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The Science of the Lambs

So I accidentally bought a frozen leg of lamb rather than a fresh one while Internet Shopping last week.

Fair enough, I thought, and bought a fresh one to eat that week, reasoning that I could defrost the frozen one overnight this weekend.

Well, turns out that a big-ass leg of lamb takes a lot longer to defrost than you might think. 24 hours in the fridge, and it’s still frozen solid.

That’s when I remembered the Roald Dahl story, in which a housewife successfully cooks a leg of lamb from frozen.

Most sources on the Internet reckon that beef or lamb are safe to cook from frozen. But I still worried, because it would make me sad if I accidentally gave everyone in the house food poisoning.

Fortunately, someone has done Science on this very issue. By freezing a joint of meat with a meat thermometer stuck inside it and recording the results as it cooks.

It’s got a graph and everything. And looks delicious.

[goes off to cook lamb]

My Two Dads

So Man of Steel was a huge success then.

There was a lot of chatter when it was first released about some of the choices the writers made in the film. Admittedly this was usually expressed in a howl of “THAT’S NOT MY SUPERMAN YOU’VE BETRAYED MY CHILDHOOD!” nerdrage, but whatever.

It also seems to have been a film which was either loved or hated by people. You can count me among those who loved it. In fact, I went back to see it in the cinema again, and found it even better the second time.

But what I want to do here is to delve into the matter of Clark’s relationship with his two fathers. Because that’s at the heart of this film, and it’s very different to any other version of the story I’ve come across.

SPOILERS AHOY!
You have been warned…

Here’s how it goes:

A lone survivor of the doomed planet Krypton – a baby – is sent to Earth in a spaceship by his father Jor-El. The ship arrives in Kansas where the childless Kent family adopt the boy, and name him Clark. As he grows, it becomes apparent that he has abilities and powers that others do not, and he uses these powers to help humanity.

This much is consistent among all of the origin stories.

Pa Kent teaches the child what it is to be human, that helping others is the right thing to do.

Except, in Man of Steel, he doesn’t. And this is where we have our major departure, the story choice that makes this different to every other telling of the Superman story.

It’s clear that he loves his son, but all of his advice is the same every time he talks to him: Keep your head down. Don’t get noticed. Don’t let anybody know who you are.

Jonathan Kent would rather that Clark had let all of the kids in the school bus die than that he have his secret revealed.

And the thing is, Jonathan really believes that this is for the best. He believes that the world would turn on Clark, hate him for not being like us. This is a man who would rather die himself than let Clark’s secret be exposed.

This change of characterisation from previously seen Pa Kents is huge. No longer is Jonathan the homely American farmer raising his child to fight for truth and justice. Quite the opposite, in fact. He urges concealment and stealth and lies, because he doesn’t think that justice would exist for young Clark from the people of Earth if the truth were to come out.

Clark takes his father’s advice to heart, roaming the Earth, doing good where he can, but never revealing who or what he is, until he finds a spaceship from Krypton’s expansionary age, and meets his biological father. Jor-El then explains to Clark a different vision of his destiny.

Jor-El: You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

This ties in with Jor-El’s words to Lara in the Krypton-based prologue:

Lara: He’ll be an outcast, a freak. They’ll kill him.
Jor-El: How? He’ll be a god to them.

And this is very interesting, because it means that Jor-El knows that Earth will give his son powers and abilities above and beyond that of anyone else on the planet – and expects him to lead humanity.

Later, Zod tells Clark about the codex:

General Zod: You led us here, Kal. And now it’s within your power to save what remains of your race. On Krypton, the genetic template of every being yet to be born is encoded in the registry of citizens. Your father stole the registry’s codex and stored in the capsule that brought you here.
Clark Kent: For what purpose?
General Zod: So that Krypton can live again…on earth. Where is the codex, Kal?
Clark Kent: If Krypton lives again, what happens to earth?
General Zod: A foundation has to be build on something. Even your father recognized that.

And probably the most important conversation of the film:

Clark Kent: Is it true what Zod said about the codex?
Jor-El: Strike that panel.
[Clark strikes the panel and breaks open the wall of the ship]
Jor-El: We wanted you to learn what it meant to be human first so that one day, when the time was right, you could be the bridge between two peoples.

So from this, two things seem quite clear to me:

Jor-El intends for Krypton to be recreated on Earth.
Jor-El intends for Clark to be the ruler of this new world.

Jor-El and Zod both agree that Krypton needs to be recreated on Earth; they just disagree on whether humans get to live in this new world or not. Just like Clark’s adoptive father, Jor-El has his own plans for his son, his own visions of how Clark’s life will plan out.

So how, confronted with these two different world-visions of Clark’s relationship with humanity, does he choose to engage with the world?

Hide from it? Or rule it?

But Clark makes neither of these choices. Instead, he chooses to trust humanity.

Young Clark: The world’s too big, mom.
Martha Kent: Then make it smaller. 

It’s Martha who teaches Clark how to make his own choices, how to look at the world as a thing that can be understood rather than feared or used.

And it’s only when he starts engaging with humanity as equals, rather than listening to either of his two fathers, that he can save the world.

Giant Happy Crab Returns

Been a bit quiet around here recently, hasn’t it? Ahem. Really must try and do something about that.

Pretend I have mysterious and exciting news that I can’t tell you about yet. That’s what writers generally do when they return to their blogs after a long absence, yes?

(I don’t. OR IS THIS A CUNNING DOUBLE BLUFF?)
(It’s not.)

Anyway, just thought I’d pop in and let you know that The Just So Stories will be returning to the Edinburgh Festival this year. Huzzah!

We’ll be up there in the Igloo at the heart of the Pleasance Kidzone for every day of the Fringe festival except the 12th and 19th of August. So don’t go on one of those two days, else you’ll be disappointed. Everything else is good.

I have, of course, kippled before now, so I can say that once more all the favourite tales will be present and correct as our company of four talented young actors bring the stories to life once more.

Thinking of going, but not certain? Here’s a link to those five-star reviews from the last time we were up there. Cos, you know, I’m never going to pass up a chance to link to those, am I?

You can buy your tickets now from the Pleasance box office, and the show runs from the 31 July to the 26 August.

The Beginning of the End

At last. The moment that Nick Clegg has been praying for for the last few years has finally come to pass. And you’d better believe he’s happy about it – even though, by the end, he’ll no longer be the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

A little context.

Back in May 2010, no single party received enough seats in parliament to form a government. After some negotiation between the parties, Her Majesty asked David Cameron to form a government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Who then proceeded to allow the Conservatives to fuck the country over.

Raising tuition fees
Introducing the Bedroom Tax
Outsourcing Incapacity Benefit Tests
Privatising the NHS
Destroying Legal Aid
Cutting Council Tax benefits
And, of course,
Austerity

While, of course, being royally fucked over themselves.

So why are they still hanging in there? Surely the right thing to do would be just resign?

Well, they can’t. When they signed up for the coalition government, they signed up for the long term. The gamble is this:

Liberal Democrats have never been in government before. Therefore they are not trusted by the voters to run the country. This needs to change.

The party will bide its time. Take the devastating electoral hits which it so richly deserves, and just stay the hell in government.

Because if there was an election right now, things would not go well for the Lib Dems. And at last, at long last, far later than they’d hoped, the moment they’ve been hanging in there for has arrived.

The Tory party is visibly disintegrating before us. The racists, homophobes, and swivel-eyed loons are already baring their teeth at Cameron. More than half of the parliamentary party voted for an amendment to the Queen’s Speech. (To put that in context, this last happened in 1946.)

And that’s what the Liberal Democrats need. For the government to collapse because of the Tories fighting among themselves. Then they get to say: “Look. We did it. We stood by our agreements, and we governed.”

And then maybe, just maybe, whoever gets the most seats in parliament (but not a majority) will trust them again to cut a new deal come election time. Because they stood by their God-awful deal with the Tories even when they shouldn’t have.

(See the links at the top of the page for detail on that.)

And that’s the gamble. That the Tories will, once again, tear themselves to shreds over Europe and Equal Rights. That they will just be so crazy that they will turn on their own Prime Minister while in government after scraping by in an election that they didn’t gain a majority in.

It’s necessary. But not sufficient. There’s one more thing that needs to happen before the Liberal Democrats can regain the public trust.

(Once again, see the links above. Do you think one single person who voted Liberal Democrat thought they were voting for any of those things?)

Nick Clegg’s one function is to stay in power until the Tories self-destruct. And not for a moment longer.

If they don’t self-destruct, his gamble has failed and the Liberal Democrats are dead as a party. The only possible way that they can come back from this is if the Conservatives splinter. Fortunately, UKIP are there, smiling and welcoming with open arms. If the two arms of the Conservative party go to war with each other as Labour did in the 1970s, and the same result occurs…

Then his job is over. No more majority for the Tories after the next election.

And that’s when he’ll have to go.

Because although what were previously the biggest charges against the Liberal Democrats will have disappeared…

That they’re amateurs.
That they have no experience in government.
That they’re purely the party of protest.

…Nick Clegg is too tarnished to lead the next election.

(Look again to the links at the top. Think about them for a moment. If they don’t fill you with rage yourself, think of how many voters they will have filled with anger, how many Liberal Democrat voters feel betrayed right now.)

He’s a smart fellow. I think we’ll see a bloodless coup in the Liberal Democrats as soon as it becomes clear when the election is.

If the Tories go boom beforehand, then it’ll happen sooner rather than later. Otherwise, I expect him to go three to six months before the next general election.

Probably willingly. If not, then he’ll be ejected.

And the new leadership will blame all the bad things on him – whether they were his or not – and point to their experience in government, and the good things they’ve done there, as to why you should vote for the Liberal Democrats.

Because the only alternative is that he stays on as leader for the next election. After which the Liberal Democrats will have ceased to exist as a political force in this country.

I think he knows this.
I think he’s playing for time, hanging on.
I think that he thought this might be a possibility from the very beginning.

But for this to happen, for the Liberal Democrats to be saved, first the Conservatives need to turn upon themselves.

And this week, at last, it looks like the beginning of the end.

An Outing

So, within the last couple of years I’ve become aware of Sonnet 20.

Yes. I’m behind the times. By approximately 400 years. Deal.

Here’s how it goes:

A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion:
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

So, Billy Shakes there, talking about how men can be sexy sometimes, and isn’t that a bit weird?

It’s like: there’s this bloke, and he looks like a girl, and he’s gorgeous, and it’s like having a girl that I can actually talk to about bloke things, y’know? It’s like having all the good things about girls, and none of the bad things.

And actually: I love him.

But at the end of the day he’s got a cock, and that’s a bit odd. And I can’t do the sex thing, cos that’d weird me out.

But that’s fine. Even if we can’t do the act, that’s not going to change the way I love him.

So. Great poem.

Two things, really.

Thing the first: If you don’t think line 13 there is verbing a noun, you’re not as good as you think you are.

Thing the second: I identify as bisexual. And if you have a problem with that, you can go fuck yourself.

Three Mournings

I was living in Los Angeles when Ronald Reagan died.

The body was lying in repose in the Presidential Library in Simi Valley, just to the north-west of LA, so I went to see it. I thought: I’ll probably never get the chance to pay my respects to such a historical figure again, so I should go there while I can.

The drive took about an hour, and after parking up I stood in a line for several more hours. Eventually we were shuttled into a bus, from whence we joined another line until we came to a little room in which we saw the casket.

Some people cried as they walked past. Some sniffed and held back their tears. Some looked at their lovers or children, and held them tight. Most looked serious, thinking hard about what this man and his life had meant to them.

There wasn’t supposed to be any stopping but I asked the guard at the exit if I could stay there in silence for a couple of minutes to pay my respects and he said yes.

So I stood there in silence, contemplating mortality, before moving on.

A hundred thousand of us, standing in line to look at a man in a box. And that’s all we are, when our lives finally draw to a close. People in boxes, for a short time. Another collection of atoms, no longer animated, soon to be parted from each other for ever. And what remains of the things we have done in this life are the memories of those who we’ve touched, the words written about us after we’re gone, and the ideas that we’ve passed on to others.

Last week, I went to Nanna’s interment. As I expected, the Christmas of 2011 was the last that we spent together. She was cremated shortly after she died, and on Monday we put her ashes in the ground at last.

We got her a plaque for five years in a suburban cemetery close to where she used to live. They don’t sell you the space in a public cemetery. Instead, you rent it for a certain number of years, and then (unless you want to pay more at that point to keep it up for longer) they give you the plaque to take home and do with what you will. And then they replace your notice of remembrance with some other mother’s, daughter’s, grandmother’s, lover’s, sister’s, wife’s.

About a dozen of us were there when the ashes were poured into a small hole in the ground.

It was also the day that Margaret Thatcher died. Most of us found out at the wake.

Today was Baroness Thatcher’s funeral. It was a much bigger affair than Nanna’s. She was carried up Whitehall in a gun carriage. Her Majesty the Queen attended. The only real difference between it and a state funeral was that everyone would have got the day off for a state funeral. The funeral cost an estimated 10 million pounds, almost all of which was met by the taxpayer.

We paid for Nanna’s funeral ourselves, from the estate.

I didn’t feel the need to go to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. But I have spent some time reflecting on her death. When she came to power, the Unions were indeed overpowerful. But then came the madness.

Poverty in the UK became higher.

Distribution of wealth became more unequal.

The nation’s social housing stock was sold and not replaced, resulting in a housing bubble that has blocked many young people from owning their own houses for more than a decade and is set to get much worse.

I thought about this as the preparations for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral continued. About her life, and her death, and the legacy she has left us all.

Funerals are for the living, the us, the left-behind. A funeral marks a transition between life and death, but not for the person who is gone. They don’t care. They don’t come back.

Many years ago there used to be a tradition in this country called Rough Music. A ritual humiliation for those who have violated the standards of the community. No physical harm was done, but a message was sent that what they had done was wrong. A banging of pots, a shaking of pans, a rattling and a shouting and a caterwauling and a making of noise to let the wrongdoer know that They. Have. Done. Wrong.

The funeral for Baroness Thatcher began at 11am today. The people there were silent in their respect for the dead, and I would not take that away from them. I took no pleasure in the death of an old woman, and her family and friends deserve the time to pay their respects, and be alone with their grief. A funeral service is a time for quiet reflection and for mourning the dead.

But she did wrong. Not to one, or to several, but to many. A grievous wrong and one which has yet to be put right. Wrong to the people of this still-United Kingdom, and wrong to the country itself. Not to admit that would be to ignore the totality of the person.

At two minutes to eleven, I took a pot and saucepan into my garden and began to bang on it.

I didn’t hear anyone else make rough music to mark her passing. That doesn’t matter. I didn’t go to make a noise for her, or for her policies, or for the state of the country today. But because a funeral is a time for reflection upon the deeds and character of the dead by the living, I did it for me.

So I stood there in noise, contemplating mortality, before moving on.

Just So Good

I’m pleased to be able to say that my wee theatre company will be reviving our production of The Just So Stories this Easter.

This production will be at LOST Theatre on the Wandsworth Road, and will feature returning cast from previous productions, so you know you’re getting the good stuff.

Still not convinced? Why not read some of the five-star reviews from our Edinburgh Festival production of the show.

(We made a profit. At Edinburgh. I may never get tired of telling people that.)

The production runs from the 2nd to the 14th of April 2013 at 3pm. Tickets cost £10 for adults and £8 for concessions (plus booking fees) and are available to buy now online or by calling the Box Office on 0844 847 1680.

Snow Business

If you’re in the UK, odds are it’s been snowing near you for the last day or two.

So yesterday, the lovely Mr James Moran challenged you to make stuff with snow. A short film. Some photography. Whatevs. Because it’s going to make whatever you do look much more expensive and lovelier.

I’m at my parents’ this weekend, so I thought: What can I do with an iPhone and their computer, in a day, with what- and whoever is at hand?

So I made this:

I had a rough idea of the story, and just filmed it in the back and front gardens on the phone.

I didn’t want to do anything difficult, so figured the easiest thing to do was just grab the shots I needed, and then record a voiceover afterwards.

(That’s my niece Jenna, by the way, who happened to be in the kitchen and said yes when I asked for some help. If she hadn’t said yes I’d’ve tried roping my parents in. If that hadn’t worked I’d’ve done something that only needed me to be in it.)

Took about an hour to get the shots, which were then moved across to the computer and slapped together in sequence using iMovie. I then banged some sound effects (also from iMovie) on the top, and wrote the voiceover to fit the length of the edited footage. Jenna then recorded the voiceover on the built-in microphone on the computer. Three takes until we’d got the timing right, and done.

So, there you go. Nothing fancy-schmancy, but a story with a beginning, middle, and end. All done in four hours with what I happened to have lying around.

Two things I regret. But as art is never finished, only abandoned, I’m going to leave them both there.

The first is is that I got the credits mixed up, so for two credits the name is on the left and the role on the right, while on the last credit it’s reversed. That’s going to bug me every time I see it now.

The second is that I think I may have been too ambitious with the monster at the end. Fur CGI like that on a low budget is always going to look a bit unrealistic.

There’s still snow on the ground. It’s still the weekend. Why not look around the house, see what you’ve got, and go and make a short film?

Found

Red Table Theatre are offering a workshop on found-object storytelling.

If you’ve seen any of our children’s shows, you’ll know that a lot of our theatre work has been based on storytelling using common or garden items to create characters, set, and environment. The way in which the objects are used is formed during rehearsals.

Well, m’brother Rafe, who directed said shows, is offering a one-day hands-on workshop based on the techniques we use. Suitable for actors, directors, writers, and teachers who’d like to know more about devising with found objects, and how they can use this in their own work.

If you’re interested, the workshop takes place on Saturday 8 December from 10am to 6pm at Theatre Delicatessen, 35 Marylebone High Street W1U and costs £35.00. It’s a full day of practical devising, and participants will be invited to bring several objects with them to use during the day.

If you’re interested, drop an email to kelly.golding@redtabletheatre.com and she’ll be able to tell you more about what the day involves.