Every morning, Lena Forsen wakes up beneath a brass-trimmed wooden mantel clock dedicated to “The First Lady of the Internet.”
It was presented to her more than two decades ago by the Society for Imaging Science and Technology, in recognition of the pivotal—and altogether unexpected—role she played in shaping the digital world as we know it.
Among some computer engineers, Lena is a mythic figure, a mononym on par with Woz or Zuck. Whether or not you know her face, you’ve used the technology it helped create; practically every photo you’ve ever taken, every website you’ve ever visited, every meme you’ve ever shared owes some small debt to Lena. Yet today, as a 67-year-old retiree living in her native Sweden, she remains a little mystified by her own fame. “I’m just surprised that it never ends,” she told me recently.
While I’m not sure that it’s fair to say that Lena “remained a mystery” until now – the article itself identifies several events she’s attended in her capacity of “first lady of the Internet” – but this is still a great article about a picture that you might have seen but never understood the significance of nor the person in front of the lens. Oh, and it’s pronounced “lee-na”; did you know?
Before I started working for the Bodleian, I’d never worked somewhere where there was a significant risk of a film crew coming between me and my office. But since then, it seems to happen with a startling regularity.
This morning, I was almost late for work as I fought my way past a film crew shooting The Quiet Ones, some variety of supernatural thriller B-movie.
So, when you end up watching it: wait until you get to the scene where this guy walks under the Hertford Bridge, and listen carefully for the sound of somebody walking across gravel just off camera. That’s me, putting my bike away having finally squeezed my way past all of the cameras and equipment on the way to my office.
As if we hadn’t been busy enough the weekend before last and the one before that, there’s more that I’m only just getting around to blogging! It was only when I thought about writing this up that I realised how much I’d neglected to write about already (and had promised people would be “coming soon”). So, without further ado; here’s what Ruth, JTA and I got up to last weekend.
Aside from our two attempts to conquer the Dunwich Horror (both attempts were failures, although the second was ever so close, ending with Ruth’s character in a one-on-one deathmatch with a Great Old One), our major event was a trip down to London on Saturday. After all, since the move to Earth, London feels like it’s pretty-much on our doorstep: so there’s no excuse not to take in a bit of culture once in a while in the heart of the capital. Of course, when we say culture…
Ye Old Cock Tavern
We started out in Ye Old Cock Tavern on Fleet Street, because – hey – early afternoon is a perfectly good time to start drinking on a weekend. They did some pretty good chips, too, which we picked at as we drank our pints and watched a crowd gather for a wedding at the church up the road, nestled between the old newspaper buildings.
Next up was Volupté, a burlesque club with a bi-monthly lunchtime Afternoon Tease. We started with a few fabulously-mixed and ludicrously ornate cocktails: only the first of many. The bar staff are simply entertaining to watch
Aside from the ongoing stream of cocktails (I particularly enjoyed the Porn Star Martini – which I’m seen drinking in the picture above – I don’t even remember what was in it, except that it came with a “shot” of champagne to drink before starting it), Afternoon Tease consisted of:
An extraordinarily erotic, genuinely tantalising peacock dance from a young lady going by Vicky Butterfly. She later returned for a second, different performance; not quite so arousing but equally mesmerising. That’s her in the picture, above.
Volupté’s special take on traditional tableaux vivants – gateaux vivants: a wonderfully mischievous woman posing behind little more than suspenders and a cake (with a fabulous parody of M&S food adverts gone by).
Scones and tea
A Miss. Rose Thorne, performing a tribute to Doris Day; and I can honestly say that I’ve never before seen a pair of gloves removed with such… deliberate choreography. Very impressive.
By the time we staggered out into the afternoon sun, we were very entertained and quite spiffingly drunk. Volupté gains my recommendation, although I shall have to check the state of my bank account before trifling with their cocktail bar again!
The Golden Hinde
Next up, we made our way over the Thames to visit the replica of the Golden Hinde, the ship in which Sir Francis Drake completed his famous circumnavigation of the globe.
Yeah, it’s just a big boat (and not even that big). Ruth was pleased, though, but she is almost a big a fan of boats as she is for optimised road junctions. Of course, not to break the theme, we stopped for a drink in each of the two nearest bars to the vessel, as well as a snack to give us the energy for the next leg of our adventure, when we whipped out our Oyster cards and zipped down to Hammersmith for…
Penn & Teller
Yes, thePenn & Teller, during their 4-day-only visit to the UK (the first in 15 years), doing their usual mixture of magic and comedy in their in-your-face style, in a spectacular London show. If you’ve gotten this far down the post before you realised how awesome my weekend was, well, what took you so long?
I couldn’t even pick out my favourite part of the show. Perhaps it was one of these:
Teller “drowning” at the end of the first act as part of a card trick (yes, really!) gone wrong.
A whole series of fabulous tricks done with evidently-confused members of the audience (especially the one with the woman they had blindfolded and throwing knives towards Penn, and narrowly missing – it was all done with electromagnets, see?).
Stunning examples of cold-reading done using jokes randomly selected from joke books, with a predictive “hot reading” twist at the end.
The thought-provoking ending, in which Penn (between bouts of fire-eating) asks the audience to think not about how they do what they do, but why, along with some clues related to his experiences as an audience member of various shows.
By remarkable coincidence, Sundeep and her partner, Ashley, were also at the Apollo to see Penn & Teller! Wandering back from the bar during the intermission we just bumped into her. As she doesn’t blog these days, for the benefit of those who might be wondering: she’s doing well, still on maternity leave and looking after Vanessa, her daughter (who’s looking quite cute in many of the billion or so pictures she carries around with her on her phone), and both are happy and healthy. Ashley – whom we hadn’t met before now – seems nice: he has a certain rugged-but-cute French look and he works for a very worthwhile charity, both of which give him good points in my estimation.
After leaving the show, we were peckish again, so we went around the corner to a cramped but wonderful-smelling Mexican restaurant for a round of Mexican-style tapas, which was delicious. By this point, we were just about ready to settle into a bus for the long but comfortable journey home, when…
Penn & Teller, Again
…wandering back, we spotted a small crowd of people near the Apollo. Wandering over, we discovered that Penn & Teller themselves were hanging out with folks outside the theatre, signing things and answering awkward questions.
Needless to say, we hung around for a few minutes and got the chance to meet the magicians themselves.
Ruth – perhaps as evidenced by her expression in the photo, above – did her usual thing when in the company of a celebrity (as those of you who knew how she behaved around Lloyd Kaufman will know) of becoming a giggling little girl. She also managed to make a fool of herself by mumbling a question about the stage lighting to Teller, to which he didn’t have an answer (not a result of his on-stage muteness, though: he’s certainly happy to talk in person).
Meeting some of the most fabulous (and eccentric) magicians in the world is perhaps the best way to end a night out in London. But there was one more stop on our journey as we worked our way back to a Oxford Tube stop (avoiding the Circle Line, which wasn’t running):
Yeah; perhaps not actually the highlight of the night, but as we were passing, Ruth insisted that we should get one more photo – for Adam‘s sake:
In case your eyes aren’t up to it, or if you’re simply unable to recognise this iconic London landmark, that’s the White City BBC Television Centre in the photo.
We got back to Oxford a full 15 hours after we’d first left: considerably more exhausted, more drunk, and merrily surfing the buzz of all the fabulous things we’d gotten up to over the course of the day. Sunday became very much a day of rest (and recovery) – we’re not as young as we used to be, as I discovered to my horror during my last party-sized jaunt into the capital. Exhaustion aside, however, this was a fantastic day out.
How’ve your weekends been? Not as legendary as mine, I’m sure.
It’s true, but it’s not like you’d think. My mum’s partner, otherwise known as Andy – or, sometimes, as Slightly Weaseldump – was working in the USA last week and when he was due to fly back his ‘plane was cancelled by bad weather. The alternative flight offered would take him not to the UK but to Paris, where he’d be able to get a short-hop flight back to Manchester (I suppose by the time you’re crossing the Atlantic Ocean, hitting Europe is considered to be a “hit”). They’d run out of regular, second-class, Irish-dancing-in-the-bowels-of-the-aeroplane seats by this point, of course, so they upgraded him to the rich people’s part of the ‘plane, right up at the front (although behind the pilot, obviously). And right next to, he soon discovered, Sarah Michelle Gellar, better known to many of us here in Aber as Buffy Summers.
Apparently she was on her way to Paris to take part in some kind of promotion relating to some perfume or something. And she has a little red mobile phone. And she’s friendly. Although he didn’t get her to autograph.
And being an overnight flight, they naturally ended up taking a kip. So, by technicality if by nothing else, he can now claim to have slept with Sarah Michelle Gellar. He called my mum to tell her so, but it sounds like she was neither as amused nor as impressed as I was to hear the same news.
Edit: Please see the discussion in the comments regarding the believability of this story.
So, what have I been up to this weekend, you ask. Well…
“Cover The Mirrors” Launch Party
On Friday I took the train up to Preston. The train I was on broke down at Machynlleth when they linked it up to the carriages that had come down the Pwllheli line, and the repairs set me back by almost an hour, but it turns out that the rest of the rail network was running behind schedule that day, too, and so I didn’t miss any important connections. I arrived in time for a quick “birthday tea” with my family (for my dad’s birthday) before rushing off to the Waterstones for the launch party for my friend Faye‘s first published novel, Cover The Mirrors.
I drank as much wine as the store were willing to give me and bought myself a signed copy of the book. I even managed to get the photo, above, under the proviso that it’s only allowed to appear on the internet thanks to the fact that I’m holding a carrier bag in front of Faye’s face (she’s more than a little camera-shy). I haven’t started reading Cover The Mirrors yet, because I’m virtually at the end of The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, and I’d like to finish that first, but little doubt you’ll hear about it here in due course.
After the book launch, my sisters and I took my dad out for a few drinks to celebrate his 51st birthday. It turns out that, in my absence, Preston’s nightclub scene has really taken off. We started out in an 80s-themed bar which is part of a chain called Reflex. It’s so 80s it’s unreal: all 80s hits playing, David Hasselhoff and Mr. T decorating every wall, glitter balls and spots and mirrors everywhere… deely-boppers available at the bar… and so on. Really quite a fantastic theme venue. Then, under my sister Sarah’s recommendation, we tootled up the street and into a cafe/club called Manyana, where my dad got hit on by somebody young enough to be his daughter.
I snatched this picture. I’ve no idea who she is – we didn’t get her name – but she seemed genuinely surprised to hear my dad’s age. So I had the DJ announce it, just to make sure there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that there was an old person on the dancefloor.
This influx of Preston nightclubs is making them all remarkably competitive with their drinks prices, too. I bought a few rounds for the four of us and none of them ever came to over a tenner, and one – thanks to the “buy one get one free” policy at Manyana – came to under £6, which is quite remarkable for a city nightclub on a Friday night for four people!
Back To Aberystwyth
On Saturday I had brunch with my sister Becky, my mum, and her boyfriend and then got back onto the trains to head back to Aberystwyth. Owing to line maintenance, the stretch of track between Crewe and Preston is unusable every weekend within sight, and so I was re-directed via Manchester Picadilly. Yet again, my train ran late, and I found myself sprinting accross Picadilly station, trying to find a train that was heading Shrewsbury-way…
…meanwhile, my friend Katie, having slept through her stop, woke up in Manchester Picadilly and, not quite awake, clambered off her train in an attempt to find a connection. I’d apparently featured in her dream, and so she was quite surprised (and not quite sure if she was seeing things) when I sprinted past her. She sent a text (which I chose to ignore: my pocket beeped but I was too busy looking for a train to take the time to get my phone out) and then phoned me before she was able to confirm that yes, it really was me.
As we were headed the same way, she joined me on my train for one stop, which was a nice surprise for what was a long and overcomplicated train journey. A few folks have suggested that this might not be a coincidence, and that she might be stalking me, but I’m yet to be convinced.
In any case, I don’t have a picture to go with this part of the story. Sorry.
Jimmy, Beth, and Troma Night
YATN. If you were there, you know how it went. Big thanks to Jimmy and Beth for coming along.
Lloyd Kaufman’s Visit
In case you’ve not been anywhere that I can pounce on you and go “squee!” recently, here’s what you missed out on. You’ll remember that last week I mentioned that Poultrygeist – Troma‘s new movie – was coming to Aberystwyth. Well, it did. And it rocked…
…and better yet, Ruth, Claire, JTA, Paul and I got to hang out with Lloyd Kaufman, president of Troma Studios and producer of The Toxic Avenger, for a couple of pints and to share a bowl of nachos. The guy’s fabulously chatty and friendly, and if it weren’t for the awestruck feeling of “wow, we’re just sat here chatting with Lloyd Kaufman in Lord Beechings” we’d have probably been more interesting company.
When he said goodbye, kissing the cheeks of each of the girls, I genuinely thought that they were in danger of exploding with excitment. Thankfully they didn’t, because I’d already bought them tickets to see Poultrygeist later on.
Which was, as I’ve said before, fantastic. It’s even better seen with a nice, energised audience, and better still when the director and several other people who worked on the film are hanging around afterwards to answer questions, chat, autograph things and so on. There are apparently 15 prints of Poultrygeist and the capacity to make more on demand, so if you want to see it and can’t wait for the DVD release, go speak to your local cinema now and ask if they’ll show Poultrygeist, even if only for a week (as Lloyd himself said, it’s better than showing Transformers on all 24 screens of some soulless megaplex). And hell, with Troma’s current financial situation, they could probably do with a helping hand with getting into as many projection booths as possible!
The title of this post – Quickly, Before They Turn The Glass Into Lesbians! – is a reference to one of my favourite lines in the film.
Paul might have bitten off more than he can chew, though, as he hinted on his blog. After some discussion with Lloyd, Paul is likely to be responsible for:
Re-establishing the UK division of the Troma fan club.
Acting as president of the above, for the forseeable future.
Investigating UK distribution of Troma films.
Oh, and making an official DVD subtitle track for Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead, which describes the Troma Night drinking rules and reminds you when you should be drinking. He’s got a few ideas about things that should be in such a subtitle track, too, and if you’re familiar with the rules you’ll probably be able to guess what he’s thinking about.
I’ll leave it to him to go into detail, if he wishes.
Matt In Hospital
Between places, we also joined a growing crowd at the foot of Matt‘s bed in Bronglais Hospital. His operation was a success, but he’s reacted unusually to the general anasthetic and they’re likely to keep him in for observation for another few days. If you haven’t had a chance to visit him already, he’d probably appreciate the company (although Sarah seems to have barely left his side): visiting hours are 3pm-5pm, 6pm-8pm: just ask if you need to know what ward he’s in and how to get there. If you’re feeling particularly cruel, mock him by talking about how well your bodily excretions are working, or swap his drip with his catheter bag while he’s not looking.
But seriously: I’m sure we all wish him well.
Finally – as if we weren’t full enough from a large Sunday lunch – after leaving the cinema, Gareth, Penny, Amy, Ruth, JTA, Claire and I slipped down for a late-night curry at the Spice of Bengal. Which was delicious, although there was a little much food for those of us who were already quite full.
Nonetheless, a fantastic end to a fantastic weekend! I’m sure everybody else will have a different story to tell (Paul spent longer with Lloyd and went to more films; Claire and Jimmy got horribly drunk together on Friday night after she, Ruth and JTA failed to see a Meatloaf concert; Matt’ll have his own morphine-fuelled tale to spin, and so on), because it’s been a rich, full couple of days for many of us abnibbers.