Took this in the forest walk while down at the beach at Dirleston on Sunday. The forest is coming back to life after the winter – the difference even from two or three weeks ago is striking. This huge, gnarled old tree was in a small clearing all by itself in the middle of the forest, with the shafts of sunlight streaming in through the canopy, with only the crunch of twigs underfoot and birdsong for noise.

Peace in Iraq

Or perhaps that should be Fuck Up in Fallujah? At last the US have finally worked out a properly detailed plan for controlling Iraq and pacifying the ‘liberated’ population: bomb the hell out of everything and everyone. Once they’re all dead there won’t be any more pesky insurgents. Shame about all the civilians, but hey, omlettes and eggs as they say (although personally my omlettes tend to be yummy breakfast food which in no way entail the mass slaughter of civilians). Apparently they go the idea after reading a classic Judge Death story in Judge Dredd – all crime committed byt he living, therefore life is forfeit from all…

Meanwhile Blair has publically backed the US forces ‘strategy’. What strategy? Getting shafted by having no plan for post-war Iraq? Getting involved in somethign they never should have been in the first place? This from the man who was savaged by many, including his own party, for backing Bush and Israel’s plans last week. Just before that lead to a horrendous mess and government sponsored assissnation. But here he goes again. And the good part is that he says now he will be staying on and running for PM once more. ‘Not for turning’ ‘On and on and on’ the unflinching backing of right-wing American politicians who destablise the world – is it just me or is Blair turning into Margaret Thatcher? Is this some political equivelant to Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

“Who’s this, then?”

A story that was both hilariously funny and sickening at the same time. The owner of the Express newspapers, a Mister Desmond (a former porno merchant) was in talks with the owners of the equally right wing Telegraph. Which is in the midst of a takeover by a German company. So the Express board greet them with sieg hiels and guten morgens. Then Desmond starts goose-stepping around the room making Nazi salutes with his finger under his nose a la Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers classic episode “the Germans”. Except Cleese was funny when he did it, mixing his classic Python silly walk to a biting comment on the Little Englander xenophobia inherint in all too many small-minded twats in the UK. Then he starts flinging personal abuse at the Telegraph CEO before challening him to step outside (why didn’t he? I’d have beat the crap out of him myself). Oh, and the kicker is that Desmond’s bid for the Express was bankrolled by a merchant bank based in Frankfurt. So a racist, xenophobe and a hypocrite then.

What he is saying is…

The new artwork on display outside Saint John’s church on Princes Street. Perhaps not as satirical as some of the other work, but timely and, I reckon, a heartfelt message. I guess what he is saying is give peace a chance. Mind you, the next verse of Matthew states “Tarry not in the time of spring or you will not complete your uni projects.” Matthew, C27, V3-8 (verse 9-12 are on the way, can I have an extension please, Mister Lecturer. My cyberdog ate my homework)

Life’s a beach

And since it was very sunny and warm again I joined Gordon who was taking his dog Bruce for a walk down the beach at Dirleston. Understandably it was pretty busy as this was one of the first proper days of summer. We had a relaxing walk through the woods near the sea. We went through them just a couple of weeks ago (when I posted the stormy pictures below). The forest was dead and still except for the cawing of crows. Now, only two weeks later and it is bursting into life once more as the wheel turns round. Much as I love the simple, skeletal elegance of winter trees, there is something quite magical about watching them return to life in the spring. Green is absolutely everywhere – a hundred shades of green, from lime and opaline to deep emerald. If the Inuits have a hundred words for snow the people of our rainy Isles must have a hundred for the green of leaves. Funny how something as simple as the changing of the seasons can be so magical and enchanting.

The beach which stretches all the way round to North Berwick is a wonderfully wide stretch of golden sand. The sea was clear and the offshore breeze kept things from becoming uncomfortable. A gentle buzzing was heard and a small micro light flew over us just a couple of hundred feet up, moving almost lazily. A few minutes later we heard a light aircraft flying down the coast. As it got closer we realised it was an old biplane! How cool!!! As I watched the pilot let of smoke a few times as if practising for an air show. Then suddenly the plane went into a vertical climb. Now you can only do this for a short space of time with a piston engine before gravity starves it fuel and it stalls. The only reason to do this manoeuvre is if you are planning to do an Immelman. Named after the WWI flying ace this was an extreme early combat move where the pilot surges up vertically at 90 degrees then loops right over on itself before the stall. It practically falls over on its axis – it’s very dangerous and pretty damned spectacular. Heading back to the car a few hours later and we found a gleaming Jaguar Mk. II, lovingly restored, Inspector Morse special – effortlessly cool.

All of this and we had ice cream too! Ice cream from Equi’s, one of the best Italian ice-cream maker’s in the whole of Scotland. Yummy. Life can often be crummy, but there’s always a yummy ice cream cone on the beach…

Follow the beer-stained road

It’s been a long week, not helped by having to do a full weekend shift last weekend, Saturday this weekend and a full one next smegging weekend plus several late shifts. And remember, boys and girls we don’t get paid extra to work these hours, so think on that next time you’re late-night or weekend shopping. Waterstone’s, helping to wipe the smile from a bookseller’s face.

So when I finished last night I put on my shades and toddled off round the corner to the Guildford Arms to meet my mate Gordon. Ah, beer, eases the pain… A pint of Bitter and Twisted because I am; because it’s good and full bodied; because so am I. Gorgeous spring evening – not the first sunny day we’ve had, but now it is also warm. So we decided it was time to take care of one of our ancient Celtic customs in Edinburgh and headed up over the Bridges towards the University – with a brief stopover at the excellent Piemaker for a Moroccan Veggie (rice, vegetables, spices, half a pound of hashish, a young Moroccan boy, a typewriter and the complete works of William Burroughs) – and, braving all the bloody south-of-England yahs (posh inbred twats basically) we arrive at the Pear Tree, which hasn’t actually had a tree for sometime now (it did when I first started going there a long time ago in my student days). What it does still have thought is a bloody huge beer garden, so it was time for some outdoor beer al-fresco. As you can see from the picture it was bloody busy as it normally is when the sun comes out.

After that we plotted an erratic course back home via a number of hostelries that we hadn’t been in for a while. We avoided Greyfriar’s since it was mobbed and headed down into the Grassmarket behind the Castle, thinking we’d get a beer there before it gets later into the summer and it is too choc full of tourists to enjoy. We ended up in the Last Drop, so named because it’s the inn opposite where many a vagabond danced on air on the end of hemp rope, usually before a cheering crowd. Next door is another gallows related pub called Maggie Dickson’s, named for that lady who was hung but didn’t die and was released, although she was forever known afterwards as Half-hangit Maggie.

Walking up West Port we saw what had been Christie’s was now reopened as a new bar, but again it was mobbed so we walked past. Christie’s used to have a tiny basement bar attached called The Comic Den; all painted over with comics characters. We went into the Old Fire Station, which used to be Braidwood’s Fire Station when I was a student and was a huge student favourite, complete with stuffed foxes in old firemen’s costumes. It still looked the same, but the students had all gone to be replaced by what can only be described as members of the lads brigade, complete with ugly slappers in tow. Loud, pissed already, yelling, shouting, smashing glasses… My, this place has gone upmarket… You know you are in a quality establishment when the condom machine also vends inflatable sheep and pocket vibrators. Classy.

Went on to Tollcross and into Cloisters, a lovely wee stone pub and one of my former locals – one of my best student flats was right round the corner and we could see the back of the pub from our kitchen, along with the back of our local Indian, which gave me a warm feeling inside. We had a couple of very nice pints of Kane’s Amber Ale and felt a little better at no longer being the oldest people in the pub, as we were in the Pear Tree. Things start to get hazy around now. I recall leaving Cloisters, visiting what had been my old local chippy – which has changed hands and is now, unusually, run by an Asian family – for some greasy sustenance. I don’t remember much of the long walk along Home Street but eventually we reached my local pub, my beloved Caley Sample Room and had a couple more to finish off the night. And so all the way home from work (well, six hours after finishing) via a circular route, navigating as we used to in the old days by pub. Who needs a compass when you have pubs to guide you? Some were haunts of mine in a former life and are still fun, others now altered and no longer welcoming. Plus ca change. Some pubs come and some pubs go, but liver damage is forever.

Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living. Anais Nin (especially for my dear chum SweetRouge, she of the many-sided orgasms)

Shaken, not speared

April 23rd – the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. His deathday if you will. You know, if there is an afterlife for us all, birthdays would be pretty irrelevant, wouldn’t they? So we’d probably get together on the Other Side with our deceased beloveds and departed chums to celebrate our deathday.

Happy deathday to you

Happy deathday to you

You’re buried in the village church

Very near the pew.

I would just like to point out that today is my unbirthday. It is also my undeathday too. Hopefully.

“We are such stuff

As dreams are made on and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep…” Prospero, the Tempest

Always liked this scene and am also rather fond of the way in which Neil Gaiman reworked not only it’s eloquent lines but it’s themes into one of the final Sandman tales in The Wake.

And another quote from the Tempest especially for our Alien editor:

“Why, that’s my dainty Ariel! I shall miss thee;

But yet thou shalt have freedom.

So, so, so.”

That’s all for you!

As Hellboy would say. Can’t think what possessed Ariel to send this link to me, or how he go the impression I was a fan of Mike Mignola’s big red dude. Some people think just because you’ve written half a dozen reviews praising the books that perhaps it means you like them or something :-). Heh. Anum an rama. Beware the Ogrud Jahad. HB is cool. Abe is groovy. Liz Sherman is a hottie (and there’s a joke you won’t ge tunless you are really into Hellboy).

Hypodermic

Reading my fellow TAO crewmember Vegar’s blog for once I found I had to disagree with him – only a little however, since muhc of what he said (as usual) was well thought out. However I have to disagree with his assertion that watching TV is a simple and passive experience. While I agree it can be (and we all enjoy the occassional vegging period, don’t we?) most mass media (and I think he was worried about them all from the tone of his article) are not passive. Back in the 1940s and early 1950s media academics were of this opinion that the masses were all an amorphous jelly, passively receiving whatever was pushed into their vacant minds. This was referred to in Communication Studies (my degree area) as the Hypodermic Needle Model.

In many ways it draws on the 19th century Arnoldian viewpoint of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture which was dreadfully class-biased, not to mention simplistic and flawed. It’s a form of artistic criticism and judgement which still haunts us today, not least int he way the literati look down upon genre fiction for instance.

There was a big problem with this very simple viewpoint. It was nonsense. Any kind of text – TV, multimedia, movie, book, advert – is interpreted by the individual according to their own unique experiences, tastes and inclinations. For example, many feminist media academics used to (and indeed still do) lecture on the inherint mysoginy of modern horror films. However, others, such as Carol Clover, author of the excellent study Men, Women and Chainsaws (and a talking head on the recent BBC American Nightmare documentary) have argued for a contrary reading of the texts which sees some horrors as progressive, feminist texts which actually empower women. Let’s take Xena. It can be taken as simple fairy tale action with sexy eye candy for the guys. But a lot of women viewers, straight and gay, young and old, interpret this very differently. And how often do you watch a programme which sparks ideas of in your own head? A fair proportion of my blogs have been about or inspired by thoughts generated from what I had been watching. listening to or reading.

Modern cognitive psychology and communication studies have ascertained that people are not simple, passive receivers. And despite the fact an author of a book, film etc may try to give their text a particular spin – what is referred to as the preferred encoding – it is quite beyond their power how the audience members will decode this text. Abberant or contrary readings of even the most mainstream texts are quite commonplace.

All of this academic, beard-stroking, cordurouy wearing, paradigm-quoting nonsense out of the way I do have to say I agree with Vegar that quality does seem to be slipping a lot in modern programming as terrestrial channels such as Channel 4 who were once very good try to compete with the multiple channel digital satellite monsters. Then again, there is always someone harping back to an earlier, golden era. I’ve done it myself. SOmetimes we may have a point. Sometimes it’s an inevitable sign of aging. Ah, back when I were a lad……

Our last, best hope…

I’ve been working my way through a box set of Babylon 5’s second series over the last couple of weeks. After a shaky and often clunky first season I came to love this show. Sure it had it’s fair share of occasional misfire episodes or cheesy acting – what long-running show doesn’t? – but it also had some fantastic actors – notably Peter Jurasik and his on-screen foil Andreas Katsulas.

From what originally seemed like a classical comedy duo pairing they grew through laughter, tragedy and fire. Londo watching the bombardment of the Narn homeworld, with Jurasik bringing a convincing portrayal of self-soubt and self-loathing at where the events he wrought – that he thought he wanted – have brought him to. Kastulas’s J’Kar standing in the council chambers after his planet has been forced to surrender after millions of civilian deaths. Slow, softly he stands before he leaves the chambers and makes a fantastically eloquent speech on the irrepressible nature of freedom. Shiver down the spine material.

Like a lot of fans one of the things I most admired about the show and JM Stracsyknski’s writing was the way he layered his stories, weaving in multiple character narratives into an ongoing, years-long narrative. Watching a concentrated run of the series like this gives you a better feeling for the developing story and actually increased my admiration for his craft – the way small, almost inconsequential characters or happenings could return much later and prove to be of vital importance was just remarkable, especially in SF TV where most shows prefer standalone episodes so more viewers can tune in any time. A developing storyline through many seasons requires a certain commitment from the viewer – it is, in some ways, more akin to reading a long book. It also requires the producers to show faith in their audience and treat them as if they have some intelligence – not something most television makers in these days of constant ‘live reality’ shows have ever displayed.

However there was something else, watching all of this unfolding tale in retrospect. Something new. Season 2 is where things start to go wrong. Bad things are happening out on the distant Rim, the Narn and Centauri are manoeuvred into a terrible war by unknown agents. The new Earth president may well have assassinated his predecessor and is whipping up fears of alien races to bolster his own position, curtailing civil liberties in the name of homeland security, establishing a Ministry of Peace to enforce this while citizens who criticise the government on any issue – even taxes – are branded as alien sympathisers, seditionists and a threat to planetary security. Does any of this sound dreadfully familiar to what’s been going on since 9-11, especially in the United States? A president who is on power on a possibly illegal mandate, savage curtailments of civil liberties ‘for the greater good’ and whipping up one people against others who are different… The scene where the Centauri use weapons of mass destruction to destroy Narn cities from orbit also has too many recent similarities for comfort, especially when US and our own UK forces used the likes of cluster bombs – classed as WMDs by the UN because of the collateral damage they cause to innocents – in areas where we knew there were civilians.

I know JM obviously didn’t plan these similarities – it’s coincidence; it’s what I now read into the text because of what I’ve been exposed to since the original viewing. But that is the very essence of good writing – that a tale will have echoes which means something to each time and generation. It’s why certain old tales like the Iliad repeat in one form or another for eternity. Even in more recent works it happens. As well as Bab 5 I re-read Alan Moore’s excellent V for Vendetta last year. The totalitarian Britain it portrayed was, for a few years, very much of the era in which it was written. It was still a damned good tale, but it had a flavour of the Thatcher/Reagan 80s to it which kind of dated it. Now it seems more relevant than ever. Everything comes around and the more things change the more they stay the same. Thankfully we always seem to have good artists to speak on the subjects which matter. It’s just a pity most of us don’t learn from them.

Classic film

Pay day. I know I shouldn’t be blowing my meagre bookseller serf’s wages on frivolities, but I need a treat. A new DVD – classic film, lovingly restored to pristine beauty. Two disc set (double sided at that) of one of cinema’s greatest ever creations in this multiple Oscar winning set. No, Not Citizen Kane. Not Casablanca. Not Seven Samurai. Tom and Jerry, special edition! Wooohhhoooooo!!!!!! Dozens of T&Js in chronological order, right from the very first outing (where Tom is actually called Jasper). Utterly fabulous stuff. The craft and love and simple, wonderful insanity which went into these cartoons is still utterly vibrant. The animation from the 40s is so rich and detailed. Not only are the jokes funny – the fold-out ironing board routine is always funny – but the artwork is fabulous. The expressions on Tom’s face alone are often enough to crack me up. The fine attention to details, the little morality plays and the quite incredible synchronisation to music are amazing. This is especially showcased in a few cartoons where the music is brought to the foreground, such as where Tom is conducting the orchestra (Cat Concerto) or where opening the freezer door in the kitchen leads to an indoor ice-dance (with coloured jellies for the spot lights).

And on a more personal note, ever since I can remember my dear old dad and I have watched these cartoons together. My long-suffering mother shakes her head as we sit down on the floor cross-legged like schoolboys to watch when one came on TV. We’d end up rolling around on the floor, crying with laughter, no matter how often we’d seen that film before (as long as it was a Fred Quimby original and not the awful 60s versions). We still watch them together if they come on when I’m home at my parent’s house. Some folk shake their head and ask how a grown man can still watch this kind of thing. I feel so sorry for them; something important in side them has atrophied. Fortunately my dad taught me to keep that quality alive. Thanks, dad.