Sunday, December 19, 2004

City Of Frozen Hills

"I deny nothing, but doubt everything."

- Byron

This is being posted from a Youth Hostel in Glasgow. Don't worry, my life hasn't collapsed: I'm here at the Theoretical Archaeology Group 2004 conference. Interesting stuff so far. Yesterday was "The Archaeology of Conflict", the segment which I was most interested in. Several interesting papers, one of which was even about conflict in the Aegean Bronze Age.

There was a perfect example of the archaeology of conflict when I ran into RW. When I told her why I was there, she was very politely snide about y'know, my entire area of research. In her view, you see, studying warfare is something bone-headed men do, while bold feminists such as herself do real work. Those of you who know me well might find the concept of me as some sort of Ernest Hemingway clone quite amusing. Me, I'm too pissed off.

The conference as a whole has given me plenty to think about, mostly about being much more rigerous with myself and my approach to the work. It's too easy to write about ships and ignore people. On the other hand, I don't want my work to be a political speech with some archaeological material in there as window dressing.

Anyway, I must go. My time's running out and Yvette's presenting her paper this afternoon. I'll post again in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

An Accumulation Of Anecdotes

Last night I went to see scriptwriter Frank Cotrell Boyce at Liverpool’s 3345 club. You may remember him from such scripts as 24 Hour Party People, Code 46, Revengers Tragedy, and Hilary and Jackie.

I think the best thing I learned from it was that you don’t have to be the stereotype of an industry-person in order to be a scriptwriter. Boyce is far less organised than I am, and freely admitted that the script for 24 Hour Party People was never actually finished. He was also nice enough not to get annoyed when I pointed out that the fact that the script was unfinished probably helped the film work.

His advice on scriptwriting and actually getting films made was also interesting. He suggests that the best thing to do is work with people you like and get on with, rather than picking people for technical expertise. As he pointed out, this also means that your script usually ends up less mangled…

The other main point he made was that the “Three-Act Structure” and “Write What You Know”, are both utter, utter, crap. He suggested that the structures of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now are both accumulations of anecdotes, through which the audience pieces together relevance and an overarching storyline by themselves. As for writing what you know: “It’s obvious to me that Shakespeare should have waited to be crowned King of England before writing Richard III”.

All in all, a very good evening.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Modern Dance

There is a theory that 80s memes are back in fashion. There are Reaganites in the Whitehouse, a Thatcherite in Number 10, and the prophecies of the smarter cyberpunk authors are coming true around our ears. Which means that the bands I saw on Friday night are well placed to take advantage.

The gig was at the Liverpool Guild of Students. Being a fool, I turned up at 7:30, the time on the ticket. No one was around. Soon enough I saw people who must be there for the gig: suits, ties, red shoes, brylcreamed hair in a side parting. I followed them into the bar. It was just me and them in there, then. Only later did I realise that they were one of the bands, Maximo Park. I like to think that the reason I wasn’t thrown out was that staff thought I was actually a band member.

Maximo Park turned out to be not half bad, but then I’m biased: their frontman is the frontman I’d like to be – a mixture of Jarvis Cocker, Bryan Ferry, and George Orwell, the avatar of rage-in-a-suit. They rattled through some suitable new-wave guitar songs.

Then the fun really began, when The Futureheads took the stage. A Futureheads gig is like being trapped in a washing machine with some rocks. Black-shirted rocks who stand in line and play guitar. They sound like The Clash gene-spliced with Billy Bragg, their songs are given titles like “A Picture of Dorian Gray”, and everything is undercut with dry Geordie wit. Furthermore, they succeeded in making me dance like an epileptic on speed. Suffice it to say that they come recommended.

There's more music-based insanity over at N.A.O.W.F.I.T., where Tom, following a challange laid down by myself, has written a surf-pop song entitled "Salt City".

Friday, December 03, 2004

Has Comedy Jumped The Shark?

Watching the first series of Black Books on DVD this week, I note two things.

The first is that this moment may be the peak of western comedy:

"Which one of you...bitches...wants to dance?"

The second is that we have a celebrity lookalike for Emily:

The lovely Tamsin Greig!

I realise that Emily will probably disagree, and may attempt to stab me next time I see her, but I'm willing to put myself at risk for the furtherance of science.

In other news, I have received an e-mail from someone outraged by the content of Tuesday's post. It is a spoof, but I am pleased nonetheless.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A Very Medical Christmas

This morning I bought a copy of the Independent, as yesterday it not only gave me a useful map of the Ukraine, but also a very good story about the Knights Templar.

The back page of the "Health" section has a wide variety of medically-related ads: anger management courses, "pick and mix" condoms, and an unpleasant-looking plastic gadget for toning-up vaginal muscles.

And then the thought occurred: is this a Christmas-related marketing push? Are there people who want to give someone an anger management course for the festive season? Do people exchange contraception under the Christmas tree? Will someone be unwrapping this on Christmas morning?:

Hmmm. Yesterday was geopolitics. Today it's pelvic-floor stimulation. Welcome to my world.

Monday, November 29, 2004

The Bear In Winter

So, here's a recap. The western part of the Ukraine speaks Ukrainian. The eastern part speaks Russian, and could therefore, if you were in the mood, be described as "ethnic Russians". These eastern areas are threatening to secede if the election result is overturned.

Meanwhile, the Russians are rather attached to the idea of the Ukraine being Russian, as Russia actually started out in the Ukraine nearly 1000 years ago. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is still based in the Ukraine. As are Russian nuclear weapons.

According to some reports, Putin has moved Spetznatz units to the Russian/Ukrainian border. According to other reports, some of those units have already arrived in Kiev.

I've got a bad feeling about this one.

Friday, November 26, 2004


Recently, on the internet forum which I frequent, someone posted this photo of a billboard somewhere in America:

Of course, the internet being the internet, it wasn't too long before someone got to work with Photoshop:

Friday, November 19, 2004

And You Will Know Us By Our Trail Of Geekiness

This won't really interest a lot of you, but I've written a review of the "Call of Cthulhu" supplement "Sacraments of Evil", which is online over at Those who want to see it can do so here.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


French-Canadian Bean Soup…I Want To Pay…Let them Leave Me Alone

- The last words of Dutch Shultz

As you may know, I regularly post messages to an interned forum. Recently I discovered that all my posts are archived. I copied the words and put them all together, giving a sort of William Burroughs-lite effect. The results can be seen over at N.A.O.W.F.I.T..

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Second Language Fun

The following occurred at a party on the 2nd November 2004. Vast quantities of alcohol had been consumed, partly in an attempt to avoid coverage of the US elections.

I’m talking to one of my housemates, and she mentions that I eat a fairly unhealthy diet. I admit that it’s true, and point out that, like her boyfriend, I would probably eat much better if I had a girlfriend to badger me about it.

“You don’t have a girlfriend?” she says.

“No” I reply.

“When did you last have a girlfriend?” she asks.

“Well, never really” I say.

“It’s probably your personality” she says.

Oh that’s nice…

And this is the joy of having conversations with people in their second language.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Till Human Voices Wake Us

''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

- Anonymous Senior Bush Administration Adviser, interviewed for the New York Times, 16 October 2004.

Give me World War III
we can live again
you didn't fool me
but I fooled you

- The Sex Pistols, "Wanna Be Me"

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Duty Now For The Future

This should be my last post before the U.S. Election. See you on the other side...

In ancient Rome there was a poem
about a dog
who found two bones
he picked at one
he licked the other
he went in circles
he dropped dead

freedom of choice is what you got
freedom from choice is what you want

- DEVO, "Freedom Of Choice"

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Do Ye Ken John Peel?

John Peel is dead, aged 65.

This Blog is officially in mourning.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Shanghai Gesture

So, Tom informs me that all is going quite well out in China. He even has some photos to prove it, over at his livejournal:

Former Pirate's Journal

Sunday, October 17, 2004

"So you See, Captain, We Are Not all Barbarians..."

Found transcribed on the internet, this is one of my favourite comedy sketches of all time. It's also the only funny thing Smith & jones ever did.

[Setting: a Nazi General's fine office. General Gruber is listening to classical music while being fitted for a new suit by a tailor, with a beautiful blond attending.]

[there is a knock on the door]

Gruber: Enter!

Schtum: [entering] Heil Hitler! [salutes] General Gruber?

Gruber: I am General Gruber. As you can see, I am the Nazi general who is always being fitted for a new uniform. I enjoy the company of beautiful women while listening to classical music with my eyes shut. [he does so]

Schtum: I see.

Gruber: I am also the Nazi general who says "You see captain, we are not all barbarians."

Schtum: I am Schtum, the Nazi general with a mean streak to my character. You will find that I am always removing my gloves. [he does] So. I disapprove of other generals being measured for new uniforms. And I am always the one who is winding up the telephone [he does] and saying "Get me the Führer!"

[a knock on the door]

Gruber: Enter!

von Dunkerl: [entering] Gentlemen, allow me to introduce myself. General von Dunkel. I am the slightly pervy general. And I may also be a little bit GAY. Heil Hitler! [salutes] As you can see I have a twitch. And I am always dabbing my mouth with a handkerchief because I have no lips.

[a knock on the door]

Gruber: Enter!

Kessler: [entering] Good evening gentleman, I am Kessler. I am the easy going general who does not need to salute properly.

All: Heil Hitler!

Kessler: [barely salutes] Ja, ja... You will notice my ludicrous scar, and my obvious limp. I also have spent many happy years in London.

All: [sentimentally] Aaah.

Kessler: The reason for my uniform being a slightly different colour to yours is never explained.

[a knock on the door]

Gruber: Enter!

Matthau: [entering, limping] General. General Matthau. Forgive my late arrival, but as you can see I have a rather obvious-

Kessler: [clearing his throat] No, I am afraid the limp is me, I'm afraid.

Matthau: [stops limping] But of course I am a little bit GAY, and I dab my lips with a -

von Dunkerl: I think you will find that is me, my friend.

Matthau: [throws away handkerchief] In which case I must immediately wind up the telephone and say ...

Schtum: [shouting in the telephone] Get me the Führer!

Matthau: At least I still enjoy the company of beautiful women and listening to the grammophone, classical music [sees Gruber doing so] - ...with your eyes ...*shut*?

Gruber: I'm afraid so.

Matthau: You leave me with no choice! I am the Nazi general who is outwardly calm but subject to sudden and inexplicable *FITS OF TEMPER!!!*

All: Aaaaah!


Thursday, October 14, 2004


In your face, people! I am Berlin-era Bowie!

Which David Bowie are you?

Monday, October 11, 2004

Jacques Derrida Is Dead...

...although, if you applied his theories, you might find that he never actually existed in the first place...

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

All This Useless Beauty

Over the weekend I went to see Hero, the new film from the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stable, and which gratuitously bears the name of Quentin Tarantino on the posters. The hype about his film indicated that it was one of the most beautiful films ever made, bringing an art-house aesthetic into action cinema.

So, should you ignore the words of Public Enemy and believe the hype? Well, yes and no. First things first: this film looks stunning, its use of colour and special effects are magical, and I kept thinking that this is what the new Star Wars films really, really should have been like.

Normally I’d get to accuse a film that looks this good of being completely hollow. Hero manages to side step this somewhat by shamelessly borrowing a trick from Kurosawa’s Rashomon - the unfolding of the narrative by multiple versions of events, some of which are not true. This also has the effect of making two of the film’s characters much more three-dimensional and effective than would normally be the case. For all that, there’s still something quite sterile about Hero. Maybe it’s the art-house aesthetic. Maybe it's the complete lack of a sense of humour (although the line "You did not come here for the calligraphy" had me in stitches). Maybe it’s the fact that a subtitled film tends to separate the viewer from the emotions being expressed by the actors. Anyway, that’s how I felt.

Now comes the controversial bit. I understand that there’s been a bit off a fuss over Hero in certain quarters, with some critics accusing the film of having a Fascist outlook. That isn’t really true: Fascism exposes the view that a constant state of war is a desirable thing, as it “ennobles” the participants and prevents them from “degenerating”. Hero suggests that war is a step on the path to peace. Rather than being Fascist, Hero is a piece of Chinese nationalist propaganda, with all that that entails. The Fascist tag probably comes from the fact that the director has almost certainly seen, and borrowed from, Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.

The moral problem of Hero is that it falls back on the old chestnut of fighting for peace. The king who we are in the end supposed to see as a hero is going to slaughter his way to domination over his enemies, creating a strong unified state and therefore peace (the sound you can hear in the background is George W. Bush fans having a collective orgasm). A caption at the end of the film relates that the king achieved this and then built the Great Wall in order to “protect the Chinese people” (the sound you can hear in the background is Ariel Sharon fans having a collective orgasm). China then enjoyed peace, harmony, and complete respect for human rights until the present day. Didn’t it?

So the real question is, should you go and see Hero. The answer is yes, provided you can overlook some fairly dubious politics. Hell, I think you should go and see it just for The Bit With All The Leaves.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

A Proper Student

Well, the University have now registered me, and I get to use the library and computers and everything. This is a good thing. There may even be some employment within the department for me.

The only downside is that I was unable to set my computer username as "Johnny Hellzapopin".

Friday, October 01, 2004

Our Man In Shanghai

Tom informs me that he is now in Shanghai, being a journalist. One can only hope that his stint is every bit as exciting as Tintin's. He also claims to have some photos up on the internet, but this appears to be untrue. Surely he hasn't run afoul of the benevolent People's Police already?

I, of course, am now in Liverpool. On Monday they'll give me my ID card, which will mean that I get to use the library, and everything. My flat consists of me and four Germans (luckily, I have experience of Germans...). They're very nice, but only actually here for six months. This means that stand a good chance of living on my own for six months again. This may be a two-edged sword: living on my own produced "Green Lanes Blues", possibly the best thing I've ever written. As that piece of writing shows, however, it also began to fragment my personality.

This post's gone all gloomy, which isn't really how I'm feeling. I'm really just restless because until they let me in the library, I've nothing to do.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Oooh, Satire!

I see that the pro-hunting protestors have complained about Police brutaility. It isn't that the Police were being cruel, though - they just wanted to keep the numbers down...

Friday, September 10, 2004

Silly Hat Day

On Wednesday UCL made me wear a very silly hat for the purposes of getting my MA. My real reason for going was to see people I haven't seen in ages. Not everyone was there, what with flimsy excuses like "being in America" or "finishing my dissertation and not graduating 'till next year" being bandied about. I did get to see Trudie and Yvette, though, which was reason enough to go.

Thursday saw me taking the parents to bits of London they haven't seen in a while. When they lived in London, Docklands was somewhere no-one came back alive from. Shiny new buildings are quite a change. I also took them to Bloomsbury, not only to see Aliester Crowley's favourite pub, but also to visit the best second-hand book shop in London: "Judd Books" on Marchmont Street.

Flying home was strange. It was, to use the cliche of our age, "the first time I'd flown since September 11". Maybe that was why I was more nervous on the plane than I've been when I've flown before. Maybe at 23 I'm just feeling more mortal. Either way, we returned safely. Now I have to start getting ready to go to Liverpool.

UCL Graduation, 2004

Myself And Yvette At The Reception: Fear The Combined Power Of Our Mortar-Boards!

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Patron Saint Of Quality Footwear

Today I bring to you:

The Glam Rock Name Generator

My Glam Rock name appaers to be "Jupiter Crayons".

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

“Someone May Have Got A Guitar In The Face. We Apologise For That.”

So, on Thursday night I went to see The 5678s in Manchester. What’s that? You don’t like The 5678s? Then I suggest that you go and rediscover your sense of fun.

They were playing at The Roadhouse, one of the smallest venues in Manchester, and it was packed for this, thanks to Mr. Tarantino. First up, though, were “special guests” The Noise Explosion ("I'll 'noise explosion' you, young man"). Who were crap. Their innate badness was compounded by the fact that they were trying SO HARD to be bona fide rock stars. Too hard. I mean, Pete Townsend’s windmill-arm in the first song? Diving into the audience on the first song? It doesn’t look cool, it looks like you’re trying to distract attention from the music. Mind you, they did produce the evening’s killer line (see above).

Fortunately, The Noise Explosion made for a good opportunity to go to the bar before the main event, when the building was packed out. The 5678s aren’t a great band, but they are a lot of fun. The curious thing is that the act wouldn’t work if they weren’t Japanese. No one wants to see three American women playing rockabilly and surf-pop, but plenty of people want to see three Japanese women doing just that. It might be down to the singing of all their lyrics in that slightly warped English you last heard in Lost In Translation. It’s also that they’ve got that Japanese cut-and-paste approach down pat: at one point, much to my delight, they appeared to be about to do a version of “Prince Charming”. It turned out that they’d just appropriated the bassline, but I was still pleased.

So like I say, not the best band ever, but good fun. If you like Phil Spector (who seems to be turning out for Manchester United these days), The Ramones, The New York Dolls, Adam Ant, or, indeed, the soundtracks to Tarantino films, then go and see them.

Best T-Shirt of the Night: One that said "Save Ferris".
Worst T-Shirt of the Night: One that said "Punk Rock". My, how subversive you are, sir.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Reality/Fiction Interface

I wonder, if you tried hard enough, could you locate the exact point at which reality segues effortlessly into fiction? Leafing through Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon II”, a book documenting Hollywood scandal and tragedy through the ages, I came across the following entry:

“GEORGE ZUCCO. This wonderful character actor, the High Priest of Satanic Atlantis, he of the disturbing glassy eyes, and quick, disconcerting gestures and cat-purr voice, ended his days in the lunatic asylum, after he began believing he was the crazed villains Monogram and PRC kept paying him to play. The High Priest of Mu/Egypt/Atlantis was led away by the fellas in the white coats, dressed to the nines in borrowed Monogram bogeyman finery.

George’s faithful wife and daughter moved into the asylum with him, hoping their presence would restore his grasp on reality. Quite the contrary. George Zucco slipped away in the Atlantic fogbanks, finally, one midnight dreary, working himself into a paroxysm of fear and loathing, screaming he was being stalked by the Great God Cthulhu!

George Zucco died in the madhouse, from fright. The following midnight, Mrs. Zucco and daughter, unable to live without their meal ticket, unable to face life in Tinseltown without George, joined him in death.”

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Obituaries Are Entertaining

I’ve said this to some of you before, and you’ve looked at me like I’m mad, but here I have proof. From yesterdays Telegraph:

“Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Edge, who has died aged 73, was awarded an MC in 1961 while serving with a United Nations force in the Belgian Congo.

Edge’s company became involved in a fierce gun battle with a force of 600 tribesmen. Early in the fight, which lasted for six hours, Edge was shot in the stomach but despite being severely wounded, he continued to direct operations from the airfield’s control tower.

Bleeding heavily, he was exasperated when a native soldier who was close by his side made no effort to help him. ‘Don’t just stand there,’ Edge yelled. ‘Do something!’ The soldier made his apologies but explained that, for him, it was taboo to touch a dying man.

Nothing daunted, Edge continued to direct his men with the use of a loud-hailer until a cease-fire could be arranged. He was finally evacuated, bleeding badly, to the field hospital at Kamina for emergency surgery. His pilot during the flight was a Swedish count, Carl Gustav von Rosen, who was so impressed by the bravery of his passenger that he named his aircraft Major Edge of Manomo.”

Friday, August 20, 2004

The Myth Of Fingerprints

Korean film Memories of Murder manages somehow to give a new and interesting take on the hoary police-track-serial-killer genre. The action takes place in a small, rural Korean town where the police are corrupt, incompetent, or both. When a killer begins claiming victims, an upright, methodical big city detective arrives from Seoul. Tensions arise between him and the lead local cop.

So far, so like every other police thriller you’ve ever seen. What sets Memories of Murder apart is its take on investigations: there is doubt here as to whether any methodological framework actually works. Is a fortune- teller better than DNA evidence? Or are both useless fictions which are used to mask a more intuitive form of detection? Equally interesting is the film’s decision to move into black comedy every so often, particularly when dealing with police brutality.

In short, this is a wonderfully atmospheric film, taking you to the apocalyptic Korea of 1987, where schoolchildren are drilled in escaping chemical attacks, and police aren’t available to prevent murders because they’re needed to “suppress demonstrations”. This film comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

“He’s A Very Nasty Piece Of Work – You’re Lucky To Have Him”

I’ve just finished reading Piece of Cake, Derek Robinson’s controversial novel about the RAF in 1939 and 1940. Controversial because this is a bleak, cynical, and blackly comic look at flying in wartime. As such, it’s rather like Hornet’s Sting, the same author’s take on First World War flyers. Something about the setting makes this a much punchier effort, though.

The concept of “The Few” in the Battle of Britain is a core part of the British national myth, with the young fighter pilots of the RAF held to be examples of everything good about Britain and the British. Robinson’s view of “The Few” is that it consisted mainly of morally blank undergraduates, with a smattering of swaggering crypto-fascists and cold-eyed psychopaths for good measure. At the heart of the novel is Pilot Officer “Moggy” Cattermole, a sort of Flashman for the Twentieth Century – except that Flashman was always intended to be a loveable rogue, and there’s nothing loveable about Cattermole.

The author’s skill is that even though these pilots are painted in pretty dark colours, they still do things which you’d have to admit are heroic – like getting into an aircraft five times a day in order to take on odds of five-to-one. Does this make up for their deficiencies? Perhaps. As Robinson points out, the fact that the men who won the Second World War were so flawed doesn’t diminish their achievements, it makes them far more impressive.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

I Made It All Up, And It All Came True Anyway...

I've just lent my dad From Hell, which many believe to be the greatest graphic novel of all time (Yes I know, Emily, but face it, you're wrong). Really I'm just returning the favour: he started buying me Tintin books when I was about six, after all.

Generally giving my dad something as postmodern as From Hell is a bad idea. I still remember when we watched The Usual Suspects. Things seem to be going quite well, though. We've had several debates about the architecture and alignments of Nicholas Hawksmoor's churches and their possible significance, for example. No, that isn't an unusual conversation for me and my dad.

In the meantime, over at N.A.O.W.F.I.T., another part of my life has been embellished and exploited for the tawdry purposes of fiction.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Let's Put The Future Behind Us

I decided a long time ago that that would be the title if I didn't get AHRB funding - and I didn't. Fortunately for you: if I got it the title was to be "Tomorrow Belongs To Me". Fortunately for me, my parents are better to me than I could ever deserve, so "private funding" will allow me to start the PhD in September.

Thinking about it, I should have used my AHRB application to make veiled threats. Which brings me to the List of Things To Do. Various people have been prodding me to reveal how I'm doing. I've done 5. My visit to Brighton saw me achieve #1 (Visit Brighton), #2 (Hike The South Downs Way), and #32 (Think of Something To Do With A Tainted Feng Shui Statuette). I notice that a local shop has the film "Dagon" on DVD for £3, so maybe that'll be the next thing I do.

Last night, courtesy of BBC1, I watched Hawk The Slayer. Which is rubbish. Watch Krull instead. Or Legend.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Massive Retaliation

Fahrenheit 9/11 is not Michael Moore’s best film. The reasons for this can be found in the opening section of the film, dealing with the dubious circumstances of the 2000 election and the close ties between the Bush and Bin Laden families. Moore insufficiently explores both of these topics, and the conclusions he draws are therefore highly speculative at best. For example, although he does demonstrate some suspicious factors in the Florida recount, he fails to explain precisely why the Democrats were unwilling to more fully contest the decision.

Similarly, although Moore manages to establish the staggering level of contact between the Bush and Bin Laden families, is this really as damaging as he would have us believe? Moore attempts to place George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden close together by claiming that several members of the Bin Laden family attended the wedding of one of Osama’s sons in Afghanistan, despite the family claiming to have cut off all ties. Arab families are vast, and that probably counts double in the case of dynastic families such as the Bin Ladens, keeping track of all of your relatives and what they do must be a near impossible task.

Fahrenheit 9/11 becomes a much stronger piece of work when dealing with the Iraq war and the corporate scandals that surround Bush, because there is more evidence to work with, and so less need to resort to hearsay. Particularly interesting in this section were the clips of interviews with soldiers. Warfare has now gone postmodern: two tank crewmen discussed how they could link a CD player to the communications system of their tank and have a suitable soundtrack to combat. Here are two guys like me, who’ve grown up with Vietnam films where GI’s are pursued thorough the jungle by acid rock. In the 21st Century, you can make your reality like a film.

The later section also sees some of the best comedy of the film, which has always been one of Moore’s strong points. The absurdity of the "War on Terror" is demonstrated by the fact that it is illegal to take five books of matches onto an aircraft. You can only take four. Contrast this with the fact that a stretch of Pacific coastline is guarded by one man. And he’s part-time.

Overall, however, my impression of Fahrenheit 9/11 is one of a sprawling film which lacks the focus of, say, Bowling For Columbine. When Moore does land telling blows they are devastating, but the overall impact is lessened by the poor journalism that characterises other parts of his thesis. I do highly recommend the film though: not only is it the highest grossing documentary of all time, it may yet play an important part in the Presidential election. Fahrenheit 9/11 may not be Moore’s best work, but it could turn out to be his most important.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I Was A Zombie For The FBI

I'm writing this from Stockport Library, having just been interviewed for a temp office job with Stockport Council.  Basically, I get called in if someone goes on holiday or if there's so much admin to be done they need temps.

A government job.  Stephen O'Brien: G-Man.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Brighton Rocks

So, having gathered my thoughts on last weekend, here's the story.  I went to see Jen & Timo, as I promised on my "Things To Do" lsit.  A couple of days before I went, I found out that Emily & Dex are now also Brightonians (Hove, actually).
Brighton seems a nice place, especially in summer, but I do worry that one day soon the seagulls will rise up and take over.  Brighton Pier really is just a pile of rusted metal sticking out of the sea.
By way of a day trip, me and Jen went to Lewes, which is a nice place, in a sleepy kind of way.  It has Anne of Cleves' house (although she never actually stayed there), a ruined abby (which you aren't allowed near, unfortunately, as I fancied stalking around it in a Byronic manner), and the site of a medieval battle which I'm told was Very Important.
DVD introduced Jen & Timo to French cannibalism.  Emily & Dex are the only people I know who own a life-size Facehugger.
Right now I'm finding a place to live in Liverpool.  With broadband, hopefully.  Stockport Council may have work for me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Birthday Blog

Yes, this blog is one year old today! It's been an interesting year, taking in parties, drunkeness, medical records, Japanese fisherwomen getting intimate with squid, my impending mental collapse, Bronze Age warfare, socks, and the need for a wholesale slaughter of Europe's young men.

The weekend was spent in Brighton. A full report will follow.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Weapon Of Choice

A question that may tell you a lot about yourself: if you were to learn a martial art, which martial art would you learn?

I'd go for Krav Maga, the martial art of the Israeli Defense Force. Why? Because should I ever need to deploy a martial art, I want to deploy one created by an organisation which has no concept of ethics or a fair fight.

Last night found me watching the first episode of The Long Firm on BBC2. It's generally a bad idea to watch adaptions of books you like, and I was a bit disappointed with this. The plot was fair enough, and fairly faithful to the book, but the directrion was all wrong. This sort of story needs the sort of whip-crack juxtaposition of glamour and violence that Scorsese brought to Goodfellas. What we got was a very pedestrian, very BBC, costume-drama.

Another problem was the number of characters freely deploying the word "fuck", no matter what the situation or their 1960s social class was. I blame Guy Ritchie.

Monday, July 05, 2004

They'll Fix You. They Fix Everything.

Robocop was on TV again last night. You probably think you know this film - crap 80s actioner, with all that entails. Sorry, you're wrong, or thinking of the (admittedly Godawful) sequels. Robocop is that rarest of things, an action-satire which is actually quite sharp and slick. Perhaps worryingly, it's also hardly dated at all. Watch it again.

My TV recommendation for the week is BBC2's adaption of The Long Firm. If this is anything as good as the novel it'll be well worth seeing. A British ripost to The Shield at last?

And, of course, my congratulations to the Greeks for their biggest victory since Marathon...

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

With Hindsight, Irradiating My Genitals Was A Mistake…

Yes, putting my phone in my pocket is A Very Bad Thing, say scientists. Ah well, I wasn't using them much anyway.

On a not-really-related subject, there are posters up all over Manchester advertising the “Ladyboys of Bangkok Thai Spice Tour” (Alan Partridge references at the ready, now!). My question is this: what happens in the show? We’re talking about people whose main talent is to be men who appear to be women. Do they stand on stage for two hours saying “I’m not really a woman, y’know!”? If so, I’m not sure it’ll work with a Manchester audience.

Yesterday I saw “Lost In Translation”. I quite liked it, even though the main story is hardly there. I did wonder about how the Japanese felt about being portrayed as a nation of raving lunatics who speak English hilariously. Fortunately, Bill Murray is great. I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as that film with him and the elephant in, though.

Friday, June 25, 2004

No Future In England's Dreaming

So it turns out we are just another country. I knew these things of course, which makes my anger last night somewhat surprising. Most of you have never seen me angry, to quote a rubbish film. However, I did manage not to riot in the streetys, or taunt any Portuguese hotel workers.

Fortunately, light relief is provided by the Stockport Express, currently running with the headline "Heaton Chapel Man Is King of Chat-Ups". It's not me, if you were wondering.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

In Which I Am 23

Yes I am. There is evidence that I'm now a grown-up in the presents that I got. My mum and dad, for example, gave me a copy of Fernand Braudel's "Memory and the Mediterranean".

I've just come from my new job in Marketing. By which I mean putting Vimto flyers in envelopes, obviously. Only two hours work, but better than nothing...

Monday, June 14, 2004

This Spectating Life

So, this weekend has been spent with The Uni People in Nottingham, and much fun was had by me. Hopefully by other people too. I ended up watching rather a lot fo sport. What with Sunday being such a nice day, I accompanied a mixed band of medics to Trent Bridge to watch the test. Gratifyingly, England managed to beat New Zealand on the very day we'd chosen to go.

Some of my foreign readers may require a few notes on the game of cricket. It is a sport which consists of micro-bursts of excitement encompassed within long periods of almost nothing happening. It was invented as a method of persuading English people to go outside during the summer, whatever the weather. It is therefore neccessary to invent your own excitement for some of the game. Hence the sub-sport of crowd-watching.

If I was much smarter than I am I'd probably say something frightfully clever about how you can see the class system in operation at cricket. In the pavillion sit the members, bedecked in Panama hats, who will under no circumstances join in a mexican wave. The rest of the stands are filled with comparativly normal people.

One stand, however, is filled with the beery, chanting mass of the "barmy army". "Barmy" enough to pay to go to a cricket match and then keep chanting "stand up if you love football". Alcohol plays an important part in their activities. As I was spending several hours sat in the sun, I didn't take advantage of the hideously-priced beer.

With hindsight, this was a mistake: if I'd drunk all afternoon I'd then have been able to piss it away, thus providing a handy bodily metaphor for the performance of the England football team on Sunday night.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Rising Sun/Midnight Sun, And Other Cliches

Sunday saw me and my Dad go to the City of Manchester Stadium to watch Japan play Iceland at football - don't ask why. It was a good enough game (Japan won 3-2, if you're insanely curious), but the crowd was really the fun part. Manchester's Japanese community was out in force, with digital cameras aplenty. Despite being vastly outnumbered, though, the Icelandic fans (all five of them) still managed to sing the loudest.

The other culture shock was the sheer number of attractive Japanese women in the stadium, which begs the question as to how one chats someone up at a football match. This isn't something most English people have any experience of, as English football crowds consist mostly of sweaty, hairy guys who are intent on consuming as many of the pies as possible.

Monday, May 24, 2004

The Errand-Boy's Elegy

Yesterday I saw "The Twilight Samurai" at the Cornerhouse Cinema. This film comes highly recommended, particularly as an antidote to "The Last Samurai".

"The Twilight Samurai" functions almost as an revisionist Samurai film, stripping away some of the romanticisation that characterised not only "The Last Samurai", but also the Kurosawa epics which established the tropes of the genre. Focussing less on combat scenes and more on human stories, "The Twilight Samurai" gives us a more rounded, less rose-tinted view of feudal Japan that we have perhaps seen before.

The film's setting, in Japan at around the time of the Meiji Restoration (1868) makes comparisons with "The Last Samurai" almost inevitable. The latter film suffered from a simplistic knee-jerk reactionary point of view in which everything in feudal Japan was wonderful and was only spoiled by the advent of industrial modernity. By contrast, "The Twilight Samurai" gives us a sense that while the passing of old Japan can in some respects be mourned, the modernisation of Japan did bring a variety of benefits to many people. At the same time, there is an acknowledgment that, despite the great social changes which took place in Japan, in some respects there was remarkable, and perhaps regrettable, continuity.

I typically dislike discussing the plot of films that I've seen, and I'm not really going to change that here. I will, though, say that I felt that this film, as a portrait of people struggling with obligation whilst trying to live their own lives, and perhaps trying to turn circumstances to their advantage, is a great success. I also felt that there was a great success in the underplaying of some of the film's aspects, particularly a swift and brutal sword-fight with only birdsong and a gurgling river as background sound. Once again, this is in marked contrast to the bombastic style shown in "The Last Samurai". I also found the somewhat cynical view of the samurai's military role interesting: in "The Twilight Samurai" there are no more heroes any more, and maybe there never were any. At the same time, any death is presented as a tragedy.

All in all, I found the two hours spent watching this film well worthwhile, and as such I would recommend it to everyone that I know.

Friday, May 21, 2004

I Am Still The Greatest Says Stephen O'Brien

Today I finally got confirmation that Liverpool have accepted me as a PhD student for this September. Rejoicing ensued. All we have to do now is wait for that AHRB reply...

Apologies should also go to Vicky, whose name got left out of the last post (for it was her who I met in Lowlanders). She sent me a pseudo-irate e-mail on the subject. To placate her, I may have to send her a free gift.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Back In The DHSS

You don't know how lucky you are, boys...

Yes, I am onvce again going to sign on. Not because I want or need the money, y'see, but to protect my National Insurance stamp. My Dad says that this is A Good Idea. And if your Dad says something...

I have signed up with some temp agencies while I come up with an archaeological CV. I am spending a lot of time watching TV. My exposure to TV again after six months is strange: all my TV-cynicism seems to have dissapated. I find that Yakult ad strangely moving. I also spend a lot of time watching the "UK History" Channel. Last week was 'Hitler week'. "That'll make a nice change", I thought.

Be impressed, for I have also put a new hard drive in my computer all by myself. I was impressed that Windows 98 partitioned and formatted the drive for me, despite claiming that this was something it most certainly would not do. As I can now burn CDs again, some of you can expect compilations off me. If you want one, send me a postal address and wait for me to do something about it.

I should also report that I achieved #14 on my List of Things To Do, spendfing one night before I left London getting drunk in Lowlanders. It was the first time I'd seen her in two years, but we picked iup right where we left off, with her laughing (sorry, "smiling") at my life. I had missed that. Hopefully it won't take two years to do it again.

The tedious AHRB application process is over! They have got my form at last! Look out fdor further highly interesting updates on this matter!

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Up Here In The North Of England

Extra points to those who get the 80s music reference. 'Tis true though - I am sat in the easyinternet cafe just off Deansgate. I have done very little so far except attempt to impose order on the chaos that is my room. The weather is highly sunny.

See you round...

Monday, April 19, 2004

Stephen O'Brien And The Blogging Cohorts

As I prepare to leave, I am informed that Timo has gone public with his blog "An Outsider's View", viewable at:

The fact that Timo deployed the word "epistemological" in his very first post amuses me vastly, for some reason.

In the interests of bandwagon-jumping, I'm also going to join in with the estimable Mr. McGrenery's "memery" game from "Mind On The Run":

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

My sentence:

"Speaking tubes are always going out of order."

Friday, April 16, 2004

Straight Outta Beckton

Yes, it's over - no more mud, bombs, snipers, whizz-bangs, or those bloody awful songs that have "whoops" in the title. Wait: that's not my job, it's the First World War. Ah well - I'm unemployed again, and I love it!

Unlike the last time I was unemployed, I'm not worried about money or finding a job. I can stalk Holborn and Bloomsbury in a carefree manner, though still being careful to avoid abandoned syringes. Better yet, I can meet up with people. But more on that later...

Monday, April 12, 2004

Easter Parade

Well, it was a busy four days over Easter, so this is going to be a brief guide to all the excitement. I spent Easter with my sister over in Chiltern. On Friday we did the “Aleister Crowley & The Golden Dawn” walk out of her Time Out book of London walks. Most of it actually only has a very tenuous Crowley connection, but the route is good, taking you all the way from Euston Station through King’s Cross, Holborn, Bloomsbury, Soho, St. James, and finally ending up at Victoria Station. A good way to see quite a lot of London.

Saturday was spent at Borough Market. I don’t know if Emily has ever been there, but there’s enough pastry on sale to keep even her happy. In the afternoon we saw the excellent Shaun of the Dead. A whole lot of zombies get taken out in the film, but by far the most satisfying aspect was the manner in which it took a bloody shovel to the shambling corpse of the British film industry. People who know me may also like to note that I am quite plainly the Dylan Moran character.

Yesterday we went off to Greenwich to see the “Tintin at Sea” exhibition at the National Maritime Museum. It’s very good if you’re into Tintin, but probably less so if you aren’t. I did learn a few choice pieces of maritime history though: who would have thought there was actually a pirate called “Calico Jack” Rackham?

Today, before coming home, I went to the Curzon Soho to see Capturing The Friedmans, a fascinating, if disturbing, American documentary. I’m not really into the platitude of “learning” from everything, but I did find the film illuminating on several issues. For example, there is ample proof here that you can document as much as you like, you still won’t be able to come up with conclusive answers to anything, merely be placed in a position where intuition has to take over. The malleability of human memory is also prominently on show: is it possible that an innocent man might, in some sense, convince himself that he’s guilty just because it seems the best option? Can he also maintain his innocence to his family because he has to? Is one of the above a performance, or are both genuine? “Thought-provoking” isn’t the word.

So, now I’m back on Green Lanes. Four more days of work, four days to enjoy London, and then off to Heaton Chapel. I ran into Yvette in Bloomsbury today, which was nice - I haven't seen her since my MA ended, so it was nice to say goodbye in person. With just over a week left, book me now…

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

New Puritan

Underneath the railway bridge on Green Lanes a poster tells me that the current issue of Maxim is a "Special Sex Edition". 'That'll make a nice change' I think to myself.

A few days ago, on a late-night tube, I was sat opposite a drunken couple who were all over each other, as couples often are. If it happens again, I may be forced to throw a bucket of water over them.

It occurs to me that at some point, and without realising, I have developed a Puritan streak a mile wide. It won't be long before I'm referring to playing cards as "the devil's picture-book", or lobbying to have all sexual activity made punishable by an on-the-spot fine of £10.

"I'm not a Puritan - I just like the Puritan look"

Monday, March 29, 2004


As the oh-so-clever title suggests, on Sunday, lacking anything better to do, I went to the National Portrait Gallery. Prior to being given it as a Thing To Do, I had no real interest in the place, but I actually quite enjoyed it. The first thing I did was to go and look at the very good, but very small, exhibition of Gerald Scarfe caracatures. It really should be done on a larger scale, because they are highly entertaining, giving a cynical view of just about everything. After that, I tracked down various people that I'm interested in (interestingly, all of them were 19th or early 20th Century): T.E. Lawrence, Rupert Brooke, Aleister Crowley, and Sir James Brooke (who really needs a film made about him). All in all, a very enjoyable afternoon!

I can also stop panicking quite so much about the AHRB form: Cyprian tells me that he has it, and the Results forms are being processed by Nottingham and UCL. With a little luck, I should actually make the 4 May deadline.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Misapplied Force

Recently, partly for academic purposes, I’ve read John Newsinger’s Dangerous Men: The SAS and Popular Culture. In many ways this is an interesting book, exploring the unique warrior-cult which British society has formed around the SAS. Newsinger convincingly argues that this cult stems from a Thatcherite attempt to resurrect popular militarism: the SAS has existed since 1941, but it was only following the Iranian embassy siege in 1980 that the unit was celebrated in popular culture.

There are, however, some serious flaws with the book. I felt that much of its analysis was too superficial, or that analysis was simply lacking. This is particularly apparent in the chapter on SAS fiction, which Newsinger spends masquerading as a literary critic rather than doing any sociology. I had already guessed that most SAS novels are appallingly written, and that the film Who Dares Wins is so mind-destroyingly bad that it might explain why Britain no longer makes action films. What I wanted more on was what relevance and role the warrior-cult has in a modern western society.

In fairness, these questions are addressed to some extent, but the answers given are so obvious that you probably don’t need to buy the book: backlash against feminism, desire to solve complex international problems through brute force, desire to see the existence of a national/racial elite. What goes unanswered is why Britain has this warrior-cult, while other nations seem to lack it – as far as I am aware, French popular culture does not worship the Foreign Legion, Russians do not idolise the Spetznatz. Comparisons with other nations are, however, almost completely absent from Newsinger’s work.

In addition to this, there are some worryingly simplistic segments of analysis. For example, when discussing the SAS deployment in the Malayan Emergency (1948-1958), Newsinger claims that the SAS role was ineffective in that they only killed 108 of the 6000 Communist guerrillas who died in the conflict. The equation of “most effective = kills the most people” is misleading and gung-ho, which, had the claim been made in an SAS biography, Newsinger would have been the first to point out.

Newsinger’s understanding of how people work also seems somewhat skewed. His model of British society in the 1980s goes as follows:

1) Thatcher tells people things.
2) They believe her.

Thus, in this analysis, all Thatcher had to do to resurrect British popular militarism (dead since the failure at Suez in 1956) was to point to the SAS as being efficient at the Iranian embassy, and win a bizarre colonial war in the Falklands three years later. However, it is impossible for popular culture to be dictated from the top down. While the political leadership can influence popular culture, there has to be a receptive audience. This is the flaw at the heart of Newsinger’s work. Nowhere can I find a reason why the British people took to popular militarism again in the 1980s. Here’s a half-baked theory of my own though: after the disaster of Suez in 1956 the popular perception of the British military was that it was brave but incompetent. Therefore, Britain would have to rely on American power for protection during the Cold War. However, the Vietnam War showed that the Americans could also fail - the unforgettable fall of Saigon in 1975 (a mere five years prior to the Iranian embassy siege) going out via mass-media. It is possible, then, that the British public now saw that America could fail, and perhaps felt that Britain needed to protect itself. Such a mood would be highly receptive to the muscular military nationalism promoted by the Thatcherite Conservative Party.

Reading the above back to myself, I appear to have thoroughly disliked this book. That isn’t true. Newsinger does effectively destroy many of the myths which have sprung up about the SAS, and provides some telling analysis: I was much taken by his claim that the classic image of the SAS, clad in black chemical-warfare suits and gas-masks, resembles nothing so much as fetish gear! The discussion of SAS involvement with counter-terrorist operations in Northern Ireland, and how they may have served to prolong rather than end the conflict, is highly interesting given the current world situation (the book was published in 1997).

In conclusion then, Dangerous Men: The SAS and Popular Culture would serve as a useful initial textbook for “SAS Studies” (does that course exist yet?) As a sociological work, however, it is too shallow in its analysis to be truly useful, and so merely provides a useful jumping-off point into other works.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

My Life Is A Series Of People Saying Goodbye

Well, last night was my last ever Gamesoc, and I’m going to miss it tremendously. It occurs to me that the main reason why I stayed in London was actually to be near those guys: all my other London friends had moved away, and I had nowhere to go, except home. That’s the tragedy of being young: you constantly have to throw everything away and leave it, perhaps just when you were beginning to get into the swing of things.

Over at Peat’s weblog, he says some rather nice (if factually incorrect – I’m not going to Liverpool to do a PhD, I’m going to Heaton Chapel to sleep) things about me. He also offers to be my adventuring companion, which he’s welcome to be. The county towns of England won’t know what’s hit them.

I’ve decided to call off my hate campaign against the Royal Mail (instigated when the mindless bastards managed to loose my AHRB form), as the new copy has officially been delivered to Cyprian, and they didn’t loose the two other forms which I had to send off.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004


I have, as readers of "We Eat A Nut And An Insect" will know, been challanged to perform 25 of the 50 things on my list of things to do. Well, the other day, I did actually go to Westminster Cathedral. While I didn't actually half-inch one of St. John Southworth's limbs, I did buy a postcard of him, which is the next best thing. Does this count as a Thing Done?

The Mortal Remains of St. John Southworth, Yesterday

There was more insanity in the news when Chris The Medic informed me that henceforth he should be addressed as "Dr. Godeseth". Congratulations to him!

Saturday, March 20, 2004

The Results Are In...

Here it is, the Big List Of Things That Stephen To Do. I am amazed, not only by the number of talented comedians that I know, but also by the amount of extra informatrion I got from people: that I should ignore whatever suggestions a certain correspondant made, that "The Name of the Rose" is shit, that one of my friends is being hassled by "tank-top wearing hippies", and that the main disadvantage of the National Portrait Gallery is that it is not in any way offensive.

I've added a few items of my own, both for the purposes of comedy and to get a nice round number.

1) Why not come to visit us in Brighton?
2) Why not hike the South Downs Way?
3) Why not perform chalk drawings on Stockport pavements?
4) Why not dye your hair?
5) Why not knit a giant blanket?
6) Why not study a foreign language?
7) Why not read some Thomas Hardy?
8) Why not do some voluntary work?
9) Why not cycle across the Pyrenees to Barcelona, camping on the way (but not in the Keith Richards sense)?
10) Why not feck off?
11) Why not go to Westminster Cathedral and steal one of St. John Southworth’s limbs?
12) Why not meet me for a drink?
13) Why not spit on Enoch Powell’s grave?
14) Why not visit The National Portrait Gallery?
15) Why not watch the films “Reanimator”, “Necronomicon”, and “Dagon”?
16) Why not incur massive debt?
17) Why not meet an old Yank friend?
18) Why not invade Abyssinia?
19) Why not kill an animal with your bare hands?
20) Why not visit every county town in England?
21) Why not write the Great American Novel?
22) Why not become a close personal friend of Sting?
23) Why not construct a fictitious persona and go on holiday playing that person?
24) Why not learn how to unicycle?
25) Why not get thrown out of a “Lord of the Rings” film by shouting “Now that’s what I’m Tolkien about!” every time an orc gets killed?
26) Why not pretend at parties that you’re learning to unicycle?
27) Why not invent names for unicycle stunts that don’t exist?
28) Why not star in a short film where you play a world-weary film noir detective partnered with an exuberant sock puppet?
29) Why not perform situationist comedy at English football grounds – throwing a Chelsea Bun onto the pitch at Stamford Bridge, hiding at Hyde United, and so on?
30) Why not get Liechtenstein nationality, play for their international football team, and become famous for kicking famous, highly-paid professional footballers in the crotch?
31) Why not become Irish?
32) Why not think of something to do with a tainted Feng-Shui statuette?
33) Why not burn the master tapes to “Birds of a Feather”?
34) Why not visit all of the very small countries of the world?
35) Why not write a short story/film called “The Limehouse Cut”?
36) Why not get a massage from the “Massage Parlour” on Green Lanes?
37) Why not visit Peniston with Andy? (NOTE: Not a euphamism)
38) Why not form a band made up entirely of Billy Idol impersonators?
39) Why not learn how to cook?
40) Why not learn how to massage?
41) Why not learn how to dance?

(These last three come with the advice that they will make women melt at my feet, which sounds fun. If likely to make my shoes all sticky.)

42) Why not legally change your name to “Johnny Foreigner”?
43) Why not go to work dressed as T.E. Lawrence?
44) Why not deliberately score own goals?
45) Why not use your AHRB application to make veiled threats?
46) Why not flamboyantly spunk some research?
47) Why not buy a pet frog, and give it the name “Aristophanes”?
48) Why not buy a Japanese schoolgirl outfit for a friend?
49) Why not grow a beard, but wear a fake beard over it?
50) Why not party like it’s 1899?

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Blog Writes Me

What with me leaving work and London at some point in the next month, I’ll have a bit of spare time. And what better way to spend that time than by doing things that my friends suggest? It can be like an ultra low-budget reality show, but with considerably less Tabloid coverage. Send me your ideas for what I should be doing, and hope to see my exploits recorded here in the Blog. All ideas will be considered, even if they’re gratuitously offensive. Perhaps even especially...

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Quod In Aeturnum Cubet Mortum Non Est, Et Saeculis Miris Actis Etiam Mors Perierit.

A while since I last posted, so I should keep people updated. I'm currently wading through the AHRB and University of Liverpool paperwork neccessary to try and get a PhD place and funding. This takes much longer than one might think.

I do have a little time to indulge my quirks, though. Today, for example, I went out and bought De Profundis, the role-playing game of writing letters to people. I think it'll be more exciting than it sounds, honest. I also got a copy of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. I remember my Dad once reading it but giving up, claiming to be perplexed by all the maths. If I can successfully complete it, I will be officially be Better Than My Dad. As pop-psychology tells me that that's what all us males are really up to, I can't really turn the opportunity down, can I? I wonder what happens when you officially become Better Than Your Dad? Do you spontaneously combust or something?

I have also posted a random fragment called "Green Lanes Blues" over at N.A.O.W.F.I.T.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Big Meet

It was about twelve o’clock, late February, with the sun not shining and a look of cold rain in the flat grey clouds silhouetting the Liver Building. I was wearing my black jeans, polished black boots, and a dark blue sweater with a v-neck. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the casually-dressed archaeologist ought to be. I was calling on the Head of Archaeology.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

And You Know What They Said? Well, Some Of It Was True!

I've decided to give my ego a good stroking this time, by doing a "What They're Saying About..." thing, in the manner of the adverts for godawful West End shows. Expect to see yourself misquoted:

"Funny and everything!" - Peat Carrington

"Laughed out loud several times, matey." - Andy Holmes

"Mighty congratulations to Stephen!" - Jen Tarr

"What's this 'blogging cohort' thing all about?" - Tom McGrenery

"A slackers communication method." - Emily Brown

The estimable Mr. McGrenery has also invited me to join his fiction (or is it?) blog Not All Of What Follows Is True. I've accepted, and he's put up a random bit of fiction by me called "This Is The Way - Step Inside". Why not go there and see...

There are some Bolsheviks (and yes I do mean Bolsheviks) outside ULU. Disappointingly they haven't set up a barricade with machine-guns or anything, they're just standing about giving out leflets. You just don't get the same quality of armed struggle against the bourgeoisie these days. I did consider annoying them by putting on a White Russian officer's uniform and repeatedly walking past them. Like all of my best plans, this had to be dropped due to lack of resources.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

I Want You To - Take Me Out

Some albums answer important questions. Franz Frediand’s eponymously-titled (a certain lack of imagination there, guys. You could at least have called it “Mind That Serbian”) debut is one of these, answering the question “What if Noel Coward had been in Gang of Four?” (the post-punk group, not the Chinese dissidents. Or the founders of the SDP).

I’ve always been a big fan of concealing darkness behind a jaunty façade, and with the album’s standout track “Take Me Out”, Franz Ferdinand do this perfectly. The band’s stated intention is to “make girls dance”, but lyrics like the following indicate that there’s more to them than that:

So if you're lonely
You know I'm here waiting for you
I'm just a crosshair
I'm just a shot away from you
And if you leave here
You leave me broken, shattered, I lie
I'm just a crosshair
I'm just a shot, then we can die
I know I won't be leaving here with you

Outside this excellent single, though, how does the album stand up? I think it’d be easier to like it if the entire media hadn’t repeatedly told me that it’s a work of genius. It isn’t. What it is is an interesting debut, but one which leaves a certain amount of room for improvement. For a band which prides itself on an art-school aesthetic, a lot of the lyrics aren’t that good, although the ones in the standout tracks (“Take Me Out”, “The Dark Of The Matinee”, “Darts Of Pleasure”) are good enough. I was amused by the fairly MOR homoeroticism of “Michael” – the more cynical part of me thinks this is included to make the lads in the band even more attractive to the aforementioned dancing girls. The music is really the strong point, reminiscent of late 1970s and early 1980s groups like Pere Ubu, Gang of Four, and Wire.

In conclusion then, don’t believe the hype – but if you like the post-punk/New Wave era, or like a few well-written lyrics, then you might well like this album. If the next Franz Fedinand album builds on the strong points of this one, then it could well be the work of genius we were promised.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Train In Vain

This weekend I went up to Stockport to see my parents, catching the 7.10 train out of Euston. The journey was dull until we were somewhere between Birmingham and Stoke. The intercom binged on, and the most hardcore train manager in Britain began to speak “There is a smoke alarm going off in Carriage B. This train is a completely smoke-free area. If this smoking continues I will take this train out of commission and we will not be going to Manchester Piccadilly” to top this off, he closed with the cold-as-ice words “Good luck to you all”.

Minutes later, two of Virgin Trains’ Corporate Stormtroopers appeared at my end of Carriage B, and advanced on some Asian lads who were drinking (at about 9.30 am) at the other end. It appeared that they had been doing the smoking, although they also appeared to have flushed the evidence (remember, we’re talking about a completely legal substance here). The Stormtroopers went away again. I thought this was the end of the matter. I was wrong. At Stoke the train stopped and remained stopped until British Transport Police arrived and questioned the lads, who denied being the smokers, grinning all the while. Then the Transport Police went away, and we continued on to Stockport, 10 minutes late. So that was well worth everyone’s time and effort then. It amused me though.

I bought the latest issue of Word to read. I’m not going to write about he highlights this week, ‘cos I don’t want this blog to become a compilation of someone else’s humour. However, my attention was caught by one particular turn of phrase, in which a reviewer claimed that an author “flamboyantly spunked*” their research in the first three chapters. I wonder if me wanting to do a PhD is actually a sublimated desire to flamboyantly spunk some research. I’ll have to check with Jen, see if she’s ever been guilty of research-spunking.

* My computer does not recognise the word “spunked”, but suggests that I probably mean “spanked”. Either way seems fine…

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Blogging Cohort

I'm temporarily breaking the self-imposed internet silence I'm having over the Valentine's period (Self-imposed on the basis that if you can't say anything nice...). I just wanted to let people know that I have a new blogging cohort, and his blog can be found here:

This Is The Pasty I'm Gonna Die In


Monday, February 09, 2004

You Did A Man's Job, Sir...

Oh glorious day! I finally find out how to make my very own folded paper unicorn!

Saturday, February 07, 2004

In Which the Word "Cyber" Appears With Annoying Frequency

I'm writing this from the computer room at the Institute of Archaeology, the misguided fools who run this place having seen fit to leave my account open. I have once again been indulging in the consumerist merry-go-round by buying books, namely Keith Roberts' Pavane and Dani Cavallaro's Cyberpunk and Cyberculture. I got the latter because the more I talk to people about cyberpunk, the more I realise that I don't really understand what it is. Now it's perfectly possible to like something without understanding it, but, me being me, that would never do. Plus I got it for £3 at Judd Books. God I love that shop.

There are posters on the tube advertising a show called Cyberjam. Every time I see one I have a strong urge to ring up the person who wrote it and say "So, what's so 'cyber' about this 'jam' that you speak of, then?". So far I have been able to resist the urge, but it's only a matter of time...

On Wednesday night, I will attempt to entertain people at Gamesoc with a short campaign that I've written. I do worry that it may all go terribly wrong. For example, last week one member (who shall remain nameless) made, quite innocently, the statement that he was going to "fist his way" through a crowd of people. Should this happen again, I may die laughing. Even worse, they'll have to hide my corpse for insurance purposes. An elaborate farce a la Weekend at Bernie's beckons.

So far, my request for a PhD supervisor has had two replies. Chris Mee at Liverpool not only claims to remember me (ah, the advantages of being the only student archaeologist to dress like Ernest Hemmingway), but is also quite interested in the proposal. Paul Halstat at Sheffield has forwarded my e-mail to John Bennett. The fact that a real archaeologist likes my idea has cheered me up no end.

Monday, February 02, 2004

A Weapon Called…

In this instalment, I’d like to sing the praises of Word, a fairly new music and entertainment magazine – sort of like Heat, but for people who aren’t slack-jawed yokels (apologies to any Heat readers I know). Among the reasons I like the edition I bought are:

1) It informed me that Ian Rankin really, really liked Treasure Planet. For some reason, this makes me giggle every time I think about it.

2) Their resident critic implicitly agrees with me that Jack Kerouac was a talentless hack who wasn’t fit to spike William Burroughs’ veins.

3) The suggestion that The Cure's "Let's Go To Bed" - a pop song about being frightened of the prospect of having sex - is the most English piece of music ever. I propose we adopt it as the National Anthem.

4) Mark E. Smith (Yes, that one) gave his views on Alan Clark’s The Fall of Crete, in a passage so wonderful that I fear I must quote it:

“It’s a great picture of British incompetence. We’ve got these Greek irregulars, farm lads from the Lake District and some Maoris lined up against these supermen Nazi paratroopers falling from the sky. There’s a good bit where the Greeks attack the Germans – women with knives tied on brooms and some kids with dogs up against machine guns firing three hundred bullets a minute.”

I also decided at the weekend to go out and spend some of the cash I’m earning. Armed with some of my vouchers from Christmas, I returned with No Pasaran!, a graphic novel set in the Spanish Civil War (How could I resist?), a book on screenwriting, and Peter Ackroyd’s novel Hawksmoor, which I got for the bargain price of £3.

The weekend also saw me channelling some kind of burst of restless energy: I knocked off the first draft of a screenplay (that book paying off already), tarted up a short story that I’ve had in a semi-finished state for a while, put together a basic outline for a PhD proposal, and went to the Science Museum to grab a couple of photos. Crikey.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Remember Me

I spent last weekend in Nottingham. It turned out to be a strange couple of days. I was very happy, of course, to meet up again with people who I haven’t seen for so long. However, it was also rather sad, for reasons I’m not going to go into here.

Was Lord Hutton awake during the Hutton Inquiry? I worry that, with the Royal Charter for the BBC being up for renewal in two years, Minister of Truth Lord Hutton (Yes, he was appointed as a Peer by Tony Blair. Why do you ask?) has delivered the capability for the government to turn it into a state-run media outlet of an altogether less inspiring nature. There was a debate last night on the radio in which lots of people were saying that a “Liberal clique” runs the BBC. You know what? Good, if it’s true! The Right has always been able to buy or bargain whatever media coverage it needs (See: The Daily Mail backing the BUF because Mussolini told them it was a good idea), and always will. Therefore, I don’t see the BBC having a Liberal bias as a bad thing, in a media overwhelmingly dominated by Right-wing views.

First British Sea Power, and now Franz Ferdinand. What is it, exactly, about a certain type of person in my generation that makes them obsessed with the Edwardian age? I think that it’s the awareness that what happens now will, to a large extent, affect the outcome of the rest of the 21st Century, for better or worse, just as 1900-1914 created the 20th Century. We see in pre-First World War Europe a mirror of ourselves, of a world about to be changed forever by new technologies, of doomed glamour and decadence, and of a hubristic confidence that History Is On Our Side (Fukayama take note). Perhaps we worry that an equivalent apocalypse awaits us, too. Maybe we shouldn’t worry – another Somme, another Verdun – might do us some good.

On a far, far lighter note, I now have a PhD topic, Cyprian being kind enough not to compare me to boiled vegetables of any description. Rather than just doing naval warfare, however, I will be applying my unique brand of analysis to all types of warfare. Now all I have to do is persuade some one that it's worth supervising me on. And get funded for it. Bugger...

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Through A Lens, Darkly

Well, what with the amount of time work takes up, and the mind-meltingly dull nature of it, there's not been a whole lot to report. I have a meeting with Cyprian Broodbank on Tuesday, at which he may tell me that a boiled potato could come up with a better PhD proposal than mine. I hope he doesn't, of course, but it is possible.

Yesterday I expanded the saga of my eyesight by going to Specsavers (who have not paid me for this advertising) for some glasses. Imagine my surprise when their optometrist agreed with the medical folk and said that there is nothing I need glasses for. Apparently I should try blinking more, though (NOTE: This, despite all appearances, is not a joke). I'm still not sure how to feel. Given that there may be something wrong with my eyes that medical science knows nothing of, perhaps a sense of rising panic would be appropriate.

Speaking of medical science, I'll be spending next weekend with Chris the Medic, a Keyser Soze-type figure in my life for the past 18 months - known only from rumour and legend. It's his finals in March, after which he will be unleashed upon the public as a healthcare professional. To think that he once deliberately threw crisps all over my living room...

I recently finished The Long Firm which I rather enjoyed, apart from one slightly unlikely segment. Any London gangster novel which finishes with a critique of 1960s and 70s Sociology is fine by me. I've also just read Rex Warner's The Aerodrome an interesting little book which could make a rather nice British film.

Thats all from me, until I've come up with something else to talk about.

Friday, January 02, 2004

See - Billy Idol Gets It - So Why Doesn't She?

So, we come to the first ever New Year’s entry from me. Expect me to point out all sorts of anniversaries and firsts for the Blog this year, until I get irate e-mails telling me to stop.

Christmas was, of course, spent at home, and a good time was had by all – even if we did somehow manage to forget the rules of Trivial Pursuit. For New Year’s Eve I went to Nottingham (rather than Scotland, where New Year’s Eve had to be cancelled due to the weather. Are they still in 2003?) on the highly eccentric TransPeak bus.

New Year’s was suitably random. For example, we ended up crashing the Games Workshop mail order workers party for about 10 minutes at midnight. Is my memory correct in that only giant Geordie blokes work for GW?

After this, I managed to have another suspiciously cinematic moment. I turned left out of the party and walked down the deserted side street, unable to remember the name of what I was looking for. Then I saw it and it shot straight back into memory. Sherwin Grove. A real Go-Between moment. I went on, then walked alone in the freezing rain back over the bridge to Warwick Street.

Before I sign off, I’ll list the books that are in my bag as I go back to London. See what they say about me at the dawn of 2004.

The Last Crusade: The Palestine Campaign in the First World War by Anthony Bruce
The Long Firm by Jake Arnott
The Berlin Novels by Christopher Isherwood
Killer in the Rain by Raymond Chandler
The Soft Machine by William Burroughs
Film Noir: Reflections in a Dark Mirror by Bruce Crowther
Imperial Adventurer: Emperor Maximilian of Mexico and his Empress by Joan Haslip