Sunday, March 31, 2013

deep and crisp and even

All I've ever wanted out of life was for people to say: that Dave, he's a pretty straight guy. You know, when he says a thing, you can be pretty sure that that thing really is an actual thing. No referring to things as things when those things aren't actually things for him, no sirree. So it's a bit galling to have my complaints about not getting up Pen Y Fan much any more instantly rendered superfluous, not to mention ridiculous, by finding myself and my two NCT chums Huw and Alex all simultaneously available on Easter Saturday, and moreover for it to be a reasonably nice day. Plus, Alex had bought himself some new boots, so we needed to go and try them out.

So what we did was drive up to the car park by the waterfalls just round the corner from the site of the old Torpantau railway station - it's marked as Blaen-y-glyn on my OS Explorer map - walk up onto the Craig y Fan Ddu ridge and follow the ridge round to the big peaks, most notably Pen y Fan. All of which would have been pretty straightforward had it not been for the couple of feet of snow up there, and the layer of ice of variable thickness sitting on top of it in places, which made progress slow, unpredictable and somewhat trying at times. Once we got round to Fan y Big and onto more regularly-frequented paths things got a little easier, but the final steep climb up onto the Pen y Fan summit plateau was very icy and requiring of a bit of care and some decent boots. Which is not to say that there weren't some people up there in jeans and trainers, because there were, but I wouldn't have fancied it much. 

From the top of Pen y Fan we then skirted round the bottom of Corn Du (which we skipped going up to save time, just as we'd skipped Cribyn earlier) and along the Graig Fan Ddu ridge almost as far as the trig point; we then variously clambered and arse-tobogganed down the steep slope to the earth dam in front of the lower Neuadd reservoir, and from there back via forestry track and road to the car. A round trip of about 12 miles - that it took us over 7 hours is largely down to the conditions rather than any dawdling or other undue hanging about on our part. A good day out all round, though. Here is the route map and altitude profile combo; note that I forgot to turn on the GPS until we were halfway up the first ridge, so you need to imagine an upward line from the finishing altitude (a smidge over 400 metres) to the starting altitude as captured here, if that makes sense at all. A larger route map can be found here

The route we took overlaps (the second half in particular) with the shorter route we took on this walk in January 2009 in icy but much less snowy conditions. The first half overlaps somewhat with this walk we did in considerably warmer conditions in October of the same year. A couple of assaults on Pen y Fan from the Brecon side (i.e. the north) can be found here and here; note that the second one has a recipe for outdoor paella at the end.

Photos from yesterday can be found here.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

gray expectations

These days we can't just drop everything and jaunt up Pen Y Fan at the drop of a hat, as parental responsibilities tend to intervene. So when offered the opportunity of going for a walk up a hill on my birthday I had to temper my natural urge to plan some 20-mile yomp and think up something a bit more tailored to include the bairn without prompting a repeat of the Brown Willy incident.

So we ended up doing a quick trip up Gray Hill, which is over to the east of Newport just south of the Wentwood Forest and next to the Wentwood Reservoir. It's only a smidgen under 900 feet high, and I suspect it's only three miles or so for the round trip, but we didn't want to push our luck with Nia in the papoose and we wanted to be able to get back down in time to go to the pub for lunch. It's a nice walk if you only want a short one, though, although I saw no signs of either the standing stone or the stone circle that are marked on the map.

The nearest pub would probably be the Woodlands Tavern at Llanfair Discoed, and very nice it is too (good Felinfoel Double Dragon as I recall), but as we've been there a couple of times before we decided to go to the Groes Wen in Penhow, on the A48 back towards Newport instead. I had a perfectly decent pint of something I can't remember, and a very nice pie and chips.

A very small selection of photos, including the obligatory summit shot (no trig point, sadly) is here.

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Robbie Robertson, chief creative force behind The Band and intermittent solo artist over the past 30 years or so, and the Duke himself, John Wayne, during the late phase of his career when he starred in a couple of pretty ropey Dirty Harry rip-offs, Brannigan and McQ, each time playing a maverick cop who doesn't play by the book, but dammit he gets results, and each time also wearing a pretty spectacular selection of wigs. And no wonder, because Wayne was in his late sixties when the films were made, and he'd apparently been wearing wigs in films since the late 1940s.

Note that I'm not suggesting for a moment that Robbie Robertson wears a wig, though it's possible some Just For Men may be involved, since he is now 69 (about the same age as Wayne circa Brannigan, coincidentally). Perhaps his Mohawk ancestry confers some magical voodoo hair-retaining powers on him. It's the slightly incongruous hair that made me mentally link the two, though.

a house by any other name

Here's a thing I've never really understood: house names. I mean, I understand that back in the day some sort of descriptive thing was how houses were identified, before mapping, widely agreed road names and numbering of houses, and that even now some houses just have names and not a number. But, in general, they've all got numbers, so stop it. Particularly if you're going to foist some abomination like Ersenmine or Shaynoo on the unsuspecting house-purchasing public.

Here's another thing, though, slightly ironically in the light of all that: our house has a name. I mean, it's got a number as well, and when I give out our address I just use the number, but the fact remains that there is a name emblazoned both on the exterior of the house by the front door and decoratively on the internal glass above the door between the front porch and the hallway.

Now I have no idea what the significance of the name is - there are a limited number of options, the most obvious one being the legendary rugby ground in Dunedin, New Zealand. There is also a Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, but strictly that has an extra "e" at the end. There are other places that use the name, but it seems on the whole unlikely that the previous occupants named their house after either a New Zealand sporting goods company (who presumably just took the name from the rugby ground anyway), a firm of Essex accountants or a Manchester dental firm. Maybe my predecessor, in addition to being a furniture-staining Buddhist, was a rugby enthusiast who'd once been on holiday to New Zealand. My old university flat-mate Andy's parents lived in a house called "Tenerife", which I always assumed was because they'd once been there on holiday. Either that or it was a doomed attempt to make a house in the middle of Aldershot seem a bit more exotic. [Weird coincidence footnote: today, March 27th, is the anniversary of the 1977 Tenerife airport disaster, the worst aviation accident in history].

The only place I can recall living in before that had a name was Willow Cottage, in Normanton-on-the-Wolds on the south-east side of Nottingham, where we lived for a couple of years in the early 1980s. To be fair, that didn't have a number, so the name was actually part of the address. And there genuinely was a very big and old willow tree at the bottom of the garden, so it wasn't just a made-up name. I seem to recall the house next door being called "Cartref" (in fact it still is), which is pretty high on the list of boring generic house names, since it's just Welsh for "Home". In a road with no numbering system, you're pretty much obliged to give your house a name, though, even if you don't fancy the idea much. Something boring and generic will do, as long as it's unique - my parents' house is called "Annedd Bach", for instance, which just means "Small Dwelling".

Monday, March 25, 2013

headline of the day

Stand by for a bit more fuckwitted Daily Mail innumeracy. What's wrong with this headline?

The answer, of course, is that the claim in the headline is immediately refuted by the bar graph displayed just below it - with 75 suicide deaths per 1 million people compared with 27 for black people, white people are in fact around 2.78 times more likely to kill themselves. That's still an interesting statistic, as is the one on the other side of the centre-line, i.e. that black people are ten times as likely to die at the wrong end of a gun held by someone else (and a little under twice as likely to die for gun-related reasons overall). The "five times" bit that the headline-writer presumably got his number from is that white people are five times more likely to suffer a gun-related death at their own hands than at the hands of others. Again, an interesting statistic, but not the one the headline claims, because no such statistic exists.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

radio blah blah

Light and shade, tears and laughter, etc. etc. on the Radio 4 slot I like to call "the one after the Today programme" this week. On Thursday we had the excellent In Our Time on the fascinating life of Alfred Russel Wallace (and featuring former Welshman of the Day Professor Steve Jones), younger contemporary of Darwin and the man some feel that Darwin stitched up fairly shabbily by quickly publicising and publishing his own work in response to a letter from Wallace revealing that he was theorising along similar lines to Darwin. A more charitable view might be that Wallace played a vital role in energising Darwin to get off his fat beardy arse and finally collate and publish the mountains of evidence he'd been gathering for the previous 20-odd years.

Anyway, that was all very interesting; interesting in a different and more shouty-at-the-radio kind of way was the discussion on Tuesday entitled Christianity At The Crossroads, chaired by John Humphrys and featuring various goddy types as well as the defiantly godless Matthew Parris. The subject matter for discussion was very much as you'd expect from the title: how relevant is the Christian Church (in all its various flavours) to modern life, particularly in the wake of all the sex scandals, in the Catholic Church in particular? The fact that we've got a fairly new Archbishop of Canterbury and a brand spanking new Pope gave the whole thing a bit of extra spice.

The trouble with the discussion, as it always is with discussions of this kind, is that it was basically a detailed discussion of the warp and weft of the emperor's britches, complete with some disagreements over which colour they should be, whether they should end above or below the knee, whether those little bells attached to the hem are a good idea or not, without addressing the more fundamental question of why the emperor is in fact wandering around bollock naked.

A more sensible starting point for discussion would be: OK, you folks represent organisations that, ultimately, seek to tell people how to live based on an interpretation of the contents of a book that is supposedly the condensed thoughts of a supernatural being who created the world, can be petitioned by prayer, and takes a disturbingly close interest in what we do with our genitalia. This is important stuff, particularly given the dire consequences presented for stepping outside the bounds of what's deemed to be acceptable behaviour. So you will naturally have some pretty compelling evidence that the tenets of your religion are true, and this would be a good moment to present it. Note also that you'll have to account for the church's stated position on various subjects changing over time, usually just after the majority view in society as a whole switched: things like acceptance of evolution, homosexuality, slavery, that sort of thing. But start by convincing us that your supernatural friend exists, otherwise the rest of the conversation is entirely pointless.

Sadly we don't seem to be at a point in human history where that approach is acceptable. The best illustration of this is in that while Matthew Parris musters some robust arguments for things like divorcing the notions of religion and morality, he does still seem to concede without question that a real person called Jesus existed, and that the church that's built up around his teachings has corrupted the message in some way, as well as buggering all those altar boys, which to be fair I don't think the bible explicitly encourages. The reality is that there's absolutely no more reason to believe that the Jesus as described in the Bible existed than, say, King Arthur, and that if you're going to make the claim that no, there really was some guy named Jesus (or more likely Yeshua, Jesus being a subsequent Romanisation of the original Hebrew name) who didn't actually do any miraculous shit but was just a guy around whom various myths coalesced, then you're seriously into So What territory. To steal an argument I read somewhere else, if you're saying that Santa Claus exists, but is actually a plumber from Grimsby who doesn't wear a red uniform or own any reindeer or deliver presents and whose name is Gavin and not Santa Claus then essentially you're agreeing with me that Santa Claus doesn't exist.

So the whole programme was a depressing illustration of the special treatment given to religion compared with any other set of bonkers claims about how the world operates. As depressing as it is I suppose it at least provides a riposte to those who say: relax, you've essentially won, the world is a pretty secular place, chill out, have a cocktail. Clearly we've got a long way to go yet.

the blog cannot hear the blogger

This week's literary Dead Pool also includes the rather more heavyweight name of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe. All I can tell you about him is that his first novel Things Fall Apart is well worth a read - the others (he only wrote five, most of them in the 1960s) may well be too, but that's the only one I've read.

Things Fall Apart also gains extra props from me for taking its title from one of my favourite poems, WB Yeats' The Second Coming. I expect it's highly likely that many other works take their titles from the same poem, since it's so full of rich and portentous phrases, though the only ones I can think of off the top of my head are Joan Didion's 1968 essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and the Joni Mitchell song of the same name from her 1991 album Night Ride Home.

More can be found by Googling selected phrases:
You get the general idea. Needless to say that's not an original thought and if I'd scrolled down the Wikipedia page a bit I'd have found a much more comprehensive list. I'll get me coat.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

you spotty little herbert

I see that James Herbert has died, though of course we shouldn't rule out the possibility that he may yet return as a hideously decomposed zombie shade from beyond Hell to tear our very souls apart, so watch out for that.

I own five of his books (The Rats, The Survivor, Fluke, Shrine and Moon), and I've read a few others as well (The Fog and The Magic Cottage, certainly, plus possibly one or two others) - they were big favourites with teenage schoolboys back in the 1980s (when I was a teenage schoolboy) because in addition to the bracingly graphic violence there was always at least one similarly graphic sex scene tossed in somewhere. He was inevitably dubbed "the British Stephen King", but actually he was nowhere near being in King's class either in terms of writing style or being able to construct plots that, when you got to the end of the book, actually held together or made much sense. I strongly suspect that Herbert was the real-life inspiration for Garth Marenghi's mode of dress, all black shirts and leather jackets and slightly self-important spookiness.

It was all good unclean fun for all that, though, and I've always been rather surprised that more of his books weren't filmed, the Rats trilogy in particular. I guess that before the days of CGI the rat effects (particularly the giant mutant two-headed ones) would have been tricky to realise. The one film I have seen based on a Herbert book was the rather ropey 1981 supernatural plane-crash drama The Survivor, which I don't remember a huge amount about other than that the lovely Jenny Agutter was in it, though as far as I recall she kept her clothes on. I gather the atypically whimsical dog-reincarnation story Fluke was also filmed in 1995 (warning: trailer contains dangerous levels of Voice-Over Guy and general schmaltz). Note that the reasonably entertaining 1980 John Carpenter film The Fog has no connection to the Herbert book of the same name.

I should add (warning: plot spoilers ahead) that The Survivor falls into the Oh Right He Was Dead All Along category of (in this case fairly predictable) plot twists. The Rats is probably the one, if you want one. The sex scene starts on page 68, in my copy anyway.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Former world and Olympic downhill skiing champion and golfing WAG Lindsey Vonn, and former world tennis #1 and golfing WAG Caroline Wozniacki.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

the pope must die

All the hoo-hah over the election of a new Pope takes me back to my schooldays, specifically 1978, when I was eight. Yes, I lived through the most recent Year Of Three Popes, which it turns out was the first one for 373 years. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive! Well, no, not really, but I do remember it all quite clearly, and the main reason for that was the (in hindsight) extreme churchiness of the school I went to at the time. It's funny how stuff that in hindsight appears terrifyingly devout and weird seemed perfectly normal at the time, and of course this is how religion operates - get 'em while they're young and don't know any better. The regular school confession sessions we had, for example, whereby a series of booths were set up round the perimeter of the school hall and classes trooped in one by one to confess to a series of made-up misdemeanours and be given a few Hail Marys as penance seem extraordinary to me now, but it was just part of the way things were at the time.

Anyway, 1978, for those of you who don't remember, was the year when Pope Paul VI, who'd been in the job since 1963, died and was replaced by the little-known Italian Cardinal Albino Luciani, who broke with stuffy old tradition in a number of ways, not least in styling himself Pope John Paul I. Two names! This is what passes for revolution in the Catholic Church. He also broke with stuffy old tradition by croaking a mere 33 days into his papacy, in circumstances we'll come back to in a bit, and being replaced by rugged Polish ex-goalkeeper Karol Wojtyła aka John Paul II. I seem to recall a lot of frantic praying at school for God to guide the new Pope in his holy works, which basically seemed to involve going to lots of countries, kissing the tarmac, smiling a lot and patting children on the head.

My recollections of the sequence of events must be flawed, though, because all this happened between late August and mid-October 1978 (JPII was officially empoped on 16th October), and we were at that point in the middle of moving to Java for eighteen months (we travelled out around 20th September). So I'm not sure how we would have got wind of JPII's official pontiffication, still less seen any TV coverage. I do remember further excitement at the Pope's visit to Britain in 1982, by which time we were back in the country and I was at a different, though still pretty Goddy, school.

Anyway, the other thing of interest about the 1978 Popes is the various lurid conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Albino Luciani, most famously the ones gathered together in David Yallop's book In God's Name. As excellent and riveting as this is, it is quite hard to believe that the central claim is true (i.e. that Luciani was murdered), even though the trail of financial corruption and links between the Vatican Bank and some highly unsavoury people are all real. It's pretty much a universal rule that cock-up rather than conspiracy is a more likely explanation, and this case is no different. Or maybe that's just what The Man wants you to think?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

don't panic

I'm a day late, as his birthday was yesterday (he would have been 61) but I think it would be appropriate at this point to offer you a couple of quotes from Douglas Adams, who died back in 2001. The anthropic-principle-torpedoing puddle analogy is one of the more famous ones, but I've referenced that at least once here before, so we'll go with a couple of different ones:
Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
If you describe yourself as 'Atheist', some people will say, "Don’t you mean 'Agnostic'?" I have to reply that I really do mean Atheist. I really do not believe that there is a god—in fact I am convinced that there is not a god (a subtle difference). I see not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is one. It’s easier to say that I am a radical Atheist, just to signal that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it’s an opinion I hold seriously. It’s funny how many people are genuinely surprised to hear a view expressed so strongly. In England we seem to have drifted from vague wishy-washy Anglicanism to vague wishy-washy Agnosticism—both of which I think betoken a desire not to have to think about things too much.
Needless to say you should read everything Adams wrote, not that there is actually that much of it. Some people are put off reading the fiction, which basically comprises the five-part Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy series and the two Dirk Gently novels, by the perceived nerdiness of the sci-fi associations and the books' extreme cultiness, but the trick is to realise that Adams was first and foremost a great British comic novelist in the same vein as PG Wodehouse or Kingsley Amis, and the stuff about spaceships was just the genre that he happened to choose to express himself in. If you're too lazy to bother with all of it, I'd suggest just reading the first two Hitch-Hiker books (The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe) and the first Dirk Gently one (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency). Oh, and you should also read the spoof dictionary The Meaning Of Liff, co-written with John Lloyd, an entire online transcript of which, with occasional typos, appears to be here.

Lots more great stuff here; this is where the first quote came from. The second one was from Jerry Coyne's website here; a truncated version also appears on this excellent list. The full text of the interview from which it's taken appears to be here, which is a bit bizarre since the interview was with American Atheists and the website appears to be a Buddhist one.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

one hundred killer hurts

A couple of brief follow-up thoughts on earlier posts:
  • Memorable character though he is, Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men represents a fairly common fictional trope: the articulate and philosophical hired killer, able to discourse on a variety of subjects, or at least dispense some vaguely karmic bollocks about fate and coin tosses before popping a cap in your ass. Personally I blame Quentin Tarantino, for giving us numerous assorted badasses in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction quite capable of rapping about pop culture matters or the tricky niceties of foot massage. That in turn spawned a swathe of increasingly ludicrous imitations in films like Shoot 'Em Up and this year's Killing Them Softly. I mean, I daresay there may have been one or two real-life paid killers who have been like this, but most of them are barely-sentient goons.
  • A weird footnote to the linked story above about the murder of Aamir Siddiqi is that Hazel and I were probably less than 200 yards away when it happened, as it was a warm and sunny spring day in April 2010 and we'd decided to pop over to Roath Park for a picnic. The picnic was lovely, but somewhat disturbed about halfway through by a large number of police cars and vans turning up, sirens blaring.
  • Going back to No Country For Old Men for a minute, you have to do the same sort of life expectancy/novel frequency calculation with Cormac McCarthy as I suggested with Joan Didion, i.e. since he's thus far produced ten novels in 47 years, and he'll be 80 this year, will we get another one?
  • The off-screen demise of Llewellyn Moss about three-quarters of the way through No Country For Old Men (it's similarly "off-screen" in the book), and the brief involvement of Carson Wells (the Woody Harrelson character in the film) before being summarily rubbed out both probably qualify for my imaginary list of Unexpected Deaths Of Leading Characters In Films. Or perhaps if not leading characters exactly, then people played by famous actors who you'd expect to have a prominent role. The other obvious ones that spring to mind are Jack Vincennes (played by Kevin Spacey) in LA Confidential, and Danny Witwer (played by Colin Farrell) in Minority Report, in two almost identical scenes. Oh, and of course Adolf Hitler in Inglourious Basterds. No doubt you can think of more; here are a couple of alternative lists
  • Lastly, a piece of cricket trivia related to the somewhat obscure factoids here, only with the obscurity rating dialled up an extra notch: when Ian Redpath bagged 171 against England at Perth in December 1970 he plugged that spot on the "missing scores" list, and bumped up the lowest entry on the list to 186, where it remained for just over 12 years. 171 remained the lowest score made by only one person for much longer, though, right up until this week in fact, when Hamish Rutherford of New Zealand (on his Test debut) became the second person to bag it during the first Test against England in Dunedin. The lowest entry on that particular list now becomes 218, bagged by Sanjay Manjrekar in December 1989 and no-one since. 

you may have my $25 when you pry it from my cold dead wallet

Here's the latest missive from your friends and mine at Bud's Gun Shop, the lethal hot-lead-propelling device retailer of choice for the discerning homicidal maniac. Apparently in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre back in December of last year certain sections of the pinko liberal sandal-wearing tofu-eating closet homosexual community made the ridiculous suggestion that perhaps the best way to avoid yet another round of gun-related deaths would be to make guns more difficult to obtain, rather than by the clearly more rational step of arming absolutely everyone, including schoolteachers.

Not to worry, though, because Bud's have got our back on this one, along with the good people at the Gun Owners of America and the National Rifle Association, and by "good" here I mean "terrifyingly deranged", obviously. They won't see people's Second Amendment rights eroded, hell no.
Dear Dave, 

Are you concerned about your gun rights and the current attacks against the Second Amendment? We share your concern and are now offering a unique way for you to take a stand and donate to the NRA and the GOA. Both of these organizations are in Washington doing what they can to preserve gun rights. Convincing lawmakers to do the right thing is not cheap ! We want to help. For the next week (3/8 - 3/15), Bud will donate an additional 20% of the profits for all Silver 2012 Second Amendment Dollar’s purchased.  

The 2012 $25 Gun Dollar features the popular Ruger LCP. It is gem proof minted and is as flawless as the Second Amendment. Every 2012 Gun Dollar contains one-half Troy ounce of pure .999 fine silver. Order now to get the one of the last remaining 2012 $25 Gun Dollars and make a donation so that the Second Amendment stands firm in preserving your right to bear arms and protect life. 

Our popular 2012 One AV Ounce Copper issue is still in stock as well. Stay tuned for the 2013 Gun Dollar issue, it is in the last stages of development and should be released soon.  

Thank you,
Team Buds
This piece of finely minted boneheaded survivalist tat can be purchased here. Here's a sneak preview:

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

the last book I read

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy.

It's an early morning in 1980 in southern Texas, near the Rio Grande, and Llewellyn Moss is out and about just minding his own business taking pot-shots at antelope with a high-powered rifle. During his off-road excursions in his pick-up he comes across a disturbing tableau of vehicles and dead bodies: the aftermath of a clandestine drug deal gone violently wrong.

So drug deals normally involve the handover of money in exchange for drugs; there is a substantial quantity of heroin in the back of one of the trucks, but no sign of the cash. Moss follows a trail of blood up a hillside away from the vehicles and finds another body; this one has a briefcase on him with a little over two million dollars in it. So what would you do?

After mulling over this question for a couple of nanoseconds Moss takes the money and his truck and speeds off back to his young wife in their trailer-park home with no very clear idea of what he is going to do next. What he actually does is have an attack of conscience and head back to the killing ground with a flask of water for the one guy who wasn't quite dead. This single act of pointless kindness unleashes a world of shit, as various others are out looking for the money and the drugs and Moss barely escapes with his life, having to abandon his truck in the process. Knowing that the pursuers will soon know who he is and will be on his trail he packs his wife Carla Jean off to her mother's and hits the road.

It's not just the Mexicans who supplied the narcotics that are after him, though, but also a representative of the intended recipients of the drugs, who reasonably enough reckon that if they aren't going to get the goods then they ought to be getting their money back. This representative is Anton Chigurh, a man you don't want to get on the wrong side of, indeed a man you ideally don't want to have the slightest idea of your existence.

Moss is a brave and resourceful man, but intelligent enough to recognise that he has embarked on a road that cannot lead anywhere good. As he himself says:
If you knew there was somebody out here afoot that had two million dollars of your money, at what point would you quit lookin for em? That's right. There aint no such a point.
But what can you do, surrender to your fate? So Moss does his best to evade his pursuers anyway. Also in pursuit, for different reasons, is kindly old county sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who feels a duty of care for those dwelling under his jurisdiction.

Moss's flight becomes increasingly frantic, involving a gunfight with Chigurh at a hotel in which both are injured, a brief escape over the border into Mexico for some no-questions-asked medical treatment, and a final flight towards El Paso to meet up with Carla Jean, during the course of which the Mexicans finally catch up with him. Denied an opportunity for a personal enactment of his appointed task, Chigurh presents himself at Carla Jean's house to explain how, under his idiosyncratic moral code, payment of the debt now falls to her.

As well-known as McCarthy's work is, and as widely-reviewed as this was when it was published in 2005, most people will know it from the Coen brothers' 2007 film adaptation., which won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year. I saw the film when it came out and I can tell you that (a few understandable elisions aside) it's a very faithful adaptation of the book. One of the reasons this is possible is that the book, like all McCarthy's books, and particularly the later ones, is stripped down to the bare minimum of narrative and dialogue necessary to get its points across. This being the Coen brothers there is perhaps just an edge of very black humour in the film, and in Javier Bardem's portrayal of Chigurh, ludicrous haircut and all, in particular, that wasn't in the book, McCarthy not being big on humour in general.

Like The Road (also filmed) this is heavy on late-period McCarthy idiosyncrasies - short sentences, precious few adjectives and adverbs and frivolity of that sort, a general aversion to commas and quotation marks and apostrophes in words like "don't" and "can't" that some people will probably find too infuriating an affectation to get past, and precious little in the way of internal reflection by any of the characters (with the exception of Bell's musings at the end). It's less ambitious than either The Road or Blood Meridian, and to be honest both of those are probably better; all of Bell and Chigurh's philosophising and a bit of subverting of genre expectations at the end can't hide the fact that this is a fairly bog-standard pursuit thriller, brutally effective though it is. You should still read it, though, and see the film too.

Friday, March 01, 2013

incidental music spot of the day

A brief snippet of the intro to The Band's signature tune The Weight on the trailer for the new Tom Cruise apocalyptic sci-fi action adventure movie Oblivion. It's only ten seconds or so, but that's enough for it to be instantly recognisable, and also for me to be pretty sure that the version used in the film isn't the original studio recording as featured on the classic 1968 album Music From Big Pink. Nor is it the version by Smith that featured on the soundtrack album to Easy Rider after some contractual wranglings prevented the original being used - the one in the film is the original, slightly confusingly.

The Band also performed the song at Woodstock in 1969 but refused to allow any of their set to be used in the film or the album, supposedly because they were unhappy with the quality of their performance. So there's a bit of a history of pernickitiness about use of their material, which is probably why a soundylikey version ended up being used. There have been a gazillion cover versions, so it could be any of those.

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Let's do another one. Here's this morning's Desert Island Discs castaway, autism expert Dr. Uta Frith (no, me neither), and comic Jenny Eclair.