Sunday 21 March 2010

Girl with the dragon tattoo

I got to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this week at a cinema in Chichester - the nearest to me that was showing it. It was worth the journey. Nice cinema apart from not having the sound properly calibrated, so the environmental sound and sometimes the music came from some very odd places some of the time.

I've read the books, and enjoyed them greatly. If you haven't read the books, you will want to know that the film thoroughly deserves its 18 rating. It has a rape scene, a torture scene, several assaults and several sets of crime scene photos that would make CSI blush.

It was a thoroughly professional production. It had three good things going for it. The first was Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. Nobody else should be allowed to play Salander now. Especially anybody in the inevitable American reproduction. She gets the look, the attitude and the motorbike dead right.

Second is the scenery. The cameraman really enjoyed himself filming this. The locations are stunning and the film makes the most of them - luscious forest, water and snow. Even the three minute segment set in Australia manages to find sensational and not typically Australian scenery.

And thirdly, and most impressively, the screenplay. The writers knew what they were doing. They remained faithful to the novel, but they concentrated on the main story. In the novel there is a lot of backfilling, giving us backgrounds to the main characters that Larsson obviously felt necessary for the story and for his intended purposes in subsequent parts of the trilogy. There are also several subplots, mostly involving Blomquist's active sex life. For the film the writers have stripped out all the subplots and nearly all the back story, and left just the lean stripped down story of the investigation. And it works beautifully.

Can't wait for the next one. (In Swedish.)

Monday 1 March 2010

Is that what it's all about, then?

So Lord Ashcroft finally admits to being a non-dom for tax paying purposes. Now we have left, right and others slagging each other off about you've got more non-doms than us. For me whether or not he is an non-dom is a non-issue. It's legal. Get over it. It may be that it's undesirable, but it's only just come to seem so in the wake of the whole expenses scandal. Is that what all the fuss was about? Well, not really - I'll come to that in a minute.

The most immediate impact of this saga is on the Conservative Party's competence and reputation. All they needed to do at any stage in this whole process is admit the less than shameful truth that Ashcroft is a non-dom. Instead of doing so they seem to have gone out of their way to make themselves look shifty when questioned about it. Their nadir, I think, was William Hague managing to look spectacularly shifty by repeatedly squirming out of answering Andrew Marr's questions. They have raised for themselves the question: if this is what they're like now, is this what they'll be like in government? Judging from Boris Johnson's repeated, continuing and mounting attempts to avoid any kind of scrutiny so far as mayor of London (see Boriswatch, passim) the answer seems to be yes. So much for transparency and reforming politics. Whenever Cameron talks about that over the next three months there should be a sound track of hollow laughter.

Not only do they look shifty, they look as if they have no idea about political judgement. They have not been able to see that the image of shiftiness they have given themselves was more trouble than the secrecy was worth. Now, negative qualities are not necessarily bad things for politicians to have. Bullygate seems - I emphasise "seems" because we need to see more polling over the next few days - to have done Gordon Brown some good. In 1968 the USA elected Richard Nixon as president not just in spite of but because of his reputation for skullduggery. They wanted a streetfighter to take on the Russians, and they got one. But they did not elect a man who did not know when to fight and when to run away, when to dissemble and when to be honest. The Conservatives are demonstrating, almost daily, that they do not have that judgement, that competence, which is the first requisite of those who would govern us.

But all that stuff about Ashcroft being a non-dom is not what it's about. The real issue is the promise made by the Conservative party when they lobbied for Ashcroft to become a peer. We now have his version of that promise, that he promised by the end of the year to become a resident for tax purposes, and that he clarified that that meant becoming a long term resident, which apparently means that he can still live in Belize (where the heart is, apparently) as long as he spends a few days a year in Britain. Leaving aside the supine stance of the honours office (as far as I'm concerned, if he wanted to be a peer, he should, like the other Conservative foreign funder and recusant Lord Laidlaw, bloody well have become a resident first), that whole thing also leaves the Conservative party looking shifty. They look shifty because they *are* shifty. They could have been open and honest about the promises made right from the start, instead of which they have obfuscated and prevaricated. So much for transparency, Dave.

It's not over yet, of course. We have yet to see the material that is to be made public soon by the Cabinet Office. Then we can judge exactly how shifty the Tories have been.

Train ticketing troubles

I rarely book train tickets. For all I know what follows may be a normal experience, but for me it was more than a bit over the top.

I wanted to book tickets for a trip in the early summer. One from Lewes to Alnmouth, returning a few days later, and one for Kings Cross to Alnmouth for the same days and times. I spent a couple of hours on various websites yesterday checking different options and prices, and seeing if I could book seats to travel together. It might have been possible for a more intrepid traveller, but I, being definitely trepid, decided to go to the station and get them to make the bookings on my behalf. It seemed like a sensible idea at the time.

I spent an hour - you heard it - an hour at Lewes station while the ticket clerk valiantly tried to get me the trains I wanted. Getting to Alnmouth was not a problem, though even that took ten minutes and various tries before the programme condescended to do what the clerk wanted. I noticed that she was working on single ticket prices all the time, not even bothering to try a return ticket. I saw yesterday that the return prices were in every case a lot more than twice a single. If someone could explain the logic of that one to me, I would be grateful.

Anyway she found the train I wanted for the return journey, and spent a while printing out the details. Then she tried to book seats and that where we really came unravelled. After a few tries the programme told her that there was only one bookable seat left on an 11 a.m. midweek train from Alnmouth to Kings Cross. I find that hard to believe, but it wouldn't budge. So the clerk tried alternative trains but the programme refused to find two tickets for the same train (and we hadn't even got to the seat booking stage at that point). The best it could do after several tries was one ticket going via York and one going via Wakefield.

I really didn't want a later train as that would dump the passengers back in London just in time for the rush hour. But there didn't seem to be an alternative. So she found a train an hour later, and found two places on it. The price for the ticket back to Kings Cross was cut by half. The price for the ticket through to Lewes stayed the same. Logic: by this time I expected none.

Now for seat booking. We are given strong advice to book seats, so I tried. Of course, being together, the two passengers would like to sit together. When I looked on websites yesterday it seemed possible to stipulate various types of seat - window, aisle, facing forward, facing backward, in a quiet carriage, etc. But when it comes to actually booking seats it seemed the options weren't available, and seats were randomly chucked out on the Kings Cross to Newcastle, and then the Newcastle to Alnmouth stretches. Several different tries produced no better results. For one stretch the seats are in the same carriage and might possibly be in the same block. for the other, and for the return journey, they're three carriages apart (assuming the alphabet works).

One of the justifications we're given for privatising things is that the private sector is so much more efficient than the public sector. If this is an efficient private sector operation, I'd hate to see an inefficient one.