Monday, November 24, 2008


I was aimlessly internet-loafing earlier and I came across the wiki page for D. B. Cooper. I've read about this geezer before, but it's still got to be one of the coolest, weirdest events that has never been made into a decent film.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I came across this when doing some research the other day. It's hardly a shocking finding, but interesting for its thoroughness. I give you this interesting little paper --

Fraternity membership, the display of degrading sexual images of women, and rape myth acceptance

I think the same is probably true of a lot of university sports teams over here. Well, judging from how they act in public, and the songs they sing when they're drunk -- I've never been in their rooms.


Flying Boat

I have a great affection for examples of people bravely continuing to bark up the wrong tree, long after the correct tree has become apparent. It's most interesting in the world of technology, where you get people plugging away, pushing the boundaries, and engineering to perfection something that looks, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been obsolete from the start. The products of this misguided enthusiasm are often masterpieces in their way though, just not particularly practical ones.

Today I found a fine example of this whilst cruising the internets. It was this bulbous beast, the Saunders-Roe Princess.

It was a giant propeller driven flying boat, completed a few months after the de Havilland Comet entered service and Boeing announced the design that would become the Boeing 707. It flew well enough, and was by all accounts a quite nice plane, but many saw the writing was on the wall for flying boats long before it was completed. No-one ever bought one. The company continued to take their flying prototype to airshows around the world though, seemingly in the hope that people would come round to the idea of a giant flying boat, and warm to its snub nosed charm.

Interestingly there are still plenty of people out there who see this plane as having been unfairly snubbed by the British Government and tragically ignored by an aviation industry to lazy to give it a fair hearing. I don't really see the point in such discussions though. Whilst they are pretty, and pleasing in a nautical sort of way, being able to land in almost all weathers - and not having your plane corrode like a boat - are good things too.

Mind you, If I was an evil genius, I'd definitely fly around in one of those.

oh, and this is an amazing bit of technical drawing, showing all its inside gubbins.

Flagstones around the war memorial in Islington. I thought they were pretty.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Here's another 'what I do all day' post. The writer's proofs vs the editor's red biro. I wouldn't take any satisfaction from dealing such an editorial mauling if it wasn't for the fact that I wrote the article in question, and there's always a certain contentment that comes from picking up your mistakes before anyone else does.

The headings are covered up because I'm paranoid and I don't want angry writers poking me with sticks.


Monday, November 10, 2008


Dreams are funny things. I think it was Freud who said that, or words to that effect anyway. For various reasons I've been getting very little sleep of late - mostly just running on coffee and tea. I don't know whether this is in anyway related, but I've also not been dreaming much recently either. At least, not that I remember.

Don't worry, this post isn't going to be a tedious account of my dreams. Most of the time dreams are really not worth mentioning to anyone, and nine times out of ten if they can't be explained in a single sentence then they're just going to bore people. The other week, for example -- after working on a project about westerns for for a few weeks -- I had a dream that John Wayne came up to me in the pub and called me a 'dirty commie'. See - one sentence. It's not interesting, but at least it's over quickly. It's a subtle difference but it's definitely better than someone sitting there saying "well. I was in this house, right, and there was a butler following me around with a tray of those funny biscuits. You know, the ones with the cow imprinted on them that tasted sort of, er, malty. Anyway, this butler looked like that Russian guy who was in The Man from Uncle, but it was actually my granddad in disguise...etc."

Every now and then though your subconscious throws you such a horrific unexpected curveball that you have to tell someone. This evening, as a result of one of these dreams, it took me about three minutes to pluck up the courage to go out to the shed and get my washing out of the dryer. It wasn't because of something I dreamed, or even something dreamed by someone I know, but the dream of a person I've never met.

This person -- a colleague of my mother's -- is moving into a new flat soon. She's bought the place, and has most of her furniture in the place, but she's not actually living there yet. It sounds like a nice place, on the ground floor of a new housing block built on the site of the old swimming pool in Bexleyheath (not a place I have fond memories of. It always smelled bad, even for a swimming pool, and it had a really deep diving area at the far end of the pool that I was a bit scared of.) Anyway. Last night she dreamt that she was sitting around in her new flat one evening, curtains drawn, when she heard a knock on the window-glass. In the dream she drew back the curtains and came face to face with a pallid boy of about ten, standing outside the window in swimming trunks, his hair dripping wet. He looked at her and said "Can I come in? I'm all wet and cold." He wouldn't go away -- even when she closed the curtains she could still hear him knocking and calling to her. In the dream she ran out of the house hid in her neighbour's flat.

Needless to say, she is now terrified of her new place.

That sort of thing makes me less bothered about the fact that I haven't dreamt much recently.


Friday, November 07, 2008

They Call Me Mister President

I'm still happy about the US election result, I'm not sure whether it will translate into any sort of improvement in the world -- but a lot of people are certain it will, and I think that confidence probably has considerable power on its own. Sorry about the rather inappropriate In the Heat of the Night reference, although the contrast between then and now is fascinating. I was surprised that none of the english papers used it as a headline. It was nice to see the headlines in the paper on wednesday, things like "One Giant Leap for Mankind", "GOBAMA!" and so on -- a nice change from four years ago when one major national paper in the UK ran with "How can 58 million people be so dumb?". The Obama campaign flickr page has some interesting shots from election night.

In other news, Field Music are awesome. I'm sure this is old news to a lot of people, but I'm a bit slow on the uptake and not very hip.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

I’ve been writing an article about sex in literature for the last few days, which is a rather big subject to condense down to a single 2800 word article. I’ve managed to get the sections on ancient literature, medieval literature, renaissance and early modern literature, and modern literature done but I just can’t get the 19th century bit down right.

The reason for this is that unlike the other historical periods, I’ve not read a great deal of the great canon novels out there. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that--despite my years of reading everything I could get my hands on, earning a first in English Literature, and somehow ending up in a job that requires me to read and write all day--I really don’t like 19th century realist novels. The glowing esteem that those brick-thick books are held in by literary types meant that I’ve had to suffer a lot in the course of my studies.

In the first year I had to read Hard Times by Charles Dickens. I can honestly say that it was the single most tedious book I’ve ever read. It led me to devise a method of rating literature which, whilst highly subjective, nonetheless proved invaluable in my assessment of different books.

The system is this—how many pages can you read before you fall asleep? Bearing in mind your bedroom is generally the only place in a student house that you can get any peace, and the bed is usually the only piece of furniture in your bedroom, it’s pretty easy to doze off.

I started thinking about this system when I was sitting in a very dull seminar (it was in the middle of winter, in a very cold room and it started at 4pm-- which meant it was dark the whole time) thumbing through the copy of Hard Times that I had only managed to get a bit more than halfway through. The rest of the class were silent and sheepish – none of them had managed to finish it either (I asked before the tutor came in) and this was leading to long and uncomfortable silences. Not one to let a room full of people suffer under the claws of the awkward turtle like that, I bravely stepped in and started responding to the tutor’s questions with my finest freestyle academic bullshit, backed up by quotes taken pretty much at random from whatever page happened to fall open while I was speaking.

You’d be surprised how often that method worked. Once, in my final year, I did a presentation which got 73 (that’s a very high mark at an English uni) on a book I hadn’t even read using exactly that technique. It’s all about pretending to be forgetful rather than unprepared--doing a Boris, essentially.

On this particular occasion though, my method was encountering a snag. You see, it had taken me so much effort to read the two-thirds that I’d managed to plough through that my book was half stuck together with drool. (yes, I drool in my sleep. I’m like an unusually articulate spaniel). When someone else finally started talking--and I was able to relax for a while--I sat there, slouched in my corner of the room, and counted how many pages there were between each group of stuck ones. I wasn’t being hugely scientific, but I found that in the case of hard times I managed to read around 15 pages on average in each sitting, before falling asleep.

Now 15 pages isn’t too bad, it’s only 288 pages long so you’d get there eventually. The big problem--and probably why I’ve never been able to see the genius in these books that everyone else sees—is that whilst 15 pages passed before I actually conked out, my brain generally shut down after about 10 pages. I was reading, but the words weren’t reaching my mind.

My impressions of most of the most of the big 19th century novels that sit on the top of all the ‘best books ever’ lists that people publish from time to time (I suspect with the intention of making people feel intellectually inferior) are pretty much the same. For some reason, realist fiction has an amazing soporific effect on me. I managed to read Middlemarch and some Henry James once, although I wouldn’t say I enjoyed them much. But yes, to meander drunkenly back to my original point (if I ever had one) it’s hard to write about sex in 19th century literature when you’ve never read Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, or Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Perhaps one day I’ll become addicted to amphetamines or something and finally be able to understand what all the fuss is about.

I wrote this in one huge blaze of typing, so it probably doesn’t make much sense. I’ll come back and check it later. Oh, and the irritating mixture of double-hyphens and Em dashes are the fault of Microsoft word, and are really making me wish I had a mac.