Archive for April, 2005


Friday, April 22nd, 2005

After a week out of action thanks to the flu (it’s at times like this that I really wish I wasn’t the independent type and actually lived with someone, as dying of dehydration and waking up to find you’re actually blind are both experiences that really need to be shared) I finally logged on to check my email earlier this week.

I wish I hadn’t bothered… my landlady emailed to tell me they’re selling the flat and I have to move out! Argh!

I hate hate HATE moving house. It takes me weeks to pack and then months to unpack again at the other end. It’s also bloody expensive to move, and the whole process of finding somewhere really pisses me off.
For one thing, letting agents in Britain (or at least in the south of England) are hopeless. You register your details with them but you might as well not bother as they never contact you, instead insisting you contact them. They insist they only act on behalf of landlords, not tenants, which means if there’s ever a dispute then the landlord’s word is final (don’t want to fix the shower? Well that’s okay ‘cos the tenant has no rights).
Last time I looked for a flat I was appalled at the state of some of the places I saw. Some had plaster falling off the ceiling and walls, and the agent showing me round would step over it and ignore it! And while I sometimes think I’m not the tidiest person on the planet, some of these places make me look like an obsessive compulsive in the cleaning stakes.

The good news is I’ve got till the end of July to find somewhere but I don’t want to hang around as I’ve got lots to do over the summer and I don’t want to spend my month off unpacking.
I saw a flat today and it’s not actually bad. It’s quite small so I’m concerned I won’t fit all my bookcases, CDs and desk in the living room. The bedroom’s a bit bigger than the one I’ve got and there’s a cat flap out onto a back garden (overgrown but good for the cat). It seems fairly quiet but it’s just round the corner from the student halls of residence so it might not be the wisest choice for privacy!
It’s £595 a month which is quite steep, but I’m paying £600 now. Oh if it were only a little bigger I’d snap it up.

I have to say I’m tempted and I’m thinking about it but I have time to look around. (I keep meeting people who have great flats that they appear to be paying peppercorn rents for and I wish I could find one like that). I’m also tempted to live with other people, partly to save money and partly for the company but I’m 35 this year and I think that’s a little too old to be leading the flatshare lifestyle.

Part of me’s thinking this is maybe God’s way of saying it’s time to up sticks and move on. Can’t think where, though.


Sunday, April 10th, 2005

Tony Blair called a general election in the UK last week. Coverage of politics in the media pisses me off – it’s so cynical and condescending, and they treat it like a game. Most of the reports last week were used to introduce us to the presenters of the shows, and show off their fancy graphics and portable studios. In the entire first week of the campaign I heard very little from the parties themselves, and what I did hear was helpfully ‘interpreted’ for me by reporters who kept adding helpful little phrases like ‘well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ and ‘with every vote counting, people must be asking themselves how far they can trust the politicians to keep their promises’ and such like.
Bring back the days when they’d just play a recording of what people said and let us make up our own minds. The irony is that the media also likes to report apparent apathy among voters and seems to blame the politicians. Is it any wonder people don’t bother to vote when the whole thing is made out to be about as important as some inane reality TV show?

Just finished reading ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger. A fantastic book, highly recommended. I’ve had it on my shelf since it first came out and I finally got round to it last week. It quickly grabs you as you attempt to make sense of the disjointed narrative and the author carefully foreshadows events so that you figure out what’s happening at the same time as the characters. Very clever and quite a moving book.

Saw ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason’ last night – disappointing sequal to the original which was much funnier. Rene Zelwegger grates a bit.

Great line today on Malcolm in the Middle (one of the best series on TV IMHO)

“It’s not a lie if what you say would be true if the facts were different”

One to remember, I think…

The only thing that irritates me more than religious types cramming their beliefs down other people’s throats is atheists cramming theirs down them too. I’ve met more fundamentalist atheists than I have any other sort, and I can’t help thinking they’re more dangerous – when you don’t fear eternal retribution or seek salvation you’ve got nothing to lose.

My junk mail filter is great but sometimes it gets it oh so wrong. I have in the past lost money as a result of emails getting binned because they’re deemed to be pornographic. Living in Sussex doesn’t help (sus-sex, you see?): not only have I lost messages sent to me from people offering me work, but I’ve had job applications bounced back from over-zealous servers that think my address is some sort of signifier of deviance on my part.

Actually, they could be right…

Our local county council has decided to move all its in-house graphic designers from Macs to PCs to make the IT support department’s jobs easier. I always thought the job of support departments was to make other people’s jobs easier? Nice to know my taxes are being spent wisely. Only good thing to come out of it was that I made some money out of retraining some of the council’s staff last week – ironically while they were on PCs I was using my Powerbook.

April’s a funny month. Roasting one minute, freezing the next. The problem with living in a basement flat is that it takes until June for warm weather to make a difference in here. It could be boiling outside but I’d have to have the heating on inside. But thank God the clocks have gone forwards – the days seem so much longer. When it gets dark late I seem to get much more done (by which I mean I can procrastinate for longer).

Sign of Peace

Saturday, April 9th, 2005

One of the saddest things about the funeral of John Paul II yesterday was the failure of the world leaders gathered there to use the event to engage in meaningful discussion.
At one point in the service the congregation were asked to offer each other the sign of peace. On TV I saw Bush shake the hand of the head of the UN and that was about it.
Later that day the headlines proclaimed that Prince Charles committed a diplomatic gaffe by shaking the hand of Mugabe. According to aides, Charles was ‘taken by surprise’ when Mugabe offered him his hand. Was he not listening to what the Cardinal asked them to do?
And this morning, the BBC is reporting that Iran’s president is denying any contact with Israel’s. He shouldn’t be denying it happened – he should be apologising that it didn’t.

Really, was there any point in any of them being there? Was this perhaps not the best chance we ever had for Bush, Blair and Annan to wander over and shake hands publicly with the Iranians? For the British and Zimbabwean delegations to look each other in the eye and say, ‘ok, we have our differences but today, let’s acknowledge the possibility of peace’.
The turnout for the Pope’s funeral was unprecedented, not just in terms of the ‘great and the good’ but in a wider sense too. The sight of Rome, a city that’s witnessed more history than most, at a standstill and thronged with people (predominantly young people) was moving, and maybe so overpowering that it will take years before we look back and realise quite what happened in the past week. In many ways John Paul’s whole life was leading to those few hours when people of all colours, creeds and nationalities could stand in the same place and think the same things.

It’s never going to happen again, and the people we call our leaders wasted the best opportunity they would have to put a face and a voice to the name of their own personal demons. For them, the funeral was an event to be seen at, nothing else.

Shipping Forecast

Monday, April 4th, 2005

Bit of a mixed up post this one – but rather than just let it rot in the ‘drafts’ folder (where so many others are sitting unloved) I thought I’d post it anyway as it’s quite an interesting topic…

One stereotype of science fiction fans in that they are male, single and smell. It’s one of the most misrepresented subcultures out there, I think, and owes more to lazy media reporting than anything else. To give an example, 10.5 million people watched the first episode of Doctor Who in the UK last week making it the most popular non-soap that week – yet still the newspapers reported the figures as though only 5 year old kids and sad old bachelors were watching. Another example that still irritates me is the description in a Times book review of Terry Pratchett readers as being anorak wearers with B.O.
It seems people still don’t like to admit that SF can be classy, intelligent, thought provoking… and the SF outputs of HG Wells and George Orwell are conveniently classified as ‘classic fiction’ rather than ‘science fiction’ to avoid embarrassing anyone.

But ‘fandom’, which is only a small part of the following that SF has, is even more bizarre, and mixed, than anyone gives credit – though there have been a few serious analyses including a recent book on Star Trek and Doctor Who fans in particular (which I have, but haven’t yet read).

Something I wasn’t aware of until a couple of years ago was the high proportion of Doctor Who fans who are gay. It completely passed me by. There are some quite good explanations put forward for why this is the case, not least of which is the sheer after-the-event campness of the programme in the 1970s.

However, one area of fandom that I’ve been aware of but haven’t looked in to in much depth is the phenomenon of ‘shipping’ – or writing fan fiction in which characters from cult TV programmes get it together (hence shipping, from ‘relationship’). According to a post at Outpost Gallifrey this is also known as ‘slashing’ because the genres are described in terms of ‘Kirk/Spock’ (in which Captain Kirk’s lack of commitment to a relationship and Spock’s lack of interest is because they’re constantly at it behind the scenes).

It all started with Star Trek, but is widespread: Buffy marked its ‘high point’, and even Harry Potter hasn’t escaped (although I find the different slashing possibilities somewhat distasteful given the characters’ ages).
These shippers become quite loyal to their particular partnership: Star Trek Enterprise is the source of intense (and often bitter) rivalries between Archer/T’Pol and Tip/T’Pol shippers, to such an extent that I hear they are ‘physically’ separated in discussion forums because argument tend to break out.

Kirk/Spock fiction was the initial domain of what came to be known as ‘K/S Ladies’. Another type of writer is a ‘Mary-Sue’, someone who inserts themselves into a story as a character who initially represents themselves (shy, inarticulate etc) who comes out of their shell when they meet the hero (e.g. Captain Kirk). In this case there seem to be psychological reasons and therapeutic explanations.

Although there is a large amount of homoeroticism in many of these stories, this isn’t a pre-requisite. What is interesting, however, is that this particular wing of fandom is not the preserve of sad, lonely men with no sex life – it appears to be dominated by articulate and inventive women, lesbian, bi and straight.

Non-sexual fan fiction can be found everywhere and the CVs of quite a few of today’s top TV writers in the UK include substantial amounts. Some of it became quite legitimate: fan-produced Doctor Who audio plays and books have been turned into professional releases from Big Finish and the BBC, for example. JK Rowling even gave her approval to Harry Potter fans making up their own adventures and posting them online – presumably intending the blessing to apply to more innocent stories than some of those you can find if you know where to look (i.e. Google).
Writing fiction based on your favourite characters can, it seems, be a great creative spur because you don’t have to worry about inventing characters, only situations and judging from the number of unfinished novels I’ve got on my hard drive (I always get stuck just giving characters names!) I can believe how liberating it could be as an exercise.
Sadly, however, it isn’t encouraged by the snobby attitudes to such things that are held in schools – I wonder if teachers who set assignments for children to write adventures starring their favourite film or TV characters would find that even the most writing-averse kids would revel in it.

Anyway, there’s plenty of fan fiction out there – some of it is good (and the best often ends up being published) – but some of it is truly bad.
If you want to experience some of the best (i.e. ‘worst’) fan fiction try God Awful Fan Fiction.