Sunday, April 08, 2007



It's a beautiful day in North London. The sun was shining this morning covering everything in a fabulous warm, bright glow. Outside, the denizens of Archway were gathering at the Catholic church (officially the world's ugliest) at the end of our road in their Sunday best. But this morning didn't find me inside. It found me in bed, with the curtains drawn, watching another DVD, which seems to be the way that I've elected to spend my four-day weekend. I was watching Fail Safe, an excellent TV event from a few years ago. Towards the end, the President of the United States (for it is he) asks his young translator if he's married. Not yet, replies the translator. The President tells him to bloody well got on with it - you should always make the most of the time that you've got. Then he orders a nuclear bomb to be dropped on New York City. (It's a long story.) In a similar vein, as I was panting around the top of Waterlow park earlier this evening, feeling rather queasy, I saw a lady looking in the early stages of being elderly, with a cane, tottering away from a bench at the top of the park. The sight had a similar effect to the President's words earlier in the day: sooner or later, I'm not going to be in the same shape as I am now, whether because of the ravages of age or because my own government decides to drop a nuclear bomb on me so as to prevent total global annihilation.

This new platitudinous attitude is one that's been growing on me recently. A few weeks ago I went for my free company medical check-up. There were very few surprises: I'm unfit, badly fed and a bit too stressed. The physiologist essentially told me that I'd be dead by 35 if I didn't mend my ways (or at any rate, I'd have a pretty massive belly). I have subsequently changed my ways slightly, cutting out the small fortune I usually spend on Starbucks and splurging a small fortune on Innocent smoothies instead in a desperate effort to get my five a day and somehow smuggle pomegranates and blueberries into my diet. With my anti-oxidants hopefully boosted, the next priority reverts to being exercise, which is why the exhortation to live life to its fullest pushed me out of the house and onto the streets in my rarely-used running shoes. Now that I feel moderately virtuous, I'm all set to settle down for some Wii.

In truth, the exercise is not quite the fulfillment of my life's potential that health professionals would probably like it to be. I saw something else in Waterlow Park: a bench dedicated to a lady with the inscription, "This garden was her playground from childhood to old age". While disarmingly charming, I can't say that the idea of living me entire life within walking distance of Waterlow Park is one which thrills me with contentedness. I rather doubt that I'll really feel like I'm taking advantage of every second that life has to offer until I haul myself out of this city and into a different one.

Friday, April 06, 2007


Fun with Star Trek

This might not excite anyone else, but the guy who did the special effects for Star Trek: The Next Generation went on to win an Oscar for Titanic.

I've just finished watching Season 5 of TNG. An old childhood favourite, I decided a few months ago to get hold of the entire set of seven seasons - a not insubstantial expenditure at £25+ each. Nevertheless, it's been entirely worth it. (I may be at risk here of saying the same things about majorly geeky cultural items after last week's Ghibli post, but in all honesty, I simply don't care.) The show just keeps on getting better. I must confess that I was at first fairly dismayed at how dated Season 1 seemed to be, but five seasons on, the special effects have entered the computer era, the uniforms have been suitably overhauled, and the actors and scripts have attained full maturity. Some of these episodes are just truly wonderful - mostly they make you think, but sometimes they go further. A couple of times I've actually just about cried (with the death of Worf's mate Kahless, for example; or the moment at the end of "The Inner Light" when Picard hugs the flute representing his entire simulated lifetime in a long-deceased civilisation).

The most remarkable thing that strikes me, watching the extras, is the attention to detail that goes into everything, including the technobabble that is so characteristic of it. Dennis Okuda, tasked with the fairly odd task of coming up with a Latin motto for Starfleet Academy for one particular episode - a motto that would only appear in miniature in the background of one particular scene - decided to adopt the Apollo 13 motto Ex Luna, Scientia ("From the moon, knowledge") into Ex Astra, Scientia ("From the stars, knowledge"). He got his latin wrong. Amazingly, someone noticed: a Classics professor at Brown took the trouble to write to him to say that the correct grammar was Ex Astris, Scientia. So informed, Okuda went back to the original artwork and re-did it. What effort! What attention being paid to such tiny, inconsequential details! As it happens, people were actually printing the logo onto t-shirts, so it was worth it. It goes further. Klingon is a real language, with a linguist who would enforce correct grammar on the set - or change the rules if the actors got it wrong in final cuts. Guest stars in TNG include Kirsten Dunst, Famke Janssen, Ashley Judd (who enjoyed her first major role - and her first onscreen kiss), Michelle Forbes, Kelsey Grammar, and of course, Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan. Ronald Reagan visited the set.

At the end of the day, it's very easy to ridicule Star Trek: the most straightforward way for new people to watch it is to look at it and laugh at how stupid it is. But to appreciate it, you have to take it on its own terms. The achievement is palpable: in its serious take on humanity's future, it is ultimately inspirational and thought-provoking in a way that few things are. It really has become part of the modern American mythology. Star Trek is wonderfully positive and idealistic, and for that it deserves celebration.

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