Sunday, April 29, 2012

Smashy smashy

When I eventually get around to rewriting my zombie apocalypse novel and somebody eventually makes a film or four-part telly series out of it, there's one bit I'm particularly looking forward to. It's the bit where our heroes (that's the people who are still alive, btw, I don't hold with any of this new-fangled pro-zombie nonsense) go out foraging for food, find a store selling these items:
and, just for fun, smash the fucking shit out of them.
I am really hoping I get to be on set that day, and that the crew will let me set up the display of these hideously gendered, winsome, sickly gewgaws. Perhaps I could build a lovely pyramid of them, gingerly placing them one atop the other, wincing occasionally at that little squeak of china on china that sets my teeth on edge, and grinning away at the thought that soon the whole lot is going to come crashing down. Hopefully we will have to do several takes and then, fingers crossed, play the whole thing back in slow motion (even though I normally hate slow motion).
For these mugs to generate the full berzerker rage, it's best to happen on them in a bookshop, where they have no fucking place being, and, even better, to view them alongside their male counterpart:
Yes, that's right. Men read books, you see. Women eat cupcakes. 
I have to go back to this bookshop during the week to collect a book for mrmonkey (because he's allowed to read). Maybe I will bring my smashing stick. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Boats, trains, and riding horses in the living room. Or, books I read recently

Classic Book Club continues apace. Recently we read weighty Russian funfest Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, about which enough has probably already been said in the world. All I'll add is that it had the feel of a biography rather than a novel, in that Tolstoy played everything out to its inevitable, unromantic, and bitter conclusion as if he had no means of stopping it (as if it was some kind of oncoming train, do you see?); also, modern life is killing Russia, peasants are good, trains are bad.
When you write it down like that, it does make it seem a lot more forbidding than it really is, so if you're thinking of embarking on Anna Karenina and the size and reputation of the book are putting you off, don't let them. I let them for years, but when I finally read it I found it warm, easy to read (I read the Maude translation, which has a reputation for quality (although as Eoghan pointed out, this could just be because Tolstoy was friends with them)), romantic, and very funny.
The more modest 20th Century Book Club recently read The Siege of Krishnapur, by JG Farrell, winner of the 1973 Booker Prize. The story concerns the British residents of the fictional Indian town of Krishnapur and their experiences under siege during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. It's told in a perfectly-pitched tone of more-tea-vicar jollity which serves to highlight the eccentricities of the British colonial machine, and to gloss over and magnify the horror of the actual siege. It reminded me of this Monty Python sketch from The Meaning of Life.
Although obviously there's more to it than that. Recommended. I may also give the other books in Farrell's Empire Trilogy a go at some stage.
In more British Empire fun, I finally got around to reading Kydd, the first of Julian Stockwin's series of seafaring adventures about a young wig-maker from Guildford who is pressed into the navy in 1793, a time of war with France (in the books I read, it's always a time of war with France, or at the very least, in France).
This is a real page-turner/button-pusher/screen-tapper of a story that moves as briskly as chain through canvas and features lots of clear and exciting descriptions of life at sea for pressed men. Okay, there's a lot of jargon here, plenty of clewgarnets and boatswains and taffrails and any amount of belaying, but it's all pretty clear from the context and sure, you can always look it up in one of your many reference books about the age of sail, which of course you all have.
What stops Kydd making the ascent from the gundeck of decent adventure yarn onto the quarterdeck of great nautical fiction is its lack of characterisation. Kydd himself is difficult to read and hardly speaks, and his new best friend Renzi is slightly unbelievable so far, but maybe he gets better in the later books. There were also a few jarring details that lifted me out of the story on occasion (I don't care if "lanthorn" is the word they used at the time, every time I read it I think "lanthorn, oh, you mean lantern" and it snags on my brain, and when Kydd looks down on his shipmates on his first trip aloft and describes them as looking like penguins, I wondered how he would know what penguins looked like when they moved? Especially from above?) but these were, I assure you, minor considerations. In fact I've already bought the second one of these and will get to it as soon as I've finished the next Classic Book Club tome, The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope (May 20th, Trollope fans).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why do I bother? or, crap films I saw this week

One of the reasons I find it hard to finish writing anything is that my own standards keep getting in the way. Every time I think of some way to move the story forward, I think of ten reasons why he wouldn't do that, or she wouldn't say that, or it would be better if they went here and did this instead, but then I'd have to go back and change that other thing, and so on. I can't just lash something down there and think "that'll do, sure." There's a certain level of quality I'd like to attain before trying to charge people money to read something I've written. It's not even that high a level, really, but it's there and I'm committed to it.
Other people don't seem to have that problem. They just smack any old thing up on a screen and expect you to put up with it. As an example of this, I give you the two films we watched last night: The Medusa Touch (1978) and Split Second (1992).
From the blog Contains Moderate Peril
In the first, which is really an extended Tales of the Unexpected trying to be something weightier, Richard Burton plays a writer who we first see being bludgeoned and left for dead in his flat by an unknown assailant. It turns out that Burton believes he is cursed with the power of telekinesis, and that he has caused the deaths of many people throughout his life because of this. So, he withdraws from society and becomes bitter and caustic. In an effort to solve the mystery of who would want to thump such a charmer, the police talk to his neighbours, his psychiatrist (Lee Remick), his publisher (Derek Jacobi) who tell the story of his life. In the background, and gradually moving into the foreground, hang various recent disasters including the crashing of a 747 and the loss of a Moon mission. Did Richard Burton cause these?
[SPOILER: He did.]
The movie actually has a nicely creepy tone to it, and the grainy black and white movies of telekinetic experiments are particularly effective. However, I can't forgive it the terrible final set piece.
The movie's big finale is a service which is due to be held in Minster Cathedral (you know, Minster Cathedral! In London!) to celebrate the fact that they've reached their £3 million fundraising target and can now start to repair the cathedral's crumbling structure. That's right, the cathedral is falling down. In fact, it's in such a state of disrepair that lorries going by cause bits of it to fall off.
"Why would you invite the Queen and the heads of the Commonwealth to a service in such a dangerously unsound structure?" asked one of our discerning guests at this point.
Clearly nobody involved in the making of the movie had asked this question, nor had any of the characters in the movie, who dutifully filed into the cathedral while the police, who had just discovered that Richard Burton planned to topple the cathedral by driving a huge lorry past it over and over till it fell down telekinesis, had the most awful time trying to get them all out again. Nothing would have persuaded me, even if I was fictional, to go into a cathedral that had gargoyles falling off it minutes beforehand. I'd have remembered I had to wash my hair.
It all works out alright in the end. Or maybe it doesn't, I can't remember, to be honest.
Renegade cop Harley Stone with non-renegade sidekick Detective Dick Durkin
The other movie was just outright awful from start to finish. It took place in a future London (2008), which is flooded and full of rats and menacing. Except it didn't have the budget for any of these things,  so there was just a lot of walking around and being filmed through metal gratings in what turns out to be a Hartleys jam factory (it says so on IMDB). It had the worst character names (Detective Dick Durkin, anyone?), the worst "tell don't show" dialogue ("there's Harley Stone, stay out of his way, he's a loose cannon, he lives on coffee, chocolate, and anxiety, they say he went off the rails when his partner died", etc.) and the least observant police officers you'll ever see anywhere. In one particularly chucklesome scene, Harley Stone (Rutger Hauer), takes out a huge handgun, which is just an ordinary handgun with some bits of black plastic stuck on to it to make it look more future. 
"What the hell is that?" says Detective Dick Durkin.
"It's a gun," we point out.
Two seconds later, red stuff drips from the ceiling onto Detective Dick Durkin.
"What the hell is this?" he wails.
"It's fucking blood, you idiot," we chorus. "You are the worst detective ever."
I think someone took out a book a bit later and someone else asked what the fuck that was. All through this film all anyone did was ask the other person questions with either "hell" or "fuck" in them.
"What the hell is this?"
"Where the fuck are we going?"
"Who the hell was that?"
I'm no Kenneth Lonergan, but I could have written a much better film than this.
There was also a monster, which seemed to be played by a tall person in a motorbike helmet and pimped up Marigolds.
At a running time of 87 minutes, this film is 67 minutes too long. How on earth it ever got made, I don't know. Don't watch it, it's not good. Not even by my modest standards.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bastard dog (it's all about quality of life)

Photo courtesy of Meath Coast Dog Walking
When Trixie was diagnosed with her heart condition two years ago, it was suggested to us that she might not have very long left. She now takes ten tablets a day and has to be minded by a special minder or she'll have another heart attack the next time I go on holidays (she's had two heart attacks now). She's also kind of incontinent and if you don't get her outside to pee within twenty minutes of her taking a diuretic, she will pee on the sofa or the carpet or the car seat, or you, even if she's wide awake.
When I say these things to people, they expect to meet a tiny dog who can only barely drag herself from place to place and is constantly at death's door. Just the other day I met one of my dog-walking pals out and about and was telling him about her, and he said, "I don't think I could keep a dog alive once it got to that stage. They have no quality of life."
While we were having this conversation, Trixie was arse up in a rabbit hole on the other side of the football pitch having escaped out of the car before I could get the lead onto her to hold her back. Much of the time, when we go walking up by the firing range, I have to trudge back to the car without her and sit, listening to whatever book I've brought with me, for up to an hour with the other dogs, waiting for Trixie to come back so we can go home and have our lunch.
No rabbit left behind, that is Trixie's motto.
For a while she was off her food (her expensive, vet-approved, low-salt, fat-free, single-protein-source food) and she lost over a kilo in weight, so I started boiling chicken and rice in great vats and mixing this with her food to get her to eat. This worked fine for about a month, and the other dogs are delighted with the new arrangement (because obviously they have to get some of the chicken and rice as well, because otherwise there would be resentment).
But now Trixie has started methodically, spitefully, sucking all the chicken and rice off the nuggets of expensive, vet-approved, low-salt, fat-free, single-protein-source food and spitting said food back into the dish, where it sits until one of the other dogs hoovers it up. What's the way round this? Microwaving the chicken and rice before I add it to the her expensive, vet-approved, low-salt, fat-free, single-protein-source food.
Because she prefers it when it's warm.
Because she is a bastard dog.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Bastard Cat

Mrmonkey came home from Seattle. It was a long week here without him, what with a death in the family to deal with and stormy weather keeping me awake at nights.
Bastard Cat laughs at your human frailties
This morning, as a treat, he brought me up my breakfast and took the dogs out for a rainy walk so I could stay in bed late and do a bit of writing. Sadly, Bastard Cat had other ideas, and as soon as mrmonkey and the dogs were gone, she appeared outside the back door, right under our bedroom window, and started miaowing to be let in.
"Miaow," said Bastard Cat from under the window. "Miaow."
After a while I got up and opened the bathroom window, which we leave open at night so that Bastard Cat does not wake us up at five in the morning with her bastard miaowing. I stood in the bath in my nightdress, in the cold, pish-wishing to her so she would know the window was open and could come in. Job done, I thought. Signal sent.
I got back into bed.
"Miaow," said Bastard Cat from right under the window. "Miaow. Miaow."
I opened the bedroom window and leaned out to talk to her.
"What's your problem?"
"The fucking bathroom window is open, you stupid Bastard Cat."
"I'm not coming all the way downstairs to let you in."
I put on my cardigan over my nightdress and went downstairs to the kitchen to let her in. She rubbed herself up against the patio door, excited at the prospect of coming into the nice warm house, pleased that her human had come to let her in.
I unlocked the door and slid it open. Bastard Cat strutted in, then decided she didn't quite like the annoyed tone in my voice when I said, "there, now you're in will you shut the fuck up, for the love of God?"
Just before the door slid closed behind her, she changed her mind and ran back out into the yard again and disappeared off round the corner.
"Bastard cat."
I went back upstairs and got back into bed.
"Miaow," said Bastard Cat from below the window, having forgiven and forgotten everything.