Monday, May 20, 2024

a world in a grain of xand

Another men's golf major, two more additions to the list of record low rounds. You'll recall that that number has stood at 62 since 2017, and the list has now, as of the completion of the 2024 PGA Championship, expanded to five entries. Xander Schauffele's round on the first day at Valhalla is the more significant of the two as it provides the first example of a round of 62 leading to a victory, and also the first example of a golfer shooting the new(ish) record low score twice. You'll recall that Greg Norman and Vijay Singh were the only double-featurees on the old list. 

Branden GraceOpen2017thirdtied 6thJordan Spieth
Rickie FowlerUS Open2023firsttied 5thWyndham Clark
Xander SchauffeleUS Open2023firsttied 10thWyndham Clark
Xander SchauffeleUSPGA2024firstWONXander Schauffele
Shane LowryUSPGA2024thirdtied 6thXander Schauffele

Two further related topics: firstly I can't hear Xander Schauffele's name without mentally singing "every day I'm Schauffele" in the style of "every day I'm shufflin'" from LMFAO's 2011 dance-floor banger Party Rock Anthem.

Secondly I was struck by the oddity of Schauffele winning the PGA after Scottie Scheffler had won the Masters; in particular that the name of the winner of the second major of the year contained 88.9% (i.e. eight out of nine) of the letters in the name of the winner of the first major of the year (only the "r" is missing). But is this a record? Well, no, or at least not if you allow for the trivial case of the first two majors of the year being won by the same person (and therefore the rating being 100%). That's rare, but has been done a handful of times, most recently by Jordan Spieth in 2015. 

A wander through the archives will convince you that there have been years where the rating has been zero (i.e. no letters were shared) - Floyd and Pate in 1976, Faldo and Irwin in 1990, Immelman and Woods in 2008, Willett and Johnson in 2016 for example. In other years the numbers bounce around somewhere in between. More than 50% seems rare - for instance Phil Mickelson in 2010 shares 55.6% of the letters in his surname with Graeme McDowell, but if you look at the following few years you get 30% in 2011 (Schwartzel/McIlroy), 50% in 2012 (Watson/Simpson), 40% in 2013 (Scott/Rose) and 16.7% in 2014 (Watson/Kaymer). 

I'm going to conclude that the Scheffler/Schauffele sharing ratio is a record, without checking exhaustively, because it seems almost impossible that it isn't, and I can't be arsed to do the legwork. I haven't looked, and am not going to, at the equivalent comparison between second and third majors of the year, but if the upcoming US Open is won by newcomer Rendax Easelchuff I imagine that would also set a record. 

Sunday, May 05, 2024

the last book I read

East Is East
by TC Boyle.

Hiro Tanaka has a bit of a problem. And his problem is this: he's currently plummeting from the deck of a cargo ship towards the Atlantic Ocean. It should be emphasised that this is a self-inflicted problem, as he chose to jump - the ship is currently close(ish) to the American east coast (specifically Georgia) and Hiro has some slightly ill-thought-out ideas about making a better life for himself in the land of the free, but nevertheless he first has to do more immediate things like not drowning and heading in the right direction to reach land.

Fortunately Hiro's USA-dar is functioning correctly and he soon has the gamey tang of the east coast of Georgia in his nostrils. Before he makes landfall, though, he has a brief encounter with a boat, somewhat to the surprise of its two naked occupants, Ruth Dershowitz and Saxby Lights, who'd snuck offshore in Sax's boat for a bit of discreet al fresco boning. Ruth is an aspiring novelist, currently a resident at a writing retreat (run by Sax's mother) located on an island off the Georgia coast. This same island is where Hiro has eventually hauled himself ashore; after getting his breath back he is somewhat dismayed to discover that he's on an island with no way off except by boat, and therefore trapped unless he can enlist someone's help. 

His first couple of attempts at enlisting help don't go very well - he startles islander Olmstead White into burning down his own shack, and after being taken in by a rich elderly (and slightly dotty) lady and fed and clothed, on the mistaken assumption he is Seiji Ozawa, he has another chance encounter with the same guy and has to make a speedy exit. Reduced once again to skulking in the woods and scavenging for food, he eventually throws himself upon Ruth's mercy after an encounter at her writing shack. 

Ruth has a host of problems that taking on Hiro just adds to: Sax is great and all but occasionally a bit distracted by a mild obsession with his aquarium and acquiring exotic specimens to put in it, she is supposed to be producing some written output to justify her presence at the retreat and consumption of the lavish food and drink provided, and she's just learnt that her fellow writer, arch-rival and apparent megabitch Jane Shine will be joining the retreat for a six-week residency. 

Eventually Ruth's subterfuge is rumbled and Hiro is arrested, briefly - his own ingenuity and determination and the comical incompetence of the police result in him escaping, stowing away in the boot of a car and being driven away to freedom, Well, sort of freedom - he is eventually released from the boot of the car only to find that it's Sax's car and he's still in the vicinity of the Georgia coast, where Sax has come to escape all the hoopla around Ruth and for a bit of quiet fish-gathering for the old aquarium. Fat chance of that, as it happens, as Hiro flees into the swamp with the police in hot pursuit and also quite keen to probe how much Sax knows about his escape rather than letting him go off and swan about with a fishing net. They also want Sax and, in particular, Ruth's help to persuade Hiro to give himself up, Ruth being about the only American person he knows and trusts.

So Ruth helps to retrieve a sick and semi-conscious Hiro from the swamp and visits him in hospital, having seemingly accrued some scarcely-deserved journalistic kudos from the whole episode. Hiro, by contrast, has seen his dreams of making a better life in America crushed, and asks himself, what's the point of having a life if it's not the life I imagined?

Some of Hiro's problems, particularly at the end of the novel, derive from his devotion to the works and associated worldview of Yukio Mishima, a writer of interesting novels but a bit of a nutter and not really a healthy influence as a life guru. All of which results in an ending which is a bit of a downer and prompts a reaction of: oh - is that it?

That's not a general reflection on the book, which is generally very readable, as Boyle's books always are, although there is a bit of conflict between Hiro's story and Ruth's. Hiro's story is a rollicking adventure story with lots of incident while Ruth's is more of a pointed satire on writers and their assorted foibles and vanity. Both worthwhile subjects, but they rub along together slightly awkwardly - while we're in the company of the writers at the retreat (and I haven't done a page count but I suspect we spend more time here than with Hiro) we yearn for the more visceral stuff involving Hiro and his adventures, and while we're with Hiro we want to find out more about, for instance, where Ruth and Jane Shine's rivalry originated. There's some vague allusion to them having been at high school together but no more than that. 

Any novel set in south-east coastal America will draw comparison with Carl Hiaasen, most of whose novels are set in Florida and one, Skinny Dip, starts with the principal character falling off a boat into the sea, although she was pushed rather than jumping voluntarily. Calling your principal character Hiro is also reminiscent of Snow Crash, although Boyle stops short of anything quite as arch as Hiro Protagonist. 

Anyway, it's all very entertaining, though probably not as good as its immediate predecessor World's End, and certainly not as good as the later novels The Tortilla Curtain and Drop City. The latter remains my favourite Boyle of all.

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Anyone been wondering: what's that lanky guy out of The Verve been doing for the last 20-odd years? No, me neither, and to be honest you won't find out by reading this article on the BBC website which is basically just a promo piece for some upcoming solo gigs. What you will find, though, is that having avoided the stereotypical fiftysomething route of just getting really fat and bald, he's (we should give him a name: Richard Ashcroft) instead just got slightly more big-nosed and wrinkly while seemingly still retaining the leonine rock star mane - I say "seemingly" because he could of course be completely bald on top under the hat, indeed the whole hair could be one of those comedy hairpieces that's attached to the hat and lifts right off. 

Ashcroft and The Verve have parlayed quite a long and intermittently successful career of the back of maybe two years in the late 1990s when they coincided with the Zeitgeist, basically around the time of their third album Urban Hymns. In hindsight a lot of it sounds a bit one-paced and dreary these days - Sonnet would probably be the one to hang on to. 

Anyway, Ashcroft resembles no-one these days so much as 70s and 80s cannabis-smuggler, Welshman and late-90s celeb (surfing the same vaguely Loaded-esque ladsy Zeitgeist as Ashcroft) Howard Marks. You can make up your own The Drugs Don't Work jokes if you like. 

Friday, May 03, 2024

red is green and green is read, I've got this film stuck in my head

You might recall my doomed attempts to remember some identifying details about some long-ago and dimly-remembered TV advertising tag lines (details like what product they were actually advertising, for instance), and also this plea for assistance with some details of a half-remembered comedy sketch from the 1980s/1990s.

I also put up a request for assistance in placing a film based on an equally vaguely-recalled single scene which had stuck in my mind for some reason, presumably after seeing it, or part of it, on TV a very long time ago:
Well, I came across the tweet above earlier by means of some search I can't remember the purpose of now, other than that locating this particular tweet wasn't it, and was inspired to have another go at solving the mystery. I'm not sure whether my Googling keyword selection skills have improved since last time, or if the page I found didn't exist when I did the original search, but whatever the reason I'm pleased to be able to say that I have located the film in question, and it's called Battle Beneath The Earth, a fairly absurd-looking science-fiction thriller from 1967. I mean, some of the details I'd recalled above were pretty clearly wrong - it wasn't set during World War II, the dastardly Oriental villains were Chinese, not Japanese, and I'd remembered the hypno-brainwashing mantra slightly wrong - instead of this:
the new sun rises in the east; the west is dead
it's this:
red is green and green is red, the east sun rise(s) and the west is dead
But, you know, pretty close - crucially, close enough that using "the west is dead" as a search string and excluding the word "witch" from the results to get rid of all the Wizard Of Oz stuff reveals the existence of this page which contains both the quote (slightly misquoted, to my hearing of the original anyway, but good enough) and the title of the film. 

Pleasingly, I was able to validate that this really was the film I remembered by looking for the specific scene on YouTube, which has the full movie, for anyone interested in camp 1960s vaguely-racist paranoia. The specific brainwashing scene I'd sort-of-remembered is here

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

feeling a bit pauly

The latest victim of The Curse of Electric Halibut's relentless campaign of senseless slaughter is Paul Auster, who died yesterday aged 77. I try (albeit with occasional lapses) not to get into too much ghoulish speculation of the hand-rubbing WHO'S NEXT variety and therefore don't keep a list of who's got what possibly-terminal medical problem(s), but he'd apparently been suffering from lung cancer for a while

The book that brought Auster's life into peril was Invisible, back in April 2012, which makes it also the first new book I started after becoming a father (The Tax Inspector was the book I was in the middle of reading when Nia was born). The only other one of his I've read, The New York Trilogy (as the name suggests, originally published as three separate works), is probably the one most people would have you start with. If you're highly allergic to metafictional rug-pulls and general structural and stylistic tricksiness you might be best advised to give it a miss altogether, though. 

As recently as late 2020 the 12-year curse length would have qualified as the longest one ever, but a whole succession of slow-acting chickens have come home to roost since then, and Alison Lurie, John le Carré, Cormac McCarthy and current record-holder Milan Kundera have all met their demise after longer intervals. If you think about how the curse process works you'll realise that this (i.e. gradually longer intervals) is of course inevitable.

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
José Saramago 9th May 2009 18th June 2010 87 1y 40d
Beryl Bainbridge 14th May 2008 2nd July 2010 77 2y 50d
Russell Hoban 23rd August 2010 13th December 2011 86 1y 113d
Richard Matheson 7th September 2011 23rd June 2013 87 1y 291d
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 6y 218d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
Doris Lessing 8th May 2007 17th November 2013 94 6y 196d
Gabriel García Márquez 10th July 2007 17th April 2014 87 6y 284d
Ruth Rendell 23rd December 2009 2nd May 2015 85 5y 132d
James Salter 4th February 2014 19th June 2015 90 1y 136d
David Cook 24th February 2009 16th September 2015 74 6y 205d
Henning Mankell 6th May 2013 5th October 2015 67 2y 152d
William McIlvanney 7th September 2010 5th December 2015 79 5y 90d
Umberto Eco 30th June 2012 19th February 2016 84 3y 234d
Anita Brookner 15th July 2011 10th March 2016 87 4y 240d
William Trevor 29th May 2010 20th November 2016 88 6y 177d
John Berger 10th November 2009 2nd January 2017 90 7y 55d
Nicholas Mosley 24th September 2011 28th February 2017 93 5y 159d
Helen Dunmore 10th March 2008 5th June 2017 64 9y 89d
JP Donleavy 21st May 2015 11th September 2017 91 2y 114d
Ursula Le Guin 6th December 2015 22nd January 2018 88 2y 49d
Anita Shreve 2nd September 2006 29th March 2018 71 11y 211d
Philip Roth 23rd December 2017 22nd May 2018 85 0y 150d
Justin Cartwright 7th September 2008 3rd December 2018 75 10y 89d
Toni Morrison 18th July 2010 5th August 2019 88 9y 20d
Charles Portis 3rd April 2018 17th February 2020 86 1y 320d
Alison Lurie 24th March 2007 3rd December 2020 94 13y 254d
John le Carré 21st February 2008 12th December 2020 89 12y 295d
Joan Didion 14th December 2010 23rd December 2021 87 11y 12d
Hilary Mantel 22nd October 2010 22nd September 2022 70 11y 338d
Greg Bear 4th October 2021 19th November 2022 71 1y 48d
Russell Banks 4th December 2018 7th January 2023 82 4y 35d
Cormac McCarthy 22nd September 2009 13th June 2023 89 13y 265d
Milan Kundera 27th March 2008 11th July 2023 94 15y 105d
Christopher Priest 6th January 2015 4th February 2024 80 9y 26d
Paul Auster 22nd April 2012 30th April 2024 77 12y 8d