Groovy

Groove on some Goldfrapp tunes while watching animated ‘toons on Atom Films

The Angry Young Wanker

Another mini-flick on Atom Films. Angry Kid in the irresistibly-titled Angry Kid: Wanker. You know you want to watch it! A chance for our American cousins to find out exactly what a wanker is and why we Brits treasure it as one of our finer terms of abuse. Or should that be self-abuse. Just watch your mouse doesn’t get clogged up from your hairy palms.

From missions to the moon to animated discussions of wanking, all in one evening. Am I diverse or what, people?

Giant steps are what you take…

…Walking on the moon. So sang Sting and the Police back when I was but a bright-eyed young lad. This afternoon at work I met a man who really did take giant steps on the moon when I was a boy. Mister David Scott, multiple degree holder, ace fighter pilot, astronaut and commander of Apollo 15. He dodged death flying with Neil Armstrong on Apollo 8.

He’s just co-authored a book, the Two Sides of the Moon, with legendary Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space. And when I say walked, this was as basic as it got – no fancy MMU (Manned Manoeuvring Unit – that’s a jetpack to you and me) in those days. Alexei basically clambered out of a tiny tin can and dangled by a rope miles above the Earth, travelling at thousands of miles per hour. When the phrase ‘the right stuff’ was coined to describe the pioneers of space exploration in the 60s and 70s they weren’t kidding. Alexei was training to be the first man on the moon, but obviously the NASA lunar missions beat them to it, despite the enormous (and for many years secret) efforts by the Soviet’s astonishing Chief Engineer (a man who the fictional Scotty would gladly have shaken hands with I think). He was, however, honoured by the great Sir Arthur C Clarke by having the Russian spaceship in 2010 (the sequel to 2001) named after him.

Both men came together in the 70s when the NASA and Soviet space programmes briefly united during the Cold War, their ships meeting in Earth orbit and docking, a procedure which sounds pretty simple to most of us but is fraught with problems. Two completely different engineering systems and training systems which have to meet and link 100%. Any failure of the docking collar could mean death for all onboard. And these craft have to manoeuvre miles above the planet while orbiting at thousands of miles per hour. Still sound easy? It was a potent symbol of international co-operation between explorers and scientists during a period when east and west faced each other with thousands of nuclear warheads primed for a few minutes notice. And it pioneered the way for the present space station being built by several nations. No longer just a matter of national prestige this sees humans going into space as representatives of their species, not as flag-waving nationalists, slowly turning the staged but noble rhetoric of the original Apollo missions into a reality: “we came in peace for all mankind.”

I would have loved to have time to talk to him, to ask him what it was like, but his schedule only allowed him some brief moments to sign some stock and chat quickly while he did so. Naturally I’ll be having one of those signed copies for my collection and I’m sure I’ll have a review in a few weeks on the Alien. I’ve met many people in my years in bookselling, from relatively unknown local writers to 20th Century cultural icons like Quentin Crisp. But this was something else, something remarkable, exciting. These men and their comrades were my heroes when I was a boy. Today I had an enormous privilege. Today I shook the hand of a man who walked on the Moon. Today I shook the hand of one of my boyhood heroes.

Yes, you could say I was over the Moon.

KLF photos

The Kangaroo Liberation Front has issued a statement saying that it did not in fact offer $100 dollars for each US hostage taken in their fight for marsupial rights.

It was $50. They’re not bloody worth anymore than that, mate, explained Drongo McThumper, spokes’roo for the KLF. President Bush has meanwhile told Congress that he requires 45670850 billion dollars to continue the war against the KLF, who he decries as ‘evil terrorists’ despite the fact the kangaroo peoples only started hitting US targets after Halliburton started ruining their drinking water by drilling for oil in the Australian deserts. In the meantime allegations by the Red Cross of systematic abuse of kangaroos held illegally in camps by US forces continue to surface. Donald Rumsfeld has so far failed to comment on the photographs of two US guards forcing captive KLF members to don red gloves and box each other to a bloody pulp for their amusement.

Clarke

Just found out via MAtthew’s blog that Neal Stephenson’s astonishing Quicksilver has won this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award, arguably the SF world’s equivelant to the Booker Prize in terms of respectability. I’m surprised that the first book in a series would win this – I thought perhaps he may win in a few years with the final part, although we all would know it was really for the whole series. Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s loose trilogy won the BSFA award last month for Felaheen, although again I suspect it was as much for the entire trilogy as that particular book.

Very happy with the prizes this year on the SF front, generally speaking (still think it was ludicrous and unfair to include Gaiman and McKean’s Wolves in the Walls in the Short Fiction category since it patently was not short fiction bu a complete kid’s illustrated picture book). I’ve blown the trumpet for Quicksilver and the following book in the Baroque Cycle, The Confusion on a number of occassions and, I am glad to say, sold lots of them in my bookstore (despite being distracted by a nasty little colleague who is an utter bitch and drives most of the staff mad and tried to make life harder for me this week, but I won’t waste my blog space on the little spoiled princess). Matthew has of course been sounding the Quicksilver trumpet even longer and if it is to the detriment of his studies then at least he should know a lot about Restoration period history :-).

Boldly going

The race to be the first private person to travel into space just came a lot closer as this privately constructed spaceship proved by soaring to an altitude of 64KM. Will we be getting day trips to the Moon within our lifetime? Well, I, along with all the other SF geeks from my era were promised abck in the 70s that we would have all that by now, so I’ll take it with a pinch of salt while wishing them good luck. I suspect if and when it does become available for us to take commericial flights into space for ordinary folk it will only ever be the rich who can afford it, which is a great shame, since some of us have been dreaming of it since first picking up an Arthur C Clarke book, or watching the original Star Trek or the late and sorely missed (he’d have given Bush such a drubbing for his debasement of science to support his politics) Carl Sagan presenting us with Cosmos (remember that Vangelis music?).

A more recent example would be the Planets series on BBC, which sometimes veered to the lightweight on the commentary front but the graphics, some real images from probes and satellites, others CGI, were always stunning. Which brings us nicely to the Cassini probe which has just returned some fine new images of the ringed planet, Saturn. Ken MacLeod’s Cassini Division in living imagery. How wonderful it would be though to see all of this with your own eyes and not second-hand through a probe. Could you imagine looking out of a window to see Saturn filling the sky before you? The spokes and bands of the rings turning with slow majesty, the ice particles amongst the drifting rocks glittering in the night, illuminated by a distant sun, looking like a Cartier diamond necklace on an elegant lady’s bare neck.

Vive la France

Opening this year’s Cannes Film Festival the president of the jury, Quentin Tarantino, opened his spectacularly large mouth to ruminate on the decline and fall of the British film industry. Not a subject that Tarantino has any personal experience in whatsoever, but this did not stop him pontificating upon it. I won’t go over his somewhat simplistic and uninformed opinion again. However he went on to remark that the world now only had three places where a sustainable movie industry was possible: America, Hong Kong and India.

By America he means Hollywood, which for a director who is supposedly steeped in underground and obscure movie lore, not to mention a man who started out as an Indy film-maker (along with his mate Rodriguez, who wrote a book on guerrilla movie making) is a dreadful simplification and ignores the independent film making in the US. Perhaps he feels he is now too big and cosy with being an auteur in the major studio system and those who make shoestring films to show at Sundance no longer count?

However, there was a far more glaring omission from his opinionated remarks – he missed out the French film industry. Given that he is currently in Cannes on the French Riviera and that the name of his production company is an Anglicised version of a name from a Truffaut film this is a very odd omission. As a cinephile myself I rank the French film-makers as amongst the finest in the world, with an output ranging from outright, big-budget farce like Les Visiteurs to the opulent period drama/fairy tale of Cyrano de Bergerac and from the mould-breaking directors of the New Wave to the Postmodernist vagueness of Luc Besson. A most odd omission, especially since some of these have been direct influences on Tarantino himself.

Meanwhile the red carpet procession at Cannes was brought to a halt as French journalists cheered Michael Moore’s arrival. As some may be aware Bush’s good friends at Disney have pulled the plug on his new film Farenheit 911 (the temperature at which truth burns) and are refusing to distribute it in the US. This means a US film about (largely) US problems is not being shown in the USA but will be shown around the rest of the world. So much for freedom of speech. But then if your family and political/business friends can subvert the law to put you into the Oval Office then what’s attempting to block a pesky little film, eh? I don’t always agree completly with Moore (although I often do) but I will totally and utterly back his rights to say what he needs to say.

Only following orders

Well, pretty much as I predicted recently, Private English, the West Virginia gal grinning happily in the Iraqi torture pictures is on the news tonight saying they couldn’t have done anything wrong because – you guessed it – she was only following orders. Well, as I observed earlier both Nuremberg and later courts on crimes against humanity (which the US is almost alone in not signing up to) made very clear that everyone is responsible for their own moral judgement, so that feeble excuse does not let you off the hook. Besides which in the armed forces of every democratic nation an illegal order is totally invalid regardless of the rank of the officer issuing it, so there is no impetus to obey it.

Even more sickening than this sociopath private trying to wriggle clear of her moral liability was the sight of the smegging idiots in the Pentagon (who must take much of the blame for all of this) giving Donald ‘Someone Take this Giant Lemon out my Arse’ Rumsfeld a bloody standing ovation for his leadership!!!! Right after being grilled over his inability to manage his post as secretary of offence – sorry, defence – by the public, the senate and international opinion. Way to convince the rest of the world that not all US forces are psychopathic, trigger happy nutters following rabid hate-mongers, guys! That was a great image to show the world after what’s been going on. But then again, since when did America care about the world? Like the idiots who video taped a defenceless civilian hostage while they decapitated need any more encouragement.

Xenophobes unite

Following on from his recent forced resignation from his long-running BBC show after penning a frankly racist article on Arabs for a British rag of a newspaper Kilroy has moved to show that he’s not some Xenophonic little twat by standing up and campaigning for the UK Independence Party. For those who don’t know, this is a bunch of fringe eejits who say they are against the European Union, but really are a meeting club for one of those most British of past-times, let’s have a go at foreign people. Has anyone told these shag wits that Queen Victoria is dead and the Empire is long, long gone? Didn’t Kilroy make a big enough arse of himself – even by his standards – on his recent appearance on Have I Got News For You?

Big headlights

The video for Powder’s new song, which has a hilarious superhero theme is groovy! Especially enjoyed the super heroine/lead singer who’s costumer includes giant headlights right where you’d expect them to be J. The presence of a scantily clad super heroine woman with big headlights in no way influenced my opinion.

Manchester bound

No, not the title of an S&M novel from Nexus; I was off yesterday morning to the Deansgate Waterstone’s in sunny (yes, it was) Manchester, into Ariel’s old stomping ground (SF section with space I can only dream of now run very well by Mike Rowley). I had an interview for a head office position running the Fiction Core Stock range, which luckily you can do from a branch and don’t need to do at the head office. Very fortunate since that is in the miserable suburban mire of Brentford, famous for being the home of Robert ‘Mad? Me?’ Rankin and for… Er, well nothing really – it is a dismal place you pass through quickly.

Started off badly. My bus got caught in a huge line of buses because someone broke down across a main junction and caused a huge tailback. Had to get out and run for Waverley train station, but made it, sweaty but in time. Except there’s no Manchester train on the departure boards. Check again. Nope, nothing. Only a few minutes to go, so I rush to the info point and they tell me where to go. Arrive at platform, no train yet. Running late already and I’m not even on it yet! Ah, British train travel… Spot nearby ATM and decide to get cash out, not being aware if they had such machines in Manchester (also took bottled water in case you couldn’t drink the local stuff, always a wide precaution). ATM jams with my card inside and swallows it. As the money doesn’t come out until you take your card that meant no money either. Train pulls up and I have to leg it with a whole £4 in loose change to get me through the whole day. Not the best way to start, especially when you’re going for an interview.

Get a text message from Ariel who points out that perhaps this gets all that bad juju out of the way before the interview, which was a better way of looking at it. Anyway, had a reasonably nice trip after that in a pretty comfortable Virgin train (no, not a train with onboard catering for thirsty vampires – the Richard Branson Laughing Gnome variety). Been a while since I’ve taken the train anywhere apart from Glasgow and it was pretty good. Power points at each seat so you can recharge your phone or plug in your laptop. A shame then that I left my laptop at home since I was only gone a day and didn’t bring my recharger for my mobile or MiniDisc. Another nice touch was the Quiet Coach, where you can’t use mobiles or have loud personal stereos. Nice idea, especially if you’re going to do over 7 hours total there and back.

Arrived much later than I should have and was worried about getting to a location I had never been to in a city I’d never visited as an adult. But thanks to my good sense of direction (it’s the inbuilt chip which lets the sanatorium know where I am at all times), an A-Z and directions from Ariel I walked there in fifteen minutes and arrived early! Oh well, chance for a nosey round Deansgate branch then.

Lucked out afterwards when I was hit with the idea of using my bonus points in a nearby Boots to buy some sandwiches and grub to keep me going (no Switch card, no ability to use the ATM or to debit purchases, a real bugger – made more ironic by the fact the first bank I saw right outside the doors of Piccadilly Station was a Royal Bank of Scotland!). Wandered around town for a while taking pics of interesting buildings, of which there were some very cool ones (see the building with the Triffids on it!). Met up with Ariel who nicely diverted his homebound trip after work to take me off for a nice pint of Boddingtons (hey, when in Rome). As a bonus he brought along TAO’s resident sea-side dwelling Viking, Vegar, who I’ve known for a while but never actually met, so it was cool to be able to sit back and share a few ales with them before heading home (although the boys had to buy so I owe them some fine Caley ale when they are up here). As it turned out Vegar’s train was right behind mine on the same platform, so I was pretty much seen off right from the platform, which was very nice. This is Ariel (left) and Vegar (right) as we left one pub for another. The bizarre, Chad-like creature peering over the corner is me. Ah, self portraiture. Big thanks once more to Ariel and the V-Man.

The journey back gave me a sudden stab of nostalgia since the train came up and stopped at Lancaster station, right in the shadow of Lancaster Castle. My parents used to keep a caravan in nearby Morecambe (before the oldsters Mafiosi who took over turned it into a ghost town by shutting everything fun so no-one would visit) when I was a kid and I well remember enjoying tours of the dungeons of the castle. Yes, I was a Gothic freak of nature even then. A few minutes later and the track runs only a few yards from the huge sweep of Morecambe Bay, which was enjoying one of its trademark spectacular sunsets. A glowing copper disc slowly burning its way below the horizon. With the tide far out the sand of the beach was turned to a shimmering, warm gold. The only drawback to train travel of course is when you see something like this you can’t just stop to watch… I lucked out again when I discovered the train stopped at Haymarket Station which is only ten minutes walk from my flat. I came in on a line I hadn’t travelled before which actually goes right past my house before Haymarket. I could actually see my flat going past – pity you can’t just get them to stop then and there and let you out (now wouldn’t that be a great bit of customer service!). 7 and 1/2 hours on the train, but at least I got hours of reading time in uninterupted.

Bite me

Van Helsing has to be one of the dumbest and silliest movies I have ever seen. Sillier even than The Mummy Returns. And nothign original – every (frantically paced) scene is a crib or sometime straight steal from something else. Notably the classic Universal monster movies of the 30s, of course (nice bit where the Universal globe at the start catches fire then dissolves to a burning brand carried by revolting peasants) but also Blade, Batman, various westerns and even Looney Tunes… The liberties taken with characters, settings and the timescales is staggering. And the thing is that despite all of this I really enjoyed it in a switch off brain at door kind of way. Big and dumb and fun, like a sleazy date with a drunken gal in Blackpool.

And Kate Beckinsale in tight pants and corset. Oh yes. Oh yes indeedy.

Vamping around

Just found the web site for Charlaine Harris, author of the fabulous Sookie Stackhouse Vampire Mysteries – see the Alien for reviews of the first two (third on the way soon). Only annoying thing is that the web site does something very irritating and it’s a mistake she makes in the beginning of her third book, Club Dead. She refers to Britain as ‘England’. As in my new book has just been released in England. How very odd, I seem to have some here in the barbarous wasteland of Edinburgh, Scotland :-). A lot of foreigners do that and it drives everyone from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland mad….

Still, off on a raid over the border tomorrow morning as I head down into England and off to Manchester for an interview of a higher post in Waterstone’s doing the Fiction core range for the company. Means about 7 hours on the rails unfortunately, but at least it means I can sit back on the train and crack on with some books. Guess I’ll find out the endurance of my little MiniDisc player too. Luckily I have several hours of music on there with the NetMD software. I suspect the batteries will exhaust before the music does.

Looks like I will have a few hours to kill until the next direct train back home after the interview, so I’m grabbing the chance to meet Ariel on his way home from work for a couple of pints in a Manchester hostelry, so that’s a nice wee bonus.

Muffins – a short history

After perusing my fellow TAO crewmember Vegar’s blog recently I thought perhaps his historical interest would be piqued by research by Professor Bruce Ambrosius McFoster of the University of Woolamaloo’s Department of Arcane Historical Facts.

It is well-know that Vegar’s ancestor’s, the Vikings, were, when not busy pillaging coastal communities, outstanding sailors, explorers and traders. They travelled vast distances – as far as the Mediterranean – making the sea truly the super-highway of the time, carrying both goods and ideas. Or in some cases both.

The new research showed that a group of Viking traders were once blown off course from what is now the French Mediterranean coast and were forced to the shores of North Africa. Never ones to miss a chance to turn mishap into opportunity, the Vikings soon found new goods to trade for in the soukhs of North Africa. While recuperating there, they found a local foodstuff which these hairy-bottomed Norsemen enjoyed immensely; a small cake, sweet and filling, with enough calories for an entire afternoon’s pillaging. Being unable to wrap their rough-bearded mouths around the soft-syllabled name the locals gave the delicacy they named it after the market where they first found it: mhou-a-fian, which, in the language of the time meant ‘There is no God but Allah, but a good cake comes a close second’.

The returning Vikings brought back both samples of the cake and the recipe with them from their trip. They introduced it first to the south of France, where it became know as ‘la mouaffine’, which roughly translates as ‘those pesky Arabs are Godless creatures but they make a bloody good cake’. Travelling the sea highways of the Dragon Ships and the slower rural rutted roads of Europe the idea spread slowly over the succeeding years. By the time of the Enlightenment coffee shops were de rigeur and Samuel Pepys and Daniel Waterhosue were often to be seen supping the devilish brew from the New World while eating the perfect accompiniment to it, ye Muffine. A trend had been set which continues to this day.

This much the Professor has uncovered with his diligent research which has taken him to cake and pastry shops on four continents. His last point is, admittedly, only conjecture however: he believes that the Norse expeditions to Vindland, or what we now know of as the new World, were actually a deliberate attempt to find coffee beans to have with their pastries. Many brave Vikings died in this noble quest. Sadly the Professor is now added to this list since his overly-diligent research has taken a toll on his health. The stress and strain of years of hard academic detective work, the ridicule by some of his peers (who support the competing fairy cake hypothesis) and thousands of miles of travel all conspired to destroy the man’s health as he pursued his dream of knowledge. Well, that and heart failure brought on by eating 652,419 muffins and associated cakes, all accompanied by coffee. Farewell, professor – we honour your name and your commitment to academic truth and the advancement of human knowledge (and waistlines).

So next time you enjoy a muffin, pause and think about the unlikely confluence of historical accidents, inter-cultural exchanges and linguistic borrowing which brought us to the modern muffin.

Next week Doctor Hagar from the University of Woolamaloo’s Department of Historical bearded People explains his new hypothesis that Norse culture was not broken by the advancement of Christianity, like Imperial Rome, but because the Norse raiders became too porky on a diet of seal blubber, mead and muffins to go raiding anymore.

And now we shall speak no more of this subject since poor Vegar has been taking a fair bit of stick over itand has been a good sport :-). And he’s spot on in his new piece on the blurb on books cover – and yes, it is very nice when you see quotes from one of your own reviews being used on the cover to help sell a book by a writer you really enjoyed. And since the TAO crew do it for the love of it rather than for cash, it is nice to know we do perhaps make some difference.

“The horror…The horror of it all.”Colonel Kurtz (Brando), musing on the amorality of a supposedly honourable soldier’s actions during war.

Watching Rumsfeld squirm tonight in front of the Senate committee investigating the torture and abuse of POWs in Iraq – at times by non other than former First Lady Hilary Clinton – was interesting and disturbing. What was more disturbing was the reaction of the small, rural West Virginia town where the female soldier grinning in many of the photographs lives in a trailer park. A lot of the rank and file of the US army comes from poor towns like this – they don’t get much of a shot at the much-vaunted American Dream and the forces are a way out for many. Understandably this leads to many of the locals in these areas being extremely loyal to their fellows in active service.

However, when the BBC crew interviewed many of these folk most were of the opinion that she hadn’t done much wrong as was just being scapegoat by her superiors and that the blame lay further up the chain of command. While I would agree that the blame should indeed run right up the chain of command – all the way to the top, especially since the Commander in Chief had already alluded to disregarding the Geneva Convention which every civilised nation adheres to after 9-11. But this does not excuse our poor country gal from her actions either. Look at those pictures – she’s bloody laughing at the misery she and her fellow grunts are inflicting on other people. She’s enjoying it. Saying the blame lies only with those in authority above them is like the tired old defence of the junior demons at Nuermberg: I was only obeying orders. In other words, I ain’t responsible for my own actions…

Now while I want to see those above these folk castigated and charged for breaching human rights this in no way excuses our West Virginia girl, regardless of how sweet her family say she really is. Only following orders is no excuse when they involve illegal actions. And as was quite deliberately shown by the Allies – including, ironically, America – at Nuremberg, and then later in the Balkans, everyone who commits these offences will be due to stand in front of a human rights court, from heads of state and generals to police and prison guards.

One of her home town citizens commented that it would all blow over. He actually said that hey, look at all the bad things in WW1 and WW2 – no-one show pictures of those any more or talks about them. Well, except for a mountain of books, thousands of hours or documentaries… All this in the anniversary of D-Day – no-one talks about those times anymore! In other words, he is saying bugger it, everyone will forget about it if we let it go.

This is worrying in two ways. First of all because I fear all too many people, especially the bigoted and ignorant, don’t follow history, just as he says. One of the main reasons, I suspect why we end up repeating so much of it again and again. The second is because one of the things that creeps like the British National Party do is to try and eradicate and deny horrific human rights abuses from history to make their own bigoted viewpoint appear more justified and palatable. Amazing what some people will do in the name of ‘right’ and ‘patriotism’.

Meanwhile those of us who do still read history realise speaking softly and carrying a big stick may no longer quite cut it.

Revenge fantasies

Warm weather. Ah, one of the drawback of warm, sunny days of spring and summer – the noise-polluting wanker brigade. Noisy neighbours seem worse because their windows are open, your windows are open, the music is much louder… And as for fucking wankers in cars with the DUM DUM DUM DUM mindless repetition of bad dance music blasting at full volume from their cars. Usually a crappy wee car with the stereo turned up very loud as if to compensate for the paucity of the vehicle and the spotty young Herbert driving it (usually with a baseball cap). And with the windows all open it is soooo fucking irritating to everyone they pass. But what do they care? Consideration of others is not something that has ever entered their psyche.

Don’t get me wrong, I like loud music – I’m a rock fiend for Alice’s sakes! But I try not to blast it too loud around other folk because it’s not right to inflict it on everyone else against their will. A little consideration. So the slow-moving traffic I walked past tonight on the way home with the baseball-hat wearing Ned with the most dreadfully unoriginal dance music thumping out of his windows pissed me off. And I couldn’t help but look at those open windows and think, why not make them work for me? And so I decided to add CS gas canisters to my Utility Belt. Pull pin and toss through the window…Ah, sweet revenge fantasies, how they help me make it through the day…