Wednesday, April 30, 2008

24 hours from Ulster

A longer post on the same subject will follow when I have time, but for now here are some photographs from our long weekend in Northern Ireland (and Derry in particular).

[Footnote: Doug tells me the small terrified furry creature we encountered on top of Slieve League is in fact a hare, not a rabbit, so I have bowed to his superior expertise in this area and corrected the captions accordingly. I thought it tasted a bit funny, now I think about it.]

Monday, April 21, 2008

the web site you seek; cannot be located but; countless more exist

See what you miss if you don't pay attention?

Haiku have a 5-7-5 structure, in terms of syllables per line - most people know that, myself included. But have you ever considered the metric structure of a limerick? Assuming that you're going to exclude the smart-arsed mucking around with the form of ones like this:
There was a young man from Peru
Whose limericks stopped at line two
- or its counterpart:
There was a young man from Verdun
- then your orthodox limerick has an 8-8-5-5-8 structure. That's 34 syllables. Skip back to the top and count the syllables in a haiku. That's right, 17. So one has twice the syllables of the other. Take that idea to its logical conclusion and you get this. Genius. On such leaps of intuition and creative thinking is modern civilisation built.

On an unconnected topic, I ordered a couple of bike accessories from the excellent people at Wiggle the other day. Now there may be a time in a Briton's life where the American usage of the word "fanny" ceases to be a source of sniggering amusement, but I certainly haven't reached it yet, and frankly I hope I never do. Click the image for a bigger version (of the word "fanny", among other things), as always.

And finally, while we're sniggering away to ourselves, here's those filthy haiku and limericks you were wanting.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Expelled: rumbled

Well, Expelled has had its US release (on Friday I think), and the reviews are in. And, well, generally speaking, they're not good. Haven't got time for extended ranting but here's a flavour of what other people think:

There are some more links from the Rotten Tomatoes page. Current RT rating: not good. No news as yet on a UK release date, I'm afraid.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

candid camera

It is an immutable law of nature that you will only notice that your passport is about to expire when you've already booked up lots of imminent travel that requires you to use it. And so it was when Hazel and I booked up a couple of trips for April and May, only for me to discover that my passport expires in August (yes, I know August is after May, but there's a requirement for six months future validity to travel to a lot of places).

So, anyway, I've got to get a new one, which of course entails getting passport pictures taken. As standard UK passports are valid for ten years this provides a handy opportunity to see how much you've aged since the last photo was taken, and to be horrified at your transformation from apple-cheeked youth into Keith Richards. Here's my two photos for comparison purposes:

Not really a dramatic transformation, I think, to be fair. My hair's a bit greyer and thinner (though less so than I'd feared), and that's a truly disastrous pair of glasses I'm wearing in the 1998 picture, but apart from that they're not too dissimilar, possibly because I was a bit hungover when both pictures were taken, the 1998 one in a branch of Boots in the middle of Edinburgh, and the 2008 one in another branch of Boots right here in Newport a week or so ago. That picture up in the attic is obviously still doing its job.

You can do a lot of the passport application process online now, though obviously there's some handing over of photographs (and your existing passport if you're renewing) which has to be done the old-fashioned way, i.e. in person or by post. Further information can be found here. Not at all, here to help.

the last book I read

Happy Ending by Francesca Duranti.

My recent changes in transport capability have meant that I now have less reading time available to me - specifically, the three-quarters of an hour or so I'd get during the bus/train combo which made up my journey home is no longer available to me - you can read a book while steaming over the Severn Bridge at 70mph, but it's not generally advisable. This isn't a complaint, as the benefits of car ownership vastly outweigh the drawbacks, but I do find I now have to consciously make time to read. Luckily this particular book is quite short anyway.

We're in Tuscany, in summer. Violante, the aging matriarch of an old aristocratic family, waits for her family to congregate at the familial estate and frets about who will take over the running of the estate after her death. And frets with good reason, as her surviving family are a bit of a mess. Son Leopoldo and his American wife Cynthia have a strange sexless relationship while Leopoldo conducts half-hearted affairs with other women. Daughter-in-law Lavinia is a strange, neurotic, child-like creature, seduced and then abandoned by a series of unsuitable men, including Violante's late son Filippo, whose method of abandonment was more spectacular than most - driving his car off a viaduct.

Watching over them is family friend, neighbour, former art forger and now respected art dealer Aldo, who also acts as an on-off narrator of various parts of the story.

The obligatory fly in the ointment to shake the family out of their various neuroses is provided in the shape of Marco, a school friend of Lavinia's (absent) son Nicola who drops in while on a backpacking trip. Young, pretty and monosyllabic, he casts a spell over the whole family, from a couple of borderline homoerotic encounters with Leopoldo by the swimming pool, to a perfunctory seduction of Lavinia after she lets him stay at her villa.

Having been thus shaken up, the pieces of the family fall back together in a more satisfying arrangement for all concerned: Leopoldo and Cynthia finally consummate their ten-year marriage, and Aldo's decades-long unrequited love for Lavinia looks like it may finally bear fruit. His narrative purpose fulfilled, Marco then departs.

So, happy endings all round, as the title suggests. And very nice too, in a fairly lightweight sort of way. This New York Times review compares it to John Updike, though I think that's probably being a bit generous.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

see you later, elevator

As any rational person does, I have a slightly irrational fear of lifts. Possibly for that reason, I found this New Yorker article fascinating. Fascinating, but not entirely reassuring, since the thread that holds the loose series of factoids and anecdotes together is the story of one Nicholas White, who was trapped in a lift in a New York office block for forty-one hours back in 1999.

Watching the CCTV footage (of the speeded-up, time-lapse variety, thankfully) of his ordeal helps pin down the nature of the various competing fears involved - plummeting to your death in a heap of mangled twisted metal, obviously (although, as the article explains, this is phenomenally unlikely unless an aeroplane flies into the building, which is, in turn, just to prove the point, phenomenally unlikely), stepping absent-mindedly into a gaping lift shaft, sure, but also the non-fatal consequences of being trapped, alone, with only your own thoughts for company, until someone finds you. Even if you're not claustrophobic, there's just the sneaking suspicion that the small compartment, possibly with mirrors on the walls, will turn into a kind of Total Perspective Vortex and that by the time you're eventually found, your hair will have turned white and you'll have clawed out your own eyes as your brain turned inside-out and ate itself.

If none of this sounds likely or dangerous enough, you could always try lift-surfing.

Shifting back to the nasty gory deaths with the rending and tearing of flesh for a moment, my lift-based nervousness isn't helped any by film sequences like this one from Final Destination 2 and the one about two minutes into this montage/mashup from Damien: Omen II. Nor, indeed, by actual true stories like this one (oddly, very similar to the incident in the first of the film clips above). Maybe I'll just take the stairs.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

dead funny

A disclaimer up-front, before we start: the death of anyone is of course a tragedy to those who knew and loved them, and is in no way a suitable subject from which to obtain comic mileage. Right, now that's out of the way, let's crack on.

I was having a conversation today in which the subject of recent celebrity deaths came up, probably after Charlton Heston's demise a week or so ago (at which point I must link to his finest cinematic moment, and one of the, ooh, I dunno, four or five best film endings anywhere, ever). That prompted a look back at who had died so far this year - Jeremy Beadle, Paul Scofield and Edmund Hillary, to name but a few, but more amusingly some of the people I'd never heard of but who have names worthy of mention, and, in some cases, envy (or ridicule, as appropriate). Here are a few that caught my eye, in reverse order of demise, i.e. most recent first:
  • Buzz Nutter, American footballer.
  • Frosty Freeze, member of the Rock Steady Crew. Come on, you remember them.
  • Chalmers "Spanky" Alford, jazz musician. No detail on his Wikipedia page as to the origin of his nickname, sadly.
  • Metropolitan Laurus, head of the ROCOR. The best known of the Laurus family, he is survived by his younger brothers Bakerloo Laurus, District Laurus and Docklands Light Railway Laurus.
  • Vicki Van Meter, pilot. Which reminds me of the old joke about the Irishman who thought Hertz Van Rental was a Dutch footballer.
  • Bill Bolick, country singer. Strangely, he decided to call the band he co-founded with his brother Earl Bolick The Blue Sky Boys, not, say, Total Bolicks or Utter Bolicks.
  • Al-Bandari bint Abdulaziz, minor Saudi royal. In some cultures it would be a source of mild embarrassment for a woman to have the middle name "bint".
  • Static Major, singer & rapper. Not his real name, I regret to say (nor was Frosty Freeze, mind you).
  • Mindrolling Trichen, Tibetan spiritual leader. This is some serious shit; you thought Ezekiel 25:17 was some cold-blooded shit to say to a muthafucka before you popped a cap in his ass, but imagine rolling a brutha's mind. That's some serious spooky-ass Buddhist voodoo shit, right there.
  • Max Bănuş, journalist. Huhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh. Banus.
  • Schoolboy Cleve, blues musician.
  • Rose Hacker, activist. Not a gardener, sadly, as that would have been more amusing.
  • Floyd Boring, ex-Secret Service agent. That is the best undercover name ever. Except perhaps for Undercover Elephant.
  • Pratap Chandra Chunder, Indian cabinet minister, and big fan of the old 14 pints of Stella and a crabmeat vindaloo combo of a Friday night.
May they all rest in peace.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

two whales in a Ford Focus

Not much point passing your driving test if you're not going to subsequently go out and get yourself a car, so that's what I did last week. And here it is:

Having driven it around quite extensively for the last week I'm very pleased with it: nice comfortable driving position even for a 6'1" bloke, big boot, and the 1.6-litre Zetec engine is quite sporty. I mean, it's not a Ferrari, but then again I couldn't get my golf clubs in the back of a Ferrari, at least not without taking the engine out, which would be a bit counterproductive.

I should give a tip of the hat at this point to the good people at Globe Motors in central Bristol, who made the whole purchase process very painless, and generally gave a convincing impression of not being Frank Butcher - I would suggest they consider putting a splash more petrol in their cars before letting customers drive away, though. I noticed the petrol light was on and the gauge was on the bottom edge of the E when I started the car up, and, having driven no more than a mile and a half or so through some heavy-ish traffic to the nearest petrol station, the engine spluttered and died as I pulled onto the garage forecourt. Luckily I had Andy with me so he was able to give me a push for the last ten feet or so so I could fill up. At least I now know how much a completely full tank of petrol costs - about £62, since you ask.

I've also sorted myself out with a TAG for the Severn Bridge - basically a little plastic box that you fix to the inside of your windscreen behind the rear-view mirror, which then enables you to drive up to the bridge barriers and have them automatically open for you, without you having to interact with the surly plebeian characters in the toll-booths. It doesn't save you any money, but it's nice not to have to rummage around for change and, since, shamefully, even in the 21st century, they don't yet accept plastic (although they do on the M6 Toll - hey, I don't make the rules), it's a way of avoiding potential embarrassment if you happen not to have enough cash on you. Obviously you've got to remember to keep the account topped up, so I haven't completely eliminated the risk of being escorted to a cashpoint by the police, but I've done the best I can.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Wye oh Wye oh Wye

It was a nice day on Saturday so we went for a walk. There's only so much interest that can be generated by walking around central Newport, so we decided to go and have a look at the Wye Valley, which is barely half an hour's drive away.

So - we parked up in the car park at Tintern Abbey, which unfortunately has some unsightly scaffolding attached to it at the moment, and walked up over the old wireworks railway bridge and along the riverbank to Brockweir, where we adjourned to the very pleasant Brockweir Inn for a drink and to watch the Grand National. Then we walked back down the old railway line to Tintern station, which has been tastefully restored into a sort of cafe and picnic area with some interesting sculptures, and then back to the car park, stopping off on the way to buy some cuddly toys in the shop at Tintern Mill, as you do. Pictures can be found here. That's me laying hands on Sabrina the river goddess in a familiar way on the left there.

This part of the country is the start point for a couple of long-distance walks: the Offa's Dyke Path which heads up past my parents' place near Abergavenny, and the Wye Valley Walk which follows, as you might expect, the course of the Wye all the way back to its source on the boggy slopes of Plynlimon, subject of an earlier post and photos.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

telling porkies

Here's another in the vein of my couple of earlier posts regarding absurd food packaging slogans - I was making some meatballs earlier and I noticed the label on the pack of pork mince I was using. Here it is:

Couple of things to notice: firstly that this pork mince is apparently "ideal for use in recipe dishes". Right you are then. So, in culinary terms, that rules out......well, nothing at all, actually. Helpful.

Secondly, the rustic farmhand pictured has apparently, and I quote, "been supplying pork to Tesco from my farm in Suffolk for over 25 years". Unless he's as spectacularly well-preserved as me I'd say the bloke in the picture was 30 at most, which would require me to believe he was running a supermarket meat-supplying operation at the age of five. Clearly what's meant is that the farm has been supplying pork for over 25 years and this chap is the latest in a long line of cloven-hoofed troglodytic products of unholy incestuous union who have run the place down the years. So why can't they be clear and say that?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

an eggzellent zuggeztion

Updates on a couple of previous posts:

Firstly, exciting news on the Absolutely DVD front: the complete box set (i.e. all four series) is being released on April 28th and can be obtained for a mere £24.98 from Amazon. Hats off to Andy for his slightly scary monomaniacal obsession with the whole business. Perhaps he could now move on to sorting out the Whoops Apocalypse debacle for me?

Secondly, an addition to my more recent list of women who rock. I'm not particularly familiar with the Guillemots' music, and perhaps I should keep it that way, lest them turning out to be rubbish invalidate my including a picture of the exotically lovely Aristazabal Hawkes, who is their bass player, in support of my theory. Anyway, it's too late, I've done it now.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

you're my best mate, you are

Time for another photo-montage, I think. I came across this old photo of me and my old mate Paul in a bar in Wellington, New Zealand the other day (on my 31st birthday, if I remember rightly) and I thought to myself, I bet I've got an embarrassingly large number of similar pics taken over the years. Ground rules here are:

1. I have to be in the picture
2. I have to have an alcoholic drink either in my hand or on the table in front of me
3. There is no rule 3

I'm ashamed to say it was very easy to find 60+ of these; in my defence I do do lots of other healthier stuff as well, in fact I've combined the two activities (mountain climbing, cycling, etc. and drinking) in a few cases. Have a look for yourself.

April fuel

Well, mid-day seems to have come and gone without me being the victim of any deeply tedious practical jokes, which is good. Strange how I'm the only one who came to work naked today as requested, but I guess the others must have just forgotten.

I don't see an obviously fake story in the Independent today; but I haven't been through it with a fine-toothed comb, so I might have missed it. According to this round-up last year's story was about grow-your-own Viagra. The full-page BMW advertisement on page 4 of today's Indy caught my eye though, with its patented Canine Repellent Alloy Protection: more here and here. Apparently BMW have a bit of previous in this department. More classic hoaxes here and here.

A bit of further digging reveals that it's the Indy story on page 3 about Gordon Ramsay being refused a restaurant licence in Australia on grounds of "decency" that's the hoax. And it seemed so plausible. Ah well - I'm off out to the woods to harvest some spaghetti for dinner now.