Friday, 29 August 2003


[film] The morning after, I'm still haunted by Être et Avoir. It's possibly the best film about teaching ever made, and a wonderful example of the power of the documentary. It barely seems to be a documentary at all; it just feels real. A real depiction of a small single-teacher school in the French countryside.

There's so much wrapped up in this film, so much said in a look, a silence, a pan across the landscape, that to try and describe it in a few words is pointless; you just have to experience it. It's about childhood, the pain of growing up, adult care and custodianship, the balance between work and education, and the value of a life spent teaching; and it's all done with hardly any overt analysis, interviews or editorializing; just by observing and carefully selecting the moments of the school day.

A couple of nights ago I was impressed with Johnny Depp's tour de force performance in the enjoyably silly Pirates of the Caribbean, but no acting can compete with the reality captured here. Indeed, it's hard to think of any acting achievement that can trump a life spent patiently teaching five-year-olds the difference between ami and amie, teaching them to respect and care for one another, and showing them they can count past a billion if only they keep going.


[comedy] James wrote a few months ago about the experience of recording a new Radio 4 sketch comedy, That Mitchell and Webb Sound, and you can now hear the results online on this RealAudio stream (which will change every Thursday, so check in each week for new episodes). The first episode is very entertaining, with a great sketch about hairdresser aid-workers, and some nice takes on relationships and Scooby Doo.


[books] Giles Milton's Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History is a book that for once lives up to its overblown subtitle. The extraordinary story of the struggle for control of the Spice Islands in the 16th and 17th centuries, it follows the attempt of explorers and merchants to find the best route to the East and to establish control once they got there, charting the rise and fall of Spain, Portugal, England and the Netherlands. An evocative tale, expertly told, and full of genuine surprises and revelations: not least how a tiny island in the Indies, now forgotten by the world and reachable only by dinghy, determined the fate of a far more significant island on the other side of the globe. Since finishing the book a week or two ago my head has been full of the tropics, sailing ships, pirates and spices, and the routines of the modern world seem pale by comparison.


[journal] It looks like our kitchen will be finished today, after nine days of camping in the living room; the relief is washing over us like the grey clouds washing over Edinburgh. And I've got to say how impressed I am by the professionalism of the guys who've worked on it. Years of consumer watchdog shows about dodgy builders had lulled me into a false sense of insecurity; these people really know their stuff. Get in, do the job, clean up, get out; having messed about with tools and paint plenty of times myself, I can't help being impressed with how quickly they work.

It helps when you're not paying for it, too.


Gi' a Toss

[uk culture] A couple of weeks ago we went to the world-renowned Crieff Highland Games, a stoatin' day of Scottish burliness and kiltery. Except that half the contestants, it turned out, weren't Scottish; they were part of the Scottish diaspora, to use the academic term that makes the descendants of migrants sound like mutant spores from Venus. The lines for limp hamburgers and water-logged hotdogs were full of tartaned Americans and sporraned South Africans, and the winner of the 56 lb weight event (which involved swinging said weight back and forth between kilt-covered legs and throwing it straight upwards over a high bar) was some bonzer bloke from Melbourne.

My favourite event was the pitching of the sheaf, although over the loudspeaker it sounded like the pitching of the sheep, prompting disturbing visions of raggedy blackfaces arcing skywards to the sound of Doppler bleats. The sheaf turned out to be a big sack, filled with straw I guess, which the kilted burlymen would skewer with a two-tined pitchfork and hoick sideways over, once again, a high bar. Life in the highlands obviously involves a lot of flinging. Which makes sense, come to think of it.

But the event we were all waiting for was none of these, nor the dancing of jigs by the young gels, nor the hurling of iron balls or javelins or judges or farmyard animals; it was the tossing of the caber. Because nothing says 'kilty hefty highlandy burl' like grabbing a bloody great tree trunk and flipping it through the air onto its end.

The hairy highlanders didn't disappoint, and our digital camera didn't run out of batteries or memory, so we got a few classic snaps. None more classic or snappy than this one.


Thursday, 28 August 2003

Feed the Tree

[site news] Like so many long-time bloggers, I've been thinking about implementing some sort of links sidebar to make up for the fact that I hardly ever do any linking any more. But sidebars make the page look too cluttered for my liking, so I've come up with another solution: an RSS weblog. Hook this feed up to your favourite newsreader and you can follow all the links that take my fancy, pure and unadorned; I'll try to be less selective than I normally am when posting here (yeah, right; we'll see how long that lasts). I'm actually using Blogger to run it, not MovableType, so that I can use its BlogThis bookmarklet to make posting to the feed almost as effortless as bookmarking. Here's the template, if you're curious.

There are no archives at the moment, but depending how it goes I might do a round-up of the best ones at the end of each week or two. And of course if I have more to say about a particular link than an implied "this is interesting", I'll post it here.

[Update: What am I, insane? The last thing I need is yet more blogging chores. File under "interesting proof of concept, now proven, so no need to do it any more". I guess I'll keep it up for a while as an experiment, but don't expect too much from it.]

[Update Redux: Actually, I think it might work out okay.]


Wednesday, 27 August 2003

[weblog] Writing as the intersection of idea and occasion by Alex Golub (who has the best about page photo ever):

In an abstract world, there is always more you could think, another book to read, just a few more dots that need connecting. It's fun—it's the candy floss spinning in the machine. But, like too much of any sweet thing, it is ultimately not infinitely fulfilling. ... Writing is the vertiginous wobbling back and forth as you spin off ideas as the opportunity strikes, folding what you've learned from the experience back into the spinning candy floss in your head, licking your lips as the sharp, crystalline sweet dissolves, feeling the zits after you've gorged as you reflect happily 'oh man, I ate too much'.


Tuesday, 26 August 2003

[people] A brief Wired interview with Neal Stephenson with a few nuggets about his new book and cyberpunk [via LMG].


Monday, 25 August 2003

[whatever] Those expanding-Europe postcards have made their way to their destinations, and Cap'n Bill of the good ship Wombat File has sent me a couple of snapshots of one of them with its new friends—which he's kindly allowed me to turn into this hypnotic animation. Do I sense an EU advertising contract in the offing? (What the hell is an 'offing', anyway? Sounds like it involves liver.)



[comedy] A last night or two of Fringeness, and a last chance to catch up with some friends, who've been getting such amazing reviews that it's only a matter of time before I'll have to pass through a security cordon just to buy them a pint. Couldn't stay chatting into the small hours, sadly, because we had to dash across town for Best of the Fest, which we were seeing with another bunch of friends. The show was a parade of the top names of the Fringe—Ross Noble, Adam Hills, Rich Hall, Boothby Graffoe, Phil Nichol—doing ten or twenty minutes each, some of it improvised and a bit shambolic, and some (Phil Nichol's songs, for example) a bit too familiar if you'd seen them before. But it was good to hear more from Demetri Martin, and great to see Flight of the Conchords, the "folk parody duo" who were much, much better than that sounds. Acoustic hip-hop, rejected soundtracks to Lord of the Rings, a fairy tale about a dragon who cried jelly-beans, and a knock-out encore about "angels doin' it in the clouds" (excerpts here). Wish I'd heard about them when there was still a chance to get tickets to their show; still, it was good to have seen this much.

(Another comedy fillip: a Radio 4 retrospective about Blackadder, available online via RealAudio.)


Sunday, 24 August 2003

Movie Marathon

[film] Looking at all those Fringe shows I've reviewed makes me freshly aware that of all the movies I've been to this year I've reviewed only two. This shouldn't bother me, but the fact that there's a "Film" category on the archive page where the last review is six months old does—another example of the strange compulsions that arise from, and give rise to, the blogging urge. So this is my pointless attempt to catch up.

I can't be bothered writing about the three-star films, the ones that were good but ultimately nothing great: Punch-Drunk Love; Chicago; Revengers Tragedy; Adaptation; Far From Heaven; Johnny English; Secretary; Dirty Deeds; Igby Goes Down; Hulk. They all had their merits, but none of them soared, which is probably why I couldn't be bothered writing about them in the first place. And as for the two stars, the soulless X-Men 2 and the gratuitous Matrix Reloaded, it's enough to note that yes, I supped from that broth of stale zeitgeist, and move along.

The first four or five star movie I saw after City of God and About Schmidt was, unexpectedly, Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. I say "unexpectedly" because for a while I actually paid attention to the lacklustre reviews, without accounting for Spielberg backlash; some people never forgave him for A.I. Well, I liked A.I.—certainly more than Minority Report, which undid its classy SF touches with the most hackneyed of endings. And I liked Catch Me, too, even if it took some liberties with the story of con-man Frank Abnagale. I liked it for its dash and its cheek; for being a movie about the '60s that wasn't about flower power or Vietnam; and, yes, for Leo and Tom, and for reminding us why they're stars—Christopher Walken, too. It was perfect escapism during the inescapable build-up to Iraq. ****

As was Jackass: The Movie. Here I should offer some sort of post-modern rationale about the ironic enjoyment to be gained from watching puerile behaviour; but I won't, because that would be a fraud. Jackass was just funny. Bam Margera setting off fireworks in his parents' bedroom is funny. A roller disco in the back of a truck is funny. Steve-o getting an off-road tattoo in Henry Rollins' jeep is funny. This movie is like all the stupidest things you and your friends ever did or dreamed of doing as teenagers, and comic material of that calibre needs no rationale. ****

Not in the slightest bit funny or fun, but undeniably compelling, was The Magdalene Sisters, the story of three young Irish women condemned to virtual slavery in church-run laundry houses for such crimes as being single mothers, victims of rape, or over-flirtatious. Watching this was like being fed head-first through a mangle: I was cringing, literally flinching away from the screen, almost unable to watch. Undoubtedly one of the best films of the year, for sheer emotional impact alone. *****

Almost as bleak was Lilja 4-Ever, the story of a teenage girl in contemporary Russia trying to make her escape to the West, only to get drawn into the sordid world of sex slavery. Watching a spirited and optimistic girl being tricked and broken was one of the more depressing ways you could spend your time at the movies, but what a powerful film this was. *****

Less traumatic was the recent version of Nicholas Nickleby, a star-studded adaptation with the likes of Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson, Barry Humphries, Nathan Lane, and Jamie Bell. It had its dark moments, of course, with Broadbent and Stevenson a deliciously horrible Mr and Mrs Squeers, but managed to capture that feeling of overwhelming goodness in the young leads that Dickens's stories always have; Jamie Bell was especially impressive as Smike. ****

After Lilja 4-Ever it was a relief to see a movie about a young girl that didn't end on a down note, in the form of Whale Rider. I've got something of a love-love relationship with New Zealand, where I spent some of the happiest months of my life in 1997, so the wide-screen Northland landscapes were a point in its favour from the start; and its story of a tribal elder's attempts to preserve Maori culture in a weakening community touched a chord from my postgrad days. But the clincher was its lead, Keisha Castle-Hughes, playing the girl who should have been chief. She holds a note of unwavering certainty in her destiny and culture without ever seeming dogmatic or over-zealous; by the end her attempts to win her grandfather's respect are irresistably moving. *****

I must have been the only person in Edinburgh who went to see Buffalo Soldiers for its director and not its star. Gregor Jordan is unknown here, but his debut Two Hands was one of the best Australian movies of the 1990s, so I wanted to see whatever he did next. What he did was a smart and fast-moving military caper set in 1989 West Germany, with Joaquin Phoenix as the drug-dealing soldier who meets his match on a US army base. More than a few echoes of Three Kings and Fight Club, without being quite as excellent as either; but still a solid movie. Can't wait for Jordan's Ned Kelly. ****

How good to know, though, that the best movie about 1989 Germany was made by Germans. Good Bye, Lenin! appeared from its trailer to be a straightforward comedy—East German mother in a coma sleeps through the fall of the Wall, and her son tries to protect her from the shock of the news by recreating the East in her bedroom. But it was much more than that—a story about trust and deception, culture clash, young love, hope and possibility, lost dreams, and one of my favourite cities in the world. Its storyline was never predictable, and it achieved everything it set out to; a wonderful elegy for the failed experiment of the DDR. *****

The last entry on my four/five star list was even more unexpected, given the diminishing returns we've seen from so many sequels, especially those made years after the original. But Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a worthy addition to Schwarzenegger's most famous franchise. Leaving aside Arnie's political aspirations and the policy implications of his cinematic oeuvre, complaints about T3 have ranged from its lack of cutting-edge special effects to the "unbelievable" nature of the unstoppable Terminatrix. Well, I wouldn't have wanted a T3 with bullet-time and wire work, thanks; it would sit as oddly next to its predecessors as 2010 next to 2001, whereas this captures perfectly the feel of the first two. And as for the unstoppable dominatrix, er, Terminatrix, I can only assume that such criticism comes from people who never saw T1 or T2. Or at least, never saw them as I did, at the age of 16, sitting in the theatre wondering if this would be as good as Conan the Barbarian (this at an age when no-dialogue swords and sorcery scripted by Oliver Stone could count as entertaining). As I watched that scene for the very first time where the gleaming Terminator skeleton crawls from the burning wreckage of a truck to pick up the chase, some guy in the audience yelled, "Aw, bullSHIT!"; and we all laughed, and we all loved it anyway. If you go into T3 in that frame of mind, you'll love it too. It's got the one-liners, it's got the tension, it's got the evil gleaming techno-fetishism, and it has the best car chases in years, showing up Matrix Reloaded as the unengaging cartoonery it was. ****

Next up: Pirates of the Caribbean. I had my extremely heavy doubts about a movie based on a theme park ride, but the buzz has convinced me to give it a whirl. [Update: see comments, ye scurvy dogs.]


Winners and Losers


Bruntsfield Links, Edinburgh, 23.8.2003So the first act I saw at this year's Fringe won the Perrier, which seems right to me—nobody I've seen since has topped Demetri Martin. And Gary le Strange took out best newcomer, which, as Jane said, means that lots of people my age were on the judging panel; but still a reasonable choice.

The Guardian ran an article just before the Fringe by former Perrier judge William Cook, bemoaning Edinburgh's high ticket prices and increasing feel of "a corporate trade fair, with a shrinking band of paying punters subsidising a growing army of liggers (apt acronym—least important guests)". Ticket prices certainly can be high—even the 2-for-1 deals don't make much difference when you go to twenty shows—but the band of paying punters, far from shrinking, turned out in record numbers this year. And it's those numbers that make the Fringe worth the price of a weekend getaway to the continent: for a few weeks, Edinburgh feels like the centre of the world, and everyone you pass in the street seems to be doing what you're doing—wandering from one show to the next. It's the highest concentration of shows around, every one of them hungry for your presence, which is a bit more exciting than a random night out at Jongleurs.

The other spectacle of this year's Fringe has been the story of Aaron Barschak, comedy terrorist, which intrigued me for more than its amusing poster potential; the notion of an unknown comedian performing outrageous stunts to get (inter-)national attention is, well, a little familiar. Jon Ronson's excellent article on the man hinted that his show would be ropey, and the first reviews seemed to bear that out; but since then he seems to have found his feet, and the press have warmed to him again. Other comedians have grumbled about Barschak stealing all the column inches, but when you're confronted by dodgy acts desperately publicising their shows whenever you walk down the street, he starts to look like the essence of the Fringe, bad reviews and all. But whether we'll be talking about him in a year's time is the real test.

(Yesterday's Guardian also had a couple of good articles on comedy, non-Fringe-related: an interview with ex-Mary Whitehouse Experience star Rob Newman, and a dissection of the comic novel by Adam Thirlwell.)


Friday, 22 August 2003

Gender Bender

[weblog] The Gender Genie [via jill/txt] applies an algorithm to a block of text to predict the gender of its author. I'm a sucker for these things, so I tried it out on the four most recent entries of this blog. It correctly identified both yesterday's entries as the work of a male... but both of Wednesday's (including the poem) as female. Either the algorithm is little better than random guessing, or I've got some serious gender identity issues.

So I tried it on the biggest chunk of words I had to hand: the entire text of my novel.

Score: 45135
Words: 60532

The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: Female!

No wonder I couldn't get a publisher. I was a few years too early for chick lit.


Thursday, 21 August 2003

Fringe Lasts

[comedy] The cold weather is closing in, and so is the end of the Edinburgh Fringe, which means it's time for the Perrier nominations. Adam Hills is up for the third year running, so must be odds-on favourite. Howard Read was good last year; haven't seen him this year. Or the others, except for Demetri Martin—who would easily win, if I was choosing; a brilliant show. As for the Best Newcomer nominees, Miles Jupp is a strong possibility (haven't seen his show either, but saw him in Glasgow last year); but Alex Horne and Gary le Strange were both good too, so it's hard to pick.

Our own Fringe-going has slowed down in the past few days; might try and get to one or two more before it ends. On Saturday night, while my bro and sister-in-law were still here, we went along to the Camut Band's Life is Rhythm (a musical show for a change), which was very good: tap and drumming in African style by a group of Spaniards. Who'd have thought amplified sand would sound so catchy?

On Monday we went to Big Word, an hour of performance poetry by Rob Gee, Jenny Lindsay and Triple J legend Tug Dumbly. They were all good, but Tug stole the show, at least for the Aussies in the audience; very funny. It was impressive to see the difference the performance made, too, strengthening the impact of the words and bringing out their rhythms. And the "pay what you like as you leave" approach was refreshing.

Then last night we saw a collection of old ads made by UK movie-going institution Pearl and Dean, as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival. Always entertaining to see '50s lingo and '70s fashions held up to ridicule, but at less than 40 minutes of archival material it felt like something you could have watched on TV, especially as they were TV ads in the first place. And the modern movie ads tacked onto the end to bulk it out to an hour felt all too familiar. By the end of them I felt ready to see a main feature, but no, it was time to leave.

I might get to some more shows before it all ends, but the spirit is weakening, and so is the wallet...


St George and the Kitchen

[journal] Almost two months after Jane investigated the strange damp patch in the carpet next to the kitchen door, and lifted up the kitchen lino to find the Leak from Hellllll, the day of reckoning has arrived. Last night we emptied the shelves and packed the contents into the corner of the living room, and this morning four blokes in vans turned up, courtesy of our insurance company. Their mission: to wreak vengeance on a bunch of cheap chipboard cupboards that couldn't handle one measly dripping washing machine.

I hadn't been looking forward to the disruption, but must say I've been pretty impressed with progress so far:

08.52: Blokes arrive, size up the kitchen, and get straight down to work.

10.10: Jane calls me at work to note first complaints from the old dragon upstairs who has a record of whingeing about the slightest sneeze. Apparently the Blokes have been opening and closing the back door of the stairwell in a brusque, workman-like manner, spoiling the quiet retirement-home ambience of this large block of flats located close to the centre of a capital city with a bus route passing by its front door.

11.25: The Blokes are by now muttering under their breath about the dragon, who insisted that they move their vans, which were taking up at least three of the dozen or more vacant spaces out the back (one of which is ours anyway, 'cos we don't have a car). It's not like anyone is inconvenienced—there aren't even any designated spaces, although that doesn't stop her from claiming the one next to the back door as hers by right of conquest. After she drove away in her Toyota High Dudgeon, one of the Blokes moved his van straight into her spot.

15.10: All quiet on the dragon front. Probably out terrorizing a village somewhere. The Blokes have removed all the cupboards and benchtops, and have already installed the new cupboards; the joiner has already left for the day. Most of the plumbing and electrical work is done, and all that's left is the retiling and the new lino. We might even be able to use it again by the weekend.

If I'd known it was that simple, I'd have got the insurance company to buy us a new kitchen every month. Made out of concrete. And delivered in a more appropriate vehicle.


Wednesday, 20 August 2003

Equivocation on Toast

[uk culture] Inspired by a bed & breakfast sign I see every day on the bus.

Probably the Best Breakfast in Edinburgh
Likely containing two or three eggs
Scrambled, perhaps, or fried or poached
Two rashers of bacon, sweaty pink
A grilled tomato, I would think
And possibly a tatie scone
Fried in bacon fat or lard
All of its nutrition gone
Overcooked until rock hard
A can of Heinz baked beans, maybe
Warmed through and tipped onto the plate
And dry cold toast served up too late
Probably with tiny plastic jam sachets
Not too fantastic
A cup of coffee, vaguely, maybe
Or tea—it's hard to tell, you see
And this being Scotland,
A bowl of porridge, sugar-free
And with your bacon, also fried,
A slice or two of sheep's insides
Possibly resembling food
And sometimes even somewhat good
What's that? You cannae eat all that?
You say it has way too much fat?
Probably, but as they say,
You might be going to die one day.


Blog Geography

[net culture] Kathleen, whose questions seem to speak to me a lot at the moment, asks "What is the relationship between the blog, the place it resides, and the space its author currently inhabits?" At the risk of seeming overly obsessed with blogging (two metablogging entries in one month—it must be the heat), I thought I'd answer here rather than in a small comments box.

For me, the blog—or more properly, this whole site—was a way of reinforcing the thread of myself at a precarious time in my life. Because I've moved around so much over the years, and particularly in my first year or so of blogging, I found myself replacing connection with a place with connection with a narrative. This was something I'd experienced before with the letters I wrote to family and friends—a constant stream of them to my parents and close friends, and an annual epistle to my wider circle. But the blog took over that role, at least for those aspects of life I felt I could make public.

That isn't to say that blogging was everything. The places I felt connected to were still there, of course, although geographically remote; and I still had family and friends, and especially my wife, to maintain a sense of continuity. But maintaining the site did help cushion the sense of disjunction you feel when travelling, and especially emigrating. Life became a story with two lead characters and a dazzling array of settings, instead of a story of a single place—home—and the people around you. I've lived both kinds of stories, and the difference between them can be seen in my archives—not least, the break between the first phase and this, the second.

As 2003 rolls on, the narrative aspect of the blog has all but disappeared, as Jane and I settle more into our new home and build up a circle of friends; more of my stories are shared with others, and aren't mine alone to tell. More and more things are happening in my life that don't get mentioned here (although some might be eventually); the blog becomes commentary and observation rather than narrative. In some ways, it's less satisfying to write; I was close to abandoning it completely in May and returning to updating in a more ad hoc way. I was dissatisfied, I now think, with the unravelling of that narrative thread.

For me, building up a set of observations about a single place over years rather than weeks makes for a less satisfying blog, at least on the day-to-day level of reading and writing. The saving grace is that the archives gain more weight and form, especially when individual entries are assigned to categories. In hindsight I can see that I had the perfect tools for each phase of my blogging: Walking West was predominantly a narrative, archived only by date using Blogger; when I needed categories and entry titles to build up a collection of stand-alone observations, there was Movable Type.

So for me there's been a close connection between blog and geography (reinforced, you'll notice, by the imagery in every one of my blog designs). As for "the place it resides", it's only an issue when I have to deal with ISPs and worry about bushfires. At other times I like to think of it as being everywhere and nowhere—a place in itself, not itself in a place.


Saturday, 16 August 2003

Caves and Raves

[comedy] We've seen another half-dozen shows at the Fringe this week, half of them pretty ordinary—a three-star, a two-star, and a one or two star depending how generous I'm feeling. The venues for a couple of these didn't help, with audience and performers squashed into the dank claustrophobic cellars built under the medieval bridges spanning the Cowgate. You almost felt sorry for the performers—except a couple were so bad you felt sorry for yourself instead.

Even in a big venue like the Pleasance One, Bill Bailey's Part Troll started off deceptively low-key; at first I was thinking we'd paid five-star prices for three-star tickets. But he built up the strangeness and the laughs throughout the hour, until by the end he was soaring, playing messianic, theremin-heavy overdubs over the BBC News theme, and telling increasingly philosophical and absurd "three men walk into a bar" jokes. A four-star show, definitely; you'll never look at a salad crisper in your washing-up the same way again.

Tommy Tiernan, former Perrier winner and, like Bailey, a familiar face on UK television, was more consistent throughout his show, an hour of observations on Irishness, the English language, childhood, and lubricated sex. He paced around and around the arena-like Pod, his voice hoarse from overuse; but never lost the crowd, and never broke his stride when a bladder-challenged punter slipped off for a leak, making a pleasant change from stand-ups who try to turn every walk-out into a routine. By his closing minutes he had us all feeling bladder-challenged; our muscles were too busy laughing to maintain control.

But the best show we've seen in the past few days was neither of these brand-names, but instead a one-woman play set in a New York high school, P.S. 69. Susan Jeremy turned in by far the strongest performance we've seen this Fringe, playing dozens of characters from naïve substitute teacher and grizzled old hands to hip-hop students and their demanding parents; and she did it brilliantly, with a physical and vocal range rarely seen on one stage in one hour. The story and setting were a perfect vehicle for her talents, with a level of character and plot development it was hard to believe fit into sixty minutes; and as well as all that, it was genuinely funny. A real winner—of best comedy at the Montreal Fringe, for a start—and now one of the highlights of the Edinburgh Fringe too.


Friday, 15 August 2003


[site news] As usual, behind-the-scenes activity is to blame for this snailian silence. I seem to store up more and more to say here, only to watch it all drain out the overflow hole, leaving me with a stagnant pool of content and a grimy ring around the sink.

And it's not always because I'm too busy to write, although at the moment I usually am. Kathleen wrote last week on the hesitance to blog borne of academic rewriting habits, and it's a quandary with which I'm increasingly familiar. Despite my resolve of last month, I've yet to come up with the goods, even though they're lurking in the store-room out the back. The technical problems of combining the free flow of thought with the permanence of publication may have been solved by the weblog format, but conceptual and structural problems remain, particularly when it comes to questions of revising one's work in public. I think I've come up with a way to do it, but—paradoxically—feel I have to get the details right before launching anything. I'm close, though... as long as I can get some unrelated work finished over the next couple of weeks.

Of course, it's always when I'm busiest that I end up sifting over old writing, partly as a way of recapturing ideas. Which probably explains why I did some grepping through a huge pile of old MeFi posts and... uh... calculated how many words I've posted there over the past three years oh okay I was curious and the word count on BBEdit was so tempting...

72,624, as of two days ago; nearly 40,000 of those last year alone. And I don't consider myself a prolific poster: most of those represent intense bursts of words in a few threads; relatively few are throwaway one-liners.

As part of that sifting, I ended up making something I'd meant to for a while, which was an index of asides as a place to bring it all back home. (There's a 2002 equivalent now, too.) Some of its new pages contain material that was never linked from here, even when in hindsight they would have made perfectly good posts. Which brings me back to this whole question of blogging reticence.

It's not just an academic urge to rewrite until perfect that slows down the flow of a weblog; it's an awareness of one's audience—of the fact that there is now an audience—and the consequent attempt to write for that audience. Perhaps studying certain academic fields—like English, or Cultural Studies, or even Political Science—heightens your awareness of the impact words can have, and makes you overly cautious. Or maybe it's universal; the fear of your sister reading your diary. Writing your entire self onto the page or the screen carries the risk that someone won't like it.

Yeah, but that's nothing new, and that's not it... (thinking to myself on a Friday afternoon with five minutes left to finish this post before I have to be somewhere else). It's just a question of tone... of trying to find the tone that gives an impression of the whole, of your complete life, of all its aspects... and that's impossible, isn't it. So why not re-use material you wrote elsewhere... someone might already have seen it, but most won't, so why hold back?

You can always spot my first-draft posts by the number of ellipses.


Tuesday, 12 August 2003

The Salvador Dali Memorial Fund

[weblog] I may be a tight-fisted bastard when it comes to blog tip jars and Amazon wish lists (gee, I wish I had lots of money and presents, too!), but send up the Snail Signal in a moment of genuine need and the forces of gastropod justice shall respond. Hence this site's first guest banner in living memory (it helped that the colours match), for Paul Cowan's Hunt for Clarence. After all, we tall orange-haired creatures have to look out for each other.

If you see an orange and purple giraffe... you might want to see a doctor. But if symptoms persist, send it to funkwit.


[net culture] Sometimes the stories satirize themselves:

America Online is asking AOL Time Warner to drop "AOL" from its name, ... [which] has been tarnished as the Securities and Exchange Commission investigates numerous accounting issues at the company, mainly at the AOL division. ... Miller's rationale for seeking the change is that he is concerned that negative publicity regarding the parent company is often associated with the America Online division.


Monday, 11 August 2003


Edinburgh Fringe Sunday

A Little Lie Down Have a Cigarbox Fool of Chainsaws Here Comes the Sun King You Give Me the Hump

More glorious weather yesterday for the Fringe freebie on the Meadows. The stand-ups in the comedy tent were highly variable and lowly audible; the queues for ice-creams so long you had to eat six to replenish the sweat you lost standing in line; and while taking a photo of some salsa dancers I was attacked by a wasp. But for once Fringe Sunday really was sunny, and it was fun just to be part of a crowd in Edinburgh that wasn't about shopping.

Didn't go to many shows last week, but the couple we saw were good. The first, Gary le Strange, has been getting rave reviews for his pisstake of assorted New Romantics. They're all there—Adam Ant, Duran Duran, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Gary Numan—and the costumes and songs are well-observed and sometimes inspired, with lines about Xerox machines photocopying the universe, and the colour grey being like lava-covered people in the ruins of Pompeii. If you grew up in the early '80s, it's a four-star show; if not, a three.

Wednesday was a show we'd really been looking forward to, Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure. The audience was ten times what it was in Melbourne in 2001, thanks to the intervening book and TV series. Dave's energetic enough to fill the bigger venue, though, and this true tale of obsession was just as funny as that one, if a little more familiar (especially if you're a webhead). Plenty of outrageous coincidences, and a big finish, made Googlewhack one of the best of the Fringe so far.

Photos 3 and 4 by Jane; others by me.


Saturday, 9 August 2003

Phew, Wot a Pleasantly-Warm-er

[uk culture] I never thought I'd say it of Edinburgh in August, but it actually feels like summer. The other day it got to—wait for it—twenty six degrees! Two degrees warmer than the hottest day last year. And who knows, today feels like it could be even more. Down south they're buckling under temperatures in the low to mid thirties (the railway tracks are buckling, anyway); here people are wandering around in tank tops because we've matched a winter's day in Queensland. The papers last weekend noted in wonder that the average daily highs in Scotland over June and July reached 13.9°C.

But I shouldn't mock; it's very pleasant. I even felt an unfamiliar moistness of the arms the other day, right up until I took my jumper off.


Friday, 8 August 2003

[weblog] Self-Defence with a Walking-Stick: The Different Methods of Defending Oneself with a Walking-Stick or Umbrella when Attacked under Unequal Conditions [via Linkfilter].

Of course, one could hardly peruse an article such as this without emulating the illustrations in animatory format. Have at you, sir!


Thursday, 7 August 2003


[net culture] MeFi has had a series of threads discussing copyright and peer-to-peer lately, which are starting to add up to a pretty good (albeit informal) coverage of the issues involved: music label price-fixing; the MPAA's public service campaign; the future of the Internet; killing the music. The last is the longest, and the only one I took much part in, towards the end. [Edited version of my comments mirrored here.]

What the issues lack in excitement, they make up for in their importance. If only most people actually cared...


Wednesday, 6 August 2003

[site news] Bit slow in mentioning it, but over the past week or so I've added four new found things to that part of the site. Every time I think about retiring the concept, I end up keeping it going for just that bit longer.


Tuesday, 5 August 2003

Differential Strokes

[whatever] Jane's current biscuit of choice is the Choco Leibniz, a German brand that's basically a slab of dark chocolate with a thin slice of biscuit underneath. As their tagline says, it's More Chocolate Than a Biscuit.

I reckon that tagline is a missed opportunity. Clearly, it should be The Goodness of Calculus—In a Biscuit!

Then they could double up their marketing with Fig Newtons.


Monday, 4 August 2003

Highs and Lows and Highs

[comedy] I wasn't planning on doing Fringe reviews this year, but after seeing nine shows in one weekend feel compelled to plug a few. Yes, it's that time of year again, when Edinburgh's streets fill up with strolling players and wandering punters. Of course, if you're in town you'll already have more reliable sources of reviews than me, and if you're not you won't care anyway. But if by any chance you're planning to visit the Fringe, haven't read any reviews or bought any tickets yet, and are looking at this very page right now, read on.

We were lucky with our first outing—Demetri Martin on Friday night at the Assembly—because his show was about as good as it gets. An account of nerdish obsessions to rival Dave Gorman's, If I... was every bit as good as you'd expect from a regular performer on Letterman and Conan O'Brien, instantly vaulting its performer from who-he-ness to must-see-everything-he-ever-does-ness in my own almost-as-obsessive brain. If this isn't one of the hits of the Fringe, there is no justice.

Sunday night also went well, in the form of an hour of Sarah Kendall. I was curious to see how far she'd come from the 1998 Raw Comedy final, and she didn't disappoint—my favourite kind of stand-up, weaving a thread of weirdness through her show, and revisiting early gags later on to tie it all together.

Others ranged from the good—Making Fish Laugh and Live Ghost Hunt—to the absolutely awful, mercifully unnamed here on the principle that if you can't say something nice, burn that pile of putrescence from your memory so that you might never think of it again, and for God's sake don't name it on your website where the performers will Google their way to it and sign you up for rhinoceros-porn spam in retribution.

Let's just say that the first of these started badly, stayed bad throughout, and didn't finish well; halfway through I was thinking to myself, "We were actually laughing more just sitting around talking at home." When your scripted and rehearsed act gets less laughs than four friends shooting the breeze, you're in big trouble. Another just ran out of steam, and its leads were too derivative of the high-profile duo with whom they were compared on their flier. And the last was even worse, reeking of self-indulgence and an elitist attitude towards the audience's plebian desire for jokes; anti-comedy of the most painfully unfunny kind.

But let us lobotomize those braincells and turn to the real reason for this entry, which is to plug my friends' show.

Okay, so there's a glaring conflict of interest here; I'm interested in seeing The Wicker Woman get full houses for the rest of its entire run, and if you don't agree there'll be conflict.

All I can say is, between this year, last year, and the year before, I've seen a hell of a lot of shows at the Fringe, and this is among the best. Their first outing together, Gladiatrix, was good stuff, but this is a real improvement: bigger and better props, a cracking script, and even more comedy value from three excellent performers. Where Gladiatrix had one strong lead and two supporting roles, The Wicker Woman has three strong leads, and is all the funnier for it.

Dare I say Perrier? Better not push my luck. But The Wicker Woman is just as funny as the show that won a couple of years ago, and given that the Perrier went to a stand-up last year just might get a look-in. It certainly deserves a nomination; and it definitely deserves full houses.


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