Monday, January 31, 2011


I took advantage of some free time yesterday to decant this year's fruity gin - I had some sloes and some damsons so I decided, rather than arse about making two separate batches, to combine them together. So I ended up with eight bottles of sloe and damson gin - enough for a fun night in by anyone's standards.

I also took the opportunity of having a bit of an audit of the drinks cupboard, or at least the homemade fruity booze section of it anyway. It turns out I have quite a lot of the stuff knocking around, as you can see:

That's (left to right) a bottle of sloe gin from February 2007, the remnants of the blackberry vodka from September 2008, two bottles of apple brandy from November 2009 and quite a bit of last year's damson gin. Having done the filtering, decanting, bottling and labelling I couldn't be arsed separating the damsons from the sloes in order to do anything else with them, let alone subsequently stoning them all, so I just chucked the lot. So no crumble or clafoutis this year, I'm afraid. On the other hand, eight bottles of gin! So it's not all bad news. Cheers!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

coke: it's no joke

Just to illustrate the problem with the drugs "debate", here's a Daily Mail article from this week following the broadcast of the latest episode (about cocaine) of BBC3's series How Drugs Work.

Basically the criticism appears to be that the programme - instead of being some sort of Reefer Madness-style cautionary tale involving gingham-clad rosary-clutching virginal types having a dab of coke at a party and instantly turning into slavering swivel-eyed knife-wielding shrieking bum rapists - tried to give a sober and non-judgmental factual account of, among other things, the reasons people take drugs like cocaine in the first place, which is that they make you feel good.

This seems so obvious and unsurprising and uncontroversial as to barely be worthy of mention, but doesn't fit in with the Mail's campaign to take us all back to some mythical imagined soft-focus 1950s utopia where everyone wears a suit to church on Sundays, children are seen and not heard, women KNOW THEIR RUDDY PLACE, and if either of them step out of line you can give them a bloody good hiding without the gay communist vegetarian Political Correctness Police breathing down your bloody neck all the time.

Amusingly, though, the statistics that the Mail quotes in the article torpedo its own argument somewhat - while a whopping 12 people have complained that the programme glamourised drug-taking, they do let slip further down that a further 24 people complained that it took an unreasonably harsh line against drug use. Presumably those people can be safely ignored as they are probably typing their opinions into the BBC message board while sat, drooling and cackling, in a pile of their own bloodstained AIDS-ridden faeces with a syringe hanging out of their eyeball, and are therefore not Our Sort Of People at all.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

more christians: that'll help

It did of course go spectacularly tits up eventually, but I suppose you might say that the last government at least started off with the right idea regarding the people appointed to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs - i.e. appoint some actual sciencey people who know stuff about the subject and are trained in the sober and detached evaluation of evidence. Granted, they sacked the lot of them as soon as they started making recommendations that weren't in line with the government policy that had already been decided on in advance (by a lengthy consultative process involving Cabinet ministers reading the Daily Mail a lot), but, well, it's possible to come away believing that they were at least dimly aware of how this sort of thing ought to work, if only it were administered by someone with a functioning spine.

The current government, on the other hand, are clearly just taking the piss with the appointment of Dr Hans-Christian Raabe to the ACMD, Raabe being affiliated not only with the entirely self-explanatory Christian Party (for whom he was a candidate for the European Parliament in 2009), but also the groovy-sounding Maranatha Community, who, by contrast, far from being the bunch of harmless lentil-eating tree-hugging hippie types their name would suggest, are in fact the usual bunch of Bible-bashing homophobic nutters. So there seems to be legitimate cause for concern over his suitability for the job.

It always comes back to the same question: on what basis do we seek to regulate private individuals' private use of drugs? Is it about relative harm? If so, then the position of nicotine and alcohol needs to come under serious scrutiny, and so does any other non-drug-related activity that can potentially cause harm, like horse-riding, mountain-biking, swimming, DIY, you name it. This was essentially the position that Professor Nutt invited the government to take, with less than successful results.

But what other measure is there? If you say that, well, clearly surfing is morally OK but having a nice bit of crack of a Friday night isn't, then you really need to explain why. Whence comes this moral distinction? Well, we know where Dr Raabe gets his from, which is the worrying part.

The Guardian article I linked to earlier is by Dr Evan Harris, former MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, doctor, blogger, Vice-President of the British Humanist Association and all-round good bloke.

You'll note I say "former MP", because Harris lost his seat (after several recounts) by the paltry margin of 176 votes at the general election, mostly as the result of a shockingly vicious and dishonest campaign by animal rights loony Keith Mann (who chose to target Harris because of his links to the Pro-Test advocacy group) and partly because of some unhelpful boundary changes, but probably not helped by one of the more eye-bulgingly insane Daily Mail articles I've ever read - a bold claim, I know. Then again it could be argued if you're pissing off Damian Thompson and Christina Odone you must be doing something right.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

there can be only one

A quick addition to the Christmas whisky post: I did also buy a bottle for myself, just as a reward to me, for being me, since it was one you don't see in supermarkets very often and Waitrose had it at a reduced price of £26. It's a 14-year-old Clynelish (this is their standard bottling, a bit like the Oban, unusually as most distilleries offer a 10- or 12-year-old as the entry-level one), and since aside from a sneaky nip while cooking I didn't have a dram last night this seems like a good opportunity to make amends.

The Clynelish distillery has had a chequered history, including being physically relocated in 1967 (only by a couple of miles, though). Confusingly, the original distillery was then re-opened between 1975 and 1982 as Brora, bottlings of which are now much-sought-after and therefore fetch rather silly prices. Geographically it's firmly in the Highland region, indeed according to this map only Old Pulteney of the mainland distilleries is further north.

So, as it proudly says on the bottle, it's a coastal Highlander. As far as my whisky tastes go this bodes well, as the Oban, Ben Nevis, Dalmore and Old Pulteney all fall into this category and are all thoroughly great. Pour a glass and get your face into it and it's very much as you would expect, some smoke, but not the Laphroaig sort, a bit gentler than that. Have a taste and it's all fruit and fudge and honey with the smoke sneaking up to give you a sneaky Chinese burn and a wedgie at the end. If you want to try and locate it on the flavour chart it's slightly lighter than the Ben Nevis (which is very sherry-heavy), and less smoky than the Highland Park, but thicker and smokier than the Old Pulteney.

So I find my prejudices confirmed, i.e. that the Highlanders, and the coastal Highlanders in particular, are absolutely my favourite thing whisky-wise. As far as this particular one is concerned I think this might be second only to the Highland Park on my Chart Of Whisky Preference, which I will formalise here at some stage (but not right now).


What better time to deliver on my implied promise/threat of another haggis recipe than on Burns Night? Well, the morning after Burns Night, technically, but the actual cooking was done last night so I reckon it still counts.

The original bacon recipe was great, but a bit salty. So here's a better idea - first get hold of some of those flat turkey breast steaks. Then make them even thinner and flatter by either (carefully!) slicing them almost through lengthways and opening them up, or bashing them repeatedly with a steak mallet, or (as I did) both.

Then mix up some raw haggis (maybe 60-70g per steak) in a bowl with an egg yolk, some seasoning and a generous dollop of whisky. I stand by my recommendation of MacSween's as the best haggis, but Sainsbury's generally have the bagged Simon Howie ones instead which are pretty good. My advice here is to accidentally overfill the dispensing receptacle (a glass, say) and then be obliged to drink the rest lest the mixture get too soggy. Don't be sloshing your Dalmore 64 in here; a splash of Teacher's will be fine. Then spread it on the turkey steak and carefully roll the whole thing up Swiss roll stylee. Then roll it up again in a bit of foil and pinch the ends up so you've got a giant silver Christmas cracker.

Stick it in the oven at 200C or thereabouts for about 35-40 minutes. Take it out and leave it for 5 minutes. Then slice it up and stick it on the plate. Note that I have cooked the tatties on a non-standard way, as I prefer roasties to mash, and omitted the swede altogether (that's a sort of leek/courgette combo instead), as I prefer sticking spoons in my eye to eating swede. Declaiming all sorts of incomprehensible nonsense in demotic Lowland Scots and playing the bagpipes before tucking in are strictly optional.

Monday, January 24, 2011

trust him, he's a nurse

I have had a bit of a pop at the current state of the venerable BBC science magazine Horizon in the past, and I stand by most of that, but full marks for at least being clear and un-woolly in tonight's programme (Science Under Attack) about difficulties with the public perception of science. Presenter Sir Paul Nurse is quite right that there is a presentational problem, and that broadly it can be summarised as:
  • science is hard, and the answers are usually quite rightly hedged about with error bars and degrees of uncertainty that don't play well with Joe Public, who just wants to know WHETHER HIS RUDDY SAUSAGES WILL GIVE HIM RUDDY CANCER OR NOT, and if these boffins can't even answer that, well, I don't know, I really don't;
  • scientists aren't particularly good at PR; a lot of them have beards and wear sandals, for goodness' sake;
  • science journalists are, in the main, lazy incompetent mendacious shits
That is indeed a problem. What is emphatically not a problem is whether any of the feculent fuckwitted conspiracy theory horseshit spouted by the likes of James Delingpole has any scientific merit, because it doesn't, and to his credit Nurse is pretty unequivocal about that. If you watch nothing else from the link to the full programme, watch the couple of minutes from 40:04 onwards, as Delingpole reveals his methods for determining the truth of claims about the complex climate data, viz. lounging about reading stuff on the internet: "I am an interpreter of interpretations.". Really, if you're latching onto the laughably inconsequential Climategate leaked e-mails as your best weapon in the debate then you really have lost the plot. I don't dispute that it was a PR own goal, by the way, which just illustrates the points above, but a "scandal"? No. Frankly most of my private e-mails aren't fit for publication in a national newspaper either. Particularly the ones where I call my small blog readership utter cunts; those must never see the light of day, for obvious reasons.

Nurse devoted most of the show to climate change denialism, and fair enough, so he only had a few minutes to devote to things like HIV/AIDS denialism, and no time at all for equally barking stuff like creationism and vaccine lunacy. Probably just as well.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

i find your lack of pulse disturbing

It's old news now, as it apparently happened back in July 2010, but is anyone else mildly alarmed at the news that former US Vice-President and cartoonish supervillain Dick Cheney has taken advantage of being off most people's radar to get himself bionically transformed into DARTH FRICKIN' VADER???
He's more machine than man now, twisted and evil.
Basically Cheney, who has a long history of heart problems, has been fitted with a device to assist the pumping of the blood round the body, one of the side effects of which is that he will henceforth HAVE NO PULSE!! How creepy is that?

Not content with joining the ranks of the undead, I now expect Cheney to have his left arm replaced with a chainsaw, like that guy in the Evil Dead films, or possibly be plumbed into an armoured chair like Davros, in which case we'll all be OK as we can just go upstairs and hide.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

headlines of the day

Here's a couple of crash blossoms for you, carefully harvested from today's news headlines:

So.....the kid is so pissed off after being orphaned that he kills his parents and....wait, shouldn't they already be dead?

Not only do we now have sentient knifeware, but the former Prime Minister's wife and high-ranking QC is in league with them. Burn the witch!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

A multiple-choice one for you today, involving Conservative Education Secretary Michael Gove. Doug says strange incomprehensible 1980s kids' TV puppet thing Pob; I say ubiquitous 1980s comedy movie actor and, slightly bizarrely, latterly country music recording artist Rick Moranis. What do you think?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

passion: christ

Annoyingly, it seems any future wordy rants will have to be run through a sort of pre-posting filter to ensure that there isn't already a YouTube video posted as part of the David Mitchell's Soapbox series which expresses the whole thing far more succinctly than I ever could (and with the advantage of swooshy visual effects as well, to be fair). I'll offer you just one example (as you're perfectly capable of finding the rest for yourself): the hugely irritating constant use of the word "passionate" in the most absurdly inappropriate circumstances. Personally I blame Tony Blair; he was constantly banging on about it: a summary is here, but it's easy to find specific examples here, here and here.

frankly I could care less about this blog post; but not much

Like any aspiring Grammar Nazi, I pick and choose what to get all aerated and arsey about based on nothing more rational and empirical than my personal whims and prejudices. So while I find the inability to recognise the distinct meanings and correct usages of the following to be infuriating:
et tediously cetera, I on the other hand say meh and indeed feh to things like split infinitives. I even sympathise with those who are tempted to drop an apostrophe into a possessive "its" (though needless to say I never do it myself, goodness me no). I also accept the distinction between less and fewer but refuse to get too bothered about it, mainly as a sort of self-defence mechanism as I know it's something I get wrong myself quite frequently. I suppose I could rationalise my arbitrary picking and choosing of what to object to by distinguishing between rules that you just have to remember because THOSE ARE THE RULES and misuses where some nuance of meaning is actually in danger of being lost.

Here's an odd one, though, prompted by browsing through the comments on Orac's excellent Respectful Insolence blog the other day. Note the phrase "I could care less". Odd, isn't it? It seems to be exclusively an American usage (note the bonus "I could give a shit" at the end as well); we Brits would say "I couldn't care less", and clearly rightly so - no chance of any misidentification of word meanings here, everyone knows what all those words mean, and the American usage is clearly conveying the precise opposite of the intended meaning. Here's a few more examples. The stock excuse seems to be: it's sarcasm. To which I say: wait, let me get this straight - you, an American, are lecturing me, a Brit, about sarcasm? Well that seems entirely appropriate. Look, we bloody invented it, so have another burger and shut up. It's not sarcasm, it's just stupidity, so deal with it. Why is this one, specific, relatively harmless mis-usage so annoying? I really have no idea. But it bloody is, so cut it out.

Further scholarly analysis of the phenomenon can be found in this Boston Globe article, and, inevitable, at Language Log. Following on from the Mitchell & Webb sketch linked at the top here's David Mitchell on this exact subject.

happy kiloblogiversary to me

Mention of my favourite John Wyndham book The Chrysalids in the last book review reminds me of an interesting bit of trivia I picked up the other day: the song Crown of Creation by seminal late-60s San Francisco hippy anarchists Jefferson Airplane is inspired by the book, to the extent of borrowing great chunks of its lyrics wholesale from the book, as evidenced by this blog post and also this scanned excerpt from my elderly Penguin paperback copy:

That bit turns up about 1:36 into this clip of the Airplane playing Crown of Creation on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968. Now I know what you're thinking: we'll forgive the lovely Grace Slick the white silk pyjamas, but why is she in full blackface make-up? Has she fallen into a vat of warm Marmite, or is that just an inadvertently revealed sex fantasy of mine? Well, I assume it's in connection with the Black Power salute she finishes the song with, a quick go with the Kiwi Parade Gloss round the facial area being the best way to demonstrate solidarity with one's oppressed brethren, apparently. Or to acquire more wives.

Other important news: my blog dashboard thingy tells me that this is my ONE THOUSANDTH BLOG POST since the first one back in the heady days of August 2006. That was 1601 days ago, so that works out at one blog post every 38 hours 25 minutes and 26 seconds. Obviously that's an average, and I tend not to blog while asleep, so there will be peaks and troughs. And here they are in graphically represented form. Firstly by month (click to enlarge):

As you can see my most active blogging months were November 2006 (the winner with a whopping 38 posts), September 2007 (32), October 2009 (31) and November 2007 (30), those being the only months where I've averaged at least one post a day. Here's the yearly breakdown:

What that one reveals is the shocking drop-off in blogging frequency in 2010: a paltry 175 posts, compared to the magnificence of 2007 with a mighty 282 posts and a drop of nearly 27% year-on-year compared with 2009 (239 posts). Must do better.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

the last book I read

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Kathy is a late-twentysomething or early-thirtysomething with some sort of job in social work, medical care, something like that, reminiscing about her schooldays. Nothing so strange or out of the ordinary about that, right? Well....

The school in question is Hailsham, a full-time boarding school where Kathy spends her time hanging out with close friends Ruth and Tommy, and just doing the normal things that kids do. Well, apart from the slightly creepy things that seem to be going on that probably weren't where you and I went to school: the regular intrusive medical exams, the encouragement of the kids to produce artwork which is then taken away for a mysterious "gallery" somewhere, the extreme fear and paranoia about the outside world. And why does the mysterious "Madame" who periodically comes and collects the pupils' artwork seem to view the kids themselves with such barely-suppressed revulsion and horror? And why is there never any mention of the parents?

As the children grow towards adulthood the answers to these questions gradually emerge: they are genetic clones who are being raised to adulthood solely to act as a source of organs for transplants. Eventually they will be called upon to become "donors", and, when enough of their organs have been harvested, they will "complete", i.e. (just in case you're not keeping up) die. In the meantime some will be trained as "carers" who provide help and support to those going through the various stages of the donation process.

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy leave Hailsham and are assigned to the less regimented surroundings of The Cottages, a former farm where they co-habit with other future donors. Most of these have grown up in places other than Hailsham, and it soon becomes clear that for all Hailsham's slightly oppressive creepiness it's probably nicer than most of the alternatives. So much so in fact that a hopeful rumour goes around that if a young couple should be able to prove their love for each other they may be able to appeal to the governing authorities at Hailsham and win a three-year "deferral" of the start of the donation process. Incidentally, by contrast with the stringent rules prohibiting things like smoking (got to keep those organs fresh and juicy), there is a fairly permissive attitude to sex and lots of pairing off occurs, most notably Ruth and Tommy.

Eventually the time comes to move on again: Ruth and Tommy are both called up for their first donations, and Kathy becomes a carer, a job she is naturally well-suited to, so much so that she is granted the rare privilege of being able to choose her donors. Naturally she chooses to remain in contact with Ruth and Tommy, and it's on an outing in the car with the pair of them that we see the brutal reality of the euphemistically-sanitised "donation" process: Ruth is weakened and in constant pain from a recent donation (she has trouble bending over to negotiate a barbed-wire fence) and during the car journey back to the clinic suggests that, since she isn't going to be around for much longer, Kathy and Tommy should try to secure a deferral for themselves. She then reveals that she knows how they can contact "Madame", which, a while later after Ruth has "completed", they do, only to discover that there is no magical enchanted kingdom with cake and lemonade and ponies, and that the appointed order of things will play out as it always does, even for them.

All of which provides another opportunity to ask the question I asked after reading The Road - is this science fiction? More importantly, does the categorisation even matter? For what it's worth I would answer "yes, a bit" and "no, not at all" respectively. There's a sense in which Ishiguro has taken an inherently science-fiction-y subject and then taken great pains to deliver it in as un-science-fiction-y a way as possible: it's written in a matter-of-fact, slightly breathless, faux-naïve way, as if it were a young girl's journal (which is what it essentially is, after all), and there is a conscious avoidance of providing any sort of scientific context to what's going on, which is fine, but raises a load of unanswered questions in the mind - assuming you have that sort of mind - like: why are all the clones infertile? what organs are they harvesting that allow you to survive three or four goes before "completing" - surely if you're next on the list and someone needs a heart transplant then you're pretty much restricted to one "donation"? what about tissue rejection? what's the social and political context for all this, given that a) it's set in a broadly recognisable UK and b) it would be unthinkable at the moment? has there been some sort of revolution? a war? or what?

Scientific and political plausibility aside the most important question is: why don't any of the prospective donors make a run for it? They're allowed plenty of leeway and autonomy in terms of being able to roam about at will (the central three characters and a couple of others from The Cottages pile into the car and head off to Norfolk on a whim at one point) once they've left Hailsham, and it's not as if you can identify a clone just by looking at them. There's a sort of bovine acceptance of their fate which, while perfectly plausible in a society where they're institutionalised not to imagine that there is any alternative, makes you think: surely someone must have just snuck off and never shown up when they got the letter telling them to report to the liver-extraction unit?

Clearly the intention here is that we don't get too hung up on the sciencey stuff and focus instead on the human story. A story which, in a twisted sort of way, is quite optimistic - as much as it's about accepting your fate, it's also about making the best of the time available to you in the face of the certain prospect of it all eventually ending in a big smear of pain and fear at a time not of your choosing. Which, if you think about it, applies to all of us, though hopefully we might carry on a bit longer, and avoid the organ-harvesting death squads. We all get it in the end, though.

This is the first Ishiguro I've read (though I do have a copy of The Remains Of The Day on my shelves which I have yet to get to) and I thought it was excellent, though I would have liked some context just to anchor the whole thing in the real world a bit more. Those quibbles aside, though, the gradual revelations are nicely done without getting all Basil Exposition on our ass, and it's pretty short (280-odd pages in my film tie-in paperback edition, but print it in a sensible-sized font and it wouldn't be much more than 200), so I recommend giving it a go. It's basically a more literary treatment of some ideas that crop up in all manner of other places: the central plot device is not dissimilar to that of The Island (which was a bit silly - well, it's a Michael Bay film - but did feature Scarlet Johansson in a white jumpsuit), the no-one living past 30-ish element was similar to Logan's Run (which was a bit silly and looks dated now but did feature Jenny Agutter in a curtain), and there are bits that will be familiar to anyone who's read either The Handmaid's Tale, The Chrysalids or Brave New World.

Here's the obligatory lists and awards round-up: Never Let Me Go was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2005, as was The Accidental (John Banville won that year for The Sea); it also appears in Time magazine's list of 100 best novels of the 20th century, as did Blood Meridian, The Catcher In The Rye, The Corrections, The Great Gatsby, Lolita, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and Watchmen.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

the last book I read

A Fairly Honourable Defeat by Iris Murdoch.

I have a venerable paperback copy of the Faber Book of Parodies which contains a brief (5 pages or so) parody of an Iris Murdoch novel by fellow novelist Malcolm Bradbury. It begins thus:
"Flavia says that Hugo tells her that Augustina is in love with Fred."
More of this later. In this particular novel (published in 1970, about halfway through Murdoch's prolific career) it's Rupert who is in love with Hilda, and shares with her a comfortable upper-middle-class existence in a nice house in London. Hilda's younger sister Morgan has just returned from America after her estrangement from her husband Tallis and a doomed affair with Rupert's colleague Julius (who is also back in the country); meanwhile Rupert's younger brother Simon is living in domestic bliss with his gay lover Axel. I hope you're following this.

Most articles about Murdoch and her novels point out the recurrence in the novels of a demonic and charismatic male "enchanter" character who bends the actions of the other characters to his will for his own ends - a character based on Murdoch's own ex-lover Elias Canetti, apparently. A Fairly Honourable Defeat seems to conform fairly closely to this structure, as no sooner has Julius been introduced (and described as slim, white-haired and aquiline, which immediately conjured up an image of a slightly older Julian Assange) than he cooks up a plan to split up Simon and Axel and to lure Rupert and Morgan into an affair by the judicious redistribution of some old love letters. Whether this is to deflect the unwanted continuing affections of Morgan towards him (she's already turned up at his flat, stripped naked and thrown herself at him by this stage) or just for a bit of a laugh isn't clear.

Anyway, the bait is taken, and Rupert, who is a philosopher and fancies himself an expert on goodness and morality and therefore well-qualified to lead Morgan sensitively through her apparent infatuation with him, arranges a series of assignations with Morgan, one of which Julius contrives to eavesdrop on with Simon. Meanwhile Axel is becoming increasingly suspicious of Simon's relationship with Julius. While all this is being conducted largely in the luxurious surroundings of people's well-appointed apartments or upmarket public spaces like the British Museum, Morgan's husband Tallis is living in squalor in a rented flat, lecturing on history to unappreciative students and tending to his cantankerous father who has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer (though he thinks it's arthritis and Tallis hasn't got round to telling him otherwise yet).

Misunderstanding piles on top of misunderstanding and the characters' impeccable British reserve (and general inability to express themselves clearly and economically without hugely discursive waffly philosophical rambling) leads to an inevitable confrontation when Hilda finds out what's been going on between Rupert and Morgan, even though nothing really has, or not in terms of exchange of bodily fluids anyway. Hilda flees to the family cottage in Pembrokeshire, Simon cracks and confesses his part in Julius' machinations to Axel, and Julius explains what he's been up to to Tallis, whereupon Tallis marches him to a phone box and makes him explain everything to Hilda. Meanwhile Morgan, not knowing where Hilda has disappeared to, has broken into Rupert and Hilda's house to find some clues, only to discover Rupert's body face-down in the swimming pool. Suddenly the phone rings - it's Hilda! All has been explained and forgiven and she's coming home. Could she have a quick word with Rupert? Er, no, not really.

Murdoch was a lecturer in philosophy at Oxford as well as a novelist and has a pretty fearsome reputation. So it was with some trepidation that I approached this, the first novel of hers I've read (though I have a vague recollection of reading the first couple of chapters of The Good Apprentice in someone's flat during my student years). I have to say it wasn't really what I was expecting - plenty of Big Philosophical Ideas, to be sure, but a lot easier to read than I expected (even at a fairly beefy 447 pages), as well as more broadly comic in places (the scene where Morgan strips off at Julius' flat, then - after he leaves - calls Simon round, swaps clothes with him and then disappears into the night, leaving him to be discovered by Julius on his return, is all a bit Brian Rix). It would certainly be easy to criticise - it's all very upper-middle-class, nothing really happens until Rupert does his faceplant into the pool at the end, and there's no sense that the way in which the characters behave mirrors in any way how actual people act, or that, for all the bed-hopping, any real red-blooded passion is being experienced by anyone. But I enjoyed it, overall, and I certainly wouldn't rule out reading some more, though I suspect you don't really need to read all 26 novels.

Regular blog-watchers will know that that last criticism (lots of agonised mooning around and no action) is one that I levelled at Lawrence Durrell a while back as well, so it's an odd coincidence that the Faber Book of Parodies, in addition to the Murdoch one (which I can now re-read with new eyes and declare to be pretty spot-on) contains a Lawrence Durrell parody ("my tartan undershorts clung coldly to my alabaster thighs") by the very same Malcolm Bradbury.

Iris Murdoch's life and final descent into dementia was dramatised in the 2001 film Iris, which I haven't seen, but which is generally well-regarded. This trailer contains a hilariously inappropriate gravelly Voice-Over Guy narration, though.

Monday, January 03, 2011

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Leading member of Australia's frankly inadequate trundly medium-pace Ashes bowling attack Peter Siddle and Marty McFly's nemesis in the Back To The Future trilogy Biff Tannen (as played by Thomas F. Wilson). Crew-cut, teeth, general air of constant incoherent fury: it's all there.

many of whore

I have, as usual, little to say about queasily exploitative pub karaoke shitefest X Factor, so I simply offer you my wry amusement at the finely calibrated decision-making process that was clearly brought into play when deciding on winner Matt Cardle's debut single.

Let's go with something a little bit more edgy than the usual overwrought power balladry gloop, they will have said, after all Matt is an edgy guy, I mean as edgy as you can be, anyway, when you've instantly torpedoed any faint hope of artistic credibility you may ever have had and revealed yourself as a shameless fame whore and willing bent-over unlubricated corporate glove puppet by being on X Factor in the first place. All that stuff aside, though, he's got stubble, and he wears a cap. So, like I say, pretty edgy.

So let's go for a smoothed-out and airbrushed and generally emasculated version of Biffy Clyro's crunchingly anthemic Many Of Horror. That'll strike the right sort of balance, as long as we cut down on the guitars, the beards, the tattoos and the general abrasive Scottishness, and get everyone to keep their shirts on. Wait a minute, though: that title is a bit, well, you know, harsh, isn't it? Can we do something with that? Well, there must be other lyrics in the song, surely? Just grab the first line of the chorus, that'll do. Ladies and gentlemen, Matt Cardle and When We Collide.

The thing about the original title, though, which does appear in the lyrics in a sort of middle eight about two-thirds of the way through, is that as written the word "horror" is required to occupy only one syllable, something that only really works if you've got a really thick Scots accent. Here's Simon Neil's rendition - maybe one-and-a-half syllables, I suppose. If you're English, as Matt Cardle is, you've either got to cram two syllables into one, or (and this is the option they took) just sing "many of whore" and hope that shouting really loudly over a big orchestral backing will get you through it. Check it out.

Note that they couldn't resist shoehorning in a huge truck-driver's gear change before the last chorus as well. Nice.