Review: Scientology

Good at the beginning part, but then gets bogged down in schisms and arguments about Latin. The trinity concept is blatantly stolen from the Hindus, but the story of Persephone is nice. The only thing that might really irritate the purist is the big fuss they make about reincarnation.

Scientology: Apparently, if you broadcast inaccurate information about Scientologists, you get a mysterious phone call urging you to visit one of their Scientology hang-outs to discuss your misconceptions. 4 out of 10.

Review: Russian films/Russian literature

“Do you still feel connected to life on Earth?”
“Your question is banal!”

Coming straight from watching Tarkovsky’s sci-fi masterpiece*/interminable drivel** Solaris at the fascist NFT (no popcorn, no ads, no trailers, people who sit through the entire credits), I can confirm once and for all that Russians are pleasantly mental. Does Vladimir want a cup of tea? No he does not, for his very soul is on fire. Could Svetlana quickly pop to the shops for a bag of flour? Don’t be ridiculous: she’s upstairs finishing an epic poem on the subject of religious war.

Any country that has cornered the market on novels, suffering and vodka shots is all right by me. Imagine another version of history, in which Hollywood had somehow sprung up in Moscow instead of LA. Your local Odeon would offer a Sunday night choice between a road movie (an alcoholic philosopher travels across an endless autumnal wasteland in search a series of doppelgangers of his late mother: 175 minutes), and a sci-fi blockbuster (a coruscating analysis of the destructive power of greed set in a dystopian future populated by silent women in heavy eye make-up: 234 minutes).

Tolstoy, widely considered highbrow, was in fact writing the 19th century Russian equivalent of the WHSmith bonkbuster. Had they had the technology, his name would have been embossed in gold on the covers of his books. If, in the process, he touches on the nature of love and the meaning of existence, it just goes to show the level of effortless profundity that your average famous Russian novelist can reach. Dan Brown has much to learn.

Russian poet Anna Akhmatova famously (bear with me) wrote Requiem after a conversation at the gates of Leningrad prison, where her son was incarcerated. A woman recognised her and asked her, “Can you describe this?” Leaving aside the historical context, OK, because I’m not qualified to comment, can you imagine anywhere else where someone would (a) recognise a poet in the street, and (b) care? No you cannot. That’s why Russians are ace.

*Ingmar Bergman, director

**Geoff Andrew, critic

Russian films/literature: All happy countries are alike; each unhappy country is unhappy in its own way. 9 out of 10.


Review: Simulating sex

It's important to practise simulating sex, in case you should ever be imprisoned by soldiers and forced to simulate sex acts in front of them. You'd want to be good at it, wouldn't you. Bad enough to be in prison without fucking things up even more by giving substandard simulated head.

Strange, though, that American and British troops, thoughtfully provided with Xboxes, porn DVDs and copies of FHM by their respective governments, should be so eager to see Iraqi prisoners pretending to have sex. Perhaps this is a problem the porn industry should address, before the malaise spreads, the whole world goes off porn and the internet is abandoned, a disused playground once populated by teens-for-cash and sex-clips-for-free.

Simulated sex, while fine as a healthy armed forces pastime, is a distasteful prospect on stage or screen. Who among us can sincerely say that she/he hasn't felt the urge to stand up in a crowded theatre and shout, "They're not really fucking!" But you don't bother, do you, because there are more and better pricks to kick against elsewhere.

Simulating sex: Deeply perplexing. 5 out of 10.


Review: Lunch

The most eagerly anticipated, the most longed-for of all meals, the John the Baptist to hometime's Jesus. Watch the clock in the corner of your screen: amazing how long five minutes can feel, when you're checking the time every 30 seconds. People who say life is short have obviously never had a tedious office job.

The happiness of lunchtime's arrival finds its equal and opposite reflection in the Post-Lunch Slump, that terrible torpor that takes over around 3pm and often doesn't abate until you sink that first drink of the evening, four long hours later. Houseflies, moths and African presidents have lived entire lifetimes in that period: you have achieved nothing but a passable impression of an Excel spreadsheet.

Lunch is threatened on all sides: by the rise of the ricecake, the rise of Pret A Manger, the rise of the raise, the rise of the desk-bound lunch. When your only lunchtime freedom is a quick scroll through the pages of BBC News, you know your life is no longer worthy of the name. It's important to claw back an hour to sit down somewhere, eat something, bore friends or colleagues with your boring anecdotes. Are you a man, or a machine? Or a woman? Or a woman-machine?

Lunch: A fun way of distinguishing between morning and afternoon that people of all ages can enjoy. 8 out of 10.


Review: Love

Unusual in having begun as a literary device and ended as a psychotic illness, love has nevertheless gained widespread popularity as far afield as south east Asia.

It’s now mostly confined to the narrative arts (films, novels etc), and is characterised by an inability to complete sentences.

In the 1960s, hippies thought that love would eventually bring about an anarchic utopia as parliaments gathered to blush, look at their feet and say “Well, um, I…”. In fact, it has only speeded up the advance of global capitalism as lovers delight in their similar choice of sportswear or soft drink. “We have so much in common! We both like the zoo!”

Love: Useful in advertising perfume, but poorly edited. 4 out of 10.


Book review: The work of Dan Brown

You can imagine him, sitting at his desk with his A4 narrow-lined leather-bound notebook and his laptop and his bookshelves, tapping away at the keyboard. “The car crunched over the crunchy gravel,” he writes.

“God!” he thinks. “Look at that sentence! I must be some kind of genius.”

He’s probably sold more books than God. It’s the end of the Enlightenment.

The work of Dan Brown: Man cannot live by plot alone. 3 out of 10.

Review: Snow

This is a well-known excuse to do normally unacceptable things like throwing rocks at strangers and making idolatrous representations of fat white men. The only people who truly love snow are film makers, because then you can have really boring shots of a tiny black speck moving slowly across a completely white screen, a prospect which makes the palms of film makers inexplicably clammy.

Snow is rain, only freezing: a rain worse than rain. The general obsession with snow and snow-covered rooftops and playing in snow shows that ours is a society completely rancid with sentimentality.

Snow: Hitler loved animals. 2 out of 10.

Science review: The theory of relativity

God, this morning has gone on for weeks. Proving that, if Monday goes quickly, Tuesday will go slowly. Good in some ways – who wants to be old before their time? – bad in others.

In any case, science doesn’t make moral judgments, unless it’s the Nazis and they’re making great leaps forward in medical science during the war.

There was something with clocks and a train. If you have a clock, and you’re on the Northern Line, and I have a clock, and I stay at home to watch Cow and Chicken, then when our clocks meet they will fuse into one ur-clock, showing The Time.

This proved relativity. Later, this was disproved when an article in the New Scientist, which I read, suggested that the universe has different textures, because it expanded at different speeds.

Not everything is relative, though. The answer to cultural relativity is “female genital mutilation” or “the Nazis”. That should shut up any students hanging out in the kitchen pretending they’ve read Baudrillard.

So Einstein was, in some ways, wrong. In other ways, he was correct. Well done Albert! I am so glad to have had the chance to clear all this up.

The Theory of Relativity: Good work, scientists. 9 out of 10.


Review: Toast

That last review was a little risqué, as I realised when an anonymous comment included the word “frigging”, which is a terrible word. So this one will be extremely clean.

Toast: if there is more fun to be had outside of getting extremely drunk, calling an ex and crying, I don’t know what it is. There is free toast in my office – you may get better perks working in a major financial institution, but your life is unbearable to you and I don’t like your face. This free toast is slowly turning me into an unrepentant fat.

Margaret Atwood speaks: “Toast was a pointless invention from the Dark Ages. Toast was an implement of torture that caused all those subjected to it to regurgitate in verbal form the sins and crimes of their past lives. Toast was a ritual item devoured by fetishists in the belief that it would enhance their kinetic and sexual powers. Toast cannot be explained by any rational means.”

Toast: Quick, easy and completely asexual. 7 out of 10.


Review: Handjobs

Awkward, sticky and he can do it better himself. A bit like doing a conceptual art in front of Tracy Emin, or boiling a soft-boiled egg in front of Delia Smith, or committing casual acts of violence in front of Lily, my mother's cat. It’s as if at any moment he’s going to do that thing that exasperated neat freaks do when their boyfriends cack-handedly try to iron something: “Give it here, I’ll do it myself!”

As with food, so with penis: if you aren’t willing to put it in your mouth, why are you fiddling with it anyway?

Handjobs: I hear that sitting on your hand until it goes dead and then having a go yourself makes it feel like it's someone else. 3 out of 10.


Review: Doing nothing

I cannot recommend this highly enough. For the most part, the hobby of doing nothing died out when we began to move from useful jobs (hunting, gathering, farming, killing) to useless jobs (copywriting, web design, soft furnishings).

Doing nothing doesn’t cost anything, it doesn’t require any skill, it doesn’t hurt anything – unless you count the damage to the environment caused by having the central heating on. I am extremely good at doing absolutely nothing at all and can happily spend hours staring merrily into space, with occasional breaks to try on lipstick or attempt to put my toes in my mouth. It disappoints me that people frown upon this kind of behaviour and say things like, “Have you left the house at all today?” as if having left the house would make me a more worthwhile or more interesting person. What is there outside the house, anyway? Nothing. February.

If you look at lions or wolves, they spend the minimum time finding something to eat, often stealing from cheetahs in order to avoid having to hunt for themselves, gorge themselves on meat, then sleep and fuck and wander around their habitat looking at trees for hours on end. This is the kind of lifestyle that the Sunday supplements should be encouraging, instead of things like going to the theatre.

Doing nothing: The only drawback is the guilt. 8 out of 10.

Review: The 1970s

Awful from beginning to end. No credit cards, no internet, no late-night shopping, terrible food, everything made of nylon, power cuts… Lord be praised that I wasn’t there to witness it.

In the 1970s, a typical meal might feature powdered mashed potato, a Walnut Whip and a slice of leaden quiche for a touch of class. For fun, children set fire to cars and threw rocks at immigrants.

People started taking holidays in Abroad, which is good in the sense that it got them away from 1970s Britain for a couple of weeks, but not good in that it gave them a glimpse of the joys of life elsewhere, in countries where the 1970s meant something other than boredom and suffering.

On their return home, they turned to interior design to express their inner anguish at being trapped in such a shit decade. I shudder to imagine the disordered psychological state behind the invention of conceptual wallpaper.

Google tells me that there were sugar and paper shortages in 1974. Sugar and paper? What was colonialism for? This set the tone for the rest of the 1970s, and by the end everyone was on strike, even the binmen and the gravediggers. Against the background of the unremitting awfulness of the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher’s systematic dismantling of British society starts to look like an act of desperate heroism.

The 1970s: Damp, grey, cold, awash with uncollected rubbish. 1 out of 10.

Review: Being tall

All right apart from the big feet, really. Also, very beautiful men tend to have short, stumpy legs. I pointed this out to a friend once, who countered that all men have comparatively short, stumpy legs. “It’s just that you’re only looking at the fit ones.”

This is not true, and I will now tell you why. Very beautiful men are unnatural, evolutionarily unnecessary abominations and the only reason I might be looking at them is to get a better run-up for recoiling in horror.

My brother once went out with a girl who was over six foot tall, and when she came round to the house I would do my hair in pigtails because I felt so short.

Being tall: 8 out of 10.


Review: The paper I'm proofreading

“…Intuition on cost-efficient delegation of monitoring activity abstracts from coalition-agent part of information-based costs and, thus, optimal size bank is infinite…”

The Finnegan’s Wake of financial theory, written by a semi-literate foreign with an unsound grasp of definite and indefinite articles.

The paper I’m proofreading: Midnight approacheth. Still, £30 is several packets of fags. 4 out of 10.

Review: Marks out of 10

Anyone in a relationship, or non-relationship, with a foreign who doesn’t speak English (i.e. is illiterate), might find it useful to hear that Italians also grasp the concept of arbitrarily assigning something marks out of 10 because you can’t be bothered to use any adjectives. This has been very helpful to me in the past. Now I hope it can also be helpful to others.

It is also important to remember that 5 out of 10 is only average, not bad. If you follow common practice and give something 7 out of 10 for being average, then you are left with nothing to give to things that are, like, really, really good and have to resort to illogical behaviour such as giving things 11 out of 10. It is very hard for a lot of people to grasp this important mathematical principle, but is also a good way of winding up someone I know who is very easily wound up, by saying things like “Yes, it was very mediocre: I’d give it about 7 out of 10.”

Marks out of 10: I’m not giving this a mark out of 10, I’m not fucking Charlie Kaufman… nor am I Charlie Kaufman.

Review: Embarrassment

I'm fairly sure I once met someone who told me that guilt was the most useless emotion, unless I dreamed it. Whoever they were, they were wrong. Embarrassment is far more useless than guilt. Embarrassment is more useless than anything else useless in the whole useless universe.

Not only useless, but all-encompassing. I have become so used to eating, sleeping, drinking, breathing in a constant oppressive atmosphere of embarrassment and regret that I barely even notice it any more. My capacity for embarrassment has become so enormous that, if I wet myself while in a crowded tube carriage, I would be no more embarrassed than I was when I was last forced to admit that I haven’t read anything by Jane Austen. I have, in effect, become unembarrassable.

Having a blog is extremely embarrassing, but I console myself with the thought that probably no one reads it.

Embarrassment: Up there in the top five Worst Things (Trivial). 1 out of 10.


Review: The Apocalypse

I am very much looking forward to the Apocalypse, although I hope it doesn’t happen because of the Bomb, because that would be very 80s.

Sometimes, for example if there’s a loud crashing noise, I think to myself, “Aha! The Apocalypse! Now I won’t have to go to work in the morning.”

We have the film industry to thank for alerting us to the many different kinds of Apocalypse available to us. Apocalypse by earthquake, apocalypse by giant reptile, apocalypse by mystery virus. From the first Lumiere Brothers screening, when audiences reportedly ran screaming from footage of a moving train, people have looked to the cinema to reveal ways in which they might be horribly killed en masse.

The real trouble will apparently start after the Apocalypse, when, without the distractions of advanced capitalism, people are left to scrabble around in the ruins of civilization killing and eating each other for fun. This mars what would otherwise be a beautifully crafted mixture of fear and desire.

The Apocalypse: Good clean fun, up to a point. 6 out of 10.

Review: Other people

Putting irony and facetiousness to one side for a moment, which is very hard for me: God, aren’t other people great? What would I do without them? I’d be bored witless. I’m always surprised by how few people break down on Desert Island Discs during Sue Lawley’s interrogation and confess that actually, left on a desert island with only an aria from The Marriage of Figaro and the complete works of Shakespeare for company, they'd commit suicide using the complimentary Bible. Like in the film Saw,* only with a Bible instead of a saw.

Even when other people are perplexing, which is often, or when they ask me to do things I don’t know how to do – “could you PDF the screenshot over to the motherboard?” they ask me, and I look at them blankly, adoringly – they still provide endless material for analysis, angst, interpretation and spite. The world would be naught but an unvisited zoo without them.

*No, I haven't seen it. It sounds extremely distressing. If I wanted to feel extremely distressed, I would force myself to look at spiders instead of going to the cinema.

Other people: Look at you all, with your little faces! 10 out of 10.

Review: Complaining

People like to say that Britain owed its imperial greatness to the stiff upper lip. Bollocks. The only thing we have over the rest of the world is our ability to complain at great length without lifting a finger to change anything. The eagle hath the gift of flight, the penguins the boon of waddling, and we have complaining.

Shrug off your resignation; cast aside your equanimity. Don’t be put off by charlatans who tell you that complaining is a luxury denied to people with actual problems. They’re probably right, but that doesn’t concern us right now. We’re talking about joyously petty, meaningless bitching on topics ranging from the incompetence of your hairdresser to the incompetence of your MP.

Real tragedy is a select club, but complaining is a broad church. You’ll emerge from your hours of whining with sparkling eyes, your spirit washed clean by bile. God love the enthusiastic complainers: they are the true guardians of all that is good and righteous in the world.

Complaining: If it’s that bad then it’s not that bad. 7 out of 10.

Review: Solo nightlife

Mikal writes...

The freeing anonymity of Life in the City has attracted countless small town big thinkers, homosexuals, and American university students on study abroad programmes to drink heavily (but responsibly) from its cup. Fed up with the crushing provincialism (big thinkers), ritual faggot stone-pelting (homosexuals) and archaic drinking laws (American university students), these groups and a host of others head to the nearest major conurbation, hoping for new experiences. But who do they hang out with once they get there?

The bloke you share your over-priced flat above a chip shop with has a girlfriend he humps every night. Everyone at work is 35 years old plus and lives in Reading. Your foreign language night class is full of women fresh off the charter flight from Faliraki, eager to expand their Greek vocabulary beyond "harder", "faster" and "wrong hole" in order to communicate with new-found loves. All conventional sources of platonic companionship have failed. You have no other choice but to go out alone.

But why does it feel so wrong? Bars, pubs, clubs, lounges and 24 hour kebab shops - don’t these institutions exist to provide a space where urban warriors let down their guard, take off their armour, and actually talk to each other? Everything is conducive to interaction: liquor, dim lighting, uncomfortable furniture. And yet, the irony is that nothing is more isolating and socially counter-productive than going out on your own. Arriving by yourself immediately marks you as some kind of social leper, but engaging in conversation with others is only ever interpreted as desperately seeking a shag. You can’t win.

Solo nightlife: You dont make friends going out - you make friends first, and then you go out with them. If you dont have a handy pool of acquaintances to begin with, you're fucked, and not in the way you had hoped. 3 out of 10.


Review: February

Rachel writes...

A month so crap that it was the first to be shortened when someone finally bothered to count the days in a year. One wonders why they didn't axe it altogether and simply make the 1st of March a very long day.

The Romans began the trend of making these four weeks the most depressing by proclaiming them a hiatus from all the fun feasting and shagging, and having a 'festival of purification' instead. Which probably involved colonic irrigation. The Anglo Saxons obviously weren't faring much better since they named this aberration of a time of year 'solmonað' - 'mud month'.

In today's February things are not much improved: everyone is ill, it's cold but you can only buy dip-dyed silk hippie skirts in the shops, and lots of people you know have turned into crazed, homicidal sociopaths after some insane plan of giving up the last vestige of happiness in their miserable lives in aid of Lent.

February: At least it's not a bloody leap year. 2 out of 10.

Review: Tuesdays

Any day is going to benefit enormously from not being Monday, and in this sense Tuesday is no exception.

Tuesday: Not Friday, but not Monday either. 5 out of 10.


Review: Men

Around 70% are mentalists. Hence the name: men-talists.
4 out of 10.

Review: Winter

After a promising beginning – white skies veined with tree branches, an extra hour’s sleep, fashion features on what jumper to buy for strolls along off-season piers with my Imaginary Boyfriend – winter quickly outstays its welcome. A flurry of consumerist excitement around the middle portion of the season doesn’t compensate for the dramatic loss of pace into January.

No matter how many times I sit through this formulaic rubbish, the calendar year never ceases to surprise me. Autumn, birthday, Christmas, New Year, spring – surely? In fact, winter goes on for at least two months into the new year, increasingly cold, wet and uncomfortable. Apparently global warming won't help much either. The Gulf Stream might switch off leaving nothing but icebound wastelands and the lonely figure of Dennis Quaid leaning chin-first into a blizzard.

Winter: Great for depressives, and people with highly photosensitive skin. Other than that, and some interesting weather effects, there's precious little to recommend it. 4 out of 10.

Review: Being a twat

Studies of the optimum conditions for happiness have concluded that being stable and extroverted rather than neurotic and introverted is likely to make you a contented person. Clearly, whatever cod scientist produced this suspect piece of ‘research’ has neglected to think about one important aspect of extroversion: the constant exposure to social humiliation, and the attendant realisation that you’re a twat.

The more you struggle against twathood, the more it takes over. In that respect, being a twat is very similar to drowning in quicksand.

From a poem by Robert Browning: "Then owls and bats / Cowls and twats / Monks and nuns in a cloister's moods /Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry". Seriously.

Of course, being a twat means constantly straddling the great divide between your twattish eagerness to please and your terrible knowledge of your own twathood. It takes the kind of sophisticated doublethink that would blow 1984 out of the water. In many ways, twats are underestimated. But not enough to save them from going straight to video in the great distribution schedule of the universe.

Being a twat: not worth it, for the money. 1 out of 10.

Review: Not having a mobile phone

With this, the lengthiest and most artistically consistent period of not having a mobile phone, the form has finally reached a kind of perfection. It’s not big and it’s not clever, but there’s something oddly satisfying about being too stupid to pay your phone bill on time and getting cut off. Even if it means you have to spend a lot of time in phone booths that smell of wee and are wallpapered with prostitute cards. Surely this can't be a marketing ploy? Who frequents phone booths in this day and age and, etcetera. Clearly, the prostitute cards are civically-minded acts of guerilla decoration.

On the plus side, when everyone’s dead of brain cancer from the phone radiation, I’ll be laughing.

Not having a mobile phone: Humbling, at times even invigorating, but essentially tedious. 3 out of 10.

Review: Work

After the promise of nursery school and university, with school admittedly a low point in life's otherwise admirably proficient handling of its subject matter, work is disappointing. Without it, capitalism would be a joyous parade of lattes and sitcoms.

Prominent Jew Jesus Christ pointed out that the birds of the field barely lift a finger, yet God provides for them. This reminds me of the theory in a book I once read that human beings are bad bees, working off our karmic debt before ascending the spiritual ladder to eventually be reborn back in the hive.

On breakfast TV this morning, Richard Gere told presenter Natasha Kaplinsky that "the real work is the work of the heart". Stop cavorting with J-Lo, Richard, she didn't reply, and get a proper job.

Work: 3 out of 10


Film review: La Nina Santa

There's something in the air in the rundown hotel where Amalia lives with her mother. Oh look: ear, nose and throat specialist Dr Jano has turned up for a conference. In an act of laudably understated perversion, he presses his crotch against Amalia's bum in a crowd as they watch a man playing a theremin. Small consequences ensue.

Yes, it's arthouse - but with crotch shots! Slow going. Hold on till the end, when there's a lesbian snog.

La Nina Santa: Extremely softcore Argentinian porn. Up the Catholics! 6 out of 10.


Review: Instant messenger

This is seminal stuff. Seminal in the sense that it’s allowed new and exciting forms of office timewasting and aimless chat, and seminal in that sometimes when I’m online with the Elephant Man he… well.

Probably as a consequence of my torrid non-relationship with the Elephant Man, who got me hooked in the first place, the mechanics of MSN Messenger have, for me, a curious sexual charge. Those pop-up windows telling you X has signed in… The little head-and-shoulders icons… The handwriting tool on Messenger Beta… There are probably support groups for this kind of nauseatingly zeitgeisty sexual perversion.

Instant messenger: Beautiful and dangerous, like drinking neat meths. Sign in, turn on, drop out. 9 out of 10


Review: Pointless crushes

All the exhilaration and misery of love, without any of the fluids: critics elsewhere can be forgiven for dismissing the practice of having pointless crushes as, well, pointless. A bleakly utilitarian view of the world would consign these brief, intense loves to oblivion, but, like art for art’s sake, lust for lust’s sake can give meaning and purpose to an otherwise drab existence. By the end of your average stupid crush, it’s true, any romance has usually degenerated into boredom and frustration, but it’s the journey and not the destination that counts.

Despite early 90s predictions of a 21st century filled with virtual sex – 2001 spliced with Eyes Wide Shut, only more lowbrow and with Bollywood song & dance numbers – real, squelchy sex is still with us. Yet the stupid crush – the organic version of VR sex – gives ordinary, common-or-garden lust the weird sheen of the virtual. It’s out there on the edge of the acceptable, pushing at the boundaries of plausibility and decency.

Pointless crushes: Cheap, disposable, and the only life it can ruin is your own. 7 out of 10