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is an amazing thing which lets me know where you live and who you are. Don't worry, I won't come and pillage your village and steal your women ...
News I've probably been a bit slow to catch up with this one, but it occured to me five minutes ago that it's possible to set up your own subject specific weblogs tailored to you're own minority interests using Google News. So that if you want the latest news about Shakespeare, it's there ready to be checked every day, just make sure the 'Sorted by Date' option is toggled, and add it to your favourites. It isn't perfect. Repeat stories are common and irrelevence happens. But it's more comprehensive than some dedicated sites and very, very up-to-date. Suggestions: Sunflowers, Weblogs, Buffy, Chocolate, Woody Allen, Mozart, Peaches, The West Wing, installations, feeling listless, whatever.
Blog! Couldn't agree more Ranleigh:
"Note to Self - From now on only go to Matinees. Do not, I repeat do not go to evening films. $9.50 is too much for a movie even if the damn thing does run something like 3 hours. Also, while matinees are virtually empty ensuring a relaxing movie going experience, evening showing are completely packed meaning you'll have to sit within the heavy oppressive blanket of humanity feeling all hot and claustrophobic while some huge guy spills over into your seat. The feeling of claustrophobia will be worse when the running time is something like 3 hours. In fact everything is worse when the running time is 3 hours."
Unless it's something with Lord, Rings, Dances or Wolves in the title. I'm sorry what?
Technology One of the most annoying adverts early last year featured a strange man in wierd suit patronising people who have yet to use a computer into buying an 'Amstrad Emailer'. Other then the ability to accept emails and internet access, the main selling point on the advert seemed to be that you would be able to play 'exciting ZX Spectrum games' (on a mono screen -- yes pixel clashes are a thing of the past). On the whole it looked like a sad piece of work, and for £99.99, seriously poor value for money. Now Amstrad have reduced the price by half:
"The e-m@iler is included in Amstrad's Amserve division, which is 89.8 per cent owned by Amstrad and 10.2 per cent by Dixons. The group's telephone partner is Thus. In September Amstrad reported a fall into the red after losses mounted at the e-m@iler business. The business had problems getting the machine to shops in time for Christmas 2001."
Well there were plenty in Dixons this year but the one I saw had dust gathering on it. I don't actually have anything against the idea -- the chance for people who haven't got a PC to collect emails and look at the web. What I do object to is the repackaging of obsolete technology for the purpose. Yes, it is very cheap, but having tried one of these things, I found the functionality confusing and the web access very slow, and very mid-90s. I would hate to think that this is some people's only exposure that thing which makes this weblog possible.
Film If anyone out there taped the marathon run through of the ‘100 Greatest Films’ from Channel 4 the other weekend I urge you to at least watch the second part. My insomniatic glare picked over it late last night and suddenly I was watching the sixth entry ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ – then back after the break I was watching number seventeen. Then after the next adbreak the announcer appeared to explain that they’d got the tapes muddled and missed out numbers twenty-two to eighteen altogether and that they would be shown there and then. The whole idea of such lists is that they appear in the correct order. Somehow this was more entertaining and demonstrated how arbitrary these choices are anyway. Pity they didn't miss Graham Norton out instead.

Watching the thing has inspired me to collate all of the answers left by visitors to the guestbook and throw together the top films as chosen by readers of this weblog. It makes for ecclectic, if slightly expected reading:

The top eight is something like this:

1. The Lord Of The Rings
2. Star Wars
3. When Harry Met Sally
4. The Matrix
5. Moulin Rouge
6. Shrek
7. Dangerous Liasons
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey

Neither ‘Sally’, ‘Rouge’ or ‘Liasons’ appeared in the Channel Four list so it’s nice to see them appear here. ‘Rings’ is still quite new, but I’d expect to see it appear a lot more in the official lists over the next few years. Whether it will really overtake Star Wars as the world’s favourite remains to be seen. Weird not seeing ‘Shawshank’ though. The above represent films which received more than two votes. There were another 180 films which each got either one or two votes each. There isn’t a Star Trek anywhere in there, although Serendipity gets a mentions as does Police Academy V. If anyone is interest I’ll be happy to send it to them by email.
Life I haven't made any New Year's resolutions this year, partly because my resolution last year was to make none this year and I wanted to be the first person ever to keep a resolution, but mostly because this is going to be the year when I let whatever happens happen. All bets are off, I suppose. For once in my life I'm going to go with the flow. Oh damn, that's a resolution isn't it. Well, OK this year I'm going to be the first person to keep a resolution. We'll see.
Blog! Jack Sheer didn't have such a great time last year:
"I feel the need to sum up this 2002 experience, and I think I've found the way. There's a phrase that ran through my head each time some new setback was visited on me or mine. It came to me in the voice of a parent whose children have just broken another fragile knickknack while playing catch in the house. Those feelings of exasperation, frustration, and bemused resignation permeated the year."
All I can really say is ... hope you have a better 2003 ...
Weather While some of us are experiencing the usual New Year flooding hell, some are taking to the cold waters in the name of charity. "MADCAP charity fundraisers donned fancy dress costumes and went for a dip in the bitterly cold sea at Scarborough." Only a KISS fan would be strange enough surely.
Art Cubism - Alive and Well and living in Australia. No really.
Culture Pop Matters annual review of last year is a bit different this year. As well as listing highlights, there is also a list of Ten Reason American Culture Did Suck. Much of the article does rely on the reader either being in the US or a Phd in Americana, but there are some resonances:
"And let's consider the source material: did anyone read A Beautiful Mind before they ran out and caught the cinematic adaptation? Even if they did, you'd have to probably multiply that readership by a billion to catch up with the fiercely devoted and relentlessly picky Tolkien readership that has made his trilogy the second-most read literary work (after the Bible, which in many parts of the world isn't really considered a literary work anyway) of the century. Let's get real, Jackson got robbed. It doesn't take yet another Russell Crowe hissy-fit to realize that. The lamest move of the year, hands down."

"Sometimes Hollywood can't help but sicken even the hardiest of digestive tracts. And yeah, Whoopi Goldberg, is right: this is small-time stuff and the only reason that the Ryder case exploded was because she's a celeb. But that's the whole freakin' point! She's high-profile (and did I mention filthy rich?) and should be smart enough to know that stuff like this is what gets celebs sent to the dark cellars of the National Enquirer for life. It's a no-brainer, but that seems to be what Ryder is turning out to be these days. And to top it off, some sharp capitalist printed up (without a hint of irony, by the way) a line of shirts bearing the slogan, "Free Winona", which other stars then had the audacity to wear."
There is also a lucious deconstruction of FOX News which will be familar to anyone who has Sky. Whenever I see the pull pressed suits on that channel I can only imagine that their viewership are some loony hicks in a barn somewhere watching TV from a petrol generator spitting dried peas at soup tins.
Sport Some angry man keeps commenting in my guest book about the Paula Radcliffe review entry on Christmas Eve. I slightly got the wrong end of the stick (and transposed her performance from the World Championship) and made out that running 5000 metre in half an hour was a major acheivement. Edited. Then realised that it was the time I'd over egged not the distance. Re-edited. It's correct now. But just goes to show, one little mistake ...
Rings 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers' is a massive film. Sometimes that adjective is used for small comedies because of their opening weekends. Here I use the word ‘massive’ to simply describe the sheer scale of the thing. I saw it on a relatively small screen and it felt like IMAX. It’s a long time since a film has been released which is so wide screen, every corner filled with moments and action.

It’s certainly one of the best sequels ever made (whether you think it’s the best depends on whether Peter Jackson is the new George Lucas, and if you like The Godfather films). There is quotable dialogue in a Whedonesque sense (the scene at the keep when Aragorn and Gimli are talking over their attack strategy in particular). Not have read the book (on purpose would you believe) I don’t know how much of this is down to Tolkein (and I’d love it if someone could enlighten me) but it fills the film with the kind of ‘Great Escape’ type moments which will make you want to watch it again and again. Just like ‘The Matrix’ you’ll want to see this thing again as soon as you’ve left the cinema.

Comparing this to ‘Attack of the Clones’, yet again underlines what a hack Lucas is. Random comment, but I thought it important.

Puzzlingly, many reviewers have brought attention to the fact that there are actually four different stories taking place simultaneously and it makes the film ‘bitty’. Yes, you would like the ex-Fellowship to bump into one another now and then to talk about what’s happening to Middle Earth, but their isolation only means the films falls into the same genre as ensemble pictures like ‘Magnolia’, ‘Short Cuts’,’ Timecode’ or ‘Last Night’; there are to main elements seen in those film which appear. Most importantly the idea of seemingly separate storylines happening simultaneously with characters who only meet at random intervals – in ‘Timecode’, it became clear gradually that Salma Hayek was cheating on Jean Tripplethorn with Stephan Scarsguarde who was married to Saffron Burrows – in ‘TTT’ Merry and Pippin bump into Gandalf who then subsequently rides out with Aragorn. Secondly, the entire world of the film (and so the characters) are rocked by the same major incident. In ‘Last Night’, it’s the end of the film via solar flare, in both ‘TimeCode’ and ‘Short Cuts’ we have earthquakes – in ‘TTT’ it’s the battle for Middle Earth seen from numerous perspectives.
Blog! Matt Haughey has been threatening to start The Ticket Stub Project for some years and it finally launched yesterday. It's fascinating, idiosyncratic and nostalgic. Already started glancing through my books looking for old tickets I can write about ...
People Matthew Paris demonstrates all the reasons Charles Kennedy will be the best Prime Minister we never had:
"The Liberal Democrat leader was playing King of the Kids. Kennedy is a bright and likeable man and came across as such, but with this audience he was verging on the ingratiating and some of them (a minority) sensed this and bristled. Most, however, lapped him up; Kennedy played it for laughs, and got them. Anticipating the opinions and concerns which predominated among his listeners, he sidled up to them. ‘At least you knew where Maggie stood,’ he told them."
NB: The Lib Dems are gaining on the Conservatives in the polls.
Press Costa-Rican newspaper, The Tico Times offers a pdf version of their yearly review for ex-Rican's throughout the world who want to catch up with home. It isn't a short download, but it's a fascinating insite into another land. International scousers can look here for an online version of the Liverpool Echo.
Christmas I’ve had the usual quiet festive period. Christmas in particular was everything I hoped for, and my Mum hasn’t lost her capacity to make me cry (even after the Flat Iron Building incident of last year). A couple of weeks before Christmas, I was talking to her about how Christmas doesn’t feel the way it used to. Some of this was because I’m older, but a lot of it has to do with not actually doing as many things in the run up to the day. In yore, there would by carol concerts at school, Christmas Fairs, trips to see Father Christmas. I particular mentioned the hampers we used to get. The ones which Mum would save 52 weeks for and would arrive in mid-December laden with goodies, and how I loved the surprise of not knowing what would be inside. We stopped getting them because there was too much in them and we would frequently have stuff so long we’d end up donating it to the harvest festival.

On Christmas morning on top the printer I knew I was getting, was another equally large box. I was told to open that last. At the end of the gift swapping my mum passed me a note with ‘Hamper for Stuart Ian Burns’ written. I’d entirely forgotten about the conversation above so my interest was peaked. I unpicked the brown paper, opened it up. Inside, there were a mass of new presents all individually wrapped in tissue paper. I began to unwrap them – packet of disposable razors, box of mini-hula hoops, White Chocolate Coins. I started to cry. Not just the odd the tear. Full blown, eyes stinging, throat sore tears. I hadn’t done that in a while. I’d remembered. Damn I’m thinking about it now and I’m filling up.

To be honest I still don’t know why I cried. Maybe it was lost youth. Nostalgia. The same stuff as last year. Part of it I know, is that these family Christmases are going to become rarer and I suppose I just want to keep them going as long as I can. I’m welling up now just thinking about that. Some of it was because I hadn’t had time this year to think too hard about presents and here was something which was entirely about thought. Either way it was the best present I got this year.

But you see that’s a split decision. Because on Boxing Day my Auntie and Uncle came. My Auntie handed over a package which felt like a jumper or some sort of coat. But when I opened it. A Bagpuss rug. Home made. It had taken her three months to make and frankly it’s a work of art. My Auntie at one point unpicked and re-tied a section of it because she had the wrong shade of pink. Even has the mice from the mouse organ at his feet. It’s took good to walk on, so I’ve a feeling I’m just going to have to move house soon so that I can give it wall space. It funny, fascinating and the other best present I got this year.
About Last Night ... The world failed to end again last night. I know some will be disappointed by that, but I’m actually glad and more than a bit hopeful. No matter what our Prime Minister says (and I’m finding it very difficult to even contemplate his name), things can’t get much worse than they are now. I have great faith in the human spirit, that in the end we do all know right from wrong, that we can learn from the mistakes from the past and that 2003 should proceed mostly without a hitch.
Everything else So alright it has been a surprising year in someways. Which is why I’m having difficulty thinking of a fifth; I could take the fifth at this juncture, but that wouldn’t be funny, so we’ll open a file called, ’everything else’ and offer this list: Buffy musical ‘Once More With Feeling’; Alanis Morissette in good album shocker; Neil Young is back again; so is Beverly Knight; and so is Bob Dylan; Oasis think they are but they really aren’t; Liberty X go to prove that no one knows anything by releasing something intelligible; Mylene from ‘Hearsay’ to go classical; Jade from ‘Big Brother’ hasn’t released a single; and while we’re on the subject did anyone see that Anna Nolan travelogue where she visited a sex commune? John Major had an affair with Edwina Curry (this is music related – OK it isn’t, but MY GOD!); David Byrne is cool again; Atomic Kitten still aren’t (penultimate mention – last one in April – has it really been nine months?); Toyah murders her own ‘I want to be free’ on ‘Songs of Praise’; Shakira; someone decided that Grandmaster Flash would be the perfect compare for the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony (he wasn’t); Bill Bailey fits in well on ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’; the ‘Back to the Future’ moment in ‘The Two Towers’.
The UN Concert to celebrate the giving of the Nobel Peace Prize (or something like that) Shown extremely late at night, there can be little doubt that the many hundred who tuned in for this will have sat in a state of utter bewilderment. This glittering occasion had the unfortunate whiff of a Eurovision Song Contest without voting and with people you had a broad chance of having heard of. Sadly on this occasion neither Ken Bruce or Terry Wogan were available. So instead, looking like overdone Oscar presenters we had the unlikely partnership of Meryl Streep (not looking at all well), and Liam Neeson (not looking at all comfortable). Well unlikely if you haven’t seen the obscure tv movie on a budget ‘Before and After’.

The overall highlights of the show: Neeson and Streep actually announcing the acts. Nowhere else will you hear that gruff Irish brogue whisper: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Wycliff Jean.” Then there was Streep’s in ability to say “A-ha” without sounding like Sherlock Holmes discovering a vital clue; Morten Harket of the aforementioned group, still with the belief that tight leather pants are cool; poor old Natalie Imbruglia batting out ‘Torn’ and her new single to a largely unappreciative audience; the unappreciative audience who we suspect would have looked any less bored if Elvis had turned up, with John Lennon doing backing vocals; the high contingent of classical performers who were excellent but who you’d never heard of; Meryl again: “And here, to sing “Nessum Dorma!”, Russell Watson”; Anastacia (how can that voice come from the body?); Destiny’s Child managing to get through a live song without a catfight or a lawsuit (meow) and finally Paul McCartney.

Now my Dad went to school with Paul (actually he’s a few years younger so they never met as far as my Dad can remember). Little did we know he would become a walking Metafilter for the occasion, when he began his set by telling us one of the songs was about September 11th and the other was dedicated to George. There was a certain inevitability when he ended the show with ‘Let It Be’, given an extra-powerful lift by the group accompaniment of the stars of the show. This would seem to be the only time these stars will ever share a stage again. It was almost as good as that bit in ‘Live Aid’, and before he’d decided that he wrote the songs before John. He did. He did. He did. Goddam you Yoko …
T-A-T-U This is one of those occasions were it ddidn't matter what you were doing, you suddenly had to drop everything, run to the screen and sit slack jawed. The last time this happened was at college, when one night, in a packed student union, the interminable Robert Altman film 'Pret a Porter' was being shown on the big screen. The night was OK, not brilliant. Then suddenly all of the men in the room put their pints down, almost in unison, and glared at the screen. As a friend described, 'There was a catwalk, an' all these girls 'an they were naked.' Scene finished and the embarrassed half the room looked back into their girlfriend's faces.

So I'm minding my own business, tidying my room ready for Christmas, and I've got 'The Music Factory' (Freeview version of Mtv) playing in the background. It's 2:30 in the afternoon. It was one of those rare occasions when five promos had been played which weren't Nellyville or Blue. This song appears which is catchy in a sub-Groovejet sort of way. I glance at the screen to see the video, and two over aged school girls are being stared at through some fencing in the rain. And then they start to kiss.

 Now this isn't some peck on the cheek; whatever the motives this is full on passion, that scene in 'Cruel Intentions' with other things on their mind. I'm old enough to remember the uproar which surrounded the antics of Beth Jordache on 'Brookside'. Which was the most surprisingly aspect -- this was on during the afternoon, pre-watershed. Over and over. Russian lesbianism is suddenly acceptable for TV. And I thought this sort of thing only happened on Buffy.
Late Junction I discovered this relatively, well, late. Both of the released mix albums are an antidote to the anodyne meanderings of most compilation albums (how are can there be annuals for the superclubs, when (a) they aren't looking so super anymore, (b) they list the next year Cream 2003 or whatnot … how do they know). Anyway, if it hadn't been for Fiona and Verity I wouldn't experience the spooky moment after 'The Fast Show' live when I sat with my friend Chris, in the car park of the most dangerous MacDonald in Manchester (where the staff actually had to 'buzz' the door open for you) eating a Bic Mac, and listening the Ethiopian Rhythm Music, all humming and strange stringing noises). Here are the entries I posted on this weblog on the night I first tuned in:
>>I've always thought there was room for a radio station without musical barriers -- which didn't see a difference between Jazz, Classical, Rock or Pop, which only had a belief in Music as a whole, which only wanted to bring the best to it's audience. Perhaps in the future in digital radio I'll see this happen, but for now I think I've found a close approximation. 'Late Junction' on Radio Three, a world music programme boasts on it's home page a: "laid-back, esoteric mix of music from across the globe, ranging from Mali to Bali, and from medieval chant to 21st-century electronica." This sort of randomness sounds like exactly the sort of thing I've been looking for and I'm tuning in for the first time tonight -- drawn finally by the chance to hear Act One of 'The Clanger's Opera'. Currently waiting for it to start...

>>We've already had Peruvian music, organ music, Jazz and now the soundtrack to an episode of 'The Clangers' -- this is great.

>>Back to Radio Three again with a twenty-minute piece of classical music, which I'm sure I could hear any other time of the day. I was promised music from Bali...
Which strangely I got the following night. Spurned me on to do a World Music course at the University …
Jarvis Cocker With Pulp dumped by their record label, and Jarvis heading off to Paris, the only thing left to do in this country was to appear on 'Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes'. The whispers started as soon as the tv guides began to preview the performance, people either shrugging and lamenting a once fine music career, or smiles at the ironic brilliance of the man. Then the show aired. I don't actually remember what Matthew Kelly said to Cocker, or vise versa. All I can see (and hear) clear is the moment when the musician said 'Tonight Matthew I'm going to be Rolf Harris' and there he was moments later in the beard. And he really was channeling the spirit of a young Rolf, and for moments we were back in the seventies, with Rolferoos about. The perfect finale would have been the appearance of a hundred school children, all cross legged as Jarvis threw out a painting of John Peel. But the fact that he won the contest was brilliance enough. I'm so happy I never watch ITV. You can however catch it again on New Year Eve as part of that Jamie Theakston introduced clip show.
Music It hasn't been an especially surprising year in music, although many surprising things have happened. Here are my top five:
Blog! It seems only fair at this juncture to acknowledge the weblogs I’ve been reading this year. If you aren’t on this list, it isn’t because I don’t love you it’s just that I had to pick some didn’t I?

Sore Eyes John always has a habit of offering the links which always seem just out of my grasp, on subjects I’m always interested in. Recently the discussion sections have become as intelligent and interesting as the actual weblog, proving that communities spring up everywhere.

Wrzl Weblog Something with quality and quantity. Sometimes you just want to go on-line to play games, act a little bit strange or silly or just be laddish. Haven’t yet visited and not found something exhilarating or unusual.

4fs Says all of the things you wish you could say in a way you wish you could say them. A sort of angry version of Douglas Adams.

In Passing... because it's fractured humanity reflecting in on itself. And really funny.

Boing Boing Of the 'big' weblogs, I've had the most enjoyment here this year. Easier to read than /., less difficult to love than Mefi.

See also ... linkmachinego, online blog, scotblog, Rebecca Blood, Wheadonesque, Outpost Gallifrey, Soap Box Girls, The Uncool, Salty, Gawker ...