Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rejecting others

To be fair, we knew it wouldn't get on the intranet, but as the editor who commissioned the piece only to have it cruelly knocked back by 'Standards' (aka my boss, but it sounded much more Studio 60 to say 'standards'), I'm glad Lorenzo has posted his excellent 19th Century Marriage spoof on his blog. Read it and giggle.

Borders has arrived

Last night we went to the brand new Borders in town. Plus points include very comfy chairs in the comic book section, a decent religion section (I used my 20% off voucher on a theological tome which everyone else thought looked completely dull - a sure sign it'll be good), and a Starbucks. As I said, while sipping my black Tazo tea and flicking through a 25,000-word etymological dictionary, it's like a library where they actually have books you want to read. Cathy added 'And here the books are clean...'

But the highlight of the night was Elaine asking why anyone would want to go clubbing when there's such a nice bookshop to go and sit in. It's one of life's imponderables. We're toying with the idea of setting up a book group to meet there as then we'd always get discount!

And next time Dad comes down I'll know where to send him for a few hours to keep him occupied. The map section alone could probably keep him quiet and happy for a good three hours.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rejection letter

A couple of months after I wrote to them, I received an incredibly short 'no thanks' letter from an agent today. What made me smile was the way they'd written my name in after 'Dear'. Obviously it's quicker to print off a whole load of knockback letters and fill in the names manually.

More covers

A while back I did a post about cover versions of songs I liked. Here are five more, including a cover of gone-and-long-forgotten boy band Five.

Foo Fighters: Band on the Run
Radio One are celebrating their fortieth birthday by asking loads of contemporary bands to cover songs from the past forty years. There have been some really good ones and a couple of days ago it was the Foo Fighters covering the Wings classic. And, boy was it good. I'm guessing the BBC will release the tracks on a celebratory album at some point. And I might just have to get a copy.

Terrorvision: Get on Up
I've never heard this on tape, but it was the last song of a brilliant gig Terrorvision did at The Bierkeller in Bristol on the tour promoting what turned out to be their last album. The original is, of course, by Five. I keep hoping Terrorvision's version will turn up on a posthumous release sometime (they've already had three come out!).

Tori Amos: Smells Like Teen Spirit
Take a grunge classic. Transpose it to piano. Hear it sung by Tori Amos. You can imagine how powerful this cover is.

Lily Allen: Oh My God
This is from the Mark Ronson album 'Version'. If you haven't heard it yet find someone who's got a copy and borrow it. What producer Mark Ronson has done is ask a whole bunch of people to cover various songs. I'm not a huge fan of Lily Allen, but I do like the Kaiser Chiefs, and the combination somehow just works. Other tracks I really like on the album include Amy Winehouse singing 'Valerie' by the Zutons, and a cover of the Smiths classic 'Stop Me'.

Hootie and the Blowfish: Please, Please, Please, Let me get what I want
Speaking of Smiths covers, this one from H&tB's collection of unreleased and live tracks is pretty good.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Informative postcards

I swear my Dad manages to fit more information onto a postcard than any other human being alive. Not only does he tell me what the weather has been like every day he's been away, but also every conference seminar he's gone to, every one my mum went to, who the speakers were, what he thought about what they said, what mum thought about the seminars she went to, the other sights he went to see with mum, the things he saw without mum, and even where they ate buns when they stopped for refreshments.

The slightly worrying thing is that I know he's now going to phone me and tell me all about it again. So, if I don't pick up when you ring me in the next couple of days, yes I am screening my calls. Don't take it personally.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Head cold

Came home from work today at lunchtime as I'm developing a head cold. Yesterday I had the classic sore throat which got worse during the day, despite an overdose of Strepsils. Today it's a bunged up nose. I'm predicting I'll be a snot factory tomorrow.

On Wednesday I sat in a meeting next to a bunged up sneezer who was quaffing Lemsip. I remember quite clearly bemoaning the fact that some people will come into work no matter how ill they are and spread the germs around. I was assured by said person she was not infectious because by the time you exhibit the symptoms, you're past the infectious stage. Yeah, whatever.

I think my current state is living disproof of that theory.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Shoot 'Em Up

This was our choice for "violent man's-movie night" and it wasn't bad. (We're not violent men, it's just a violent movie written for men...). I was hoping it would be this year's Crank, but no such luck. It seems they had a choice between hiring extra stuntmen or hiring a script editor. They went with the stuntmen.

Still, Clive Owen was reasonable as Mr Smith, the mysterious antihero who rescues a preganant woman, delivers her baby (using a gun to sever the umbilical cord - nice...), and then is left holding said baby, trying to protect it from would-be killers. Monica Belluci turned in a decent performance as the lactating hooker Smith ropes in as a wet nurse - once he's got rid of her nappy-wearing customer*. And Paul Giamatti escapes indie-film hell to play a bad guy for once. I think I was the only one to pick up on the "F--- you sideways!" reference.

Taken straight, this film is rubbish, but if you treat it as a comedy, it's hilarious. Smith is more than just a crack shot, he's a carrot-munching wisecracker, who can bring a woman to orgasm, while offing gun-toting bad guys at the same time. A true hero in every sense of the word. The storyline itself is preposturously convoluted, but everything about this film - stunts, acting, and script - is equally daft.

The film has blood, gore, killing, mayhem and swearwords (including some created by shooting a neon sign) aplenty. It's a recipe for success and makes it highly enjoyable to boot. But perhaps not one to take the missus to.

Our next violent man's-movie night will probably be to see another Brit in high-octane carnage. Jason Statham is teaming up again with Jet Li for War. Bring it on.

*Film trivia question - without looking her up on IMDB, in which 18-rated film did Monica Belluci play a prostitute in 2004?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Two things I've learned today

1 - eating crisps and playing Pacman on Facebook gets your keyboard all greasy.

2 - there's still an archive of football articles I wrote about six years ago out there on the inter-web, including the classic Is Football a Religion?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Down with the youth

Out with the older youth today for the first time. It seems kids are actually as ignorant as they seem. A discussion about musical idols led to the question 'who was in the Beatles?' Ok, fair play, they got two, and suggested Elvis Presley to boot. But then...

"And the other one was Ringo Starr..."

"Really? What a stupid name - Rainbow Star."

"RINGO Starr."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More factoids...

This time culled from, er, Time.

There are 90 guns for every 100 citizens in the USA, making it the most heavily armed country in the world. The country with the next highest aresenal of civilian arms is India. With 4 guns for every 100 people. Four and a half million guns are purchased in the USA every year. Worldwide, only eight million guns are produced a year.

Scientists have used sugar-eating microbes from the ocean to convert food into electricity. Apparently a cup of sugar can power a 60-watt bulb for 17 hours.

And this gem of a story made it into the most emailed section of BBC News despite being almost 2 years old: Jogging your way to saggy breasts
(It's top quality research which incidentally is sponsored by a sports bra manufacturer)

I'm sure you said...

Another one of those coffee time convos today.

Mark: I've got a diving lesson tonight.
Carol: I didn't know you couldn't drive.
Mark: DIVING lesson.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My Ground Zero story

It's hard to believe it's six years since 9/11.

Earlier this year I visited Ground Zero, which has apparently gradually shrunk as parts of it are redeveloped. Opposite the site where the Twin Towers stood is St Paul's Chapel, which I think is the oldest church in New York. The chapel became an emergency room following the terrorist attacks, and then a place to eat and crash out for those working through the debris several storeys underground. In the chapel are a large number of displays about the aftermath of 9/11, photos of the church workers and volunteers who gave up their time to care for the rescue workers who still had to toil on even though there was no hope of rescuing any more survivors.

St Paul's Chapel was where George Washington worshipped on a regular basis - in fact Washington's private pew was kept as a kind of monument to the first president. But with space at a premium, the church leaders decided they'd have to use Washington's pew as if it was any other part of the church.

Because Washington suffered with foot problems in his life, they turned the pew area into a podiatry station. As you can imagine after 12 hour (or more) shifts down in the rubble, workers were footsore. Damp conditions didn't help and there were numerous bits of rubble or metal which could scratch or pierce a worker's foot.

What you need to know is that Americans are very aware of their history. It isn't as long a history as most European states, but they celebrate it with far more reverence than we do. So, converting the pew was a big deal. But they managed to turn it into a useful treatment point, which didn't preserve a historical event, but used it as an inspiration to create a further bit of history.

I'm not sure there are many churches in the world which would do that. But perhaps there should be.

And that's my Ground Zero story.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Two completely unrelated factoids

I saw these in this week's issue of The Week.

Factoid 1
Women who have their breasts surgically enhanced are three times more likely to commit suicide than other women.

Which leads me to ask: is having surgery a contributory factor to suicide, or are women who are depressed/stressed/emotionally imbalanced drawn to extreme methods of reinvention, e.g cosmetic surgery? Or is is just that having a breast enlargement is an indicator that you're stuck in a lifestyle that it's hard to exit from (e.g. the porn industry) and so the "only way out" is suicide?

Factoid 2
In 1935, 7.5% of Germans were members of the Nazi party; among teachers that figure was nearly one-third.

Which begs the question: are teachers more likely to become Nazis, or are Nazis more likely to become teachers? And is there a discernible difference?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A depressing tally

Driving back last night from Shrewsbury I hit a badger. It seemed to leap out from the hedge into my front wheel with a resounding bang and a thud. I thought it was a dog or a sheep or something because all I saw was a flash of white before it disappeared below the bonnet of my car with a thump.

Even though I'm an animal lover it adds to quite a depressing tally of wildlife roadkill. Once when I was driving home from Weston two baby foxes were on the carriageway. They seemed to want to play with the headlights of the car and wherever I moved on the road they moved too, until I slammed on my brakes, but it was too late to avoid hitting at least one of them. Then up in Scotland once, a squirrel dashed out and ended up under my wheel with a sickening crunch.

And now I've got a badger on my conscience too.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Chinese greeting

Up to Shrewsbury for a very brief there-and-back-in-a-day visit, partly to deliver some fruit juice (long story) and also because it was my foster-sister Sarah's birthday. The folks decided to get in Chinese food, and when we got back from the takeaway, we realised they hadn't put the sweet and sour chicken in for the meat-eaters.

I drove back to the takeaway and when I walked in the girl on the counter recognised me and said quite loudly: "Chicken Balls!"

I said: "Well, I'm known by many names..."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Spelling it out

I’ve had a conversation today about films where someone recommended a comedy and said “It’s better than Knocked Up.” As I thought Knocked Up was a dismal and depressing film that was irredeemably crap, that wasn’t much of a recommendation.

Said person then said she didn’t know I didn’t like Knocked Up because she thought my review of the film had been positive. (How?) So in case anyone else is confused – here’s the skinny. Knocked Up is an overlong, unfunny one-dimensional joke dragged out over two hours of your life you’ll never get back. It has a miserable view of human relationships, which will leave you feeling that your life is pointless. Every time I see a review on TV which has a critic lauding praise on it confirms my view that film critics are the worst kind of parasitic waste-of-good-ink journalists with a lower IQ than an average glass of water. Or they’re malicious bastards who want you to see god-awful films to put you off ever going to the cinema again.

Don’t go and see it. If someone you know suggests going to see it, stand them up at the cinema. That’ll teach them.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Conversation Starter

I work with a lull-avoider. If there's ever a gap in the conversation he'll make a random comment to get the chat flowing again.

Today he surpassed himself. After asking new dad Andy whether he'd had a good night sleep, there was a fraction-of-a-second pause, followed by:

"So, Pavarotti's dead."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sugar is good

And if you need proof, try drinking Ribena 'Really Light' (which I think is the new name for Ribena Toothkind).

It's foul.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

2 hours chatting

At the last minute I signed up to a focus group being run by the Bible Society. I spent two hours talking about how people use the Bible and whether there's any chance of getting more people to read the Bible (short answer: no), and at the end of the evening I got given £50 for my troubles.

It was a varied bunch of people from a number of different church backgrounds. It was quite interesting to see how much broad agreement there was around the table, even if people differed slightly on the details. One thing that came up a couple of times was the criticism that the Bible may have changed over time and what we now know as the Bible isn't what was originally written.

I seriously doubt anyone who makes that point has ever read any critical studies of the formation processes that affected the Bible. If they did they'd quickly realise there's little textual evidence for significant variations. In fact, given the number of people involved over the years, the real miracle is that there haven't been huge amounts of changes.

But then some people would prefer to base their opinions on things they've learned from The Da Vinci Code. Which is a bit like claiming an in-depth knowledge of the second world war because one bank holiday you watched The Great Escape.

Monday, September 03, 2007

How many have you seen?

Here's an ABC of films I've seen and quite like. How many have you seen?

Batman Begins
Empire Strikes Back, The
Fellowship of the Ring, The
Garden State
Italian Job, The (Original 1960s version)
Kelly’s Heroes
Monsters Inc.
Nightmare Before Christmas, The
Quiz Show
Return of the Jedi
Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope)
Untouchables, The
Van Helsing
Wallace & Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Young Guns