All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

irishmammies

Irish and Jewish mothers share a stereotype with one exception: they don’t temper their sense of guilt. With all the love in the world, an Irish mother can simultaneously worship the ground her son walks on and act with a deeper sadism than the bastard offspring of Jeffrey Dahlmer and John Wayne Gacy.

Growing up, the brother and me were pretty spoiled – it was more Enid Blyton (without the casual racism) than Angela’s Ashes , but Mam wielded the wooden spoon of guilt like Zorro felling Spaniards. When I went through a period of fibbing she tole me that my tongue would turn black and fall out if I lied. How did she know? That damned avian turncoat, the little bird, told on me. Every time. It must have been a stool pigeon.

The best ever was telling me that raising a hand to her would result in the offending member rising from the ground once buried, forming a gruesome, peeling tribute to the finale of Carrie. People will come from miles around, she said, to visit the slowly rotting hand and say “There lies a terrible child who was mean to his mother.”

Of course, we laugh about it now, but I still hate that bird.

 

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Jack Reacharound

Jack-Reacher-fosterJack Reacher is 6′ 5″ tall. Tom Cruise is 5′ 7″. Jack Reacher weighs between fifteen and eighteen stone. Tom Cruise weighs twelve. Jack Reacher has a 50-inch chest. Tom Cruise… okay so he’s built up, but certainly not fifty inches of unstoppable man machine. In fact Mr. Cruise might be more suited to play me (yes, fine, after he lets himself go for a year… what do you mean “a decade”?) than the drifter, ex-MP, force of nature, and Marty-Stu of seventeen books of increasingly ridiculousity.

In a two-hour buttock-number best summed-up by a Code of Conduct breaker, Jack Reacher is “someone what used to be an army police and now wants justice or something. I dunno.”  After an Iraq veteran is arrested for the murder of five innocents, his only plea is to “Get Jack Reacher” and, like the genie from Aladdin, albeit more magical, he appears to sort things out but, boy, does he take his time.

The movie struggles to decide whether it’s Day of the Jackal or Die Hard, and in the end becomes neither 1970s exploitation movie or high-octane blockbuster.  Instead what’s left is an ultimately lifeless paint-by-numbers piece that fails to stand out from dozens of similar cinematic male fantasies.

Mr “It Was Not A Significant Bullet” does well with limited material as the big bad, as does Oyelewo with a role with even fewer dimensions.  Rosamund Pike, however,  should have her Equity card ripped out of her one-note paws.

Height aside, the “Man With No Name” thing that is the very essence of Jack Reacher requires a level of charisma and menace that Cruise just doesn’t possess.  Ang reckons Meryl Streep, the tiger from Life of Pi, or even the Yellow M&M would have been better choices and who am I to argue?

The only truly memorable aspect of the film is Werner “Yes, I cooked and ate my own shoe; what of it?” Hertzog.  As the mysterious Prisoner, he managed to sound like a man who has stared long into the abyss and sent the abyss packing.

I’m an atheist, but if I’m wrong I’d like to think that whatever god will call us to account will have Hertzog’s voice:

There is only pain, and coldness, and fear…

…and Jack Reacher on an endless loop.

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Feeling the Olympic Spirit

English: Congestion on the London Underground
English: Congestion on the London Underground (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s arrived. That doom-laden, apocalyptic, end-of-days event has hit London together with a million extra tourists, spectators, athletes, and entourages. We feared the Olympic lanes, we were told to consider staying at home for two weeks, maybe go on a holiday, take up walking or just plain get over it. But it’s great for the London and of course will be a moment to tell your grand-kids about when they take you out to dinner (as long as you don’t ask for chips).

Well the trains didn’t break down, the traffic kept moving, and the city looks more like the start of 28 Days Later than Soylent Green, so I’m glad to have shared my train with the one commuter in the whole of the south-east who wasn’t feeling a part of Team GB.

On a fairly empty Victoria Line train I managed to get a seat, while this paragon of British stoicism stood in the middle of the carriage. I usually get up before the train hits Oxford Circus to give me time to pull myself together because no-one needs to see me waddle around like the bastard offspring of Winnie the Pooh and Carroll’s White Rabbit, so I did, and it was slow, and there was room.  Cue a full-on charge from our Olympic champion, culminating in a body-check on this bear of very little brain.

“Carefull!” I tutted, wondering why what can only be a plain-clothes courier carrying a heart and lungs ready for transplant, judging by his desperate speed, is travelling by Tube.

“We all have to get off the train mate and you stood up too slowly.”

“That’s not a pushing offense last time I checked.”

“Well…” [and this sums up everything] “… you had a great old time sitting down, so shut up.”

“…”

What else could I do?  I avoided his vacant vacant gaze until the doors opened and when my new best friend thought it’d be fun to stand in my way, I barged and hit him with a bag that held an 800 page psychology text.

I hope the irony wasn’t lost on him.

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The Geek shall Inherit

In the UK only one of the six-hundred and fifty Members of Parliament has a scientific background. Homeopathy and chiropractic are available on the NHS, while effective and proven medicines are shunned. Our newspapers and television constantly report non-effective and dangerous practices as if they were fact. Even when they report on scientific work, scientists are misrepresented and used to score political points which leaves the public believing that there is no use in funding research any more. The UK is turning from a centre of excellence, a candle in the darkness, to a Thunderdome where ever-decreasing funds are fought for by our scientific community.

Enough, says Mark Henderson – the head of communications at the Wellcome Trust, and sets forward a manifesto to reclaim our culture of scientific inquiry and build a government where decisions are made based on evidence rather than fear, uncertainty and doubt.

In order to try to force our MPs to listen, Dave Watts pledged to send a copy of The Geek Manifesto to all MPs if enough volunteers stepped up to share the load and, oh boy, did they?  Not only that, Transworld Publishers donated 150 copies to make sure the pledge could be met.

My own copy is now on its way to Julian Huppert (MP for Cambridge), who certainly doesn’t need it but our own MP, Andrew Lansley, was the first to be snapped up. No surprise there. Let’s hope they read and act on it so the country doesn’t fall back into the dark ages.

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Professor Hawking, Dragonslayer

Apple Sticker
Image by je@n via Flickr

Listening to an e-book using Voiceover on the iPad doesn’t always capture the essence of the scene.

Picture it: riding a dragon for the first time. Excitement, flames, the leathery beat of blackened wings.

Uhm, not so much:

iPad Voiceover doesn”t quite capture the moment. (mp3)

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This Guitar Kills Fascists

United we Stand
Image by Damien Ryan via Flickr

This Saturday, when the people of Cambridge thought they’d be enjoying their annual Big Weekend, a ragged collection of football hooligans, the ignorant, and the hate-filled is descending on a city with an eight-hundred year history of learning and academic debate.

“The EDL are terrible people, we would always keep these groups under review and if we needed to ban them, we would ban them or any groups which incite hatred.”

David Cameron

Cambridge has spoken.

As Cambridge councillors we do not welcome the decision by the English Defence League (EDL) to organise their event in our city next Saturday, a city of so many special and well integrated cultures and faiths and a city that is at peace with itself.

We reject the views expressed by the EDL and we fully support the right of all Cambridge people to celebrate their cultures, enjoy their places of worship, and to be treated with equality and respect.”

We don’t want your despicable views around here. Go back to your homes and take responsibility for how you’ve wasted your lives.

Immigration isn’t the problem. A doctor from Iran who contributes to society and pays her taxes is infinitely preferable to a third-generation English dole-recipient who spends their benefit on ink to tattoo Love and Hate on his knuckles.

Islam isn’t the problem. In fact they have more in common with you than the so called white England you claim to defend.

Multiculturism isn’t the problem. E pluribus unum, baby. From the many one.  Infinite diversity in infinite combinations only serves to make Britain richer.

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“This is the Big Society. You see it must be big, to contain so many volunteers.”

Precious Moments figurine of a boy in uniform ...
Image via Wikipedia

Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.”

Philip Pullman

I remember the first day I was old enough to be brought to the public library. I was luckier than most of the other kids in my neighbourhood in that I had parents that encouraged reading, but it wasn’t until I entered that dusty bastion of oak-wood and furniture polish that I really discovered just how wonderful books were.

It was in the local library where I discovered Enid BlytonAsterix, the Moomins, Huckleberry Finn, and the Hobbit to the sound of a ticking grandfather clock and whispers of fellow readers.  That hardened paper ticket was the gateway to a lifetime of learning, of enjoyment, and countless worlds.

During Ireland’s last recession in the 80s the building, which had been a public library since 1884, needed some work to be made safe and so was condemned as libraries in poor areas were considered luxuries.  So we moved further afield and I found the many worlds of Clarke and Asimov, the joys of Adams, and had my noodle cooked by Ellison and Bradbury.

It was in a library that I met Roald Dahl. It was a library that started me programming. Libraries got me through school and into technical college and if it wasn’t for the groundwork laid there I’d never have made it through the Open University.

As Pullman points out, the fallacy of the market economy is going to drive out anything of worth in our society and it’ll be the less well off that will suffer.  It is nothing more than greed and selfishness couched in the language of ideology and stewardship.  A reduction to the lowest common denominator for those who can’t afford it, while the selfish classes get to keep more opportunities for themselves.

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Two Nations Divided by a Common Language

Dara Ó Briain recently posted this video on Twitter to show just how different the Irish and British are in spite of a couple of centuries of speaking the same language.

In the early days of living together, I asked Ang to put the messages in the press.  While simultaneously trying to figure out when I’d installed a device for receiving emails into an iron and dialling NHS Direct to get an ambulance sent out she didn’t realise that her first forays into Hiberno-English were occurring.  Nowadays things are regularly grand in our house – to be sure things are rarely things any more, but yokes – and the expletive of choice is feck.

In return I’ve started saying “Ta ra!” and Tidy, which sound quite daft in a Dublin accent.

At least I didn’t mention the Immersion.

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Ranger, Barbarian, Magician, Thief, Cavalier, Acrobat… and Dick

Dungeons & Dragons
Image by DraXus via Flickr

Have you noticed everyone on Facebook changing their profile pictures into cartoon characters from their childhood. You may have done this yourself. You may have been guilted into doing so by random appeals on behalf of the NSPCC or other child protection agencies. You might even have changed your profile picture into a character from Dungeons and Dragons, maybe Dungeon Master himself.

Remember Dungeons and Dragons? Kind, friendly Dungeon Master leads our youthful protagonists through a series of trials and adventures always ending in IMPORTANT LESSONS on FRIENDSHIP and SHARING. What a nice chap.

Wrong.

Dungeon Master was an asshat. He abducted six kids and an endangered animal, tortured them for fourteen hours, and left them to die in unresolved peril. Want to raise awareness about child abuse? There’s your child abuse right there.

Dungeon Master – the Joseph Fritzl of cartoon land.

Update: We have received an injunction from the Unicorn Anti-defamation League and therefore are obliged to say that Uni was hella cute, if a little bit whiny. We offer our apologies and no offence towards any magical creature was intended.

Except to Dungeon Master. He’s a dick.

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