Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oliver Harper

I've created a new companion for Doctor Who. Am also behind on a script, so must dash...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Radio active

Mr and Mrs Brother-in-Law treated me to a trip to Jodrell Bank today, the whopping great radio-telescope which is a whole bucket of cool.

Me at Jodrell Bank
It's more than a decade since I last traipsed round the place, and it is much transformed. Whereas then it was all rather ropey displays explaining what different planets looked like, now you follow a route of board explaining that the radio telescope listens to the stars. There's plenty of what it listens for, what it's discovered and how it teams up with other radio telescopes around the planet to do other cool stuff. Jodrell Bank continues to have particular skillz at spotting pulsars.

The Dr and a tall dish.
The visitor centre is due a big revamp, and comprised a small display, a cafe and shop selling general space tat rather than anything specifically relating to radio telescopy. I'd also have liked something specifically about the site: it's history and achievements.

We also paid for a 3D theatre show (because what other theatre is in 3D?) of two quick shows, one explaining that Space Is Big and the other showing us the landscape of Mars. They were fun and a bargain, and narrated by bolshy Australians which was a bit of a surprise.

Afterwards, we went for lunch at the nice, friendly Egerton Arms, and my roast beef and Yorkshire pudding did an impression of the telescope.

Sunday lunch pretending to be physics

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Remembrance of the Dahlesque

As a belated birthday present, the Dr took me to Great Missenden today and the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. It comprises three rooms, plus teaching spaces, cafe and shop. The Boy Gallery covers his early life, the Solo Gallery covers his later life - the names taken from his two volumes of autobiography, which I read in May.

As a result, I was already very familiar with a lot of material, but the museum works well to bring it alive. There's plenty to touch and try - hand puppets, magnets, images and documents you can handle yourself. It's a very family-friendly place, and I can see how a child might be lost there for hours.

Impressively, it's also packed full of engaging stuff for the adults, too - and not just because we tried the puppets. They've an extraordinary archive of Dahl's letters and drafts - Dahl doesn't seem to every have thrown anything away. There's a telegram from Walt Disney and Dahl's first thoughts about writing a picture book for younger children (which became The Enormous Crocodile). There are displays of his own possessions - the sandal that inspired the BFG's footwear, the flying cap he wore as a pilot - and plenty of video clips.

There's not a great deal on Dahl's adult books and screenplays, and though there's nuggets of fact about his life after 1941 - including a year-by-year "Roald Dial" illustrated by Gerald Scarfe - I still feel left hanging after the end of Going Solo. (I asked the young scamp in the shop to recommend me a biography. He thought long and hard, then suggested Boy. I bought a Collected Stories instead.)

Then there's the Story Centre, where we're encouraged to write and draw our own stories, with advice from Dahl and other big-name writers. Dahl was always worried about boring children, and avoided long descriptions and flowery prose.

The museum also contained oddly incongruous props from recent movies based on Dahl's work, including these wondrous copies of Deep Roy:

Deep Roy x2 in the Roald Dahl Museum
The Dr and I did some colouring in: mine's now glued into my notebook; the Dr's is on display.

Snake by the Dr
We thence went to the pub for a pint and a pie, before heading on to the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul to look for Dahl's grave. Some giant footprints led us to the spot:

Giant footprints leading to Roald Dahl's grave
The grave itself was decorated with offerings: onions (Dahl loved to grow them), small change and letters from school groups.

Grave of Roald Dahl
Directly below Dahl on the hill was this rather impressive grave of his step-daughter Lorina Crosland, with a fine illustration of a monkey:

Grave of Lorina Crosland
We then went and found Gipsy House, Dahl's home, which is a private residence with an immaculate garden. We pressed on up the hill, past picturesque farms and onto a woodland footpath. I bravely stamped down the nettles on either side of the path so the Dr could pass in her flip-flops. We wended round into the village again for another pint before catching the train back into London.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Books finished, June 2010

Got all caught up in work and real life this past month, hence the lack of blogging. But I did get through some books.

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve is superb: a thrilling adventure in a rich and vivid world, packed full of wild ideas, brilliant characters and eye-popping surprises. Just wow.

I'd read a lot of Lance Parkin's fanzine material in the original fanzines, so a lot of this collected edition felt like revisiting my years as a student in Preston. Lance has often been keen and forthright in his views and there are all kinds of nuggets of insight here, along with stuff where perhaps his enthusiasm goes a bit far.
"1974, then, was perhaps the year when the Copernican revolution came for Doctor Who - the year when Doctor Who stopped revolving around the TV series."
Lance Parkin, 'A forty-year adventure in time and space', in Time Unincorporated - The Doctor Who Fanzine Archives Volume 1: Lance Parkin, p. 29.
I wonder what fans who've come to the show since 2005 will make of this insight into those dark days when there was No Doctor Who On Telly, and we clung to books and audios as keepers of the flame. There's some wild-eyed True Belief here, that the show will come back and be brilliant and prove all the Heretics wrong. How brilliant that he's been proven right.

You can still read Lance's blog about the writing of his Doctor Who book "The Eyeless", on which I commented back in November 2008.

The Gift by Lewis Hyde was a present from m'colleague Ben, and I made pages and pages of notes on it while on holiday in Malta. I'll endeavour to write those up some day properly. The book comes in two halves: first we're shown the difference between a market economy for products and a gift economy for ideas. I read-up on gift economies when I wrote The Judgement of Isskar and had the Doctor explain them this way:
    Oh. Well, you send Christmas cards out to everyone, and then it’s on their honour to send you a Christmas card back.
It doesn't quite work like that: a gift economy isn't about two people sending stuff back and forth between them; you pass the gift onwards. So really the Doctor should have said:
    Oh. Well, you send Christmas cards out to everyone, and then it’s on their honour to send out Christmas cards themselves.
Ideas and artworks, Hyde argues, have always flourished in gift economies, and he cites all sorts examples. In the second half, he focuses on the lives of two poets - Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound - to explore the problems of being an artist and at the same time getting paid.

I'm not going to attempt a fully fledged reply now, but the book really prickled my brain, challenging me on what I do for a living and how. I squawked with horror at the snobbishness about getting a day job to pay your way, and Hyde's sense that any kind of compromise or patronage is selling out. And Whitman and Pound, whose lives both went so awry, are hardly people we should aspire to emulate. More on this as soon as life allows...

The Three Incestuous Sisters is a picture book by Audrey Niffenegger. I loved The Time Traveller's Wife and have her next one on my pile of imminent reads. This is a twisted, gothy story that reminded me a bit of Tim Burton's melancholy tales and also Edward Gorey. Strange and broken and haunting, it echoes with some of my Real Life. And also, there are goth girls without any clothes on.