Sunday, 27 November 2011

EAMG Reunion


EAMG Reunion, a set on Flickr.

Out in London on Friday for an excellent evening of re-acquaintancing (assuming that's a word) with four of my EAMG colleagues: John, Martin, Alan and Chris (+ Chris' fellow-Canadian fiancée, Nicole). Much reminiscence followed with an appropriately (if childishly) high ribald quotient - I haven't laughed this much in years. Along the way, we took in a the cramped Princess of Wales (a subconscious nod to 1997?), an accommodating Thai restaurant (I don't like to think what the other patrons made of us) and John Snow's famous pump (as well as the pub that commemorates him). It was also an opportunity to share tales of absent friends and what they've been getting up to. Nothing (too) untoward, thankfully. Needless to say, it was all over much too quickly, but hopefully it won't be another 10+ years before we all get back together again.

As an aside, it was revealing to me how many japes and scrapes I'd forgotten about over the years. Even tales that involved me seem to have sometimes slipped from working memory. Equally, it's interesting to see what other people remember, or fail to remember. My old (and missing - where are you?) flatmate, Adam, left some people who should know better a little blank. For my part, I completely failed to remember (at first, anyway) a gape involving the insertion of pornography (I know, I know) onto Chris' prized PC's screensaver. Though I soon recalled the trouble that got him into when another student rightly hauled him up over it. But it was a lot of fun to be reminded - though I'm not entirely sure what Nicole made of such tales. Probably best not to dwell on that.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

November cycle ride


November cycle ride, a set on Flickr.

Out for a surprisingly nice 13.4 mile ride this morning. Not content with being sunny, the weather was also astonishingly warm (cue removal of gloves and hat). Definitely one of those days when global warming feels a bit more palpable.

The route was more or less my usual one, though finally there's a cycle path between Weston Shore and Netley that skips the hilly, narrow and dangerous main road. It's still hilly in part, but a huge improvement.

Needless to say, much photographing occurred.

Friday, 18 November 2011


Have I, like, totally missed something glaringly obvious in front of me? All this stuff (= attention in the popular press) about faster-than-light neutrinos seems to focus solely on its implications for the plausibility of time-travel (e.g. see today's offending item in the Grauniad). In an absolutely rigid, no-exceptions-allowed interpretation of GR, I can see why this might seem half-reasonable, but doesn't (the mainstream reading of) QM already point to FTL modes of "communication" between entangled particles? I appreciate, of course, that there are multiple interpretations of QM on this (and every other) point, but even leaving this aside, there appears to be no shortage of alternative explanations for this unexpected neutrino behaviour, none of which seem to involve time-travel. Then again, why engage with these ideas and be forced to have to explain them, when you can just fall back on a wildly implausible alternative that, thanks to decades of science fiction (d'oh!), requires no explanation whatsoever.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

(Alien) Queen's Silver Jubilee

It's hard to believe that a full 25 years have passed since the first outing for James Cameron's film Aliens. Being underage in 1986 [1], I didn't actually see the film until a year or two later [2], and even then my first screening took place during a party when a whole load of other things were going on (for some of which I can only apologise). So it was later still that I got my first proper viewing. Needless to say, being both a science fiction fan and a teenage boy, I loved it from the get-go.

Last night saw its return to our arts cinema as part of a film studies course run by a local college. Why, exactly, Aliens was picked for this course was not entirely clear, even after a 5 minute introductory speech by the course lecturer (which appeared cribbed from Wikipedia), but the smart money's probably on the film's feminist subtext [3]. Which, given Ripley's dominant presence throughout Aliens, is overtly bordering on being the actual text. Certainly, the only common theme discernible through the films being shown for the course was a central female lead. Anyway, has the passage of 25 years, as well as the widespread appearance of realistic CGI space aliens, taken the shine off the events that take place on LV-426?

Easy - no.

Though I know the film like the back of my hand, familiarly has certainly not bred contempt. If anything, seeing it again has just reminded me how just well executed a film that it is. Cameron may not have dramatic range - as Titanic painfully shows - but so long as he sticks with action, particularly science fiction-flavoured action, he's almost untouchable. He's also pretty skilful and careful with the detail in his films. For instance, knowing the outcome in advance, I now see Cameron's skill at dropping in brief mentions of plot elements that come to play larger roles later on. For example, the cargo loaders and the tracking device. These - and others, I can't remember them now - are kneaded naturally into the flow of the plot without belabouring them or making them obvious foreshadowing.

But Aliens is also still a brilliant ride. After its tense first hour of careful build-up, it just doesn't stop. While repeat viewings have definitely dimmed things somewhat for me, I still found the tension in the film's second half pretty unremitting. But in a good way. Arguably, the film suffers a little bit from Cameron's predilection to prolong the endings of his films - just when you think everyone's safe, they're not - but this serves to nicely pull the rug from beneath first-time viewers.

One niggling aspect, however, was that the cinema chose to show the so-called Director's Cut of the film. At best, this only adds wholly superfluous scenes, such as those with the sentry guns. But in pre-empting the arrival of the Sulaco with scenes of life in the colony on LV-426 before the Aliens turn up, Cameron's extended cut essentially spoils the "surprise" for the audience. Obviously, the film is called Aliens, so the appearance of xenomorphs isn't exactly a complete surprise (except for the most cinematically naive of viewers), but Cameron's cut is illogical and unhelpful. Of more concern is that this might be the cut of the film that future audiences see by default - that really would be unfortunate. But not without precedent.

That said, the one addition that might have been a good idea on the part of Cameron is the short portion dealing with a daughter in Ripley's backstory. This seemed overdone to me when I first saw the Director's Cut, but I now think that it nicely tees up the maternal theme (both Ripley's and, arguably, the Alien Queen's) that the film comes to rely on. A theme that, while absent in Alien (unless the cat, Jones, counts), comes to the fore in later sequels, particularly Alien Resurrection (it's about the only good part of that film).

Overall, it's extremely pleasing to be able to report - once again - that sometimes you can go back.

[1] An inconvenient fact that, somewhat alarmingly, hadn't stopped me seeing its predecessor, the SF-horror film Alien, several times before I was 13 (and my brothers were even younger than that).

[2] It's hard to believe now that, in those days, it took more than a year for a film to translate from cinema to video. These days there's almost an unseemly rush for a film to jump to the small screen.

[3] Arguably, Aliens is alternatively / additionally an allegory about the Vietnam War, essentially the routing of an advanced American combat troops by "primitive" indigenous forces. But given the ultimate victory of said advanced troops, perhaps this doesn't stack up quite so well. Unless, of course, the film is giving the audience the Vietnam outcome that they wanted?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Day 10: Southampton

No photographs today. The usual rush getting packed and getting down to Edinburgh. Did manage to spend an hour visiting Catherine and Colin, catching up with their year. And their cat, Poppy. We had a nice drive across Fife to the airport, again with excellent weather. I must try to visit there for walking sometime. A bit of a dash at the airport though as everything completely on time for once - I'm sure we left early in the end. Home.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Day 9: Carnoustie

DSC02200 by Dr Yool
DSC02200, a photo by Dr Yool on Flickr.
Out early for a walk along the woods, down through town and along the front. Great weather yet again (hence even more photographs). Interesting to see how things have, and haven't, changed. The high school's now largely "upgraded", the front dominated by new(-ish) buildings and paths, but there's still a lot completely the same. Including a surprising number of the small shops - though my old papershop is now a gallery. Spent the evening down in the flats with everyone. Didn't get to whip Caitlin on the Wii, however. Next time.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Day 8: Callum

DSC02151 by Dr Yool
DSC02151, a photo by Dr Yool on Flickr.
Up to Dundee (or is it still Monifieth?) today to see Phil, Kate and (baby) Callum. Not quite as talkative as Ava and Abigail, but no surprise really as he's about a year younger. He's certainly as mobile and active though (especially on the subject of cars). Dinner in the evening with Ava in attendance.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Day 7: Carnoustie

DSC02123 by Dr Yool
DSC02123, a photo by Dr Yool on Flickr.
Bit of a lazy day today, just pottering around the house and catching up with the ridiculous number of photographs taken so far (and taking some more; see Poppy above). I took a walk into town for some shopping, and dropped by a favourite old haunt, the library, to take in an exhibition of local artists. Was disappointed to see that the (same) copy of Use of Weapons I first read 20+ years ago hasn't been out much of late, but I found time for a bit of a re-read. Popped over the Monifieth in the afternoon to catch up with Sheena and Vic (Phil's mum and dad). Other than that, a super-quiet day.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Day 6: St. Cyrus

DSC02082 by Dr Yool
DSC02082, a photo by Dr Yool on Flickr.
After an early start (it's a school day for Iona and Cameron!), I headed down the coast road back towards Carnoustie, with a few stops off along the way. First was Dunnottar Castle which, while closed, is always nice to see (and photograph). Next was a longer stop for a beach walk at St. Cyrus (see above). It's always been one of my favourite beach walks, and it didn't disappoint today. Not least because, as usual, I practically had the place to myself (except when buzzed by two military jets). The last stop was Montrose cemetery to visit Granny A's grave, in part to check that the adjacent tree hadn't toppled it (it hadn't). Then home to more pottering around.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Day 5: Arbroath

DSC02033 by Dr Yool
DSC02033, a photo by Dr Yool on Flickr.
Out early for a walk along the seashore from East Haven to Arbroath. I went further than usual this time to take in a new "feature" at the edge of the town: a transplanted lighthouse. Very nice. The walk was, again, very quiet, mostly I just had seagulls for company. In the afternoon I drove north to visit Graham, Teresa, Iona and Cameron up in Alford, Aberdeenshire. Took the cross-country route and saw some great autumnal colours. As I was (again) running against sunset, didn't have time to stop in the best places for photographs. The evening was a lot of fun, first with the kids, entertaining as ever, and then more breeze-shooting with G & T.