Thursday, 19 November 2009

And I say it's in your other jacket

Here’s an odd thing. Outside an office complex in Newcastle is a fifteen foot high statue of Vulcan by Eduardo Paolozzi. It’s huge and it’s impossible to miss. A great hulking thing brooding behind the central station. Here’s a picture:

And now it’s gone. Instead there’s this:

Don’t know if you can make it out, but it’s a pile of shopping trolleys pole-dancing. Yes it is. Look again.

So where’s Vulcan? No-one seems to know. An on-line check on the local paper denies the very existence of the sculptor let alone the statue. Has it been sold to ameliorate these hard times? Is it in someone’s garden? Is it on tour? Has it been stolen? All very odd.

Anyone with any ideas, let me know. In the meantime, I’m off for a week but will investigate further.

Have fun.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Sniggering for Dummies

Beer Festivals. They’re rather ritualistic these days. You pay your entrance fee, pay a deposit on a half pint glass, pay for some vouchers and then swap those vouchers for an assorted number of half-pints of beer. As I like and approve of real ale I’ve been to a few of these recently and the similarities are becoming apparent. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to live in a time where cheerful enthusiasts can put together such occasions, but I am mildly troubled.

The last two festivals I went to (both within the previous couple of months, they’re breeding), I had the exact same experience of being behind new bugs on their first ever festival visit being mystified by the procedure described above. Okay, the voucher business is presumably to do with the licensing laws and the returnable glass is presumably a convenient way to raise funds and so on, but I am concerned that these are becoming closed rituals.

The British are rather fond of these. There is an assumption that you are meant to know without being told that is one of the most irritating aspects of living in this land. Don’t believe me? Try navigating through Paris by bus or London by bus and tell me which is easier. Paris bus stops and buses have maps showing where the bus goes whereas British buses simply give you a time and a bus stop name which is often different from the name the driver has been given. Paris buses tell you which stop they’ve arrived at, British buses assume that you know. It’s an abiding fault in our national character. My loathing for organised sport is partly a result of the fact that no one in sports lessons was prepared to tell me the bloody rules to football, rugby or cricket and to scream at me when I got them wrong. You were expected to know already. How? The British are obsessed with secret knowledge, the idea that of course you don’t do it that way, you do it this way, didn’t you know that? What, pronounce something the way it’s spelt? Pardon me while I snigger.

It does get damn irritating at times.

Anyway, glad I got that off my chest.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

'I do not drink ... unleaded'

The second Twilight film is released this Friday and the excitement is mounting, apparently. Not seen the first one and don’t intend to see this one either but I did have a go at reading the first of the books. I only got a few pages in before giving up which may be because as a 45 year old man I’m about as far away from the target readership as it’s possible to get. But that didn't seem to be it. No, as far as I was concerned my problem was suspension of disbelief. Oh, not that the pale and rather dishy boy at the back was a vampire, that didn’t bother me. I grew up with Hammer films. No, it was the fact that the heroine’s estranged father tried to win her affection by giving her a truck which she then drove to school. For some reason this did my head in. Oh it’s not that she’s a girl, my head would have been just as done in if it had been a boy who drove a truck to school. No, it was the truck. I was once a teenager, there are teenagers within my family and I have worked with teenagers and never once would I have considered giving any of them a truck. A moped, motorbike, car even if I had the funds, maybe. But not a truck. It just never occurred to me in the same way that it never occurred to me to give them a hovercraft or a Bren carrier (with the Bren gun de-activated of course, I’m not completely irresponsible) or an aardvark.

Anyway, so there it was. I’m trying to read this bestselling book and all the time I’m thinking ‘she’s driving a truck for crying out loud, to school’ and in the end had to return it from whence it came and move onto something else. Personally I think Ms Meyer missed an opportunity here. Vampires are popping up everywhere but truck driving teenagers are rare. The Teenager Who Drove A Truck To School. Now there’s a book I could read.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

I've got no limbs...

Called into town this morning on business I saw that Fenwicks have got their Christmas display up. This year it’s scenes from the nativity. A good while back they did Pinocchio which I used to pass every morning on my way into work. Interestingly, given my direction of travel, I saw the display backwards, as it were. So instead of a heart-warming story of the puppet who becomes a real boy I instead saw the existentially alarming tale of a normal boy who is turned into a wooden puppet for no readily apparent reason, suffers a series of mishaps and is finally dismembered by his own father. Hell of a way to start the working day.

Has anyone else read the original story? It’s harsh, to say the least. For example, when the good fairy makes a cricket Pinocchio’s conscience the first thing the sociopathic puppet does is kill it. No honest. Its poor sad ghost turns up a bit later. But then only two books have ever given me actual bad dreams and one of those was Bambi.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Melrose is where the heart is


What’s not to like?

It occurs to me that I’ve never met anyone who admits to disliking castles. Proper ones that is, preferably ruined. Nothing worse than a castle full of inhabitants. That's always the fatal flaw with Bamburgh Castle as far as I'm concerned. No, a proper castle should be in a degree of ruin and in the middle of nowhere, though Richmond Castle’s all right and is indeed in the middle of Richmond. Abbeys are good as well. I recommend Melrose which comes with its own vampire and Robert the Bruce’s heart. Tynemouth Priory is excellent value as it’s also a castle, a WWII gun emplacement and a coastguard station. It’s a sort of English Heritage version of a transformer toy. Dryburgh Abbey not only has Walter Scott buried there (with his biographer Lockhart buried at his feet) but also Earl Haig. That was a surprise. His tombstone is, by his request apparently, the same simple one that was used for the war graves in France and Belgium which would be touching if he wasn’t responsible for there being quite so many of them.

Battlefields, on the other hand, can be a touch dull. I have a soft spot for them but can sympathise with the 1/3rd of my uncles who slowly froze as I tramped around the Culloden battlefield occasionally shouting out excitedly that I’d found the place where young Wolfe of Quebec fame had probably stood, or some such. Earlier this year, myself and 50% of my brothers and sisters-in-law (and their dog) visited Bosworth field. Except, as you've probably read, it appears we didn’t. The actual site of battle seems to have been a couple of miles away according to new archaeology. Most of the site, it has to be said, is just fields, but in a meadow by the canal is a strangely affecting monument to the memory of Richard III marking the spot where, local tradition has it, he was killed. Someone had left a white rose there. And now it’s possible that it has no link to the battle at all. Ah well.

Stick to castles. You know where you are with them.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

AA Gill is away

AA Gill shot a baboon in order to find out what it’s like to kill a human. That has to be one of the odder excuses for killing a living thing I’ve ever heard. It’s up there with the narrator of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues who, you may recall, shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. At least he got the right species whereas Gill seems to have fallen into severe category error.

Anyway, why does he want to know what it’s like to kill a human? Is this a new hobby he wants to try out like hiking and this shooting is therefore the equivalent of a three mile walk through the downs before committing to doing Hadrian’s Wall in five days? If he’s that desperate to know, why not join the army and volunteer for front line duty in Afghanistan? He’d probably say that he’s too old for that option but then I’m too old to fully appreciate the joys of Ballymory but that doesn’t give me the intellectual right to hang around primary schools in order to find out what it might be like. And to those who might say oh come on it’s only a monkey I would be tempted to reply so are you and I mean that biologically, not insultingly.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

So farewell then one of my teeth

Back to the dentist and out it came. My tooth, or at least, what was left of it. And it didn’t come easy. I was perversely proud of that. It fought to stay with me, which is a damn sight more than some have done.

One odd thing, on my last visit when all she did was take a quick shufti, the dentist had five assistants. This time with a major procedure being carried out, there was just one. As I say, odd.

I had expected that in this 21st century that some kind of automated device would be used. You know, robotics, computers etc. Somewhat disconcertingly, they use pliers. Alright, dentist pliers, sterilised etc, but still pliers. More disconcertingly, the dentist and her assistant both wore welder type transparent face masks and I was given eye protectors. This didn’t happen 19 years ago*. Dentistry has obviously become more high risk in the last couple of decades.

*see previous post

Monday, 2 November 2009

Stephen Fry, an apology

As you may be aware I was mildly critical of Stephen Fry the other week. Do I then hold some responsibility for his upset? Just in case you missed this, Mr Fry announced he would twitter no more after another twitterer said he was a bit boring. This became international news and he’s changed his mind.

I have to be honest, my initial reaction was not overly sympathetic. Mutterings about kitchens and the advisability of staying within one if one is heat intolerant may have been heard issuing from my sneering hate-filled lips.

And yet, and yet.

I have suffered attacks of severe depression in the past. Not manic depression which is what Stephen Fry has but just depression, a sort of alternative for lazy people I suppose. And the thing that you won’t know if you’ve never had an attack of what Winston Churchill called his ‘black dogs’ is how trivial the immediate cause can be. The cliché of the straw and the camel’s back is absolutely spot on here. So, when you’re already vulnerable for whatever psychological or medical reasons then the actual cause can be remarkably trivial. Breaking a plate, missing a bus or being mildly criticised can do it. My last bout was triggered by someone taking forever at a supermarket check out for example. Of course, my depression was not caused by being stuck behind someone for whom the concept of paying for goods received seemed both new and bewildering but the illness is a magnifying glass and you never know what it’s going to light upon. This is why, incidentally, it’s often not a good idea to ask someone what set their depression off because you’ll either be unsympathetic or mystified. Most sufferers in my experience don’t know themselves and, because the depression gods are cruel and capricious, the smallness of the depression’s trigger can become a further cause of it. Still, as they say in the army, if you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined.

I’m still don’t quite get this twitter thing. If I’m that desperate to know the day-to-day activities of someone I’ll stalk them. And on consideration I do think Stephen Fry’s critic was a bit unfair. What did he expect? Deathless wit or profound profundity in every message? Beautifully fashioned haikus four times a day? You don’t even have to pay for this, do you? Ah me.

Still, I will risk saying that I thought Kingdom was not very good.

Oh, and AA Gill is a twat. And if that upsets him then he shouldn’t have shot that poor bloody baboon in the first place.