Saturday, 22 March 2008

Oh my God, it's full of stars...

In obituary-land of late I have found my friends divided between those who mourned the passing of Anthony Minghella and those who marked the passing of Arthur C Clarke, and similarly between those who marked the loss of Paul Scofield and those who mourned for Brian “Mr Foggy Barraclough” Wilde.

It’s the high art, low art thing, of course, and the tidying of lives into boxes posthumously.
I’ve heard little mention of Minghella script editing Grange Hill (vital popular drama for twenty years of children- low art), or of Paul Scofield’s appearance in a presentation of highlights from Hamlet rudely cut short by a Kia-ora advert (for ATV therefore low art, even with Peter Brook on board), or Wilde’s appearances in Elizabeth R or Play for Today (not massively popular comedy series and therefore high art).

Furthermore, I’ve just heard a BBC World Service arts show say there was another loss to the world of film (after discussing Minghella), Arthur C Clarke, though he worked in quite another genre, science fiction, and got annoyed.

Let’s get this straight- Arthur C Clarke may have co-written a famous movie, but he was not from the world of film because of that, and Anthony Minghella wrote fantasy, just like Clarke- The Storyteller and The Greek Myths and Truly, Madly, Deeply are in the same genre as Clarke*.

Now high art chaps may well want to say “No, no, they’re using metaphor, they’re not actually fantasy, they’re using fantastic trappings to explore reality.”
Newsflash- this is not unknown in the world of fantasy fiction- those Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter and George Orwell pieces aren’t proper literature using the tropes of fantasy, they are it.
Similarly, Clarke was not attempting to predict the future in his books with dates in the title but explore ideas, and his butting up of the transcendent and spiritual with the world of rivets and physics is at the heart of some of his most memorable work.
Everyone who’s ever read The Nine Billion Names of God knows it’s a fable, an exploration of where we put faith and science, and, as I’ve read Simon Guerrier discuss recently, an attractively open ended fable that tells us a great deal about us as readers.

If I may posit a Fourth Clarke’s Law posthumously: “Any sufficiently advanced science fiction is indistinguishable from literature and any sufficiently advanced popular culture is indistinguishable from art”.
Get over it, ghetto-makers. Porridge is as good as King Lear, don't make me choose.

The idea for this post was given to me by an enigmatic piece of pure geometry sitting incongruously on a stone age plain, or possibly by observing the geometry in nature and trying to make sense of it.

*Mind, they were telly really, weren’t they? Not legit cinema films.
Oh and if you don't think science fiction and fantasy are the same thing you've forgotten Clarke's Third Law and need to ask yourself how come they're always tucked away together in the same corner of 'proper' bookshops.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Citiest People

I have of late found myself fairly often in and around London's Soho, popularly considered to be a regular den of both regular and irregular iniquity and independent television production companies, though as any fule (and Mr Sherlock Holmes) kno the countryside beats the town for iniquity every time.

To be honest, I think Covent Garden is actually seedier than Soho. There's a street there in which I recently saw not only a quite sizable whirl of what looked very much like fresh human excrement perched on a convenient knee-high pipe jutting from a wall but a whole shop devoted to nothing but Tintin (I think it's called Bloom Street, they've probably got rid of the pooh by now, but I bet the shop's still there), however, I digress.

When I'm around Soho I often shop on that nearby street of dreams, Tottenham Court Road. At one end you can fetishise books, at the other, electronics goods. In the middle you can feel good about yourself by not going to Burger King or We Will Rock You and wonder where exactly you're supposed to admire the monumental bulk of Centre Point from, exactly.
Yesterday, I was down the electronics end, just beyond the bit where you might turn left to discover the British Film Institute or a gaggle of middle-aged Doctor Who fans loitering around (and on occasion both).
I was in Maplin's attempting to buy a replacement aerial for my wind up digital radio, the old one had broken in a freak "me lifting it up by the aerial" accident (would it hurt to have a carry handle on a wind up radio? It'd make the winding easier if you could easily hold the thing in your other hand while powering it up).

I think Maplin's HQ is in Barnsley actually, which realistically should be easier for me to get to, but, unrealistically, isn't.
In an ideal world, I'd have bought my new aerial from Barnsley via the Maplin's website (though in a really ideal world there'd have be a handle on the radio that meant it hadn't lost its aerial and giraffes would talk but let's not get greedy) but the website uses so much arcane specification talk to describe its aerials that it fills a potential purchaser like me with technofear and convinces him any purchase he makes will be a foolish mistake.

So, it was I was in London's glittering arse-end instead, buying an aerial the old fashioned way with actual money and a visual aid- my broken aerial to Cinderella-slipper up against all the shop's many ugly sister antennae. I got one I thought would do in the end, but not before witnessing something I found a little odd- a young man on roller blades asking the assistant if they sold Geiger counters, he was a bit unkempt verging on crusty, and, though it shames me to admit it, immediately set off my highly specialised "Oh my God, he's planning to construct a dirty bomb" alarms.

The Maplin's man said they didn't have any in store but they might have some on their website. He went to a terminal to search, and I went to pay. As I did, I heard the customer admitting he was unsure whether you spelled Geiger "ei" or "ie". I so nearly got involved, but decided not to.
Admitting to knowing something about radiation measurement in central London whilst wearing a rucksack with wires coming out of it (if only for m'iRiver) struck me as unwise, and besides I had to go and ask telly people stupid questions.

How naive I was, in the city you can wear roller blades in a shop and try to buy a Geiger counter in the high street without seeming even slightly suspiciously odd. You can even go to see We Will Rock You without being put on a list.
In the country, where the real iniquity lies, indoor roller blades alone could get you in trouble, but at least the streets are Tintin free.

I hope the Geiger counter section of the Maplin's website, if there is one, is more user-friendly than the aerials one. I'm not convinced roller boy had done a lot of research, which reassures me that if he is planning to produce a dirty bomb, he'll get caught googling it first.
By the way, if you've come here by googling "dirty bomb" in the hope of finding out how to make one, can I suggest politely that I'd rather you didn't? A discreet bowel movement in a busy London shopping street will probably get your disgruntlement over just as well. Thanks.

PS Obviously, despite being accompanied by my old un, I still bought the wrong aerial.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Play's the Thing (or Wave, it depends how you look at it)

To confuse things… do you remember the goat doors? My radio play pitch? Oh you must, it’s a mere mouse scroll down from here, maybe a click too.
Well, it’s got more complicated, now. The commissioner liked my log-line more than the attached pitch. It was a jolly good eye-catching log-line that only 20% covered the play, so he suggested I should pitch the play that goes with that log-line instead. So I have and it's now much more like itself.
It’s a harder play to write and despite having been liked at pithy sentence length it may not appeal so much when expanded on.
So, I’ve kind of clipped the bar getting over this hurdle, and am now tackling the next hurdle in a slightly different way instead- straddling rather than Fosberry flopping if you’d like to mess up your sporting imagery.

In terms of goat doors you might consider me as having opened the first door, only to find what's beyond it is still in a state of quantum indeterminacy. That might of course be counter-intuitive nonsense, but I’m not going to judge.
It’s in the pre-offers round anyhow, which basically means it's in the phase of being offered to be offered, which makes much more sense, particularly if you're a bit Zen and that.
To look on this positively- the idea changing radically as a result of being looked at get continuing to progress is eminently quantum, and this is probably as good for the odds of getting through to the next stage as changing doors for no good reason on a quiz show is. Those goats should sue over The Weakest Link, what a pinch.

This post was brought to you by populist factual books from the late 1980s that attempt to explain that Quantum stuff is simultaneously dead easy and a bit like exotic mystical thinking. This is both very hard and easy to believe, though obviously not simultaneously.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Colonel K

A little over a year ago, so it turns out, KFC (the company formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, before deciding the world fried might be becoming a bit of a hard sell these days) changed its logo. I didn't notice because while KFC had apparently advertised the change to low orbital surveillance satellites from the Nevada desert, I'd somehow neglected to be in low orbit or on any of the agenda setting websites showing the resultant images, which are so popular with the hip, young secretively seasoned fried chicken consuming demographic.

The realisation has only just reached me because a recent bus journey took me past two KFCs in fairly quick succession, a funky new one and a tired, old, unchanged since the late 90s one.

You know what, the last 10 years have been kinder to Colonel Sanders than they have to me- he's got younger and I think a little bit more hip, with his "jacket off, apron on" attitude and "down wiv da kidz" jaunty trapezoid backing. He also has to my eye a ghost of young Rolf Harris and particularly cheery Desmond Tutu about his expression, and may even have shed a pound or two in weight.
When I was a lad he was making cameos in Little House on the Prairie which was what simultaneously a quarter of a century and a century and a bit ago, though to be fair he was also writing his company name in full, Wimpy was a sit down restaurant with waitresses, and Pizza Hut didn't deliver and had a sensible hut roof rather than some squiffy faux scribbled nonsense on its logo.

Good for him, as a puritan lefty killjoy I obviously wish his empire had not spread so far as to have two branches within a five minute bus ride half a world from Kentucky (or K as it's now known), and that his TV adverts weren't a) so desperately transparently constructed to imply it was okay for young parents to succumb to kids' pressure and buy his wares instead of making real food, and that they could be both middle class and skinny if they did, and b) so rubbish, but he's looking well on it.

It would be nice if he'd managed Elvis better too, obviously.