Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Christmas everyone

From Feminist Ryan Gosling.

I have been having a lot of fun on Tumblr lately.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Italians with white mice

I found this, while searching around for the significance of Italians with white mice:
At this time, Italians frequently roamed the streets of London and other large English towns as organ-grinders. Daryl Ogden, in an article fromStudies in the Novel, mentions this practice: "In the 1820s and 1830s, a relatively large population of Italian 'organ boys' was imported into London. These street entertainers, mentioned by Dickens in Little Dorritt, performed tricks with trained monkeys and mice while their masters played the organ. It was eventually revealed that organ boys were being trafficked in an elaborate white slave trade (the practice was subsequently denounced by Mazzini)" (Ogden, Daryl, "George Eliot and Italy: Literary, Cultural and Political Influences from Dante to the Risorgimento," Studies in the Novel, Fall 2000). So the image of Italians as poor street performers carrying around white mice would have been a particularly strong one for the Victorian audience George Eliot was writing to.
From The Literature Network forums. Is it trustworthy? Well, it cites a book, you know. So it must be, right?

Friday, December 16, 2011

I could do this all night

I love sensitive Ryan Gosling as much as the next person...

...but just sometimes, isn't he a little much?

There we go. That's better, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The best resolution of all

Aw, thanks Paul. You know, that does cheer me up a little bit.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nice article on the Wrath of Khan

From the Guardian's My Favourite Film series (which has been most enjoyable).

I particularly like this paragraph, which speaks to me about my life:

If Star Wars is spiritually akin to Top Gun – Tom Cruise in jackass aviators blasting around in fighter jets – then Star Trek, here in its most dashing manifestation, is The Hunt for Red October: submarines, tactics, cantankerousness. It's a fundamentally naval representation of life in space, with all that entails: formality and cryptography and bold decisions taken from a seated position. It's about defeating intellects more than evil – about saving things, not destroying them – and the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, or the one.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

This Year's Books (non-book club edition)

While Mrmonkey continues to devour every available instance of the written word as if he was going to be examined on it the next day, I haven't managed to get my reading legs under me at all this year. In fact, it turns out I only read five books that weren't selections for either Classic Book Club or Modern Book Club, most of which I heard about on Twitter.

The only fiction book I heard about through word of mouth was One Day by David Nicholls, who is not on Twitter but is contactable by email through his blog. Halfway through this book (which I really don't need to tell you about, because this is one of those books everyone has heard of and formed an opinion of whether they've read it or not) I emailed him to tell him that I was really enjoying his book but was concerned that he was going to burn me the same way Peter Carey did with Oscar and Lucinda. He emailed me back about two weeks later to say that I'd probably discovered by now that he had done exactly that and he was very sorry. Well, David Nicholls, I don't believe you were sorry at all.

For those interested, the other non-book club books I read this year were:

The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson

How to Leave Twitter (My Time as Queen of the Universe (And Why This Must Stop) - Grace Dent
This book is going to look so weird in five years time, but right now it's like a club manual for people who understand the point of Twitter. Everyone doesn't have to use it in the same way, but there are certainly ways not to use it. As a marketing tool, for instance. I've been through this myself: "everyone's on Twitter, we should be on it too", except that nobody in the company appears to be on it in a personal capacity, nobody understands how it works, and nobody believes you when you say you can't just tweet about new stuff the company has, you have to have interesting links to content people will actually want to read in their downtime. Urgh.
Sometimes you just want to sit in your pyjamas wearing your old, comfortable glasses that don't pinch your head but are a bit chewed around the ends, and get all covered in cats and drink a beer and bitch about Downton Abbey with people who can't see you. Other times, you might be stuck on a long train ride and the people in front of you have a Siamese cat on their lap, and you have to tell someone.  Other other times, you might want to know that Tom Hardy's on a satellite channel somewhere with his shirt off. Twitter is there for you during those times, and Grace Dent understands that (and is there for you during those times too, although she also understand the importance of going out and doing things that are not connected to the Internet in any way).
It's always a relief to me when I find someone whose sense of humour matches my own, even if I don't always agree with everything they say. Grace Dent is one of those people.
I'm also going to mention her in the same breath as Tina Fey, even though she doesn't make me absolutely sick with laughter in quite the same way, but because I just love reading humour books, especially by women.

Bossypants - Tina Fey
From the time our Edward got his first Erma Bombeck book (The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, I don't even remember where he got it from), humour books have always been a big deal in our family. People always think standup comedians can produce humour books really well, but I'm not sure that's the case. I think you need a different skill set, one that Grace Dent has, and one that Tina Fey also has. 
So a huge thank you to Queenie, who sent me this in the post for my birthday in March and is therefore partly responsible for the tea that came out of my nose on at least one occasion while reading it. Again, this is one of those books that everyone's heard heaps about and you don't need me to go over it all again, so I won't.

The Butchered Man - Harriet Smart
I like crime novels that are about the milieu rather than the crime. I don't really care whodunnit, I care what kind of coffee everyone was drinking while it got dun. This is one of those novels, but instead of being set in some bleak Scandinavian city where society is falling apart because outside values are encroaching on it (like all those books you like), this one is set in a cathedral town in Scotland in 1840 and one of the protagonists is a young doctor (like all those books I like). A clergyman has been murdered and butchered, maybe over a will, maybe over love, maybe over professional rivalry. Yes, we'll find that out, but we'll also get to see some flawed-but-extremely-likeable heroes play to their strengths and some social commentary on the coming of the railways, the changes wrought by industrialization, and the restricted lives of women of all classes. Like all good crime novels, this is a quick read that hits the beats it's supposed to hit and contains the tropes it's supposed to contain, so everyone leaves a winner (except, obviously, the bloke who got butchered).
The Butchered Man was available formerly only as an ephemeral read, but this year Harriet released a paperback of it, so those of you who aren't into the whole christ-what's-this-how-do-I-make-it-turn-the-page thing and would prefer something more corporeal can now get stuck in.
(Also, if you like the kind of thing I like, you might also want to look at Harriet's blog, which is simply teeming with that kind of thing (although it's a bit short on ships and naturalists for my taste, but you can't have everything).

The other book I read this year was about dogs, but, frankly, nobody wants to hear me talk about dogs any more, so I won't bother to say much about it. I'll just say this. Dogs really are special. Science proves it. And John Bradshaw's book Dog Sense (or In Defence of Dogs if you're in the UK) tells you how science proves it. And that's it.
This review from the Independent says it very well, actually, if you do care.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Television takes another scalp

Recently, the only fan site I ever visited on a regular basis went under when Dee Dee, the lady (I assume she's a lady, anyway) who ran it decided she just had too much other stuff going on in her life. This is a shame for me, because it means that in order to keep up with what Paul Bettany is doing in his professional life, I have to have a Google alert.
(I am aware that I don't have to have one, but I do have to have one. My friend Liz, the woman with 250 photos of Joan Crawford in her phone, knows what I mean.)
The annoying thing about a Google alert is that it turns up everything. So every time Mr. Jennifer Connelly, as he's more commonly known in the U.S., does anything at all, I get a mail with six identical stories from websites I never heard of in my life. What are all these sites? Who reads them? I assumed everyone got all their showbiz news from the AV Club. But no, it appears they get their news from Crave Online, Television Blend (part of Cinema Blend), Deadline (although I think I have heard of Deadline), and heaps more. How are these sites running? Is it advertising? Are they the loss-making sections of more successful enterprises? Are they doing that weird SEO Google gaming thing? Who knows?
The good news they're throwing up to me today is that PB has decided to make the move to television. I guessed this was coming. All he's done lately is moan about how crappy the film industry is, how rubbish all the films he makes nowadays are, and how sad it is that all the quality work is being done in television.
I think I see a way out of this for you, Paul, I thought, (while also wondering if maybe it mightn't be time, honestly, that he ate a pie) I think you need to think about going into television.
And look, now he is.
Now, I like watching television very much, and I like Paul Bettany being in things I watch. So this seems like a win for everyone.
Sometimes, though the Google alert throws up results from weird, intrusive sites. I don't mean TMZ or straightforward gossipy ones, but ones specifically devoted to celebrities who have recently had babies, or who have small kids. In the beginning I did look at these photos, but I quickly got sick of them. Who wants to see photos of people who are trying very hard not to have their photos taken while they walk their kids to school? And there are at least six sites that I've seen that devote themselves to just this kind of crap. Celebrity baby bumps, celebrity babies, celebrity kids, celebrity younglings, junior celebrity fashion, and so on. And all of them are getting their content from paparazzi shots. It's obnoxious. And if it's like that for solid mid-rankers like PB, what on earth must it be like for the people who the celeb press have decided the public really wants to see all the time? This is, of course, the kind of thing that drives the sales in private islands.
This is where I miss Dee Dee. She never let those pictures on her website, and I didn't even have to see them. I've tweaked the settings on the alert now to filter most of them out, but they still slightly freak me out.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I miss my blog

I should post to it more.

Here, have this amusing story for a start.

Ah, YouTube.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Changes and capers

As some of you may know, I am out of a job. The company where I worked for the last five years has been swallowed whole by the big player in the field and our offices are being closed.
This is sad for several reasons. First, because anyone could have told you it was coming from a long time back, and those of us who continued to work there were fully aware that we cut fairly pitiful figures in the modern world, shaking our pitchforks at the waves. Second, because the way the job market is at the moment, we don't even feel as though we can relax for a while and enjoy a summer of being unemployed. No, you can't do that, because now your job is looking for a job. Because recruiters now not only want all the unreasonable qualifications and the years of experience that will guarantee any job you take below Chairman of the World will bore you rigid inside six months (once you've figured out the coffee machines and how to disentangle yourself from the unwise alliances you made in your first two weeks, basically), but now they want no gaps in your CV.
This means that every second of your life that is not filled with actually working in paid employment, however menial, must be spent in upskilling or other generally improving activities. You must take courses, go to seminars and job fairs, show willing.
Guess how bothered I could be with any of that?
Instead, for the first time in my life, I took a look about me and realised that I am really very comfortable and content. I have a nice house. Two, in fact, although one of them isn't really all that nice. My husband is an excellent human who is a) gainfully employed in a successful company and b) for some reason best known only to himself, exceedingly fond of me and willing to more or less do whatever I want. We have enough money, even without my salary coming in. Sure, we'll have to pull in our nets a bit now with things like travel and presents and camera equipment, but we're in a good place.
So I'm going to write some books. Not one book, some books. But here's the problem: the books that I have decided to write are kind of thrillery, kind of romantic, kind of comedy. Capers, is what I would call them. Filled with incident and movement. The problem with this is that I'm not very good at that kind of writing. My natural instincts as a writer tend towards the one-room story where everyone sits around talking and nobody leaves or does anything except maybe fall in love and smoke cigarettes and make bitter jokes about how their life is not turning out the way they expected. You know, like plays. But you can really only get away with that kind of thing if you're Gustave Flaubert (why yes, I did recently read Madame Bovary, how can you tell?), even if it is how you spent most of your student days.
For the purposes of research, then, and because they were on the telly, Mrmonkey and I sat down this weekend and watched two recent starry caper movies to see how it's done. All they really had in common is that they are proof that it's very hard to write a good caper, and that neither of them is very good. First up is Knight and Day, in which Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz caper around Boston and a series of extravagant locations (or rather, a very cheap set of green-screen sets pretending to be Boston and a series of extravagant locations) in order to keep hold of an everlasting gobstopper. Sorry, battery. An everlasting battery. It's got a lot of the elements of the traditional caper: mistaken identities, the old switcheroo (as Mrmonkey points out, surely there was a time when this was the new switcheroo? How far back would you have to go for that to be the case? Maybe the original switcheroo was the apple in the Garden of Eden? It would explain a lot),  and lot of running around and fighting.
In the good corner: the plot was fairly simple. A guy invents an everlasting power source. Some bad people want it. Some other people are trying to protect him and it from the bad people. Cameron Diaz gets caught in the middle. I liked her character's hook of being a car restorer who was flying to Kansas to pick up a load of car parts. Tom Cruise is always convincing as an action hero, bless him. He does good running about and dangling off buildings, which are essential if you're going to caper.
In the bad corner: for the first part of the film Cameron Diaz was treated very badly. She was dragged around the place, drugged, undressed while unconscious, (this was turned into a joke, but I didn't think it was very funny), shot at, manipulated, and drugged some more. She did later turn into a pretty convincing and capable participant in the capering, but she was basically underused. Tom Cruise has no chemistry with anyone and may not even be human any more, so the idea that anyone would fall in love with him and put themselves in danger for him was just laughable. This is a big deal in such movies. The whole thing just felt kind of cheap, like an episode of Chuck. There were also too many coincidences, and for me there was just too much shooting and killing.
This is a big problem in the thriller business now, just like the presence of mobile phones is a big problem in the area of young people's books (I heard a radio programme about that, I didn't observe it for myself). The first thing you have to do in order to make a young adult book interesting is figure out a way to get rid of the mobile phones and communication devices, otherwise it's too hard to generate a perilous situation that requires resourcefulness to escape. Similarly, in the real world everyone with a grudge has a gun nowadays, so there's no more talking your way out of bad situations or taking a beating. You just shoot or get shot, and dramatically that's pretty boring. So you either end up with a very high body count or you have to figure out a way to get rid of the guns.
The Tourist got around that quite nicely by going for the big money option. You can't shoot the protagonists because they might know where the massive payoff is hidden, so everyone ends up stalking Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp around the former James Bond sets of Europe to see if they lead either Scotland Yard (Paul Bettany in one of those "hi, my wife is pregnant I'd like a bit of easy cash please" roles; also Timothy Dalton) or evil oligarch (Steven Berkoff in of those "hi, I'm putting together a one-man stage show and I'd like a bit of easy cash please" roles) to several billion dollars, and to see whether Johnny Depp is really a tourist, as he claims, or is the bloke who stole the several billion dollars from Steven Berkoff. Have you guessed it yet? Of course you have.
In the good corner: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff, and Rufus Sewell all hang around Paris and Venice (the real Paris and Venice, unless I miss my guess, not just green screens) in lovely clothes and fancy hotels and motor launches and so on. What's not to like? It is sumptuous. There are a couple of really solid laughs in it, the gunplay is kept to a minimum, there is some rooftop dangling, a foiled copper, a baddy strangling one of his own useless henchmen with a measuring tape, a deadly game of cat and mouse, if you will. Plus all the leads have so much chemistry with just about everyone that it's a wonder they didn't just form one giant molecule of Superglamoron, causing the entire production to grind to a halt while someone figured out a way to separate them. Plus at no point does anyone try to pretend that Angelina Jolie is a mousey housewife who is struggling to get by in the real world. The plot's fine, there's no real feeling that anyone has forgotten anything or left anything to chance.
In the bad corner: the whole film appears to have taken a sedative. Boat chases through the canals of Venice turn out to be intensely boring and slow. Johnny Depp does not play action well, I don't care what you say. In fact, the people in this film who we know do play action well: Angelina Jolie, Timothy Dalton, and to a lesser extent Paul Bettany, barely move at all. Which brings me to the biggest question about this film: why would you hire Angelina Jolie for a caper movie and just have her stand there? She is the most ass-kicking person in western cinema (except maybe Jason Statham) and you're having her walk around in outfits that make her look like she's in a back brace? Meanwhile fat Johnny Depp is puffing his way through set pieces like Joe Don Baker in Mitchell? Nonsense.
So, capering. Like dancing, it's very, very hard to make it look easy. You can't just throw together a few big names and a simple objective and hope it'll write itself. That's bad news for someone like me. Hoping for the best is really all I have.

Monday, June 06, 2011

We are all mad now

Until five years ago, I had never heard of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the big book that tells you what kind of mental illness you've got. Then I became an abstracter in the field of social sciences, and it was mentioned a lot (obviously) in the literature. Then I left abstracting and expected never to hear of it, or most of the other scales or 20-point measurement tools that researchers employ in order to categorize people, ever again. In the last year, though, the DSM been popping up a lot in news-stand publications because a new edition of it is being prepared and disagreements are surfacing over what to include and what to leave out, and there also seems to be a bit of a schism taking place over how much weight the DSM should carry, full stop.

Jon Ronson's new book, The Psychopath Test, talks more about this quotidien end of the mental disorder industry (or the "madness industry" as he calls it) more than you would perhaps expect in a book that you believe to be about psychopaths, who, as we all know, are really scary and other. Jon Ronson meets a lot of people in the course of this book who are scary and other to you and me and who act in ways that we would never act and do things that we would never do (and we are glad we would never do, really, even if sometimes those things appear to bring huge physical rewards), but who have never been diagnosed as psychopaths (and maybe they're not, is part of his point). He also meets people who have been diagnosed as psychopaths and who don't really seem that different from the rest of us, not really. He meets academics and spies (warning: there is a bit in the book about the 7/7 bombings. I only point that out because I know it's an event that still looms large in the memories of some of my friends and I wasn't expecting there to be anything about it in this book, but there is, so just be aware of that) and regular people and he relates their words and tells their stories in what seems to me to be a fair and sympathetic manner, even if the people themselves aren't immediately sympathetic individuals.

One of the strengths of the book is that it gives you the opportunity to conduct your own further reading. Ronson skims the surface of a number of related topics here--Scientology's opposition to psychiatry; the possible physical differences between psychopaths and everyone else; the medicalization of normal behaviour; class differences in health provision; the border areas between sanity, insanity, and eccentricity; the history of psychological experiments on prisoners; conspiracy theorists; the media's treatment of people with mental problems--offering a taster of each one so you can decide for yourself which bit you're most interested in and go off and read about that.

The only real issue I had with it was Ronson's characterization of journalists as people who deliberately seek out people who are odd or different or mentally ill and focus on their weirdness and difference. Several times he says that this is what journalists do. Well, it's not what some of my favourite journalists do. Barbara Ehrenreich, for example, goes out of her way to do the opposite: to find the normal people who are struggling to keep it together and live a normal life, often in odd or different or weird circumstances. But I guess deciding that other people are just like you when they're clearly not is one of the things that mad people do, eh Jon?

Monday, May 16, 2011

You may not own your house!

That's the kind of scare headline that gets people looking at your blog, eh readers?

We've had two great examples recently of the razor-sharp reliability and attention to detail that has made the Irish financial and legal sectors the envy of the known world. I had a phone call from my solicitor asking for my address (yes, that's right, my solicitor has my phone number but not my address, despite the fact that he did the conveyancing for my house) so he could send me some documents to sign. Turns out that my ex-husband's solicitor lost the document that I signed giving my ex-husband full ownership of the house we used to live in. Who knows where this document went? Not that it's important or anything. Why would a document that proves you own a property outright be important?

Then yesterday a letter arrived here addressed to the person we bought this house from. No return address, obviously, because it's important to make everything as difficult as possible. It was from a solicitor acting on behalf of a bank, telling the previous occupant of this house that their mortgage on this house is three months in arrears and that if they don't pay what they owe soon, the bank will be forced to sell the house. That's this house. Which we own. Well, which we are making payments on, at least.

We emailed them to let them know they have the wrong address on file for this person, and to put them in touch with our solicitor, who might have an address for those people. I wouldn't be too hopeful though.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Classic Book Club failure

Not only did I not make it to Classic Book Club this time, because of being in that London, I haven't even finished the book yet. I may have mentioned before that I often struggle to read books in translation, and Stendhal's The Red and the Black is yet another novel in translation that I'm finding it very hard to get to grips with. I have tried to make allowances for the fact that the book is an early "psychological novel", one of the first in which you actually get to read the characters' thoughts and motivations, but I have so far failed to engage with any aspect of the book at all.
Missing out on the actual meeting means that I've missed out on the chance to talk myself round to liking or finishing the book, like I did with Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, which I thought I didn't like when I read it, but managed to sort into some kind of managable order in my head while discussing it with other people, with the end result that I have a much more favourable opinion of it now.
I might try and persist with The Red and the Black, partly because I don't like to leave a book unfinished, and partly because the point at which I've dropped it--where Julian Sorel arrives in Paris--is apparently the start of the good half, so maybe it suddenly throws off its shackles as a novel and becomes fantastic.
I'll have a run at it this weekend and see how I go. If I still don't like it in another hundred pages, I'll leave it.

Oh little blog, how I have neglected you

There's really no excuse for it.

Did I mention we had another dog here for a couple of days? He followed me on the beach last Monday. It was a beautiful day and we were having a particularly thirsty walk, so I decided to walk my guys down to the Boyne for a drink and a splash about. I figured there would be people around, but I figured if I kept them on the lead till the last minute, all would be well. Just as we reached the river bank, though, along comes this very bouncy collie cross who decided he wanted to hang out and play with us. After a couple of minutes of hanging around with him I realised that nobody seemed to be looking for him. Nobody was calling him or walking towards us with a lead in their hand. He wasn't wearing a tag. He didn't leave us and go running off. I started to ask people if anyone knew him. Nobody did. I walked all up and down the bank, nobody had ever seen him before. I got all the way back to the car. Still had an extra dog, who was very excited by all the other dogs I had in my care.
I couldn't leave him (this is what it will say on my tombstone, by the way). I was worried he'd be hit by a car or taken away by someone less reputable than me if I just let him loose. Actually, that's not even true. I couldn't leave him because at this stage I know the difference between a dog who's just having a run around and a dog who is lost, and this guy was lost. I'd already spent over an hour looking for his people, so obviously nobody in the immediate vicinity had lost him. Therefore, he had to come home with me.

So he did. He was so well behaved, I loved him immediately. You always think you're going to love the difficult ones more, but honestly, sometimes the handsome ones who don't pee in the house, don't start fights, don't chase the cats, don't need a lead when they're walking because they just stay beside you, don't cry at night, and don't do damage do make you fall in love with them straight away.
The next day I drove him back up to the same spot and walked him around again. A woman approached me, delighted to see us both. I hoped she was his owner, but no, it turned out he had followed her home the previous day as well, and she couldn't take him in because she was leaving the house to go to work. She had called both the warden and the rescue about him, but had to leave him there. She left out a bowl of food and water for him. She said he was shaking when she tried to pet him. I said I didn't have that problem with him, and we figured it might be because I had dogs with me so he knew I was alright.

I had a little cry when Liz came to take him away to his proper foster home. He just looked so scared in the back of her car. He'd only just got settled in our house and stopped pacing up and down in confusion, and now here he was being shunted off again.
He'll get a lovely home, but I do still worry that he was stolen from someone and dumped up by us. I just can't believe anyone would get rid of such a beautiful, friendly, well-behaved dog on purpose.

I beg you, if you have a dog or you know someone who has a dog, please, please, please make sure the dog has a name tag including a phone number. Have a couple of spare tags knocking around in case you lose one. Please, if the dog came from a breeder and it has a microchip, make sure the microchip is registered to the owner, not the breeder.

This fine fellow is microchipped. Hey, he's IKC registered as a pure-bred rough collie (I know)! He's got a kennel name and everything!
But none of this is any bloody good to the dog because the chip is registered to a breeder who doesn't want to know, didn't keep any records of who he sold the dog to (of course) and couldn't be of any further help (of course).

Anyway, if you know this dog, please let Drogheda Animal Rescue know. If he's not reunited with his owners in a few weeks, he'll be neutered and rehomed. If you've ever wanted a first-time family dog, this is the one for you. But you must be LOVELY. I will accept nothing but the best for this gentleman.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Part dog, part gremlin - one year on

Some time in the next couple of weeks I have to go to the vet with Trixie and get her boosters done. I've never had to do this with a foster before, because I've never had a foster dog for a whole year before.

I just don't understand why nobody wants this wee girl. I want her. I love her. But she should move on for a whole host of reasons, only one of which is a selfish reason on my part.

Yes, I will admit that one of the great things about dog fostering is the novelty of having new dogs coming in and out of your house all the time, and we haven't had a new dog in for months and months. And yes, I love a bit of drama and high emotion and a happy ending, so there is something very satisfying in taking in a dog that's in bad condition or just a bit lost, feeding it up and worming it and teaching it basic manners and then sending it out to a new home to be loved by a new family. I don't get to do this anymore because Trixie never leaves.

But most of the reasons she should leave have to do with her and the person I know is out there for her. Somewhere out there is a home, preferably headed up by an older woman with either no children or grown-up children, who likes to go for rambly walks some days but shorter walks on other days, who wants a dog to sit on her lap in the evenings and obligingly cover her in hair and breathe dog breath into her face while she's watching telly. Sometimes, if her new owner is really lucky, Trixie will do the very cute thing she does where she pretends to bite your face in order to get you to pay attention to her (seriously, I know this doesn't sound cute, but it is. Enormously.) Or she will settle beside her new owner on the sofa and snore loudly and regularly like your dad at the opera or a pompous business person on a train. (She particularly likes to do this if you are really invested in your programme, like if your friend wrote it or your brother is on it.) Someone is missing out on this.

And Trixie is missing out on what she needs: a home without a pack of bigger, noisier, rougher dogs in it. Our own three core dogs have certain things worked out. They bash against each other to get through doors. They rob each others toys. They steamroll over each other while getting in and out of the car. They bark insanely at other packs of dogs we meet out walking, and the other packs of dogs bark madly back, and the owners manage three seconds of conversation over the heads of these barking dogs before giving up and going their separate ways. They smash into each other running up hills. They bowl each other over running down hills.

Trixie doesn't like these things. She likes to eat her food slowly without other dogs staring at her, willing her to give up in the middle of it. She likes to take her time getting up off the floor to go out, or getting off the sofa. She likes to leave bones in the back garden and for them to be where she left them when she comes back for another look at them. And so on.

Yeah, okay, she has a heart murmur. Who doesn't these days? And yes, she only has one eye and a dead tail and she barks at everyone we meet on the street as if she hated them (she doesn't though. This is just her announcing herself) and she likes to bring me dead rabbits and she comes over all deaf when she's called and she tramples over my laptop when she sits on my lap and she sneaks upstairs and eats the cat food out of their bowls and then throws it up in the kitchen. Again I ask, who doesn't?

She also needs to move on because while she's here there are other dogs we could be fostering, who may otherwise have to go to the pound, or remain in unsuitable homes where both they and their owners are unhappy, or be in kennels where they get no socialization or training or experience of living with a family in a home.

And also, though this really is selfish, if she stays much longer I won't be able to part with her at all.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Sometimes I am the nutter

On today's walk, Cody found the most unpleasant shit I have yet encountered on a dog walk and smeared it all over himself when we were only about two minutes from the car at the start of an hour's walk. He was so pleased with how badly he stank. I was very annoyed. I immediately expressed my annoyance by calling him a "fucking shitty bastard" in a very growly displeased voice, and clipping him onto the lead so he couldn't go back for more smearing/rolling fun times.

By the time we got up to the playing fields he was very upset at being on the lead and it was beginning to dawn on him that I wasn't happy with him. He walked with his head and tail down and kept licking his lips the way dogs do when they're not sure what's going to happen next but they are sure they're not going to like it. I saw a full five-litre bottle of water on the ground beside one of the benches at the edge of the football pitch (obviously left over from last weekend's football matches) and figured this was my chance to get some of the shit off Cody without rewarding him.*

So I clipped Cody's lead to the bench, pulled a few fistfuls of grass, and started slopping the water over his back and rubbing at him with the grass. He was a bit whingey about this, but not too distressed. I was muttering at him and doing that great arguing thing that makes people think dog people are crazy.

Cody: whinge whinge whinge (trans: don't kill the Cody!)
Me: Well, if you're going to roll in shite you're going to have to have it washed off.
Cody: whinge whinge whinge (trans: I thought it would bring us closer together!)
Me: Well, it didn't. Now stand still, you fucking shitty bastard.

Just as I was slopping the other half of the water over him, a woman ROARED at me from the other side of the pitch, where she was walking her dog. "What are you doing to that dog?" she shouted.
"Eh?" I said. "I'm washing him!"
"You're what?!" she said. She came a bit closer. "Oh yeah, that is water," she said, "I thought it was petrol."
"Ah right," I said. I laughed nervously. "Yeah, it does look a bit bad, I suppose."
She waved and went on her way. I unclipped Cody. He ran to the middle of the football pitch and started eating some rabbit poo and we were friends again.

*Usual method of de-pooing dogs is to throw a stick into the river over and over again for them to chase. Sadly this is like punishing kids for bad behavior by taking them to Disneyland.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Any colour as long as it's funny

Here's an interesting article in the New York Times (linked from the front page of Chortle) about a new, even more stripped-down, even more assembly-line approach to comedy production, courtesy of the good folks at Country Music Television.

Working Class - new CMT sitcom (photo from NYT)
Looking at the positive side of this style of production, it could break a whole new raft of really tight, really good comedy writers who are currently finding it difficult to get bigger networks to take a chance on them and their work. These lower-budget comedies could offer them the showcase they need to get noticed, in a way that sketch shows, radio comedy, and the Edinburgh Fringe seem to do in the UK and, as Mrmonkey pointed out, in the same way that Roger Corman has done over the years for aspiring film-makers. It could also mean more comedy, and there are few things I love more than comedy. If my television schedule is going to be filled with cheap programming, I'd greatly prefer it be filled with cheap scripted programming rather than unscripted (and madly inarticulate) programming. If I'm going to be expected to laugh at people, I'd prefer it if those people were in on the joke.

But of course we know that's not what will happen. What will happen is that the big networks will look at these new, brightly-liveried, low-cost, no-assigned-seating comedies and they will look at their own beloved, high-budget, single-camera, first/business/premium economy/economy/free-meal-with-every-seat comedies and they will change the way they make their shows. That's not actually going to affect the world's biggest comedy juggernaut too much. Two and a Half Men will continue as it has always done, because it's a traditional multi-camera setup and it's shot like an old-fashioned comedy. They might lose the studio audience (if they haven't already. I don't know if they tape that show in front of an audience, actually) but otherwise they're probably fine. But the shows I truly love could be in big trouble. Who's going to give Dan Harmon the money to bring in actual movie directors for his wonderfully crafted Community if shows like Working Class become the norm?

NBC's Community - photo from some other blog somewhere
Don't get me wrong, I'm a great fan of the traditional sitcom format, but Community and 30 Rock and The Office are some of my very favourite television programmes of all time. All time. 

Watching the DVDs of the first season of Community, it's easy to see the work that goes into this show, from everyone. They treat these episodes like 20-minute films. They care about the costumes, the characterisation, the story arc, the music, the effects, the props (check out some of the posters on the walls around the college when you have time), and they still manage to pack in jokes. You can't do that kind of thing if you've got a three-day shooting schedule and you're working on sets left over from someone else's pilot. 

I guess what I'm saying is that you should buy Community on DVD. I guess that's mostly my point.

Monday, January 17, 2011

No more Daily Show in the UK

Instead, this from Channel 4. 

Look, I know why they've dropped the Daily Show from More 4. I know it's because the ratings aren't high enough for what they've been paying for it (which slightly makes me wonder why they don't just put it on the more prominent Channel 4 station instead of continuing to tuck it away on More 4, but whatevs). That doesn't stop me feeling irritated when I read something like this (from the Guardian):
The hope, at the channel also responsible for Bremner, Bird and Fortune, is that it will become a UK equivalent to The Daily Show, where leading figures such as Barack Obama feel comfortable sparring with Jon Stewart.

and thinking "just to be sure it becomes a UK equivalent to The Daily Show, we've cut The Daily Show back to once a week to ensure that it's harder to make direct comparisons between the two."

I also wonder about the wisdom of basing your hopes for the future of a show on the ratings it got during a particularly high profile election night. Yes, 1.6 million people watched your show on election night. That's because people, particularly 24-hour-news-cycle generation people, like to watch live election results come in, and many of them thought they'd rather watch it fronted by comedians than Jeremy Vine. But will that translate to regular weekly viewing?

Most of all though, will this programme be any good? The trailer is poor, but of course it's hard to trail a live show because you don't actually have any footage yet. I would like it to be good. I wasn't keen on the election night version, which seemed to have a lot more titting about than actual coverage, but maybe that wasn't a great indicator. The network is apparently throwing everything it has at the show, so let's hope some of it sticks.

I am also heartened by this quote from David Mitchell:

I think too much of political journalism is thoughtlessly scrutinising," argues Mitchell. "It's always about contradicting the thing they've just said and crucially finding the difference of opinion they may have had with someone else they work with. Apparently, that's what you get 1,000 points for.
 This also bugs me about political journalism, and if anyone could start introducing a new, non-combative interview style, I would welcome that.

Meantime, we're buying our Daily Show from iTunes, just like I've resorted to buying Downton Abbey from iTunes (RTE doesn't have it on its web service and my Sky box has no way of learning that if I recorded all of Little Dorrit and Upstairs Downstairs, hey, maybe I'd like Downton Abbey as well ). If this keeps up, I'll just start getting all my telly from iTunes and do away with my satellite dish entirely.


The actual show was alright in the end, I thought, although it needs quite a bit of work to make it actually good. I was surprised to see that out of the four presenters, I liked Jimmy Carr best and if I had to pick one of them to be the British Jon Stewart, I'd pick him. Who'd have thought, eh?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Happy new year, you narky old bastard

I met the most awful man today. He was walking his dog off the lead and so was I, and when I saw him in the distance he had all the hallmarks of trouble: unsteady on his feet, flat cap, one dog, walking stick. I always put our guys on the lead when I see people like that, so I leashed up all five dogs and started to walk towards my car. The man leashed up his dog and continued to stand right where he was, on the path between me and my car. I then realised he was shouting something at me, but I couldn't hear him. He started to gesture with his stick and I figured he wanted me to walk the other way. When I got within earshot I called "I'm just trying to get to my car, it's right there."
"You and your car can wait!" he shouted, "you stay there while I walk on."
"Do what you like then," I said, and set off to make a wide circle around him. Then he called something else after me and I stopped.
"Excuse me?" I shouted.
"You've too many dogs. You can't hold all those dogs on the lead at the same time."
I looked down at the dogs I was holding on the lead all at the same time, quite comfortably, and said, "I'm doing just fine, thanks. If I couldn't hold them I wouldn't walk them together."
"It's against the law to have that many dogs."
"It's not. It's against the law to have more than three unmuzzled greyhounds."
"You're breaking the law. And you can't control those dogs."
By some miracle, my dogs were not only under control, but were actually just walking along patiently. They weren't even barking at the guy, never mind straining at the leash.
"I'm controlling them fine," I said. "You're the only one around here having a problem."
"If they come near me I'll take the stick to them," he said, and as if to prove his point, he hit his own dog with his stick.
"If you touch my dogs with your stick I'll have the guards on you," I said in a very stern voice, "and there's no need to hit your own dog, he's not doing anything."
"Mind your own business!" he shouted at me.
I swear to god this is exactly what happened. He told me to mind my own business.
"Oh, do you know what?" I said, "just fuck off, you narky old bastard." (I'm not especially proud of that, but I was shaking with anger now and I needed to blow off a bit of steam.)
I walked off towards the car, him still calling after me that I had too many dogs to control and that he would call the guards on me. When I had all the guys piled into the car, I watched him for a bit. He hit his dog several more times, not savagely, but hard enough for the dog to be worried. He really could barely walk and he certainly couldn't manage a dog. He kind of reminded me of what my dad would be like if his health was a bit worse and he was a bit more narky with strangers. I know that mobility difficulties and unexpected circumstances can make people edgy and defensive, and that can cause them to become aggressive, but this was beyond the pale. I considered going after him and taking the stick from him, but then I would be the bully and I didn't want that.
The sad thing is, if he wasn't such a horrible old bollocks, I would have offered to walk his dog for him.
In the interests of balance, I should also point out that I met four other people today who were out with their dogs and we all had a lovely time, with dogs running around together and barking and a bit of chatting among the people and so forth. If the thing with the man had happened at the start of the walk instead of the end, the effect of his sour old personality would have been dissipated by the friendliness of the others. Oh well.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Go cry, emo Frankenstein

We read this in Ian's Classic Book Club recently, and although I read it years ago, I was glad of the chance to go back and read it again. People's memories of it are so bound up in the movie versions that even I had forgotten that there are no villagers wielding torches, there is no fear of fire, and that the monster is articulate and well-spoken throughout most of the book.
Okay, so the book itself is kind of amateurishly written: there's a lot of repetition of words like "enduced" (a word I've never seen before and had to look up), Frankenstein does an awful lot of moping about some of the most dramatic scenery in Europe, and some of it just reads like a thrown-together travelogue at times, but overall it's a gripping book filled with tension, heartache on both sides, and serious allegorical points about human expansion into uncharted physical and scientific territories. Shelley gives a clue to her intentions when she talks about the tears the family of cottagers weeps over the fate of the American natives, the attempts of the ship to push through the Northwest Passage, and the suspicions of the Irish people in dealing with the outlander who comes among them.

Other things of note:

  • It's very hard to read phrases like "I was working in the laboratory all night" and not start singing "Monster Mash" to yourself.
  • Victor Frankenstein is a very stupid man. On his wedding night he's practically smacking himself on the head going "r-r-i-gh-t, now I get it". 
  • It's interesting that the actual creation of the monster, something that's gleefully indulged in several of the movies, sometimes involving grave robbing and murderers' brains and so forth, is completely glossed over in the book, apart from some vague hand-wavey stuff about galvanism. I did wonder how Frankenstein intended to put together a bride for his monster on Orkney, where he said himself only about three families lived.
  • I never really realised how tense the book is. That monster just chases him around for years and years. 
That is all my thinking about Frankenstein. Next up in Ian's Classic Book Club, Northanger Abbey, which I have never read.