Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Poor Man's Moody Blues

It's weird; while one writes a blog in the hope that people will read it (I think), when people start reading it you suddenly become acutely aware of quality control (or, at least I do). Suddenly things I'd normally waffle on about seem self-indulgent, pointless and irrelevant...

Anyhow, moving on with a bucket load of odds and sods...

Someone asked me last week why my last entry was called 'Von', which led them to asking me why my blog entries all have completely unrelated titles? Actually, it's pretty much straightforward - the title of the blog is determined by the record I'm playing when I start to write it. Sometimes, a song will inspire me to write something that could be construed as just a clever play on words; but on the whole it is just the song title I'm listening to. The main exception being 'The Passion of Lovers', which is a song title, by a band I only give house room because the wife is a fan, that fits perfectly (I think) with my semi-regular blatherings about football.

A Poor Man's Moody Blues is a song by Barclay James Harvest from their most successful album Gone to Earth. Now, this is an album with a strange history for me. It came out in 1977 and had the single Hymn on it, which both my dad and I thought was really good. However, I come from a decidedly agnostic/atheist family and Hymn sounded just like a hymn, therefore it was one of those records that I hid under a bushel. I mean, you didn't just broadcast you liked a God squad record if you wanted to pull, did you?

The religious connection seemed to continue. I bought my dad the album and when I left home I decided that I wanted a copy of it; so, back in cassette tape days, I did a copy and kept it at the back of my tape drawer. In the early 1980s, I met this guy called Daniel; he was only on our scene for a very short amount of time, but he introduced us all to some new music. One particular album he liked was called Are You Free on Saturday by some bloke called Alan Ross. I borrowed the album, decided I wanted a copy, found I had no blank tapes, only one blank side, the other side of the BJH album. It would have to do.

Several listenings of Are you Free on Saturday? and I was convinced that it was a God squad album. There were some strange references in it, culminating in a song called The Man in the White Glove that I was convinced was a song about Jesus. It appeared that I'd correctly placed this album with the only other God album in my collection. In an embarrassing way, this was a result...

About three years ago, I had the chance of buying the vinyl album of Alan Ross's album and at a snip of £5. If there hadn't been other stuff I'd wanted, I would have resisted the urge. You see, the God tape had mysteriously got chewed to buggery in an old tape deck and no longer was any good - I just kept it to remind myself that it would be ... nice... to have a copy again one day. It turned up, I listened to it, I was still convinced that it was a religion fuelled album. Then, because of the fantastic thing called the Internet, I did a search and found out shed loads about Alan Ross and about this and another album he'd made. Alan Ross was a bit of a hippy, but there was nothing to suggest he was a BAC. Then I found a forum that had discussed Are you Free on Saturday? and it seemed that the song I felt was the main culprit was actually about a drug dealer and the power that he wielded over his customers - white glove being a metaphor for heroin.

Doh!

Anyhow, this morning, I'm sitting in my office farting about with my latest Facebook addiction - Social City - and I thought, "I think I'll listen to something other than Ulrich Schnauss today." So grabbed my disc case of MP3 compilations and took pot luck. Hence why I was listening to Barclay James Harvest and what inspired me to write this opening sequence. The first track to come on was Hymn and it really is a lovely song that is often mistaken to be a Christmas record. I thought, "Is this a God record; some of the lyrics are a bit ambiguous?" So I went in search of BJH on wiki and to discover the truth about Hymn.

Oh dear. Remember recently I said I'm not really a lyrics person? Well, um... I'm really not a lyrics person. Considering my supposed literary abilities, it appears my ability to interpret lyrics is pretty much as good as my joke telling abilities. Hymn is, I quote, "... actually a song against the dangers of drug use and dedicated to musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Paul Kossoff and Janis Joplin..." So really there's only one thing I can say...

My names Phil. There's this song by Barclay James Harvest, it's called Hymn. It might sound like a religious record (and if you think it is and still like it that's okay), but it isn't and it's really good. I've owned the single since 1977.

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I had this mental list of bollocks I was going to waffle on about today, but it all sort of got pushed out of my short term memory by all the other stuff that's going through it; so if I recover any of those memories in the next ½ hour, you'll be the first to know about it. But first, it's time for me to go AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!

I'm using up the last of my annual leave next week. Having to use nearly 3 weeks up in 3 months is actually pretty hard, especially as I've been really enjoying my project at work. But I've had a bunch of Mondays and Fridays off for the last 3 months and because of the totally fabulous winter we've had, the few times I've ventured out on these days off, I've resembled Scott of the Antarctic and subsequently with the last couple of weeks showing some signs of spring, I figured that I'd use the last of my holiday on having the few days up to Easter off. It's the end of March, how bad could the weather possibly get?

The weather nerd in me has three weather sites bookmarked. All three - the relatively accurate BBC, the better than average Weather.co.uk and the anything but Accuweather site. All three of them are in total agreement. There's going to be a bitter blast from the East on Tuesday and most places will see some snow on Wednesday; the rest of the week and Easter is going to be cold and below seasonal averages.

Last week, the press was awash with 2010 being the best summer since 1976. It's guaranteed guys; some people who can't even get next week's weather right, reckon this summer is going to be so hot you'll be able to boil eggs in your underpants/knickers! One weather forecaster on Radio5 even said he'd come back on the show in September to either say 'I told you so' or worm his way out by making feeble excuses.

This sort of sits with my 'It'll be a nice summer because we deserve one' theory that I hear every so often and makes as much sense as Katie Price's popularity. The forecasters say they are basing their claims on weather trends and how the weather in other parts of the year tends to affect us. The last time El Nino got as far north as Canada we had one of the wettest and coolest summers in years and at the time forecasters were all saying it was because of the southern Pacific's own version of the gulf stream. So, how come we've just had the greenest and warmest Winter Olympics in Vancouver; all thanks to El Nino; and forecasters are confidently claiming we're in for 100+ degrees?

It's certainly had people talking about it. Being positive about the coming months is always good, especially for a faltering economy, on the verge of a general election and with the effects of the recession still biting. The last thing anyone needs is to be told that after the coldest winter in nearly 50 years, that we're in for a really crappy summer; is it?

If it snows on Wednesday I think I might cry...

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Never really got on well with cider, so the rise in the price doesn't bother me. Those people who are discerning cider drinkers will probably feel hard done by, but for the rest of us who see the human wreckage that Diamond White and its ilk have left will think its a sensible idea - just so long as they leave real ale alone.

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Football is about as exciting as it could possibly be at the moment. Who would have thought it?

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I had to write a press release last week. It was quite strange really, after years of interpreting press releases, I've never really had to write one. Yeah, I knocked them together for Borderline, but that was easy really. I just took the template of comicbook press releases and followed that. This was a proper press release, has to go through the right channels and be approved by all and sunder. It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.

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There might be a second part to this over the next few days; if I can remember what the other things I was going to waffle about were...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Von

It's official! We have a sequel!!

2009 was the Year of the Shoulder; 2010 is the year the shoulder fights back!

Do I really need to explain? No, didn't think so. I think it's well chronicled from about November that I was experiencing some... problems. But over the last couple of months its been like deja vu every single day, with my shoulder, in good sequel fashion, returning more painful and said pain covering more area.

Enough was enough and I went back to my GP and complained rather quietly and grumbled for weeks until I got my consultant's appointment. The thing was, unlike before, painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs were not even touching it - it was like it was a different kind of pain - an evil one...

Yesterday couldn't come sooner; I think that the work I've done in the last few months has kept me from going quietly insane, that and the almost stupid need to impress upon my colleagues that I'm actually a useful person. I confided with a colleague a couple of weeks ago that if this had been like last year - in the office, I think I would probably have lost it big time. But, because I've been enjoying my job, the shoulder has taken a backseat and I have not had one day off because of it. That might be about to change...

Mr Biswas has a funny name, but he saved me a lot of grief. I went straight in for an x-ray on my shoulder, thinking, 'hah, I'll bet they won't find anything, this is all in head!' I was in and out of x-ray faster than it takes to Google the words Calcified Tendons. A few minutes later and I was sitting in Biswas's office staring at my shoulder and thinking, 'it looks like my shoulder is shattered!'
"You see this?" He said pointing at the 3 floating objects above my shoulder. I nodded. "This is what the problem is and I'm betting its giving you constant pain and unlike last time you can't get any relief?" I nodded in almost total amazement. No having to show him how I can't use it, how it feels like a useless lump of flesh hanging there at times. He summed up all of it in one sentence. "What this is, is highly unusual so soon after an operation. This is where your tendons have been damaged by the impingement that was shaved off, but they have healed with high concentrates of calcium in them." I nodded again, transfixed and hoping there was some 'easy' solution. He got a model of a shoulder and showed me how the tendons which were being eviscerated by my dodgy shoulder blade had healed, but now because they were mimicking bone, they were causing almost the same problem as before; except this time with added area. "This is because this tendon connects to all the muscles in your shoulder, it controls the movement of your shoulder and because it isn't right it is causing all your muscles to be injured in some way." this was sounding grimmer still. Apparently, what is unusual about it is the fact it usually happens about 2 or 3 years after an operation, not 2 or 3 months!

"There are two things we can do. The first one is to attempt to get the process to heal itself forcibly, because while it will heal itself naturally, but it could take up to 5 years, and we cannot let you suffer for this long. This involves injecting your tendon with a fast working steroid and giving it two weeks to see if this accelerates the natural cleaning process that your body undertakes when things like this happen. If this doesn't work, and we'll know within two weeks, then we will have to operate again, and I will have to physically cut out the calcified areas. this, unfortunately, is a far more difficult operation than your initial surgery and you could be incapacitated for up to 2 months and will need extensive physiotherapy." This rather deflated me, as you might expect. I don't fancy another summer of boredom and hell!

But, first the injection and frankly I've had worse things happen to me, but not that often. I can't remember what it was or the dose, because I turned away, but I needed to be told to breath several times by the nurse because I was experiencing quite possibly one of the most intense pains I have ever experienced. Pardon me for being blunt, but guys, it was akin to having someone inject something thick into your testicles while squeezing them really really hard, like they were a stubborn spot. And it bled! I didn't realise it had until I took the plaster off this morning, but there was heaps of ... leakage.

But, he also injected me with a local anaesthetic first which gave me almost 4 hours of totally pain free life - which was nice.

The high dose of steroids has given me a really thick head all day and I've felt muzzy headed and useless (so no changes there then...), it's too early to tell if it has done any good, but I'm really keeping my fingers crossed that this works. March 31st is the second leg, so to speak, it would be nice to have some good news.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Zombie Love

Just in case I haven't been before, I'm going to be a bit self-indulgent...

You know how sometimes you just realise something? All the things drop into place and you say, 'well, I never knew that!'. I'm sure it happens to all of us at some point; I know it has to me (sometimes on embarrassingly simple things). Not so often is when you look at your life or an aspect of it and realise that you've been deluding yourself, or maybe not so much deluding but not realising the real truth. Now, this all sounds really heavy, but in truth it isn't. It's about music...

Throughout my life, whatever group of friends I've hung with would probably have categorised my music taste as being either rock or prog rock fuelled. This isn't a far off description; rock and prog have been major influences in my listening habits. The first single I ever bought was The Doors' Touch Me, when I was 6. The thing is, this song should have told the story a long time ago, but it stayed steadfastly ignorant.

Touch Me is a Ray Manzarek song and Manzarek was the wizard Hammond organ player.

My earliest memories of the 1970s were mainly of Genesis. They were the most often played albums in the house and the tracks that I was most attracted to were the ones with heavy keyboards and synthesisers. In fact, you look at a list of pop songs from the early 70s that I liked and you'll see a common theme - synthesisers. Lucky Man by ELP a particular favourite, but there was stuff by Magic Fly, Chicory Tip, Hot Butter, and loads of others that have drifted from my memory but would come bouncing back should one turn up on the radio.

The late 1970s brought my first real obsession with a different kind of music. Still listening to Genesis, Floyd, Yes and a host of 70s prog and rock bands, you would have thought that it would have been punk that took hold of me and whisked me away; but I found most punk unlistenable when I was a teenager, the only band I had any time for was The Stranglers... are you beginning to see a pattern develop? No, it was something different in a less extreme way. Around 1977, I was introduced to two albums; the first was Autobahn by Kraftwerk, of which the track Morgenspaziergang was on constant rotation. The second was Spiral by Vangelis. By 1980, I had everything Vangelis ever did (including the impenetrable and experimental Beaubourg) and to this was albums from Jean Michel Jarre, Tubeway Army (who I really thought for about 10 minutes were the future of music) and, of course, the now obligatory keyboards heavy albums that began to proliferate at this time of the 20th century.

Despite all my rock n roll leanings, getting into indie music during the 80s and 90s, it was always synthesiser or keyboard led music that I was brought back to. The tracks that stood out for me were the rousing crescendos that only a bank of computers could achieve.

In the late 90s, I had one of those revelatory moments mentioned earlier. I was sitting in the pub talking to Roger about music and it suddenly dawned on me why he liked bands such as The Smiths, The Clash and stuff that sat at the other end of our mutually similar music taste. Roger is a lyrics man. For him the music is important, but its the lyrics that transform a song from being average to being great. I hate The Clash and The Smiths with a passion - have you noticed that neither of them has a keyboard player?

If you look at my record collection, which if we did seriously would take all week, but just at a few examples. I have solo albums by Tony Banks (Genesis), Rick Wakeman (Yes), Steve Winwood (Traffic), Richard Wright (Floyd), Brian Eno (Roxy Music), Vangelis (Aphrodite's Child), the list is pretty long and these are all keyboard players. Yet I still didn't see the stark reality in front of me.

Yes, Underworld, Tears for Fears, Tangerine Dream, Talk Talk, Ulrich Schnauss, M83, Stranglers, Simple Minds, Sigur Ros, Jean Michel Jarre, Secret Machines, Rush, Genesis, PIL, Propaganda, Primal Scream, Porcupine Tree, Floyd, Zep's last studio album, Ozric Tentacles, Orbital, The Orb, William Orbit, Bill Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe, Moody Blues, Moby, Mew, Massive Attack, Chapterhouse, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Hybrid, Hidria Space Folk, Heartbreakers, FSOL, Amorphous Androgynous, Flaming Lips, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Charlatans, Bowie, Blow Up Hollywood, Maxxess, Air, the Beatles and all of the space rock and psychedelic music I listen to. This and much more represents more than 50% of my record collection.

Then, yesterday, listening to Ulrich Schnauss's Goodbye, I had this thought; I've waited all my life for music like this.

I still regard out and out rock music as something of a life blood. I don't think I could do without a lot of my rock music; but even some of that has elements of all of the things above; heavy production, bass pedals, effects, things that make the sound BIGGER and richer. I discovered a few years before he died that my dad could actually play the piano. This was a bit of a huge surprise to all of us, but he'd had piano lessons when he was a kid, because they didn't have Nintendos in those days. He had a similar ear for music that I had and we would share a love of certain tracks - Silent Sorrows in Empty Boats by Genesis from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, being a prime example. For many people its a nothing 5 minute piece of instrumental filler; probably designed to give the drummer a rest when playing the entire set; but to us it was uplifting chorus of angels type piece of music about hope. It was the moments of pure production that we both loved, which explains why we both love and loved the Nelson Riddle era of Frank Sinatra - nothing could top Riddle's production - everything was rich, deep and right there in your face.

So, I'm a techno head, or at least I probably would have been had I been born 10 years later. My real love in music is blazing keyboards, full throttle moogs and plinky plinky noises. It explains a lot of things, but probably not why I have 3 Billy Joel albums...

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Passion of Lovers (Part 6)

It's football time again, so switch off all you round ball haters...

The BBC has this nifty bit of kit on its football web pages called 'predictor' and it allows you to guess the remaining results of the season and update the table accordingly. When you support one of the four teams seriously vying for that 4th Champions League place, this tool suddenly takes on a new dimension. My own club aside, I've tried as hard as I could to be as objective and unbiased as I could and still, despite the easier run in, couldn't get Liverpool to finish 4th. That included them getting a point against Wigan, which, of course, didn't happen.

Liverpool's disastrous season has been one of the bonus extras in a Premier League season that is still too close to call on just about every front. 3 teams all capable of winning it; four teams all trying their hardest not to finish 4th and 8 teams all capable of being relegated along with Portsmouth. Even the FA Cup, despite Chelsea's presence, has the air of far more interesting than it has been for a while.

The individual battles are intriguing, with Chelsea seemingly blowing the chance of a big lead every time the opportunity arises; Man U who are showing an inconsistency that would have been punished had this been any other year and The Arse could still win it despite looking poor against the two better teams than them and dropping points against lowly opposition. My heart says Chelsea, my head thinks Man U might now just sneak it.

The 4th place war of attrition is looking like a straight race between Man Citeh and Aston Villa, with Spurs (by virtue of their poor record against the top 3 are guaranteed to drop at least 9 points in the run in) and Liverpool fighting it out for the last Mickey Mouse Europa Cup place. The reason I think Citeh or Villa will get the spot is because while Citeh have an awful run-in against some form sides, it's been against the form sides that this team has shown their metal; while Villa has the easiest of run ins, it depends on whether the League Cup Final defeat and their FA Cup commitments will take their toll - they have faded in previous years.

With Portsmouth assured of relegation (if they get points docked for going into administration) then the favourites to join them are either Burnley or Hull, but West Ham, Wolves, Wigan, Bolton and amazingly Sunderland could all get dragged into it if they suffer a string of crippling defeats (stand up the Hammers who have 3 of the top 5 in the next 3 weeks).

Special mentions to Everton who would have been up there making it 5 teams challenging for 4th if they hadn't suffered injuries comparable to a 1958 Man U team at the start of the season and Stoke, who I believe will be the team that has a say in who will win the league this year, just like they did last.

The FA Cup is looking like a Chelsea v Tottenham final, possibly Tottenham v Aston Villa, if either case happens, Spurs have the history on their side. two major finals against Chelsea and two 2-1 victories; one major final against Villa and one 2-0 victory. However, Spurs have to overcome a difficult Fulham at WHL first and then a Portsmouth team with nothing to lose in the semi. Wouldn't it be ironic if Portsmouth got to the final, won it and then got relegated!

The Premiership is exciting, but the league that really excites me at the moment is the Blue Square Conference, and trust me, I'm not bullshitting you. As a fan of football, I've always liked to follow the fortunes of other teams, especially those local to me or with some personal reference, so the BSC has a lot of interest for me and this is why:
Currently sitting 2nd are Stevenage, the town of my birth and the ground where Spurs play all their reserve matches. In 3rd place are Rushden & Diamonds, resurgent after a few years teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. This is the team I have seen live more times in the last 15 years than any other team. In 4th place are Kettering, another local team with history and the town where I work. All three teams are fighting it out for an automatic promotion place, of which Oxford hold top spot. I've had a soft spot for Oxford for years; a team of some history and a favourite city of mine. More tenuously, AFC Wimbledon, currently in 7th, are the phoenix from the ashes of the team that once won the FA Cup and baffled aficionados by staying in the top flight for many years; seeing them doing well is a delight. Then there's Luton Town, hard done by when punished by the Football League for another administrations bad management and condemned to the Conference after a 30 point penalty - this former top tier team fought bravely and now lie in 5th, in a play-off place.

Plus there's York, another former league club, who up until Monday were also in a play-off place, but lost 6 points when tragic Chester City ceased to exist - a team that just last year was in League 2. With Mansfield also pushing for a play-off, the Conference looks more interesting than League 2 at the moment and this one could go right down to the wire. I'd love to see Stevenage in the league, but I also think its time Kettering had a shot, having knocked on the door do often in the 70s and 80s and now no longer maligned, Rushden would be a welcome addition to the league, proving that you can get back to where you were despite countless set backs.

Briefly... Newcastle look set to bounce back and I'd have a few quid of Nottm Forest making the big return under Billy Davies. Wouldn't fancy their chances of staying in the EPL if they do though.
Norwich lost 7-1 at home on the opening day of their debut League 1 season and now are 5 points clear of Leeds in 1st. It will be good to see them back in the Championship, but if early pace-setters Leeds want to join them they have to start remembering how to win again or Leeds haters will have a field day come May. League 2 holds no interest for me at all, but I think it'll be a shame to see Darlington disappear.

There's still all to play for.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

One for Harry

My writing career has been far more successful than I could have possibly imagined. As a naive and optimistic teenager, I felt I could become the next big British writer and when I completed my first novella in 1979, I was convinced that I had what it takes. Three years later, I finished my first novel - The Future - which, to be fair, has some usable ideas in it...

Then some good things and some bad things intervened and I never picked a pen up in any imaginative sense for a long time. My typewriter gathered dust and when I got my first PC of any description the word processing package was one of the least used.

The turning point came in 1989, fully seven years later. I had opened Squonk!! and I wanted to connect with my customers even more than the personal touch. I wanted to produce an in-shop fanzine that told the people who kept me in business, all the things that went on in the shop, in the comics industry and with their favourite comics. This, cheaply produced, bundle of A4 pages only managed one issue, but that was enough to raise my head over the edge and I got noticed. By 1990, I'd submitted my first article for what was to become Movers & Shakers - comics first gossip and marketing column, forerunner to anything Rich Johnston or any other Internet bods came up with.

Writing Movers, led to more article writing and invites from leading US fan magazines to contribute to them and eventually when Squonk!! rode into the sunset, I started to get paid for writing about comics. I had articles published all the time and I became rather blasé about it. However, I rarely sat down at the monitor and wrote for pleasure or for any other reason than to talk and discuss the industry I was in.

Then, in the mid 1990s, I had an idea and that idea grew into a story and that story grew into a sprawling epic that, when I stopped slogging my guts out over it, ran to 345,000 words. It was, essentially a story about a group of people, who had grown up together, but when one wins a massive amount of money on the lottery, how it changes their lives, despite the insistence that it wouldn't. I was looking at it the other day - thank someone for still building PCs with floppy disk drives. I was amazed how it ran to so many words, so many chapters... and yet nothing really happened. It was written like one huge long play, incredibly dialogue heavy and 15 years on makes my first effort look classic. The thing was I needed to write some stuff out of my system. You don't just sit back at a keyboard after a huge long gap and start writing with any verve or panache; you have to practice and, more importantly, you have to be aware and observant.

After that aborted effort, the floodgates opened and currently I have over 120 ideas in various stages - some are as long as 100,000 words, others have a title and a brief description. There have also been two completed projects: the first Gentle By Name is one of my least proudest moments. It was written in the space of 3 months in 2000. It was a landmark story because I actually finished it! It is also amongst the best and worst prose I have ever written. Only a handful of people have read it - it needed a good editing and a thorough rewrite, but I wanted to get some reaction. Only two people finished it; not because it was so badly written, but because it was just thoroughly nasty and bereft of any levity, whatsoever.

The second is a curio as it doesn't really have a title and unlike the story mentioned above, which was 83,000 words, this was well over a quarter of a million and it attempted to an autobiographical spin on the comics industry - sounds boring and it was described by someone as one humongous blog entry. From a personal point of view, it left out key things that just couldn't be shoehorned in without it seeming like I'd just shoehorned them in. It didn't focus firmly enough on elements I wanted to get across because of my fears of lawsuits; but above all else it was cathartic, Once I wrote that sprawling mess, I'd managed to exorcise most of comics from my system.

That happened probably as long ago as 5 years and while I've been busy knocking out ideas by the van load, I've rarely finished anything. I've tried writing short stories and they either end up developing into bigger projects or petering out. But in 2008, I had this idea, one that I believed might possibly be the kind of break one needs.

With the assistance of some time collaborator and dear friend Martin Shipp, the two of us started work on Sea View - what we believed would be the greatest TV show since the last one. I had this idea of a kind of Ballykissangel meets Monarch of the Glenn meets The Twilight Zone meets Lost kind of Sunday night drama. It involved a no-life waster inheriting a run down hotel in a place not too dissimilar to Lulworth Cove - a World Heritage Site - which boasts millions of visitors a year; except this place is a bit odd. There were an assortment of strange characters, the kind you often get in TV series set in the middle of nowhere and the idea was to have this young guy turn up and try to work out why his new hotel, situated in such a popular place, is making no money at all. Gradually, as the first six parts of the series unfolds, you discover that the hotel and the coastal village it sits in have some rather strange things going on.

The plan was to have six tales of quirky life in the village with the hotel as the backdrop; interspersed in this would be some strange people, things and happenings, just to make the viewer wonder if everything they are seeing is right. Eventually we would reveal that the village sits on a temporal anomaly and most of the villagers are either from different times or continually use the rift to go backwards and forwards in time to steal and cement their own easy going lives - chief amongst these are the current management team in charge of Sea View - who don't trust the new owner one bit and constantly try to obstruct him.

Martin and I spent over 6 months developing ideas, writing, rewriting, meeting up and doing timings and reworking things all the time. We edited each other, cut and pasted and worked it into a completed script for a pilot episode. The plan was to take it to production companies and see if we could sell it.

Then we got feedback. Not as much as we wanted, but enough. we did something interesting; we sent copies of the pilot to friends and to friends who have experience working with scripts and writing. Exactly what we thought happened with the bunch sent to friends - they all loved it, thought it was great and because we'd furnished them with a synopsis sheet, they knew roughly what all the mysterious references related to. With the other friends, we sent along no synopsis page - we sent it to them the way we would have sent it to a production company.

The reaction wasn't good. The criticisms came back - it was confusing and the dialogue was just awful - full of stereotypical characters and no one person has a distinct voice. Martin and I were stunned. We had spent so much time working on the dialogue that this was a shattering blow. But instead of going back to the drawing board, we just scrubbed the idea and consigned it to the 'maybe another day' pile. Which, I think is a bit of a shame, because I still think the idea has legs. It would be relatively cheap to produce; would have pushed all the right cosy Sunday night drama buttons as well as offering something a little weird for those who like a bit of oddity in their viewing.

The reason I'm talking about this now is the number of atrociously bad dramas that are appearing on both sides of the pond. I sat through 4 seasons of Heroes aghast at the incomprehensible and disconnected dialogue being delivered; the number of times I shouted at the screen, "People don't say that!" But Heroes is nothing compared to say Smallville, which has dialogue that sounds like it was written by an algorithm rather than a person. In fact, most television series with a fantasy element have some god-awful spoken words. Just look at most British sitcoms of the last 15 years - the only people that talk that way are people in bad sitcoms.

The biggest problem, I feel, with Sea View is that it's a big idea wrapped up in a small premise. If you want to sell an idea cold to a production company, you have to grab them by the balls immediately; they haven't got time to read through all the accompanying background info; they want to pick up a script and flick through it and say, 'yeah, this looks good.' we couldn't achieve that because we were aiming far too high and ambitiously. We're both clever men, we know what the average British viewer watches, even if we don't watch them ourselves, and we tried to cater for this demographic and probably forgot to make the intro as dynamic as we could. I think we figured if we could get some interest, we could sell the idea through talking.

Both Martin and I have toyed with doing something again; we can only have gained from our last attempt. We both have a desire to either resurrect an old 70s classic and update it, or do our own style version of something that wouldn't have seemed out of place in the 1970s. We both seem to be erring towards mystery and detectives with quirks. Martin seems to be going the Champions route, while I'm more into the Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) idea of having a zombie detective and his glamorous assistant (an idea that has been done in comics, but one I can date back on my PC to 1998). I think we're pretty much destined to have another go at this, mainly because we both wonder how most writers get work on telly (well, we do know, but we're hoping there's more comfortable ways of achieving success).

That just leaves me with the latest in my long list of attempted projects. It's something to do with the future and is about the end of civilisation as we know it and the discovery of two things that give humanity hope. I'll say no more, because if the law of averages is constant then I'll never mention that again...

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Two Princes

I didn't really start supporting Tottenham Hotspur because my family did. I supported them because they had a cool name. Hotspur... conjures up so much. Likewise, when I decided to follow a Scottish team, I opted to follow Stenhousemuir, because they have got such a cool name! It occurred to me that the strangest things hook us in. Some things just have a profound effect on us and that's it - game over - we're hooked, despite seeing all the reasons why we shouldn't be.

I was born into a Labour family, so it was always taken for granted that I'd vote Labour. Yet, if you follow the logic applied above, the better odds would have been on me being a follower of the Monster Raving Loony Party. Yet, despite them having Screaming Lord Sutch, they didn't have Michael Foot. As a teenager, who would today be erring towards a floating voter, I wanted to make my own mind up about politics and that meant deciding which of the old fuddy-duddies appealed to me the most.

Oddly enough I was attracted to the man who looked like Gollum's Granddad and his sidekick, the erudite one with the big eyebrows. If two people this strange could represent the UK then I wanted to be on their side. I then started to agree with their policies and the die was caste.

Aged 96, Michael Foot died yesterday. He led Labour to a landslide defeat. He had one thing that divided him from many politicians today - he actually cared about his country and its people. He also identified Thatcher as a very dangerous person long before the rest of us realised it.

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Mentioning comics the other day sort of inspired me to revisit some nostalgia, which meant ripping open the sealed box of comics that didn't get sold when the boiler went tits up. I figured the best place to start was at the beginning...

The first American comic I ever bought with my own pocket money was Swamp Thing #1 (which along with a Doors record being the first single I ever bought, is pretty cool!) and while I've sold that comic (not for the first time), I kept hold of the trade paperback collecting the first 10 issues. The 10 issues that I've always believed were shining examples to modern comics creators of how the art should be done.

Revisiting something like this is like going back to a place you grew up in but have rarely returned to. It's familiar, but a lot has changed. Reading Dark Genesis is a little like that, but it also has more of that, 'I really used to think this place was the bee's knees, but its just really a load of rubbish' feel to it.

The artwork, by Bernie Wrightson, who for years has been classed as my favourite comics artist, is patchy at best. The covers were outstanding and many of the big frames and splash panels could be hung on any wall; but the rest of it is poor, often rushed and doesn't really convey a story. But that might have something to do with Len Wein's unbelievably awful scripts. Yes, some of the ideas in the first 10 issues were ahead of their time; conspiracy theories, strange and mysterious organisations and that whole American Gothic kind of feel, lifted Swamp Thing above most other comics being produced at the time. But one feels that all Wein was doing was trying to weave some story around all these cool images that Wrightson was knocking out. I can imagine Len walking into Bernie's studio and saying, "Hey, I love all those freaks you've drawn, let's see if I can come up with stories we can use them in."

So, many many years after last reading them, I realise that these examples of comics genius are actually pretty crappy. There is an inconsistency in them that makes recent TV series Heroes look positively Shakespearean and it ends up being so clichéd and contrived that you wonder how people got jobs as editors at DC in those days.

The weird thing about Swamp Thing was that Wein & Wrightson's replacements, David Michelinie and Nestor Redondo probably did a far better job of conveying a story than their illustrious predecessors and at the time I regarded issues #11 through to #22 better in many respects than the first 10 (although Wein didn't actually leave until #13). From that point on Swamp Thing just got very silly, culminating in Alan Moore's reinvention of the character that made fanboys' orgasmic at the faintest whiff of it, but I still regard as just an excuse to pour a drug-addled stream of consciousness onto an unsuspecting nerd arena.

Of course, much of this might have to do with the fact that I hate comics with a passion now and would struggle to find any good out there. But that's not the case; there are still some comics that float my boat; but it appears that I might have sold them in favour of comics that I thought still floated my boat...

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I apologise if I'm beginning to sound like an old scratched record but I am getting royally peed off with this never-ending winter. Yes, I know that the beginning of March is still winter to everyone bar the Met Office, but we've had 5 days in Northampton since the 14th of December where the temperature has risen above 5 degrees and those days have felt positively sub-tropical. Now I understand how people in Northern Norway can walk around in T-shirts at 0 degrees and look comfortable...

The latest Met Office monthly forecast has this cold weather remaining until the end of the month, with uncertainty about whether we'll see our airflow return to its predominant westerlies or if we're going to remain under the blanket of colder air.

But the thing about this weather that is really hacking me off more than anything is the growing number of people saying to me, "Well, we should get a good summer, we deserve it."

Um...

Since when did what we deserve have any bearing on the weather? It's not like we can will the weather into doing what we want, otherwise we'd have willed this bloody awful winter away and be basking in temperatures of double figures!

What we'll get is what we'll get and all the forecasts in the world probably won't get it right. The chances are, however, with El Nino having already made the Vancouver winter Olympics the warmest in memory, it will have a similar affect on our climate, just as it did when it went as high as it just has, 7 years ago. Cool, cloudy, quite wet and uninspiring; that's what we'll get, you mark my words and by the time October rolls around everyone will wonder if Global warming is just a huge media conspiracy - not that it is, but take someones warmth away for long enough and they'll revert to encouraging a short term panic.

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Today's entry was brought to you by the word 'cool' (which I overused to enormously cool levels!)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Nobody's Hero

Never say never again!

It's quite ironic that I have something to say about comics. Seeing as I have nothing to say about them. But as the man who brought market speculation and the concept of the comicbook as a bankable commodity to the UK, I feel I have to make some comment about the sale of both Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 being sold for more than $1million each.

Gee. That's a lot of money.

Nuff said.