Posts from 2nd October 2003

Oct 03

Then again, perhaps I will just…

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 281 views

Then again, perhaps I will just…
I just went from watching Grass, a Fast Show spinoff on BBC3, to reading the final story in the Essential Human Torch volume that I mentioned below. This story features the Watcher, and I realised that I see him as a natural Fast Show character. For those who aren’t Marvel readers, the Watcher is one of a race of unimaginably ancient beings dotted throughout the universe, I think about one to a galaxy, who watch and only watch all events. His role in Marvel comics has been, from his very earliest days, to show up and say something like “My cosmic duty is to observe and never interfere, as I have for countless millions of years… oh all right, just this once then,” and he uses his mighty powers to save the day again. It’s virtually a catchphrase. My noticing this precedes The Fast Show itself, so I always kind of liked to imagine him speaking in the voice of our previous top catchphrase creator, Bruce Forsythe. Try it – I think you’ll enjoy his appearances much more that way.

Remember option two of how to expand a comedy show

Do You SeePost a comment • 339 views

Remember option two of how to expand a comedy show, especially for a movie? Option one was always send the cast on holiday together, but a close runner-up was to add a weedy crime thriller plot, usually where our hero(es) witness some awful crime. This fallback hasn’t vanished.

Grass is a strange series. It’s another Fast Show spinoff, this one starring Billy Bleach, the annoying and interfering pub knowall, as played by Simon Day. That schtick worked very nicely in 30-60 second sketches, but would hardly sustain a series of 30 minute shows – and indeed would be intolerable to watch. The attempt at extending Swiss Tony was pretty poor, but this is a quite different proposition.

Billy has witnessed a murder and is being sequestered in the countryside by the police. The knowall element to his character has almost vanished, and what’s left does not lead everyone into hopeless dead ends from which he flees, but instead transforms into genuine helpfulness. It doesn’t make for a terribly rich or strong character, to be honest, but at least there are a few good supporting characters, particularly the always excellent Philip Jackson (I’m not just praising someone I used to know, honest, though I did know him 20 years ago), though there is something of a gulf in acting chops between the support and the star. There aren’t many gags either – three episodes in and I don’t think I’ve been tempted to smile once. I’m not absolutely convinced it has any jokes, despite feeling like a sitcom. There are certainly no funny situations – the threat from the murderer really feels dangerous.

But there is something I like – a sweetness, an almost touching element beneath the clunking plot, tepid star and lack of laughs. Maybe I’m just easily pleased. I can’t remotely see it as a hit, but do give it a try.

Stay Free!

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 447 views

Check out the recent issue of Stay Free!, subtitled the Psychology Issue. There are interviews with Edward Valenstein on the history of lobotomies (why does my library not carry his books? I want to read more!), Laurence Kirmayer on mental illness across cultures, and Edward Shorter on hysteria and psychosomatic illnesses. There’s a reader write-in column is on this last topic. (My only experience with that was bizarre; after my first kiss I was unable to eat for three days. And I can eat a full meal when sick with the flu!). But the magazine is worth the $4 for the anecdote of the suicidal circus octopus.

I can’t stop thinking about my dinner at Lomzynianka

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 461 views

I can’t stop thinking about my dinner at Lomzynianka. My meal was cheap, tasty, satisfying Polish food. After rejecting two restaurants in Williamsburg (Brunch only? Four dollars for borscht? Screw that!), my dining companion and I finally made it to Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. The restaurant’s decor is reminiscent of your neighbours’ rec room, and the food has an equally homey flavor. Nothing is under $5.50, and I splurged on the Polish platter: stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, bigos, pierogis and potatoes. Mmm meat and starch! The pierogis can be had fried or boiled; mine came fried. There were three different fillings. I am partial to the potato and cheese. Farmer’s cheese is a bit sweet but still tasty, as is the sauerkraut and mushroom. Bigos was new to me, but contains familar ingredients like sauerkraut, mushrooms, and meat. Yum. Who’s up for a return visit?

JIMMY YOUNG – “Unchained Melody”

Popular38 comments • 5,459 views

#34, 24th June 1955

Some pub debate as to whether Jimmy was the only BBC Radio DJ to hit the top of the charts (“The Floral Dance”, heavens be thanked, did not.). It makes for a curious listen because this is a song that everyone knows, and we know it with a completely different arrangement and approach to this recording, which is porridgey at best. Jimmy Young’s singing on this is horribly British, all studious strain and variety show bellow: his “lonely rivers flow'” is particularly stiff-backed and embarrassing.* The arrangement meanwhile is just odd: a patchwork of acoustic guitar, Spanish guitar, and big whomps of strings which never really fits together.

*At the end he audibly sings “God speed your lub”, though, which makes up for a lot.

EDDIE CALVERT – “Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White”

Popular19 comments • 3,903 views

#33, 27th May 1955

You have to wonder about this one. Were people buying both this and the Prado version? Or was the vote split? And why? There?s not too much difference – Prado’s got a bigger kick early on, Eddie lets go a bit more in the second half of the tune, maybe somebody should have done a mash-up, maybe somebody did! What’s most likely is that customers went into the shops and said “OK, have you got that trumpet one ? the one that goes eeeeowwwwwwww a lot?” and the shopkeeper just handed them a record from the nearest pile. Eddie leaves off the grunting man, which almost gets him my vote but Prado’s intro has just that little bit more swagger.

Be sure that there is a storm brewing

Do You SeePost a comment • 142 views

Be sure that there is a storm brewing, as too many games jostle for too few release dates, but this is the calm before, and we’ve just time to take stock. Within a month anyone will be offered the chance to buy Pro-Evolution Soccer 3 and its rivals, spookily faithful graphic novel-based shooter XII and platformer follow up Jak II, and that’s nothing against the hurricane due for the following month.

For my money, though, the titles to look forward to in October are Dog’s Life, literally a dog simulator, and a quirky title which for once heralds from outside Japan. None less than David Braben – geek hero of Elite fame ‘ is at the helm, and if the game includes even an smidgen of the unstructured gameplay from his landmark title, dogs might have an enviable life indeed. And Amplitude, a complete rebuild of the still unmatched rhythm-action compose-em-up Frequency, which for all its racket has been all but unheard since its release. Amplitude has received good press – including an astonishing magazine score that has prompted suspicion from some quarters – but still the odds are against it in the charts.

This week finally sees the European release of Advance Wars 2- Black Hole Rising. Peter Molyneux described its predecessor as the only decent real-time strategy game on a console, which is some compliment considering that he’s produced a few himself. But it rings true – in as much as it is known at all, the game became famous for the sweet compelling bliss of its gameplay, and it was also one of the few accomplished titles indigenous to the GBA. That the sequel is very similar will raise no objections, but also means that the uninitiated might do well to seek out the cheaper original.

And the story’s similar for Homeworld 2. It too is a prettification of a gripping sleeper hit, but unless your PC is fired up to the nines there’ll be little to tell it from the first in the series, which can be had for a tenner or so. Either offer true 3D strategy against a hypnotically ambient starscape of nebula and laser fire.

The most obvious additions to high street shelves this Friday will be a series of nearly identikit football titles each glorying in the name of one of sixteen renowned clubs. You read that right ‘ the Club Football series has licensed the sport to submission, with clubs ranging from Manchester United to some unpronounceable obscurity. Aimed at replica shirt buying fans, the game’s technology itself has become merely a sunk cost, against which brand cashflows can be leveraged. You might be appalled, but I suspect that won’t matter to CodeMasters.

And if you love your inner child more than your integrity, give Wallace and Gromit in Project Zoo a try. It should be pleasant enough sprint to the end, and for plenty of modern gamers, a brief reminder of what it was like to actually finish a game.

one exception to MarkS’ rule

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 1,222 views

one exception to MarkS’ ruleis the ready salted crips, liberally sprinkled with malt vinegar. My Mum showed me this little trick when I was a kid and it’s fantastic, the crisps go ever so slightly soggy, and best of all, there’s a little puddle of salty vinegar in the bottom of the packet with lovely little bits of crisp floating in it. In fact I heard the other day that this practice was what spurred the crisp manufacturers to make salt ‘n’ vinegar packets

Lab-ways jist ain’t what they were #1

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 99 views

Lab-ways jist ain’t what they were #1: Back when my dad was a college student, just after WW2, junior research scientists couldn’t necessarily afford even basic equipment, and the departments they were attached to didn’t necessarily have it to supply, or even lend. If in the course of a chemistry experiment you needed glass containers or tubing, there was a discount alternative: you went down to the local glassworks and BLEW YOUR OWN!! This involved dabbing your little airpipe into the white glowing mass, swirling the right-sized blob onto the end, and inflating it like a balloon as it cooled and changed from extreme malleable to brittle. You got the exact shape you wanted by v.careful application of (ungloved) fingertips – and you cooled the latter on your EARLOBES!! Easy enough to start again if you didn’t get what you wanted, but presumably at least some researchers ran out of time and had to go back to their lab experiment with the weirdest botched bottles and phials and wonky tubes – I KNOW I WOULD!! (*heats up colleague’s retort stand w.bunsen burner while he’s out of the room*)

I’ve always been fascinated by huge clunky pieces of machinery:

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 176 views

I’ve always been fascinated by huge clunky pieces of machinery: refrigerator-sized computers, punch-card machines, ancient 8mm film cameras with little cranks to turn on the side. There’s just something so reassuring about the crushing weight of these objects (a professional war photographer told me once that he still used his old heavy manual Leica out on the field ‘cuz it doubled as a weapon.) And the PHONOGRAPH!! I’ve been listening in on this fantastic program on the history of the technology of popular music that aired last year on American radio. Early listeners of the phonograph couldn’t tell the difference between the sound of a phonograph and a live performance. No, it wasn’t because the early phonographs had bad-ass audiophile stylings (hardly), but because early phonograph listeners didn’t have a modern listener’s frame of reference for listening to recorded music. Recorded music being a relatively new invention, after all. Before electrical amplification, bands had to play REALLY LOUD into a tin recording horn to force a thin membrane inside it to vibrate using the power of SOUND WAVES!! (and the poor band’s lungs.) The thin membrane’s vibration made a needle inscribe grooves on a rotating piece of wax — hey presto a record, through an entirely mechanical process! It doesn’t get much old-skooler than that.