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Whereof One Does Not Know, One Should Talk Louder, And Perhaps Intersperse It With Swearing Or Colourful Metaphors

Words people say without knowing their true meaning – an incomplete list:

“Infer”
“Metatarsal”
“Draconian”
“H1N1”
“[Whitehall] Mandarins”
“Machiavellian”
“Svengali”

Your contributions are, of course, welcomed; the Comments section eagerly awaits your input.

10 Things I’ve Learned From Watching Come Dine With Me A Smidgen Too Often

1. Anyone described as being a ‘self-confessed foodie’ is usually a bit of a pain

2. When shopping in your local deli/butcher/fishmonger, be sure to mention that you’re holding a dinner party, and address the person behind the counter by their first name more often than is normal in conversation

3. Not supplying drink for your guests, even if it’s for religious or medical reasons, usually leads to them getting a right arse on

4. Musical entertainment, whether provided by you or hired professionals, is not a good idea if you want to win

5. Any female contestant not in some kind of relationship will be labelled a ‘singleton’ in the commentary

6. Depending on how the group is constituted in terms of gender, a butler (with or without a shirt) may be popular

7. Don’t try out something new on the night of your big event (actually, re haircuts and outfits and the like, this rule applies to much of life)

8. Rare is the person who can lift the silver salver without making the money move in some way. Less rare is being able to see the cameraman reflected in the surface of the salver

9. It’s impossible to stand in the kitchen and talk to the camera about the meal you’re preparing without acting like you’re either Nigella L or Hugh F-W

10. Dave Lamb’s voiceovers for Come Dine With Me are like the commentary for Masterchef, but with an awareness that – ultimately – we are only talking about cooking here.

…Which is probably why I watch the show a bit too much, as the above rather shows.

You’ll Notice I Don’t Mention ‘Press Packs’ Or Other Such Possibilities.

When the Thomas Harris book Hannibal came out in 1999, I was very keen to read it.

I’d enjoyed Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs – even if they were essentially the same story twice (representative of the FBI reluctantly goes to imprisoned serial killer Hannibal Lecter for insight into a current case), they were solid crime thrillers with a good sense of being a race against time, to stop a killer.

In Hannibal, on the other hand, Lecter has escaped, which removes the ticking clock element, and instead of the reality-based investigation, the tone of the book is more one of gothic melodrama, with an ending that left me speechless in the worst possible way (working from memory: Lecter digs up Clarice Starling’s dead dad, drugs her and confronts her with the corpse, and after a bit of her boss’s brains being eaten, she and Lecter become lovers). It was like I’d recorded LA Confidential and found that someone had taped Friday the 13th over the last third of it. Very disappointing. But I guess these things happen.

More strangely, though, there seemed to be a lot of very positive reviews of the book when it come out (as evinced here), often using words such as grand guignol, but hardly ever referring to the ending and making me suspect that they hadn’t actually read it all the way through before getting their reviews in. Anyway, it certainly made me less trustful of reviews, and blurbs and publicity material (I know, it’s appalling that I was 28 before that truth hit home; I like to think of it as a charming kind of naivete, but history will be the judge).

A very similar thing happened to me yesterday in relation to the new John Grisham paperback, The Associate; I used to like Grisham’s stuff a lot, though the further I went through the world of legal academia the less I enjoyed them, until I just stopped reading them.

But The Associate sounded more like The Firm, with its storyline about a newly-qualified lawyer in trouble, and I wondered if this might be a fun read. The print reviews certainly seem to suggest so – look at this gallery of praise taken from the Amazon page for the book:

It’s a damned good read. This is Grisham returning to what he knows best.
Scotland on Sunday

Grisham paints a fascinating picture. Vintage Grisham, with a really believable ending
The Guardian

Tense and exciting
Evening Standard

The suspense is there in what is easily his most recognisably ‘back to form’ novel since The Firm. Grisham has returned with a vengeance to his trademark territory: the grim world of corporate law and the sinister machinations of the men on its fringes.
The Times

In typical Grisham fashion it does hurtle along at a decent clip
London Lite

Don’t wait for the film read the book first this time. The maestro of the legal thriller’s new one centres on a brilliant student with an unfortunate secret.
Daily Sport

A classic Grisham plot, similar to his first major success, The Firm, and told with the same elegance and elan.
The Daily Mail

Grisham never disappoints and this is another fantastic read
The Sun

In The Associate, John Grisham returns to the legal milieu he explored so vividly in The Firm. Grisham is such a storyteller that you want to turn the page
The Guardian

Grisham’s new book harks back to the one that made him famous, and effectively defined the legal thriller genre: The Firm. Grisham does a fine job of evoking the insanely competitive culture of a major New York law firm.
The Mail on Sunday

… so, lots of praise there, and many of them referring to the book of his which I’d enjoyed so much, which made me feel it could be one for me… until I went onto the Amazon page and saw that the vast majority of the reviews were negative, and repeatedly spoke about one particular failing: the story just ends without resolving anything.

Seriously, check out the customer reviews; over and over again, people say how much they were enjoying the book, wondering where the story was going and how he was going to tie up the loose ends, and over and over they say that he doesn’t, that the book just ends.

And so I don’t think this is a book I’ll be buying (probably for the best, I have a sizey book-queue already), but I find myself remembering the Hannibal experience and starting to wonder how it is that professional reviewers can overlook something so fundamental as a letdown, or an absent, ending.

I’m very keen on stories that reward you for time expended on reading them by showing that, yes, we were going somewhere all along (and even better if the seeds of the end were planted near the start – as in The Shining), and whilst that’d kind of a personal preference, the concept that ‘stories should have a beginning, middle and end’ is a fairly well-known one, and you’d expect that most reviews would refer to a weak or rubbish ending (as Marie did in this review on Wednesday).

Deadline problems aside, is there a good reason why this sort of thing happens? Is it seem as in some way gauche to address such fundamental elements of a novel?

And of course, the alleged absence of a climax certainly makes the Guardian quote (second in the list above) look pretty strange – unless they’re making the point that sometimes life just carries on without tricky situations being resolved, but that seems an odd thing to do in a thriller.

Nine Popular Maxims – Now With Added Experience-Derived Commentary

Better out than in applies to sharing of feelings, not flatulence

If you want to be popular, if you’ve got it, flaunt it tends to refer to cleavage or a six-pack stomach, not intelligence

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, but if you study it at degree level, don’t expect to spend 31 months discussing possession. If that’s your bag, you’re probably better off doing an exorcism qualification

Revenge is a dish best served cold is most applicable when you’re giving your nemesis poisoned gazpacho

Write what you know could be a hindrance if you’re a science-fiction (or fantasy) novelist

Charity begins at home, but people who say it don’t tend to be charitable at home or elsewhere

Dance as if no-one’s watching may get you voted off in week one of Strictly Come Dancing

It’s the exception that proves the rule“, when said, usually proves that the speaker doesn’t know the origin or true meaning of the phrase

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but not when you’re administering insulin to a loved one with diabetes

By Naming Things, We Often Come To Believe We Understand Them. Let Us, Then, Understand This Our Today

To me, it seems painfully obvious that what this world needs now is not love sweet love, but instead something much more important : a name for the time in which we’re living.

It’s a time of great economic, political and social uncertainty, and what’s more the weather’s cold and snow is getting in the way. During the similar period in the 1970s, some bright spark called it the ‘Winter of Discontent’ (quoting Shaky, no less), and summed it all up in a mere handful of words – genius, and that’s why the phrase is still used even today to describe that era. Not as often as ‘-gate’ is slapped on the end of a situation by lazy journalists, sure, but that happens more often than most of us blink, so the comparison’s probably unfair.

Anyway, before the last of the snow melts on this sceptr’d isle (see what I did there?), I think it’s time that we tried to capture the zeitgeist, and have a quick round of Name That Time.

I invite your suggestions, but in the meantime, here are mine:

– The Even Greater Depression
– The Big Freeze
– The Bank Nationalisation Programme
– The Winter We Most Needed Woolies
– Boys (And Girls) In The Brown Stuff
– I’m Ready For My Foreclosure
– At Last The 1929 Show
– The Day I Swapped My Mortgage For Two Goldfish

Think my suggestions are garbage? That you can do better? Then please leave your suggestions using the Comment facility!

I’ve Got A Smattering Of Links To Bring You – Tough Links, And Cuff Links, And Um, Doo Be Ding Doo…*

Do you live outside the UK? Then you might be able to access this free ‘motion comic’ version of Watchmen issue 1. For the record, whilst the film trailer looks quite pretty, a filmed version of Watchmen makes about as much sense as a musical version of the Mona Lisa, to my mind.

Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller revive their characters Craig Children and Martin Baine-Jones for what seems to be a new series of free podcasts.

I’ll wager more than a few gents of a certain age have been disappointed by this particular product’s name.

I urge you to look at Section 53 of the judgment in the recent case of Mosley v News Group Newspapers Ltd. Nicely put, The Honourable Justice Eady, very nicely put indeed.

*With apologies to Messrs Batt, Pratt and Steele.

LIST: Five Things I Have Learned In The Last Month

(Shared in the interests of adding to the sum of human knowledge)

1. If you’re going to the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Dome in London, make sure you take along a Waterstone’s loyalty card, as this allows you to jump the queue (apply for a free card here).

2. As well as making beautiful beds, the customer service supplied by Warren Evans is top-notch. And I speak as one who used to work in customer service, and worked hard at being good at it.

3. However, the camlocks and the like supplied for constructing furniture purchased from Next are feeble and not fit for the job at all. My screwdriver set is far from the strongest in the land, and it broke several of the camlocks. And the instructions contain errors – how, I ask, are you supposed to put a camlock into a piece of wood if you’ve already screwed another bit of wood over the appropriate holes? You can’t, and given that it took me more time to construct a wardrobe last weekend than it did to complete the London Marathon last year, Next will be receiving a letter of complaint in the near future. A very hoity one at that.

4. The free podcasts by Adam and Joe from BBC Radio 6 are a lot of fun, and worth your time.

5. Unless you relish the possibility of disinfectant or other people’s urine on your fingers, you should always check your shoelaces are tied before entering a public lavatory.

St Valentine’s Day (Virtual) Postbag

Well, despite the fact I’m getting married this year and am thus happily unavailable for propositioning, strangers are still sending me e-mails of a sexual nature. Here are some of the subject lines from e-mails that I’ve (genuinely) received today.

-Penis Enlargement Facts
-Sharon had never come before when we made love, but since I’ve become thicker and longer, she comes every night.
-Incredibly fast, unbelievable gains to your sch1ong in just weeks.
-Increase the length and power of the rod in your pants today.
-Do you want enlargge your p]enis? gcfdl
-Don’t be ashamed of having a small member, you can add inches today, easily.
-Scarlet Johansson loves Men with huge equipment – do you measure up?
-Tired of losing your erect1on halfway, or having a small weener? Change it today.
-Hot Rods get the chicks
-Make your girlfriend appreciate you more this Valentine’s Day
-Give the girls MAXIMUM satisfaction
-Studies have shown that 87% of girls aged 18-26 wish their men had larger pen15e5.
-Be the Stallion you’ve always wanted to be
-Give your girlfriend MORE this Valentine’s Day

One running theme does suggest that they might adore me as a person, but feel I’m lacking in some way… but still, it’s always nice to get post on Valentine’s Day, isn’t it?

Happy St Valentine’s / Commercially-Motivated Greetings Card Sales* Day to you all.

*Delete according to your personal degree of scepticism.

Any Colour You Strike*

You’re probably wondering what’s been going on in the world of the Writers’ Guild of America strike. Well, as well as the Screen Actors’ Guild awards going ahead without a WGA picket line (not really surprising, as SAG members have been impressively supportive of the WGA), the following highlights are worthy of note…

– The WGA made more deals (links: one, two ) directly with filmmakers.

– The informal talks between the WGA and the studios are continuing, and though there’s a news blackout so as not to prejudice anything, there are rumours suggesting the talks are proving productive. We’ll see…

And if you’re after an eloquent view on the strike from someone directly affected by it, the writer-director of Field of Dreams and Sneakers, Phil Alden Robinson, had this to say.

*Apologies to the mid-70s line-up of Pink Floyd.

Now Wait For Next Year*

At this time of year, it’s not only traditional to make New Year’s resolutions, but also to take stock of things, and assess how much progress (if any) one’s made in certain areas. David, Lucy, and Lianne have all posted on their goals and achievements with regard to writing in 2007, and so, perhaps slightly belatedly, I thought I’d do the same.

If I’m honest, I didn’t really set myself many specific writing goals for 2007 (though there were a couple, of which more in a mo). I do feel, though, that I did pretty well in ‘getting things out there’, by which I mean I’m pleased that 2007 saw the following:
– Being selected as one of 100 bloggers whose work was included in a Comic Relief book
– Recording an audio version of the same blog entry for inclusion in the podcast version of the Comic relief book
– Book review work for the Fortean Times
– My ‘flash fiction’ urban myth being a finalist in, and thus performed at, the Urban Myths event at the Manchester Literature Festival

…I’m also quite pleased with the way this blog has evolved; I’m updating pretty much in line with the number of working days in the week (and sometimes more often than that), I think there’s a good mix of topical, personal and silly items, and people who I’ve never met have been kind enough to link to me and to post comments, which makes it feel less like a displacement activity and more like a genuine form of communication with the world at large.

Mind you, it’s not all sunshine – none of the above earned me any money, which is fine in the case of the charity stuff, but it’s slightly disappointing to realise I earned more from eBaying unwanted stuff than I did from writing in 2007. Hmm.

And, as mentioned above, I had a couple of specific writing goals – to finish my novel ‘Coming Back To Haunt You’ and start the novel ‘The Body Orchard’ – which didn’t really happen; sure, I started ‘TBO’ (as no-one’s calling it except me) in November as part of National Novel Writing Month, but that was meant to be written after I’d finished ‘CB2HU’ (again, as nobody calls it apart from me), which remains only half done. And that isn’t really good enough – especially as I know how the tale finishes.

So this year, as well as making some proper (read: not half-arsed) progress with the novels, I intend to finish off the radio play that’s sitting on my hard drive unfinished, to expand and polish the screenplay I submitted for the Red Planet prize in 2007, and to get my horrendously out-dated website revamped, as I’ve been promising to do for … well, too damn long.

Am I making a public proclamation here, then? You know, I rather think I am. Okay , for the sake of argument let’s say I am.
So : in 2008, I aim to finish my radio play, screenplay, ‘CB2HU’, and to make good progress with ‘TBO’.
We’ll meet back here in a year and see how far I get in relation to these, shall we?

*Apologies to Horselover Fat.

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