Value Added Blog

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: July 2008

In July, Rob, Ruth and I attended the Latitude Festival in Southwold again. We had a really great time. Elsewhere, aircraft were spotted, beer was quaffed, and another series of Doctor Who drew to a close.


Here's one for my brother Dave, who is as much of a Rush fan as I am. It's a video of what happens when the great Canadian power trio are set the task of playing one of their own songs on the video game Rock Band for the TV show The Colbert Report. They don't exactly breeze through things.


I'm back home. I stayed in Norfolk for a few days as it was my mother's birthday on Tuesday, and got back here at 1am on Thursday morning: another late night. I had high hopes of enjoying a few days of fine weather back here, but I have been laid low over the last couple of days with a head cold. My nose is running and my ears are so clogged up that I can barely hear the radio. At least I've managed to get the lawn cut so the back garden no longer resembles a jungle. Normal blogging will probably resume after the weekend - right now I am going to make myself another Lemsip and spend the weekend chilling out and playing Burnout Paradise on the Playstation.


And so to the last day of the festival. First task of the day was packing the big tent up and bagging all the bits and pieces ready for Rebecca to pick it up at 10:30. We were ready with time to spare, and she managed to get to the gate closest to where we'd camped, so the load out was much better than last year. The fact that there were four times as many gates to the campsite helped too, of course. GMH had come along with Rebecca so Rob got to chat with his grandma for a while. What we couldn't fit in the Nissan went in my car - after all, I only had me and my rucksack; Becs had four people, all their luggage and a tent to fit in her car.

The weather this morning wasn't too bad with sunshine breaking through the clouds, but by the time we had waved Becs and GMH goodbye and headed off to the main arena the sunshine was disappearing again. By the time we got inside, the Literature Tent was besieged with people waiting for the Early Edition so we gave it a miss. I got my breakfast from the Sausage stand again and then Rob and I headed over to the Obelisk Arena for a set by Joanna Newsom - one of Rob's recommendations. She was great, sounding slightly like Joni Mitchell one second, then like Bjork the next. I love harp music anyway, but with a voice like that to go with it, the combination was right up my street. I commented to Rob that her song about meteors and meteorites was also spot-on from a science point of view and suggested to him that she could teach Katie Melua a thing or two in that respect. She played quite a few new compostions on piano, and then returned to the harp, where she suffered the only major attack of stage fright I saw at the entire festival, completely forgetting the words to one of her songs. You could see when the realisation that she had no idea what to sing came next hit from the expression on her face, and with a bemused cry of "shiiiiit!" she stopped dead in her tracks. After starting over, it happened again, but it didn't matter - she had the audience in the palm of her hand. Definitely a high-point of the festival for me.

Rob and I wandered back to the Literature Tent, where the artists reading from books included Maureen Lipman and David Soul. Yes, that's right - David Soul. However, we were there for yet another session of the Book Club. We managed to get inside the tent, which was just as well as another shower hit shortly afterwards. The weather this year was worse than last year, I think.

I spent most of the afternoon in the Comedy Tent. Milton Jones dealt admirably with an incomprehensible heckler: "well, I think you've made your point there" and delivered a stream of great one liners. The crew setting up Otis Lee Crenshaw's gear after that looked strangely familiar, but that was probably because it was Rich Hall and his band. I've never seen Otis lost for words for his audience participation song before, but when Oliver revealed that he organised exhibitions for a living, Otis frowned.When Oliver explained that his latest exhibition had been for landlords, you could see the hole Otis was in getting deeper and deeper. Otis's song ended up with an exhibition in hell. What would it be about, he asked. "Comedians," was Ollie's reply. That finished Otis off completely. I think it was even funnier than when he comes up with a corker of a song - but he got things back on track to lead the audience in a rousing version of Insect Boy to finish off and I headed over to the Film tent where Jonny Trunk was showing a selection of clips from the 1960s TV show Vision On. My goodness, those grainy black and white images brought back memories. The tent was full of lots of people around my age on a heavy nostalgia trip, and a few young people who thought it was a version of something called Art Attack. Kids today, eh?

I wandered back to the comedy tent where a Dutch comedian called Hans Teeuwen was singing a song about Nostradamus. It didn't seem to be going well, as a sizable chunk of the crowd were chanting "wanker" at regular intervals. I headed over to the bar for a pint of cider and then returned to the comedy tent to meet everyone else. I found them easily, as there was nobody on stage - the troops told me that the "award winning" Dutchman had been pulled off after fifteen minutes. Apparently he'd even been heckled by an eight year old child at the front of the stage who had told him in a loud voice "you're really not very good." Ruth said that this was by far the funniest thing in the poor bloke's entire act. However, at six thirty the strains of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" belted out from the PA, and Omid Djalili introduced himself: "Tonight, Omid Djalili achieves one of his life's ambitions: to go on stage at the Latitude Festival, and then go and have a fight in Lowestoft." He was brilliant, even if he was clearly a bit thrown by having to compete with the noise from the Obelisk Arena, where the Breeders had just started their set. The end of his act revolved around trying to prove that dancing could cure depression - the spectacle of seeing him flailing around the stage waving paper streamers to the soundtrack from "Pirates of the Caribbean" was hilarious, and it's making me grin now just writing about it.

Rob and I headed over to the Obelisk Arena for Grinderman and the girls went off to the Uncut Arena for Blondie. I got a text from Ruth saying that she and Lauren were standing next to Peter Buckley Hill! Nick Cave and his colleagues from the Bad Seeds came on stage at eight and plunged head first into their set. They were awesome. Warren Ellis is one of the most electrifying performers I have ever seen on stage, playing guitar, violin and keyboards and beating the crap out of a hi-hat with a pair of maracas. Nick Cave was clearly fascinated by someone in the audience who was wearing a pair of rabbit ears. "You'll make somebody a fine wife. Particularly at Easter." He dedicated a couple of songs to her, including a version of "Honey Bee (Let's fly to Mars)" which hurtled along so fast I thought the band were in danger of exploding. I stood there, rocking out, and feeling really sorry for Interpol who had drawn the short straw and who had to follow them on the same stage. When they finished I was so blown away that it took a moment to focus and figure out what to do next, but we headed over to the Uncut Arena and caught the last couple of numbers from Blondie. It's hard to believe that it's the 30th anniversary of Parallel Lines being released.

Once Blondie finished, we met the girls over at the Obelisk and then headed out of the site to meet Rebecca. When we got to the gate she was already there waiting for us, so we had a much easier handover than last year. I hugged them all goodbye and headed back towards the arena - the roads through the car park were already jammed solid, so I guess quite a few people had decided that they weren't going to stay for Interpol. After braving the toilets for one last time I went back inside the arena and handed back the plastic beer glasses. As I'd found a couple on the floor earlier on, the deposit was more than enough to buy a final pint of cider; result! As I walked back from the bar it started to rain again. Unfortunately, this time it didn't stop. Perhaps as a result of this, there was no end-of-show firework display like last year, and Interpol's set kind of fizzled out. The food stalls were beginning to pack up as I headed back to the Literature Tent for the last time. Robin Ince and Ross Noble did another mammoth John Peel impersonation session, but this time Noble ended up mutating into Bernard Manning.

Martin White performed a great song on ukelele about John Cage's seminal work 4' 33" which lasted the same length of time (he got a member of the audience to time him) and suggested other ways in which you could employ yourself for 273 seconds. These included "giving an acceptance speech for a BAFTA" and "reading a novel by Dan Brown." Did you know that Maneater by Hall & Oates and Disco 2000 by Pulp both last exactly four minutes and thirty three seconds?

Then we were treated to the return of the guys from Pappy's Fun Club, who got profoundly carried away until one of then was left on stage stark naked with a tutu around his ankles. I'm still trying to blot out the image from my memory; Matthew Crosby was more sanguine about things. "If this ends up on Flickr, I'm going to be very disappointed."

Martin White returned to the stage with Peter Buckley Hill to perform the accordion version of Thriller which they also did last year - it was a fitting end to a great festival. With that, I walked back through the rain to my tent.


I'm already feeling dishevelled and unkempt and I've only been here a day and a half. When Ruth suggested taking time out to visit her grandmother (and making use of her shower) I can't move quickly enough. Once we've found the car - no easy task, by the way - we drive into Southwold and spend an hour chatting with GMH, drinking tea, and freshening up. GMH tells us that Ross Noble's conga exploits made it on to the local news last night. We say goodbye and return to the festival, parking right next to the gate nearest our tents - that should make things much easier when we leave.

The start of day two found us in the literary tent to see Marcus Brigstocke's Early Edition. The place was rammed - probably a couple of thousand people have decided they'll start the day in the same way. He's joined by Andre Vincent, who now looks nothing like Phill Jupitus, having grown a fairly impressive beard since last year. Mr Jupitus was also on stage, and Carrie Quinlan rounded off the team. It feels like meeting up with old friends again, particularly when Carrie starts off Hoonwatch (there have been sightings, but as GMH told me earlier that Mr Hoon has a holiday cottage in Walberswick this is not quite as surprising as it might otherwise have been). Half way through their session, there is a sudden torrential shower - I am really pleased we are inside the tent. Everyone stands up to make room for more people to get out of the rain.

I go over to the English Sausage stall for breakfast - a really good deal for £5. The girls have already noticed that some of the food stands have jacked their prices up from yesterday, and there are noticeably more people around. The weekend crowd are obviously out in force. Fed and watered, it's back to the literary tent for more fun and games from The Book Club. Joel Ronson plays another Nirvana tune, which is possibly one too many, but the crowd is good natured and we soon move on to Phill Jupitus speed reading Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." Despite claiming that he doesn't do impressions, Ebenezer Scrooge turns in to John Lydon and Scrooge's nephew Fred becomes a quite passable Hugh Laurie. Luke and Nadia returned to the stage with a sketch about etiquette; "How to say thank you without really meaning it." They discussed courtship, with Luke wooing a member of the audience:

"Is she the prettiest girl in the festival?"

"No. I know my level."

Martin White finished off the Book Club with a song on the accordion and then Simon Armitage came on stage. Rather than poetry, he talked about his foray into rock and roll with a band called The Scaremongers (you can now buy some of their music on iTunes - the troops did so when they got home!) He's a very gifted storyteller and it was a great shame he wasn't on for longer.

I headed over to the comedy tent to see Bill Bailey, but couldn't even get close enough to hear him. It's quite clear that they need a much bigger tent for this stage, as there was no way for everyone to watch. It was probably the biggest disappointment of the festival, although when the wind changed direction I did catch the closing strains of his song "where all the ducks are laughing and Mr Duck's embarrassed." So for the rest of the afternoon I just mooched around, meeting up with the others from time to time until 5pm when Iain Banks had a spot in the literary tent. He was interesting to listen to - and he noted that unlike Glastonbury, Henham Park sits on several hundred feet of sand and is well drained, so it doesn't turn into a mud bath quite as readily as Glastonbury. The conversation touches on politics, whisky, his writing timetable (starting the next book in mid-October and finished by Christmas), the inevitable story about the deployment of his middle initial, and the fact that back in Fife he lives in the same street as Gordon Brown (burglary is an unlikely event when the local bobbies are heavily armed and on constant patrol).

Back to the comedy tent for Miles Jupp. Best known as Archie the Inventor from Balamory, he did a very funny routine that involved his distinctly upper-class character encountering football supporters on trains. He was followed by Rich Hall. Folks, let me give you two very important tips when Rich Hall is on stage: firstly, do not get up to leave - especially when your girlfriend is less keen to miss things than you are, as you will draw attention to yourself in a way that will end up in deep humiliation for you. Secondly, if he asks you a question about what you do, do not make stuff up, because he will destroy you. Heh. It was most amusing.

Seasick Steve walked past me as I headed over to the Obelisk Arena to see Elbow. It's that sort of festival. Elbow were one of the high points of the festival for me, as I've been listening to their latest album The Seldom Seen Kid an awful lot over the last few weeks. If you haven't bought it, I highly recommend it. Guy Garvey had the whole audience singing along to The Bones Of You which made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end; their music has that wonderful power. Watch the video on the link, too - the lyrics are brilliantly crafted and completely distinctive: "charging around with a juggernaut brow" is such a great line. Rob had decided to tag along for Elbow, and I think they made a good impression on him, too. He headed off after they finished, but I stuck around to catch some of the set from Sigur Rós. They had an interesting show, but their songs do tend to blur in to one another after a while - and I'm speaking as a fan with several albums of theirs in my collection. Jónsi Birgisson sings a lot of stuff through the pickups in his guitar, which had convinced several folk in the audience near me that he was actually playing the guitar with his teeth like Jimi Hendrix.

Eventually the call of the rest of the festival won out and I headed off to see what else was happening. I ended up with the troops back at the literature tent for another Book Club session. Tonight we got two songs from Waen Shepherd's glorious creation Colin Watson - the second being another Beach Boys pastiche called "I dig diggers" which was introduced as "this one's a bit more coherent" and which featured the immortal lines:

"And if my baby tells me diggers ain't cool
I'm going to take her in my arms and
push her off a building.

Sadly this was the last appearance by Colin Watson at the festival (Robin Ince explained he was heading off tomorrow "for trepanning"), but I really hope he's back next year.

I was flagging a bit at this point - so I gave the horror show a miss this year and headed back to the tent where Rob and I sat talking, drinking beer and eating crisps until one in the morning. It was a good day.


We were up, dressed and heading to the arena by ten thirty this morning. I made my first visit to the toilets, too. Despite there being far more of them than last year they were already in a pretty disgusting state. That's after less than a day - I dread to think what they will be like by Monday morning. Last year it took several days for me to get the chemical stink of the things out of my subconscious; they are the single most offputting thing about coming to a festival, and I'm told that even so they are much, much better than the ones at Glastonbury.

First stop of the day was, once again, Robin Ince's book club. Today's guests included Jon Ronson's son Joel who played a Nirvana tune on guitar - not bad for nine years old, either. Robin didn't actually appear much this morning as he was preparing to do the midday slot in the comedy tent. We followed him over there. Although the comedy tent is slightly larger than last year, and the chandelier hanging from the ceiling looks to be far less of a risk to health and safety, the tent was already struggling to accommodate the numbers of people who want to watch the acts.

After Robin Ince winds up, I return to the Literary tent to see Mark Steel's lecture on Marx. He originally did this as part of a series for the BBC, but it's not as dry as it sounds: Marx turns out to have been a bit of a wild man, getting his secretary pregnant and going out drinking with his mates and throwing rocks at streetlights. The descriptions of Marx's rooms in London are entertaining, too - one of his acquaintances noted that one would have to write off a pair of trousers after sitting down in the place! Unfortuanately the lecture clashes with something else on my schedule, so I sneak off before it finishes and head over to the Film tent, where Michael Nyman is playing piano accompaniment to a number of short films. He plays an excerpt from the soundtrack to Gattaca, which pleases me immensely. Unfortunately after this morning's earlier showers the sun is now beating down on the tent and the place is like a sauna. In an effort to cool things down, someone opens up the tent behind the stage but this merely succeeds in blowing Nyman's manuscript off his music stand. He deftly catches it one handed, without missing a note. I eventually have to go outside to cool off, wandering around the site and catching some numbers by a Welsh ska band who are playing the Lake Stage. They are called Derwyddon Dr Gonzo, they are all dressed up in superhero costumes, they are all very young and their music is excellent. Brass sections definitely seem to be one of the themes this year. I stay and listen while having a sausage in a roll for lunch. All through the afternoon I keep bumping into Asher Treleaven - it happens again, and I say hello. He's a really nice guy, wanting to know what I think of this year so far. He tells me he has a whole routine about the forks ready to go this year.

As I wander around, a woman walks up to me and asks me if we've already met - when I say that we haven't, she asks if she can scratch my beard. Apparently I'm the 187th man who she's accosted so far, which must be an attempt on some sort of bizarre record. Rob meets her the following day, but doesn't catch what number she's reached.

Arnab Chanda is on stage at the comedy tent, and I go along to cheer him on. He says he now gets greeted by security guards at airports with "Hey, you're that Hamas guy" which must be rather unfortunate when you're trying to board a plane. He's followed by Ross Noble who does a full routine which still sounds as if he made it up on the spot; he probably did. Nevertheless, it's hugely entertaining. The subjects discussed range from wormholes as a way of getting round the festival, Jedi worms wielding light sabres, and how to explain being flat on your face drunk in a field (just say you're listening for the worms). An impromptu acapella rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody with the entire audience ends with him leading a conga line of about three thousand people round the festival to the vegetarian felafel stand where everyone is encouraged to order either pie or sausage rolls. The comedy tent is now empty for perhaps the only time in the entire weekend. I pity the poor sod who has to come on next.

I meet up with the troops as British Sea Power wind up their act and we watch The Go! Team together. Definitely one of the must-see acts of the festival, they are energetic, fast and furious. Each member of the band appears to be able to play every instrument, and there is frantic swapping of positions between numbers. Two drummers makes for a pretty powerful sound, too. I nod along happily to the music, working my way through another glass of cider.

The Go! Team are followed by Death Cab for Cutie. Despite the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band reference I've never really listened to much before now. I know they are one of Ruth's favourite bands, and after seeing them live I can see why. They're a rock band from Seattle, touring in support of their latest album Narrow Stairs which I resolve to order as soon as I get home (I did).

None of us seems particularly fussed about seeing Franz Ferdinand (and subsequent reviews in the papers aren't particularly scintillating; it looks like we made the right decision) so we wander over to the film tent. A dance troupe made up as the Lady in the Radiator are on stage in front of a screen showing clips from Eraserhead, but they go off to be replaced by a rock band called Invasion who thunder along to a series of short films. This is not what we were expecting - we'd anticipated an evening of Lynchian weirdness, so instead we call it a night and head back to the tents.


I got to my parents' house in Norfolk at 1:30 this morning. On the way, I saw a couple of barn owls and a tawny owl; there was another tawny owl calling in the trees as I unloaded the car. I had a boot full of camping equipment, as I was on my way to this year's Latitude Festival at Henham Park in Suffolk. After a few hours' sleep I was off again, heading down to Southwold and getting stuck in a convoy system of roadworks on the A146. Never mind; when I arrived in town I had lunch in the Red Lion with some former neighbours of mine.


I met up with the troops after parking up on the site - we had the tents up before the rain started, and by 7:30 or so we were ready to head down to exchange our tickets for wristbands, which is how access to the site is controlled. They were selling programmes in the queue, and they were even larger than last year's - a fairly decent sized paperback book for £8, which was the same price as last year.

There were more stalls outside the arena this year, but most of them were selling stuff that was, frankly, tat. Still, if you wanted an ex RAF uniform jacket or an ABC suit, you'd be able to find someone who would sell you one. Once we got through the gates, the first thing to do was to check the sheep. This year they were all a fetching shade of lilac:

Do not adjust your sheep

Once again John Hegley was just finishing up in the poetry tent as we arrived. One of these days I will get to see him perform live, although I suspect it will be such a shock that I won't remember anything about the experience.

We found a bench to sit on and had pie and chips for tea. The standard of catering at Latitude is very good - this year I didn't bring any food with me at all because I knew I'd be able to find something edible on site. The troops had brought emergency supplies just in case, although these consisted primarily of monster munch, bread rolls and madeira cake.

As last year, the centre of things for us was the literary tent. We ended up there this evening, watching Robin Ince and his friends warm up for the weekend. There were lots of familiar faces from last year - Asher Treleaven was doing an interpretive dance to a reading from "Night of the Crabs" by Guy N Smith. If you're not familiar with Mr Smith's writing, count yourself lucky.

A new face at the book club this year was Waen Shepherd, whose creation Colin Watson was a real high-spot of the show - a Brian Wilson type of character who sang a demented Beach Boys pastiche called "Me, you, a monkey, a teddy, a deaf kid and a shoe."

Then Robin brought out a special guest: Ross Noble, who read to us from a book about Netherland Dwarfs. Sadly, this wasn't a book about Dutch midgets but was instead a manual on the welfare and husbandry of a breed of rabbit. This enabled Mr Noble to riff on a huge variety of subjects, all of which were very funny and completely improvised. How the guy does it I don't know but he made a huge impression on me. Robin Ince then did his trademark John Peel impression, but this time so did Ross Noble. Noble to Ince: "The thing with your John Peel impersonation is that it's entirely consistent, but mine ends up turning into Michael Parkinson." Peter Buckley Hill was there again and treated us (that's probably not the most appropriate word, but it'll do for now) to another selection of his songs. He reinterpreted the Carpenters' song "Close to you" explaining that 'birds suddenly appeared' because small wormholes in the space time continuum allowed them to teleport in from somewhere else. Martin White got the crowd singing along to his song "Is there something wrong with me" which I remembered from last year, and then they all finished off with a rendition of a Smiths song.

We wandered back to the tents over the bridge - Radio 4 had set up a projector and fountain affair on the lake that was playing adverts for the Today Programme apparently in thin air. It was quite psychedelic and had stopped a large proportion of people in their tracks. Back at the tents, some idiot had decided that the festival wouldn't be complete without him banging away on guitar in a fairly tuneless manner for several hours. Ruth told me he eventually stopped at about 4am. I'd come prepared - with earplugs in I went out like a light.


I've been off doing work-related things for quite a bit of the last week. If you've been keeping up to date with my Flickr stream you'll have seen the picture of an Avro Vulcan that was flying around behind the hotel on Thursday night. It brought back memories of a trip to Cheltenham as a child, when we lived in Stafford. I can't have been more than twelve or so. As we walked around the city, I saw a Vulcan fly past at a ludicrously low level. It was only visible for a few moments through a gap between two buildings, but the aircraft has such a distinctive shape that it was impossible to mistake it for anything else. I duly told my parents what I'd seen, and they flatly refused to believe me. No matter how much I insisted I was right, they told me I was mistaken and that I must have imagined it. I couldn't understand why they wouldn't believe me.

Visit over, we got back in the car and headed on to the M5 to return home. And what should fly over us, a few minutes after we set off? Yup: the Vulcan I'd seen earlier in the day. That was the moment when I realised that grown ups didn't know everything and that, actually, they didn't always know best. It's a big thing to learn when you're twelve.


Rebecca and the twins came down at the weekend, and we went to the South Cotswold Beer Festival on Friday night. We had a great time, and the Rotary Club did their usual excellent job providing the catering. Beer goes very well with hot dogs covered in chili sauce, I can tell you.

It's the first time the twins have been to a festival - they're now 18, so they're now entitled to go and buy a pint of bitter with an unlikely sounding name along with the rest of us. And they did; Rob's recommendation was Otter Ale and Otter Bitter from the Otter Brewery in Devon. Ruth liked one of my favourites: Summa That from the Branscombe Vale brewery, which is also in Devon. One of my discoveries was Bearly Literate from the Beartown Brewery in Congleton, Cheshire. The taste was amazingly complex, and the more you drank, the better it got. Rob followed an animals theme and tried the local Uley Brewery's Pig's Ear as well as Morehouse's Black Cat. We tried a summer ale from the Atlas Brewery in Kinlochleven called Latitude, which had a refreshing light citrus flavour; Rebecca tried the Severn Valley Brewing Company's Dursley Donkey and a few Scottish beers: Cairngorm Brewery's Nessie's Monster Mash, Inveralmond Brewery's Trappledouser, and Harviestoun's Schiehallion, which was very nice indeed. At the end of the evening Ruth joined me in sampling the delights of the Orkney Brewery's famous Skullsplitter, which does exactly what it says on the tin at 8.5%. Yum. We were drinking half pints, in case you're wondering - we didn't go overboard on quantity but had a really good time, and there were no sore heads on Saturday morning, either.


On Sunday afternoon the four of us went to the Electric Picture House in Wotton to see Speed Racer, the Wachowski Brothers' take on the 1960s Japanese cartoon series about a boy and his racing car. It was bright, shiny eye candy of a quality that would have you seriously worrying about diabetes. I don't think there has ever been a film like it in terms of frenetic action and over caffeinated direction; imagine the world with the colour saturation turned up to 110%. Some of the racing sequences were so over the top that it was hard to make out what was going on, and the whole thing came over as an even more manic version of the Ridge Racer video game. I loved it. The cast was pretty good, too. I was trying to figure out where I recognised Roger Allam from, and decided it was his performance as Lewis Prothero in V for Vendetta. He made a very sinister bad guy. Even the kids in the movie managed to avoid being annoying and worked very well in supporting what little plot there was. For me, the film really didn't deserve the savage reviews it got, and I will be getting the Blu-Ray release of the film when it comes out so I can examine all the over-the-top CGI work in exquisite detail.


I blogged recently about an image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera fitted to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It was a photograph of the Phoenix lander descending towards the surface of Mars. I said at the time what an amazing picture it was - now it turns out that it's even more amazing, because the camera also picked up the lander's heatshield as it dropped away from the lander. Considering that the MRO was about 475 miles away (that's about 760 kilometers) when it took the picture, that's a stunning achievement.


I'm taking a lot of pictures at the moment, although the majority of them are for work. As a result, I've been taking more interest in how much digital storage costs. This week, eBuyer were selling a Samsing one terabyte hard disk drive for less than £90 including VAT and delivery, which I thought was pretty impressive. But then I read Wired's article on the Petabyte age and realised that, these days, the amount of data storage required by some businesses or academic ventures is crazy. The likely effect that access to petabyte amounts of data will have on science makes for interesting reading, even allowing for Wired's usual hyperbole.


By now you should have twigged that I am a big film nut. I love watching films, and over the last ten years or so I've got my living room to the point where I get a pretty good home cinema experience. But I have a long way to go before I get to the next level of home cinema - the themed room. These guys (and I know I'm making a big assumption here, but I doubt that a woman had anything to do with any of these extravaganzas) have really come up with something over the top, excessive, impractical, and many other adjectives that I am desperately employing to disguise the fact that I want one. The world has probably already seen enough cinemas based on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and I couldn't deal with a round cinema screen, even if it is a Stargate, so I got to thinking about other inspirations I could draw from.

Blade Runner is the obvious answer - remember Deckard's sofa, set in a pit in the middle of the living room? The ambient lighting is dark, perfect for watching movies. Have a screen located where his apartment balcony is situated on the set, and you're sorted. I hasten to point out that I would need to move house first and get somewhere much bigger, and also end up with a considerable anmount of money to spare. Yeah, right. That's not likely to happen any time soon.


I was going to write a big piece tonight about Google's new virtual world, Lively. After all, Google are pretty much the elephant in the room when it comes to this sort of thing. However, when I tried running it on my four year old machine here, it laughed in my face and made disparaging comments about my graphics card. Any review of the software will have to wait, I'm afraid.


Yes, I've been off air for a few days. IDNet's servers suffered a spam attack last Wednesday and keeled over. When IDNet started a rebuild they realised they were going to need a bigger server, so while they were sorting it out I've had no access to mail or webspace. The good news was that IDNet provided plenty of information on what had happened and what they were doing to fix it. My last ISP would have just left me to find out for myself.

Now things are back up and running and hopefully normal service will continue from here on in. I kept writing entries while I was offline, so you can catch up on the last day or so below.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY Annabelle and Ed. It's hard to believe it's been a whole year since my kid sister got married!


A campaign to rebuild the Skylon is gathering momentum. The Skylon was a 300 ft tall tower constructed in 1951 for the Festival of Britain on the south bank of the River Thames where the National Theatre now stands. It was designed so that the main structure "floated" about 40 feet in the air, supported by nothing more than a set of guyed cables. It was quite a feat of engineering. The Skylon campaign has been going since 2004 but now things seem to be really happening. I would love to see the thing restored.

When the Festival of Britain finished, the Skylon was deemed too expensive to dismantle and relocate. So instead, it was pulled down and unceremoniously dumped into the Thames. Some people have suggested that it wasn't lost as a result of wartime austerity measures, but rather because Sir Winston Churchill didn't like it and it was a way for the Conservatives to get back at the Labour Government who had been responsible for its commissioning and who lost the general election in 1952. Whatever the reason for its demise, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will once again grace London's skyline in the not too distant future.


If you've not been watching coverage of the Tour de France this year, might I recommend you start right now? The aerial coverage has been some of the best I've ever seen of a sporting event. The helicopter pilots have been using their aircraft as mobile camera platforms, moving them to get tracking shots that surpass work I've seen in major motion pictures. Two stages in, I have lost count of the number of times I've just sat in front of the television going "wow." It's very impressive stuff, so I really encourage you to tune in.


So another season of Doctor Who draws to a close. Looking back on my musings from last month, what I anticipated in this week's episode turned out to be a lot more exciting than what we actually got. The regeneration was dealt with in about ten seconds flat, and prompted a response of "was that it?" more than anything else. RTD is very good at the dramatic build ups, but much less adept at the subsequent denouements. The much touted death never happened (unless you count Captain Jack being shot, which happens on such a regular basis it's ceased to become anything dramatic and is now just a much too convenient way for him to escape). We got three Doctors, in a way, but I felt strangely cheated - there was no Peter Davison or Sylvester McCoy. Although cloning the David Tennant Doctor was a nice way of letting Rose end up with the love of her life, why did we not get to hear him tell her that he loved her? Instead we got a rehash of the end of Lost in Translation, rendered pointless by Julie Gardner's comment in Dr Who Confidential that "of course he's saying 'I love you.'"

There were some good moments, of course. The Doctor getting mouthy with Donna. Donna riffing on the Doctor's technobabble. Bernard Cribbins stealing every scene he was in. Mickey and Captain Jack. Davros. But there were a lot of unanswered questions: Why did we hear the Master's sound of drums last week? Why did the Shadow Proclamation girl tell Donna there was something on her back? How come the Shadow Proclamation didn't show up? There's never a policeman around when you need one. Given her character's history, Martha's behaviour has bordered on the inexplicable. She used the teleport device last week despite knowing it posed an immense risk and despite Captain Jack pleading with her not to. What was motivating her to use the Osterhagen Key? She's a doctor, trained to preserve life. And the Osterhagen Key was one of the most badly thought out, least convincing plot devices in history. You need to save the planet, so you're going to blow it up with a couple of dozen nuclear devices? Who does that save, exactly?

Oh, and what is the Mister Copper Foundation? Given that Mr Copper was the tour guide with a very interesting view of human history on Voyage of the Damned who ended up on Earth at the end of last year's Christmas Special, I'm sure we'll be hearing from him again.

The worst part of recent episodes has to be the music. It's got completely out of hand; when Sarah Jane complained about the fanfares her computer was playing in the previous episode, I knew exactly how she felt. The Doctor Who soundtrack has become bombastic, pompous, and totally lacking in subtlety. Every action or reveal is accompanied by a full orchestral earthquake that completely took me out of the story and left me fuming, groaning and wishing the music would just bloody stop. I really hope things can be toned down for next year's shows.


Thanks to Sam, who pointed out that in the Dr Who Christmas Special photos I mentioned below the Other Doctor's companion is called Rosita, or "little Rose." Now why didn't I notice that?


One of my favourite films is Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Originally released in 1927, it may not have been the first science fiction film ever made, but it set a standard for excellence that other SF movies have had to live up to ever since. Even if you've never seen the film, you'll probably be familiar with imagery from it. Rotwang is the archetype of the mad scientist, complete with robotic hand and crazy hair; C-3PO in Star Wars owes a helluva lot to the robot version of Maria; Queen used extensive footage from the film for their video for the song Radio Ga Ga.

You may not be so familiar with the history of the film following its release. At its premiere in Germany, Metropolis ran for 210 minutes. You read that right - it was three and a half hours long. When the film arrived in the United States, this was deemed to be much too long for American audiences (or possibly their bladders) and massive cuts were made. By the time the American distributors were finished with it, the film ran for just 114 minutes. To lose over an hour and a half of the film, whole sub-plots had been dropped. Many scenes which survived were cut down so that the motivation of some characters was no longer explained, or even apparent. Incredibly, all subsequent prints of the film were based on this American release and it was assumed that the excised scenes had been lost forever. The copy I have on DVD is produced by the Murnau Foundation, and it attempts to indicate what was in those missing scenes by using production stills and fragments of audio recordings that have survived, but even the most ambitious of the current restorations lasts no more than 153 minutes - leaving nearly an hour of the film's original running time still missing. The folks who have been working on the KINO project say they may include the new find in their release.

This week a German newspaper announced stunning news: a print of the original version of the film has been discovered in Buenos Aires. After the long version was shown in Argentina back in 1927, a local film critic acquired the reels and kept them in his personal collection for half a century. When he died, his collection was donated to a museum in Buenos Aires. When the museum examined the collection recently, they realised it was far more important than had been previously thought and the significance of the print was recognised. It is said to include most if not all of those scenes that have been missing, presumed lost, for 80 years. The newspaper Die Zeit flew three experts out to Buenos Aires to check on the authenticity of the find, and they are satisfied that it really is the original version of the film.

I can't begin to describe how excited I am by this news. If you're a film geek of any sort, it's a big deal, but if you're a science fiction film nut, it's about on a par with an archaeologist announcing he's found the Holy Grail or an explorer telling the newspapers that he's stumbled across Atlantis. It's that big an event; it's that mythic. The folks at Ain't It Cool News are getting pretty excited about it, too. Like them, I hope we get to see a fully restored release on Blu-Ray in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, I'm going to watch my Kino DVD tonight and sit there, chuckling with glee and anticipation.


I received news today of an interesting new trend in garden sheds. Presumably the positive side of this means that you never run out of space for old barbecues, neglected bicycles, and jam jars full of nuts and bolts and rusty nails. The down side is that tomorrow morning you might find that your shed is not where (or when) you left it.