Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Wrecking Horse Winner

The reviews of Daniel Radcliffe's wand in the revival of Equus are in, and - all in all - it seems that the boy done good.

Like Michael Rimmer and Captain Invincible, I caught the movie of Equus on late night TV once years ago. Unlike those overlooked gems, it is a risible self-important piece of tat and I forbid you to see it.

F'rinstance, Lord Richard of Burton (as Martin Dysart) rolleth his eyes and intoneth:

The normal is the good smile in a child's eyes. There's also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills, like a god. It is the ordinary made beautiful, it is also the average made lethal. Normal is the indispensable murderous god of health and I am his priest.

Oh dear (though it might be pretty cool to mishear it as "Norman is the indispensable murderous god of health and I am his priest").

Actually, I was first exposed to the work of Peter Shaffer at a tender age. In an episode I remember clearly but can scarcely credit, a group of us primary school children were taken to the cinema to see 'The Royal Hunt of the Sun' as a treat on a classmate's birthday.

It is certainly a far cry from the Wacky Warehouse where my six year old is going to a party after school today. I can still bring the scene where Christopher Plummer (as Atahualpa) is garrotted to my mind's eye and shudder at it again, though I must have been seven or eight at the time.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Turbans Over Memphis

I don't smoke dope
I don't drink bourbon
All I want to do
Is shake my turban.

Whatever happened to Pete Singh, the Rockin' Sikh? He sounds like an urban legend, but he was an honest to God, if larger than life, feature of my Swansea days.

Footprints and tracery via Google, here, here and here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Return of Captain Invincible

Congratualtions are due to to Alan Arkin for getting the nod for Best Supporting Actor from the Academy for "Little Miss Sunshine".

I haven't seen it myself, but it has dislodged a memory of "The Return of Captain Invincible", yet another movie that caught me unawares on late night TV years ago, that I've never managed to see again.

As I recall the plot Captain Invincible (Arkin) is a superhero who hits Skid Row after his contribution to World War II is twisted by the McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee who label him a "premature anti Fascist) ......

The Return of Captain Invincible [1983] (REGION 1) (NTSC) is available from Amazon, unlike Michael Rimmer, so I've added it to my wish list. Here's my new theme song:

Sunday, February 25, 2007

20 Hours in LA

The Clinton-Obama brouhaha that blew up around David Geffen's fundraiser last week seems to be adding weight to my theory that watching the West Wing might make US politics a little less bewildering.

West Wing rerun day on More4, having come round again, the current controversy does seem eerily reminiscent of the 20 Hours in LA episode in series one in which a gay movie mogul tries to muscle the President by threatening to cancel a fund raising party. This seemed preposterous to me when I watched it on DVD. It's a bit less so now - not necessarily a good thing - but I wouldn't be without this extraordinary exchange from the party itself:

David Hasselhoff: I think there's a basic bedrock principle behind the First Amendment. That the government cannot prohibit the expression of an idea just because it's disagreeable. Justice William Brennan, writing for the majority--
Donna: I'm a real big fan, David, not just a Johnny-come-lately. It's not just Baywatch and Knight Rider with me.
David Hasselhoff: Well, thank you very much. My point is--
Donna: I mean, Nick Fury ... Panic at Malibu Pier ... The Cartier Affair. Pleasure Cove, for crying out loud!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Go the whole hog, Mog!

Although I'm not sure that I approve of staggering kick off times for the benefit of TV viewers, it doesn't mean that I won't take advantage of that fact that I can watch three games today as the Six Nations comes back with Scotland v Italy (kick-off 3pm) in Edinburgh, and Ireland v England (kick-off 5.30pm), leading up to France v Wales (kick-off 8pm).

I wish I could share the half of what we got up to in Edinburgh, Dublin and Paris back in the day when I used to travel to the matches following Wales in what was then the Five Nations championship, but, "what happens on tour, stays on tour" is a stern injunction.

You'll have to watch Grand Slam instead.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Raw, with laughter

Making the most of a last minute change of plans, the profit burglar and I took ourselves along to Roar with Laughter at GJ's last night.

This also gave me the chance to meet up with Simon Brunning, who I've known by blog for the last couple of years but never actually encountered in meatspace, as he is a regular attender of the comedy club.

When I emailed him to let him know I'd be there he replied by return to say that I could recognise him because he would be wearing his Sid James t-shirt.

The first guy we met in a Sid James T, looked at us as if we'd lost the plot when we asked him if he was Simon B, and then I began to wonder if I was the victim of an elaborate ruse when I saw two blokes in contrasting SJT's conversing at the bar, but I did ultimately track him down and discover him, over a beer or two, to be a gent.

As for the comedy, Frank Skinner was there again - perhaps he heard that I'd missed him last time - Wes Packer was Welsh and thus good, but as for the rest ....... if they weren't allowed to drone on and on about blow jobs I don't think they'd have fifteen minutes of material between the lot of them.

Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Oh! j'ai fait mieux depuis.

Note to self:

Standing there and taking it as I'm patronised on the doorstep by an affected vulgarian (whose faux worldliness is merely a self-justifying, perhaps unconscious, rationalisation of the hard fact that her inner life seems unilluminated by any spark of intelligence, sensitivity, insight or culture) while bad for my blood pressure is still the best option.

Satisfying as it might be for me to indulge in a little repartee, it wouldn't do the third party likely to over hear it any good.

I feel a lot better for writing that.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Reunited, and it feels so good

Rock guitar icon Eddie Van Halen and his band's original lead singer, David Lee Roth, have spent the better part of 20 years bad-mouthing each over their bitter split in the mid-1980s. Yet last month, the band Van Halen posted a message on its Web site indicating that it would reunite with the flamboyant Roth this year for a 40-city tour.

As the concert industry revs up for the 2007 touring season, some of the greatest passion, among both fans and concert promoters, is reserved for bands that haven't been heard in live performance in years, if not decades. Comebacks or reunions have been announced by acts as disparate as Van Halen, the Police, Rage Against the Machine and a slew of smaller names. Genesis is also expected to mount a tour.

Something is definitely in the air, even the Anglicans and the Catholics are pondering getting back together.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Shrove Tuesday

A blog being the ideal place for in-jokes that perhaps only three or four people in the world can understand, I would like to announce that this year I will be mortifying the flesh by giving up gorgonzola cheese and Christmas tree lights for Lent.

Wonderful as pancake day is, I wish I'd known yesterday that the day before it is Collop Monday. I'll certainly be celebrating both next year.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Take This Sabbath Day

I managed to get back on my West Wing rerun odyssey last night after having missed two episodes due to "events dear boy, events".

It struck me when Bartlett told CJ that he went to college in Notre Dame rather than Harvard or Yale, "cause I was thinking about becoming a priest," that the show's treatment of religious inclination and affiliation as a natural, but not dramatically dominant, facet of character is an interesting illustration of cultural difference between the US and the UK.

In "Take this Sabbath Day" in the first series, for example, when the White House is agonising about commuting a death sentence, Toby Ziegler discusses it with his rabbi, and the President calls a priest. In a UK drama that sort of plot device would be a rhetorical or even didactic hint that we were dealing with weaklings or loons.

(Great Facts of Our Time: Father Cavanaugh, the priest Bartlett consults, was played by the veteran Karl Malden and the Bible he carries is the same one he used as Father Barry - the priest he portrayed in "On the Waterfront" in 1954.)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Under The Lintel

I've booked up the tickets for "Under The Lintel" inspired by my West Wing Jones to get a sight of Richard Schiff working on stage.

Pop quiz on the wandering jew: Did you know that Oscar Wilde assumed the alias Sebastian Melmoth after he got out of Reading gaol?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Fan Dance

I'va got my entry form for the Springfield Triathlon which is a forntight after the Childline Challenge now.

Anyone fancy the Fan Dance after that?

Friday, February 16, 2007

A load of Bellocs

A Belloc quote having popped into my mind when posting yesterday, I've been thinking about adding some verse - perhaps from his Cautionary Tales - to the New Ninja Bomber's out-of-school martial, fine and liberal arts syllabus. (My Dad used to read me poems from time to time in lieu of a bedtime story and they've stayed with me ever since.)

Something along the lines of this might be a good introduction to English metrical rhythms:

The Chief Defect of Henry King
Was chewing little bits of String.
At last he swallowed some which tied
Itself in ugly Knots inside.

Physicians of the Utmost Fame
Were called at once; but when they came
They answered, as they took their Fees,
"There is no Cure for this Disease.

"Henry will very soon be dead.''
His Parents stood about his Bed
Lamenting his Untimely Death,
When Henry, with his Latest Breath,

Cried, "Oh, my Friends, be warned by me,
That Breakfast, Dinner, Lunch, and Tea
Are all the Human Frame requires...''
With that, the Wretched Child expires.

Why no place for Belloc in the National Curriculum List of writers and poets? Here's a clue:

The world is full of double beds
And most delightful maidenheads,
Which being so, there’s no excuse
For sodomy or self-abuse.

Old School.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I'm tired of Love;
I'm still more tired of Rhyme.
But money gives me pleasure all the time.

The very next day after announcing that there is no money in poetry, I find out that there is in fact $200 million in it.

To the rhyming dictionary!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mending Wall

Do you know, or perhaps even shamefacedly remember, the way that adolescent boys find it difficult - in their pomp - to believe that anyone from a previous generation ever managed to pull a pint, never mind pull a girl?

I can smile at it now, but I do find that the phenomenon resonant today. Resonant with the ludicrous notion that - due to technical achievements - we live in a society that is more advanced than that of our forebears.

I don't agree. I think that we live in a peculiarly credulous, stupid and self -important age, regardless of Intel announcing an 80 core Teraflop chip.

We don't have poetry any more. There's no money in poetry - granted - but then again there was never any poetry in money.

But here are some lines from Robert Frost (1874-1963) that will repay study with more (human nature being immutable) insight into the eternal tensions that underlie the fan dance of blogs and social networks than any contemporary journalism or sociology.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

The great Peter Cook wrote and starred - as the eponymous Michael Rimmer- in a film in 1970, that seems eerily prescient of the Blair era. I think I've only seen it once on late night TV decades ago, but I have found a precis of the plot here.

Toward the end of the film:
Once installed as leader of the country, Rimmer goes into overdrive, pulling off his greatest coup so far. ............ allowing everyone in the country the opportunity to vote in a referendum on every single issue. The genius of this ploy is revealed when the great British public, saturated with form-filling and ballot-marking, give up all interest in politics - leaving a clear path for Rimmer to announce his job upgrade to presidential status.
Has any other reader noticed the remarkable resemblance between this plot contrivance and No 10 Downing Street's e-petitions website. I wonder if they are by any chance related?

Actually, as I have been enjoying the Government's discomfort over the e-petition opposing road charging that has attracted so many signatures (the BBC put the figure at "more than a million" yesterday afternoon, but it is over one and a quarter million this morning) something that has struck me about the coverage is the lack of emphasis of the usual e-democracy, infomaniac, yada yada yada about the fact that it is an online as opposed to paper petition. The sotto voce, soft-pedalling of that angle of the story is actually an indication of a profound change.

I remember Bill Gates saying that we tend to overestimate the impact of technology in the short term, but underestimate it in the medium term. We still get Apocalyptic hoo-ha like the New York Magazine's 'Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy: The Greatest Generation Gap Since Rock and Roll', but real change reveals itself as gently yet relentlessy as the tide.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Jazz at Boaters

It isn't often, now that I've been in London so long, that I discover a new music venue, but I bowled up for Jazz at Boaters last night after Andy M told me that his brother Phil would be playing there.

The regular Sunday night session is apparently the labour of love of Simon Carter, a keyboard player and last night, he plus Phil on bass and Frank Tontoh on drums were backing Chris Stranding who is over in the UK for a short tour and was playing the Pizza Express Jazz Club last week.

What can I say? A top class gig for free this Sunday night, and another available every Sunday for the last fifteen years and for the foreseeable future.

Here is the who's who of the folk who have played there over the years.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

For Your Consideration

As a rabid Christopher Guest follower - along the Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind axis - I went to see 'For Your Consideration' last night, the day after it opened.

(That it opened theatrically at all in the UK shows how much things have changed in the last decade. It took me years to track down 'Waiting for Guffman' which I'm pretty sure didn't get a UK cinema release at all, and came out in the DVD-less mid Nineties.)

'For Your Consideration' is funny and clever but more vituperative and mordant than Guest's earlier films, lacking their secret sauce of real affection for the delusional protagonists.

I saw the movie in the Clapham Picturehouse, the nearest venue that was showing it. I've never been there before and discovered that it had a bar, and that you can take drinks into the show. I will return.

When I was waiting to be served, a woman I recognised as Jenny Eclair gestured towards me and said, "I think this gentleman was here first" when the barman asked her what she wanted to drink. A couple of minutes later she turned up in the seat in front of me to watch the film and said "I'll try not to obstruct your view".

So for all that "her strong, aggressive, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, chain-smoking persona can be too abrasive for some", she is a sweetheart in real life. That is a lot better than the alternative.

Anyway, back to Christopher Guest's genius, what is the alchemy that turns my favourite bit of 'Best in Show' to comedy gold? I have no idea myself:
I used to be able to name every nut that there was.

And it used to drive my mother crazy, because she used to say, "Harlan Pepper, if you don't stop naming nuts," and the joke was that we lived in Pine Nut, and I think that's what put it in my mind at that point.

So she would hear me in the other room, and she'd just start yelling.

I'd say, "Peanut. Hazelnut. Cashew nut. Macadamia nut."
That was the one that would send her into going crazy.

She'd say, "Would you stop naming nuts!"

And Hubert used to be able to make the sound, he couldn't talk, but he'd go "rrrawr rrawr" and that sounded like Macadamia nut.

Pine nut, which is a nut, but it's also the name of a town.

Pistachio nut.

Red pistachio nut.

Natural, all natural white pistachio nut ................

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Although according to the blog, I'm still four or five pounds heavier than I was this time last year, I'm five pounds lighter this morning than I was this time last Saturday as I've come to the end of a working week in which I tried to enhance my training by eating properly, but - truth be told - my heart's not in parsimonious dining.

I was delighted therefore to read this New Scientist review of a new book 'The Gospel of Food: Everything You Think You Know about Food Is Wrong', by Barry Glassner.

From what I can tell from the review, the book's thesis chimes with my intuition that the best way to eat is to consume a wide variety of foods that you actually enjoy:

We have wrongly embraced what Glassner calls "the gospel of naught," the view that "the worth of a meal lies principally in what it lacks".
"It appears more important to increase the number of healthy foods regularly consumed than to reduce the number of less healthy foods regularly consumed."

Right on. Justification at last of "eat your way around the world in London" on health grounds?.

I've found out this week by the way that the 805 Bar Restaurant is considered by the capital’s Nigerian community to be London’s best Nigerian restaurant, so I hope to be there this Wednesday demonstrating that "when it comes to healthy absorption of nutrients, taste matters."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Pipe Up!

More on Pipes.

Watch this space

Exactly a month after me, I see that Microsoft is to back Open ID. If only I had a clearer idea what it is.

I've also got a hunch that the new Yahoo Pipes might be important, though I'm similarly vague as to what use it might be to me.

Pipes is a hosted service that lets you remix feeds and create new data mashups in a visual programming environment.

With any luck, I'll dream up something to try it out on over the weekend.

Up to my neck, or out of my depth? The jury is still out.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Comedy Central

I broke my vow of a teetotal week over a few Stellas and the England Spain match with the profit burglar at GJs after work last night.

GJ's has a comedy night called "Roar with Laughter" every other Thursday, and I was astonished to see that Frank Skinner is playing a low key gig there tonight, warming up for a national tour. I'm amazed at the acts they get. Harry Hill is headlining again later this year. The management must have great connections.

I can't get go along tonight as the New Ninja Bomber will be with me. Mind you, for a six year old, he is developing a dry and idiosyncratic sense of humour.

He has group guitar tuition school on Fridays. Last week when I asked him about his lesson he announced, "a girl in my class talks to her guitar".

"Really", I said, "does it answer back?"

"No" he replied. "I think it might be deaf".

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

He had his head examined

Alfred Russel Wallace (born Usk 1823) having failed to evolve into A Welsh Born Icon, I - most royally - hereby create him one.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Monday, February 05, 2007

Star pupil found hanged after taking LSD

Sombre news from my alma mater. This is certainly not old school.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Help Find Jim Gray

Can you help? Follow this link.

Years ago Steve Jobs observed that a human being was one of the least efficient animals at converting energy into movement, but a man or woman on a bicycle was by far the most efficent and - to extend the analogy - a computer was a bicycle for the mind.

Maybe networks can be a bicycle for the heart.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Old School

On the day that the Six Nations kick off, here is a profile of Andy Ripley, the rugby and Superstars giant of yesteryear who is now going toe to toe with prostate cancer.

"I've had such a privileged life. I did sport when it was a window on a great world but not the only world you inhabited. They wouldn't want me to, but I feel a huge sympathy for professional sportsmen now. It seems such a narrow and narrowing life. It makes them fascists because they're special, they're continually being told they're special and mainly because they are so single-minded they have no room for compassion. They have to be like that because professional sport is about 'one-nil'. All the other stuff is just noise. You've gotta win.

"But I think, 'You're born. You die. And you've got to do all you can in between'." He has. He is. And no one can say more than that.

His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that nature might stand up
And say to all the world “This was a man.”

Friday, February 02, 2007

thing to keep one's eye on

According to the Telegraph this morning

People who question the official history of recent conflicts in Africa and the Balkans could be jailed for up to three years for "genocide denial", under proposed EU legislation.

Unbelievable? All too believable, but good to see Deborah Lipstadt still fighting the good fight in the article. One of the great unexpected boons of my regular writing here is that she once left a comment on something I posted.

Compare and contrast the EU proposal with the undisputed fact the the Belgian UN peacekeepers stood by and did nothing during the actual Rwandan genocide. They're two sides of the same coin. What on earth have we done to deserve such prissy ball less wonders in our international institutions?

In a healthy society citizens need sufficient confidence to act as moral agents on their own responsibility not to see themselves as emasculated servants of power always having to seek permission. That is how to kill bad things before they grow. Every initiative of the establishment these days seems to attempt to destabilise that, by demanding that they grant us permission on what to think never mind what to do and, let's be clear, whom we may hate.

The ancient folk wisdon of this island race says "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."

What I wouldn't give for an Orwell these days:
These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one's eye on. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads — they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Not with a bang but a whimper

I think an era is ending. (In one era out the other? Ho, ho very satirical.) In the same week:

  1. Microsoft has released its "five years in development", "all hail to the chief" Vista - the new wonder version of Windows - to widespread indifference.
  2. I've let my company's Microsoft Certified Partner certification lapse from today because the rigmarole that you have to go through to demonstrate that your organisation is qualified for one or more of the labyrinthine, utterly impractical "areas of specialisation" that they have invented is just not worth the aggravation.

We were doing intranets on Windows NT using Edinburgh University's EMWACS software before Microsoft even had a web server. If Microsoft had had this type of half cocked specialisation system in those days we wouldn't have been able to qualify at all because we were ahead of the curve. We could qualify against one of the fantasy categories now because we have so much experience under our belts, but it is fairly telling that I can't be bothered.

It is as if Redmond has been taken over by New Labour. Include me out!