Sponsored Post: ReviewMe

Plug! This is a 'sponsored' review for the good people at ReviewMe, a new scheme for bloggers who are looking for cash to review, well anything. The idea is that you register your details with the site and then a company visits, selects your blog as being -- close to the aims -- and they pay you to plug, review and write about their product. The service is just getting started and I presume their own give away is creating word of mouth.

ReviewMe has a good, clean simple design, and very straight forward processes. They've integrated many features often forgotten by star-ups such as tagging and more interestingly an RSS feed which lets you know, outside of the site about movement within your account. They're not a completely new company though - they previously worked on Text Link Ads.

It's important to note that one of their primary terms and conditions is that you state on your blog that the post is a form of advertising which helps a bit with the conscience and provides some integrity to what they and the bloggers involved are doing. The bloggers themselves have a choice about whether they will choose to elaborate on a product - if it isn't something that interests their readership, they can deny access.

The only downside I can see is that although there hasn't (obviously) been a shortage of bloggers interested in taking part, I wonder how many companies have taken the leap and the kinds of companies they're going to attracting. Larger organizations will more than likely be able to garner the hype virally through word of mouth anyway so it'll be smaller companies that should be benefiting - but will they be able to afford the prices being charged (index linked to the popularity of the blog in question - I'm $50)?

It'll be interesting to see if it can take off and you'll know because you'll once again see the 'Sponsored Post' title

Desired food

Feminism "We're in a restaurant having dinner. "I'm paying for this," he says. He is trying to be assertive, not something that comes naturally. "No, don't argue. I want to do it." My first thought is oh, that's nice of him, but below there is something that won't let me accept. "But I want to pay for it," he insists; he's bewildered by my stubborn refusal. "I'm just trying to be nice." I know he's just trying to be nice, and as far as he's aware, he has no ulterior motive. But I still won't let him pay." - Claire McGowan in The f-word

This is actually food for thought, although I've been on the woman's side of the discussion. Claire's right, if someone offers to pay for your meal you are then in the situation of not always eating what you want. You might have been in the mood for a steak but because the other person is paying, you do subconsciously not want to step over the line and order something that might bankrupt -- so much easier to order for yourself and have what your heart and stomach desire.

Interactivity, people

Media What's the purpose of tv and radio blogs? is an excellent discussion from the BBC's pods&blogs blog surveying media adopters in the area and their impact on the whole blogosphere. One of the great lies some media organisations perpetrate is their interactiveness in respect to blogs. Some are better than others is the inevitable message, and the most innovative genuinely attempt to interact and discourse with other users. The worst are those which are merely using the format to post long textual items, that have comments areas in which users all talk to one another -- the journalist or whoever originated the post is nowhere to be seen, their job apparently done.

More nuts

Google feeling listless: "you think i'm nuts"? How did I manage to be the top search for that?

In need of hair

Reality Check I haven't watched Children in Need for many a year and tonight was no exception -- until I accidentally turned to BBC and their Live Feed of the goings on in a salon that appears to be preparing the guests for the main show. I'm currently watching something I don't think I'd ever imagine seeing. New Romantic Steve Strange attempting a World Record for shaving as many heads as he can in an hour, being aided and abetted by the excellent Sarah Cawood (who was lately on the lottery show, including the night that Fathers4Justice invaded. She was unflappable).

It's actually more fascinating than you'd imagine because the people passing through, presumably plucked from the studio audience, are all shapes and sizes and ages. A man passed through earlier mid-fifties, very long hair and glasses, who once shaven, looked about ten years younger and almost seemed to gain a different personality -- his face changed completely, even when he put his glasses back on.

Not too long ago I had very short cropped hair. It was a convenience because I couldn't get to the barbers too often. But what I found was that people's attitude to me didn't seem to fit the person I am. I'd go into shops and I'd be followed around by security or I'd be talking to people and I'd feel there was a barrier. I let my hair grow and suddenly that evaporated -- although now my hair is getting too long and that seems to have other implications. It's wiry and gets dirty quite easily which means there's a danger that it seems -- unkempt. Can't win really.

Incidentally, Mr. Strange is going with such pace that he's guaranteed to be going into the record books...
TV From TV Guide in the US:

"Question: Your superpower is super scoop. Save the world and give us some Heroes poop.— Sarah

Ausiello: Fanboys, prepare to piddle yourself. Christopher Eccleston — the original Dr. Who from the current Sci Fi/BBC series — is joining the cast in January in a really super (tee-hee) role. Speaking of cool casting, wait until you see who's ******* ****'s ****. You're going to flip."

Suddenly puts some of those post series interviews into sharp focus. What, he doesn't think the schedules going to be any more grueling over there? But it is Hollywood I suppose. Will he play a Mancunian again or will be treated to his American accent? What'll his special power be? I wouldn't click the link above though -- it's filled with spoilers for shows you might have seen. I'm really browned off now about what they're doing with the Gilmore Girls... [via]

'Remember Popworld?'

TV Has anyone been watching Never Mind The Buzzcocks with Simon Amstell. No one seems to be writing about it, even though it's one of the funniest half hours on television and should probably be renamed Amstell's Theatre of cruelty. It's basically become thirty minutes of us saying 'I can't believe they just said that' Tonight's episode with a (slightly) wired Amy Winehouse can be seen here for the next week.

Review 2006: 2/31

Review 2006 As the title says, there are two questions already in for Review 2006, with twenty-nine to go. If you're wondering what the hell I'm talking about, look here. Forgot to mention that I'd like as many in as possible by the end of November. I've much writing to do.

Lost in Snow

Music Aimee Mann has a Christmas album out soon. I like the title One More Drifter in the Snow. That's all of us isn't it? [via]


Film Lately I've been watching the film version of the musical RENT which I know had something of a mixed critical response with critics and fans of the stage musical. I was wary, particularly because when I asked a friend about it, someone who really likes musicals they said, 'And I bloody hate RENT' and that parody scene from Team America, "Everyone has AIDS". But having not seen or heard the original I was able to go in with an open mind. And against my expectations, really enjoyed it.

For all I know, this might be as much of a hash job as Milos Foreman's misunderstanding of Hair, but these eyes it's a beautifully shot, passionately sung piece featuring some really engaging performances. A shorthand would be Friends with problems although a closer touchstone for me structurally would be St. Elmos Fire but set in New York City amongst the artistic set. It has a real emotional kick in places and although I could see that some might consider the subject matter, in relation to homelessness, drug use and AIDS have been soft pedalld, within the artifice of a musical, it really worked for me.

Apparently Spike Lee had been trying to mount a version in 2001 with people like Justin Timberlake and Britney Murphey, which might have been commercial but couldn't get an agreement from the rights owners and ton the basis of this version that wouldn't have worked. By largely retaining the original Broadway cast, director Chris Columbus is able to make the most of the obvious chemistry between them which really increases the believability of the relationships. There's an element of commemoration here of the show, its fans and its late creator -- but not to the degree that potential new RENT-heads feel divorced from the work.

It's a film filled with great individual moments -- such as Rosario Dawson's luminous number in the opening act which begins at a strip club and ends in the apartment of a potential special friend. There's the tango between Anthony Rapp and newcommer Tracie Thoms and of course the really effective opening, Seasons of Love in which the cast appear on stage, as though to present the opening of the play or production (question for Chris if he's read this far -- is that the extra song that was shoehorned into the production of Hair that we saw at LIPA? It's the only song in the piece that I knew beforehand). Oh gosh, and 'Light My Candle'. And 'I'll Cover You' and ... it's one of those films/plays/musicals/whatever.

It's a beautiful looking film too. I'm not sure if it was intentional but it looks like it was shot in the eighties, something about the lighting design perhaps, and that suits the period in which the film is set. For once the steady-cam works for rather than against the performers and the editor hasn't been afraid to cut along with the songs, emphasising key lines where possible something that recent musicals have been afraid to do because of a certain cheese factor, but that's not too evident here, perhaps because there's something generally outrageous about the thing anyway. So yes, would recommend, although I just know that someone is going to disagree with me...

Bugged out

Nature Whilst I was tapping away at a job search this afternoon, I noticed something clambering down the wall. The shape didn't match any of the five known species of insect known to exist in my home so I led it onto some A4 paper so that I could have better look. It looked somewhat like a spider, somewhat like a scorpion and somewhat like an ant and the kind of thing that could have been used as a model for the massive monsters in the film Eight Legged Freaks. I trapped into a clear plastic file folder and sent it through the scanner. It was tiny, and my scanner's crap but I did manage to get these scary shots.

Of course I Asked Metafilter. Firstly I received an email from Paul R. F. Bowser, Ph.D. from Canada who said it was perfectly possible for scorpions to be in my neck of the woods but couldn't see the picture so was guessing. Then Sarah from New Zealand in the Metafilter thread identified it as a pseudoscorpion which was backed up by a number of different users. I love that this became a global problem. According to the wikipedia, the pseudoscorpion is a type of spider that can live for over three years. But are they friendly?
"Pseudoscorpions are generally beneficial to humans since they prey on clothes moth larvae, carpet beetle larvae, booklice, ants, mites, and small flies. They are small and inoffensive, and are rarely seen due to their size. They usually enter the home by "riding along" with larger insects (known as phoresy), or are brought in with firewood. They are often observed in bathrooms or laundry rooms, since they seek humidity. They may sometimes be found feeding on mites under the wing covers of certain beetles."
So they're the cleaners of the arachnids, keeping the environment clean for other users. On this basis I had to set it free and it's just scurried away across the window ledge. Bye, then.

I Have The Power!

Film The Masters of the Universe film, yes with Dolph Lundgren, was a homage to the comics of Jack Kirby. Says director Gary Goddard:
"As the director of Masters of the Universe, it was a pleasure to see that someone got it. Your comparison of the film to Kirby's New Gods was not far off. In fact, the storyline was greatly inspired by the classic Fantastic Four/Doctor Doom epics, The New Gods and a bit of Thor thrown in here and there. I intended the film to be a "motion picture comic book," though it was a tough proposition to sell to the studio at the time. "Comics are just for kids," they thought. They would not allow me to hire Jack Kirby who I desperately wanted to be the conceptual artist for the picture?"
This explains, so much. I always had a soft spot for the film, even if none of it made any real sense. I'm tempted to drag out my old VHS of it again tonight...

My location, my location, my location

TV I try to avoid daytime television if I can, not necessarily because of quality issues; Freeview is where old detective dramas go to be exhumed. There are still some crimes, and To Buy or Not to Buy is one of them. On BBC One every morning at eleven, this show, which comes across as a cheaper, evil version of Location, Location, Location and has the audacity to nick its title inspiration from Shakespeare, whisks a couple with small budget to burn on property around three houses, gives them what looks like about five minutes inside and then asks them which they might want to buy. Or not to buy. See what they did there?

It's evil because the couple (which are sometimes a couple of 'friends') look around the house alone, are expected to comment on what they see, and then the two presenters, a revolving door of daytimers, stand in the street or hallway outside, under headphones, listening to their prey's opinions and offer comments on what they're saying in a 'fun' and 'light' but usually 'sarcastic' way. Unlike Kirstie and Phil, the presenters, neither of whom seems to have a clue and only one of whom tends to be in the property business don't actually offer that much advice and the guests almost always judge a property on the furniture and decor rather than the thing they'll possibly be buying, the property itself.

Totally misseable then. But isn't it strange how, when one of these shows was filmed in your hometown it becomes utterly compelling? Today according to the Radio Times, 'a first-time buyer hunts for her perfect pad in Liverpool' and there she was, the 'first-time buyer', a quiet blonde from Knowsley looking like she's wondering what she's let herself in for. The presenters for the day were Kristian Digby, a southerner in a shocking burgundy coloured jacket and Simon O'Brien, minor local celebrity. Simon used to present the Rough Guides travel series with Magenta Divine, but that seems like a very long time ago and here he seemed to be trying to imitate the bald bloke who usually presents To Buy (the one from How Safe Is Your House? in which unsuspecting punters watched in horror as someone burgled their home -- nice).

The first house flashes by. The 'first-time buyer' had asked to see properties around Sefton Park/Princes Park so of course they took her to somewhere that looked to be off Penny Lane. That's close. Debrief outside, silly bit were she has to guess the price of the house and then she's whisked on to the next one. Which looked strangely familiar.

'Hold on, that's our flat.'

The four of them are standing in a garden on Ullet Road next to St Agnes Church and our tower block is right behind Simon's shoulder. It's not every day you almost see your home on the telly. Almost, because we're actually on the other side of the building to one that was in shot. But it's still a bit disconcerting. The property they're visiting is a flat that had been added to the top of an existing property. Disconcerting moment number two is that its the first time I've actually watched a property programme that isn't Grand Designs in which I've actually seen the thing being built.

I've always wondered what it looked like inside and here it was. Very snug. The 'first-time buyer' didn't think much of it though, because despite having a massive living room and kitchen, the first room accessible was the bedroom -- although obviously its only the bedroom because the current occupier has put their bed in it. Of course you always wonder how much local properties cost and in the event its revealed to be £99,000 which seems very expensive for a flat but still very reasonable for the area (but since there was snow in the programme it had to have been filmed earlier in the year so lord knows it that's still current).

The rest of the programme blurred by, as the 'team' drifted around a place on Pall Mall in a building called Pall Mall through a horrific flat that had small round portholes for windows (why?) and the 'first-time buyer' plummed for the house. Except she didn't because she wanted to 'think about it' so no Relocation, Relocation, Relocation-style last minute deal will they/won't they moment. See? The whole programme is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Today, I (almost) got to see my house on television. Why couldn't it have been in a good programme?

"Colin Baker's Got One!"

TV Tachyon TV: The Fanzine is now available for purchase, proceeds now going to Infant Death Syndrome. Here's some of the story of why. "For approximately five minutes (which felt like five hours) Colin essentially called us a bunch of idiots who were peddling the very worst kind of undergraduate humour."

Lost & ...

TV Although this post about Lost is a bit of fun it does give one possibly way of having characters crossover during sweeps week. Why not have characters from other shows appearing in the flashbacks or even better as Amy suggests, they appear elsewhere? The Sayid one is surprisingly plausable although I think Jack would fit better in the e.r.*. What do you think Keith, any other ideas? [via]

* I have no idea if these shows are even on the same network.

Aspects of ...

Film "We set up our little guidelines," he said. For one, he banned the sophisticated zoom lenses that make life easier for today?s cinematographers, returning to the fixed focal-length lenses of the past. "I did some research and found some script continuities for a couple of Michael Curtiz films," he recalled, referring to records of the lens and exposure used in every shot, in case retakes were necessary. "I found that he restricted himself to at most five lenses, usually three or four. I talked to Panavision, and they happened to have some older lenses that they?d made that didn?t have all the new coatings on them and also were a focal length that isn?t really used anymore. One of them was a 32 millimeter, a wide-angle lens that nobody uses anymore but was one that Curtiz used a lot." -- Stephen Soderbergh on making his new film The Good German which he has made using Hollywood studio system techniques.

[tech]The film has also been shot in 1.66 : 1 aspect ratio, basically European widescreen standard, which is a shame -- square academy ratio was traditional back then although modern projection systems can be a bit frumpy with it. Perhaps it's an open mat which means that more of the picture could appear when the film goes to dvd, ala Stanley Kubrick's later work.[/tech]

Small Worlds.

TV Another dispiriting fifty minutes in the company of Torchwood. I mean I've been largely positive about the series up until now, but this was a mess, and everything you could fear that show might descend into being. I really, really left tonight's episode afraid for the safety of Season Three of Doctor Who. They're different series, to be sure, but the same production team were happy to see tonight's drama broadcast as is despite the litany of problems. Why is it for every very cool moment, there's some bit of dialogue, or acting, or direction that makes you want to throw a pillow at the screen?

The positives first. Captain Jack's mystery is developing nicely and the revelation that he was knocking around on the planet in the very early 1900s was a nice surprise and beautifully ambiguous in relation to whether those scenes happened before or after The Doctor Dances. The flashback scene was shot well too, and it wasn't made completely clear whose side he was on in the war. My impression is that they didn't and that in fact he was romancing the old fairy woman before he went travelling in the Tardis and looked her up when he reappeared on Earth just recently. Otherwise we're in Highlander/Angel/Eighth Doctor Earth-arc territory, which wouldn't be such a bad thing as confusing -- were two of them knocking around during World War Two? The touching scenes between Jack and his old girlfriend helped to fill out this background -- he obviously loved her very much.

It was a good premise too, building upon the famous hoax pictures, fairies being some elemental shadows looking for children to join with them. In fact one of the highlights were the exposition scenes in which those photos were debunked again and the nature of the beasts was revealed even if 'evil since the dawn of time' seems a bit incongruous in a series that was supposed to be priding itself on its reliance on the gritty urban landscape and crap which haunts those street. You can see the actual pictures and the camera that took them at the National Museum for Film, Television and Photography in Bradford and the facts mentioned here were completely correct. For all of his cleverness, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was seduced by the children's story. The eventual monsters were very pretty, perfectly painterly like those fairies, almost the product of some late Victorian painted picture book.

Shame it was dogged by some extraordinarily listless storytelling and poor structuring. As with The Ghost Machine, the teaser was good and the first few scenes in which Jack looked up an old friend were sweet (although would Gwen really have been that rude in the talk about the fairies with all the eye-rolling? Surely that's more like Owen behaviour? This inconsistency of character from episode to episode is really irritating). The chase through through Cardiff Market and the flower petals were pleasingly gruesome (even if that imagery wasn't satisfactorily explained).

Beyond that once and again, we were treated to the girl being threatened, the timeless ones using the weather to defend her, Torchwood noticing the weather fluctuation and then chasing it up. It was a bit like watching an episode of Treasure Hunt, without Wincy Willis, the magenta jumpsuits or cross looking pensioners in stately homes on a coach trip.

This isn't necessarily just a problem with Mr. P J Hammond's work. All of the episodes have suffered from this repetition of action in one form or another, almost as though no one can get a grip of those extra five minutes which have been added to Doctor Who's usual running time. They've also suffered from moments of threat going on far too long, the cutting back, over and over to something which has already been established, like the kids in peril in the wind, or the spooky monsters looking at our heroes from above. This stylistic holdover from the parent series and seems out of place in the 'adult' world.

Time which could better be spent charting Jack's passage through history or providing Tosh with some character development outside of an upcoming episode that will no doubt include all of her character development or giving the characters a believable social life was instead used in the company of a vast range of characters that were no doubt supposed to be normal but were instead, well, boring. The strategy of the series is for largely than life characters to brush up against the realistic, but that's no reason for the so-called 'real people' to have nothing in the way of interesting characterisation, or anything to make you actually care if they lived or died. Compare and contrast the sinister lump of a step-father here with any of Gwen's colleagues from the first episode and there are some massive inconsistencies at play. Normal doesn't have to mean dull. Look at Spooks.

In this vein, were we supposed to care for Jasmine, the little girl? The Chosen One (and really, people, you're invoking Buffyology here?) needed to either be a sweetheart, someone the audience could really get behind, or The Omen's Damien in a dress. She was neither, and although the opening near abduction scene was winceful and said lump probably deserved to die for hitting the poor lamb, she was largely left standing around grinning as the elementals snuffed out her enemies. The resolution was troubling too -- Jack essentially advocated that offering up the odd small child for sacrifice was perfectly fair if it kept the 'aliens' at bay. Err, right. And you're expecting us to like Captain Jack after this? I mean his story doesn't really resolve itself. Perhaps if they'd spinned it into something related to him trying and failing to be The Doctor but ... oh no ... this is all we've got time for ...

On the subject of characters, a continuing annoyance is the non-reappearance of Gwen's police partner from the first episode. By making the police's participation irrelevant, they've lost one of the characters who could have been a secret weapon throughout -- he was the source of the oft quoted CSI: Kebab joke and his good humour would have provided much needed levity, particularly in a story like this. Why not make him the person who picked up the mad childcatcher at Cardiff Market? Recurring characters are a good thing.

But this was an episode filled with mini-irritations. The close-up of the name of the street in which the Chosen One lives as though this was supposed to be a big important plot point. The over reliance on that music cue which ends loudly and abruptly to signal 'ooh sinister'. The caption on the flashback even though Jack's voiceover was actually telling us the time and place. Oh and Jack holding back vital information about the enemy they were fighting to create false tension and fake climaxes when he reveals some piece of information, even though most of it was probably jibberish. UNIT syndrome strikes the van too -- they're a secret organisation (outside the government etc) so we'll have the name of it carved in the side -- did anyone else find it's sliding appearance into shot retina searingly irritating? And hey, why not the Mara? What's to say the Krotons didn't have a hand in it also?

[Well alright that reference was nice, and PJ might not have included it as a direct Doctor Who reference, but you can imagine Russell squealing with glee when he read it).

It takes me no pleasure in writing this, since obviously everyone involved had the best of intentions and it makes me look like the judges who lambasted Carol Smilie on Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday (I mean do they want Emma Bunton to win or what?). The cast were doing their best with the material and some of the direction was OK. But there are ongoing issues with the series, a kind of unsurety of tone and writing which is making it very difficult to watch, amplifying the faults rather than the successes. Fundamentally, the question must be -- was it scary? And unfortunately on this occasion, I'm sorry, no it wasn't. At least not in the way that was intended.


Liverpool Life Scary picture of the lantern parade through Sefton Park from Halloween.

Scene from a Contemporary Award Ceremony

Liverpool Biennial I'm pleased to see the painting that I voted for in John Moores 24, 'Scene From a Contemporary Novel' by Nicholas Middleton has won The People's Choice Award. There's a picture of Middleton picking up his award here.

And with that ...

Film There have been surprisingly few major films about magic and the business of performing magic in particular. Most embrace the supernatural approach or use the process as a jumping off point for the ensuing comedy or drama. Woody Allen has used stage magic three times, most memorably in Oedipus Wrecks (his section of New York Stories), were the disappearance of his volunteering mother led to her appearance above New York with the expected hilarious consequences and therapy sessions. More often than not illusionists are knocked off the bill by ventriloquists, psychics or practitioners of the art of hypnosis. What's surprising about Christopher Nolan's The Prestige (an adaptation of Christopher Priest's novel) is not only that the business, at least in the late Victorian era version is presented in some detail, but also the mechanics of the tricks themselves. Their intricacies and the ingenuity of the trick designers, whose work is at the centre of this gripping thriller.

Stunningly, the narrative itself is something of a magic trick. Here, director Nolan continues his experimentations with storytelling and editing that were apparent in Following, Momento and even Batman Begins, restricting information all over the place and leading the audience on exciting, surprising adventure in which their deductive reasoning is tested in a form that is cleverly suggested within the film's own dialogue. As Michael Caine's Cutter notes, for the audience to believe in true magic, enough of the working must be left showing so that the audience always thinks it can work it out. The title refers to the moment at the end of the magic trick when the illusion is completed to the applause of that audience (the jargon the work of author Priest not history)

At the simplest level it's the story of two London-based magicians Alfred (Hugh Jackman) and Freddy (Christian Bale) attempting to out do one another through the performance of magic, an early accident leading to a tit-for-tat obsession in which one or the other must be victorious at all costs, the prize being the exaltation of the audience. The premise is complicated by an intricate storytelling structure in which flashbacks and voiceovers pile on top of one another, disorientating the viewer to the time scheme of events. It's 21 Grams, marinating in Six Degrees of Separation.

There's a fine cast here with Jackman extending his range and Bale turning in yet another effective performance. As their enmity develops, their characters are guilty of some unspeakable acts, and it's to the credit of both performers that they remain sympathetic throughout the business. Michael Caine is as dependable as ever and although there's been some criticism that Scarlett Johansson as the roaming assistant isn't firing on all cylinders, she's actually doing what a supporting player should do - be just remarkable enough without stealing scenes away from the stars. If Rebecca Hall's naturalistic performance as Bale's wife seems to have crept in from a different film, it's a pleasure to see Piper Perabo in another small role but vital role and full marks to English accent which beats Johansson's attempt.

One of the film's great successes is the photography. Nolan's film begins as a chamber piece that develops into something with a much larger scope and while some of the interiors have a conventionality to them, there are moments as lavish as anything I've seen in cinema. The lighting in particular seems to take its cue from key scenes in F W Murneau's 1927 film Sunrise, in which apparent lanterns are often the only light source creating a ghostly mood in which anything could potentially happen. And does.

To write anything else would spoil the mysteries that develop and the fragile hold that Nolan has on you as he drives toward's the film's own moment of prestige. The only real criticism is that he perhaps spends just too long getting there, provides a smidge too much information and risks the possibility that wilier members of the audience will be able to twig that mystery. Thankfully, the whole production is sumptuous and intelligent enough to engross. There's a commentary in here about old fashioned thrills have been stifled by the clamor for spectacle that could bespeak of film history itself. And even when all of its secrets have been revealed, against expectations, revisiting the piece will allow the viewer to see through Nolan's smoke and mirror.
Fiction Inspired by BBC Four's Science Fiction Britannia season here is one of the few pieces of short fiction I've ever written. It was put together during a course I took some years ago in writing Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and well, be kind. Ironically, it's called ...


Jack Simple watched the crowd gathering around the centrepiece of the exhibition, an alien man getting up from a bed. He mentally ticked off all of the faces of the people who had turned down his original set of work, who had accused him of being too derivative for the current art market. If he had any integrity, he would now be turning them away. They didn't care about the art, they only cared about the investments they were making. The thing was, he didn't have any integrity, and he'd sell to anyone with a big enough cheque book. The fact they where now clambering over each other to own the work offered him some satisfaction.
Eventually, one of the curators of the exhibition, Madelyne Brown, pushed through the crowd and began to explain the piece. The last time Jack had met Madelyne was at art school. He had always been jealous of the way she could effortlessly create figurative drawings after glimpsing people in a hallway or in the street, creating stunning reality from memory. But she had always had problems creatively, and had often fought battles with a tutor who preferred abstract works. Which meant Jack, who spent much of his time giving the tutor what she wanted, passed the course and she didn't, even after a re-mark. It wasn't fair, he noted, but the tutor had been more impressed by his performance. A performance he needed little encouragement to give.
His tutor, and Madelyne - with whom he had also been together for a very short, but very steamy time - had proved one thing to Jack. There was sex in art. As long as he acted as though that was the last thing on his mind. He might have thought to begin with, he wanted to become an artist for high ideals. Presenting the human condition. Viewpoints on contemporary issues. But from an early age, when he chose a painting class over sports because he would be the only boy there, he had decided the way to some women's heart was through their minds. Art was sexy, and for the many years since he had left art school, he had been having the time of his life, despite his lack of success, and his poverty.
And in the past few years, as success came, so did the money - his other reason for becoming an artist. The money was there in abundance, and he was enjoying every penny of it.
Jack's eyes followed Madelyne as she danced around the sculpture, her arms emphasising the shape. His ears followed her as she described how the figure was in the process of waking up, performing a ritual which welcomed the new day. His nose followed her perfume as it mixed with the fragrance of the sushi and cheesy biscuits. His mouth followed the line of the cigarette she had given him as he inhaled deeply on it. His trousers followed her as all of these sensations became a gut reaction. It was comforting to know he wouldn't have to be the sensitive artist for her benefit tonight.
When he began to show any attention to what Madelyne was saying, the curator was working towards the end of her lecture.
"All of which work together, making Jack Simple one of the foremost artists of his generation, these representations of an alien culture offering the perfect fusion of contemporary science fiction and sculpture. Enjoy the show."
The group turned and clapped Jack, then set about getting a closer look at the pieces. There were some who had obviously come to appreciate the work. But these seemed to be out numbered by those who looked upon the event as an art supermarket, even to the extent of either carrying calculators or inviting their accountants along.
The artist smiled as Madelyne approached him. There was much which had changed about her. She was dying her hair blonde, he noted and was wearing contact lenses. His agent had taken care of the show, so tonight was the first time he had met anyone else involved. He greeted her, kissing her gently on the cheek.
"You made it then." She said. "It only took ten years."
"Eight and a half." He corrected her, then cringed slightly as he said, "You look great."
"Thank you. You haven't changed a bit." She hadn't meant to be so quick, but she remembered what had happened last time he had told her she 'looked great' and didn't want a repeat of the ensuing hostility. "Although, I have to admit, your work has improved somewhat. But then, I remember your Green period."
The Green period. When he had decided that all of the other colours in the spectrum where evil, and everything he created were different shades of lime.
"I still love those Green works."
"I thought you might." She smiled winsomely. "So what happened? I've followed your career, and up until two years ago, I was expecting your underselling success to lead into a career as a teacher. No one would touch you. Then I hear rumours that you'd locked yourself in a studio somewhere and begun creating these epic pieces like our friend over there." She turned to a figure who appeared to be emerging from the floor, like a swimmer from a pool. "I couldn't believe it. Then the Serpentine goes out on a limb with an exhibition of work from an all but unknown artist, and it turns out to be you."
He smiled. He loved to perplex people. That was why he liked to keep his work as ambiguous as possible. But not so ambiguous, the viewer didn't understand what the hell he was working towards.
"Within months you're a hot property, and I get a call from your agent offering me all of these new pieces, an offer we now can't refuse. So what happen?" By now she had become quite exasperated and distracted. So distracted she hadn't realised she was hogging the guest of honour. Before she could get an answer, one of the art collectors had approached and introduced himself. She wasn't going to get an answer now.
Jack shot her a look. The same look he had given her all those years ago.
"I know," she whispered gently in his ear, "You'll tell me over dinner."

It was such a calming scene. Jack was overcome by its serenity. A mother sat suckling her child, giving him the milk he needed for life. The babe cried slightly as his lips slipped momentarily from her breast, his face offering relief as the feed continued. The room was brightly coloured - shades of green and blue, throughout the sparse furnishings. This was a sleeping area. He had been here before and witnessed the child being conceived, a moment he wouldn't forget.
He floated past the scene and slipped into the next room, one of the living areas. The father stood reading from an information screen which floated almost magically in the corner. He nodded his head now and then, his central limb pulling the down the words as he finished each page. The information was in a language Jack could not understand. He swept around the father's body to see his face. The alien's features projected a horror he had only ever seen before in war documentaries.
The alien pressed down hard on the screen, and the text disappeared. Jack floated nearby as he headed for the sleeping area. He greeted his wife with the customary stroke of the horns which lined the back of her head. He leaned over so that she could return the gesture. He needed comforting about something.
Moments later, as was customary, he felt a sensation of being lost. Then, another scene came into focus. He was in a large arched hall, filled with aliens all speaking over one another, some standing emphatically clenching their upper limbs together. His mind had conjured this up before as well. This was the governing house of the society.
It was always noisy, but never like this - something was terribly wrong. Many of the beings were out of their boxes, parading around the house, pointing at each other. Jack couldn't keep up with the scene. On the far wall, a screen - a huge version of what he had seen in the home, seemed to be showing some kind of map of space. The images where comically like a video game, small triangles shooting at tiny squares. They were afraid of this.
That second, Jacks attention was drawn back to the crowd, which was descending into a mob. One of the aliens had his three limbs wrapped around another's neck. His opponent's head was turning from red to blue, as he pressured the life out him. Jack felt helpless, even though he knew it wasn't really happening. Moments later, the alien's body fell lifelessly from his killer's limbs.

Jack shocked himself awake. He trembled slightly as pandemonium bled away into reality. He glanced around. Madelyne was lying on her side next to him. She had been watching him sleep. Memories of the night before flashed through his mind, as he remembered how little had changed.
"Good morning." She said, like a teacher greeting a late pupil.
"I've got to work quickly." He said sitting up in bed. He reached to his bedside table and grabbed the sketch pad and pencil which lay there. He feverishly opened it up and began to jot and sketch down everything he had seen - the mother and child, the look of horror on the father's face, the riot in the government, the murder.
Madelyne knelt at the end of the bed.
"You've had another dream, haven't you." she said, trying to fill what she thought was an awkward moment. Jack nodded vacantly at her, obviously paying more attention to what he was writing and drawing. "Artists." She sighed, standing up. The same thing happened when they had tried dating a few years ago. The work had got in the way. So she began to get ready to go home and change for work.

As she cleaned her teeth, she remembered the night before, at dinner, when, as promised, he had related his secret to her. The tone had been almost confessional. Just as he was hitting rock bottom artistically and financially, becoming 'ideas bankrupt' as he called it, he began to have these strange dreams about aliens. At first he thought they must have been vague memories of an old film, which his subconscious had triggered for some reason or other. But the dreams became more vivid each time, and he realised somewhere deep inside, his imagination was throwing these images at him, almost as a counter measure to his artists block. Although this scared him, he realised they would be his salvation. He began to draw them and to recreate them in clay. It was hard work at first, capturing the alien-humanoid form in these unique positions - especially without a frame of reference, but as time went on, the work became easier. An agent took notice of the work, and she had heard the rest. Jack was always too busy to give interviews (the press thought) so she felt privileged. He had trusted her.

Eventually, Madelyne had made herself look half presentable. Jack was in the kitchen, loudly cooking breakfast, so she sneaked a look at his sketch book. Anyone who looked at the pages he had just been working on, would have decided they were the work of a serial killer, a mixture of nonsense writing and impossible figures. This scared her somewhat, but considering the sculptures he might develop from them, what did it matter? She dropped the book on the bed and followed the smell of bacon.
"This is a nice flat." She offered as she sat down at the kitchen table.
"Thank you." He replied, throwing more bread into the toaster. "I'm just renting it for a few days while I do publicity for the show."
She has changed, he thought to himself. Indeed she had. Before now, she would have commented on all kinds of things. The spliffs in the ashtray by the bed. The phone number of his dealer lying next to his sketch book by the bed. The cigarette stub in the half drunk glass of cider on the television. The dirty dishes he had already amassed. 'You certainly are having a good time,' she would have said, in that sarcastic way of hers. But not now, and this intrigued him.
"Do you think you'll use any of your new dreams?" Madelyne asked instead.
"I think so ..." Jack replied cracking an egg into the frying pan. "...they were pretty vivid. The image I saw of the woman breast feeding will fit nicely in the feminist series."
He spoke as though he expected Madelyne to have been in the dream with him. But his intensity meant she was reluctant to ask more. After breakfast they made their promises to see each other again and she left.

Jack stubbed a cigarette on the floor of his studio. His cleaner hated the way he did that, but when he was in the midst of working on a piece, he didn't think of such things. That last dream was having a stronger than usual effect on him, and he had cast aside the other pieces he had been working on in order to develop the images that had possessed him, into working models. Nearby sat the alien mother, much as she had then. He's sculpted her before, and it hadn't been too difficult to recreate her in this new position.
It was her baby he was having trouble with. He couldn't seem to remember how the third limb was part of her figure. He was distracted. The night before, he had broken up with Madelyne for the second time in his life. Actually, she had broken with him, after finding him and the waitress who had served their anniversary meal naked together in the flat he had taken in London, so they could be closer together. He was distracted because he couldn't find the waitress' phone number.
To practice, he had placed a lump of clay on an old gallery pedestal and he was moving it with his hands, the mixture flowing through his fingers, trying to find the shape of the piece. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to feel the material, trying to allow his memory of the dream to guide his hands like a mould. It was an intoxicating feeling. Disorientating.
Suddenly, he felt the shape come into focus. He felt the head, then the limbs. The middle limb - it was here. He opened his eyes. And he almost screamed.
The studio had gone. He was standing in the alien bedroom he had dreamt of. And he was holding the alien child. But it wasn't human hands he clasped around its little form. They were alien limbs. His head began to ache. This wasn't his body. He had to concentrate hard not to drop the child.
The alien mother entered the room. She knew. The expression on her face was unmistakable.
"Do not be afraid." She said. Even though she was using the alien language, he understood her every word. "There was no other way." Sensing his discomfort, she took the child from him and placed it in a cradle in the corner of the room.
Jack fainted.

When he awoke, the alien mother sat near him. Somewhere along the line his head had stopped hurting. But the new sensations he was feeling had not disappeared. Gone was his soft human skin, replaced by a husk as hard as an elephant. His sight was black and white (which would account for the garish decor he had seen before). At least he had to legs - but his foot had been replaced by a concave stump, and that third 'arm' in the middle of his chest.
The alien mother reached out and held it tightly.
"What's going on?" He asked. It seemed to sum up the list of questions he really wanted to ask.
"It was the only way." She repeated.
Jack noticed his reflection in the mirror on the wall. The image of the alien father looked back at him.
"Oh, God." He said. It seemed to sum up all of the exclamations he really wanted to make.
"There isn't much time. Please come with me." She helped him from the bed and although he was still groggy, managed to guide him into the living area.
As they entered, Jack noticed the information viewer in the corner was already working, throwing up text. Again, although it was the same alien language as before, he understood the words. Although they moved up the screen at an incredible speed, two words kept re-appearing - Genocide and one other - Human.
The woman became distant. She approached the only window in the room and looked out across the street. Her head moved backwards as she looked into the sky. Her head bowed. Her eyes closed. Then, turning to him, with a calm she hoped would offer understanding she said:
"They're here."

They were getting closer. Jack could feel it. He could hear it too, as explosions could be heard from all sides. They had been running for some miles now, through the countryside, but it was no use. He could sense them gaining, and there was nothing he could do about it, but try as hard as he could to protect the family he was now a part. His feet had not been evolved to help with running - there was no need in such a serene society - so this slowed them down. The alien mother had insisted upon bring the information screen and this slowed them down somewhat. "Its everything we are," she had shouted, and there had been little time to argue.
There was no way he could have known he would be thrust into the middle of what amounted to genocide. Films had been no preparation for the reality. There was no way to describe being at the receiving end of an attack which used such weapons, with such powers to destroy. The invaders had swept down each street, instantly disintegrating each house, including occupants. Those who had managed to escape were now being hunted down by soldiers on foot. Anonymous soldiers, covered in armour, afraid to show their faces to their prey.
He had always played safe. The only other time he had been in a life or death situation, was as a child, when he was walking around the circumference of a park. A group of ducks were going through a mating ritual by the side of the road. The males had piled onto the submissive female, hoping to make their mark. Once one had been lucky, they all disappeared, leaving the female to waddle about dazed. He was fascinated. So transfixed as she walked side ways into the road. So transfixed he didn't see the car. So hesitant as the duck was thrown across the road. He still felt guilty about it now. He wasn't going to let it happen now.
As they ran, the alien mother had been desperately trying to tell him what he was doing here and what was happening. The screams of her baby, the sound of the explosions and voices in the distance, were making her work impossible, so he was having to piece together odd phrases, trying to understand. These aliens had certain telepathic abilities. Collectively they had worked to bring his mind to their world. The dreams he had been experiencing had been the manifestation of their attempts. They realised, to give him form here, one of their number would have to give up their body, and her husband had volunteered. They had brought him here so he could witness the devastation which was being brought upon them by these invading forces, who cared little for them. This planet was the last living outpost of a once thriving civilisation which was slowly being destroyed. The invaders appeared to have a kill or be killed attitude to their galactic neighbours. But why had they chosen him? This was a question for which he could get no answer.
The voices had got closer, and family tried to scrambling for shelter. They hid under a natural canopy which jutted out of a rocky hill. The alien mother's confidence had turned to fear, and there was nothing he could do now, but comfort her and the baby. He arched his head to the side to see if he could hear what their hunters were saying - but the words were gibberish
As he crouched there, holding them tightly, all of the emotions he had hidden from all of these years, began to rise up ready to explode. Along with the fear, there was a guilt which was even harder to contain. The dreams he had been experiencing - he could have been using them to keep a record of the society. He could have been more analytical - less quick to use artistic license. At that moment, he resolved that this race would not be forgotten, if he spent the rest of his life. His lonely planet, on the other side of space, would not forget.
They heard a footstep above their head. It took all of Jack's strength not to gasp, but a sound came. Not from him. From the alien mother. There was nothing she could do.
The soldier shouted something with some certainty, then jumped to the ground in front of them. He turned, and raised a weapon.
"Not again!" Jack shouted.
With all the strength he could find, Jack leapt forward and launched himself at the soldier's body. But he had by now forgotten his newly alien form, and misjudged the attack. He only managed to grab a leg.
This was enough. The soldier fell to the rocky ground with a thud, the helmet flying off. At that moment, Jack realised why he was here.
Beneath the helmet, was a perfectly human face.
Jack scrambled backwards with shock, giving the human enough time to re-aim the weapon. In seconds a shot was fired past him, hitting the mother and child point blank. They disintegrated on contact. Jack had failed.
There was little he could do. He opened his three limbs, threw back his head and screamed.
The Human cocked her weapon and repeated her target practice. Mission accomplished.
Jack was vapourised.

Madelyne's high heels clomped hard upon the cobbled floor of the yard and echoed loudly through the seemingly deserted warehouse complex. Jack said that he needed as much privacy as possible, so he had bought and converted this entire factory for himself. She would not have liked to have been here at night. But this was dawn, and the place was unnervingly peaceful.
She found the huge, closed door of the main workshop and tapped hard on the wood. Nothing. Walked along the door slightly, and tapped again. Still there was no answer.
She sighed and began to move away. But as Madelyne turned her head, she heard the faintest of murmur from inside the warehouse.
"Jack?" She shouted, hoping her voice would be heard through the door. There was no answer.
She gripped both hands around the large handle down the edge of the door. The door did not move far - but the gap was just enough to slip her body through. The studio was in complete darkness. Although she had been here before, and been impressed by the vastness of the place, right now she felt unnervingly claustrophobic. The air was thin. She felt herself breathing deep and hard in an attempt to fill her lungs.
.Madelyne ran her fingers up the wall until she found the light switch. It clicked loudly as she pressed it upwards. The place was flooded with light.
The entire floor space had been engulfed by a forest of statues. They were in the Jack's familiar rough style, but gone was the life affirming nature of the works from the gallery. The images where grotesque but compelling. But one feature ran through them all. The fear in their faces. Madelyne gingerly walked forward, noting the subjects of the pieces. An alien man running. The same figure spiralled forward on the floor, Madelyne guessed he was dead. The alien woman, she had seen before, crouching as though she were hiding from something. The alien man embracing a different woman, grief in his eyes, her body limp in his arms.
As she walked forward, the images became more incoherent. The alien figures gave way to something even more horrific. Figures she hadn't seen before - some kind of soldiers in futuristic armour, in various position, mainly with a weapon cocked or in the process of firing. Madelyne found herself gasping like a child. Step after step, statue after statue, the images became more shocking. The soldiers lost their helmets and were Human. They were attacking the aliens in all kinds of unimaginable ways. Every moment, she wondered what had been going through Jack's mind as he created such monstrosities.
Then, as she neared what could best be described as a clearing, she heard the murmuring again.
"I've got great it right, they've got to see."
Through the legs of a statue, she at last saw Jack. He looked terrible. He was covered from head to foot with clay, in his clothes, his hands, his face, his hair. His eyes were filled with anguish - he didn't look like he'd seen a bed in days, even weeks. His body shook erratically, as though in the grip of some kind of dementia.
He was standing between two statues. One was the alien woman again, sitting, clutching the child in her arms, tightly. She was looking up with terror at another statue of a human soldier, holding a gun aimed directly at her.
"It's not right. Somehow. Not right." His voice was gruff and low, as though it wanted to scream and shout, but did not care anymore.
She chose her moment.
"Jack it's me, Madelyne. What happened to you." She reached out. He didn't flinch. He didn't respond. She pulled her hand back.
"Its not right." He said to her, although there was no recognition of who she was. She could have been anyone.
"No one has seen or heard from you in months." She stepped forward a bit more. "I've tried to call, but your phone just rang and rang."
Jack stepping forward. For a moment, Madelyne thought she was through to him, he was going to embrace her. But he turned and grabbing a lump of clay and they it onto the back of the soldier's neck.
"Your agent said you often locked yourself up like this when you want to work. But I had to see you. I'm glad I came."
He began to fashion clay into more hair.
"The show was a complete success. You missed the party. Believe it or not, that waitress turned up looking for you."
He turned to her.
"Cindy?" He asked.
She smiled. Some things didn't change. Had she reached him?
"Yes. I gave her your phone number. She'd lost it."
"I don't care." He told her, before returning to his work. A moment past, then he looked directly at her, for the first time seemed to recognise her. "I want a new exhibition." He said.
"I shouldn't see that as being a problem. This last show was a hit. But we are booked up for at least six months, though."
"NOW!" He snapped. "You have to know! All of you!"
"Jack." She said as calmly as she could. "You need help. I don't know what has happened. But you need help."
"If you don't have the space, I'll find someone who does!" Jack was furious. He grabbed another lump of clay and strode towards her. "Go on - get out! Now!"
Madelyne had lost. Wordlessly, she turned and ran.
Jack threw the clay on the soldier and carried on working.

The curator found the space. There was nothing else she could do. She still cared for him. Perhaps by giving him this new exhibition, she could help him out of the emotional cave he was lost in.
He had cleaned himself up at least. But he still had that obsessive look in his eyes. She still didn't understand what he had been though, in the time when he had all but locked himself in his studio. Or what had led him to it. When she asked, he would fly off into an incoherent explanation, about being transported to an alien world, and seeing humans kill aliens and how he had been chosen because he was a communicator to tell our world about it, to stop it somehow. She didn't understand. Not really.
With Jack's notoriety, it hadn't actually been too difficult to find a gallery space. But, the show was a rushed job. It would only have the clay pieces from the workshop. Jack had run through it with her, selecting pieces, seemingly at random. She had noted them down, and placed them within the space as best she could, in order of creation. But even within the white walls, they looked like a jumble. She tried to leave some out, but he wondered let her.
As the work progressed, she saw changes in Jack. He slowly became more relaxed. Reflective. He was getting what he wanted, and it seemed as though a mountain was being lifted from his shoulders. He had given up drinking. Drugs. They went out and celebrated the opening of the exhibition. He was a changed man, and Madelyne felt herself falling in love with him, again.

Then the exhibition opened. People came because of the Jack Simple name. But as they entered the gallery, they felt much the same as Madelyne had when she visited the studio that day. They didn't understand. Jack spent many days there, ready to answer questions. But visitors didn't ask. They just wanted to leave. They simply saw the artist destroying the alien world he created, and that was unforgivable.
The media had a field day. They wanted to know what had happened to this up and coming artist, nominated for the Turner prize, no less. They wanted to know what had led to his nervous breakdown. And he told them. About being transported to an alien world in the future. Seeing the human race wipe out an alien species and how he had been chosen because he was a communicator to tell our world about it. To stop it somehow. He told the world. And the world laughed, and turned the page looking for gossip about soap operas and football.

Jack had failed. He hadn't felt the same since he returned to Earth. He'd experienced terrible headaches, and been drawn into actions he couldn't control. But his life had finally been given a meaning. He had finally been given a strong reason for being an artist. He had finally created works which he could be proud of. And he had fallen in love with someone, Madelyne, who he felt he could spend the rest of his life with.
But that wasn't enough. He had failed. The human race was destined to become the murderers of the future, and there was nothing could he do to stop it. And he could not live with that.
He breathed in, and kicked the box from under himself. As the makeshift noose tightened around his neck, the last images he saw were the statue of the alien mother, and Madelyne as she entered the studio.
"I'm sorry." he whispered.

Madelyne ran forward, to grab him, but there was nothing he could do. Jack was dead. He was hanging from an old pipe jutting out of the wall. Next to him, was his final piece. A human male and an alien female embracing each other tightly.
Madelyne knelt down before them, and wept.

Jack Simple tore the wrapping paper from the present and grinned at the title. 'Jack Simple'. It was by a writer he had never heard of - Madelyne Brown. During the days it took him to read the book, he learnt of how art was treated in the second millennium, about an artist who destroyed himself. He thought about how art was missed in such turberbulent times. He shuddered slightly at the illustrations. There was a familiarity about them.
The announcement Jack had been waiting for came. The soldier threw the book on his bunk, and grabbed his weapon. He threw on his helmet and headed for the shuttle. He felt a slight ting of sadness. This would be the last inhabited world which would be cleansed for some time. After this he would have to find another profession. Perhaps he would become an artist.


Elsewhere My first really negative review of Torchwood. Shame.


That Day I was always think that I should be able to say something interesting or profound on Remembrance Day, but I realise that actually there's nothing I can add to observing the two minutes silence. People died so that I could have the right to sit here, sit there, do this, do that, free and unimpeached. Even saying thank you doesn't seem nearly enough.

Review 2006: A Call For Entries

Review 2006 Is it that time already? After the massive success last year I've really been wracking my brain as to what to do next. The idea has been that one year I'd review the year and then the next I'd ask others to contribute -- me to you to me to you. But given that Review 2004 was so, so boring (and took most of that year to organise) I've been wondering where to go next. So ...

A couple of week's ago I applied for a job as a researcher at Schott's Miscellany. I didn't get an interview, but I did receive a lovely rejection letter, written and signed by Ben himself which makes it all the more heartbreaking that I wasn't given the chance. But something that struck me whilst filling in the lovingly crafted application form was that one of my loves is answering questions, either personal, or on topics that require research.

What I'm proposing for Review 2006 is that you send in a question. Any kind of question will do but I guess there will be four categories:

(a) Personal (egotistical). A question about something that has happened this year or something I've written on the blog that you've wondered about but were too afraid to ask.

(b) Trivia. 'How big is the moon?' or 'How fast is the fastest thing that's ever been fast?' that kind of thing.

(c) Review. What do you think of this album/film/book that I like?

(d) Opinion. See if I can work out something you've been ruminating on. 'Why do people who get on buses always stand near the door when others are patently going to get on after them and they'll be blocking the way?' That sort of thing.

(e) Advice. Dear Stuart, I wonder if you could give me advice about this problem I've been having ...

Basically a question about anything.

I'll (hopefully) post one answer a day for the whole of December, and as always, if you have a blog or website I'll present you with a credit.

You see, now that I write those words, I realise the mountain I'm creating for myself. The ulterior motive is that in this time when I don't have much work on it will give me some good writing and research practice and will force me to produce thirty-one short columns some of which will hopefully be good enough to add to the portfolio. And it means that this year I'll be doing all the work and you can just sit back and watch.

You can drop a question off in the comments to this post or via email to feelinglistless@btopenworld.com as soon as possible. In the bizarre event that I get more questions than days I'll double up and try and answer them all -- so don't fear that 'slots' aren't available or whatnot.

Thanks in advance.