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Saturday, January 31, 2004

Gervais Inc. - fiddlesticks!

They may be cleaning up the language oop 'tNewcastle, but that won't stop me coming out with some stout yeoman oaths if Ricky Gervais commits the unforgiveable and squanders his talent over here.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Spike, wah!

My Lord Moss of Ma Wan is hiding the good stuff from me:

Spike magazine has just reached me and it is damn'd good for Hong Kong. A sort of colonial Private Eye.

How I would love to have slipped the occasional hot gossip in my 1964 heyday when I eavesdropped on government asides and the many discreet dalliances that take place when cookboys and assorted servants take care of the humdrum stuff and leave one free to frolic.

Straw Dogs

Always been interested in Boorman's trashing of women. On screen, the old boy was a merciless misogynist, his women bitches, whores, whore-saints, sluts, betrayers, native madfonnas. Only in Straw Dogs (1971) is a woman central, a revolting film of grinding menace, stilted and uneasily set in England.

My DVD tells me it's banned in the UK to this day but I recall with clarity the day I saw it and the pub banter that followed. Mostly about pouty Susan George and her splendid and much vaunted breasts.

A movie of menace that sends a shudder down every townie's backbone.

Black is black I want my paper back

I never met Conrad Black - now Lord Black - but sources tell me I once annoyed his missus - née Amiel, now Lady. Back in my booksy PR hack days - and hers as an interview-clinching journalista - I recall she was rather expert at getting at unpalatable truths. I felt my stable of sensitive authors were better left getting on with what they were good at, rather than be booted round in print to no good effect on their sales.

Anyway, does everyone realise what an astonishing coup Lord B has pulled off with the oddball Barclay brothers?

The Sirs David and Frederick Barclay have agreed to buy from Lord Black the company that controls the company that has majority voting rights in the company that owns the companies that run the Daily Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post and The Spectator.

I mean, blimey! There's milord, fending off official probes and angry shareholders and God knows what else (not to mention looking at a little jail time, I wouldn't be surprised), and all the while the bounder's putting together this amazing deal ....

There were carrion buyers lining up to buy the Telegraph Group for anything up to £600 million. Meanwhile, there's Blackers and Barclay frères dealing to buy his 30 per cent holding in Hollinger International, which actually owns the Teleg Group, for a mere £260 million, giving them (Lord B having nimbly fixed things in his favour), 73 per cent of the voting rights in the company. En effet, they control the Telegraph titles, having forked out about half what they would have had to to buy them outright.

There's a book there somewhere ... something for the literate Lady B to busy herself with as hubby does his porridge?

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Grammar Goddess

The eight parts of speech - not sure that I even knew them.

Neat review by Neal Chandler in Seattle Weekly:


Making a name for yourself as a stickler requires unusual style —or uncommon restraint. Miss Manners would be nothing but an irritating nag without her legendary wit; Randy Cohen of The New York Times "Ethicist" column might seem a condescending prig without his unwavering neutrality.

Avenging grammarian Maggie Balistreri is hardly short on style, but I'm not sure I'd call her Dictionary restrained. At least her scolding rests on the soundest of ideas — like Orwell, Balistreri contends that the decline of language degrades us. "Change your words, I believe, and you change your deeds," she declares.

For instance, here's how she parses this (seemingly) simple sentence: "I couldn't stop crying but I had a really good support system of friends who sat with me and listened without judging." "Judge" has become a dirty word, Balistreri claims, because "weighing both sides of an issue" (its actual denotation) has been supplanted by an accusatory, negative connotation. In the same way, "support system" puts a positive spin on codependent behavior—what used to be called "neediness" or "clinging" before evasion English came to the rescue. As a result, Balistreri suggests, one finally ought to
substitute "because" for "but"— your friends are implicitly encouraging your tears, with nary a blunt "Snap out of it!" to be found.

Dictionary is a slim work of sociolinguistic muckraking — a leaner, meaner iteration of the Deborah Tannen line of self-help books. There's something noble in Balistreri's attempt to confront us with our everyday evasions, and her taxonomies of "like" and "whatever"— each of which has, like, 13 different usages these days — are good, haughty fun for the well-spoken reader.

Case in point: Among the many misuses of "like," Balistreri translates one as: "Sorry, I'm inarticulate" (e.g., "I was like, wow"). No doubt Nabokov is, like, rolling in his grave. Or whatever. ~ NEAL SCHINDLER"

C~BS Bush Bias

E-mail from GD, for whom I'd do anything. Her message verbatim:
Perhaps it's not a surprise that CBS would refuse to air the winning ad of the Bush in 30 seconds contest, sponsored by MoveOn.org, during the SuperBowl -- but that doesn't make it right.

CBS considers the restrained MoveOn ad to be "controversial," yet they are airing an ad by the White House. It would be one thing if they avoided ALL political ads, but this obvious bias is just too much:

So please, take a couple of seconds to view the MoveOn ad and send your thoughts to CBS. The key is to let them know that we notice these things.

G also includes the biting look at life If Parents Acted Like Bush.

Hell, that lady rocks; always did. I must get Eric to send me her home page link and shove it up here for the delectation of you all.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Back to the Fuchsia

Booksy anecdote from my London publishing days.

Oop t'north with the grave and distinguished Sir Vivian Fuchs for a Yorkshire Post Literary Luncheon in God's own county.

Throughout his introductory speech, Hizzoner the Lord Mayor enunciates Sir Vivian's name with the utmost clarity to rhyme with 'ducks'.

As soon as is proper, I lean over and in my best PR sotto voce whisper, "Actually, it's pronounced 'fooks'."

The burly alderman fixes me an icy glare:

"Ayup, lad, there'll be no language like that in my town hall."

Time for Love

Timely Jan 19 special issue of Time mag on How Your Love Life keeps you Healthy

How does our love life shape us?

The Porn Factor

Your Brain in Love section:
No wonder lovers talk all night or walk till dawn, write extravagant poetry and self-revealing e-mails, cross continents or oceans to hug for just a weekend, change jobs or lifestyles, even die for one another. Drenched in chemicals that bestow focus, stamina and vigor, and driven by the motivating engine of the brain, lovers succumb to a Herculean courting urge."

Bush Basher

Real live Bush fibs and finagling from my Lord Moss of Ma Wan:

All too visible weapon of mass destruction, quoth m'lud.

Have neurosis, will sleuth

The neurotic 'tec Monk TV series is back. Hoorah - more ogling of his sexy assistante/caretaker, Bitty Schram as Sharona.

Why is it that that ardvaark bird with the turn-off conk on Sex in the City is such a lamentably lifeless bint while Ms Schram (no mean hooter herself) is endlessly beguiling and desirable?

Watch this space


Brilliant comic. Set your searcher and see him.

No saps

BIG UPS to KT: they are the fastest deliverers I know.

Order your pass online and it's there in days. And they have this amazing 'Guaranteed Ride Home' deal whereby if your slave driving boss suddenly makes you work late, past the shuttle bus hours, you can phone Bainbridge Taxis, tell them which ferry on you're on and they'll meet ya and drive you home FREE.

You don't have to tip but I do, so I presume it goes into the driver's poche.

Cab etiquette:
The custom is that you don't travel solo in the cabs. You get in and wait til the cab fills and then the driver works out the best route.

Me and 3 other gents the other night: Wing Point, Yaquina, Wyatt and then me. Being manly men, we ride in silence til the radio prompts chat about Super Bowl. Mr Wing Point is the first to be dropped. Tidy abode.

Mr WP gets out and is barely to the door when it opens and dishy wife appears and enfolds Il Supo Marito in fond embrace.

"New house," comments one.

"New wife," growls our driver.

How's my Blogging?

Ulp - the Lion of the Night Crew, Sire of the Divine V, has paid me the ultimate honor of linking to me on his own page. I am out of the closet.

Any suggestions, critiques, invites to meet wvt torrid dalliance - right here.

Lotto blotto

Lady wins Lotto, out of the woodwork crawls another who swears it was *her* ticket. Dropped in a carpark. Sure. Everyone investigates and then the fibber 'fesses up that she didn't buy it, just wanted to quit her impoverished lifestyle.

Next bonanza: the lady don't have to pay tax. Vive bureaucracy, for once.

A Land before Time

I still guffaw every time I see that advert for the Seinfeld flick.

Truss trussed

My preferred Xmas gift this year was Lynne Truss' punctuation book, NYP over here so ordered at huge cost from Amazon's UK kiosk.

Now I see The Speccie hammering her. I mean braVO - my kind of pedantry.

Always be an England

Gadzooks I miss my homeland. Who but the sons of Albion could give us:
OK, I concede - we do we have a Billy Portcullis to play silly buggers over master Mike Rowe? Game, set, match.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Martha Stewart

I'm worried about Martha. Have always fancied her in that unattainable way. She's looking understandably haggard these days; unlike pretty boys Peter Bacanovic and Faneuil.

It'd be a crime against nature for MS to do porridge and be at the mercy of those bullish dykes one sees so sinisterly portrayed on the tele. My prayers are with her.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

- Happy Chinese New Year!

If I don't wish it now, I'll miss the 22nd: A barrel of industrious and profitable monkeys to everyone!

From my old alma mater, the Hong Kong Tourist Association, the most reliable horoscope ....

Average Trumps

I have at last reached that nadir plateau whereat I can be unashamedly hooked on trashy TV:

I tell you, Donald Trump and The Apprentice will be the biggest thing on TV. It has everything:

Average Joe in Hawaii

Brainless babe acts polite to a bunch of unexciting plonkers.

Fishy Bigness

The god of grating accents is out for revenge: last night he guided my steps to Big Fish.

A triple whammy: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, and the haggard-before-her-time Helena Bonham Carter. I swear she looks in worse shape in her prime than the splendid eye-patched hag with the peekaboo dead eye.

What *must* the others have thought? The craggy Billy Crudup (surely one of the handsomest men on screen?), Buscemi, and the beguiling Alison Lohman. To boot, reminding me of Malkovich's mal a droit tonguing, we had the real thing in Marion Cotillard.

The thing about the American accent is to leave it alone; let it float on that brief breathy platform of air that *makes* the American-ness.

Shibboleths: milkman, envelope, dude, your mother; tell it to the marines; whaddya mean I didn't put the cat out?

And *what* was dear old (Sir) Michael Caine agreeing to, going vowel to flattened vowel with his gritty eminence, Robert Duvall in that westerny number? Maybe they thought the audience's chucking up at that dewy-eyed lad from Sixth Sense would distract from the Caine's Surrey-with-the-Wince-on-Top mouthings.

In fact, the coming attractions were the biggest attraction:

How can I talk of let alone see In America without tears? Too close to my own feeble efforts to do right by my family; too sharp a mirror on my failure of spirit.

Hot tip: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Quel cast list: Jude Law, the divine Gwyneth Paltrow, lippy pouty Angelina Jolie ...

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Two Tonnes of Mithril Groats

It helps to be English and to have come up against local council officialese to guffaw fully at this expert parody of the parish of Mordor

Speaking of -ese, I don't think the Urban Dictionary has much to fear from this pale imitation.

At last: my kind of sci-fi.

Strangled Franglais

Merriment at my local video store at my frustration over never being in time to nab a copy of Rowan Atkinson's Johnny English spoof of Bond-age movies.

For 2 days straight the shelves have been stripped. They think it v funny that a Brit can't get hold of his own countryman's work.

Eventually one comes in that I whisk home. Funny enough in places but the whole thing ruined by John Malkovich's inexpert French accent, which seems to consist of running every second word through the garlic R. The only tolerable way to view the caper is to fast forward whenever JM is on screen. I notice that nothing of the plot is missed.

Not only does he mis-mispronounce the English words they *would* stumble over, he also gets wrong those words that the Frenchies actually get right.

Definitely the worst accent I've heard. I must compile a list: Branagh's hardboiled yankee gumshoe; Bob Hoskins' southern preacher (in fact, Hoskins tends to botch anything that isnt south London); and dear old (Sir) Michael Caine's unsteady accent in that homespun western with Robert Duvall and that dewy-eyed 'Sixth Sense' lad who seems rapidly to be outstaying his welcome.

Hair Today Goon Tomorrow

What is it about Great Clips that enables them to deliver quite such appalling haircuts?

It's the last place I go but time and again I find myself shaggy enough to brave them one more time.

Their trick is to make one look passable enough at the time to leave the shop with a cheery wave and an "I'll be sure to ask for *you* next time!" and mean it.

Next day, still ok-ish; Day 3 - no way one can comb or palm it down into anything respectable.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Queues Blues

Perhaps in Noo Yawk, but certainly not in the polite northwest: Americans do not know how to queue.

My daily commute involves a ferry ride, at the start and and end of which we line up to board and disembark. No thanks to this ridiculous concept of 'personal space', the line is straggly and unprofessional. Particularly when we come in to dock, I am driven crazy with impatience. I goes like this:
Interestingly, the competent queuers always line up on the opposite side of the boat to the gangplank - and we always make better progress than the rival line of shuffling sheep.
But I tell you - give me 20 stalwart Hong Kong commuters off the cross-harbour Star Ferry, place them at the rear of the boat and let them move only when the gangplank is descending and, by my troth, I'll wager a sack of butt that they'd infiltrate the locals, fill those damn'd useless gaps, and be on dry land before anyone else.

Way down yonder

Sub-arctic temperatures in the north-east and I send a friendly email to JV trusting that she is cuddling up warm and not having to smile wanly at too many bad jokes about vodka never freezing. The divine J used to be my supervisor and is now a PR honchoise for Absolut. I would love to say I drove her to drink but alas she occupies that sacred part of my memories that brooks no fibbing.

Dammit, the thought of that lady breezing around a room of boozy New York Mandrins ... well, it brooks no thought, altho' going by the way she handled A's fond mockery and constant ruthless probing into her vie privée, she'll have it all under control.

She replies by return, agreeing that it's a leetle chilly but that she's hightailing outta town for a bacherlorette party in New Orleans. I reply with a request for more incriminating pics like her last knees-up and comment that it sounds like a cheap date - exactly the sort of event that'll have all the raffish smoothies sending over drinks and lewd suggestions all night long.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


'The Tailor of Panama' apart, with its cringe-making lunges at humour (indisputably not a string in his bow), John le Carré can do no wrong by me.

Absolute Friends is out in time for my birthday, which saves my family agonising over the perfect gift.

Pedants Corner

An article has been brought to my attention by one David van Biema, writing in the May 27 issue of "Society' on MAKING A PRIEST PAY

He makes reference to 'Most Americans' being 'underwhelmed by the clergy's self-policing.'

The use of underwhelmed (often preceded by 'distinctly') is not a new joke. The Oxford English Dictionary records it from 1956.

Why was it ever thought to be funny? Probably because 'whelm' itself was felt to be a word that never occurred on its own, only prefixed by 'over'. Like flabber being the only thing that can be gasted.

'Whelm' is quite different, a perfectly respectable word, if obsolete. Keats uses it on its own. Whelm merely means 'to turn over' in a variety of senses, such as capsizing, overturning like a boat, closing like a dish cover, covering, drowning, burying with snow or earth. It appeared in an immaterial sense in a sermon in 1891, referring to Christ's whelming us with forgiveness.

The prefix 'over' does not here have the adverbial sense of 'too much' as in over-pay, over-use, over-done beef. It is possible to be under-paid, under-used, under-done. In overwhelm, over has a prepositional function, as in overhang. Of course, one can underhang as well as hang over; but you can't overmine as well as undermine.

Next time a fine journalist like van Biema tries to be funny using the word underwhelm, I trust the editorial department will replace it with a joke out of a cracker, or one that the children have brought home from school.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Des copains d'antan

Deserved ticking off by the level-eyed EZ for not looking after myself. In fact, for positively jettisoning all efforts to build up my immune system. I have no answer.
She asks have I no friends to wrestle the bottle from my hand and hurl the Dave's Light cigs out the window. I have not, and it reminds me of Lamb's remark about 'Special friends of old with whom alone one can share a particular kind of joke, and relish or deplore in an intimate way passsing events. No one else will quite do. When one loses touch with such a contemporary, an important part of yourself dies, an important part, which you value and need, is there with them, leaving one diminished, smaller, ones range of pleasures and interests suddenly contracted."

Have poncho, kick ass

To the classic Lynwood Cinema for a reshow of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly - newly remastered print with 19 minutes of restored additional footage. A good print with good sound - lots of fun.

On the big screen, the mastery of the cinematography and direction comes through. Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef (one of the great hatchet faces of our time - I kept wishing he'd make one with Chas. Bronson, RIP).

Memory Lane: Early 1967, Tours (France): I'm living with Wendy and persuade her to see this film, much hyped by brother Pete. I step up to the ticket kiosk and the lady taps the sign requiring one to be 18 yrs.

"Mais j'ai vingt-et-un ans!", I protest, having just reached that august door-key age.

Up steps a gallic PC Plod. "Papiers!" In my dinky pocketless Afghan jacket, I am not carrying them, so it's off to clinky in a Maria Noire with frantic calls to W to make her way back to rue Danton and await my call as character witness.

As usual, her stunning prettiness wins the day. Station supe wowed by la petite galloises (Welsh) and her vasty more fluent French than my back-alley 'apache' argot. After rather longer chat than I would have preferred, I am released into her custody with much finger wagging, not least over behaving "plus correctement avec une belle mademoiselle comme celle-ci".

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Atom Films

Some of my favourite shorts at this entertaining site:

Wordsmithery galore

Who is Quinion?


Odd Todd sez it all.

Florian Cloud de Bounevialle Armstrong

Fancy it being the grubby flash Sunday Mirror that gives me the lowdown on divine chantreuse. Dido: real name, the wonderfully exotic Florian Cloud de Bounevialle Armstrong; and her ex-bloke for whom she trills so mournfully on her latest album? None other than raffish record biz mogul, Ferdie Unger. Lucky bastard.

For this gem of info' alone, I'm inclined to send this URL to select pals.

Monday, January 12, 2004

The Light doesn't Get any Greener

Am i the only driver on the island who understands traffic light etiquette?

Listen: when one is first at the red light, one watches like a hawk for the green so as to move off in timely fashion so that those 4 or 5 cars back stand some chance of getting through.

Me, I take one second max from green to get going, and it doesnt require burning rubber or neck jolt - just being awake and moving.

Everyone else seems to take the green light as the sign to a) stop chatting, b) start the engine, c) look for where they put the gear lever. By which time it's amber and they're the only ones with time to actually move.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Callwave rocks.

I have one phone line and CW is an internet answering machine gizmo that lets me hear who's calling you (and gives me the message they left) while I'm on the Web. How it Works: When someone tries to call while I'm online, a small window on screen tells me a call has come in. With my speakers on, I hear a ringing and the caller is notified I'm online and that they can leave a message.

If I see they're someone I want to talk to, I click a button that tells them to hang on and I'll be with them. My web line is killed and my phone rings and I chat.
Usually it's D or A or G or S and I click the button but tonight the screen announced 'Telemarketer'. How cool is that? (And how appalling is that that I've absorbed that particular phrase?)

Ferry Furies
Revenge for my remark about the gormless babe with the gum. Leaving work early, I catch the 1640hrs ferry and look for Kelly in case she is returning to the island for tomorrow's gig.
There's a certain fascination about watching my fellow commuters striding in, heading for their usual seats, greeting pals, booting up, settling down to read. This afternoon is highly unusual for the sheer uniform unattractiveness of every single person who passes by. Almost all are familiar but I've never seen such a procession of unrelieved ugliness, not a single good looker among them (yes yes, i know - pot/kettle et tout ca), no babe or hunk punctuating the stream of truly laides.

I give in: bring back the gummy gormlessas.

Yes we have no Badge Holders

You know what I mean - anyway, you read it here first: there are none to be had anywhere in either city - those plastic badge holders. You know, insert badge/ferry tickets/bus pass, loop that band of plastic that comes with it and attach to knapsack, briefcase, puter bag. *Or*, hook to that cool ultra techie lanyard that'll announce you as one of the Lords of the Uni.

I can't find a single one in town. Safeway swear they never stocked them in the first place; Rite-Aid, equally useless; stationery shops send me to luggage shops where they stare blankly and gesture towards chi-chi racks of costly leather contraptions with gleaming buckles and costing gawd knows what.

What is going on?

Friday, January 09, 2004

Tip from D

Colour banner trick

I don't *think* Blogger allows animated gifs, but Anna loves this one:

How much is one allowed to quote of people?

The latest 'Good Experience' from the equally impressive Mark Hurst lists his usual thought-provoking ideas, of which #4 caught my eye:

"IDEA 4. Blogs are just content management systems.

2003 was the year that weblogs broke into the popular press. Presidential candidate Howard Dean owes some of his recent success to his use of blogs and other technology. Several top journalists are using blogs to augment their regular columns.

But the popular conception of blogs - as online personal journals, with the most recent diary entry at the top - is a grossly limited vision of what this technology actually provides.

Blogs are actually just an easier-to-use version of the content management system, a tool that (albeit in a harder-to-use form) has been with us for years, in many environments, with a far greater impact than the online diary. There's nothing new about blogs except that they're easier than what was there before (which, in my book, is the single most important advancement any digital technology can make).

Watch this year - oops, is this a prediction? - for blog companies to pitch their software as CMS tools, not "blogs." Perhaps they'll drop the geeky "blog" term altogether, for uses outside diaries.

-> Pointer: Check out an unlikely use of the (excellent) Moveable
system - - a personal project of mine, the archives of sermons from the church I attend. (Note that the word "blog" appears nowhere on the page.)"

Ferry Fancied : I watch admiringly a statuesque girl of 19 or so stride up the aisle, straight back, breasts to die for. She takes a table and reaches in her bag for a book. Just as I am on the point of swooning, all grace and loveliness vanishes and I watching a totally unfanciable bovine. She is chewing gum.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

A new Le Carré, by God. Just in time for my birthday, to boot, which should relieve my family from hunting around. Actually, the only hunting around will be for $$: Anna turns 13 on Jan 25 (note how smoothly that runs off my pen), G turns 20 on Feb 3, and I turn [expletive deleted] the day after, Feb 4.
Absolute Friends looks vintage JL (himself no jeune ceps at 72) - plenty of Yank bashing, I gather; doubly worth reading.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

My nervous first taps in Blogger. A popup window alerts me that 'virus spyware' has been detected. I click 'Yes' to remove and IE is whisked from under me. An omen?

I pour a sensible slug of 'Secret Santa' Rebecca's gift of a bottle of Bushmills and await that lucidity and decisiveness that will guide me thru these first ramblings.

I want it to be cheerful, but not to the point of scraping the bottom of my skull for thoughts that aren't there.

Thinks (bubble bubble):
I forget the precise wording or who it was who said: The onlyway to write is well, and how you do it is your own damn'd business.

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