Saturday, 31 August 2002

Noises Off


Fireworks at the end of the 2002 Edinburgh Festival.
Festival Fireworks

The Festival is over, but before it went out with a bang we caught a few more £5 concerts at the Usher Hall.

Hearing the renowned pianist Alfred Brendel play Beethoven's Diabelli Variations was good, but the trouble with Variations is that they're, well, variations. On a theme. Again and again. For an hour. Sure, it's fascinating to watch his hands fly up and down the keyboard, but the mind wanders somewhere between variations 1 and 33.

I was happier with the Florestan Trio, who performed Schubert's Piano Trio No 1 in B flat. Not quite the match of his liede last week, but still tuneful and enjoyable. Some of the audience enjoyed it so much that they clapped at the end of each movement, to the disgruntled murmurings of the hard-core classical concert-goers in the audience. Not the done thing, don't y'know. "It distracts the performers," complained one grey-haired gent to his wife on the way out. I'm not sure if that was actually Mahler's theory when he instituted his ban on applause between movements as conductor of the Vienna Phil a century ago; I suspect he was just being precious. Certainly Schubert would have expected and appreciated such applause in the early 19th century.

The series ended on Friday with Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time for piano trio and clarinet. Except this performance was a Concerto for piano trio, clarinet, nose, throat, shoes, chair-springs, and mobile phone, performed by several hundred. The audience was the coughingest I've ever heard, every hack and hurrumph amplified ten-fold by the excellent acoustics. Some person in a squeaky seat in the middle balcony was shifting position every five minutes; another clomped off to the loo and back halfway through. No-one applauded between movements (distracts the performers, y'see...)—instead, they coughed and cleared their throats en masse, echoing like a respiratory ward in a cathedral.

The piece was originally composed and performed in a World War Two prison camp. The audience was clearly trying to recreate the background noise of tuberculosis victims and people being tortured.

As for the music: difficult, but ultimately rewarding, particularly the last movement with the violin climbing to its highest note and fading into nothingness. It was enough to bring a lump to the throat. Ehherk. Ah, that must explain it.


Friday, 30 August 2002


[weblog] You have to make plans.


Tuesday, 27 August 2002

Words About Music

[music] Bought a new album on its day of release for the first time in ages yesterday: Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head. I feel I should review it at the new-improved RAN, but it really needs a few days to soak up and sink in. (The three-listen summary: It's great. They're gonna be huge.) I also seem to have lost the urge to review my favourite album bought this month, Loss by Mull Historical Society, a tuneful slab of singer-songwriter splendour in the mould of World Party, Matthew Sweet and the like. In fact, looking back at other musical obsessions of the year, I've failed to write reviews of most of them: Badly Drawn Boy's debut and latest; the Run Lola Run soundtrack; Space's Spiders (late to the party again, but what a party); The Strokes' Is This It (ditto); Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; everything ever recorded by Air; the brilliant Les Hommes and Mo' Horizons; and the completist drive to buy every album by James (Wah Wah is proving elusive). Not to mention an embarrassingly nostalgic 30-something quest to fill in the gaps in my collection of '80s classics (I'll not hear a word against Judas Priest's Turbo, y'hear? Not one word! Besides, who can resist a heavy metal album priced at €6.66?).

Somehow the urge to write words about music has been subsumed by the urge to just listen to the music one more time—especially when it's on our glorious new slab of hi-fi. Why waste time writing that Coldplay are set to become the stadium successors to U2 when you can have a stadium in your living room?

Maybe I've just reviewed myself out over the past month or so of Fringe musings. Expect some more words about music when things have settled down a bit. And some different things altogether, now that Fringe-capturing and Berlin-recapturing are out of the way.


Things I Like

[comedy] The Fringe is over; the evacuation of Edinburgh begins. We sent it off in style, seeing Perrier-nominated Phil Nichol's last show. Nichol has a manic stage presence; by the end of the night his shirt is soaked and his neck a glistening pink stump. The effort pays off, because he's damn funny, whether he's licking some unfortunate girl in the front row, singing about Helen Keller's feller who can't smell 'er, or coming back on in an open-fronted shirt and curly-haired wig as an Italian star to belt out a song called 'Sleazy Massage'. A great show to go out on, for him and for us. He may have lost the Perrier to Daniel Kitson (a deserving winner), but he didn't let it slow him down one whit.

I'll miss the Fringe. It's been a great month. Great for the shows, great for catching up with friends. One of those times when you feel thoroughly pleased to live where you live. The place is going to feel empty without it.

We've still got a few more shows to see at the Festival, which finishes on the weekend; making the most of the five pound classical music concerts, which are being discontinued next year. They're losing money, goes the argument. But so is everybody else—unless you run a pub, a restaurant or a B&B.


Sunday, 25 August 2002

[books] Stayed up until 3 a.m. finishing Atonement in one long compulsive gulp. What a book. Truly amazing.


Friday, 23 August 2002

[film] Saw another film at the Edinburgh Film Festival last night: David Cronenberg's Spider. As close to a perfect piece of direction as you'll find, and very well-acted by Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Byrne. The story of a schizophrenic gradually piecing together his past was slowly paced but always compelling, and the East End of London has never seemed more haunting. Avoid the official site, though: its 'synopsis' should read 'spoiler'.

The screening was followed by a Q&A session, but while I was interested to hear what the star, the writer and the producer had to say, I sort of wish I hadn't stuck around; the audience questions were mostly superficial, and filled in that valuable period when you normally walk out of the cinema and try to make sense of what you've just seen. In hindsight, the film's denouement makes sense, but rather than make our own sense of it we had to listen to questions from audience members who just didn't get it. The chance to give Fiennes and co. an extra round of (well-deserved) applause was an inadequate trade-off.


[books] I've read two great works this year about the moment that childhood becomes adulthood: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, and now Ian McEwan's Atonement. Or partly read, because I'm halfway through the latter, sitting at the end of Part One. The first half of the book is so perfect and complete in itself that it could have ended there and still been satisfying, so I can't wait to read the second. Unlike Pullman's exhilarating account of the end of childhood, though, McEwan's fills the reader with an extraordinary dread: not out of concern for the children in it, but out of horror at the consequences of their naivete. To evoke such emotion with a tale of a lazy summer day in a between-the-wars English stately home is an impressive literary achievement. And there's still 180 pages to go.


Terms and Conditions


Love life and everything in it
The paths it can take are infinite
Play the game as if you will win it
When losing, just bear it and grin it
Don't waste even one single minute
'Cos the end is a box with you in it


Thursday, 22 August 2002

Behind Box-Office Lines

[comedy] Been to one more Fringe show in the past few days: Omid Djalili's Behind Enemy Lines. Djalili, Iranian-descended, British-born and many-accented, has been getting four and five star reviews everywhere—'no pressure', he joked—and his show suffered just slightly from being hyped beyond all reason and having some of its best gags revealed by reviewers. But he still did a good job of finding something to laugh at in the events of the last year, and his caricatures of mad Mullahs, mad media tactics, mad Scots and Englishmen were all consistently funny. Worth it just to see what all the fuss was about.

Seeing Djalili means that we've seen half of this year's Perrier Award nominees (and a fourth, Adam Hills, in Melbourne last year). Leaving aside the two we haven't, it's a close call for me between Noel Fielding and Daniel Kitson. Fielding's show was wondrously surreal, blossoming from familiar stand-up (memories of running off with childhood friends to see a dead fox) into the bright impossible flower of Seroovial Brookes, the woodland man with ram's legs, Mario, the shadow-bumming wolf, and the Moon, with his 'chalky white face', wondering if the men in little buggies would have come back if he'd made them tea. The final short animation of Seroovial and Mario travelling to see the Jellyfox to present him with gifts of 'gold, Blu-Tac, and a magnet with little breasts' was one of the most enchantingly funny things on offer this August. Fielding strayed from the same-old safe-old into areas hitherto unexplored yet still damn funny.

And so, in a different way, did Kitson, who showed up most stand-ups as run-of-the-mill wannabe hipsters by being unashamedly shambolic, corduroy-clad, foul-mouthed, drug-free, filthy-minded, erudite and intelligent. What would come across as false self-deprecation in most comedians seems amazingly open and honest from Kitson, and all the funnier for it. His exploration of the quirks and contradictions of language and the social masks we wear gave his hour-long show a depth that most rarely achieve, yet he still found time to riff off comments from the audience and spontaneous loud noises from outside (the cannons at the Castle marking the Queen's presence at the Tattoo that night).

So who do I think should win? Tough call. Both made me laugh a lot, but so did other shows this Fringe. Both are exploring new comic territory at the risk of leaving their audience behind and losing laughs. Perhaps Kitson has a slight edge for risking polarising his crowd and inciting the hecklers, whereas Fielding's act is more likely to bewilder than antagonise. I'm not sure, and I'm glad I don't have to pick between them—just glad to have seen them both.


Every Day Should Be A Holiday

[music] Love the Dandy Warhols with a hot, burning passion? Of course you do. But did you know that they recorded a 'lost' album in their early days with Capitol? ...oh, you did. Okay, so I'm the one who's hopelessly out of touch. Bohemians like you will have no need, then, to read this interview or this track-listing or download these mp3s from their official site. Oh yes, you think you're so clever—but fandom is so passé.


Wednesday, 21 August 2002

What Price a Bit?

[infotech] Say that your hard drive has four gigs of mp3s on it. And say you run a peer-to-peer client that shares every mp3 on your hard drive with the world. Say hello to the Department of Justice. Spurred on by the RIAA, the US government is using a 1997 law to threaten prosecution of anyone sharing more than a thousand dollars' worth of copyrighted material over the internet. [More at MeFi.]

While the impracticality of sending millions of teenagers to jail makes the strategy seem doomed from the outset, a wholesale crack-down probably isn't necessary to achieve the RIAA's goal. Given that most of the tracks available on Napster used to be provided by a small minority of users, it could be quite possible to cripple a Napster-like service with a few key prosecutions designed to discourage anyone from actually sharing files, as opposed to downloading them.

Advocates have trumpeted the robustness of peer-to-peer systems, their imperviousness to technical attack and to attempts to route around them, but have forgotten their Achilles heel: the all-too-human fears of the people using them. All the Department has to do is play on that fear of getting caught, and all that needs is a few high-profile busts: a heavy file-trader goes down, word gets around, and pretty soon no-one considers it safe to keep more than a few mp3s on their hard-drive at any one time. That stops p2p networks from building up to critical mass on the backs of a few big file-sharers, and with less to download, people will have less reason to use them, there'll be less people sharing files, less to download, and so on. The upwards trend that saw the explosion of peer-to-peer under Napster would turn into a downward trend and its implosion. Or so the RIAA and Department of Justice hope.

The political impact is low—most regular users won't get prosecuted, so the outcry is kept to a minimum—but suddenly the supply dries up. File-trading goes back to what it was pre-Napster: ad hoc sharing of dribs and drabs here and there on a one-to-one basis. Still technically illegal, but no real threat to the RIAA, who go back to big business as usual.

There's just one problem. To quote a Justice Department employee:

Most parents would be horrified if they walked into a child's room and found a hundred stolen CDs... However, these same parents think nothing of having their children spend time online downloading hundreds of songs without paying a dime.

Translation: there is a severe disjunction between the concept and value of intellectual property as represented in law and most people's conception and valuation of intellectual property as demonstrated in practice. (Solution: lock 'em all up!)

Internet users have demonstrated en masse what they instinctively think of the tightening grip of intellectual property law, in one of the most widespread civil disobedience movements in years—even though most of them haven't given those instincts much thought, and their civil disobedience hasn't been organised and directed from above. Any democratic government that sees that as a reason to redouble its punishments rather than rethink its laws is on an information superhighway to oblivion.

I grew up in what was once the British Empire's harshest place of punishment, with prisons that still draw shudders from tourists today. The British joke about convicts as if all Australians are descended from murderers, but Van Diemen's Land wasn't a place for murderers; murderers saw nothing but the end of a long rope. It was settled by Englishmen who stole handkerchiefs and Irishmen who worked against English rule. People guilty of trivialities and thoughtcrime.

Those who would lock teenagers up for having a hard-drive full of zeroes and ones just to 'send a message' might reflect on that. Sending convicts to Port Arthur 'sent a message', too. Yet people still steal handkerchiefs—and most of Ireland is independent.

[Actually, this subsequent comment is more what I wanted to say.]


[language] Learn how to read faces—or learn how psychologists learnt how to read faces in the latest piece from Malcolm Gladwell of Tipping Point fame [via the 'Filter]. After reading Gladwell's article I'm on the lookout for micro-movements of raised outer eyebrows. No-one's slipping any subliminal Kabuki past me.


Tuesday, 20 August 2002

He Stuck In His Thumb

[journal] It took three attempts to find a plumber to come and fix our recently-deceased boiler—for a while I thought we were plumb out of luck. And it cost fifty-six quid to get him come out and have a look at it. Now there's a plum job. Fortunately, all it needed was a new thermostat, so it was easily fixed. No need to plumb the depths for any more puns, then.


Monday, 19 August 2002

Pages, Stages and Images

[music] Another weekend of festival-packed fun. On Friday night we went along to one of the £5 concerts being held as part of the Festival proper at Edinburgh's Usher Hall. The seats were way up in the gods, but the acoustics were perfect for hearing Angela Hewitt's fine performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations (not so good for seeing her individual finger-movements, but you can't have it all). Wonderful music, too; I've never been a big Bach fan, but this could make a convert of me.

Saturday was a profusion of riches: all-too-rare warm weather, the streets packed with visitors, and the festivals in full swing. Started the day by hearing Neil Gaiman talk about his new book, Coraline, at the Edinburgh Book Festival. From the readings he gave us, it sounds like an excellent dark little fairy-tale. The questions from the audience were also thoughtful and interesting, prompting explanations of Gaiman's childhood fascinations, his wanderings across genres, the differences between the British and American publishing industries, and how Good Omens came to be one of the funniest books ever written (both Gaiman and Pratchett were racing against each other to get to the next "good bit" in their tag-team collaboration).

In the evening it was Fringe time, with Club Seals at the Pleasance Dome doing a terrific set of sketches about 'The Museum of Everything'. Well-observed and performed, with great use of props and video segments: the animatronic Merlin talking about the History of Wicker while perched on a skateboard; shrunken heads bitching about the New Acquisition; a talking whale and a reggae-loving octopus; an audio guide that compares every exhibit to 'your mum'; and the mystery of Jack the Wippah revealed. Good stuff.

Rounded out the evening with another Festival concert, Schubert's song cycle Die schöne Müllerin (The Miller's Beautiful Daughter) performed by Jonas Kaufmann (tenor) and Helmut Deutsch (piano). A revelation; I'd never heard classical song in concert before, only ever on record or TV. It's amazing to hear a single human voice fill a huge hall without the aid of speakers and amps; rock concerts suddenly seem amateurish by comparison. And Kaufmann—who looked the part, with his big Beethoven hair—was a marvel, conveying every emotion of the songs even when every word was in German. Beautiful music; the hall wasn't as packed as Friday night, but I enjoyed this concert even more.

We finished the weekend at the Edinburgh Film Festival screening of Philip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence. Noyce himself was there, as were the lead actress and the writers of the screenplay and the original book. The film is not without flaws—the social and historical context could be fleshed out a little better, especially for the benefit of international audiences—but it has an undeniable emotional impact. Ultimately, its greatest importance is as testament against the lie that white Australia and its current government have no need to apologise for the wrongs done to the Stolen Generation.

Here's an idea. Let's take any member of federal Parliament who refuses to apologise on behalf of white Australia to aboriginal Australia—let's call him 'John H.'—and fly him to Edinburgh to watch Rabbit-Proof Fence among an audience of intelligent fair-minded Scots. Then let's see if he can make it all the way to the end without feeling a deep sense of shame on behalf of his country and its majority culture, and an overwhelming desire not to say a word until he's well away from the cinema in case anyone hears his Australian accent. Hey, it worked for me.

(Coincidentally, a thread on MetaFilter prompted a few more words along related lines today.)


Sunday, 18 August 2002

[site news] A friend has passed on some photos he's found, which has prompted me to finish off a redesign of the main page of that part of the site.


Friday, 16 August 2002

Trucking Cake

[weblog] I've linked to band-name generators before, but this is a veritable gold-mine: Ten Thousand Statistically Grammar-Average Fake Band Names. Seagull Sensor Drive, Dilate Snowman, Jingle Hams, and Raisin Loudness—to name but a glorious few.


Friggan Oath

[infotech] One of Apple's switch ads stars a programmer who practices Asatru, the worship of Norse gods. "Like, PCs, they don't have alternate character sets built right into the OS, right into it, man, so web pages display right first time. But Macs do. Which is really neat when I want to check out sites written in runes."*

[Via Jerry Kindall and my compulsion to leave cheesy gags in his comments box.]

*Not a real quote. But it should be, by Thor.


Virulent Memos

[weblog] "Due to the huge number of abusive emails I've got re my last email, I'm joining you in cutback corner. I've decided to sell the yacht." [Indirectly via LMG.]


Night of the Living Web

[net culture] A List Apart currently features Mark Bernstein's Ten Tips on Writing the Living Web. Let's see how many I've broken!

Bad personal sites bore us by telling us about trivial events and casual encounters about which we have no reason to care.

Hmm. See yesterday.

If you don't write for a few days, you are unfaithful to the readers who come to visit.

Uh-oh. See Friday through Tuesday.

When one topic, however important, overshadows everything else in your site, stop. Change the subject; go somewhere new, if only for a moment.

Oops. See last month. Or this one, come to that.

Try, if you can, to resist the temptation to drop things entirely, to simply stop.

See weblogs one, two, three, four, five and six.

Creating a fascinating (but imaginary) friend could balance your own character on your site.



Thursday, 15 August 2002


[minutiae] Exchange with bakery person in Aberdeen last Friday:

Me: What flavour is that cupcake? [Points at feeble brown specimen with white lumps scattered on top.]

Her: It's a sugar muffin.

Note to Aberdonian bakers: sugar is not a flavour. And that cupcake was no muffin.

Also noteworthy: the ship in Aberdeen harbour named after Scandinavian hair-loss.


Wednesday, 14 August 2002

[site news] Finally got around to implementing Mark Pilgrim's tip to make pop-up comments accessible. You should be able to read them now even if you have Javascript disabled.


[madagascar] Big Red's woes are far from over. A flu-like virus has affected thousands of people around the country, starting in Fianarantsoa, and the death toll has quickly passed 400. As if that wasn't bad enough, it's also facing a plague of locusts.


Hits and Memories

[comedy] Welcome to Radio Edinburgh, where it's All Fringe, All the Time. Four more shows seen in the past week, along with several pints, multiple cappucini, lots of eating out, and having the entire cast of Gladiatrix over for dinner on Sunday night. Oh, and going up to Aberdeen and back on Friday for a meeting.

Let's get the reviews out of the way, then. Howard Read has garnered much attention for his clever mix of Flash-based cartoons and flesh-based stand-up, some of which can be found on his site. His show was good fun, and well-received by the audience, even though some seemed baffled by his vegetable-based songs (which I thought were great). He didn't exploit the possibilities of the cartoons-and-reality combo quite as much as he might have, but given the potential for catastrophic system failures that's understandable; and the interactive Little Howard was a true star. My favourite bit: when Little Howard found someone Australian in the audience (not us) and asked, 'In your language, is Big Howard a galoot or a galah?'

DoodRock is a Korean drumming and dance troupe in the vein of Stomp, and apparently played in the World Cup opening ceremony. Their Fringe show opened strongly and peaked a couple more times, particularly at the end. The weak spots were the dance, which was adequate but not amazing, and some of the comic interludes, which weren't that comic. But the reverberations from those huge drums in the finale, and the dazzling effect of flourescent drumsticks under ultraviolet light, made up for that.

John Oliver on Monday was another in the long line of English stand-ups parading through the Pleasance, but stood out by virtue of his brave stab at a grave topic: death. Treading the fine line between bad taste and good comedy, he punctuated moments of poignancy with hilariously bad childhood photos and some guest appearances from Death himself. And any comedian who exploits the comic potential of penguins is fine by me. I felt sorry for him, though, for having to perform in the sweltering Pleasance Below, which by the end of an hour was seriously sapping our will to laugh. (And even sorrier for James and Mark, whose show follows his.)

Best of the week—and one of my favourite shows of the Fringe so far—was Tiny Ninja Theater Presents Macbeth. One man, hundreds of inch-high plastic figures, a table covered in black, and fifteen audience members squashed into a miniature theatre. It sounds like one of those jokes that would wear off after five minutes, but Dov Weinstein's brilliant forty-minute reading of The Scottish Play captured all of its drama and its famous lines; and his voices, sound effects and special effects (using laser penlights and Japanese fans) actually improved on it by adding some boffo laughs. Forget authentic period costume and the Finest Traditions of Theah-tah: this was one of the most enjoyable Shakespearean performances I've seen. I can only agree with the audience member who went up to him afterwards and said, in finest Emphatic American, "Dude! That was awesome!" (Weinstein's response: "Thanks, man. What part of England are you from?")

[Now that I've written these longer comments on a few shows, my brief comments of last week look a bit pathetic. So go and read what James had to say about Noel Fielding and Daniel Kitson, because he says pretty much what I should have. Another two of the best shows this Fringe.]


Thursday, 8 August 2002

Tilting at Windmills

[film] Took a break from live comedy last night to go and see Lost in La Mancha, the 'un-making of' documentary about Terry Gilliam's version of Don Quixote. One of the best docos about the film-making process I've seen, by turns comic, tragic, and almost unbearable to watch. By the end you're hoping against hope that Gilliam will one day be able to bring those costumes and props out of storage, wrest the script from the insurance company, and try again—even though it could all be just as difficult next time. It's only a movie? Sure, but it's also a missed opportunity to see one of the most personal works by a director who has already given us some incredible personal visions and has ideas enough for many more.

Interesting, too, to see how similar multi-million-dollar film-making is to multi-dollar short-film-making, once you leave aside the CGI. I've only spent a single day on a film shoot, holding a fuzzy-ended stick just out of shot; it was guerilla film-making on the cheap, but recognisably the same process.

Apart from the flash flood that swept away all of Gilliam's equipment on day two of his shoot.


Let There be Foolishness

[weblog] Been talking about so many amusing shows at the Fringe (and there are a few more lined up for the weekend) that it feels like I'm neglecting amusing weblogs. So here's two: Defective Yeti, which lured me in a few weeks ago with a brilliant MeFi text-ad ("putting the 'pert' into hypertext"); and Funkwit, which I linked a month or so ago and have been reading furtively ever since. Both excellent.

And while we're linkin' to stuff:


Click Here At Your Peril

[net culture] Don't Link To Us [via the 'Filter] highlights the particular form of madness shared by certain companies who believe that the World Wide Web is too web-like, the Internet is too networked, and hyperlinks are too linky. We've seen isolated cases before (KPMG! KPMG!), but it seems that these beliefs are disturbingly widespread. As an Aussie, I was particularly embarrassed to see Australia Post's policy, which even specifies which words to use when linking to its five 'allowed' pages; sadly, these don't include wibble, antelope, forsooth, pants, and ectoplasm.

I'd love to see some of these guys in the classroom:

Teacher: Now, children, if you'll all just turn to page 132 of your text...

Lawyer: Excuse me, but that's in breach of our Linking Policy. Kids, you're only allowed to look at the front cover. You can only open the book provided nobody else has told you to. And they're not allowed to tell you its title, either!

Speedysnail Policy: Correspondence with the author about any of the above links, or any other link on this site, must be written on hand-made Antaimoro paper from the Malagasy town of Ambalavao and delivered in person between 13:30 and 13:32 GMT on any Friday. Failure to abide by this condition automatically invalidates any claim or request, and will incur a processing fee of £100 sterling. The author reserves the right to waive this condition in whole or part.


Tuesday, 6 August 2002

Fringe in the Fog

[comedy] While I'm watching James's site for the promised behind-the-scenes report on his Fringe show, he's been watching this one for my reviews. We've both seen each other around town this past week already, so none of it would be news to us anyway, but hey: words are good.

Jane and I have seen ten shows in the past week, two of them involving James, and nine of them good, very good, and even (hyperbole ahoy!) excellent. The good-to-excellent were: Gladiatrix, Hollow Men, Ross Noble, Dan Antopolski, the Black Light Theatre of Prague, Bob Downe, Noel Fielding, Daniel Kitson, and Bachman and Evans. Hard to pick the best out of such a strong bunch, but I'll have to go with Noel Fielding (half of the award-winning Boosh), who spun a deceptively normal introduction into a fantabulous tale of woodland creatures, a talking Moon, a man with ram's legs, a wolf with a hoover tail, and an animated Jellyfox. Captivating and utterly strange. Of the stand-ups, Ross Noble was as brilliant as ever (and gave me my one bladder-dangerously-out-of-control moment), and Daniel Kitson also excellent. Hollow Men, a house-padding freebie on the first night, were a very good sketch comedy troupe. James and Mark's show had some classic moments (small aeroplane, I'm looking at you) and a terrifically goofy plot; their stage characters are developing very well indeed. And, uh, alltheothersweregoodtoo.

With such a great strike-rate so far, it makes choosing other shows to see all the harder; but with a couple more weeks to go, no flat-hunting this year, and UK pounds to spend instead of converted A$, we'll be seeing a fair few more before the end. (Unlike the taxi driver who drove us to the Pleasance the other night, who proudly proclaimed that he'd never seen a Fringe show in his life. Or the inside of the Castle. Or Holyrood Palace.)

And the not-so-good? The much-lauded Men in Coats, already selling out every night: great ad in the Fringe guide, good gimmick, and about fifteen minutes worth of decent material stretched out to an hour.

Stop Press: James retrospectively updates.


Is This Summer? II

[uk culture]

Edinburgh Fog

Princes Street, Edinburgh, 4 August 2002, 12.50 a.m.


Friday, 2 August 2002

Thoroughly Foxed

[science] A thread at MetaFilter on the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, triggered a bout of homesickness in yours truly. I used to have a Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery poster of the Weaver photograph on my bedroom door, and not because I admired Mr Weaver. The beauty of the animal, the folly of its extermination, the dubious motives of its hunters, the tragedy of extinction, the grim past of Van Diemen's Land: all evoked by that one image.

There have been many unconfirmed sightings over the years; even my Dad still wonders about the stripy dog he saw in the rear-view mirror of his Land-Rover up in the northwest in the early 1970s. But the sightings have grown fewer in recent decades, and if the thylacine isn't actually extinct, it might as well be. Staggeringly, it now looks set to be joined by more unique Tasmanian mammals: because, in an act of unbelievable stupidity, someone introduced foxes into Tasmania sometime in the past year or two.

Reading this news depresses the hell out of me. The absence of foxes is about the only reason why the thylacine is the only mammal species that Tasmania has lost since white settlement. Goodbye pademelons, potoroos, bettongs and bandicoots: all those marvellously-named, gentle and endearing animals that make the place unique. All set to become dog-food, unless the Parks and Wildlife service has some bloody good shots on its staff.

What's the point of cloning the thylacine when feral animals are about to devour everything that used to live alongside it?


[books] Stephen Fry on the questions put to writers [via provenance: unknown]

It is almost as if some people feel that they were off sick or at the dentist's the day the rest of the class was told how to write a book, and that it isn't fair of authors to keep the mystery to themselves.


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