Sunday, January 31, 2010

input contrary to established facts

A few things to note about the camp 1970s sci-fi classic Logan's Run, which I bought for about 3 quid off Amazon the other day:
  • This was the first in-flight movie I ever saw on an aeroplane - given the film's release date (1976) I suppose it must have been on the way back from Korea to the UK in December 1976.
  • As I was only 6 at the time of first seeing it I was unable to appreciate the full awesomeness of a machine that would make a semi-nude Jenny Agutter appear in your room at the touch of a button. Needless to say it would have to be the 1976 (or thereabouts) edition; although she is a fine-looking older lady (57 in fact) these days it wouldn't be quite the same.
  • There are many reasons why Jenny Agutter does strange things to men of a certain age - I think it's mainly the good girl/bad girl combo of the cut-glass English accent and the relaxed and liberal approach to nudity in many of her films. Walkabout is the canonical example of this, but to be honest the fact that she was only sixteen at the time of filming makes me slightly squicky. I've never seen Equus, but the shower scene in An American Werewolf In London is absolutely marvellous, in a completely artistically valid kind of way. I mean, who doesn't like a sexy nurse?
  • Anyway, back to the matter at hand, as it were. Logan's Run is good fun, but really rather silly, and a lot of the special effects are a bit rubbish (Box the robot in particular). But, in a way, this almost makes it more fun. It also concludes with a version of a classic cinematic trope - an unexpected or paradoxical response to a question causing a previously pretty much omniscient supercomputer to start hysterically chanting "does not compute" or some variant thereof and then explode, though only a bit at a time so as to give the protagonists time to escape. TV Tropes calls this a Logic Bomb.
  • In linking here and also adding it to the blog sidebar I should on the one hand commend TV Tropes to you as a great source of information and fun, while on the other hand warning you that you can lose hours and days in there without realising. I was only 26 when I started typing this blog post.
  • I've also added the fantastic and fairly self-explanatory Information Is Beautiful blog to the sidebar, which is also highly educational and well worth losing an hour or two in.

toff on swans, toff on the causes of swans

Frankly there was already something about David Cameron's weirdly smooth smug potato-ey face that made me want to punch it even before the latest Conservative poster campaign. I suppose one might argue that it's not his fault he was born into privilege and wealth and therefore never had to do an honest day's work in his life whereby he might have acquired any coarse plebeian wrinkles or blemishes. But, on the other hand, one might say: fuck it, I still hate him. (There have also been rumours of the careful application of a spot or two of Oil Of Photoshop on the poster.) His daily moisturising regimen of rendered fat and brains from the flayed carcasses of working-class children must help keep his lily-white skin from getting chapped as well.

So the latest Conservative poster campaign was a bit of a red rag to a bull, really. Even leaving aside the comedy value of Cameron's hilariously doomed and unconvincing attempt to do a concerned look to camera conveying empathy and gravitas before resuming blazing away at foxes with a shotgun while swigging from a decanter of port and rolling around cackling in a big pile of money, it's just crying out to be defaced and/or parodied. And sure enough many many parodic efforts of varying quality have been produced, a small proportion of which can be found here, here, here, here and here. There's a few more on this military aircraft-themed message board - note how there's a gradual increase in aggressive right-wingery as the thread goes on, as befits the gradual eye-bulging approach to sexual climax of a group of men who obsess in a slightly inappropriate way about military hardware.

You can create your own Cameron poster if you like - here or (better) here. My first few attempts consisted solely of endlessly repeated strings of swear words and frenzied stabbing at the laptop screen with a screwdriver, but I eventually calmed down enough to produce this piece of reasoned yet hard-hitting political analysis.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

oodles of noodles

Great excitement: my latest batch of internet noodles has arrived.

I reckon my family are single-handedly keeping the UK Korean noodle importing industry going; not only has my sister Emma made recent use of the Wing Yip internet noodle facility, my younger sister Hannah is a big fan as well (though I think she favours the all-in-one Pot Noodle-style polystyrene tub version - it's essentially the same product though). My parents are also addicted, and since the Oriental shop in Hereford has recently either shut down or stopped stocking the Nong Shim noodles (not sure which) I added some for them to this order - so the large pile (70 packets) pictured isn't all for me, just most of it.

Just to reiterate: other brands are available, but the Nong Shim ones are the guv'nor in this particular culinary genre. If you really can't find them then the Sutah Ramen noodles are a pretty acceptable substitute, but they just aren't quite hot enough to make your nose run and your (face) cheeks go numb in patches while you're eating them in that charming way that the proper ones do.

Friday, January 29, 2010

everyone knows blogging gives you cancer

I think it was Ben Goldacre who first mooted the idea of the Daily Mail having an ongoing project to divide every object in the world into one of two categories: things that either cause or cure cancer. The splendidly named Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project picked up the baton and tried keeping track, but caved in to the sheer size of the undertaking after only a few days. Where they led, others have followed, though. Here's the New Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project, here's another similar list, and here's a Facebook group on a similar theme - the irony being that Facebook itself gives you cancer.

Just picking things beginning with "m", for instance, we find that, rather splendidly, melons prevent breast cancer (well, of course), and that mushrooms, mustard and masturbation all prevent cancer as well. That's my Friday night sorted then.

Incidentally, if you want a little mnemonic to remember what the word "oncology" means, then just imagine that it's an acronym and that the first three letters stand for "Oh No - Cancer!". Always works for me.

news headline of the day

This one from the BBC website:

And a good thing too - doctors have enough to deal with without having to go around killing organless zombie kids with a shovel. Original article is here.

This is what Language Log calls a "crash blossom". Further examples can be found here; a couple of earlier examples from this humble blog can be found here and here. A more general list of amusing newspaper headlines can be found here; note that the po-faced explanations beneath each one of why it's ambiguous and/or funny are almost better than the headlines.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

have I got shoes for you

As I tearfully commemorated the passing of my old Berghaus boots a while back, so I hereby mourn the passing of my faithful old Salomon walking shoes, which were a bit knackered and had started to leak, and look forward with tentative hope and expectation to a series of new snug dry-footed walking adventures with my newly purchased Teva shoes.

Just as it was the Dartmoor trip which finished the old boots off, I think the Salomons (which I must have had for at least eight years, maybe more) were pushed over the edge by the waterlogged later stages of the descent from Foel Cwmcerwyn in Pembrokeshire last July. I'm a bit wary of buying shoes (and to a lesser extent any form of clothing) over the internet what with the obvious impossibility of trying them on in advance, but as it happens these (which I got from Amazon for £67.50) are a perfect fit (though they are a size 10 whereas the Salomons were a size 11, oddly - maybe my feet have shrunk). As before, old on the left, new on the right.

Monday, January 25, 2010

non-overlapping my arse

This morning's post-9am traffic jam Radio 4 accompaniment was a bit of Start The Week with Andrew Marr. The usual array of luminaries including Sarah Bakewell, author of a new biography of Michel de Montaigne, an author who I have to admit I'd never heard of, 16th-century French essayists not really being my forte, and also Will Self, who with a trademark display of his inimitable sesquipedalian logorrhoea memorably referred to Montaigne as being "instantiated by his methodology". How true that is.

Also appearing was biologist Steve Jones, who I hereby nominate as Welshman of the day, just because, well, he's Welsh. I'd switched off before they got to the bit that explained what he was doing there, but he and Will Self did get into a conversation about science and religion that caused just a faint plume of steam to start issuing from my ears.

Basically Jones trotted out some analogy about conflict between science and religion being a bit like a fight between a shark and a tiger; each is great and pretty much invincible on its own turf, but useless in the other's. This is basically a slightly cutesy version of Stephen Jay Gould's non-overlapping magisteria argument, and I suspect Jones offered it for the same reason Gould cooked it up in the first place, which is as a defence mechanism to avoid getting sucked into a clabby conversation he didn't want to get involved in.

That is the only acceptable defence for offering it as an argument, though, as it's completely bogus; there are no circumstances where religion is more useful to you than science, and they certainly do obtrude on each other's territory, unless you claim that your putative God intervenes in the world in no detectable way whatsoever, in which case what you've got there is a sort of loose Deism which resembles any of the world's major religions in no way whatsoever. The only way you can justify the notion of religion as useful in any real-world situation is to conflate the concept of religious faith with concepts like ethics and morality, which despite being clearly nonsensical is precisely what proponents of religion do all the time, in a desperate scrabbling attempt to claw back some real-world relevance.

A fight between a shark and a tiger would be pretty awesome, though. Perhaps in a paddling pool or something. Or a bath full of custard. Then again maybe they wouldn't want to fight? Maybe something deeply beautiful would happen.

hi, I'm Jay Garrick, hope you are too

My ceaseless internet advocacy and lobbying (well, one post and a couple of tangential follow-ups) has chalked up another success: the imminent-ish release of The Complete Apocalypse, which apparently includes both the 1982 TV series Whoops Apocalypse! and the 1986 film of the same name in one DVD package.

The Complete Apocalypse has been listed on various websites since back in 2007 without ever actually appearing in the real world, but it does now have an official release date (March 29th) and its Amazon page now has a picture on it, which I deem to be indicative of Great Things Being Afoot. Watch this space.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

your sunday science/comedy video mashup

Here's a couple of links to online video stuff that you might find entertaining - I did, anyway, but hey, please yourselves.

Firstly, here's Llewtube, which is basically a series of video interviews/discussions featuring Robert Llewellyn aka Kryten from Red Dwarf and a series of interesting guests. The format is an interesting one whereby Llewellyn picks up his chosen guest in the car and gives them a lift somewhere (and sometimes back as well), which makes for a nicely informal and unstructured setting. Guests include the currently ubiquitous Dr. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science fame, the lovely Dr. Alice Roberts (who also seems to be making a bit of a bid for world domination) and the also very lovely (though not a doctor) Sharon Corr who was mentioned here not so long ago.

Also, I caught most of Nerdstock: 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People on BBC4 last night. The whole thing is currently available on iPlayer, though I'm not sure how long these things hang around. If you missed the adverts, this is one of the series of gigs at various London venues back before Christmas, organised by the estimable Robin Ince. As befits the Secret Policeman's Ball-style format it's a slightly lumpy and uneven mix of comedy, science bits and musical numbers, featuring such luminaries as Richard Dawkins, Ben Goldacre (again, thereby proving my point), Richard Herring and the increasingly camp Brian Cox. Ince seems bullish about doing it again next year as well, so watch out for it and snap up your tickets. If the bracing rationality and godlessness doesn't do it for you then there is a chariddy element as well.

you butter you batter you bet

The latest batch of damson gin was long overdue for decanting, so I took advantage of a quiet night in on Friday to do it. Two litre bottles and (nearly) two 70cl ones, so that should keep us going for a while. Note the splendid bespoke labels that Hazel got one of her printing contacts to make up for me for Christmas.

Having decanted all the gin I was left with a load of gin-soaked fruit. Unlike the sloes, which, once you've used them for the gin, are pretty much useless for anything else (since nothing you can do to them will make them nice to eat), you can re-use the damsons, though you do need to stone them, which is a bit of a chore. Note: on no account should you stone the damsons before making the gin, as the pleasantly tart almondy taste you get comes from cyanide compounds leaching out of the stones (this is why cyanide legendarily smells of bitter almonds), though not in quantities sufficient to do any harm (well, certainly not compared to the alcohol in the gin, anyway).

When I made the last lot of damson gin we made the leftover damsons into a crumble - this is great, but the layer of crumble mix over the top of the damsons doesn't leave much scope for the soaked-in alcohol to evaporate. So you end up with a fierily alcoholic crumble you can get pissed on one portion of, not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, of course. So what I was looking for this year was something that would expose the damsons to the elements a bit more; here's what I came up with:

Damson clafoutis

Firstly, I should point out that I didn't make this up in my head; I have a few recipe books that I got a basic recipe out of. Interestingly, I had some trouble finding a recipe originally as I was convinced that it was spelt "chlafoutis", presumably because I'd assumed it was Greek or something like that. It's French, as it happens, the reason it doesn't look particularly French as written being because it's derived from a word in the old Occitan language.

Anyway - I have little patience for desserts, so this one appeals to me because it's very simple; you just make up some batter, pour it over the fruit and stick it in the oven for three-quarters of an hour or so. It's a sort of fruit-in-the-hole, if you will. Here's what you'll need:
  • 50g plain flour
  • 120g sugar
  • 5 eggs (note: most of the recipes say 4 eggs plus two yolks, so if you can be bothered with all the separating business, knock yourself out)
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pint of milk (note: on no account use a pinch of milk and a pint of salt; it'll be really grim)
Put the fruit in a big flat dish. At this point remember that you were supposed to grease the dish. Shrug and forget about it. (Note: it's worth remembering to do this. The original recipe also suggested adding a bit of melted butter to the batter; up to you).

No fancy mixing or folding in required here, just throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz them for a few seconds. Then pour the batter over the fruit.

Stick it in the oven for 45-55 minutes. Dust a bit of icing sugar over the top, serve (with varying degrees of difficulty depending on whether you remembered to grease the dish or not) warm with some ice cream or something. Nice.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

this week I have been mostly eating taramasalata

If you had your wits about you during the last book review you'll have noticed that I alluded to a train journey between Bristol and London on Friday evening. Hazel had been in London attending various photography courses/seminars/etc. during the week, so I popped over for a night out in London.

If, like me, you're a simple country boy who doesn't get over to the big smoke all that often, then you probably want a few words of wisdom to set you on the straight and narrow lest your head be turned by the bright city lights, unscrupulous types lure you into their dens of crime and wickedness, and you end up giving handjobs for cash round the back of Hampstead tube station. So listen up.

We'd arranged to meet up with my old friends Mark and Lorna, and I'd asked Mark to recommend a pub somewhere between where I'd be coming from (i.e. Paddington), where we'd be staying the night (Tottenham Hale), and where they live (Stratford). A complex task of triangulation and pub selection, but Mark came up trumps with the selection of Ye Old Mitre in Holborn, which not only serves excellent Adnam's Broadside, but also sells pork pies behind the bar! With mustard on the side!

Having chugged back four pints of premium ale in no time at all, it was probably just as well that we then moved on to get some food - we ended up at the charmingly rustic Kolossi Grill Greek Cypriot restaurant a mile or so to the north up towards Islington, where they not only have splendid rustic Greek Cypriot food, but also charming rustic metal litre jugs of Greek Cypriot wine, and charming rustic Greek Cypriot tutting and abuse if you don't eat the two pounds of taramasalata that's put in front of you. All in all it was quite literally Kolossal, and all pretty cheap as well. It was about halfway through that I started to regret having had the pork pie, though.

So much for the food and drink recommendations - the other thing the occasional London visitor might need to know is that there has been a fairly radical rearrangement of the Circle Line of late (December 13th 2009 to be precise). Radical in that it's no longer a circle, more of a spiral really as trains run from Edgware Road to Hammersmith and back again. What this means to the unsuspecting traveller arriving at Paddington and wanting to travel east (to Farringdon in my case) is that you can't just head for the main tube station entrance and jump on the first available Circle Line train, as you'll have to change at Edgware Road. Best option is probably to head over to the Hammersmith and City Line platforms at the other end of the station and get a train from there.

All these changes mean that the Circle Line now serves 35 stations instead of the original 27, which is going to make the Circle Line Pub Crawl even more demanding than before. Allowing for the extra drink for "doubling up" at one of the stations (wherever you started previously, Edgware Road now) and assuming you stick to halves to avoid dying in the attempt (assuming that you're not Peter Dowdeswell of course) then this means that you will now have to drink 18 pints instead of 14. Not something to be undertaken lightly, and I suspect you will need a pork pie or two en route.

Finally, tube maps - I'll re-direct you to the educational and hilarious Silly Tube Maps page as linked here, and also this page giving an interesting tour of tube maps through the ages. Here's Transport for London's official map page as well.

Monday, January 18, 2010

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

If you clicked through to the Wikipedia page on Shane MacGowan as linked in the previous post, you might notice that one of the footnotes leads you to this Daily Mail article about the former Pogues frontman finally getting his teeth fixed, after 20+ years of presumably eating a lot of soup. First thing to say is that he obviously looks a lot better; second thing to say is Christ on a bike, it's Tommy Saxondale!

the last book I read

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck.

It's just after the end of World War I, but before the start of U.S. Prohibition, so more than likely 1919. Danny and his motley band of friends live an idle and carefree existence on the hills above Monterey, wanting nothing more than a few stolen food items, a couple of gallons of rotgut wine and the company of a couple of ladies of easy virtue for complete happiness.

When Danny comes home from the war he discovers that his grandfather has died and that he is now the owner of two houses up on Tortilla Flat. Danny sets about rounding up his friends - Pilon, Pablo, Jose Maria Corcoran, Big Joe Portagee, the Pirate and his various dogs - and moving them into the houses. Almost immediately a mishap with a skinful of wine and a candle results in the burning down of one of them, so everyone ends up in the same house. Cue various crazy adventures, mainly involving petty theft, the avoidance of work, chasing women and many more gallons of wine. Or as Shane MacGowan would have it: "fighting, fucking and drinking. The important things in life". After one final wild house party ends tragically the group dissipates again to return to their previous nomadic lifestyle.

If you've read Of Mice And Men (which I have) or The Grapes Of Wrath (which I haven't, despite rather shamefully owning a copy for about 20 years) you'll be expecting something quite serious, but this earlier novel (it was Steinbeck's first major literary success in 1935) is quite different. With its cast of characters who seem to be a cross between Falstaff and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers it's a much more light-hearted and charming book than you might imagine. As you can tell from the short space of time between this review and the previous one, I zipped through it pretty quickly, admittedly helped by having to fill an hour and a half on a train journey between Bristol and London on Friday night.

My 1971 Penguin Modern Classics edition has a picture on the front which purports to be a section of a painting called The Winedrinker by William Gropper. Take a closer look, though: it's Andy Serkis.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

they'll never take me alive

A word to the wise: Tesco currently have a special offer on whereby you can get yourself a bottle of the legendary Talisker for a bargain £22 (down from about £29). You'll have to get there before the end of this month, and you may find stocks are a bit thin. There was one single bottle left in the Tesco branch I went to yesterday, so I snapped it up. In the trolley, over to the checkout, pay, job done. Or so I thought.

As I went out of the store I heard the alarm bleep a few times. As there were lots of other people coming and going at the same time as me I thought little of it; certainly no black-clad security goons jumped out and started furiously tazering anybody in the immediate vicinity. However, when I got home and took the bottle out of the box I noticed that it still had the magnetic security tag on it. Oops. I mean, not my fault, obviously, but still.

Now, for obvious reasons these things are designed not to be easily removable. Certainly the average shopper is not going to be able to do it with his or her bare hands, and carrying the tools required with you and deploying them in-store is going to look a bit conspicuous on CCTV. However, in the comfort of one's own home, as long as you are in possession of a decent hacksaw then a couple of minutes is all you need to remove the evidence and provide unfettered access to the contents. Well, actually the security tag is no hindrance to opening the bottle, but a bottle with a tag on it is not quite the thing to be offering your guests at your next sophisticated soirée, so it's best to get rid of it.

Anyway, once inside you can have a butchers at the contents. And a big hairy-chested brute it is too. There's plenty of peat and smoke here, but it's not the really nose-stinging TCP-esque smoke you get with the Islays like Ardbeg and Laphroaig (Talisker is distilled in Carbost on the Isle of Skye). In terms of similarity to other ones in this series, it's nearest to the Highland Park in terms of the sweet/smoky combination. It's also similar to the Royal Lochnagar in the slight peppery dryness at the end that makes you want another sip. Some beers are like that - Timothy Taylor's Landlord is the one that springs to mind. I reckon if you distilled a vat of Landlord (and lobbed in a bit of E274 Essence of Peat Smoke) you'd end up with something not unlike Talisker; someone should try that and let me know how it goes.

Speaking of comparing whisky to other whisky, you might find this interesting - this is Diageo's whisky map. Now clearly this doesn't include all the hundreds of different ones you can buy, but it gives you an idea of what to expect, and commendably includes several which aren't Diageo's own brands (Talisker is, as it happens). Click to enlarge if you can't read it.

Ones that have featured in this series are circled in red, others I've tried are in green. The idea (as I'm sure you've worked out by now) is that whiskies close to each other on the map are broadly similar. So, for instance, if I conclude that I like the Talisker (which I do, very much) and the Highland Park (ditto) then I might conclude that there's a good chance I'll like the Bowmore as well. Time will tell.

just a green salad, please

After briefly touching on the subject of competitive eating in an earlier post, I was sent (in an unconnected incident) a number of links to news articles about the ongoing struggle to produce the world's biggest burger. The last one seems to be the current record holder at a little over 13 stone; if you don't fancy trekking over to Mallie's Sports Bar just outside Detroit, for around $2000 you can have one cooked, frozen and delivered to your home, where you can then use it as an occasional table or something.

The world of competitive eating is a strange one, and it won't surprise you at all to learn that it's the Americans and the Japanese who really embrace it in a big way - the Americans because they are great big fat greedy bastards, and the Japanese because they are mental. Interestingly there's been a shift in the competitor profile in recent years from the stereotypical gargantuan (and typically male) gutbuckets to smaller competitors, including some quite petite ladies like Sonya Thomas (no relation) - the explanation presumably being that not wearing a foot-thick belt of calcified beef dripping round your midsection allows the stomach to expand more freely while you're stuffing hotdogs down your gullet. Presumably these people must also have freakishly high metabolic rates, or fast between contests, or more likely both. Current world rankings can be found here. The Kodiak bear featured in this hot-dog eating contest doesn't appear to have a ranking at the moment.

The Guinness Book of Records slimmed down (if you will) its eating and drinking records section in the early 1990s among concerns about getting sued by people attempting to eat thirty pounds of oysters and exploding in the attempt. Before this, though, and certainly in my 1981 copy of the book (pictured), most of the significant records were held by Briton Peter Dowdeswell, including some pretty revolting ones like a pound of Cheddar cheese, a pound of gherkins, and a two-pound haggis (each of which took around a minute), and some more ill-advised sounding drink-based ones like a 3.5-pint yard of champagne in 14 seconds, and 34 pints of beer (that's THIRTY-FOUR pints) in an hour. And I bet he didn't even need the lavvy, neither. Remarkably Dowdeswell is not only still alive, but is still available for charity events. You provide a skip full of condemned ham, and he'll eat it for you.

Guinness may not ratify this sort of record any more, but other semi-official bodies exist that will be quite happy to give you a certificate after you attempt to drink a hogshead of port through your nose.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

the last book I read

The Conversations At Curlow Creek by David Malouf.

We're back in Australia, this time in the 1820s (so about 10-15 years before the events portrayed in A Fringe Of Leaves. Wikipedia reckons it's 1827, but I don't recall an actual date being mentioned in the book). A small group of men huddle round a campfire near a small hut in the bush. Inside the hut are Daniel Carney, an escaped convict and bushranger, and Michael Adair, the military officer charged with overseeing his execution, scheduled for dawn the following day. While the other men sleep, Adair and Carney talk, partly to while away the hours until dawn, and partly because Adair wants to extract as much information as possible about the criminal gang of which Carney was a part (and the other members of which are presumed to have been killed) before he is silenced permanently.

At various intervals the two men either doze or retreat into their own thoughts - we never find out very much about Carney, but we are privy to Adair's reminiscences about his childhood and upbringing in Ireland. Orphaned at an early age when his parents went down with a boat sailing from Holyhead (to, presumably, Dublin), he was put into the care of his mother's eccentric friend Mama Aimée in her sprawling country residence, soon striking up a friendship with local girl Virgilia and Mama Aimée's own son Fergus. Fergus is a great strapping lad, six-foot-six and the apple of everyone's eye, and what soon develops is a three-way relationship similar to the one described in The Leaves On Grey (and, as I said back then, numerous other novels including Le Grand Meaulnes and The Great Gatsby), except without any overtly sexual element. Virgilia and Fergus are the golden couple (she adores him, to which he seems blissfully oblivious) and Adair the wistful observer, hopelessly in love with Virgilia but forced into the role of trusted friend and confidant. Always conscious of the precariousness of his position as foster-child (compared with, say, Fergus, who stands to inherit the estate) he eventually decides to head off and become a soldier.

Adair's specific interest in the gang of outlaws of which Carney was a member isn't clear at first, beyond a general wish to enforce the law by tracking them down, but it eventually becomes clear. Fergus has disappeared, and after some frantic letters sent to him by Virgilia while he was stationed in Spain, Adair is trying to track him down, and has a particular interest in the semi-legendary figure of Dolan, the leader of Carney's gang. A great strapping giant of a man, apparently, six-foot-six in his socks, and, well, you get the general idea.

Eventually time passes, dawn arrives and the two men emerge from the hut to do what must be done. Adair allows Carney down to the river for a final wash, as the other men look on from the shore.

And that's it. There's no climactic execution scene, indeed the epilogue which follows is highly ambiguous as to whether Adair followed through with the sentence or contrived to allow Carney's escape in some way. Just like A Fringe Of Leaves, the novel ends with the departure of a ship taking the central character back to their home country, in Adair's case with a new-found resolution to make his feelings known to Virgilia (whether by proposing to her or slapping her about a bit and bending her over the dining-room table we are left to decide for ourselves).

The ambiguity of the ending will probably frustrate those who like clear resolution of loose ends before a book finishes, but I enjoyed it, tidy resolution of plot points not really being the point. It's very good on the central paradox of trying to enforce the law, including things like property and land rights, in a territory you've obtained by ignoring just those notions as they relate to the original inhabitants of the land, and also on the desire for adventure and excitement that drives people to engage in frontier-expanding activities, and the fine line between how Adair and Fergus have harnessed their respective desires, one legitimately, the other not. This light/dark contrast crops up elsewhere as well, notably Lolita and Riven Rock.

warning: dave's nuts may make your eyes water

I don't want to have to start a whole separate "poo" category for this stuff, so I'll lump (as it were) it all together in one post and get it out of my system (as it were). Here's a full list of poo-themed Christmas gifts:

The Plop Trumps you know about already, the middle one is actually some fairly innocuous bath salts (supposedly from here, although I can't find it on their website - try this instead) and the last one is, well, a rubber turd. Nice.

If faecally-themed gifts aren't your cup of, erm, tea, why not nibble my nuts?

Well, they're Dave's Burning Nuts, actually, rather than mine specifically - part of a range of spicy nut-based products from Dave's Gourmet. These are the people who make the accurately-named Dave's Insanity Sauce, which is one of those products only really suitable for dares and eating competitions, because even a drop will pretty much ruin any actual food you put it on, unless you're in the habit of making chilli in 3000-gallon vats, in which case one drop might do the job quite nicely. Apparently its Scoville rating of 180,000 makes it about 60 times stronger than cuddly old Tabasco. So don't store it near your KY jelly, Anusol or Optrex.

Monday, January 11, 2010

ecky thump

I offer this not just as a further demonstration of YouTube's spiffy starting-the-clip-halfway-through facility, but also to illustrate the random and unpredictable nature of what makes you wet yourself laughing: the Goodies' Bigfoot episode, from their last-ever series (the one that was on ITV). The full clip is fine, but the bit that did the job was the shot of the Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World crystal skull at the end, where it....well, see for yourself. I remember practically wearing out a rental video of this in the mid-80s watching this bit over and over again.

asterix and the germans

While gingerly making my way through the slush on the way to work this morning I listened to an interesting segment on the Today programme about eccentric German novelist W.G. Sebald. One of the people they'd wheeled in was ubiquitous literary interviewee and talking head Will Self, who is due to deliver the annual W. G. Sebald Lecture this very evening at 7pm at Kings Place (which is just round the corner from King's Cross, here).

One of the things that was mentioned during the interview was that the later Sebald books (most famously Austerlitz) were translated from the original German by Anthea Bell (the earlier ones, including the two I've read, The Rings Of Saturn and Vertigo, were translated by Michael Hulse). It turns out, rather pleasingly, that this is the same Anthea Bell that co-translated (with Derek Hockridge) the Asterix books; clearly a woman of diverse talents. Wikipedia tells me that she is also Martin Bell's older sister.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

that is both tidy and lush

We were in Cardiff this afternoon, so we popped over to Barry Island, just for a bit of fresh air. Needless to say most of the attractions were shut, but the beach, being just a bit of a sandy outdoor area between the land and the sea, was still available. I forgot my camera, but we took some pictures on Hazel's iPhone, which can be found here.

The picture above is of the seafront rank of shops, including Boofy's fish and chip shop ("The Codfather of Sole") as immortalised in the final scene of Gavin & Stacey.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

compare the meercack

One of the many pleasurable things I did over the Christmas break was rediscover a couple of much-loved card games.
  • Firstly, Uno, which I remember playing a lot as a teenager - in fact Uno is a (very) slightly more complex version of another card game called Whot! which I remember from even further back, and which is apparently also still available.
  • Secondly, you remember Top Trumps, right? Everyone had some of these back in the 1970s and 1980s; mainly transport-related, though there were a few sport- and wildlife-themed ones as well. I definitely had the Hot Rods pack, and no doubt a few others. (Amusingly, the German editions seem to have been called Top Ass.) Anyway, Doug and Anna managed to find a new twist on the old theme with the cleverly-named Plop Trumps, which, as the name suggests, are all about poo, so in addition to being fun (poo being inherently amusing) are also highly educational. So if you want to, say, compare the meerkat with some other things (see below), then, well, you can. Simples.

it's only 4.5 inches, but I'm hoping it'll go hard overnight

Couple of photo galleries for you, in non-chronological order, just to mess with your head. Firstly, everyone else is doing it, so I thought I'd better get in on the act - here's some photos of the snow in Newport. I gather other places have had 8-10 inches - we've only had four or five, but it is starting to come down again quite hard again now, so who knows where it'll end.

Secondly, here's a few photos of some Christmas and New Year antics. We hosted Christmas for various family members without any major mishaps (I overcooked the turkey a bit, but lashings of gravy took care of that). No Christmas Day pictures in paper hats, I'm afraid, but:
  • On Boxing Day we went for a walk around the Newport Wetlands nature reserve, which I visited back in May 2008. Less birdlife flocking about at this time of year, but apparently there were some dunlins and redshanks down on the tidal flats. Not that I'd know a dunlin if I was pissing on one, but luckily my Dad is a bit of an amateur ornithologist.
  • We visited Doug and Anna in Reading for New Year, as well as Doug's sister Pippa and her husband Mike, and two cats and two chickens. The cat and chicken combo sounds like a disaster in the making to me, but I am not an animal behaviourist or a zoologist, as you know.
  • On New Year's Day we went down to Alton to meet our fellow Munroists Jenny and Jim. I didn't take any pictures, but we did manage a nice mini-pub-crawl round Alton. The Eight Bells is probably the pick of the bunch, I'd say.
  • Then on Saturday we went down to Bournemouth to see our friends Hannah and Mark. On the Sunday we went for a bracing walk up onto Hengistbury Head, where there was a convenient trig point to be bagged, which was nice.