28 April 2005

The Wrong Lizard Might Get In

Who Should You Vote For?

The startlingly popular Who Should You Vote For? has now been updated. The new version's 25 questions long and supposedly more accurate, having received feedback from the various parties. National versions which take Plaid Cymru and the S.N.P. into account are apparently on the way.

The results now show me only slightly more Lib Dem than Green, which is good because I'll probably be voting for the latter. I seem to be neutral to Labour, and hate U.K.I.P. rather less than I do the Tories. Which is, I suppose, fair. It is, after all, not Labour I object to but the maniac currently in charge.

27 April 2005

Mmm, Filler

This blog has been veering slightly away from the worksafe recently, what with imflammatory political propaganda, Buffy sliding down Giles' "length" and criticisms of the Pope. OK, maybe that last one's just my work, but still... I've been getting particularly embarrassed by the "darkies" poster a few screens below, especially since it's right alongside all the bookmark links I use at work.

I was trying to think of ways of filling up the space, and was reminded by Something Rotten, the latest Jasper Fforde novel which I gave B. for Christmas and have only just got around to reading, of the existence of the Lorem ipsum, the cod-Latin text used by typographers and others to provide null content for layout and design purposes.

Anyway, I'm not going to type "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet" etcetera until I fill up the space, but I did discover this Lorem ipsum generator, which allows you to generate text to a variety of different specifications for various purposes. And this one, rather splendidly, allows you to generate meaningless text in languages including Arabic, Esperanto, Luxembourgish and L33tspeak. This may be one of those things everyone else has already known about for years, but I thought it was rather fun.

In other news, I'm starting dieting today. I've said before that my metabolism wavers sinuously between stallion and walrus, and I've been getting noticeably blubbery in recent months. It's time to cut down on food and start taking exercise, oh yes. This is something I want to do because I'd prefer not to drop dead of a heart attack in ten years' time, even if I do get to eat a lot of cheese in the interim.

The current diet plan, devised by B., is to eat the regulation 1500-odd calories for weight loss, but to spread these out throughout the day in six or seven snacks -- resulting in a hobbit-style regime of breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper, but all in quantities which show a distinctly non-hobbitish restraint. The idea is that, while we may be hungry a lot of the time, we'll never be so hungry as to make us want to binge, especially as we'll know our next mini-meal is on its way shortly.

It's a cunning plan, but it's still going to be challenging in practice. I'm already craving cheese (full-fat red leicester or cheshire, for preference), crisps (good-quality ones, like tortilla chips or kettle chips, not your bog-standard Walkers), decent beer (any pale ale or bitter) and chocolate (Cadbury's Fruit and Nut, or possibly a Snickers). Not that I've spent a lot of time thinking about this or anything.

My next meal is a cereal bar and an apple, when I get home in about 40 minutes' time. Which, erm, will be nice.

Let's see -- how far down are those Tory posters now? OK, yeah, that should do.

23 April 2005

The Web of Thyme

Slight update to the website today, following the appearance of a Wildthyme on Top page at the official Big Finish site. My update consists largely of reproducing the back cover blurb, and adding some words about Iris and the anthology to my FAQ page.

Still no sign of the cover art, unfortunately, but the site does confirm that the book is expected next month. Hurrah.

22 April 2005

Disconnected Mutterings

There's something about driving a moped during rush hour in the pouring rain, when I'm already suffering from a stinking cold, that I just don't enjoy that much.

During the week I've managed to catch up with my schedule, mostly, so that I now have a reasonable draft synopsis for Fragile Monsters, the non-S.F. proposal (although it deploys some S.F. imagery in a non-realist kind of way). This weekend I once again have other things to do, but with luck I should be able to achieve a similar document for Ossian's Reach, one of the potential S.F. novels. Assuming that this cold lets go its ichory, tentacular grip on my brain.

I've also read some books, which I should possibly get round to talking about sometime soon. Or, possibly, not. The Prestige was good, though. Christopher Priest does have a bit of a thing about twins, doesn't he?

I'm still intending to write some more about the Cities I Want To Visit. I seem to have got rather distracted.

And I'm a little late with this, I realise, but I see they've found the earliest known piece of pornographic art.

20 April 2005


Oh, Mags is right. This is altogether too easy.

Still, it's a laugh, isn't it?

Ego Ogling

Being an obsessive self-googler, I've been entertained over the past year by the way in which hits for my novel have slowly outstripped those for earnestly evangelical sites about the life to come when searching for the phrase "city of the saved". I was also amused recently to see that Google has started returning one hit for a combined search on "sex secrets" and "robot replicants" which doesn't relate to my short story. Unfortunately, searching for "minions of the moon" only demonstrates how very unimaginative it is to use a Shakespeare quote for a title.

Searching for "peculiar lives", though, comes up with some wonderful stuff, a fact which for some reason I never discovered when it was the title of this blog. Excluding references to the blog and the novella, here are some of the items which get dredged up:
...etc. All of which may be very entertaining (except in that some of it isn't, obviously), but it's going to make it bloody difficult to ego-surf once the novella's published.

On another note, but also courtesy of Google -- who's been buying and selling shares in this blog? I didn't even know you could do that.

19 April 2005

Nobody Expects...

Good God. I said I was expecting a conservative Pope. I wasn't expecting bloody Ratzinger. How on earth did he get past the moderate cardinals?

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is a former Hitler Youth member (which one should probably forgive him personally, as the Nazis didn't exactly make dissent easy, but it's a strange message for the Catholic church to be sending out) and the former head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which in less euphemistic times used to be called the Holy Inquisition (actually, come to think of it that isn't any less euphemistic, is it? It's just acquired certain... negative connotations). In the latter capacity he has come down hard on left-wingers such as liberation theologians.

He pretty much wrote John Paul II's doctrinaire policies on the ordination of women to the priesthood (he's against), the use of condoms to prevent infection in areas of high HIV incidence (he's against) and the like (you name it, he's against, pretty much). He's been kind enough to call homosexuality "an intrinsic moral evil", and all faiths other than Catholicism "deficient".

Some comfort may be found in the fact that he's 78 years old, and therefore the oldest Pope to have been elected since 1730.

If I go on about this for too long, I shall get seriously cross. Thank God I'm not a Catholic, is all I can say.

The Kids of Porlock

Heavens. Has it really been a week? How lax of me.

I had a particularly frustrating weekend -- having sorted out a timetable of what I was supposed to be writing when, which is usually what it takes to impose some self-discipline on me, I was fully prepared to sit down and actually do some work instead of faffing about.

Unfortunately, small children foiled me. On Saturday two old friends who I rarely see were in the area so dropped in for tea, bringing with whem a lovely piece of stone-carving (which they left as a present) and an equally lovely five-month-old baby (who they fortunately took away with them). On Sunday it was necessary to attend our beloved goddaughter's charming fourth birthday party, which was full of joyful three-to-five-year-olds bounding about merrily with shouts of laughter, and was every bit as gruelling as that suggests.

On Monday I woke up and realised that I'd completely forgotten to proofread the PDF of Peculiar Lives for Telos, which I then did in a mad panic. A surprising number of somewhat crucial points came up at this stage, but fortunately all of them are rectifiable, so that's OK.

Factor in various necessary household tasks such as making sure the house was fit to be seen by visitors and the like, and I've had more or less an afternoon to fulfil my three-day weekend's supposed target of finishing the plot synopsis for Fragile Monsters. So that's not been done.

Never mind. The schedule allows me the rest of the week, so I just need to write a couple of evenings, or to try and do so surreptitiously here at work while my boss isn't looking. And when I'm not doing anything else of overriding importance, like updating my blog.

12 April 2005

Free for All

Some people I know have been involved with this:

This will be primarily of interest to prospecive U.K. voters: it's essentially a means of identifying the party whose views are closest to your own. It works this out based on comparing your answers to a 23-question quiz with the party manifestoes of the big three parties, plus the Greens and U.K.I.P.

I come out as heavily Lib. Dem., with the Greens trailing in second place and the Tories a very clear last.

It's obviously rather reductionist, but it covers the main areas of contrast between the parties with admirable clarity. Plus they link to a site with some hilarious animations taking the piss out of Robert Kilroy-Silk, which is never a bad thing.


I didn't actually realise St Brad's had a college flagpole, but it does. It's right in front of the main building, in fact. At some point since term ended two and a half weeks ago, someone's even gone to the effort of digging out a flag with the college logo on it and run it up to half mast. This could be marking the passing of Saul Bellow, Andrea Dworkin or even Archbishop Iakovos, but given that St Brad's is a Catholic college I'm going to go out on a limb and guess it's for this chap.

I'm not, myself, a Catholic, and I've never given a great deal of credence to the authority of church hierarchies. Even so, it's odd to think that the Pope's dead. Even odder to think that, in a week or two's time, there'll be a completely different man swanning about the planet using the title.

John Paul II (or Karol Wojtyla as the papers are once again beginning to call him, perhaps in preparation for this other, more confusing, change of nomenclature) acceded to the papal throne in 1978. He was Pope before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and I can still remember the cognitive dissonance I felt when those two terms ceased to be interchangeable (even more than when the 1997 election results forced me to make a distinction between "the Tories" and "the Government"). I've always known in theory that other Popes are possible, but even so, it's likely to be years before John Paul's image stops popping up in my head whenever his successor gets mentioned.

As for his life... well. On the one hand, he was a moralising reactionary, opposing the movement for women's ordination and feminism in general, speaking out against homosexuality and abortion, and doing untold damage to world health through his implacable opposition to contraception. One tends to forget that, back in the 1980s when he was a younger and more dynamic figure, he was also a more inspiring one, particularly for those within the communist bloc countries and the Third World whose causes he advocated. He also managed Catholicism's relations with other faiths surprisingly well, a fairly important challenge for the first vicar of the global village, and, whatever one may feel about his stance on abortion and euthanasia, he was consistent enough in his respect for life to oppose the death penalty, and a number of major wars including our recent one.

On the whole, though, especially in recent years, he has seemed a malign presence, suffering his own pain as if it were some kind of justification for the victimisation, psychological and physical, of others.

It seems -- although there is still room for an inspired decision otherwise -- that his legacy to the Catholic Church will be an equally conservative pontiff whose views are almost indistinguishable from his own. For one thing, he stacked the college of Cardinals with just such people, and -- while the new Pope could, strictly speaking, be any male Roman Catholic -- these men comprise the electorate, and do have a tendency to pick on themselves as being the best candidates for the job.

More subtly, the enormous rate at which the late Pope rushed through canonisations in recent years (so that sainthood spread among dead Catholics almost as fast as HIV among living Africans), has created a culture where the recent dead are venerated more than ever before. Hence the movement to name him "John Paul the Great", an honorific which (while it lacks any actual meaning) has only been granted to three of his predecessors in two millennia, and is a fairly obvious precursor to sainthood. Sadly, it doesn't seem likely that any successor is going to oppose such a legacy.

A few weeks ago, before the papal demise but not before it was visibly on the cards, The Observer headed a news item, "Next Pope Is Set To Be Another Conservative".

If I'd been the subeditor, I would have added "Stop Press: May Also Be A Catholic".

Textual Frustration

Well, that was an unproductive week. Eight days spent farting about, and to show for it perhaps a page of writing and half a dozen pages of notes.

...it's not quite as bad as that. Each of the four ideas I'm trying to assemble into viable proposals draws heavily on stuff I've worked on before (mostly proposals which were rejected for good reason, but still contained some decent salvageable ideas), so I'm not completely at sea. I even have working titles: Fragile Monsters, Unearthing the Princess, Ossian's Reach, Alvin's Brood. (They may not be overly good titles, but at least they're not Servants of the Wankh.)

I dare say that, during some of the time I've spent staring into space this week, these ideas have in fact been developing and fermenting in my mind like hops in a big yeasty vat. It may indeed be that they're even now reaching maturity, ready to froth forth in a splendid heady gush. (It crossed my mind just then to compare the hoped-for finished products with specific styles of beer, but I think I'll put that idea aside for now and back away slowly.) But I have no direct evidence of that.

It certainly looks like getting this stuff together is going to take me a good few weeks (during which time I shall have to hope fervently that I don't get commissioned for anything else, or I'll never have the time). But that's OK. I've even written a schedule laying out exactly what I'm going to do when, just in case I was thinking of slacking.

And now the college holidays are over, and I'm back at work.

06 April 2005

Much Faffing in the Study

I'm easily distracted at the moment.

I spent large amounts of yesterday and today doing web updates and forum posting in an attempt to bring Peculiar Lives to people's attention. So far there's not been an awful lot of interest, except for divided opinions here on the merits of the cover, and one reader complaining that his web-browser seemed to be broken.

Since I had to waste Sunday proving to the Government that I still know how to ride the scooter I use more or less every day, this week has been a bit of a waste of time so far as far as writing goes. This is annoying, as I'll be back at work a week today, and need to make the most of the time available.

What I'm trying to do at present is put together some proposals for Actual Proper Books Which Will, You Know, Be Available In Waterstones, as this seems to be the criterion by which my family, friends, in-laws and pretty much everybody else outside the fan community proposes to gauge my success in my chosen career. Getting an agent or publisher to show interest in any of these will constitute a sizeable challenge, of course, but I'm starting from a position of being already published (and by more than one publisher to boot), and not too ghettoised as yet by the whole spin-off series aspect of things. At least I hope so.

The plan is to send off proposals for a wholly original S.F. novel, a mainstream novel and something excitingly slipstreamy, to demonstrate my depth of thinking and breadth of talent. Ideally no more than one of these should feature each of the following:
  • historical characters and settings,
  • posthuman evolution,
  • God-machines,
  • Gods,
  • authors and academics as characters,
  • technologically duplicated characters,
  • flawed utopias,
  • dazzling cityscapes, or
  • lavish and gorgeously-worldbuilt settings in which virtually nothing happens.
According to Mark Gatiss, "Alan Bennett once said that we all have only a few beans in the tin to rattle", and these would appear so far to be the ones I've been given. I don't want to seem like any variety of monomaniac.

Of course, none of this careful planning avails me in the slightest if I don't manage to actually write anything. So I really need to knuckle down, stop checking my email and reading my favourite online forums, place Anno Dracula and Fortean Times firmly in another room, delete Hardball and Minehunt from my palmtop, and just get on with it.

Let's see, how am I doing?


Web Update

The Telos site has now been updated with details of Peculiar Lives, and so has mine.

05 April 2005

Peculiar Lives

Well, the news is finally out: my novella, Peculiar Lives, is to be published by Telos Publishing as the seventh book in their Time Hunter series. To many of you who've been following this blog closely, of course, this won't come as the biggest surprise you've ever experienced.

(Incidentally, you'll not be able to read that first link unless you're subscribed to the Outpost Gallifrey forums.)

Updates to my website may well be in order, but I'll hold off uploading the pages I've prepared until I've heard back from Telos. As you'll have spotted if you followed the links above, their website hasn't got details up yet for Peculiar Lives, and I don't want to pre-empt their grand unveiling of the book's very splendid cover.

Instead I'll say a little about the Time Hunter novellas, a rather excellent series which I'm seriously proud to be associated with.

Telos's Doctor Who novellas, which ran from 2001 to 2004, were the strongest of the many tie-in ranges spawned by the series, attracting such notable talents as Kim Newman, Paul McAuley and Simon Clark to write for the Doctor, as well as eliciting the best work of a number of regular Doctor Who authors.

Since Telos' tie-in licence was withdrawn by the BBC, the Time Hunter novellas have been continuing this tradition. The central characters from Daniel O'Mahony's excellent The Cabinet of Light (one of several Doctor Who novellas which examine the Doctor as a mythic archetype, and one in which he personally barely appears) return as time-travelling detectives: Honoré Lechasseur and Emily Blandish are based in London in 1950, but are able through a kind of alchemical symbiosis to travel along the life-lines of anyone they meet.

To date there have been five Time Hunter books, with a sixth, Echoes, hitting the shops today.

Lance Parkin's The Winning Side, a direct sequel to The Cabinet of Light, is a slippery political thriller which sees Emily and Honoré visiting the future of George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four. (Lance is the fine author who also gave us the Faction Paradox novel Warlords of Utopia.) Stefan Petrucha's The Tunnel at the End of the Light is a horror story with some interesting period twists.

Claire Bott's The Clockwork Woman is a truly fantastic book, a gorgeous magic-realist fable about an automaton who frees herself from the bonds of her design as a clockwork courtesan. John Paul Catton's Kitsune is a fantasia on Japanese folklore and mythology, told in a dark, velvety prose which complements the exotic subject-matter perfectly. These two books, in particular, I can't recommend highly enough.

George Mann's The Severed Man is a time-jumping horror tale set in four separate time periods. Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett's Echoes is a clever and affecting ghost story with some interesting stylistic devices, told partly from the points of view of the ghosts -- and has an advert for Peculiar Lives in the back, which is where we came in. With these predecessors, Peculiar Lives has a lot to live up to.

Fortunately, I'm fairly pleased with it, as are the publishers. Whether its readers will agree remains to be seen, but the book's due out in July. You can make your minds up then.

04 April 2005

Mine, All Mine

There is, I've realised, a straightforward solution to the problem of preventing this relatively serious and highbrow author's blog from becoming flooded with my trivial fanboy ravings about the sheer fantasticness of Doctor Who.

I give you Parrinium Mines. The idea is that it acts firstly as a buffer zone between my fannishness and my authorial, erm, authority, and secondly as a repository of my collected Doctor Who criticism. Certainly all my future reviews will be copied there, and I may try to assemble some of the older stuff over time as well (although there's been a great deal of it and it is scattered to the nine vectors somewhat).

In an effort to preserve my intellectual façade, I won't be mentioning here every time I post something new to the Mines... and if you frequent the same Doctor Who sites as me, you're very likely to read it all elsewhere anyway. Still, it's there if you ever need it, and that's the main thing.

03 April 2005

Skin of Evil

I've typically resisted turning Peculiar Times into a primarily Doctor Who-centred blog, so I won't be posting week-by-week reviews of the new episodes here any more than I review the Doctor Who novels month by month.

However, those of you intrigued enough by my review of Rose to want to know what I made of The End of the World, though, should be able to find out here.

[Edit: My mistake -- evidently the group archives are members-only. I've appended the text as a comment below.]

02 April 2005

The Bull In The Big Blue House

Well, I've now read Mark Z. Danielweski's House of Leaves [1]. And (apologies to those of you who recommended it, but) I was none too impressed.

It's not because of the hype. I often rather like things that have been heavily hyped -- I love, to pluck a example entirely at random out of thin air, the new series of Doctor Who -- and certainly wouldn't dismiss a book on those grounds.

It's not because of the weird typography, either. I love weird typography and books that depend on it, from Tristram Shandy to The Stars My Destination. I even wanted Of the City of the Saved... to make more use of it than it did, as I've explained at probably tedious length. And House of Leaves is a massively fun book to flick through, no question. The typographical bizarritude is incredible to behold -- the fonts, the whitespace, the concrete poetry, the pictograms, the photos, the pages of nested footnotes, the upside-down and mirror-printed and non-orthogonal and struckthrough and overlaid text. It's a control-freak author's wet dream, and a designer's screaming nightmare.

Nor is it even the central concept, which is pleasantly chilling -- the house which turns against its owners is far from original, of course, as is the labyrinth which moves its walls and is bigger on the inside than the outside. (The latter, in fact, seemed so familiar that I occasionally found myself wondering if Danielewski was a Doctor Who fan.) The characters depart from their genre precursors in taking a bold and firmly investigative tack, calling in experts in physics and architecture, taking samples for chemical analysis and the like, and generally doing all the things which horror characters usually fail to do because they're fleeing in terror from the monsters.

No -- all this would make a decent enough novella, possibly even a slim paperback novel. And that, my dears, is the problem in a nutshell, or rather in a bloody great mutant nut-husk which has been hollowed out and turned into a boat.

For House of Leaves is simply too bloody long. It is also portentous, pretentious and sententious. The good ideas are ruined by overuse: the footnotes, for instance, work excellently in the chapter where their page-to-page layout becomes a direct parallel to the labyrinth in which the characters are trapped, but elsewhere they're just a joke which very quickly runs its course. The weird typography becomes just as annoying after a while, and the device of embedding the real narrative within a commentary on a film about it which is itself being edited by a borderline psychopath who believes his own life to be altogether more interesting than events, film or commetary takes postmodern alienation to an altogether unacceptable level. Especially since the fictitious editor's life of shagging, pills and maternal insanity is nowhere near as fascinating as he, or indeed Mr Danielewski, appears to believe.

The constant stream of commentary from various critical voices which accompanies the "action" is supposedly, if you look hard enough, satirical. All I can say is, I couldn't find any jokes in it, and I'm someone who finds Frederick Crews' Postmodern Pooh hilarious.

The author biog at Amazon.com reveals that Danielewski is a pupil of Harold Bloom, and I can believe it. Parts of the book read like a desperate plea to enter the Canon of Worthy Western Writings, with repeated references to Milton and Greek myth, interminable Latin tags and, everywhere, the spirit of James Augustine Aloysius Joyce hovering over the waters and doing a good deal of the creative work. An exploration of the subconscious, a retelling of ancient myths in terms of flawed marriages and brotherly rivalry, an examination of language as labyrinth and text as architecture, an oververbalisation of the rumble of humanity's fall -- all House of Leaves needs is some Irish washerwomen and it would be Finnegans Wake, albeit Finnegans Wake as filmed by the makers of The Blair Witch Project. It's basically Finnwank [2].

If you've the patience to ferret it out, then there's a lot to enjoy in House of Leaves. Unfortunately it's weighted down with accretion upon accretion of utterly self-indulgent pomposity. If I was an uncharitable man [3], I'd say that Mr Danielewski was so far up himself that it's hardly surprising if he has a terror of being lost in dark places.

[1] Out of a deep and sincerely felt desire to take the piss, I follow the convention established in the Full Colour edition of House of Leaves, of rendering the word "house" in blue, and all references to the Minotaur struckthrough in red. Although I can't find any evidence of the Full Color edition on Amazons, .com or .co.uk, and frankly I doubt such a thing exists. It seems, like the purported existence of the posters to the House of Leaves forums whose prose style is exactly like that of Mark Danielewski, to be a knowingly postmodern metafib.
[2] A word which Purser-Hallard appears to have formulated by analogy with the Doctor Who fan term "fanwank", meaning excessive and annoyingly obtrusive continuity. There's some evidence to suggest that he originally intended entitling this post Finnegans Wank, but apparently he decided against it on grounds of taste.
[3] Which, on the basis of this post, it's going to be rather difficult to claim that I'm not.

[Edit 3/4/5: To add Bloom links. (Harold, not Leopold.)]

The Three Towers

Just had a very pleasant few days off, taking advantage of B.'s recent release from the onerous work stuff that's been snowing her under for weeks, and my Easter break.

Wednesday was spend largely in arsing around, reading the papers and so on, with a late-afternoon trip to Dolebury Warren and The Crown Inn. The Crown (there's a better review on this page) is a well-hidden treasure, a stone cottage with a very discreet pub sign hidden in a narrow lane up a hill in the small village of Churchill, which turns out to contain a large selection of very fine real ales including rotating guest beers. My particular favourite is the PG Steam, a pale ale whose name apparently has nothing whatsoever to do with PG Tips but in which my taste buds persist in detecting a robust tea-y flavour. Mmm.

Thursday B. and I had decided to fulfil our long-standing ambition of watching the Extended Editions of all three Lord of the Rings films back-to-back. We started at 10 in the morning, but the extreme length of the films -- the extended Return of the King being not far short of four hours -- and the arrival of some engineers who very kindly fixed our broken shower then went away again, we ended up finishing at 11pm. Time was, as a student, I could happily begin watching The Prisoner with Arrival at 8 in the evening and carry on right through the night, finishing wild-eyed and marginally more psychotic with Fall Out, fourteen hours later at 10am, having nodded off only slightly if at all during Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling, for charity.

Sadly, those days are gone. Perhaps the fat-reduced and therefore low-energy-value snacks with which B. insisted we accompany our viewing pleasure were partly to blame, but I have to say I found the full LotR experience surprisingly tiring and, at times, not entirely un-dull. I did enjoy watching the various plot and characters strands develop from film to film, though, and this time I managed to remember who people like Eomer and Haldir were from one film to the next (and, by the end, could almost tell the difference between Pippin and Merry). I noticed for the first time that Gandalf brings three eagles to collect Frodo and Sam from the eruption of Mount Doom, although only two are needed. He seems rather touchingly to be expecting that they might need to rescue Gollum as well.

Considered separately The Fellowship of the Ring remains the best of the three films, and The Two Towers easily the worst, with its poorly-realised Ents and all that faffing about at Helm's Deep. Considered as one eleven-hour epic, the story is too bloody long and with some significant flaws, but still just about hangs together.

Miranda Otto is still very pretty as Eowyn, and should have got to marry Aragorn instead of that smug elf.

Friday was the nicest day of the three, and saw us wandering about Bristol following a fortifying breakfast at one of the generic cafés on the Gloucester Road. Numerous visits to second-hand bookshops kept us very happy, and turned up among other things -- for only £2.50 -- a copy of Kim Newman's Anno Dracula, which I've been looking for for bloody ages. (God knows why it isn't in print any more, as it seems for many readers to have been the defining book of Newman's career, and he's certainly still producing sequels every so often. It is, as you can see from the Amazon page, worth substantially more, and I feel a touch guilty about taking it so cheaply off Oxfam's hands.)

Further wandering brought us to Clifton and Bar Chocolat, where we were plied with some of the best hot chocolate in the northern hemisphere, and some of the most overwhelmingly rich cakes too. Then we climbed the Cabot Tower and looked out across the deeply impressive view of Bristol. I'm not sure whether the Tower is actually the city's highest point, but certainly we seemed on a level with the tops of the Suspension Bridge towers. I resolved a) to go back up there, very soon, with a camera, and b) to buy a camera.

After that, we sat and read books in the park until sunset, while happy squirrels frolicked in the undergrowth. And thence back home.