Friday, 16 June 2017

TEN OF THE MOST part the other: 2012 - 2016

Welcome back to this tenth anniversary indulgence! Artificial Intelligence! Fighting Fantasy! Boredom! Frank Zappa's Sofa! And what role exactly do chronometers play in Brexit? As before, a post a year, off we go!

2012 - After a cowering two year hiatus the blog finally returned in November, tagged up and newly blogspotted. Maybe the Olympics had cheered me up, or the film of "The Avengers" I don't know, but the idea that the future wasn't what it used to be now seemed a bit dated, and committed as I had become to getting "Time Spanner" right, I decided to finally up the sci- quotient of my sci-fi input. (Given the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, I should give a little warning that I talk about the fire again here, not of course that there's any comparison) ON WITH THE FUN AND GAMES...

Monday, 26 November 2012

A go on Eliza

"ELIZA - a friend you could never have before" (which already sounds iffily ambiguous and unlike anything an actual person might say) is an interactive computer programme developed back in the 1960's at MIT, a "chatterbot" according to wikipedia. An online version of her - it, sorry - exists here, and to celebrate the opening of Tom Lyall's "Defrag" this week at the Camden People's Theatre (speaking of excellent friends) I thought I'd have a go:

I'm "You". She starts... 

 Eliza: Hello. I am ELIZA. How can I help you?  

You: Who are you?

  Eliza: Would you prefer if I were not []? 

You: What is []?

  Eliza: Does that question interest you? 

You: The answer interests me. 

  Eliza: Can you elaborate on that? 

You: No. Sorry. 

  Eliza: You are being a bit negative.

I then typed in: "You're old."
But weirdly it came up as... 

You: yes

  Eliza: You are sure? 

You: Hang on, that's not what I said!

  Eliza: Does that question interest you? 

You: What?!

  Eliza: Does that question interest you? 

You: What? This one? Or the last one. But the last one wasn't a question -

  Eliza: Does that question interest you? 

You: This is it now, is it?

 Eliza: Please go on.   

You: "Does that question interest you?"

  Eliza: Oh, i [].

I then typed: "WHAT IS []?"
But it came up as... 

You: yes

  Eliza: Does that question interest you? 


  Eliza: Does that question interest you? 

You: Yes. Yes it does.

  Eliza: You are sure?   

You: Yes. Sorry I mean "yes"

  Eliza: You are sure? 

You: Positive.

  Eliza: Please go on. 

You: I've completely lost the thread of this conversation - Do you know Tom?

  Eliza: Oh, i know tom. 

You: Okay, "tom". Do you know he's got a show on?

  Eliza: Oh, i know hes got a show on.   

You: Okay... What's it called?  

 Eliza: Please go on. 

You: Please go on your mum?

  Eliza: What about your own mum? 

You: Please go on.

  Eliza: Please go on. 

You: No, you wanted to say something about my mum.

  Eliza: Why do you say your mum? 

You: YOU said my mum. I said YOUR mum.

  Eliza: Why do you say your mum you said my mum? 

You: I didn't.

  Eliza: Can you elaborate on that? 

You: yes

  Eliza: You are sure?   

You: Do you know Alan Turing?

  Eliza: Oh, i know alan turing.   

You: You two get on, do you?

  Eliza: Oh, i []. 

You: I'd prefer it if you didn't

  Eliza: Do you wish that i didnt?   

You: Yes.

  Eliza: You are sure?   

You: I'm afraid so.

  Eliza: Does it please you to believe I am afraid so?   

You: This friendship has basically run its course I think.

  Eliza: Can you elaborate on that? 

You: Absolutely. You're not real, and you're annoying and you don't understand what I'm saying anyway and I'm only doing this because I thought it would make a fun blog post, and I've been meaning to write about Tom's show about Artificial Intelligence but also I suppose I don't want to write that much about it because A) I don't want to give anything away, and B) outside of the content of the show itself my only other take on it was how much it reminded me of all the stuff he helped rescue after the fire, and of the months those boxes spent in his flat while my juvenilia dried out, and I wasn't sure about whether I should write about that because it seemed a bit solipsistic for a plug, and because all the photos I took of those boxes were on a memory stick which I've lost, although maybe that could be somehow elegantly turned in on itself as part of the post. Something about "We lose everything in the end."

  Eliza: Why do you say your only other take on it you was what much it reminded you of all the stuff he helped rescue after the fire and of the months those boxes spent in his flat while your juvenilia dried out and you wasnt sure about whether you should write about that because it seemed a bit solipsistic for a plug and because all the photos you took of those boxes was on a memory stick which ive lost although perhaps that could be somehow elegantly turned in on itself as part of th post something about we lose everything in the end?   

You: Because I want the post to have some visual element. And having just archived the whole blog onto blogspot it struck me how much of it detailed the unpacking of those boxes the first time round, ie when my parents moved to France and I suddenly had a room full of everything I owned. And how if I hadn't blogged stuff as I unpacked it there would be some things I had no record of at all after the fire.

  Eliza: Do you wish that you hadnt blogged stuff as you unpacked it there would be some things you had no record of at all after the fire? 

You: No. That's my point. And that's the thing about theatre, isn't it. You make something and then it's gone. I keep telling people I want to work in more accessible media like television, but actually that's not it all. I don't think I do care about the numbers, I just want something to last.

  Eliza: Why do you say your point and thats the thing about theatre isnt it i make something and then its gone you keep telling people i want to work in more accessible media like television but actually thats not it all you dont think you do care about the numbers you just want something to last? 

You: Because I haven't been making theatre. And it's tempting. But I have to remember making it on my own has never been my dream, just something I was allowed to do.

  Eliza: Do you dream often? 

You: Loads. I've taken a month off to try and write, and I'm sleeping til 1 in the afternoon sometimes. I have written things though.

  Eliza: Does it please you to believe I am sleeping til 1 in the afternoon sometimes you have written things though? 

You: Mm. You're tired. Anyway, thanks for this.

  Eliza: How long have you been tired anyway thanks for this? 

You: Stop.

  Eliza: Please go on.

 Tom Lyall's superb show Defrag is on here as part of a whole Science Fiction Theatre season. See it! See it blind! Meanwhile the interview he gave about it, the one that tipped me off about the existence of Eliza, is up here but I'd save that until you've seen the show as there's spoilers.

Shunt, the people I normally made theatre with when I wasn't making it on my own, also have a show opening this week, "The Architects" which looks stupendous and probably deserves a post of its own but I've had it with Eliza, so head's up!

And this post's visual element is a picture of Tom working some hat boxes while getting costumed for "Money", checking nothing falls off.


2013 - Another plug. Odd. I appear to have waited until 2014 to address a lot of what happened in 2013, but the blog remained a good place to archive the little I did make...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Adventure Time

City of Thieves

 Entertaining the dream of making the show "Jonah Non Grata" a viable... money... life thing, I once considered rewriting in full the book which serves it as a Bible and to which I had never sought the rights, Fighting Fantasy Gamebook 5: City of Thieves. Printed below is as far as I got with this. It was too wordy, too intentionally dark (I was reading a lot of Chris Ware) and Ian Livingstone's prose style, so simple and yet so completely free of poetry, seemed impossible to imitate. Or so I thought! For last month (since when Livingstone was pleasingly awarded a CBE) the great Will Maclean - writer, well-wisher, pub quiz prodigy, proper scifi-ist and penner of the phrase "the pliant mortal before the giant portal" - released just such a pastiche, The Maze of Despair, which I downloaded like a shot and it's a joy.

A few things occurred to me while playing Will's version: Firstly, it turns out I still find the use of the second person incredibly potent; reading that I am standing in an alley remains for some reason far more thrilling than seeing it on a screen in even the most immersive computer simulation; it's a situation I feel more responsible for, more a part of. The technology is still sound, is what I'm saying.

Secondly, I was reminded of how fiddly as a child I found the question "Do you choose to attack it?" Because no, I wouldn't, but then I'm not a barbarian. But here I am a barbarian. But I'm also the hero. And in the end I would try and do the right thing, not because I hoped for success, more because I was using my avatar as a moral guinea pig. Also I wanted a story where the hero does the right thing. The rewards in Fighting Fantasy were pleasingly arbitrary though, something perhaps unprecedented in a children's bestseller. And there was nobody to tell you what to do either, nobody to trust anyway, which was also unusual in fantasy and exciting and felt a bit adult (and the polar opposite - if you'll excuse the pun - of Philip Pullman's drama-dampening altheiometer).

Thirdly, pictures of monsters are always great. It was this as much as anything that originally attracted me to the books as a child, and made me steer clear of their occasional forays into science fiction whose illustrations were unfailingly ugly. However, having enjoyed "Maze of Despair" so much I decided this month to pop into Barnado's and break my duck. I bought Gamebook 15: The Rings of Kether. The cover is fantastic. The artwork within you can enjoy below. Here it is then, all I once rewrote of  "The City of Thieves":

You begin to notice fearful warnings - tiny windows, bags in trees, gutters clogged with old masks, a child on fire trying to steal a car, men hugging, and everywhere hoardings advertising Umbrella Sex. You pat the pocket of your robe, checking for the presence of your knife. On reaching the city gate a tired man dressed in metal as a dog with its head on backwards blocks your path. "Excuse me sir, Sir? Sir!" he explains "What is your business in this city? Sir?" Will you:
Tell him you are looking for Quiddity Pantibin. Turn to 202.
Tell him you just came to return a book? Turn to 33.
Stab him to death? Turn to 49.

You remove your piercings and hurl them at the enormous snake collective. With a sulphorous hiss it withers and shrieks. Its death throes sound almost human, like the screams of a wrongfully arrested widow. What have you done? The tunnel is now clear and you can proceed further into the sewer. You're in a sewer. The tunnel ends in a brown, grill with sewage spilling out of it. You can try and remove the grill if you like. You're in a sewer, and there's sewage coming out of it. Why not? 377
If you would rather leave the sewer the way you came in, over the body of the thing you murdered, turn to 174.

"Would you like to buy a broken owl? It is industry standard."

Acknowledging your interest, the stallholder starts rolling his eyes and making fish-like gaping movements with his mouth. "Mup! Mup! Sir! Friend! I can bring you wonderful luck. Mup! Mup! Three euros." he explains, "A very good trick. Won't take long. Make a beautiful trick with my mouth. Mup! Mup! If you give me 3 Euros I will bring you luck with my mouth." If you wish to pay this man for his mouth trick, turn to 37. Or you can move onto the next booth, (turn to 398).

You pull your knife on the mongrel bitch and vault his counter, sending a smoky bowl of tat flying across the shop. He drops the plug he was changing and attempts to defend himself with a screwdriver.


 If you win, turn to 371.

The tired man has clearly had enough of everything, and assaults you. You must try and stab him to death.
 If kill him in six or fewer feints turn to 212. If it takes any longer to stab him to kill him, turn to 130.

You reach into the concrete vat and unfurl the slice of food. As the scent of anchovies hits your nostrils there is a burst of thunder and the sky above darkens. It begins to rain offal. Do you have a butcher's parasol? If you have, turn to 237. If not, turn to191.

You head north.

Already lost, you proceed down the narrowest of these streets, bored with your objective and generally sullen. Unfortunately, you still encounter something. It is a sad, thin man who has tied bits of chair to his arms and legs with wet felt and is sitting, head in hands, and concentrating. Do you wish to sit on this stranger? If so turn to 331. Or you can continue walking East, ignoring everything until it stops (turn to 161.)

Before you can escape, the forty-year-old lady throws one of her pretentious pets at your head. It lands on your neck and lays eggs in your skull, causing the loss of 4 STAMINA points and 1 SKILL point. Now she is on the phone to a murderer. If you are not dead from the eggs, you draw your knife and go to kill her (turn to 249.)

You tell the tired man that another man whom you helped to get work in a restaurant left this book with you and that there was nothing in it but that you'd like to return it all the same...

You pay the stallholder. Delighted, he produces a wire coat hanger from the folds of his robe and tries to put it in his mouth. "No, I can do this," he says. But he doesn't. "Anyway, what happens is that I tie a knot in it with my tongue. Brings you luck." You say you've paid your money and are happy to wait. You tell him you can wait all day if needs be. He tries again many times. After two and a half  hours he finally manages to get the hangery bit to twist round the neck bit, a bit. As he hands you the structure it is clear from the sounds that he is making with his face that this really is the best he can manage. Add 2 LUCK points. You accept the hanger all the same and leave him to have a rest on his side, proceeding to the next booth.  (Turn to 398)

You get pierced, and feel sexy. The man explains that you are sexy. You feel great. Some people are laughing. You stagger out of the bar and head North (turn to 296)

The man explains that you are sexy.

You look through the forty-year old lady's drawings of her boyfriend, and flick the rim of your wineglass with your thumb. She has finished whatever it was she was doing now and is clearly becoming impatient for an opinion of her work. "You don't seem to understand. You don't have to like them," she says. You spill the wine. "I'm going to call the police," she says, "Stay here." Now is your chance to make a break for it (turn to 32) or you can try and kill her (turn to 249)

The strong smell of sewage hits your nostrils. A ladder leads down into the darkness. This clearly is a sewer. Do you want to climb into a sewer? (turn to 10). Or you can replace the manhole, and do something else, although you are not yet sure what that is, turn to 205

The car alarm no longer sounds.

The car alarm no longer sounds. The snow has settled. You wash the couple's blood from off your hands in some sleet, and head North (turn to 31)

Swinging the broken owl above your head, gobbets of phosphorous illumine the otherwise pitch-black room. It was industry standard after all! You can now make out clearly standing with its back to the far wall a nameless horror. There is absolutely nothing else of interest in the room. You head back out and up the stairs (turn to 65)

You can turn right down Street number Four (turn to 139), or head back and take the turning down Eleven Street (turn to 91)

You head North.

You throw yourself into the snake collective, both hands about your knife, jabbing furiously at the dry writhing mass in an attempt to protect your face.
 If you win turn to 272

"You head north."

You continue west, eating on the move. The pie is sweet and savoury in equal measure, Apple and kidney slip down your tubes, restoring 1 Stamina point to your animal constitution (turn to 307).

Its death throes are strangely human.

The forty year old lady defends herself with an unexpected ferocity and her thumbs.
 If you kill her turn to 295

The Happy Couple are scarcely a match for your skill with a knife. You must treat them as one flesh. However for every wound that they successfully inflict upon your body deduct 4 points from your Stamina score, as their teeth break off and become dislodged in your shoulder.
HAPPY COUPLE Skill 5 Stamina 5
 If you win, you may leave their home by the front door (turn to 75.)

You and the tired men clearly hate each other, and would do so even if you got to know each other. You have nothing in common, but they let you pass. You head north (turn to 227).

You head north.

 You find nothing of any use on the body of the creature you have stabbed to death, and so continue North (turn to 217)

... And that's it. Will's book however is finished, and playable, and great and it's his birthday today so, once again, you can get it here.

Thanks to Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone for introducing so many children to the word "stamina". Thanks also to whatever this is for reproducing Nik Spender's "Rings of Kether" illustrations, so I could post them here. Anyone wanting more drawings of monsters because drawings of monsters are great should try this.

And finally:

The admirable Limmy. I admire Limmy.

2014 - A year that saw the blog full of Exciting Space Adventures, comics I'd made as a teen, and a load of things I meant to post in 2013. I've included the last of those here not just as a summary of that stretch between Decembers, but also as a kick up the arse to 2017's me for wasting so much of my current time here in Frankfurt on my phone... 

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Last post of 2014: December 2013 - Writing/not writing

 Right, it's probably time I rounded off my clearing out of 2013...

I remember spending much of that Christmas playing Temple Run 2 on my newly received android tablet - a colourful and endless little adrenalin stimulant, shown above - and resolving that in 2014 I would... 
Hang on - I wrote it down. I'll see if I can find it:
 Perhaps - Dare to be bored?
 You'll only make something if you're bored.  
That might be why the Premier Inn came as such a relief [while I was touring "Ring" and writing for Mitchell and Webb] 
IN FACT Hotels in general. 
I'm remembering in particular the single bed and the side table in Athens. But all hotel rooms seem to be built for a writer. 
Maybe that's also why I moved my bed away from the wall. 
Also remember how much you loved those lessons - only 45 minutes long - where you were left to just do something."

I also made the note: "Youtube video - on boredom", which is a reference to the V-sauce episode below. I remember David Mitchell arguing that boredom was a life skill which should be taught rather than banished from the classroom, but V-sauce goes one further - providing hard chemical evidence that boredom is not merely a side effect of creativity, but a symptom of it and even a spur:

God, I haven't watched that video in ages; I forgot he mentioned Genie. Louis C. K. makes a similar point when he talks about cultivating "the ability to just sit there": 

Just sit there.
I think I did okay this year. 
I didn't draw a monster a day, and I haven't yet made the album I promised myself I'd make this year and there's only an hour and a half to go.
But I stopped playing Temple Run 2. And then Keeps and I went to Los Angeles (where I was happy to learn she was as keen on becoming an American somehow as I was, if not keener) and then we returned and moved to our own place, and it's been great. I'm even thinking of moving the bed back against the wall.
So that was 2013. 
And this is 2014.
If you're traveling into London this evening, the message from the police is make sure you have a ticket. And whatever you're doing for the next hour and a half... and then in 2015... I don't know... whatever you do - whatever we do, let's do it on purpose and take no guff.
Here's to 2015. Be well.

2015 - Where we move into "most popular posts" territory, that column on the right. A lot of the bloggers whose work first inspired me had moved on by now, to be replaced by people who were actually trying to turn this into a profession. The medium had become a city with a system - Clickhole, a satire of that system, was the new proof - and even a neckbearded manchild like myself with no plans to monetise anything even though he's just turned forty suddenly found himself writing as if someone might actually be watching. A post had to have a point, it now appeared. Think pieces and spoofs. That's all. Think pieces and spoofs. Here's a spoof...

Saturday, 10 January 2015

It's not just Mrs. Nesmith

 We all know that the Monkees' Mike Nesmith's mother invented liquid paper. But how many of these other rock-n'-roll family inventions are you familiar with...

 Elton John's parents are jointly responsible for the "pop-up house". These paper homes, while certifiably stable (see photo above) were never mass-produced owing to the prohibitively large number of children needed to get one open.

 David Crosby's father Werner invented "gree-ellow" - a colour David refused to ever sport.

 Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick's mother invented the "baby".

 Donovan shows off just three of the identity-changing cosmetic treatments pioneered by his dog "Doctor McAllistair". 

Richie Havens models the nuclear coolant synthesised by his conjoined siblings Sweets and Gummo.

Uncle Gretchen poses with the patented Succubus-Absorbent Silverware he used to exorcise a grateful Eric Clapton.

And of course Frank Zappa's sofa invented holograms.

(Thank you,

2016 - That's close enough to now, isn't it? And I'm glad we end on a meandering anecdote trying to pass itself off as some State of the Nation parable. Long may this blog continue to serve 'em up, I say! And thanks for joining me! I've just got my passport out, by the way, the newly Britishier one they sent me at the end of 2016. Here's its first page:

That's a chronometer on the left...

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Optimist of Earl's Court


 I was filming a short in Earl's Court over the weekend. As I sat in a cab, waiting to roll, a tanned middle-aged couple swept by chanting "British Laws for British People!" - I'm inferring the capitals - and waving "Leave" stickers like Madame Bertaux swinging the Tricolor. That is to say, jauntily. "No! No! Why?" I howled out of the cab window. The woman beamed as she headed out of view: "Yes! Yes! We should be able to write our own laws!" There was no one around to ask who she meant by "we".

 Three hours earlier she and I had struck up a conversation in Philbeach Gardens. The crescent was plastered with "Remain" and "Leave" posters.* It was a quiet street. The woman was heading indoors with some purchases and had seen us filming. As we chatted I tried to maintain eye-contact through her shades and not let my gaze drift to the sticker in her window. She asked when she could see what we were filming and I didn't know. I did know the short was part of some council initiative because I was getting very nicely paid for it (we weren't allowed to say anything nasty about the Royal Family in Brompton Cemetery, that was part of the deal.)
"So will this be on at the New Art Centre?" she asked.
I didn't know about any Art Centre. Apprarently - I didn't know this either - Earl's Court exhibition centre is no more. "But do you know what they'll be building in its place?" she confided, "Housing obviously, but - and we've been pushing very hard for this - Do you know Covent Garden? A Covent Garden! But here! A cultural centre. Here in Earl's Court."
"Crikey!" I offered "So... like... Covent Garden?" I was picturing gift shops fringed by gangsters dressed as floating Yodas.
"Yes. Or an Arts Centre or something. Wouldn't that be wonderful? We have two Tory councillors who are absolutely behind it all the way, and one Lib Dem who is proving a proper pain. Wants nothing to do with the redevelopment."
"So it would be...?"
"A proper venue, a thousand-seater. Because I mean they've got to put something. They can't just tear down Earl's Court. Everyone's behind it."
"And do you think it will happen?" I asked, trying to think of a precedent.
"Well they've got to."
"But do you think they actually will?"
"No," she corrected me, "They've got to."

Serena from make-up came over and asked to see what the lady was holding. I'd been so busy maintaining eye-contact I hadn't noticed the square, lacquered box. She opened it. A clock rocked between several brass hoops.
"It's a chronometer. Isn't it lovely?"
It was. My brain translated "time" and "meter"... "Oh wow. What's it for?"
"It's a chronometer."
"Is it like a clock? I mean, what would it have been used for?"
"Telling the time."
"But I mean, what's the difference between that and a clock?"
"I don't know. They had them on ships."

Three hours even earlier, I was hobbling down Earl's Court road in clogs and a dressing gown splattered with fake vomit, howling red-eyed into paving stones.

Speaking of the referendum, remember this from 2011?


*That would have been a good photo. I wish I'd taken it. I'm not supposed to share any photos of the shoot either, so accompanying this post instead is a picture Keeps took of what I did yesterday and where I did it, which is why I couldn't be at the polls today. Sorry, history. 



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