Ladbrokes are apparently claiming that the BBC's Big Read vote is a one horse race. I'm not surprised, but I'm horribly disappointed.
Because I don't get it. I used to love the Lord of the Rings, as anyone who is my mother will confirm. As a grown-up version of The Hobbit, it was a big scary book and I was really proud that I could read it to the end. But it's absolutely awful.
In terms of structure, in terms of characterisation, and in terms of writing, it's horribly pedestrian. And in terms of the nature and scope of its plot it was revolutionary, but has since been bested by dozens of other writers.
In some ways it's important, but it's not good. It has flashes of brilliance, and it has page upon page of tedium. It's undeniably popular, and probably deserves that, but I guess I just don't believe that many of the people who vote for it to win awards have actually read the darn thing.
I need a holiday.
In the last hour, I've been snippy with three people, and I've been rude to two. And one of these was at home, and completely unjustified, and now I'm angry with myself about that.
All of which is deeply counterproductive, and so I'm taking myself through my ten point de-stressing plan. However, sitting at my desk listening to the shit hitting various things is not going to help.
With the benefit of hindsight, this has been building since Tuesday, if not earlier. The blessing and the curse of weblog comment boxes is the fact that you can go back, re-read your comments, and cringe. I can see myself getting less witty and more bitchy, all in ten point verdana. It's not pretty.
I recently discovered that I am usually fairly even-tempered, which came as a pleasant compliment from someone I have known for almost half my life. I don't feel like that at the moment - it feels like it's just out of reach. Still visible, still attainable, but annoyingly evasive. It's only four months since I wrote about workplace stress, and somewhere I've lost sight of a little of that.
Entry tails off into random oblivion...
Good evening, London. I thought it time we had a little talk. Are you sitting comfortably?
Then I'll begin. . . .
I suppose you're wondering why I've called you here this evening. Well, you see, I'm not entirely satisfied with your performance lately . . . I'm afraid your work's been slipping and . . . and, well, I'm afraid we've been thinking about letting you go. Oh, I know, I know. You've been with the company a long time now. Almost . . . let me see. Almost ten thousand years! My word, doesn't time fly. It seems like only yesterday. . . .
I remember the day you commenced you employment, swinging down from the tree, fresh-faced and nervous. A bone clasped in your bristling fist. "Where do I start, sir?" You asked plaintively. I remember my exact words: "There's a pile of dinosaur eggs over there, youngster," I said, smiling all the while. "Get sucking."
Well, we've certainly come a long way since then, haven't we? And yes, yes, you're right. In all that time you haven't missed a day. Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Also, please don't think I've forgotten about your outstanding service record, or about all the invaluable contributions that you've made to the company. Fire, the wheel, agriculture . . . it's an impressive list, old-timer. A jolly impressive list.
But . . . well, to be frank, we've had our problems too. There's no getting away from it. Do you know what I think a lot of it stems from? I'll tell you . . . it's your basic unwillingness to get on with the company. You don't seem to want to face up to any real responsibility, or to be your own boss. Lord knows you've been offered plenty of opportunities. We've offered you promotion time and time again, and each time you've turned us down. "I couldn't handle the work, guv'nor," you wheedled. "I know my place."
To be frank, you're not trying are you? You see, you've been standing still far too long, and it's starting to show in your work. And, I might add, in your general standard of behaviour. The constant bickering on the factory floor has not escaped my attention. Nor the recent bouts of rowdiness in the staff canteen.
Then of course there's . . .Hmm. Well, I didn't really want to bring this up, but . . . well, I've been hearing some disturbing rumours about your personal life. No, never mind who, no names, no pack drills. I understand that you are unable to get along with your spouse. I hear that you argue. I am told that you shout. Violence has been mentioned. I am reliably informed that you always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn't hurt at all.
And what about the children? It's always the children who suffer as you're well aware. Poor little mites. What are they to make of it? What are they to make of your bullying, your despair, your cowardice and all your fondly nurtured bigotries?
Really, it's not good enough, is it? And it's no good blaming the drop in work standards upon bad management, either; though to be sure the management is very bad. In fact, let us not mince words . . . the management is terrible! We've had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. This is a plain fact.
But who elected them? It was you! You who appointed these people. You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you. While I'll admit that anyone can make a mistake once, to go on making the same lethal errors century after century seems to me nothing short of deliberate.
You have encouraged these malicious incompetents, who have made your working life a shambles. You have accepted without question their senseless orders. You have allowed them to fill your workspace with dangerous and unproven machines. You could have stopped them. All you had to say was "No."
You have no spine. You have no pride. You are no longer an asset to the company.
I will, however, be generous. You will be granted two years so show me some improvement in your work. If at the end of that time you are still unwilling to make a go of it . . . you're fired.
That will be all. You may return to your labours. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
- Alan Moore, V for Vendetta
Right you asshole, I've got your daughter here, and I'm gonna send her back in pieces if... OH! I'm sorry, madam. No, I haven't got your daughter here, I've got someone else's. No, we're not married. Yes, I've read the same thing, it's very hard to find suitable young men these days. Well, I'm sure your daughter's very nice, in principle I've got no objection to meeting her...
I wanted to like this movie this time around.
A Life Less Ordinary was Danny Boyle's third mainstream movie, following the grimly humorous Shallow Grave and the excellent Trainspotting. And did it work? Not at all.
But, I thought, that might just be the weight of expectation. After all, it's never going to be easy to follow those two films. So watching it again, I tried to judge it as a movie in its own right, not as the third film from Danny Boyle. And it didn't come out well.
Now, some parts I liked a lot. I liked the idea, I liked the direction, I liked Holly Hunter, which is quite impressive. However, a lot of the plot seemed confused, particularly towards the end. And the plasticene scene, although amusing, added nothing. The soundtrack was good, and in some scenes, Ewan McGregor's acting was less wooden than it can seem sometimes. A curate's egg. Good in some places, bad in many.
Oh sod that, I enjoyed the beginning but it went radically downhill, and I was left wondering why I bothered.
The telephone can be a tyrant, too.
For example, this morning I got an urgent message to call Colin in our London office. Colin's always a pleasure to talk to, very charming, and so on. He's got a question for me. It's almost exactly the same question as we talked about yesterday. I couldn't answer him then. I suspect that he just likes the sound of my voice.
But for ten minutes we talked around this topic, with me telling him repeatedly that I didn't know the answer and him drifting away in to a little world of his own.
Got to go now - the phone's ringing.
I reckon I've got spam under control. It's a nuisance, sure, and I don't look on it as something that I can avoid, but it's a nuisance that I manage.
My problem, if I have one, is with genuine real e-mails. I'm currently averaging around sixty e-mails a day. If I spend just five minutes dealing with each of these, that's five hours gone from my day, and that's before I start doing any of the high powered thinky work that I am actually paid for.
Note to Mr Twinky. That could be how we describe my job in future. I do High Powered Thinky Things. And answer annoying e-mails
Mind you some of them are really easy. Like the chap who sits next to me inviting me to a meeting over lunch. Not going to happen, matey. Click, delete, gone.
Life's too short. And I'm too hungry.
It's cold here. Cold and crisp in that sort of mid winter way, which is surprising only because last week was late summer.
And we don't have a telephone at home at the moment. The line's been dead since Saturday. I am promised an engineer. No sign of one, though. Eircom's online fault reporting appears faulty, their support telephone number is hidden deep in their website, and their call waiting music is very familiar. I am verging on a letter of complaint.
That said, their web site now notes that the fault that I raised on Sunday afternoon and again on Monday morning, was raised on Monday afternoon (which is when I finally spoke to someone) and is in Status 4: Assigned to Crew.
Fixing telephone lines is one of those marvellous things that happens without me having to take any time off work to let someone tramp through my beautiful lounge. Usually, when someone has to come round and fix someone, I have a fantasy of a young man, a bit rough round the edges in a kind of rugged kind of way, but usually it turns out to be someone older, usually smellier, and decidedly unfanciable. I suspect that all the good looking men go into telephone repairs, precisely because it doesn't involve coming round to my beautiful lounge and being objectified.
Bah, humbug. Christmas is coming, except in the Philippines, where the Christmas season is almost over.
Not a lot of people realise the link between Kate Bush and Quentin Tarantino. But the whold plot of Kill Bill is derived from a lyric from her 1980 Meisterwork, Never For Ever.
No, I'll never give the hunt up,
And I won't muck it up.
Somehow this was it, I knew.
Maybe fate wants you dead, too:
We've come together in the very same room,
And I'm coming for you!
Did you think I'd ever let you
Get away with it, huh?
He swooned in warm maroon.
There's gas in your barrel, and I'm flooded with Doom.
You've made a wake of our honeymoon,
And I'm coming for you!
All of the headlines said 'Passion Crime:
'Newlyweds Groom Shot Dead
'Mystery Man.' God help the bride!
She's a widow, all in red,
With his red still wet. She said--
"I'll get him on the wedding list!
I'll get him and I will not miss."
Now I realise that these days, one shouldn't admit to having ever heard of Kate Bush in polite company, and certainly not within earshot of Tori Amos, unless you want to be on the wrong end of a decapitation. But not even a mention of her in the credits...? There's something very wrong there.
If you're going to break a narrative in to sections, it is important to do it properly.
In particular, if you're doing it in a movie, the trick is to make each film stand alone to an extent. Sure, you can build on the events of a previous movie, but in terms of dramatic structure, each must have its own beginning, middle and end.
I've written ad nauseam about why The Lord of the Rings fails as a narrative partwork. It's much more pleasant to be able to state that where Rings fails, Kill Bill exceeds admirably.
It's not a film that's heavy on plot, true, but it's rich in character and event. It's not a film that gives a lot of explanations, but it builds to a climax, and leaves you needing more. It's not a film that is deep in any sense of the word, but it is a film with quiet beauty in the midst of some of the most hilarious and harrowing graphic violence I have ever seen. It is decidedly Tarantino in its idea, its backstory, its execution.
It's either the cheesiest movie ever or the most radical redefinition of clichï¿½ chic. It parades its influences in front of the viewer, undermining them and worshipping them in equal measure. It's a roller coaster, alternating between high, uneasy pauses and radical rapid action.
And crucially, as part one of a two part film, it works. It really works well.
I'm picking up some cream yesterday afternoon, for the pasta that we were going to have for dinner but didn't, when a small lady pushes past me in the queue at the convenience store.
"Sunday People," she says. "It's for the convent."
The guy behind the counter checks that is all she's taking, but lets her go. No money exchanges hands.
"Do they have an account with you?" I ask him.
"Not so far as I know," he says. "I've always been too scared to ask her for money."
Now remember, kids, you may accidentally trip over a nun anywhere, on any day of the week. Nuns are out and about in the streets on Monday to Saturday. They're not just Sunday people.
'Have some weapons of mass destruction,' the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. `I don't see any weapons of mass destructions,' she remarked.
'There aren't any,' said the March Hare.
'Then it wasn't very civil of you to offer them,' said Alice angrily.
'It wasn't very civil of you to sit down without being invited,' said the March Hare.
'I didn't know it was your table,' said Alice; `it's laid for a great many more than three.'
'You're not superwoman,' said the Hatter. She had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was her first speech.
'You should learn not to make personal remarks,' Alice said with some severity; 'it's very rude.'
The Hatter opened her eyes very wide on hearing this; but all she said was, 'Why is a raven like a writing-desk?'
I just popped this up on my 'spotted' list - before I'd fully read it. It's an article about the Vatican being in an HIV condom row.
Now, I've no idea how true it is, but if there's any truth in the quotation from the Archbishop of Nairobi: "Aids...has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms," then this is completely and utterly outrageous.
It's one thing to advocate not using condoms if your faith proscribes birth control. It gets more dangerous when by doing so you are recommending a course of action that helps to spread sexually transmitted diseases. However, if "some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/Aids", then they are irresponsible at best, and verging on criminal at worst.
When I went for my medical before last, there was a question on the form for the GP to fill in that basically said 'Do you have any reason to believe that the man sitting in front of you is a gay homosexualist.'
So the Doctor says to me - I hate these questions. I'm supposed to ask you if you're gay. It's really none of their business.
- Well, say I - Yes, I am a gay, but that's not actually what the question is asking. It just asks if I've made you think I'm gay.
- Oh, well that's okay then. It hadn't even crossed my mind up until that point.
Lifted from Money Marketing.
The ABI's updated code of practice for HIV and insurance is beginning to take shape with its first consultation document published this week.
Last updated in 1997, the statement covers the treatment of applications for life and protection insurance where HIV can be an issue. The ABI has consulted with the insurance industry and groups such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and Pink finance.com and is now looking to extend that.
The proposed update includes standard questions for industrywide use in assessing risk levels and supplementary questions to help establish higher or lower-risk levels in specific cases, such as gay men. Assumptions such as using a person's occupation as an indication of their sexuality would be outlawed.
Other proposals include ensuring confidentiality between insurers and applicants, preventing life offices from asking GPs to speculate on risk of infection or non-clinical issues.
One suggestion in the document is that all applicants should be questioned on whether they practice safe sex, to prevent the gay community feeling singled out and to account for the large numbers of heterosexuals also at risk in absolute terms.
Pinkfinance.com editor Chris Morgan says: "These proposed best practice guidelines demonstrate a new level of respect towards gay men from the ABI. The real test of respect towards the gay community will be the attitude of the life insurance companies in the coming weeks as the document passes through consultation."
Been in the office an hour. Want to go home.
This is the high level view of what's happened.
A decision was made. A year ago. It was a stupid decision, but what the hell, it was made, and should have been implemented. It wasn't implemented.
At the time, all I did was communicate the decision. I'd still have a copy of the correspondence if it hadn't gone the way of all flesh back in May.
Anyway - decision made, not implemented, no worries, I'd sent an note to the people who had actively decided not to implement this, setting out the consequences, and they had sat on it.
It all blew up yesterday. Not too bad, but enough.
And now, the people who should have implemented the decision are blatantly refusing to believe that the decision was ever made. And I can't prove them wrong. I'm trying to play mediator, saying look, we can review the decision, but it was made, and you guys didn't implement it.
And this morning, they're saying that a different decision was made entirely, and I should have made changes to marketing material as a result.
Been in the office an hour. Want to go home.
So on Sunday night, in Mr Twinky's absence, I decided that the best thing to do would be to try dogging. So I got together everything I would need - a travel rug, some sandwiches, a dog leash, a gross of condoms, a camera, a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover (the cartoon version) for inspiration, and a small dog.
Then, all I needed was my mobile phone and a large floodlamp, and I was all set. I popped the necessary items in to a Dunnes bag, hopped on to my bike and set off for the most likely site for dogging. This turned out to be a small secluded park up a dark alley in Ranelagh.
I unfolded my rug, set up my GPS equipment, activated the dogging receptor on my mobile phone and murmured quietly in to Fido's ear for half an hour.
It was a beautiful crisp night, a little on the cold side, but otherwise perfect for dogging. I spotted a couple of sisters running past in the distance. More likely to be joggers, I thought. And I was passed by a French Canadian couple in matching his and hers plaid shirts. I made secret signals at them but they showed no sign of recognition.
Finally, in desperation, I stood in the middle of the park, held Fido up high over my head and let out a primal scream. Nothing. I checked my phone. In my excitement and anticipation, I had missed a text message. I was in the wrong park.
Muttering to myself, I packed up again, and made my way to the right place. But I was late, and everyone was leaving. Apparently the tea had been lovely, the sandwich of the day was meat paste, and the most popular position was doggy-style, except for nuns, who preferred the missionary position.
So let's get this straight. I never stop writing. I have never stopped writing. It's just that sometimes it's harder than others, and the whole endeavour has the feel of a downward spiral.
And I work hard, don't I? I go in to that office for nine, ten hour stretches with a five minute walk at lunch time. Sometimes I'm in meetings for 90% of that time. And when I get home, I don't feel like writing - I want a cup of tea, a jammy dodger, and lashings of comfort food.
And what with the winter drawing in...
I'm 11,000 words short of the target I set myself for the first draft of my last major attempt to write a novel, two years ago. And that's the thing. Two years ago. My head's in a different place. The character that came out of the immediacy of the situations I found myself in doesn't flow as easily. 11,000 words isn't much. I should easily be able to write that in a fortnight. In my prime, I could write that much in a sixhour stretch.
But it's become a chore rather than pleasure. I need to find ways of making it pleasurable again. Either that, or I need to start from scratch. Or go back to the ideas that I was writing before, the butterflies and scary angels. Or go forward to the story of the self-imploding boyband and the musical revolution in 1999 that never happened.
I need to start somewhere.