The Dracula Squeak

It keeps coming back.

Well, blast and botheration! The squeak is back. This is the squeak on my bike which had me replacing the pedals and various other bits before it disappeared. It’s not that I think the repairs to my bike are poor, but rather that after nearly two years of me pushing it about as hard as I can, something has to give – probably my knees. I need to go over to the repair place even though I’d rather not bother venturing out into the heat and the wind.

We’ve had the programme for the meeting at the start of term in August. We English teachers, lucky bastards that we are, have an extra day. The meeting is going to be in Wuxi, probably at school, which means I’m on home turf. The content isn’t quite as awful as I feared it might be, with distinct programmes for the new teachers and the old.

We returned our textbooks today in another end-of-term ritual. I also finished off the last of the reports this morning before I even got to class. I should’ve saved them to spare myself a little boredom time. I wasn’t really in the mood to read or write.

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It’s blog time

I have a sore hand.

I thought that I should really write my reports. I’d forgotten about this pointless and ineffectual termly [Is that a word? –ed.] rite where I fill in some boxes, tick others, and make a comment which will probably never be read. I did manage to complete most of them today and shall polish the rest off in class tomorrow. As a consequence of today’s exertions, my hand is a little sore so that means no self-abuse stroking puppies and kittens.

Now that I’ve compared the marks from the January and March exams, I find that the AS classes improved on the whole. That needs to be tempered with the observation that they underperformed in January and have probably barely improved at all this term. One girl, who got 92 in TOEFL and is aiming for the magical 100, maintained a decent level, but still went nowhere this term.

The last week of term

Nice weather we’re having.

I’ve now reached the 5th series of Top Gear, and as I was watching an episode this morning in which the boys got to try a Ferrari Enzo, there was a contest between the world champion off-road skateboarder and a certain professional racing driver called Ben Collins (aka the [old] Stig). Now since I’ve never seen Top Gear, I didn’t know that Collins had ever appeared in the programme except under his nom de TV.

There was a slightly greater number of students in class this morning than usual. As was the case last year at this time, numbers start vanishing for one reason or another, and arriving on time is merely optional. Oh well, I’m just babysitting as I’ve done since the exams ended. I’ve also been slowly writing a rather short reference letter for a student who only does one subject of central relevance to his proposed major and he does that subject rather badly.

The missing subject is biology which, as I think I’ve said before, we don’t offer because the little darlings would crash and burn. So they might be good at science, but only if it has mathematical equations. Part of biology’s impenetrability is the language. Cutting a rat in two, no problem; explaining what mitochondrial DNA is, not a chance. Actually, there was talk about adding biology, but the latest I’ve heard is that it’s not going to happen.

However, there are apparently going to be nine new teachers (which may or may not include the IB teachers), though quite what they’re all going to be doing, I don’t know. Still only going to be two English teachers.

The next DVD on my pile to watch is Game of Thrones, which is based on the long(-running) series of books by George R.R. Martin. Now, I need to go to a bookshop or two the next time I’m in Hong Kong because I’ve run out of entertaining books (which, sad to say, includes a series of short stories by Sheridan le Fanu which were compiled and edited by M.R. James). Should I buy Martin’s books or not? This is an edgy fantasy series and he’s an American. (If we largely imagine life in the Middle Ages and Renaissance as mud, squalor, and the Black Death, the Americans largely imagine it as a copy of 19th century America with serfs and villens.) He’s touted as the American Tolkien, but I see the R.R. in his name as hubris. The plots are complicated, the books are bloated, and characters apparently get mown down faster than an infantry assault on the Western Front during World War I.

If I could get the first volume from the library or borrow it from someone who already had a copy, I wouldn’t have to wonder whether my money was being well spent. Yes, I have looked at reviews, the bulk of which tend to be gush-tastic. I had a look at some sample pages from one of the books on Amazon UK, but it all seemed a little pedestrian. Mind you, that book seems to be the runt of the litter.

I’ll have to see whether the DVD inspires me or not.

Only a few years late

Extras, The Christmas Special and Series 2 (in that order).

When I went to Suzhou last weekend, I took the opportunity to go to a DVD shop because there, such places are not the pale shadows they’ve become here. Among other things, I got Extras, the first series of which I probably watched years ago, but I hadn’t seen any sign of the programme on the Mainland.

In series two, Andy Millman has his sitcom, When the Whistle Blows, which is the lowest of low-brow catch-phrase comedies. Like Kenneth Williams, he wants to do something serious and arty, but he finds that beside A-list celebs such as David Bowie, who sings a scathing song about Millman, his star is very dull, and although he despises his audience of cretins, he at least has their adulation.

I think the star turn in the second series was Daniel Radcliffe playing himself as a sex-crazed adolescent trying to score with anything female, including Maggie, who had already not fancied Orlando Bloom. The best scene was at lunch when Radcliffe is waving around a condom which he pings away only to find that it’s landed in the hair of Dame Diana Rigg.

A special mention has to go to the BAFTA ceremony, including the coke-snorting Ronnie Corbett and Millman’s never-ending humiliation in front of everyone else during the awards.

At the end of the series, Millman has the chance to meet with Robert de Niro, but does the right thing by visiting a sick child in hospital. de Niro doesn’t say much in the scene with Stephen Merchant, but he is fascinated by one of those pens where the lady is dressed one way up and naked the other way up. And thus his big chance has passed.

I watched the Christmas special first because I assume the second series was on the second disc. In the special, Millman is in the Big Brother house. Months before, he burnt his bridges by announcing the end of When the Whistle Blows in an endeavour to do something more serious, but he has to become a profile-promoting celeb to do it, and that means a part as a slug in Dr Who and roles various things which he doesn’t want to do. But it’s his candid speech before he leaves the Big Brother house which raises his profile, and it seems that real fame and stardom is waiting.

Instead, Millman legs it with his friend, Maggie, in her 2CV.

I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. Possibly, I’m suffering from middle-age hysteria, but there were some brilliant moments. There were also some poignant ones as Maggie’s life got progressively worse. Stephen Merchant continued to do his brilliant turn as Millman’s completely hope­less agent who, along with Barry from Eastenders (Shaun Williamson), ends up working at Carphone Warehouse after he’s been sacked.

“I bet I’m playing the part of the kindly old uncle.”

London Boulevard.

Mitchell gets out of prison after a stretch for GBH and keen not to get sucked back into London’s criminal underworld. It’s not that easy, though, especially when Bob, the psychotic gay gangster, wants him to be part of the gang.

At the same time, Mitchell gets a job minding some celeb being stalked by the paparazzi. They fall in love, but Bob is also a rather insistent suitor, and it all ends in violence.

Just as Mitchell thinks he’s out, he’s unexpectedly stabbed. The end.

Let’s see. Bad film? No, not really. Plausible chemistry between Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley? None that I could see. Audible groan to see Ray Winstone playing another gangster? Yes. Inexplicable bits of storyline? Yes.

And that was the thing. Why did David Thewlis whack the corrupt policeman? How did Mitchell find out about the gruesome end of the failed doctor in whose house he was living? (Had a scene been deleted from the copy I watched?) Who was the photographer lurking outside Keira Knightley’s house when Mitchell first went there and how was he significant? (It seems he should’ve been.)

London Boulevard looks like a film of scenes from the book strung together, but not quite forming a coherent narrative. As I said, it’s not bad, but it is flawed.

Involuntary demodularisation.

Well, my iGoogle page appears, but none of the modules do. Gmail does appear when I go directly to it, which is some small compensation, but when I tried to download an attachment just now, the page got blocked, and when I tried to reverse through my history, I got lots of white space and no content. Who’s buggering things up this time? Well, my second attempt to download the aforementioned attachment crashed and burnt again.

The weather. Again.

Very grey with a hint of dampness this morning. I did go to Carrefour yesterday afternoon, but I really did need to be wearing full-dress uniform. What did I learn? I need to keep the pockets of my over-trousers zipped up because they’re not waterproof inside. What else did I learn (that I knew already)? The sectioning off of the sides of 县前街 is not just annoying because it limits the amount of available space, but also because that’s where all the rainwater accumulates so that you’re at risk of being sprayed by the rear wheel of the person in front of you, or forced to go through some rather deep puddles or both at once.

Anyway, I need to go and have lunch.

Yesterday, one part per billion

Today, one billion per part.

The air was rather clear yesterday; in fact, clear enough for me to see the hill to the east. But such days are rare, and today, in the past hour, the city has become smothered in a disgusting, heavy grey-brown blanket of haze. qq claims that we’re going to have rain, but if that’s true, then not till later, and like last weekend, it’s meant to rain again this weekend. Damn! This has just turned into a weather blog again.

In technology news, I can get onto my iGoogle page, but not a single module is loading. I wasn’t quite having that problem at school, but I had to go to full gmail to see mail messages. The Google time/date module has also been revamped. I also discovered when I started qq at school this morning that that has been updated. While we’re talking about the Internet, I see I have an IPv6 address. I was nosing around the other day because Top Gear was being streamed very slowly from Tudou and I wanted to see whether the speed of my connection was being affected by, er, something. I didn’t even know I’d made the jump to IPv6.

In further Internet news, there is still a tendency for some sites to appear blocked, but then appear on a second attempt. WordPress currently heads the list, but, for example, one moment Autoblog UK has mysteriously vanished, and the next, it’s back. I’ve given up thinking that the sites have been blocked and merely try again. That also reminds me that the ROA has actually been taken offline for maintenance for an indefinite period.

In a weather news update, it’s started raining, heavily, and there’s some thunder to go with it. It seems that qq was right. Bah! Looks like I’ll be wearing full-dress uniform if I have to… Damn! I need to go to Carrefour. Damn! Damn! Damn! I’m hoping that the Sturm und Drang will be short-lived, but I’m looking out of the window at a monsoon carried along by the wind in visible sheets. I fear this won’t be easing any time soon.

Firefox 5?

What d’you mean, “Firefox 5”?

I saw a story on El Reg this morning that some part of WordPress had had a bit of a security problem and thought that it’d be a good idea to change my password whether the breach of security affected me or not. But when I arrived, there was a message telling me that Firefox was out of date. Seriously?! Yes! And was I upgrading to Firefox 4.1? Nope. We’ve now gone straight to v. 5.0.

Ironically, the latest update to Acrobat added a button which would allow users to convert web pages to pdf documents, but with the unexpected arrival of Firefox 5 (which I thought was in beta), that button has gone because the plugin isn’t compatible with this version of the browser. (I note also that that same plugin for Word has gone, but that doesn’t matter too much because Word documents can be saved in pdf format.)

I feel that I should have something above the level of mundane news, but I don’t. This has been another week of babysitting and not just for me. It seems that in most of their other classes, the little darlings are doing nothing but not learning English vocabulary. I’m not sure how many are still even present because I almost never see the lot of them, and I’m beginning to wonder whether some of the students in the AS classes have gone for the term altogether. I hear that certain, special students have been packed off to the States as a reward for their indolence and idiocy, although we will have one fat, objectionable blob left.

And on that overweight note, I think I’ll end this entry here.

The rain from Spain returns

Again and again and again.

Well, our dry spell lasted two days. This morning it has been every bit as vile as it’s been for the past week and a half. My over-trousers and raincoat work quite well although I’d prefer it if they weren’t being tested so thoroughly for such a prolonged period.

When I glanced out of the window yesterday, I saw a couple of people standing outside the lock-ups with a stack of colourful items which turned out to be a large stock of pot noodles which had probably been under the swirling tide of rainwater. I see that the sandbags are back across the entrance to the underground car park, but the puddles aren’t yet threatening another deluge.

The latest poser-mobile sighting was a flip-top 911 yesterday. (Price range £74,958 to £144,098 depending on the model; I’m guessing this was probably a Carrera.) The latest embarrassment was a Panamera, which I saw as I was returning home from Trust Mart.

Anyway, on that rain-soaked note, it’s time to watch another episode of Top Gear.

Highlights in blue or red

Tron Legacy.

Sam Flynn, the son of Errol Flynn from the first Tron movie [Er, I don’t think that was Errol Flynn. –ed.], gets sucked into Tronworld™ where he quickly meets his dad, or so he thinks. In fact, it’s his dad’s evil twin, Clue, who was designed to create a perfect world, but got a little carried away.

Sam has to play in the games, which means lots of retro-styled 21st century CGI, but that doesn’t last long when some Hot Chick in a Hot Car™ crashes the party and they end up in Errol Flynn’s Fortress of Solitude where Sam learns that Clue wants his dad’s disc, which contains the key to the portal through which they can escape.

Cora, the Hot Chick in a Hot Car™, says, “Let’s go and see Zeus.”

“Hello,” said Zeus camping it up outrageously.

“He’s some gay-ass Brit,” said Sam. “We can totally trust him.”

Of course, the audience can see what’s coming a mile away. Errol Flynn turns up to rescue Sam and Cora, but loses his disc.

“We should do nothing,” said Errol. He paused. “We should head for the portal without passing go and collecting £200.”

“You sure about that?” asked Sam.

So off they go, penetrating Clue’s Death Stick (like the Death Star, but long and thin) and recovering the disc before doing a Star Wars homage as Darth Vader… sorry, Clue and his wingmen pursue them to the portal.

There Clue confronts them, but Sam and Cora get past him and into the portal while Gandalf fights the balrog… sorry, Errol Flynn prevents Clue from reaching the portal by reintegrating his program or something like that. For Third-World audiences, there’s a big explosion. Sam and Cora escape to reality and ride off into the sunrise.

There were bits from the original film, some new stuff, and a story which I felt lacked life with Errol Flynn saying “Let’s do nothing” one moment and then “Let’s do something” the next. He also seemeto have a bunch of super-powers, but never really put them to much use.

Après le déluge?

Actually, I don’t think there’s going to be an après le déluge at this rate.

When I woke up this morning, it was so grey and gloomy that I thought it was about 6.00am. It was actually a much more civilised hour of the day. I could hear the rain coming down outside and the drops dying in metallic musical suicide as they hit the decorative features on the outside of the building. However, when I looked out of the window, the plinking was coming less from the rain than from the hail mixed with it.

Water is streaming down the east side of the building. The two smaller ponds on the island are full to bursting. The building site now has some boating lakes and may have to be redeveloped as an aqua park. Behind this building, the entrance to the subterranean car park had been blocked off with sandbags while the security guards are trying to set up a pump to get the water away from that and the lock-ups which sit beside it. The ground slopes downwards at that point and, as you can guess, drainage happens in other empires.

I will have to go out there at some stage. Yes, I’ll be kitted out, but flippers and a wetsuit might be more appropriate; or a duck costume.

There’s a short article on the BBC this morning about the amount of money which corrupt officials siphoned out of the Empire over about a fifteen year period. (Story here.) Now this isn’t some story from a western source, but from the People’s Bank of China. Fortunately, the report has been removed from the bank’s website because the mandarins were obviously concerned that citizens might wear out their eyeballs reading it. What 仁!

Last night when I was watching an episode from the second series of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson reviewed the VW Phaeton. There used to be an advert for this model up in the lifts. How much does one of these things cost? £60,000. Unfortunately for VW, all the people who can afford such a car have now fled overseas.