by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Posted 3429 days ago in by Catriona

I have absolutely no idea how this will go—it was a throwaway line one night, when Nick and I were discussing the manifest aspects of Allan Moore’s genius and how we hadn’t been able to sit through the entire movie, despite loving the graphic novels (well, I loved them; I think Nick loved the first two and hasn’t finished the third one.)

I said, “Maybe I should live-blog the movie—that way we might sit through it.”

Nick thought this was a brilliant idea, and so here we are.

I’ve never live-blogged a movie—at least Eurovision had ad. breaks. But this time I suppose we have a pause button if need be.

Plus, I have coffee. There can’t be that much wrong in the world if one has coffee. (Vodka is now out of the live-blogging line up, after the aftermath of Eurovision semi-final 2: I had no idea how much vodka would be required.)

So here we are—and I’m not optimistic about the film. I’ve only seen 15 minutes of it before, after which I begged Nick to turn it off.

The 20th-Century Fox symbol is cool.

Hang on, writing. Bugger.

Right, policemen with whistles . . . and wolves? Or dogs? And a tank. What?

Seriously, what? I don’t even remember this from last time.

Oh, ew! Squished policeman.

Now the tank is in the bank of England. Why? (Seriously, Nick doesn’t remember this bit either. It’s certainly not in the books.) And would bank security guards in England in the late nineteenth century be armed?

Actually, I’m not sure when this is set—these seem to be Nazis. Are they Nazis?

Oh, I see—1899. So pre-World War Two German soldiers.

Damn—who is the villain? Doctor Doom?

I seriously don’t remember any of this—and now airships are exploding. Okay, there were airships in the original.

Ah, Kenya!

I do remember this bit—but I don’t recall any of the earlier material about World War One apparently starting fifteen years early after a poorly exposited attack on a German airship factory.

Ooh, the Reverend from the last Doctor Who story—and Allan Quartermain. Nah, that’s not Quartermain. Where’s Sean Connery? This guy is so dead, pretending to be Quartermain.

Ah, there’s Quartermain—and maybe that man won’t die, after all.

I don’t like this Quartermain, though—even if it is Sean Connery.

“Lead a team of unique men”? Dammit—Mina is the leader of this League! Allan Quartermain is a broken, opium-addicted shell of his former self at this point in the narrative. He gets better—damn, there’s that sexism again. Sure, stories of Quartermain have thrilled boys for decades—but girls, too. Like Mina, for example.

Oops, the fake Quartermain is dead.

Good thing the bad guys can’t shoot straight, once again. Or may Allan (Quartermain is too long to type) can just outrun machine-gun bullets.

Oh, dear—one of the bad guys appears to be caught in a coffee table. That must hurt—but not as much as what happened with that rhinoceros horn. Damn.

Bomb!

Actually, the rhinoceros reminds me of Deadwood—“He twelve-pointed Slippery Dan!” I guess a rhinoceros horn is one point.

See! I told you that ticking bag was a bomb, you fools.

Hang on, is that tombstone Allan’s son (who “pops up”, in a manner of speaking, in the later books) or his wife, or one of his wives, or did he fake his own death? I have no idea. I doubt it’s important.

Referencing Phileas Fogg? Don’t bother—you’ll never be able to match the subtlety and complexity of Moore’s references.

Ah, League headquarters.

NICK: Aw, I want a subterranean lair. With books.

Oh, it’s M. Who is M in the movie? Is it still going to be Professor Moriarty? (Spoiler!)

Ooh, Captain Nemo! I liked him in the books. Apparently in this he doesn’t like being called a pirate. I seem to recall he was very fond of the term in the novels.

Oh, don’t reference the Phantom of the Opera! That was an entirely different League, I seem to recall.

And there’s The Invisible Man—if he dies in this the way he dies in the novel, I’m out of here. Hang on, he’s not the original Invisible Man? Why not? Who’s Rodney Skinner?

I miss the original meeting with the Invisible Man—posing as the Holy Ghost while impregnating schoolgirls. That was grotesque.

Hang on, Mina is a minor League member? And she’s still Mina Harker—what happened to the divorce and her insistence on being Miss Murray?

Okay, “Call me Ishmael” made me laugh out loud—but I hope Broadarrow Jack is still a crew member on the Nautilus.

Skinner’s white face paint doesn’t make him look invisible, it just makes him look like an ordinary man wearing white face paint.

Now they’re referencing Jack the Ripper—and there’s Dorian Gray.

Rant coming: I know Dorian Gray was a member of an earlier League, but why oh why did they add him to this set? Sure, Stuart Townsend is rather pretty—although the character is insufferable.

(Hang on, Allan Quartermain is indestructable? Why now?)

(Also, another spoiler—Mina is the most rubbish vampire ever! Why one earth couldn’t she hear those gunmen coming?)

Back to the rant, while the villain does his boring monologue: Dorian Gray doesn’t add anything to this film—whereas Edward Hyde was a fascinating and complicated character, who came to a fascinating end.

Ah, it seems Tom Sawyer has joined the crew. Now this did irritate me. I understand he was added to attract American audiences. Well, I’m sorry but these are intensely British books—and I don’t believe that American audiences are necessarily that xenophobic. Look how well the Harry Potter films and Lord of the Rings trilogy did.

There’s a fight scene going on while I“m writing this, by the way, but it’s a bit dull. No real banter.

Okay, Townsend did do that line quite nicely:
MINION: What are you?
DORIAN: I’m . . . complicated.

Oh, Mina—you must have known that that man was there! Ah, now she reveals that she’s a vampire.

I still preferred the old Mina.

Hang on, apparently Dorian’s clothes are invulnerable to harm as well! All the bullet holes have healed up—how? Is he wearing those clothes in the portrait?

Ah—they actually are bringing Edward Hyde into the fold, after all. I’d forgotten that.

“Dracula—he was Transylvanian.” Hilarious: she may as well have said “He was one of the Shropshire Draculas.”

Oooh, the Nautilus. Is the Thames actually that deep at that point? How? She’s a lovely ship, though.

They’ve toned down Mina’s scars, I see—that’s a shame.

Right—slight cigarette break so I can get feeling back into my legs. Damn—we’re only half an hour through the film.

Hyde’s a bit unconvincing—but at least he’s carrying a cane. I hope we get to see him do the polka. But that would be the sequel, wouldn’t it?

I thought if you couldn’t do it in one bullet, not to do it at all, Allan. But Nick claims he’s choosing each shot.

NICK: Peta Wilson does a good Sean Connery, actually.

Ah, is Mina going to be the one who gets through to Hyde? That would be interesting. Oh, no—looks like Allan gets that role as well. What exactly is Mina going to do, apart from drink people’s blood?

Wow—the transformation into Jekyll looks insanely painful and noisy. How has he been able to get away with that all these years? Surely the neighbours would complain.

Damn—how big is the Nautilus? Ten stories? And why is it riding on the surface of the water?

Hang on, shouldn’t Mina be bursting into flames in the sun?

He looks a bit familiar, Tom Sawyer. I don’t think I’ve seen him before.

Oh, good—the Nautilus is finally going under water. It would be a bit of a waste of a submarine, otherwise.

The copy of The Strand Magazine is a nice touch—do you think Allan Quartermain read the Sherlock Holmes stories?

I’m assuming the fact that Skinner is walking around naked and invisible is prefiguring the fact that he’s a villain, but we’ll see.

I’m not sure that this “Phantom” is actually going to make an effective villain—he looks like Doctor Doom and is strangely ineffectual. I miss the Devil Doctor, who was an appropriately nineteenth-century villain—a racial stereotype, of course, but one used consciously and cleverly by authors exploiting the fictional tropes of the period about which they were writing. And he was well creepy.

Ah, the grave was Allan Quartermain Junior. That’s going to make following the later graphic novels harder—but then there’s been zero attempt in this film so far to follow the original graphic novel.

I haven’t actually tried to transcribe any of the dialogue yet—it’s beyond banal.

NICK: Ah, father-son bonding over an enormous rifle and—well, phallic symbol, really.

Nick doesn’t believe in mincing words.

Ooh, the interior decorating of the Nautilus is pretty; in a way, it looks oddly like a Queenslander.

I love it when characters see people watching them doing something private (like, for example, worshipping Kali) and then pointedly and angrily shut the door in their faces. I mean, if it’s that private and there were actually doors available in the first place, why didn’t you shut them before you began?

Ah, Dorian is describing his portrait—mate, it doesn’t just age instead of you. More to the point, it shows the effects of your dissipations. I’m not sure that the portrait was ever supposed to give unnatural long life—although it’s been a while since I read the novella. I think it just allowed him to stay young for the duration of his normal life. I think.

I’m not comfortable with the idea of Mina as an uncontrollably attractive femme fatale.

Hang on, someone’s taken one of the bottles of Hyde formula? Can other people use it?

Shit! How on earth is the Nautilus navigating the Venetian canals? Aren’t they something like 10 feet deep? I guess the Phantom doesn’t need to blow the foundations of Venice—apparently it doesn’t have any.

Ooh, Venetian Carnival! I assume it has another name, but I don’t know that it is. Looks fun, though.

Nick thinks they’ve taken fewer liberties with Nemo than with the other characters. He’s probably right—but given the liberties they’ve taken with Mina and Allan—and the addition of two other characters—that isn’t saying much.

Ah—so that’s the pay-off for the ridiculous limousine from earlier in the film—they’re going to use it to—out-run the chain of explosions from a series of bombs? O-kay then.

Right, remember when it said it looked like they were setting Skinner up to be a villain? Apparently there was no set-up; he just is a villain now, and is warning people of their approach, even though he’s been in a submarine all this time. Again, o-kay.

Hey, Mina can turn into an enormous quantity of bats! I’ve always wondered how that was possible, speaking practically. Useful trait, though.

What happened to Dorian? I wasn’t looking.

NICK: This is primo A-grade bullshit.

He then went on to say that he’s pretty sure 90% of Venice didn’t explode in 1899, but I did point out that this isn’t actually a documentary.

Okay, Tom Sawyer must be dead after that crash.

Nope—apparently not.

NEMO: He’s done it!
ME: Done what?
NICK: I don’t know—it didn’t make any sense.

ALLAN: Venice still stands.
ME: Bits of it!
NICK: If he’d just said “more or less” I would have forgiven him.

Wow, the Phantom really is a crappy villain.

Ah, there’s Dorian. I guess he is the bad guy, after all. In which case, where’s Skinner?

Oh, the Phantom is M! Hang on, does that mean M is Professor Moriarty? I’m confused. And poor old Ishmael is dead—that would never have happened if he’d had Broadarrow Jack by his side.

Hang on, Ishmael’s not dead. Oh, no, wait—he is now. Nick’s quite pleased he was clever enough to mention his attacker’s name first, until of leaving it until he’s almost dead, as people normally do.

Ooh, nice escape pod.

Really, the design of the Nautilus is the best thing about this film, hands down. But its escape pod is called the Nautiloid? Why?

I thought that was a gramophone record? Apparently it’s a film. With sound. In 1899. Still, I suppose it’s in an enormous submarine, so that’s something to consider.

“He’s stolen us! And we let him.” Yes, but that’s all right, mate—you probably weren’t paying that much attention to the plot. I know I wasn’t.

Bombs that operate via crystal sensors? Why on earth can’t super-villains just use ordinary bombs, like everyone else? Oh, and now they’re blowing up the Nautilus—the one thing I said I liked about this movie? That’s just bloody typical.

While I was typing this, by the way, M was reviewing his entire villainous strategy, on the grounds that the Nautilus was going to blow up anyway—it’s a good thing they weren’t still in harbour when they listened to the record, isn’t it?—but it wasn’t a very interesting strategy, so I’ve skipped over it.

More than that, I’ve completely forgotten it by now.

Hyde appears to be doing something now to drain the Nautilus, but I don’t know what it could be, since the ship was full fathoms five at the time. Surely anything that drained water would also let more water in?

Ah, what do I know—I know nothing of the Laws of Physics, except that they exist.

Skinner’s sending a secret Morse code message from within a very small ship occupied by the enemy, but instead of saying “Skinner,” he takes the trouble to tap out “Hello, my freaky darlings”?

NICK: See, now I want a TV series starring Captain Nemo and his amazing ship.

Wait, what—now they’re in the frozen lakes of Mongolia? Why?

As Nick has apparently only just realised, this bears no resemblance to the plot of either of the first two graphic novels or to any of the stories covered in the third volume.

Hey, that palace has flame throwers! I’m going to have flame throwers on my headquarters in Mongolia when I’m a supervillain.

Allan, you can’t find an invisible man by standing outside a supervillain’s palace in the snow and shouting his name. Ah, that’s all right—he’s back to his unconvincing face paint.

Are those robots? Why?

I still wouldn’t trust Skinner—even though Quartermain thinks he’s a hero. But then I may be thinking back to the novels, and that would be a mistake, apparently.

Another cigarette break, I think.

Right, so where we we? I think they were storming the fortress, while Dorian was figuring out that the wages of sin are death—ah, but so, as Terry Pratchett points out, is the salary of virtue. And anyway, isn’t this Dorian immortal?

Actually, I really need to check whether the portrait did make him immortal in the novella. I know it made him invulnerable (and vulnerable at the same time, hence his untimely end) but that’s not the same thing at all. And would he really have lived all this time by 1899, when he and his novella were very much products of the decadent 1890s?

If this had been made after the latest graphic novel came out, I would have said that they’d confused his character with that of Orlando, but I might be overthinking this a little too much, yes?

And on that note, when and how did Johnathan Harker die? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make Mina a divorcee after all?

What? Oh, the movie. Right.

Still storming the fortress. But Mina’s taken the time in the interim to curl her hair. Women, eh?

Oh, now they’re the Three Musketeers.

Where do supervillains get the money to run these enormous fortresses with round the clock guards on everyone? Seriously—he hasn’t actually started selling his weapons yet, has he? So where is the money coming from?

NICK: It’s not easy being nekkid and fighting crime.

He’s got that right. I don’t think, if I were the Invisible Man, I would have volunteered to do anything that would have required a blowtorch.

Ha! There’s actually man laughing hysterically while shooting everyone with a machine gun! I do like a man who takes his career seriously, but also enjoys himself.

Nick thinks the robots are actually men in battle suits.

Ha, I was right—M is Professor Moriarty. At least they kept that bit right.

Nick now totally has a boy crush on Captain Nemo.

Damn—what the hell is Mina wearing?

Ew—healing facial wounds. I guess Mina has claws? She’s very convincing as a fighter, Peta Wilson, even for someone who’s never seen La Femme Nikita.

Ew—“I hoped I’d get to nail you one last time”? Oh dear lord, that’s the worst banter I’ve ever heard.

And now Nick’s doing a Sean Connery impersonation—cool! Robotic man with a flamethrower. I’m also having those in my fortress—though they seem to be hard on the soft furnishings.

Come on, Hyde! Do the polka! Damn—drinking Hyde potion? Now we have two Hydes? Or maybe he’ll just explode—he did drink a lot.

Wait—now Mina’s hair isn’t curly any more? Why? When did that happen?

Ew—apparently just looking at the portrait is enough to kill Dorian. So, wait—he did all this to get the portrait back? But the portrait itself isn’t vulnerable—Mina didn’t need to stab it, or anything. So . . . it would actually have been in Dorian’s interests to let M—or anyone, really—keep the portrait, so he couldn’t see it accidentally?

That whole sub-plot makes less sense than the rest of the film, is that’s possible.

Sean Connery’s in a knife fight with Richard Roxborough—you don’t see that every day. Meanwhile, Hyde’s fighting a giant purple version of himself, and . . . no. I’m not going to assess the symbolism of that at all.

And now Allan has an axe—that’s no good. Hyde and Nemo seem done for.

More bombs!

Damn! Where did they get all those explosives from? Does the Nautilus just have an everlasting supply? And how do only the good guys survive these holocausts?

What’s going on with M’s accent? Wait, he can fly? How can he fly? Why am I even asking these questions any more?

Oh dear—I think Allan Quartermain just died.

Well, M’s been shot. He must have really loved that mask, since he took the trouble to rescue it from a burning fortress.

Oops, no—that was Allan Quartermain dying. Dammit! I liked the old Allan Quartermain better. And they took him back to Africa to bury him? Well, I suppose they had the Nautilus—and all that ice from the Mongolian lakes.

How is the Invisible Man still alive? I thought he was burnt to a crisp. Or was that the fake Invisible Man?

Oh, don’t tell me Allan’s going to rise from the grave! Oh, please no!

Well, I suppose technically he didn’t, but the intent was pretty clear. Had they moved on to a sequel, I assume Allan would have been in it.

Actually, now the credits are rolling, I wonder how this did do at the box office? Badly, I hope. I understand Allan Moore refused to have anything to do with it—and I don’t blame him. You could have made a rather lovely and clever action film out of the original graphic novel, if they’d tried. But they clearly didn’t care about the original source material.

Ha! I’ve just checked Rotten Tomatoes. 16%? That’s cold.

Nick claims he approved of Peta Wilson, by the end: I didn’t. I love Moore’s Mina, and that wasn’t her. And even if you want to change the characters around, which does happen, this new Mina was woefully underused.

Well, that’s another ridiculously long live-blogging post—this live-blogging lark’s quite a fun way to spend an evening, actually.

But I might go and see what I’ve actually written.

When Your Youth is Gone

Posted 3430 days ago in by Catriona

(I don’t really believe that, but it’s been a bit of a shock this semester teaching people who weren’t born until I entered high school. That, and attending a Cure concert last year with someone who was born the year I last saw The Cure in concert.)

Nick and I have been listening to CDs this evening, in the absence of anything to watch on television.

(Nick is obligated to spend at least one evening a week surfing the Internet on his iPhone in the living room rather than on his iMac in the study. This is what we call spending time together.)

I picked up an album from the very bottom of the stack, and said to Nick, “You know, it’s been twelve years since I listened to this.”

Then I realised that was actually, literally true.

I’m quite proud of myself for not going and pouring another drink on the spot.

A Dab of Dickens and a Touch of Twain

Posted 3430 days ago in by Catriona

I have so far failed abysmally in locating Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, but in my futile search I did come across another book that I bought months ago, read, put away carefully, decided to blog about, and completely failed to relocate: Elliot Engel’s A Dab of Dickens and a Touch of Twain.

This is a collection of biographical readings of authors ranging chronologically from Chaucer to Robert Frost. Despite the early debates about my Leavisite tendencies—and the fact that I found the book buried under fictionalised biographies of Lady Caroline Lamb and Byron’s other troublesome woman, Annabella Milbanke—this is not my usual reading material.

Certainly, I think biographical material is important to literary analysis—since I believe strongly that the conditions of production have a direct influence on the works produced—but I prefer to obtain this material from direct sources—letters, receipts, contracts, and so forth—as and when it is necessary to my work. When I read biographies, I want them to be about someone fun and unrelated to my research, such as courtesans. (Ah, Harriette Wilson—publish and be damned, indeed.)

But I picked this up at a secondhand store when I’d taken my car in to Woolloongabba at the crack of dawn for a service, and thought it would be as well to wait to collect it. (Note to self: that was a mistake.) I was bored and over-caffeinated, and thought this would do well to pass the time.

I know nothing of Elliott Engel, although I understand he works at an American university. More importantly from the perspective of this post, he give “popular” lectures on literature, from which these pieces were derived.

That word “popular” is always a problematic one when it’s applied in this type of context, and I have taken it directly from the blurbs in the front of the book: here, I think we can take it to mean simply “lectures given outside the academy.” I don’t propose to speculate about the types of audiences that such lectures would draw, because I don’t think it’s at all relevant—there is no reason why literary analysis should be deemed the sole province of the academy.

But it does mean that these pieces are almost entirely without referencing—barring an extremely short list of biographies at the end, which troubles me slightly, because I disagree with Engel’s contention that “one fine biography is all you’ll need for each author” (347). But then, as I say, these are not academic pieces: they’re narratives.

And Engel is, as he says, “a proud member of the school of biographical literary criticism and [has] always been truant from the Freudian, Marxist, deconstructionist, poststructuralist, and other literary schools that seem to concentrate on illuminating the supposed genius of the critic while all too often ignoring and distorting the real genius of the famous writer” (xii).

There’s much with which I could dispute in this passage, but I’ll settle for suggesting that working from a single biography might well lead to as many patterns of distortions as any poststructuralist or deconstructionist reading.

(It also seems to me a little disingenuous to apply these potentially exclusionary academic terms in a non-academic text, but that’s another point I don’t want to address in detail.)

From my own perspective, it also seems that biographical readings that ignore the perspectives offered by Marxist-based criticism run the risk of being readings divorced entirely from any awareness of the socio-economic climate in which the works were produced.

But then, this is a book that centres on the Western canon. It does include some women writers whose addition to the canon is more recent than, for example, that of Chaucer or Shakespeare, but even then the women are fairly conventional choices: Jane Austen, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, and Emily Dickinson. It makes a nod towards including more “popular” writers—to use that problematic term again—but even here it makes a conventional choice, with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Generally, however, the authors are the names you would anticipate in this type of book: William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence.

And that’s fine and, really, the book’s fine—except that it gave me an odd feeling that behind the text was an exclusive and exclusionary method.

I couldn’t put my finger on why—until I came to the following passage in the section on Shakespeare, describing the behaviour of the relatively impoverished “groundlings” standing in the cheapest spaces at the foot of the stage:

But when the play would begin, the groundlings, an unsophisticated lot, would become so excited and so caught up in the action that their mouths would hang open; they would be gaping up at the actors, slack-jawed, watching the play unfold. This rapt attention was not what bothered the actors, but when the play became exciting and suspenseful, as in the early fight scenes in Romeo and Juliet, the groundlings would start to salivate. The saliva would drip down their chins and eventually fall onto the stage, where it made this little rivulet at the actors’ feet. (34)

This is a grotesque image.

It is also, Engel tells us, the origin of the term “break a leg,” which he translates, in the fictional voice of an imagined actor, as “Perform so the groundlings become so enthralled that they slobber on the stage; may you slip in it and break your leg” (34).

This seems an improbable and mean-spirited expression of good will, even for a more brutish age. It is also in direct contradiction to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which suggests—albeit via the speculative phrase “is said to relate”—that it arose as black humour after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and John Wilkes Booth’s subsequent breaking of his leg as he leapt onto the stage to escape.

Brewer’s version seems far more plausible to me.

Engel cites in support of his argument an anonymous actor’s diary—which, given his minimalist bibliography, is impossible for the reader to verify for themselves—which allegedly reads “I feared when it was time for me to give my soliloquy and step to the edge of the stage, I was in grave danger of slipping in the drool left by the groundlings” (34).

But I can’t be the only one who suspects that this anonymous actor was indulging in hyperbole, perhaps tempered by a distaste for the patrons occupying the cheap seats.

This image of drooling groundlings bothers me in ways that I can’t quite articulate. But first and foremost, it seems so improbable—even assuming that it is possible to “gape up” at the actors and yet drool to such an extent that the players’ limbs are at risk, without somehow drowning in the process.

These standing seats, Engel tells us, cost a penny, compared to four pennies for an actual seat. But a penny is a lot of money to the vast majority of the working population in Shakespearean England.

So Engel’s image has us imagining a large number of audience members willing to regularly pay a relatively high fee to see linguistically and artistically complicated plays that, apparently, they are too unsophisticated to comprehend. So unsophisticated, in fact, that they lose all control over their salivation.

If all they want is the unsophisticated violence of the fight scenes, surely they could obtain that at any nearby tavern—with a greater probability of gore—and get drunk at the same time?

And why assume that poverty automatically translates into a grotesque, slavering inability to interpret the primary form of entertainment of the times?

Elizabethan theatre is not my field, and I know no more about it than any other B.Arts graduate who enjoys reading Shakespeare for pleasure.

But this passage does suggest to me something concrete about the dangers of relying too uncritically on biographical material at the expense of an understanding of the socio-economic factors of the time, their influence on the modes of production of a text, and the ability of the common reader to interpret the texts presented for their amusement.

So, How Many Cars Can Drive Through My Fence?

Posted 3431 days ago in by Catriona

The answer, prior to an hour ago, was three.

The answer is now four.

Yes, once again, someone has driven through my front fence. Whenever it rains, now, Nick and I get intensely twitchy, just waiting for the highly recognisable crunching sound.

Actually, there was an accident on the other side of the road earlier tonight, and we both went leaping out onto the front verandah in stark terror. But that was a false alarm.

And we should have realised it was a false alarm, because when the actual crunching sound came an hour later, it was instantly recognisable: this time, as we went leaping out onto the front verandah, we were both shouting “Oh, no! Oh, bloody hell, no, not again!”

Last time this happened, we contacted the Council, suggesting that three cars through the fence was, really, three too many, and perhaps there was something they could do to ameliorate the dangers of that corner?

But, no: apparently we’re a statistical anomaly and, apart from our fence, there are no more accidents in this area than in any other, so no further measures need to be taken.

I’m wondering if four almost identical accidents would qualify us as a black spot.

This actually isn’t too bad, compared to the last incident, which wiped out a stop sign, our fence, one steel-reinforced gate, a brick wall, my car—foolishly parked in the driveway—and the garage door. This one just knocked a fence pole out of the ground and smashed some palings.

This also has less amusement value. Last time, at least I held the following conversation with some extremely intoxicated young men at 2.30 a. m.:

ME: Guys, it’s 2.30 in the morning.
THEM: Just tell us what happened!
ME: Someone drove through my fence.
THEM: Aw, shit, man; that’s really bad.
ME: I know.
THEM: It’s a real fucking mess down here.
ME: I know.
THEM: Got a beer, love?
ME: No, sorry.
THEM: Got any water?
ME: Guys, it’s 2.30 a. m.
THEM: Oh, yeah. Well, sweet dreams, love.

(Incidentally, the lead intoxicated young man woke me up a month later at, ironically, 2.30 a. m., loudly describing the accident to a companion. But he was very apologetic on that occasion when I eventually bored of their conversation and leant out the window to ask pointedly, “May I help you?”)

There was also some amusement to be derived from the fact that they didn’t tow my car for a full twenty-four hours after they removed the cause of the problem, so that for the entire day people would walk past, do a double-take, and then once they were five metres down the road loudly ask their companion, “Did you see where that person drove through their own fence?”

Tonight, the only potential amusement was from the over-the-road neighbours, who were hanging off their verandah cheering—but they fled when I pointedly asked if they wanted to help and, anyway, that was more annoying than amusing.

Everyone who’s driven through the fence has actually been a nice, cheerful person, with whom I’ve chatted over bracing cups of tea while we wait for the police to arrive.

But this isn’t doing anything for my nerves.

And I’m starting to worry a little about how the real-estate agent will react this time.

Things You Might Find Yourself Saying to a Geek: Gender Reversal

Posted 3431 days ago in by Catriona

Example Two: If your girlfriend is also a geek, be aware of this trap.

Should your girlfriend ask you to do something, and you reply, “I’ll try,” chances are the response will be “Do or do not—there is no try!”

Smug T-shirts

Posted 3431 days ago in by Catriona

I don’t have a particular problem with message T-shirts, but I can’t be having with the smug ones.

While grocery shopping this morning—during which I completely forgot to buy milk, even though that was my main purpose in going out: to get milk for coffee—I passed a women’s leisurewear shop that had in its window display a T-shirt reading “I Earn My Chocolate One Step At A Time.”

I now desperately want a T-shirt that reads “Really? I Guess My Chocolate Just Loves Me Unconditionally.”

A Pop Quiz for Loyal Readers (In All Senses of the Word)

Posted 3432 days ago in by Catriona

Where do most people keep their copies of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf?

Because I’ve completely lost track of mine, and I wanted to blog about it.

It’s not where I suspected it would be—which was, logically enough, under a pile of P. D. James novels that I’ll never read again because Adam Dalgleish induces near-homicidal levels of frustration in me.

And I’ve pulled books off all available shelves—finding, in the process, forgotten novels by Mark Rutherford, Victoria Glendenning, and Anthony Trollope, and my copy of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood—and I still haven’t found it.

So I’m stumped.

First person to make a suggestion that leads to that elusive book wins my trademark prize: a shiny but completely invisible and intangible trophy.

"Does That Make Sense?"

Posted 3432 days ago in by Catriona

I have, over the years, developed a tendency to say “Does that make sense?” to my classes when I mean “Have I explained that adequately and clearly, or would you like me to clarify the subject further?”

Partly it’s a form of shorthand; otherwise, I’d be saying “Have I explained that adequately and clearly, or would you like me to clarify the subject further?” every ten minutes, and would run out of time for covering my actual lecture or tutorial material.

But mostly it arose from working at a coaching college many years ago, where I largely taught primary-school children.

“Does that make sense?” was necessary, because eleven-year-old boys—and girls, but especially boys at that age—will not tell you if they don’t understand something; I don’t know if it’s bravura or sheer lack of interest, but they’ll just let a misunderstanding slide until eventually none of the class have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.

“Does that make sense?” was also age appropriate for those teaching situations; it was better not to throw in words such as “clarification” when you were asking if clarification was necessary.

But then it became habitual, and while this habit is unlikely to result in me smacking myself in the head with a hardback French-to-English dictionary, it does cause me some slight concern.

Because while it was appropriate for eleven year olds, I worry that it has started to sound a little patronising since I moved into exclusively teaching at a university. And while a lot of my students are straight out of school—to the extent that some still call me “Miss”—they are moving into a phase of self-directed learning, and shouldn’t be patronised.

So I make a point of stating, after an early use of the term, that it is habitual, that it means I am giving them an opportunity to seek clarification, and that if they find it patronising, they should let me know so that I can find an alternative mode of expression.

This alleviated my concerns somewhat, since no one ever said that they felt patronised.

Then Pierre Bourdieu came along and spoiled everything.

Well, Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron.

Thanks to a colleague, I was made aware of the introduction, by Bourdieu and Passeron, to a book called Academic Discourse (Ed. Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-Claude Passeron, and Monique de Saint Martin. Cambridge: Polity, 1994).

The introduction—subtitled “Language and Relationship to Language in the Teaching Situation”—places great emphasis on the question of artificiality, making the point that “[a]cademic language is a dead language [. . .] and is no one’s mother tongue” (8), which is a point I’m certainly not inclined to dispute.

But the point that concerned me was the following:

The chair from which a lecture emanates takes over the tone, the diction, the delivery and the oratorical action of whoever occupies it, whatever his personal wishes. [. . .] So rigorously does the physical situation govern the behaviour of both students and lecturers that attempts to establish dialogue between them quickly degenerate into fiction or farce. Questions to the audience are often mere rhetorical gestures, belonging to the exposition, rather than interrupting it (except for a pause for breath). The lecturer can call on students to get involved or voice objections, but there is really no risk of this ever happening. As one student put it, ‘Lecturers have a way of asking, “Is that clear?”, which actually rules out any question that it might not be clear.’ Destined above all to play the part of the faithful at a church service, students must answer with ritual responses. (11)

This makes my concern that asking “Does that make sense?” might strike my students as patronising seem petty, overshadowed as it now is by the greater concern that the enquiry is meaningless however I phrase it.

I want to establish a dialogue with my students; I want them to be able to query me—in a pedagogical rather than a personal sense—because if they don’t learn to query the material that I am presenting when it makes no sense to them, how will they ever learn to efficiently and incisively query the texts that they study?

But if the problem with the student/lecturer interaction is not how I phrase my question but the fact that the very act of questioning is moribund within the environs of the lecture hall, then how can that dialogue exist as anything but a vestigial habit of speech?

I have no answers to those questions.

But they do suggest that I was right to be concerned about that habitual aspect of my pedagogical practice—but that I might not have been concerned for the right reasons.

A Note on Commenting

Posted 3432 days ago in by Catriona

I’ve seen a couple of instances recently where it looks as though people are attempting to comment, but nothing’s coming through on the site.

Of course, it could be the site doing something funky on its own initiative. But we have had problems with the commenting function in the past and, of course, I’m a little concerned that this makes it look as though I’m failing to moderate comments—the comments are, in fact, one of my favourite aspects of having a blog.

I’m looking to set up a means of contacting me through the site if the commenting function throws another hissy fit, but in the meantime all I can recommend is to make sure that you hit “submit” when you comment, and not just “preview.”

I'm Tempted to Do Something Very Geeky

Posted 3433 days ago in by Catriona

(Not as geeky as Nick, mind, who’s just headed out to collect a Chinese take-away with the enigmatic comment “Give my love to Broadway.” Since Nick would rather self-immolate than watch live theatre—especially musical theatre—I find this a remarkably odd comment.)

But that’s not important right now.

The important thing is that I’ve been re-reading Dorothy L. Sayers, moving on from Agatha Christie to another of the so-called Queens of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. (Which reminds me, I should track down some Margery Allingham: she’s the only one of the Queens with whom I’m unfamiliar, but the only short story of hers I’ve ever read I found a little dull.)

I’m currently re-reading Gaudy Night, which I enjoy immensely, although I understand that J. R. R. Tolkien did not care for it, much as he liked the early novels. It certainly has a confronting approach to academic life, especially the cloistering of academic women that still persisted in the 1930s: Sayers’s partly elegiac but partly anxious rendering of academia is attractive and unfamiliar to those of us whose experience of the ivory tower seems to settle on shouting “Stop jamming my papers!” at the photocopier half an hour before every tutorial.

Or perhaps that’s just me.

But it’s not the content with which I have a problem. Sometimes, much as I love Sayers, I do struggle with the plots: rarely will I re-read Have His Carcase, because I find the strain of muttering “He’s a haemophiliac” through gritted teeth for four-hundred pages too much for me.

But with Gaudy Night, it’s the presentation.

Gaudy Night is one of two volumes—the other being Murder Must Advertise, a perennial favourite—that I have in this particular edition: the rest of the collection has been cobbled together from secondhand books sales, so that there’s a plethora of typefaces and covers across the dozen volumes.

The Gaudy Night publication is a recent NEL reprint: they have lovely black-and-white photographic covers—although the plastic coating over the cardboard rubs away very easily, leaving them a little ragged looking—but two points count against them.

The first might be solely my problem, but the introductions by Elizabeth George add nothing to the text. Partly, it’s that I was never able to read the only Elizabeth George novel I ever started, which was For the Sake of Elena. To make it worse, I’d already seen the television adaptation, and I still couldn’t be bothered finishing the book.

(I actually quite liked the actor who played Tommy Linley, largely because I thought he was an excellent Rawdon Crawley in the BBC’s production of Vanity Fair—even though he was nothing like the big, blonde, mustachioed Rawdon that the book had led me to expect.)

But what really annoyed me about For the Sake of Elena was when Linley expressed the disappointment he had felt on learning that Jane Austen didn’t live in a thatched cottage. Why on earth would the eighth Earl of whatever he was the eighth Earl of think that Austen lived in a thatched cottage? Anglophiles who live in California might think that, but I would imagine Austen would have died of shame had she come down in the world to a thatched cottage.

But even that—should you have made it this far through this rambling post—is not what really annoys me about these editions.

No, that would be the typesetting.

I don’t know if it was done on character-recognition software from an earlier edition or what the reason is, but it’s ripe with doubled and tripled letters and punctuation marks: two commas at the end of a sub-clause, for example, or three ts in a word that should only have two.

And it drives me insane, even while I’m enjoying the plot.

So I’m tempted to do something very geeky, and read the novel with a pencil in my hand, so I can cross out the extra letter and punctuation marks, and make neat marginal corrections.

But I’m restraining myself, because I fear the next step would be inevitable.

I want to be at least seventy before I start writing complaining letters to the newspapers insisting that Coles and Woolworths change their signs to read “12 Items or Fewer.”

I Don't Care How Much of Your Special Effects Budget You Spent, CSI: New York . . .

Posted 3434 days ago in by Catriona

You have to stop showing me that model. Even my admitted weakness for fireworks and your pandering to it with an explosion in a fireworks factory isn’t enough to make up for that model.

Ever since we started watching CSI—the original—many years ago, Nick and I, along with our friends who watch the show, have kept a running informal tally of the most grotesque deaths that the programme has shown.

Grotesque, that is, in terms of the conditions in which they find the bodies, not any horror attending the circumstances of the death.

So far, I still think the two worst are the guy who died in a hot bath and the man found in a canvas bag.

CSI: Miami—in addition to being a remarkably silly show that, once Horatio Caine’s Sunglasses of Justice lost their amusement value, we stopped watching very quickly—didn’t really favour the grotesque deaths. Instead, it preferred punishing Bright Young Things for their decadent lifestyles.

CSI: New York—even with the added value that is Gary Sinise—shares this tendency towards glitterati crimes: Nick and I can now spot the intended victim as soon as we see the camera zooming in towards an expensive-looking party.

CSI: New York also showcases scientific montages that have no value whatsoever, since you never get the faintest idea what the people are doing, and tends to provide only the most spurious motives.

Recently, we’ve taken to betting each other that we can guess the ridiculous reason behind the latest murder, but we were stumped a fortnight ago, when a man starting a catering business horribly murdered his employer because the latter insisted on a meeting during the caterer’s son’s birthday party.

A convoluted motive? Sure.

Plausible? Not so much.

But CSI: New York does have grotesque bodies.

And that brings me back to the opening point of this post.

Please, CSI: New York, I realise that you must have spent an enormous quantity of your special effects budget for this episode creating the model corpse of the unpleasant Internet entrepreneur who was killed just after the opening credits by an exploding cigar.

But please, please, please stop showing the man on-screen. We saw him explode, and we saw the corpse. And then we saw it again. And again. And again.

I’m happy to put exploding-cigar victim at the top of my grotesque-death tally board (although even as I have been typing this post, you have just upped the grotesquery stakes, thanks to introducing the concept of eyeball tattooing.)

But you have to promise that I won’t have to see him ever again.

Sometimes, less is more.

When Editing Becomes Arty By Accident

Posted 3434 days ago in by Catriona

Since I wasn’t able to watch it live when it aired on the ABC last night, I’ve just been watching a recording of “The Shadow in the North”—the second of the BBC adaptations of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockheart Mysteries—when things suddenly went very strange.

(And, at this point, a warning: I can’t discuss the strange sense of dissonance that this created without referring explicitly to specific plot events. So, if you haven’t read the book or seen the adaptation and plan to do either of those things, don’t read any further.)

As far as we can tell, the video file was corrupted but the audio file was left intact, which threw me for a good two minutes. We have had this problem with recordings before, especially during the last World Cup, where I got one game with audio but no video and one with video but no audio—both of which were frustrating to watch.

Because the problem with this was that, at first, the conjunction of the two made sense.

I’d actually lost quite a bit of the programme, as far as I could tell. It’s difficult to judge, since the adaptation is not word-for-word, but the video broke off where Sally was comforting Isabel Sullivan about her betrayal of McKinnon and came back with the death of Chaka in the alleyway; in the book, nearly fifty pages of material comes between those two events.

I thought that was odd, to begin with; the death of Chaka in the book is devastating—brilliant but phenomenally difficult to read (I’ve always disliked reading about the deaths of companion animals, anyway, which is why I don’t own a copy of Black Beauty)—and I thought it strange that it would, to all intents and purposes, be skipped over in the adaptation.

But what really threw me was the fact that it just seemed to be an arty editing choice, for the first minute or two.

To begin with, we had Sally and Isabel talking in Sally’s office, immediately after Frederick had suggested that he and Sally should cease all communication. All very neat and straightforward.

Then, with what seemed to be a break in Isabel’s voice but was actually the break in the recording, we had Isabel fretting over her betrayal, asking Sally if she’d ever loved a man to such an extent—while Sally wept over Chaka’s body.

And it made sense, at first. Because Chaka was in many ways emblematic of Sally’s fierce independence, the independence that would keep her apart from Frederick rather than allowing her to see whether they could work as equal partners. In the book, moreover, Chaka was a physical barrier between the two of them, since he didn’t care overly much for Frederick.

So the weeping over Chaka with a voiceover about betrayal and love was a plausible scene, although I did feel a little cheated that the dog, so to speak, hadn’t had his day.

Then the audio shifted to Sally’s voice, wondering if it was worse to betray the man you loved out of pride rather than fear, while the video shifted to her weeping on Frederick’s shoulder for the loss of Chaka.

And it still made sense; the voiceover still worked plausibly with the images to show Sally’s burgeoning sense that independence didn’t have to mean solitude.

But when I watched for thirty seconds more, it became apparent that this wasn’t arty direction, but rather a big disjunction between audio and video.

Still, I’m going to keep the broken file, if I can.

There’s something to be said for the beauty of a technological malfunction that actually seduces you into thinking, however briefly, that it’s art.

Strange Conversations: Part Sixteen

Posted 3435 days ago in by Catriona

Scanning the magazines while in the queue at the supermarket:

ME: Famous is doing the traditional “Star without make-up.”
NICK: “Stars without make-up who haven’t been Photoshopped.”
ME: Yeah. I think it’s “Stars who have pissed us off recently,” myself.
NICK: Next thing you know it’ll be Robots Without 3D Rendering magazine. (Pause.) That would be awesome.

Packrat Woes: Again

Posted 3435 days ago in by Catriona

I’m still thoroughly enjoying this game, as are a number of other people, judging from the people who wander into Circulating Library looking for information on how to complete the fiendish Quest for Montezuma.

Well, it was fiendish when I completed it. As I noted then, we early adopters of the Montezuma quest were struggling to collect Gold Coins, frantically flipping through the packs to which we had access hoping to either steal them from under the rats’ noses or to have them miraculously pop up for us.

But we persevered and we made our Spotted Leopards, our Turquoise Masks, and our 20,000-point Montezuma’s Headdresses.

And then . . . then we noticed that Coins were suddenly available for sale in some of the markets. And, at first, we weren’t certain whether we’d overlooked that option. Had we really spent hours searching the packs when we could have bought Coins for fifty credits each?

But no—this was a new phenomenon. So we grumbled a little along “back in my day” lines, felt smug about completing the set under difficult circumstances, and got on with collecting the next set.

But then it happened again! For the Boy Genius set, you needed a high number of Mindwave Helmets: to make Time Machines and Android Irwin, and then to use those to make Tripod Seeker Drones and rocketships.

And suddenly it was the gold-coin frenzy all over again: we were searching packs and rapidly losing whatever morals we’d developed in the interests of co-operative play. One poor friend—I hope she’ll forgive me eventually, because over a period of a week I must have stolen every Mindwave Helmet she’d managed to collect.

Then, having finally completed the set by grabbing the final, elusive, pop-up card—Baron von Heisenberg—from a rat who wasn’t paying attention, I noticed the Mindwave Helmet had suddenly become available in stores. And once again, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I’d just never noticed this before. Maybe I’d been running the risk of damaging decades-old friendships when I could have been spending eighty credits a pop instead.

No—once again, the card had become readily available after I ceased to need it.

I’m not even going to go into the struggles to obtain Fountains to complete the Rat Pack set.

Yes, I am—because this is one of the frustrations of the game for me. Increasingly, the high-end cards, the ones that you cobble together out of other cards, are coming to rely on extremely rare pop-up cards: cards that you can’t buy from the markets, but have to hope will spontaneously appear for you during game play.

Take Rat Pack, the Vegas-themed set, for example. This was the most extravagant set to date: twenty-eight items, the most valuable of which were worth 50,000 and 25,000 points.

But the key card was something called “The Strip”: worth 15,000 points on its own, you made it out of the Wedding Chapel (itself made from three different cards), the Casino (ditto), and the elusive Fountain, a 4,000-point beauty of a pop-up card.

So far, so good. The chances of a Fountain popping up were fairly remote, but you might find one. Well, two: you had to vault the Fountain individually, as well as The Strip.

But wait: you need to make The Strip a further two times, because The Strip is a key component of the two highest-scoring cards, The Jackpot and Vegas, Baby! And suddenly, things became a little desperate.

Frankly, I suspect the same thing is going to happen with the Beatnik (also a 4,000-point pop-up) that you need for the Dark Roast coffee-themed collection, except that you only need two Beatniks and the highest-scoring card in that set is only 8,000 points.

I’ll commit gaming sins for 50,000 points that I wouldn’t even consider for 8,000.

But this is one of the frustrations of the game, even more irritating to me than the fact that the rat players—previously so passive, and only useful because they held packs full of cards that you could plunder without repercussions—are now able to steal from you in return. So now, half of the available fifteen spaces in your packs have to be saved for Locks, so the rats don’t steal the Codex you spent a week making or the Blender you saved up for.

That’s frustrating enough.

But if the Fountain suddenly becomes available in the markets after I begged, borrowed, and stole the four that I needed, then I’m out of here.

Live-blogging Eurovision: Semi-Final 2 (or, This Time, I Have Vodka)

Posted 3436 days ago in by Catriona

Okay, this time I’m preparing myself in advance. Last night’s attempt was spur of the moment—or I would have had more to say about the Serbian children’s choir who looked like they were on sabbatical from the Academy on Gallifrey—but this time I have settled myself in advance.

Well in advance, since the semi-final isn’t televised for another half an hour.

Still, this should mean that I don’t miss any song titles, as I did with Finland last night.

On the plus side, I just spoke with my mother, and she agrees that the whole point of Eurovision is people getting their kit off on-stage: as she says, either you do it on purpose, or your back-up dancer slips, grabs your clothes, and the velcro comes loose, in which case it’s funny. So, Eurovision performers, let’s see some more removable clothes!

Back in half an hour.

Right, now I’m back. I’ve had a dinner and a cigarette, and I have vodka. I think those are all the essentials for the evening.

See, we’re taking this live-blogging gig very seriously this time around.

Of course, it hasn’t started yet. Instead, I’m watching Nigella Lawson talking about how good tea makes her feel. It certainly makes her look good, but I’m still sick of her and her insistence that ten pounds of fresh raspberries are essential to the recipe.

Oh, no—now it’s the CMC Markets ad. again. Although at least time they don’t talk about “less commissions,” so I should count my blessings.

Damn! Giant rabbit buying a load of carrots. Seriously?

I’m rethinking the vodka at this point.

Ooh, that’s a different Chesterfield than the one she was sitting on last night, isn’t it? Where do they get all these sofas from.

Latvian pirates? Where? Bring them on now!

Okay, the Eurovision theme is even scarier tonight than the big-haired ’70s version last night, if that’s possible. Are those people in camouflage?

Oh dear lord! Is that a centaur? Why? Why?

And more multi-coloured people—what is it with Serbian people and face-painting?

The centaur wants me to join his poetic circus? Oh, hell no. That’s the worst pick-up line I’ve ever heard.

Damn—the centaur has wings. This is hands-down the strangest thing I’ve ever seen . . . hang on, more blue and red people.

What does that man have around his neck?

Seriously, what is happening here?

The same hosts as last time—although the British commentators seem to be drunker than last night. I bet you’re looking at her biography, mate! These hosts are a bit dull, though, especially after the centaur.

Whoops, now we’re in French. I have no more idea what’s happening than the British commentators do.

Oh, hang on—there really was an apple. Right.

I don’t like these postcards. Bring back the travelogues and the Moomins.

Iceland: “This is My Life.”
An Icelandic tribute band.
Oooh, tribute to 1990s electronica, apparently.
Well, it’s dynamic—if you like boy bands with only one member.
Nick: Oh, god! Where’d she come from?
He’s also strangely freaked out by the pink high heels, which seem to me to be the most interesting thing on stage.
It’s a bit derivative—which seems par for the course—but I wouldn’t be surprised if they got through.

People throwing paint on each other. Great.

Sweden: “Hero.
Another of the favourites, apparently.
Oh, dear lord, no.
What on earth has she done to herself? And why is she that colour?
Hang on, is this the one who’s a plastic-surgery addict? Has to be.
Okay, this joins Spain in my nightmares.
Nice legs, though—I guess she hasn’t had anything done to them.
I haven’t heard a note of this song, by the way—I can’t stop looking the singer. Not in a good way.

Turkey: “Crazy.” (Missed the title again. It’s too early for that.)
If there aren’t any blood packs, I’m out of here.

But in the interim, have a picture of Charlotte Perrelli wearing an oxygen mask, via Defamer.

Actually, Turkey aren’t that bad. I like his shiny jacket.
Nick tells me people are commenting on the blog: he’s going to approve the comments, since I’m too easily distracted.
Yeah, that was quite fun. And refreshingly non-surgical.

Ooh, juggler.

Ukraine: “Shady Lady.
Another favourite. We’ll see. It had better have an ice skater.
Nick: Ooh. She’s a bit of all right.
Pervert.
The dresses are getting smaller, though.
Nick’s now decided she’s a bit plastic. He shouldn’t make snap judgements when I’m live-blogging.
I’ll send him out for more vodka.
Oh, the song?
“Baby, don’t call me baby.” What?
Hang on, how did she get up there? I only stopped looking for a second.
Yep, I can see this getting through, despite the awful back-up dancers.

Now people on swings. With paint. This is weird.

Lithuania: “Nomads in the Night.”
That’s a lot of hair.
Damn. I’ve just seen the pants.
Good thing, too—there’s no distraction to be had from the song.
Nick thinks the pants are TMI. I have to agree, albeit reluctantly.
The song is awful, though—and I’m not sure he’s hitting the right notes.
Oooh, wind machine. First of the night. That’s a plus note.

I like these commentators. “If you’re nervous about leather, watch out.”

Albania: I have no chance of writing that song title down, sorry.
16 years old? That beats the 20-year-old Israeli performer.
She looks 16, too, but not in a skeevy way. I like her for that alone.
Hang on, what’s following her around? Oh, it’s her coat.
I have a feeling this is a heart-wrenching ballad, but my Albanian is a little rusty.
She’s clutching her head, though, which is a good sign for a ballad.

Ad. break! Back soon!

Shortest cigarette break ever! And I’m still waiting for the Latvian pirates.

Gymnasts. Just what I was thinking we needed.

Switzerland: “Ero Stupendo.”
Wasn’t it wonderful? Didn’t Elton John write that for a Disney film about ten years ago?
Yep, this does nothing for me, sung in Italian or not.
You can smile at me all you like, mate; it won’t change my mind.
Damn—those back-up . . what? Dancers? Anyway, their hair is terrifying.
And yet more leather pants.
Still not interested.
And are those dancers only wearing one glove each? Why?

More gymnasts.

Czech Republic: “Have Some Fun.”
A DJ with wings—kind of. That’s new.
The silver dresses, not so much.
Nick thinks this defies comment, but give me a moment.
Actually, he’s just contradicted himself: “Those are the highest skirts I’ve ever seen!” I don’t know if that’s a good thing.
I’m just getting flashes of Ab Fab: “The world’s your gynecologist.”
Why do they need the half-naked dancers when the singers are half-naked? And is the DJ actually doing anything?
Oooh, fireworks. Too little, too late, Czech Republic.
The song? No idea.

LOVE the commentators. It was impeded by too many clothes.

Belarus: “Hasta La Vista.”
Oh, please involve a Terminator. Or Sarah Conner.
Damn, it’s Wham.
Has anyone taken their kit off yet?
Wait, what are those things on the stage. No, behind the dancers.
“I’m going to miss you. Maybe.” Brilliant! I’m voting for these guys.
Are those more leather pants?
Dear lord, that woman’s definitely not in her top. Actually, are any of them?
Oh. Thank goodness for close-ups—it’s just netting. I was a bit worried there.
Nick: “Can you measure your happiness in inches at this stage? That’s the question.”

Seamstresses. Very exotic.

Latvia: “Wolves of the Sea.”
Woo! Pirates!
Fabulous! These guys might almost take my love from Azerbaijan.
Ha! This is what Eurovision should be! Nick’s even tapping his feet—although he points out that the guy on the right at the back isn’t really into it.
Damn, that’s a crappy sword.
Do a hornpipe! Go on!
Nick: “You can be more than pirates, guys! You can be camp Eurovision singers as well!”
I want that coat for the next International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
I really want them to go through—they had model sharks!

Croatia: “Romanca.”
75 Cents the rapper? What?
Damn—how old is that guy?
This is strangely Mafia, but Nick likes the robot ballerinas.
The song itself is a little dull, though—although I haven’t been addressing the songs much, so far.
Actually, the Latvian pirates should have had fireworks. Or a wind machine. Or both.
What? Oh, Croatia. Still a bit dull and slightly creepy.
Actually, it’s picking up a bit in the chorus, with the strange instrument made of multi-coloured wine glasses. And scratching on a gramophone. Haven’t seen that before.

Bulgaria: “DJ, Take Me Away.”
What’s with the DJ theme?
Oooh, break dancing. I’m a sucker for break dancing.
A turntable guitar? Cool.
Actually, this is intriguing.
Hang on, what’s happening? This singer’s sucking all the life out of it!
Wait—stockings? That’s a cheap grab for attention. And, as Nick, says, a load-bearing dress.
Damn—the turntables are on fire! What’s happening?
I have no idea if I love this or hate it—and wasn’t she wearing feathers on her head.
Too much is happening here!
Actually, I think I liked that. Bits of it, anyway.

Denmark: “All Night Long.”
Isn’t that a Lionel Richie song?
Mellow—but he is wearing a newsboy cap. That’s a disadvantage.
No, wait—this is a Lionel Richie song.
Is this the 13th country already? Wow. No wonder I can’t remember anything I’ve written so far.
“Celebrate. Good times. Come on!” Now I know I’ve heard this song before.
Nick labels this an abysmal effort—even, he adds, by Eurovision standards.
Nick has never understood Eurovision.

Damn—nurses. That’s just weird.

Georgia: “Peace Will Come.”
Oh, this performer was born blind. Now I feel guilty.
Or I will, because this is really dull so far.
What are those back-up dancers doing? And wearing? And doing?
Nick: “O-kay. They kind of look like Farscape extras.”
How’s he staying on that angle?
Nope—still dull, even with gravity-defying, bondage-inspired back-up dancers.
Oooh—costume change!
Nicely done!
Right, changed my mind—fickle thing that I am. After all, she’s the first to get her kit off.
Not that there was much to take off, for the previous performers.

Shoe shopping? These are getting stranger and more boring, at the same time.

Hungary: “Candlelight.”
Once again, I expect a white-painted woman to rise up out of that piano.
That dress has to be removable, surely?
Whoops—I think I just went into a coma, briefly. Bloody diva ballads.
Is that a candelabra? Well, it is called “Candlelight.” But the daft thing’s not lit, which kind of undercuts the point.
Nick wonders why Hungary has to take it seriously, when no-one else does.

Malta: “Vodka.”
Well, that’s apposite. I’ve just sent Nick off to fill my glass.
Is that another breastplate? We need one, now Andorra has been knocked out.
Oh—just a bustier. That’s unimaginative.
Okay, this song is making me feel like an alcoholic.
I like her boots, though.
The song itself is lively enough, but I don’t know that I want to hear it again next year.
This really is just a song about wanting to get smashed, isn’t it? Complete with strangely Fascist back-up dancers, as Nick points out.

Dear lord! Stop bending over, woman! (Although I may be speaking solely for myself.)

Cyprus: “Femme Fatale.”
Ooh, another Time Lord! That really is the fashion statement of the season, isn’t it?
That coat has to come off soon, surely.
Yep—there is goes.
And there’s the breastplate I’ve been looking for, apparently.
Nick’s kicking himself—he’s missed both costume changes this evening.
Oh, okay. What’s happening?
Nick’s right—this is too Freudian for me.
I have no idea what that was about.

Oh, thank goodness. Ad. break. It’s true what they say about long journeys.

It’s just occurred to me—none of us are actually watching the televised performances; we’re all blogging, or commenting, or Twittering.

Ooh, Indiana Jones!

F.Y.R. Macedonia: “Let Me Love You.”
Were those boos? [I meant people booing. It’s not a typo.]
Oh . . . wow. More vest with no shirts.
Damn. No . . . I’m not commenting on the singer’s . . . couture . . . at all.
Nick: “She keeps pointing them at the audience!”
The song itself is rather banal—except for some rhymes about “angel’s wings” and “wildest dreams.”
What is it with wings at this year’s competition?
I just wrote that as “this Yeat’s competition”. Freudian slip or vodka?

Portugal: I’m not sure what the title is. What? It’s the last song.
I’m not sure Portugal can make anything out of this, final performing slot or not.
Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if this got through—though it’s thoroughly dull.
I like the singer’s purple hair, though.
Ooh, key change. That’s Eurovision, all right.

And that’s the last one. Felt a bit flatter than last night, frankly. [Nick’s just read this bit, and added “Felt a bit flatter than last night . . . except for Macedonia.” I’ll say it again: “Pervert.”]

Oh dear, the hosts are back.

Oh, the 1956 winner. Why?

How can she be the mother and the daughter of Eurovision? Honestly, English commentator, think about your metaphors before you use them.

Did she just thank the downloaders? Ooh, the FBI won’t like that.

Damn—Charlotte Perrelli is even scarier the second time around.

Nick thinks Turkey was too competent.

Ha! Lithuania. I’d forgotten all about them until now. That’s an awesome mullet, though.

I think the commentators are right—there won’t be a cow left alive in Serbia after tonight.

I kind of hope Belarus get through—just for the rhymes.

Latvian pirates! Arrrr!

Bulgaria: I have mixed feelings about this one. But I wouldn’t mind seeing them again.

Denmark, on the other hand, I’m happy to consign to the almost rans.

Georgia—wow, that’s a giant cross she’s wearing. I didn’t notice that the first time around.

I have no idea what I’ve been saying for the past hour and a half; I hope you all realise that.

Oooh, vodka song.

Ad. break! Also, cigarette!

Bloody hell, that was a short break.

Oops. U. K. again. Still not exciting.

France have definitely gone back in time for theirs. And by “time,” I mean the late 1990s, when ’70s retro came in again. Oh, and that is absolutely blackface.

Spain is still terrifying. And I haven’t figured out what the German singers have attached to their backsides. Or why.

At least the backstage woman seems to have seen a doctor about that awful growth on her neck.

Why are they giving people apples? Why?

Ooh, envelopes. I hope they open them faster than they did last night.

Finalists:
1. Ukraine. No surprises there.
2. Croatia. What?
3. Albania. Who were they? Oh, the young girl.
4. Iceland. Are they the pink shoes ones. Yep.
5. Georgia. Ah, the costume change.
6. Denmark. Really?
7. Sweden. Oh, damn. But she’s scary!
8. LATVIA! Woo Hoo! Arrrr! “Chest of gold?” Damn, commentator, that was unsubtle.
9. Turkey. No blood packs, though.
10. Portugal. No real surprises there.

No Macedonia, then. And none of the singers in tiny little silver dresses from the country who’s name I have already forgotten.

Still, tomorrow night should be fun. I’m not live-blogging that, though.

Wow! 22 comments? I might have to go and read those now.

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