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Get Back To Where You Once Belonged

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I have ceased working for a Canadian company and moonlighting for a company in London; I now work full-time for a company in London, from my office in Canada, which is rather excellent, though have *you* ever tried concentrating for an eight-hour stretch when all your colleagues clock off for the evening at the end of the first hour, and then you have to manage your time completely on your own, with no feedback or human contact? It's hard.

But no, the point is, for a long time I was working one job in the daytime and then another one in the evening, there was no time for frivolities such as this very post. But now I have no excuse. I can do my seven/eight hours in the daytime and then have the whole evening free to regale you on LiveJournal again. The problem is, I'm really out of practice. What should I write about? The most absurd suggestion will no doubt come to pass, so feel free to let rip.

I ought to be moving back to London circa the end of July, I think - my family to follow a month or two later. It's all quite exciting and ridiculous. I have at times feared my life might be rather dull, but stepping back and considering it objectively, it surely must be in the top 10% for outrageousness and tomfoolery? I'm happy with it anyway.

Pubs

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If anyone wants to meet up in a beer-selling establishment before the week is out; it has been suggested to me that I should be in the following two locations later this week, and I have concurred:

Thursday

"The Horse", 124 Westminster Bridge Road, Waterloo, SE1 7XG

Friday

"College Arms", 18 Store Street, WC1E 7DH

As an industrious fellow, I will be working hard till at least 6.30 each evening, but would expect to be propping up bars by, let's say, 7.30pm.

It would be lovely if you could join me!

Contact Details

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Against all the odds the dodgy old sellotaped-together Nokia mobile I brought with me still works and is top-uppable, so I can be contacted on it between now and Sunday:

07779 950416

Obviously all I really want to do right now is nap, as it's 7.30am (real time), but I need to stay up and get synched for a 2am (real time) start tomorrow. If you're at any kind of loose end in London this evening let me know!

Decloaking

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Well, only briefly - it's way past my bedtime. But there is important news to impart!

I haven't posted anything here in, what, 6, 7 weeks? Normally this happens out of sheer indolence, but this time I've had an excuse: I've been working quite hard on the website I may have mentioned in March. This seems to have paid off somewhat, in that I'm getting flown into London next week to put the site live and so forth, and maybe even discuss the possibility of further employment. It's all rather exciting and bewildering.

Therefore, if you're anywhere near London between about the 30th May and 5th June, I'll be quite busy for some of that time, but I'd also love to catch up with you if there's any possibility of that happening. You are all my favourite people, even when I ignore you for weeks on end! So let me know.

Plot Sucks

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We took a break from Deadwood tonight, to watch two episodes of the frothier, less arduous fare that is United States of Tara, but I can't stop thinking about the Old West...

One of the best characters in Deadwood is the camp's physician Doc Cochran, played with most excellent pop-eyed intensity by the mighty Brad Dourif. In the context of the show, that is to say, in an environment in which people happen to exist and are mostly trying to get on with their daily business without much reference to each another (like real life) the Doc is a crucial character. Because only he gets to interact with *everyone* else, rich or poor, noble or despicable, beautiful or ugly. Sooner or later we all need the services of a good doctor, and this seems to go double for a violent, disease-ridden cesspit of a place like Deadwood.

Which got me to thinking: the doctor is an incredible character to keep a drama ticking over, but he would have been rubbish in one of our old society games! Characters in roleplaying games (a) never get seriously ill, because incapacity would stop them from having fun, and (b) even if they did, they would probably rather die than share their precious plot with random others!

Plot operates very differently on TV than in a freeform roleplaying game. In the latter, it's practically currency. The more plot you can get for yourself, the better. You don't necessarily want to deprive others of plot, but you'd much rather do that than be deprived of plot yourself. This is so different from a drama, where such plot as there is exists to provide the characters with something new to react to, and thus stay interesting. No dramatic creation in their right mind would hoard plot - they instantly want, need, to find other characters to share it with.

Deadwood Season 2 seems quite plotless, at least compared to the start of the first season, with its several major events to set the show and characters in motion. But I don't think we need any more plot. The characters are mostly likeable or entertaining to watch, their motivations are known to us, watching them just living their daily lives really is enough. A constant stream of major upheavals and reverses would be exhausting and unnecessary. People keep talking about there only being five or seven or twenty-three plots in fiction for a good reason: plots are generally homogeneous and predictable. Whereas characters are much more varied and interesting!

The difference between drama and roleplaying is often this: roleplayers pretend to be rounded characters within an exciting drama... but in fact they're playing the drama as though it were a boardgames. Whatever guff they spout about RPGs being games without winners or losers, really a lot of roleplayers are trying to win. Getting the most XP and GP was an obvious method of winning D&D; once more sophisticated games like Vampire: The Masquerade came along, though, the only way to win was to amass the lion's share of the plot. Which explains really why roleplaying cheesed me off as often as it delighted me: as a drama/character queen by nature, my instinct was always to share plot around, to do stuff that got as many other people involved and hopefully entertained as possible: since plot is characterisation food. But many roleplayers want to prevent this happening, because secrets are power and they win by holding on to them. Which is fair enough, my arbitrarily selected victory condition is no better than theirs. But it's very tiring when what's meant to be a fun game has to turn into a clash of competing philosophies all the time. I felt I lost most of the roleplaying games I was in, because of the dramatic possibilities constantly being undercut or thrown away completely.

Boardgames at least are honest, with everyone trying to win in the same way! All plot, no characterisation. Which is why, for balance in my life, I like watching TV and reading books that have more character and less plot. (Not just Deadwood - did anything really happen in the first season of Mad Men, at all?) Harmony and balance in my life at last!

Back In The Saddle

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As you may have realised by now, we order a lot of TV shows on DVD from the local library. Until recently, the library played fair and sent us one disc at a time: that's between two and four episodes to watch in a week, a fairly reasonable demand on one's time. Deadwood Season 1, as such, came in five instalments (plus a bonus special features disc that I ordered by accident).

Deadwood Season 2, in the library's infinite wisdom, is parcelled into two units: 7 hour-long episodes in the first. This probably explains why I've hardly posted here for a week. One full time job, one half-time job, a baby, a dog, and a Deadwood-watching regime that would cause a Cistercian monk to pale. We finally got to the end of episode 7 tonight, hooray! Waiting for us at the library were 5 more episodes of Deadwood, 6 of United States of Tara and also some more Mad Men. I think the GVPL may be trying to kill us.

I have to go to bed to get a good night's sleep for tomorrow's inevitable TV marathon, so just a few short things that occur:

* Tessa suffers from HBO fatigue: she often tells me that the first season of something was great, but she started to lose interest early on in the second. Admittedly I keep having this problem with Carnivale, which I just can't get through, but I think both True Blood and Deadwood get much better in Season 2, despite having been warned about them in advance. Season 1 of a good show is usually trying to prove the concept and win you over. Season 2, with that crucial job done and renewal achieved, the writers breathe a sigh of relief and go completely mental. Season 2 of Deadwood is coyote-shit insane. All the characters have suddenly decided to talk like they're in a Shakespeare play, all flowery circumlocutions and lengthy soliloquies, but peppered with enough swearing per episode to fill the Royal Navy's quota for a year. Who gave the go-ahead to this idea? Nothing much seems to happen in any of the episodes plotwise, it all lives or dies on the bizarre Bardic ornateness of the dialogue mingled with a real scatological delight in human filth. It strikes me that it would make great readthrough material, for the right group of crazed lunatics.

* I said that Deadwood was very like an old OURPGSoc society game, with a large ensemble cast of the good, the bad and the ugly going about their separate business, aiming to create a whole much more than the sum of the parts. This notion has been HUGELY reinforced by an actor returning to the play a new role in the second season. In the first season he was an obnoxious gambler who shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back and proceeded to hog the limelight with his trial, flight and bringing to justice. In Season 2 Garret Dillahunt returns to play the agent for an evil millionaire, who also happens to be a sick serial killer of the local prostitutes, to general consternation and chaos. How is this actor not the Hanbury Hampden-Turner of the 19th century Dakotas, I ask anyone who remembers our old roleplaying days?

* Talking of old roleplaying days, I was delighted to discover today that the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks of my youth are by no means gone and forgotten, as I'd thought, but are in the process now of being rereleased for iPhones, Kindles and the Nintendo DS. My childhood hasn't gone anywhere; it's just being re-mediated for a new generation.

* The Christmas episode was very much "just a Christmas episode", the trailer at the end promised only the usual japes, the Comic Relief episode was frivolous confectionary: for a long time I've been worried that Doctor Who, under its new management, has been no better than it needs to be. But man alive, the new trailer promises an awful lot! If there's half as much darkness and dissonance in Series 6 as is hinted at here, I will be a very happy man.

* On the music front, "Odessey & Oracle" by The Zombies is a strikingly fine album, perfectly poised somewhere in the gap between the Kinks and the Who, such that I find it difficult to believe that I've been completely unaware of its existence for over 40 years. It's not even like it's an obscurity: apparently it features in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, for instance. Could it be that my consciousness has slid over it for four decades in protest against the terrible spelling in the title?

Time and Relative Disappointment in Space

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Yes, yes, Comic Relief, for charidee, unfair to compare it to anything else except The Curse of Fatal Death back in the 90s; but that doesn't stop me from being a bit pissed off at Moffat's latest Doctor Who skit, Space and Time. The most lecherous Doctor Who script ever (though it doesn't compare to the excesses of Torchwood Season 1, thankfully), combined with, oh look, stifle a huge yawn, yet ANOTHER predestination paradox. RTD was content to wave a magic wand instead of writing an ending, Moffat avoids endings by writing his script on the inside-outside of a Moebius strip. The one is just as cheap and dishonest as the other.

That said, of course I'm looking forward to Season 6 with palpitating anticipation. Yes, it's bound to descend to the level of Coupling more and more as the limitations of Moffat's writing become apparent when he has to write, not the single quirkily Moffatesque script of the season, but over half of them. Maybe it's unfair to expect one person to deliver so much quality writing every year, but frankly I don't think Moffat has the stamina: Jekyll just didn't sustain its length for me, and Sherlock had run out of its best ideas halfway through the first episode. What was wrong with the good old days of the script editor writing or co-writing one or two scripts a year, and just polishing up the rest of them from a wide variety of random and interesting contributors? I despite this age where even writers have to be celebrities, telegenic media darlings/whores or else noboday cares. To this day I have no idea what Robert Holmes looked like, and he's the greatest Doctor Who writer of all time. Maybe if Steven Moffat tried to write a different script once in a while, instead of recycling the same stupid paradox plot, he could be half as good. When it's reached the point where anything resembling a good line is repeated ad infinitum as sitcom catchphrases ("This is where it gets complicated" as the cliffhanger, again, really?) then I start to plunge into despair...

Still, "The Impossible Astronaut", great name for a season opener, and maybe it'll be the best season ever after all. There's no reason at all that it shouldn't be, after all, apart from laziness!

Crack of Dog

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It's only fair, having written a post about Magda, to write one about Finnegan too. A good parent mustn't play favourites.

Finnegan, at three years of age, has become, if not a good dog, at least a dog who can listen to what you're telling him and, somewhat grudgingly, obey. When he was a puppy, he ripped anything containing stuffing and/or a squeaker to shreds within thirty seconds of it coming within his reach. Now that we have a baby with many toys that fall into this category, he's been told, and sternly, that this is no longer acceptable behaviour. And, good dog, smart dog, he's basically gotten the idea. When Magda totters around the room with her monkey or bear, he might come up and give it a couple of speculative licks, but he will no longer try to reduce it to its constituent atoms.

Except Magda now has a book about a squeaky frog, with a big plastic frog in the middle that you push for a squeak on every page. And Finnegan just can't help himself. If he hears that frog squeak, he's there, tail wagging, eyes bright. Put that book on a chair or a table and he's on his hind legs, taking the book delicately into his mouth with murder in mind. Remonstrate with him all you like, tell him "no! bad dog!" in the least uncertain terms, put the book on a higher shelf, it doesn't matter. He can't resist the siren call of that squeaky frog. He knows it's wrong but unless it is physically impossible for him to get to that frog, he has to try.

It's a lot like dangling the keys of a brewery in front of a recovering alcoholic, really. Hours of fun for all the family!

Bringing Up Baby

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It's strange how quickly you get used to having a baby in your life. Beforehand I thought that everything would be different, and I'd write nothing in my LiveJournal except baby stories. Now having a toddler wobbling around the room moving toys from a to b and back again is just part of the scenery.

In the old days I used to go out every night of the week; now just holding onto my Monday night boardgames group seems like a bit of a feat! But I don't really miss it. Going out a lot is quite exhausting, and mostly I think I did it for fear of what I might miss out on if I didn't. In practice I've discovered that there is just as much going on indoors. All these years I was missing out on a new golden age of TV! And giving work and sleep their proper due.

The rumour that you don't get any sleep when you're a parent is greatly exaggerated in my opinion, though Tessa would probably cuff me around the head for saying that, as she's the one on the front line when baby goes insomniac. There were some rough weeks early on, but nowadays Magda gets put down to sleep by about 7.30, wakes up a couple of times over the course of the evening needing to have her soother stuck back in her mouth, and then gives us a wakeup call sometime before 7am. That's not that bad, is it? Actually tonight she gave us an extra hour or two of restlessness and hassle after waking up around 9, but these are the exception and not the rule.

And new human beings change so fast, that's what's great about them, so fast that the eye can't really follow it. When I see pictures of Magda from a year ago I can't believe what a baldy she was, because her thatch of hair seems to have been around forever now. I find it hard to remember the months of her lying around immobile all day, because the roaming, racing and tumbling is so much a part of life now. Soon it will seem impossible to recall a time when she couldn't talk. The glimmerings of communication are all there now, she can name balls and books and balloons, even if it's all with the same sound, and she can find a frog in the bath every time without fail, even if she's not interested in fish, seahorse or octopus. When she drops something on the floor she makes a wistful "ooh" sound that's just like an owl, and her 18-month-old friend Edward has taught her that dogs say "fff fff fff fff". (He also says kangaroo in a brilliant way that sounds a bit like "khhhhhhhhhhhooo".)

You can go forward with babies, basically, but never back. When I become famous and have a Wikipedia entry, nay a Wiki, all of my own, there will never be a time when my daughter is not referred to alongside me. You think relationships are going to last forever and quite often they don't, and a few years later you can't even remember what they looked like or the sound of their voice, well there's none of that with having a child, they really are forever. If anyone needed some kind of rock-solid foundation to their life, I did, I'm sure most of you would agree! I like being a dad.

Darkly Dreaming Draper

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Nothing strenuous to do with my evening - I'm still waiting to hear back about website - so we did some extra catching up on our Mad Men, two and a bit more episodes plus a substantial making-of feature, "Establishing Mad Men". I have to say, I got a bit bored of members of the writing team banging on about how everything in the show is based on real things that actually happened to their parents, and experienced a great urge to paraphrase Laurence Olivier's famous retort on the set of Marathon Man to them: "why don't you just write, dear boy?" To me it's not in the least bit relevant that the drama should be actually real; obviously not, I like sci-fi. Surely something that never happened but seems like it could have done is a more impressive feat of composition than an actual historical anecdote shoehorned into your script? Verisimilitude.

Having said that, I was impressed to hear of the showrunner's repeated insistence on leaving director's closeups of cool 60s paraphernalia on the cutting-room floor. If Mad Men succeeds it's because it tries to tell stories in the sixties, not stories about them. If our attention kept being forcibly directed at all the ambient sixtiesness, I'm the sure the novelty of the era would wear off and we'd start to feel shamefully manipulated. As it is, we've got a show that is set in a masterfully recreated almost-alien world, but which always keeps that in the background, with the characters and stories in the foreground. Which means that (eight episodes in, anyway) its critical acclaim seems entirely deserved. I got a bit sick of Battlestar Galactica before too long because what's the point of SF that just wants to talk about contemporary 21st century issues? If the future is going to be exactly the same as the present day, but on a spaceship, then you might as well have just saved some money and shot a contemporary drama instead.

The realism of Mad Men compared to everything else I watch does cause me some problems. I keep turning to Tessa (who's seen all these episodes before) and asking "is Don going to stab Betty with the kitchen knife and drink her blood?" or "does Don push his boss down the stairwell now so he can have his job?" Too many HBO shows possibly. The one I'm particularly ashamed of though is when it took me more than a minute to understand why Betty, when asked by a strange man in the street if he can use her phone, was unwilling to just hand it over to him. I've lived in the future for too long...

Of course it may be that you don't give two figs for Mad Men, it's not 2007 any more after all. In which case, here's a picture of Magda showing off her walking skills to enjoy:

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