Thursday, April 30, 2009

have muslims made cliff richard impotent?

Mad Mel again. This time, moving on from general bonkers criticism of atheism and breathtakingly ill-informed pontificating about vaccines and autism, she offers a gibberingly incoherent defence of the laughable theory of Intelligent Design. This stuff is hardly worth the trouble of refuting - instead I'll offer you a couple of tangential thoughts:

Clearly Melanie Phillips isn't a stupid woman; I hold this opinion despite her being universally wrong about pretty much everything. But there's wrong and there's wrong: backing the wrong horse in the presidential race, being a bit nutty about Israel, being generally barkingly right-wing about just about everything else, all these can be put down to differences of political worldview. Hitching yourself to the wagon of ID, though, is just, objectively, insane. This isn't some woolly political discussion with shades of interpretation, this is science. So you have to ask yourself: is she a) taking the piss b) trying to provoke, presumably to flog newspapers, or c) nuts? I'd be fascinated to know, but I really have no idea.

Melanie Phillips has been married, since the early 1970s, to legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg. You'll probably have seen him on the television from time to time - speaks with a slight lisp, bald, used to be a bit ginger. Now whenever I've heard him talk on TV or radio he's always seemed fairly sane. Admittedly he's primarily a reporter rather than a columnist and polemicist like his wife, so it's possible that he harbours some bizarre views on the quiet, but I'd be surprised. So what do they talk about at home?
JR: Hello dear, good day at the Daily Mail?
MP: Not bad - all Muslims are terrorists, Barack Obama is a Muslim and therefore a terrorist, paedophiles are stalking the land, a tidal wave of human effluent is streaming through the Channel Tunnel from eastern Europe, stealing our jobs and sullying the memory of Diana, evolution is a lie put about by homosexual atheist paedophile terrorists, the usual stuff, you know.
JR: That's nice, dear.
MP: How about you?
JR: Well, I did a brief piece to camera teasing out some of the complexities of a rape case in a sensitive and impartial and yet informative manner. What was that about Barack Obama again?
MP: Muslim terrorist.
JR: Oh really?
MP: Yuh-huh. Big time.
JR: Right. Glass of wine?
MP: Lovely.

I further commend to you the Daily Mail Headline Generator (actually I think there are a few of these on the web). I will now go and use it to generate a title for this blog post.

Monday, April 27, 2009

there was a young man from Nantucket

There was an article in the Independent today bigging up poet Carol Ann Duffy as the likely next Poet Laureate when Andrew Motion steps down (next month, I think). In a lot of ways the whole notion of having a Poet Laureate is as hilariously anachronistic, in the 21st century, as the notion of having a Royal Family, but, well, here we are. Her likely appointment is notable for a couple of reasons: firstly she is a woman, and furthermore a pretty high-profile lesbian, so there's an element of taboo-busting going on. Secondly, by a strange coincidence as far as this particular blog is concerned, she is the mother of a 14-year-old daughter, Ella, whose father is none other than - wait for it - novelist Peter Benson, subject of my last book review.

Andrew Motion seems like a thoroughly nice and intelligent chap, by the way, which in a way is more important to the job of Poet Laureate than writing brilliant poetry, which is why John Betjeman is so fondly remembered, while Ted Hughes will be better remembered for other things, mainly writing dark and savage poems and having various wives top themselves in messy and gruesome ways.

there's only one way to settle this: SCIENCE FIGHT!!!

I caught a discussion between Kathy Sykes and Ben Goldacre on the Today programme on my way in to work this morning: sadly it was all too brief as, as often happens, it was crammed in as the last item in the show and so we were only getting warmed up when Jim Naughtie had to bring things to a close.

Basically it was the usual dumbing down of science argument: Goldacre saying newspaper & TV coverage of science is dreadful, Sykes saying no it isn't, what about all those wonderful Robert Winston programmes, Goldacre saying well, they're a bit shit actually.

My problem here is as follows: broadly speaking I'm with Ben Goldacre on this one - most science journalism and science TV is rubbish, even the once great Horizon is now mainly given over to Danny Wallace buggering about with chimps and the like. On the other hand, I quite fancy Kathy Sykes in a tomboyish best mate's older sister kind of way. And Rough Science was quite good, although a large part of that was down to both Kathy Sykes and Kate Humble running about in shorts and desert boots getting all excited about beardy blokes making bombs out of parsnips and stinging nettles.

A search of our respective blogs for the string "Kathy Sykes" reveals the nature of my dilemma here: Bad Science has an article on Kathy Sykes' programme about alternative medicine which was the subject of much criticism and official complaints to the BBC when it was broadcast, mainly for being a load of credulous, evidence-free tosh. One the other hand a search of this blog reveals the Kate Humble link above and this slightly breathless account of a probable near-encounter in Bristol.

[Update: a brief piece in Bad Science regarding the same discussion. A bit more detail on Robert Winston whoring himself and his comedy moustache out to the highest bidder; also, reading between the lines, I reckon Ben fancies Kathy a bit as well. ]

Saturday, April 25, 2009

ginger's bought it

More posthumous Ballard-related articles - this one is quite interesting in tht it's a list of musical works inspired by Ballard's writings. I mentioned the Klaxons connection a while back, but there are plenty more.

The reference to a wrecked English Electric Lightning on the cover of Suede's 1997 B-sides collection Sci-Fi Lullabies brought back some childhood memories - when we lived in Newbury in the mid-1970s the Royal International Air Tattoo was held at the US air base at Greenham Common (we just used to call it the Greenham Air Show). I don't recall that we were ever interested enough to bother actually attending, but I do clearly remember standing in the garden watching the Lightnings go over, or more specifically listening, as they were easily identifiable as by far the loudest thing to fly over all weekend.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

the last book I read

The Levels by Peter Benson.

We're in the Somerset Levels, somewhere near the real locations of Isle Abbots and the wonderfully named Curry Mallet, though the settlement of Blackwood where the protagonist and his parents live appears to be fictional. Anyway, Billy is sixteen and lives with his parents on a small farm; his father is a master willow basketmaker and Billy is learning the trade from him.

One day bohemian arty painter type Anne and her teenage daughter Muriel move into the long-empty Drove House near where Billy lives; inevitably Billy and Muriel strike up a friendship that develops into a fledgling relationship, cherries are popped, hearts are broken, various conflicts are played out - town versus country, spontaneity and social mobility versus tradition and duty - until the inevitable moment arrives and Muriel heads off to college in London leaving Billy to his rustic basketry.

It's pretty slight and fairly short (172 pages) but quite charming in its own way. It's a sort of shorter, less complex son of Graham Swift's mighty Waterland with a touch of Cider With Rosie thrown in. It strikes me as quite similar to Tim Pears' excellent In The Place Of Fallen Leaves as well, although that's a longer book and the central protagonist is female.

I'm compelled to note that this won a few literary prizes as well - I really don't select books on this basis, honestly, in fact I bought this one in the wonderful Amnesty bookshop in Bristol for one solitary pound solely on the basis that it was set somewhere nearby. Nonetheless here's the book award data you'll have been wanting:

with a hey nonny nonny ratatat kerpow

Here's a date you may have missed off your calendar - yesterday (April 21st) was, in addition to being both my sister's birthday and HM the Queen's birthday (gawd bless 'er), Hocktide. Not exactly up there with Christmas, I'll grant you, in fact the only reason I mention it is that these days it's solely celebrated in Hungerford, where I used to live. My parents lived there for a few years, but I only lived there (as opposed to popping in occasionally student stylee to get my socks washed) between graduating in summer 1992 and moving back to Bristol in spring 1993, so about 7 or 8 months.

As it happens this means I missed Hocktide '93 (which would have been April 20th according to this list) by a month or two, and a good thing too, frankly, as it seems to involve a good deal of deeply tiresome Merrie Olde England jollity and hale beardy heartiness, plus various meaningless rituals involving horseshoes and oranges and bunches of flowers on sticks. If it were simply sitting around eating ham hocks and washing them down with a few bottles of Hock I might be inclined to take a more favourable view.

Hocktide '87 was on April 28th; local nutcase Michael Ryan was granted an upgrade to his firearms licence just two days later (though he didn't actually carry out his killing spree until August). Coincidence? I wonder. It's a short step from flowers and ribbons on poles to Morris dancing, and that's enough to push anyone over the edge.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

this blog post is

I replaced my mobile phone today; phone fetishists will want to know that I swapped a Motorola U9 for a Nokia 6600 Slide. Doing that, and the associated moving around of contacts and clearing stuff off the old phone, gives me an opportunity for a tribute to J.G. Ballard, in particular to the short stories Answers To A Questionnaire and The Index (both from the 1990 collection War Fever). In that spirit then I invite you to reconstruct the last 12 months of my life from the following fragmentary unsent text messages from the Drafts folder on the old phone:
  • Bollocks. No boxed ones in run
  • On
  • Back down the
  • I am
  • Actually I'd left
  • How's the convalescing going? Are you walking
  • Yes - Currently in Bristol having a look round Cabot Circus
  • Watching telly in bed -
  • Did you try to phone me earlier?
  • Can you check the joint aaa
  • Fack! Still on the train. Not long now - will let you know
  • In a pub near Marylebone
There's an almost Proustian, nay, almost Beckettian sense of loss and longing at work here. Or is it just some old bollocks? Perhaps it is, in a very real sense, both.

Monday, April 20, 2009

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

A couple of sporty-themed ones today. Firstly triple golf major winner Ernie Els and big-eared comedy bloke Martin Clunes. Blond hair, toothy grin, big ears.

Secondly Scottish motor racing legend Jim Clark and English golfer Paul Casey. Dark hair, toothy grin, both killed instantly driving into a tree. Except Casey.


Before anyone points it out, I should correct my airy assertion that Crash wasn't in the list of famous last lines from novels, because I had another look and there it was at number 53, its semen- and blood-flecked chrome prow jutting proudly forth like a diseased pubis, a new monstrous psychosexual geometry of stuff appearing in lists of, erm, stuff. Sorry, I seem to have caught a spot of Ballard there. Incidentally, and slightly oddly, the excerpt quoted omits the word "leg" which appears (correctly) in the passage I quoted.

Also, my literary OCD compels me to log the following list of the paltry 17% of the list that I've read: numbers 3, 7, 12, 13, 15, 26, 36, 37, 45, 48, 49, 53, 59, 60, 72, 81 and 82.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


J.G. Ballard, one of my favourite authors, died today. After a "long illness", according to the obituaries, which, as I pointed out a while back, means cancer; prostate cancer in this case, as it happens.

What the world is crying out for now is another potted amateur synopsis of Ballard's career and oeuvre, so here it is: his short stories are uniformly brilliant, so you probably want the two volumes of collected stories - failing that I'd recommend the collections The Disaster Area and War Fever as a good place to start. As for the novels, some read like short stories extended beyond their natural length (High-Rise for instance), others should be read by everyone who appreciates writing of dark and brilliant perversity and imagination, in particular The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash, as long as you aren't turned off by stuff like this:
Already I was aware that the interlocked radiator grilles of our cars formed the model of an inescapable and perverse union between us. I stared at the contours of her thighs. Across them the grey blanket formed a graceful dune. Somewhere beneath this mound lay the treasure of her pubis. Its precise jut and rake, the untouched sexuality of this intelligent woman, presided over the tragic events of the evening.
or this:
In the lavatory of the casualty department I stood beside Vaughan at the urinal staffs. I looked down at his penis, wondering if this too was scarred. The glans, propped between his index and centre fingers, carried a sharp notch, like a canal for surplus semen or vinal mucus. What part of some crashing car had marked this penis, and in what marriage of his orgasm and a chromium instrument head? The terrifying excitements of this scar filled my mind as I followed Vaughan back to his car through the dispersing hospital visitors. Its slight lateral deflection, like the rake of the Lincoln's windshield pillars, expressed all Vaughan's oblique and obsessive passage through the open spaces of my mind.
What appears to be the entire text of the novel is available here. Speaking of last lines of novels as I was in this previous review, check this out (Crash again):
The aircraft rise from the runways of the airport, carrying the remnants of Vaughan's semen to the instrument panels and radiator grilles of a thousand crashing cars, the leg stances of a million passengers.
It wasn't on the list, strangely. A lot of Ballard's later novels seemed to be an obsessive re-working of essentially the same book (albeit a pretty good one), in particular the sequence from 1996's Cocaine Nights through to 2006's Kingdom Come. Oddly, the book he's most famous for, the quasi-autobiographical Empire Of The Sun, is probably the least representative of his output (and as it happens I haven't read it or seen the subsequent Spielberg film).

Friday, April 17, 2009


Couple of photo gallery links for you.

Firstly our crack at the Five Peaks Challenge round Dursley and Uley. Not quite as gruelling as the more famous Three Peaks Challenge, but Andy wanted to test out his recently arthroscopied knee, so we though we'd better not tackle anything too hardcore. Ending up, inevitably, in the Old Spot for a few refreshing pints.

Secondly our trip to the Gower over Easter weekend. More specifically to the spectacular Hillend campsite near Llangennith (here, in fact) to test out our lavishly appointed new tent. And very nice too, if a bit unfeasibly huge for two people. Fact of the day: Gower was the first Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be designated in the UK (in 1956). Other outstanding things in the area include the fascinating Worm's Head peninsula, and also the Worm's Head Hotel spectacularly situated on the clifftop above. Not the world's greatest pub, to be honest, but it does have a garden out the back with fantastic views up Rhossili beach. On the other hand the King's Head in Llangennith undoubtedly is a great pub. Excellent food and also excellent Rhymney Bitter when we popped in on Easter Monday.

read this blog post, he implored persuasively

One quick addendum to the book review below: Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules Of Writing. Less is more, basically. Here's a slightly different take (by someone else) on the same thing: 10 mistakes to avoid.

Oh, one more thing: I attached links to a couple of recent book reviews pointing to John Crace's excellent "Digested Reads" column in the Guardian. I should point out that my attributing them to novelist Jim Crace was entirely incorrect and I will be chastising myself severely. Though apparently they are distantly related and others have made the same mistake, so I don't feel quite so bad now. On the subject of relations, Jim Crace's daughter used to be in Eastenders. Fascinating.

Anyway, my point is that the Digested Reads are mercilessly apt and amusing and you should have a browse through them either electronically here and here, or in book form here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

the last book I read

Riding The Rap by Elmore Leonard.

Reading an Elmore Leonard novel is very much unlike a box of chocolates, i.e. you pretty much know what you're going to get. This is in no way a bad thing in this particular case, since what you generally get is a slim 200-300 pages of twisted dialogue, equally twisted plotting, endearingly flawed villains (plus the odd genuine psycho), equally flawed good guys (without being so morally relativistic as to cause confusion over which colour hat everyone's wearing), things unravelling in an entertaining way, some climactic violence including the unexpected offing of one or two of the major characters and, unusually for novels in the crime genre, some strong female characters to spark things up a bit.

So, as if to prove the point, what you get with Riding The Rap is: ex-mafia bookie Harry Arno, cowboy-hat-wearing federal marshal Raylan Givens and assorted villains Chip, Bobby and Louis. After some previous scrapes with both his erstwhile mob bosses and the law, Harry is living down in Miami. Chip owes Harry several thousand dollars in unpaid betting fees, and hires Bobby to call in the debt. Chip and sidekick Louis suggest a better idea to Bobby when he calls, though: kidnap Harry and sweat him for the money in his secret bank account in the Bahamas.

Raylan and Harry have some previous, so Raylan feels obliged to try and find Harry, with the help of Harry's ex-girlfriend Joyce and kooky psychic (and ex-girlfriend of both Chip and Louis) Dawn. Meanwhile the kidnappers are holed up in Chip's house with their hostage and starting to go stir crazy. Eventually Raylan puts two and two together and heads round to the house to effect a daring rescue, though things don't go quite as planned.

One of the reasons that Elmore Leonard books make such great source material for films is the brilliance of the dialogue; one of the reasons the resulting films often aren't all that great is that often not a lot actually happens in a Leonard novel. This one is a good example: Harry gets kidnapped after the villains set him up during a psychic reading with Dawn, thereafter they spend a lot of time bantering inconsequentially (though grippingly) and watching Harry on Chip's CCTV. The climactic gunplay aside, that's about it.

If you're wondering where to place this in the Leonard canon, here's a couple of pointers. It was published in 1995, immediately after the novel to which it is a sort of sequel, Pronto (Harry, Raylan and Joyce appear in this one). This puts it just at the tail-end of the mid-to-late-1980s streak that I reckon represents the absolute cream of the crop: books like Glitz, Bandits, Freaky Deaky, Killshot and Maximum Bob (all those links will take you to a brief opening excerpt of the novel in question: give them a go). Anyway, Riding The Rap isn't quite up to the standard of those, but it's never less then entertaining. If you must only have one Leonard, I'd make it Killshot which I think is the best of the lot. You really want most if not all of the ones listed above though.

I wonder whether the re-use of characters from previous books is a sign of a bit of late-career laziness - Leonard's latest, Road Dogs, seems to have gone totally berserk on this front, bringing back Jack Foley and Karen Sisco (aka George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez) from Out Of Sight, Cundo Rey from LaBrava and Dawn Navarro from Riding The Rap. And maybe some others, for all I know. Maybe it's easier than creating interesting new characters? Then again a writer who's still knocking out effortlessly hip thrillers at the age of 84 can probably be cut a bit of slack.

Friday, April 10, 2009

nothing....can't....explode. and that's SCIENCE.

A couple of terms you might find useful when viewing some of this guy's YouTube video library:
  • Poe's Law, slightly paraphrased, says that however over-the-top and blatant your satirical portrayal of the views held by religious fundamentalists, a) some people will mistake it for the real thing, and b) somewhere out there is a non-ironic one even more barkingly extreme. No-one quite seems to know whether Jesusophile is a satirical performance artist or just a cretin; all I'll say is if it is satire then it's bordering on genius. The proof that condoms give you AIDS is particularly priceless. It's a vagina full of AIDS! Do you want a vagina full of AIDS? No.
  • If it is for real then what we have here is a textbook example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Which basically says: one of the effects of low intelligence is that you lack sufficient intelligence to be able to make a realistic assessment of your own intelligence. Or, just to get a bit Rumsfeld for a minute, to know how much you don't know. Next time you see a YouTube video or blog post that ends (once you've weeded out the Poes) "atheism PWNED!!!" or "take that, evolution!" or (my favourite) "checkMATE!!" you can nod sagely to yourself and murmur "Dunning-Kruger effect" as you stroke your beard and puff ruminatively on your pipe-stem.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

oy vey

Couple of amusing things to note in this BBC article about Israel and the ultra-orthodox Jewish media doing a bit of religiously-motivated gender-swapping Photoshopping activity (compare the pictures here), most obviously the hilariously threadbare loincloth of concerns about "female modesty" failing to conceal the great fat sweaty mottled pendulous cock of patriarchal oppression as practised by pretty much every religion you care to mention for as long as you care to mention.

As grotesque as that is it's perhaps less noteworthy then the bit at the end which makes a throwaway reference to "kosher telephones". Whoa, there, Dobbin: kosher telephones? Tell me more.

Not being whittled out of bacon and shrimps doesn't really set a kosher phone apart from other phones in any meaningful way, so there must be something else. As it happens most of the articles on the subject completely miss the point by focussing on the peripheral issue of these phones being blocked from dialling sex lines, having internet access and other luxury features. No, the point, if I'm reading this article correctly, is that the telephones make use of an absurdly elaborate device called a grama to do the dialling in a sort of indirect way that doesn't violate people's very real and pressing concerns with "Shabbat desecration" and "halachic permissibility", while still, back in the real world, dialling the number and connecting you with the number you've dialled in a way indistinguishable from the non-kosher by everyone - except presumably God, who, in addition to having a prurient interest in what you do with your genitalia, takes a close interest in the internal electronics of telephones and their potential to endanger people's mortal souls. For it is written in the Bible, Telecoms 2:14....wait, no, it doesn't say anything about that at all.

If you're tempted to make jokes about telephone sanitisers at this point, go for it, but be aware that (presumably) non-ironic products are available under precisely that label. Also, be aware of the difficulties in locating a kosher car park.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

tumpy grumpy

Photos to come later from our weekend walk around the Dursley Five Peaks. Some of the route overlapped with the slightly longer walk we did as a training run for the ill-fated Dartmoor expedition back at the end of 2006, most notably around the neolithic long barrow of Hetty Pegler's Tump. There's been a bit of change in the intervening two-and-a-bit years, though, as you can see from this photo:

A repeat of our tomb-disturbing antics from 2006 (pictures here) was quite obviously out of the question. It seems this blocking-up activity was at the official instigation of English Heritage, and was in response not to anything as thrilling as the unquiet spirits of the dead rising up and possessing those foolish enough to penetrate the tomb's portals, and sending them rushing shrieking, white-haired and incontinent back into the daylight, their sanity destroyed, but the rather more mundane problem of some internal subsidence and persistent vandalism (my suspicion is that it's the latter more than the former). As usual The Modern Antiquarian has an extensive picture gallery.

the last book I read

Independence Day by Richard Ford.

This is a sequel of sorts to Ford's earlier novel The Sportswriter which I read a few years ago. I say "of sorts" because while it features many of the same characters (most notably the central protagonist Frank Bascombe), I don't think there's necessarily any need to have read the first novel to enjoy the second one (though, just to be clear, I think you should read it).

Independence Day picks up five years after the events of The Sportswriter (there was a real-life gap of nine years between the two books); Frank Bascombe is now selling real estate for a living in the fictional town of Haddam, New Jersey (a fictionalised Princeton, apparently), living alone, conducting a slightly detached and half-hearted relationship with a woman from just up the New Jersey coast in Mantoloking, and preparing to set off for a Fourth of July road trip with his fifteen-year-old son Paul.

As with The Sportswriter the beauty of this is not so much that anything spectacularly out of the ordinary actually happens - indeed you could argue that "the ordinary" is precisely the subject matter - but the subtlety of the observation and rendering of how real people act, react and interact. These are people who have normal everyday concerns - house prices, being the victim of crime, sex, death of family members, divorce, etc. Frank Bascombe himself is an endearingly intelligent and infuriating protagonist - slightly awkward with his teenage kids, prickly and defensive with his ex-wife (referred to as X throughout The Sportswriter but in slightly friendlier terms as Ann here) and her new husband, and with an air of dreamy introspection and vagueness throughout which sometimes curdles into unthinking self-centredness, as when he has a tender conversation with girlfriend Sally from a hotel phone and then shortly afterwards attempts to pick up the hotel's female chef (though he chickens out of following through with it).

As far as narrative goes what basically happens is: Frank has a couple of tasks to complete before setting off for Connecticut to pick up Paul from his ex-wife Ann's house: attempting to close the sale of a house to an indecisive couple from Vermont and a date with his girlfriend Sally. Neither of which proceed according to plan, but which ensure that the actual road trip doesn't start until about page 260 (of a 450-page book). Once under way it becomes clear that Paul is a typical surly and uncommunicative (and unwashed) teenager, possibly with a few slightly more exotic behavioural problems on top. Frank and Paul visit the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts without incident, but their subsequent trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York ends in disaster when Paul gets hit in the eye by a baseball and has to be rushed to hospital. Ex-wife Ann rushes over to supervise and after a surprisingly non-recriminatory discussion Frank returns to Haddam for an unexpectedly quiet and reflective Independence Day.

Like John Updike and Anne Tyler, Ford could be accused of ploughing a fairly narrow middle-class furrow, but that seems a bit unfair - if you're going to have a pop at writing the Great American Novel then an American setting is pretty much obligatory. My feeling regarding the Updike comparison is that Ford's novels are a bit warmer and more generally well-disposed towards the human race, particularly Frank Bascombe who is clearly at least semi-autobiographical.

And now the obligatory ticking off of things from lists:
  • The Sportswriter is another in the Time 100 novels list I've referred to a couple of times before
  • Independence Day won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1996 - my obligatory list of ones I've read for this one goes: 1953, 1961, 1981, 1996, 2003
  • Independence Day also won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction in 1996 - the list for this one goes, erm: 1995, 1996. Must try harder!

Friday, April 03, 2009

venn vill I, vill I be famous

Now that I'm entering my twilight years, I've taken to listening to Radio 4 during my drive to work in the mornings. This usually spans the period between about 8:20am and 9am, and so usually means the political cut and thrust of the Today programme. But if I'm a bit late or the traffic (usually round the Almondsbury Interchange) is bad, I occasionally catch a bit of whatever program is in the 9am slot. Which meant that as I was a bit late this morning I caught about ten minutes of Desert Island Discs, for the first time ever.

All of which is a rather circuitous preamble to my point, which is this: the guest on DID, as no-one calls it, as far as I know, was novelist Sebastian Faulks, author of such celebrated works as Birdsong and Charlotte Gray. This struck me as notable for a couple of reasons, firstly that despite his reputation and status I've never read any of his stuff (nor really had any inclination to, to be honest), and secondly that I met him, briefly, when I had a summer job in a bookshop in Newbury back when I was a student - he was doing a book signing for his novel The Girl At The Lion D'Or, so it would have been 1989 or 1990. Just to clarify, here's a Venn diagram for you:

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Russell Blackford's excellent blog inadvertently links two of my TLBIR posts together by comparing Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen with Winston Niles Rumfoord from The Sirens Of Titan. Well, strictly speaking he's talking about having just watched Watchmen the movie, but I gather that the movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book (and, as I said in the book review, why wouldn't it be, since you've effectively had the storyboarding work done for you).

There are of course a number of similarities; both were formerly relatively bog-standard humans and were then instantaneously discorporated by some quantum catastrophe or other - an "intrinsic field subtractor" and a "chrono-synclastic infundibulum" respectively - and reformed into something resembling their original form (a nude blue version thereof in Dr. Manhattan's case) but with some added extras, most notably being pretty much omniscient about past and future events. Crucially, though, while Dr. Manhattan is pretty much omnipotent as well (instantaneously teleporting anywhere he likes, for instance), Winston Niles Rumfoord doesn't seem able to exert much influence over events - one assumes his strict adherence to the schedule of appearing to his wife for an hour once every 59 days isn't voluntary, for instance. There's a world of difference between knowing what's going to happen and being able to do anything about it.