Life I spent the past couple of days in bed, full of cold, which is how I managed to read the Danny Wallace book in record time in comparison to Elizabeth Wurtzel (excuse me while I sneeze ... waits ... oh alright ... bless me). Yesterday my ears chewed through The Rough Guides to Russia (still wierd), Scandinavia and Paris Cafes. Today I tried to be a bit New York so it was the soundtrack to Manhattan and this Norah Jones collaboration (which I have tried to review, but since I can't review music at all, just ends up sounding a bit bluesy, a bit country).

So it's two years now and for some reason it still hasn't gone away. Being home alone tucked up in bed I tried not to think about it. Almost ritualistically I put the tv on at about 3 o'clock to check that nothing had happened other than the memorial service. I found the brief moments of that difficult to watch so I went back to bed. The same question keeps being asked. Has the world really changed? Well, yes it has. All of the political news about reports and enquiries all lead backwards, however vaguely, to what happened in New York that day, and the ripple effects large and small are going to continue for years to come. I just wish they could all be like this ....
Books Danny Wallace, freelance journalist is bored. Having just moved into his own place after a flat share with his friend Dave all he finds himself doing is watching TV, playing games and scratching and it doesn't seem to be getting him anywhere. Then he hear's about an uncle he didn't know who's died. At the funeral he finds out that said Uncle had a plan in his youth to buy some land and talk a hundred people from his village (total population 1000) into living there with him in a collective, working the land and getting back to nature. He managed only three, became the family joke and entered into isolation.

Danny thinks he can do better and wants to commemorate his late uncle in some way. So he puts an classified advert in Loot magazine which simply says 'Join Me' and a note asking for a passport photo to be sent to his home address. It was a stupid idea. A flight of fancy. Then someone answered.

Join Me is a semi-sequel to the fabulous 'Are You Dave Gorman?' which he co-wrote with Dave Gorman. In that book it was Gorman who was the eccentric, the person wanting to find 54 people namesakes; Wallace was the straight man; the one telling Dave to calm down, to stop the madness before it went too far.

Here the story continues. It isn't clear how far after the previous book all this happened for it seems pretty close. It's as though Wallace secretly missed the chase he was sidekick to and needed something to fill the hole. He might have been the frowner last time, but he was secretly enjoying every minute. In this book it turns out he's possibly even madder; at least Gorman has a perceptible limit to his work. Wallace shoots the ball going and doesn't even goal. But one of the joys of the book is the constant revelations as it proceeds and since I'm going to recommend you buy this at the end of the review I don't want to give too much away.

This is another in an ever increasing genre of books in which reasonably normal people do quite extraordinary things for no apparent reason and write about them. Part of the charm here is that Wallace admits that he doesn't have the writing ability of other people in the genre and name checks travel writer he thinks would be doing a better job. Ironically he's actually as good as they are. For various reasons he takes a trip to Paris and perfectly captures what it's like around the Eiffel Tower and in the cafes.

As in the Gorman book he also captures the silent majority of people in the UK who are extraordinary for no apparent reason other than they feel like they should be doing something out of the ordinary. It's not anarchy, or non-conformity in the traditional sense. It's that idea that if you want to change the way life is and expected behavior, your only course of action is to have a go. I'd say the recent craze of FlashMobbing and BookCrossing (leaving old books about for other people to pick up and enjoy) are other examples of this.

For me the most interesting aspect of this endeavor is that at no point does the reader feel that all of this happened because of a potential book deal. Wallace didn't go to the book publisher with the publisher with the idea before proceeding. There is even a hint that this story was only turned into words after the success of the first book, which means that for some time it existed only in the news reports and website. It was a personal project, something the journalist wanted to do so that he was at least doing something.

But I'm not going to pretend it's a book for everyone. As with the Gorman book there is a built in pointlessness about the story which will not appeal to all. There are a couple of occasions when some readers might wonder about the motives. For the rest of us, those who love the idea that moments of magic like this can happen in the world we're stuck with at present, it's a joy and reinvigorates your belief in people. Here is the bit were I recommend you buy the book. Buy the book.
Elsewhere Old post about The Bangles dredged up by someone at a message board.
Life In a fortnight we're moving back to the flat we vacated a year ago for building work. For some reason the packing doesn't seem to be as monumental this time. I didn't really unpack anything so most of my life is still in cardboard. But I filled three boxes tonight and half of everything and that seems to be half of everything I need doing.

I'm also being very ruthless when it comes to clearing out. Watching Life Laundary has taught me that I don't really need to keep half the stuff I have. The CD Roms were easy. Most were cover discs with massively old and inferior software on them and some simply weren't compatible anymore. The paperwork was difficult and filled with value judgements - how long do you need to keep payslips for a job you left four years ago?

I've always had a rather excessive video collection. I've hoarded tv recordings and I've got thousands of tapes. But looking through some of the boxes I've already packed I can't think for the life of me why I'm keeping half of them. Perhaps I've been spoilt by DVD but what's the point in keeping a second generation copy of Steel Magnolias in full screen which I taped and retaped from ITV ten years ago. I've also rammed up against the sticky problem of long play incompatibility between recorders. So all of the Quantum Leap episodes I faithfully collected from the BBC are all unwatchable because I've changed recorders twice since then.

Black bagging it all is a liberating experience. There are lots of programmes I would never let go of. Like the Adam and Joe Fourmative Years programme from when Channel 4 celebrated fifteen years of programming; or the Mark Kermode documentaries about making his favourite films; or the John Cusack movie Better Off Dead. But in the past I've thought it was important to have an archive of all these programmes, in case I had to teach a class, or anyone wanted to borrow them. But I realized that HMV has a better archive and Blockbuster loan out things as well. If it's the difference between having a room which doesn't look like the stacks at the British Library Audio Visual section and having a clear head, I'll choose the latter. I have tapes which I bought or taped five years ago I still haven't watched. Sometimes you have let go.

I'm even loosing many books. If I've read it and it doesn't have some special significance, it's gone. Douglas Adams and Monty Python are staying, Tom Clancy and John Grisham are going. I'll be keeping all of the literature I studied at school and losing all the literature I collected but never read. I've got all of Charles Dickens' novels just to look impressive on the shelf. I've never read them so why keep them? If I get the burning desire the library is always there and it won't be wasting shelf space when its finished. Already some will be pouring scorn on me, but it's amazing actually how much the human brain can keep in store. I don't need to have the volume on a shelf to talk about it.

There are special cases. My Yahoo Internet Life's aren't going anywhere. Neither my Empire movie magazines or SFX. But as a trade off Premiere has gone south as have Total Film (except for the earlier issues when it was new and fresh and Danny Wallace wrote for them). Although I know I need to filter my CD collection for the same reasons as above, for some reason music feels different. I know I'll never listen to that Speedball Baby album again, but I really like the cover. And I really couldn't live without the six minute version of Underwater Love by Smoke City.

Will there be anything I'll regret chucking out? Probably. Now and then my Dad talks about the mint condition copies of Amazing Stories and Eagle comic my late Gran threw out when she cleared out his boyhood things for him (have you seen how much the former are going for)? But almost everything is replacable I think and there are too few hours in the day to enjoy anything anymore. And besides I'm always more interested in the things I haven't seen / heard / read before than those things that I have. Which is probably why I can't wait to see what Lucas does with the old Star Wars trilogy in the next few years.

But that's a different discussion for another time. For now I'll just put it in that box over there …
TV Has The West Wing lost it's bite? Actually I don't feel that things are as stark as Ian Jones portrays. Considering the title and premise of the show, there wasn't a way Bartlett could lose the election. I think it was much braver that he was a foregone conclusion, that the opposition had peeled away. The race to win an election at the last minute has been done a hundred times before and for this not to happen for once was a treat. I do agree that there have been a few too many underdeveloped characters lying around (a criticism which can be levelled at many US ensemble dramas of late) and I still miss the soapier aspects of the first season (Sam's hooker girlfriend etc). A Season Five without Sorkin's guiding hand is a worry. Anyone want to let us know how that's going?
According to this I'm lucky in love. No, actually.
Film I've noticed lately that I've become a bit of a film snob. There are some films which I've actively been avoiding because the reviews have been utterly poor, or even worse, they're just for teenagers. So I'll go out of my way to see some low budget German film about homelessness but I'd rather be homeless than see 2 Fast 2 Furious. The problem with this approach is that if I'd applied it to eighties films, I would have been too busy watching Kieslowski's Decalog to care about Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club or Adventures In Babysitting.

Which is way I'm glad I finally rented Just Married. This is not a great film. Structurally, the flashbacking works against our connection with the characters and in places some of the dialogue clunks around with exposition and placeholders made celluloid. But it is a film that you really don't mind watching over and over because in places it's just majestic. Sound like a certain eighties teen film we all know?

It's mostly redeemed by the chemistry and timing of the two leads. Ashton Kulcher has clunked about in precious movies, but here he comes across as a young John Cusack gone Gap advert. He is able to play farce very well as the situation slowly drifts away from him, his manic attempts to take control of the situation a joy. But he has a great woman supporting him. Brittany Murphy's sultry turn in 8 Mile doesn't really prepare you for just how endearing she is here. I was always selling Monica Potter as a likely successor to Julia Robert's crown. Murphy has stolen that candidacy. Like Roberts, she has the ability to make the viewer smile just by grinning herself. She's also a frame stealer; even in the background your eyes are watching her as she listens and reacts to whatever's happening in the foreground. This is the same girl who was in Clueless?

It?s the physical comedy which marks this film over some others. Whereas in something like American Pie, where moments are carefully set up and it's your reaction as they play out, here it's the unexpected. Doors slam in people's faces, balls bang into people's heads, walls are fallen through, heads knock together. And it's the indomnitability of the leads which make most of this happen, their reactions.

The trouble is that because of the reliance of the leads to perform (in a sports way) it just falls apart in places. There is a subplot in which a possible ex-fiance of the girl turns up at their honeymoon and tries to steal her away. But he?s a rerun of the Billy Zane character from Titanic and just as one dimensional. We know Murphy won't possibly fall for him and the tension isn?t there. Similarly there doesn?t appear to be any reason Kulcher asks an American girl up to his hotel room other than so that Murphy can suspect that he has been unfaithful. And so that last ten minutes of the film largely fall apart because the Hollywood machine kicks into play and creates a needless positive ending, which you can guess.

Also I can't see why we needed to see anything outside the funeral. Everyone one of the characters back home feels surplace to requirements, and there isn't any exposition which couldn?t have been told inventively to people they met on the trip. I would have like to have seen the film end as the plane takes off at the airport back to the US, perhaps offering a moment between them demonstrating that there is some hope. The final ten minutes of the piece are nothing like anything in the rest of the film which is a real shame.

But I do want to see it again, because when it's good, it's very good, and it feels just like those eighties comedies, only with a bigger budget. So it'll probably end up in my DVD collection when I've bought all the affortmention. Besides, there is really good joke which feels like it's been invited in from the Channel 4 sitcom Spaced, so really can't be all bad.