This story was written at a writers' workshop in Edinburgh.  We all listed some of our memories, and then took each other's memories and wrote a short story based on one of them.  This was based on a single line from a guy named Kevin about how he was in a life drawing class, and one of the artists had an argument with the model, who wouldn't keep still.  The rest is all my invention. :)
Contains non-explicit sexual references and fairly mild vulgarity. :)

The Urge

A Tale of Artists and Models
by John Veitch
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Comments?  Critiques?  Questions?

"After a bit there was poor old White... What an anachronist he was, dear fellow!"

I recently finished reading T.H. White's "The Once And Future King", and I can't say I was too impressed by the writing style.

My biggest problem was that it was difficult to stay involved in the story when White kept interrupting to tell us he was skipping over a section and that we should read Malory's version, or slipping into archaic writing, or even directly quoting Malory's "Morte d'Arthur."  It was almost as if he just couldn't be bothered writing his own version, and it makes the novel at times feel less like a story and more like a summary and critique of Malory's version.

Another thing which prevented it from feeling like a story you can be involved in is... pretty much every scene Merlyn (to use White's spelling) appeared in.  The second volume, "The Witch in the Wood", and the fifth "The Book of Merlyn" consist almost entirely of Socratic-style dialogues where Merlyn tells Arthur about the dangers of war... we read these instead of an actual story about events where we can see these dangers for ourselves.  This makes the book feel more like a collection of essays than a narrative.  Merlyn also flattens out the story by telling Arthur about everything that's going to happen in the future, making it feel like the characters are just going through the motions of what they know they're supposed to do, instead of making their own decisions.

The reason why Merlyn knows the future, incidentally, is apparently because he lives backwards instead of forwards through time.  Well, he sure seems to be living forwards whenever we see him.  For one thing, he's good at speaking forwards.  He can also remember the past fairly well, such as when he meets Arthur as an old man and remembers tutoring him as a young boy.

This is a fairly subjective criticism, but White's writing style often jars with the tone of the story.  Both the narration and dialogue can sound quite patronising, as if White was underestimating his readers' intelligence (take a shot every time a complex moral or political dilemma is described as a "muddle"!).  He also slips into a quite inappropriate whimsy at times... in the first volume, "The Sword in the Stone", Merlyn turns the boy Arthur into different animals so he can observe the way their societies work.  So we get some interesting character archetypes with hunting hawks and so forth, and then... a bepectacled badger with quaint china-cabinets and leather-bound books, and a cockney hedgehog who calls himself a "tiggy".  Does the spirit of Beatrix Potter really belong in an Arthurian epic?

White's cultural perspective could also lead to some problems: he compares knights to individual cricketers from White's own time, as if he expected the readers to be familiar with them, and makes other cricketing analogies, but I guess that's who he was writing for.  Despite the fact that most of "The Book of Merlyn" is spent with Merlyn ranting about how people should stop identifying themselves with nations and instead think of themselves as individuals, there are some face-palming stereotypes in there.  For example, Arthur folds his arms into his sleeves "like a Chinaman" and looks out across his country "from Zummerzet to Och-aye."  Did White really just call Scotland "Och-aye"?

There are moments, however, when the story shines through the style, and when White writes enough dialogue and actions in contemporary speech that we can be involved in a story we can understand, and with characters whose thought processes relate to interesting and dramatic events that are actually happening within the story.  A retelling of the Arthurian legend in language which modern readers can engage with is certainly something that should exist.  I think it can be done a lot better than this, though.

How It Also Works

"How It Works"  (xkcd #385)

An astute observation... but it can be taken to another level when you notice that xkcd was able to accept that two generic stick figure were read as male by default, while long hair needed to be added to another figure so people would understand she was meant to be female.

Local Hero's a great film, goodness knows, but they shouldn't all be like that.

Saw the film Ae Fond Kiss... and really enjoyed it.  It's about the romance between a Pakistani Muslim man and an Irish Catholic woman, in Glasgow.  The subject of inter-faith relationships is really interesting to me, as is the subject of the different cultures and sub-cultures in Scottish cities.

Another thing that I really liked about it is that the Scottish setting is taken pretty much for granted: it's a setting where you would find Pakistani Muslim and Irish Catholic communities, with the latter seeming a lot more naturalised into the setting (although, as mentioned in the commentary, there is a subtext that Irish immigrants were once viewed by the locals with as much hostility as immigrants from further afield.  This isn't mentioned in the film, though).

Anyway, my point is, the film doesn't appear to be making a statement about Scottish identity.  This is very welcome!  There are no clueless English or American characters (possibly surrogates for the audience) who need to have their preconceptions of Scotland challenged by the other characters.  As many of you will be able to tell from the title of the film, the poet Robert Burns is mentioned a few times, but in the context of being a man of the people who had relationships with women which the church disapproved of.  No-one talks about him being a national poet.

This is the type of film that Scotland should be making (this and "Gregory's Girl"), because otherwise, Scottish films will be not much more than a novelty.

For audiences who don't know how to pronounce "Ae" or what it means, it has also been released as "Just a Kiss", which has got to be the blandest title ever and doesn't carry nearly the same connotations of doomed romance (the words also sound far less poetic).  The J in "Just" is an Islamic crescent and star, and the K is the right half of a Union flag.  There are a lot of things wrong with the latter choice of iconography (which I will post in a comment if people want to know)

Obligatory anti-Rogen/Apatow post

This article has been around for years but I only found it the other day, so I'm posting it here because Mike White is saying exactly what I feel about comedy, only he's better known and more successful than I am.  It reminds me of Matt Groening's joke about "The ugly duckling who grew up to be a beautiful swan then cracked incessant anti-ugly duckling jokes".  I guess that's what Mike White is saying Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen etc. are like.

Temporary equality

I find this fascinating. Nothing to set any of these kids apart from any of the others. Maybe some of the audience could tell which were going to become (more) famous, but the people who made the opening credits sure weren't making any guesses.

Oh, in case you're wondering, "MMC" doesn't mean 2100, it was late 80s-90s revival of the Mickey Mouse Club when they must have felt they needed some balance between appealing to brand loyalty and disassociating themselves with anything so dorky as Mickey Mouse.

If you're not sure how many of these kids became famous, go to the wikipedia page for "Mickey Mouse Club" and see how many Mouseketeer (I'm guessing they weren't actually called that) names are links to their own pages.  Uh... ignore some of the names on the 1990-92 list.  I don't think any of the non-capitalised names (especially not "bin laden" and "micheal obama (bin laden lover)") belong to anyone on that show.

An obscure video you've probably never heard of

Warning: If you are disturbed by drawings of sexual organs, I suggest you don't watch this video. The rest of the post might not make much sense without it, but hopefully you should get the general gist.

Some facts people can learn about each other come with a string of associations: other facts about people which are often attached to the first one, but not always. Sometimes these collections of facts can have a name. One of these names is "hipster". The video does not use the term "hipster", for some reason, but the collection of descriptions the singer uses to describe himself, along with those used by the people in the sound bites at the end, are commonly used as the definition of a hipster.

If "the definition of a hipster" is a phrase which can really be used, that is. It's certainly a term which people debate the exact meaning of, perhaps most commonly so they can make sure it doesn't include them. Personally I would say a hipster is someone who identifies with some sort of non-mainstream group or movement, but only for the image it has, with a superficial understanding of that group's culture or ideals. Many of the lines in the song reflect this definition: the idea of wearing empty rims for glasses when you have perfect eyesight, dressing like a nerd without being academically gifted, using religious iconography for fashion design...

Am I a hipster? Well, here's how I stack up in relation to the video.

"Got on the train from Cambridgeshire"... I studied at Glasgow Uni... I think that was modelled on Oxford, not Cambridge. (whatever the difference is)

"moved down to an East London flat" ... when I get my own flat I'll get back to you on whether it's the Scottish equivalent of East London.

"Got a moustache" ... OK, I'm not always as clean-shaven as I want to be but a moustache without a beard just looks sleazy to me.

"... and a low-cut vest, some purple leggings and a sailor tat." Not even close. :-)

"Just one gear on my fixie bike." I've never got around to learning how to ride a bike. Should do though. If I wore a bike-related t-shirt anyway then I'd probably be a hipster. :-p

"+1 here... I play synth". Never been in a band. I can sort of play a piano/keyboard though.

"20/20 vision, just a pair of empty frames" - OK, that I have done... but only because I was in a play...

"dressing like a nerd although I never got the grades" - I'm a geek, not a nerd, I don't need to know anything about physics. :-)

"the kids at school would call me names" - I do have a recollection of being called a mop-top as a kid. Fair enough, I was one.

"now we're taking over their estates" - like, as landlords? I'm not one...

Is the misspelling of "friends" as "freinds" meant as a joke (like "teh") or is it just a typo?

"Polaroid app on my iPhone" - Don't have an iPhone, and the camera on my regular phone is excrement.

"taking pictures on London fields" - If I lived in Edinburgh I would want to hang out on the meadows a lot. So... is that a "yes", adjusting for geography?

"Up on my blog so everyone knows" - I have a blog or two but they're not usually about personal experience

"New Age fun with a Vintage Feel" - I like... old films? 1940s music? Nature? Does this sort of apply to me?

"Coolest kids in a warehouse rave" -- I was once at some sort of dance-based event in an old building which had been repurposed as a community centre... but there wasn't an exclusive list or anything and I wasn't as into it as some of the other people there.

"Never bought a pack of fags" - I don't smoke!

"I only roll my own!" - but I do have a bizarre tendency to roll small bits of paper into cigarette-like shapes.

"Plugging in my laptop at the starbucks down the road" - my laptop stays at home, and I've been to starbucks maybe twice in the last two years.

"Say I work in media, I'm really on the dole" - neither, but I have taken out jobseeker's allowance for a few weeks a few years ago.

"Loafers with no socks" - chafes the feet.

"Electro pop meets Southern hip hop" - "Southern" and "hip hop" are types of music I avoid... not sure about "electro"

"Indeterminate sexual preference" - I only like women. And, some people are bisexual and not dickheads, get over it!

"Something retro on my necklace" - old technology looks cool, but I don't have a necklace.

"part-time blogger" - *very* part time.

"design my own jewellery" - nope, although I might like to design something (no interest in jewellery though)

"I organise a vegan (crud? crumb?) night" - I help organise vegan potlucks, yes. Does this make me a dickhead? Or would I only be a dickhead if I wasn't vegan the rest of the time? (Answer: yes)

"magazine... all about my balls". No comment. And no.

"all the proceeds are going to that thing that happened in the Middle East, or Africa or whatever" - I've helped raise money for charity, but I always make sure I know what I'm raising it for.

So... am I?

It's not a real king, honest! It's Fred Astaire!

It's a problem which anyone might be expected to face, working in the American entertainment industry.  A musical with the title "Royal Wedding" may go down well with those monarch-kissing Europeans, but how do you sell it to good honest American citizens who love democracy and/or recoil at the sight of unfamiliar cultural practices without someone telling them how they're similar to American activities?

Best to comfort the audience with familiarity right from the outset.  So who's that on the throne?  Some stuffy Shakespeare-spouting potentate?  Nope!  It's good old down home Fred Astaire!  Are you comfortable yet?  And how does his first line go?  "My royal day can be a royal bore..."  Yep, he's using "royal" in a sense that Americans are much more familiar with.  Now you can enjoy the rest of the movie knowing it's not too bewilderingly exotic.

In fact, most of the film takes place in an awkwardly-realised London, with the American siblings preparing to put on a show for an actual royal wedding.  The opening scene is just an example of the sort of acts they put on.


Someone left a U.S. dime in the shop where I work. I think they must have confused it for one of our 5p coins. They're about the same size (and the same colour) after all - there are probably many American visitors who think our 5p coins are 10p by association. So during quiet times at work I picked up the little silver circle, felt it in my hand and studied its surface.

One thing I noticed was that it was only identified as "ONE DIME". I had kind of assumed before that names like nickel and dime were only nicknames, and that the coins themselves would say 5c and 10c. But there's actually no indication how it relates to dollars or cents. Many visitors have trouble identifying which of our coins are which, but at least close scrutiny will reveal most of them announce their value in near-universal numericals. But a visitor to the US will need to translate the word "ONE" and understand the comparitive value of the word "DIME".

Also, since these terms for subdivisions of a dollar are like units of currency in themselves, it almost seems as if a price like $1.98, or "a dollar ninety-eight", should be written as $ ... one dollar, three quarters, two dimes, no nickels and three cents.

Another thing which struck me is how thin it is. It's pretty cool. It makes it seem more like a simple little token - a mark stamped on a sliver of metal - which is what a coin really is, after all, but it makes it feel old-fashioned to someone used to our more sturdy coins. I guess it makes me think of the centuries-old coins in the National Museum, although, ironically, the "old" coins within my living memory are larger and bulkier than the ones we use now.