Brain matters

Okay, so I know it's been almost seven months since you last had something new to read but it's really not just lack of interest on my part. In the vain conceit that there's someone out there still interested who doesn't know why I've been quiet, today's exactly six months since I had to deal with this.

I'll share the full story soon, but first I have the little matter of a holiday in the US to finish and for anyone remotely concerned, that should tell you how I feel right now.

A bientot, mes amis.


Une liaison dangereuse?

"These pockets are very full," said my uncle Chris, of the coat I'd lent him as protection against the biting London evening air.

"Yes," I replied, "there's all sorts in there. I should really clear them out."

So it was that I found a reminder of an evening in America almost 10 years past: a bracelet, an accidental memento of a girl with whom I had a brief, entirely unexpected but very enjoyable liaison. A night which my inexperienced and panicking mind then sought to ensure was unique by scaring the young woman in question with a very intense, confused letter.

I remember the bracelet because after our tryst, she'd expressed concern about it having gone missing. It had no value other than sentimental, she told me. I swore I'd look for it.

It wasn't until months later that I found it quite by chance, hiding in a suitcase pocket. By then I'd lost all nerve and decided to hang on to it as a keepsake. The wrong decision, I know.

But I thought I'd lost the bracelet years ago, and its sudden reappearance presents me with a problem. I'm not entirely sure what to do with it. Because I know I'm highly likely to meet the girl again in the autumn, for the first time since that night in October '96.

Except she's now, to the best of my knowledge, a married woman. A New York lady married to a Geordie. One with bad teeth, by all accounts, probably obtained by being very protective about his women.

I have to give the bracelet back, that much is clear. The question is how do I it while preserving as much face as possible.

And more importantly, how do I avoid causing a scene at a large Italian-American wedding? Not that I wish to bandy about stereotypes, but knowing the family as I do I don't want to spoil the bride's big day.

Please help me do the right thing. Or at the very least get out of this with all limbs and senses intact.


Random access memories

General stuff from the past few days, including...

* Star-spot of the week: Simon Pegg at Team Albatross' pub quiz (not at the Winchester, sadly). Not that he seemed to be trying to hide: as the quiz neared its climax and teams cheered right answers, he and his mate leapt up to high five each other. In a very post-modern, ironic way, natch. We owned his ass, by the way.

* Pain of the week: All good things must come to an end. Still, ouch. But we shall have our revenge.

* Phrase of the day: Fit to be tied. Meaning to be very angry, livid

After an unfortunate experience this morning (my cab into work was an hour and a half late - no fun when you've got up at 4.30 expecting your ride 30 minutes later. We can go into how incredibly lucky I am to have transportation to work provided for me in the wee small hours another time but for today let's just accept it as an unquestioned perk of the job) I professed that I was "fit to be tied".

I was met with nothing but puzzled expressions. No one in the office had heard it before. I was amazed. I'd thought it to be a phrase from the north of England - turns out it's most likely from the southern states of the US.

* Word of the moment: Meta-bigot. First coined by Slate's Sam Anderson to describe the gorgeous (in all senses) comedian Sarah Silverman and those like her.

"Silverman has become an important member of a guerrilla vanguard in the culture wars that we might call the "meta-bigots"—other members include the South Park kids, Sacha Baron Cohen's "Ali G", and the now-AWOL Dave Chappelle.

The meta-bigots work at social problems indirectly; instead of discussing race, rape, abortion, incest, or mass starvation, they parody our discussions of them. They manipulate stereotypes about stereotypes. It's a dangerous game: If you're humorless, distracted, or even just inordinately history-conscious, meta-bigotry can look suspiciously like actual bigotry.*

First used here.



As longtime visitors to nota benny may remember, I'm never one to hold back when the Oscars are announced.

Unfortunately this year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have given me little to complain about. Admittedly, had you told me six months ago after I'd seen Good Night, And Good Luck, that it would not be the magnificent David Strathairn taking home the Best Actor award, I'd have torn you a new arsehole. (Forgive the language, but my feelings regarding cinema can be a little on the strong side).

But that was before I'd seen Philip Seymour Hoffman's turn in Capote. My god, that man can act. Not that it's any real revelation but looking back over his career not only has he shown great versatility, but also the ability to portray credible, complete characters with unerring regularity.

It's a rare thing. Tom Cruise is always Tom Cruise. Tom Hanks will seldom be anyone other than Tom Hanks. Mr Clooney, talented though he is, will always be just too gorgeous to completely erase George's shadow from any of his roles.

But Philip Seymour Hoffman consistently creates characters who eclipse the actor: Joe White in State and Main, Punch Drunk Love's Mattress Man, the miserable Allen from Happiness, Boogie Nights' Scotty. Can't speak for anyone else, but I never think, "Hey - that's wotsisname up there." He's always 100% in the role. Truly, the mantle of Hollywood's greatest Hoffman has been passed from one generation to the next.

What he doesn't do though, journalistically speaking, is give good talking head. Watch any number of interviews, such as his post-Oscar presser (especially when compared with George's easy winning effort), and many recent print pieces have been "In conversation with..." or part of a group discussion. Whatever, one comes away feeling less connected to him or with less of an insight than one would necessarily want. Similarly, people who've spoken to him for the Beeb say it's hard to get more than 90 seconds of usable material out of him - a very poor showing when you're the hottest tip in town for a top award. Maybe he's just shy - he certainly wouldn't be the first actor to hide behind his art.

As long as he carries on putting in great performances, That's something I can live with. And how many other actors could credibly follow up something like Capote by playing the villain in one of the biggest blockbusters of summer 2006. There's only one reason that rather than avoiding it at all costs I'm actually excited about Mission Impossible 3 - and it sure as hell ain't Katie Holmes' baby's daddy (whoever he may be).

So, yeah, can't complain about the Academy's choice of winners. I have every faith they'll be back on form next year.

But fans of angry tirades don't go home completely empty-handed. I'm calling for a boycott of Vanity Fair after they evicted one of my (properly accredited) website colleagues from their party allegedly just because she wasn't a TV journalist. And if they think they can get round me with cheap stunts like nude covers of Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson they've got another thing coming. Or my name ain't Philip Seymour Hoffman.


I am not a practical person.

Take my bathroom sink. Something somewhere in the system went "THUNK" one night and for the past three weeks or so the mixer tap hasn't been drawing cold water. Hot water, fine. All the other cold water in the biscuit, fine. This tap, no cold water.

And what with it being a "designer" thing installed by the bloke who sold me the house, of course it requires special parts to make it work. And special parts have special suppliers. High street they ain't, and knowing where to buy them is just the first problem. But I track them down eventually and explain what's happened.

"Sounds like you need to replace the cartridge," says the salesman during my first phone call. "Come by, and I'll pop the top of the tap and show you how to do it."

This is great news as I've been determined to resolve it myself. The purchase of parts and tools to finish the job, finding the stopcock, taking the tap to pieces and reassembling it, all with the minimum of professional advice and assistance.

Yet after my second visit in two days to the upitsownarse bathroom supplier, things are no further on.

The lack of manual and inadequate explanations provided by the shop staff ("You didn't tell me there were two grub screws" "Oh, yeah, right, sorry" or "So you're saying those shouldn't be lined up, but your colleague said they should be, which is it?" "Well they shouldn't be, I don't know") have left me frustrated, bleeding and still without cold water.

Trouble is, I have no aptitude and a similar amount of experience in rudimentary plumbing, and everyone else I talk to concerning the matter regards it as second nature, with a made up language ("Look down the spline and you should see it" "The what?"), an expectation that everyone else understands what they're talking about, and a deeply impatient, condescending manner towards anyone who dares ask a simple question.

Another two phone calls after my second visit stretch us all to the limit.

Saleman: "Sigh... It's really very easy."

Me: "With the greatest respect you've done this before, but I haven't, and I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOU!"

Salesman: "Well, we sell loads of them and nobody else has ever had a problem."

Yeah, well I fucking well am.

Three weeks of cleaning my teeth in the kitchen sink is as much as I'm willing to take. I'm grateful for running water in the rest of the place, but what use is designer chic if it doesn't bloody work.

And fuck pride, I've got a plumber coming in.

It may be pampered and an indictment of my abilities as a barely-functioning man, but molecules just don't work for me the way they do for other people.

And I'll feel so bloody smug if it's something other than the cartridge.


Shameless plagiarist that I am it was only going to be so long before I signed up for the "101 Things in 1001 Days" project.

You can find my list of things here.

The eagle-eyed will spot that the programme actually entails more than 101 individual things, but I don't consider one trip to the theatre to require any effort. Twenty times in less than three years? That requires some dedication. And that's one of the easy ones. Learning to drive? Whole different kettle of ducks entirely.

Anyway, 101 or not, who's counting?

Long and short, you'll be able to track the progress with a running commentary o'er on t'other blog or, for those who can't face it, trust that it'll provide enough anecdotes to breathe a little more life into trusty old nb. I'm sure it will. Cos let's face it kids, things have been a little tired around here since the angry, lovesick days of 2003.

I'd better stop procrastinating and get on with stuff. So enjoy the ride. Just don't expect everything to happen at once.


Phrases I never thought I'd hear (No 1 in a likely one-off series)

"Don't miss that with our all-star cast including... Steve Guttenberg"

Monday 13 February 2006, 7.30pm, Sky One

Twenty years too late, surely?! Or maybe not. What is Hollyweird coming to?


I don't often feel the need to big up something done by my colleagues (not that I couldn't every day, it would just get boring) but all this month the BBC News website's running a series on 60 years of British public information films.

They've unearthed some real gems, such as a semi-naked Rolf Harris on teaching kids to swim, the fixtastic Jimmy Savile on the importance of wearing seatbelts, and a cartoon about coastguardswhich I've seen on TV in the last five years, despite it having been made in the late 60s.

It's interesting how many of the ads concern themselves with water - or perhaps not, considering our island status.

But it's a theme continued in the best of the bunch so far, a cautionary tale about the dangers of lonely water. Voiced by scaremeister-general and one-time 007 foe Donald Pleasence as the very grimmest of reapers, it's creepier than the majority of modern horror movies.

Don't watch it before bed...


Previously on nota benny...

This is a big fat hairy mistake which can end in nothing but tears.

Last time I grumbled about Graeme Souness (April last year - amazing restraint, I know, but I didn't want to bore people) Erik said "I would have fancied City against yours on current form". You may have been 10 months out, fella, but I suppose I have to thank you for last night's 3-0 drubbing.

Well as you can see, I never wanted Souness at Newcastle United in the first place. And now, thankfully, he's gone, far too long after dragging us into the depths of mediocrity that had Blackburn considering whether to sack him just before we gave him the call. It seems far too late to go into his inadequacies now, but Jean-Alain Boumsong's defending (well worth £9m) and enough hamstring injuries to occupy even the most workaholic physio are just the tip of the iceberg.

So with former West Ham boss Glenn Roeder and St Alan of the Gallowgate taking care of the team until a permanent replacement is found for the dour Scots bully, we face a rocky few months. Because who's fit to take over? I don't fancy Sam Allardyce (we should play better football than Bolton), hiring Steve Bruce would be a repeat of the Souness mistake, Sven is unlikely (although he may be tempted by Newcastle good ferry link to Scandinavia), and Shearer isn't ready to take over yet, even if he wanted to, something I find highly unlikely. Besides which, neither he nor Roeder is actually qualified to coach permanently.

Today hasn't brought me happiness, just the feeling of emptiness that comes with seeing ugly inevitability realised.

I think there's a much deeper problem than coaching staff, though: the chairman. As long as Fat Freddy's in the top job, the club's going nowhere. But that's another story.

I keep reminding people that we've never won a trophy in my life. It looks like I can safely use that line a while longer.

And while I'm here - is this really news, let alone a second story? It's what everyone's known for years. Slow day at the office, obviously.


I was going to blog something personal tonight, some thoughts about the world and my take on something happening in it.

Instead I got stuck at work for two hours past the end of my shift making sense of this ship covered in ice.

Please accept it in lieu of original thinking, or at least that which occasionally passes for it.


This is not amusing.

Okay, maybe just a little bit.

Especially Goals Allowed and the picture of Shay Given surrounded by kittens.

As Homer says, it's funny because it's true.

But don't let me catch you laughing. It's cruel to mock the afflicted.


So as promised, here are my "cultural" high points of last year. I'll explain the rules as I go along. The first one being that these aren't presented in any meritocratic hierarchy, just the order in which they occurred to me.

I find choosing a group of favourites difficult enough at the best of times, it's not a task I take lightly, and I'm not going to demean any of my selections by ranking them. So there.

And unless I decide otherwise, there are five entries in each category.

Ready? Then I'll begin.

Movies (any film seen at a cinema while on general release is eligible)
Good Night, And Good Luck - Clooney's mad as hell with the submissive nature of television news in the face of government corruption and ineptitude and he's not going to take it any more. Plus David Strathairn is just brilliant.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - deliciously odd, just what one expects from Wes Anderson

Serenity - Fox are stupid. Firefly should still be running. Maybe following the success of this movie they want to give it another crack, with one change - stop screwing around with the schedule. They should be so lucky.

Garden State - I'm not too keen on actors dallying as directors, but Zach Braff is allowed to make more films if they're as good as this. I'll forgive him the Hollywood ending - I've heard even he thought it was wrong. Plus the soundtrack rocks.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang - clever clever, laugh laugh. Nuff said.

Sideways - even socially-challenged borderline alcoholics who steal from their mothers need love. And the fact that the Academy ignored Paul Giamatti's turn as Miles just goes to show what a bunch of idiots they are. Again. Don't get me started.

Bubbling under: The Woodsman, Batman Begins, Team America: World Police, Hitchhiker's Guide, A Very Long Engagement

Nowhere near: Star Wars Episode III

Somewhat depressingly these are almost all English language (with the exception of Engagement, which didn't make it into the top tier because lovely though it was, it just felt a little Jeunet-by-numbers to be truly captivating - maybe a second viewing would change my mind), so no Downfall, Kung Fu Hustle or Night Watch - must do better this year. Mind you, those are out as I can't reasonably claim anything I haven't seen, so no Kong, Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Corpse Bride or countless others.

Special archival mention has to go to Three to Tango, which not only proved to be a superior romantic comedy (an oft-unfairly maligned genre), but also created a good game for Jen and me to play on the way back from Lake Burton.

Music (criterion: released in 2005)
Hung Up - Madonna (gratuitous number one pick, catchy as hell, but the genius is in the Abba)

Feel Good Inc. - Gorillaz (difficult to jettison Dare, Dirty Harry and others, but this just snuck it)

Gracie - Ben Folds (there are "better", more worthy tracks on Songs for Silverman, but I just love the simplicity and honesty of this one)

Suddenly I See - KT Tunstall (I could have chosen any of half a dozen tracks from her album, making this selection pretty much arbitrary. And Scottish women are hard to beat.)

The Bold Knight - Seth Lakeman (Actually gives me shivers up the back of my spine. Okay, it was technically released in 2004 along with the rest of Kitty Jay, but I didn't discover it until late last year, along with most of the rest of the universe. Plus it was eligible for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize, and it's gorgeous, so I'm having it.)

I feel my age and how little time I spend listening to music radio show through awfully here. Picking five was difficult enough, and I'm not even sure it's my top five, as I can't remember everything I heard. I've probably forgotten some classics, and I've have loved to get a new Cardigans track in there, but none's grabbed hold of me yet. But it would have been easier had I not limited myself to one track per artist. Tell you one thing though, I definitely don't care for much British guitar-based rock/pop at the moment.

Books (criteria: read, but not necessarily published, in 2005; but published within last five years; hey, it's my list - if you don't like my rules, go make your own)
Empire Falls/Richard Russo - accidentally recommended (by Jen again - she meant to tip Straight Man) but a cracking read nonetheless, with some beautifully crafted characters

The Algebraist/Iain M Banks - Dwellers are his best creations since the ships of Excession. Oh, and I want a Planetary Protector (Deniable).

The Meaning of Everything/Simon Winchester - just to show that the best stories don't have to be fiction. Anyone interested in words should read this book.

Lost in a Good Book/Jasper Fforde - not too intelligent, well-informed and witty for its own good... but only just

America: The Book/The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - although I only got it for Christmas (thanks Sam!) and haven't finished reading it, this can't not go in, even if it means excluding the likes of Carl Hiaasen and Christopher Buckley from the fifth spot. I have other things to say about the show that inspired this book, but they'll have to wait.

The one-eyed god (rules pretty much go out the window)
New TV show - US: Weeds - gloriously funny and very watchable even if it didn't star Mary Louise Parker, but the fact that it does makes it unmissable

New TV show - UK: Nathan Barley - the twisted genius of Chris Morris strikes again

New TV show - UK MkII: The Thick of It - the satirical brilliance of Armando Iannucci strikes again

Old TV show - Doctor Who - Christopher Eccleston made a decent enough Doctor, a trophy for the relaunch but I suspect David Tennant outshine him. Eccleston regarded the Tardis as an interesting folly but was never likely to stick around. Young Casanova, on the other hand, will really own the role.

That's it. Feel free to argue.