Thursday, December 17, 2009

FAQ: I won't do what you tell me.

Am currently thoroughly amused by the BBC row about Rage Against the Machine singing their song live on the radio. Source: Guardian.

Without irony, they told the band not to say the "Fuck you" part of their famous refrain, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" Even if this is all you know about the band, that this is one of their lines, what do you think the band are going to do? They almost have no choice. To drop any part of the line seems to undermine its whole sentiment, and so really they either sing the whole fucking thing or they dump the it and cover The Carpenters.

Not that I wouldn't pay to hear Rage Against The Machine lay into a carpenters song. I always felt On Top of the World was a song about the injustice of a hierarchical religious structure that puts a single being above all others.

The reason people are talking about Rage Against The Machine again (not that they should have stopped, but they did) is because there is a campaign to make them number one for Christmas in the UK instead of some bland garbage oozed out by X-factor. (I haven't heard the song, but I stand by the words "bland," "garbage" and "oozed.") It's a way of saying "Fuck You" to Simon Cowell, which is to be applauded however it's done. There is also another movement afoot the have the Christmas number one be Tim Minchin's beautiful and sentimental (although self-justifyingly so) White Wine in the Sun.

My only fear is that those drones that really like X-factor will see these campaigns and be even more determined to buy the X-factor ooze and so make even more money for Simon Cowell and cause Joe McElderry's drug-addled death to happen all the sooner. And even if RATM (Rage Against The Machine) does make it to number one, we all know they probably won't be on the Christmas TOTP (Terror Over The Profanities), although we can be pretty sure we'll hear the X-factor single whether it tops or flops.

A Doctor by any Other Name

Dalek CongaThere comes a point in every British man's lifetime when he has to explain Dr Who to his American girlfriend. How do you explain the tale of an odd man who hangs out in a phone box, keeps getting younger and has been scaring kids since 1963? How do you describe the succession of eccentric, obsessive adversaries? What sense can be made of the fact his infinitely-large spaceship is actually the size and shape of a police telephone box? How do bring up that you used to be terrified of the combination of Daleks (squidgy blobs in armoured wheelchairs with broken megaphone voices) and the start of the closing theme tune (which felt like all of space was falling on you)?

I did tell her that after every couple of series, the doctor regenerates himself (i.e. is replaced by a younger, less eccentric actor) which has happened about ten times now. "Wow," she exclaimed. "So by now he must have covered most ethnicities and both genders." Cath has a lot to learn about television.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Food for String Programme

Evil TwinsAs many of you know, Professor Gray and I live with two creatures of the genus Felis catus. The functions of these creatures are to act as a crude alarm clock, to cover everything in the house with a thin layer of hair and for scientific observation.

Cath and I both have very different disciplines. I am in charge of noting the negative characteristics of the subjects: such as, the frequency and irritation of pitch of their whining; their tendency to believe they are ankle bracelets; and their inability to learn practical lessons from many of their escapades. Professor Gray is in charge of exaggerating their learning and cognitive skills.

Even before our chubby little subjects went on their diets, the overriding concern in their lives was food. Whilst this is true of many animals who, in the wild, don't know where their next meal is coming from, for animals that have never known the wild, rarely go out and are fed pretty damn regularly, this should not be a worry. Yet, Borneo (the male subject) spends his entire waking life whining that he doesn't have food in his bowl. Obviously he does have food in his bowl quite frequently, but it's only ever there for a few seconds before he wolfs it down. This brief period does at least afford the briefest gap in his whining. Borneo has an eating problem.

cat taking with string to bowlOne of other joys in a cat's life is the stalking, wrestling and torturing of such prey as twine, thread and lengths of string. This of course is also related to food. In the wild, these bits of string would be mice, birds and adorable, little baby rabbits with big eyes and a delightful curiosity. But even cats know that the nutritional value of a bit of string is somewhat below wood shavings and hair (although Borneo does eat a lot of the latter). However the process is so closely linked with the getting of food, even for a cat that has never caught anything bigger than a moth in is life, that once the string has been caught, very often Borneo will drag it down to the kitchen and drop it in his bowl. Because all he knows about food is that this is where it appears.

Professor Gray has hypothesised that this shows rudimentary understanding of currency. Which I guess could be true. But it's more likely he's either treating this as a gift (more able cats often give their owners gifts of disembowelled mice or the badly-chewed heads of adorable, little baby rabbits with big eyes and a delightful curiosity); or that he is using some rudimentary logic along the lines of:
things caught = food;
food lives in bowl;
therefore anything put in the bowl will become food.
(Reductio ad felinus)

It's possible that some dropping of caught string in the bowl has been seemingly rewarded with real food, which may have reinforced this behaviour.

Adolf KitlerHowever with true scientific rigour, we do need to prove or disprove the currency theory. Therefore I am creating a whole system of different-length strings that equate to different amounts of food, along with an exchange rate (linked to stock market prices) between the string and other currencies (little squashy balls, catnip mice and shoe laces). So the cat will be paid unemployment benefit of three balls a week and an obesity allowance of one catnip mouse, plus whatever string he's able to hunt, as long as it's under the string-hunting quota of 15 pieces of string a week. Once he's got the hang of this, we'll starting introducing hunting levies and taxation, plus we may have to investigate possible unemployment benefit fraud as hunting could be considered an occupation. Once he has mastered these complications, it's time to make him CEO (or perhaps Main Executive Operating Worker) of his own corporation and see how long it lasts. Although the problem I foresee is that his first role as CEO will almost certainly be to reward himself a huge food bonus.

Who said cats were stupid? Oh, yeah, I did.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Travel 5/9/08: France: Le Bugue pt 4

The usual breakfast maid must have been off today as the coffee was very weak indeed. Or they were expecting British people.

Apres le breakfast, we walked to the end of the hotel grounds and hopped over a disused gate onto a quiet country road. At the end of that, we recalculated and realised the forest we were heading for was further than anticipated, so decided to head up a narrow wooded path. But this soon began showing signs saying, "Private Property," or the French equivalent, and something about dogs. The signs were hand-written, which is always more ominous. After all, people who can afford fancy signs almost certainly have them there to keep you away from their nice stuff. Signs daubed on rough offcuts of wood seem to say, "please don't tempt me."

There was thick woodland all around us, but we found no paths in. The only one we did find ended in a small flat area of overgrown grass that was circled by bags on sticks. All very Projet De La Sorcière Blair.

We headed back along the country road. It took us to the outskirts of the village. At one point, we stopped off at one of those French cemeteries filled with concrete houses and ornate family tombs. In France, the dead often have better homes than many of the living.

French GraveyardOne of the great finds this trip was cabécou, a goat cheese that Catherine does very well with. She has problems with cow's milk and sometimes even milks from other dairy creatures. She's not tried aphid milk. Once we found the main part of the village, we hunted around for places to buy this cheese in order to bring it back home and feast on it for the limited period it would keep.

As well as an inordinate number of hairdressers, the town has a vast collection of immobiliers, or estate agents, or (if you are American) real estate agents. I like the suggestion in "immobiliers" that they actually try to stop you moving.

Back at the hotel, our room was being cleaned so we sat and ate chocolate, watching the stream and admiring the bamboo forest. We were somewhat surprised to see a bamboo forest in Europe. Our conclusion was that the owner misses the colonial days of Vietnam or is harbouring a strange and terrible beast from South East Asia. (Perhaps a Malaysian vampire, a Myanma mummy or a Kung Pao Panda.)

French StreamAfter taking showers (pictures withheld) we wandered back into town. We made some young lass's day by spending a small fortune on French glamour in her cute little boutique and in return she told us her aspirations and long-distance relations. We then wandered and settled down by the riverside to paint and write. The sun was out, as it had been most of the day, and the scene was very conducive to artistic pursuits.

However, as we walked back, the rain started to do its thing. I also realised I was a little sunburnt. I burn very easily. My skin has the sunscreen factor of tissue paper. It is made almost exclusively of photolopustre cells that go instantly from bright off-white to a scary shade of lobster.

For dinner we ate at a place we'd seen earlier whose name I don't seem to have written down. However, I noted what we consumed because it was sumptuous: duck gizzards, filet mignon, cabécou, caramel d'Espelette (which I believe were something like caramelised hash browns). For dessert we had pear in wine and a great fruit and sorbet.

Moron ConstructionsOne of the key local fruits is the walnut. They use it to make cakes, oil and a great liqueur that we managed to have before pretty much every meal. If it had been available, we'd have had it at breakfast as well.

Wandering back past the Irish bar, we became fully aware of its lack of Irish credentials. The bar was open weekdays and nights, except Friday when it was only open during the day. Saywhatnow? An Irish bar that's not open Friday nights? Are they teetotallers? Is it a kosher thing? We were perplexed.

We walked back through the grounds of our hotel. One old stable had been converted into a games room and inside stood a fine table tennis table (where one could play table tennis tennis). The building was locked, although I'm sure we could have got the key. The trouble is it was so eerily dark and quiet in and around the almost certainly haunted stable, that we decided not to play. Instead we went skinny dipping at the old abandoned quarry. (That last bit wasn't true: we actually simply went to bed at the top of the old, old house.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Travel 4/9/08: France: Le Bugue pt 3

Today there were actually people at breakfast. It rather spoiled the feeling that we had the hotel to ourselves. But we didn't take it out on them. We just said "Bonjour" politely. There was an older French couple and a younger one with a baby that expressed a general dissatisfaction with everything. It seemed a bit too early in life to be disillusioned. Give it a chance, baby. It even disapproved of the Brahms.

Campagne CampagneCampagne CrossAfter breakfast, we drove to Campagne, a cute, little village with a church and castle and very little else. Then we went to have a look at the castle and village perched on the hill at Castelnaud, but the streets were filled with the staggering, undead hoardes of Vaykatiun, so we drove on. We passed by the PREHISTO Parc, which is something like an outdoor Cro Magnon Madame Tussauds (or Madam Ugg). We didn't stop, figuring it would be full of the modern world's Neanderthals, children. Instead we paid a wee visit to Sarlat, a medieval tourist town to buy shoes and bad chocolatines (or pains aux chocolates).

Prehisto ParcSarlatSarlatSarlatSarlatSarlatA very common thing on the menu in this area is Foie Gras. The word "Foie Gras" is derived from people trying to say "Fat Goose" with a mouth stuffed full of food. Foie Gras as you may know is the somewhat controversial liver of an overfed goose.

Après la, went we to Lascaux. This was somewhere well known to Cath, who has studied some art. It's the site of some of the best-known cave paintings (or peintures des caverns (I should really stop guessing at French translations)). The name didn't ring much of a bell to me, but the pictures were familiar. Cath was genuinely excited as she never thought she'd get to see them. Not that she actually ever did, because the originals started to decay some time ago and so the whole cave was recreated as accurately as possible in another cave next door. It's incredibly realistic, recreated using the old methods and materials. They had to keep reminding us this wasn't the real thing.

Since the discovery of the original cave in 1940, and the opening to the public in 1963, a little community of Lascaux cave-related exhibitions have sprung up. As well as the original cave (now closed to non-scientific humans), there is the recreation (Lascaux II), an interesting exhibit about how it was all done with possible interpretations of meanings and purposes of the pictures (Lascaux Révélé (a word which is clearly suffering from "acute overload")) and Le Thot. The latter we didn't make it to, but is the now-obligatory Madam Ugg-style museum with animatronic early humans doing all those things that people in that area would have done 17,000 years ago. Hunting, cooking, making animal-skin clothes, painting, and discussing the essential pointlessness of existence in between bouts of lovemaking. (They were still French after all.)

We drove back below La Maison Forte de Reignac. Basically it's a huge house hewn out of the side of a cliff. We didn't have time to go in, so drove under. But we suspected the most impressive thing about this was the view of it from the outside. Although apparently it is also impressive inside.

On our way home, we passed des châteaux, several fat goose farms, and drove through the pretty, pre-history-filled village Eyzies which seems to be hiding beneath an outcrop of rock.

We ate at the Restaurant next to the hotel. It was more expensive but not as good as the meal night before. My hard-to-read notes seem to say we had asparagus, foie gras and toad. I know what you’re thinking. "Asparagus, yuck."