Sunday, August 26, 2012

Door precedence

Alexander McCall Smith is a writer I've quoted before on this blog, though never at length as I'm about to do here.  He's a prolific writer, and seldom uproariously funny, yet there's a wonderful crazy sense of humour underlying his books that only occasionally bursts into all-out mode.  I've read most of McCall Smith's books because, for a while, the editor of the Books page of a paper I review for would invariably send me anything by him.  Unfortunately there's been a change of editor and I note that someone else is getting his books to review these days. 

Anyway, the 44 Scotland St series is one of my favourites, although in fact they're the most rambly series you're likely to come across.  There's little in the way of plot (something they share with most of the AMS books), lots of characters whose lives only marginally intersect, and a goldmine of a child called Bertie.  Bertie is ostensibly six, and has remained so over a period of several years.  In the book I'm reading just now, which I happened to come across on the library bus the other day, he's going to turn seven.  This is momentous!

But Bertie doesn't appear in the following extract, which is taken from pages 36-8 of The Importance of Being Seven.  This ramble on the topic of who should open a door for whom comes out of nowhere, and has nothing to do with the story, and shows McCall Smith at his quirky best: funny, but not laugh-out-loud funny. 

...while Scotland has an order of precedence, it is never enforced and people may walk through doors in front of others who really should be allowed to go through the door before them.  That, of course, is how things should be; who would wish to live in a society in which the order of walking through doors was something that anybody cared about?  The important thing is that traffic through doors should flow freely, and that there should not be awkward moments when people hesitate, politely ushering another before them, who demurs, and invites the other to go before.  Such a situation can result in small knots of people building up in front of a door, with very little through traffic. 
The answer, of course, is a system based on common courtesy and consideration, mixed with a measure of sheer practicality.  In general, women should be invited to precede men, not because this in any way endorses chivalric notions that many may now find awkward or even condescending, but because it provides a totally arbitrary rule that at least minimises the chances of congestion.  It may be viewed then, in the same light as the rule that states one should drive on the left of the road rather than the right.  There is no real reason for that: countries in which people drive on the right are in no way different from those where people drive on the left, or, if they are - and they may be - then that is for historical reasons quite unconnected with driving on the left or the right.  So the fact that historically women have been invited to go through doors before men provides a basis for a contemporary rule that this should continue to be done. 
Unless, of course, the man reaches the door first; in which case he should go through naturally, rather than wait until the woman catches up with him.  An exception to this simple,, practical rule would be where the person reaching the door first wants to show particular consideration to the other; in such a case the first person should yield to the second person, ushering him or her in with an appropriate gesture.  This makes the second person feel better about himself or herself, in that he or she has been shown by the first person to be somebody the first person particularly respects.  For this reason, it is a good general rule to allow everybody to go through the door before you.  People who do this are usually much appreciated for their manners, but may not get very far in life, owing, perhaps, to the number of doors through which they do not ever pass. 
People with obvious infirmities should be allowed to pass through a door before those who are hale; under no circumstances should they be pushed if they take a longer time than usual to pass through the door.  Very aged people, those approaching a hundred years of age, should also be allowed through first on the simple, compassionate grounds that there will not be many doors left for them to pass through.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Dentists and suffering

The dental industry, in its aim to keep things clean and dry and healthy before dealing with taking impressions of a mouthful of teeth (or the lack of them), or in its aim to do other terrifying things to their patients, seem to forget that these things can actually be very traumatic to the people receiving them.  

I don't normally have a great deal of problem with going to the dentist.  I've had so many things done to me over the years that I'm fairly composed, normally, when it comes to sitting in a dentist's chair.  However, over the last few months I've made several visits to the Dental School here in Dunedin, because, as a pensioner, it doesn't cost me an arm and a leg to have my teeth attended to when I go there.  I'm very happy that Dunedin has the Dental School - don't get me wrong about that.   But I'm getting a crown replaced - it broke off a couple of months ago due to wear and tear, I guess.  It's taking longer than it would to have it done by a private practice dentist, of course.  That's the way things go at the Dental School.  And the young fellow who's looking after me is doing pretty well, all things considered - he's a fourth year student.  

But today, prior to taking an impression so that the technicians could make a new crown, he did something I don't remember having had done before: to dry the area between the gum and what's left of the tooth (what the crown will hang onto, along with a couple of pins that have been inserted in it) he inserted a tiny tubular-type material in under the gum, like a very small rubber band.  Poking this up into the gum was like having something poked under your fingernail.  I'd had an anaesthetic, so it shouldn't have been sore, but it was very sore.  Worse, two of these tubulars have to be inserted: the first does one thing, the second something else.  (I was a bit brainless by this time, so found it hard to take in what they were actually doing.)   I guess the first kind of expands the gum area so the second one can be held in place to keep things dry.  I'm not sure. 

Anyway, after this had happened, I had the impression-taking device stuffed up into my upper set of teeth for around five minutes; apparently the material that takes the impression doesn't dry quickly.  That was okay - survivable.  

Finally, relief when the impression thingee was removed, and then the two tubular bits.  Except that that supervisor felt that the impression wasn't quite good enough because there was extraneous gum getting in the way.  So...believe it or not...we went through the whole process again after the offending gum was removed - burnt off, in fact.  You could smell the burning flesh.  By this time I'd had two more injections, and being injections into the area that was already sore they were very painful in themselves.   (Perhaps it wasn't coincidental that our church house group last night was looking at suffering!)  I've always tried to avoid anaesthetics if I can when at the dentist; I find they leave your mouth more sore afterwards than if you don't have them.  The pain of the moment is of the moment; when you recover from being anaesthetized, you still have the pain that you didn't experience so much of earlier on.  If that makes sense. 

Anyway, the process started all over, and I was offered still more anaesthetic, but I just wanted every over and done with - Get on with it!  So up into the gum went two more rubber bands, and then the impression thingee was stuffed up again for another five minutes (and if you think I'm exaggerating about the 'five minutes', I'm not).  By this time I was very desperate to get out of that chair and out of the building.  

Why do they need to use these bands?  In the past, as far as I'm aware, they've always cleaned very thoroughly around the area before sticking anything like a crown or a temporary (I'm onto my third temporary for this series) onto what's remaining of the tooth, and that's always been effective.  I've rarely had any problems in terms of infection.  This current idea of stuffing stuff up inside your gum verges on torture that Torquemada would have enjoyed applying.  Even with an anaesthetic, it's painful, and what makes it more painful is having someone tell you to sit still because moving about makes it harder to work.  Okay, mate, let's swap places for a few minutes!  

Anyway, I'm still alive.  I have another temporary stuck in which hasn't fallen out while I was having a meal with some friends tonight.  (Though I was being cautious...)   I could have had the tooth taken right out and be faced with yet another addition to my denture plate, as happened last time something along these lines occurred.  

Count it all joy, my friends, when suffering comes along...says James, though I think he was referring more to people being persecuted for their Christian faith.  One of my questions at the study group last night was, how do we be joyful in the middle of suffering?  If I was supposed to learn how to do it today, I missed the boat, I'm afraid. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I've known of Tim Winton's book, Cloudstreet, for some years, and even have an idea I began to read it at one point, but I can't have got very far if I did as I have no memory of the story whatsoever.

Last week while in the Library I picked up a DVD of the 2011 mini-series produced from the book.  It remains very faithful to the original story, perhaps helped in part by Winton's own involvement in the script. And from what I can gather, if it hadn't remained faithful, there would have been an uproar, as this book is very highly regarded in Australia as a classic, and is one of their all-time top books.

The three episodes each have their own flavour: the first details the gradual coming together of the Pickles and Lamb families after tragedy has struck both families in different ways: father of three, Sam Pickles, has had all four fingers and part of a thumb chopped off in a work accident, and 'Fish' Lamb has been drowned - and revived in a miracle that turns out to be an enormous test of both families' faith - not just religious faith, but faith in life itself.   As Winton, as narrator, notes in the book: Life was something you didn't argue with, because when it came down to it, whether you barracked for God or nothing at all, life was all there was. And death.”

Winton is a Christian - check this interview for more information on that - and while his characters struggle with Christianity in any traditional sense, the book and the series are infused with an understanding that there is much more to this world than many modern people are willing to believe.  

This first episode also introduces us to the House around which the remainder of the story is centred.  This House has a past - and also an aboriginal man mysteriously connected to it - though not all the characters meet him face to face.  The House (I capitalise it because it is a character in its own right) is possibly haunted because of what has happened in the past, and makes moanings and peculiar grindings and creakings throughout the story.  

The second episode is rather more sombre in tone, even though several of the younger characters have sexual relationships with other young people during the course of it.  In this episode the nine children have almost all grown up, though Fish remains a child to all intents and purposes because of the brain damage he suffered in his drowning.  His gentle big brother 'Quick' (we're told in the book, but not in the drama, that he wasn't actually quick - it was a mocking kind of nickname; Fish was the quicker, the more intelligent of the two), continues to look after his handicapped brother until he can't take it any more and escapes the family. 

The last episode winds up some of the corners of the plot, reveals some things that make a difference to how we view the characters, and ends spectacularly with a wedding and a birth on the same night. 

The series is superbly acted, in particular by the four actors playing the parents: Essie Davis as the almost perpetually drunk Dolly Pickles, Stephen Curry as the laconic Sam, always on the lookout for luck; New Zealand's Kerry Fox as Oriel Lamb, sporting a broad Australian accent, and gritting her teeth in the face of what life has thrown at her, and Geoff Morrell as her husband, Lester, the man who never quite manages to please his wife in spite of supporting her, loving her and letting her find her own way through her problems over two long decades. 

Lara Robinson and Emma Booth play the older and younger Rose Pickles, both of them bringing an intensity and inner rage to their acting.  Todd Lasance and Callan McAuliffe play the quiet, sincere Quick, who more than once finds himself in a fantastic situation because of his slightly otherworldly brother.  Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Tom Russell play Fish Lamb: both are marvellous in their depiction of someone who has been oxygen-starved and brought back into a world from which he had died.  Johnstone-Burt in particular gets to grips with showing us the frustrations of a life lived only partly as it should be, alongside the joy of being a child in a man's garb and the belief that all things are possible: a talking pig, a dog rescued from the middle of nowhere in a 'boat' that's actually only a box and which is nowhere near water, being able to hear the sounds of the house and know its pain, plucking stars from the sky.  In this story, many strange things happen, and curiously, some of the more prosaic characters actually experience them or see the consequences of them.  It isn't just Fish Lamb who's attuned to a different world.  Winton's universe is one which requires us to realise that however 'natural' or 'scientific' this world may be, it often exposes itself as something much more mysterious. 

The production values in this series are top-notch: the photography captures the beauty of the world, and the strangeness of the house, and the people inhabiting it.  The cast are uniformly excellent, with not a weak performance in sight.  The world of the late forties and fifties are visible in every costume, prop and set.  In fact, so evocative was it, that I was continually reminded of my own childhood, not just because of the settings but because of the behaviour of the people.  Time and again I was reminded of the way my uncles and aunts and cousins behaved, the stance, the postures, the gritty faces, the expressions that came out of their mouths, the sounds that came out of their mouths, the perpetual cigarettes, that freedom of life we enjoyed in that time, when children could go off on their own for hours and no one would be troubled about where they were.  

This was a treat to watch.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah

I had the chance to sing George and Ira Gershwin's song, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah again yesterday at a concert.  I hadn't sung it since way back in the early 2000s, when we included it as a surprise piece in an evening of Gershwin music.  I think I probably sang it better yesterday, though that's not saying much.

It's a piece of nonsense, of course, in which the singer claims he's 'studied all the rhymes that all the lovers sing' (on the big screen) and proceeds then to give his beloved nothing but the rhymes...the rest of the song is pretty much blah, blah or, tra la la la.  

It's not actually that easy a song to sing.  I don't mean vocally, but just to make it work is quite difficult. I played around with it more yesterday than the previous time I sang it, but just to show how differently it can be interpreted, and how it may still not come across, check out these videos of people doing it.

First, Ann Hogan, a mezzo, performs it at a lunchtime recital in St Anne's Church, Dawson St, Dublin.  The accompanist is Dearbhla Collins (which is almost an ideal name to have when accompanying this song!)

In another version, we have Eleni Pantages, accompanied by Peter Walsh. 

And finally, there's the clip from the movie, Delicious, in which the song is given some context (though not much!).  Russian immigrant Sascha, played by Raul Roulien, bets the Americanized Swedish valet Jansen, played by El Brendel, that he can't make up song lyrics.  Roulien performs Blah, Blah, as a spoof of the pop songs of the era.  This one isn't on You Tube, so you'll have to go to the link on the Turner Classic Movies site. 

If you're desperate for more versions of the song, you can find a surprising number on You Tube - they vary quite a bit in quality, as you can imagine, and in interpretation...

Sunday, August 19, 2012


We've watched a couple of DVDs over the last few days.  One of these was The Way Back, which is supposed to be based on a true story of a group of escapees from a prison camp in Siberia during the Second World War three of whom managed to make it to India finally, by walking all the way.  When I say 'supposed' apparently there's a bit of argy-bargy gone over over the years as to how much truth and how much invention is contained in the original book on which the movie is based.  And then, of course, the movie makes some changes of its own.

Be that as it may, this movie, directed by Peter Weir, is surprisingly engrossing, especially considering that it's over two hours long and for a good deal of that time the characters are walking.  Yup, walking. Naturally, other stuff happens within that, and there are inter-relational things that go on, especially when the group of men is joined by a young girl who seems to be the only one capable of getting their histories out of them.  The main character, Janusz, played by Jim Sturgess (who kept reminding me of Sam Worthington of Avatar fame for some reason) is cast in the heroic mould: not only is it his intention to find the wife who betrayed him, he also wants to bring forgiveness to her.  But beside that underlining aim, he's also the one who has the endurance and determination and skills to keep going, and to assist the others to struggle on.  Of course some don't make it - we know that only three will survive because of a note at the beginning of the movie - but that doesn't stop us being involved with their journey; the adjective 'intrepid' barely covers it.  The cast includes Ed Harris as a grizzly old American caught up in the War - he's excellent - and Colin Farrell as a Russian criminal who only gets to come along because he has a very sharp knife.  Farrell does one of his wild man performances, and covers his natural intelligence under a guise of feral survival instincts.  He's excellent too.  Saoirse Ronan, who was only 16 at the time she made the movie, brings her wonderful waif presence to her role, and, for a time, becomes the centre around which the movie moves forward.

The characters walk through Siberian forests in blizzards, over mountains in the sunshine, out into the Siberian Desert where they nearly get cooked to death, up into Tibet (snow again), and finally to India, where the women are picking tea.  The photography is superb, and the things the actors themselves have to go through in the performance of their roles is sometimes almost beyond the call of duty.   I picked this movie up at the Library without knowing anything about it.  It was well worth getting.

The other film is a documentary called The Promise of Music.  Directed by the German, Enrique Sánchez Lansch, with a German film crew, this movie looks at a number of aspects relating to El Sistena, the system used in Venezuela to teach children music and bring them into a place where they're a contributing member of a proper orchestra.  It's publicly funded in that country, and the idea is now spreading further afield, both England and Scotland have begun to use it.  It has a deeper purpose that 'just' music-making; it aims to help youngsters from poverty areas to gain a good foothold in life and get themselves out of the poverty net.  As a result, in Venezuela it was under the Social Welfare area of the Government, rather than the Cultural one.  

While this movie looks in some degree at the process of El Sistena, it focuses more on some members of the Simón Bolivar Orquesta Sinfónica and its young conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, a lively and impassioned man who began his musical career as a violinist but quickly realised that conducting was his true love, and forte.  At the beginning the Orchestra (who also appear in the video on the Scottish version of El Sestina) is in the late stages of rehearsal for a concert in Bonn, where they'll play, amongst other things, Beethoven's Eroica Symphony.  We travel with them to Bonn and see part of the concert - though if you go to another section of the disc you can see the entire concert, including the wonderful piece at the end in which they truly let their hair down, Venezuelan-style.  This is only one of the many heart-warming moments: another is when several of the children's orchestras combine together to perform Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony, with Dudamel conducting.  

But apart from the music performances, there are a number of interviews with various members of the orchestra showing how they came up through the ranks, how they feel about El Sestina, what it's like to be part of such an organisation, and much more.  These are often entertaining, as the young people, mostly in their early to mid-twenties, are a delight, though they take their music very seriously.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Existential E

I came across a website address today - - and decided, without looking it up, to imagine what the 'e' might stand for.  With all the earthquakes Christchurch has been having, it could stand for earthquake quotes, a company that keeps an eye out for you when you're buying a house so that you don't wind up with a place that gets demolished by an earthquake.

Hmmm..don't think that's going to work.  There were warnings thirty years ago about potential earthquakes in the Christchurch region.  To a great extent they were pooh-poohed.

It could stand for eternity quote, as in, will I get into heaven?  On second thoughts I'm not sure that any company would offer bets on that possibility.   Ah, maybe it's existential quote - when you're stuck for a quote that's quintessentially existential, you could contact them by email, or even chat, and ask.  If I was running such a company you might wind up with quotes where the word existential was used, rather than an existential quote, but since existential is a pretty loose concept anyway, I doubt that that would matter.  Here's an example of what I'd give you:

There is no motor driving it, no music to tether it, and nothing to hold it aloft apart from that up-draft of sensual atmosphere and existential dread. 

Seems to me that's a pretty existential sentence in itself.  It comes from the Guardian article on Hitchcock's movie, The Birds, which Xan Brooks says is his favourite Hitchcock movie.

Or this interesting piece from Salman Rushdie in The New Yorker:

The British humorist Paul Jennings, in his brilliant essay on Resistentialism, a spoof of Existentialism, proposed that the world was divided into two categories, “Thing” and “No-Thing,” and suggested that between these two is waged a never-ending war. If writing is Thing, then censorship is No-Thing, and, as King Lear told Cordelia, “Nothing will came of nothing,” or, as Mr. Jennings would have revised Shakespeare, “No-Thing will come of No-Thing. Think again.”

And finally here's a nice piece by Robert Hughes on Damien Hurst's fish artwork:

I am underwhelmed by the blither and rubbish churned out by critics, publicists and other art-world denizens about Hirst's fish and the existential risks it allegedly symbolises. 

That'll do for the way, equote is an online insurance company, though as far as I can see it doesn't give us an explanation for the 'e'.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


The NZ Government is in the process of considering bringing in a law that will protect people who are cyber-bullied.  The aim is to show the bullies just how serious their actions are, and that they could lead to a prison sentence.

Bullies aren't good at listening of course - even when the harm they do magnifies into something like suicide on the part of the victim, they have a tendency to blame the victim rather than themselves.

The video below isn't directly about bullying, but it is about the way in which we need to remember that it's a real person at the other end of the computer, and that they expect you to act as a real person too.  Regrettably, all of us at times have acted as though there isn't anyone real out there, that it's just a machine we're addressing.  Curiously, even though we think of 'it' in terms of a machine, we direct our bullying or complaint to a 'real' person we have in our head.  Holding back on the vehemence and violent language by taking a walk round the block before you sit down to write the abuse (however justified it may seem) is one way to avoid problems for all concerned.  Anyway, the video says it better than I can...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet

Not being a cyclist I've never quite understood why some people make such a fuss about wearing a helmet to protect their head in case of an accident.  Supposedly cycling has taken a downturn since helmets came in, which personally I find hard to believe.  Whatever the case, there are still people hassling about wearing these protective devices, so two women have invented the 'invisible cycle helmet.'

This short video doesn't show you the helmet until the very end: it's a neat surprise, and a leap of the imagination.

You'll have to go to Vimeo to see it (I haven't figured out how to get their videos to show up on my blog as yet).   But there's also more information about the helmet on the inventors' site.   You can also read what the Guardian wrote about it in May.

Both the women in these photos are wearing invisible helmets. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Script to book

I haven't written a post for just over a week; not sure why that should be, but c'est la vie.  Equally I'm not sure if I've mentioned it on here, but since the musical was performed I've been working on turning the script into an e-book.  Why an e-book as opposed to an ordinary book?  I was about to start the next sentence off with 'well' which is a word I often use in this blog at the beginning of things, but I was warned off it by this paragraph in Jamie Chavez's blog the other day: "Watch for repeated use of sentences beginning with “well” or “so.” It may happen a lot in real life but it’s just plain annoying in a book. If you feel you must, limit the use of this gimmick to one character. In moderation."  Chavez is talking about the use of 'well' in dialogue particularly, but it applies more generally.  I guess I use it to indicate a kind of informal tone, but I don't actually need to.  Jamie's warning will no doubt spring to mind every time I try to from now on.  (She's got plenty to say on a good number of other writing issues, too.)

As I was going to say, why an e-book?  Because it's difficult to get books published in paper at the best of times, and it's easy to publish them yourself these days.  It costs a good deal less, and your royalties are considerably more.  Of course not everyone in your prospective readership has an e-reader, but e-books can be read on computers and smart phones and iPads and so forth, so it's not as limited as it might appear.   Anyway, it's been interesting turning a script into a novel: at first you feel constrained by the original, to make sure all the dialogue stays intact, and the stage directions (and even the things from the show that got included), but then you begin to loosen up, and the book becomes less dialogue-driven, and starts to include more back story and more material that makes it more interesting.  My first draft was very dialogue-ridden.  Then I began in the next draft to turn the dialogue into indirect speech, and then as I progressed I turned it back into dialogue again, though it was now a lot less in your face. 

Good learning experience!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Old and new

I can't remember if I've ever seen The Seven Samurai before; if I have it didn't leave any visual impressions.  However, it's been on my 'would-be-good-to-see' list of movies for decades, and the other night I discovered by chance that it was available free online at something called  The quality of the video wasn't ideal - in some sections it almost became like watching a bunch of pixels without being able to discern what they were showing, but in general the film's impact remained.  This is sometimes a problem with these films that are free online: the quality can be very poor, though usually only in sections rather than as a whole.

Anyway, I watched all 200 plus minutes of the movie, with a couple of tea breaks.  It hasn't lost any of its power to engage the viewer, and the performances haven't dated in any way.   Toshirô Mifune plays Kikuchyiyo, the last one of the samurai to join the group, and he plays him as the ultimate wild man, sometimes verging on the crazy, completely careless of his life.  He's both a child and a man, the source of much amusement to the more serious samurai, but also a man of bravery.   

We first meet Kanbei, played by Takashi Shimura, who is quickly acknowledged as the leader of the samurai, when he's cutting off his hair (including the distinctive samurai knot at the back) in order to disguise himself as a priest, so that he can unman a thief who has taken a child as hostage.  His wonderful priest-like serenity, even throughout the battle between the farmers and the bandits that takes up much of the second half of the movie, is a total contrast to Mifune's character.  Isao Kimura is the young 'disciple' who is accepted as one of the samurai, and even though he was 31 when he played the role, he comes across easily as a naive youth in his late teenage years.  

The cast is full of wonderfully-played characters, every one of them distinctive (at least once you get to grips with who's who).   The story, which is basically a matter of a battle to the death between the farmers trying to protect their village (aided in due course by the samurai), and the bandits who come every year and carry off food (and women, apparently), is simple enough, but the scriptwriters weave a number of other elements into the tale so that complications arise from the personalities of the characters as well as the plot.  

Not surprisingly, it's a violent film, and there are a number of deaths on both sides.  It shows the awfulness of battle, particularly when you're not experienced, and shows how easy it is to move from cowardice to heroism, from fear to fighting mode.  The last section of the battle, which takes place in pouring rain, has the actors and horses struggling in ever-increasing mud, with swords and spears and arrows flying everywhere - as well as the gun that causes ultimate havoc.

For a more detailed review, check out Roger Ebert's one here.

Onto the new: How to Train Your Dragon is a fairly straightforward rendering of the ancient plot in which a (Viking) father doesn't understand his son (or read daughter, in the case of the even more recent, Brave), and the son has qualities that are at odds with the community.   Of course the father will continue to misunderstand his son until the latter proves his worth.  In fact there are a lot of similarities between this movie and Brave, not least the Scottish accents (Vikings with Scottish accents?).  In both cases the father is very capable in his own compartment; he just doesn't realise there are other compartments.

Hiccup, the hero of this film, is that sort of age that you can't quite pin down: according to Roger Ebert he's ten, but if that's the case he's a very competent ten-year-old (when he's doing what he does well).  However, the dialogue he's given is rather too smart for a ten-year-old, and sometimes so undercuts the warmth of the character that he doesn't become particularly endearing.   His female counterpart is feisty, as you'd expect in the 21st century, although she does have a brief moment when she succumbs to the boy's charms (her usual response to him is to thump him on the arm).

The story is about a Viking village, which at first appears to have a tiny population; our view is significantly altered towards the end when it's plain that it's a much bigger place, with a lot more people, than the filmmakers first implied.  Dragons continually carry off the sheep (they're the equivalent of the bandits in Seven Samurai, perhaps), and the Vikings, including Hiccup, continually devise ways to kill them, because that's what Vikings do.  However, Hiccup inadvertently captures one, tries to kill it and can't.  This leads to a delightful friendship, and the big showdown when it's discovered that the dragons themselves aren't actually the problem.

There are some good comedy moments, and the main characters are fairly sharply drawn - the lesser characters quickly lapse into 'flat' characters - although the overweight boy who seems to have no brains is the one who's actually read the manual on dragons, unlike the others in his group.  The film would be better on the big screen: as a DVD it seemed too busy at times.   Perhaps a second viewing would improve that, as it often does.   (Is it me, or do animated movies tend to include far too much detail?)