October 2003 Archives

Without you

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"Don't leave."

"I have to. I have to go."

"But we've never been apart for so long."

"I know. But it's only a few days. I'll be back soon, I promise."

"What will I do? Without you."

"You'll be ok, I know you will."

"Do you have to go?"

"I promised I would. It's just a few days up in Edinburgh. My family are expecting me."

"It's dark when you're not here. Cold. Lonely."

"You won't be alone. They're still there. They'll keep you company."

"Who?"

"Them. Out there. Just past the fourth wall."

"They're not you."

"I know, but at least you won't be alone. Perhaps if you behave they'll write some comments in you."

"It's not that same."

"No, it's not. But it will have to be enough. I can't be here for you all the time. You know that."

"Stay."

"I can't. I'm sorry. I have to go now. Look, take care of yourself. It might not be as bad as you think."

"Stay. I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you too. I'm sorry. Bye."










"Hello...? Is anyone there?"

You say tomato, I say... ow

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Here are a few things I discovered yesterday:

1) Tomato sauce makes for a very poor floor polish. This was learned shortly after discovering...

2) When a container of scalding hot fluid starts to spiral out of control the last thing you want to do is to try and catch it regardless of what your reactions are telling you.

3) A little tomato sauce can go a very long way indeed. Or at least cover a considerable surface area... such as the the length and breadth of the kitchen floor, numerous work surfaces, cupboard doors and a goodly portion of my arm, leading to

4) Pain hurts... though, fortunately I escaped with only a few minor scalds since I was next to a tap and spent several minutes with my arm under a stream of cold water, whist all the while tomato sauce was gently congealing around me.

5) Congealed tomato sauce is really something of a nuisance to clean.

This has been a public service announcement.

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday, is that when I got into work I found a furry spider waiting for me. A purple furry spider no less. And whilst it was lacking in lop ears, it did have a couple of ribbons draped on either side of it's head, which, if looked at from a particular angle in an especially dim light, could be described as being vaguely lop eared alike. Lest ye think I'm hallucinating, it's probably worth mentioning that the spider in question was of the fluffy toy genus and was a gift from a friend at work, Amber, who hasn't read this blog, nor had I told her about my dream. She was quite amused (not to mention quite disbelieving) when I did tell her about it.

Nevertheless it was a pretty startling coincidence. Either that or obvious proof that I have the ability to bend reality to my whim - hmm, time to dig up those old plans of mine for world domination...

There have been quite a few times recently when I've thought to myself that I could really do with an extra hour in the day. However yesterday pretty much put lie to that - it didn't help at all in the end. Of course that may be because I used my extra hour to wallow luxiously in bed rather than actually attempting anything constructive.

Today, though, my sin of sloth caught up with me. My project at work is behind schedule (it's been tantalisingly close to being finished for what seems like an age, and will probably still be tantalisingly close to being finished for some time yet) and my manager started dropping broad hints about it. Hints like "can't you stay late or work weekends to get it finished." Bleh.

I know I shouldn't begrudge staying late at work to finish off a project. But I do. I covet my time outside of work, even if I'm doing nothing more than lying in bed or vegging out in front of the tv. It's my time. Mine. Every last solitary second of it.

Still, I suppose it would behoove me to share my time once in while...

Sigh.

My god, it's full of star

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I trotted along the the Tate Modern this afternoon to take a look at The Weather Project.

If you haven't heard of it already, the Tate Modern is a converted power station, now a gallery of modern art, just a little ways south of St. Pauls cathedral, reachable via the infamous, no-longer-bouncy (trust me I've tried) Millennium Bridge. One of the gallery's most notable features is it's truely vast entrance way, through the aptly named "Turbine Hall". It really is a cavernous arena, all the more impressive for containing the Unilever (I strongly dislike this sort of branding, but I can't deny the end results) series of commissions, many of which have attempted to fill the considerable amount of space at hand. This latest work is no exception.

It's really little more than a large acrylic semi-circle and a great many mirrors and lights. Oh, there's also fine mist pumped throughout. Naturally that description doesn't begin to do the end results any justice. I took my digital camera in tow and you can see the results at the end of this post. Please note that said pictures show up my sad limitations as a photographer, but I enjoyed taking them, which is all that's supposed to matter. Anyway, the finished work is something quite unusual. Whilst the obvious spectacle of the thing is undeniably impressive, what was even more interesting was it's effect on the crowd come to observe it. Whilst it looked like a strange form of sun worship, a large part of the attraction was the mirrors overhead (which appear to near double the already considerable height of the hall). Several groups were taking a great deal of delight in lying on their backs forming a variety of geometrical shapes. Others were content to simply lie on their backs and gaze upwards.

What struck me was that although the whole flash mob fad seems to have played itself out, this would have been the perfect venue for it. I wonder how difficult a flash mob is to organise...? Hmm...

Pretty pictures follow. These are largely untouched, although in a couple of cases I enhanced the brightness and contrast a little, and a couple of others I rotated 180 degrees (you can tell when the camera appears to be looking down at the sun). Oh, if you look closely you can see me in a couple of crowd shots. Not that you'd probably want to, of course, but you can anyway.


I went to see Spellbound today. It's a marvellous little film following the trials and tribulations of 8 American school children as they prepare to enter the National Spelling Bee.

Spelling bees seem to be a peculiarly American phenomenon, and whist I'd heard of them I didn't realise quite how seriously they were taken. The footage of ESPN commentators rating the contestants was eye opening, as was realising just how much pressure these kids are under. Whilst they affected to be unconcerned by the ultimate outcome (just getting into the final is reward enough, don't you know), it was still heartbreaking watching their reactions as they were buzzed out. Actually the buzzing came as something of a surprise to me - it seemed like wholly impersonal way to dismiss the children after making a mistake. Surely a kindly "I'm sorry" would have been a little more reassuring?

One thing that struck home a little was when one of the mothers made an a comment about her son in the competition. She said that whilst he may be a misfit at school, at least he was at home with all the kids in the spelling bee. This was echoed by another girl when she said that she didn't really have any peers at school. Whilst spelling was never really my thing at school (although I don't think I do that badly Fiona ;) it was definitely a comment I could relate to. Of course it didn't help that I attended a very small school - it's very easy not to have peers when your year consists of six pupils as my 6th form did (which isn't to say that I didn't have any peers at school, I was saved from terminal loneliness when Vicki transferred in from another school. We've been friends since).

Anyway, if we'd had spelling bees in the UK it probably would have been exactly the sort of thing that would have caught my interest. I wasn't just a socially awkward teenager (and notice how gracefully I've managed the transition from socially awkward teenager to socially awkward adult ;) - I was a highly competitive socially awkward teenager. Still even then I'm not sure I would have ever thrown myself into the competition with same sort of verve these kids managed - it was scary watching one proud parent telling us that he and his son were studying in the region of seven or eight thousand words a day.

It's a rather well put together film , and the suspense as the children advance, never knowing who will be next eliminated is palpable. The brief half second between the spelling of the word and the discovery of whether it was correct or not will keep you on the edge of your seat (Hey look, I'm already resorting to reviewer cliches!). Along with sharing the kids anxieties, though, you also get the chance to share their triumphs, which was easily my favourite part. Their happiness when they discover they managed to spell a ludicrously complex and obscure word (and they are, believe me) lights up the screen.

There's also a great deal of humour to be found (though I suspect unknowingly) in the antics of both the kids and their parents. It's rarely unkind though, and even in some of the funniest moments (Harry's lengthy stalling tactics when he clearly doesn't know the word, for example) we can't help but sympathise.

It's a good film. Go watch it.

P.S Thanks Michelle for bringing it to my attention!

Easy as pi

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I've been reading Life Of Pi by Yann Martel recently. I'm really not very far into it, but I'm already completely captivated. I tend to pick up books in bookshops on a near random basis, and whilst I don't necessarily judge the books by their covers, I do love browsing them - say what you will about the large book chains that have come to dominate the highstreets, but being able to walk in, pick up a book and start reading it is a huge plus. There are very few books I've found this way that I haven't derived some enjoyment from and to date there has only been one that I truely, truely loathed. Similarly though, there have only really been a handful of books I've discovered this way that I've taken to heart.

Thinking now about the books I have loved, a great many of them were recommendations from friends and relatives, including Life Of Pi. As I've said before, I'll plug things here on the basis that I want to share the things I've liked, loved or simply been fascinated by. But, quid pro quo, I'd also appreciate any recommendations you have to offer. About anything really - I trust your judgement after all (well, until I have cause to do otherwise).

I should point out that I'm not prepared to recommend Life Of Pi just yet (I haven't finished it, after all), but I am genuinely impressed with Yann Martel's writing so far. The voice his protagonist, Pi, is given is utterly believable and also quite beguiling - I suspect this is a book that I will be rather sad to finish.

I was sitting on the train today, in a carriage suffering from a particularly bad case of the squeaks. However, rather than being annoying, the squeaking was oddly rhythmic, to the point that it somehow reminded me of a song I heard recently. The song was one of those insidious pieces of music that somehow manage to bypass conscious thought processes to slip straight into long term memory. Consequently I don't know anything about it - not the composer, not a fragment of the lyrics, nor even the genre. Nothing save for that fact that I really rather liked it, yet I couldn't even hum it if I wanted to.

I'd quite like to find out what it was, but truthfully, all I can really say about is that it reminded me of a train squeaking. Or vice versa, at least.

Naturally, no rational person would be able to identify the song from that description alone, so I throw it open to you all.

Any ideas?

15 minutes of...

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No, not fame, rather sleep.

A week or two ago I discovered that since I moved a couple of months back I've actually been able to get another train to work. It leaves fifteen minutes later in the morning, but since it's direct it only gets me to work a few minutes later. The glorious upshot of this is that I have an extra 15 (count them) minutes to myself each morning. It may not sound like much, but I covet every last one of them, especially with winter approaching.

I'm not a huge fan of the whole concept of getting up early in the morning to be at work at an arbitrary time each day, particularly when it's wet, dark and cold outside. Only more nonsensical than such a rule is the enthusiasm which certain people enforce it. We actually had a situation at work last year where it was mandated that everyone should arrive at work for 9am. There had been several problems with trains running late during the same period and when this was pointed out, the response was "catch an earlier train" - despite the fact that the earlier train for a number of people was an hour earlier. There were several resignations as a result. The whole situation was absolute stuff and nonsense.

Anyway, I've now been gifted with an extra quarter hour all of my own each morning and it's amazing the difference it makes. I still set my alarm clock for the same time each morning, but now it goes off and I can lie in bed and ignore it for a little while. It's such a better way to start the day. Less rush, less hurry, more calm.

I've still no idea what my next job will be next year, but I think I now have a pattern for searching: start with companies within walking distance and work outwards.

I'm not going to give up those 15 minutes without a fight.

I worry that one day I may turn into one of those dreadful people who suffer from a chronic inability to say anything positive about anything or anyone. I've met them and I know they exist - people who, with a few carefully chosen words, can suck the joy and life out whatever they've trained their attention on.

I don't want to one of those people - but then I doubt anyone does. Perhaps it's some sort of subtle infection that creeps up on you - one day you feel slightly off colour and then the next you're asking your colleague what on earth made them think that shirt would go with that tie (purely an example, you understand).

Anyway, I like to think that for the most part I make a pretty good effort to look on the bright side, occassionally to the point of being threatened with physical violence for it (but at least then you know you're headed in the right direction). Accentuating the positive and all that.

So why, I wonder to myself, why am I unable to say anything positive about the David Blaine "special" that was on tv last night?

I'd watched it in the belief that, somehow, the otherwise seemingly pointless stunt would be given some sort of meaning. Instead I was left with the distinct impression that Blaine has completely lost the plot. Whilst I wasn't tempted in the slightest to head along to Tower Bridge and pelt the man with food before, after watching his astoundingly self-induldent performance yesterday, had he still been in his box I would have loaded up with rotten tomatoes and marched straight down there.

At least in his other programmes, the pointless stunt of the day was interspersed with Blaine performing some reasonably decent trickery. What we got this time around was Blaine asking to be punched in the stomach by someone he stopped in the street (and looking quite fearful when the man looked to taking a bit of a run up). Blaine balancing on top of the London Eye. Blaine cutting his ear off in a press conference and Blaine tearing out his heart in front of another passer by. All of it self-indulgent nonsense, but not nearly as awful his ramblings on the importance of what he was trying to accomplish.

If nothing else though, it did give me cause to about Blaine's state of mind. I made a joke here a while ago about the seemingly messianic nature of what he was doing, but last night I got the distinctly uneasy feeling that I was watching a man who has bought into his own publicity. I don't know what the future will bring for Blaine, but if I had to make a prediction now, I'd suggest that this latest stunt will mark the beginning of a slow slide towards obscurity for him. That's not to say I wish ill on the man. The odd tomato, accelerated to a reasonable velocity and aimed in his direction perhaps, but no ill.

Joking aside though, I did see enough to worry me a little and I do hope I'm mistaken about him.

Anyway, that's it for negativity around here. It's nasty stuff and I don't want to have any more to do with it than I absolutely have to. I'll endeavour to display a more uplifting attitude in future.

Positively yours,
Mark

Now how's that for a title?

In case you're wondering (and I certainly hope you are), this is about another dream I had last night.

"Another dream?" you sigh. Yes another dream. I'm quite curious about lucid dreaming you see. I've only had a handful of lucid dreams in my life, and they've always been after concentrating on the subject. So with that mind I've decided to give it another go.

One of the pieces of advice that's commonly given regarding lucid dreaming is to keep a dream diary. In the past I've had no more success keeping a dream diary than I have keeping an ordinary diary. However, since I've been a little more regimented with keeping things up to date here, I thought I may as well, on occassion at least (I wouldn't want to bore you after all), use my blog to keep track of my dreams (Hmm, this would be a good time to sort out the categories system wouldn't it?). Please note that I reserve the right to edit heavily as the need arises (which it doesn't really, but hopefully by reserving the right you'll be led to believe that my dreams are in fact vastly more exciting that what I've actually related).

So without further ado, let's have a look at last nights effort. At the title suggests, it did indeed involve involve the attack of a furry, purple, lop eared tarantula. However, the attack in question was a heart attack.

The poor little beastie was being taken for a walk by it's owner you see, over a bridge only a short way away from where I'm currently writing this. In a slightly unusual turn for one of my dreams, the bridge was surprisingly acurately recreated (normally places in my dreams are greatly exaggerated, often bearing little resemblance to real life). Half way across the bridge, the spider (tarantula-like, about the size of a large fist), started convulsing before flipping over onto it's back, it's eightly little legs twitching in the air. It's owner began to panic and called for help, at which point a heroic passerby leapt to the rescue and started to adminster CPR - successfully I should add. Moments later, the spider flipped back onto it's feet, beaming widely in way that no spider should really be able to smile. It's owner then leashed it with some of it's own silk and they both scuttled merrily off into the distance (or at least into the park at the end of the bridge, which is really a road in real life).

The only real point of note in the dream is the construction of the spider. The purple fur I can just about grasp at a stretch, since it's not uncommon for cartoon spiders to be represented in a variety of colours, and similarly it's not much of reach to assume that I've witnessed soft toys of spiders in the past again in a likely multitude of colours (although not recently mind you, so where I was dredging this up from I've no idea). Anyway, the one thing I really can't identify is where the lop ears came from. And yes I am talking about fully fledged rabbit style lop.

Was it random neurons firing? A message from my subconsious (beware the spider with the lop ears? Not exactly up there with "Beware the ides of March" is it?), or was it simply something that will one day be used in my defense whilst pleading insanity in a court of law?

Or all of the above?

Once upon a tete-a-tete

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First off, I want to point out that I'm only writing this because it's a thread I'm enjoying, and because I find ordering my thoughts to produce a coherent argument to be an interesting challenge - it's something I haven't really done since school and I feel better for the practice. I'm not writing this because I have any disagreement with what Mija has written. I point that out because occasionally I adopt the demeanour of a small yapping dog who just doesn't know when to let something go...

Now the question of the day, in relation to fairytales and their modern interpration is: What changes are occuring and why?

I think that the charge most often made against the modern retelling of some of the classic fairytales, especially those by Disney, is that they have been essentially sanitised. Clearly this is true, since many of the classic tales have sprung from quite grisly beginnings. However, this only answers the "what", not the "why". My personal belief is that these changes are largely driven the needs of society and that any retelling of a story has to be examined within it's cultural context.

Look at Disney's Snow White, for example. This was a film born in the mid-thirties at a time of great political upheaval in a world spiralling towards global warfare. The success of the film could be said to derive from a populous seeking respite from the generally grim turn the world was taking (it could also be ascribed to the novelty value of the first full length animated film, but I'll gloss over that for the moment).

That said, whilst it's easy to dismiss Disney's Snow White as a sterilised version of the story, the film nevertheless conceals a very black heart indeed - The Queen sending the hunter to return with Snow White's heart or the Queen's transformation into the Witch to give just two examples. These are extraordinarily dark elements in the what is generally regarded to be an innocent tale and elements that would be unlikely to survive with the same sort of intensity in a modern telling aimed at children. Which is to say that rather than being timeless, fairytales simply embody timeless elements, but are intrinsically bound to the period in which they are told.

An additional factor that I believe to be important in the changes being made is the ever increasing demand for entertainment. Whilst stories in the past were also told for entertainment value, it's also true that they had their origins as instructional tales. Over the years (and indeed the centuries) though, the emphasis has been ever more squarely on entertainment alone - I believe this to be especially true now, as society's appetite for entertainment is now only matched by it's ability to supply it. Unfortunately this introduces the profit motive, and stories are now being told by companies to make money, both from the story itself, and in the case of Disney, from the mind boggling array of licensed produces that accompany it. With films in particular we have to face the simple equation that mass appeal produces a larger customer base and eventually more money, leading to the situation where stories are occassionally artfully altered to attract a wider audience, but are more commonly bludgeoned to appeal to the lowest common denominator - not an ideal motive for change, but a real one none the less.

However, that's not to say that all retellings jettison artistic integrity. Sondheims "Into The Woods", for example, is interesting in that it actually weaves together not only several different fairytales, but in the case of Cinderella, marries several different and distinct versions of the tale together (although Perrault's influence is conspicous by it's abscence). Even this then raises the question of whether we are witnessing the division of such stories, delineating between that which is suitable for children, and that which is aimed at adults. By and large the recent interpretations of fairytales that have permeated mass consciousness have been aimed at children, thanks in parts to the efforts of companies like Disney. Other works, like "Into the Woods" and some of the output of authors like Neil Gaiman, which target an adult following, seem bound to reach only a far smaller audience - even films like "Snow White: A Tale Of Terror" starring Sigourney Weaver seem unable to capture a larger share of the market. This is largely, I suspect, because fairytales are essentially seen as childish, regardless of the actual content.

Of course, this shows my particularly Western bias. I suspect that what I've written doesn't hold true for different cultures, particularly in Japan where films such as Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke" and the more recent "Spirited Away" deal with stories only slightly removed from fairytales and which successfully appeal to all ages, yet in a manner I've yet to see any Western film maker even begin to imitate.

Ultimately, I don't believe I've even begun to scratch the surface of the subject. After all, we encounter stories in almost every facet of everday life, in every medium, and their relationship with their consumers, with us, is almost unfathomably complex and intricate. But it's also something I find endless fascinating.

As my favourite Jeanette Winterson quote goes "I'm telling you stories, trust me."

Earlier in the year I read Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, a series of books I enjoyed tremendously. This was brought to mind recently when I discovered that that National Theatre will be staging a production based on books come December. Naturally, I'm curious, since the books contain materials that I would imagine make it something of a challenge to translate to the stage (a polar bear as one of the lead characters, an expedition to the artic assisted by a battalion of witches on broomsticks, oh, and the armies of a thousand worlds engaging in a war against heaven and god - to name just a few). Nevertheless, my curiousity is certainly piqued and I'll most definitely trot along to see how the story has fared (and it is a good story - I highly recommend seeking it out the books if you haven't already done so).

Oddly enough, I discovered the books after being recommended them by Geno, a friend at work. We were discussing books in general, and Geno asked if I'd ever read any of the trilogy. I had to confess that I'd never even heard of them, or the author, let alone read any of them.

Except I then proceeded to relate the happenings of the first chapter.

"I thought you said you hadn't read them," said Geno looking somewhat bemused.

"I haven't," I replied, looking even more bemused.

I picked up the first book the following weekend, and discovered that I had indeed read the first chapter. Or at least, the contents of the first chapter were lodged somewhere inside my head - I just have no idea how they got there. Although I know I must have encountered it somewhere, I really have no memory of it. A little bit worrying, since I usually have pretty good recall of such things, especially in cases like this where it was a story I literally couldn't put down - I ploughed through the book in an evening or two.

The more prosaic explanation is that I simply read it and forgot about it. And since I haven't been able to come up with any other explanation that will have to suffice, however unsatisfying it may feel to me. It's times like this I rather wish I could bring myself to believe in more preternatural explanations for such things: The voices in my head put it there, for example.

Come to think of it, the voices in my head have been a little quiet lately.

Bad sign.

Usually means they're plotting something...

Frames of reference

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I finally got around to sending the test I linked to a few days ago round the (remains of the) development team at work. Our technical architect also managed to pull the lucky result of Wesley Crusher. His somewhat bemused response to this was: "Who?"

That one person didn't know the character should hardly have come as agreat surprise - Star Trek TNG finished many years past, after all, and I don't expect everyone to have watched it. All well and good... except... except the person sitting opposite me didn't know either. Nor the person sitting on my right. Nor the person sitting on my left. And these are computer programmers. Techies. Geeks. In short, exactly the sort of people who should know obscure facts about Star Trek.

Admittedly, the environment in which I work doesn't suffer from an excess of geekiness (or should that read doesn't suffer an excess of geekiness?). To give you an indication of the state of play, I'm generally considered to be the head geek. Still, it came as a bit of shock. I do have a tendancy to assume that I view matters from the pretty same frame of reference as the rest of the world, despite what is probably a considerable amount evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, I find that for the majority of the time this appears to work out quite well and the world and I seem to understand each other just about enough to get by. Incidents like this, however, just make me wonder if people actually understand what I'm babbling on about for most for most of the time, or if I'm just being humoured.

It would explain the slightly glazed expressions on their faces...

P.S - After Mija managed to promote herself from Ensign to Captain, I also decided to take the test again. And this time around it transpires that I am... Samwise Gangee.

Some things just are, it appears.

Music and movement

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I've just discovered that the gym I go to will be holding classes in capoeira soon. It's something I thought about taking up an age ago (well a year or two back at least). I didn't get around to doing anything about it then, but since fortune has been kind enough to grant another chance it would be remiss of me to pass up the opportunity.

Part of the appeal, I think, is that I simply like that idea of learning how to move. There's a grace and beauty in the movement of a human body that I've taken for granted, and which I'm sure my daily movements fail to reflect. Time to fix that - and if capoeira doesn't work, there's always tap dance lessons, right?. I also like the idea of learning new skills as well, if only to prove to myself that I'm not stagnating.

Thinking about it now, there are several more things I could stand with learning - I may set myself a challenge of learning a new skill each year and see how far I get.

Perhaps next year I'll try singing.

And then a musical instrument.

And then...?

Survey says

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Depending on who you listening to, the company I'm currently working for may or may not be in terminal decline. Optimism and pessimism do battle on a daily basis and peoples opinions and moods shift accordingly. I'm in the fortunate position that I don't really care. Actually that's not true - I do care insofar as the company's fate is entwined with that of goodly number of people I work with, most of whom I'd much rather envision a happier ending for. Still, from my own perspective, I have my own plans for the next year which will most definitely see me moving elsewhere.

However, that's not to say that I won't comment on the company's current predicament. You see, a few days ago we were given what I consider one of the first signs of the impending apocalypse: the staff survey.

Perhaps it's just cynicism setting in in my advancing years, but I couldn't help but look at the document and think "deckchairs on the Titanic". Most people remaining with the company have done so by surving numerous rounds of redundancies over the last couple of years, and whilst the company does make an small effort to boost morale everyonce in a while, the simple truth is that nothing save some guaranteed job stability is going to make people feel better (as opposed to the Princess Bride-like "Oh, and I may fire you in the morning" axe that dangles above all our heads).

The survey itself was pretty banal, just a number a of statements with checkboxes ranging from "agree strongly" to "strongly disagree". Only a few gave me pause for any thought: "I have a best friend at work", which cheered me up when I got to tick agree strongly, but it still seemed a slightly odd question to ask. Then "I have a better job than my five best friends" which again was a strange thing to ask (I mean really, what are they going to do if I tick disagree? Hunt down my five best friends and make their lives miserable?). Given that several of my best friends are probably reading this, I won't tell you how I commented, other than to say that if you think I have a better job than you now, it won't last - I have every confidence that the best is yet to be for you.

Oh there was was one final statement - "More football related perks would improve your working life." I had to invent another checkbox for that one: "Dear god, no, have mercy please!"

Thank goodness for anonymous surveys.

I had a dream...

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Obviously I must be desperate for things to write about if I'm about to relate the contents of a dream I had last night (which I am, in case there was room for any doubt. About to relate the contents of the dream that is. Not desperate).

Normally I enjoy dreaming and remembering dreams afterwards (I can honestly say that I've never had a nightmare). I don't have perfect recall by any means, but I do remember a few dreams each week. Most dreams I don't attribute any special significance to, but last night's has being weighing on my mind a little.

I don't recall all of it, but what I do remember is quite straightforward. I went to the cinema by myself and rather than buying a single ticket, I bought three so that the seats on either side of me would be empty. And I grew increasingly irate when other people kept trying to sit in my seats, refusing to accept my explanations that the seats were paid for.

I'm not usually inclined to try to interpret my dreams literally, but it worries me a little that I was actually being unpleasant to some of the other cinema-goers, to the point of downright rudeness even. Not to mention the fact that keeping the empty seats around me was an actively anti-social act to begin with.

Whilst I've always accepted that events and places in my dreams often bear little resemblance to real-life, I've always simply trusted as a matter of faith that the "me" in my dreams was a reasonably accurate reflection of myself - I certainly can't remember any other times that I've acted so... out of character.

I suppose it begs the question: If it's not me in my dreams, who the heck have I been dreaming about all this time?

The vending machine at work hates me (I know, Fiona, we don't use that work around here either). Either that or it's simply suffering from a peculiarly mechanical form of schizophrenia. Let's look at the evidence shall we?

I put in in my 40p and politely ask if for a bag of mini-chedders (I've been having serious hankerings for mini-chedders lately. No idea why). It's spits back 35p at me, telling me that it will only accept exactly change only.

But look, I beg before it, I gave you exact change - can I have my mini-chedders? The vending machine merely looks at me and laughs a cold hollow laugh. It also refuses to give me back the remaining 35p (it has no change you see).

I walk away disheartened and mini-chedderless.

Days pass, and my desire for mini-chedders only increase. Eventually I cave in to my cravings and decide to venture forth and make one more stand against the nefarious vending machine. I only have a pound in my pocket, but given that it merely shrugged off my last attempt to assuage it with exact change I figure that I have little to lose.

I was wrong. I had 3p to lose.

The vending machine took my pound, and returned to me 97p in pennies and no mini-chedders, once more railing at me that I must supply it with exact change only. But I'm on to it now. Little does the infernal device realise that in it's attempts to drive me away, it has made the mistake of supplying me with exact change!

Clink. In goes one penny. Clink in goes another. Rinse and repeat another 35 times then, with great trepidation, press the button for mini-chedders and... wait, my advances have not been rebuffed - there it goes, the spiral arm is twisting, the hallowed pack of mini-chedders is edging slowly to the end... the hallowed pack of mini-chedders gets stuck and the end and refuses to fall.

You have got to be kidding me. Why, I rage against the machine, why? What did I ever do to you? I give you my money and you give me nothing but grief! Please, one bag of mini-chedders, is that too much to ask?

The vending machine says nothing but looks unaccountably smug.

My mini-chedders dangle tantalisingly in front of me.

Ordinarily, I'm not one to resort to acts of violence, and in my defence, violence wasn't quite what I had in mind. Obviously, the mini-chedders would only need the slightest distubance to dislodge them from their perch, thus delivering them into my grasping hands. And quite frankly, I'm stronger than the vending machine. Cue Mark, gently rocking the vending machine backwards and forwards. Cue Mark rather more vigorously shaking the vending machine. Give. Me. My. Mini. Chedders.

And there go the mini-chedders... falling straight to... where?

This is the vending machines final triumph. To this day I've never quite worked out exactly where my mini-chedders went. They fell and... then vanished. I'm assuming it was down to some sort of anti-tampering mechanism, but I don't rule out the possibility that the malevolent machine may have simply decided to swallow them itself purely to vex me. And I'll bet it doesn't even like mini-chedders.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I do either anymore...

I'm no great fan of organised religion in general, but I like to think of myself as being fairly tolerant/understanding of other people's beliefs. Usually all I ask is that others respond to my beliefs with the same degree of courtesy. It's simply a vast world out there, full of endless possibilities and at the end of the day, I simply have no more of an idea what happens at the end of our lives than anyone else does (though I have my suspicions).

However, I cannot help but heap a considerable amount of vitriol on the Catholic church when I discovers stories like this.

This is the worst sort of reckless irresponsibility that will cost lives. That anyone should sanction such wanton misinformation is shameful. That it should be a body with the influence, not the mention the moral responsibility of an institution like the Catholic church is nigh unbelievable. And unforgivable.

I don't rate the chances of a more liberal Pope following on from John Paul II, but there always a chance. After all, there's certainly a need.

She said, I said

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Ah, quoth Mija:

The question on my mind today is: why do the fairytales need changing?

That's an excellent question, to which my response would be: "Why should should the fairytales not change?"

After all, fairytales and other such stories have their roots in oral tradition, where stories are passed from generation to generation, changing and evolving along the way. What we're witnessing today is arguably another form of that progression. Of course the medium is changing, but the important point is that the natural state of any of these stories is one of flux.

Arguably, by casting these stories in print, we lose something of the original flavour, since change is an inherent part of that, but then print (and subsequently all other forms of media that allow the dissemination of the story) will eventually allow the evolution to continue by enabling them to reach a wider audience (Does Darwinism apply to storytelling?).

Part of the problem I have with the copyright system (particularly with the ever lengthening extensions that seem to be granted in the US with frightening regularity), is that it seeks to foil this evolution by preventing others from modifying these stories (says Mark completely failing to understand the intricacies of copyrights). This is not a good thing. I have to take companies like Disney (look, I had to single them out eventually) to task for lobbying for these extensions, when they in particular have benefited so obviously from stories that have reached the public domain.

On a slight, but interesting, tangent, I recall coming across a discussion somewhere (for the life of me I can't remember where, or even in what medium), discussing the differences between popular music at the turn of the century and the present day. The difference being that popular songs once evolved and grew in a similar fashion to stories, travelling around the world by word of mouth alone, and gradually being refined along the way.

Change isn't just good, it's the natural way of things.

Someone tell the RIAA.

I think it's mandatory for every blog to publish a link to a humourous personality test sooner or later and this one happened to catch my eye: Which fantasy or science fiction character are you?

Needless to say I couldn't resist taking the test myself, and the results, well you can see for yourself:

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?A brave and loyal associate full of optimism, you remain true to your friends and their efforts, to whatever end.

But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

I'll admit I was secretly hoping for a character who was, if not more heroic (I've no wish to demean any of Mr Samwise's many accomplishments), then at least less of a sidekick. We all cast ourselves as the protagonist in our daily narratives and I don't think it's uncommon that we should wish to play the hero in them too. I'm quite sure I do.

Still, at some point I think I have to realise that despite whatever dramatic twists and turns life may take, it's resemblance to whatever fictions I favour will only ever be tangential at best. Which is to say that I may never quite be that dashing hero I once dreamed of. On the plus side though, with age comes wisdom, and if I have to put up with the realisation that I'm not of a naturally heroic bent, then at least I can see the virtue of being a Sam.

Brave, loyal, optimistic and true to my friends. I can see myself in those words and if I've done my job well so far I hope that you can too.

Else I'll need to try harder.

And don't think that I won't.

Will work for praise

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If you were to ask my why I do the things I do I'd probably come up with the only answer I can...

Just because.

It's a good, all purpose reason, if not a very informative one. Why keep a blog? Just because. Why put so much effort into the design? Just because. Why do designs for other peoples blogs? Just because...?

However, if you were to press me a little harder (only a little, I cave easily under pressure), I'd probably strive to come up with some better reasons. Near the top of the list is the simple fact that I enjoy these things. In particular, making things. If you'll forgive the new agey overtones, the act of creation is something I get a big kick from. And that's creation of all sorts. A couple of days back I was looking at the down side of my job, which is the inherent transience of what I create - completely overlooking the simple, wonderful, joyous fact that my daily job is one of creation and invention. I get to plough my energies on a daily basis into making things, inventing things even. And I get paid for it too! This is not something I should have taken lightly.

Another one of the big driving forces in my life, which ties in with the above, is that at heart I'm simply a terrible show off. Not in all ways, but darn it, if I've made something that I'm proud off I want everyone else to see it too. This does conflict a little with that core set of Catholic beliefs ingrained into me from a tender age that I may never quite be able to cast off, but I think I've reached a point where I can compromise with myself (possibly even in my favour).

Of course, whilst I should be happy and secure enough with what I do that my judgement on what I've done should be sufficient, I'll admit that I do feel a considerable tinge of pleasure when others like my work too. A sign of insecurity? Perhaps. In an ideal world, I wouldn't rely on anyone save myself for validation, but it's a far from ideal world so I'll take my validation where ever I can get it.

Isn't it nice to have an appreciative audience ;)

Your money or your soul

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I despair a little of Arnold Schwarzenegger's win in the Californian Governers election. It's not that I question his ability to do the job (he may or may not be up to the task, I honestly don't know), it's just that the election campaign seemed to have been fought not with ideals or policies but with increasingly large sums of money. I believe the final bill for Arnie's campaign was about $20 million, of which approximately a third was put up by the candidate himself. These are not sums of money that mere mortals can easily begin to compete with - not without an amount corporate soul selling at least.

Even more worrying is reading about the Democratic candidates for the next presidential election. Again, candidates seem to be judged first on the size of the campaign war chests they've amounted and on their beliefs second.

Has politics in the UK managed to escape this trap? Or is it simply that discretion truely is the better part of valour and that political parties here are as beholden to their sponsors and their US counterparts?

A lot in life

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First off, I'm glad to say whatever bug I had I now seem to be largely over. And not a moment too soon. I still have a couple of residual symptoms, but these are fading quickly and darn near inconsequential compared to what I've been putting up with.

Secondly we have a new face in the increasingly incestuous Delete The Web community. Take a bow Mija (who happens to have one darn spiffy looking website, though I might not be the best person to pass judgement on that ;)

Mija's already brought one interesting question to the fore of my mind, namely what's your perfect job. I'm well aware that there's likely to be a serious bout of job hunting in my not to distant future, and whilst I've been thinking vague thoughts about continuing doing computer programmer/developer type work, I hadn't really considered that it's not the only option. Oranges are not the only fruit after all.

Of course, whilst it's easy to look around and realise that there a nigh infinite number of jobs worthy of consideration (many of which I could do well at and several of which I could probably excel at), the problem quickly becomes that there are a nigh infinite number of jobs worthy of consideration. This has always been one of my greatest weaknesses - when faced with a large number of potential options, I invariably collapse into a quivering heap and beg the person nearest me to make the decision on my behalf. Or at least, that's what I would have done once. These days I'm a little more capable of deciding for myself. But only a little.

Still, deciding on which route for my life to journey down is far from an easy task. I'm obviously not ruling out programming. It's work I both enjoy and happen to be good at. It's just so... inconsequential? Obviously my feelings about it are heavily influenced by my current job, and let's face it, in the grand scheme of things, churning out web sites for an array of football clubs is unlikely to make the world a better place. On the other hand, arguably the majority of coding work will ultimately produce transient products, the majority of which won't do much to improve humanity or society. But it's work that fills my time and pays well enough.

It's just that I want to be doing more than filling time. I don't want to get to the end of my years (a long time hence) and look back at my life to see that all I managed to accomplish was to pass time. There's more to life right?

Now where to start...?

If anyone needs me, I'll be out back curled into a quivering heap...

Egads

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There's a tv programme I vaguely remember from my childhood. The only details I actually recall are that it featured a Princess (with a large nose), it was badly dubbed from an indeterminate foreign language, and that is was shot in this really vivid, oversaturated technicolour process. Oh and I think there was a bush that featured into the plot somehow (actually, from what little I recall, I couldn't even really guarantee that there was a plot). Along with a whole host of other childhood memories, this pops up in my mind every once in a while, when my brain doesn't appear to have better things to do.

I gave up trying to find out any information on it long ago... so I was slightly surprised to find out that "The Singing, Ringing Tree" is available for order on Amazon. Truth be told, I can't be absolutely certain that this is what I've been remembering...

...except I am.

I'm really quite tempted to order it, but I think I'll resist - I'd rather not sully any more of my childhood memories than I absolutely need to.

Anyway, does anyone else remember it?

Still bleh.

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There's a column that runs in the Guardian's magazine every Saturday: Things you only know when you're not at work. The reason I bring this up is that tomorrow is a work day and guess where I'm not going to be. I'm not going to catalogue the list of symtoms I've had (oh well, if you insist: headache, fever, cold sweats, sore throat, irritating cough, tiredness, hot and cold running snot and a wonderful variety of aches and pains), but I've really just about had my fill of it all.

Not only do I hate getting ill (it's not big and it's not clever - just say no kids), but I hate missing work too. In the past decade, which has constituted my working life, I've missed 8 days due to illness - six of those earlier this year when I had the lumpy thing under my ear removed. I think I hold the typically male attitude that illness is sign of weakness or some other such nonesense. Perhaps it's simply a sign of advancing years (turning thirty: it's not big and it's not clever - just say no kids).

It sucks anyway...

Inspiration/Perspiration

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I've been a little lax at coming up with new themes for the site lately, but I have been doing a little research, and in doing so I came across this site. Some of the designs are quite exquisite (and some aren't), but most of them put my efforts so far to shame.

Needless to say, I shall redouble my efforts...

How do you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

If you had asked me yesterday I would have said I was coming down with a cold, but this morning I could barely drag myself out of bed (although I did anyway) and quite frankly I've felt absolutely wretched all day. I've had colds before, but I don't remember any of them feeling quite this bad (or anything close) - although since I don't think I've ever caught flu before I don't have much of a basis for comparison. But I've managed this long without catching it and I'd rather not begin now if I can possibly help it.

Let's put it down as a bad cold shall we, and leave it at that...

Wicked

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I never did get around to reviewing the book I mentioned the other evening. To put you out of the abject misery and longing you've no doubt been experiencing since, here are my thoughts (or some of them at least) on:

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire.

I would have hated this book in my formative years. I was a tidy youth, you see, believing that everything had it's proper place and a proper explanation for it it's being. And every story had it's proper ending - not just a place where the words stop flowing, but where all the wends and windings of the plot were gathered up and neatly tied together. Where justice was served, the villianous punished and good feted.

In Wicked, where one of the major themes running through the book is the nature of good and evil, the question of who, if anyone, gets what they deserve in the end is left largely up to the reader to decide. As a child I would have hated it, but obviously I'm hardly a child anymore (though I loved the book, as I finally decided, I may harbour a little animus towards it for making me come to that realisation).

Anyway - it's been a while since I've had cause to review a book in any depth, so forgive my meanderings thus far and let me describe the book a little.

Wicked is the tale of the Wicked Witch Of The West, recast as Shakespearian tragedy and told from the Witches perspective. The story follows the Witch from the peculiar circumstances of her birth, up to the her ultimate demise at the hands of the interloper Dorothy. Whilst it's easy to imagine the story of the Witch being told as broad farce, with the Witch once more taking the role of pantomime villianess, Wicked takes an entirely different approach and instead examines it's subject with deathly seriousness. What would it be like to grow up the only child with green skin, not only to be unable to touch water, but to be stung by your own tears. How would your preacher father react to being saddled with a cursed child?

So strength of book rests on the characteristation of Elphaba, the eventual and reluctant Witch, who is sketched with immense depth. Part of that depth likely derives from Maguires reluctance to fill in too many details, and whilst hints are dropped (such as the nature of Elphaba's true lineage), others remain shrouded in mystery (why is her skin Green, who is the peculiar Yackle who seems to have a hand in so many pivotal events, what is the nature of the Grimmerie coveted by the Wizard). But despite this, and despite her occassionally thorny temperament, Elphaba quickly becomes a character you cannot help but empathise with, such that in the end it's all to easy to feel a genuine sense of loss at her fate.

In a book where trying to discern the nature of good and evil is a major theme, it's worth pointing out that Maguire casts the land of Oz as much as the despotic Wizard as her opposite number. Here the portrayal of Oz could not be further from the fantasy paradise envisioned by Frank L. Baum. This Oz is a land torn by war, filled with misery and oppression and overseen by the distant, corrupt Wizard. It is the mirror against which the Witch views and defines herself and her actions are inevitablely shaped by confrontation with it. From her forays as a student activist, to her part in a terrorist cell attemptying a coup, until her eventual ascension to a reluctant leader in vehement opposition to the Wizard, it is her attempt to change Oz that rules Elphaba's actions.

Wicked is not without it's plot contrivances, perhaps inevitable in a book which attempts to integrate itself within such a well known story, but I found such foibles easy to forgive. Harder to forgive is the final act in which Ephaba's actions become increasingly erratic, setting the stage for her eventual fall. Here, and perhaps here alone, do Elphaba's actions seem out of character and we begin to see Maguire tugging the strings in a particular direction.

Still in the end Wicked is the book I've most enjoyed reading for a great while now (the last book that evoked similar feelings in me was The Magicians Assistant by Ann Patchett, also a book I highly recommend). Be warned that this is not a happy book, and the ending is depressingly inevitable. But Maguires' beautiful turns of phrase, coupled with his complex, heartfelt protagonist make a winning combination.

For me at least.

Blogsomnia

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I'm torn. On the one hand I really want to write some proper content for this evenings entry (in case you hadn't noticed, I've been trying to be rather regimented about creating at least one new entry each day), and on the other hand I really need to get some sleep.

It may be that the nights have started to draw in, or simply that I don't get quite as much light in the mornings as I did in the old flat (or quite possibly a combination of both), but my body has being noticably more demanding in it's resting requirements of late. And for my part I've been rather unobliging, partly due to the blog and partly due to other stuff, largely keeping in touch with friends, which I've been attempting to better at... since starting the blog.

Vinay christened this phenomena blogsomnia (a word google contains no references for, so it appears to be a Vinay original), and since I like the word I'm inclined to use it.

It doesn't stop me from being tired of course, but at least I can put a name to it now...

I don't seem to have been watching much tv recently, so I almost missed this. Brand spanking new Aardman animations, 8pm tonight on ITV.

Simple pleasures indeed.