault, and to be fair they shrugged and said, yeah, our bad, get it fixed and we'll sort you out, guv. So I availed myself of the services of Ali at ChipsAway, who in addition to being pretty cheap in comparison to other places will come and pick up your car from your house and deliver it back afterwards, which is nice. Here's the post-repair picture:
Good, isn't it? Unless you took some sort of laser sighting along the panel, you'd probably never know.
Daniel "Weird" Weir is a rock star. Well, an ex-rock star these days, but a ruddy great big globe-bestriding rock star in his day. These days he's living in a converted folly somewhere in Glasgow, having some low-key drunken adventures with various random blokes down the local pub (who think he's his own caretaker), pondering over The Meaning Of It All and trying to decide whether to top himself.
Back in the day, though, Daniel was the bass player and principal songwriter for Frozen Gold, rock legends of the mid to late 1970s. In addition to the multi-platinum albums and the sell-out gigs at the international enormodomes, Frozen Gold collectively managed their fair share of the obligatory rock star misbehaviour, from drugs to smashing up hotel rooms to more life-threatening stuff involving light aircraft. The band's eventual demise is brought about in slightly more mundane circumstances, though, when singer and guitarist Davey Balfour is electrocuted on stage.
The band splits up, Daniel knocks out an indifferently-received solo album, and retires to count his money and have everyone leave him alone. When one of the record company stooges contacts him to break the news that the band's other frontperson (and Daniel's occasional ex-lover) Christine Brice has been shot dead by a crazed fan in Ohio, Daniel decides that the best thing to do would be to kill himself. Cleverly picking a method which will provide him with plenty of time to change his mind, he decides to go to Iona and drown himself in the sea. Sure enough, on the way he has an epiphany in a hotel somewhere up the west side of Loch Lomond upon hearing someone playing some old Frozen Gold tunes in the room next door, and decides that maybe life is worth living after all.
So he heads back to Glasgow, signs away a large portion of his fortune, gives his old drinking buddy McCann the keys to the folly, and heads off north to seek out his old high-school sweetheart Jean Webb, having fortuitously run into her brother in Paisley and discovered that she's recently divorced. Hopping on a train to Arisaig, he asks around until he finds someone who knows her, and parks himself on her doorstep, hoping that she'll be pleased to see him.
This was Iain Banks' fourth novel, published in 1987, and it's probably the most orthodox and non-experimental of all the ones I've read. The rock theme is obviously one close to Banks' heart, as he's clearly a big music fan. Any book featuring the lyrics of imaginary rock songs skirts dangerously close to ridiculousness, though, especially as Banks is clearly a bit of a 70s prog-rock boy, and some of the lyrics do verge on the flowery in places. The general theme of - yes, drugs, sex, excess, playing the guitar on the beach while necking champagne, that stuff is all very well, but will it really make you happy? Hmmm? Really? No, what you really need is the love of a good woman and the support of a close-knit village community, even if some of them are a bit churchier than you'd like - is all a bit on the cheesy side, even though it's all written with great charm.
Banks also has a repeated theme of people who have enough material wealth never to have to worry about any of that ever again, and how they nonetheless manage to find stuff to worry about: Daniel Weir here, Kate Telman and her cronies in The Business, the Wopuld family in The Steep Approach To Garbadale, and of course The Culture in general in the books Banks writes in his "M" incarnation.
Much of the rock misbehaviour and general incident in the book echoes (no doubt intentionally) real-life stuff: Christine's assassination after some ill-advised religion-baiting echoes John Lennon's, Davey Balfour's onstage electrocution echoes various similar incidents, Leslie Harvey of Stone The Crows in 1972 for one, and even Daniel Weir's nickname echoes the lyrics of David Bowie's 1972 hit Ziggy Stardust:
Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly
And The Spiders From Mars
He played it left hand, but made it too far
Became the special man, then we were Ziggy's band
Further real-life interest, to me at least, is provided by the locations, Paisley in particular, since I spent a fair bit of time hanging out there with my ex-girlfriend Anne between about 1998 and 2002, as it was where her parents lived. So I have in fact been to Espedair Street, not that it's particularly exciting in itself. As it happens I have also been to Arisaig, or at least passed through it on the way to this remarkable campsite on the sand dunes, where we stopped off in order to facilitate getting the early ferry to Skye from Mallaig the following morning.
Anyway, I would rate Espedair Street more highly (among the non-M Bankses I've read) than Canal Dreams and The Business, but below The Wasp Factory, Complicity and Whit. You should probably start with those.
Monday, October 15, 2012
So basically the drill seems to be: party leader (still invariably male, even after all these years) gets up on stage, talks for a couple of hours - formerly from behind a big podium, but the thing these days seems to be to wander around the front of the stage, thereby demonstrating that you've memorised the speech by heart, but not quite knowing what to do with your hands - and then finishes with some slightly clunky crescendo, at which point the audience realises it's all over and goes mental with a standing ovation in the obligatory fashion. At this point the party leader stands around raising his hand for a couple of minutes and blinking a bit as if to say: all this for me, well, gosh, and then grabs his wife (who has made her way onto the stage) and gives her a big lingering kiss on the lips while she gazes up at him admiringly as if to say: I am so rampantly moist for your policies right now; also, cock.
Here's a little montage of the kisses from the 2012 conference season:
It is peculiar to have to remind ourselves that it's 2012, and all three spouses are career women in their own right to a greater or lesser extent - Miriam Clegg and Justine Thornton are lawyers, and Samantha Cameron (who, I should remind you, was a contemporary of mine at Bristol University, though we didn't move in quite the same social circles) has a slightly comedy job working for ludicrous luxury goods company Smythson of Bond Street, as befits someone only slightly posher than the Queen. And yet they still have to be wheeled out to prove the virility of our glorious leaders - not only can John Q Politician talk for an hour without recourse to notes, he's still got enough left in the tank to service the missus afterwards, and a good thing too, because she's hot for his criminal justice policies.
I predict that this will go one of two ways - either sanity will prevail and the whole thing will be ditched as a cringingly embarrassing sexist anachronism, or someone (and it could be me) will make a fortune patenting the Conference-O-Matic speech podium and integral spousal sex platform with full pelvic height adjustment for easy insertion without having to break your verbal stride. So the missus comes up on stage with 30 seconds or so to go, hops up onto the platform, hitches up her dress, and then it's "so, in summary, the party must go forward, not back [knickers off], look to the future, not the past [unzip, drop trousers], and the future of Britain will be NNNNNGGGGGGHHH [insertion] safe in our hands. Thank you." [standing ovation, commence furious thrusting]. Well it would certainly bring back some of the old cynics who have given up watching; I might even have a look in.
On the subject of sexism in politics, I must just give a quick tip of the hat to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (she's an atheist, you know) for her epic parliamentary smackdown of reptilian opposition leader Tony Abbott last week. It's difficult enough for a woman to become leader of a political party (see above), let alone Prime Minister, and for the tiny number that do the day-to-day sexism and sniping and casual dismissiveness must pile up towards the eyeballs on a regular basis. Margaret Thatcher remained immune to it all by virtue of being a psychopath, but that's not an option available to most. So it was quite refreshing and cathartic to see Abbott getting both barrels; top marks also to the various political analysis websites for the extensive post-speech use of the phrase "ripping a new one".
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Anyway, it turns out that one of the principal reasons that there are so many similarities between the two things is that E.L. James started out writing slightly porny Twilight fanfiction on the internet, allegedly under the pseudonym "Snowqueens Icedragon".
She eventually rejigged the original work, changed the main characters' names, removed all the neck-bitey stuff in favour of some more bondage, and eventually sold it to a meatspace publisher, whereupon it sold a gazillion copies.
Douglas Ashburner is one of those grey little men that were the source of much comical mileage back in the 1970s, trapped in a fairly mundane marriage and with an unrewarding job. In a desperate bid to enliven things a bit he's embarked on an affair with Nina St. Clair, a stereotypically temperamental artist. Not only does Nina have a bit of a thing for uncomfortable sex standing up in the kitchen (just in case her husband comes home halfway through and she has to shoo Douglas out the back door), but she's persuaded Douglas to come on a trip to Russia with her, presumably at least partly with the promise of some sex of the lying down uninterrupted variety.
Now obviously Douglas can't just say to the wife: right, love, I'm off to Russia with my mistress for a bit, see you when I get back, don't forget to water the aspidistra, so he cooks up a cock and bull story about going on a fishing trip to the Scottish Highlands, and then hot-foots it to the airport with Nina and her two travelling companions Bernard (another artist) and Enid.
Almost as soon as they get to Russia things start to go awry - Douglas' suitcase gets lost, and after an initial night in the hotel Nina suddenly disappears. Nonetheless Olga Fiodorovna, the interpreter assigned to Douglas' party for the duration of their trip, is keen that they press on and do the requisite sightseeing and visiting of sites of revolutionary significance. It becomes clear during all this that the various dignitaries they meet seem to think Douglas is someone other (and more important) than he actually is; weirdly, everyone seems to know Nina as well, though there is no sign of her in person.
The hapless party ploughs on through Russia in a haze of vodka-fuelled dinners and comical misunderstandings, including a comical misunderstanding on a train where Douglas ends up accidentally having sex with someone, as you do. At all times they are assured that Nina is just ill, and being cared for in a sanatorium somewhere, and will rejoin them presently. Eventually the party returns to Moscow to pack up before returning to Britain, at which point Douglas finds a cryptic note in Nina's handwriting with an address on it. Hijacking the airport taxi to take him to the address, he finds himself arrested as a spy and detained.
And, um, that's it. Unlike in Every Man For Himself, it's never exactly clear what's going on at any point here. Is Nina really sick? Or dead? Or has she just, as Bernard suggests, got cold feet about something and buggered off back to Britain early? And what of Bernard and Enid? Does Bernard really secretly speak Russian, as Douglas suspects? And what has he been doing all those drawings of? Are these the same drawings that turn up in Douglas' fishing rod case at the end and get him arrested as a spy?
Winter Garden was published in 1980, and seems quaintly old-fashioned in some ways now: the heavily constrained tourism options open to westerners during the Brezhnev years, but also the way the principal characters act - like in Hotel Du Lac if you weren't told otherwise you'd put Douglas Ashburner at 60-something, but from the clues given in the book you have to conclude he's mid- to late-40s or so. Having one of the main characters (presumably of a similar age) being called Enid doesn't help either, that being one of those names that is irredeemably associated with old people these days.
Anyway, like the other short novels by ladies of a certain age as listed here, here, here and here among other places, this is tremendously sly and knowing and captures certain aspects of human interaction very concisely. What you don't get is any clear idea of what's going on - as this review says, even in comparison with the the rest of Bainbridge's output Winter Garden is particularly enigmatic and opaque. That's not to say it isn't highly enjoyable though, because it is; I just prefer to know what's going on. I don't generally demand that it be spoon-fed to me; I can work it out, but the information has to be there somewhere.
Beryl Bainbridge died in 2010, between my reading of the only previous book of hers I've read [postscript: actually this isn't true, as I've read her 1977 Whitbread Award winner Injury Time as well, which dents the symmetry of the theory a bit] and this one. She therefore joins Russell Hoban on the list of people who have been killed as a result of my reading their novels; sorry about that.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Monday, October 08, 2012
I meant to add to the previous post, having inflicted the terrible lame punning title on you, that if journeyman European Tour pro and one-time tournament winner Graeme Storm ever makes the Ryder Cup team (which I strongly suspect will never happen), then I will be extremely disappointed if the media don't come up with a headline of the form STORM ON THE RYDERS or something very similar.
Also, more shouting at the radio today - the Book Of The Week concerned maps, and therefore sounded interesting, well, until it started anyway. As soon as it did it incurred my wrath with a lot of waffle about Google Earth and satnav and "well, couldn't it be said that maps these days point the way not so much from A to B as from, in a very real sense, ourselves, to, as it were, erm, somewhere else", compounded by the oft-repeated claim that fold-up paper maps are a quaint relic of a bygone age, an accompaniment to some imagined soft-focus 1970s family outing with the Cortina estate and the gingham tablecloth and the Spam sandwiches.
constant stream of stories in the media about people having to be rescued demonstrates, setting out without a paper map is a recipe for disaster, regardless of whether you've got a GPS or a smartphone or some other electrical gizmo with you. Electrical gizmos get wet and malfunction. Electrical gizmos have batteries, which run out. Electrical gizmos get dropped on a rock and broken. Electrical gizmos lose sight of the satellite they're getting their information from. And then, in pretty much all those circumstances, you're fucked. Unless of course you've got a map (and ideally a compass) on you. Granted, this does presume you have the ability to read a map and operate a compass, but if you can't do that then it's probably best you aren't allowed out of doors unsupervised anyway. All the major walking sites, as well as the gizmo manufacturers, issue dire warnings about never relying solely on electronic navigational aids. The additional pitfall of using a smartphone in particular as a navigational aid, of course, is that in a subset of the circumstances described above (wetness, smashage, battery death) you've lost not only your ability to navigate but also your ability to call for help.
ritzy laminated versions if you're going somewhere like Dartmoor or the Peak District where it will more than likely shit it down constantly - is still very much alive, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. That Dash4It link is the place to go for OS maps, incidentally, as they are much cheaper than in the shops, and they do free delivery. So if you're currently lost on Dartmoor, pull up the site, order the relevant map, put your last known GPS coordinates in as the delivery location, and then hunker down behind a grassy tussock with a KitKat until help arrives.
I should add that I have no beef with electronic navigational gizmos per se - I own a GPS which I use regularly (though mainly for recording track info rather than navigation) and the smartphone apps using the OS data like BackCountry Navigator and ViewRanger look pretty good. I do take a map as well, though. I assume that also taking stuff like waterproofs, a torch and something to eat goes without saying, but you never know.
Finally, books. I was over at The Mall the other day, and a bit of browsing around WH Smith and Waterstone's revealed the in hindsight completely unsurprising fact that literally everyone is now writing 50 Shades Of Grey rip-offs (or rips-off, if you insist). If you think I may be exaggerating for comic effect, I quite literally am not, as I trust these photographs prove:
It's very difficult to criticise these books purely for their choice of subject matter, since after all what people get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms, or indeed rubber-lined porn dungeons, is no-one's business but their own, and as long as everyone's past the age of consent and enjoys themselves and no-one gets hurt (unless they want to) then it's all good. Nonetheless the themes (in 50 Shades anyway, I can't speak for Bruised Perineum Of Guilty Delight and the rest of them) of female abasement to some mysterious super-rich but troubled pervert whose penchant for stalky manipulation and bondage induces (for some reason) uncontrollably orgasmic sexual frenzy in his (always younger, always virginal) lady friend raise some questions over the psychopathology that underlies all this stuff, and whether it's entirely healthy.
Bizarrely, one can't even escape into the safe and comforting world of children's literature, because the shelves over in that section are literally groaning with the various instalments of the Twilight series, which is essentially just the same sort of thing but with added teen angst and weird crypto-Mormon sexual morality. And werewolves.