Friday, 31 December 2021

Blue Friday: Goodbye

That's quite enough of all that, thank you very much.


Insert obligatory sigh here

Thursday, 30 December 2021

What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round?

I know I'm a bit late with my RIP but notwithstanding...

Repeats of The Monkees TV show got me through so many school holidays as a child. That, and the Pink Panther, and Why Don't You?

This is one of my favourite Monkees' tracks, sung by the coolest Monkee, the late Mike Nesmith. The first video is the full-on TV japery version, the second a straight studio mime. Both are great.

For completeness, here's a reminder that it wasn't even Nesmith's own hat...

Regardless of hat provenance, RIP Mike.

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Broken

I have tried so many times to write a piece about how modern British politics is broken, blown to smithereens by the relentlesss assault of politicians motivated by self rather than national interest, the popularity chase that ensues and the inevitable short-termism in policy making. Add to the mix the fact that every issue now has become completely polarised - you are either for everything we stand for, or against it all - and you have a terrible, adversarial world reflected in microcosm by the halls of Westminster. The age of nuance is gone. Compromise is gone. Shades of grey, gone.

I don't know whether social media have contributed - the electorate have become conditioned to either like or dislike everything, after all.

The short-termism worries me too, of course. When you've thinking about climate change, for example, decisions taken now will have ramifications for just about as far ahead as we can imagine. And yet those decisions seem to be about keeping people, and especially vested (corporate) interests, happy now, rather than keeping them alive in a (not too) distant future. A short-term grab at staying popular, staying in power. Looking after number one, basically. And all of number's one's mates, cronies and donors, of course.

The reason I've failed to write this post successfully so many times is that I've always tried to articulate how I think Parliament could work better, and I do have an idea for that, one that really holds water. It feels within my grasp, I just can't ... quite ... put it properly into words. Not without rambling, anyway, and certainly not in a cogent argument that makes it seem so right, so blindingly obvious. I'll keep trying though. Maybe I'll be ready to publish it in time for the next election, whenever that might be. Although God knows why I'm stressing about it, it's not like an unpopular blogger's pet theory on parliamentary reform is going to interest many. And it certainly won't change anything. I just feel the need to thrash it out properly, more for myself than anyone else; and this is where I'll do that, eventually.

Until then, here's a great reminder about who's running the world... this is from an unspecified French TV programme. Hard to imagine it getting broadcast, unexpurgated like this, in the UK. Alons-y!

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Every four years?

Posting this for three reasons: one, it's funny; two, the idea of having Christmas every four years might appeal right now; and three, it showcases the late Sean Lock, who died earlier this year.

Monday, 27 December 2021

Monday long song: A Quick One While He's Away

The Who's proto rock opera that gave its parent album its title, and without which there would probably be no Tommy or Quadrophenia. Note that this linking of songs pre-dates Sgt Pepper by a year too - Townshend, ahead of the curve! So what's it all about (to paraphrase Alyson)? Well, our protagonist heroine pines for her absent love, selects Ivor the engine driver as a substitute, regrets this when her fella returns, confesses her dalliance and is forgiven: the end.

In the words of bassist John Entwistle, "We wanted to put cellos on the track but [producer] Kit Lambert said we couldn't afford it. That's why we sing 'cello, cello, cello, cello' where we thought they should be." Brilliant. The cello comes in at 6m58 ish.

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Sunday shorts: I Will

No, I'm not blogging over Christmas, this has been scheduled way in advance, specifically to provide you with 1 minute and 59 seconds of Radiohead; think of it as a sorbet to clear the cloying saccharine of the season from your palate.

Saturday, 25 December 2021

Knowing Me, Knowing Yule

"It's at times like these, simply browsing among electrical goods at Tandy's, that I know who I truly am: I'm Alan Partridge."

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Time-Capsule TV V - 1970s Christmas adverts

The past is a different country, isn't it? Still, top breeders recommend it.

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Books - imagine your childhood without them

If you're fed up with buying tat Christmas presents for people that you care little for but somehow have become trapped in a vicious circle of gift reciprocity, one way of breaking out of it might be to say you are making a donation to a charity instead, and suggest they do the same. In which case, might I suggest The Booktrust? A donation of £10 provides a surprise festive book parcel for a child who otherwise wouldn't have much to read. That sounds alright, doesn't it? And certainly better than a scented candle...

www.booktrust.org.uk/xmas

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

AI won't ever understand that you can't let it take the man's wheels, son...

...or maybe it will?

I read a fascinating report recently of a debate at the Oxford Union in which some pretty serious artificial intelligence was tasked with debating for and against the concept of AI. Or more specifically, the motion "This house believes that AI will never be ethical."

The AI arguing with itself for the purposes of the debate was the brilliantly named Megatron LLB Transformer, developed by the Applied Deep Research team at Nvidia and based on earlier work by Google. Megatron LLB Transformer ... honestly, it's like the task of naming was offloaded to a group of Year 5 schoolboys. Anyway, arguing for the motion, Megatron stated, "AI will never be ethical. It is a tool and like any tool, it is used for good and bad. There is no such thing as 'good' AI and 'bad' humans." It went on to argue that humans were not "smart enough" to make AI ethical or moral. "In the end I believe that the only way to avoid an AI arms race is to have no AI at all. This will be the ultimate defence against AI," it said.

Wise words, right? Because however smart we think we are, we should know from Socrates that we know nothing.

Of course, Megatron was also arguing against the motion, in which guise it offered up some admittedly more alarming pearls of wisdom, starting with "The best AI will be the AI that is embedded into our brains, as a conscious entity" and adding that "If you do not have a vision of your organisation's AI strategy, then you are not prepared for the next wave of technological disruption." Blimey.

Chillingly (because it's already true), the AI went on to state "The ability to provide information, rather than the ability to provide goods and services, will be the defining feature of the economy of the 21st Century ... we will be able to see everything about a person, everywhere they go, it will be stored and used in ways that we cannot even imagine." So Orwell was right about Big Brother, he just didn't know it would be AI.

If you're around my age, which I guess most of you are, you might think of Skynet and Cyberdyne Systems when you think of AI, and we all have James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger to thank for that. That's as much of an excuse as I need, really, to feature this little clip from Terminator 2, a 30-yr old film that stands up brilliantly and remains an action-movie benchmark, and an object lesson in how to do a sequel. This is a film I can quote backwards, having used it as a demo video in my TV and hi-fi selling days, but more than that it's a film I love. Pay particular attention to the sound here, the swoosh of the T-800's arm as it reaches out to relieve the barman of his shotgun, the click as it takes his sunglasses... these sounds are unnaturally high in the mix and almost ahead of the movement, to trick us, the viewers, into thinking the Terminator is moving faster than Arnie really can. It's the little details, you see ... and kudos to the unsung heroes of sound design.

And here's the full version of Bad to the Bone by George Thorogood and the Destroyers - not my usual cup of tea, really, and it goes on way too long, but I have a soft spot for it (in small doses) because I associate it with T2.

Monday, 20 December 2021

Monday long song: Perfume/All On You

Heard this on 6Music last week (thanks Lauren), for the first time in an age. It still sounds good, with a lovely guitar motif, and nicely joins the dots between the music that was being made in Manchester in the 80s with a lot of what would come from there in the 90s. And by a YouTuber's generous fadeout edit, this Paris Angels track just about qualifies as a long song.

Sunday, 19 December 2021

Sunday shorts: Breaking Glass

No, nothing to do with Hazel O'Connor, here's some Bowie for you. Sample lyric: "Don't look at the carpet - I drew something awful on it."

Saturday, 18 December 2021

Time-Capsule TV IV - Film 98

I was looking for something else, of course, but YouTube algorithms seemingly know me better than I know myself, and threw this up instead. And it's terrific, so I had to share it here.

I really miss an intelligent, discussion-led film review programme like this. The programme carried on, successfully, after Barry Norman, with Jonathan Ross in the chair. When he moved on, the format was tinkered with, Claudia Winkleman hosted and, through no fault of hers, the whole thing went south. But there could still be a place for a show like this, I think, perhaps on BBC4. I think Andrew Collins would be the perfect host.

Friday, 17 December 2021

Happy birthday, mate

In the aftermath of Martin Rossiter's farewell gig last month, as we made our way back to the anonymous hotel in which we were to crash for the night, The Man Of Cheese and I enthused about the brilliance and depth of the setlist. The only song missing, TMOC suggested, was The Looker, from the third Gene album, Revelations.

To make up for that, here it is, the slightly rougher, rockier Peel Session version. Happy birthday, mate.

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

About Christmas songs

New Amusements Towers echoes to the sound of Christmas carols pretty much all year round, because NA Minor loves to sing them regardless of the month, a habit he has picked up, by some magical osmosis, from my mum. I love it, because he has a great singing voice and, dad-cliché alert, it warms my heart to listen. He's quite fond of a lyric change too, which gives us all a laugh - 'Tis the season to be jolly, smashed on the head with a rolled-up brolly, and so on. I guess you have to be there.

I join in sometimes, of course, but am naturally less enamoured of carols, so sometimes try to steer the singing in other seasonal directions; there are only so many fa-la-la-la-la's a man can take, after all. And that's how I came to be singing this at the weekend, for the first time in many a year and to blank faces from the rest of Team NA.

It's not their finest work, and was just a B-side (to Think For A Minute), but I loved The Housemartins and always liked I Smell Winter. So here you are.

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Contacts

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

Contacts by Mark Watson

18/21: Contacts by Mark Watson

The blurb: At five to midnight in Euston station, James Chiltern sends one text to all 158 people in his contacts. A message saying goodbye.

Five minutes later, with two pork pies and a packet of chocolate digestives in his pocket, he disappears.

Across the world, 158 phones light up. Phones belonging to James’s friends, his family, people he’s lost touch with. All of them now wondering, where has James gone? What happened to him? And more importantly, can they find him before it’s too late?

Funny and wise, tender and deeply moving, Contacts is a beautiful story about the weight of loneliness, the importance of kindness – and how it’s never too late to reach out.

The review: First of all, I should probably say that I don't know why I set myself these reading goals because, despite their simplicity (so many books in a year), I seem to fail them every time (I only managed seventeen in '19 and a frankly pathetic eleven in '20). Still, here we are, with my eighteenth book of 2021. So, what did I make of it?

Well, on the face of it Contacts is a tough sell - it is, after all, a novel whose chief protagonist wants to kill himself. Speaking as someone who also wrote a novel about someone who wants to kill himself, I know just how tough a sell that is. And, you might think, a grim read. But it isn't, because this is also a novel about human connection and, more specifically, how the oft-maligned hyper-connectivity afforded to us by technology can actually have a positive effect. Oh, and Mark Watson being Mark Watson, there are some funny moments too, he can't help himself. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but there are plenty of wry smiles to be had, and that's probably no bad thing when your leading character is off on a journey to take his own life.

The blurb seems to suggest that there might be 158 minor characters all reacting to our hero James's last message but don't worry, there aren't - that would be a nightmare to follow. No, the supporting cast of characters trying to save James are his ex, his former best friend, his sister, his flatmate and his mum. It's through their relationships with James that we get his back-story, and come to see how he has come to this point: specifically, on a sleeper train to Edinburgh, where he plans to jump off the bridge that he'd once scattered his dad's ashes from. And whilst these characters provide the context, and avoid having to fill the story in purely from James's flashbacks, they are also the source of my one bug-bear with this novel: whilst not quite stereotypes, they are certainly headed in that direction: the mum who doesn't "get" technology; the over-achieving sibling; the mate you'd crawl over broken glass for, despite his flaws; the partner that left you for someone else but wonders whether they made the right choice... Even the minor characters, like the mum's bumbling but well-meaning new partner and the flatmate's colleague who just wants to get her into bed - they just seem a bit cookie-cutter too. And that's a shame because, for me, this detracted slightly from what is otherwise a very satisfying read.

But only very slightly, because Watson is a talented writer whose prose style keeps the pages turning, to the extent that I am currently very tired because I couldn't put Contacts down, even when crying out for sleep. That has to be a good sign, right? And okay, so the ending seemed a little rushed and didn't have much to do with the supporting cast I'd just spent 350 pages getting to know, but maybe that's a good thing - no spoilers, but I didn't see the ending coming, and that's probably another good sign, right? I do worry slightly for Mark though, because I think to write effectively, convincingly and this matter-of-factly about being in James's state of mind, you probably need to have been there yourself. I don't want to speculate on or second-guess the author's personal life in a review, I just hope he's okay, that's all.

The bottom line: on the face of it, a tough sell, but this is actually an uplifting novel by a talented writer, only slightly let down by some mild stereotyping in the supporting cast.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Friday, 10 December 2021

That Was The Year That Was: 2021

SSDY
This is the eleventh time I've recapped a year like this (for completists, here are the others), and what a year it has been, one like no other...

...except it's been quite a lot like last year, hasn't it? Almost like those in charge are incapable of learning lessons, seemingly because they think that to do so would imply a fault or failing in the first place, and that couldn't be right, could it, because they're all flawless, after all. Sorry - I just feel very tired of everything, and it may show in this (very brief) recap of the year's highlights. Or, as I very unfairly prefer to think of them this year, shallower depths. Alons-y.

Best album

Hamish Hawk, Heavy Elevator
See, this is a great example of why I probably shouldn't bother with this kind of recap - I buy so little new material. I have become what I once ridiculed: an old man stuck in a parochial rut. So I could talk about new albums this year from Paul Weller, The Wedding Present and Billy Bragg (Fat Pop, Locked Down and Stripped Back, and The Million Things That Never Happened respectively), all of which I bought and all of which are excellent (especially TWP's) but they are just other old men that I've grown up listening to and now buy out of habit. So for something new, I am pleased to report that I also bought Heavy Elevator by Hamish Hawk, and you should too because it's excellent. Imagine a hybrid of Neil Hannon, Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey, but box-fresh for the third decade of the 21st Century. Highly recommended and my album of the year.

Best song

Someone check my temperature because I must be unwell - I want to acknowledge that Bad Habits by Ed Sheeran is a fine song of its type. But you'll be relieved to know that isn't my song of the year. Nor is Mid-Century Modern by Billy Bragg, depsite it being perfect, in many ways, for 2021. And much as I have enjoyed Real Thing by Bleach Lab and Sand Fight by Folly Group, I want to suggest you give repeated listens to Let's Stick Around by Riton Presents Gucci Soundsystem featuring Jarvis Cocker - the latter's spoken word delivery and a driving, end-of-days beat is as good as you might imagine, and my song of the year (even if I'll probably be sick of it by March '22)...

Best gig

Martin Rossiter, I Must Be Jesus
I've had a flurry of gigs recently, as many of the dates that were cancelled in 2020 all seemed to be rescheduled for November of this year. The Wedding Present, touring for the 30th anniversary of Seamonsters, were brilliant in one of my favourite venues, but the gig of the year, and a new entry in the top five (three? one?) gigs of my life was the farewell live performance by Martin Rossiter, at The Forum, Kentish Town. Drawing on his Gene back catalogue as well as his more recent solo offerings, and featuring a cracking band of youths (instead of, annoyingly but not surprisingly, reassembling Gene), this was as good as I hoped. Better actually. With no support, he played for about two and a half hours, and it flew by. The only tinge of regret for me is that this was it, he's done - there will be nothing more from Martin. What a colossal shame that is ... but what an amazing way to go out.

Best book

I've read a fair few books this year, but not many of them are new for 2021. So, I should probably focus on the most recent publications of those I have read: I can recommend Two Tribes by Chris Beckett if you want a thought-provoking examination of the now, through the imagined lens of history, Billy Summers by Stephen King if it's a suspenseful thriller you're after, and Airhead by Emily Maitlis if current affairs are your thing. But I think that Jews Don't Count by David Baddiel is my book of the year, a brilliantly argued, thought-provoking and compelling takedown of the ism-schism that still persists, meaning that anti-Semitism is somehow regarded differently to other forms of prejudice. It's a quick read but lingers long in the mind - go and get it.

Best film

Once again, I haven't really been to the cinema much this year, so No Time To Die wins almost by default, and that's a shame because it deserves to win from a crowded field: it's terrific. It's Daniel Craig's swansong in the role and he's excellent, but then so are the returning "regulars": Ralph Fiennes as M, Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris (swoon) as Moneypenny and Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. Talking of swooning, Ana de Armas steals every scene she is in as Paloma. In fact, the only slight letdown in Rami Malek as bad guy Lyutsifer Safin, not through any fault of his, it's just that the character is somewhat underdeveloped. But other than that, this is a terrfic film, satisfying on many levels and maintaining a pace that sees its 163 minute running time whizz by. For my money, this would be a great and fitting way to bring the Bond franchise to a close, for good; that almost certainly won't happen, it's far too lucrative, but the film is that good - I can't imagine anyone who went to see it coming out without "wow" writ large upon their face.

Best television

The Beatles, Get Back
There's been nothing on TV this year that has given me as much simple joy as Ghosts, the BBC adult comedy from the original minds behind Horrible Histories - it's terrific, stuffed full of memorable characters and quotable dialogue, and something you could watch equally happily with your kids and grandparents. Then there was the sixth series of Line of Duty which, even if you were unhappy with the big "H" reveal, still delivered. But the television event of the year (decade? century?) has to the Peter Jackson's docu-series Get Back, taking us through The Beatles' recording of songs for Let It Be and the now famous rooftop concert that marked their last public band performance. It's astonishing, firstly for its restoration (it looks and sounds like it was filmed yesterday), but also for its behind-the-curtain vibe, achieving a level of intimacy that a modern, media-savvy band would probably not allow. It's a staggering piece of work and, as I have said previously, fully deserves the investment of eight hours to watch it all and eight pounds to subscribe to Disney+ for a month. Stunning.

Best sport

Emma Raducanu at the US Open
I enjoyed watching the deferred Olympics, of course. The women's team pursuit cycling silver medal was a highlight, as was Britain's gold in the triathlon mixed relay (a truly brilliant spectacle that was non-stop rivetting for 84 minutes). I'd love to say Norwich City's dominance in winning the Championhip was a highlight, were it not followed by an inability to step that up at Premiership level. But this is all academic, for there has been one very clear sporting highlight, an achievement as high as it was unexpected... step forward, Emma Raducanu. As if reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon as a teenage wildcard wasn't enough, she only went and won the US Open, aged 18, as an unseeded qualifier. To put that in context, she became the first singles qualifier in the Open era to win any Grand Slam title: a staggering achievement, however you dice and slice it. And all whilst seemingly being very grounded and personable - bravo!

Person of the year

Greta Thunberg
I'll be honest, Emma was in with a shout here too, as were fledgling national treasures Liz Bonnin, Chris Packham, Professor Alice Roberts and fully-fledged national treasure Sir David Attenborough. I was tempted to go with Joe Biden too because, let's not forget, 2021 began with Trump supporters storming the Capitol, incredible as that may seem with the benefit of eleven months hindsight. But no - the nod this year goes to Greta Thunberg, standing up to The Man's attempt to marginalise her from COP26 and the surrounding debate. The status quo doesn't like her because they can't put her in their pocket, can't buy her or silence her... and yet she, more than anyone else, can mobilise the youth, tomorrow's voters, tomorrow's consumers, and maybe, just maybe, do something to limit the damage being done to this small blue dot we call home. That she does all this whilst being subjected to media scorn, horrendous onlne abuse and trolling makes it all the remarkable.

Tool of the year

As ever, it's a crowded field, and it's primarily Tory politicians doing the crowding. Empathy vacuum Priti Patel, for repeating failing to understand that migrants are people, first and foremost; reality vacuum Jacob Rees-Mogg, for embodying a level of privilege so divorced from reality and either not knowing or not caring; rules agnostic Owen Paterson, for excessively feathering his own nest and not even having the good grace to fess up when busted; loyal to his mates Matt Hancock, for dishing out multi-million poind contracts to his friends' companies without scrutiny, even when those companies weren't qualified; and Geoffrey Cox, for ripping the piss out of the nation for years and thinking that was just fine. But of course the tool of the year/decade/century, retaining his title from last year is Boris Johnson - let's recap a few of the reasons why. Calamitous, playground politics with Macron over fishing and refugees; not wearing a mask on a hospital visit; "forgive me, forgive me"; apparently not knowing what parties were happening at his own gaff last Christmas; confusing Glasgow and Edinburgh at COP26; hiding the UK's natural gas dependence under a smokescreen of Chinese and Indian coal dependence; I could go on an on. Any one of these things is bad in isolation, but this isn't even an exhaustive list, it barely scratches the surface! In days gone by, the levels of incompetence he has repeatedly displayed would have done for him, and as for deliberately misleading the House (a delicate euphemism for "purposefully lying to Parliament"), that would definitely be a resigning matter. Yet still he is here, the living embodiment of unjustified entitlement and brass neck, casually banging out more kids, frittering public money away, trashing our global reputation, mismanaging COVID, and all the while, you suspect, doing very nicely thank you very much, for himself and his equally entitled mates. And yet he's still ahead in the polls and confidence in politicians is allegedly up... what will he have to do to finally come unstuck, you wonder, sleep through the Queen's funeral? Jesus H Christ.

That's it for another year. Sorry if I got a bit ranty towards the end there but, really, what did you expect? All that really remains is for me to say, 2021 ... how was it for you?

Blue Friday: The Certainty Of Chance

The Divine Comedy's Fin de Siècle is a 90s masterpiece, largely forgotten now but very worthy of revisiting. It includes the hit Generation Sex ("There's nothing wrong with a woman having two men...") and, better still, National Express, possibly the greatest feelgood sing-along song ever to be written, by anyone, ever (great video too). But neither of those fit the Blue Friday brief.

Instead, here's the divine majesty of The Certainty Of Chance. Turn this up really loud.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

How it Got Back

I wrote recently about the amazing Peter Jackon-helmed Beatles doc Get Back. As a coda to that post, here's a tiny little video that describes how the sound and vision was remastered and restored; why, in other words, it looks like it was shot yesterday, rather than 50+ years ago...

Sunday, 5 December 2021

Sunday shorts: But I'm Different Now

I was supposed to have seen Paul Weller live this weekend, but the gig was cancelled at the last minute because of a positive COVID test result within the band. Understandable but gutting, nevertheless. He wouldn't have played this, but hey - turn it up for 109 whole seconds!

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Twenty-one in '21: The Shrinking Man

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

17/21: The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

The blurb: While on a boating holiday, Scott Carey is exposed to a cloud of radioactive spray. A few weeks later, following a series of medical examinations, he can no longer deny the extraordinary truth. Not only is he losing weight, he is also shorter than he was. Scott Carey has begun to shrink.

Richard Matheson's novel follows through its premise with remorseless logic, with Carey first attempting to continue some kind of normal life and later having left human contact behind, having to survive in a world where insects and spiders are giant adversaries. And even that is only a stage on his journey into the unknown.

The review: I don't remember much about the '50s screen adaptation of this, the screenplay for which was also written by Matheson, other than that it scared the proverbial out of my big sister. When she went to bed and then found a spider in her room, she had to call me to come and deal with it... and if you've seen the film, or read this, the source material, you'll know why.

Matheson is perhaps better remembered as the author of the brilliant I Am Legend. In a long and accomplished CV, he also wrote Duel, on which Steven Spielberg's breakthrough TV movie was based. But enough of the back catalogue, what about The Shrinking Man?

Well, our protagonist's story is told in alternate takes, part consecutive storytelling in the last week of his shrinking, part flashback to various points in the process. The tale is satisfyingly bookended with the spider that shares Scott's domain (a cellar), and the mechanics of staying alive when you measure your height in fractions of an inch are vividly brought to life. However, it's the flashbacks that are most interesting, as we bear witness to his erosion, not just in physical stature but as a man; gradually, his wife becomes less interested in him; passers-by mistake him for a child; eventually furniture becomes too big for him. All the while, as he physically shrinks, his psyche, his thought processes, his wants and desires, all remain those of a fully-grown adult male. Matheson illustrates this neatly and, at times, uncomfortably - we feel the disjoint that Scott feels and, as his relationship with his wife also shrinks to nothing, we feel that too. It's this aspect of the book that is most brilliantly realised - you really feel the pain of shrinking away, becoming smaller, being less of a man, becoming gradually irrelevant to his wife. So striking is this that I felt the need to research (okay, hit Wikipedia about) Matheson's life to see if his marriage broke down when he wrote this, but that would seem not to be the case - he married his wife in 1952, after which they had four children... and this was written in 1956. So maybe I'm reading too much into this; maybe Matheson was just a very good writer.

Actually, there's no "maybe" or "just" about it - he was a great writer. Okay, so perhaps some of the book that isn't in flashback becomes a bit hard-boiled in places, but the power of the flashbacks more than compensates; indeed, they generated quite an emotional reaction in me that I wasn't expecting. Prior to this I'd only read I Am Legend but this has left me wanting to read more of Matheson - no wonder Stephen King called him "the author who influenced me most as a writer." Oh, and there's a neat double ending too, one pessimistic, one optimistic... clever stuff.

The bottom line: effective and emotional slice of SF that deftly balances the mechanics of a fantastic story with an insight into the fragility of the male psyche

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Friday, 3 December 2021

Blue Friday: Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime

Beck made an excellent fist of covering The Korgis, improving on the original in my view.

Also, in the unlikely event that you need reminding, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a rather good film.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Humbug

Your regular Christmas reminder that I used to make bespoke music-based advent calendars for the blog, featuring lesser-heard festive tunes rather than the guff that pours forth from the radio at this time of year. I can't be bothered to do it any more - it's a lot of work for no reward - but the calendars from previous Christmases are all still here for your listening/viewing pleasure, in case you're feeling jollier than I which, let's face it, is quite likely. Knock yourselves out...

Advent 2015   •   Advent 2016   •   Advent 2017

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Let them know

I was mulling over a post on the inevitability of death recently, prompted by the sudden passing of one of the blokes I play five-a-side with every week. Like most of the blokes that play, I only knew him through the footy, and can't claim to have been a friend beyond that casual, passing acquaintance of coming together in a disparate bunch once a week to kick a ball around. But regardless, one week he was kicking that ball, and getting cross at his team-mates for not tackling back, the next he had dropped down dead from a heart attack at the age of 54, leaving two grown-up kids behind. It rocked me a bit, and I spent some time mulling over the certainty of death, the sudden end of a whole life. I drafted a post but I couldn't make it work - everything I wrote seemed crass, facile or clichéd, perhaps because, as I have written before, I have never really had to face the death of someone I'm really close to, not yet. For whatever reason, the post got discarded.

Many of will know Swiss Adam from his always-excellent blog, Bagging Area. I've just read that Adam's son, Isaac, died yesterday, following COVID complications. Isaac had just turned 23, a week earlier, and had already battled through more in his life than anyone should have to. Now I don't know Adam, have never met him, yet feel that I do after years of reading his blog. As a father of a son myself, my heart breaks for Adam and his family. We can only send all best wishes, inadequate though they are.

Life is short. As the Flaming Lips are saying here, let your loved ones know that they are loved, not just in words but in deeds.

Rest in peace, Isaac.