Archive for the ‘Blah’ Category

Thoughts about America

Posted on October 29th, 2020 in Blah | No Comments »

A handful of scattershot thoughts about what the next few days, weeks and months might bring.

To begin with I boldly make the prediction that Joe Biden will win the electoral college. I hope it’s by a landslide, but I’m not quite so sure of that. If he pulls 60, 70, 80 electoral college votes clear of Trump, then it’s all over. Sadly, if 2016 taught us anything it’s that you should never underestimate Trump. And while I think the current state of the polls makes it nigh-impossible for him to achieve a victory in the normal way of things, a narrow margin opens up the possibility of all sorts of further shenanigans involving contingent elections in the House of Representatives and other ways in which a sore loser might attempt to exploit constitutional loopholes.

I further make the prediction that – come what may – we will not hear a concession speech from Donald Trump. Clinton’s speech in 2016 came very late in the day, but come it did. I’m not certain if a defeated Trump will sink into a fug of depression and just sort of fade away or whether he will spend his last few weeks in office in a crazed fury, lashing out at all around him. All things are possible with this most monstrous and unpredictable of, I suppose it’s technically correct to say “humans”.

So, let’s grant ourselves the luxury of imagining a rosy future for 2021 in which American Democrats win not just the presidency but the House and the Senate too. Joe Biden in his much-vaunted first 100 days (before the crushing wheel of electoral cycles begins to stifle his potential) has much to do. He inherits a country needlessly ravaged by disease, entering a recession and more divided than ever.

What, first of all, of the Supreme Court? Adding extra justices is tempting, and may be correct. I certainly think it would not be unpopular – but it would also be controversial. And it probably needs to come with a raft of other reforms, otherwise the next few decades will see a cycle of tit-for-tat court packing with each party attempting to out-pack the other whenever it’s their turn at the wheel. Various other reforms are possible and needed, and there is reason to be hopeful that Biden will zealously implement all he can.

But as well as a nation which is fundamentally broken in so many ways – a gargantuan iniquitous plutocracy, a crazed and monstrous caricature of capitalism run amuck, unfettered by regulation, controls or common sense, and riven with racism, distrust and religious bigotry – Biden also presides over a political system which has forgotten why it exists and who it is for. Obama entered the White House in 2009 with an overt agenda to build coalitions, seek bipartisan support for bills and work with Republicans to improve the lives of the American people. He ran headlong into Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who in his turn had the overt agenda of wishing to prevent Obama from accomplishing anything at all, no matter what it was.

Indeed, it seems likely the McConnell has sacrificed Trump himself in his zeal to leave America with a Supreme Court which skews conservative. In 2016, the empty court seat which McConnell ensured Obama did not get to fill may have weighed on the minds of moderate Republicans who didn’t care for Trump, but didn’t want Clinton to appoint the next Supreme Court Justice. A Republican Majority Leader who wanted four more years of Trump (as well as one who cared a damn for not being painted a spineless hypocrite who invents imaginary rules to suit his own agenda) might well have kept the seat open for the same reason. Instead, McConnell, sensing that Trump may lose anyway, has rammed through the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett and now presumably will retire once the Senate and the Presidency goes Democratic, having achieved his life’s work.

Now, Democrats are being urged to get in the mud and play the same kind of dirty pool – but where will that leave us. If McConnell does retire, is it possible that some of those moderate Republicans we keep hearing about might be willing to work with instead of against President Biden?

But how does Biden square the circle of needing a bipartisan, collegiate approach to legislation in order to heal America’s ravaged political system, with the urgent need to pass radical bills of the type that would cause many Republicans to engorge with fury?

Sometimes, winning is the easy part.

Check back here in a few days’ time to see if that last sentence still holds good.

Are You A Crazy Cat Person?

Posted on October 6th, 2013 in Blah | No Comments »

Sorry to have been away for so long. I will put up a few catch-up posts now and in the next couple of days and try to get back on a reasonable blogging schedule shortly.


Fulfilling a long-held desire to be cat owners (that’s not how they see it of course, to them we are staff), we completed our current phase of home improvement and immediately went and picked up two adorable ragdoll kittens – sisters from the same litter. Here they are on their first day with us.


Ragdolls are a breed of cat developed by a slightly-more-than-usually-demented American cat breeder. They are known for their tendency to go limp and floppy when picked up (hence the name), their friendly and trusting disposition, their long-but-manageable coats and for being happy to be kept indoors – vitally important for a couple living in a second floor flat.

We named our two Mimi (after Emilia Lanier, the first Englishwoman to make a living as a writer) and Toast (after grilled bread). Mimi is the one with the white stripe on her nose – plump, lazy and contented with almost everything. Toast is the one with the white face and pink nose – she’s the eccentric who jumps on to the bed at 6:00am demanding playtime and who tries to clamber into the bathroom sink when I’m shaving. She seems to defer to Mimi if there’s competition over who gets her nose in the food bowl first though. Toast will sometimes sleep on my lap for a bit, if I pick her up and put her there, but neither of them go floppy when picked up as advertised – in fact they both start squirming almost immediately.

As if they weren’t adorable enough on their own, they often sleep snuggled up together, like this.


I am acutely aware that the Internet is already fairly full of cat pictures, and I’m also aware that while (almost) everyone likes kittens, there’s a pretty thin line between enjoying sharing your life with feline companions and being a Crazy Cat Person. For anyone else who is worried about on which side of this line they fall, here’s a quick check-list.

  • If you call yourself “Mummy” or “Daddy” to your cats, you are a Crazy Cat Person. (Note if you provide voices for your cats, you are not a Crazy Cat Person, provided the conversations are witty and/or infrequent enough. If you genuinely believe you can understand what your cats are saying or they you, then you are obviously a Crazy Cat Person.
  • If there are more cats than adults in the household, you are a Crazy Cat Person. No exceptions. Adults must be over 18. A couple can have two kittens. If you live on your own, you can have a cat. If there are three of you and you have four cats, you are Crazy Cat People. Not fair? Hey, I don’t make the rules.
  • You may give your cat a human name like Joe or Susan, or a “pet” name like Patch or Whiskers as you like, but if you give your cat two or more names like “Lady Purrington” or “Sir Furball Kittychops Fluffbundle III” you are a Crazy Cat Person. Exception – if the vet pleases to append your surname to your cat’s name, that’s just an administrative convenience for them. You are not a Crazy Cat Person.
  • If you put your cats in any clothing more elaborate than a collar, you are Crazy Cat Person – obviously.
  • If you cook food only for your cats to eat, you are a Crazy Cat Person – even on Christmas Day.
  • You may have photos of your cats on your phone, or on your computer, but no more than one small one on your mantelpiece, and definitely none in lockets, or portraits in oils. If they sneak into family portraits, that’s okay.

I don’t think making lists of criteria regarding who is and who is not a Crazy Cat Person in itself makes you a Crazy Cat Person. At least I hope not.



Quick fitness update

Posted on March 2nd, 2012 in Blah | No Comments »

Here’s a really, really quick update on my fitness and weight loss. Following the “Couch to 5k” programme as delivered by the iPhone app Get Running, I have completed my first 30 minute run today. Tracking my path with iMapMyRun reveals that I covered 4.96km, so I guess I’m there. Now I can work on decreasing the time and/or increasing the distance.

Good news too from the scales. After a few days of levelling off, my weight this morning was 142.8lb which means I’ve lost 17.2kg and have only 2.8kg to go!

Update Feb 2012

Posted on February 18th, 2012 in Blah | No Comments »

A quick update – there will be a more substantive post tomorrow.


My weight today is 145.8lb meaning I have lost about a stone since early January and putting me exactly on target to lose 20lb by mid-March. With a little help from the iPhone Get Running app, I’ve successfully completed a 25 minute run (albeit not at a ferocious pace and on my second attempt). I’m even considering keeping up the calorie counting and running after mid-March, although my resolve may eventually crack, especially where my late evening cheese-and-biscuits is concerned.


A small interregnum but I hope to see War Horse tomorrow. I also have gained access to copies of Tree of Life, Moneyball and The Help but so far I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch any of them. Instead, I’m going to see The Muppets tonight.

Other writing

As well as working on the next edition of The Improv Handbook, I have finally found a publisher for my Columbo book, provisionally titled “My Wife Thinks You’re Terrific”. This complete episode guide will be published by Miwk in early 2013. And I am now contributing Doctor Who articles to the What Culture blog. The first one is here.

More news will follow shortly about Coalition, my satirical play which is going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. You can also see photos of my new flat here.

That’s my life. How’s yours?


Posted on February 4th, 2012 in Blah | 11 Comments »

When I was younger, I made a deal with my body. For my part, I would eat whatever I liked in whatever quantities I deemed appropriate, take only minimal exercise and generally try not to stress the poor thing out unduly. In return for this largesse, my body agreed not to change its size and shape in any way.

Aged about 32, my body welched on the deal.

Now, I should say, that although not very tall, I do have quite a slender frame and as a boy or even a young man, I was positively skinny. Through my thirties, however, to this slim physique was added the gentle and yet unmistakable curve of a spare tire around my abdomen and even, yes, a little extra flesh around the jawline. However – what’s a boy to do? I do like my food (at least some food), especially red meat, potatoes (especially in the form of fries, creamy mash or roasted in goose fat) and glorious, blessed, holy cheese. Not only that, but as I do most of the cooking, I am in the habit of cooking for two – whether there is anyone else home or not. Clearly, a big part of the problem was portion control.

In 2008 I put myself on a calorie-controlled diet and I’m repeating the experiment currently. Ever looked at those two ton Americans who end up having to be winched out of their homes and taken to hospital to be humanely destroyed, and wondered how they got like that? Because they didn’t start managing their diet when they were still only a bit chunky. If you wait until you are already morbidly obese, it’s too damn late.

So, below I’m going to lay out how I’m doing it and how well it’s working. It’s not the only way, I’m sure, but it’s entirely in line with most findings about weight loss, so I want to take the time briefly to explode a few myths. Before that though, a brief moment of exculpation.

Weight gain and loss is a sensitive issue for some people, and I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be anorexic or to have suffered decades of taunting about my weight or to define myself in terms of how skinny I am. My self-esteem is – thankfully – not tied to whatever the scales tell me today. I am not “battling my weight”, I am not crash-dieting. I am a little bit heavier than I think is ideal and I’m doing something about it. This isn’t an instruction to anyone else. It’s just a description of my thought process, my actions and their outcomes. ‘Kay? ‘Kay.

So, to begin with calories are king. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Every calorie you ingest has to go somewhere. Some will be used to build muscle. Some will be used to keep your heart pumping and your blood oxygenating. Some will be lost through excretion. But they all go somewhere. Generally speaking, if you burn up more calories than you take in, your body will start unlocking the extra calories it has stored in the form of fat in order to keep the show on the road. And if you use fewer calories than you ingest, your body will start adding to those fat stores.

Now, metabolic rates (how fast your body goes through calories) do vary, but they vary much more from person-to-person than they do for the same person from day-to-day. Your metabolic rate is your metabolic rate, and although it will change a bit according to diet, disposition, overall health and so on, it won’t change a lot. You want to lose weight? You need to shift that calories balance.

And here’s where two different concepts tend to get conflated. There is a world of difference between a “healthy” food and a “low-calorie” food. A glass of water is the perfect low-calorie food, since it contains no calories at all. But it also contains no nutrients. If you ingest nothing but water, you will die (although not for 2-3 weeks).

A McDonald’s cheeseburger contains about 295 calories. A Pret A Manger Chicken Avocado sandwich contains 462 calories. The Pret sandwich is probably more nutritious – it contains a wider variety of nutrients than the cheeseburger – but if you wanted to lose weight, you would be better off with the burger!

So, it’s important to be clear about your goals before you start modifying your eating habits. It’s actually very, very difficult to hurt your body by not giving it enough of the things it needs. If you don’t eat enough fibre, you’ll eventually start getting digestion problems. If you don’t eat any vitamin C, you’ll eventually die of scurvy. If you scarf down too much saturated fat (emphasis on saturated) then you’ll eventually hit heart problems. But the key here is “eventually”. Scurvy takes months to develop and heart disease takes decades. You can’t stave off heart disease by not eating chips for a month. But nor will you be hospitalised for malnutrition if you eat KFC every day. The problem in the Western world is usually too many calories and almost never too few nutrients.

Nor, crucially, can you lose weight by avoiding certain types of foods, or by over-indulging in others – except in so far as such alterations to your diet cause you to ingest fewer calories as a byproduct. And, so that raises a couple of other issues. The first is a variation of the Hawthorne Effect in which people who are on a diet – any diet – tend to lose weight at least at first simply because they are more aware of what they are eating. Just keeping a food diary, writing down everything you eat, can help many people to lose weight, because it helps to prevent mindless snacking.

Other faddish diet, like the famous Atkins eat-all-the-cream-and-red-meat-you-like-but-stay-off-the-pasta diet add to this principle by giving you an additional appetite suppressant. If you go to a steakhouse and order steak and chips with béarnaise sauce (and I hope that you would), here’s how the calories break down. A big rump steak might weigh 400g, which will supply about 500 calories. The béarnaise adds about another 120 calories, depending on how much they dollop on. The fries are the hardest to estimate, but assuming a largeish portion of shoestring fries, they will probably run you around another 400-600. So clearly, if you have the steak without the fries (or indeed the fries without the steak), you will roughly halve your total number of calories. But if you have scoffed down your own plate of steak and chips and your dining companion has left half their fries behind, you might very well pick at them until they’re all gone. It’s rather less likely that if they leave half their steak behind that you’ll want to start in on that. The protein-rich steak fills you up more than the starchy fries do, so the Atkins diet gives you a similar feeling of fullness for fewer calories.

Cutting down fat makes sense if you want to diet, again because it generally results in cutting down on calories. Fats are the most calorie-rich foods, so eating less of them is generally good. But beware of low-fat foods which compensate for the lack of delicious fat by loading you up with sugar instead. Fat contains about 9 calories per gram. Sugar, although better, still contains around 4 calories per gram. (Since you asked, alcohol contains around 7 calories per gram, but nobody drinks pure alcohol.) Once again, it’s vital to distinguish between health and weight-management. A diet coke contains almost nothing of nutritional value, but it clearly also contains no toxins (why would a capitalist company choose to poison its customers?) so it makes an ideal drink for a dieter. A delicious glass of healthy orange juice contains lots of health-giving vitamin C and lovely fibre, but will also set you back around 90 calories. Which is more important right now? Extra vitamins or fewer calories? As long as you’re clear about what you’re eating and drinking and why, there’s no problem. But if you add extra “healthy” nuts and fruit to your diet, you won’t lose weight. You’re just adding an extra source of calories.

If you really need convincing that it’s how many calories you eat and not what you eat that matters with weight loss, then consider the case of nutritionist Mark Haub who set out to test this very issue by putting himself on all-Twinkie diet. A Twinkie (a sort of sponge cake with a creamy filling, beloved of American 7-11s) is hardly a healthy food, being loaded with sugar and fat and little else of nutritional value, but because the calories are printed on the packet, you can know exactly how many you are ingesting and so regulate your weight. Mark ate one Twinkie every three hours (plus a protein shake and a multivitamin once a day and a few celery stalks of an evening) thus limiting his calorific intake to 1800 calories per day. He lost 27lb in two months.

So – finally – here’s my plan.

Step one – count calories

Using and its companion iPhone app, I’ve selected a calorie goal of 1480 calories per day. I drink little other than black coffee (no sugar) and diet coke, both of which are negligible in terms of their calorie content. I eat a lot of M&S ready-meals (which I reckon have improved dramatically in the last five years) because, like the Twinkies, they have the calories printed on the box. Yesterday I had a toasted muffin for breakfast (226 calories including the butter), a Pret brie baguette for lunch (396 calories) and an M&S Gastropub Cottage Pie with a whole pack of Classic Layered Vegetables (665 calories total) for supper and I went to bed feeling quite satiated. With the iPhone app, I can snap the barcodes and add the meals to my food diary instantly.

Step two – cardiovascular exercise

Exercising more means you use up more calories. You also might stimulate your metabolic rate a bit (but only a bit – see above). It also helps me to feel like I’m doing something, getting somewhere. But running burns about 500 calories per hour. If you run for 15 minutes and then eat a crème egg, you’ve done more harm than good. I hate gyms, they depress me, but running at least feels not entirely pointless. Following, of all people, Charlie Brooker’s recommendation, I’m using an iPhone app called Get Running. You run three times a week and the programme ramps up each week. You can listen to music or an audio book and the app chips in every so often with fresh instructions – “run for three minutes”, “cool down by walking for a minute-and-a-half” and so on. At the start of the process, you only run for a minute or so at a time. By the end of week 9, you’re running for thirty continuous minutes. I’m on week 5. I’m also working my way through the 100 push ups programme.

Step three – record everything

What motivates me is seeing progress. I weigh myself every morning just before jumping in the shower and record the results in a simple spreadsheet. Weight fluctuates considerably – a change of up to 2lb in 24 hours in not unknown – so I run a five-day moving average to smooth out the noise in the data. On 5 January I weighed 160lb. Probably as heavy as I’ve ever been and just nudging into overweight on the BMI chart. It’s possible I was heavier earlier this year, before a horrible throat infection which turned me off pretty much all food for about a week. Today, my bathroom scales have packed up, but yesterday morning I weighed 149.6lb. Last time round, I got down from 156lb to 147lb but gave up in mid-February. This time, my target is 140lb by mid-March when I turn 40.

It would probably be better – certainly more sustainable – to just get out of the habit of munching through an entire block of cheddar in an evening, but this will at least be a start.

December catch-up

Posted on December 13th, 2011 in Blah, Culture | No Comments »

Well, it has been a long time since I was here!

This has been for a couple of reasons, largely, we’ve bought a flat which we will be renovating in the New Year – expect lots of bloggy fun covering that. And also, I’ve been writing my first play with my good friend Robert Khan. Coalition had its first reading on 30 November and is currently seeking producers.

Let me do a quick cultural round-up to keep you all up-to-date. In recent weeks I have seen…

  • One Man Two Guvnors – a gloriously playful take on a classic farce, blessed with four stand-out performances from Oliver Chris, Tom Edden, Daniel Rigby and of course James Corden. A more purely joyful night at the theatre you couldn’t wish for. And a skiffle band too!
  • Matilda – I knew it would be good, I didn’t dream that it would be astoundingly good. Tim Minchin’s lyrics and music are heartfelt, delectably clever and roaringly funny, Bertie Carvell turns in an award-winning performance as Miss Trunchbull, the sets and lighting are perfect and Dennis Kelly’s additions to Roald Dahl’s story fit seamlessly. All this without mentioning Matilda herself – there are four in rotation, but if the one we saw is anything to go by, then they are all stars in the making. Go!!
  • Dave Gorman’s PowerPoint Presentation – Unfussy, unencumbered by a deadening theme, just an hour and a half in the company of one of the cleverest, most affable comedians on the circuit. A delight.

We also saw The Kitchen and Daniel Kitson both at the National Theatre. The former’s slight story is transformed by stunningly choreographed playing and the latter is his usual detailed, hilarious, heartbreaking self. But both have finished now, so you can’t go.

Come and see the next reading of Coalition instead though – 20-22 January, afternoons at The Leicester Square Theatre and follow the progress of the play on its new website.

2300 year-old quote

Posted on December 20th, 2010 in Blah | No Comments »

I’m aware that this is not exactly new, but it’s new to me.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Epicurus (341BC – 270BC)

Merry Christmas everyone!

I know what you’re thinking

Posted on July 31st, 2010 in Blah | 2 Comments »

First of all, I want to introduce you to this blog, which admirably sums up in its every post, my feelings about language, grammar and pedantry – to whit, it take only a modest level of education to criticise other people for supposed infringements such as split infinitives, dangling participles or what have you, but none of this has anything to do with understanding how language works, which is a more complicated undertaking. If you prefer not to split infinitives, then that is primarily a reflection of your taste, and says little or nothing about how English grammar actually works or is used by its speakers.

So, while it may be entertaining to read (and certainly to write) about grammatical “pet peeves”, this caveat should be borne clearly in mind by writer and reader alike. X may very well drive you crazy, but if X is fairly common among native English speakers (from any country) then that says far more about you than it does about them or about X.

All that having been said, let’s start with a very common English stumbling block. For some reason, English speakers who have no problem at all selecting “I” or “me” when talking only about themselves reach for the wrong pronoun when talking in the plural. Should you care about getting this right (and, as mentioned, there’s no particular reason why you should) the rule is very easy to apply. We don’t even have to approach the baby slopes of grammar terminology. I can give you the rule without even talking about “subject” and “object” (which is the reason for the distinction).

Try these five sentences. Which is right?

  • Me and Jo are going swimming later, do you want to come?
  • It’s not your problem, just let Chris and I handle it.
  • Sam and I will go first, followed by you and then the rest.
  • We’ve talked about it and both me and Pat feel we should contribute.
  • Just give it to either me or Sandy on your way past.

Ready for the answer? Here it comes…

The third and fifth are correct. The others are all wrong. How do you know? Just remove the other person.

  • Me is going swimming later, do you want to come?
  • It’s not your problem, just let I handle it.
  • I will go first, followed by you and then the rest.
  • We’ve talked about it and me feels we should contribute.
  • Just give it to me on your way past.

So, the point is that anyone who cares can easily get this right if they want, but if you don’t care, then it should only affect that small percentage of people who both know and get cross about it. It makes me mildly annoyed when, in dramas, a character who would be quite likely to both know and care is given lines by a writer who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care and so gets it wrong, but I’ve learned to live with it.

What I find more interesting is some of the psychology which these facts about language and the presence of these rules brings along for the ride. Because people remember having had “me and X” corrected to “X and I”, the latter seems to have a more prestigious status in some people’s minds, so I suspect that some people who say “X and I” when “me and X” would have been correct are overcorrecting. They wanted to say “me and X”, they knew that sounded right, but they corrected it to “X and I” at the last minute. In some cases, the anxiety about whether to say “I” or “me” is so profound that people substitute “myself” instead, which is almost guaranteed to be wrong (once again, “wrong” in this one very narrow, prescriptive sense). For some people (especially in HR) this becomes a linguistic tic which can quickly become irritating. “Would you just sign the letter yourself, and then send it back to myself so that Jo and myself can review it and then myself will get back to yourself before yourself goes away on Thursday.” Please find the time to punch yourself in the face, while you’re at it, noticing as you do that because “punch yourself” is reflexive (the puncher is both subject and object, doer and done-to) that “yourself” is appropriate here. You may also use “myself” for emphasis as in “I can punch you in the face myself if you prefer,” but it is not a substitute for any and all personal pronouns.

I think there’s something else even deeper going on here. I think that a kind of neurotic politeness forces people away from both “I” and “me” pronouns; a need to avoid putting oneself in the line of fire, or the spotlight. “Myself” is somehow weaker than “me” and creates a barrier between my audience and the anxious core of my being. Here’s another example of a similar habit.

Here’s some English verb conjugating for you. English prefers to pile on extra words rather than fuck about with a lot of complicated verb endings to address things like case, tense, voice and so on, so these verb conjugations are pretty easy. Let’s take the verb “jump” and the present simple tense.

First person singular: I jump
First person plural: We jump
Second person singular or plural: You jump
Third person singular: He/she/it jumps
Third person plural: They jump

What’s missing from this list? English has an extra pronoun, sometimes omitted, and certainly with a rather archaic feel. Not “ye” or “thou”, both of which are certainly outside modern English. Not the American “y’all” which allows for a useful distinction between second person singular and second person plural, a distinction not found in standard English. No, it is the generic third person “one”, which today belongs primarily in the mouths of lazy comedians substituting it for any and all pronouns when impersonating members of the royal family. So what do we do, when we want to talk about “people in general” rather than any one person or group of people in particular? We co-opt the already over-stretched second person pronoun “you”.

And fair enough. “What should one do when one encounters another person with grammatical habits one takes a personal dislike to?” sounds unbearably pompous, stuffy and hifalutin. How much more relaxed, informal, natural and appropriate to use “you” instead. But what I’ve noticed is that the word “you” often gets substituted for “I” or “me” instead. Take film reviews as an example. Here’s a random example from the Total Film review of Inception.

At no point do you feel anything is here for effect, or that one constituent part doesn’t interact seamlessly with those around it.

Whose feelings are being described here? Not mine, I don’t know this reviewer, I’ve never met Neil Smith. He’s in fact describing his own response, but imagines that his opinions are generally shared or – more likely – is on some level anxious about owning this opinion, so the third person generic “you” is pressed into service. Here’s another example – sticking with “Inception”.

The denouement is a rather unsatisfying moment which leaves you wondering whether [POTENTIAL SPOILER REDACTED].

It might or might not leave me wondering. All we know for the moment is that it left you wondering, Jason Korsner. Other examples are easy to find. It’s particularly noticeable when the interviewee is trying to make an experience which very few people have sound relatable and universal. Here’s an interview with Sheryl Crow which I found from 1999.

You hear about male singers picking girls out of the audience and taking them backstage – but what would I do with a guy when I got him? I’ve got to get on the tour bus and drive all night. I think those days only really existed when you were flying around and you could stay and party until four in the morning and then get into your private jet and fly to the next place. God, if only it was that way now!

Oddly, Sheryl, I don’t share that experience.

Having noticed this, I found it hard to avoid. I’m now in the habit of mentally substituting “I” when I hear this awkward “you” and, yes, it does sound a little more direct, but it also sounds a bit more honest and revealing, which is usually the point of giving an interview or writing a review. I may have spoiled interviews and reviews for you forever, but I’m afraid from now on you’ll have to put up with it. And if you’re pissed off with myself, then that’s something you and me are just going to have to deal with. But you know what that’s like, right?

25 random things

Posted on February 18th, 2010 in Blah | No Comments »

Hello and welcome to whatever this is. I’ve put up a more permanent, useful and comprehensive introduction to me and my life here but in order to get things going, I’m reproducing my entry for the 25  Random Things About You which was the Facebook meme-du-jour for early 2009. I’ve made one or two edits to bring the list up-to-date or just because I felt like it.

1. I can only think of three people I know who – all things considered – might be cleverer than me.

2. I spent 2-3 years teaching myself close-up magic and have a trunk full of books, DVDs, props and gimmicks at the foot of my bed. I haven’t opened that trunk in years. You might consider that time wasted. I consider that a life lived to its fullest (but then everything happens for a rationalisation).

3. I was the editor-in-chief of online satirical netzine The Brains Trust from 2000 to 2002. In its structure, commenting on articles, profiles of contributors and so on, it accurately predicted the modern-day blog. However, someone nicked the domain name off us and now we only have the pages on the Wayback Machine as an archive.

4. I love arguments and I love to win them, but being *right* is much more important to me than you being wrong, so if you *do* prove me wrong, I will switch sides instantly (and then go and find other people who used to believe as I did in order to point out how stupid they’ve been).

5. At university, I quickly fell in with a crowd who thought that the people heading for a job with Accenture were all wankers. They probably were, but if I’d fallen in with the Accenture crowd *first*, I probably wouldn’t be up to my eyeballs in debt today.

6. As a child I was a very picky eater. Thus I wanted to cook for myself when I first left home, and thus I discovered that – hey – food tastes good when you cook it right. A few years ago I began trying to whittle down the list of things I don’t like. I’m now left with most shellfish, some fish (especially salmon and tinned tuna), sweet cream (i.e. in cakes rather than in savory sauces) and scrambled eggs. Pretty much everything else I can stand, even if I don’t seek it out.

7. 25 items is a lot, isn’t it?

8. I can’t be trusted to buy my own clothes. Apparently.

9. I have been looking forward to middle age since I was about 11. Playing bridge, wearing slippers, complaining about young people, are all my idea of a good time. I’d smoke a pipe if I wasn’t worried about oral cancer.

10. Cigars don’t give you oral cancer do they?

11. I buy all the official Doctor Who DVDs as soon as they come out, and have probably seen almost all of the extant episodes. (I don’t know about The Keys of Marinus, The Sensorites, The Ark and I know I haven’t seen the last two episodes of The Ambassadors of Death). I was a Doctor Who fan when it was cool, when it was uncool and now when it’s cool again. I’m very loyal.

12. Microsoft, Apple and Google all make excellent products and I use whichever is the most convenient for me and suitable for the purpose. At present this means Windows 7, Outlook 2010 (for email and RSS feeds), Chrome as my browser of choice, Windows Live Mesh for document syncing and an iPhone 3GS (now jailbroken so I can have multi-tasking).

13. I watch almost no home-grown TV except Doctor Who, but watch a lot of US series regularly, thanks to the miracle of the Internet. These include: Damages, Battlestar Galactica, The Office, 30Rock, House, Scrubs, 24, Mythbusters, Mad Men.

14. Never use a word you couldn’t define to a bright 10-year-old if asked to do so. Some jargon is there for precision and some simply for obfuscation. It’s important to know the difference, and very important to know the difference if the jargon is coming out of *your* mouth.

15. Obfuscate: to make something you are saying harder to understand.

16. Emoticons are ugly, a shortcut for lazy writers, childish and profoundly irritating. They are also, from time to time, essential. 😉

17. I continually use the word “mental” as a noun in a way that I hope those listening understand is ironic. It is, of course, childish and insulting whether or not it is ironic, but it’s also funny – to me at any rate. If you don’t agree it’s probably because you are a mental and so can’t be trusted on this subject a) due to an inherent conflict of interest and b) due to the fact that YOU ARE A MENTAL.

18. I listen to lots of podcasts and almost no music on my iPhone. Top picks: The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, Collings and Herrin, The Perfect Ten, TEDTalks, TWIT, and Skeptoid. If you want to know the peculiar kind of music I listen to, watch me join the conformist ranks again with my iPod Shuffle post following hot-on-the-heels of this one.

19. 25 items really *is* a lot, isn’t it??

20. I hand-code HTML and write PHP code for our website and others. I also design Spontaneity Shop publicity with QuarkXPress and PhotoShop. I know, I know – hot, right?

21. Once you know how to do something right (even if “right” is merely convential), why would you then do it wrong? If you don’t know whether or not you are doing something right, why haven’t you bothered to find out? I know, I know – smokin’ hot, right? Right!

22. Has anyone actually bothered to read down this far? Reminds me of the story about the software company which put a promise in its EULA (the agreement you click “okay” to when you install the software) that it would give $1000 to the first person who read down that far in the EULA. It took years before they eventually had to fork over the dough.

23. Nearly there now. Okay, let’s clear this one up. You should say “Tom and I” if you would naturally say “I” without Tom there: “Tom and I are going to watch Doctor Who all evening” -> “I am going to watch Doctor Who all evening”. You should say “me and Tom” if you would naturally say “me” without Tom there: “Give the toy sonic screwdrivers to me and Tom.” -> “Give the toy sonic screwdrivers to me.” It’s not totally unreasonable to use the “wrong” pronoun if it sounds better or more natural in the specific context, but there is NO JUSTIFICATION AT ALL for using “myself” because you don’t know whether “I” or “me” is correct or just because you want to avoid the implication that you and I are actually interacting in some way. “When myself gets the proposal from yourself, then myself and Katie will look at it and myself will get back to yourself. Okay?” No it is not fucking okay. Learn to speak English.

24. M*A*S*H is almost certainly the best sitcom ever broadcast. Not only was it astoundingly funny, well-plotted, heartfelt – when appropriate!, true-to-life no matter what, and brilliantly acted – every new castmember introduced succeeded *more* brilliantly than the person they replaced. Also worthy of note: Frasier, Fawlty Towers, Father Ted, and (coming up on the inside) 30Rock.

25. “Bookkeeper” is the only word in the English language with three consecutive double letters.