All hail King Fry!

The intellectual and comedic colossus that is Stephen Fry has a blog. It’s new and only has two or three things on it, but because it’s Fry and not an ordinary human being, the few entries that are there so far are many, many thousands of words long, enourmously significant and massively entertaining. I think we should crown Fry king of humanity in an absolute monarchy and be done with. You know it would make sense. Eventually.

Anyway, if you haven’t been, you should. And if like me you have, you may find you slink away from Fry’s blog experiencing mild depression as a result of the realisation that you are in fact an insignificant carbuncle on the backside of literary expression.

If you’re also like me, you’ll also find your self slinking back, unable to stay away. Drats.

Dumbledore is what now?

Apparantly Dumbledore is gay. Seriously.

JK Rowling “. . . made her revelation to a packed house in New York’s Carnegie Hall on Friday, as part of her US book tour.

She took audience questions and was asked if Dumbledore found “true love”. “Dumbledore is gay,” she said, adding he was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, who he beat in a battle between good and bad wizards long ago.

Well, call me old fashioned, but I think if it’s not in the book, it’s not in the story. Did anyone think Dumbledore was ‘playing for the other team’ when they read the books? No, didn’t think so. So, can an author radically revise aspects of a published story by adding verbally later on key information?

Well, they can – and Rowling has – but I think that’s a king-sized cop out. If it’s in black ink on white paper, it’s in the story. If it’s not, it’s not.

As to the nature of the information – that Dumbledore is gay – I suppose it doesn’t mean anything really. It’s a fact of life that a certain percentage of the population is gay. Anyone living in the real world knows that. Unless I missed something in the books, at no point are we told there are no gay people in Harry’s world, so why would we presume otherwise?

Some critics have given Rowling a hard time because this aspect of the character didn’t come out more prominently (or at all) in the books and films – I’d guess they would have liked Dumbledore to have a gay lover ensconced at Hogwarts, to make a point. But isn’t this a children’s story, albeit one that appeals to adults as well? Did Rowling wuss out of showing Dumbledore being gay? No, I don’t think she did. I think it was totally irrelevant to the story, and it would have been fairly offensive tokenism to concoct such a subplot merely to be politically correct. Don’t you think?

The swordsman cometh

Finally, the day draws nigh!

After almost seven months, my sword is nearly ready! Regular readers of this blog will know that amongst many other things, I’m a bit of a Japanese sword nut. I’ve studied the use of the Japanese sword for several years and on a trip to Japan earlier this year, I decided it was time to pick up a real one.

I have quite a few imitation swords that are functional in that I can train with them, but they are factory made and really, not comparable in quality to the real thing. So I saved up for a few years and with a wad of yen burning a hole in my pocket, I picked up an antique authentic nihonto (Japanese sword) in Tokyo.

As a budoka, finding a usable sword is a little like catching lightening. You have to try to find a sword which not only ‘speaks to you’ and which feels right to use, you also have find one that you can afford and also that has fittings in good enough condition that it’s safe to use. Very old or wasted fittings are extremely dangerous, because if not looked after, the blade can actually fly out of the handle when it’s swung.

Anyway, because of this, I took the decision to buy an antique blade in shira saya. What’s a shirasaya? Well, briefly, for those who may not have come across such things before, real Japanese swords are manufactured as a collaborative effort between at least four or more people. There is a smith who makes the blade, a polisher who gives the blade its final shape and also ‘polishes’ it using a series of fine stones to give it its final appearance and sharpness. This is then sent to a guy who makes a shirasaya, a plain wooden storage case that holds the blade and allows it to be transported or inspected.

The shirasaya is just a temporary storage case – the sword next needs to have koshirae (furniture) made for it – a wooden handle needs to be carved from two pieces of a particular kind of wood to exactly fit the nakago (tang) and this handle then needs to be encased in specially prepared ray skin and then further wrapped using tsukaito – a kind of silk or leather lacing that gives the handle it’s distinctive diamond-patterned grip.

The blade itself also needs a wooden scabbard custom carved for it to give it an exact fit, and this then needs to have various bits and bobs added to it to strengthen it, before it’s lacquered to make it weather proof. In addition to the handle and the scabbard, the sword also needs various specialist craftsmen to make a tsuba (sword guard) as well as the various washers and other metal items used in its assembly.

As you can tell, it’s a lot of work and it’s extremely hard to find people up to the task of carrying it out now. In Japan it costs many hundreds of thousands of yen (or thousands of euro) to get this done for you. However, my plan was to get the sword in Japan, and then have the koshirae made for it in the US, where there is rather oddly enough demand for such services to support the existence of a few specialist craft companies.

So that was six months ago, when I got the sword back to Ireland and shipped it off the US. And then yesterday, the e-mail I’d been waiting for – it’s ready.

: )

I’ll post more here when it arrives. Perhaps with some pictures, if there’s interest.

It’s a what, now?

So back from Japan and there are quite a few blog entries on the way, as I get the time. The first thing I’m moved to blog about is the new Sony Rolly. Myself and Jason spent a full twenty minutes standing in front of a kiosk in an electronics store in Japan looking at a promotional video of the rolly.


Really. Twenty minutes – twenty full minutes – spent watching a video of the rolly doing what rollys do. Exactly what that is, I’m afraid I can’t tell you, because I still don’t know. Which is why we spent so long looking at it. I couldn’t decide if this was some sort of cross cultural misunderstanding – maybe Japanese people ‘get it’ instantly – or marketing genius along the lines of “let’s make the promos so ambigous, it will keep people guessing!”

It seems to be some sort of music player, except it lights up, pulses colours, dances and has bluetooth functions. But quite what it is or why you’d want it I’m not sure. The Japanese promo videos feature children dancing with their rollys, couple snuggling in bed with their rolly, and people meditating beside their rolly. Apparently you can programme your rolly to dance in specific ways, and then share your dance programmes across the net with your rolly-owning friends. Quite why you would want to do this, I don’t know but this does come from the same culture that brought us the virtual pet in the form of the tamagotchi so who can say?

Either Sony has invented something so totally and uterly redundent and useless that nobody will buy it and it will go the way of the Sinclair C5 or in fact, Sony has come up with an entirely new and original kind of personal electronics.