petermorwood: (Default)
It's been a long time since the "I can’t believe it’s a Škoda" ads, as they tried to conquer an unenviable reputation, and now there's a new one. It's been out for about a week, but I've only just caught the new commercial for the hot hatchback iteration of the Škoda Fabia, and I like it (the ad, anyway. Carwise, the big Superb is more my style.)

First there was the sweetness and light car-made-of-cake ad from a couple of years back; now we've got its "darker and grittier" remake. "My Favourite Things" now has a hard-rock beat, but it would have been fun if they'd redone the lyrics while they were at it:
Gravemould on roses
And sharp fangs on kittens;
Rusting black cauldrons
And ice-cold iron mittens;
Brown paper packages
Oozing stale gore...
Let me go home!
I can’t take any more!
Though one brief shot puts that overhyped sushi knife the katana to the best use I've seen for a long time, I don't think it’s as good as the original: the CGI is OK and necessary, but the previous one used 'real stuff' (all that cakemaking was genuine) and that reality showed. If it wasn't an ad, I'd suspect a subtext about the unreality of giving Testarossaterone injections to a small family car, but maybe that's improbably subtle.

Your opinion - or mileage, appropriately for the subject - may vary... :-)
petermorwood: (Default)
Ian Fleming's story collection From a View to a Kill was published in 1960. Several of the stories – Risico, From a View to a Kill, and For Your Eyes Only originated as the outlines for a proposed CBS James Bond series. Risico places James Bond in Italy, going after the "big men" of a Communist-funded narcotics pipeline. Dinner with his contact, Signor Kristatos, sees Bond ordering
Tagliatelle Verdi with a Genoese sauce which Kristatos said was improbably concocted of basil, garlic and fir cones.
Fir cones, indeed! It's a bit surprising that Fleming had never heard of pesto alla Genovese, made with pine nuts (or pine kernels, if you prefer); Elizabeth David had brought out her book Italian Food in 1954, and Fleming himself was well-read, well travelled and had visited Italy at least once (though obviously that doesn't mean he encountered pesto...)

Getting information right seems to be something of a hiccup. I have a copy of wine-writer Cyril Ray's book In a Glass Lightly, published in 1967, where he has this to say about Fleming's wine expertise:
...Ian Fleming (who was once my immediate superior, when he was Foreign Manager for Kemsley Newspapers, and I was the Moscow correspondent of The Sunday Times) knew nothing about wine except what he was told when he rang up friends in the wine trade, and then usually got it wrong.
While visiting New York in Diamonds Are Forever, Bond again has dinner with a contact. This time it's Felix Leiter, and the venue is Sardi's restaurant, where Leiter does the ordering.
"… I've taken a chance and ordered you smoked salmon and Brizzola," said Leiter. "This is one of the best places in town for beef, and Brizzola's the best cut of that, straight cut across the bone. Roasted and then broiled. Suit you?"
When the food arrives, it's a bit of a curate's egg so far as Bond's concerned.
The smoked salmon was from Nova Scotia, and a poor substitute for the product of Scotland, but the Brizzola was all that Leiter said, so tender that Bond could cut it with a fork.
This treatment, however, is a bit of a mystery. Bond writer Raymond Benson, in The James Bond Bedside Companion describes it as a fictional invention by Fleming. One thing it certainly is not, was the only Italian form of meat with a similar name that I was able to find. Bresaola, though looking and sounding close to Brizzola, is neither roasted nor broiled but air dried and served in thin slices as an antipasto starter or snack.

This could have been on Sardi's menu along with some other beef main course, and Fleming mixed them up. He did that in several books, with food, wine and even guns (but carried off his mistakes with such verve that these are the Bondian aspects he's supposed to have been most knowledgeable about!) I suspect we're back to that fir-cone situation, where Fleming was told something he'd never heard of before, and described it in terms that seemed most familiar to him.

I'm a heathen so far as the American attitude towards steak is concerned: I like it well done, or at least well on the side of medium. This doesn't mean shoe leather, it just means I don't want my meat bleeding all over the plate. If I want blood, I'll cut myself; a rich beef jus is not blood.

At least one American I met was pretty rigid about what can and can't be done to beef. Diane and I went to dinner once with a business acquaintance who took us to "a great steakhouse," but when I requested mine "medium-well done" (or it might even have been "well-done") he actually got out of his seat and suggested, none too politely, that if I was going to ruin the meat, we should go somewhere cheaper... I was brought up to believe that it didn't matter what your guest wanted to do to their food, so long as it wasn't actively nauseating; this was your guest, and that should be enough. On that occasion, apparently not. But I wonder: might Fleming also have been taken aback by an excessively bloody piece of beef, sent it back for a bit more cooking, then adapted the whole thing into a "special?"

The Brizzola business of double-cooking made me think of that memorable dinner, not only roasting beef, but broiling it afterwards. One would think that would end up with seriously overcooked meat, but from Bond's reaction, it clearly did no such thing. More to the point, a consultation of our cookbooks – we have about 400, after the last cull – suggest that "broiling" isn't just a way to cook food, but also to finish it after another, longer cooking method. You can see the elements falling into place...

Then I encountered an Italian dish called Brasato di Manzo al Barolo, which is beef braised in (very good) red wine, then served in thick slices – tranches, to use the old term. The slices are thick enough to pass under a seriously-hot commercial broiler to produce a burnt, crunchy finish without actually cooking the slice of braised meat any further, and whether this was done to the proper recipe or not, it sounded like a feasible way for a restaurant to put its individual spin on the dish.

Besides describing unfamiliar things in familiar terms, Ian Fleming, bless his little cotton socks, had (according to at least a couple of observers) no head for drink, and as a result his "research meals" for James Bond novels were often something of a mishmash of incorrect or illegible notes. I've even seen one source suggesting that Bond's famous "shaken not stirred" Martini – which apparently contradicts the way in which every martini was made prior to that – was a result of Fleming sampling far too many martinis, getting the method wrong, and then sticking to his guns afterwards. It doesn't hurt that in his essay How to Write a Thriller he elaborates on how someone going against the grain like that makes for a more interesting character, which works for me. The only place it doesn't work is that such behaviour makes said character stand out and become memorable – both characteristics that a spy would do well to avoid.

It seemed to me that we'd found at least one likely candidate for "Brizzola." Diane had other suggestions; that it might originally have been a deliberately-underdone rib roast cut between the ribs into individual portions like really large T-bone steaks, and finished on or under a grill. Alternately, it could have been a London broil sliced and finished in the same way, which is what I did to a fine piece of rump steak the other night, for my birthday dinner.

The meat had been marinating since Monday in olive oil, red wine, red wine vinegar, oregano, cracked pepper and crushed garlic. It was then slow roasted, frequently basted with the marinade, then cut into four thick slices and whizzed under the grill. Luckily our kitchen cooker has a very enthusiastic grill, if it's allowed to preheat properly, so the end result was delicious.

And yes, you can cut it with a fork...!
petermorwood: (Default)

It's about time Prince Ivan (Tales of Old Russia #1) was available again; I keep getting asked about it!

For those interested, I've corrected the Russian - there's not much, it's a novel not a language lesson, but I had a crib. A publisher in Moscow brought it out in "pravil'no russkiy," real Russian, not dictionary crossed with phrasebook (the reviews were uniformly good, and occasionally very complimentary about how "the foreigner" handled THEIR history and folklore.)

So in exchange I did a word-hunt to make sure the bits of "local flavour" were correctly spelt. This is Very Interesting in an alien alphabet. There were a couple of nights when I was dreaming about Cyrillic (though if I'd been dreaming in Cyrillic, it would have been even stranger.)

So here you are. A story that started out with me telling the story to Diane, in a pub, with aeroplane noises. Pub? Plane noises? So what's new about that? But in a Russian folktale? It can be done. (So can a very nasty Transporter accident, but that's in Book 2.)

The Falcon swooped down, struck three times upon the ground and became a fine young man who bowed to the Princess...
turned into something like...Neeyyowww scree-scree-scree (then in a Terry-Thomas voice) "Well, hello..."

Hardly surprising that she turned it into a comic strip for The Dreamery later on. The reprint is coming out in February, with its never-before-seen sequel.

Later for that.

petermorwood: (Default)
THE SEVEN-SHOT SIX-SHOOTER
In
MEN AT ARMS

A small mystery from the files of
CSI* Ankh-Morpork
SCRVTATIO PLVS DILIGENS
(We Look Harder)

(*Not a Watch department: the Copyedit Slip-up Inspectors work for The Times)

Page numbers from first-edition 1993 Gollancz hardback.


I completely forgot to mention this to anyone during the recent UK Discworld Convention, but it's perhaps the geekiest thing I've ever done. I checked the annotations at AFP just before clicking "Post" and there's no reference to any of what follows. The Gonne's six-shot capacity is mentioned so often that the error described here is an itch I want to scratch.

(If you're interested, there was a real firearm that worked this way, called a "harmonica gun." I showed pictures to Terry at last year's Irish DWCon and he confirmed that this was indeed what he had in mind. Impressively, Josh Kirby did the back-cover illustration - compare it to the real thing - just from text description.)

[p.60] Hammerhock, the soon-to-be-late dwarf weaponsmith, remarks on the six chambers of the thing he's inspecting.

[p.116] Vimes stared at his reflection – something (1) stung his ear and smashed the glass...There was another tinkle and a half bottle of Bearhugger's exploded (2) on the desk...He hit the floor at the same time as a pock coincided with a hole (3) punched through the wall on one side of the window.

[p.117] Pock. Splinters flew up from a point on the floor (4) where it would undoubtedly have severely inconvenienced anyone lying on the boards cautiously raising a decoy helmet on a stick...Something smashed (5) into the doorframe as the door swung to behind him.

[p.122] Vimes finds a metallic object discarded on the roof of the opera house, from which the five described shots at him have been fired.

[p.126] Carrot finds that Lettice Knibbs has been shot from the same place. Though it was probably the first shot fired, I'm counting this as shot (6) to justify the empty clip (or is it a magazine?) found by Vimes.

[p.133] Vimes examines the object: It looked like a short set of Pan pipes, provided Pan was restricted to six notes, all of them the same.

[p.135] Vimes reiterates his thoughts about the six-shot nature of the weapon and recalls how the shooter got off six shots, even though only five were aimed and described as being at him. (He's obviously counting the one that killed Lettice Knibbs.)

[p.138] The distant figure raised what looked like a stick, holding it like a crossbow. And fired. The first shot (1) zinged off Cuddy's helmet... Detritus blinked. Five more shots, (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) one after the other, punctured his breastplate.

[p.251] Lord Vetinari stood up as he saw the Watch running towards him. That was why the first shot (1) went through his thigh, instead of his chest. Then Carrot cleared the door of the carriage and flung himself across the man, which is why the next shot (2) went through Carrot...A third shot (3) knocked a chip out of Detritus, who slammed into the carriage, knocking it on its side and severing the traces...Vimes slid to a halt behind the overturned carriage. Another shot (4) spanged off the cobbles near his arm.

[p.252] A shot (5) hit the carriage wheel above Vimes' head, making it spin... "We wait for one more shot," (Vimes) said. "And then we run for proper cover." Vimes visualises the gonne, once more emphasising its six-shot nature and wondering how fast it can reload.

[p.258] (Colon) didn't even look around, which saved his life. His dive for the floor and the explosion (6) of the gonne behind him happened at exactly the same time. This is the sixth shot, and from Vimes' subsequent actions, he heard it clearly.

There isn't another shot at Colon (because the gonne is empty) and instead Cruces hits him before his escape. But he has clearly reloaded by the time Vimes catches up with him.

[p.264] "Captain Vimes? One thing a good Assassin learns is—" There was a thunderous explosion, (1) and the lamp disintegrated. "—never stand near the light." Vimes hit the floor and rolled. Another shot (2) hit a foot away, and he felt the splash of cold water.

[p.266] The gun jerked and fired (3?) at the same moment as Carrot leapt sideways...The gonne fired four times. (3?, 4, 5, 6) It didn’t miss once. She hit the man heavily, knocking him backwards. Vimes rose in an explosion of spray. "Six shots! That's six shots, you bastard! I’ve got you now!"

(This is one of possibly two very distant references to the first James Bond film, Dr. No. A Bad Guy empties his revolver into a sheet-covered fake Bond. Real Bond then confronts him and orders him to drop the gun, which he does. Bond then seems to allow the Bad Guy (who thinks he's being subtle) to pick up the gun again, but this time he gets nothing but a click. Whereupon Bond says, "That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six," and shoots the Bad Guy. In fact he shoots him twice (though I've seen one TV showing where this is cut) and the second shot is a coldly deliberate 'execution' shot. This made it memorable, because examples of screen Bond being as nasty as his book counterpart are rare (deliberately not saving Bad Guys from the consequences of their own Badness doesn’t count) and I can think of only two: "I never miss" in The World is Not Enough and "Yes, considerably," in the reboot Casino Royale.)

I'm taking shot (3?) apparently at Carrot to also be the first of the four shots at Angua, making Vimes' total a correct one. He pursues Cruces and catches up as

[p.268] Cruces was lying a few feet away, fighting for breath and hammering another rack of pipes into the gonne. Vimes grapples with him and

Now we’ll start to count:

[p.268] The gonne exploded. (1)There was a tongue of red fire, a firework stink and a zing-zing noise from three walls. Something struck Vimes' helmet and zinged away towards the ceiling.

After which, Vimes has possession of the gonne...

[p.269] (Vimes) swore afterwards that he didn't pull the trigger. It moved of its own accord, pulling his finger with it. The gonne slammed into his shoulder (2) and a six-inch hole appeared in the wall by the Assassin's head, spraying him with plaster...He brought the gonne around, not aware of thinking, and let the trigger pull his finger again. (3) A large area of the door and frame became a splinter-bordered hole...Vimes managed to haul the barrel upwards just as it fired, (4) and the shot took away a lot of ceiling...Doors were opening. Doors closed again after the gonne fired again, (5) smashing a chandelier...Vimes shot the lock off, (6) kicked at the door and then fought the gonne long enough to duck.

Note that Vimes doesn't reload and, unlike Cruces after [p.264] he isn't 'off-camera' with an opportunity to do so at any time during the rest of the scene.

[p.272] Vimes drops the gonne. Fourteen lines later, Cruces picks it up. There's still no mention of reloading, but then Carrot runs Cruces through with his sword—

[p.273] And he died. The gonne fell from his hands, and fired at the floor. There was silence. (That makes 7)

Did I miscount somewhere along the line? I don't think so, but if I did – or if indeed this was an error since corrected, let me know!

One other question, and that possible second Dr. No reference: did Carrot hear and count those six shots, then – fully justified by Angua’s death – perform a Bond-style execution on another man with an empty gonne? Which then suggests, was the last shot and consequent miscount added at an editor's request, to prevent Carrot sullying his Nice reputation? (But remember that Good is not the same as Nice, and Personal is not the same as Important.)

There's only one person who can answer that, and I'm not asking, because he's got a sword too!
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You've probably seen the Star Wars = Harry Potter post, which has gone on to become an internet meme. This rather different interpretation of Star Wars is just as funny, a touch less waspish for those offended by such things, and matches my previous Votan/The Long Ships post rather nicely.

I'm two weeks late on picking it up, but with something this good, better late than never.

If you know the slightest thing about Old Norse, Viking literature or our little-known but very exciting Icelandic saga (obligatory nod to M. Python) then unless a new keyboard and monitor are at the top of your shopping list, do not have a mouthful of mead - or anything else - while reading it...
petermorwood: (Default)
Well, if you really want to know how it was I came to be chained to an oak tree, half-way up in the middle of nowhere, with wolves trying to eat me out of it, I'll tell you. Of course, it's not nearly as interesting as what happened afterwards, but you can piece that together yourself if you go down to any of the taverns around the Praetorian barracks and listen to what the soldiers sing. If you can understand German, of course. They sing things like:


High the Allfather
Hung in the hornbeam;
Nine days and no drinking,
Nine nights and no nurture...

or:

Alfege the Earl, Odin-born,
Great in guile, wise in war...

I often go down there and listen. It never crosses their minds that it was only me all the time...Interested yet...?

You should be. That's the first couple of paragraphs from Votan, a historical novel by John James about how the crafty Greek merchant Photinus tries to buy the Baltic amber mines from dimwit natives who aren't as dim as he thinks, and ends up founding a mythological pantheon instead. As one does...

It's a tongue-in-cheek, witty first-person narrative, with little side-jokes that work even better if you know anything at all about Graeco-Roman history and/or Norse mythology. And sometimes it's surprisingly harsh, when that likeable (though not very trustworthy) chap Photinus gives a jolting reminder that his voice comes from the late first century, when life is cheaper than you think.

First published by Cassell in 1966, and found by me in Lisburn library around 1969 (officially I was too young for books from the Adult Library, but I was very persuasive when it came to "Viking stuff,") Votan was issued as a Tandem paperback in 1971 (owned it, loaned it, never got it back - I wasn't the only one in my form who was keen on Viking stuff, and Parky was bigger than me.) In 1987 Bantam brought out a unified-binding paperback "set" of this and James's two other historicals, Not for all the Gold in Ireland and Men Went To Cattraeth, which are the versions I now own. They went out of print in about 1990, and after that nothing for two decades.

Until now. Well, now-and-a-bit...

In Not for all the Gold in Ireland, Photinus tries to recover his family's Deed of Monopoly to the Wicklow goldmines, and ends up far too close to an Irishman called Setanta with a dislike for cattle-rustling... I started reading the book last night, in connection with another project entirely, and noticed it and Votan were getting a bit mangy. (Men Went To Cattraeth is almost mint; no Photinus, different style, different tone, unfamiliar mythology, not for me.) I started wondering if they were easy to replace, and idly looked up the titles earlier today.

That's when I discovered Neil Gaiman is bringing Votan back into print as Volume 2 of the Neil Gaiman Presents series from Dark Horse. (Thanks, Neil! Now, what about The Long Ships?))

Comixology give a publication date of 8 July 2009, while Amazon.co.uk claims 1 August, 2009; however, the absence of any actual book to buy, and the beginning-of-this-month post on Babylon Wales suggests that it'll be available sometime early this year instead. Second-hand (hardback) copies can be found in various places for various prices, from as low as $20.00 to as high as $350.00(!) but with the new edition listed at $13.00, nothing more need be said.

Here's Jo Walton's review, from the Tor Books website. My own review would be kinder, because I don't object to the humour as much as she does, but she hits all the main points.

When it comes out, get it and read it; I think you'll like it. I certainly do, and have done, for more than forty years...
petermorwood: (Default)
BBC4, a couple of years back, broadcast Who Killed Mrs De Ropp? a dramatization of three of Saki's delicately vicious Edwardian short stories, The Storyteller, The Lumber-Room and, of course, Sredni Vashtar.

I hunted them down on the Net, not difficult since they're all PD, and saved them as a .DOC file which I've just finished re-reading. Well, not quite "just." The re-reading was ten minutes ago, because as usual after finishing Sredni Vashtar with its final line
...Conradin made himself another piece of toast...
I ended up in the kitchen, feeding slices of Stafford's Crusty Farmhouse White into the Dualit and then, buttered with much butter, into me.

Since it happens nearly every time, I wondered: has anyone else this sort of automatic response to improbable stimuli?

Not smell, that's too easy unless the scent of coffee makes you want cornflakes (not so improbable at breakfast, but after dinner rather more so) and even sound, especially something frying, can have a Pied Piper effect. However, being enticed to eat toast by the last sentence of a story almost a century old is a bit odd because – as you'll discover if you haven't read it before - Sredni Vashtar is mostly about matters more macabre than that.
petermorwood: (Default)
That word is "alive." Apparently.

I just discovered this on my website (yes, just... I really must start paying more attention to it, he said, not for the first time.)
Submitted by nickdiment on October 21, 2009 - 09:25.

Dear Mr Wormwood

I was interested to see your comments concerning my brother, Adam, on the link from Wikipedia which are, to be honest, verging on the libelous. Not that he would give a damn.

Adam was never in trouble with the Treasury. This is an accusation whipped up, we can only imagine, by the only person who might stand to gain in the unlikely event of McAlpine ever coming to the screen.

Succumbed to drugs! Really, why do you make this sort of guff up? Adam is well and lives in Kent.

Personally I think his books are crap and have not stood the test of time at all well. But then I'm not a author so what would I know?

Sincerely - Nicholas Diment
That's an interesting misspelling of my surname: shades of The Screwtape Letters and The Eiger Sanction, though not a major character in either.

The comment refers to my post last year (indeed linked on the Adam Diment Wikipedia page,) posted about a week before this follow-up.

Tonight I've taken another look at the entry on Another Nickel in the Machine; there are more comments since the last time, one that he's living in the Far East (which contradicts "Nicholas Diment", though Kent does get several mentions, so which of these authorities on Diment's whereabouts is the right one?) and a couple referring to marriage and children.

Getting away from the personal stuff to a topic I find more interesting, there are also suggestions about how to bring the books back through Print On Demand. This would be just the ticket, if the rights can get sorted out, because a lot of people besides myself seem to think they're not crap at all: here's one who not only enjoys them, but explains why. If PoD does happen, I'll definitely buy a set: my paperbacks are now better described as tatterbacks, and books don't get that way by being ignored.
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...The Irish one this time, and just as good in its own way as the USDWCon at the beginning of September. One was big, the other was small; one was far away, the other was relatively speaking in our own back yard, one was hot and dry, the other was intermittently but impressively - Hollywood special effects impressively - wet.

And then the sun would come out :-)

D and I had a great time - including one especial benefit, being able to sit and speak to Terry for the first time in too long. We didn't have any opportunity to chat with him at all during the Tempe convention, so really enjoyed being able to just talk: about knightly things like spurs (we gave him a pair, since HM didn't) and swords (he's making one, since HM overlooked that, too) and the leverage being a Sir can give against the more annoyingly petty bureaucracies; about writery things like DragonDictate, which can now be trained to recognise the vocabulary of a complete backlist; and about stuff we weren't allowed to mention till the banquet - the Scottish BAFTA award for Living With Alzheimer's. I'm happy the documentary won, but at the same time I wish it had never needed made.

We had the chance for a natter with Jack Cohen and Bernard Pearson as well. Jack is as wise as ever, and added some interesting comments to our impromptu, five-minutes-warning Folklore panel (the original panellist didn't show) that gave people second thoughts about having furry slippers in their bedrooms, never mind on their feet. Bernard is his usual ebullient self - has anyone ever thought of bottling that man's laugh as an anti-depressant? If an audible dictionary needs to define guffaw, that's what to use.

Much beer was consumed over the weekend (of course) and I'm not the only one to think that Sir T. Pratchett, all in black with a white beard, looked very well matched by the pint of Guinness in his hand. He also seemed very at ease, so much so that he decided to extend his stay at the hotel. And There Was Much Rejoicing.

We weren't the only ones who got plenty of Terry-time beyond the programme items (where there were a few moved or cancelled events, but nothing earthshaking that a glance at the Voodoo Board couldn't fix.) The Falls Hotel and the convention numbers were both cosy enough that he was able to sit in one place and let the con come to him - which it did, with great enthusiasm. As he said at the closing ceremony, IDWCon gave him fond recollections of other early conventions, and he even used the word "relaxacon."

Though fortunately not the word "custard." :-D
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...but not much more. A bit like candy-floss or cotton-candy – there's not much substance and I wouldn't like to over-indulge. Britain’s Real Monarch is an example. It's been on before, but last night was the first time I've actually watched it with any care. After it was over, I realized why...

The premise put forward by Tony Robinson (Blackadder's Baldrick, and Time Team's long-time presenter) is that Edward IV, King of England near the end of the Wars of the Roses, was illegitimate, thus not "the real King." Because of this, the present royal descent through his daughter Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII, is also "not real" and the genuine Monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and its Commonwealth is a chap living in Australia. It's an amusing theory, but I can't see Elizabeth II vacating Buckingham Palace on the strength of something with enough holes in it to drive several coronation coaches through without touching the sides.

The right-to-rule of medieval monarchs had as much to do with who had the biggest army and the most support, as it did with what side of the blanket he was born. It didn't concern William I very much: he was known as The Bastard before he was The Conqueror, and by all accounts continued to be a right bastard afterwards. Like William and Edward, Henry VII gained the crown by force of arms; in fact his very dodgy claim to the throne (he was descended from Edward III by an extremely distant illegitimate line) was also straightforwardly based on de jure belli: the right of conquest.

He was a Lancastrian, and his marriage to Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth, a Yorkist, was a peacemaking gesture, a demonstration that the old wars were over, not something to make his own claim to the throne any more secure. After all, he was already sitting on it, the previous occupant had died in open battle, and he had the support of any number of important nobles who were just happy that the country seemed to be stable again.

Incidentally, Elizabeth herself had been declared illegitimate a few years earlier, during the same business that removed her brother Edward V in favour of Richard III. If Elizabeth was re-legitimized to make her a suitable wife for the new King Henry, it also applied to young Edward. Just as well for Henry that the lad and his young brother were both dead, murdered in the Tower by their wicked uncle Richard. He must have been really, really certain of that, because otherwise reversing the illegitimacy in order to marry Elizabeth would have put Edward V back on the throne. Given that their deaths never had solid proof, just gossip and rumour, I’ve often wondered how Henry knew for sure...

(Which prompts another documentary idea, based on Josephine Tey's 1951 novel The Daughter of Time - thoroughly dated, but a fun read for all that. It would show how Richard III was innocent of his most famous crime, how Henry VII was the actual murderer of the "Princes in the Tower" and how the commonest proofs of Richard's guilt – Shakespeare's play and Thomas More's "history" – were propaganda fabrications. Processed footage of re-enactor groups, sound-bites from favourable historians, judicious editing of anything else (I wonder if it's possible to edit something said by Alison Weir so it had a pro-Richard slant? Now that would be a challenge...) and there you go. In terms of accuracy, just the ticket for Histovery Channel - or, from the look of Britain’s Real Monarch, Channel 4.)

Robinson's show claims that the "real" Royal line of England descends through Margaret Pole, daughter of Edward's brother George, the Duke of Clarence who, "it is said" (or "according to legend" – two phrases common in this sort of documentary before a recitation of dodgy factoids) was famously drowned in a butt of wine. Never mind the method, he was definitely executed for High Treason, and the Bill of Attainder that comes with a treason verdict barred his descendants from the succession. That's just the succession to his noble title – it went double for any hope of succeeding to the throne. There’s no mention if that Attainder was ever reversed, but a potential threat that was merely barred from the succession was never enough for a Tudor monarch. Margaret's brother, the last legitimate male Yorkist heir, was beheaded at the orders of Henry VII, and his son Henry VIII cleaned up the last loose end by doing the same to her.

The documentary also ignores other blips that mean "descent by Blood Royal" is hypothetical at best. When the last crowned Tudor died, she was replaced by a Stuart from Scotland; when the last crowned Stuart's religious views became a problem, he was replaced by an Orange from Holland. When the Orange produced no seedlings, and his successor Queen Anne left little but furniture, the German state of Hanover supplied the next King of England. Despite some dilution over the years, the Royal Family got a new injection of German genes when Albert von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha married Victoria, and has remained quite German ever since. Diplomatic name-changes at the start of the 20th century didn't mean a thing. Calling a Battenburg a Mountbatten or a Saxe-Coburg a Windsor is like deeming a cat to be a firearm. It’s just a convenient label.

Which means that two World Wars – the first one in particular – began as something of a family squabble. Not much change from the Wars of the Roses, then. Better to stay in Australia.
petermorwood: (Default)
It's been a year (to the day!) since anyone posted a comment here.

Last time I thought to check on Diment information, I read a suggestion that he had settled in "rural England." Since his family were in farming (as were his hero Philip McAlpine's: certainly Think Inc. Chapter 2 hints at a rural background) I thought nothing more of it.

But now this:
Adam, now 66, is happy and well and living life to the full in far off places.
It's the only thing so far posted from an LJ account opened just today, an extract from a slightly fuller version of the same thing on the "Nickel" post shown below. According to the LJ Profile the poster is located in Thailand, so "far off places" indeed!

I wonder who [livejournal.com profile] huchi really is...

My immediate response was to put "Adam Diment" into Google in case there was anything more than the sparse information of last year. Not much more information, admittedly, but since January 11 of this year Diment at least has a Wikipedia entry (which lists this blog as one of its few external links...)

It also needs to link this, which fleshes out the rather skeletal information in my own post last year. Posted on August 1, I'm coming to it a bit late, but better later than never. The article includes photos which I've seen before - Philip McAlpine was Diment's Marty Stu, no doubt about it, and the one where he's in bed with a girl and a "Schmeisser" submachine-gun is an incident (and a paperback cover) from The Dolly Dolly Spy.

There are also facsimiles of two anonymous letters tipping off the Bank of England's Exchange Control Department about the currency swindle I mentioned. It's interesting that the typeface looks like both letters came from the same machine, and thus the same person - so was the swindle real and being reported by a "concerned citizen," or was it something more malicious? I find these more unpleasant than the two quoted examples of "sexism in writing," which (IMO, YMMV) are just the usual observations of a young man who appreciates good-looking girls with not much on. (There are entire industries based on that sort of appreciation...)

The comments include reminiscences from people who actually knew the man and confirm, unless you want to disbelieve them, that he was real, not a pseudonym or house-name. I've heard that before, and never gave it much credence for a reason obvious if you think about it. If "Adam Diment" was the house-name author for an ongoing series of Swinging-London spy thrillers, the series - still successful at the time, I believe - wouldn't have stopped so abruptly with Think Inc., especially with such an obvious hook for a sequel. The publisher would have assigned another writer to produce the next "Adam Diment" book at once.

If there really was a big fuss about his disappearance in 1971, then one comment's opinion that it was just a publicity stunt might bear consideration, but my memory (I was 15 at the time and may have missed something) was that Diment just stopped writing. After a couple more years I concluded there would be no more McAlpine books, and that was that. I just remain curious as to why.

As for A Nickel in the Machine, I didn't know it existed until today: a fascinating blog about the social history of 20th-century London. After seeing the Diment entry, and others which mention "Brilliant" Chang (see Watson's Snobbery With Violence) and that eerie, melancholy film The London Nobody Knows, I think it's something I'll enjoy.
petermorwood: (Default)
BBC-4 is currently running their Electronic Revolution season of documentaries (and the drama Micro Men) about design and technology development over the past 40-odd years: interesting, sometimes fascinating, and occasionally able to make a viewer (me!) feel really old!

Take Upgrade Me, for instance, where writer, poet and gadget-fan Simon Armitage is trying to understand why the camera, phone, MP3 player and/or laptop you bought in February and still works perfectly is now not only out of date, but why your life won't be complete until you've replaced it with a new one. (He doesn't come up with an answer, by the way, apart from the obvious ad manipulation and Need to Shift Product.)

During the show he presented a class of tech-savvy (or at least gadget-canny, as in owning all the usual stuff and knowing newer is better, never mind why) 12-year-olds with a 1960s-era portable record-player, to see what they made of it. I wonder if he expecting the result - which was that they didn't even know what it was...

"Is it the first-ever portable computer?" asked one. Good guess: it looked a bit like Diane's ancient Osborne 1, but I'd have thought 21st-century British schoolkids, or late 20th-century ones, come to that, would have seen even fewer luggable computers than record-players.

"Is it a radio you sit on?" ventured another: again, fair enough, because like the one my parents had (and which was still in Mum's sitting-room last time I saw it, a couple of years back) this had a padded vinyl leatherette lid. Once that lid was opened and they could see the turntable, things became clearer since DJs still use turntables - but I think the record-stack changer still baffled them a bit.

It made me wonder: do sound effects (SFX now, but long ago, GRAMS) still use clichéd audio shorthand even though the listeners increasingly don't know what those sounds mean any more?

You've all heard them: the screech of a needle pulled across a record as inappropriate speech or music comes to an abrupt stop; the windinng dowwwn noiiizzzze of an unpowered turntable as a drug or time dilation takes effect; the tick "a few words" tick "a few words" tick "a few words" of a broken record after a character forgets something or has been hit on the head...

Does anyone still say "You're like a broken record" if you repeat something too many times? "You were vaccinated with a gramophone needle" if you talk too much?

Or will anyone saying that get "What's a broken record?" back at them, or "What's a gramophone needle?" - or even "What's vaccination?"
petermorwood: (Default)
I read Ken Rockwell’s photography web site on a regular basis, and smile (or occasionally growl) at the vehemence and occasional insularity of his opinions. If Rockwell doesn’t like a piece of camera gear he says so - but he also says why, which counts for a lot more; however, saying so repeatedly is a bit of a vice (which I recognise, being prone to it myself.) He'll witter on and on like a dog with a particularly recalcitrant bone; I got it about the overpriced Nikon D3x after the first three times, and don't need all the rest...

However, if he does like something, he’s just as enthusiastic, and it was that enthusiasm which pointed us in the right direction for our own current camera, a Canon SD870 IS – that’s the SD880 in the US, or was: it’s been discontinued. Shelf life, about ten months. Given the way they come in and go out of production, there must be landfills devoted to nothing but out-of-date digicams… However, if you’re looking for a new camera (and are partial to Nikon DSLRs or something from the latest crop of Canon compacts – there’s nowt else but Leicas) check his recommendations.

He’s fallen in love with Leica (can't blame him) and has been lavishing glowing praise on the new Leica M9 digital rangefinder, which is certainly a smashing-looking piece of kit - but then, the earlier Leica attempts at digital looked just as good, but didn't cut the mustard when it came to actually taking pictures. I'm going to be interested in the first full reviews, because I've had a thing for rangefinder cameras since I was at school: they have the same 1930s retro charm as fountain pens, typewriters, the good Indiana Jones movies and the Crimson Skies computer game of blessed memory, and for all its 21st-century interior, the new one has that charm in spades.

Trouble is, it also has Leica’s one big flaw: price. The M9 camera body is $7,000 as near as makes no difference; the lenses start at almost three grand a pop and go up from there. Even the flashgun costs nearly $700. I haven’t bothered with prices in Euro or Sterling, they’d just give me a headache, but a basic system from brand new (body with wide, standard, and telephoto lens, flashgun, memory card and case - one built like Fort Knox, to protect that particular investment) won’t leave much change from $16,000. Sixteen. Thousand. A one, a six and three zeroes. Ouch.

It’s just as well that used Leica lenses from as far back as the dawn of time are all over the place, that they all fit (with an adapter if necessary) even the newest Leica bodies, and that some of the older, cheaper ones are supposed to be as good as, or better than, the shiny new stuff. Careful (and lucky) eBay shopping can cut the price of lenses right down - Rockwell writes about how he scored a full Leica system for about $4000 that way - however, it was a film system, not a digital one, and that $7,000 tag for the M9 remains an unavoidable expense for would-be digital Leica users.

Maybe one day, if I win the lottery or sell a movie, I’ll do more than just think about it, but right now I can’t see me ever taking enough photos to justify that sort of outlay. But somewhere west of Laramie there's a zoom-lensed, flash-fitted Nikon DSLR that's got my name on it - and I plan to give it a home before Christmas.

In the meanwhile, window-shopping costs nothing, and the one with the Leica digital in it will be wearing my nose-prints for quite a while.
petermorwood: (Default)
I almost didn't write a post about the North American Discworld Con in Tempe at all, I was so late in getting around to it; after all (he thought) others will have done it sooner, better, more enthusiastically...

Then, reading someone else's con report, I saw the comment that provides this post's title and did a slow burn. Not that slow, either. In answer to such a question, I had to say, somewhere, "Hell, yeah!"

All right, Diane and I were invited guests - I blogged about that nearly two years ago - but after having to pull out of the 2008 UK Discworld con thanks to a last-minute deadline we couldn't sidestep (and we tried, oh how we tried) I think we'd have done our damnedest to go to the NA one in any case. We're certainly going to the UK 2010 and deadlines be buggered.

This is not to disparage Dragon*Con in any way, and certainly not the snotty way my title poster dissed Discworld (there's some sort of wordplay in there, probably a bad pun.) For one thing there were a lot of friends whom we haven't seen for years - but multiple streams were less attractive than a single-focus con, especially since Terry's Discworld novels are the only fiction I always buy in hardback - the collapse of Mort into a loose-leaf folder proved that paperbacks just weren't sturdy enough for that much repeated reading.

What a sad wanker individual, I can hear Mr Title Poster thinking (not from censorship either, but because as an American he probably wouldn't know how to use "wanker" properly...) Yeah, maybe. But I know what I like, and a con of (checks Dragon*Con's Wikipedia entry) 30,000-plus members is way too big to be fun, at least for me. I'm not enochlophobic by any means and I'd attend a convention of that size as business, but not on my own nickel; I prefer to meet my friends in smaller groups.

The NA Discworld con was what I do go to cons for: big enough to be impressive, small enough to be fun, people I already knew, people I hadn't met until then, a subject I enjoy - and with an extra bonus: sunshine. Lots of sunshine. Diane calculated that by the time we left for the convention at the beginning of September, it had rained in our part of Ireland for some part of every day since mid-June. There were a bunch of American lady tourists on the plane who were wittering on and on about how green Ireland was. Yes, and we knew why. When it goes beyond verdant into verdigris, it stops being so attractive. Even the cats were starting to rust.

I should shut up about rain or lack of it at this point: the next con Diane and I are going to is another DWCon, but this one is in the West of Ireland (Ireland's first DWCon, in fact, just as Tempe was the first in the USA) and if they can lay on sunny weather in November, I for one will be most impressed.

And will wonder, rather nervously, how they did it.
petermorwood: (Default)
McDonalds (the hamburger people, though you'd be hard put to tell until the end) are running a TV ad at the minute showing little kids having a grand old time on a farm in the sunny countryside. It's accompanied by that jolly old song "We're busy doing nothing" from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Until the final few seconds, there isn't an adult in sight, so the kids are at liberty to romp around unsupervised and wreck the joint enjoy themselves.

It reminded me of an entirely different ad I saw when I was about 12 (not the infamous Public Information Film Apaches, BTW - I'm too old for that one.) "Farms aren't playgrounds," was the message, and long, low-angled black-and-white shots of the hooks and blades of massive farm equipment hinted at how easily they could rip and smash you all over or deep into the topsoil of the neighbouring half-acre.

I had nightmares for ages; not because it was especially graphic, but because at that time the family took occasional weekend breaks on my Uncle Matt's farm outside Lurgan. After seeing the ad, I knew what was waiting in the shadows of the barn, just for me...

So I reworked the lyrics a bit.
We're busy doing nothing,
Playing around the farm,
Quite unaware these machines can do us harm.
We're pulling all the levers
On the harvester in the shed,
Where Mum and Dad can't see us, so...
We're likely to end up dead!
If Emergency Services can't find all the bits after a trip through the muck-spreader, at least there's some corner of a rural field that is forever little Tommy, or Helen, or Sam, or Babs, or... Yeah. Very comforting.

Have fun down on the farm - and enjoy your Big Mac sensibly.
petermorwood: (Default)
On a happier note than the past couple of posts...

I like chilli, and the Fourth of July seemed like a good reason to make one (as if I need an excuse!) Diane asked me to produce something a bit different, so after a rummage in the store-cupboard to find what was there, I put a couple of less common chilies in the oven - they were already "dried," but an extra half-hour at 100C/200F made them easier to grind - then whizzed them to powder in the electric coffee spice mill.

(We have two, one for spices, the other for (gasp) coffee, and we've only ever mixed them up once - of course after grinding a couple of smoked habanero chilies and forgetting to clean up properly. The resulting coffee was hot in a whole new way. That was the day we decided the two mills did need labels after all...)

I also dried and ground fresh oregano from the herb-patch, then toasted whole cumin seeds in a dry pan and ground them too. To be honest, this was because we’d run out of ground cumin, but the toasted home-ground stuff tastes even better and I'll bear it in mind for the future.

Rather than the usual minced (ground) beef, I used stewing meat from our local craft butcher. This is sold in quite big chunks, so I cut them much smaller; a fiddly task, but worth it, because the texture is deliciously different to the usual version made with hamburger mince.

All measurements are approximate, all times are vague.

One kilo / 2 pounds stewing beef, chopped to 5 mm / 1/4 inch dice
4 onions, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoonful ground black pepper
1 tablespoonful ground pasilla chili
1 tablespoonful ground New Mexico Green chili
3 teaspoonfuls ground cumin
2 teaspoonfuls dry oregano
500 ml / 1 pint beef stock
2 tins chopped tomatoes, crushed or passed through a colander to remove chunks
2 tins kidney beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
oil or fat for frying

No salt is required: I made the stock from a Knorr "Stockpot" (as plugged over here by Marco Pierre White) - better than a cube, but still with salt as its second ingredient (after water... Yes. Quite.) Remember that tinned beans are also packed in salted water. Home-made beef stock and soaked dried beans are another matter, but I'd still taste first and salt second.

Put about two teaspoonfuls of oil or fat in a frying pan and gently fry the onions and garlic, stirring often, until soft and golden.

Meanwhile put two teaspoonfuls of oil or fat in a large casserole and gently fry the beef, stirring often, until all the red has gone; Michael McClaughlin, in the Manhattan Chili Co. Cookbook, says "until grey," which sounds a bit yuck, but he means Don't brown the beef: it gives a grilled-burger taste that doesn't work in chili and it seals in juices that should be allowed to get out and play with the other flavours.

Add the onion/garlic mixture to the beef, then all the dry ingredients, and stir together over low heat for 5 minutes.

Add the stock and tomatoes, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook, uncovered, for 2-3 hours, until the meat becomes really tender and the chili has thickened. Stir frequently, and watch out for sticking. There should be no need to add extra liquid, but if so, do it only in small amounts.

If you're adding beans, then check the tenderness of the meat and add them about 1/2 an hour before the chili's likely to be done.

Serve it with rice, tortillas, hominy, pasta or even crumbled crackers. The flavour is complex but quite mild; there's no more burn than Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, which is my yardstick for nervous folk who want to know "How hot is it really?"

This makes enough for about six people. Since there's only us, we were able to leave a lot of it overnight for the flavours to mature and get friendly with each other. Like curries, goulashes and other spiced stews, it's even better the next day. Yesterday’s was good, today's is amazing.
petermorwood: (Default)
Beemer's Grave


Thanks to everyone for their sympathy, and in particular for understanding how we feel.

I've been through times like this before, and the response "It was just a cat..." even from my own dear Mum (just once) can provoke an unfortunate reaction. A small life that's been part of ours for 24/7/365/several years is never "just" anything.

Squeak and Goodman are our eldest cats, and it's now we really want the magic thirty seconds when they understand what you're saying. You know what I mean: "It's all right, we'll be back tomorrow;" or "these people will take care of you for a while, and then we'll all go home again," or "this will hurt, but you'll feel better soon..."

Or, right now, "She's gone away for ever, please stop looking..."
petermorwood: (Default)
It's been more than six months since my last post, and I suppose this one is a Last Post of another sort.

On Saturday 13th June at about 6 p.m., Beemer was hit and killed by a car, on the same 10-metre stretch of road that has already claimed Bubble and Pip.

By 8 p.m. we were wondering why she was late for dinner. Then I glanced out of the upstairs window and saw something black-and-white lying on the verge just beyond our gate. Like the last two times, it happened that close to the house. No more than the width of a broad country lane from home and safety. All the way down the three-at-a-time stairs and out of the house I hoped it was just a piece of windblown paper. I should have known better. Our luck hasn’t been that good for months.

Beemer on the mailbox


Beemer was stretched out in the warm June evening as if she was asleep. Yes, it’s a cliché, but we have photos of her snoozing in that same pose. She wasn't even dirty, so her white bib and boots and mittens were as neat as ever. When I lifted her, she had the same clean scent of fresh laundry she always picked up when she was out in the open air. But she wasn't sleeping this time. Her fur was still soft, but her body was already stiff.

It’s been just two days since the accident happened, and the house feels very strange. She was such a quiet little thing that we often didn't know if she was in or out, yet there are empty places and odd silences all over. No tiny demure mew requesting food, or milk, or attention, or a lap to sit on. No rustle of paper from the box where she slept in my office. Two mornings without the tickle of whiskers and insistent head-bump that meant someone (usually Diane) should get out of bed and open a can of breakfast. Two nights without a small body edging onto the lounger around midnight, which is when Beems decided it belonged to her...

She would snuggle on that chair with Squeak because, even though they were both neutered, as senior male and female they were the top mates of our little pride. It's sad to watch him peering under the sofa where she used to hide when she’d had enough playing, and sadder still to see him sitting by the gate, waiting for her to come home. We let Squeak and Goodman examine her body, and – we’ve seen it too many times, because they’ve now outlived four companions – both seemed aware that this might look and smell like Beemer, but what made it her wasn't there any more. I think they know she won’t be back. They just won’t accept it yet.

But at least we know. We didn’t have to hunt up and down into nightfall, calling without an answer. We’ll have no days of wondering what really happened. Most of all, we won't have an ugly mess as a bad last memory of our kitty. I dug her grave in the shade of the big hawthorn tree, alongside Kasha and Lilith and Bubble and Pip. Then we wrapped her in the cover of her favourite cushion, laid her in her last bed, covered her up and came away.

Beemer got her name from the car we’d rented to deal with errands before heading out to CONvergence in 2002. We’d collected our plane tickets and were on our way home, but stopped when we saw what seemed to be (and was) an abandoned kitten at the roadside. We adopted her – or she adopted us, we were never quite sure – and gave her a longer and I hope happier life than if we’d kept on driving. Now that life is over.

Diane said it best; "We found her by the road, and we lost her by the road." For the seven years in between, she was our friend. Now she’s with the friends who’ve gone before. Sleep well, Beems. We miss you.
petermorwood: (Default)
Whatever tinkering has been inflicted on the visuals and the characters of Star Wars, the music has been pretty much left alone. I've heard Darth Vader's version of "Whistle While You Work Oppress" played by orchestra, by military band, and by synthesizer - but never before quite like this.

YMMV, but I loved it!
petermorwood: (Default)
[sarcasm/on]

...In this sequence is to ban cars completely. Oh, and the TV show Top Gear too, as an accessory before the fact. After all, if viewing pornography encourages sexual misbehaviour, then obviously a programme which celebrates extreme driving and impatience with other road users must have a similar effect.

Since fully-licensed, fully-taxed, fully-registered handguns in private hands killed far more people each year than cars ever did, banning legally-held handguns from the UK eliminated gun crime completely...

Didn't it?

[sarcasm/off]

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