Monday, 25 January 2010
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Sunday, 17 January 2010
At work yesterday we had a discussion on which type of soup we would be, if we had to turn into a type of soup. I know it's an odd thing to discuss, but it was very close to hometime on Friday afternoon, and at least three of us were still struggling to shrug off a killer hangover from post-work drinks the night before. Anyway, it was decided I would be winter vegetable. (I've never had that soup before, but I checked and Heinz do sell it so it must be a soup of repute).
The principal reason given for my becoming a bowl of winter vegetable soup, was my love of winter and all it stands for and entails - something that I'm apparently 'always going on about'. So seeing as I won't be able to declare my love for this season to my colleagues anymore, and N zones out whenever I discuss it, I'm going to blog about it. Just once (come to think of it I have mentioned it before. But this will be the last time now, promise).
Now is quite a good time too, for winter is slipping swiftly through my fingers. It's already getting dark later. The snow's gone (which is a good thing) and I don't think there's a bank holiday now until Easter, so solid work for the next four (?) months. Grim. So, why is winter my favourite season?
On the upside my social calendar for February is now chock full of interesting things I have to do that can't this month, so roll on Feb 2010. Bring me your fun.
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
In other news, today I finished The Road by Cormac McCarthy. My expectations were high - the inside covers are crammed full of rave reviews and I'd heard good things. I honestly can't decide whether it met my expectations or not. Let me explain. I'd like to start with what I didn't like.
Firstly, and in this the fault is mine, this is a bloody awful book to read in January. The sky is grey, the bank account's empty and the whole country's on a post-Christmas comedown. Dead Christmas trees line the streets and there are no drinks to be had after work. Everything is grey and everyone is miserable. And my word, what a miserable book. However, its depressing plot is not a fault, not in the slightest. I should just have thought about it a bit more, and chosen something a bit more uplifting from my collection, to divert me in these difficult first days of 2010. Let's face it, if you wrote about a trek through post-apocalyptic America and made it sound happy, it probably wouldn't be a very realistic book - I should have seen this in advance.
My biggest problem with this book though, is the lack of punctuation. I'm not a grammarian - I make plenty of mistakes, but I do try to write correctly. McCarthy, however, leaves out as many commas, apostrophes and question marks as he can, which in my most humble opinion leads to quite an uncomfortable read. I wouldn't mind if the lack of punctuation meant something, so, in case it did, I googled it. One person quite cleverly explained it by saying it was symbolic; just as the protagonists cast aside everything that isn't absolutely necessary, McCarthy omitted any embellishments in the text, leaving the style as bare as the landscape they were travelling through. I would have appreciated that, but apparently he always writes like that, and this stripping away of embellishments theory doesn't apply to his other works. Someone else said it was evidence of McCarthy's 'post-post-modernism'. Now, I'm not sure what that means but I would have looked into it. I would have, but I found out, thanks to Wikipedia, that he just sees no reason to 'block the page up with weird little marks.' This I don't agree with. There is a point, and that point is to make things easier to read, and the lack of punctuation made me struggle. I could be missing something, I probably am, but I found myself skim-reading whole paragraphs, yearning for a comma, or noticing missing apostrophes rather than actually reading the text.
Now, unlike the book, this isn't all doom and gloom. Despite what I said above, part of me loved the book. It made me look forward to the commute a bit more than usual, and apart from my gripe above it's a fantastic story. The relationship between father and son, the way they both support, protect and rely on each other, was beautifully presented. And the boy...the boy - if I ever had kids, I'd want him. Parts of the book were so heartbreaking I nearly put it down; the things the boy had heard of but never seen being one of the things that depressed me most. It also makes everything around you seem a little bit more fragile. It is a great book, and I have a feeling I'm going to keep thinking about it for a long time, I just missed the commas.
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
But I think that no matter how perfect your job seems, there's always something (or someone) at work that winds you up. When a colleague left last year, they weren't replaced and their workload was shared out. This was fine. Then it happened again. Then other people decided they couldn't make it into the office anymore and would have to work from home. So you get to a point where everyone's struggling under an Atlas-like burden - and this is when a group of us bonded over HOW UNFAIR LIFE IS and began to share our world-of-work woes over drinks on a fairly regular basis. The Fellowship of the Moan was born.
Now, I think the Big Cheeses noticed this dissention in the ranks. Perhaps we moaned to loud, or huffed and puffed too much, I don't know. At the beginning of the week they called some of us into (separate) meetings for 'a chat'. This chat was about them deciding to give us more money. What now? Yes. More. I didn't see it coming and was gushingly grateful - but alas, not all of the Fellowship of the Moan had a meeting. Three of us did, one of us didn't. Truth be told, she's probably on more than us anyway, but I feel really bad now. She asked what my meeting was about, and I made up this half-arsed, totally transparent lie about how they just wanted to say thanks...and I feel awful. I keep telling myself I shouldn't worry - I've been told not to say anything, but I feel like such a hypocrite. A week ago we'd all moan about how they didn't know how much we had to do and now the we has been broken up and we're all looking after number one.
I'm not being ungrateful - God knows I need the money - it's just awkward. The Fellowship has disbanded. I'm working later and moaning less and the atmosphere is a little less strained. It's a sad indictment on my personality that all you have to do to shut me up is throw money at me.
What. A. Whore.
Sunday, 10 January 2010
Then True Blood hit our screens with graphic inter-species sex scenes and more parallels with the US Civil Rights Movement than you could shake a stick at. I've never read the Southern Vampire Books but the series blew me away with its adult treatment of the folklore we're already so familiar with. There's almost no comparision between Twilight's tween vampires and the edgey drama of True Blood. And am I the only one who didn't suspect xxx of being the murderer? Didn't see it coming at all. I could never relax while watching this - either a character I liked would end up smashed to a bloody pulp on the kitchen floor or someone would walk in while gentleman Bill Compton was giving Slutty Stackhouse one and I'd be branded a pervert for watching porn in the living room.
Saturday, 9 January 2010
This week, as I've already harped on about, was my first week back at work. While it's been predictably panic-stricken and stressful, it's also been a welcome return to normality. I get a bit sick of my own company after about a week. I lived in Italy for a year where in all honesty I did very little but venture out after sundown for booze-ups - I had so much alone time to kill that I ended up turning into an incredibly irritable, massively lazy and depressed version of myself. This is something I'd like to avoid.
It also marked my return to London. I do technically live in London, but right on the edge. Literally, on the point where grey turns green. So this week I've been dragged away from the comfy little suburban cushion I've been cocooned in for the last couple of weeks and into the hustle and bustle of the Big Smoke...and not a moment too soon.
Because I love the place. I even enjoy commuting to work. I pull into Fenchurch Street, from which I enjoy a short stroll through the glass towers of the City before going Underground until King's Cross, where I work. It might not be a red light district anymore, but it still has a gritty edge that I'd miss if I worked closer to the centre. And that's what I love - the rich & the poor, the old and the new...countless opposites jostling for attention everywhere you look. What I mean, and am not very good at saying, is perfectly summed up by Stephen K here. I'd also give the Fulham fans at Craven Cottage a mention, but I appreciate that that's pretty specific to me...Other than that I think he captures what I'm getting at flawlessly.
This set me to thinking of my top five favourite places in London, which I'll bore you with now:
5. Finsbury Circus - somewhere between Moorgate and Liverpool Street stations. A circle of park, complete with trees, bowling green and band stand, an oasis in the centre of the City. Last summer, I used to meet two schoolfriends every Monday after work - but I'd always have an hour to kill until I met them, so I'd pick a pench and dive into whichever Twilight book I was reading. I know, I should be ashamed. I lost a month of free time to those books.
4. Hoxton Square - trendiest place in London? Full of bohemian independent bars, and the sort of restaurants where you have to share tables with strangers. N is lucky to work round the corner - and dragged me there last year to eat Chinese on the floor of the square. I was drunk and am very poor with chopsticks - add some stoners nearby and you have a massively uncomfortable meal. But it was fun - and that's what N's good at.
3. Craven Cottage, SW6 - possible the most beautiful football ground in the country, but I'm not an expert, and am particularly biased. Has great character and old-school charm, sits right on the river a short and pretty walk through Bishops Park from Putney Bridge Station.
2. Camden Town - grunge-chic dominates in the grimey pubs and alternative markets around the canals. Also one of the first places I ever got drunk, so will always have a special place in my heart.
1. Kings Cross - once the redlight district, is now trying very hard to transform itself into a swanky business area. Bistro pubs are popping up like there's no tomorrow, rubbing shoulders with the last remaining porn shops and erotic cinemas. It's an exciting place to work as, being the gateway to the North and where the Eurostar finishes, there are so many different types of people crossing paths.
So my week has been a bitter-sweet experience. I'm back in the thick of it, the excitement and fast pace of London, but I've also returned to work...and responsibility, which has been a rather rude awakening. But I won't moan - if I really think about it, I probably wouldn't change a thing.
First things first; this isn't the actual cover of the book I'm reading, but I googled the title and thought this one was far too delightfully retro to be passed up. HOWEVER, there were no pictures of the characters on the book I read, which meant my imagination had been trusted to build an image based on the descriptions given - until I saw this one. Retro as it is, it's illustrations conquered my mentally-built images and took their place. Much like Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Potter...the two become one (involuntary Spice Girls reference).
Anyway, down to the nitty gritty - Out Of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis. This is the first in a trilogy, which I may well read later but have to plough through the 20 books I got for Christmas before giving myself new ideas. First published in 1938, it strikes me as remarkably ahead of its time.
The plot revolves around a philosophy lecturer named Ransom who is kidnapped and taken to what later turns out to be Mars. Upon landing, he's due to be handed over to some tall, gangly aliens when a Martian shark tries to eat him and he escapes. The planet is known to those that live on it as Malacandra, and Ransom spends a great deal of time there, living among and learning about the various species that inhabit it. It's a bit of a utopia - all three species perform different tasks, interact with one another but don't fight, steal or demand. Everything ticks along quite naturally, everyone's happy and the world is a lovely rosey place.
Initially I thought this was a story about how, like in Avatar, nature is an infinite web of cooperation between different species. I've since decided this is wrong. Or maybe not wrong, but it's not the main focus. I think what Lewis was drawing attention to was the corrupt nature of our world and how, had we all been good Christians since the dawn of time our world now would be a really nice place to live. The Silent Planet is Earth. You see, each planet has its own Oyarsa, which is a kind of angel that you can't really see but you can visit and talk to. Each Oyarsa rules over the people and species on his planet and works to make their lives as happy as possible. Our one though, was a bit of a megalomaniac and threw a strop before heading down to earth to thoroughly fuck us up. He's now embroiled in a bitter fight for power over us, against the big god who rules over all or Oyarsas. Any biblical bells ringing here? Ransom's kidnappers represent the greed of commerce and the dangers of science and technology taken too far and there's a little conversation on how humans relentlessly pursue pleasure throughout their lives, whereas the good people of Malacandra are happy to experience it once and then remember it for evermore - a handy little list of all the things we do wrong.
Now, it's been a long time since I've been welcome in the House of God, and I'm not religious. Usually, if something is overtly, in my face Christian, I get a bit annoyed and decide I hate it. I didn't with this one though, because it's a good story, and perhaps it does have a very valid point - that we're a greedy bunch of bastards and should be a bit nicer too eachother.
Oh! At the end Lewis reveals that Ransom contacted him to ask him to publish his factual account as a novel, so that its message could reach the maximum number of people. He's even tacked on an piece of correspondence between Ransom and himself, saying things like, "I really wish you could have mentioned this, or gone deeper into that." Nice touch I thought, you think it's finished and then there's a totally new bit which adds a new dimension to the story. Clever.
Still...I think I prefer Narnia...
Wednesday, 6 January 2010
At 6:30 this morning my alarm went off. At 06:40 it did it again. And 06:50. In fact, this continued at ten minute intervals until 8:00, at which point I'm normally well on my way to work. Not today however, with the snow once again plunging the UK into chaos I thought I'd take advantage and sneak a lie-in, which I'd then blame on appalling public transport when I got in late. How wrong I was - my train and tube were bang on time, which rendered my excuse somewhat transparent, but at least I had a bit more shuteye than usual. So at 8:00 I drag myself out of bed, and at 08:48 I'm on the train. I bagged a seat next to a woman reading the Sun and, although I hate it when people do this to me I couldn't help myself, I read the headline over her shoulder.
Now, I am not a lover of the tabloid press. I don't have a huge problem with it - it meets a demand - but I don't read it. But this article took the biscuit and, I'll be honest, scared the living shit out of me and ruined my journey:
THE OFFENDING ARTICLE
The headline read: THE DEATH STAR. It was an article on the discovery that a nearby star named T Pyxidis, apparently, is on the verge of explosion. Once the bugger blows, we'll all be toast. As subtlely as possible, I manage to read the whole article over the poor commuter's shoulder, barely containing gasps of fear. My heart raced. I looked around, wondering why mass hysteria hadn't broken out. The Mayans were right - maybe 2012 is going to be our last. A quote from a scientist helpfully point out that the star could explode soon but could also not was hardly reassuring, especially when followed with "Let's hope there's still time for England's very own stars to put in a stella (sic) performance at this summer's World Cup in South Africa", which would suggest Armageddon is right around the corner.
My shaking hands reached for my trusty I-Phone (jog on Google, you'll never convert me) and I frantically searched the Guardian application for news. Nothing on the front page, or in the list of most read articles. Nothing in Science. Or Science - Space. Nothing. HOW CAN THEY MISS THIS? THIS IS HUGE?
The train pulled into Fenchurch Street and I made my way to the tube. I bumped into Hambo who accompanied me as far as her stop, at which point a threw aside the mask of calm I'd acquired and gave myself over to panic again. I got into work and immediately turned to Google the Omniscient for answers. "Tell me Google, tell me what's going on!" And, true to form, Google put my trouble mind at rest.
Universetoday.com sounded like a good one to start with. I bet they know what they're talking about. Right, give it to me straight. "There remains some doubt as to whether T Pyxidis will go supernova at all." Some doubt. Ok, I feel a bit better, but not much. It's still a bit vague for my liking.
Next up, Scientificamerican.com. Who knows more about space than the Americans, except maybe for the Russians, and Martians. And Sigourney Weaver. ANYWAY, I found what I'd be looking for:
"It sounds scary stuff. And the astronomers' news release suggest it will happen "soon". But I contacted the lead researcher, Dr Ed Sion, and he told me: "At the accretion rate we derived, the white dwarf in T Pyxidis will reach the Chandrasekhar Limit in ten million years. I hope this alleviates any worry by readers."
THANK YOU DR ED SION! I double checked with a few more brainy sounding websites, and my fears were put to bed. It may be a million years, or ten million years - but it's not going to stop us winning the World Cup (we won't need any extraterrestrial help to lose) or happen any time soon..
My initial relief gave way to a surge of rage. TEN MILLION YEARS. So how is this newsworthy? Study it, write it down for future generations, keep an eye on the bloody thing - but why scare the crap out of people for no reason? It's not even a slow news week, is it? Even if it is, I'm sure there's something a little more recent or approaching in the nearer future that could be reported?
It was, by this time, 11:00 and I'd achieved sod all. 'Twas high time to do some work, and put my worries behind me.
Then I noticed another article...this one right here...but didn't they all die in Deep Impact? Here we go again...
Sunday, 3 January 2010
I may even go to the gym! Yes...yes let's do that. Eeek.
But first, a few words on a book I've just finished; The Book of Dave by Will Self. In brief, it's comprised of two stories, set maybe 500 years apart. The first follows London cabbie Dave Rudman's life as he spirals out of control. During a mental breakdown, he writes a book in which he records his views on the world he lives in and buries it. It's meant for his son, but is found instead 500 years later after London has flooded and society crumbled. In the future, it's become a holy book, and is now the basis of a new religion (interesting, as Dave was not a nice bloke, being as bigoted as he was psychotic).
The story set in the future follows the people of Ham and shows how Dave's book has been interpreted and his views enforced. For example, Dave's anger at the fairer sex after Michelle's actions, and his struggle to maintain access to his son leads to the forced separation of males and females and children splitting their time between the two. It's also written in 'mockni' and comes complete with a glossary to explain what they're talking about. Some of the mockni words are better than others - I liked 'the headlight' for the sun and especially the adjective dävine - divine. Others were a bit more tenuous and perhaps a little strained. And I didn't really understand where the motos (pig-human crossbreeds?) came from, but that's probably me missing something.
It's a good read; quite slow moving to begin with, but this just means that by the time you're halfway through you have a cast of fully-formed characters you can sympathise with or understand. It's an odd feeling to switch from Dave's story (depression, psychosis, alienation) to the future which is a lot more fantastical. And maybe it went on a bit too long - but this could well be due to the fact I haven't been on a train in two weeks (that's where I do my best reading, you see).
I loved Dave's description of contemporary London - there's a line that I wanted to put in about Shoreditch, where the City of London becomes the 'real East End' but I can't find it now. N works in Shoreditch you see, and has in the past pointed out a similar thing - a road where the glassy financial centre gives way to the east end - and bins make their first appearances outside of the Square Mile.
Well, it's so early this probably doesn't even make any sense and is very unlikely to grab me my first follower, but never mind - it has been written, and so it shall be posted.
Off to gym...and back to reality :(
Saturday, 2 January 2010
Alas yes, my Christmas holiday is drawing to a close and my nose shall be forced back to the grindstone on Monday. Boo! Hiss! I've had far too long off and have accustomed myself to this glorious inactivity.
Well, what have the first few days of 2010 brought?
NYE passed without incident. By 'without incident' I mean 'without drunken, violent, monster incident', for much drunken fun was had. It's been noticed that I have developed a tendency to wash up when drunk at someone else's house. I'm not sure why this is but I'm not sure it's such a bad trait to have? I'm ever so careful to avoid breakages...
I also saved the following note on my phone at 10 o'clock - I must have thought it was poetic, or at least have been very moved by the situation I found myself in:
"I'm staring at the moon through the clouds. A snowflake lands on my cheek. The clouds part and four birds fly across the moon. A chav walks past and a firework bursts. My concentration is broken."
Right. Good one. It reminds me of a book I bought from a school fete when I was a wee lad - all set in the first person with questions at the end of each page telling you which page to go to next, depending on what decision you make. For example, my drunken rambling could be followed by:
a) I shout at the chav for interrupting my meditation. Go to page 13.
b) I shoot the birds. Go to page 14.
c) I say 'Aaaah' at the pretty firework. Go to page 15.
Come to think of it, I'm so wrong - it was written in the second person not the first, so all of the above was bollocks, but I've written it now. It's the sort of book that makes me feel uncomfortable anyway, a bit dirty if you will.
The concept's been taken to new levels now though - have a look at the video below and tell me that the world of games has not sunk into a moral abyss;
"That's an abomination, no way that's natural."
An adventurer is offered an array of male prostitutes of various species (human, dwarf, elf) to have his wicked way with. What is this? A Middle Earth brothel? If so, I want Sean Bean.
New Year's Day was spent in a drunken heap, hugging the toilet like we were lovers reunited after a long separation. Suffice it to say that we're now fully reacquainted and hopefully won't need to bond again for a very long time. I did however, manage to watch an entire series of Blackadder (the third one, set in the Regency period). I love that programme, almost too much for words, but my hangover turned my laugh into an embarrassing high-pitched squeak and sent my tear ducts into overdrive.
Well, I'm off. Back to watching N play Call of Duty while making unecessary amounts of noise chomping on a biscuit, and listening to my dad wrestling with a bottle of brandy in the kitchen...must...open...bottle...need...drink...now!