Friday, 12 February 2010

Spinning In His Grave

The inventor of the Frisbee has died.

Sorry for the lame joke!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Some Questions That Need Answers, Dammit

Why are those special paperback editions of books that you buy at the airport so large? They're really heavy and annoying. If you want a big, heavy book - buy the hardback.

Why do people drive in front of me at 30 mph on a 60 mph road, yet when you pass through a village, where the limit is 30 mph, they accelerate to 40 mph? Tiny Toyota driver, you know who you are. NB: Both the car and the driver were tiny!

How on earth do those ethernet-over-power devices work? The very idea that you can get the internet from your wall socket is bizarre. I think it's black magic.

Why is it snowing again? Enough Winter already!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Lost in TV

Lost returns to TV tonight in the UK. The premiere double episode of the concluding sixth season started on Tuesday in the US and for fans over here it's been a tough 3 days avoiding spoilers in blogs, newspapers and websites.

MLYW and I have been watching Lost since the first episode and I think we've had the same experience as most fans. The first one and a half seasons were essential viewing. Then it got a bit bogged-down until halfway through season three - lots of people stopped watching, and I confess we nearly gave up ourselves - but then, in a brave move, the programme makers convinced the network to let them set a finite end-date for the series which let them focus on telling a coherent story rather than, as with most US series's, just rambling on and never really getting anywhere.

And it's been a great success. Season 4 was great and season 5 was fantastic. Confusing for some people, I think, with its time-travel and doppelgangers, but as a completely immersive mystery story it was a huge success.

So tonight is the beginning of then end and in about 3 months we'll have a whole bunch of questions answered - hopefully!

In celebration of this, here are my Top Ten TV shows ( in no particular order).

Lost: As I've already discussed.

The Wire: Genius from David Simon. Totally believable, uncompromising and gripping television.

Deadwood: Brilliantly sweary, muddy frontier drama. Like Twin Peaks it finished prematurely.

Seinfeld: No hugging, no learning. Be master of your own domain. Yada yada yada...

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Seinfeld, with swearing.

Father Ted: You know you love it. Admit it. Go on. Go on go on go on go on go on, you do!

Mad Men: It's not been around long yet, but this slow-moving glossy '60s Madison Avenue drama is a classic already because it says more with a look, or with what is not said.

Spaced: How many times can I watch Pegg & Stevenson's masterpiece sitcom. Thousands. That's how many.

Angel: Buffy spin-off that, for my book, was darker and more coherent than its illustrious parent. I realise I'm in a minority here!

The Singing Detective: Dennis Potter's singing, dancing dark comedy about a bed-bound detective story writer.

Bubbling Under

Twin Peaks: At its best, David Lynch's influential TV show was by turns hilarious and genuinely creepy and unsettling.

NYPD Blue: Excellent police procedural that was shamefully hidden away by Channel 4 in its last 2 or 3 seasons.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

You're It!

Plinky wants me to remember some of the games I played when I was a kid. Trouble is, i can barely remember the rules to most of them. And I mix up which rules went with which games.

British Bulldog was a game in which kids lined up on opposite sides of the playground, forming a human barrier. We'd take turns to run and try and break through. I remember that if you failed to get through, you joined that team, but I can't remember what the reward was for getting through.

Off-Ground-He was just a massive game of 'It' or 'Tag', except you couldn't be tagged if you were off the ground. This game always started off sensibly enough, but as time went on and more people were tagged, it got much harder to find places to get off the ground. 8 year olds would become eloquent playground barristers, arguing that they were off the ground because they were balancing on a 1/4" asphalt pebble.

Some games were very specific, geographically. My Nan lived in a cul-de-sac in Bournemouth for a few years and the kids in her road had a game, the name of which escapes me, which involved hiding and then sneaking back to touch the home base without being caught by the person who was guarding the base. I remember it very well as the base was always the cast-iron, Victorian lamp-post at the end of the street. It was a very tactical game. The guard could just hang around by the lamp-post, but then we wouldn't come out of hiding. Or he could try and find us to flush us out, taking the risk that he left the base un-guarded for too long. Whenever I was guarding, I'd go and look for people, seemingly for only 30 seconds and when I turned round I'd discover that every single other player had made it back to base without me noticing. Doh!


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Terrible Uniforms

I worked at Sainsburys for a year or so in the mid 1980s. Mum quite rightly said I had to get a job as I was old enough to learn to drive and (more importantly) old enough to drink illegally in the Pelican pub in Addlestone.

Unfortunately, I seem to remember this backfired on her somewhat, as I was (and always have been) terrible at getting up in the mornings, especially on Saturdays, so there were occasions on which she had to give me a last-minute lift to the supermarket at around 8am.

There were good things about it - I was earning my first wages, I got to meet new people and I learned how to work a price label gun - and there were bad things; like the fact I spent most of my time collecting stray trolleys from around the parks and alleys of Chertsey, and getting locked in the meat freezer by the bullying butchers. But by far the worse thing was the appalling uniform. I think we got to wear our own white shirt, but the brown, nylon, flappy trousers and brown, nylon, flappy jacket were provided. And a smelly black clip-on tie.

All that nylon mean that Sainsburys employees in the 1980s were walking, talking Van De Graaf generators. We lit up the night sky with crackling aurorae which would move Joanna Lumley to tears. Romances between colleagues were literally electric. If you fancied a girl from the produce department you had to ground yourself on a display of melons before leaning in for a kiss, otherwise you would produce a spark which would leap from your lips to hers, igniting the hairspray on her Lady Di hair-do and leaving her writhing among the greengages, burned beyond recognition, like Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson or that bloke out of Bucks Fizz.

There was one advantage to working with such huge charges of static electricity. As any 'O' level physics pupil knew, it was possible to chain together several people to make a sort of primitive multi-cell battery. If you all held hands and shuffled your Clarks Trailfinder shoes on the lino simultaneously the potential energy would build up exponentially.

There is a legend of the day when most of the Saturday staff formed an electric conga chain: 30 people snaked up and down the household good aisles. As the chain crept up behind an unsuspecting pensioner, the tills supervisor made an announcement over the tannoy: "Mrs Baggins! This is the voice of God. I saw you slip that packet of fuses into your pocket. Now face your punishment!" At this moment the leader of the chain pointed his finger at the old lady's shoulder, in a manner reminiscent of Michaelangelo's work in the Cistine Chapel, and a holy bolt of lightning shot into Mrs Baggins's arm, making her drop her basket on her foot.

Poor Mrs Baggins. She opened a spiritualist church in the town and preached to the faithful four times a week, imploring God to repeat his demonstration in front of witnesses. Alas, it was never to happen again, for shortly afterwards Sainsburys ditched their nylon uniforms for something less fashionable, but made of cotton.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

My Favourite Galleries

A few years ago I stayed with my very good friends Eve and Keith at their home in Pasadena, California. A short walk from their house is the Norton Simon Museum. I'd never heard of it before, but spent a very happy day looking at the hundreds of exhibits of art, ranging from the 14th to the 20th century. It's particularly strong on the Impressionists and on Asian art.

But there's one I love more and that's the Musee D'Orsay in Paris - where the art on the walls is not the only attraction. The building itself is fantastic - a former railway station terminus, in the grand "fin de siecle" style - and they have the best collection of Impressionist art that I've seen.

Mind you, I've yet to visit the Guggenheim, or the NY MoMA, or the Prado, or the Uffizi...

If you're ever in Pasadena or Paris, you know where to go.

UPDATE: Actually it's difficult to beat the Hermitage in St Petersburg for sheer scale and variety, but it's so big that it's difficult to get a feel of its overall flavour. So despite its fantastic treasures, I can't say it's one of my favourites.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Nature vs. Nurture

What determines someone's personality more: genetics or the environment?

I've always thought this was a stupid question. The correct answers are "it depends" and "it varies".

There are documentaries in which you see which shows identical twins, separated at birth, who grow up to wear identical clothes, with identical hairstyles, similar political affiliations, similar jobs, hobbies and friends.

But for each of those, there are the identical twins who grow up together and end up with completely different traits and behaviours.

Let's examine one case scientifically. Me for instance. My parents both dislike football. So I should be genetically disposed to disliking football. They also discouraged me from watching football on TV (generally by tutting loudly whenever 'Match of the Day' was on). So I was nurtured to dislike football. However, I grew up as someone who enjoys watching football and have supported Manchester United for almost 40 years. Some would say that my parents therefore succeeded in their aims. Ha ha!

But this does prove that both nature and nurture were equally ineffective. QED. Or something.