Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Cheesy peas

n the other hand (continuing a post about television from the other day), sometimes watching cheesy programmes is a good way to unwind. Fortunately, there are a lot of them about, such as Invasion and Surface, but occasionally there are times when not a single slice can be found.

I often wonder whether the makers of these programmes know how cheesy they are. Perhaps there was a clue in Star Trek Voyager on Saturday (apparently the last episode of the current series), when Captain Janeway urgently ordered, "Get this cheese to sick bay!"

Sunday, January 29, 2006


ow, lots of people are contaminated by the '4 Things' meme. I'd seen others come down with it, such as Hellsbells, then Yclepta passed it to me. Even Jason Kottke, one of the big names in blogging, has been brought down by it, and it's mutated strangely in little.red.boat, becoming five and a half.

Jack Schofield of the Guardian has also been infected, though he's only a carrier, linking to seven others. He reckons that over a million people have been touched already, and he predicts (hopes) that it should be over by the end of the week.

It's intermittent on my blog, making it a long, slow, lingering experience. I tag blueshawk, just so I can say I've done my bit to pass it on, but only if he wants to be tagged. What will he make of it, I wonder?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Hooray for Freeview

atching some of the Freeview digital channels in this house recently has overtaken the mainstream terrestrial programmes. Admittedly, many of the programmes have previously been shown on the big four and there's a lot of repetition, but if you're careful, you can dig up some real treasures.

Grand Designs and (older and better) ER can be found on More4, but it's UKTV History that I watch the most. It has The World at War and gems like the programme recently on the last debutante season before WW2. Since Christmas, there has been the series Inventing the Modern World, which is good, though with a touch too much dramatisation. On the down side, though, there has also been a surfeit of Fred Dibnah.

Nevertheless, I've been enjoying A History of Britain, Meet the Ancestors, and What the Ancients/ Romans/ Stuarts/ Tudors/ Elizabethans/ Victorians Did for Us. In the last of these, I particularly liked the reconstuction of the Tempest Prognosticator, a Victorian machine that used leeches to warn of impending storms by ringing bells.

Overall, though, what I like best about the digital channels is that they show old programmes. The static cameras and slow pacing of dramas such as Brideshead Revisited and The Jewel in the Crown are thoughtful compared to the hurried wobblings and part-dramatised frenzy that programme makers assume we need nowadays to maintain our attention. Unfortunately, although ITV2 was broadcasting these as part of its celebrations of 50 years of ITV, its lukewarm commitment to these triumphs led to scheduling late them on Sunday and Monday nights, so I missed most of them.

Friday, January 27, 2006

4 cars

his post is a continuation of the 4 xxxx meme...

The first car I ever owned was an EH Holden. My friend Tony and I were travelling in Australia in 1980 and wanted to drive through the outback, so we bought the car in Sydney and set off to Melbourne and Adelaide via the Twelve Apostles, then northwards into the desert. We visited some wonderful places - Ayers Rock, Mt Olga, Simpson's Gap and Stanley Chasm.

The most dramatic episode happened when we were driving without a windscreen. In those days, the road between Adeleaide and Alice Springs was just a dirt track, so car wheels sent stones flying, which was particularly dangerous when you were being overtaken. One such stone smashed our windscreen, so we stopped to punch out the glass. I think I was driving when it happended, but Tony took over when we set off again.

I don't remember who first spotted the two large birds standing on the road ahead. I'm sure they were some kind of eagle, but we'll never know. They watched us approach but didn't move until we were very close. They eventually started to fly up, but we were so near by that stage that I was convinced they wouldn't clear the car in time and would be scooped in through the glassless windscreen. I didn't like the idea of two suddenly irate birds of prey struggling inside the car, so I reached for the door handle, ready to leap out of the still-moving car.

This all happened in just a few seconds, but it seemed much longer before Tony stamped on the brakes, and we stopped just short of the birds who continued to flap slowly away, annoyed at being forced to move from their comfortable spot.

That journey took several weeks, during which we hit and killed, on separate occasions, a kangaroo and a sheep. The car was solid enough to suffer little damage, and on our return to Sydney we sold it to someone who had helped us out during our stay.

Subsequent cars have been practical and reliable, but not very interesting: Fiat Uno 45, Vauxhall Astra, Rover 213 and Peugeot 306 (twice).

Thursday, January 26, 2006

There are more things, Horatio, than I can keep track of

esterday I took charge of eight drama students to rehearse my 'Hamlet in 10 seconds' stop-motion animation. By 'taking charge', I mean shouting a lot and being heard about a quarter of the time, but the noise, on the whole, was the result of enthusiasm, though I did occasionally lose some of them to boredom when there were problems to resolve elsewhere.

I hadn't really planned to have someone from my course to assist me, but it's just as well that Matt came along because I couldn't have managed without him quietly and calmly getting on with practical tasks. I'd intended to film the latter half of the action from an additional camera so that I could choose when to cut from one viewpoint to the other, but I was so engrossed in directing the action that I simply forgot. Another assistant for that camera in the final shoot would be very useful.

When I asked Matt if he would help, I didn't take into consideration the raging hormones of my teenage coursemates. Judging by their reactions on sniffing the scent of young female drama students, I could easily have auctioned off the role of assistant to the highest bidder, though I would then have had a continuously distracted assistant.

I'll review the different takes over the next few days, and storyboard the changes carefully, ready for the final shoot next Wednesday.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Fleur Adcock

isa and I heard Fleur Adcock read some of her poetry last night. She concentrated almost entirely on one small corner of her work: her various relations. Much of what she read concerned the apparently trivial, and was written in a simple style that must have taken considerable effort to achieve. It took me a while, therefore, to catch on to the frequency with which just a few words, often in the last line, would dramatically widen a poem's significance.

I have no idea what other topics Fleur covers, but I'm convinced that the minor details she records in those few poems last night are just the sort of things that would be lost to our collective memory if she didn't write about them in such an interesting way. There are so many words written each day now, in print and on the web, that it's easy to believe that nothing will ever be forgotten again. The sheer number of words is precisely the problem, however. Between the sheer quantity and the low value of many of them, I fear that we won't make sufficient effort to keep what's valuable, and we will lose much that we will later miss.

The event was one of a series at Keele University. The next one is Hugo Williams, on 28th February, and we'll be going to that too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

4 Jobs, Parts 3 & 4

y third job, in 1980, was a cleaner in Sydney. I helped Carlos, who came from Colombia, clean an office and a nightclub on alternate days. (I've no idea who worked the opposite pattern.) It was tedious but it helped with the money.

My fourth job was in 1984 and 85, during the fourth year of my five-year university 'sandwich' course: temporary trainee planning officer in Bromsgrove District Council. Bromsgrove is situated in the Green Belt to the south of Birmingham, so a large part of dealing with applications for planning permission involved saying "No".

In the vast majority of cases, this was straightforward, even when people appealed against the decision since the policy was clear. In one or two cases, however, the applicants used their imaginations to try to find a way round the system.

Someone started to build a bungalow without permission, and was told to stop. He repeatedly tried to justify the development by submitting applications for activities on the adjoining land: the building was, at various times, a stable for a stud farm, residential accommodation for a trout farm and, most impressive of all, the manager's house for a nuclear fallout shelter.

The applicant even submitted floorplans for the shelter, showing three columns of rooms underground, each split into twenty floors. One column provided dormitories, one was for dining, and the third for recreation. Presumably everyone had to move from one room to another at the same time. It was almost a shame to refuse such an unusual application, but that was what happened, yet again.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

100 metal men

ony, Penny and I went to Crosby yesterday to see Another Place by Anthony Gormley. In the end, we spent several hours wandering over just a short stretch of the beach, taking many, many photographs. The light changed from bright sunlight to dull cloud, then the sun came out again just before it set, and the variety made the afternoon even more enjoyable.

It was fascinating to see how many people were on the beach, enjoying the sculpture. Lots of people were taking photos, and we chatted to several. Everyone talked enthusiastically about the iron figures staring enigmatically out to sea, and some were dressing the figures in pieces of clothing.

As the tide came in, the water rose higher up the sculptures, and some became completely submerged. The setting sun added a further degree of poignancy as ships, silhouetted against the sky, passed remorselessly by, leaving the figures staring after them.

It's hard to believe that 100 metal men, spread out so far along the beach, could be so evocative. The figures have been shown in Germany, Belgium and Norway, and will move on from Crosby in November 2006. I urge you to go and see them before they depart.

I'll update this post to provide a link to the specific page on Tony and Penny's photoblog with their photographs. I'll also post some of mine on my Flickr account once I've sorted through them all.

Update: Tony has now posted the first of his photographs from yesterday, and you can also see the photographs from his previous visit.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

All together now

n the first official day back at college, the powers that be unleashed a surprise. All planned activities for students on graphic design, photography and multimedia courses were temporarily suspended in favour of a collaborative animation project.

We were each given photocopies of twelve frames from a film by Eadweard Muybridge of a horse galloping, representing one second of action. Our task was to manipulate or annotate them in any way we wanted, taking no more than three hours, whereupon all our submissions would be combined to form a single animation.

Responses ranged from the mundane ("I'm bored" written in the same corner of every frame) to the imaginative (the rider falling off in one sequence and successive frames torn into successively smaller pieces in another).

My contribution involved a chariot (without horse) overtaking Muybridge's horse, though the impact is reduced because I took the easier route, having no paints with me, of sending the chariot behind the horse rather than in front. The detailed movement of going over a bump on the ground, with the rider squashing and stretching as a result, is also lost in such a short sequence. Never mind. I intend to work on it on my own to see how it could be improved.

The combined animation was shown that afternoon, and will be shown in public on 7th March at the St Helens film and animation event. I'm hoping that it will also be posted to the Internet.

I really enjoyed being pushed to do something quickly and with limited resources. A similar task will probably be organised near half-term, and there's a possibility that we might be given three seconds to animate and three days to do it in. I'm looking forward to it already.

Friday, January 20, 2006

4 Jobs, Part 2

y second job was manager's assistant in a hotel in Edinburgh. The hotel in question closed down years ago, but I won't name it or the directors, just in case...

Rumours about the directors abounded. One had allegedly been a gun-runner in the Carribbean and had survived a contract killing attempt organised by a double-crossed colleague. He was also a dentist, and was later investigated for unnecessarily giving people fillings then claiming the funding.

Another director was said to have been chased in his Rolls Royce by the police after failing a breathalyser test. Not managing to outrun them, even after driving into a field, he pulled a gun on his pursuers, and was jailed for five years. He was banned from driving as well, which was why I used to act as his chauffeur at times.

The third was less colourful and unable to stand up to the other two.

I have many stories about working there, but I shall restrict myself to one. Most of the income for the hotel came from its trendy bar thanks to a late drinks licence, and the mainly residential street became quite rowdy at closing time. Neighbours complained and the licence was revoked (or possibly an application for renewal was refused). In an attempt to regain lost custom, the directors decided to hold a teetotal disco, and asked me to be the barman. Music was a selection of songs on cassette.

Despite advertising, only a few people even ventured through the door, and all those who did left immediately upon being told there was no alcohol on sale. I spent several untroubled but paid evenings in that bar until facts were finally faced.

When March 1980 arrived at last, I handed in my notice in order to venture abroad.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

4 Jobs, Part 1

ah. I tempt you with the announcement of a series of posts, then immediately succumb to a heavy workload at College (more of that soon) plus loss of internet connection at home.

Anyway. I found my first job when I left school in the summer of 1979, taking a year out before going to University and needing to find money to travel. I worked as a general assistant at a caravan park near Aviemore in Scotland. We took bookings, served in the shop, staffed reception, cleaned toilets, mowed grass, collected litter and, during the height of the season, regularly unblocked drains jammed with disposable nappies.

On my one day off each week, I would usually borrow a bike, cycle off and sit reading by a loch. I wasted one of these rare and precious days, however, by trying to skim-read the whole of 'The Lord of the Rings', which took me from early morning to the early hours of the following day.

Of the four assistants, I alone stayed on after the end of summer to help with repairs. The quiet, misty days were deliciously peaceful. I vividly remember looking up from my book one evening to see the large caravan window completely covered in moths attracted by the light.

The job came to a natural end when we completed the new drain to link the laundry to the soak-away, and I returned to Edinburgh to seek another.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

4 xxxx

've been tagged by yclepta to continue a meme where each person has to provide four examples from their lives under ten categories. These include jobs you've had, places you've lived and cars you've owned. Initial investigation shows that different bloggers adapt this meme in different ways. Some answer at length, others give short responses. Some people add their own categories.

My twist will be to use the original theme of this blog, reclaiming things lost or forgotten, as an excuse to reminisce at greater length than other people have done. Hey, if you're interested in four places where I've been on holiday, then you'll be interested in hearing a story or two about them. If you're not, then you wouldn't be interested in the meme at all.

I won't try to cover all of this in just one post - it will stretch over several days. I haven't decided yet in what order I'll respond to the categories, but I'll probably intersperse other topics to leaven the mix.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


n a recent post, atypicalpen linked to an interesting version of the SU periodic table where the symbols are made up of fragments of photographs.

Clockr takes a similar approach to time. It's a clock that updates itself every second, where the numerals are taken from different photographs. You can click on any of the digits to replace it with a different photograph. The effect is hypnotic. You wait for just a few more numerals to appear, and a few more, and...

The human clock has photographs for every minute of the day, many submitted by visitors to the site, though most seem to be the work of one person. The digits are incorporated in the photograph through physical objects. You can click on the links below each photograph to view others representing the same minute.

In contrast, the timeline clock presents an analogue view, so you can see even the slim, sleek seconds sliding relentlessly by. (Shiver)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Our Hidden Lives

hile I was in Edinburgh, I read 'Our Hidden Lives' by Simon Garfield. He has edited together extracts from five diaries between May 1945 and July 1948, written by ordinary people in different parts of the country as part of the Mass Observation project.

The period chosen covers some momentous changes: the end of World War Two, the first atomic bombs, additional rationing imposed after the end of the war, women leaving the workforce in large numbers as soldiers return, the growing threat of the Cold War and the unwelcome introduction of the Welfare State. There is a startling amount of anti-semitism that is not shaken by discovering the extent of the Holocaust.

The writers talk of future events they consider to be many lifetimes away - humans returning alive from a journey to the moon, the end of coal supplies in Britain - and about issues still prevalent today - the rise of crime, rude behaviour, the extinction of tigers. They write poetry and wonder why they don't get higher scores in the allotment competions. One thinks it quite reasonable to ask shops for a book that contains all the prime numbers "up to, say, five million".

At times there is an air of self-consciousness, but mostly we see far into the details of these writers' lives, and the result is far more interesting than if solidified into a dry, third-person history book. It's a privilege to be allowed to read this, and I look forward to the paperback version of Simon Garfield's follow-up, 'We Are At War'.

The Mass Observation Archive is still running, and looking for volunteers. They seem to focus more on specific themes than general diaries. The current directive covers sex, public libraries and hurricanes in the USA.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Enemy of my enemy

iers Morgan published 'The Insider' last year, describing his editorship of national newspapers over ten years. In it, he acknowledges that he is a name-dropper and sometimes a prat, but he inadvertently reveals himself to be a prat most of the time, especially when he thinks he's being amusing or clever. Still, his complete failure to understand why he fared particularly badly on 'Have I Got News for You' makes him seem slightly less arrogant.

The most interesting thing about his book was the changing relationship between the Mirror newspaper and the Government over recent years. Although the Mirror was a strong supporter of New Labour before they came to power in 1997, the mutual regard collapsed over the Iraq war.

According to Piers, Alastair Campbell and Cherie Blair didn't help matters, but it was Tony Blair's failure to understand why people might not trust him or have a different point of view over a war that was illegal and not sanctioned by UN resolution. The original (public) justification - to remove the possibility of Saddam Hussain using weapons of mass destruction - was shown to be unfounded so a new justification had to be found quickly - removal of a tyrant. There was little armed resistance to the invasion, which was used by the British government as further 'evidence' that the disapproval of the war was wrong.

The book ends, as it starts, with Piers Morgan's dismissal as editor of the Mirror for publishing faked photographs of British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. There is a sugestion that Piers is starting to support the Blairs once more, which seems odd given the recent policies and actions of the Prime Minister.

I'll never like Piers Morgan - he's out of his depth among talented and/or charismatic people and hasn't the wit to see why he shouldn't attempt to keep up with them. I respect him, however, for his stance against the war. I grew up in the 1960's when the Second World War and its aftermath were thankfully long over, but still recent enough to be a horrible memory for many people. Yes, there was the appalling prospect of nuclear warfare, but otherwise it was a time of growth and optimism. It seemed highly unlikely that Britain would ever enter another 'traditional' war, and unthinkable that we would invade somewhere just because we decided to.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

First an architect, then a painter

till in Edinburgh today, I went to the exhibition of watercolour paintings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the Dean Gallery. The quality varied enormously, but some of them, particularly those of small towns and villages in the south of France, were stunning.

Mackintosh compressed perspective (sometimes sloppily but usually like a telephoto lens) and combined views to produce almost flat patterns. Fields in the foreground and hills in the distance have the same tonal values, and rock formations and reflections have more detail than buildings. His paintings, quite unusually for landscapes, are square, which adds to the feeling of flat pattern.

The exhibition is on until early February, and I urge you to go if you can. If you can't, have a look at La Rue de Soloeil, the Lighthouse, and Port Vendres, though these images are a poor substitute for the originals.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Starting with a bang

or me, the New Year started while I was standing alone in an empty suburban street in Edinburgh. Don't feel sorry for me, though. I was waiting for the Seven Hills fireworks to start, which they soon did in impresive style.

I've never photographed fireworks before, and I can't tell yet how successful I've been. I don't have a cable with me to transfer images from camera to computer, so I'll have to wait until I return to Stoke. It's just like the old days when we had to wait while films were sent off for processing.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Repeatedly Lost

Originally uploaded by Alphaphot.
wrote about 'Lost' recently, and hadn't intended to return to the subject until the final episode (of Series One, anyway), but have you seen the schedule for E4 tonight?

8.00 - Lost in Lost
8.05 - Lost
9.00 - Lost in Lost
9.05 - Lost
10.00 - Lost in Lost
10.05 - Lost
11.05 - Lost in Lost
11.10 - Lost
12.10 - Lost in Lost
12.15 - Lost Revealed

It's the final entry that makes it funny.

I'll write about New Year tomorrow.