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Europe By Train: prologue

A Eurostar, yesterday (it's actually half past midnight in Paris right now)[ prologue Paris Milan Venice Vienna Hamburg Amsterdam epilogue ]

I suppose, really, it's Al Gore's fault.

The Belated Birthday Girl and I saw An Inconvenient Truth last year, and I have to say Fat Al does seem to have a point. Having spent last summer mainly working from home - the first summer in over two decades that I'd spent in a non-air conditioned environment - I can vouch for the climate being in a right old mess right now. But one of the things that makes An Inconvenient Truth an inspiring movie is that it doesn't just proclaim gloom and doom about climate change: it ends with a list of realistic things we can actually do about it. And one of their suggestions was to try and avoid using aeroplanes for holidays.

We thought a bit about the number of long-haul flights we've done to Asia in the last five years, and realised that there was probably room for improvement right there. We therefore made a pledge as we left the cinema: no planes in 2007. Sadly, a few months later, pressure of work has forced us to revise that to read 'no planes in 2007 except for the ones we'll have to take if we want to keep our jobs': but at least we have some level of control over personal leisure flights. So we'll be telling Stelios where he can stick his easyJets for real this year, and going by train both to and from Edinburgh in the summer.

Which leaves our big two-week holiday for 2007, the one that normally involves a couple of long-haul flights to Asia. What to do? What to do? Go on, guess.

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The Tulse Luper Suitcases

Opening the first suitcase: Tulse Luper's childhood, as depicted in The Moab StoryDirector Peter Greenaway has been saying for some time now that "cinema is much too rich a medium to be left to storytellers." These are obviously the words of a man who's never sat through one of those films advertised with the tagline "from two of the six writers of Scary Movie". But underneath his characteristic bluster, there's a genuine point: one that he made more clearly in a recent video interview, where he suggests that the way Martin Scorsese makes films now is pretty much identical to the way D.W. Griffith was making them a century ago, technology notwithstanding. We've been using the same cinematic grammar for virtually the whole of the life of the medium, and Greenaway thinks it's about time we found something new to do with it.

When Greenaway pronounced the death of cinema in 2002, it was as part of the initial promotion for a multi-media project called The Tulse Luper Suitcases. Since 2004, the cinema part of that project - a trilogy of feature films - has been slowly making its way around the global festival circuit, avoiding any sort of commercial release (except for a Spanish DVD of the first film, which you can pick up second-hand from Amazon using the link at the bottom of the page if you're curious). The fact that its first public screening in London wasn't until March 2007 may be indicative of something or other, but I'm not quite sure what yet.

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Mugen Taiko Dojo

Flashback to August 2006, and our trip to Japan: specifically, the long weekend we spent on Sado Island for the Earth Celebration music festival. The Belated Birthday Girl and I watched the Kodo drummers strutting their stuff over three nights of concerts, and thought: these guys are superhuman. They devote most of their lives to reaching the absolute peak of physical condition, and then they get to demonstrate their abilities on a huge stage nightly. We couldn't do that.

But a large part of Earth Celebration was taken up with the Fringe Festival, the subject of a moderately popular YouTube video. Musicians from all over the world - primarily, like Kodo, players of Japanese taiko drums - converged on Sado and performed on a small stage to an enraptured audience that included The BBG and myself. And we thought: these people aren't superhuman. Most of them are just performing as a hobby, having huge amounts of fun, and probably keeping fit as a bonus. We could do that. And we wondered: was any way we could learn how to do that sort of thing back in our country?

Well, inevitably, there wasn't. That's why we had to go to Scotland.

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REPOST: Heroic Grace

Heroic Grace Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 09/03/2004. A follow-up season, Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film Part II (or 'Marital Arts', as it said on the site until someone noticed), will be showing at BFI Southbank in London throughout April 2007.

So. National Film Theatre. You think your kung fu season's pretty good. But still. You're going to be reviewed today. Ah ha ha ha. Ah ha ha ha ha ha. (To be honest, that doesn't really make sense unless you download this 6.5Mb Acrobat file and read the footnotes on page 5.)

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Lost Girls

If I only had a... er...Eight months after I moved the site over to TypePad, there's one feature I'm especially loving: the site logs. The best I could manage at the old place was information about how people made it to the front page: but here at TypePad, I get a log for the last 24 hours showing every page on the site that people have read, and the link they followed in order to get there. It's always educational to find out what people are searching for on Google to reach particular pages here: over the past few months, I've had a fair few hits from search strings like punchdrunk+faust+wapping, dave+chappelle+racial+pixies, and (hitting a peak the week after he won the Oscar) is+forest+whitaker+a+scientologist. People searched for information, I supplied it to them: everyone's happy.

But, of course, it's even more educational when people reach the site by mistake. As I've already reported on the page itself, the lead graphic from the review of the Philly art show Boobies gets three or four hits every day from people doing a Google image search on, er, boobies. Similarly, though I admit it was a deliberately provocative thing to mention, I'm still unnerved by the number of people who enter the Mission Statement page off the back of a search for debbie+mcgee+dog+pictures. Worst of all, there are searches that I don't even understand: I can take a wild guess as to why people would be searching on spank+wire, but I'd rather remain ignorant of the details if it's all the same to you.

Still, if there's one thing I've learned after almost nine years of trading under the name Spank The Monkey on the interweb, it's this: there are a lot of people out there looking for filth, many of them with sub-par web searching skills. It almost makes you wonder what my site stats would look like if I ever got around to reviewing something that was ACTUAL HARDCORE PORN.

Let's find out, shall we?

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You Wouldn't Think That I Was 43: Competition Result

Previously, on You Wouldn't Think That I Was 43: as part of the writeup for my Pick Of The Year 2006 CD, I asked you to take a guess at the number of the bus I can be seen riding on the compilation cover. The closest guess received by the closing date of March 14th would win a copy of the CD.

Well, March 14th has been and gone, and regular readers will be asking themselves: was this one of those popular competitions that got three entries, or was it one of those unpopular ones that only received one entry? (I'm considering 2003, when I got two entries, to be some sort of portent of the birth of the Antichrist or something.)

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BFI Southbank

BFI Southbank, That London Last night I went down to the South Bank and watched the National Film Theatre die.

Fair's fair, it's had a good innings. For fifty years it's been the London home of the British Film Institute, and thus by extension the home of British film culture generally. It's given generations of moviegoers access to films from all over the world that they simply wouldn't have seen otherwise, both in its regular monthly programmes and in the annual London Film Festival. Time and again, you hear people in the film industry say how their experiences at the NFT ultimately inspired them to make their own movies. So it hasn't just shown great films, it's been indirectly responsible for creating them too.

But on March 11th 2007, the National Film Theatre closed its doors for the very last time.

Okay, in three days time it'll re-open them again under the new name of BFI Southbank. But that doesn't make for such a dramatic opening.

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Buffy The Vampire Slayer: 10 F#@king Years

Nicholas Brendon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Riff Regan from the unaired Buffy pilot. One of these people is now doing work for an HIV/AIDS charity, while the other two are struggling to keep acting careers afloat. Go on, guess.(with thanks to The Daily Show for the title)

I got into Buffy The Vampire Slayer relatively late in life. Looking back on the old site, I was saying as far back as August 12th 2000 that "I'm not particularly well up on matters Buffoid, despite one or two people insisting it's exactly the sort of thing I'd like." I jumped on board with season 5 in early 2001, caught up with a repeat of season 4 later that year, and I've been hooked ever since.

But even when I wasn't the sort of person who watched Buffy, I was always the sort of person who knew a lot of the sort of people who did, with The Belated Birthday Girl being the most prominent example. And it was her idea that we should mark the tenth anniversary of March 10th 1997, the day when the first ever episode of Buffy was broadcast in the US. Which is why I spent most of March 10th 2007 watching the entire first season of the show in one go, and the rest of the day trying to get my thoughts on it written up before midnight.

I've known plenty of other Buffy fans over the years, such as Smudge The Cat, Kenneth O'Lovee, and our old chum Suzanne Vega Fanclub. Suze was the one who wrote to the site on the subject back in August 2000, boasting about his lust for both Buffy's mum and for Willow. So, especially for him, this article starts off with a nice early picture of Xander, Buffy and Willow all together.

I'll just wait for Suze to stop screaming, and then I'll explain.

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Simian Substitute Site for March 2007: Drunken Monkey Motorcycle

Drunken Monkey MotorcycleTo begin with, a wee public service announcement. Just over a month ago, I published an article called You Wouldn't Think That I Was 43, describing the compilation CD of my 18 favourite songs of 2006. As usual, the article ended with a competition which offered you the chance to win a copy of the CD simply by guessing a bus number. The closing date for that competition was 23:59 GMT on March 14th, 2007.

Without giving too much away, let me say this: anyone who enters that competition within the next two weeks is probably in with a pretty good chance of winning it. I'll say no more. It's at the bottom of this page, if you're interested.

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