30 May 2008

2008 Weddings -- #2

The second of the year's weddings (well, the ones I'm invited to, at any rate -- I imagine there must have been others) happened last Sunday at West Quantoxhead in Somerset[1]. It was another thoroughly pleasant affair -- the weather put a rather literal dampener on the proceedings (and the vows were amusingly heralded by an ominous squall), but the rather large indoor venue was ample to contain us all.

As is customary at these events, the bride and groom seemed very happy. In addition there were lots of lovely friends, and pleasant veggie food, and drink, and ceilidh dancing. Possibly because of the astonishingly generous profusion of the penultimate item, the complexities of the last proved somewhat beyond my grasp, but B. seemed to enjoy herself with a succession of partners, which is always nice.

This was the first wedding I've been to which featured rival speech-length sweepstakes, a tradition which I inaugurated many years ago now[2]. I feel both proud and humbled (especially since I won one and lost the other, having hedged on 32 and 42 minutes respectively. Still, I got £19 out of it.) I'm considering making up bingo-cards for next time, with phrases like "be upstanding", "four years old", "N.'s first girlfriend" and "into our family" on them.

In addition to plentiful and varied drink, I enjoyed some fine cigars with friends. Cigars at weddings are not only permissible but almost mandatory, unlike cigarettes which border on the gauche. They do, however, act as a gateway drug -- someone had brought snuff, which I'd never tried before, to stick up our noses. Goodness, that's an odd sensation.

After the reception we returned to our hotel with various other guests, purchased a bottle of vodka and sat around until 4 a.m. playing a traditional English swearing-game[3] and talking mainly about -- if memory serves -- gardening and babies. I forget whether the two were alleged to be connected.

Whether it was because of the cigars, snuff, drink or late night, I felt somewhat rough the next day. Still -- hurrah for weddings! Only three (or possibly just two) more to go this year.

[1] I hadn't previously realised that St Audrey -- after whom West Quantoxhead is alternatively named, and from the shoddy reputation of whose saint's-day market we derive the word "tawdry" -- was the same person as St Ethelreda, and indeed St Æthelthryth.
[2] At least, I'm fairly sure it was me. I'm open to correction, as it's possible that the wedding booze has blunted my memory there.
[3] I've spoiler-protected the game rules to protect innocent eyes -- highlight the whitespace to read: Think of film titles, and try to work out whether they're funny with either "Up My Arse" or "On My Cock" stuck on the end. Eg Shooting Fish Up My Arse, The Unbearable Lightness of Being Up My Arse, The Hands of Orlac On My Cock, etc. We worked out that E.M. Forster adaptations are particularly productive, viz: Howards End Up My Arse, A Passage to India Up My Arse, A Room with a View Up My Arse, Where Angels Fear to Tread On My Cock. It's, er, fun when you're drunk.

Meat Processing

I keep getting spam with the subject line "Your soft", which seems to distill two of the most pervading themes of the unwanted junk I receive down into one succinct phrase of two four-letter words. Is it referring to some item of software which I might -- in that ethereal imaginary netherworld from which these messages emanate -- have notionally purchased? Or is it instead discussing my widely-hypothesised erectile challenges, incorporating into its introduction of the subject a habitual your / you're solecism?

We'll never know, because I'd have to actually open one of the fucking things to find out.

On a more whimsical note, though, a message just came through from someone called "Darth Natalie".

22 May 2008

Stakeholder Society

The new regime at Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield product range (his name's Eddie) obviously believes in getting announcements out quickly. The new writing project I was being secretive about just the other day is out in the open now. It may now become slightly more obvious why I've been thinking about vampires this week.

It's another three-decker novella collection, much the same as Nobody's Children was -- and while I wasn't looking it's been given the appropriately Gothic title of Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Vampire Curse.

As it happens, this Benny anthology is an all Faction Paradox authors affair. As well as being fellow-contributors to The Book of the War, my co-conspirators Mags L. Halliday and Kelly Hale wrote Warring States and Erasing Sherlock respectively. (What with Lawrence Miles' Benny CD out in July, it's looking rather as if we're taking over.) Unlike me, Mags and Kelly also have Doctor Who novels under their belts -- the rather excellent History 101 and Grimm Reality -- and between them they run an exceptional Who fanfiction site, lostluggage.org.uk.

They're both very talented people and it's both pleasing and gratifying to be sharing a book with them. Now I just need to write my third of it...

20 May 2008

Planetary Romance

That review I mentioned of that book about these books is now up at Surefish. It may be more informative and persuasive than my earlier witterings, or of course it may not. Ignore the big pull-quote about feminism [ETA: now fixed], which appears to be from another review altogether.

In theory I should be having a column up this week as well. I'm not sure whether Andy's going to hold off on that one.

[ETA: Yes, the column's up too. It's about vampires.]

17 May 2008


Since I've owned up to still writing poetry occasionally... a while ago, for a (not especially hearty) laugh, I wrote this:


A verse can conform
to one well-known form or more,
but one is the norm.

(I want the "or" and "more" to kind of cascade at the end there, each being on a subsequent line but at the appropriate alignment for the line above, as a compromise between the limerick's demand that they should form the third and fourth lines, and the haiku's demand that they should be part of the middle one. But it doesn't look like blogger will do that.)

Anyway. It turns out I wasn't even the first person to think of this. Some of those are even reasonably funny -- I like the E.O. Parrott one.

16 May 2008

Dougal, we are not watching aliens!

Hmm. So the Vatican's official astronomer has finally got around to outlining what James Blish predicted 50 years ago would be the Catholic church's position on the spiritual implications of extraterrestrial life[1]. (Admittedly he misses out the "sentient creatures without souls" category, but it's difficult to imagine that one catching on. Unless the aliens in question were militarily naïve and owned large amounts of oil, obviously.)

As Blish suggests in his introduction to A Case of Conscience, Fr Funes refuses to countenance the possibility that extraterrestrials might have experienced their own salvation event as well as their own fall from grace -- making it the church's duty, if they exist, to evangelise them mercilessly. He calls Jesus' incarnation "a unique event that cannot be repeated", which seems parochial to me.

There is, by assumption, only one divine Logos, the active principle of the Creator of the universe, but I don't see any reason to believe that this entity could only become incarnate once, or couldn't work towards the salvation of other planetary populations in other ways. (Nor does the Reverend Father cite any evidence for this. What does he expect us to do, just take it on faith?)

...And speaking of damned creatures doomed to eternal torment, I've just landed another writing gig. The usual reasons of commercial secrecy mean I can't say anything about it yet, but I'm looking forward to it already[2].

[1] Actually, Blish was quoting Gerald Heard,but since he doesn't cite the source and I'm largely unfamiliar with Heard's work I can't say where he gets it from. Look, if you want unimpeachable standards of academic rigour, go and read someone else's blog.
[2] There is actually a sequitur there, but it's one that won't become apparent until I can tell you more about the story. Sorry about that.

07 May 2008

2008 Weddings -- #1 in a Series of at Least 4

Last Sunday Kate and Silk, of whom you may have heard me speak (almost invariably in the context of beer, to nobody's particular surprise) tied the knot and got married in the Town Hall in Oxford, where B. and I held our wedding reception many years ago.

(For the usual reasons of busyness I failed to blog the relevant stag party a few weeks ago, where Silk and some sixteen other men in the 25-40 age bracket met at the stone circle in Avebury, wandered some ten miles through the thick scrubland of Wiltshire then drank a great deal of unsurprising beer in the middle of bloody nowhere. The plan of meeting for a drink at the stone circle was more sensible than it sounds, given that Avebury is the only stone circle in England which encircles a village, and more pertinently a pub.

It's a particular shame I missed the opportunity to blog about this, as I was going to use the title "Only Us Menhir". You'll just have to pretend I used it and react accordingly.)

Silk and Kate made the elementary error of asking me not only to read at the ceremony, but also to write something special for the occasion. Having tried before to write a sincere celebration of marriage as a sacrament and discovered that it came out a bit rubbish, I wasn't going to be tempted down that route again.

Here's what I read (or rather, since it requires a certain amount of comedy business with tones of voice and pieces of paper, performed):

by Philip Purser-Hallard

To Silk and Kate, with love
on the happy occasion of their wedding –
Sunday 4 May 2008.

Let not the marriage of true minds –
but you’ve heard that one. Let me talk
instead about the many kinds
of daily strife which make it awk-
ward to stay married, once those first
impediments are past. I’ve made
a list of those I find the worst.
My wife… helped. First – the marmalade.
No, hang on, that’s page 2. Let’s see...
You may find things that you yourself
put somewhere safe will later be
somewhere absurd, like on the shelf
where mug-trees live. Unless, you know,
they’re mug-trees, and that’s where they go.

Toenail clippings, rather than
the bin, might turn up in your bed,
your trousers, or your frying-pan.
A book that should be under Z
in fiction – a Zelazny, say –
you’ll find instead is in the car,
the bath, the fridge, or under J.
You’ll wonder where your pliers are,
and as for DVD remotes –
I’m ranting now. Perhaps it’s best
if I just give you all my notes,
and spare these charming folk the rest.
(You may think I’m exaggerating.
See what you think in 2018.)

© Philip Purser-Hallard 2008

(I'll be adding this to the website in due course, as soon as I can decide whether to put it among the poetic juvenilia or the mature prose, or to create a new category for it or what. It's about time I updated the site, given that the last time that happened seems to have been last year. [Edit to add: now updated.])

The wedding was the first of at least four, possibly five, that B. and I'll be attending this year. The bride and groom looked very very happy, and in Silk's case unwontedly smart (Kate looked gorgeous, but that's less unusual). It was, as ever, thoroughly lovely to catch up with many old friends, together with their partners and in one case progeny.

The three speeches, incredibly, were only 13 minutes 30 seconds long between them, meaning that B., who'd taken a risk with 14 minutes, won the sweepstake. My guess was nearly twice that.

The wedding breakfast was followed by punting (in which I wisely didn't partake) and board games (in which I equally wisely did -- Hive is fantastic and I need to buy it as a matter of urgency), music and dancing and at least four different types of cheese. Very nice wine, as well, which I didn't drink far too much of -- indeed, the only areas in which I disgraced myself were (inevitably) my dancing, and succumbing to the temptation to have a quick cigarette before leaving. Bad Phil.

Generally a very successful day, though, and one which would have achieved high marks if we'd kept up our scoring system. Roll on Sunday 25th in Taunton.

The Bat Dome

Yet more fun with predictive text:
"I'll get the cat food"
...is predicted as:
"I'll get the act done"
Or -- if you remember to correct the first time but not the second -- the rather more apposite:
"I'll get the cat done".