Friday, 21 June 2013

Review of BBC Radio Play series of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Working through the radio play series of Douglas Adams' Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has been a blast. Unsure how to best share the love, I have plumped for a line graph. It looks a bit basic and could do with a few funky robots or spaceships here and there, but still - here goes:
                                1                              3                                                           5

                                              2                                                                                           4

1.  At the start the radio plays and books are close together, and are on a wild, Arthur-Dent-disorientating high, though I think I preferred reading rather than listening to some of the bits about the bad-poetry-obsessed Vogons, the nutty probability drive, the ancient computer Deep Thought and of course, the restaurant at the end of the universe (apparently Douglas was fond of a good restaurant)... but we are straying into the "secondary phase" of the series...

2. In the secondary phase, the plot revolving around the people who have evolved into bird-like creatures is rather odd, and was a low point for the radio play series for me, and which I think was cut when this became the 2nd book in the series. The Golgafrinchan civilisation outcasts (mostly telephone sanitizers and estate agents) towards the end are amusing though, and the extra bits scattered throughout from the Guide itself are, as always, wonderfully daft.

3. Hilariously riffing on xenophobia, British past-times and second chances, as well as amusingly tormenting Marvin the thoroughly depressed android with a flock of sentient mattresses (really), this third radio play series works expecially well. It's long since I read the book version Life, the Universe and Everything but apparently the plot is the same: The peaceful people from the planet of Krikkit who suddenly decided that the rest of the universe "has to go" and Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Marvin get caught up in the trouble.

4. My memory of reading the fourth book is that it slows down a bit too much when Arthur meets Fenchurch. The radio series perhaps has done a better job here of showing their romance while keeping the gags and odd things happening, and the trip up the sacred mountain is actually touching and funny too - why do we root for this android so much?

5. There's a lot going on here, and it's all great. Ford seems more at home amongst the peril as he uncovers what has been unfolding at the Hitch-Hiker's Guide headquarter, and I particularly like another robot that is introduced - Colin - who Ford reprograms to know happiness and proceeds to be happy about - well, just about everything. The plot here is strong too as Arthur and new character Random (born more or less at random) have to get to grips with something threatening all the parallel earths. A high point for the radio series, as it streamlines the best bits of the book. I remember the fifth and last book being one of the funniest too, apart from some of the bleakness in it.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A New Poem: Why everything is not connected

Try telling the man
decapitated in the arena
by Maximus Decimus Meridius
in the film Gladiator
that the whole world is connected,
every blade of grass
and small pink flower
and emperor's thumb
is at one with every canyon,
bloody sea creature, swan and snail.
Try explaining as his vision slides around
that one day he'll be in fields
with his family
for serving the now-long-extinct empire
that found him and put him here.
As he perspires,
all nerves and sinews,
try piecing together the story of life for him
as you see it, with its long running time
and beautiful streams
and hallowed and fateful actors.
You'll try to make it sound convincing
like they did when they told you.
It will be all right, there's nothing to worry about, you will say,
and wish him on his way.
All the while his body stands over there,
very much detached.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Douglas Adams & the role of the novel VS science

I am currently reading the biography of Douglas Adams "Wish you were here". The style, sillyness and creative reach of his writing inspires me to write, and encourages me to see that the world is really full of amazing things and that anything is game for writing about. Right now though I want focus on a quote I just discovered in the biography, where Douglas Adams is describing how he was reading more science than novels:

Wish You Were Here by Nick Webb"I think the role of the novel has changed a little bit. In the ninteenth century, the novel was where you went to get your serious reflections and questionings about life. You'd go to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Nowadays, of course, you know the scientists actually tell much more about such issues than you would ever get from novelists. So I think that for the real solid red meat of what I read I go to science books, and read some novels for light relief." (From the 1997 Channel 4 documentary Break the Science Barrier with Richard Dawkins)
This is an intriguing quote for a few reasons:
- I don't really read science at all! It takes a great documentary to hook me into a new discovery or observation of the world before I really "get it". This is partly a personality thing (it's fine to be more fiction/art-focused) and partly perhaps a wrong way of relating to the world on my part - I sort of unconsciously assume the best things are going to be the fictional stories out there, the people I can meet, and the amazing art, film and music, rather than the stories of what is really unfolding in nature that are, in a sense, just waiting for us to discover them. But if science is really leading, perhaps that's what I should be reading?
- Secondly, I think that the quote doesn't account for people whose serious questions & reflections are not sparked by science but by other things. I think society has splintered into lots of interest groups in some ways. Celebrity is as important as science in UK culture right now, something that Douglas might has satirized, and yet others use celebrity to champion worthwhile causes. And for many people the serious issues, the stuff of life, centre around the things their mates are going through, but I guess that has always been the case long before "the novel" came along.
File:The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, english.svg- Thirdly, don't many good novels today provoke us to real reflection? (I think there are some.) If not, is it because we are generally less serious thinkers than nineteenth-century people, perhaps desensitized to some stuff that used to horrify, and so too accepting, non-commital to taking a point of view, instead making things trivial and manageable and "entertainment"? While I love entertainment culture, sometimes it is just a lure for us, enabling us to duck out of doing something constructive.
- Fourth, I love that Douglas Adams was a writer who loved both literature and science. Great to have thinkers that stretch in both directions!

What are your thoughts on all this?

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The man Thomas Cromwell in the novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall seems to me a many-headed book, imagining a changing England, as it comes about though the influence of the King's favourite, master manipulator Thomas Cromwall. The court is probably in need of a revolution when he takes centre stage at the right hand of the king. It's a world where earls slimily ingratiate themsleves through spying and favours to get close to power. The intricate web of influence Cromwell weaves is built from his principles of balancing the books, a curiosity and a humanity that runs against many historical retellings of the character. My attempt to put these on paper is shown below.
Illustration © Richard Townrow 2013
The main draw of the novel for me is the strong characterisation of Cromwell, whether true or not. When someone needs to turn the tide of a political spat between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII we know it is "he"; when Cromwell takes in young sons of other officials we know they are on the way to great things; when he dreams of the spectre of his wife Liz or pushes over former foes we identify with his losses and victories; often, we admire him, and often, we don't like him. He's as likely to ride roughshod over individual's conscience, and bend a man's will to fit his purpose to prop up the new queen and his new vision of England, as he is to show a generous hand with the power he accrues, assisting a French academic, helping abandoned widows, secretly supporting reformers as they spread copies of Tyndale's Bible (this last aspect being an invention of the author, I think). Either way he helps to forge a new England and the book is optimistic about that. It occurs to me that maybe, instead of being cynical about our country, we could ponder the kind of society we want to form - the kind that is diverse and progressive and comes to the aid of the underprivileged, and does not overlook injustice. Let's just not be too ruthless in pursuing our dreams...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Sketches for Summer

Some new sketches I managed to get done in between the other things this summer. I'm sharing these as I want to encourage and inspire any budding artists out there!

Thanks to Tom Clarke who took the photo which I worked from!

I was really pleased to get this finished in time for a wedding...

And here's one I started before I broke my arm, and then abandoned, but I kind of like it as it is:

There are some tentative plans afoot to put some art up in the Oasis for people to enjoy - so please let me know if you are interested in doing this.

The Oasis is a pub that Carey Baptist Church has renovated recently and is running community events at so that we can meet more people in a friendly way - the website is

Let's keep on seeking to use the skills we've been given.

Movie of the summer?

So today heralds my return to blogging after the Olympics and everything. Hoping to relaunch it and give it a new look too, when I can, if summer slows down enough.

For now I'll just point you to something I wrote on The Dark Kinght Rises and I'm up for hearing your comments on the movie too, and the themes in it.

If you go to the link below you'll find my thoughts in detail on the movie:

But in brief, I liked:
+How the vision of the movie is to tell a story in a mostly realistic like the previous two movies and is not just dressed-up superheroes posing a lot
+The great cast and some surprising and satisfying character arcs, such as that of John Blake, the policeman.
+The way the menace of Bane picks up on some of the recent mood in our cities: "Everything's corrupt anyway, so why can't I get what I want".
+The sense of craziness when Bane gets his way, and the way they adapted the comic characters into a firghtening reality.
+The sense of redemption and hope that as the story ends there is something better for some of the characters to come, like in "Inception". 
Any quibbles with the script are very minor, in my opinion. Let me know if you agree in the comments below!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Mini book reviews: Snowdrops and Seeing Stars

Snowdrops (Atlantic Books), a novel by A D Miller, is an intriguing tale about the modern Moscow, with all the wonder of young love and high-class establishments and the snow and the sense of making it through - plus the corruption and the excess and the smut and property crime. I quite liked it as a tale of a naive man becoming corrupted, and in an odd way seeing that he does not care what a fool he's been, which is at least honest. Basically he meets and spends time in Moscow with a beautiful woman called Masha and a businessman in a cowboy hat, and he just goes with it. Not the best crime/love story I've read, but the descriptions of the snow are pretty fantastic, and give the whole thing a sense of mysterious symbolism. What can be lost or buried in the snow - is it, somehow, your own self?

Seeing Stars (Faber) is a fun trip: a collection of story-like poems from Simon Armitage covering the uncertainties or fanciful hopes of life. It's had me chuckling at the sperm whale who wants to stand up for its rights to an opinion in politics or the man who thinks he can pilot a plane because of the sheer romantic magic of the thing while the pilot is on strike. It's had me pausing to think about the life-forms that matter to a pharmacist who is knocked out by some customers. It's had me thinking about the way we live as contradictions to our own desires and how what we imagine or what we dream of lies under the surface. Definitely recommended to you to enjoy, read and re-read, and ponder on!

On watching House and living life

One thing I realy like about House is that the man himself (and the script-writers) realise we rarely just do something. There's more to us than that, we either want something out of it or we want to achieve things and succeed or we do it out of a desire for purpose - or with an ounce of care and compassion. But only an ounce. Sadly Dr Gregory House is often too right about the human heart. As he says "everybody lies" and he has to work out the truth going on in people.

House has a way of exploding situations until their practically unbearable for his colleagues in order to expose to themselves what the new selfish or dumb thing they are really doing is. He won't let anything go.* It's pretty fascinating.

House says things like this - isn't he a charmer?
I find I get drawn in by this construction of what human life is. And I find that I can be fooled into thinking the pleasingly complex psychology/drama amongst the characters is worth feeling for (I guess this shows it is well-made). It's pleasing as there is depth to the characters and they are going for more than simple cliche motivations at times, which is great - but here's the reason this isn't realistic: (Get ready, it's obvious) At the end of the show you turn it off.

Living real life

As a Christian I've recently been challenged in a number of ways that the life we have been given is the important thing, and it is exciting! It goes on beyond 45-minute-manageable-sessions, and its problems are bigger and more protracted. The life we have matters, the people in it matter and their vastly different situations matter. This life is significant.

Sometimes we can find things mundane, and I know I can even feel like everything is worthless after a really bad day. But this is a lie. God has given us all things to enjoy and responsibility to use our abilities to do good and make an impact on other people's lives and the world. How is this not significant? Even producing things for others to enjoy is significant, as we develop his world and we can invest in that some of the value that we ought to place on good things in his good creation.

Going back to watching TV for a minute - I'm not knocking it, as it is good to enjoy as a gift from God. But as Christians should we not be more hooked on God as the beautiful and glorious and pure and wise one from whom all these good things come? (Phillippians 3:7-11.) Shouldn't he fundamentally change the way we enjoy and engage with everything (see eg Philippians 4:11-13.) Let's wholeheartedly enjoy living and receiving from him with a knowledge of him as the giver and him as the source. When God brings his restoration to humanity and makes the world new, all will see that he is the most significant anything in the universe, he is far above anything and anyone.* All else really is second-rate!

And let's see other people in our town and their lives as significant, as they are not only a creation of God, not only do they bless us and enrich our lives in many ways when you think about it, but also they are made in God's image: They really are here because he dreamed them up and wanted them here, and he made them to shine out a little of God's character or nature, no matter how corrupted that might have become. When we are engaging with real people in the real world, we engage with complex and wonderful beings, and we can make a difference. And that's exciting.
**See for instance Revelation 7:9-12 where huge worship is going on all in honour of the "Lamb". This is Jesus who is described in the New Testament to be the ultimate sacrifice, the lamb of God, fulfilling the passover lamb role from the Old Testament. The point I'm making is he's shown to be worthy of all the honour the universe can give. May many begin to honour him first gladly now and be able to enter into that worship of him in heaven.