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I’ve seen ‘Barbie’

Wendy and I went to see Barbie at the cinema over the weekend, and I’m not sure that I’ve got much to say about it.

It was a perfectly fine allegorical tale of adolescence, of growing up and discovering the real world. It had a broadly feminist angle, but wasn’t in any sense challenging or radical. The cast was all-star, the acting was outstanding, the dancing was unexpected and great, and the set design was enormous fun. The script had some zingy one-liners.

It was fine. It was corporate, safe, solid, fun, funny and pacy. It was warm-hearted in a Sunday-night-television, mug-of-Horlicks sort of way. There wasn’t any real edge or subversion, and there were no unsettling surprises. It wasn’t a film that I’d want to go and see a second time, nor that I imagine I’ll remember plot details from six months from now, but it kept me interested for a couple of hours.

This post was filed under: Film, Post-a-day 2023, , .

Portland Terrace bus depot

This bus depot in the Jesmond area of Newcastle is just seven years shy of celebrating its centenary. It was designed by Marshall and Tweedy, and constructed by T Clements & Sons. Built on a former public park, its distinctive art deco style was intended to fit in with the upmarket surroundings of the suburb: it’s hard not to wonder if we properly value such considerations in new buildings today. It is now Grade II listed.

It was most recently used by Arriva, a subsidiary of Germany’s national rail operator. Arriva sold the building in 2019, but continued to use it on a leased basis. It’s hard not to wonder why the political opposition to nationalisation of public services applies only to services being run by the UK government.

In October 2022, Arriva closed the site where 180 staff members worked. In a statement, Arriva promised to “ensure there would be no impact on services.” In 2023, Arriva decided to stop operating several routes which were “deemed unsustainable following the closure of the operator’s Jesmond depot.” It’s hard not to wonder why that wasn’t foreseeable.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, , , .


Recently, I was shown a criminal PowerPoint slide with 184 words of bullet-pointed text on it. Thirty-five of them were in bold. Three of the words on the slide were the noun form of the word ‘deliverable’. This was emboldened once, and at regular weight in the two other instances.

Another slide in the same deck had the noun form of ’deliverable’ used twice in once sentence.

Yet another talked about ‘barriers’ to the ‘delivery’ of ‘deliverables’, creating an unacknowledged philosophical vortex—if a ‘deliverable’ cannot be ’delivered’, then is it still a ’deliverable’? Is it possible to have an ‘undeliverable deliverable’?

Reader: I must confess, I don’t know what a ‘deliverable’ is. I know the dictionary definition, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what it means in the context of these slides. And that’s a problem: if someone is putting together a slide deck with the aim of communicating an idea to me, and I can’t follow what they are trying to say, then that is—plainly—a failed interaction.

Giles Turnbull recently gave three good reasons why governments need more writers. Jeanette Winterson makes a similar point in 12 Bytes, albeit it aimed more at scientists than governments. I’d like to contribute three more to the discussion.

Firstly—and most fundamentally, in my view—we need writers to help call out unclear communication. We need zero-tolerance for inexcusably vague terms like ‘deliverables’. If leaders are unable to see it themselves, then let’s equip them with writers to provide assistance and training.

Secondly, we need writers to highlight when ambiguous language is disguising disagreement. This is occasionally a deliberate and useful strategy, but more often—in my experience—poor drafting unintentionally means different things to different people, resulting in conflict and inconsistency of interpretation. By drafting precise language up front, the disagreements can be considered early. Without precise language, even the thinking behind decisions can be muddy.

Thirdly, we need writers to pare our natural tendency towards euphemism, particularly given that Governments are often making difficult choices for large numbers of people. A colleague was recently in a meeting where it was suggested that a group of people would ‘enter the unaccommodated stream’: like my colleague, a writer could help pierce through the protective jargon and help decision makers see that they are really talking about ‘making families homeless’.

But mostly, we need writers to bring deliverance from ‘deliverables’.

The image at the top of this post was generated by asking Midjourney to imagine ‘a large pile of deliverables’. It possibly makes my point more clearly than the text in this post.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, .


How long until this sort of thing starts to properly feed like it belongs to a different era? Like those Rabbit telepoint signs that are still occasionally visible?

This post was filed under: Photos, Post-a-day 2023.

I’ve seen ‘Sunset Boulevard’

Not long after watching a 1950s play, I’ve thrown myself into a 1950s film… which isn’t even the oldest film I’ve written about so far this year. Truly, I’m a creature of the cultural zeitgeist.

There’s been a lot of press coverage recently of Nicole Scherzinger taking the leading role in a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of Sunset Boulevard. This made me reflect that I’ve never seen the original film, which—unlike Lloyd Webber’s musical—is sometimes considered among the greatest contributions to the arts of the twentieth century. So I thought I’d stream it.

And blimey, it’s good. You already know the plot: Norma Desmond, a silent film star left behind by ‘talkies’, meets an up-and-coming movie writer, Joe Gillis, and a strange symbiotic relationship forms. Norma slowly descends into madness. It’s a plot that holds up wonderfully 73 years on: its black comedy unknowingly satirises many of our current cultural conversations about the duty of care to people who fall from the limelight.

You don’t need me to tell you that Gloria Swanson and William Holden give brilliant, era-defining performances. So many of the lines and scenes have become cultural touchstones, yet there is still something quite astonishing about how well the entire production holds up. We’re lucky to live in an age where we can, with a few taps on a keyboard, enjoy cinematic masterpieces.

This post was filed under: Film, Post-a-day 2023, , .

Rabid Barbie discourse

In the final paragraph of an article about the recently released Barbie film that I happened across on The Verge, Charles Pulliam-Moore referred to “the rabid Barbie discourse”.

In my sheltered world, there has been very little “Barbie discourse” at all. The venerable New York Times published an opinion piece by Andi Zeisler:

For the past 64 years, Barbie has been at the center of countless debates about who women are, who they should be, how they look and what they want.

I mean, really? Has it?

I’m sure we’ve all seen occasional articles about Barbie’s freakish body proportions. There have been many articles over many years promotion the brand’s diversification of the doll line with new models representing different professions, skin tones, disabilities, and so forth. And humorous cultural references to the Barbie line are quite pervasive: see Malibu Stacy in The Simpsons. Even I indulged on this blog, albeit 17 years ago.

In the 1990s, the London Review of Books published an article on Barbie by Lorna Scott Fox, with possibly the most quintessentially LRB opening I’ve ever I’ve read:

‘Barbie can be anything you want her (yourself) to be!’ Thus the sales pitch for a plastic toy that in most people’s minds simply represents the essence of bimbo-ness. But what if the big hair and tacky costumes were actually vehicles of patriarchal and racial hegemony, while also enabling a potentially subversive network of reappropriative authorial narratives?

“But really,” I thought, “it’s just a toy. Surely, this can’t really spill over into ‘rabid Barbie discourse?’”

I underestimated, as a quick web search for ‘rabid Barbie discourse’ revealed. The top result—from the website of a newspaper that has been publishing for more than two centuries—was a news article using words like ‘enraged’, ‘insane’, ‘woke’, ‘wild’, ‘bonanza’, ‘heaven’, ‘banned’, ‘feminist’, ‘patriarchy’, ‘mean-spirited’ and ‘cynical’ in discussion of a promotional popcorn container. The container was pictured no less than fifteen times in the article.

And honestly: that’s where I realised that this ‘rabid discourse’ was—like anything rabid—best avoided.

The image at the top of this post was generated by Midjourney.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, , , , , , , .

I’ve been reading ‘A Creature Wanting Form’ by Luke O’Neil

I know Luke O’Neil from his email newsletter Welcome to Hell World, where he has been heavily promoting this recently published book. It is the most unsettling book I’ve read in a long time. The book is a collection of short stories and poems which I think I’d broadly categorise as ‘horror’, but horror which is grounded in contemporary reality. This is a book about climate change, the breakdown of society, racism, police brutality, gun violence… essentially, all the catastrophes that stalk the Western world, and the USA in particular.

O’Neil writes in a distinctive style which eschews commas, and often other punctuation marks as well. I went backwards and forwards on how I felt about this: his style gives his text urgency and pressure, but it did become a little frustrating at times that everything had urgency and pressure.

The content, though, is both breathtakingly imaginative and yet also very much based in the contemporary real world. It is filled with myriad offbeat observations: O’Neils short section on the distance that the people killed by gun violence in the USA in a year would stretch if their bodies were laid end-to-end created imagery in my mind that I’ll never forget. Similarly, his climate change allegory about a pair of scuba divers accidentally abandoned at sea.

This book was quite unlike anything else I can ever remember reading, and I’d highly recommend it. Not every story within in resonated with me, and I found that the style of writing meant that I could only stand to read it in short chunks, but it will live long in my memory.

Some quotations… quite a few quotations… it’s very quotable…

Something is wrong with me but I think it’s probably the same thing that’s wrong with everyone so maybe it doesn’t matter.

The average adult in America is about 66 inches tall. Around 40,000 people die from gun violence here a year. 2,000 or so of them are children or teenagers so they won’t be that tall but we’re doing rough math here.

66 inches per body




2,640,000 inches

That’s roughly 42 miles of bodies a year.

Does that seem like a lot or a little to you because I guess I was thinking it would be more than that but then again I’ve never thought about it in these terms before so I have no frame of reference.

It would take you about an hour to drive from the beginning of the bodies to the end depending on traffic. Your kids would get bored and rambunctious on the trip in the back of the car and you’d have to turn around and be like alright you two that’s enough.

The average person would have a very hard time walking that far in one go. They’d have to make a lot of stops along the way and stay hydrated.

Imagine the biggest house on your block was always in flames and it burned all the time and it burned so often that you eventually just accepted as a given that there was going to be a house down the street that would be burning no matter what anyone did which was in any case not much. If firefighters were cops and when they came they just stood around and were like I don’t know what to tell you champ and got pissed off about you asking them to do anything at all then kicked your asshole in.

We have to address Fire House the stern mayor would say on TV and then they would get it under control for a while until they didn’t and the mayor would have to come on TV again. Goddamnit he’d say. This time I mean it.

You would get used to the smoke after a while right? It’s probably not going to get me you’d think then you’d go run your errands at the store and the mayor would get in trouble for fucking someone he wasn’t supposed to fuck and everyone would get preoccupied about that for a week or two.

We dragged the tree inside from the cold like it owed us money and set a bowl of water out for it so it could drink and pretend it was still alive for a little while longer pretend it had a future and then a few days passed and we still couldn’t find the goddamned box of lights in the wet basement so it stood there in the corner in its nakedness.

When the hornets were attacking me I dumped off my bike and ran back to my mother and she told me to take the jacket off. Take the jacket off she yelled at me but I couldn’t. I decided to roll around on the ground like I was on fire which I sort of was and thereby squishing all of the stingers into me. Stop drop and roll would have been one of the only things they taught kids about not dying at that point in history. Not getting into strange vans too I suppose. They didn’t even teach kids how to hide from gunmen yet when I was young that wasn’t invented yet.

I never used to understand in dystopian stories why people seemed to be racist against robots very early on in the narrative like before they had even switched to being evil but then I realized that in their fictional world they probably had some odious billionaire that everybody had long already hated for exploiting them by the time he invented the robots so then I got it. It’s humiliating enough just being ambiently enslaved by these guys I can only imagine what it feels like when the transaction becomes literal.

I read the comments under the video and some people said it was a shark but then other people said it was a dogfish and then other people still said a dogfish is actually a type of shark fucking dumbass why don’t you go kill yourself etc. You know how conversations go online.

Due to a miscount by the person leading the scuba expedition the couple emerge from the depths to realize the boat has left them behind. At first they presume that the mistake will be rectified in the way we all do when something goes wrong. Well this is fucked but certainly order will be restored presently we think.

She didn’t pay attention at first because she was busy cultivating her maladies.

A friend called that I haven’t spoken to since the early days of the pandemic back when you would call your friends or Facetime them and such and they’d go like what the fuck is going on ha ha ha and you’d go I don’t know ha ha ha back before millions of people died.

The Mall of Louisiana was trending and she thought oh here we go again and then she clicked on it and it turned out it was because a python was on the loose and she let out a sigh of relief because it was only a twelve-foot-long monster and not some guy. At least a monster will only attack when it’s hungry.

Every so often I’ll go in to see a new orthopedist or spine doctor and this thirty-two-year-old guy in his comfortable sneakers will go oh yeah I have a bad back too I know how you’re feeling bro and it’s like wait did I come to the wrong place? You literally work at the back store.

I don’t know maybe they want you to register their capacity for empathy or something but it always feels like eating at an emaciated chef’s restaurant.

This doctor today told me about his back but I wasn’t seeing him for that kind of pain it was on the other side. Front pain. No one calls it front pain. No one says I’ve got a bad front. I happen to have a bad front but no one says that.

The Bible was basically a Google doc where everyone had editing permission turned on.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, What I've Been Reading, .

I’ve seen ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is probably Tennessee Williams’s most famous play. I think most people are culturally aware of the play and its plot, even if—like me—they haven’t ever sat through a full production. For the uninitiated, it’s a play set over a single evening in 1950s Mississippi, as a family gathers at the familial plantation home to celebrate the birthday of the patriarch, Big Daddy. Over the course of the evening, various deceptions emerge and reveal the true relationships between the characters, and most especially between Brick (one of Big Daddy’s children) and his wife Maggie.

It’s one of those plays that I’m slightly embarrassed to have never seen, so I decided to correct that by streaming the 2018 National Theatre production starring Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell and directed by Benedict Andrews.

There are some strange decisions in this production. Andrews has attempted to transplant the action from the 1950s to the present day, which I didn’t find convincing: the update seemed to be confined to including mobile phone calls. Yet, it’s surely the case that the era of messaging and social media would have had a more far-reaching impact on plot points. The plot is also rooted in the social norms of the 1950s, which don’t straightforwardly read across to contemporary society.

The staging also has some strange decisions. The pared down set essentially consists of a bed and a shower, the latter essentially being a standalone pipe arising from the bedroom carpet. Alcohol is a key feature of the plot, but the ‘drinks cabinet’ is a set of bottles, glasses, and ice placed on the floor at the front of the stage. I’m sure this is supposed to be representative of something, but to me, it just seemed plainly awkward, with actors having to make all sorts of distracting moves to fill their glasses.

The performances, however, were mostly spot on. The accents were a little distracting at times, particularly at moments when they became very uneven, but there were some genuinely exceptional moments: the key middle scene of the play, a lengthy discussion between Brick and Big Daddy, had real emotional heft in this production. This is a section that relies heavily on social norms, and yet of O’Connell and Colm Meaney’s acting easily cleared that hurdle.

This is the only production I’ve seen, so I’ve nothing to compare it to besides the production in my mind. I suspect that the creative decisions meant that this didn’t give the best possible account of the text, but I still enjoyed it, and it’s still well-worth seeing.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is available to stream on NT at Home until at least March 2024.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, Theatre, , , , , .

Snowflake says the world is ending

In Garbage Day recently, Ryan Broderick wrote:

About three years ago, Atlantic writer Charlie Warzel tweeted something that has always stuck with me. In regards to the then still-emerging coronavirus outbreak, Warzel wrote, “The coronavirus scenario I can’t stop thinking about is the one where we simply get used to all the dying. There’s a national precedent: America’s response to gun violence.”

He was, of course, right about that. But I think he inadvertently summed up America’s national response to pretty much every large-scale systemic crisis we’re bound to face going forward. The weather’s going to keep getting worse and the right-wing media ecosystem will downplay or outright deny it, and, more often than not, they’ll find ways to tie the acknowledgement of it to definitions of masculinity. And just like the folks who thought they could ride out the pandemic without a vaccine or masks because they were tough, only to end up on ventilators, so too will a lot of folks get hurt trying to man up and ignore the rising temperatures.

This is one of those sets of observations that ties together a lot of disparate strands of thought, making me see something slightly differently—and while Broderick (and Warzel) were writing about America, I think their ideas are more generally applicable.

Of course I’ve heard people dismiss the impacts of climate change, saying that the temperatures aren’t as high as they were in 197X. Of course I’ve seen how gun violence is seemingly just accepted in the States, where other considerations and vested interests have come to count for more than human life. Of course, I’ve witnessed the rapid spread of harmful anti-scientific views during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course I’ve seen the proliferation of toxic ideas of masculinity and the dismissive branding of those expressing genuine concerns as ‘snowflakes’.

But I’ve never before seen so clearly how the combination of those things could conspire in the context of climate change. It’s sobering.

The image at the top of this post was generated by Midjourney.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Post-a-day 2023, , , , .

A relic of a bridge that never was

In the 1960s, there was a grand plan for a new motorway-grade bridge over the Tyne, known as the Central Motorway East Bypass.. This was designed to relieve the pressure of traffic from the Tyne Bridge, which is still a pinch-point on the local road network sixty years on.

Though the Central Motorway East Bypass was never built, remnants of it intriguingly remain. Most notably, when the Central Motorway East was built—now the A167(M)—three spurs were constructed to connect with the new bridge. Two of these were never used, and just sit as unused road space, painted over with white hatch marks. Over the water, spurs also still exist on the Gateshead Viaduct, designed to connect the other end of the bridge. These are all quite conspicuously odd when driving past them—visible turnoffs to nowhere—but not as readily visible to pedestrians.

But one spur of the Central Motorway East was used, at least temporarily, and so it highly visible to people walking past it. Seemingly unfathomable to safety-conscious eyes today, a ‘temporary’ ramp was constructed off the spur, allowing direct access to the motorway from a tiny local road called Camden Street. This ‘temporary’ ramp ended up being used for about forty years. Nowadays, it’s gated off, though I frequently find myself strolling past it. There are also student flats which directly overlook it: perhaps the only student flats in Britain which overlook a disused motorway junction?

I suppose it can be considered a relic of a bridge that never existed… or perhaps, a relic of an era when we envisioned cars as the future.

My emotional response to this piece of abandoned tarmac is surprisingly complex. It’s a stark reminder of how our own lives often bear similar vestiges of unfulfilled plans. Each of us has dreams and grand designs that, for one reason or another, never fully materialise. Sometimes, these unrealised aspirations leave visible imprints, serving as poignant reminders of the paths not taken or goals not achieved.

However, much like the unused sections of the Central Motorway East, these remnants are not necessarily markers of failure. They possess the capacity to intrigue, to provoke curiosity, and to inspire introspection. They are tangible proof of our ability to dream and to plan—even if the outcome doesn’t align with our initial visions. Unfulfilled plans, despite their inherent sense of disappointment, play a pivotal role in shaping us. They influence our future decisions and contribute richly to our personal narratives.

Just as the remnants of the unbuilt bridge add an unexpected layer of interest to Newcastle’s cityscape, our unrealised dreams—visible or not—add to the complex tapestry of our lives.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, .

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