Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cartoon Classics

I found a video in a charity shop yesterday, one of those wonderful late-eighties "find four random old cartoons, stick them on a tape, put it in a cheap cardboard cover, sell it to kids" collections. I don't imagine this one went down all that well with whoever bought it in the first place, and I'm quite pleased I bought this before some well-meaning person bought it for a small child who would doubtless be a bit perplexed by some of the contents.

It starts with "The Little Dutch Mill", a Max Fleischer Color Classic, which is nice enough and quite watchable, although as usual for the Color Classics, very bland compared to what the Fleischers could do when they weren't being forced to copy whatever Disney were doing that year. But after that we have "Hollywood Steps Out", a cartoon which I'm sure was very popular in the cinemas in 1941, but since it consists of nothing but cartoon depictions of notable American movie and radio stars of the day, it's pretty much incomprehensible in 2008 to all but the most dedicated film buffs. And that's followed by "Jungle Jitters". How any children's video company, even a cheap and uncaring one, could think that "Jungle Jitters" is a good thing to put on a cartoon collection is beyond me - again, I expect it went down well in 1938, but seventy years later the portrayal of jungle natives in it isn't really the kind of thing Warner Bros Cartoons like to acknowledge that they once made. The collection finishes with "It's A Greek Life", which isn't outdated or offensive, but, like a lot of what the Van Beuren studios churned out in the thirties, just isn't much good.

So, all in all, this video is an interesting snapshot of cartoon history, as well as a fascinating relic of the days when videos were new and cool and people could sell any old rubbish to young folk starved of good, official cartoon releases. It's always fun to find one!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Well, that just takes the biscuit

Okay, go and read this story on the BBC News site, and then (if you're a taxman or otherwise in a position to know) come back and tell me whether I've been labouring for years under a serious misapprehension about VAT on cakes and biscuits.

I could have sworn that jaffa cakes are subject to VAT. Weren't they the focus of the big legal case, many years ago, that established the whole chocolate-biscuits-are-vatable thing? I thought the definitive ruling of that was that VAT should indeed be paid on jaffa cakes, and have told people that many times over the years, whenever anyone asked me for an anecdote concerning both accountancy and cake.

I've never worked for a company that makes biscuits and/or cakes, and so have never had a reason to know this, but even so, I'm feeling like everything I know is a lie.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Eddy Grant?

Eddy Grant sent me a friend request on Facebook today. Either the actual singer Eddy Grant, or someone using his photo and birthday and things on their Facebook account. I'm quite flattered that he wants to be my friend - I do quite like several of his songs, and assuming he's not dead (I have a vague feeling that he might be), it would definitely be cool to meet up with him some time. However, I never accept friend requests from people I don't know who don't send me any kind of message explaining why they want to be friends with me, so I had to turn him down.

I do have other cool people writing to me, though. Someone asked me for a signed photo the other day - and not just any someone, but a real grown-up who's a successful American lawyer!

In other news, I'd just like to record here that I really like russet apples. I bought a bag of them from the market at the weekend, and although they're over-ripe, they still reminded me how much I like the things. I hadn't had one for years, and I really want some more now. Sadly, I'm pretty sure they're out of season, so I'll have to wait till later in the year. By which time I will have forgotten about it again.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Wörter des Tages (Words of the Day)

I've spent a good part of the evening creating the random words papers for the Cambridge competition. 200 words, randomly picked out and translated into German. Well randomly-according-to-strict-rules, anyway - I decided to make sure there was the right kind of split between concrete nouns, abstract nouns, verbs and adjectives (60%, 20%, 10% and 10% respectively is what I decided, although since they're randomly mixed together and nobody is going to get beyond 120 or so in the five minutes, they won't necessarily get that exact mix). So what I did was sort my random-word list into a random order and go down the list eliminating all the words that were too long and obscure or which become much easier or much more difficult to memorise once they're Germanised, making sure to ignore all the verbs after I'd filled the quota, and then sort the resulting 200-word list into a random order again.

Words I was sadly forced to reject include the wonderful 'eisteddfodd' and 'tatterdemalion'. If I was doing a single-language random words test I would have included them with pleasure, but I don't think there's a German equivalent...

I really must work 'tatterdemalion' into everyday conversation more often, though.

And incidentally, to all the Germans reading this who haven't yet decided whether to come to Cambridge, please do! It will be fun, there will be an announcement about prize money very soon (I hope), and the translations will be guaranteed checked by a real German-speaker and not just done by me, so there's nothing to worry about!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Let's be geeky...

...and talk about the new series of Doctor Who! So take this as your warning if you're foreign or otherwise haven't watched it yet, and skip this blog entry. I won't say anything else of consequence, I promise.

It's always great to see the Doctor back in action, and this is a very promising start for series four. It was a fun romp in what I think by now qualifies as the traditional style, boosted by a really excellent performance by Sarah Lancashire as the baddie. She should play villains more often, she was perfect. See, everyone, you CAN play the villain straight and make it work! (I still haven't really forgiven them for the John Simm Master).

Catherine Tate, on the other hand, was inconsistent - understandably, they've obviously decided to play Donna a bit more seriously now she's a regular, but she delivered some supposed-to-be-serious lines in a very over-dramatic way that didn't work at all. I'm a big fan of hers, though, and I'm sure she'll settle into the role over the course of the series. Also, I hope we're not going to be seeing Donna's mum again (or not until the end of the final episode, maybe) - I don't really get Russell T Davies's belief that the Doctor's companion's mother has to play an important part in the adventures. It'd be nice to have the Doctor not tied down to a family on Earth, just for a change of pace. Hopefully, with returns for Rose and Martha in the offing (the Rose cameo was very nicely done, by the way), they'll make a real effort to make Donna into a different kind of companion with a different kind of relationship with the Doctor. And I think it'll work really well if they do.

A few more little nitpicks, because nitpicking is fun - the effects of Donna dangling from the rope were horribly unrealistic-looking in the close-ups. She looked like she was just standing casually and holding a bit of metal on a string - she didn't even have her arms outstretched, for crying out loud! And the ropes tying the reporter to the chair would quite clearly have slid off it if she'd just stood up. And we could have done with a line of dialogue making it clear that the two security guards who the Doctor apparently floored with a million volts of electricity weren't killed.

And the big one, which isn't really a nitpick as such but is worth mentioning - had the Doctor not interfered, the masterplan of the 'villain' would have succeeded in helping a lot of humans lose unwanted body fat, while saving the population of another planet. A line to that effect in the dialogue would have been nice.

Apart from that, this episode had a lot going for it - the Adipose are adorable, and the special effects were brilliant. I still don't like entirely computer-generated monsters, but these ones worked well, and the interaction with reality was a lot more convincing than it has been before. There was tension and excitement and funny bits, a plot that made sense pretty much all the way through, and some nice setup for the future. Really looking forward to the rest!

Also, it's been snowing here all day.