Archive for February 2007

The Knives Are Out

February 28, 2007

knife.jpg If you live in Scotland, there’s plenty to be happy about. Unfortunately, you’re also more likely to meet your untimely demise at the end of a knife than any of your chums living elsewhere in the developed world. It’s a dubious honour to say the least, and hardly one over which to crack open the Buckfast.

Happily, times they are a’changing. At least according to the anti-knife propaganda posters on buses. I don’t know if you’ve seen these, but they tend to feature an immense close-up of some doe-eyed moppet, with the accompanying text explaining how he’s got a better chance than we do. But I wonder whether they’re trying to sneak past our rational faculties with their emotive message?

They’ve taken a load of knives off the street‘. That’s excellent. Provided that no new ones are arriving. They are? Oh. Still, amnesties seem like a good idea. There’s always good news footage to be obtained when it’s time for a burly copper to empty the bin. Some cheeky so-and-so will always put a spoon in there. You watch carefully next time. What amnesties don’t seem to do, sadly, is reduce knife crime. But it’s the thought that counts.

I’ll make sure my wee brother never carries a knife. I don’t want him to look like me [with a big fat scar] by the time he’s 17‘. What he’s forgotten here is that most scars are caused by other people’s knives. What’s he going to do about those?

They can lock you up for longer too‘. Then they’ll need to build more jails, or let some folk out to make space. We’re full to bursting in there.

I’m all for trying to solve this problem. I tend to assume that most people don’t want to be stabbed. There isn’t an easy solution, but there seems to be an awful lot of emotional rhetoric to make up for it, not all of it strictly sensible. But perhaps ‘hard-hitting’ campaigns are the best we can do. Hopefully, the message will eventually seep through that stabbing others isn’t very nice.

Culture change is possible (look at drink-driving) but it takes an achingly long time. In the meantime, I’ll probably just stay indoors.

Going Uphill

February 27, 2007

I’ve just got back from a nice weekend chez the in-laws. They live in a nice rural spot to the north of Dundee, so I thought it would be nice to sample the delights of the Great Outdoors (pictured).

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Feeling (as I periodically do) the grate of civilisation, I decided to walk to a spot where I could no longer see any evidence of human existence. This is harder than you might expect. Even in the countryside, there are plenty of pylons and crisp packets around to destroy the illusion that you are in the wilderness. Luckily, however, I found myself in the middle of a pea-souper, which brought the desired radius of untainted nature down to a mere ten metres.

One imagines all sorts of interesting encounters when setting off on an expedition like this. Perhaps I would meet a country laird, all tweed and deerstalker, who could be persuaded to pass the time lamenting the passing of the Good Times, his battered spaniel waiting at his wellied feet. Alternatively, there might be an encounter with some interesting wildlife; perhaps I would meet a stag, a Monarch of the Glen, and we would eye each other with mutual, solemn respect. Maybe I might find another urban spit-out blundering around in the mist, and we could share a thought or two about the inexorable concrete progress going on down below.

I got to the top of the hill and, frankly, there wasn’t much there. Lots of mist. A pile of stones. A crisp packet.

Went home. Watched telly.

When Psychologists Go To Space

February 26, 2007

clooney.jpg Now and again, a film will appear at the multiplexes, get poo-pooed, and vanish into oblivion. Most of such films are deserving of their subsequent obscurity. Now and again though, a real corker will slip through. During one of my recent rummages in charity shop VHS stocks, I unearthed one such disregarded gem: Solaris.

I’d heard of this, but never felt any particular urge to watch it. I don’t remember any fuss about it when it came out. But the critic quotes on the back cover hailed it as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, a likely cult classic for decades to come. How did this film ever slip through the fine mesh of my cultural awareness?

A brief glance suggests that this is a simple popcorn film. It certainly ticks the ‘George Clooney‘ and ‘space ship’ boxes, but those hoping for an all-out blockbuster might be disappointed. No wonder it bombed at the multiplexes (assuming, of course, that it did). This is arthouse all the way.

In an admittedly unlikely set-up, Clooney plays a psychologist sent to investigate the strange goings-on aboard a space-station orbiting the mysterious planet Solaris. Once there, he is visited by his dead wife, very much alive and well. Understandably, this throws up all manner of emotional, moral and metaphysical quandaries.

Comparisons have been reasonably drawn to Sphere (the psychologist goes underwater, rather than into space) and Event Horizon, but I think Solaris is better than both (possibly combined). It’s a slow burner, with the narrative about the rise and fall of Chris and Rheya’s earthly marriage spliced into all the space stuff in such a way as the two strands become blurred together. Like an Eternal Sunshine laced with a good dash of 2001.

A most rewarding watch, this one. Stay tuned for other forgotten treasures from the bargain bucket.

Thinking CAP

February 25, 2007

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 I will set before my eyes no vile thing (Psalm 101:3)

Do any of you people read Empire magazine? If you do, you may know that they release a little book of film trivia every year or so, which they obligingly bundle up with their magazine. I think we’re about due another one, but I wonder if I could share some thoughts about an item from last year’s edition?

They compiled an interesting list of the least Godly films of all time based on ratings from the Childcare Action Project (CAP), an evangelical Christian organisation devoted to the study of contemporary culture in America.

There were some interesting entries. The likes of Jackass (recorded as ‘Jacka’ on the site to avoid any offensive connotations) we might understand. Basic was included in the list, but to my eye is more rubbish than morally odious. The one that really took me by surprise was Matilda: it was unrated because the reviewer could not watch it to the end, so overpowering was the torrent of moral squalor exuding from the film.

Now I’ve not seen it, but isn’t this an adaptation of a Roald Dahl children’s story? As I recall, it’s a light-hearted fantasy about a little girl who learns to move things around by the power of thought.

According to the review, ‘adolescent revenge by supernatural powers ran rampant’ in the film, which as a whole was labeled ‘child abuse from the entertainment media’.

I’m not sure what I make of this. I do believe that everyone (Christian or otherwise) should be discerning about what they watch. But is there no room for fantasy? Do Christians feel the same about all the magic and witchcraft in the Narnia books which, after all, practically constitute a gospel sermon? CAP certainly do, accusing C. S. Lewis of adding ‘a brushstroke or two to the painting of paganization of children’s culture’. Gulp!

Even films I consider quite innocuous will usually fall foul of the CAP criteria somewhere. What about Toy Story? Its moral shortcomings include a ‘somewhat graphic fall with no consequences’, which scores a hit in the Wanton Violence / Crime category. And who could forget that instance of Impudence / Hate when one character takes ‘off its lips to kiss its own backside to express opinion of another’? And that’s before we even get to the Sexual Immorality of ‘bare skin female legs’.

For me, the message of a film is a much more important index of its spiritual (or moral) worth than the number of swear words or thrown punches depicted. The context of any ‘Godlessness’ is what really matters. For this reason, I would rather watch a more graphic film with something important to say than some morally redundant rom-com. And I’d still prefer to think of young children watching Matilda (unrated) rather than Trainspotting (31/100).

Daisy, Daisy

February 24, 2007

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A recent trip to the local shopping centre brought to mind a post I intended to write, but never did. Perhaps this is the time.

Not long after Christmas, I accompanied Mrs H into La Senza. For those not in the know, La Senza is basically your one-stop shop for feminine nether-garments emblazoned with good-natured innuendoes. For me, it’s the sort of place where time grinds to a halt and I can experience hitherto undreamt-of levels of embarrassment.

As you wander around a shop like this, you will be surrounded by posters from which various semi-nude females will tower, Godzilla-like, over you. As a man accompanied by your better half, you must attempt to ignore these.

It was in this setting that something unusual caught my eye – nipple daisies. Thinking they were something mildly subversive to plant in one’s garden, I had a little look. It turned out that they were something for our female friends to wear under ‘sheer-fitting’ garments in order that they are not, um, apparent to the outside world on cold days.

It was then I heard a voice at my elbow: ‘can I help you, sir?’

It was a very helpful (or perhaps slightly uneasy) shop girl, who had sidled up to my side undetected. I tried to formulate a nonchalant response. This is quite difficult when you are in the middle of La Senza with a packet of nipple daisies in your hand.

‘Um. I’m OK, thanks. Just waiting for…’ and I indicated to the empty space on my left, that had until recently been occupied by Mrs H. It was then I noticed her waiting on a bench outside the shop. Evidently, some time had passed.

I hastily returned said daisies to their spot, and beat a hasty exit. I probably won’t go in there again. They’ve probably got my CCTV image on posters under the counter.

A Visit to Nowheresville

February 23, 2007

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Remember when I was talking about the anglocentrism of TV news the other day? It prompted a response from Jamie, who correctly pointed out that Northern Scotland had it much worse than the Central Belt, given that Scottish TV weather maps are angled such that the likes of Inverness are squashed into a single northerly pixel, whilst those in Edinburgh and Glasgow can expect a high definition representation of the anticipated weather in their very street.

I was amused to read that the BBC have enthusiastically compounded this situation with a nice gaffe from one of their weathermen. He had predicted good weather in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland, although pointed out that there had been some rain. Luckily, it had only affected ‘Nowheresville’ (or North-West Scotland, as the locals would know it).

Quite rightly, he got a ticking off for it, but perhaps the situation it isn’t so easily rectifiable. The North are in revolt. The Western Isles MP Angus MacNeill has pointed out that this instance of foot-in-mouth is merely a symptom of a more general bias against Northern Scotland when it comes to the weather. In fairness, Jamie pointed out this malificent televisual syndrome ages ago, and on this very blog. Don’t these people read?

I’m excited to be visiting Inverness at the end of next week. I’m hoping it will generate all manner of useful Blog Fodder. Perhaps Jamie could even be persuaded to do a guest post, so sage are his commentaries on society.

Everyone’s Doing It

February 22, 2007

Blog-fever grips the world. Or so it seems. A couple of nascent blogs have recently come to my attention here and here. Visit these blogs, peppering them with kind and humorous comments.

Everyone’s got a blog these days. How do I know this? I’ve been having a little scout around.

My scouting has taken me to Posh Spice’s blog, which is fairly insubstantial but proves once and for all that you don’t need to have read a book to keep a blog. I was reading the other day that Posh has been blamed for ‘ruining English football’, an amazing (if rather unecessary) feat.

A couple of Sundays ago, Andrew Marr was interviewing a chap called Iain Dale, a political pundit who was espousing the virtues of blogging as a means of propogating political opinion. It seems that communication is changing, and soon everyone will have their own digital soapbox.

Of course, the second person being interviewed (can’t recall the name) said that the blog phenomenon will soon burn itself out, since there will be too much ‘verbal vomit’ for anyone to actually read. Probably true. WordPress has just hosted its 700,000th blog. Crazy.

If you look at the ‘hot blogs’ on the WordPress front page, you will find that thousands and thousands of avid punters are reading them every day. One guy, Scobleizer, has posted a screen grab of his stats page, which indicates over 40,000 hits in one day. Who are these people?

Iain Dale said that if a blog only gets 50 hits a day (like, say, THM) it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad blog. Of course, it might well be just that, but perhaps I’ll persist for the sake of the faithful few. And for the person who stopped by after searching for ‘Latex’ and ‘Photos’ on Google.