Italics, Game of Thrones and Cherries on Cakes

The most recent episode of Game of Thrones (4.8 The Mountain and the Viper) was very good. However, as a book reader, I have a small quibble. (Here be spoilers.)

————       SPOILERS     SPOILERS     SPOILERS     SPOILERS     —————


The trial by combat between Oberyn Martell and Ser Gregor Clegane is one of the best scenes in both the book and, now, the TV series. There are many reasons for this. Among them, the fact that there are two levels to what is happening. On one, there’s the whole issue of the murder trial itself, and all that entails for so many characters.  On the other, there’s the desire that Oberyn Martell has had boiling inside him for nearly two decades to get vengeance against the people who killed his sister and her children at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. Rumours point to Gregor Clegane, who happens to be Cersei’s champion for the trial by combat, as the perpetrator of these crimes. So Oberyn puts himself forward as Tyrion’s champion in the fight to the death to get revenge for his sister. So already this was set to be a tense scene: on it hinges the outcome of two plotlines.

There’s one other thing in particular that for me makes this one of the greatest scenes in the books. Admittedly, it is a tiny detail, but it’s the cherry on the cake. Unfortunately, although the TV version of the scene is very well executed, this detail did not feature.

Let’s first run through the basic dialogue between Oberyn and Gregor during the fight, which will hopefully help you understand why this detail makes a difference.

‘Do you know who I am?’ asks Oberyn, as the duel begins. ‘Some dead man,’ replies Gregor, lunging. As they exchange blows, Oberyn explains who he is, and that he is here to avenge his sister. ‘You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children’, he says. He repeats it again and again. ‘You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.’ They exchange blows throughout, but persistently he repeats: ‘You raped her, you murdered her, you killed her children. You raped her, you murdered her, you killed her children. You raped her, you murdered her, you killed her children.’ Finally, he gets the upper hand. Gregor is on the floor, grievously wounded. But no death blow yet: Oberyn wants a confession. ‘Say her name,’ he yells. ‘Say it! Elia Martell. Say it. You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children. Elia Martell! You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children. Say her name. Say it–’ But Gregor grabs him, pulls him down, so that they are face–to–face.

Now, here it comes. In the book, here is what happens: Gregor grasps Oberyn’s head, and looks him in the eye. ‘Elia Martell,’ Gregor says. ‘I killed her screaming whelp. Then I raped her. Then I killed her, like this.’ Gregor kills Oberyn.

You might be thinking: ‘What’s the problem? I don’t see anything different from the TV show’s version of this scene.’ Well, my friend, I don’t blame you. It is a small detail, I admit, but it adds so much, I think. What I’m referring to is the use of italics on ‘then’. In other words, in the book Gregor is saying: ‘I killed her children, and after that I raped her.’ Hearing this same dialogue in the TV show, I don’t think this emphasis is made. He says that he did commit the crimes, but he is simply admitting to each of them in a different order than Oberyn said them in.

Why does this matter? Not only does Gregor – now dying and with no reason to keep silent on the matter any longer – admit to three abominable crimes, but, madly, he feels the need to correct Oberyn on the order he performed them in. Gregor is a little enigmatic, despite all the talk about him, but this moment reveals a lot: as the gossip suggests, he relishes violence itself more than any other character in the books. The fact that he remembers the order in which he committed these crimes after nearly twenty years, and the fact that, while lying on the ground potentially–mortally–wounded, he is at all bothered to correct someone on the order he performed them in, both really display this.

And there’s another reason I think this use of italics makes a difference and means that the book’s version of the scene is even greater than the TV show’s. Not only does a confession from Gregor round off Oberyn’s plotline (at least to some extent, since he’s now too dead to get any revenge), but it also rounds off the scene’s dialogue really well. For all the flourishes of the TV fight, this is essentially a scene of dialogue, just with some fighting going on too. Persistently, Oberyn repeats ‘You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children,’ over and over, throughout the scene, and to no reply until finally Gregor’s line, with the italicised ‘then’, subverts Oberyn’s words. With this line, Gregor confiscates Oberyn’s accusatory remarks from him and makes them his own, taking hold of the power in their exchange of dialogue and concluding it, something which is echoed in the fact that, concurrently, he is finally able to kill Oberyn, concluding their exchange of blows.

This is a good way to round off the dialogue in the concluding moments of this scene–within–a–scene, and combined with what it reveals so succinctly about Gregor, it is a great line.

But these things don’t come across in the TV show’s version of the scene, purely because the actor (or director, or whoever) didn’t choose to emphasise the word ‘then’ in the way that might be expected from the italics we see in the book. The scene in the show is still very good, but this lack of emphasis is a shame, because, as I hope I have demonstrated, so much is contained in that one, tiny detail. It’s amazing what italics can do sometimes.







Custard Apple

Even if it says

on the packet

there are a huge number

of seeds in them

be warned,

there are more than you think.


(from the continuing collection Folly)

On the Tip of the Mind’s Tongue

So I have decided to write another blog post, as I haven’t posted anything for quite a while.

But I don’t know what to write. I’ve got lots of ideas, but they are ones I had long ago, and if I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for them, I have, at least, misplaced it. They are good ideas (if I do say so myself) – or some of them are – but… I feel I couldn’t do them justice at the moment. If I felt I had to write them – rather than if they were fresh ideas that had been buzzing through my head for the last few days, which were ‘on the tip of the mind’s tongue’, as it were – they just wouldn’t be as good. They would feel, and would read, forced.

So I have decided instead to write this. At present I’m not sure what it’s about – or even if I’m going to post it. I’m suspicious of anything that I just reel off in one go, even if I make small changes later. It feels wrong. Surely it’ll be clear I have no idea what I’m talking about? Surely I can’t have said all there is to say? Surely I must have left you behind at some point as I frolicked through my own untamed musings?

And surely, if I haven’t dropped my ideas into that subdivision of my brain where things churn around and around until every flaw that my critical faculties have been trained to pick up has been locked onto and destroyed, any piece of writing about them can’t be any good?

During my explorations into writing I have learned that it’s very difficult to ‘see’ what you’ve produced in the same way your audience will. Nigh on impossible, in fact. This is why I, and possibly others, find it difficult to trust what just spills out off the top of my head, even if I know where I’m going with it.

Personally, I’m used to planning in extreme, almost suffocating, detail anything I write before I actually crack on and produce it in the form that I expect people to be able to read it in. Hence this is only my second post on this blog of ours, while two of my fellow Bloggeteers have fired off thirteen between them. When I write essays I plan them in so much detail that my plan has more than half as many words as the finished product. The bulk of the time, thought and effort I put into them has already been spent before I’ve started writing a single word that anyone will actually read. In fact, my essay plans are in such detail that I can get away with only doing one draft. Two days before the deadline people ask me ‘How many words have you written?’ and I say ‘None’ and they look at me like I’m a bomb disposal expert who has turned up with ten seconds to go and no wire cutters.

There’s a quote I like from Abraham Lincoln: ‘If I had eight hours to cut down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening the axe’. That’s what it’s like for me. So this little ramble makes quite a change, and it hasn’t turned out too badly (if I do say so myself). I may post it after all.



“Fuck,” spat Barry

Toe stubbed on the dented traffic

cone Tez had urged him to nick last night

Then it hit him

Even if

anyone else was there to hear him

They probably wouldn’t give a toss


Rathe T.G.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor live review


O2 Academy, Brixton, 21st November 2013

‘I’m sorry my comments are harsh’, I write in the dim light of the coach as it lurches on, ‘It’s not your fault. I was watching some disappointing post-rock at the time.’ I read a classmate’s draft final piece in the cold culmination of hours of travel, sickness, boredom. The unsteadiness of the floor that never let you get comfortable, always making you feel as if you were falling backwards.

The supporting act was dismal, completely unsuited screaming in which the solo female started it all by playing a droning note and staring into the audience for a full minute in an attempt to intimidate. She then played a succession of synthesized loops of her bashing metallic things and screamed unintelligible lyrics to an audience of people looking up at the architecture rather than face their embarrassment. I’m not going to give her name because I’m not qualified to say whether her work was objectively bad, just almost maliciously badly chosen. A middle aged woman weaved through the crowd in front of me to take the lady’s picture. I can only assume it was her mother. Her set ended ten minutes later to polite applause.

I’d like to say Godspeed‘s main set made up for this but the more I look back on it, the more it just strikes me as more of the same. The band themselves performed in typical standoffish style, creeping soundlessly onstage and then weaving tortured tuning-up into a droning opening track, ‘Hope Drone’ to be specific, only so lurching and so un-inspiredly tortured I couldn’t find much hope except relief that they’d started so they must logically finish. Working tuning up into a song is a thing that sounds cool until you’re experiencing it. It wasn’t the interesting glimpse into the musical craft I was hoping for, just a kind of twisting of the knowledge that the audience has to take what they’re given.

The films loops and little animated effects projected onstage as accompaniment was to me one of the most effective parts of their set. With the band either shrouded in darkness or facing with their backs to the audience, there wasn’t much to look at except the swinging of the violinist’s bow arm, repeatedly betraying the fact that the violin’s audio itself kept dipping in and out of audibility. It just wasn’t as lush as you’d expect from them, just muddy, and this was from near the stage.

Godspeed‘s tracks are long, I was no stranger to this going along to see them, I knew what I was getting into. But whereas on their recording each note seems poised at just the right point to tear emotions from you, every note they played live seemed lurching and dragging. The songs didn’t really build just continue, the middle of the set blurred into indistinct droning in which I had a good stare at the floor and those around me. The anomalies in the crowd bobbed their head in unflinching 4/4. Ordinarily this wouldn’t work, shouldn’t work, this is post-rock, but no, they seemed to get it. They bobbed and bobbed ad infinitum and the songs droned on until there was a pause and I was obligated to applaud.

They ended their set with palpable reluctance with something most of us selfishly wanted from them, something from f#a#. A cut down and mechanical segment from East Hastings played out with finality. As it ended my friend said, ‘let’s go, it’s over.’ People stayed to clap, to try and wring them out again but in was obvious there was nothing more to come. Again, without a word they slunk offstage and joyfully we got to leave.

What I always liked about Godspeed was that with their records you never quit know what you’re going to get next. A simply, slow succession of notes can floor you, make you wonder why no-one has recorded that sequence before. But their performance that day just reminded me how galling it can be when music is calculated to give you the bare minimum of feeling. You can’t complain, you technically got what you wanted, but it’s a betrayal. Reading a fellow student’s work I latched upon a sentence that summed up the epidemic of pandering in Creative Writing, just like such half-arsed gigs. There’s an equation I developed for a passable sentence in Creative Writing, based on this sentence that burned in my head as a remembrance of this gig. Here it is;

[Noun], [quantity of abstractly related nouns with abstract related quality] in [anthropomorphic space].

And so it goes;

The band, eight painful constrictions in aloof cement.

Sarah K.

Where’s Clippy nowadays?

Missing since 2003

Clippy had a life, Clippy had a purpose. I think in the terror of 9/11 everyone forgets another sad victim of our fearful new millennium. Sad, dependable Clippy. How many Clippys died that day? How many Clippys waved goodbye to you with a tear in their eye when you got your new computer years and years ago?

He wants to help, he sincerely does. He always has done. Even when you don’t want him there, even when you hid him, he’d wonder about the letter you were writing, whether you used sincerely or faithfully correctly. He wants your grammar to be spot on so you stand a fighting chance at applying for that job. He thinks about you. He wonders if you got a good grade on your essay. He’d never tell anyone about that Wikipedia article you poorly reworded for your History homework. He’d write you a Christmas letter but you didn’t leave an address. He understands though.

At least, he did once.

You see, as with child actors and retired porn stars, Clippy reached his limit a while back. He always had a vacancy in his eyes did Clippy, but as time went on, as he was replaced by progressively more soulless programs, Clippy began to think that it wasn’t himself at fault but general human existence. Clippy wiped the knife of all residue, he stashed it in a hollow brick on his neighbours’ porch, he headed inside as the sun illuminated his wiry frame and turned away from those he swore to help. If you find Clippy now his soul will be sliding down into the depths of a bottle. He finds a way to imbibe God’s most evil of liquids. With shriveled determination he puts forward his life to slowly exterminate everything he was or ever could be.

You may have passed him in the street, rusted body wrapped in the sweaty embrace of our nation’s sex workers. Peering out from between sour breast he lifts his sticky wire hand from her skin to gaze malevolently at passers by. You will have remembered his stare. I see you’re walking down the street, would you like me to help you mind your own god damn business? No? I thought not. If you’ve been burned by that stare, you know the fire of hatred kindled when someone’s purpose is perverted.

Clippy thinks of his past, his subservience, his demure nature. Hidden from view he rooted for you, as daddy Microsoft came in and took credit for another passable document. As you dragged him around the screen he loved you. As you forced him to animate again and again he willed his exhausted limbs into a shape to give you pleasure. But you don’t remember his sacrifices, how he left a young clip in Kansas to fulfill a higher purpose. She’s gone now, rusted away by this harsh world. Oh, what Clippy has sacrificed. And you don’t ever spare him in your thoughts, always annoying, bossy, intrusive Clippy. You shouted at him and he only loved you more.

Spare a thought for Clippy this festive season.

Sarah K.

bet365, Where’s Your Tool?

I’m almost tempted to turn AdBlock off when I browse YouTube. There’s enough mind-blowingly silly ads on to keep the blog going indefinitely.

As you might be aware, Ray Winstone’s been hawking us bet365 for some time now, but it really only just hit me when I’d seen this ad before a couple of YouTube videos that something seemed horribly, horribly off:



Well, okay, a couple of things. The giant, wireframed Ray Winstone head that reminds me of Professor Kawashima from the Brain Training games. The now very stale notion we associate being able to do simple internet tasks with our phones or tablets as the coming of a Minority Report-style future where we live in houses made of polygons and almost get hit by flying transparent screens. The fact that its music seems to be very crudely imitating that bit of The Dark Knight where Lucius’s screens can show Batman all of Gotham through phone signals and such. But it wasn’t that. It took three views until that penultimate line (“now that’s a proper tool”)  hit me – I’ve sort of heard him say it before. Viewer discretion advised for the next video…

Yes, somewhere along the line, the marketing of bet365 decided that there’s nothing more they’d quite like to invoke in their high-tech, lens-flared-to-death adverts than one of the more recognisable bits of dialogue – not to mention one of the most brutal scenes – from what remains one of Britain’s most uncomfortable films. Scum was a 1979 film, in which a much younger Winstone is forced to fend for himself in a boy’s borstal. Packed to the gills with unglamourous violence, male rape and racism, it’s one of those films that, while getting on in years, never really loses its sour taste. For me, the closest to that feeling you get watching Irreversible you can get here, and very little else.

I couldn’t shake it. And it’s no coincidence – here’s an earlier ad in which the “where’s your tool?” dialogue exchange from Scum is used almost completely intact (save for the profanity, obviously):


I can’t tell what’s weirder – the fact that bet365 seem to think that people who remember Scum particularly well or fondly (if such a word can be applied to it) are the sort of people who’d be interested in internet gambling on their portable devices; or the fact Ray Winstone seems happy to have this exchange with a giant CGI version of his own head. I mean, hell, you’re this invested now, bet365: go the whole hog! Retell the entirety of Scum via these 30 second ads. Looking forward especially to the bit where Ray puts some of those virtual snooker balls in a sock and beats someone with it. Or one where he loses thousands on a Man U v. Newcastle game and slits his wrists in bed, but can’t finish the job and so has to summon the giant floating head for help, who simply lets him die.

Rathe T.G.

Review: Columbo ‘Murder by the Book’ (Season 1, Episode 1)

Everybody has at least one tiny voice, tucked away at the back of their head, that, against their better judgement, they just cannot help but believe. For some, that voice might say ‘There are monsters hiding in the dark’, for others ‘You are destined for greatness’, and for yet others ‘There is a God’. The voice at the back of my head (or, at least, one of them) swears blind that: ‘Stephen Fry is right about everything’.

This is, of course, a common condition. Just recently I convinced a fellow Bloggeteer that he was mistaken about something simply by showing him a video of Stephen Fry expressing a sentiment at odds with said Bloggeteer’s views.

I have the good fortune, in this case, of having already held this sentiment to be true before I’d seen Mr Fry express it so eloquently, and can therefore be (more or less) certain that this belief of mine is a result of my own thoughts and experiences, not of my tendency to take whatever he says as gospel.

But I don’t always have this luxury. Sometimes Mr Fry will say something on a topic of which I know nothing. To save me from wasting valuable energy thoughtfully considering the validity of Mr Fry’s comments, the voice at the back of my head steps in and informs me that ‘Stephen Fry is right about everything’ and puts the matter to an end. I know I really shouldn’t relax into this lazy way of thinking. But I, like many others, for one reason or another, just can’t help lending that little bit extra credibility to whatever thoughts or opinions Mr Fry might express.

Incidentally, I apologise if you began reading this post believing it was about Columbo. I hope I can reassure you, however, with one simple, solid fact: This is a post about Columbo.

So I was watching an episode of QI a month or two ago. Here’s a clip:

‘I do happen to think Columbo is the greatest television series ever made’. The words of Stephen Fry.

And with that, I had but little choice. I was compelled to bump Columbo right to the top of my ‘TV To Watch’ list. Because if Stephen Fry says it’s worth watching, it must be worth watching, right?

Apparently so. ‘Murder by the Book’, the first ever episode of the show (well, not really) is wonderfully unique to me. I admit I have seen quite a few detective shows in my time, mainly because about 50% of my parents’ viewing, at least when I was younger, seems to have been made of them. Taggart, Morse, Midsomer Murders, Silent Witness, Wycliffe, to name a few, are all shows I am (or was) familiar with.

But Columbo is something different. In fact, it could be said this isn’t really a murder mystery at all. Not only do we see the victim spend his last few hours with his murderer in the opening scenes of the episode, we are left in no doubt about who kills who. Much like Luther (which errs more towards race-against-time thriller), the story, for the audience, is not about piecing together various clues, along with the detective, in order to deduce who the killer is. It is about something else entirely.

In ‘Murder by the Book’ we follow the killer through the episode, from committing the murder to succumbing (surprisingly readily) to arrest. There are few scenes without him. There are fewer scenes between our hero Columbo and any of the other characters (only one that I remember). The episode tags along with our killer as he tidies up, ties up loose ends and plays innocent with Columbo; the detective pops up here and there, but it is the killer who is at the centre of the story.

Perhaps Columbo was just part of a wave of programmes at that time structured in this way, but the detective shows of the 90s and 00s that I’m familiar with would never dare be so bold.

Not only does this feel fresh, at least to me, but it is also the perfect way to demonstrate the brilliance of Columbo’s method. Columbo’s appearances are placed in the shadow of the other issues that the killer is dealing with in the aftermath of his crime. This shows how easy it is for the killer to disregard the little man. The detective plays dumb, asking trivial questions and apparently having very little grasp of the details of the case, and as a result the killer underestimates him. Columbo appears unimportant. As I learnt watching QI, Columbo is in fact using the Socratic method, and it is this that gives him the edge. With the killer’s guard down, Columbo can outwit him.

As we the audience follow the killer, we can see how subtle this method is in a way we would never appreciate from Columbo’s side of the story. We can understand how the murderer, preoccupied with tying up the various loose ends, fails to take this incompetent little man, who only pops up from time to time, as much of a threat. But this is his downfall. The brilliance of Columbo’s method could not be exhibited in a better fashion.

So it appears Stephen Fry may have been right once again. This first episode of Columbo sets out clearly a strong, intriguing concept for the show, promising some intelligent and engrossing story telling. While it’s (so far) certainly not the best television show I’ve ever seen, it is indeed deserving of recommendation. Thanks, Mr Fry.


Invisible Flan

Easy Flan Recipe

I am an invisible flan. No, I am not a cake like those who taunted Eggless Vegan People; nor am I one of your Homestyle-mixed fauxflans. I am a flan of substance, of egg and milk, sugar and liquids – and I might even be served to traverse a bind.

I am invisible, understand, simple recipe is used to mix me. Like bodiless heads you see sometimes in cooking tvshows, it is as though I am made surrounded by ramekins of hard, heatproofed glass. When they approach the oven they see only my surroundings, their pans, or cookware of their imagination – stir, everything and anything to swirl me.

For is my invisibility exactly a matter of biocaramel accident to my surface. That invisibility to which I occur requires beat eggs of a peculiar disposition of the eggs of milk with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their custard lines, those lined ramekins they cook through their physical pies upon a tray. I am hot complaining, nor stand I refrigerating either. It is sometimes ceramic baking to be unseen, although it is most softening harder eating when served.

Sarah K.