The Button Man

The Roman plot thickens! I thought I'd finally got the first episodes of Rome unabridged but there's a scene in a B.B.C. recap that I didn't see (Titus hiding in the drinking water after the dice game). I can live with missing a scene - assuming it is just one - but they're not making it easy to be dedicated to this show. Is it some nefarious plot to make me buy a D.V.D. with "deleted" scenes? Oh, alright.

I, Claudius is a very theatrical telling of the history of Rome post-dating the events of the latest adaptation by a generation or two. It's worth a look if only to see Patrick Stewart with hair!

The characters in Rome have far more in common with those in The Sopranos than in any British "classic series" from the 1970s: they both show live in a society where the only loyalty is to one's own beliefs and one's family and you risk death if you cross somebody. Rome's are more sympathetic, however, because they don't have a larger perspective on the evil that they do whereas New Jersey's mafiosos do, yet they do it anyway. You forgive Niobe for having a child while her husband was at war because the army told her he was dead; you see the conflict between Pompey and Ceasar from both sides, how both men have the greatest respect for the Empire and are goaded into their actions; and you root for anyone opposite Atia of the Julii in a scene because she's such a manipulative bitch.

Two fictional characters will weave a path through all the social and political changes of the series, making it similar in concept to James Ellroy's trilogy of novels about the Kennedys. Titus Pullo is a centurion and Lucius Vorenus (pictured) is his X.O. I'll leave you with my favourite piece of dialogue so far, where the inexperienced Lucius has asked Titus for advice having been reunited with his wife after eight years. Titus has covered the romantic stuff already:

Pullo: And, when you couple with her, there's a spot just above her cunny. It's like a little button. Now, attend to that button and she will open up like a flower.

Vorenus: [suspiciously] How do you know this of her?

Titus Pullo: ALL women have them. Ask anyone!


At Shig's Digs

I was halfway there already for work on Friday when I set out to spend the evening with one of the most loyal and good-natured people I have the pleasure of knowing. Big up to Shig! We won't talk about the rookie error I made en route that took me 20 miles to correct. I swear lots of useful stuff (i.e. British driving directions) got auto-deleted from my brain to make room for new stuff while I was in America.

It took us a good ten minutes before we menked out - a sign of good manners, if nothing else. I arrived in time for the Doctor Who segment of the B.B.C.'s annual charity fund-raising telethon. When I searched for discussion about it two days later, I got lousy results. Best was a page on THE premier site for news about the show that I'd call THE premier site for discussion about the show too if only its message boards were taking new registrations or I'd registered earlier because I was psychic and knew I'd be in the mood for geeking out online one Sunday in November.

So let's see how many people I can lure here from Google: David Tennant Children In Need special Billie Piper regeneration Wogan Eccleston new scene run Christmas Invasion 3.5 minutes Russell writer not Shakespeare hopping canon Barcelona hair length ultimately disappointing. Click on the current number of "joyous proclamation(s)" below on the right and leave a comment if you found this page using a search engine.

Did you know, windscreen wipers [winshield wipers] are now known in cockney rhyming slang as "Billies"?

We went to an excellent microbrewery just steps from where he lives. Shig took the seat facing the cricket and I took the one facing the bar. We forgot to eat anything for most of the night, enabling us to verbally set the world to rights in just about every respect.

One egg, caper and anchovy and one thiiiick pepperoni pizza later, we were back at his place unitentionally mixing the visuals of Rome with the sound of Mwng by the Super Furry Animals, which is sung entirely in Welsh. Somehow we got to talking about Cop Land but he hadn't seen it so I explained the premise: brain damaged veteran policeman Sylvester Stallone works the suburb where all the big city's cops live; he has to keep order among people who consider themselves to be above the law. Shig said it reminded him of the place a friend of his used to live where, at night, one street would be full of ice cream vans. The fridges in all the vehicles were connected to houses for electricity so you had to step between cables on the pavement when you walked there! But who would sell ice cream in that neighbourhood? How do you up-sell to the children of men whose entire existence is ice cream?!

In a café the following morning we sat next to twin brothers with the same dress sense, the same amount of stubble and they styled their hair the same trendy way too. When there was an excuse to talk to them I had to ask if they were related because it was messing with my hungover head. But, you know me. I'll talk to anyone.

It's always good to see Shig.

Someone Else's Top Something

The results of The Guardian's Top Twenty Geek Novels survey have been published. With 120 people participating and voting closed already it wasn't exactly the most scientific study ever undertaken but that doesn't mean it's not indicative of the truth.

I've read ten and a half of them, making me 52.5% geek. The partial is Cryptonomicon, which bored me outright. I gave up a quarter of the way through. I should probably call it 10.25 and brag that I'm only 51.25% nerd. I loved #1, #2, #4, #6 and #12 on the list and felt like I'd finished a school reading assignment after #5 and #17.

It takes me a long time to read a book because of that thing Tim Berners-Lee did to keep me distracted. When I get around to actually picking one up I'm not a slow reader at all but we're talking trains, planes and that's about it. I read #14 on my first trip to New York City in 1997 and had to rush the ending so I could leave it with my host at the end of the week. In return, she gave me Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (the self-help book, not the movie with Burt Reynolds as a sperm).

Perhaps it's because I read so few novels in a year that they manage to evoke memories of times past almost as well as music does. In the case of Consider Phlebas, I remember my vacation vividly. And the plot? It had something to do with shape-shifters. I think Phlebas was a planet.

*But Were Too Afraid To Ask


What Are The Odds?

There are currently eight people in the office where I work. Last week we discovered that I have the same birthday as G. That can't be likely.

But R and H also share a birthday, and R2 and H2 celebrate just one day apart. If any budding statisticians want to have a stab at calculating this probability, I'm eager to know. Eight people tried on Friday but were too busy laughing to see it through.


The L Word

Since I repatriated I've met Laurie, Laura, Lauren, Liz, Laura #2, and Lara. (No bull.) So meeting Joanna on Friday was a breath of fresh air. I'll wager my first wage packet that I can guess her star sign!

Unnecessary Upgrade

I'm starting to get a little embarrassed about how well my new employers are treating me. Now that I've moved to a permanent contract they want me to switch to a long term car lease. There's a budget bigger than my salary and head office is asking me what I want to drive! The only problem is, I know jack about cars.

I've been perfectly happy with the Focus. It gets me from A to B, has automatic heated everything and moves like a greyhound with dysentery. But the vibe I'm getting is "successful salesmen don't drive Fords".

I need to research company car tax - there's a formula involving cost, size of engine and level of carbon dioxide emissions. Paying as little as possible for this perk is my number one aim but beyond that I'm clueless. I've been handed a blank cheque and I don't know how to spend it. Help!


Top Five Albums Of 2004

The latest issue of Uncut magazine lists the year's best music and amazon.com just sent me a link to their Top 100. Doesn't that seem odd, just ten and a half months into the year? I'll think about mine the week before Christmas. Til then, have a butchers at what I liked last year.

1. Blueberry Boat: The Fiery Furnaces
It was unlike anything I'd ever heard before and I fell in love with it immediately. I evangelized and sent copies to friends who found it unstructured and over-long so, for once, don't take my word for it.

2. A Grand Don't Come For Free: The Streets
A two-step concept album? The mind boggles!
3. Give Up: The Postal Service
4. Abbatoir Blues: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
The soundtrack to my week on the Autobahn last November.
5. Scissor Sisters: Scissor Sisters


Rome Wasn't Built In A Day

But the first three episodes were shown in two.

I downloaded Episode 1 because I was away when it was on here. Naturally, I got the original H.B.O. version. At lunch today I sat down to watch Episode 2 - taped from the B.B.C. broadcast - and there was stuff in the recap that I didn't recognize. Did I miss an episode? I checked with friends and it has definitely only been going for three weeks. Hours later, I found out what the Pliny is going on: the B.B.C. is full of freaking idiots.

It doesn't help that next-to-no shows put their episode titles onscreen any more. It's all The X-Files' fault: only giving story names online helped generate a huge internet following for that show. But it can make it tough for the uninitiated to know what they're watching when the Bumbling Broadcasting Corporation decides to do a hatchet job on Rome!

If you live in the U.K. and are happy watching The Anachronistic Brazilian Wax Show, stick with the Beeb. If you want to see all the political scenes too then downloading them is really the only solution at present.


Top Five Comics Writers

Welcome to Comics Day at Ford Prefect! [Blows party whistle.]

1. Brian Michael Bendis
Writes Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers and Daredevil: The Man Without Fear simultaneously and they're all dynamite.

2. J. Michael Straczynski
Sole scribe on The Amazing Spider-Man for the last four years. Might be in first place if he hadn't retconned Gwen Stacy's virginity last year. When Aunt May found out that Peter was Spider-Man she said she'd always thought there was something different about him, but assumed that he was gay. You never know what's next with Joe.

3. Neil Gaiman
The Sandman - that's the Vertigo Sandman, not the mainstream D.C. Sandman or the Marvel Sandman - is the smartest comic in the world. It even has a proper ending. Gaiman's a genius but he over-relies on the motif of storytelling within his stories.

4. Alan Moore
In the words of Pop Will Eat Itself, "Watchmen! We love you all."

5. Frank Miller
Not just a bit good at drawing (see below).


I would have finished the previous post last night but I got distracted reading comics-related articles at Wikipedia. Fanon held my attention longer than most. It describes a fact or an ongoing situation related to popular fiction that has been used so much among fandom that it has more or less been established as happening in the fictional world: it's a portmanteau of "fanatic" and "canon".

In Star Wars, for example, it's fanon that Han Solo was a lieutenant in the Imperial Army until he liberated Chewbacca from enslavement. It doesn't contradict anything on film and provides fertile ground for spin-off stories. Some believe that Jar Jar Binks died when the Death Star obliterated Alderaan in A New Hope and I suspect that's motivated less by admiration for the original work.

When elements of Enterprise didn't marry with a whole host of widely-accepted fanon facts about the origins of the Star Trek universe, a portion of its core fanbase were anti- it from the start. It can't be pleasant to be crucified by the monsters you created based on stuff they made up. Enterprise visibly shifted its focus - for the second time - in its fourth season and began to use people and places from the original series more but this was, to detractors, just further evidence of a lack of clear direction. (Anyone who watched faithfully til the end was rewarded with one last slap in the face: a final episode where the main cast are seen only in recordings watched by characters from The Next Generation. Burn!)

Cf. fanwank and retcon, but only if you're fascinated already.

Top Five Comics Pencillers

I've blathered on about Alex Ross enough. He's hardly prolific and he rarely does comic interiors at all these days. It's time the pen and ink guys got some recognition. (N.B. I'm currently hooked on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. I read mostly Marvel all the time so this list may be skewed slightly.)

1. Alex Maleev
Resident artist on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. (Don't say I didn't warn you.) In recent years Daredevil's secret identity has been revealed and he's become the crime boss of Hell's Kitchen in the Kingpin's absence, presumably in the belief that crime is safer organized than disorganized. (I'm not sure. I didn't get to that part yet.) Maleev depicts these epic events using a photo manipulation technique. He inks and colours his own work so he has full control over what the finished art will look like: all ragged lines and scratches, giving the impression that the world itself is against our hero as he valiantly tries to make order out of chaos.

2. Jack "The King" Kirby
Marvel Comics looked the way they did for so long because of this man.

3. Mike Deodato
Currently drawing The Amazing Spider-Man. Apparently his early stuff was reminscent of Jim Lee but lately he's adopted the more realistic style I know him for. He can convey emotion with a small expression on a character's face. Mary-Jane Parker never looked so good!

4. Frank Miller
Is it sacreligious to place one of the few true comics auters in fourth place? I never had a particularly great time with any of his books, except The Dark Knight Returns. I haven't read his classic run on Daredevil and I didn't even spare two hours out of my life yet to watch Sin City. Out of guilt for not giving Mr. Miller a fair appraisal, I just pre-ordered Sin City on DVD.

5. John Romita Jr.
Like his father before him, "JRJR" is one of the most prolific men of his time. My gran would buy me The Incredible Hulk comic each week because I liked Bill Bixby on T.V. but I'd only see her every six weeks or so, so I'd get a small stash each time. If this was a ploy to keep me quiet and well-behaved, it worked. And that's how I first got into comics. Romita's was the only art I knew for superheroes for years. His son has the same knack of drawing figures with convincing weight and bulk. John Junior drew this and that. What's not to like?

Comics these days look the best they ever have - no doubt about it. No doubt either that the recent spate of superhero movies has helped comics creators approach their subject in a more cinematic way.

Sony Pictures has released the first picture of the Sandman, a thuggish villain from Spider-Man 3. Tobey Maguire-a-like Topher Grace has also been cast as Venom - an inspired choice considering the similarities between Peter Parker, Eddie Brock and both their alter-egos. Only 523 days to go!


Quickest. Promotion. Ever.

Yesterday my manager got permission to create two new positions in the Sales department and I transferred today. It'll mean longer days - commuting 75 miles each way to the office three days a week, and customer visits on other days - but it's a significant pay raise and there's the opportunity for bonuses at the end of the financial year. It's more challenging work too, plus I get to keep the car!

I'm so happy right now. My old supervisor said, "I knew that would happen sooner or later but I thought I'd have you for more than three weeks."


What Marcus Needs

I got this from kitkat who got it from Bearette. Google "[your name] needs".

Marcus needs a governess for his sister Daphne.
Marcus needs a refuge from the sadness at home.
Marcus needs braces.
Marcus needs someone who knows what kind of sneakers he should wear, and who Kurt Cobain is.
Marcus needs a new heart.
Marcus needs more games in the first team.
Marcus needs to continue to impersonate Mike.
Marcus needs a few days off.
Marcus needs to protect his breed.
Marcus needs to be able to pick up a stack of blocks so the pick-up-item should be capable of being bound to a stack of blocks.

Clockwork Sniper

is a local hardcore/punk/death/metal band. (Like I know the difference.) Phil's sister is dating the singer or we wouldn't have gone within a mile of The Croft last night. You'd think that two eighteen-year-old girls in black make-up in the back of his car would have tipped me off slightly about the type of music we were about to see, wouldn't you? But the goth look can cover several dark, mysterious musical bases these days so I held out for some kind of Cure tribute band. Alas, and alack, and all that stuff.

The vocals were mostly unintelligible screams but I picked out a "motherfucker" or two. Though it was a total lyrical bust, once I'd accepted the voice as just another instrument I started appreciating it more. In a fine Frasier moment, I told myself it was like listening to an Italian opera and not to care that you don't understand the words. There wasn't much to look at but the guitarists in the support band amused me greatly as they competed for the sound mixer's attention throughout their set. Each wanted to be one louder than the other. (If you join a band without first watching This Is Spinal Tap then you should be prepared to face the consequences - namely, being ridiculed on the internet by people who have seen it.)

Clockwork Sniper played last. A little bird told me that frontman Andrew has a nice singing voice but felt he had to shout like like a demonic beast on this occasion so the hardcore audience wouldn't think he was a pansy. I watched about half of their set before I lost the ability to tell one song from another and moved back to the bar area.

Soothing soul music was on the jukebox and this (combined with saying earlier that I couldn't hear the words properly) made me feel about 50 years old. I talked to a stranger about "the eye of the duck" scene in the films of David Lynch and helped someone else steal the hat his friend was wearing. There was no macho jostling at the bar but no-one got served any slower. All in all, it was a refreshingly unusual evening - and a schoolnight, too.


Top Five Things I Just Did

1. Caught up with an old friend.
Dominiek and I worked together years ago and now we do again. I love people who don't care how long it's been since they last saw you. You can cut the crap and get straight on with laughing it up like flyboys.

2. Discovered Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
Domi asked me to get this book from amazon.co.uk and he'd pay me when when we met. But we were both so impressed with everything we'd read about it that he bought a deluxe three-volume edition in Books Etc. and I kept the copy that was intended for him. Then we got in knots over who owed the other how much cash and it took us until breakfast the following day to work it out to our satisfaction.

3. Saw Wallace & Grommit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.
It's no The Wrong Trousers but it's still ninety minutes of good, clean plasticine fun that wears its filmic influences (Frankenstein and King Kong) proudly on its sleeve. Unsurprisingly, Harvey gets a nod too.

4. Planned my Christmas break.
I've been invited to eat turkey in Amsterdam, then to a cottage in the Lake District for the New Year. This represents an 8000% improvement on last year and it's a huge relief to know I won't be lonely on either occasion. May all of my friends be so fortunate.

5. Ate a lot of junk food.
Two pizzas, two curries, two Burger Kings, a McDonald's and a cooked English breakfast at the Naff Cafe in Brighton. My body craves fruit.

This Is Marvellous

The mainstream appropriation of Leonardo Da Vinci continues unabated. I've avoided countless television programmes examining whether The Da Vinci Code, a work of fiction, holds up as fact. More books have been written about it than Dan Brown has ever read and they were all finished in a fraction of the time. And now Marvel Comics is getting in on the act.

The promo art for a new comic "event" storyline called The Other spoofs a very famous Da Vinci drawing. In the context of Spider-Man, an eight-legged man doesn't seem quite so odd: note how the insignia on his chest has two limbs pointing up and two down, just like Leonardo's Vitruvian Man. The original has mysterious mirror-image Latin text describing the proportions of the human body. Marvel's version has backwards text too though it's tongue-in-cheek, as the following excerpts demonstrate:

Obesa cantavit
In dentibus anticis frustrum magnum spiniciae habes
Nonne de novo eboraco venis?
Quid quid latine dictum sit, altum videtur

Cunning linguists can have a crack at deciphering these phrases before reading their translations in the comments section.


"One Does Not Simply Walk Into Bognor..."

I just worked four-days at a Butlins holiday camp. We knew the event would be a bit crap before we went there so the real shock to the system was the venue itself. If you ever had the misfortune to see (lame 80s Brit-com) Hi-De-Hi! then count yourself lucky that you never had the misfortune to stay in such a place.

We had "basic accommodation", which pre-dates (or maybe just dates) the above advertisement. It should more accurately be called "basic inconvenience" because you get two draughty rooms, plastic-covered mattresses and no shower. We bought towels for our entourage of sixteen people because none were provided. Apparently we needed to bring our own toilet paper too because I later had a phone call from the person I was rooming with, asking if I knew where he could find a new roll and could it please be a place that he could reach from where he was sitting. The empty can of beer wedged in the ceiling of the walkway outside our chalet was the icing on our shitty cake.

The site was a ghost town until Saturday, when it exploded. Fireworks brought the animals out of hiding and you couldn't move for fat, chavvy parents and their stupid, chavvy children (though the jailbait on the Dance Dance Revolution machine was genuinely entertaining). When you can fly a family to Spain off-season for less than a week's wages you have to be some kind of masochist to go to Bognor Regis in November instead. Or "Mordor Regis", as it shall for evermore be known.


Honey, I Broke The Internet

Recently I heard a woman in a shop say to her colleague, "the internet is broken again". That's weird, because it was fine when I got home. She must have meant that their connection was down temporarily.

If she'd said Hotmail was broken then I might have been more likely to believe her. I've had tons of bounced messages to friends lately, and they report errors trying to write to me too. This is in addition to the long-standing issue of Yahoo and Hotmail not getting along (or at least it seemed that way when I last dated a Yahoo user). I can only guess someone somewhere hasn't paid their bills. For once, it's not me.

In other news, the Wikipedia project isn't dead but it has been maimed somewhat by one of its co-founders. Despite also being the author of a book on "the wisdom of the crowd" - the notion that a great number of individuals reaching the same conclusion independently will be more accurate than a group of experts working together - Jimmy Wales posted that the lazy journalist's favourite website has some serious quality issues. Now we're supposed to consult it, but not depend upon it. Rats!

How To Make A Compilation Album

I've traded two compilation albums a year for six years with the same friend so I think I've got a good sense of where our tastes overlap. Imagine a Venn diagram: anything with a high noise-to-melody ratio lives in my segment (A); any folky stuff that makes the listener want to spontaneously start talking in an Irish accent is over on his side (B); all the boy and girl bands in all the world are outside of both circles and almost off the page; and everything else sits in the middle (C).

The first thing I do is note down all the great music I've heard recently. No more than one song per artist is allowed and usually no more than one track per album either - though this rule can be bent if you have a good compilation album to copy from (such as The Trip series, where contemporary artists mix the music that inspired them).

I group the songs I've selected by type and there's invariably more rock and electronica than anything else so I break those groups down further - by era, theme or tempo. (Jazz and classical tracks occasionally feature but usually it's hip-hop, soul, reggae or soundtrack stuff filling the gaps between guitars.) Codas are better than overtures because it's important to have a strong opener, but save THE killer track for the home stretch. If I use anything less than serious, it usually goes at the end so it's easier to ignore when the novelty wears off.

So far, my mix is just doodles on paper made while I'm watching T.V. When I start actually listening to the songs I've chosen I find that a transition I'd planned is more jarring than I thought so I go back and get a new piece of music to bridge it. Sometimes I find songs from different genres segue well because they have similar instruments in them. By this stage, everything that I had on paper has been abandoned. It's like there's only one order for all these songs to sit in that's correct and I don't rest until I've solved the puzzle. Six or seven hours after I began, I'm ready to polish. I normalize the volume of the compilation, apply fades in or out on any tracks that didn't come that way, and burn.

And people say I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies! It really doesn't feel like work. It's like directing or designing, or something... the closest I ever get to D.J.-ing is this, with a computer doing the timing for me. Thanks to RapidUpload.com you can hear my Fall 2005 selection for yourself: part I and part II (requires Windows Media Player and a zip extraction program like WinRAR or WinZip).