2007 — 21 Feb: missing my new toys
The sun is shining; the birds are twittering; Casper the white cat from next door is back up our tree chasing said twitters (and hence no longer on the "Missing in Action" list); the boiler is switched off so the study window (cunningly positioned vertically above the exhaust flue to ensure maximum intake of noxious fumes) is open to admit said twittering and sunbeams; the morning cuppa (#1, at least) has been drunk (#2 has just been nuked in the microwave to bring it back up to full operational spec.); the new alphabet of the arts (including "J" for "Jobsworth") in the Guardian tabloid section by John Tusa has been read; so, in the immortal words of President Bartlet: "what's next?"
Well, I never was much good at delayed gratification, no matter how middle-class that noisome trait may be. So, while I wait with ill-concealed impatience for a variety of deliveries (including the minor Ernie cheque, come to think of it), let's catch up on the book and DVD stuff I've been busily neglecting in the wake of preparations for the impending change of computing platform. Feel entirely free to slump forward if I'm boring you.
Last Friday, Fopp yielded The lady from Shanghai as mentioned (and, indeed, already watched). It's a curious piece, but it must have (re-)whetted my appetite for noir because on Sunday, I oscillated between Virgin and HMV (both having a large set of "3 for £20" titles) and homed in on Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street. This was made a mere two years after I was, and starred Richard Widmark, Jean Peters and Thelma Ritter. One of the beauties of this genre tends to be its shorter running times. Far better to be left wanting more, than to be left with a numb bum and a bloated feeling, nicht wahr? Thelma, by the way, played her final scene straight out of something by Dickens and the anti-Communist stuff rang rather hollow.
Skipping forward half a century, we meet Simon Pegg's Shaun of the Dead. I regarded this as somewhat so-so when we saw it in the cinema, but I'm sure (like his excellent TV series Spaced) it will amply repay another viewing. Not sure it also constitutes noir of course, but it does have Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton in it.
Next came a film I admit I don't know anything about: Metropolitan by Whit Stillman.1 IMDB asserts it is a loose modern-day version of Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park". Since I came only recently to appreciate the genius of Austen — I have read Pride and Prejudice four times since December 2004, for example — I will be very interested to see what this is like. Turned out to be boys and girls playing at grown-ups rather unconvincingly, so we gave up on it.
The remaining titles were an impure feast of "spaghetti Western" nostalgia. I'm guessing you know who's in these, and who directed them:
- A fistful of dollars
- For a few dollars more
- The good the bad and the ugly
They are all double DVDs, by the way, re-mastered, restored, and packed with more documentary extras and commentaries than you could feasibly shake a shotgun at.
- Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie. This chap can be very amusing: "Cheshire fantasy writer Alan Garner2 once described Crewe as 'the ultimate reality'. I'm not entirely sure what he meant by this but I don't think it's complimentary. But get this: Crewe has a crater named after it on Mars... Beat that, Hampstead".
- The Decadent Handbook for the modern libertine edited by Rowan Pelling. This is frankly rather silly, but like the Parson's egg.
- The man who ate bluebottles, and other great British eccentrics by Catherine Caufield. This originally came out in 1981, and is vastly different (of course) from her later examination of the many and varied instances of nuclear radiation exposures.
- The Google Story by David A Vise. Perhaps I could just have "googled" this?
- You don't have to be evil to work here, but it helps by Tom Holt. My friend and ex-ICL colleague Ian (H, not B3) seems to rate this author highly, so I shall give him a whirl.
In other news
We've now finished the second season of Boston Legal for the second time. What an excellent show! And She who must be adored has spent a couple of hours discovering that no visible space is ever gained in a study4 until several hundred books (and, in Her case, files) have been shifted. We have some fancy new glass and metal shelves flying in on Thursday and they need a landing strip, as it were. The new shelves are made necessary by the sad but simple fact that the present set of chipboard ones (which date back to Junior's earliest days) are slowly collapsing under the load.
Less pleasantly, one of the five felines we fed has come off rather badly in an encounter with a dog, and is currently confined to quarters on some interesting drugs. Fingers crossed.
James Brown, move on over
Having noted, in Mr Tusa's piece, the inanity of "Q for Quantification" (Why can't you measure the difference [art] makes to people's lives? It's a nonsense question but that doesn't stop the mini-men from asking it.) I have just learned here a new unit5 of measurement — the huneker. The size of one's soul!
Douglas Hofstadter, who quoted James Huneker's opinion of Chopin's étude Op. 25, No. 11 ("Small-souled men, no matter how agile their fingers, should not attempt it") in his 1985 collection "Metamagical Themas" has now (in his new book "I am a strange loop") gone on to suggest that "soulness" might be measured in units called "hunekers". The scale might start with a mosquito, with a tiny fraction of a huneker, ascending to 100 for an average human and upward to maybe 200 for Mahatma Gandhi.
Odd. My record collection includes the Richard Evans album Groovin' with the Soulful Strings with the wondrously soulful track "Burning Spear". Initially on vinyl, of course. Dad bought me the album to cheer me up after I'd heard just that one track on the radio while confined to bed with some ghastly school-induced virus. Latterly on CD. Read more in a lovely blog entry here. And, yes, I'm the sad geezer who bought the horribly expensive Japanese CD import mentioned by "anonymous" on the comments to this entry — I'm not actually "anon" let me hasten to add. Music is such powerful stuff.