Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The spy who came in from the holy cow this man is obnoxious

I just finished Kim Philby’s My Silent War, and the displeasure I felt in reading it seemed to merit special attention.

Introductory glossary for those not familiar with Philby.

Kim Philby: Philby, somehow named Kim in spite of having three first names, none of which even faintly resemble Kim, was the most successful of a group of British Soviet spies known as the Cambridge Four/Five/Spies*. He rose fast in the British secret service during WW II and the Cold War, heading up several departments, including counter-intelligence, before finally defecting to the USSR in ‘62, where he lived out his life as a Soviet hero of a peculiar kind.

Cambridge Five: spy ring, named thusly because all of the said spies were Cambridge graduates who became communists during their stay there. Amazingly, the last of them was not formally identified until 1990. Which accounts for some of the tone of My Silent War.

On to the book then – it is Philby’s 1968 biography, written in response to British press reports. Philby was a good writer, with all the benefits of the education he dismissed so readily. This only makes matters worse though – he combines the worst of British smugness with the worst of callous Soviet dogmatism. The understated irony of the little book is offensive, given the context of the book; a context which is almost entirely unintelligible from his narrative alone. It is, then, also a very heavily censored book, a historical fill in the blanks. The two (Cambridge) agents whose discovery precipitated his own are never mentioned as spies until he tells the story of their discovery; Philby’s own foul play is almost entirely unstated. The implications are heavy, and very soon Philby’s smugness becomes unbearable, and his self-satisfied tone leaves a bitter aftertaste if you know how many people he got killed. It reads as like bowlderised version of a smutty novel.

Philby would have made a good Graham Greene. Greene knew Philby and liked him; he apparently tried repeatedly to convince him to re-defect to the UK. It does no good; Philby chose not to go that path, and while he makes a good character for a Graham Greene novel, he is a repulsive author in spite of his skills and a pretty creepy human being to boot.

*In case any of my readers suspect a real interest in Cold War politics on my part, or for that matter any real seriousness, I will say that my interest in the Cambridge group can be attributed exclusively to the BBC miniseries Cambridge Spies and the presence therein of Sam West (as Anthony Blunt) and Tom Hollander (as Guy Burgess). Historical fiction is a lovely thing, and there is plenty of interest in the fact alone.

Monday, June 29, 2009

It ain't over till it's over

Somewhere in between the lovely fundraiser Friday (how can you fault anything with good people? And crab thingies) the madness yesterday and the churching and baseball today, and the end of Sulu and Kutner go to White Castle, it's been interesting. And that movie is surprisingly funny.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Alright, so I admit to being at least somewhat swept up in Twilight. I’m ok with that. The thing that caught me off guard about it was not the whole sexy vampire thing, which was entirely as one might expect, but the humour, and specifically, my inability to determine whether it was intentional or not. The Spouse and I spent the entirety of the first half hour howling with laughter. After that it was a little less funny and more involving, but still pretty funny. It’s the little things, as much as the larger “I am so tragic that I must radiate seductive emo everywhere I go” theme. For example, Edward, sexy vampire of note, drives a teeny, shiny Volvo. Small Volvos – good for fast getaways, protecting one’s mere mortal girlfriends, warming up one’s lovely ice-cold bottom, and killing the occasional moose for a snack? Safe as houses, that is. Or that there is a random fan (in cold, wet Washington) to sexily Bella’s hair around here face when she encounters the vampire.

So, Miss J., I will argue that it is not quite Dirty Dancing. Rather, it is Ghost, with that same lovely young Swayze, who has at this point internalised the comic relief of Whoopi Goldberg to a flaw. In short, it’s a great way to spend an evening. I may have to watch it again now.

By the way, watching Twilight was also a splendid occasion to have this recurring conversation with the Spouse (actual conversation has been quite wildly paraphrased):

Spouse: I don’t get it. Why would a woman find it attractive when a guy admits that he has been sorely tempted to, er, drink her blood? That’s flattering?
TDEC: He is what every woman wants.
Spouse: I have obviously wasted my time not being emo and violent for the last twenty years. Think of the women who would have thrown themselves at me.
TDEC: Well... seriously, what do you know about women? What are the accepted clichés?
S: Er, that they’re incomprehensible?
TDEC: I guess. What else?
S: They like rebels?
TDEC: Exactly. What else?
S: ?
TDEC: Women, according to popular belief, like nothing so much as a DIY project.
S: Building shelves?
TDEC: Reforming men. Making rebels into protective, caring, yet slightly dangerous marriage material.
S: What’s wrong with nice men?
TDEC: No dramatic tension.

Final final reflection:
Dude, I just realized that Robert Whatsisface is Cedric from Goblet of Fire. I can’t believe I instantly recognized the black vampire (the actor played Big Love on House) but failed to recognize Cedric from a movie which I have seen at least three times. He had such lovely red cheeks in that, but I ignored it because it made me feel like a pervert.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


TDEC has seen Twilight. She approves of it. It is very (unintentionally?) funny, and yet also strangely compelling. So camp. Oh yes, we likes it. More later, perhaps.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Twilight Unvisited

When I was a teenager and first making the acquaintance of the Romantic poets (Hi, er, John, Mr. Keats Sir) I was baffled by such titles as “Yarrow Unvisited” and “Yarrow Revisited”. My profound and well-documented dislike* for the writer both of those, William (can we call him Bill, like the Shatner?) Wordsworth, probably was not helpful.

More than ten years later I understand about this unvisited business. First, I must translate. Never mind Yarrow. “Yarrow Revisited” is the new Star Trek; because seeing Star Trek is all about celebrating the hallowed past, and its glory in the present, and everything being in its right place. “Yarrow Unvisited”, on the other hand, is Twilight, except that this time my Honourable Friend Miss J. is impersonating the Abominable Bill, and arguing that I should go and see Yarrow, and I am saying, it’s just a vampire movie with a cute bloke, surely there are a million of those? And the Bill Wordsworth says, be quiet foolish woman, this is no mere vampire movie, it is Dirty Dancing for a new generation.

So I guess I had better watch Twilight now.

*I realise that the following is actually encouraging you to read said poems from said wordy, self-absorbed late poet so as to better understand my ramblings. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


You know, my beloved readers, I have to make a confession. I had rather a funny work story; I had it all written up. But then I wimped out, because it was controversial, and I don’t much like trouble. It is a consolation that my comedic writing is a bit dubious anyway. When the revolution comes, I will not be the first against the wall. I’m too cautious. Perhaps when the revolution gets to the paranoid stage.

I know. I made you a cookie but I eated it.

My metaphors, on the other hand, kick ass, as demonstrated by the fact that yesterday, I gracefully compared my marriage to cream-filled pastry. I am also not afraid of quoting poetry at people. I think I might have unintentionally antagonized a colleague with Yeats today. Let’s face it, if you’ve got to antagonize people, wouldn’t you rather do it with Yeats?

The question is not “Am I weird?” (not all that weird, really) but “How do I feel about being weird?” and I am ok with being a little strange. A little more strangeness would not be remiss. Perhaps time to read more comic books about Derrida (can I make that Kant? I really don’t like Derrida). Time draw more bunny ears on things. You know, own (pwn?) the weird. If not the brave so much.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An outing

There is no place like home, but frankly, Montreal is certainly more exciting. Convenient, that, since I rather unexpectedly found myself in Quebec this weekend. The Spouse is really getting rather good at this business of surprises. Canada was lovely, this unfamiliar part as much as the already familiar. It was a little bit like an alternate universe mix of Belgium (the off-brand Frenchness of it, the window sills full of snake plants, the easy and chaotic charm), France (the sincere patriotism, and the frowns at things non-francophone; and the Frencher-than-French plethora of fleurs-de-lis), the US (the skyline, almost like any highrise skyline) and a variety of places.

And yet there is no place like home – the best thing about Quebec, lovely Quebec, was the time spent with the Spouse. It is amazing to what extent one can miss out on really talking to someone one lives with; and so sometimes clicking your heels three times summons an airport taxi, so you can find yourself elsewhere. Besides, who wouldn’t travel so far if only to see the lupines?

Today, then, I get to be exactly as sentimental as I want to be.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


When you start dreaming about Morrissey, you know things have gone too far. This morning when I woke up at 5:43 am because someone was making a racket, I realized that in my dream, not only was Morrissey there for no reason that conformed even to dream logic, he was young and handsome. My friends, while the Moz was undeniably once young, I don’t think he ever laid claim to the Johnny Depp brand of sultry beauty; which is to say that it was something to amuse me over my breakfast cereal after a night of waking up time and time again expecting the Spouse to be there (which he wasn’t). It also reminded me of what is, with Cemetry Gates, my favourite Smiths song – Stop Me (If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before). Why is it that that brand of upbeat angry song cheers me so? Kate Nash’s Foundations, Lush’s Ladykillers, and then Stop Me. You’d think I have a grudge – but I have no “hell hath no fury” tales.

There is much intelligence around here. Much CIA, FBI, NSA, Ivy League, scientific, articulate, intense and intimidating intelligence. Astronomers, physicists, neurologists and artists, too. There is Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert getting ordered by the President to shave his head, and it is lovely, truly wonderful, all of it (except maybe the NSA. They scare me, with their eagles wrapped in flags). All the same, The Smiths make me homesick for a kind of intelligent humour (wry, blasé, well-read in different books) that just doesn’t grow here, much like the giant trees of the pacific northwest, which I also miss (thank you, John Valliant).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What can I say

Bollocks, I haven't been out here, have I? A House season finale came and went. I did nothing (well, I had some fine white wine, and shouted at the screen). People came and went. We did fun things, which I didn't write about. This weekend I am doing more things, but I don't know what. The Spouse won't tell me. I also realised that Hugh Laurie is in the video for Walking on Broken Glass (usually remembered for having John Malkovitch, who is awesome). Cool, right? But I didn't mention it. Not until now, that is. Imagine what else I am keeping from you.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Yes, I know

Really, I do. I even have blogposts; but they were unpostable. I even watched the House season finale. I could talk about it; maybe it later. It inevitably let me down, based more on past experience than on the episode, which in its own right is quite good; it's just that I anticipate a huge cop-out next season. I hope there isn't one. I really do. But I should go back to listening to Regina Spektor, and write more when I am a little more alert.