All entries for May 2008

May 27, 2008

Europe's largest electromagnet

The other day I wandered into the room which contains Europe's largest electromagnet.

"Oh." I said.

The CAPITAL centre was originally a cross-universiy investment, with cutting edge learning environments for every department. Gradually however one department after another pulled out its support, until funding was being supplied solely by the Warwick Writer's Programme, Theatre Studies, History of Art and Physics. Consequently CAPITAL contains a writer's room, several performance spaces and rehearsal areas, a gallery viewing space and anelectromagnetic field that can pull the small change out of your pocket.

So the rumour goes.

The room itself looks at present like a bond villain's main workspace under construction. Tubular piping, irregular machinery - an internal workroom sealed off from the rest of the space by curved glass walls. Large arcane contraptions with dials and blipping things. Computers.

The technician who asked me to leave was very polite - or more than polite, very English.

"What are you doing here?"

"Looking around."


Good question. "Because it's here?"

"I'm sorry, you're going to have to leave. Didn't you see the sign?"

I saw the signs. There are several. They're about two meters across. They read: "Danger - strong electromagnetic field. May kill you dead."


"You're going to have to leave."

I wonder what I looked like to this poor technician. Flat cap, dishevelled gray jacket, large blue rucksack, plastic bag with two slowly defrosting pizzas in it swinging against my leg. Industrial saboteur? Moron?

"How did you get in?"

"Oh, my card let me in. That's why I came in. I figured I was allowed."

"Ah. No we're going to have to change that. Are you a physicist?"

"No, philosophy."

"We're going to have to change that."

The whole escapade had been motivated by curiosity, so I ended it where I started.

"There's this rumour that - due to budget funding and things - CAPITAL centre now has the largest electromagnet in Europe. Is that true?"

"Yes. Well, the largest electromagnetic field. Please make sure nobody comes here again. We're going to have to change that keypad."

I assume that they now have.

May 23, 2008

The man with a huge ball sack

I have a philosophy of life I call "the joke". It's not very complex: the universe is a joke (dead baby or racist? Who knows - the philosophers will argue it out).  Viewed as a joke, the universe begins to make sense.

Not long ago I was at the pub, talking with a girl whose boyfriend masturbated eight times a day.

"Well he wakes up at about six," She says, "And he has a little wank, and then he goes back to sleep. And then maybe at seven thirty he wakes up again and goes to the bathroom and then has another little wank. And then he'll come back to sleep. And at maybe ten o'clock he'll wake up and have a little wank, and then he'll go to the kitchen and make himself a snack, and then he'll have a shower, and then he'll have another little wank. And that's just the morning, and then it's sexy time."

Apparently, the boyfriend has an enormous scrotum and testicles of a normal size. Something about this seems right. We know that the universe must contain a man with a huge ball sack but regular testicles - we have always known this. His capacity for masturbation must be prodigious, and here is the proof. It is very comforting to meet his girlfriend, although not the man himself. That would be like encountering the second law of thermodynamics at an evening party, sipping Irish coffee, twirling a mathematically improbable hat on the end of a cane. The scene is too real, the ontological weight is too great. To meet the girlfriend of the man with the huge ball sack is like encountering the ship-wreck - we can infer the ice-berg, our satellites have detected evidence of its presence for months, and this is the closest to proof we are comfortable to come.

Seven times, we ask?

"Eight!" She says. "And that's not counting sexy time."

His bell-end must be made of leather, we suggest.

"Suck my dick!" She laughs, and has another little drink.


Anyone who can tell me where I got the philosophy of "the joke" from wins a warm feeling of self-satisfaction.

May 15, 2008

Last Night's Cabaret

Living the student life (eating cockroaches out of a baked-bean tin, wearing a soiled singlet that I clawed from the bluing corpse of a mathematics student) I don't watch much TV. Sure there's BBC iPlayer, but I'm really lazy. It's just not happening. However, I do make a regular point of popping along to the Freshblood Cabaret, which is pretty much the most fun you can have with one hundred and five people crammed into the same room without a cheesy 1970s soul beat starting up on a synthesizer and a man arriving at the door to investigate the plumbing.

For those not in the know, the Freshblood Theatre Society is Warwick's new writing society for drama. If you've got a play-script you've written and you want to sort out workshopping, crew, cast, production team or venue, we're the people to go through. And twice a term we run the Freshblood Cabaret, a wonderful cavalcade of... well, just about anything. You get a whole host of material at the cabaret, because as long as it can fit into the top room above Kelsey's bar, we've got room for it.

Here's a little run down of what happened last night. 

James McPhun relinquished his usual role as house stand-up to take up the reigns as compere. Armed only with a vintage joke book and a blood alcohol level that rocketed through the evening he prepared the ground for a veritable army of talent:

Opening was Jimmy Kent who, despite protesting to having a terrible cold carried off the unenviable opening slot with style - and rapturous applause when he ended onhis (much-in-demand) "Red Light Girl". Think of it as a far less judgemental "Roxanne" and you're about there.

King Freshblood himself Sam Sedgman fired off a series of poems. Happy they weren't, but that didn't deter the audience, who stuffed the interlude between each poem with wild applause, even when he told them not to.

Hannah Tottenham (who had been protesting all week that she didn't want to perform) spoiled us with three violin solos. How the hell do you make a violin sound good? It's like the opposite of a harmonica, it's almost impossible to get a nice sound of it. Anyway Hannah managed it: she deserves some kind of tiny medal.

Cabaret had a virgin performer this time in the form of Martin Bowman who gave us an outstanding tragi-comic tale of one man's obsession with Hobby-Craft and origami, complete with 4,000 page flick-book and tiny paper frogs. A totally outstanding debut: I'm looking forwards to more.

Following the greenback came seasoned veteran Fiona Cox, one of those singer-song-writer types, ticking every one of the boxes - stage presence, check, beautiful guitar playing, check, masterful voice control - oh you know she's got it all. She's been before, no doubt we'll see her again - and bloody lucky we are too.

Rose Biggin, Queen of Cabaret (and the event co-ordinator if you've got an act you'd like to put on!) relinquished her role as compere for the first time to step up to the mike and blast us all down with an epic prose narrative composed entirely from Shakespeare puns. Laughs and groans in equal measure-for-measures!

Rounding out the first half were Joe Oldham and Kieren Thorpe, two students who fell through a time hole in the mid 1970s and landed in present-day Warwick. A real tour-de-force of protest rock and psychedelia, I can only commiserate with these guys that they never got to play Woodstock.

I feel I should comment on the interval, which was well rounded, filled with good conversation (and beer), and (as always) lots of lovely thespy people. I'd give it an 8 out of 10, at least.

Opening up round two was stand-up maestro Gareth Morina and a clip-board of delights. Ever laughed at a dead cat on the moon? You don't know what you're missing. Gareth's going to be the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, so make sure you catch him if you can.

Michael Sweetman & Friends (to my annoyance I don't have the names of the friends!) continued to be disgustingly talented with a mixture of their own music and Decembrists covers. I'm now considering buying the Decembrists' discography on the basis of hearing Sweetman and co. playing, and I'm worried that the original won't match up to the cover. They're worryingly good, and definitely my pick of the evening.

Next up was me, reading a little story called Dogs which I'm not going to be posting because I'm hoping to get it published. Anyone who saw it and has crit or comments, please post! I'm always on the look out for analysis. Apologies to anyone I might have made cry.

Tanya Wells brought the mood back up with more singer-song-writer shenanigans, with Bob Dylan style narrative songs and exquisite vocals. I've not seen her before, and I hope she makes a return visit to the cabaret so we can get a second round.

There was a wild scrabble for tables as An Evening Without Dignity (Zoe Bob Roberts, James McPhun Rose Biggin, Tim Gutteridge) set up for some sketch comedy. To my mind they were inciteful, witty, and absolutely hilarious - then again, since I'm directing them I might be somewhat biased. But the audience agreed with my glowing appraisal (the laugh for Dr. Halifax's overzealous smile alone fills me with warm fuzzies). For anyone hoping to catch more of the sketch show, you can see us at WSAF, the Warwick Student Art Festival, and at C-Central at the Edinburgh Fringe from the 1st to the 25th of August

Sadly I only had time to catch one more act before I was forced to run screaming from the venue and catch the last bus back to campus - fortunately that act was Poppy James. treating us to a rendition of Roald Dahl's "The Three Little Pigs". You got the impression that albeit Poppy has never shot a wolf, she might well keep a pistol in her knickers - she certainly carries Dahl's poem in her heart (as well as reciting it beautifully from memory).

Leaving when I did I missed comedy from Reckless Moment compere Tom Hughes and the excellent Nick Brown, and a musical number by the incredible Fran Lobo.

If you've never been to a cabaret before, you still have a chance - this year the Best of Cabaret will be performing at WSAF, with the pick of the year's acts. And if you're still at Warwick next year, then I have to recommend you come along - watching or taking part, you're guaranteed an incredible evening. 

May 13, 2008

Weird Love

Last term PENCILfest ran a fund-raiser, with China Mieville and George Ttouli running a workshop on Weird love poetry. Mid-way through I had that old dilemma - knowing a lot about a creepy topic, do you stick your hand up and tell people? After all, if people hear what you know about Furries, what'll stop them thinking you are one? No-one wants to be mistaken for a Furry, except perhaps the Furries themselves.

That's irrelevent but I'm practising writing anecdotes. Anyway, there was a competition to produce the best Weird Love Poem and I managed to win. Frankly I think Rowan Rutter's (her blog is although the poem isn't up there) entry with prosthetic limb sex-scene was better. Still, I'm not sniffing at the teddy bear I won (I'm not a plushophile). Belatedly, here's the poem - 


Glancing out

The tree crab loses her grip,
falls suddenly
and splits
on the upright tip
of a coconut spike.
Her innards slop
downwards to meet
the sand;
while mango juice drips
from my mouth and teeth
to touch your feet
and you clutch the sheet
in one hand
and trace my skin
with your fingertips.

May 12, 2008


Writing about web page

Ommatidia is a webpage of 101-word short stories. Now this is something I can get behind. I have the attention span of a bole-wevil, but I still manage to read my webcomics every day. That probably takes me 15, 20 minutes before I have my shreddies. A daily update of a smidgen of fiction lets me feed the same habit, yet exercise my reading muscle at the same time.

The website also bounces back to the penultimate Icw session of term, looking at short stories. The point of a short story (under one reading, anyway) was to present the moment in a characters life when something changed; the story was the fulcrum between past and present, the lens through which both would forever be seen. If that was the case, I said, you could abbreviate the story into a flash fiction and be damned with the whole lengthy edifice of words.

And here we have a vast tract of flash fictions; neatly enough it provides a total counter-example to what I was saying. Because these stories, although (mostly) complete in and of themselves, suggest larger stories that could capture a greater moment. My favourite is "Jenna" (at least of the dozen or so on the front page - I'll trawl the records when I have a day), and I'm wondering how legal it would be for me to write out an expansion of the story. It is so terribly suggestive. 

May 11, 2008

Big Monsters = yay

It's been a little while since I watched Cloverfield - how long ago was it in the cinemas? eh - but better late than never with my two cents.

So - giant monster, check. Minor gribblies, check. Love story? Inevitably. Armed forces? Oh yes. Tanks batted away like toy cars? Yep. It's all in there. How would we know it was a monster flick if it wasn't?

But something keeps creeping in around the edges. There's the well considered, funny, (slightly over-long) intro-sequence setting up the characters' motivations in detail before the raucous business of mass-death kicks off. The handicam footage which, although contrived, works, the most sensible way to convey the everyman protagonists' point of view.  And the everyman protagonists! Sure the army trounce back and forth and (we assume) the scientists work hard, but the characters are 

That substance seeping in around the edges is called innovation. Not true innovation, not that grade-A stuff you have to treck to the edges of intelligibility to find (The Girl With the X-Ray Eyes, loudly touted in the arts centre press, accompanied by a curious but enjoyable theramin rendition and an excellent essay reading on the origins of the X-ray dream, was drek, dull, uninspired drek, which neither challenged the subject of the documentary nor engaged the audience. The accompaniment by live theramin - presumably a nice exampe of the existence of imperceptible forces and metaphor for the possibility of x-ray vision was enjoyable in and of itself but pointless as an addendum to the film - but I digress). But that kind of slow, lumbering movement as an ancient genre behemoth starts to shed the barnacles. I suppose all it really is is good writing - but in a film so decidedly commercial, that feels innovatory.

Of course, whoever had the radical idea to make the film intelligent (not by a thousand miles intellectual) was shouted down midway through production. At one point, standing in a tunnel, the characters ask "what's that sound?". Now not only does the audience know that the large monster has been shedding little monsters, little monsters that can crawl through tunnels, but so too do the characters. Perhaps they are congenitally stupid? Perhaps their Manhattan champaign and coke lifestyles have rotted their main cortexes?

Whatever the answer the dullards have significant difficulty adding two and two, and certainly don't reach fucking four - instead they turn the camera onto night-vision, see the monsters, and finally, finally decide to run. Perhaps this piece of laboured long-winded direction is supposed to create tension? I don't know. Anyone in the audience who didn't see the surprise coming must have been too busy messing with the genitals of the person in the seat next to them.

It annoys me. The movie wavers violently between treating the audience like grown-ups (grown-ups who like to see fuck-off monsters), and suiting them up in padded clothing and sending them off to special school. It could be worse. But if someone had shot whichever producer decided that people with brains can't watch monsters, it would have been great.

May 01, 2008

The essays I'm not writing

I'm nearing the end of the 5,000 word monstrosity that is my ICW extended essay. After researching almost entirely at random, here are all the essays I haven't written:

Alienation and possession: engendering emotive and intellectual responses to writing, Toby Litt, Mark Z. Danielewski, M John Harrison

Escape Velocity: writing against escapism, Michael Moorcock, China Mieville, M John Harrison

Fucking Thatcher!: writing as a political response, China Mieville, Alan Hollinghurst, M John Harrison

I'm just not happy: trying to induce suicide in your audience, Thomas Ligotti, H P Lovecraft, M John Harrison

Some of those are jokes.

May 2008

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