Category Archives: Fire and Light


The most important issue facing the world today is NOT weapons of mass destruction. It’s not terrorism in any way, shape or form. Nor is it jobs. Or health care. No, it’s not gay marriage either. It’s global warming.

No matter what else they do or say in their political careers, two leaders have actually taken some steps to do something about it. Kudos to Tony Blair and Arnold Swarzenegger.

It Just Gets Better And Better

This morning I woke up dreaming that I was visiting Texas when NASA asked me to help them with some talkback issues. Apparently my headphones had the longest extension cable so off I went, up the control tower. Imagine my surprise when I stepped out on the observation deck and discovered the whole structure was made of cardboard.

Yesterday there was actually rather a lot of cardboard in real life. In our garage, in fact. It seems that ne’er a week goes by that we don’t purchase at least a dozen things all of which come in huge boxes. I’ve tried squashing it down into small squares and forcing it into the bin for the recycling truck but, rather like Pokemon, there’s always more than you ever needed, wanted or cared about.

While I’m sitting here waiting for my tea to brew and pondering the packaging inadequacies of the world, I’ve been skimming through my emails. The Car has been accepted in another film festival, this time in Dubrovnik. This is very exciting. It’s the first foreign language festival I’ve had a film in and it was one of my hopes for The Car to make it a strong visual narrative, accessable to people around the world.

I’ve also been reading Mil’s mailing list, an email off-shoot of his Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About page. Thanks to Mil, I’ve discovered this morning that archived articles in The Times online edition are only free if you live in the UK. Everyone else has to pay. Of course, there’s no way I’m paying for The Times when there’s so much free information on the web.

In a fit of mild pique, I went straight over to the BBC website to read the news there for free. Naturally I was expecting more doom, gloom and general incredulousness at whatever was happening in the world, not to mention full in-depth analysis of the perils of packaging and corrugated control structures. And, of course, I was not disappointed. But that’s everyday stuff. There was other news–or Other News–and it was Good.

Firstly, Monsanto (formerly known as the big evil chemical company) has switched hats from black to white and is now playing the part of the good guys. How’s that? I hear you ask. They’ve decided to cease production of the world’s first genetically modified wheat because of consumer resistance. Isn’t that just the best? Yes, ordinary people on the street can make a difference to major decisions in the world. You–yes, you!–can change the world.

And secondly, some not so ordinary people far above the street are poised to change not just the world but space travel too. Organizers of the X-prize are saying that the challenge to put a private craft into space twice in two weeks will be won this year. That’s not “could be won”, it’s “will be won”. This is an awesome story and one I hope will also change the world for the better. Extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. Truly inspiring.

Okay. Enough of the extraordinary. It’s time for tea and then there’s a big stack of editing to do. We start the day inspired.

i dunno

Today the pound was trading at $1.82. This tells me something. It tells me that no matter what the pundits in the USA might think of George and his chances of being elected, the international money markets aren’t buying it. And with a federal deficit of a trillion dollars, who can say.

I won’t be voting in this year’s presidential election, of course. That’s because I’m not a citizen. I pay taxes because I’m a resident. As a US resident, I’m liable for income tax no matter where in the world I earn money, whether it’s the USA, or the UK or some offshore trust in the Cayman Islands. Uncle Sam demands his cut.

Still, I’m getting all the services, so I don’t feel I have much to grumble about. And taxes here are much lower than in the UK. Way lower, in fact. Currently. Until everyone has to start paying for war in Iraq. Ahem. Anyway, it’s not a big deal for me but it strikes me as ironic that Americans fought a War of Independence on a principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ and yet, well here we are.

For a number of people, taxation without representation is a big issue. For 600,000 American citizens of legal voting age it’s a very big deal indeed. Because even though they are US citizens and pay taxes, they have no vote and never have had. They’re the residents of Washington DC, the federal capital. The District of Columbia residents have no right to representation in Congress.

I can’t help thinking this country has a long way to go on human rights.

The Home Game

John Ardussi dropped by earlier today and invited me to see a new play The Home Game at the Performance Network this evening. Two of the actors with this local theatre group John wants to use for the first short. The Home Game turned out to be extremely good. Well written, well acted. Very funny yet very poignant.

Thinking about this afterwards, I was reflecting on the relative importance of having a great script. It gave the actors powerful material to work with. Yet without good actors, that material wouldn’t have come to anything. The script is the seed–and extremely important–but it needs nurturing to come to fruition. One without the other doesn’t leaves an empty harvest. Which reminds me of Andy Trussler saying that everything is important.

Saying everything is important feels a bit too restrictive. There has to be room for maneouvre, some freedom to make mistakes. Some elements are crucial–script and acting, sound and picture focus and exposure in a film–while others can be looser, like shot framing and to some extent even image quality.

John was lamenting that most theatre writers in the US seem to write a two act structure which consists of comedy for the first half and tragedy for the second. Watching Home Game I could see it had a structure like that, but to me, ignorant audience member, it struck me that it had light and shade. Comedy doesn’t work without pathos while something overly serious tends to alienate audiences.

Human beings do tend to laugh in the face of adversity. You have to show both. I disagree with John that this structure is predictable. But I only disagree to the extent I’ve been stuck on the same thought train before.

Fear of structure. I remember being stuck for ages, unable to write meaningfully, because I could see the structure in everyone else’s writing. So mainly, I either wrote very surreal pieces or simply overwrote.

I thought Vince Landon in particular used to write to a predictable formula on the St Albans Observer. Set the scene, powerfully, graphically, then introduce characters and questions, explore them and finally answer some of the questions and close with another descriptive scene. Something like that. Kind of. I rejected that formula. It seemed to easy. And yet… Yet Vince’s writing never bored me. That should have told me something. Embrace structure. Then once it’s ingrained, forget about it. Move on and write.

Structure is necessary but it’s the quality of the writing, the dialogue and the plot, which count. As far as this light/dark playwriting idea goes–and I didn’t think The Home Game came down squarely in an easily disected two acts like that–I’m not adverse to it. I like being lifted up then brought down to the depths, before being given either a final lift back to how I felt at the start or a push over the precipice. Feelings and raw emotion. Yes, using structure is a form of manipulation. But then, that’s drama.

As long as it isn’t obvious, as long as no one can see up the magician’s sleeves, the purpose is to entertain, to communicate, to take the audience on an emotional journey, perhaps with a mental and spiritual component thrown in. You can’t really do that without relying on some kind of structure. Experimental forms where everyone or everything just floats about conveys only a fraction of a well-written play or film.

Structure is the support for the words.

Smashing Pumpkins

Detectives today are probing the leaf-strewn streets of Ann Arbor searching for clues into a mysterious attack on an innocent pumpkin. The victim, a Mr Jack O’Lantern, was last seen sitting on the bottom step of a house on the west side of the city. Witnesses described his expression as “inane but with a hint of Buddhist serenity”.

pumpkins.jpgThe victim (bottom left) was out with friends recently, celebrating a popular pagan holiday enjoyed by the denizens of Ann Arbor and surrounding environs. A number of those same citizens were seen heading to the polling station today to vote on the controversial Amendment P, which would tax householders to promote pumpkin farmers.

There are believed to have been at least three eyewitnesses to yesterday’s attack which took place some time during a night of torrential rain and left Mr O’Lantern severely battered. The three, who were found sitting on steps behind and above where the beating took place, have been irritating police and journalists alike with their stoney silence and lunatic grins.

Squirrels are believed to have been the most likely perpetrators of the pumpkin slaying. Fat, heavy squirrels, barely able to move their little tummies after consuming vast quantities of nearby gourds. One leading theory is that a monster squirrel sat on the victim’s head and caused his weak cranium to cave in, resulting in the grisly demise seen below. Another theory involves teenagers with heavy boots.

pumpkinsafter.jpgAfter a lot of questioning, a spokesman for the local police commented simply, “I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid you can’t bring your cell phone into the building. You’ll have to leave it in one of the boxes in reception.”



pumpkinsuicide.jpgLater this afternoon, a second pumpkin has been found dead on the porch steps, his orange carcass grotesquely shattered. Experts are suggesting this appears to have been a suicidal leap on his friend’s mangled body. Quite how an inanimate vegetable filled with two days rainwater propelled itself three feet down a flight of stairs remains a mystery.

Neighbours breathed a sigh of relief to discover the figure which had been menacing the fronts of their homes for several nights had finally been laid to rest. “That should wipe the smiles off his empty-headed friends’ faces,” said one. Another commented, “Durn squirr’ls up there in the creeky pine. They love to roll stuff into pumpkins–they’re bowling from creeky pine. Doesn’t happen in Switzerland, y’know. They have stricter pumpkin laws out there.”

Bottom left: did he fall or was he pushed? The two remaining witnesses remain silent but continue to grin inanely while the local squirrel population was heard sniggering in a nearby tree.

The Five Illogical Arguments

Rediscovered these today written on the cardboard backing of an old college writing pad. Worth remembering.

1. argumenta ad hominem (personal abuse)
2. guilt by association
3. prophecies of consequences
4. appeal to authority
5. truth by repetition

The World’s Baggage

The most important issues facing the world today:
– water
– globalism and international trade laws
– localism: social and cultural identity

These things are the biggest issues in western society:
– infrastructure: transportation and electricity

This is a major issue, but not the biggest one:
– food quality (not quantity)

These things are not political issues in the UK:
– they’re political red herrings. Once the political decision to provide them and the targets of provision are identified, then they’re really management issues; the distribution of resources.

– health care: we have the most advanced health care in human history; the problem of identifying and treating rare diseases remains as important as it’s ever been. However, while there’s enough money for fertility ‘treatments’–as though having children is a right–then there’s clearly overspending.

– education: people are smarter than they’ve ever been and have greater access to information than at any time in history

– social welfare: a massive drug culture and the record-breaking sales of DVD players reflect a society where there is a huge surplus of wealth generally

Quote: “The importance of poverty as a cause of drug abuse has been ignored by the government, an influential report claims.”
Comment: so-called poor people in Britain can afford expensive drugs.

This is the biggest non-issue ever:
– hunting.


I started writing this as a rant (as usual) then realised that there was what looked like a major contradiction in my thinking. I was going to write that the most overhyped issues in the democratised world were terrorism and crime. For the most part, these issues are manipulated by politicians to create paranoia in an effort to reduce freedoms while increasing their own power.

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania.

However, I then started writing something about what I think of as a hidden issue: the rise of feudalism. This was kind of a spin off from my thoughts on decreasing localisation and the general feeling of being disenfranchised many people have. Who am I? Where do I belong?

The disenfranchised want to belong to a group. Feudalism gives people that sense of belonging that nationalism and globalism take away. And so we have increasing power of unelected armed groups led by warlords and self-styled barons (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) acting outside established legal frameworks.

But there’s the contradiction. Either terrorism, a spin-off of this feudalistic war-baron-centred outlook, is important or it isn’t. Okay, it is. But the issue has been hijacked. The real issues aren’t public safety ones. They’re global ones regarding fair trade. And they’re local ones regarding individual and group identity. Individuals want to belong to a social group, to feel part of the world around them, but increasing paranoia works against this. The only safe things left to do are stay home, watch TV and take drugs for instant gratification.

Doing the paranoid things becomes part of a vicious circle. It actually increases the power of warlords, drug barons and other petty demigods, who all feed off the demand for quick fixes while thriving due to a lack of social cohesion. None of these things are healthy, either for individuals or for society. Reducing paranoia and increasing local values are the issues which need addressing. Turn off the security-obsessed floodlight and light a candle.

Industrial Fire, Spiritual Light

Light pollution is one of those things that’s a mixed curse. On the one hand, there’s all the material benefits (and a few cultural ones) which come from industralisation and living in cities. On the other, I’m sure there’s a loss of spiritual connection through not being able to see the stars.

While I was in New Zealand a few years ago, I made trip out to One Tree Hill Observatory in Auckland so that I could see The Southern Cross, something not visible from northern hemisphere. Although it was a bit cloudy, there were still billions of stars shining and I also got to see Andromeda, our nearest galaxy. It was a chance to marvel at many other beautiful celestial objects too and it put many things into perspective.

Living near the city, I can still see stars when I look up at night. Cold winter evenings are usually a fine time to look straight up and pause for a moment before quickly getting inside to warm up. Looking straight up, however, is the only option where I live. All around the horizon is pink for the whole night and I remember a friend driving me across north Yorkshire some time in the past. The stars seemed to literally press down on us through his sun roof. Very cool. Cosmic, even.

I think being able to see the night stars is actually really important for giving us a sense of wonder about the universe and for reminding us of our place in it. Seeing the stars symbolises our hopes and dreams. Seeing burning skies every night and never having true darkness–notwithstanding what that does to our circadian rhythms–isn’t the best way to live.

I wonder what impact this is having on children who’ve never known any different from the orange-red night skies? Do they hope and dream in the same way? Or are they more disconnected in a way they can’t understand? So many people live in the opening of Fight Club–chasing material gratification and lose sight of the magic of being alive. I wonder to what extent a lack of experiencing true night to contrast with the day plays a part in that disconnected feeling.