Friday, July 31, 2015

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright and comic actress Sally Phillips. Pictures carefully chosen as they only really look alike when they're smiling, largely because they've both got a short upper lip frenulum which produces a little point in the middle of the top lip when they do a full teeth-revealing grin. I spot these little things so that you don't have to.

Here's Martha Wainwright doing a very slinky version of When The Day is Short on the David Letterman show.

the last book I read

Our Kind Of Traitor by John le Carré.

Perry Makepeace and Gail Perkins have got precious little to complain about, on the face of it. He is an Oxford University lecturer, and she is an up-and-coming-lawyer, and they've no problem affording to swan off for a holiday in Antigua, which is where we find them when the book opens.

Perry is a pretty good amateur tennis player, and has inadvertently caught the eye of a possible opponent, a mysterious, bald, portly Russian called Dima, who challenges him to a match. While Dima is quite a lot better at tennis than one might have anticipated, Perry still wins, at which point it turns out that the tennis match wasn't really the point of the whole exercise - the point being that Perry seemed to Dima like a quintessential fair-play English gentleman type to make his big confession to: that he wants to defect to the west and bring his extended family with him, an exchange sweetened by the usual handover of secrets, principally secrets relating to his extensive criminal activities as a money-launderer for the Russian mafia, and, who knows, maybe the Russian government as well.

Of course Perry isn't an actual spy, he's just some guy, so he's got to find a way of communicating what he's found out to the British intelligence services. He seems to find this remarkably easy, considering they don't exactly advertise in the Yellow Pages, and so he and Gail are placed in the care of Luke and Hector who are supposedly going to organise Dima's transit to the UK and freedom, as well as a similar escape route for his family, comprising his wife, two grown-up sons, teenage daughter Natasha, and the two young daughters of his protégé Misha, recently murdered by the Russian mafia. And of course the Russian mafia would have an interest in a bit of the old murdering if they ever got wind of Dima's intentions.

An elaborate plan is cooked up which involves Gail and Perry meeting Dima again in Paris, as if by chance, including attending the 2009 French Open final, while he is there to sign over some of his money-laundering rights to some younger successors, and thereby quite likely his own death warrant as well. The challenge for the spooks (and for Perry and Gail) is to spirit away Dima before the Russian mob can get to him, and park him and his extended family in a safe house in Switzerland where they can await the official summons to come to the UK (Dima first, then the rest once it's been established that he has useful knowledge to offer) once the relevant groundwork has been done. However, getting the official ticks in the appropriate boxes turns out to be a bit more challenging than the spooks had hoped, and even when the official word has apparently been given there's still the chance of the whole operation being sabotaged by an intervention from the Russian mafia. Or was it the UK government?

Comparing this book with the only other le Carré in this list, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, is quite instructive: that one was written at the height of the Cold War (1963) and for all its moral ambiguity and the grubby moral compromises of the major characters there's still a pretty robust certainty that the Brits are the good guys and the Russians are the enemy. By the time Our Kind Of Traitor was published (2010) the Cold War is over and those moral certainties have fallen away, indeed the whole idea of loyalty to one's own country up to the point of sacrificing one's own life for it seems faintly ridiculous. So instead what motivates the major characters here is more prosaic things like money, sex, self-interest and the desire to protect one's family.

It seems to me that le Carré is a bit more interested in people here, too - apart from the two big set pieces at Roland Garros and in the hotel in Berne, most of the narrative interest is with the characters and their background and motivations. There is a bit of a jarring shift of viewpoint after the first hundred pages or so, which have focused on Perry and Gail, to a whole load of background information about Luke, which is fine but brings the plot to a bit of a halt while it's happening. And I was left somewhat unsatisfied by the ending - I like a bit of ambiguity as much as the next man, but this left too many unanswered questions for me. It's a bit like Infinite Jest in that there's a dawning realisation, as the reader contemplates the slim number of pages remaining, that the narrative arc isn't going to be completed and the loose ends aren't going to be tied up in the way you might want them to be.

I'd say, those caveats aside, that this is a bit warmer, more welcoming and easier to read than the Cold War era novels like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, since it doesn't have that book's grim East German setting or its focus on the minutiae of espionage, although le Carré can't resist throwing in a bit of cloak-and-dagger stuff in the subterranean spa at Roland Garros. He's probably less highly-regarded as a writer than he should be, which is almost certainly down to the same sort of genre snobbery that regards science fiction writing with a snort of sniffy disdain. For all the excellence of some of the novels which have won the Booker Prize, for instance, over the years, there's a certain kind of novel which gets on the shortlist, and science fiction and espionage novels aren't it.

There have been a lot of films of le Carré novels over the years, and apparently Our Kind Of Traitor is soon to join that list, as there's a film scheduled for imminent release starring Ewan MacGregor as Perry, Naomie Harris as Gail and various other big names. Variety, in their inimitable style, describe it as a "contempo spy suspenser", which I suppose is about right.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I've started so I'll finish

Quick follow-up on a couple of earlier posts:
  • I should have mentioned during the Pride And Prejudice review that this is another book that I bought many many years ago (25 years plus, I should think) and once started reading but never finished. Previous books in that category on this list are On The Road, Good As Gold and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being - I really should have remembered Pride And Prejudice since I specifically mentioned it in a couple of those earlier reviews. My recollection is that I made a decent start on it, maybe getting somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way through, and the abandonment wasn't because I wasn't enjoying it, but more likely because something like a new Dick Francis or Stephen King paperback came out and distracted me and I never quite got round to going back to it. These days I have put away the capriciousness of youth and am more ruthlessly self-disciplined in these areas, and I never start a novel until I've finished the previous one. I might have a fiction and a non-fiction book on the go at the same time, but never two fiction books. Well, I suppose maybe in exceptional circumstances like forgetting to take my current book with me when I'm away from home and having to get hold of something else to read, but not otherwise.
  • Similarly, I should have spotted that Solaris permits me to fill in a blank entry on this list of novels originally written in other languages, since it's the first one I can recollect reading that was originally written in Polish.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

hayling frequencies open, captain

A couple of photo galleries to catch up on from various recent travels:

Firstly, we went to an owl sanctuary for my Dad's birthday. Now I'm aware that there is an element of the Alan Partridge about this, but it was actually quite interesting. Dad is a bit of an amateur ornithologist, Nia likes owls, and we didn't bother to solicit Alys' opinion on the matter, so it was all good. And as it happened it was a nice day and they had various other non-owl wildlife on display as well.

The sanctuary in question is here, just up near Kington, an hour or so's drive from my parents' place in Abergavenny. And it pretty much does what it says on the tin in that they have a lot of owls, of a bewildering variety of species. They also have sheep, goats, alpacas, various rodents, tortoises, ducks, geese, the whole nine yards, as well as a picnic area and the inevitable gift shop where we bought Nia a little cuddly snowy owl, which she promptly christened Snowy, in common with probably 99% of snowy owl toys purchased there.

Last weekend we took ourselves off for a bit of a tour of the south coast, starting off by staying a couple of nights in a little cottage in Emsworth which Hazel had found on Airbnb. Emsworth is a town between Portsmouth and Chichester which has several pubs - including the Bluebell where we had a nice fish & chip lunch and a pint of Doom Bar - and a pleasant little harbour area from which you can walk along the edge of Chichester Harbour, the big tidal area between the mainland and Hayling Island. Better still, the cottage we were in, just north of the main town area, was right next to a charming little miniature nature reserve, and, more prosaically but very usefully, a branch of Tesco.

We'd chosen the location as it was handy for the second half of our trip, but also because it was in close proximity to Paulton's Park, home of lots of exciting rollercoaster-y delights à la Alton Towers (only without the crashing and the limb-severing, hopefully) for older children, but also home of Peppa Pig World, where we'd promised we'd take Nia. Luckily it was a weekday outside of the school holidays so the queues were reasonably short. At busy times it must be absolutely hellish. Anyway, Nia had an absolutely brilliant time, which was the main thing, and it was generally very good and very well-run. Needless to say visitors are obliged to exit through the gift shop, but we got away fairly lightly by purchasing a small cuddly George and a story book at a total cost of about twelve quid. Our triumph at this was short-lived, as we promptly lost George during a trip across the nature reserve and had to buy another one off the internet to replace him.

We happened to catch Chichester Harbour at low tide when we went for our walk, so we were able to wander some distance out onto the mudflats and gaze across to Hayling Island. This is the only one of the three islands (Portsea Island, Hayling Island, Thorney Island) in the extended tidal harbour area (technically it's a ria) that's still a "proper" island, the other two being, via various sea-wall construction and land reclamation, pretty much joined to the mainland these days apart from the odd tidal creek.

Interestingly, a feature of all Ordnance Survey maps of the area is the appearance of a footpath taking a curved route across the channel between Hayling Island and the mainland - it's marked on my brand-new Explorer map, for instance. This is the route of an ancient path called the "wadeway", which was once the only foot route onto the island. It's unclear whether the name derives from the same origin as Wade Court Park just to the north, or just from the fact that you'd have to do a certain amount of wading, even at low tide. These days you'd have to do a bit more than that, as it happens, as the navigation channel of the old Portsmouth and Arundel canal cuts across the route (it's the bit marked as "New Cut" on the map picture, and clearly visible here). Even with a bit of silting up you'd probably find yourself needing a snorkel at some point; I assume the Ordnance Survey retain the route as a historical curiosity and in the hope that no-one would be foolish enough to actually attempt to use it. The stumps on the other side of the modern road bridge are the remains of the old railway bridge that carried the Hayling Island Branch Line.

We went on over to Bournemouth to visit some friends on the Friday, via Staunton Country Park just north of Havant. No owls, but some fairly bog-standard petting zoo/wildlife-feeding stuff, plus an interesting hedge maze which Nia did her best to get lost in. As if that wasn't exciting enough we also got to go to the beach at Southbourne (in glorious sunshine, thankfully) and have a thrillingly late night (by Nia's standards) over at Trafalgar School in Downton while watching our friend Mark play the French horn for the Hyde band. Their finale was an impressive rendition of the 1812 Overture accompanied by a firework display.

So: owl pictures can be found here, south coast tour pictures are here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

nation shall say cunt unto nation

It seems like BBC presenters are queuing up to bombard viewers with a fusillade of c-bombs at the moment. Hot on the heels of John Inverdale in March and Norman Smith in May, here's BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull dropping it into the middle of a seemingly innocuous piece of autocue-reading.

It's not as immediately obvious as for some of the others (the Norman Smith post attempts some categorisation) what the source of Turnbull's cuntfusion was here, but his own subsequent tweet sheds some light on it:
So it falls into the same category as the Inverdale incident, a fatal confusion between two words resulting in the start of one and the end of the other being spliced together, with unfortunate results.

A couple of further honourable additions to the list via the excellent Radiofail:
  • Jeremy Vine on Radio 2. This one's just a bog-standard mis-rendering of "hunt", but worthy of mention as it includes the phrase "so they can be eliminated in the cunt", which sounds most unpleasant;
  • Lynn Bowles mispronouncing "county";
  • another one for the bulging Jeremy Hunt files.

here are the shoes headlines

Never mind all that stuff about books and golf, you'll be saying, we haven't had a shoes news update for a while. And you're right, we haven't. So here it is. Let's get the hello clouds, hello sky, reduce/reuse/recycle, tree-hugging hippy crap out of the way first: I've got a much-loved pair of old Dr. Marten desert boots which I sometimes wear to work and which are structurally perfectly sound, but which were starting to look a bit dilapidated owing to their never having been cleaned or polished even once in the ten years or so I'd had them. Finally I decided some polish was probably in order, and since they'd acquired a few marks over the years perhaps of a slightly darker hue than the faded light tan they'd gradually become. As it happens darker brown was all we had in the shoe polish box anyway, so the decision was made for me. Quite a noticeable transformation, as I think you'll agree:

Might get another few years of semi-respectable wear out of those yet. Less salvageable were my two pairs of golf shoes. Both quite elderly, both just about holding together in the uppers department, but both completely knackered in the studs department to the extent that I couldn't get the old ones out or any new ones in. So when the opportunity arose of of buying a set of particularly vomit-inducing orange and grey Dunlops for 30 quid from Sports Direct, I grabbed it with both, erm, feet. All I'll say about their efficacy is: last round with the old shoes: 110; first round with the new ones: 93.

Lastly, my battered old Saucony running shoes. Now I don't want you to think I'm out pounding the streets on a regular basis, but I harbour some fantasies about doing the Newport parkrun a bit more than the pitiful two times I've managed it so far. So I'd been toying with the idea of a new pair, but I don't use them enough to justify much expense. So when I spotted a pair of basic-looking blue Crane running shoes for £9.99 in Aldi, I snapped them up. So far they've only been worn for a stroll round the block (and seem very comfortable), but you can't rush into these things.

our father who art in heaven, help me eagle hole eleven

In the wake of the thrilling climax to The Open Championship, here's a short list of reasons why we should cherish 2015 champion Zach Johnson a bit more than we are perhaps naturally inclined to:
  • he's a rare case of a small-ish guy (by modern standards anyway, a slim 5ft 11in makes him not exactly a midget) holding his own among a host of great muscle-bound hulks who bomb it 300 yards through the air by virtue of being very accurate and having a stellar short game;
  • he's sneakily successful - of properly active PGA Tour players only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and David Toms have more tournament wins than Johnson's twelve;
  • he had enough self-awareness to tailor his victory speech to the audience and tone down the reflexive Goddiness - he got through thanking Peter Dawson, the greenkeeping staff, the fans, his caddy and his wife before he got onto thanking the Lord;
  • he is far from being the only tedious God-botherer on the PGA Tour - of recent major winners both Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson are also pretty serious about the whole Jesus thing, and generally speaking the fairways are awash with simpletons who imagine that offering incantations to an imaginary Jewish zombie will help steady their nerves over critical shots coming down the stretch at major championships.
Other Open news: it was nice to see David Duval having a decent week; he eventually finished in a tie for 49th at four under par, but he had been as high as eight under at one point during the last round. A pretty decent performance for a man whose involvement in golf tournaments is increasingly as a broadcaster rather than as a player, and for whom making the cut is a major achievement these days.

Here's another short list for you: you may recall me singling out Paul Auster's Invisible as a book whose title was a sub-string of another one in the book list: well, the most recent entry provides another example, the pair of Solar and Solaris.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

the last book I read

Solaris by Stanisław Lem.

Kris Kelvin, a psychologist, has been assigned an unusual mission: travel through the vastness of space to the mysterious ocean planet of Solaris, and investigate some strange goings-on at the long-standing manned scientific station in low orbit above the planet's surface. The crew's regular communications have become sparse and garbled of late and there's some concern for their welfare.

He arrives to find that the man he'd expected to meet him, his old friend Gibarian, has committed suicide that very morning and that the only two remaining members of the crew, Snow and Sartorius, appear to be in a state of extreme paranoia and are reluctant to leave their respective rooms.

The research station has been in place for much of the century or so since humans discovered Solaris, in a mostly futile attempt to understand what happens on and beneath the surface of the planet. This is no ordinary ocean, you see; decades of study have led to the conclusion that it is a single gigantic organism of some kind, given to occasional bizarre outpourings of some sort of pent-up energy via the construction of giant crystalline structures which spontaneously erupt from the ocean's surface. Any attempts at communication have so far proved futile, so the scientific crew have decided to crank up the volume knob a bit and have been bombarding the planet with high-energy X-rays. The planet's response seems to have been to generate, via unknown means, a replica of a person from the former lives of each of the crew, place them on the station and have them follow them around. Moreover, not just any randomly selected past acquaintance, but someone who has a particularly painful psychic resonance for the target.

In Kelvin's case this means that having spent a night on the station he awakes to find his ex-wife Rheya sitting watching him. Disturbing enough given the vast distance from Earth, but more so since she committed suicide after an argument with Kelvin ten years previously. It appears that these "visitors" are created from the mental image that their targets have of them, and have little awareness that they are not who they appear to be. Understandably freaked out by Rheya's sudden appearance, Kelvin lures her into an escape pod and blasts her off into orbit. This provides only a brief respite, though, as the next night an exact replica of the original exact replica appears in his room, as unaware of her true nature as she is of the fate of her predecessor. Despite his knowledge of her origins Kelvin finds himself unable to stop himself experiencing his former feelings for her.

Rheya eventually comes to a knowledge of her true nature through listening to an audio diary left by Gibarian, and, finding the knowledge unbearable, colludes with Snow and Sartorius to have them try out a newly-developed (and conveniently MacGuffinesque) matter-annihilating device on her which will poof her out of existence once and for all. The remaining crew members then have to decide whether to abandon the station and the planet and return to Earth. A no-brainer, you'd think, but the planet exerts a strange psychic pull on them all. Will they be able to leave it behind?

As celebrated as its author Stanisław Lem (pronunciation assistance can be found here) is in science fiction circles, Solaris is still best known through its film adaptations, most famously Andrei Tarkovsky's legendarily moody and glacially-paced 1972 version, but also the shorter 2002 Steven Soderbergh adaptation starring (among others) George Clooney - the entire movie can be seen here. I've got the DVD of the latter and I actually thought it was pretty good, in a glum sort of way, but I should add that I've never seen the Tarkovsky version, and obviously at the time of watching I'd never read the book either - you'll see from the image that my paperback copy is a tie-in version for the Soderbergh/Clooney film. I didn't know that there was also an earlier Russian made-for-TV version from 1968.

As far as I can make out all of the adaptations focus more on the dynamics of the interpersonal relationships on the station, rather than the spectacular details of the planet's macro-scale performance art, and for good reasons. Firstly since up to a handful of years ago that stuff would have been impossible to render convincingly anyway without some pretty gnarly CGI, and secondly because it's just less interesting anyway. The novel sags noticeably during its couple of lengthy forays into historical/scientific exposition, and the real interest is in the questions about what it means to be human: let's say an exact physical replica was made of you, with a current backup of your brain state dumped into its brain - would that be you? If not, would anyone who knew you and encountered it be able to tell the difference? If not, what do you mean by "you", exactly? There are some other interesting questions raised in the book (not so much in the films) about communication with alien intelligence, should we happen to ever encounter any, and the arrogance of assuming that it'll be anything like us, and that communication with it will even be possible, still less fruitful or useful. And, finally, there's the idea that the most terrifying thing possible is not giant be-tentacled Things from beyond infinity, but simply to have a perfect mirror held up to ourselves and to see and know ourselves perfectly.

Anyway, it's very good, very slim (my edition is 214 pages), thought-provoking and well worth a read despite the occasional lumpiness where Lem goes off into detailed descriptions of planetary behaviour, and the more general criticism that not a great deal actually happens, and we're not much the wiser about the stuff that does happen at the end than we were at the beginning.

Note that this is the second book on this list to have been the subject of an Andrei Tarkovsky film, the other being Roadside Picnic, filmed as Stalker in 1979. For what it's worth, and for all that there's nothing much wrong with Solaris, I think that one is a better book.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

the last book I read

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Well, this is awkward. You'll recall my listing a whole catalogue of 19th-century classics that I'd never read, perhaps with just a touch of It's All A Load Of Ruddy Nonsense inverted snobbery self-justification. And here I am undermining myself again by reading one.

Seriously for a moment, if you're embarking on a reading of a 19th-century classic, you're going to have to accept certain realities, not least that there are certain subjects that would not have been acceptable for description in respectable novels (furtive under-the-counter stuff like Fanny Hill being a slightly different matter). So there'll be no sexy sexy times, no swearing, no-one's going to nip out for a fag or a shit, and the conversational discourse will be conducted in a typically arch and circumlocutory way that will beg to be satirised in this sort of manner. Furthermore, if two people are in different parts of the country and wish to communicate, they'll have to either hop in a horse-drawn carriage for some hours or conduct a painfully long-drawn-out exchange of letters over the course of several days. And of course there'll be no chance of any of the standard norms of society being violated to any significant degree: patriarchy rules OK, the peasants defer to the nobs, no vegetarian options.

Look at it another way: the constraints as listed above make certain types of novel possible, not least Pride And Prejudice, which turns on a series of misunderstandings which could have all been sorted out with a brief exchange of text messages or a couple of phone calls. None of which is to criticise the book itself, which is, in addition to being a love story, a sly and witty satire on early-19th-century manners. It'd be easy to go overboard and paint intelligent, feisty Elizabeth Bennet as a sort of proto-feminist heroine, but for all her sparkiness she's still basically just sitting round a large country house playing the piano until a prospective husband turns up.

We should probably take a moment to outline the plot here, such as it is, just in case anyone's unfamiliar with it: here's the Bennet family, not especially well off by the standards of their gentrified neighbours, but still swanning around in a country house with staff and feasting on the occasional haunch of venison, so they're not on their uppers. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have been blessed with five daughters, so while Mr. Bennet tries to keep a roof over their heads Mrs. Bennet's job is to help to get all five married off to eligible men, preferably of good breeding and weighed down by flipping great wodges of cash. Eldest daughter Jane strikes up a promising-looking relationship with Mr. Bingley who has moved into the neighbouring estate, but everyone agrees that his haughty friend Mr. Darcy, despite being absolutely minted, is a bit of a cold fish and a bore and really not quite the thing at all, although there may just have been a suspicion of some sparks flying between him and Elizabeth.

Even if this wasn't one of the most celebrated novels in the English language you'd be able to see where this was going, but in order to extend the story beyond a couple of chapters some obstacles must be provided for the young lovers to stumble over before they eventually land on top of each other. So there's the mysterious withdrawal to London of Mr. Bingley (at Mr. Darcy's urging, it turns out), the mysterious past of dashing military type Mr. Wickham, which involves Mr. Darcy in some murky way, the somewhat implausible episode where Elizabeth goes on holiday to Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle and they happen to drop into Pemberley, Mr. Darcy's family home, just as he unexpectedly returns early from a trip (though note that there's no sexy post-swimming dishevelment in the book), and the further complication of Mr. Darcy's interfering aunt Catherine, a minor member of the aristocracy who deems Elizabeth entirely unsuitable owing to her lowly social status and lack of the sort of bashful deference that best befits a prospective wife.

So misunderstandings pile up, rash things are said and written, explanations proffered, apologies offered and accepted, tearful reconciliations occur, father's permission to marry is sought and gladly given, yadda yadda yadda, happy ever after. And so to bed. No, really, if you want Pride And Prejudice fanfic which gets a little more, hem hem, detailed about what might have happened once Mr. Darcy got his new bride home, there's plenty of it out there.

Clearly it's not really for me to pronounce on the merits or otherwise of Pride And Prejudice, since that decision has already been made by virtue of its constant popularity and success over the 202 years since it was first published. As it happens I enjoyed it very much, and found it a lot easier to read than I expected, notwithstanding everyone taking half a page to say something that could have been delivered in a single sentence. Some might find the country house milieu a bit stifling as well; there's absolutely no sense of there being a larger world out there where momentous stuff might be happening. But, to be fair, thunderous dramatisations of the Battle of Trafalgar weren't really Austen's thing, sly social commentary was, and that's what you get. And Elizabeth Bennet is a very appealing central character - how appealing you find Mr. Darcy (assuming you don't just come over all unnecessary at the thought of Colin Firth in a wet shirt) depends to some extent on how much you empathise with his extreme social discomfort at being regularly put in a room with people he doesn't know or care about and expected to make sparkling and inconsequential small talk. As it happens I empathise with his plight acutely.

Needless to say Pride And Prejudice has been adapted for the screen a gazillion times, from the straight costume drama stuff to the more radical re-interpretations like Bridget Jones's Diary, which tells essentially the same story. The clips dotted around here are all from the celebrated 1995 BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

incidental music spot of the day

Yet another appearance for Led Zeppelin's Good Times Bad Times, this time at the start of a montage of trickery in Dynamo: Magician Impossible on one of the Freeview channels.

I've got a bit of a problem with magicians, if I'm honest, and it's this: I don't actually believe in magic. Shocking, I know, but there it is. Consequently, however amazing and astounding and seemingly impossible the illusion is, I'm aware that it's an illusion and there is a reality-based explanation for it. So my reaction on seeing a really impressive piece of magic is: wow, that's amazing. Now show me how you do it. While Penn & Teller (despite Penn being a bit of an arsehole in real life) are good for revealing that sort of stuff, and this sort of show occasionally pops up on those same Freeview channels, generally magicians balk at revealing their secrets, which is a shame. I like to think I'd find the whole thing more satisfying if I got the astounding effect followed by the detailed explanation, which in my experience is usually more mundane than you might think.

Secondly, REM's Strange Currencies (from their 1993 album Monster) over the trailer to the upcoming movie The End Of The Tour. The movie is a dramatisation of some events from the promotional book tour for David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel Infinite Jest. Not exactly the most obviously appealing subject for a Hollywood movie, featuring as it does the author of a legendarily long and forbidding novel which many people start but fail to get through and who suffered from crippling lifelong depression which eventually caused him to kill himself; I should imagine the laugh count is fairly low. On the other hand, Jason Segel does seem to be doing a pretty good Wallace impression: the phenomenal articulacy, the occasional wincing at his own perceived pretentiousness or inability to perfectly express what's in his head, the bizarre headscarf-wearing tendencies. Not that there's anything wrong with that.