Spam Attack 4: Make your mind up

After a period of inactivity, I am once again on the track of the spammers and needing to clear off several comments several times a day.

Just as on previous occasions, there is an underlying theme to the majority of the comments that are not sneaking past my spam filter: the internet seems to have collectively decided that what I am currently in most need of is Heating. And Cooling.

Now let me get this straight. At the moment, it is past the middle of December, and after the mild autumn that hath preserved the wasp into senescence, we are now suffering from, in the most part, wind and rain and flaming cold.

So there seems to be a point in bombarding people with ideas about how to keep yourself warm, and it may be that my ever-advancing age is drawing concern from the internet’s philanthropists (though given the rolls of fat around my waist, I’m a bit less in need than most).

But what the hell is the point of advising me about cooling at this time of year? If I want to get a dose of cooling, all I have to do is get out of bed before the central heating kicks in.

Heating and cooling in one post, over and over again. It’s a counter-productive proposition whichever way you look at it, a zero-sum game that only represents the ultimate end of the Universe in the heat-death of entropy.

It’d probably be even worse if I actually read any of them.

Farewell Hereford United

I’m desperately sad to read that Hereford United have been wound up in the High Court.

Let’s pause to savour a moment in the Match of the Day of our mind’s inner television set, as Ronnie Radford collects the ball on a mudtop in the centre circle, scrambles through a challenge, plays a one-two and belts the return ball from a million miles away into Iam McFaul’s net.

As long as we live that moment will be alive, and so too will Hereford. Hopefully, they can return to the field of play to generate better memories for their supporters than today.

Secret Santa

Living alone, as I do and have done for the past few years, makes Xmas and Xmas presents a very simple subject indeed. I have only one living relative in this country, to whom I only speak at funerals, which leaves me only one person to buy presents for.

This is a two-edged proposition. On the one hand, I am absolutely guaranteed getting only things that I want, but on the other hand, I have to forego the simple joy of tearing off the wrapping to find out what that odd-shaped parcel is concealing. This year’s Xmas is contained in a couple of supermarket carrier bags tucked in beside the desk, and an overlarge cardboard box containing the Russell Hobbs Slow Cooker that was my selection from my employers’ annual ‘Xmas stocking’.

The sole exception to this is Secret Santa.

My first experience of this expedient device was back in 1987, when I was working for the first of my two firms in Altrincham. By the time Xmas came around, I had been (secretly) dating one of my colleagues, and it was with a great glee that had to be firmly suppressed in order to preserve our privacy that I immediately went and drew her name!

Not that I need have bothered: all the women in the firm had worked out about us from a very early stage, though in defence of my hopelessly inadequate poker-face, there were seriously extenuating circumstances.

Not that I played Secret Santa for long: three years later, we ‘merged’ with a nearby firm and Secret Santa was just one of many things – our offices, our systems, 95% of our staff – that did not carry over.

Nor did Secret Santa rear its head again at any place I worked until the formation of my current team at my employers, three years ago.

So it was done today, an extremely rare occasion when we could actually get all of us, on our different shifts, in the same place at the same time. I have given out my present, and have unwrapped the only present this year that I did not know the contents in advance. And have demonstrated, yet again, how bloody difficult I am to buy for.

(Actually, when I drew the name of my recipient, I have no idea what to get her, but I enlisted one of our team-mates as my personal Secret Santa Xmas Shopper, resulting in a tasteful collection of little things that she absolutely loved. So that was two presents where I didn’t know what was under the wrapper).

Six days left. Are there any surprises in store?

Not opening all hours

Given the fact that I don’t tend to watch much television at all, I’ve not really paid any attention to the Xmas TV Schedules at all. Yes, I know there’s the traditional Doctor Who Xmas Day Special, but I’m not looking forward to it with anything remotely approaching the level of last year (though I have been equally successful in avoiding any but the most basic knowledge of its contents – Santa Claus, Nick Frost, that stuff) and I am gloomily anticipating that it will end up with the continued presence of Jenna Coleman as my least favourite character on TV this millennium.

In all other respects, I remain ignorant of the fare on offer over the holiday fortnight. It was not always thus. Part of the Xmas tradition was buying the Radio and TV Times Xmas and New Year double issues and going through them with a biro marking off everything I wanted to see, a process that then underwent revision when I saw what clashed with what or, considerably more often, what clashed with what my parent(s) – owners of the TV – intended to watch instead.

Last year, the BBC gave in to the pleas and clamours of David Jason to allow him to star in a TV programme again, by reviving the once-wonderful Open All Hours for a one-off episode. In order to get round the fact that Open All Hours was a vehicle for the wonderful Ronnie Barker, and that Ronnie Barker is sadly no longer with us, Jason and writer Roy Clarke turned Granville into Arkwright, introduced a new character to play Granville’s part, screwed their eyes tight shut and hoped it would work sufficiently well for people not to notice what a colossally idiotic thing it was.

They re-named it Still Open All Hours, a title that demonstrated both the paucity of imagination and the faint air of desperation that clung to the whole thing. I reviewed it here. Nevertheless, it brought in a tidy audience and enough appreciation for the BBC to commission an entire series, to be broadcast ‘later in 2014’.

Now there’s not a lot of 2014 left, so curiosity led me to google the programme and, guess what? The series starts broadcasting on Boxing Day, 364 days after the ‘pilot’. There’s a further episode on December 28, and four more in the New Year, so 2015 is not exactly getting off to the pristine, fresh start we might all like.

I don’t know how well it will go down, but I can say that its audience will be diminished by at least one. I watched the 2013 Xmas Special out of more curiosity than anticipation, but I found it to be as pointless as the idea suggests, and so desperate to recreate the genuine joy of the past that it was prepared to foist artificial- and in the case of Granville’s son, Leroy, horribly cruel – character traits onto characters unsuited to them. So I won’t be watching this year.

But I find it unbearably sad to think that so many people want to watch something as joyless as this, a programme that can only exist by digging up the corpse of Ronnie Barker and violating it in such desperate impersonation. It’s horrible to watch Jason and Clarke prostituting themselves in this manner, even as they doubtless think they are honouring Barker.

I wish I could say that I was surprised that such a sizeable audience actively wanted to watch such hollow, inadequate ‘entertainment’, simply because it reminded them of something infinitely better. Shame on you.

Sandman Overture # 4

Ok, let’s try to do without the grumbling this time.

Part 4 of this six-issue story has now been published. It is immaculately written, and beautifully drawn, by Neil Gaiman and J. H. Williams III respectively. However, despite the presence of a token cliffhanger, this is again not a discrete episode, but a portion of the whole, and as such offers little by way of independent satisfaction, despite its attempts to make up for this by way of revelation.

Dream, the Dream of Cats and the small, blue-skinned girl called Hope, arrive at the City of Stars. Dream thinks upon his father, and between microseconds, is summoned to Time’s side, his study. Time is cold and distant, refusing to give Dream the (unspecified) help he seeks, in punishment for Dream having been allowed to borrow the Saeculum*, only to lose it.

(*Saeculum: a period of time equivalent to a potential human life).

Returning to the City, Dream’s band are refused entry because they are not Stars. Dream argues that he must be allowed entry in order to deal with the mad Star who threatens to destroy all the Universe. He, alone, is permitted to enter the mad Star’s cell. The Star calls him her’brother’, underlining that she is in the domain of Delirium, Dream’s youngest sister) (who was once Delight).

Dream reveals his responsibility for this moment: the arrogance and ignorance of his refusal to end the life of the young woman who was a Dream Vortex, until her madness had infected a world a galaxy, a Star.

He is then summoned, unwillingly this time, to Time’s study, where his father is now pleased that Dream has returned the Saeculum (it is implied that this has not yet happened in Dream’s lineal perception, and that indeed it is the responsibility of his successor, Daniel-Dream). Dream does not want his father’s proferred help: he has been taken at a crucial moment, his absence will lead to the death/destruction/delirium of Hope.

As it does.

As the issue ends, Dream faces imprisonment beyond the event horizon of a dark Star, or Black Hole.

At the official quarterly schedule now applied to Sandman Overture, we should be able to read the entirety of the story in mid-to-late June 2015. It is abundantly clear that only then, with the ability to comprehend this tale as a whole, will its sections come into focus. During Sandman‘s original 75 issue run, Gaiman followed the comic book convention of creating multiple-issue arcs that carried a sense of satisfaction within each part, but he has abandoned this notion for the prequel.

I fully expect that the whole will read as a truly worthy addition to the canon, but I can’t pretend that it makes for great reading on an issue-by-issue basis, and that’s entirely separate from the scheduling.

Until mid-to-late March, officially…

Beyond Redemption 2

So, here’s the thing: in response to complaints that there was potentially something not open and above board as to the process for awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, FIFA appoint an independent investigator.

They don’t give him any power to make people answer his question and Russia refuses utterly to comply.

Nevertheless, he completes his investigations and files an extensive report. Instead of publishing it, FIFA decide to only give an summary of the findings, which is that nothing whatsoever in the least bit dodgy has been discovered.

The Investigator immediately protests, on the basis that this summary is completely unjustifiable based upon his investigations. He appeals against it.

At the same time, two witnesses who gave evidence to the investigator on condition of anonymity, citing concerns about personal security as a result of their testimony, are exposed by FIFA, who do not release their names, but merely identify them by details that apply to no other persons whatsoever.

The whistleblowers appeal.

FIFA investigates the appeals. People implicated in the original claims investigate the appeal. FIFA rejects the appeal. After all, despite the fact the Judge giving the summary was officially relaying FIFA’s response to the report, his summary was only ‘his opinion’.

The Investigator resigns. What the hell else can he do?

And people continue to believe that FIFA can be reformed if Sepp Blatter would only go and retire.

Hymenoptera hipocriota Redux!

I thought it was all over, but the dead wasps are back.

After a more-or-less wasp-free November, I’d concluded that the cold had finished up all the 2014 crop, but I was wrong. For the last week or so, my bathroom windowsill – and floor! – has once again become a wasps graveyard.

If this is the outcome of an unusually mild autumn, then come next year it’s me for shivering from September 1.

The dead ones aren’t actually the problem. It’s little trouble to go round with a dustpan and brush, collecting them and dumping them in the bin. No, it’s the not-dead ones that are the trouble, the sudden buzz, the angry swooping and retreating towards the heat of the light, and the necessity of yet another wasp execution, as I prowl with the aerosol, ready for the exact moment to zap them on the wing. Then go for the dustpan and brush.

Last night was pretty intensive. I didn’t get home until after 9.30pm, and there were no less than five occasions when I was interrupted in my precious few hours of relaxation to lower the boom on yet another┬áHymenoptera hipocriota living on beyond its proper time.

The last of these was actually conducted from my bed, where I was finishing off a few pages of Pratchett, and had to do little more than roll over to grab the can and execute the one exploring my bedside lamp.

Yet there’s a curiously positive side to all this faffing around. All my life I’ve been scared of wasps, and bees: it never extended to an actual phobia, but it was in sight of the border controls. As the years have gone by and I have matured (by whatever minimal degree), I have gained a measure of control over my instinctive urge to run like buggery whenever one of the stripey little bastards buzzes around, but this past few months have changed that. The sound of the wasp no longer frightens me. When I hear it, I am irritated, but no longer scared. I just grab the can, await my chance and go back to what I was doing.

I’m never going to greet them with complete equanimity, but get this: a couple of nights ago, I felt a tickle on my left wrist and looked round to discover a full-size wasp woofling around on. There are no holes in my ceiling, where I bounced off, no skidmarks on anything (and you may take that reference any way you choose): I merely flicked it off and went for the aerosol.

Of course, I am not proclaiming myself cured. These are, after all, the cold-crippled wasps, the pensioners who have outlived their natural term, and who are easy to dispose of: it might not be quite the same with a lean, hungry young wasp next July.

But for now I’ll revel in my unexpected calmness in the face of my ancient menace.