Links for 2005-12-16 []

Dave's Long Box: Comic Book Fashion Disaster, Pt 1.
"We?ll start with the ladies first time out. One of the hazards of being a female comic book hero is that men draw what you wear. Correction: nerdy men draw what you wear."

Talk some another random user of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Could be hilarious....

As Tom Lehrer wrote: "There once lived a man named Oedipus Rex, / You may have heard about his odd complex. / His name appears in Freud's index / 'Cause he loved his mother...."

Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion review @ SFX
A bit spoilery although I love this bit: "With Tennant?s casting, Eccleston seems even more of an aberration, the furrow-browed Timothy Dalton of Doctor Who, and it?s easier now to believe in a direct lineage with Troughton, Baker or Davison."

Serenity DVD Packaging Confirmation in Australia ...
I hope we get this in the UK

Festival Hall


Originally uploaded by Alex Clark.

This image will depress anyone who remembers the Garden Festival in Liverpool in 1984. This is what the inside of the Festival Hall looks like now -- what a waste. I can still see the outside in the distance from my window at home and it was always a symbol of hope. Not any more. There is another image here.

Review 2005

Samantha Burns

Although I've had a number of little successes this year, few are worthy enough of discussing here. I mean, I'm sure you all have little interest in hearing my success in going through my shoe collection and throwing out the ones I know I just won't wear anymore.

Yup, now I'm down to just one box. Yay!

Aside from that, I have had three successes I'll mention here. First, I am proud to say that after over 10 years of loving their music, I finally got to see Slash, Duff, and Matt in concert as members of Velvet Revolver. I've been a Guns N' Roses fan since they came out with Sweet Child O' Mine. Of course, I'm too old to be a freak fan of VR - being 30, I'd look pretty silly with my walls loaded with magazine clippings of the band and wearing a black VR t-shirt daily with ripped up jeans. Regardless, it was a superb experience being able to see my favourite guys in concert.

Another achievement I'm proud of is that I quit eating McDonalds. I haven't eaten the stuff since early in the year when I saw a news story showing an image of a dead rodent in a burger and that deterred me from going there again, regardless of whether it was a scam or not.

Finally, I found something that I take great joy in doing: blogging. My site is where I get to have fun, express myself as I wish, and give to society in the form of entertainment. It's just so much fun for me.

A couple other things I've succeeded at is getting my cartooning to a level that I feel is worthy of publishing, and I also started painting.

So, I guess, really, that I've described more than a moment of success, but I think that's a good thing. Overall, I've had a successful year, so I suppose next year can only go downhill.

Great, thanks for bumming me out Feeling Listless.

Kidding, of course. Next year, even greater challenges await and I can't wait to get my hands into it.

Samantha Burns writes The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.

Review 2005

Mike Atkinson

Ever since that doleful Christmas Day in my mid-teens when I found that I could carry all of my presents up to my room in one armful, the highlight of the holiday season has been the production, distribution and exchange of the hallowed Best Of The Year lists.

Although these vary in number and length from year to year according to whim, two lists are always compiled without fail: Singles Of The Year (minimum of 40) and Albums Of The Year (minimum of 20). Other supplementary lists might include gigs, films, books, cultural events, memorable experiences - and even, for a few giddy "You ARE a swan!" years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, best shags. Basic rule of thumb: if you can play it, look at it or (ahem) interact with it in other more personally specific ways, then it's ripe for ranking.

More balanced minds than mine might well deplore this strange urge to reduce every precious experience in life into a numbered item on a sheet of A4, or word processing document, or spreadsheet, or web page, or blog entry. To which I say: where is the fun in merely enjoying things as you go along, without the additional thrill of trying to compare them with other?

More importantly - and laying all ironic self-deprecation to one side for a moment - if, by cataloguing these experiences, we ensure that they are committed to our long-term memories, then doesn't that have more value than merely letting them wash over you, each fresh wave obliterating the traces of the one before?

Thus it is that, every morning of the working week, I pack my vintage Filofax into my satchel, containing hand-written lists of my favourite singles and albums from 1986 to 1999. Just in case I need to check something out during the day. (The rest are safely on the web, hence the cut-off date.) Sorry, doesn't everybody do this?

However, in all of these years of happy cataloguing - not to mention the ritual "countdown evening" which my mate Dave and I have been celebrating for the past 20 years, in which jealously guarded scraps of paper are brandished and read out, in reverse order, alternating with each successive chart position, while our respective partners cringe in the corner - no-one has ever invited me to submit any of these lists for inclusion into an official, legitimate, published Critics' Poll.

This year, that dream has come true. The ultimate validation. The cherry on top of the cake. The icing sugar on the mince pie. The brandy butter on the plum pudding. The cinnamon stick in the mulled wine. The sixpence at the bottom of the stocking. The descant variation on the final chorus of "The First Noel". The "Gawd bless you sir!" on the lips of the wassailing urchin. The complementary glass of Asti Spu at the office party. The half-day skive after lunchtime on Christmas Eve. The extra half hour on the end of Top Of The Pops. The tense little smile at the end of the Queen's speech, which almost makes you love her.

(Please feel free to re-arrange the above according to preference, awarding ten points to your favourite, nine points to your second favourite, etc. I know I shall.)

Having been charged with this solemn duty by the good people at Stylus magazine, I found myself having to deal with an altogether different set of operational guidelines. When making lists primarily for my own amusement, my only considerations are subjective. If this daft little piece of transitory disco froth has brought me greater personal pleasure than that groundbreaking milestone in the history of contemporary music, then so be it. But if I'm contributing to an official critics' poll, to be scrutinised and evaluated by a whole bunch of readers whom I have never met, and held up as some sort of definitive guide to the year's most important musical moments, then other considerations demand to be brought into play.

Also, there are tactical issues to consider. It's all very well to put that obscure Belgian dance track in your Top 10 - but if the chances of its picking up votes from any other participants are virtually zero, then why squander a perfectly good chart position? Also, why put that much loved international smash inside your top three, when it's a dead cert for the final cut anyway, and you could be promoting something a little more worthy instead?

As you might imagine, I deliberated on all of this for many, many hours, the weight of my responsibilities sitting heavily on my shoulders. But now, with the combined chart currently being revealed to the readers of Stylus magazine in daily instalments, I can smile with satisfaction at a job well done.

And then go away again, rip the first list up, and compile a completely different second list of my real favourites. Double the pleasure! What could be better!

Don't shake your heads at me like that. I am happy in my madness. Merry Christmas, everybody. And happy list-making.

Mike Atkinson writes Troubled Diva.

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.

Going for globes

Film Quick glance at the Golden Globe nominations and see that Woody Allen is up for Best Director and Screenplay for Match Point, that the film is on for Best Picture and Scarlett Johansson is hoping for Best Supporting Actress. I haven't seen an Allen film with that kind of spread in over a decade and a half. I need to a get to a cinema... also, tucked away in the bottom I see that Bill and Kelly have been nominated for The Girl in the Cafe. It was sort of caught up in the Live 8 wave when it was broadcast with all that expectation, but on reflection it was lovely piece of work, far greater than the silly British Lost In Translation tag it got stuck with and they were great together.

Review 2005

June Gidley

I was ironing at the time. I wish I could say that I was striding across moorland, shouldering into a gale and it hit me teetering on the brink of nowhere, but sadly I was making steady progress across a duvet cover. No matter. I may not know what I really want out of life - for two years now I have been fighting against a job which bores me, a company which hates its employees and I live in an area of the country for which I have nothing but contempt - but I am a firm believer in knowing what you don't want so you don?t end up further in the shit. And I will not have children.

It came to me out of nowhere, like a name which suddenly and finally comes to you for which you had been struggling earlier in the day. But there it was, and for the first time in a very long time indeed I felt as if I had made an entirely constructive decision. I will not have children. Not because there is something physically wrong with me, I doubt there is, a doctor once said I was the healthiest person he had ever clapped eyes on, but because I do not want them.

I have said for years I wouldn't have them but over the last five or so years I suppose I had begun to think that I probably would despite all the evidence that this would be a disastrous idea.

Why not though? I am certainly a responsible enough member of society to raise another human being and would probably do it a damn sight better than some of the pram-pushing lowlife you see out and about. You want reasons? Here are a few.

I don't like children - Parents always think this is not possible. Trust me, it is. Babies in particular cause my system to go into lock-down and I have to vacate the area as soon as possible. If someone even shows me a copy of a scan I am struck dumb. Do you recall in Sex and the City when Miranda 'fakes a sonogram'? That's me. I don't know what to say or how to react because I AM NOT INTERESTED. My job as a reporter requires me to summon up interest in all manner of rubbish (planning enquiries, charity events, bins not being emptied), outside of work this is just too much of an ask for me.

I don't want to be poor - Raising a child is not a cheap business and now it carries on until they finish university, over two decades of financial grief. I am 31 and I don't even own my own home, how could I have a child? If you really want to lose that much cash put it all on the three-legged donkey in next year's National or burn a pile of cash. It's easier and there are no sleepless nights.

Hassle - There is much I don't not like about my current situation. However, not a single thing could be improved by a baby. I don't want to be doing piles of extra washing, I don't want to be woken up in the middle of the night, I don't want to spend all my time sat in other people's houses where you have gone so they can 'see the baby', I want to be able to just walk out of the house to buy the paper and not have to take mountains of crap with me. The list goes on and on and on and sodding on.

Parents - I do not want to turn in to one of these people. I have never thought that the world owes be a big favour and that seems to be pre-requisite numero uno. Likewise I fully understand that shoving a pushchair into the back of someone else's heels REALLY hurts and it seems like you lose the ability to see this.

I fear physical change - Shallow? Probably, but it's true. I can't help wanting to keep my tits where they are for as long as I can.

Psychiatric stability - I read an article earlier this year on post-natal psychosis. This is the big daddy of post-natal depression, which is patronisingly referred to as the 'baby blues'. I am a prime candidate for post-natal psychosis, this is where you go AWOL after shutting your baby in the freezer. You actually lose your mind. And I would.

That's five. There are more. The realisation came to me on a Sunday afternoon and when I left the house for work the next morning I really felt as If I was starting the next period of my life and the path for the rest of the journey had been made a hell of a lot clearer. But truths only become truer when you tell people. So, please someone explain to me why is it that when you say 'I don't want children' everyone thinks you are being funny at best or, at worse, they assume you are saying it to just get a reaction? If I was crowing about wanting four kids everyone would think this was just dandy. I have put much more thought into not wanting children than someone who finds herself knocked up through sheer idiocy yet, somehow, I am not to be taken seriously. Thank you society, I'll just carry on paying my taxes and weathering your pitying glances. Forever.

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.

Review 2005

Keith Gow

2005: It was a year of change...

I turned 30...

I've never worried about my age. New Years' Eve is when I reminisce about what I have and haven't accomplished for the year. My birthdays are celebrations. Or merely excuses for celebrations.

Turning 30 is something else entirely, though. It's a big milestone. And there's an expectation there; even though I wasn't worried about getting older, there was just something about those numbers.

But beginning in late 2004 and culminating on my thirtieth birthday was something of a life-changing event that had me care less and less about a number.

I bought a home of my own...

For much of my twenties I wrote. I was going to be a writer. I may still make money doing what I love one day. But ever the practical person that I am, I realised that living with my parents and living on a dream wasn't going to entirely satisfy me.

So I looked for a job that would pay the bills and wouldn't bore me to tears. It took me a long time, but eventually I found it. Not thrilling, mind you. But it was a new kind of business - an online venture the type of which hasn't really been tried much around the world.

It wasn't what I'd spent my twenties dreaming about, but it made me more money than I ever had before. And finally I was in a position to put my savings to good use.

The home that I bought is modest in size, but big enough for me. It has two bedrooms and a combination bathroom/laundry; the rest is open plan - giving not only the allusion of lots of space but actually a fair amount of space! The kitchen has been renovated in the last few years, the floorboards are polished and it is well insulated - with a brand new wall heater that is perfect in winter.

I found pride of home ownership...

When I moved in I knew there were things that needed fixing around the place and parts of it that needed replacing. But mostly it needed a fresh coat of paint. So a couple of friends came around and for four days we painted. Turning it from the beige nightmare that it was, into a cozy modern-looking apartment. It's like a whole new place.

Soon after I was able to frame my prized original trilogy Star Wars posters and hang them on the living room walls. My dream has always been to hang movie posters on the walls of my own home. And I was able to do that.

I lost my job...

Often my enthusiasm for a new year lasts for months. Very occasionally the year from January to June is full of the promise of new, exciting prospects or plans I have made on New Years' Eve - feeling melancholy about the things I hadn't done the year before.

This year, with so many changes to my life, the good feeling continues. On average, and with me writing this on the eve of December, this is easily my favourite year ever. There's been past years that have had condensed highlights - holidays, relationships, other jobs, miscellaneous experiences - but 2005 has been continuingly fun, exciting, challenging and full of the unexpected.

Yes, I lost my job. That satisfying position that was my first real full-time endeavour. A lot of us lost our jobs - outsourced for reasons beyond our comprehension. And some of my colleagues are still looking for new sources of income. I feel bad for them.

For me, the prospect of losing my income not long after committing to a mortgage might have been unbearable. But within two days of losing my job, I had another job and at better pay. Less exciting day-to-day, but then at thirty and with a mortgage, you learn to adjust your expectations.

So many other things...

It's hard to sum up why I've loved this year so much. There are a myriad of other days and moments that spring to mind. People I've met and things I've seen. Movies I've loved and meeting Joss Whedon. Learning to embrace change and not be so scared of it. Having change actually bring satisfaction rather than disappointment.

But the major changes this year - 30 and a place of my own - have informed my life in so many fascinating ways that they seem worthy of reminiscing. And celebration.

Here's to 2006.

Keith Gow writes The New Review:A Day.

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.

Links for 2005-12-11 []

Interview: Stephen Gaghan, Writer-Director of Syriana, Part Two @ Cinematical
"All the people who are criticizing Syriana right now in the right-wing radio and talk-show circuit ... they haven't seen it. It's like me talking about Ann Coulter; I've never seen her; I've never really seen a word she's said..."

Viacom and therefore Paramount buys Dreamworks

Miniature Tardis prop at auction
Anyone else find the photo which accompanies this article slightly disturbing?

This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute To The Beatles' Rubber Soul Review @ Rolling Stone
Feature a Nelly McKay cover of 'If I Needed Someone'

Sunshine » Interview With The Bad Astronomer
"The other day I decided to Skype Phil to have a chat about Sci-Fi, bad movie science and travelling to the Sun?"

Diaries of A Lady of Quality: Kean
Miss Frances Williams Wynn reviews the not so recent production of 'Othello' and not the pop rock beat combo.

Be Not Nobody

Review 2005 Well this is really exciting. Robyn Wilder's post for Review 2005 has just won Post of the Week at Troubled Diva (against some really strong competition). Meanwhile if anyone still wants to volunteer to post the door is still open -- a few people seem to have dropped out and although I've enough posts to take us through to the 18th after that things get shakey ... is the address .... the explanation and list of contributions so far are here.

"Herne The Hunter, keep your lions away from my unicorns!" -- The Old Lady (Box of Delights)

Life I watched The Box of Delights this afternoon, my final course screening of the year, the BBC adaptation from twenty years ago. One of the most enchanting three hours I've spent watching anything. This manages more excitement than the first two Harry Potter films put together and although every now and then there's a slightly ropey special effect, it has the capacity to feel like an event -- I was suddenly ten years old again, watching for the first time. It leaves some of the fantastic open for your imagination -- it doesn't show you everything and leaves it up to you to decide how man becomes wolf or Kay Harker can shrink or go swiftly. If nothing else I don't there is another tv series which has both Nick Berry and Julian Sands in minor roles.

It was also fancy dress day. I thought I'd be clever and go as movie Arthur Dent so there I was in a blue bath robe, with a towel and Guide (actually a travel translator). Then two other Arthurs walked in. Eventually there were a smattering of Red Riding Hoods, some Arthur King of the Britains and a Merlin (the eventual winner). Really -- a fancy dress lecture. How cool is that?

So my first course module draws to a close. I wrote about it here originally, and I kept that excitement throughout. What I love about film, and why I'm doing this course is that there is always something new to see, new to discover. Although some of the course films have been difficult to sit through and some of the readings challenging, not once has it stopped being exciting, or enthralling. At the end of it all, in today's lecture we watched Peter Davison become Colin Baker outside the Caves of Androzani as a way of demonstrating how fantasy can help us understand and deal with change. I was suddenly emotional again.

Noam Chomsky Continues

Journalism "Correspondence from other readers is often lost in the huge volume of lobby email and thus lobbies tend to undermine the complaints procedures in place at the Guardian. Many of the lobbyists clearly do not read the paper. In the case of the lobby ostensibly supporting Prof Chomsky, many appeared to miss the note in the corrections column on November 12 saying that I was in touch with Prof Chomsky and would publish my findings when the matter was resolved." -- The controversy surrounding the Emma Brockes interview with Noam Chomsky trundles on as Ian Mayes, The Guardian's reader's editor answers a complaint about his answer to the complaint. Isn't this getting a bit too complicated?

Review 2005

Kat Herzog

To Drag The Past Out Into The Light: The Secrets Of Cellular Regeneration.

I don't know if it's science or fiction, but I once read that, every seven years, the human body completes a regenerative cycle. The fingertip that touched a lover's cheek on New Year's Eve 1996 is, on a basic cellular level, long gone. Today, you are comprised of completely different bits than you were on this day in 1998. It's a creepy and intriguing thought.

Anyway, it all started with concert tickets. I love the band and the band loves me for all the coins I've put in their pockets over the years. I'm admittedly a little irrational about the relationship, but is love every really sane? After a struggle against scalpers and and all sorts of ill fates, I bought my tickets. And then I had eight months to sit on the tickets. And I was scared to go to the concert.

Why the pathetic stumble? I saw them six times on the tour before their last tour, when I recklessly tripped from city to city, fire fully lit, unceasingly hungry for more. That year is a swirl of strange faces and instant friends, and foggy piers, desert skies, and icy subzero airport parking lots - and lots of cheap ramen noodles. In the years since, I've learned to balance a checkbook and actually pay my bills and research sensible vacuum cleaners.

The band didn't mean any less to me. It wasn't so much a fear that the band would suck; it was petrification at the thought that I wouldn't get it, wouldn't feel it, wouldn't love it the way I did before. That the hole left behind when I had to move past the butterflies, the pure joy, the adrenalin, the glow of that year was filled with seven years of more mundane cells: fiscal responsibility, corporate drone drudgery, and earplugs to prevent hearing loss. The eye that leaked a single perfect tear from the ninth row in 1998, and the thumb of the man who smeared that teardrop away, technically, cellularly, no longer exist.

"This is what church is like for the apostles," we'd say, drunk and delirious and glowing after the concerts - if the church was closed to me, I didn't want to know.

I wondered why I'd even bothered with the tickets. I pretended that I wasn't holding my breath for eight months.

There's this thing that happens toward the end of the song "One." After the baseline kicks in and the drums pick up and the subtle wah-chicka-wah guitar bits and the strings swell, You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl, and I can't be holding on to what you've got, when all you've got is - and here is where it happens - hurt.

Before that word, all of the background chords and countermelodies build this tension, this subtle up-and-down-and-down-and-up movement that goes and goes and never breaks, and then on the last word, hurt, everything flies upwards and harmonically resolves, breaking and shimmering away with a shining cymbal crash. Together that chord and that word create a voice that realized the truth as it is spoken.

And that's how the show went: I learned the truth when I screamed it. The ten minutes before they went on stage seemed longer than the eight months of ticket-sitting. Opening chords. I exhaled, and screamed with everyone else, with joy, fire, love.

Lesson learned, and will be remembered seven years from now, and seven years after that and after that. Cells come and cells go. But before they're absorbed into oblivion, they share their secrets, ensuring that we're one, even if we're not the same.

Kat Herzog writes Geeky Sweet Nothings

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.

Review 2005

Gary Hollingsbee

I'm sitting facing my son's teacher. She's bored and obviously wants to get on with the parent interview. Like me, she probably wants to be at home already. I'm sitting in my motorbike leathers, having ridden straight from work. I get the feeling that the teacher considers me some kind of neanderthal, beer-swilling council-estate father. I stretch up my neck to show her I have no tattooed bluebirds soaring up my throat. Regardless, she speaks in a slow, care-ful-ly ar-tic-u-lat-ed heav-i-ly man-ner, sp-ac-in-g ou-t the wo-rds. Instinctively, I rub my cheek and realise I didn't shave this morning and that my stubble probably makes me look ragged and rough.

Guilt is what I feel every time I meet with my son's teachers. Guilt that I just don't spend enough time doing homework with him. Of course, I play with him, go to the library to choose books, read to him before he goes to bed, try get him to write in a haphazard way. But there's this nagging voice inside me that tells me I'm not doing enough. Usually, I counter it by telling myself - and other parents - that children should be encouraged to learn, not be forced. That children in Scandinavian countries aren't taught to read and write until their two front teeth are knocked out. Ok, I don't know if it's true - but it makes me feel better. I also tell them to look at what happens to Japanese children who are forced to learn from an early age. I always give a knowing nod of the head and cock my eyebrow in a knowledgeable way. But the sense of guilt still lurks around at the bottom of my pit of shame and gurgles away quietly.

"Excuse me," she says and pushes an extremely large piece of cake into her mouth. She follows it by a swig of coffee. "I have to get a drink in-between parents."

I laugh politely and notice she's got cake crumbs hanging off her chin. My son, who's been hanging around outside the classroom, suddenly enters and says: "What can I do?" His hair is sticking up on end and he looks as bored as his teacher. She's plainly irritated that I haven't left him at home.

"Come and sit next to me," I tell him. He ignores me and his eyes scan the empty classroom for something to do. The Class 1 room is filled with about thirty identical desks arranged in groups of tables. I begin to feel like one of those parents on tv who have no control over their kids. "You can sit on my lap." Again he blanks me.

"You can go over there and choose a book to read," says his teacher. "I just don't want any mess."

"I don't want to read a book," he says to her. "Can I play with this?" He picks up some lego-like blocks from one of the tables and begins to disassemble them.

"As long as you don't make any mess," repeats the teacher. "I don't want any mess!"

"He's doing well," she says to me. As she says this I notice she looks at her markbook. I get the impression that she is checking that she's talking about the right child. "He's now taking part and not doing his own thing so much." I have a flash-back to the parent interview last year where my son's distraught Reception class teacher told me in high-pitched falsetto that he would be unemployable if he continued to draw ladders instead of go-carts like the other children. My son was four at the time.

"He does call out occasionally, instead of putting up his hand to answer questions, but I'm pleased that he's improving." She looks at her markbook. "Anything you'd like to ask?" I've been sitting here nearly a minute.

"So..." I ask in a stupid, parental way, "he's doing ok?"


"His reading and writing is ok?" I wince internally as if I have no control over what I'm saying. I feel myself become transformed into a cartoonish caricature of a parent. "I looked at his books while I was waiting and..." Here I go, sounding like another interfering father, I tell myself. "His work doesn't seem as good as the rest of the class."

"Oh, boys always do less well than girls."

"I looked at the boys' books. They all seemed better. He seems to score zero in all his spelling tests. All the boys seem to do better."

"Yes?" I'm not sure if it's a question or an answer.

"Where would you position him in the class?" Again I scratch myself. Too late. These were questions I promised myself I'd never ask.


"Is he average for his age?" I'm twisting my toes, agitated that I have no control over the parent I'm becoming.

"It depends how you measure average," the teacher says with a knowing, expert manner. "He can..." she stops to check her markbook again. "He can read about half of the Reception class 44 words."

"Is that average?" I ask. I choke as I say the word.

"Some can read all the 44 words, some less." She smiles enigmatically.

"So would you say he's working where he should be for a boy of his age?"

"I'm sure they all can work a little harder," she replies and slams shut her markbook. I sense this signals the end of our interview. "Get him to practise a few of the spellings each night. Don't try to put him off. Try to make it fun. Here's a sheet with what we're doing in class until Christmas. There are some ideas for things that parents can do to help at home."

I notice she says parents and not you. Gurgle from the pit. I exit quickly, followed by my son, still clutching the lego-blocks. I have to take them back and say sorry.

Whenever I leave a parental interview like this, I feel that there's been a sleight of hand played on me. I come out bewildered and being less sure about how my son is doing than when I went in. I feel it in other situations, too, like the doctor's, dentist's - even the hairdressers. I always come out with a completely different hair-cut than I intended having. But meeting with my son's teachers is the worst.

Outside the school gate I stop and say to my son: "We need to do more work at home." He's not listening and is already trying to scale the school fence as Spider-man. "Shall we go and get a dvd from Blockbuster?" I ask him. There's a louder gurgle from the pit.

Two days later I get a letter telling me that my son has been put on the school special needs register. I phone up.

"Can you tell me why?" I ask gruffly.

"He's been moved up to School Action Plus," the Special Needs Coordinator tells me. I am unsure if I'm speaking to a man or woman or even my son's teacher with a disguised voice.

"But I wasn't aware that he was even School Action." I tell her. "His teacher said he was fine. She didn't mention any special needs."

"It's for his speech. We're teaching him how to pronounce his words properly. He also has someone to sit next to him during lessons so he does the work. You know he sits on the special needs table?" One of those questions. "Please could you sign and return the acknowledgement slip on the bottom of the letter."

The gurgle from the pit gets louder. I stop myself from signing the letter because I just don't think my son's special needs.

Over the half-term I sit for three hours each morning trying to teach my son to read and write the 44 Reception words. I treat it like a project. I make flashcards, write stories about dogs and cats, design handwriting sheets. My aim is for my son to know every one of the 44 words by the end of the week. I have this vision of him suddenly transformed, amazing his teacher with his command of English. I imagine him walking home with a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone under his arm.

"Can I play my Xbox?" he asks every morning as I drop him into a chair at the table.

"No, we're doing some fun reading and writing. After that you can play your Xbox."

I begin with the flash cards. "Can you read me these words?" I hold up each one of the cards in turn." He reads about half of them correctly. Then he stops.

"It's the word that," I tell him. About a minute later, I show him the same card again.

"Play," he says confidently.

"It's the word that," I tell him again. "We only just did it. That. That. Thhhh-aaaa-tttt. That."

"That," he repeats. "I forgot. Silly me."

Then I get him to do some handwriting exercises: copying out sentences that have the word that in them. Each time he reads the sentence he reads the word that correctly.

"Well done," I say. "You can go and play your Xbox."

For the rest of the day I feel pleased. He's really making progress. The gurgle in my pit of shame is quietened. I'm like a proper, caring dad, I tell myself. It's easy.

The next morning we sit down again at the table. I show him the flashcards. He reads about half correctly then falters on the flashcard which says that.

"It's the word we practised yesterday," I tell him, hoping that the hint will jog his memory.

"Is it... play?" he guesses.

"No. No it's not... it's the word that. We did it yesterday." I'm almost shrieking with frustration. "We'll try again. That. Thh-aaa-tt. That..."

And so the week goes on. Each morning my son getting stuck on the word that, every morning me getting increasingly wound-up. Something's just not right, says the gurgling voice at the end of each session. He should be able to read that word by now. You're not teaching him properly. It's your fault. You've left it too late. Stubbornly, I begin to agree. I imagine a ring of dancing, bobble-hatted, front-toothless Scandinavians circling me and laughing.

At the end of the week, I test my son on the 44 words. He gets about half right; more or less the same ones at the start of the week. What's worse, he still can't read the word that. I feel an utter failure. The gurgle is now a roar of guilt.

On the Sunday at the park, I bump into a couple of friends who are primary school teachers. One of them is saying how her child had been identified as having socialisation issues. She was told by his teacher that he is withdrawn. There he was: chasing about, playing with my son while we talked. She laughs about it. I tell her about the special needs letter and my attempts to teach my son to read. Again she laughs.

"Look," she says. "I'm a Class 1 teacher. If your son was in my class and could read half the Reception words, I'd be pleased. Don't worry. It's the school trying to get more money. All primary schools do it. It makes their figures look better."

I'm not sure what I think. When I get home I sign the special needs letter and put it in an envelope. I point to it on the table and tell my son: "Make sure you take that and give it to your teacher tomorrow."

"Ok, Dad. Thh-aaa-tt. Thh-aaa-tt. That."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing. Can I play my Xbox?"

Gary Hollingsbee writes

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.