Tuesday, 17 November 2009

All you need to know about 2012

For those who aren't afraid of spoilers for films, my attitude towards 2012 can be summarised in one statement. Well, two.

For those who thought that the way Roland Emmerich blew up the White House in Independence Day wasn't over-the-top enough, skip to 2 mins 18 seconds into the trailer (the last effect shot included):

Worse yet, corny as it was, Independence Day had the President's Henry V-inspired battle speech with David Arnold's music rising to a climax behind it.

The best 2012 can manage is an "everyone deserves a chance" speech delivered by 2012's everyman-scientist (imagine him being played by Jeff Goldblum) which fizzles into nothingness. The only way it tugged at my tear ducts was the extent to which it made me want to cry with laughter!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Armistice Day Thoughts

As the clock strikes eleven on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the world commemorates Armistice Day, the silencing of the guns of the First World War and the start of an uneasy peace.

Well, let's be honest, "the world" mainly means Great Britain, its Commonwealth, France and the Low Countries, those nations which lost more of their young men to the conflict than any other.

We don't normally think about the Germans because, well, we acknowledge they started it, and we don't normally think of the Russians because by the end of the war, they'd been through the October Revolution and the birth of the Soviet state, which had much more of a monumental effect on their future. And we don't think of the other two empires whose collapse the War precipitated, Austro-Hungary down the east of the Mediterranean sea, or the Ottomans, still further away.

Although proudly British, my cultural and genetic roots are far from here. Looking upon the seas of white crosses marking the Allied killing grounds of northern France and Belgium you won't find my surname or many like it. In fact, look at any statistics and you'll find there were no great numbers of Polish casualties of the Great War.

It's not because there weren't tens of thousands of Polish young men involved in the fighting. It's just that (and this is news to an alarming number of people), there was no Polish state at all during World War One and so the fallen don't count as Polish nationals. The country had been wiped off the face of the European map by the end of the 18th century and its territory divided up between the Russians, Prussians, Germans and Austrians. Thousands of young men, ethnically Poles, were forced to fight in the armies of their occupiers against their natural allies, or simply taken into slave camps or became prisoners of the state, partly to prevent the development of the Legions .

For Polish people, while 11th November remains an opportunity to remember the war dead lying in unmarked and forgotten graves across Europe and the Russian steppes, it is primarily the festival of the rebirth of a nation, the restoration of a physical entity whose existence had been denied for over 120 years.

My father was born at the start of the Great War and while he never talks of these things, I am always conscious, every 11th November, that he had been born in a country that didn't exist, but by the time he started school, he was one of the first children in three generations in his area allowed to go to a Polish school, run by Polish people, and taught in his own language completely openly without fear of repression or abuse.

So yes, I bow my head at 11am and think of tens of thousands of dead young men and their distraught families and I thank them for their sacrifice, but I also think of a country reborn, of hope that the future must be better than the past, and that a better future is always worth fighting for.

The red poppy has become the international symbol of Armistice Day and in the UK more than any country, we are encouraged to buy a facsimile and wear it with pride in memory of those who gave their lives for ours. For Poles, however, that symbol has a very slightly different meaning and is emblematic not of the killing fields of World War One, but the Allied operation to liberate Italy in World War Two (which is not to undermine its being the symbol of the fallen of all wars).

Every Polish-speaking child knows by heart Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino (The Red Poppies On Monte Cassino), a hymn to bravery, honour and sacrifice, written during the battle for Monte Cassino not far from Rome in May 1944. Read about the background of both the battle and the song on Wikipedia .

Oh and my dad was there, too, and it's something else he chooses not to talk about.

Every time I see the seas of red poppies in the first half of November on British streets and look down upon the one I wear myself, it's invariably this song I end up thinking about and singing to myself. And by the end, my eyes are never dry. There are several versions floating around online and I'm not really that taken with any of them, and there are also various translations into English, but I have problems with all of those two.

Please persevere with the song, and here is my non-poetic, non-scanning translation (I'm not a poet in any language) of the words:

Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino
The Red Poppies on Monte Cassino

Do you see those ruins on that hill?
Your enemy's hiding there like a rat!
You have to! You have to! YOU HAVE TO
Grab his neck and drag him from his heights!
And they moved on, mad, heedless,
And they moved on to kill and avenge,
And they went as stubborn as ever,
In honour's name, to fight.

The red poppies on Monte Cassino
Fed not on dew, but on Polish blood...
Polish soldiers crawled over and died on them,
But their anger was more potent than death!
Years will pass and the ages will dull memories,
Only traces of bygone days will remain,
But the poppies on Monte Cassino
Will be redder
From the Polish blood on which they thrived.

They charged through fire, the condemned,
Countless were hit and fell,
Like the cavalry at Samosierra,
They charged with furious momentum
Like those at Rokitna years ago.
And they persevered. And they prevailed.
And planted their white and scarlet standard
In the ruins in the clouds.

The red poppies on Monte Cassino...

Do you see this row of white crosses?
Polish soldiers did honour there wed.
The further, the higher you go forward,
The more of them you'll find at your feet.
This soil belongs to Poland,
Though Poland is far away,
For Freedom is measured in crosses -
This is History's curse.

The red poppies on Monte Cassino...

(25th Anniversary verse, not included in any recordings)

A quarter of a century, friends, has passed us,
The battle's dust has blown to the winds
And the monastery's white walls
Again reach to the sky.
But the memory of those terrible nights
And the blood which was spilled here -
Echoes in the monastery's bells
Rocking the fallen to their rest!

The red poppies on Monte Cassino...

Later in the day... While sorting through some old bits and pieces of paper, totally by coincidence I found a photograph of myself in a group at the Monte Cassino war cemetary while on a school trip to Italy. See if you can find which one's me! ;-)

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Stephen Fry returns to Twitter but the @brumplum controversy continues

About half an hour ago (it's now almost 3.30am UK time) I was about to close down my laptop and go to bed having finally had a fairly normal day in both the real world and on Twitter, when all of a sudden the "mentions" column in Tweetdeck suddenly sprang to life, with several people posting the same link (actually, the same title, but different abbreviated links every time).

The link was to an article on an Australian tech blog called Blorge.com (never heard of them before, sorry). I tried to leave a comment, but this resulted in an error message which said that my comment looked like it might be spam and that it would have to be approved by an admin (I don't hold that against them, as long as an admin actually does get to see the comment, and hopefully approves it, and it's not just been sent into a black hole).

Here's a link to the blog and a slightly re-written version of my comment:

Stephen Fry returns to Twitter but the @brumplum controversy continues

The topic has actually been all but dead for the last 18 hours or so (certainly nothing controversial, although I have picked up on a few jocular comments here and there). I have spent the day able to treat Twitter the way I always have and have resumed my usual activities and normal inane rambling and sharing pointless information with my (now-enlarged) group of friends. Mentions of my username have come from either those friends or other people with questions or comments which are generally unrelated to the controversy.

Until several people starting linking this article about 20 minutes ago, the @brumplum controversy was no more, and it is this article which resurrected it!

I'm not making any kind of moral judgment about it (I find the whole thing rather amusing), but I hope you realise that by publishing this now, its title has actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

(I hope that people reading this will draw appropriate conclusions and let this matter drop now; I am posting this blog mainly for the benefit of those who've already seen and retweeted the Blorge article)

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Fry débacle, Addendum: #envioushomo and Alan Davies

I have two things to say which are effectively replies to comments on my last entry but I feel are significant enough to highlight, and not lose them in what is effectively a stream of footnotes.

Firstly, several people have picked up on a hashtag which appeared very early on in the day and caused some to shower me and others in outrage. I understand that it has been the cause of a certain amount of bad blood during the day (there was just FAR too much going on for me to get a handle on it), and a topic for at least three comments on my blog.

I am talking about

This was a term of fondness not addressed to Stephen Fry and it wasn't even addressed to me! As anyone who can use the Twitter search function (i.e. every-bloody-one) can see (check out the link I have provided above), it originated with a tweet from my friend @w00dRabbit who is gay, and called himself... an envious homo!

Here's his tweet:

I replied to him and because Tweetdeck, my Twitter application of choice, automatically appends any hashtags when replying, it showed up in my timeline. I thought it was fairly amusing and didn't consider for an instant that anyone could misconstrue it - after all, it's there for anyone to get the original context, isn't it?

EDIT: A comment
has just made me realise that @woodRabbit's tweets are protected, which means he needs to approve his followers and this tweets don't show up in the general timeline. (I've always found the concept of protected tweets a bit odd, between you and me.) Because we already follow each other, I see his tweets normally and thus made nothing of it.

It was therefore unfair of me to have a go at anyone in the previous version of this blog for not knowing the source of the hashtag. My bad as the youngsters say. My turn to eat crow. Nevertheless, I hope the above has now cleared it all up.

So folks, please get off my back, or anyone else's, for being homophobic or anything else of that ilk, cos you're jumping to ENTIRELY the w
rong conclusions!

The second item I would like to address is on a different level. I've honestly not had time to read through my twitter feed of the day. I've just picked up a few pits and pieces I've had pointed to me, mainly positive. I have no desire to see just how much vitriol people from around the planet could hurl in my direction.

A few friends, however, have pointed me in the direction of specific comments they felt were particularly egregious and in most cases I've laughed them off. One person, however, is in a very different category.

I am talking of Alan Davies, known in Twitter circles as @alandavies1. For the benefit of full disclosure, I should say that Alan Davies was probably the fourth or fifth person I followed on joining Twitter and I have, on and off, enjoyed what he's had to say. I've even replied to some of his stuff with positive noises.

He's Stephen Fry's friend, and along with Stephen, makes QI work as a concept and a show. I don't blame him for a moment for coming to Stephen Fry's defence. Several of my real-life friends came to mine, and that's only right. I fully expect they called each other tossers and wankers and twats.

But to my knowledge nobody who supported me has over a hundred thousand followers and called anyone else a c*nt. Yet Alan Davies considers this normal and acceptable behaviour, and it seems to me without having a clue about the background to the story or feeling the need to find out.

Much more important though is the tweet (which he has since deleted) in which he invited people to physically gang up on me, in "the Essex way".

Frankly, I expected just a little more class frrom the guy.

I have said that I expect no apology from Stephen Fry. But, BOY do I expect one from Alan Davies. Preferably to my face. That, or call me a wanker to my face, which is also, according to him, the Essex way. (He already called me a moron and a wanker on Twitter, so he'd just be following up on his own standards.)

Because I am more than wiling to call him an irresponsible idiot to his face, should anyone accord me the opportunity.

I really, HONESTLY, have no desire to drag this unfortunate misunderstanding out any more, but Alan Davies' part in all this leaves me with a particularly nasty taste in my mouth, and he's the only one who can take it away.

Similarly to my other blog entry which I ended with thanks to my friends, I would like to thank @
lachance680 for being particularly tenaciously on Alan Davies's back and for saving some of his more ill-judged comments for me to see.

EDIT: After a few comments on the subject, I would like to explain that it's not because Alan Davies said something slightly foolish that I demand an apology from him. It's specificially because he has MANY more followers than anyone else in this argument and was agreeing with the idea of working up the internet mob to become a real-world one :

@Alandavies1 Anyone has a pop at your mates you stick up for them.Twittr needs to be more like Essex.If you wouldn't say it to their face then do shut up

Firequacker @alandavies1 followed by smashing their windows slashing their tyres and sending dogs muck through the leter box.. Grays Stylee ??

@Alandavies1 @Firequacker if needs be

(anyone who really wanted to could identify me from my online existence and work out where I live). This is bad enough coming from anyone, but for someone with a public face it is simply irresponsible. Recent events should have taught him that he has sway over people and this kind of talk is really not on.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Fry debacle

I've started writing about what's been going on today on Twitter from all kinds of angles. And several paragraphs or just sentences into each effort, I've decided that it's the wrong tack.

I've decided that until I've had a chance to sleep on it, I need to say fairly little.

I will say this though. Comments on this blog have always been "moderated" (i.e. Blogger sends them to me for approval before they appear). It's not something I've just instituted because of the kerfuffle. This has mainly been to stop spam and certain individuals being abusive. I have always accepted all valid comments made on my blog whether I agree with them or not. (Why wouldn't I?)

That said, I am refusing to accept "anonymous" comments. Regardless of whether you want to be positive or negative, I expect you to be open to a conversation. Your email address will not appear in public if you so choose, but should I need to clarify a point, I want to be able to contact you privately. I have no intention of being a defenceless punchbag.

In the meantime, here are some links to other blogs or online stories I've seen, with a word or two of comment where I think it's needed:

Stephen Fry, depression and the rage of the Twitter mob

Regarding why I included the @ symbol bringing the conversation to Stephen Fry's attention (see comments section), it was simply force of habit. Specifically, two habits: when I see Twitter usernames, I immediately prefix them with @ as they otherwise seem "wrong" to me. Secondly, I feel it's fair that if I'm talking about someone, they have a right to know about it. I'm really not a fan of talking about people behind their backs.

I appended "sorry Stephen" on the phenomenally tiny chance that Mr Fry himself would see my tweet. I have replied to hundreds of his tweets or otherwise addressed tweets to him in the past with positive comments or attempts at humour, and have never been acknowledged. Ditto his own blog/website on which I have left many positive comments in the past. Why should I assume that this time would be any different? The "Sorry Stephen" was also addressed to those who disagree with me, to make it reasonably clear that I mean him no ill-will.

I have potentially much more to say on the subject.

Stephen Fry & @brumplum in the playground

To maintain the playground metaphor and the spirit of the final paragraph, "sir, sir, I've already said sorry, twice. I'm waiting for Fry Minor to say sorry now".

More seriously, though, Stephen Fry does not need to apologise to me for anything. On the infinitesimal chance that he, or someone who has his ear, sees this, I want to reiterate that I am truly sorry for any offence caused. I would, however, appreciate some sign of life from him because until then the loss of Britain's Greatest Tweeter will all be my fault. Unlike his theatrical experience several years ago, no individual was blamed, in public or in private, for breaking his spirit. In this case, the cause of his escape has a name, and that name is @brumplum. One of his last tweets indicated that he was about to travel to the USA so I fear I will be Twitter's flogging horse for a while. So be it, but please, Stephen, do come back.

Stephen Fry, Twitter and the Fifth Estate

I'm so glad he brought up Stephen Fry's recent blog, which was, to an extent, about the fact that it's very easy to say stuff in the heat of the moment which one lives to regret. And so Stephen Fry should, perhaps, be mindful of the fact that I also regret elements of what I said and how I said it. An earlier draft of this very blog entry included reams of self-justification, but I'll let it drop for now.

For the record, I would like Mr Barry and others to reflect on this: if Mr Fry, after thirty years in the public eye, has difficulty adapting to his current position as a visible leader of people and maker of causes, then what about me, who after decades of obscurity, have been thrust into the international limelight for saying something no more objectionable than I have said before, and had said to me countless times too, the only difference being that I said it to and about someone famous.

Oh, and for the record, my own history includes the loss of three relatives of my father's in the same Auschwitz concentration camp in which Stephen Fry lost several of his. Catholic Poles rather than Jews, and two of them were condemned for having saved Jewish families - the third just for being related to the first two. So Stephen's "we know which side of the border Auschwitz was" has particular resonance with me. Even so, I don't hold it against him, and has not reduced the esteem in which I hold him as an entertainer, educator and all round Jolly Good Egg. (And said as much on his blog. )

The Times Online (as representative for the purposes of this blog of the traditional media)
Stephen Fry in a flutter at horrid tweeters on Twitter

OK, this is where things get seriously scary. For a major newspaper to pick up a spat between users of an ultimately insignificant glorified chatroom is absolutely mind-boggling. To make a national (and international) story of it is beyond silliness. I really would have thought that there were far more important things in news generally, and the tech sector in particular, to talk about?

To quote one of the comments under that story? W.T.F?

People threaten to leave websites and/or chatrooms every day of the week, several times over. I know of at least three (popular) Tweeters who've voiced uncertainly about their future presence on the site in the last week, and nobody's batted as much as an eyelid.

What's so different about this case?

To end this blog on a positive note. I would like to voice my sincere gratitude to everyone I know and don't know on Twitter who has said anything in my defence today, whether it was in public or in private. I have deliberately kept away from Twitter not because I can't take the vitriol, but simply because I've not had the time. It also means I've not had the time to see the wonderful messages of support, so I can just thank you all en groupe.

I hate to single anyone out, but just because they supported me on the phone throughout the day while I wasn't online, very, very special thanks to @stigblog, @stigsbf and @squawkbox for being real, genuine friends. It's people like them who make Twitter worthwhile.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Just a Minute Reloaded

I've been a fan of Just a Minute on Radio 4 more or less since it started (yes, I am old enough to remember it, and yes, I was already a Radio 4 listener as a small child). Since his first appearance in the late 1990s (I'm not enough of a JAM spod to know exactly when) Paul Merton and his surreal sensibility has been a perfect contestant.

I've just discovered something the interesting creative folk at the BBC do, making animations to edited highlights of some of the rounds, called Just a Minute Reloaded and I can't decide if my own love of Sudoku puzzles, Paul Merton's verbal inventiveness or the way it's matched by the wacky visuals in this clip are what I like most about it, but I'm in stitches! (Your Mileage May Vary)

Thursday, 30 July 2009

A day in the life of a dieter

Well, Jae and Andy have diet blogs going so why shouldn't I?

Also, a while back, Stig did a picture blog recounting a day's activities and I've always wanted to do something similar, so I thought I'd combine the two ideas and provide a photographic record of a day's activities relevant to a guy trying to lose some flab.

The idea is to provide details of everything of nutritional significance that went into my mouth and every significant calorie-burning activity in one day, in this case Tuesday 28th July 2009.

(Nutrition details come from packaging (not that there was much packaged food involved) and an excellent site I found called Nutrition Data com.)

9.53am, coffee with dash of milk, approx 25 calories

12.12pm, bowl of Special K cereal (approx 120cal) with semi-skimmed milk (approx 120cal) and a chopped banana (approx 100cal) = 340 calories

2.10pm walk to my dentist to discuss my checkup appointment

2.51pm and from there to the Bull ring Open Market to do some fresh fruit and vegetable shopping.

and from there to my gym, a total of 2 miles or 3.2km. Burned approx 200 calories.

3pm arriving at gym.

3.32pm First exercise completed: 20 mins rowing, burned 220 calories

3.46pm Second exercise completed: stretching and flexing. Burned approx 10 calories

4.28pm Third exercise completed: 20 minutes (plus 1 min cooldown) on bike. Burned 200 calories

4.36pm Break in fourth exercise: resistance training (in all, 3x12 shoulder press, 3x12 chest press, 3x12 pecs, 3 x 3x12 leg resistance exercises). Burned approx 40 calories

5.17pm Fifth exercise completed: 13.30mins cross-trainer. Burned 200 calories.

5.20pm after a mad rush, sitting down for some R&R in the sauna. No calories burned immediately, but it feels good!

5.30pm More R&R in the hydrotherapy pool. No swimming today (big pool off shot to the right; note sauna & steam room straight ahead). No calories burned, but muscles well massaged!

5.55pm three small plums (what else!) bought earlier at the market as a prize to myself for completing the wortkout. Approx 25 cals each = 75 calories
I forgot to provide evidence of two apples eaten during the course of the evening once I got home, about 95cals each = 190 calories
9.08pm late dinner of mixed salad with cottage cheese and lemon dressing (approx 100 cals altogether) and grilled lemon & ginger & paprika chicken breat pieces (basically, home-made nuggets, approx 260cals) and watered-down sugar-free cranberry juice, approx 40 cals = 400 calories

9.33pm dessert, Flora pro-activ low fat apricot yoghurt, 71 calories

11.42pm mid-evening cup of blackcurrant tea (4 cals) and currant bun (which was a lot tastier than it looks!) 174cals with cottage cheese filling (approx 20 cals) = approx 200 calories

1.25am late-night cup of Rooibos tea with a splash of milk = approx 25 calories

I haven't recorded the 3 litres of water drunk at the gym and during the evening while sitting at the computer, with no calorific value.
The balance, though: 1125 low-fat calories in and about 870 calories burned with exercise.
Two unusual things about this day: normally there'd be a sandwich, salad or bowl of soup in the mid-afternoon/early evening with a value of about 300 calories, and I'd not walk to the gym so I'd burn about 200 cals less. Even so, I'm extremely surprised I'm not losing weight more quickly (OK, admittedly there are a few food sins along the way on a weekly basis, but I'm fairly consistent...).
Any comments, tips or hints are most welcome!

Thursday, 16 July 2009


I am starting to write this at 1.46 local time having spent the evening drinking local French rosé wine (1€20 a litre from the wine cooperative down the road) with my sister (3l of said beverage has been drunk between us). I say that to explain why this blog is probably full of typos and non-sequiturs and drunken ramblings.

The evening and the conversation we had has made me think about and re-evaluate a few things.

For the first time in my life, at the age of 47, I uttered the phrase "yes, I am gay" to, and in the physical presence of, one of my siblings (I have 5 sisters and one brother).

It's not that I've ever lied about this rather important element of my life, or tried to hide it. The simple fact of the matter is that in our family, we don't talk about these kinds of things. Not about people we like nor about relationships nor about our deep-seated dreams and/or fears. Most of us will happily talk about these things to other people, but not to each other. We are, in short, a fucked-up family.

All my adult life I've assumed that my status as not-entirely-heterosexual was taken as read among my siblings. I've left enough clues through the years and said more than enough things that should leave them wondering. Through the years, several people outside my family have picked up "vibes" from me and asked me outright whether I'm other-than-straight, and I've never lied. And that's apart from circumstances in which people have known from the moment they met me for whatever reason.

From what my sister said to me during our drunken conversation, she is not aware that any of my other sisters suspect that I may be gay. This leaves me wondering whether I'm an idiot, or they are. Or alternatively, that conversations between my sisters go as I think they do, as I have most definitely outed myself to one of my brothers-in-law before (both of us were stone cold sober at the time, so forgetfulness doesn't come into it) and I'm open with another of my sisters about passers-by I find alluring.

Do most straight people REALLY find it that problematic that others in their midst might not be like them, that they need it spelled out?

Are streotypes in our society so entrenched that short of dressing in a skirt (of the non-kilt variety) or being as camp as Graham Norton, Alan Carr or their ilk, that being gay is just not a valid reasoning for most people? I've never talked about having a girlriend to any of my siblings, never presented a female as a potential girlfriend to any of my family, never talked about attractive
female celebrities (though VERY frequently about male ones) and what's more, I attended an all-boys boarding school.


I might be oddd, I might be shy, or I might be gay. There are no other explanations.

I don't dispute that I display one or more or these characteristics at any time, but people who know me very well (as my siblings should, and unlike our parents, they should at least consider some things as "normal" which an older generation didn't and I know that none of my sisters are even slightly hompophobic) really should be able to addd one and one and get two.

I had no problem coming out to my sister and I didn't feel the weight lifting that so many gay people before have mentioned about their conming out. My primary emotion is wondering, as staated above, which one of us is the idiot? My sister((s) for not making (to my mind) obvious assumptions I'd make about anyone else, or myself for expecting them to make these assumptions?

On a completely different level, and this perhaps comes under the "blowing your own trumpet" heading, I had a kind-of epiphany this evening about the kind of person I am, regardless of my sexuality.

I need to say that reason I'm here in the first place is that my sister is in deep financial and emotional doo-doo and effectively needs to sell her house (which was bought with the intention of being a retirement home) in order to survive financially and emotionally, and I've paid my own way to come here to help her prepare it for sale (it needs a lot of work). She is currently completely pissed on wine, and so am I. By some fluke, I had the presence of mind to put her to bed, wash up after dinner, clean up the mess we'd made, lock up the house and wash all the tools we'd been using prior to our break for a drink (which ended in a lot more), feed her cats and basically make sure we're all safe, secure and in a position to carry on normally in the morning as if it had been an ordinary evening.

What I'm trying to say is, I think, I'm a good person, and I have my wits around me.

So why the fuck doesn't anyone want me? Or even answer my calls?

Am I THAT fucking ugly?

P.S. There are different kinds of drunks: merry ones, maudlin ones, violent ones, incoherent ones, philosophical ones, sleepy ones, etc. Normally, I am a merry drunk who then becomes a sleepy drunk. So what's happened this evening that I've gone through maudlin and philosophical (and, arguably, incoherent) insteead?

Monday, 18 May 2009

Angels and Demons

I gave in to the hype today, as I knew I would.

Everyone whose opinion I respect and has seen Angels and Demons has one of three reactions: they don't want to talk about how bad they thought it was, they break down into fits of hysterical laughter, or they go off on a rant.

I've already displayed the first two reactions today, so here's my chance for the third, having seen it this afternoon. This little rant (I can't really call it a review) will be spoiler-free but of course if anyone wishes to engage with anything I have to say, it would help if you've seen it...

On my way home from the cinema, I starting developing a mental list of pros and cons about this movie. Regrettably the only pro I could come up with is that Tom Hanks has had a haircut since the Da Vinci Code (bearing in mind that his odd barnet was one of the LEAST ridiculous things about that particular movie).

In the meantime, the con column just got longer and longer.

Let's start with one of the first characters we encounter, Ewan McGregor. Don't get me wrong, Ewan's a decent actor and he's been called upon to play characters of all kinds of backgrounds from all sorts of places in his career, and has normally acquitted himself quite admirably.

Where this particular character comes from is fairly important, so it's a major disappointment that he was capable of five or six different accents within the same sentence at times, ranging from his native Scottish, through "proper" English, mid-Atlantic, generic North American and even a bit of several Mediterranean countries. By my count, through the whole movie he pronounced maybe half a dozen words the way he should have.

Also, I may be wrong here, but his character's name is only ever mentioned once in the two hours-plus running time although he appears in every second scene. He is generally referred to by his job description/title as if the dimmer members of the audience need to be reminded just who he is and what he does rather than gleam any symbolic importance from his rather bland name.

There's a principle in dramatic writing known as Chekov's Gun, which has two basic facets. These are generally summarised as: if a gun appears in Act One, make sure it's fired by Act Three; also, if you plan to fire a gun in Act Three, make sure we know it's been introduced beforehand.

In painting-by-numbers movies like this, the writers always remember that lesson from creative-writing class whenever they need to introduce a deus-ex-machina means of resolving a plot point. The problem is that it all becomes a bit simplistic and the introductions often come out of any rational context, perhaps even moreso than their use might.

For instance, it's only a question of time before we discover why we're shown during his otherwise pointless first scene that Tom Hanks's character is an EXCELLENT swimmer... Or when another character informs us that he used to be a helicopter pilot, you can bet your bottom dollar that at some point, he's going to be called upon to fly one!

There's an adjunct to the principle of Chekov's Gun, which is fairly basic to dramatic narratives: remember who's got the gun, and who knows how to use it! This is a big element of many thrillers or murder mysteries, along the lines of "ah, but how did you know she was throttled with a silk scarf, if you didn't do it?"

Regrettably, the writers of this piece of garbage seem to have forgotten those principles, such as for instance remembering which skills which character possesses.

Why, for instance, would Tom Hanks's eminent symbologist Robert Langdon, who is working on multi-tome analysis of Galileo, require assistance in translating Latin? I'm a multi-lingual kind of guy with a bit of academic textual analysis behind me, and if there's one thing I know, it's that at this level of scholarly discipline, you don't work from translations!

Langdon isn't the only one who seems to forget what he knows, as at least two other characters need to have Latin translated to them, when they'd previously shown more-than-adequate skills in that themselves.

This parallels one of the other shortcomings of this poor excuse for cinematic entertainment: no fact or argument is valid unless it's been explained to us in dialogue, at least a couple of times. It's not enough to show, for example, a montage of statues featuring very prominent arrows, Hanks has to shout "The Arrows!", before we're shown them all again. And then someone else has to shout "Oh, the Arrows!" before they all set off at speed to discover the next clue.

I don't like being patronised and even more than that, I don't like being patronised with a tautological and self-referencing script that thinks it's oh-so-clever when in fact it's dumber than it thinks its audience might be. I have no idea whether this is Dan Brown's fault (I never read the book, and I now have even less desire to do so than ever before) or the writers of the film. I really expected more of David Koepp, who has a fairly distinguished track record to date.

It became a running (ha ha) joke in the most recent season of Doctor Who that the Doctor and his assistant had to do a lot of running. Well, the running the Doctor & Co have to do isn't a patch on Robert Langdon and his friends. Angels and Demons should really be called The Running, Jumping, Standing Still and Pointing Film (as a vague tribute to this). He reads a map to find out where to run to, they run (or drive, which anyone who's ever been in a car in Rome will know is impossible) there, find something gruesome and then run again.

And frankly, the way it's all put together makes one not care one iota where they are running, whether they'll get there in time to stop the gruesomeness or, indeed, whether it means anything. At least the Da Vinci Code sparked a debate about whether the basic ideas behind the plot had any merit; this waste of celluloid doesn't even have the benefit of that.

About half an hour into the film, I suspected I'd worked out where it was all going, and cringed. An age later, about 15 minutes before the end, I was pleased because they threw a curveball and I thought I'd got it wrong. That didn't last long though, because the train got onto the tracks it had been on all along, towards the inevitable crash. Except that even then, I didn't care.

There are SO many more things I don't like about this film, but I've come to realisation that I don't care enough to continue. I needed to get off my chest a few ways of saying that is a pile of manure from which anyone with more than two grey cells should stay as far away as possible, and I've done that. I welcome anyone who disagrees with me about any of the facts, or who found this film to have kind of merit, to comment - I really don't bite.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Too many t-shirts?

I've just folded up a load of t-shirts which I've washed over the last couple of days. Is it normal for a 40-something bloke to own this many? This isn't my complete collection by a long shot - this is just over a week's wear and wash.

Something one doesn't realise when embarking on a course of daily gym-going is just how many t-shirts one uses. In my case, it's three, sometimes four a day: one when I get up and do stuff around the house, one at the gym, a fresh one for the journey home and occasionally a fourth if I'm going out.

(BTW is it really sad of me that I rarely wear proper shirts any more?)

A small amount of kudos to anyone who can tell me exactly how many badly-stacked shirts there are in the photo (not as easy as it seems)...

Confusing your space opera franchises

Confused about your space opera franchises? You will be!

(I don't actually think that the comparisons are so close, but it's a comment I've seen in lots of places)

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


This has been around for a while and I've seen it before but I just happened across it again, and I hope the 2.5 people who see it here may find it as interesting as I did:

Monday, 11 May 2009


I have always maintained since before "e-commerce" was a reality, that the internet is a magnificent tool for anyone supplying a niche market (or indeed those within that market).

I don't think you can get more niche than something I just saw on the Facebook page of a friend of a friend.

Second-hand coffin, anyone?

What's Twitter Good For?

I have finally found Twitter's Killer Use (TM).

Have spent the last half hour swapping ideas for Unlikely Film Sequel Titles with complete strangers and having a blast!

follow #unlikelysequels

Friday, 8 May 2009

Star Trek: the reboot

(This still needs some work but if I don't put this up now, I don't think I ever will...)

I saw Star Trek yesterday at a preview yesterday. Twice.

Let's get my credentials out of the way. I'm not really a hard-core Trekkie, and although I don't know episode titles of stardates, I used to be prominent in the online fandom and ran a couple of websites. I'm not really all that enamoured of the original crew, although they were a presence in the background as I was growing up.

I've had a problem with the spinoff series and some of the movies, especially those presided over by Rick Berman - like a lot of modern science fiction, they got bogged down in the mechanics of the imagined universe with the actors having ever-increasing volumes of techno-babble to spout, and the stories were often about the technology rather than the people. If nothing else, I expected JJ Abrams' involvment to eschew that aspect, and he didn't disappoint.

When I first heard that a Trek "origins" movie was planned for this franchise reboot, I feared Star Fleet Academy hormonal teenagers invading the screen. I was ultimately delighted when the story skipped from Kirk enrolling in the Academy to to his (re)taking the Kobayashi Maru scenario we know from The Wrath of Khan, "Three Years Later".

The pre-publicity for this movie has stressed more than most that it isn't just for Trekkies but for a mass audience. In that, the makers have succeeded. The plot is really fairly banal and unoriginal - we follow Kirk and Spock growing up with Oedipal issues and like any buddy movie, they dislike each other on first meeting. What a lot of people seem to forget is that the original TV series wasn't just built around them, but included Bones too, as the slightly more world-weary figure who could knock theiur heads together when needed. And so Dr McCoy gets a fair amount of screentime too. Although only a bit-part in the series, Uhura's role gets expanded as it's always been painfully obvious that she's the only female member of the crew and in this day and age, that just won't do.

The need for a wider appeal is the backbone for the dialogue, offering a structure to hang those character-defining bits you don't need to be a hardcore fan to know about: Spock saying "Fascinating", Scotty saying "I'm giving it all she's got" (although "I cannae change the laws of physics" is only implied); McCoy gets gets an "I'm a doctor not a ... " joke, Chekov gets to mispronounce his Vs, Uhura shows her legs, and so on. We even get to have a red-shirt, a character with literally two lines of dialogue who has to get himself killed just to underline that space is a Dangerous Place where Bad Things Happen. And of course there's "Live Long and Prosper".

All the actors have the chance to offer their own take on the characters they play rather than being obliged to impersonate their predecessors - this is particularly tricky in Zachary Quinto's case as unlike the others, he has to share the stage with Leonard Nimoy for one scene and their slightly divergent aptitudes are revealed (as well as the fact that, frankly, Quinto is the better actor). Thankfully, Chris Pine doesn't make the slightest move towards Shatner's trademark faltering dialogue delivery but nails the swagger and bravado (and self-congratulatory smirk) every time. Sign of the times, though, Pine gets to do something Shatner never did, and that's to appear in nothing but a pair of baggy y-fronts at one point...

I must mention Karl Urban's Dr McCoy which stops just the right side short of an impersonation (physically, he and DeForrest Kelley have little in common) but keeps all the energy and permanenent indignation of possibly my favourite character from the series.

My enthusiasm shouldn't hide a few reservations I have. This new Star Trek has more in keeping with the current spate of superhero movies rather than space opera (a genre the original TV series created) in the way it's scripted, shot and also scored. But if James Bond can do it, why can't Trek? And that grated on me just a bit.

On to my main reservation, though. Like most buddy/superhero movies, the main characters start by hating each other and then grow to respect and perhaps even care for each other. But the final act is just a little too rushed for my liking and the Kirk-Spock relationship we know ultimately comes from nowhere, largely by order of future-Spock rather than any real natural character development. And that's a huge pity because it's the core of what the film thinks it's about.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

17 Again

I've been putting off seeing 17 Again.

Mainly because it's a formula that's been done to death and I wasn't really ready for a yet another American over-sentimentalised view of adult-teenager relationships. The second reason is that I am very conscious of being a 40-something bloke walking in to see movies designed for teenagers.

And when it's a movie designed around the charms of Zac Efron, it makes me feel like a stereotypical middle-aged gay man which is very far from how I like to see myself.

It's very churlish to nit-pick a piece of fluff movie-making that knows it's a piece of fluff, but one element of this film made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Like every father, our hero is out to protect his kids and works wonders with their relationships with the school bully. OK, the fact that the bully would be dating the daughter while having the son as his favourite punchbag isn't very realistic, but I'll let that slide (it might be if we'd been given some context for the kids' relationship with each other, but we have none at all).

What I found quite distasteful is our hero's very different attitude to his kids' dating. The daughter's going out with a stereotypical airhead bad guy, but that's not why the notion that he may have taken her virginity is appalling to him and her. The sex-ed class makes it clear that the idea of an almost-18 year-old having sex is simply not on.

At the same time, however, our hero manifestly encourages his younger son to go after the cheer-leader he's too shy and tongue-tied to chase at the start of the story. Not only that, but in a very laddish way during the victory party, he wants them to go off and consummate their relationship.

I don't think I'm especially sensitive to issues of sexism, but the double standards of the film industry (and especially Hollywood fluff) that all young guys should sow their seeds as quickly and energetically as possible while all young girls should remain virginal until their wedding day is hardly constructive in today's world of promoting equality and sensitivity.

Sauce for the gander not being good for the goose somehow springs to mind.

Sterling Knight(Sterling Knight, Zac's on-screen son)

A further thought...

Not because of my own sexual identity, what I think it would have made a magnificent plot element and counter-balance to some of the fluffiness would have been if the son had been gay, rather than simply too shy to chase the girl of his dreams. One of the plot elements was Zac chasing his grown-up wife while being chased by his daughter - add his son chasing him too (perhaps on the rebound), and Zac's character would have a REALLY interesting emotional triangle to deal with!

Oh, and for the record, everyone can keep Zac Efron (this was the first time I'd seen him in action and was only so-so impressed). I want to have his screen son's babies! The character's vulnerability has probably got a lot to do with it, but Sterling Knight is quite some stunner... SWOON

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Monday, 20 April 2009

No gym today

I had other things to do today so I gave the gym a miss.

That said, I've not been entirely indolent, as I spent three hours gardening. I much prefer this kind of physical exercise to gymming, because you can see the fruits of your labours fairly easily, and you can certainly feel them! And you use differnet families of muscles in a different way (digging in particular) so despite daily doses of resistance work at ther gym over the last several months, I still feel utterly shattered.

Until a year ago, I actually considered gym-going rather strange, given the opportunities we all have in our daily lives for physical activity. In particular, I was seriosuly amused by the need for a car park at an old gym I used to walk past fairly often: if people walked or cycled there, they'd save time on at least one workout element, and perhaps even the need for attending the gym altogether!

That said, the typical British inclement weather does make trudging to gyms on foot or bicycle rather disheartening, although I must admit that sitting on an exercise bike watching drenched passers-by on several days last week did provide an element of schadenfreude.

Talking of exercise bikes, not content with my gardening efforts, I've just come back from a 20 minute cycle ride - I honestly don't recall when I last took my bike out further than the bottom of our road or used the gears (they were literally rusty!).

It's interesting though that the effort required on even a moderate upward hill in the real world is considerably greater than that on an exercise bike in a gym. That said, there are few sensations which make one feel free quite as much as pedalling down a hill at full speed and feeling the wind tearing past!

The forecasters have promised us that the rest of the week should be similar to today (dry and sunny though not especially hot) so I might try something I've not done since I was a kid and cycle all the way to gym and back tomorrow! (it shouldn't take me much longer than public transport and I should save myself the warmup and cooldown on the gym bikes!) I am however, dreading the three rather steep hills I have go up and down to get there (and what's worse, get back!)

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Getting excited

When I was in the cinema yesterday the staff were putting these up all over the place.

I can't wait!

Star Trek: The Future Begins

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The devil's in the detail

I have nothing to sayexcept take take a look/listen to this


Sunday, 12 April 2009


It's Easter Sunday, in theory the apotheosis of Christian life.

So why am I feeling like an angry bear with a thorn stuck in his paw, especially towards my family? We've just had significant quantities of Clan Plum round for Easter breakfast and to a man, woman and child, every one of them has managed to piss me off big time.

Thankfully, they've all gone and I've cleaned up the mess and put away the besty breakfast crockery until this time next year. I'm surprised I didn't break anything!

I suspect I should stay away from all forms of human communication because I'm likely to bite someone's head off...

(I'm off to the gym, maybe I can just tire myself out. I;ve not been for a couple of days and have eaten FAR too much junk on top of it. )

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Something just struck me.

Am I alone in thinking that this:

London 2012 Logo

looks like Lisa Simpson giving a blowjob?

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Odd advertising connections

I suppose I should upload this to Failblog or somewhere, it's THAT odd.

I've just spent a few minutes wondering around my YouTube subscriptions.

Up popped a new video from Nerimon (AKA Alex Day) explaining (inter alia) that he's not gay despite what some people surmised from one of his recent videos.

For some bizarre reason, YouTube's advertising scripts decided to present me with possibly the least appropriate (and most unwelcome) adverts ever:

Branding confusion

It struck me while taking my shoes off a few minutes ago that I am a marketeer's worst nightmare today, sending out too many mixed signals.

I am sort of trendily (though rather chavtastically) clothed but in all the wrong brands, I suspect.

Shoes by Reebok
Socks by Lonsdale
Trousers by Dunlop (they're actually designed for playing golf but I knew I was spending most of the day outdoors today and these trousers are really wind- and rain- proof)
T-shirt by Fila
Hooded sweatshirt by Umbro
Oh, and undies by Diadora

And for a while I had a Nike baseball cap on.

Just HOW wrong am I?

Especially for a 46 year-old?

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Happy Valentine's!

As I really only have one regular reader, and you know who you are... ;-)

Friday, 6 February 2009

Torturing the language

I question I get asked a lot as a multi-lingual person is about the relative difficulties when learning various languages.

I invariably end up in a lengthy debate which includes the statement that whilst some elements of the English language (especially formal written English) are incredibly difficult to master, it's a perfect international language because it's very easy to make yourself understood with a limited vocabulary and no grasp at all of grammar.

This also makes English a wonderful language for advertisers and marketeers because you can throw words at the screen, page or other communication medium and they usually make sense.

I saw this product in the shop today. My brain hurts trying to work out what a meat-free meat product is...

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Burn's Night

This is by way of comment on Stig's Burn's Birthday blog (and probably won't be seen by anyone other than Stig and Cameraman anyway, but I'm fine with that).

Here's a couple of supermarket haggises for anyone who ISN'T Stig or Cameraman:

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


I'm not sure whether I should be pleased or not...

Monday, 19 January 2009

Picture Post (Selfridges)

(Blogger has done something strange with the picture links in this post. I'm in no condition to correct things right now so I'll leave things as they are for the time being. All my photos are on Photobucket)

This is sort-of inspired by Stig's exposé about his geekery. One of my own geekish weaknesses is architecture. I can't say I'm particularly knowledgeable about it, but few things are as likely to make me hold my breath or stop me short as a striking or beautiful building.

Well-designed, well-constructed and properly functional buildings really are works of art in the truest sense of that word. I live in a city which was famed for a lack of taste or foresight on the part of its planners and architects in the 1960s, which brought about some of the ugliest and badly-built major developments in the UK and wider.

More recently, the Birmingham skyline has seen some stunning additions to its skyline and this post is about one such building. It's famous in its own right, has won all kinds of awards, and is well-represented all over the internet (a google images search results in 19,000 pictures).

So here are some more pictures of Future Systems' Selfridges department store. I am particularly mindful of it this week, as its designer, Jan Kaplický suddenly died last week and this is my little insignificant tribute to a great man.

I fell in love with the idea of this building before I ever saw it, as various impressions of the designs were floating around long before construction began six years ago. One of the many wonders of this building is that there are no flat surfaces outside - everything is curved; sometimes very obviously, sometimes less so. At the time, one of the statements made about the building was the promise that the Selfridges name would never have to appear on the outside: the building would be striking enough for a name-plate to be unnecessary. Regrettably, a few years down the line the Selfridges people clearly decided that wasn't enough and they put a huge neon sign in the only street-facing window, which I think sort of spoils the effect.

Anyway, enough of my jabber-jabber, here's a load of photographs, all taken by me over a period of about two years, arranged more or less in order from the Moor Street point of connection with the rest of the Bull Ring Centre around to the St Martin's Square point of connection. It's built on a hill and of the many entrances, there are three at street level, and they lead to three different levels!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Hat-making your way out of poverty

Last week, a film came out here in the UK which, despite technically being a UK production by most criteria, has been out for a while in several places around the world (most notably the USA, whose public acclamation precedes it here).

The film features a television game show from which it would appear that hat-making is a popular (but no less competitive) route out of poverty in India.

Or am I misunderstanding the show's catch-phrase title of Who Wants to Be A Milliner? ;-) (At least that's the way it sounds when Anil Kapoor says it!)

Slumdog Millionaire

(For the record, I recommend Slumdog Millionaire very heartily)