Sunday, December 30, 2007


I had the movie, Transformers, thrust in front of me last night when my younger son got it out of the video shop. My initial reaction was: shall I go and do something else? In fact, Transformers turned out to be a sharp and funny movie, with some off-the-wall characters, and an ability to make an action movie interesting as well as spectacular.
I must admit I lost track of which Transformer was which much of the time, and to have the nastiest of them all, Megatron, frozen for most of the movie was a bit of a mistake I think, but I enjoyed the vocal characterizations (the transformers learned to speak off the World Wide Web) and the visuals were splendid.
But it was more of a surprise to have a bunch of actors in amongst all the technology who were interesting people. Shia LeBeouf (whom I’d forgotten until I checked I’d seen in Holes several years ago) was full of energy, wit, and verve; Megan Fox transformed a role that could have been nothing but a sex figure into something human; Rachael Taylor’s wonderful Tasmanian accent grated against all the US ones, and Kevin Dunn and Julie White as LeBeouf’s parents were superbly cast. John Turturro makes the most of a wonderfully obsessive Sector 7 agent.
And the minor characters are often unexpectedly interesting, such as the Indian telephone operator who’s more interested in the right way to make the phone call than in contacting the Pentagon for an emergency; or the crazy Black computer geek and his family.
There are times when the action’s over the top, but in the middle of it all there’s this wonderful humour, which gives the film life. It’s as if the writers decided that straight action wasn’t get this movie into the A-stream, and they were probably right. So they put some scenes in that will give the adults something interesting, and this balances the whole thing out admirably.
I should have gone to see it on the big screen – huge things cease to be huge on the small – but not having done so, I’ll have to watch it again and try and work what’s actually happening in some of the grunty fight scenes.
By the way, I watched it with comments from my son and son-in-law about who all the Transformers were, what their histories were, whether they'd actually ever had any of them as children and so on. I was rather astonished at the detailed remembering of this curious craze.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hit by a Truck? Call us!

In New Zealand, most lawyers have to have general practices, rather like doctors who are GPs. But in the States, you can specialise to your heart’s content, which is why there are so many truck accident lawyers listed. I guess because the population in the US is so much bigger there are that many more truck accidents, and seemingly it’s not easy to get recompense if you’re hit by a great thundering vehicle roaring along the highway. (Although when you look at the movies, the number of near misses and fatal crashes with trucks is phenomenal. Guess they’re that much more spectacular – and they’ve got to keep the stuntmen in work.)
The other difference between NZ and the States is that we have Accident Compensation. You don’t have to go after some huge firm by yourself: the ACC will do it for you. And though we complain about Accident Compensation Corporation a good deal, it has stopped a lot of unnecessary legal feuds.
Not that I want to be hit by a truck any time soon just to prove it…

Harper's Bazaar

This is a quote from a Harper's Bazaar magazine (June 1998) that I found in a takeaway shop:

If you only feed a man and don't love him, he is no better than the cattle in the shed; if you only love a man and don't respect him, he is no better than a household pet.

A couple of thoughts

I came across these thoughts in one of my notebooks from the late nineties:
Vandals should be given demolition work. Vandalism and demolition are the same thing under different hats. And the satisfaction level is high in both instances.

And who doesn't enjoy throwing rubbish in the tip, and seeing things smash, and get crushed by the grader?

Just as you can never tie only one shoe, so some tasks always have two parts, neither of which is complete without the other. Writing, for instance, needs both space for the imagination and room for the editor.

Anne Lamott

If only more New Zealand novelists would observe this point, from author, Anne Lamott:
"Nothing is more important than a likable narrator."
The narrator doesn’t have to be good but you do have to like him.
And she adds: I have a friend who said one day, “I could resent the ocean if I tried,” and I realised that I love that in a guy. I like for them to have hope – if a friend or a narrator reveals himself or herself to be hopeless too early on, I lose interest. It depresses me.’
Funny hopeless is different. and can be endearing.
I think these quotes come from Bird by Bird, Lamott's book on writing, pages 49-51.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Ode Less Travelled

I’ve just finished reading Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled. He makes an enthusiastic case for writing and reading poetry (especially reading good poetry), and for learning to understand and use long-established techniques of meter and form. Not having an understanding of these, he says, means you’ll be working on shifty sands. (My cliché, not his.)
He marches his way systematically through every kind of metre and form you could imagine or want to know, as well as giving readers the chance to read his excellent and amusing examples. He also suggests plenty of exercises to do in order to understand the way metre and form affect the words, and the use of words. He wants to show that meter and form aren’t out-of-date and useless to the modern poet, but necessary.
Without his amusing and sometimes sardonically funny writing, and his poetry (which he claims he doesn’t normally present in public), the book would probably have appealed less. But he has such a passion for the subject, and such a knowledge of it, that he conveys enthusiasm to them to get on and write. (And read, of course.)
Readers should read the poetry in the book out loud - it isn’t just Fry’s poetry that appears, but plenty of good and great examples. He knows what’s worth reading and what isn’t and sometimes isn’t backwards about saying so. His own examples can verge on the scatological (though admittedly very amusingly). Unfortunately he also decided to include four filthy pieces of poetry in order to show that filthy poetry exists. This seemed to me to be a mistake, but maybe others will appreciate it.
Fry introduced me to many poets I didn’t know, and got my poetic juices going. Though I must say I was too busy reading the book to do the examples!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Singin’ in the Rain

I watched Singin’ in the Rain again today, after my family gave me the DVD for Christmas. (We celebrated a bit early so that most of us could be together.) I remembered from my last viewing of it that it seem to come to rather an abrupt end, and that the storyline wasn’t up to much. It takes a good idea – the changeover from the silent movies, when people with nothing in the way of a voice could still be an attractive star, to the talkies, when such people either had to learn to speak or quit. That’s the storyline, and it would have been good if it had been developed still further. But it’s merely a hat to hang the songs on, and some of the songs don’t hang too well.
The songs and dancing on their own are fine – in fact there are several hit songs there (and a couple of duds: Moses Supposes, and Gotta Dance) and there is a typical ‘serious’ dance towards the end, with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse suddenly introduced into the film. This section, as these sections always were, is superbly danced -–the sequence with Charisse trailing an immensely long scarf like a cloud behind her is wonderfully handled. And of course there’s Singin’ in the Rain itself, which apart from its exuberance, isn’t all that remarkable a piece of dancing. Even Donald O’Connor’s hectic Make ‘em Laugh falls flat these days, although he works immensely hard at it. Perhaps in a full theatre with some good laugh-out-loud people it would still come off.
So in some senses the film’s something of a disappointment, in spite of all the talent involved. It treats the Jean Hagen character (the one with the shrill and squeaky voice who won’t make the talkies using her own voice) badly, making her something of a villainess by the end, when in fact she’s done little more than be in love with the wrong man, and have a voice she can’t help. I found it hard not to be sympathetic with her, for all her foibles, and even in spite of her attempts to blackmail her studio.
Donald O’Connor’s character is plain annoying; perhaps it worked much better in the fifties. There’s almost no chemistry between Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, although both of them are good, of course, and they’re not helped by a romance that’s never developed properly in any sense. It starts off well, but by the middle of the film we’re meant to assume that it’s a done thing, and the ending is a fizzer as a result.
In the end, it’s the song and dance stuff that saves the movie, from the early piece with Kelly and O’Connor in some vaudeville act, using fake violins, or Good Morning, when those two and Reynolds sail through what seems to be a never-ending house, or the long dance section based on Gotta Dance, or even the Moses Supposes scene. Fast forward through the story bits, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience still.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dreaming of Cars? Not.

I think there must be something seriously wrong with me. Other people talk about their dream cars, and programs on the telly like Top Gear seem to be very popular, but barely interest me at all. I can’t see any point in racing around a track at a speed you can’t handle. Cars, for me, are something that get you from A to B.
That said, the best car in terms of performance and economy that we’ve ever had, I think, was the Peugeot we bought while we were travelling around England. We got it at a bargain price of £900 and sold it for £500 before we left. We’d certainly got more than £400 worth of running out it. And we did a pile of running in it, which in our car at home (a Mitsubishi Chariot) would have cost us a fortune. In England, where petrol isn’t particularly cheap, it cost us next to nothing. I’d continually look at the petrol gauge and say, It’s barely moved!
So if we’re talking about dream cars, then a car that hardly uses any petrol, but still gets me where I want to go without any major disasters, is definitely mine!

Routing round the house

In a moment of impetuosity that surprised even me, I went out and bought a wireless router the other night. In New Zealand, for some reason, we pronounce this word the same as the Americans: as in router as in outer. The English, curiously, pronounce it rooter, like hooter, which isn’t a good idea, given that the word root has some very ambiguous meanings.
Be that as it may, I managed to fit the thing together (in spite of the instructions) and within half an hour our laptop ran off wireless in another room. I felt quite humbled by my own expertise.
The instructions in the book then went on to say that I should set up the security. This involved opening a certain IP address. I put the numbers in. No joy, even though the Internet was working perfectly. I did this again and again, always getting the message that perhaps the site was too busy and so on. It was only when I rang my tame geek that I discovered that they had the number wrong in the book (!). Not only that, when I did get onto the site it was nothing, absolutely nothing, not at all in any conceivable shape or form, like the instructions in the book – which had pictures of the pages I would see as I progressed through the process. Piffle.
Anyway, as I say, the thing is working, and that’s all we need until the tame geek gets here tomorrow and sorts out the security – which he will do without blinking an eyelid, or following any instructions.


Two or three years ago, when we were in Greymouth on the West Coast, and it rained more than it didn’t, we stayed in our hotel room and caught up with most of what seemed a rather strange fairy tale movie, the name of which I didn’t catch. Turns out it was called Ella Enchanted, and it starred Anne Hathaway at her most gorgeous, Hugh Dancy and Cary Elwes, among others.
At the time I thought it was a bit peculiar: it just didn’t seem to work, and there were some very odd things about it. For instance, a number of biggish names (on the English scene anyway) turned up in it, but didn’t have much to do – or else their characters were woefully underwritten. Minnie Driver, for one, who doesn’t seem to know quite why she’s in the movie and Parminder Nagra, who turns up for a few minutes early on and isn’t seen again until she gets one shot at the end of the movie. It was as if she’d been in a lot more and then was cut out. I suspect the whole thing was originally a lot longer, and gave the actors some room to move. (As an interesting sideline, both Driver and Nagra later worked on ER for more than a season.)
The story’s quite fun, and the second time around I took the film as being entertaining but not particularly witty, although it plays the anachronistic note a good deal. Hathaway shows she has a talent for comedy, given the right sort of role, and does well with a part that isn’t always consistent in tone.
The scenery is an odd mix of real forest and locations, and studio ones: the latter sometimes being more beautiful than the real thing. You get the impression there was a bit of kerfuffle going on behind the scenes, and things didn’t work out the way they were intended.
When we first saw the movie, we’d never come across Lucy Punch before – she plays the older of the ugly sisters. Since then she turned up in the first season of Doc Martin, but for some reason didn’t stay in the following seasons, when a girl (Katherine Parkinson) who looks strangely like Punch, took over and played the role of her cousin – who basically does the same part. In fact, the two women are so similar that they could have replaced

On again off again relationship

So our famous Mr Jackson is going to be involved with The Hobbit after all. And with a sequel. A sequel to The Hobbit? What, a story squashed in between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring?
Seemingly Mr Jackson won’t be directing the movies, but will be an executive producer instead, along with his wife, Fran Walsh. Peter’s too busy with other projects to give his attention to the directing of the movies.
It’ll be interesting to know who’ll write the scripts. In the LOTR, of course, Jackson, Walsh and Philippa Boyens were scriptwriters. Jackson filled practically every other role at times, and even Walsh did a bit of directing. But if they’re too busy to do the script, that leaves the thing wide open to a different kind of movie altogether from the LOTR trilogy. Which could be disastrous.
New Line, who are involved again, have already had a fairly large thumbs-down on the first of the Philip Pullman trilogy. Some speculate that the other two stories in that series won’t even be filmed, which might be why they decided to make friends with Jackson again after the long tiff that’s been going on.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In the dog box

It’s strange how isolated moments from a long-distant conversation will stick in your memory, almost to the point that you can remember the exact words from a sentence. I was reminded of this when I came across the words dog box today.
When an artist friend and his wife were redecorating their house, they used to sleep at night above the ceiling. Now they weren’t enclosed in a loft or attic; the ceiling at this point consisted of nothing but the beams, and a bit of boarding to stop either of them falling through in the night.
My wife talked to the artist’s wife (she was an artist too, as it happens), and at one point the artist’s wife made a joking comment about sending her husband to the dog box if he misbehaved. The dog box was a couch a bit further over on the beams.
Not a spectacular piece of conversation, but I can remember the tone of good humour still, and my mind puzzling over how they coped with being in a ‘bedroom’ that was set over such a precarious ‘floor.’
Of course the dog box that I came across had nothing to do with recalcitrant husbands being sent to one, but was a place for the dog to sleep. These days dogs are likely to get classy treatment: none of your open-mesh wiring nailed to some two-by-fours, and nothing much on the floor except the earth the box is set on. No, these dog boxes are for treating the dog as though she’s some prima donna, or he’s a prize-fighter. They’re lined with a material that will keep the dog warm in the winter and cool in the summer (as duvets are supposed to do for humans but don’t, in my experience). And they’re set about with stainless steel locks and various other contrivances that make the whole thing look like a palace rather than a kennel. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut was wont to say.

Smarter and smarter

Just when I thought I was getting a little smarter and gaining some knowledge of fibre optic cables, along come something called HDMI cables. So, being a person who likes to find out things, I went in search of some information, and found that HDMI are the new version of DVI. Confused?
DVI stands for Digital Video Interface – in other words, in real English, it means something that can be used to connect something else to a PC or home theatre system. And because nothing stays around for long these days, DVI is being replaced by HDMI, which means High Definition Multimedia Interface). But the good news – apparently – is that you can connect a DVI to an HDMI and neither will complain.
Ain’t that swell?
I guess it’s an improvement on the usual approach which requires you to go out and buy a whole new set of cables and plugs and whathaveyous because the manufacturers couldn’t be bothered to do anything that would be compatible.
However, there’s more good news. (This post is just full of it!) HDMI have something in common with our friends, the fibre optic cables, and that is that they don’t just carry one signal at a time. Firstly they carry a digital audio signal. Then they have room to send a digital video signal along the line. And, wait for it, they have room for future bandwidth as well. This means that you can be playing computer games on your home theatre while watching a DVD movie, catching up on the latest episode of your favourite tv program, and perhaps keeping up with the sport as well.
Who said modern people were dumbing down?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I live in a world I don't understand

Fibre optic cables - or fiber optic cables – as they’re also spelt – are something that have always been a bit of a mystery to me. I know they have great advantages in speed, and lightness and so on, and if you have them in your local telephone system, then digital information will be sent faster and more clearly than along copper wire – which is what we’ve got as far as I know. (Though Telecom is gradually shifting over to the use of fibre optics generally.)
As I said, how this works or what it does has been a mystery to me. Not any more! I’ve just had a look at the How Things Work site and read up on fibre optics. I now understand the general principles. I now know that the lightness of fibre optics is ridiculous – especially as that magic prefix nano was used in conjunction with them at one point, as in “wavelength = 1,300 to 1,550 nanometers.” And I was going fine through the article until they began to tell me how the cables are made – at which point I pretty much gave up as my elementary chemistry and physics from fifty years or so ago doesn’t help me much when such descriptions are run before me.
Never mind. There are things in the modern world which I know happen but I have no idea how. And I get to the point where I don’t actually believe that they happen at all: zip backups, for instance, which are done at the speed of light (or so it seems). If we think about it seriously, we know that no computer could back up anything so quickly. The whole thing is a hoax, and since most computers are not required to produce the backed-up information at any time, they can get away with it.
Fiber/fibre optics are the same. There’s no way anything can be produced that’s that small. In reality, good old copper wire is being used, but we’re just paying less for it.
I’m kidding – you know that, don’t you?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

North by Northwest

I watched Hitchcock’s North by Northwest again the other night. I don’t think I’d actually seen most of it since it was first shown; some of it I caught up with on television a few years ago, but obviously not all of it as there were many scenes that I’d forgotten.
It’s the sort of Hitchcock movie where the plot is irrelevant; the set-pieces are what make it: the climax on the Mt Rushmore faces (very little of which was actually shot there); the wonderful sequence where the crop-dusting plane attacks Cary Grant in the middle of nowhere; the nonsense Grant makes of a very dignified auction. The film was virtually written around these sequences – it’s one of the few Hitchcock movies that isn’t based on a book. (Not that he ever stuck to the books: in most cases he took a few key ideas and made his own film.)
North by Northwest epitomises Hitchcock’s style. The suspense, you say. Well, yes, up to a point, but once you know what’s going to happen, the suspense goes out the window. No, I meant Hitchcock’s humour. Very few of his movies lack some aspect of humour (except perhaps I Confess, The Wrong Man and Psycho – and even Psycho has a few humorous moments early in the piece).
For instance, it was a nice surprise to find that in one of his earlier movies (Young and Strange, I think it was) there isn’t just the suspense, but some wonderful moments of humour – much of involving children, who often play a humorous role in his movies. Both the American and English movies have some glorious humorous sequences – North by Northwest is full of them (with Grant at his ironic best), but Stage Fright, which I caught up with again recently too, has some great moments, particularly those featuring Alistair Sim, whom apparently Hitchcock didn’t take to and objected to his ‘mugging’ – in spite of that, there’s a great deal of Sim in the movie, along with a marvellous scene he shares with the inimitable Joyce Grenfell. I still remember how delighted I was to find her in a Hitchcock movie when I first saw Stage Fright years ago.
Back to NBN. The cast is great. Eva Marie Saint – who never appeared in another Hitchcock movie – is wonderful: elusive, persuasive, romantic; a quiet surface hinting at considerable passion beneath. Why he chose to use Tippi Hendren, for instance, in later blonde roles remains a mystery, when Saint was available. James Mason does a subtle villain, and Jessie Royce Landis (only a couple of years Cary Grant’s senior) plays his mother with considerable aplomb. Cary Grant (who mugs almost as well as Alistair Sim at times) thoroughly enjoys his role, even though he was far too old for the part – but Hitchcock delighted in using him, in spite of that.
And the crop-dusting scene remains a triumph of crafty filmmaking: Grant is actually more in the studio than out of it during the sequence, even when he’s being chased by the plane; and an analysis of the scene, shot by shot, would reveal just how well planned the whole thing is – and how economically.

Alfred Hitchcock

I’ve been reading a newish book on Alfred Hitchcock over the last few weeks (yes, that long, because it’s a chunky book of some 860 pages and it’s full of detail).
The book’s called Alfred Hitchcock: a Life in Darkness and Light, by Patrick McGilligan. I’ve read books on Hitchcock before, including the Francois Truffaut book that came out years ago – it was one of the first to really focus on Hitchcock’s genius, but I’ve forgotten much of what it said. And it’s not that long since I read another one – It’s Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock, a personal biography, by Charlotte Chandler. That book is much more of a reminiscence, anecdotal book rather than one that covers the ground well. It’s interesting, because are always new angles on the backgrounds to the films, but it tends to focus on stories told by people who are still alive.
McGilligan has done his homework to a remarkable degree, and when he hasn’t got the facts before him he makes commonsense assumptions – but let’s us know that he’s doing so. When you’ve read a number of bios of Hitchcock, certain stories tend to turn up again and again, but in fact, McGilligan’s book is surprising in the amount of new material that’s offered. Furthermore, Hitchcock himself comes across as an even more complex figure than ever. Though it would seem he hardly directed at all, at times, because he knew exactly what he wanted and pretty much got it, and though we’ve heard the hoary old chestnut about him not having much time for actors, in fact he had a great deal of time for them – and for technicians and writers. He often seems to have been happiest when he was planning a movie, but there were certainly many times when he enjoyed the actual process of moviemaking.
And he was a master negotiator; he had to be, to deal with the endless restrictions and deals and undercurrents and difficulties that stood in the way of him making the films he wanted to make. That he got as much on the screen as he did is tribute to his ability to manage affairs to his own satisfaction in spite of what the producers often imposed on him.
The darker side of Hitchcock: his obsession with real-life murders, with the ways people could be mutilated and killed; his curious building-up of blonde actresses – only some of whom came up to his expectations; his sometimes petty revenges on actors who spoke out of turn; the crude jokes he seemed to revel in; his drinking and eating problems and his strange phobias are all catalogued in this book.
But so are his triumphs: the marvellous movies he did actually make; the way he could bring life to a film even when it wasn’t necessarily his choice of subject; his tireless energy that lasted well into his sixties; his imagination and inventiveness; his wonderful sense of humour; his devotion to his wife (when she became chronically ill he himself went downhill rapidly); his generosity to his family and to his many friends and his work in wartime (much of which hasn’t previously been noted).
Hitchcock was something of an enigma, something of a genius. He seemed curiously uptight in some aspects of his personality, and boundlessly free in others. In filmmaking he truly came alive, and his legacy of movies lives on and on.

Presenting the whole picture?

When I read some of the promos for drug rehab on the Net, with their pictures of luxury suites, I have to ask myself two things: just how much does it cost (and therefore who’s going to go?) and what happens when real drug addicts turn up and start making a mess in the place.
It’s fine to say that the staff have all been addicts themselves and know the problems, but presumably they also know that a clean image is probably rather unrealistic. Even people who are trying to get free of drugs are rather messy – or maybe my ideas of drug rehab are based on the film Sandra Bullock starred in called 28 Days where life was anything but clean and tidy. (Yes, I know it was about alcohol addiction, but the principle’s the same.)
All right, you can’t ‘sell’ a drug rehab place by showing the grime and grubbiness of life with a bunch of addicts. Fair enough to present pictures of beds with clean sheets and comfortable pillows. Perhaps I’d just like to see the other side represented as well.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Sock Monkey

Okay, what the heck’s a sock monkey? I hadn’t heard about such a thing (at least my memory tells me I haven’t) until I came across it today on a friend’s site. She has a Squidoo page on it, as it happens, which is partly why I got involved in Squidoo at all. I couldn’t rate her site until I’d joined Squidoo, and then once I had I was greatly encouraged to add my own site.
Anyway, my friend has given plenty of info about sock monkeys. In fact, I now know what to do with the various socks I’ve been finding since I got home that have a hole in the toe or heel. I’ll be making sock monkeys with holes.
I thought at first a sock monkey might be something along the lines of a monkey we have here in the house. It's a very flexible creature, very floppy, and it has hands that pull out of its arms. (Yes, I know, sounds grotesque.) The hands are on elastic, and if you 'shoot' the monkey off - rather like a catapult - it sails through the air with a fierce jungle monkey noise. The grandchildren love it.

More of me on the Net

After more than a year from the first time I heard about it, I’ve finally added myself to the Squidoo lens site. My page is pretty skimpy at present – one can’t do everything in one go, can one – but it’ll improve with time.
The squidoo site tells you to go ahead and make a page. Bit of a tall order when you weren’t expecting to get on with it just right then. It’s rather like a friend of mine who emailed me today to say that something had gone wrong with a mouth operation, and when it was discovered they said, “We’ve got a couple of cancellations this morning; we’ll fix it now under local anaesthetic.” No time for emotional preparation nor nothin’!
That’s a bit like it felt on the squidoo – though obviously a lot less painful.

Little things

I read somewhere the other day – it was in one of those books about doing positive things in your life – that you should take every opportunity to hold a baby, a puppy or a kitten.
Now all you macho people out there can say what you like, but I think this is good advice. In fact one of the things I missed most while being overseas away from our family was not being able to hold any babies. Of course when we got back here, the two baby grandchildren that were available had both grown up by six months. The little girl – all nine months of her – was into climbing stairs, pushing her big brother’s bike around, investigating the DVD player, dancing to the music on the telly and so on. Not quite such a baby anymore.
The boy grandchild, who’d been cuddly when we left, was now beginning to walk, and being held wasn’t quite such an option any more. Although when I did hold him he took a firm grip of my glasses and refused to let me put them back on.
At least with puppies and kittens they don’t take your glasses off, or dance in front of the telly. But they don’t stay puppies and kittens very long either.
Which I think is the point of what the positive person was saying: seize the day/baby/puppy/kitten. They won’t be any of those things for long.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Out with the old

We’ve been shifting stuff around in our house over the last week, because we’re now back from overseas and have to get everything we locked away out of storage and back into the rest of the house. (We used one bedroom for storing.)
This has involved throwing out some old furniture, because there comes a time when it’s just served its purpose, and even the borer are barely holding the thing together. (We actually tossed one item of furniture out of the upstairs window – or rather, the various pieces that made up that piece – and thoroughly enjoyed the disintegration that went on below us. Why do humans like a bit of destruction every now and then? There’s a kind of vandal in all of us, I think. I’m sure you’ve seen people at the dump/tip/refuse place/transfer station throwing things off the back of their trucks: the smashing and crashing that goes on seems to get something out of their systems.
The only problem of course with breaking up old furniture is that you have to replace it with something. In our case that’s not too much of a problem, though I wouldn’t mind swapping my very elderly computer desk (it must have come from some office at some point) for the item in the picture. It’s a piece of Bush furniture – and ain’t it grand! The only problem is it would take up the entire space in my ‘office’. Not being able to get at it to do my blogs or write music might be a bit of an issue!

Monday, December 03, 2007


While we were in England we became customers of the bank, HSBC. They’re huge in the UK – from the moment you get into the airport you’re bombarded with their ads. They’re doing a campaign at the moment which has two photos, both shown twice. Across the two photos will be two opposite words, like ‘modern’ and ‘traditional.’ And then across the copies of the photos, the same words are shown but on the opposite photos. It’s a nifty ad idea, and works pretty well, though I’m not entirely sure what it tells me about HSBC.
Anyway, HSBC turned out to be an excellent bank, and overall we were well pleased with them. One of the best deals they offered while we were there was no interest on our credit card. In fact, if it was possible, I’d do a Credit Card Balance Transfer (as its called in bank parlance) from my other cards so I could take advantage of the no interest terms. Although it may not apply to transfers. Anyway, HSBC is good value, and their customer service is excellent. In every branch we went into we found well-trained staff who were only too willing to help.
My only complaint about them, perhaps, is that their branches are pretty thin on the ground in Europe, where I could have done with their help more than once, especially when my wallet was stolen.

Couple of clippings

Two genuine ads from a local newspaper which I found amongst my mother’s cuttings:

Wanted: Woman to assist in country home; 3 children; easy place; only odd men kept. 1557, Times.

Would person in Wakari who took delivery of Willys Back End kindly ring 83-874; urgent.

I also came across the delightful list of statements under “How to know you’re growing older.” I won’t repeat them here, as they’re on the Net in several places. The version at this link adds a couple that weren’t on my mother’s list as well.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

More on payday loans

I was checking out the post I did recently on payday loans, and discovered that the Amazon associates thingee that works on this blog (when it feels like) had added a couple of links to the post. One was for a book on budgeting, (The Simplified Personal Budget Book) which was good and sensible, but the other was to a neon sign announcing Payday Loans and costing $316US. And then I discovered that having clicked on the link, the jolly thing was now sitting in my shopping cart! How’s that for misguided budgeting?
When I went to clear my cart I found that there were two other items in it as well (!) – one the complete series of West Wing, which had been added in May this year, and the other for something called Gemagic, which my wife had seen on tv in Valencia and fallen in love with. She bought it from somewhere else in the end. And we ordered a copy of the West Wing set from one of Amazon’s dealers – and never got it. Amazon very graciously refunded us.
Payday loans are intended for emergency use only, but to my way of thinking they’re a bit iffy. I know from experience how difficult loans are to pay back (and so do some members of my family). I’d advise against using one of these, unless the dire straits were so dire that there was no other alternative. But maybe buy the budget book first!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Shrek the Third

We bought a copy of Shrek the Third today. I found it a bit of a disappointment. The old characters don’t really go anywhere, and the new ones are a bit flat. There isn’t much real humour in it, though it’s amusing enough, and I felt it had too much dialogue to be of interest to smaller children. It’s a pity, because versions one and two were both excellent, full of interesting ideas and good fun. Perhaps it’s because this one settles a lot of its time on Prince Charming, who isn’t the most exciting character in the series (no disrespect to Rupert Everett, who does his darndest with the role) and because Artie, the heir to the throne, does little that’s unexpected. We know he’s going to become a ‘man’, we know he’ll save the day, we’ll know he’ll go off in a huff – twice. This is one of the big problems with the movie: there’s little surprise.
And just for once I’d love to see a Hollywood movie in which a man who’s just been told he’s going to be a father doesn’t have nightmares about the idea. Where are the fathers-to-be who rejoice in the situation?

Stage Fright

While we were in England, I picked up a box set of Hitchcock movies, reduced from £62 to £15. The films were North by Northwest, which I haven’t seen since it appeared on television a number of years ago; I Confess, which I saw on video a couple of years back for the first time since it first appeared; Strangers on a Train, ditto; The Wrong Man, which I also have a video copy of; Dial M for Murder, which I don’t think I’ve seen since it was shown in the cinema some time after it was first released, and finally, Stage Fright, which I saw on a re-release many years ago.
I watched Stage Fright tonight. It’s Hitchcock comedy at its best, even though there’s a strong dramatic element to it. Writers on Hitchcock have complained that the flashback early in the movie actually tells a lie. Yet the lie is fair enough considering that the murderer isn’t the person we think it is, and it’s the real murderer who tells the lie. I don’t think it’s such an issue. I don’t remember it bothering me on first viewing, and knowing in advance about it this time, it didn’t worry me at all.
The film boasts a great cast, one of the best to appear in any of Hitchcock’s movies: Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, Jane Wyman, and Richard Todd are the four principal actors, but there’s also Alistair Sim stealing every scene he’s in (apparently to Hitchcock’s annoyance), a cameo from Joyce Grenfell, Dame Sybil Thorndike (as Sim’s wife), Miles Malleson as an annoying customer in a pub, Kay Walsh as a blackmailing maid, and Patricia Hitchcock in a small role as one of Wyman’s friends.
Sim and Grenfell provide plenty of comedy, but so does Dame Sybil and Jane Wyman (surprisingly). Kay Walsh does a nice line in menace, even though she’s not the villain of the piece, and it’s interesting how different she is in this movie from her role as Nancy in Oliver Twist, which she made a couple of years before.
There are some wonderful moments, but probably the most Hitchcockian is when Sim tries to shoot a duck on the stall run by Grenfell, and keeps getting sidelined by other shooters. He wants to win a cupie doll so he can put blood on it (his own, which causes him some alarm), and startle Dietrich into confession. In order to do this he has a little boy scout take it up to her while she’s in the middle of a song on stage.
But it’s the humour that seems to be the element that Hitchcock most enjoys in this movie. The film bubbles along from one set piece to another, and in one of its funniest moments, the screen is covered with umbrellas, as a host of people attend a garden party in the rain.

Last movies on Korean Air

The two movies I watched (or partly watched, in one case) on our flight from Korea were Gracie and The Simpsons Movie. The first starred some non-actress who played a teenage girl wanting to play soccer in a world where soccer is a man’s sport. (Curiously it was set in America, where soccer is hardly a sport at all.). Not only couldn’t this girl act, she couldn’t play soccer either, which rather detracted from the character she was playing. The only interesting feature of the movie was that her father was played by Dermot Mulrony, who was the bloke in My Best Friend’s Wedding, with Julia Roberts. There he was a handsome and humorous character. Here he was morose and dull. I went to sleep halfway through the movie. [I missed the early part of the movie: Mulrony's son is killed, which accounts for the morose and dull aspect.]
The Simpsons Movie was just starting when I woke, and turned out to be a lot of fun, full of wit and sharp observation, and surreal moments. It was more than an extended tv episode, and had a reasonable enough plot, but it didn’t really take the Simpsons beyond their normal characters, except perhaps for Maggie, who had a bit more to do than she usually does on telly.
What always intrigues me about the Simpsons is their treatment of Christianity. Flanders is a figure of fun, but he continues to be the Christian in his community. His mistakes and foolishness don’t undermine his actual Christian life. Homer may mock Flanders, but the audience doesn’t necessarily side with Homer in the mockery. The church minister isn’t seen as particularly genuine, but many of the characters (including all the Simpsons) attend his church without fail. And much of the humour that comes out of what happens in the church is subtly done, so that Christians themselves see the humour without feeling their being mocked.
No character escapes having the rug pulled out from under them at some point - it’s by no means something that happens only to the Christians. Even Lisa, who might be seen as the force of reason in the series, seldom gets through without being shown up as rather too pedantic for her own good. And Marge, who might be seen as the perpetually sacrificing mother, has moments when she falls flat on her face. In spite of that she’s still used as the character who practises what she preaches, and what she preaches is often straightforward Christianity.

English as she is writ

Celia had an interesting idea while we were still in Korea. It was to offer to rewrite the ‘English’ that’s presented on many tourist pamphlets and signs and put it into real English. So much tourist info looks like English until you actually read it. And then you find phrases that aren’t quite what English people would write or say.
For instance, on the bathroom wall of our Korean hotel there was a sign that went as follows:
Please keep your mind
All room non-smoking
Please do not move furniture
Please do not put any toilet paper and garbage in the piss pot.

All perfectly good English words, but only one line is actually good English.