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Blog : Posts from May 2006 : Page 1

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Sometimes I Can Be Too Geeky For My Own Good

In which FP measures himself up


A scene from office life: me and Big Dave, sitting at our desks, beavering away. Big Dave is working on building a website around some of the printed advertorial bumpf our PR people have supplied.*

“What’s this font? Any idea?” says Big Dave.

“That’s Gill Sans,” says I, “I’m surprised you didn’t recognise it. It was heavily used by British Railways before they switched to Helvetica in the late 60s.”

“Aaah,” Big Dave replies, “that’s why you know about it.”

Cut to: later on in the day, as I’m sitting in the local chinese takeaway waiting for my order, I’m doing a bit of naval-gazing, pondering the proportions of my body.*** And I suddenly realise that one key dimension of it**** is, roughly, 4 feet, 8.5 inches. The distance between the rails on most railway lines, in other words. Sometimes I really am too geeky for my own good.

* yes, we know this is a horrible way to go about doing things. Our PR people don’t, though. They see themselves as the fount of all design knowledge, and any criticisms** get ignored.

** like “but that looks bloody awful.” We’re not that subtle.

*** Not purely out of self-obsession, you understand, but for a bespoke DIY project I’ve been thinking about.

**** The maximum distance between my wrists, if you’re really bothered. Obviously it’s a rough estimate – I wasn’t sat in the takeaway with a tape measure – but going by Leonardo’s proportions it should be the same as your height (5′ 9″ for me) minus the length of both hands (6.5″ each).

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Influences (part one)

In which we uncover something that might count as proto-blogging


As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve been rereading How To Travel With A Salmon, a book of comic essays* by Umberto Eco. I first read it when I was an impressionable, pretentious teenager,** and hadn’t looked at it for about ten years.

I hate to admit it, really, but reading it back now, the first thing that came to mind was: if it was written today, people would be saying how much like a blog it is. Lots of short essays, each only a couple of pages in length. And the style of writing is, in fact, exactly the style of writing that I’m often trying to aim for myself. Witty, dry, sarcastic, intelligent and good-humoured. Reading it now, I realise just how many jokes I didn’t get as a teenager. It’s been a secret influence on this place for a long time, without me realising it.

Of course, the book is far better than anything that’s been written here. But then again, he’s a much better writer than me, and this isn’t being sold in the shops. It’s always good to have something you can aspire to. It’s also not a blog, despite what I said above: the essays were written over the course of about fifteen years or so, mostly in the 1980s. It’s a book, though, that now I’ve remembered I have I’m going to read again, because there’s a lot for any writer to learn from.

* mostly

** I can remember where I bought it, in fact – at Blackwells in Oxford, on a school trip to the university’s open day.

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Bank holiday weekend

In wich we know what people were looking for


The great thing about a three-day weekend is that it means you can fit two days’ social events into the weekend, and still have a day over to relax and recover before getting back into the office. And, of course, to try and make sure you have plenty of blog posts in draft ready for the following week.

In the meantime, it’s been a while since we’ve had Search Request Round-Up. So, here are some of the better ones:

did nostradamus predict bird flu – no.
have you tried turning it off and on again – ohhh, yes. Many, many times.
takin over the asylum dvd – I have no idea if it’s been released or not, but it definitely should be, and I’d buy it if I found a copy.
not to be loose or hump shunted is a phrase you see painted on the sides of railway wagons. In essence, it means “careful – don’t bash it about”.
rachel whiteread cubes what will happen to the – I’d assume they’ll all be melted down, because they do look recyclable. Unless, of course, anyone has a spare derelict power station to re-erect it in.
has suzie dent got a boyfriend? – I really have no idea. Try asking Des Lynam.
how do you make chocolate cornflake cake? – I can’t remember the details, but essentially you just mix cornflakes and melted chocolate, and try to resist eating the mixture before it sets.
pasquale’s italian edinburgh – I don’t think we ever did work out if Pasquale’s chippy on Clerk St – the one all the students bought their deep-fried confectionary from in my day – is still there or not.
photograph of drunk people on glasgow underground – I know I, for one, have been drunk on the Glasgow Subway, so they can’t be in that short supply
local paper cleckheaton – I assume it’s covered by the Huddersfield Daily Examiner. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers, though.

And that’s enough of that for a bit.

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Watching you

In which FP fails to keep a resolution


I tried to make a promise to myself, a couple of weeks ago, not to watch Big Brother this year.

By God, I wish I’d stuck to it. They’re frightening. And that’s all I’m going to say.

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Friday again

In which we recap


If this week seems to have gone quickly, it’s because I haven’t been blogging very much. My social life is getting the better of me.

Talking of blogging, one of the managers at work has apparently started too. I’m intrigued, but not enough to want to read it. The next thing you know, the managing director will be getting a Livejournal.

Update on last month’s post about Christian science fiction: whilst searching for something else, I discovered the book I was thinking of when I wrote it. It’s Operation Titan by Dilwyn Horvat. I’ve tried searching for more information about Horvat, but not very much has turned up. I’m not even sure whether Dilwyn is a male or female name.

The book I was searching for, incidentally, was How To Travel With A Salmon by Umberto Eco, because I wanted to reread his essay “How To Recognise A Porn Movie”. It’s a long, long story,* but it’s tangentially linked to this post from last August, one of the first things I wrote here. I’ll post more about it soon, I’m sure.

Big Dave keeps repeating random phrases over and over again. I’m sure he must be developing late-onset Tourette’s Syndrome. Oh, well, at least it’s Friday.

* which, to explain, would take several pages of context, description, links to discussions elsewhere, links to political campaigning sites, links to sites you probably shouldn’t read at the office, and lots more explanation, and probably, diagrams.

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Land Of Green Ginger

In which we go to Hull


Was over in the Republic of Hull at the weekend, and popped in a pub in the city centre, called Ye Olde White Harte.* It’s a very old pub indeed, full of tiny rooms and dark wood panelling, and it’s been on the site for around five hundred years or so. Back in the seventeeth century the Siege Of Hull, one of the opening skirmishes of the Civil War, kicked off in the upstairs room of the pub.**

I was in the pub to go to a meeting, in the aforesaid upstairs room, full of dark wood panelling, swords on the wall, and portraits of men in seventeeth-century styles. Just as you could imagine it being back in the civil war, in fact. We sat around having our meeting, just like the seventeenth-century city leaders plotting to change the government whilst downing jars of ale. But, of course, there was a little sign on the wall next to the swords: “found during the Victorian restoration”.

Like many buildings of its age, not much of the Olde White Harte is genuine. It might be a genuine sixteenth-century pub, but much of the interior will have been redone in the 19th century, if not since, to look like the modern ideal of a genuine sixteenth-century pub. For one thing, bars were only invented in the 19th century, in railway station refreshment rooms. I have no idea what it would have actually looked like when first built, but almost certainly not how it does today.

* I don’t see why they can’t call it the Old White Hart, but apparently it’s tradition or something.

** Well, they didn’t exactly start a bar-room fight with the King, but it was where the city leaders decided to bar the gates to the royal army.

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Heart of darkness

In which The Mother is suspicious


The mother seemed a little concerned yesterday. “You’ve been wearing a lot of black clothes lately,” she said.

“Yes?”

“Are you a goth?”

I had to run away so I could burst out laughing. No, mother, I’m not a goth. There’s more to being a goth than wearing black trousers and a black t-shirt for a night out. “No,” I told her, “and besides, I know lots of goths who wear things that aren’t black.”

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Had me over a barrel

In which we miss the Eurovision


The plan was to have a nice relaxing evening in, watch The Doctor defeat the Cybermen; and then sit down, watch the Eurovision, and blog about it, sarcastically. A good plan, I thought. For one thing, W and P are coming up to visit next weekend. As they’re both glued to the Eurovision every year,* it would be handy to be able to discuss it with them.

Things didn’t quite go to plan, though. Just as The Doctor was making the Cybermen go all emo, my messenger window went pling! “Are you going out tonight?”

“No,” I replied, “I’m staying in. Definitely. Staying in and watching the Eurovision. There’s no way you’re going to persuade me to go out even if it is to the N&W.”**

I’m a very stubborn, stick-to-my-guns kind of person. Which doesn’t really explain why, a couple of hours later, I was listening to the Eurovision on the radio, whilst zooming along the motorway counting down the numbers to the Wooldale exit. With immaculate timing, the songs themselves finished just as I pulled up in the club’s car park.

So, I had no idea how the scores went, or who won. Not until I got back into my car at the end of the evening, and realised I had a text message from my friend Owen. It said just one word: “ROCKTORY!” – which was all I needed to guess the result. Owen likes his hard rock.

* in fact, they first met at a Eurovision theme night in a bar just off the Strand. And now they’re married. All together now: awwwww.

** The Netherthong And Wooldale Theatrical And Social Club (Not Its Real Name), of course. I really hope the people there don’t mind me mentioning it like that.

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End of the week

In which we study the news


Update on Wednesday’s post: the piano atop Ben Nevis may have been identified.* Or maybe not. Maybe large keyboard instruments have been carried to the top of Ben Nevis several times; nobody has any idea, to be honest. Which is probably as it should be.

Meanwhile, in the news – and in just about every news outlet you care to name – a BDSM-related “sex cult” has been uncovered in Darlington.** To be honest, after reading round it all I feel slightly sorry for the chap who runs the place. He seems to have been quite open about what he was doing, leading his girlfriend around on a leash in public and all, and seems to have been a bit surprised that the press have got a bit excited over it all. Personally, I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong. Gor isn’t my kink, but if that’s what people want to do, then let them.

* Link via Why Did I Go Wrong…?

** As I said, this story is everywhere at the moment, but I’m linking to The Guardian‘s version because it has the best headline.

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You have been watching…

In which we stay to the end of the credits


…is a phrase I never really understood.

It’s a sudden flashback I had today, to old sitcoms like Allo Allo and Hi-de-Hi. They didn’t end with your standard telly credits; they ended with “You have been watching…”, and everybody would suddenly come out of character and wave at the camera.

Presumably it’s a stage thing adapted for the telly. Even when young, though, I found it rather disruptive. I didn’t want to be shown these people were actors. I wanted to suspend my disbelief all week until the next episode. Moreover, I wasn’t always sure what the names of all the characters were. I wanted to read the credits and find out!

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