Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Category: writing (page 1 of 4)

An Evening With Neil Gaiman

For some time now Neil Gaiman has been my favourite (living) writer. With this in mind it came as quite a shock to discover a few days ago that he was doing an interview/reading as part of a Stardust promotional tour, and then to discover that I now live in London so could actually go along to attend. Since Jane has just returned from the States and is as much of a fan as I (to the point that she has actually defaced her body with Sandman-themed ink), we headed along together yesterday evening to the Criterion Theatre, a much more comfortable venue than the usual in-store reading.

Neil reads from StardustNeil is as remarkably friendly and convivial as he seems in all the interviews I have previously stumbled upon. His casual demeanour makes for a wonderful evening where you feel as if he is chatting directly with you, and not the whole avid audience of a darkened theatre. He read from the Stardust novel (though sadly not from his forthcoming The Graveyard Book) and discussed all manner of things from his writing roots to how our lives seem to be scripted by multiple authors from one moment to the next. I recently heard an anecdote attributed to him which, unprompted, he confirmed: Neil was chatting to a publisher who became very awkward upon discovering he wrote comics. When he realised who Neil actually was he relaxed saying, “Ah, but you don’t write comics. You write graphic novels.” And Neil suddenly felt like a prostitute who had just been referred to a “lady of the night”.

Neil answers questionsThe floor was opened up for questions and without missing a beat a girl stood up and asked, “would you think it forward of me to kiss you?”, quoting directly from the Stardust passage he had just read, and leaving slightly shocked Neil unusually lost for words for a few moments. Another question revealed, after feeling stung by their adaptation of Neverwhere, Neil is now quite keen on working with the BBC again. Possibly, he suggested, on Anansi Boys (a very succinct 1-hour radio play has just been recorded for BBC World Service). He also discussed what actually happened when he and Jonathan Ross finally met Steve Ditko, the reclusive co-creator of some of Marvel’s big names like Spider-man. He had been involved with Ross’ documentary In Search of Steve Ditko but after tracking down and meeting the man alone, the pair refused to tell the cameras what actually transpired, feeling it was somehow better that way. Finally when asked who would play him in a film of his life, Neil answered unequivocally that it would have to be Dylan Moran or at least someone with his hair.

The event was far too short, followed by a signing queue that was far too long, but it was well worth the wait to get my hardback copies of Anansi Boys and and Endless Nights signed. Unfortunately towards the end of the queue they had to speed people along, so we didn’t really get to speak to Neil much at all (though Jane did partially undress to show off her tattoo, admittedly at his request and only to see her shoulder). Nevertheless it was a magical evening and one that I hope to repeat soon. After all, he’ll have to promote Beowulf before long…

Martini

‘Damn it, now we have iodised salt, so the brine will have iodine in it. I wonder if that changes the martini. It must make it taste different from the martinis they drank before salt was iodised.’
‘I’m sure it does. Actually it’s potassium iodide.’
‘It’s good to know things like that. I suppose it’s possible to find non-iodised salt.’
‘It’s worth looking into. The French also put fluoride into their salt.’
‘Damn. We have to find our way back to pure salt.’
‘And get thyroid problems from lack of iodine?’

-Frank Moorhouse, Martini: A Memoir

Martini - A MemoirThe last time I was in Germany I made the amateur mistake of forgetting to bring sufficiently English reading material. Conversational English was all well and good, Kirsten’s friends generally being fluent or at least competent by comparison to my German. However it lacked the verbal dexterity and linguistic extravagance which I inevitably crave. This time Frank Moorhouse’s book filled the role in style. A memoir of sorts, it is told through an exploratory history of the martini and series of discussions and incidents from the author’s life which orbit the cocktail most deserving of the classic title.

From time to time a writer in residence at King’s College, the opening scene is set in Cambridge — the bar at Browns restaurant to be precise. Much of the book unfolds through dialogue in similar settings, the extract above being a perfect example and the one that influenced me to buy the book in the first place, having opened it at random. Every element of the drink is covered from the alcohols involved to the glass to the garnish to the botanicals at work within, and always the author is able to weave a compelling tapestry between inconsequential facts about the martini and personal musings upon and insights into both the drink and life. Undoubtedly pretentious at times (as any memoir, itself the height of self-indulgent arrogance elevated to an art form, ought to be) and yet wonderfully rewarding with dozens of asides to slip into conversation at that next cocktail party.

On an unrelated note I might point out that I have absolutely no opinion upon the new Transformers trailer. That major liberties were being taken with their appearance was already common knowledge, so one can hardly claim to be surprised at what one sees here. Evidence of substance remains at best veiled.

Ciao!

Kirsten introduced me to Ciao! a few days ago, as she has been using the German variant for a while. It has proved highly addictive in a productive sort of way. The community site focuses on reviewing products of all descriptions — films, books, games, electronics, make-up, food, the works! — but uniquely it actually pays members for the reviews they submit, based on ratings by others. These don’t have to be journalistic masterpieces, but merely useful opinions on products that will help others make decisions. Since I already have several fully fleshed out film reviews right here, I figured it was worth a go. I soon found myself pumping out product reviews of the other things sitting on my desk too! The site brandishes the slogan “make your opinions pay” and although it’s not much, it’s still worthwhile, particularly to a student! It’s an interesting diversions and, for those like Andy W and Luke, a forum with a captive audience for the occasional rant. A slightly higher level of revenue can also be earned by filling in targeted surveys based on your interests, but this is strictly on an opt-in basis. Sign up and give it go!

The weekend was not particularly noteworthy aside from fixing Charlotte’s abomination of a computer. Luke swears the test machines he leaves unprotected intentionally to become corrupted by malware aren’t quite as hideously mangled as hers. With the installation discs mailed by her dad we resorted to wiping it and starting afresh although it graphics card is, in technical jargon, teh screwzorz. Still, I learned a fair bit more about locking down a machine to protect the user from both outsiders and, more importantly, themselves. The more security minded may be interested in the free Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer utility.

Globalist-wise a new Annual edition has just been released featuring contributions from six chapters (Yale, Cambridge, Peking, Jerusalem, Sydney and Toronto). Perhaps most interesting is actually the layout which serves the need for three different languages to cover all these regions. It is quite a feat and has been deftly handled. Meanwhile the name change is now official with the Global21 banner now appearing on the foundation website. Unfortunately this busy period has prevented the latest Cambridge issue from going online yet. I do know, however, that there will be special coverage on the UN handover shortly as I have just produced the banner for it…

I now find myself staring at a not-very-modern article plucked from the Modern Law Review. It leads me to wonder whether it is time to turn my hand to starting up another new publication. The Postmodern Law Review would feature articles in a style that — well, no one really knows what postmodernism actually is which makes it editorially complicated at best. Jean-Francois Lyotard suggested, “Postmodernism is incredulity towards metanarratives.” I rather preferred the astute description, “Weird for the sake of [being] weird.” from Moe Szyslak of The Simpsons (speaking of which, full trailer now available). Strangely it does actually have a legal context in the form of the theory of Judicial shamanism. Perhaps this publication is best left alone after all…

Fragile Things

But all, all are fragile things made up using just 26 letters arranged and rearranged again and again to form tales and imaginings

-Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things

Fragile ThingsThe inevitable commercialisation of the book industry was clear once the disparity between hard and paper back releases became a standard. To read a book on day one, you’ll have to shell out for the hard back edition which, pretty and sturdy as they may be, are somewhat overpriced. What I didn’t realise is just how high that markup is. Neil Gaiman is, as you know, one of the few authors who captures my imagine (and wallet) enough to draw me into that purchase on release. His new collection of short stories, Fragile Things, comes with a reasonably hefty retail price of £17.99. You can imagine my shock, then, to discover Amazon selling it for just £8.99! Quite how the high street chains get away with such a huge markup is beyond me, but I urge you not to buy from them at such extortionate levels — I’m reasonably confident Neil isn’t seeing any of the money.

This is, somewhat improbably, the second book I own named Fragile Things, the other being a now impossible-to-find novel about a female glass artisan. I have yet to actually read much of Gaiman’s new offering, so a recommendation would be somewhat premature. Yet simply based upon the fascinating Smoke and Mirrors collection, I feel I can nonetheless. Reading time will become more limited once term starts in earnest, but I shall endevour to highlight my favourite bits over the next several weeks. There is nothing I enjoy more than to share his fabulous arrangements of letters, words and sentences.

It’s Hard For Gamers Wot Read

As a PC gamer the choice was always simple: PC Gamer or PC Zone; the question was usually a matter of price. Having moved back to consoles again (I owned a SNES but then switched solely to PC gaming until the release of the Xbox tempted me back) the water is rather muddier. The problem is that the specialist console-specific magazines have a vested in interest in promoting the platform positively in order to ensure there is a market for their own magazine. It is hardly a concern in the PC arena since their is little worry about computer gaming going anywhere!

The “official” console magazines often sound like little more than PR devices filled with more marketing rhetoric than the publishers’ own press releases. It is, one fears, hardly an impartial basis from which to receive news and reviews. The unofficial magazines may gain a little credibility by their distance, yet still share the same vested interest in buoying the numbers of their target demographic. Their flaw is that, due to the proprietary nature of the console media formats, they are unable to bundle demo or content discs, but simply provide video-filled DVDs.

Things are now changing for several reasons. Xbox Live renders the demo problem redundant as they are all readily available via the Marketplace. With the prevalence of broadband connection speeds “exclusive” videos are hardly deserving of the moniker now that most are readily available through sites across the internet within a week. So the very concept of the bundled disc, once so important in the selection process, is now largely redundant. This leaves the reader free to judge magazines based on content alone.

Edge magazineBrowsing the rack a few days ago, the only magazine that stood out was Edge. Selling itself as about videogame culture, everything about it is clean and refined from the notable absence of an extraneous disc to its round price of exactly £4. Covering every gaming platform guarantees some articles will be irrelevant, but the broad outlook and the focus on the development process as a whole results in a far more grounded view. Gone is the feverish need to promote everything, replaced by the desire to talk only about what they love — good games.

Grand Theft Auto: Cloud City

GTA: Cloud CityDiscussing the future of the GTA series now that it is receiving an immediate multiplatform release, someone suggested that the modern day setting was becoming tired and they should create a futuristic one. Aside from the fact it is a horrendous idea that would destroy the core appeal of the game, it was a great idea. So I began to muse on how such a world might look. Following in the footsteps of Vice City, there was only one possible future location: Cloud City, home of Arch-Pimp Lando Calrissian. And what better story arc than to follow than the fortunes of this “scoundral smuggler turned politician turned miltary general” protagonist. Actually, now it’s starting to sound like a good idea

The reason for relating this extended musing is that the same developers, best known for this violent gun-toting carjacking franchise, loathed by mothers and political upstarts everywhere, have just released a sports game. Nay, a table tennis game. One might see it as a dark confrontation with paddles and hollow balls replacing more traditional projectile weaponry, but in truth it bears more similarities with Pong than GTA. And yet it has been heralded by many as the best next-gen multiplayer experience thus far. With a ferocious speed that makes it far more compelling than it’s tennis counterparts and a finally tuned yet intuitive control system (for example a gentle rumble indicates aiming off the table, with stronger feedback the further you stray), it shows there is real depth in the company’s skills. Oh, and it looks pretty too.

Neil Gaiman has a new collection called Fragile Things coming out in September. If it’s anything like the fantastic short stories in Smoke and Mirrors, I will certainly be happy, appetite satiated having had nothing new since Anansi Boys last year. A mock-up of the cover shows translucent paper that looks very pretty but will likely get ruined within minutes. The UK cover, he has explained, will be completely different. So not to worry.

Finally, I forgot to mention that Sparkie now has tong-duelling photos from Ian’s birthday.

Light to Intermittent

I shall endeavour to keep updating you on the details and minutiae of Ball preparation as we work our ways towards Ball week and zero-hour. Things are, as you might expect, rather hectic. Should you find site updates becoming intermittent, don’t worry, regular service should return after the big party.

Checking in several hundred people as they enter the tightly secured Ball compound is no small task, and no one likes queuing outside so if the system is slow I’m responsible. I’ve just finished installing a WAMP server (that’s Windows, Apache, MySQL and PHP) onto my laptop so that I can run an independant snapshot of the online Ball database for ticket entry on the night. I’m currently sourcing a hub/router that will allow another three laptops to be connected to mine, which will act as the central machine serving the database and admin software to each of the others. Provided a midweek test goes smoothly, things should be ready for swift entry on the night.

In the last round of JCR elections, Philly J emerged as the new Griffin editor. Hopefully he will be more dedicated to ensuring regular releases than his predecessor, under whom I worked (producing only one issue). Though her communication was somewhat limited, it’s easy to criticise without having helped. Many were quick to complain about the non-arrival of later issues without even considering writing for the magazine, and while I placed my web skills at the ready, I did not actually produce any articles. Philly J has actually asked me to submit something for the issue due at the end of term, and I’m keen to help him out despite the deadline falling on the same weekend as the Ball. You should all think about contributing too. He seems interested in using one of P-2006’s illustrated poems, so perhaps we’ll be seeing one in print before long, which would be a decidedly odd experience. It also made me realise that it’s been a while since I’ve written anything meaningful, giving me the urge to start again.

The inside of a Catholic church holds a solemn atmosphere that no other denomination has quite managed to replicate. Sure, there’s the indulgent opulence but that’s mirrored in a myriad of aristocratic stately homes and gaudy mansions. I think it’s the guilt. It hangs weightily in the air, not oppressively, but with the scent of communal sorrow and the sense of joint failure. It reminds me of the German war cemeteries I visited as a child, always shocked by the mass graves they were forced to use in the small plots granted them in Allied territory. And I sometimes wonder whether the spiritual decline of the modern world is because man stopped believing in God, or because God no longer believes in man.

Syndrome 300

![Dow]SyndromeMy new hard drive, now named Syndrome, arrived last week and having had a little time to play with it I’m very impressed. At around 3GB to the pound, the bargain iomega drive was a snap to set up and looks exceedingly sleek (sleek enough to name at any rate). Slimmer and longer than I was expecting, it doesn’t take up too much deskspace and is surprisingly quiet, emitting no more than a soft hum, easily drowned out by your PC’s internal fan.

Beyond the novelty of seeing 5% used as opposed to the 95% to which I had become accustomed, having the extra 300GB allows for a little more experimentation with video encoding (I highly recommend Doom9 if you’re interested in that sort of thing) and a lot more photographs in higher quality formats. The bundled software also takes care of instantaneous backups of important files, letting me relax a little when it comes to those vital Ball and Globalist documents. Speaking of which, the third issue of the Globalist is now taking shape with Dexter helming production. Although labelled March, I’m as yet unsure of the final release schedule: it may appear early next term instead. Due to some delays at Yale, the previous issue has yet to appear on the website but I’ll let you know when it does. I think it improved in leaps and bounds over the first issue so I’m really proud of the result.

A bunch of us finally got together in Lyds’ room to watch Seven Years in Tibet as I had been intending. Afterwards, spotting Tremors sitting on her shelf, my eyes lit up at the prospect of B-movie fun with Kevin Bacon, so I’ll have to return to that gem soon.

Looking through the site’s stats I stumbled upon my photo of sleeping Pepper (Jenna’s kitten) being used online. I also recently discovered another good way to toy with telemarketers.

And finally, happy birthday Dad.

Mission Globalist: Objective Achieved

Apologies for the delay in updating, and a belated gong xi fa cai to you all. It all started a few days ago when my MP3 player started misbehaving. I wiped it, reinstalled the firmware and it’s been shiny and responsive ever since. Unfortunately soon after, it clearly being a technologically inauspicious time, my laptop pulled the same trick. Fortunately a set of backups and 2 full formats later (after a comment from Ravi reminded me that quick erasing leaves various residual system files behind), everything’s looking fine once more with a pretty new Vista-inspired appearance.

It seems to have been a particularly inopportune week from a health perspective too. Theresia’s eye affliction worsened to the point that she’s been forced to return to Germany, degrading this year to return once she’s recovered. Meanwhile Ackers has broken his ankle in an overzealous football game and I’ve heard that Sarah L managed to split open her head in an over-exuberant pub crawl. A collective get-well-soon to you all.

Globalist: old and newThe last few days have been pretty active Globalist-wise. The swanky new issue was released yesterday, so you should be able to find a copy in a nearby faculty. The AGM was held on Sunday with the election of the new editorial board. Although it’s hard to give away such a personal project, they’re a keen bunch and having worked with Dexter already, he has my utmost faith. I have agreed to continue helping on the production side in an auxiliary capacity. To round off the handover was the Annual Dinner yesterday evening. Vanessa truly outdid herself in arranging the event which tasted fantastic and pleased the remaining four senses admirably.

Kirsten got me to see Sophie Scholl along with her friend Fran on Friday, although its alliterative propriety evaded me at the time. For those who don’t recognise the name, Sophie Scholl was a member of The White Rose, an Anti-Nazi German student resistence group who operated during the war, and was executed for actions.

P.S. A cookie for anyone who spots the small, recent change to the site design. Speaking of cookies, I just opened my last pack of Oreos from the States. If I’m looking a little shaky in a week, chances are I’ve finished them and am suffering from the resultant withdrawal symptoms. Please be sensitive.

Rebel Without A Pulse

Stylish humour in games is hard to get right, but the real mystery is not so much how to make it work, but the fact that when it does, the games disappear into obscurity. The humour from the Sam & Max era that disappeared around the time of Grim Fandango has never properly re-emerged. Even when mixed with great gameplay and a decent story, as in Anachronox or Planescape: Torment, commercial success sadly still seems to evade such titles (I do hope you noted and appreciated the melancholy sibilance). Stubbs the Zombie is the latest such humorous creation that is both stylish and funny, allowing you to play the part of the zombie you usually blow away with a double-barreled twelve guage. Subtitled “Rebel Without A Pulse”, the games irreverent slant is clear from the start, rending limbs, eating brains and using body parts as weapons in a 1950s setting with a great musical accompaniment. Although the game is apparently somewhat flawed in its mechanics, this fantastic cinema trailer alone makes it seem worthwhile.

Phoenix Wright: Ace AttorneyMeanwhile for anyone struggling under the burden of selecting Christmas presents, GameSpot have generously stepped in to help with their Holiday Gift Guide. You select what sort of person your buying for and they provide a list of appropriate games with ratings. For someone like me it might suggest Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (no, I swear I’m not making this up), only you’ll have to buy me a Nintendo DS* to go with it too. The game is about a “rookie defence lawyer” with “the wildest cross-examination skills in town,” utilising the DS touch sensitive screen to investigate crime scenes and cross-examine witnesses in five cases. It’s certainly an original concept and beats traditional exam term revision if you ask me…

The Cambrige Globalist | Vol. 1, Issue 2Meanwhile the second issue of The Globalist is fast becoming a reality. The final edits of the articles are trickling through to the production team now and two pages are already complete. The coming issue’s theme is population and whilst I can’t divulge anything about the content, I figure once again I’ll let you see a sneak preview of the cover. Selecting an image was hard for this issue, wanting to avoid the clichés of people of different colours or an average Tokyo crowd. I tried looking at a few pretty cityscapes and then some impoverished slums but nothing quite worked. Then I thought, what if I could have both. So I tried Brazil. The city I settled on is Belo Horizonte, a large city with a sprawling slum quarter tumbling down the hillside.

Downing students should check out the Howard Proposal with attached plans and decide if that’s likely to be useful to students.

*No, seriously. Buy me a DS. Me love you long time?

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"Lack of imagination is an occupational hazard for an apex predator."

(CC) BY-NC 2005-2019 Priyan Meewella

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