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May 20, 2005

The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy

This is a movie I never expected to see. I've been reading the books since 1979. I joined the HHGTTG appreciation Society in 1983. I went to see Douglas Adams reading from "So Long and Thanks For All The Fish" and got him to sign not only my copy of that book, but the previous volumes too. Over the years I've reread the books, watched the TV series, listened to the radio series, and swapped Guide quotes with friends and family on a daily basis.

So when it comes to the wacky concepts, and the one liners, I seldom laugh out loud any more. I still appreciate them, but it's more a wry smile than a belly laugh.

This makes the job of impressing me with a film very difficult indeed. When a small piece of dialog is subtly altered or left out - I notice. When favourite scenes are completely forgotten (the desperate conversation with the Vogon guard to try and persuade him to not throw Ford and Arthur out of the airlock for example) - I notice. When a brand new subplot about Trillian being Arthur's soulmate and him rescuing her from certain death is inserted - I notice.

And yet I did find that an awful lot of the things I like were included. Mr Prosser was there to demolish the house; Arthur and Ford made good use of their towels, 'frood' was used as a word in context , and not explained; Marvin's voice was right, as was the one for Eddie, the shipboard computer; and the sperm whale got to give his whole monologue before smashing to smithereens on the planet of Magrathea.

There were even some new touches that embellished the humour and actually did make me laugh. The landlord and customers in the pub, just before the Earth is demolished, actually do lie on the floor with paper bags over their heads. The Vogons become even more administrative needing a form filled in to allow them to chase Zaphod Beeblebrox across the galaxy. And Deep Thought is depicted as a huge bronze statue not unlike Rodin's 'Thinker'.

I'm not going to say I liked everything. Zaphod was altogether too stupid and his head flipping routine tiresome. Ford was a bit on the homosexual side, something never hinted at in the books and probably just a politically correct attempt by the directors. The Arthur and Trillian love interest was also unnecessary - but I'm guessing Hollywood didn't want to bankroll a big movie without it, even the Star Wars franchise seem to think this is something a science fiction film needs.

Overall, it's a very good film - the special effects are stunning in places, and very good everywhere else. The Englisness of it is diluted a little, but mostly present. The 'Guide' is adequately read by Stephn Fry, though it will always be Peter Jones for me. I almost wish I was a Hitch-Hiker virgin so that I could watch it without all my previous baggage, as people in that position are the ones who will enjoy it the most.

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May 17, 2005

Lucian Freud

There is a painting of a female nude in my copy of Metro newspaper today. I'm no artist, and it's easy of course being a critic, but it looks to me like something a spotty teenager might produce. The woman looks very plain, she is posed awkwardly, the colours are very drab, and her nakedness leaves nothing to the imagination.

Reading the article below, I discover that this painting is actually of the artist's daughter Bella, and is believed to be worth about $2 million. The mind boggles.

This picture is horrible. It's ugly, seedy, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If this is modern art, then I think it's being bought for perverse reasons rather than any actual aethstic ones. If I have a picture on my wall, I want to actually enjoy looking at it.

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May 12, 2005

Contentless Article

In my continuing quest to find alternative employment as a writer, I found this piece on the BBC interesting. It's just over 400 words, and is almost contentless as far as I can see. so I asked a friend to give me a topic, and I decided to see if I could come up with something similar. It appears to have come out as more of a rant than anything, but that's just me I guess.

What is happening to Saturday Night TV

In olden days, well, maybe not that long ago - let's pick the 1970s and 1980s as an example, watching TV was almost compulsory on a Saturday night. There is a lot of talk of the Golden Age of light entertainment. We had The Generation Game, The Two Ronnies, The Black and White Minstrel Show. Cilla Black had a slot too with studio guests and live outside broadcasts, a bit like the stuff Noel Edmonds did in the 1990s. The audience figures for those shows was huge, but what a lot of people forget is that they were largely rubbish, and there just wasn't any alternative for people. If you've managed to erase 'Seaside/Summertime Special' from your memory, sorry, I'm reminding you now.

The days of sitting round the piano singing songs with the family happily passed long before I was born. Watching TV is what you did on a Saturday night as a kid. Until that is you realised that your parent's stress levels weren't really high enough and you discover discos, clubs and pubs. The TV companies didn't have any real competition for children and their parents, and so shoved out any old dross they wanted, and the cheaper the better.

Perusing my TV schedule for this weekend however, I see that there has been a sea change of vast proportions. Instead of three channels we have five. Instead of Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy, we have a proper actor in Christopher Ecclestone in the excellently revamped Dr Who. Instead of The Professionals or Starsky and Hutch, there is CSI and Law and Order. Sale of the Century is gone, and Millionaire has real tension and bigger prizes. Of course it's not all wine and roses, I'm scared to even turn on Strictly Dance Fever in case I'm forced to gouge out my own eyes (or is that ears). But the general quality is higher, and there are alternatives for different tastes, from drama in Casualty, to sport in a World championship fight.

What has prompted this improvement? It's got to be the competition. Cable and satellite TV give us hundreds of other channels. Playstation and XBox mean the TV is multi purpose now too. Wobbling a loose memory pack on a Sinclair ZX81 so that you can type in Basic computer programs from a magazine is a distant memory. Games now are fully immersive experiences with Dolby5.1 surround sound. Your DVD player also provides real quality with movies available a mere 13 weeks after their cinema releases in some cases.

In the 70s and 80s, when I had no choice at all, I watched The Russ Abbot Show, and thought it was good. So now, when there is so much choice, Saturday night TV finally gets good, and it makes me sick.

Posted by se71 at 11:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 11, 2005


I am a self confessed hoarder. If I see people crying on "The Life Laundry" TV program when that horrible woman makes them throw away all their junk, I feel genuinely sorry for them. That could so easily be me.

Reading The Daily Telegraph the other day I came across a piece about Dawna Walter's new venture - DeJunk Your Mind: .
She has moved on from throwing out just 'things', and is getting to the mental root of the problem. Dejunking is like giving up smoking - I think most people fail because they really aren't committed to it. To really remove the junk from your life you must be committed to it mentally - otherwise it will all come back.

Following on from this, I had a minor Road To Damascus moment last night which has allowed me to see what I must do.

I've got to decide what I want to keep, and get rid of the rest.

Sounds simple. Sounds like a no brainer. But this is what has been stopping me. I keep everything - just in case it might come in useful. I have 4 PCI computer network cards. I've had them in a drawer in my bedroom for about 5 years. I am never going to use them. If by some weird combination of circumstances I find myself wanting one in the future, I can get a nice new faster one from dabs.com for less than £20. My house is pretty much all wireless network anyway so I think I'm onto a winner with this.

I'm going to make a list of everything I have, with a column indicating whether I need it. If I decide I don't need it, then it's going to have to go. This is going to be especially difficult with paperwork. I have kept everything. I have every credit card statement since 1983; every airline ticket and boarding pass, I can tell you what seat I sat in on every flight I've ever made. Just how useful is that information! Cinema ticket stubs; letters from the council, the water board; every piece of paper my children have brought home from school. I made a big step last year and destroyed a huge pile of credit card receipts for restaurants and petrol; I kept the rest of course, but do I need receipts for household appliances that are now in a landfill somewhere?

In my head it's too difficult to make snap decisions on the paperwork, I always err on the side of caution - I need a real plan. I have a friend who burns nearly every financial record that is over seven years old. The tax man can't go back that far, the banks do a similar thing I think. Could I do that? No, probably not. But if I could make a list of the ones to keep and the ones to definitely get rid of, then the uncertainty would go away - it's the uncertainty I can't handle :-)

Watch this space.

Posted by se71 at 10:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 10, 2005


Just a quickie. I've just been to the Post Office to get a new E111 form. I stood in a queue of about 10 people, for about 4 windows, and got to the front in about 7 minutes. Not bad.

The gratifying thing was that as I left, the queue was slightly longer than when I arrived. I realised that this is an absolute measure of queuing happiness. When I finally get to a window, and notice that no-one has actually joined the queue behind me, I get a bit annoyed as the time spent in the queue could just as easily have been spent on the pavement outside enjoying the sunshine, with a quick dash in at the last minute to get to the teller. When I join a short queue, and have to squeeze out of the door past hordes of heaving pensioners who have just arrived, that's a perfect visit.

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May 06, 2005

Michal Howard

BBC News reports that Michael Howard will stand down as leader of the Conservatives very shortly.

I'm not going to comment on this politically. What does interest me is that someone can be prepared to lead a whole country for five years, which is a high stress job with huge responsibilities, and then, less than 12 hours later, he is resigned to being a lowly MP.

This kind of emotional rollercoaster must be very difficult to cope with. One minute you're anticipating travelling the globe, sending troops to war, meeting other world leaders. The next, you're down the local town hall listening to complaints about parking restrictions.

Going for a new job is always going to be a bit like this, but if you fail, generally there is the option to try again with another company. Here, it's all or nothing. Suddenly, the life you hoped for is gone forever. That must be hard to take.

Posted by se71 at 01:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


It seems appropriate to at least mention the British General Election, and the third term of power won by Tony Blair and the Labour Party last night.

The whole experience has been pretty boring, with the result pretty much a foregone conclusion. I would like to think that the reduced majority might help scupper the ID Card bill, but this is probably only a pipe dream. Nothing about the scheme will make an improvement to our security. The man in the street will pay for it, suffer it's inevitable restrictive consequences, and the terrorists will just get fake ones anyway. but that's a rant for another time.

I cycled down to the polling station in my village last night, and it really is the only time of the year where I really do feel that we are all part of the same country. It was 9pm, and people were coming in from all directions, some alone, some in groups, all playing their small part in the democratic process. Democracy may suck in many ways, but until something else comes along, it's better than the other options.

I think that rightly or wrongly the public vote for a leader who they like at a national level, much more than they vote for a local candidate. Michael Howard pulled off a remarkable turnaround, I would never have expected him to appear so electable. He gained a large number of seats for the Conservatives. Now it's time for the party to really sit down, spend two years consolidating public opinion of the party. Then they should elect a really charismatic, young leader, with nice hair, who would then stand a real chance in five years time. And yes, I did say nice hair! Like the American Presidential election, the winner here usually has better hair. Howard played a bad hand also when he mentioned being a grandfather, a candidate in their 40s would be ideal.

Hmm, nice hair, 40s, charismatic - well two out of three ain't bad :-)

Posted by se71 at 10:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 04, 2005

Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea

Anyone who knows me will know that I find the appeal of watching most sports pretty mystifying. Of all spectator sports in this country I think football is the strangest. Standing around for the best part of two hours watching a pile of men kick a ball around, and quite probably leaving with a no-score draw, is complete idiocy. And yet people pay large amounts of money to do it, and to wear their side's colours and travel up and down the country supporting (in both senses of the word) a group of the highly overpaid tabloid fodder that we know as the "professional footballer". They even go to pubs and instead of chatting with their friends, they stare at a screen in the corner for the whole evening. And worse than that, they do this when the teams playing aren't even in the British leagues.

And what exactly constitutes a team anyway. They are named after towns and cities like Liverpool and Manchester. But the only regional thing about them is that that is where they have a football stadium. The players nowadays come from all over the world. I haven't the statistics to hand, but I'm sure I'm not far wrong by saying that there aren't many players from Arsenal that actually have played for that team lately.

I'm prepared to admit that once you have nailed your colours to the mast, seeing the football season through and coming out with a good result would be pretty satisfying. So why is it then, that in last nights game between Liverpool and Chelsea, which I believe was quite important, they cannot even agree on whether the single goal scored even went over the line. Why isn't there a camera on each net watching to see if a goal is really a goal. Something so important shouldn't be left to chance. Football clubs are even listed on the stock market. A win or loss could lead to a huge financial loss for the shareholders.

They have had a photo finish in horse racing for decades. After some decidedly dodgy line calls in tennis in the past it is now similarly well observed. If I was a football fan, after last nights appalling fiasco, I really would just have to give up.

Posted by se71 at 09:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days - Alastair Reynolds

*** SPOILERS ***

Two short and unsatisfying science fiction stories.

Readers of the epic space opera begun in Revelation Space will be a bit disappointed by these two tales. Both take place in the same universe, though are not connected in any other way. In the first a very rich, old, devious man (hmm, haven't we seen a few too many of these already Mr Raynolds) has found what appears to be an alien artifact on a distant planet. He has some recorded evidence that other humans found it first. It is a building with a series of rooms, and in each room is a puzzle. If the puzzle is solved a door opens to the next room, if not, then the room kills or maims those inside. All the previous explorers are dead.

He gets together a team of the best people he knows, intelligent, cunning, surgically enhanced. He brings along a mad scientist who can replace limbs cut off, even organs damaged. For a very large amount of money they are going to see how far they can get.

That's about it. The story is interesting, the characters real, but the journey never really gets resolved.

The second story takes place on a Juggler panet. This is an aquatic world, populated by a semi intelligent organism called a Juggler. Humans have settled there to study the creatures, and have been isolated from the rest of humanity for about 100 years.

The lead character is a woman whose sister went to swim with the Jugglers and never came back - they have the ability to assimilate people into their collective consciousness. There is a hint of something evil in the water, which never gets resolved. Then a team visit the planet, ostensibly to study too. This causes great consternation and upheaval. They have only
been on planet for a short time when one of their number goes on the rampage killing both his own people and the locals, and then attempts to throw something into the water to kill the jugglers too. But he is stopped.

That's about it.

Both stories are well told, but Reynolds hasn't been fair with us with this brief volume. He builds up an intriguing premise, then leaves it open ended. I guess a lot of science fiction stories do that, but after the novels I was expecting more. I'm very glad I didn'tpay full price for it.

If you have never read any of his other books, that is actually quite a good place to start. The novels are very large and also dense, so if this taster doesn't interest you, it would be best to give them a miss. However if you quite like the stories, and want to know a bit more - Revelation Space is the place to start.


Posted by se71 at 04:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 01, 2005

The Scream

The BBC are reporting that the iconic painting "The Scream" by Edvard Munch may well have been destroyed. This is of course terrible news, it's a fantastic piece of work. I got to thinking though that maybe we don't really need the physical picture any more. I have never been to see it, and never really planned to. The internet has made it available for everyone to view at any time, so is the paint and canvas something we should mourn?

There are some works of art that cannot be represented in pixels on a screen. The exhibits in the Tate Modern Turbine Gallery are always huge, always multi-dimensional and multi-sensual, and have to be experienced. They are fleeting, and once they have gone, that's it, you cannot experience them again. Pieces of sculpture, again three dimensional art, it still not something a computer can convey properly. Maybe when we have holographic projecters (like R2D2's on Star Wars, but better quality), we can walk around a representation of Rodin's Thinker and get a good impression of it. I don't really think it will really be good enough though, sculpture should be touched in my opinion.

I can see The Scream any time, I can print it out, I can buy a print and put it on my wall for very little money. The original may be gone, but the image will never be forgotten, and while a poster is not 100% as good, I think it's close enough for most of us.

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