Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Big Sell-Out

I think I'm feeling more human again. Which is a good thing. Whether I was suffering from Oxycodone withdrawal or I had a bout of coincidental real flu, I don't care. But today, I feel a little more like my old self. That said, since I've stopped taking the man-made morphine I am suffering from back, hip and groin pain again. But even that doesn't feel quite as bad as it did. Maybe, and optimism isn't really my strong point, but maybe I might be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Even the nasty whack I took to my thigh last week has come out - leaving a bruise that is quite sickening to look at, but is at least coming out.

I mean, how long can this shit last?

***

However, despite feeling a little better, I haven't really got much to talk about. I did just go through a really unpleasant last five days - in more ways than just the above - and at times I actually thought I was losing my mind.

I'm just about at the end of my B movie bonanza. I fell asleep during Them! yesterday, despite the fact that it actually is a pretty well made movie and calling it a B is probably an insult - especially as it has a cast that would not be out of place in a 'proper' film. It also appears to have been written with a certain degree of skill. I fell asleep because I was just plain exhausted, which sounds a bit weird coming from a man who has barely been able to move for best part of the last month; but I have had recurring bouts of insomnia and when you lay in bed between 3am and the wife's alarm at 6am, I suppose you have to catch up at some point.

Speaking of insomnia - this was heightened, I believe, by me stopping smoking. My achievement has somewhat been overshadowed by my health issues, but I'll have stopped for a month on Thursday and I suppose it has been easier than I expected because I've had so much to keep my mind occupied. In fact, I'm bloody amazed that I haven't been out and bought a packet of tobacco and OD'd on it!

***

I firmly believe that whatever government we have in power, they should do something about arseholes letting fireworks off on any day apart from November 5th. I realise that the current administration is highly unlikely to do anything - I mean, firework manufacturers and sellers need to earn money so they can employ more of the public sector casualties - but it really isn't fare to all the people in the country who own pets.

On Saturday night, we got back from going shopping and had three of our four dogs quivering in fear; one of them, Murray, was so panicked that I thought he'd been permanently traumatised. The shame of it is that for the last two years it hasn't been that bad; but on Saturday one of our neighbours decided to have a firework party - one whole week before Bonfire Night, the twats - and it seemed that every rocket and airborne banger went off directly overhead. It seems to me that whenever we have anything like a Tory government people seem to think they can get away with murder and if one of my pups had died from fright, I would have been calling it murder. My dogs are my kids and if I had forced next door's two boys to be subjected to two hours of something that scared the wits out of them, I'd get prosecuted.

We're a nation of animal lovers? Like fuck we are.

At least we didn't have to suffer Trick or Treaters knocking on our door last night. It might have had something to do with the sign - "All Trick or Treaters will be fed to my terrified dogs" hanging from the doorbell...

***

My MRI scan is a week tomorrow. I won't get the results back until the 17th. I am going to try and keep my health issues out of this blog for the next 17 days, even if it means not actually writing anything for the next 17 days. But, then again, I'm sure that won't disappoint many people!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reward

I promise I'll stop talking about my health soon enough. I just thought that today's piece of poetic justice was worth mentioning...

I've been suffering, not from pain, but from the withdrawal of my artificial heroin addiction. I've been sweating, shivering and sweating and generally feeling sick (and sweaty). It's the reason why I stopped taking the pills 24 hours ago, even though I had a good idea that my body would react this way. Today, sitting here, doing the research on my last blog entry, I broke out in a cold sweat that was almost unbelievable to accept if I wasn't a first person witness to it. I watched my black T-shirt go an even darker shade of black as around my armpits, my chest and stomach area. I was amazed - as well as not very happy. It really isn't a nice sensation, but it was worth watching. it was like I'd run a marathon in my head but my body reacted like it really did do a marathon. It was so bad, the sweat was almost dripping off of my forehead.

Anyhow, that isn't the point I'm trying to make. While taking a break between When Worlds Collide and The Sarah Jane Adventures, I decided to empty the dishwasher. Nothing groundbreaking there I admit, but I did something really stupid; I left one of the cupboard doors open; so when I whirled around on my good leg, I whacked my left leg right on the edge of the open door, right on the main part of my leg - the rectus femoris muscle; the one that apart from your gluteal muscles is really important for balance and walking. This was already suffering from some muscle wastage due to the inactivity of the last 3 weeks. I effectively gave myself a massive dead leg. I expect the bruise will be well impressive. The thing is, the force I hit it with has aggravated my hip and groin again. The limp is back, even more pronounced.

I am so not fucking happy...

***

Among my SF loving buddies, there was a sense of disgruntled disbelief that Caprica, the follow up to the rebooted Battlestar Galactica had been cancelled. Many of them believed the latter to be one of best SF TV series of all time and a the prequel to be equally as good in a more soap opera rather than action adventure way. Personally, I found Caprica to be as dull as dishwater, uninspiring and above all, a series where we know how its going to end; albeit not for another 50 years.

The makers of Battlestar are obviously desperate for something as successful because they haven't given up trying to flog the franchise. They have just green lighted Battlestar: Blood & Chrome; a series set during the last days of the 1st Cylon war and focussing on a young Bill Adama (the main human in the reboot) and his rise to the top while fighting the Cylon threat.

There's just one massive problem with this series. We all know how it ends.

Now, a great idea for Battlestar that seems to have been universally overlooked is setting it ten years after the epilogue of the first show. Which, if any of you were still awake by that time, turned the attention to Earth in the current era and how electronics and robots were gaining more and more of a foothold over our every day lives. Surely, a follow up series based on this premise and extrapolating to the point where maybe archaeologists find remnants of the original settlers millions of years earlier; thus proving that mankind didn't just evolve from primitive versions of ourselves, but possibly from humanoids from other worlds and were involved in a desperate battle against man made machines; might, just might, have made for a better idea?

***

The aforementioned When Worlds Collide was remade in 2009 under a different title and thanks to the advancement of scientific knowledge with a slightly different premise; however 2012 was essentially the same film, but was over an hour longer, cost 37 times more money and was arguably not as good...

***

Boris Johnson - has he discovered his human side or is he worried that he'll be voted out of office so fast his feet will only barely skim across the scalps of the mass exodus of poor people from the city? You decide.

Mission

I've spent the last couple of hours talking with Røyrvik about this Facebook/Friends issue. It has sort of ignited my dormant journalistic instincts. It hasn't just been talking; we both spent a fair bit of time looking at the profiles of the people we don't know, who have become our 'friends' just so both parties can progress at whatever game they play.

There is one very obvious thing - the entire practice of making friends with people you don't know is irresponsible, frighteningly so. And it just isn't the people; it's the actual applications as well. While none of these on-line games actively encourage people to befriend complete strangers; it also doesn't discourage them.b Which, I suppose, is okay in many peoples' eyes and I'm sure all the games developers will be the first to say, "we don't encourage young people to make friends with strangers", which, of course, is the stock argument of any entrepreneur who is trying to make a profit from something as morally dodgy as this. I'm betting our current government would actively encourage people to make money this way, because it stops the government from having to fork out any money...

Just about every Facebook, MySpace or any other social networking application have games on them and the more of your friends playing this game the better you are rewarded. All of these games do make a point of saying that if you get more of your friends to join then you'll get more credits, a higher bonus, more chances to do this, that or the other. Obviously they fall short of telling you to befriend any Tom, Dick or Harry; but you don't need the IQ of Wayne Rooney to realise that this is actually exactly what they're doing (or suggesting).

Now, to digress slightly and turn the focus of this to Social City. It would appear the developers of this game (its the only one I can relate to in this specific fashion) seem to have got a way around this indiscriminate friend making. For starters, Playdom - the creator of this and many other games - has a Privacy Policy, a statement of Rights and Responsibilities, Developer Principals and Policies, Payment Terms, Platform Terms, an entire section on their relationship with Facebook, etc., In fact, they cover their arses so well you couldn't actually have them on anything apart from unenforceable moral grounds. Of course, most people aren't going to wade through the pages and pages of legalese; especially not a large percentage of our young and uninitiated. I mean, why do paedos target kids? Because they are considerably more trusting (and easily led) than adults...

Now, I'm not suggesting that Playdom or any of the other games developers using Networking applications are kiddie fiddlers; but they actually use a similar grooming technique. But, we'll come back to that, I need to finish showing how developers cover their arses:
On Social City, you can circumvent the need for befriending total strangers. You can buy something they call 'City Bucks', which is a form of virtual money. You can expand your cities two ways - by having a lot of friends who become your 'neighbours' or by purchasing 'land'. Obviously 'City Bucks' actually cost real money, which means that you have to send the developers your bank details. There are lots of people who do this; so Playdom are probably raking it in - trust me, I've been playing the game for about a year and I'm not obsessed with it, but I still manage to spend about 4 hours a week on it. My 'city' looks like a pathetic village compared to many other peoples' huge sprawling Metropolises. Many of these massive cities are jam packed with what Playdom call their 'special items' - buildings that can only be purchased using City Bucks; some of these special items cost hundreds of CBs and when I tell you that 25 CBs cost $4.99 and 1010 CBs cost $149.99, you can see what I mean.

If you're not leaving yourself open to potential crooks and creeps; you're throwing your perfectly good money for something that exists no where but on a server somewhere. The game, I should point out, is actually a boring version Sim City. When I say boring, I mean just that. It sort of inveigles its way into your psyche yet apart from continually expand, does nothing else. Your cities aren't even subject to aging or decay. It is, totally boring and yet it won an award this year for being one of the most popular social network games in existence. How fucking sad is that?

So, it doesn't matter if you play Social City, Bejewelled Blitz, Farmville, Texas Hold'em Poker, Farkle or any of the other games where the more friends you have on Facebook means the more bonuses you get; the developers have their arses covered and can hold their hands up, without any guilt, and say that they don't encourage the use of their games to be used in anything other than the spirit the game was originally intended. That sort of diminishes my whole point - because I can't really blame these people... Or can I?

I have 190 friends on Facebook. Of those 190, 48 of them are total strangers to me, they are people I have befriended to progress on Social City. Yet, equally, these 48 people don't know who I am and if they're anything like me they'll have me blocked from their news feed and in a little subgroup called - People I don't know. However, of these 48 people, there are at least half a dozen girls who appear to be under the age of 18; all of these 48 people, not just the girls, have full photo albums; in these albums are their entire photographic lives and some of them are quite personal. I'm not talking rude (although some are bikini or beach shots), but they are there for anyone to right click and save to their own computer.

Then there's the business of Facebook Privacy. I belong to a group of people who are concerned about this and have set my own personal privacy settings accordingly; of the 48 strangers I 'know', I have access to all their on line information; more frightening, their friends are maybe not as diligent about their privacy settings, so I can click on Person A's profile, then click on her friends list and more than 75% of these have settings that allow 'Friends of Friends' to have access to personal information and photos. In the space of 10 minutes, I had linked to a person who had put over 100 photos of a pool party attended by mainly school girls. Now, on the humorous side, this might be regarded as a number of funny or comically perverted things, but on a serious note, I could then click on the tags and I then get taken to a specific girl's info page. What it does is polarises the 6 Degrees of Separation theory.

Because Person A befriended me for her Social City advancement, I've not only got access to Person B, but persons C through to V, and also Person C1, C2, C3 etc. If you don't understand the equation I'm driving at, by knowing one person, I've managed to find out more information about her friends than I should be able to. If I was clever at deceiving people, this could allow me to do all kinds of nefarious deeds, just by faking a Facebook page and then approaching these people armed with enough relevant information for them to believe I'm nothing more harmless than a friend of Person A or B or C. Do you see what I mean? This is how young people get groomed...

Now, I have nothing specific on my Facebook page. Nothing that can be used by anyone wishing to pull a scam on me. But over 75% of the connections I looked at through my own list of friends - actual people I know as opposed to people I just befriended for the sake of a game - have details ranging from mobile phone numbers to status updates that announce such gems of information such as 'Loving the Weather here in Tenerife' while giving anyone their telephone number, announcing where they live, what school they went to, what job they do, etc. How much of a stretch of imagination does it take a dodgy geezer to find out where this person lives and burgle them? Or save their holiday snaps and create an entirely fake identity using someone else's life? Or eventually making friends with that person using a social networking game as an icebreaker; and then arranging to meet up with them somewhere a little away from the beaten track? I am more than aware that a lot of people meet their dream partner on line nowadays; I'm also pretty sure people advocating the dating qualities of the Internet don't want to make an issue out of the number of kids who are killed or abducted using the same method...

I know, it all could be really horrible. But it does happen! You read and hear about it all the time. For all of Facebook's posturing and all of these developers arse covering - it isn't safe and even if you're not bothered by it; surely the fact that your children or your friends' children use these things like we used to climb trees or play in parks must have some impact on your conscience? We've already heard about pervy men in their 40s pretending to be teenagers on Facebook. Do I need to remind you all that the last thing on these dirty old men's minds is improving their Social City property portfolio?

I'm not trying to scaremonger; I'm being realistic. If you don't know someone, you shouldn't really befriend them. Even if you don't care and you don't think you have anything to worry about; you might have friends who do care and do have information on their sites that if it was to fall into the wrong hands could have tragedy written all over them.

I'm bored. I have found that Social City has been a real boon; but I've decided that its time for me to call it a day with it. I think its dangerous. I know that people who I don't know can look at my friends list and click on my 10 year old great niece's photo and get all of her info and possibly all of her friends' info. I don't want that on my conscience. Do you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pornography

I face a dilemma. I'm going to have to stop taking the Oxycodone. I would appear that I am suffering from every single possible side effect connected with them and to be honest I think I'd rather be in pain than go through some of the fucking weird and wonderful shit that accompanies this opiate.

In a nutshell - itching, constipation, dry skin, bad taste in my mouth, listlessness, bad temper, insomnia, red eyes, lack of sensitivity, loss of sex drive (not that I could do anything about it with my back, but it just adds to the list). In fact, I put a big fat tick next to every single one listed apart from heavy periods (you can go figure that one out yourself).

So, I'm reverting back to the co-codamol, naprosyn and ibuprofen concoction. I also think that my back/groin/hip has eased off sufficiently for me to ease off on the powerful 'controlled substance'. I mean, the wife has to show her ID whenever she picks up the prescription.

Yes, if the pain returns with a vengeance I might have to go back on them, but I'm going to take that gamble...

***

I watched The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and 20 Million Miles to Earth today. I strongly recommend you don't. At least X the Unknown had a quirkyness about it. 20 Million was just misogyny at its worst and 20,000 was just poor.

Tomorrow, I have two from Them! When Worlds Collide, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Earth Versus Flying Saucers. I'm hoping that at least two of them are as good as i remember them to be. I know one is a classic, but the other 3?

***

My ex-boss and work colleague Wilky came over to see me today (he's the one who said if all the cuts come into play we'll see a return to the workhouse and debtors' prisons - I showed him Steve Bell in the Guardian today; he must have felt like a prophet!). It was good to hear what's been going on since I've been off work - not a lot by the sounds of things. He also brought me that new Orb and David Gilmour CD. I didn't have the heart to tell him it was a load of shit, especially as he rates it...

***

I have to admit that I've spent a lot of my time playing a Facebook application game called Social City. I always swore I'd never get sucked into this kind of ridiculous and frankly unsafe type of thing that eventually means that to progress you have to make 'friends' with total strangers because your own friends are sensible enough not to get involved. It isn't just Social City. Farmville is the most popular game of this kind on Facebook and at least two of my nieces play it. They need more neighbours to play and progress and they don't have enough of their friends that play it; so this means, like many thousands of other people, they post "Add Me" on the Farmville homepage; inviting total strangers to befriend them and therefore allowing these strangers access to their personal information, photographs, etc. This is a bit wrong, don't you think?

My mate Røyrvik posted the following (after he had an attempted scam pulled on him) on the game's website tonight and feels that more people should take note:
Jijankata Kane is a fraud and a scammer. He or she does not play Social City, yet is fishing for people to add him or her claiming to have cheats, ways of making extra cash, etc. Some of the links posted on his/her page take you to outside web pages with no controls on them.

This really proves that Social City developers have no conscience - there are kids under 18 playing this game who are having to make 'friends' with all kinds unknown people to be able to progress in the game. This is dangerous. Does a kid have to be groomed and possibly abducted or murdered before games developers realise that it is dangerous forcing people to make 'friends' with strangers just so they can advance in their games? Social City and other developers need to come up with a safer way (that doesn't involve real money) for people to progress!


I totally agree and support him! I mean, think about it, if there really are 400 million users on Facebook, then a percentage of them are going to be crooks, hackers, paedophiles, rapists or murderers. If your kid is on Facebook, do you know what information they're sharing with strangers?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Metanoia

I got excited yesterday. For the first time since my back went I had a couple of hours that appeared to be pain free. Obviously it was just lulling me into a false sense of security, but for about two hours I really thought I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

When I say 'pain free' I mean that in a relative way. Bearable was actually a better description, but it gave me hope that perhaps I'm getting over the worst of it. You see, I'm normally a fast healer. I get a cut and it's nothing more than a scar by the end of the week; so I'm not really used to constant, unrelenting pain or things that just show no sign of improvement. Yesterday was even more welcome as over the weekend the pain in my groin seemed to double in intensity - I thought that perhaps it was having one final sadistic fling.

Then I got up this morning and it was back to 'normal'...

It seems that my insomnia has also returned. As I hurtle towards a month off the fags, I had that first week of constant long dark nights of the soul; but once that was out of the way I went into full scale bizarro dream mode and for a fortnight I actually looked forward to going to bed, because the dreams were better than any hallucinogenic drug I took in my yoof. Dreaming disappeared from my life around the same time I discovered cannabis and stayed gone long after I stopped smoking it. I know other smokers who have the same problem - they don't dream; or to be precise, they don't have vivid enough dreams for them to remember, even fragments. My dreams have been full on Luis Bunuel adventure films and to date I've only had one full on nightmare. It was so bad, I woke the wife up. She said it sounded like I was terrified. I remember the dream still and while there was actually nothing in it that one would think of as nightmarish, the tone and feel of it was sinister and scary. The other night I dreamt about chicken noodle soup and the continuing discussion with the shop assistant trying to sell me a packet; she claimed it didn't have chicken in it, well not chicken meat, just chicken brains and her argument was, "Everyone knows brains are not real meat..."

But, yes, the insomnia is back and over the last five days I've had about 3 hours sleep a night. Like back trouble, it seems to be a Hall thing. Both my brothers suffer from it, my mum was terrible and it seems that one of my nephews and a niece are both suffering bouts. weird.

Also, without putting too fine a point on it; I'd like to have a decent dump. My back has precluded me from, you know, having a real good clearout, so to speak. I'm pretty sure that none of you wanted to know that...

***

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I downloaded a shedload of 1950s SF B movies. Last night I watched X the Unknown. The first thing that struck me was the cast list - it starred Dean Jagger (General Waverley from White Christmas), Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey), Anthony Newley (who apart from being a very famous singer in the 1960s, was also married to Joan Collins), Kenneth Cope (Randall & Hopkirk: Deceased; and who died in the first 5 minutes), William Lucas (ex of Coronation Street), the ubiquitous Michael Ripper, Ian McNaughton (most famous for being the producer of Monty Python), and a very young Frazer Hines (famous for both Emmerdale and some programme called Doctor Who). It was written by Jimmy Sangster - another ubiquitous name always associated with Hammer films and was notorious for having originally been a Joseph Losey film, but Dean Jagger refused to work with Losey, believing him to be a communist sympathiser, so he was replaced by Leslie Norman (another name associated with Hammer and Bray studios).

It was/is quite a dreadful film, yet when I saw it as a 6 year old, it scared the shit out of me. I'm not going to give you the reasons why this is a truly awful movie, but it is so bad you have to watch it to believe it. Jimmy Sangster obviously knew little about atomic energy - this was 1955 after all - but having Leo McKern playing a man from the Atomic Energy Commission who freely admits that 'all this science stuff is way over my head' has to be heard to be believed. Some of dialogue and situations are so contrived that if it were to be released today it would surely be seen as a spoof - and a damned sight funnier than most spoofs of the 21st century are.

You have to try and see it at some point. It is a masterpiece of shit (which is also a great way of describing X, the 'monster', too).

***

To keep my sanity and stop myself from becoming suicidal from boredom alone, I've been baking. Last week I made a really funky apple pie, yesterday I cooked a truly excellent (the wife's words, not mine) apple, mixed fruit and cinnamon cake and a stodgy lump of pooh which was originally designed to be a banana loaf. I wouldn't eat either; I don't like ripe bananas, don't like cooked apples, hate dried fruit and only like cinnamon in samosas.

Today I baked a chocolate cake. It was wonderful. The best chocolate cake I've cooked in two decades. One of the dogs thought this too; as when I went back downstairs an hour or so after icing it, I discovered that a third of the icing had been licked off...

***

There's a Tory government (of sorts) and some twat has shot the prize stag on Dartmoor - no coincidences there then. Animal rights campaigners are calling it exactly what it is - a tragedy. Old Blackadder Cameron is probably measuring up over the fireplace at No.10 to see if the head will sit there nicely.

***

As much as people are going to think I'm embarrassing myself here - I'd like to see Take That in concert next year. I think it would be an experience; I think Robbie is an excellent showman; I think the first Take That album on reforming is pretty much as good a pop record as you can get and the only thing that puts me off is the simple fact that when Take That were a five-a-side team, they didn't actually produce any decent music...

***

My good friend Roger reminded me that the worst day of the year is fast approaching. The day the clocks go back. Considering it would save this country over £3billion if they left us at GMT+1 and then put it forward to GMT+2 during the spring and summer; you would have thought that the miserable shower of shit in government would have bitten that particular hand off; but no; we're stuck with the sun going down before 4pm in December. I hate this time of the year at the best of times, but this just makes it even worse.

***

Currently listening to a 1997 album that I can only describe as Prog-Ambient. It's by an artist called Alien Mutation (or a chap called Jake Stephenson). The album is called DNA and this is a man who obviously was brought up by a family that liked it's weird and wonderful. It certainly isn't dance music. makes the Orb seem a bit commercial...

Talking music; people who keep up to date with my Facebook bollocks will see that I've been leaning heavily towards Polish Prog-Metal band Riverside in the last week. I'm a bit of a fan, I just wish these metal bands would steer away from screaming RAUS or however it is said or spelled; it's really not necessary. But then again if you listen to some of Swedish Prog Metal band Opeth, you wonder why they even bother with a vocalist - musically it's really rather good and then Mikael Åkerfeldt screeches down the mic and you wonder just who he's trying to impress. The thing is when he actually tries to sing, he doesn't have a half bad voice...

***

Might see if I can get an adaptor for my old keyboard to see if I can use it with the new PC, as this new keyboard is really doing my head in...

In fact, this new PC is doing my head in. It appears to have a mind of its own. It does things without asking me; it appears that it doesn't like Flash Graphics or whatever it's called and it goes to places I don't want it to. I've run every virus, bug and wanker check I can possibly find and there's nothing 'wrong' with it and I'm pretty sure that the operator, who has had 20 years of PC experience, isn't doing anything wrong either.

***

Got a new modem from Virgin last week. I'm really impressed, also slightly miffed. The old modem was installed in 2003 and technology has advanced considerably. A 700 meg file now takes about 6 minutes to download as opposed to 45 minutes. However, dealing with the 'helpful' staff at Virgin Media central has become so labour intensive and difficult to understand that you feel like switching to the far poorer Sky service just to fuck them off...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Glass Onion (part D)

Comfort food.

One of the wife's favourite meals of all time is something that I have never found in a recipe book and can only presume that either my mum invented it or she picked the recipe up from some one's family or local tradition.

Sausage, Tomato and Onion Pie

Pie is probably a slightly misleading word, unless you use it in the Cottage Pie context, because that is what this essentially is; a variation on Cottage Pie.
This is if you're doing this for two people, if you're doing it for more just increase the ingredients as necessary.

4 Quorn sausages (Linda McCartney ones don't work; and obviously meat ones do, so if you're a cannibal then a nice pork and beef will work just as well - arguably better)
1 large onion sliced in thin rings
3 large tomatoes, skinned and sliced in thin rings
Mashed potato

Fry your sausages until golden brown, take off the heat and either slice them in half, length ways, or just pop them in the bottom of an oven proof casserole dish.
Fry your tomatoes and season well. When reduced to a nice fresh tomato sauce, pour over your sausages.
Fry your onions until golden brown - be careful not to burn them or under cook them. Put these over the top of your sausages and tomatoes. Cover with mashed potato, stick in the oven until golden brown. Serve with fresh seasonal vegetables and a nice gravy.
Variations can include making the mash with some form of squash - butternut or spaghetti; or adding some grated cheese when mashing.

I dare you not to like this meal!

***

Interesting Jacket Spuds

Sometimes I get utterly pissed off with potatoes. I am a potato snob, as has been mentioned before. And every so often I fancy doing something slightly different with them other than boiled, mash, roast, chips or jackets. So I came up with this idea a few years ago and we have them at least once a month, especially when you can get really nice floury spuds.

2 large clean and unblemished potatoes - Maris Pipers, King Edwards, Wilja, Kerr's Pink or something like that.

Cook in a hot oven until done. Then take them out, cut them in half and scoop out all the flesh, leaving just a crispy potato case. Put the spuds insides into a bowl, add some butter, a splash of cream (once upon a time the cream off the top of the milk would have done, but that rarely appears now), some freshly milled black pepper, salt, chopped chives and some grated mature cheddar. Mix it all together and then put it back inside the spud cases; sprinkle with some more cheddar cheese and then shove them under the grill until the tops go golden brown. Yummy!

***

The Wife's Favourite Italian styled Courgettes

I really struggle with courgettes; bland, tasteless, soft yucky things that are just miniature marrows and don't get me started on them. However, she came up with this idea a few years ago that I took and improved on.

2 medium sized fresh courgettes - straight from the garden is best
1 small shallot or onion - finely chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic - crushed and finely chopped
1 tin of finely chopped Italian tomatoes
1 good handful of fresh basil
a glug of red wine
salt & black pepper

Slice your zucchini into 1cm thick rounds and fry over a slightly higher than normal heat in some good frying olive oil until they are just golden brown, but have retained some of their texture and have a little bite. Remove from the pan and drain.
Add your shallot to the oil and fry until just see through; add your garlic and do the same.
Add your splash of red wine, then add your tomatoes and cook until the liquid looks as though it is just beginning to thicken; then add your torn basil and seasoning, cook for a further minute and then put your zucchini back into the mixture - whack the heat up to max and warm the fried veg through. turn it off and serve mixture with an assortment of things. Meat eaters will find it goes very well with pork or chicken; veggies can have it with Quorn sausages or even a firm nut roast.
Also goes very well on some toasted ciabatta.

***

Funky Baked Beans

1 tin of baked beans
1 small shallot or onion
1 side of an old red pepper (the one you find at the back of the fridge and you can salvage some)
¼ tsp chilli powder
splash of soy sauce
pepper & salt

Fry the onion and red pepper, add the chilli powder and a splash of soy sauce and then add your tin of beans; heat through, season and serve with anything!

Next time - non veggie food, possibly. Such as: what to do with your chicken or turkey carcass and how to make liver palatable...

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Fountain

Bah humbug time!

Halloween. It's an American thing. It isn't something the Brits were even slightly or remotely interested in until the major supermarkets decided to 'educate' us. It is yet another excuse to squeeze money out of us and if you have children then more fool you!
In 1990, Halloween generated less than £1million nationally; it was a very distant 2nd place to Guy Fawkes Night. In 2010, Halloween is now regarded as a £2billion 'seasonal holiday'; it fills the gap between summer and Christmas; which we all know starts as soon as the barbecue stuff is put away.
What is worse is that at least in the USA Halloween is the 31st October and no other day; in this country, we seem to think that its okay to 'trick or treat' from the middle of October, with people preparing their kids to go begging for sweets on streets that for 51 weeks a year they don't think are safe enough for them to walk to school on their own or play with their friends down the local park. I might be a miserable bastard, but you're all a bunch of hypocrites.

God Squad Botherers are another group of people that will knock on your door in the hope of getting something out of you; this time your allegiance to their particular brand of religious fundamentalism. Personally, if I want something I'll go in search of it. I don't need people ringing me at home while I'm having my dinner, or bombarding me with junk mail or sending me spam emails to get me to buy something. If I want it, I'll go looking for it and it amazes me that there is a percentage of people out there that allow themselves to be seduced by cold callers. All you have to do is either politely say 'No thank you' or rather nastily tell them to 'fuck off and if you ever knock on my door again I'll set my dogs on you' - either way you won't have bought the latest Watchtower, a new block paved drive, double glazing, house rendering or Sky TV. It really doesn't hurt you to say to the persistent arseholes who think they're good at what then do to be respectful to your wishes and fuck off.

But, I'm digressing. God Botherers are in many ways worse because they're not actually getting any financial gain from what they do apart from some smug satisfaction, or at least that's the impression I get. Religious arseholes are already morally higher than us atheists because they 'know' they have God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost on their side; they're going to go to heaven and all us heathens are going to burn in hell for eternity. Actually, we're going to burn in a big oven and have the carbon residue scattered in our favourite places - not that we're going to appreciate it. Either that or we're going to be stuck in the ground and eventually become worm food once the formaldehyde has leached from our corpses.

Once, many years ago, I did a really sinful thing...

It was 1985, I was having another one of my bouts of unemployment, I was smoking a lot of pot and I'd just had one of those mornings that you want to forget about. I'd not received my giro, I had to go into Northampton to sort that out, which meant using the shitty bus service; I'd waited for nearly an hour to get my money sorted out and I had to then get all the way home on said shitty bus service. I was walking up the Wellingborough road to a bus stop that made my fare a little cheaper when a car pulled along side me. It was two acquaintances of mine called Stefan and Carl; they were brothers. Carl was so dull he made watching paint dry an Olympic sport and Stefan, despite introducing me to The Damned's Strawberries album, was one of those been there, seen it, worn the T-shirt kind of wankers, who, at two years younger than me, obviously hadn't been there, done it or even remotely fitted into said T-shirt. They offered me a lift home and I was so lazy I accepted; even if it meant having to invite them in for a cup of tea and be sociable for half an hour. which is exactly what happened, except they stayed considerably longer than half an hour and by the time they left I was slightly frazzled and all I wanted to do was sit down, roll myself a massive spliff and chill until I had to do the dinner.

They left and within 2 minutes the door bell went again. My first thoughts were they'd forgotten something, so I scanned the house for a left item and saw nothing, so I went to the door and there was a young man, roughly the same age as me, standing there with a briefcase. My initial reaction was - he's selling something. He was, just nothing... tangible.

"Hello sir; how are you today?"
"I'm not having a good day."
"Oh, I'm really sorry to hear that. May I ask what's troubling you?"
"Just life. Nothing for you to worry about. What can I do for you?"
"Ah, life. Yes. Life has a way of grinding us down sometimes. How do you normally escape it; what do you do or think about to calm yourself down?"
Thinking that telling this person that I was just about to have a big joint was probably not a clever idea, I instead said, "Oh, a cup of tea, maybe phone my mum and sound off at her." He was nodding at me and I still hadn't twigged.
"What would you do if your mother wasn't able to speak to you or you'd run out of tea?" I shook my head. "I find that talking to God sometimes helps; because God is there to help us through all the..."
"Oh, for fuck's sake. look mate, I've had a really crappy day and the last thing I need is some God botherer bothering me today of all days!" And I went to close the door. He then did possibly the most stupid thing I've ever witnessed in my 48 years. He put his foot in the doorway, thus preventing me from shutting the door. The poor sod obviously thought that because I looked hassled and a bit down in the mouth that I was easy prey. With this gesture from him, I flung the door open, so that it crashed against the hallway wall and a massive shit-eating grin appeared on my face.
"Oh you really should not have done that." But he didn't move, instead, he stood his ground. Bad move. The next thing that happened was my fist connecting with his mouth and then a spray of blood as his lips got mashed into his teeth. he wheeled back clutching his face and yelping. I then walked towards him with my fists raised; I hadn't finished.
"Get away from me; get away from me" he screamed.
"You get off of my fucking garden!" was my response.
"God will punish you for this," he said through a spray of blood.
"If you don't get off of my land, I'll fucking punish you!" I bellowed at him and he turned on his heels and started to run away from the house, with me in hot pursuit. I chased him down the street for about 50 yards, him spouting how I would get punished by the lord because all he was trying to do was help me and me screaming obscenities at him.
Then I realised I was in the middle of the road, raging like a demented psychopath and all around me I could see curtains twitching. I whirled around, looking at all the windows and screamed "And you lot can fuck off as well!" at the top of my lungs and trudged off home...

About twenty minutes later when my pulse had slowed, the adrenaline had purged itself from my system and I'd taken stock of what I'd done. I picked up the phone and called the wife.
"I think I've done something really stupid..." was my opening sentence and for the next week I really expected a visit from the Old Bill. That never happened, but for the next 4 years I lived in that house, no one from any denomination of religious nutters came so much as near my front door, which was nice.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Donkey Rhubarb

Bored.

Bored.

Boooooooored!!!!

Last year, when I was off work for 3 months (before, during and after my shoulder operation), I got really really bored. The main reason was that I couldn't sit and type for more than 10 minutes without it really hurting. So, subsequently, I ended up spending a lot of time fucking about on pointless Facebook applications. I became a dab hand at Texas Holdem Poker, Wordscraper and various other utterly life consuming pieces of shite. If there's one thing I like to do it's write and it was very frustrating because despite having a lot of inspiration, writing wasn't a realistic way of breaking up the boredom.

This current bout of back related shenanigans has the added wrinkle of not allowing me to sit for very long without intense pain. So, while I could quite easily sit at the keyboard (have I said how much I hate this new keyboard?) all day and all of the night and churn out reams of what I laughingly call my thoughts and opinions, I can't because... blah blah blah. Broken records; load of old bollocks, blah blah blah...

I'm not very happy either. Can you tell?

I decided the other day to watch some of the films I have on DVD. I figured the best place to start would be Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong. It has been 5 years since I saw it and I wanted some monster action. The film is 201 minutes long - or 3 hours and 21 minutes if you need it working out for you. It actually took me a little over 6 hours to watch it. That was because I had to pause the fucking thing every 30 minutes or so because it was getting too uncomfortable to sit and watch it.

I've been happily downloading Sci-Fi and monster movies from the last 60 years, to keep me occupied over the next four weeks. I have a cornucopia of shite to plough my way through. These include: When Worlds Collide, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, X the Unknown, Blood on Satan's Claw, 20 Million Miles to Earth, Them, Earth vs Flying Saucers, plus a couple of movies that I've hankered for nostalgically: Man of a Thousand Faces, Belleville Rendezvous, and Solaris; plus I've also downloaded Larry Clark's Kids and Harmony Korine's Gummo (mainly because I have this thing for Chloe Sevigny). So, as you can see, I have a fair bunch of stuff to work my way through. The problem is, I just can't face the prospect of it taking me best part of a day to watch each of them. I mean, some of them are likely to be a load of shit...

And that appears to be my problem at the moment. Without sounding like I'm fishing for sympathy, I think I'm hurtling towards a state of depression. The doctor said yesterday that having constant pain and getting no relief from it at all has a debilitating effect on the human psyche and by God wasn't she right.

Do you know, the only time in the last 3 weeks I haven't been hurting was on Tuesday night after the pub quiz - four pints of beer on top of opiate-stuffed painkillers and for the first time in what seems like a lifetime it stopped hurting. I even allowed myself a spark of optimism; could this be the end of my pain?

People wonder why I'm such a die hard pessimist. Well, this is the reason. That brief moment of joy I experienced was tempered last night by my complete inability to get to sleep because my hip and groin were screaming at me, in unison. I could not get comfortable; I could sleep. I couldn't think straight and I even contemplated taking more of my painkillers and downing the half bottle of Polish vodka I have in the shed... If I'd passed out or overdosed at least I would have escaped this for either a while or forever...

Anyhow, the doctor has upped my dosage of oxycodone; what were simple horse tranquillisers are now strong enough to make elephants party; but I have to wait for them. The chemist won't take delivery of them until tomorrow because I appear to be the only person in the country who has ever been prescribed them.

Is it possible that misery breeds misery? During my excursions away from the PC during the writing of this all I seem to be able to think about are events in my past where upset and grief have been at the forefront. I know the human mind has a habit of remembering shit far better than it does sugar, but it hardly seems fair.

I've considered changing the name of this blog to "A Glass Half Empty" or possibly, "The Diary of a Completely Miserable Bastard".

Also, don't be fooled by the new album by The Orb with David Gilmour. It is 90 minutes of music of which 87 of them could be flushed down the toilet and you'd never notice.

I can't even drive. I wouldn't mind so much if I could squeeze into the car and just go for a drive around the autumn countryside. I haven't driven for 3 weeks and I miss it.

A friend took me out to lunch on Tuesday and all I did was moan. I don't expect I'll be seeing that person again in a while; not unless they want to be dragged down to my current level of misery...

Today's blog has been brought to you by the letter C

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Grapefruit in the World of Park

Trust me, despite not really enjoying my job at the moment, I'd rather be there doing something than sitting (when I am able) at home feeling as though my brain is slowly being eaten away by boredom. There is also this growing sense of uncertainty about whether or not some of us are actually going to have jobs this time next year. The wife often says she could quite easily not go to work, saying she could find all kinds of things to occupy her day, every day - from walking the dogs, to making things, gardening and just sitting around doing crosswords and watching television. I've tried to tell her that it would soon become dull and boring.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct possibility that work's occupational health doctor would declare that I was no longer fit for work. Ironically, he declared me totally fit for work and within a week I'm off work again with a potentially even more serious back complaint. My life is never short of this kind of irony and it hasn't escaped me, even if it has others.

Last night, I went out with the gang to the pub quiz. I suppose I should have felt guilty about going to the pub when I'm not fit enough to be at work; but my new doctor emphasised that if I stay at home feeling sorry for myself I'm just going to end up getting into a vicious circle of pain and depression. I need to exercise gently and I need to vary my existence. Oddly enough, the new uber-strong painkillers don't have that much affect; but mix them with a couple of pints of fine hoppy real ale and suddenly I'm feeling a little better. I don't know if the combination of the two actually steal the pain away, or that it zones me out enough to not give a shit. All I do know is that I can't go to work on painkillers and beer; it's not exactly the done thing (despite it sounding like a good idea).

While I was at the pub, the lovely young lady behind the bar asked me a couple of questions. One was whether or not I could supply her boss with yet another easy to make vegetarian meal to put on the menu; and the second was whether or not I was recovering from my 'slipped disc'. I told her that while my back has eased considerably, my groin was as bad as it was two weeks ago and that I was now worried that this was a separate problem. The doctor had suggested that the groin problem was probably caused by pressure on a nerve, therefore making it a deferred pain,. Which to the layman means that the pain wasn't actually there, it just feels like it is... No, I find that pretty much incomprehensible too.

She also asked me, in a roundabout way, if whatever the problem was, it made me disabled, or if it would eventually make me disabled. That's a good question, because, it seems, that there is no longer officially a disabled register; so technically anyone can be disabled. Saying that, I bit the bullet this morning and filled out a Blue Badge Scheme application form. This, it seems, is about the only proof you can have nowadays that someone somewhere thinks of you as disabled. I've been accused on a number of times of being too proud to acknowledge my problem (which I'd like to expand on, but will wait until the proper time and opportunity arise); but isn't that normal? I'm 48 for fuck's sake. I know men in their 70s that are more physically able bodied than me; so surely I should be a bit 'touchy' on the subject. 4 years ago I was yomping around woods and generally behaving like someone half my age. In a short space of time that has all stopped and frankly I'd rather be Phil Hall from 2006 than the current 2010 model.

***

I'll save wibbling on about politics to my other blog at http://independentchoices.blogspot.com/ but I will say watching the beginning of Lord Snooty Osborne's End of the World as We Know It speech in the Commons that on his left sat Nick Clegg, who looked haunted and worried; like someone had just told him that his political career was entering the final stages before it dies a horrible death. Perhaps he heard the political analyst on Radio5 this morning saying that if a general election was held tomorrow, the LibDems would possibly end up with 3 seats; if they were lucky and Nick Clegg's Sheffield constituency would swing back to Labour and probably leave him in 3rd place.

Clegg can probably be concerned that he now runs a party that is less popular than Jeremy Thorpe's Liberals, who at the height of their unpopularity had just 6 seats in the Commons in the 1970s...

Serves the traitorous bastard right. Funny how people will sacrifice their principals for a short taste of power?

***

No time to really digest the spending review apart from the suggestion that we're all fucked unless we're current pensioners' or belong to the armed forces. What makes defence more important than the poor, especially when we've brought most of the threats to this country on ourselves?

***

I've actually had some time now to look at the cuts a bit closer and listen to what many of the so-called experts have had to say about the matter. I really wish I'd got the name of one guy talking to Huw Edwards, mainly because he seemed to be completely independent from political party interests and also completely baffled by why the government have made such rash cuts, so quickly and without looking at the over all big picture. One thing he said that resonated with me big time and I'm paraphrasing here: Britain has been in debt for over 100 years, but during that time we still managed to create the Welfare State. Why they are making such huge cuts in the lifetime of one parliament beggars belief. it isn't like the bank are calling in the debt. The government could quite easily have spread the cuts across a 15 or 20 year time frame; not made themselves immediately unpopular and not caused at least half a million people to now be in fear of their jobs and their futures!

The man belonged to no party, was an economist and I'm going to track him down and find out who he is so you can all listen and see what profound sense he made.

***

So about a ½million people are going to lose their jobs. Most of them pen pushers and middle managers. Robert Peston was quite clear when he forecast that these people would find it difficult to get new jobs unless they were prepared to either take substantial drops in pay or a massive change of career. Peston also confirmed the government's belief that the Private Sector is now employing more people than it has done in the last 10 years. This should be good news; except that the majority of those employed are foreign nationals who are doing jobs that British nationals have no interest in doing - low paid jobs like fruit and veg picking, cleaning, general factory work, sewage workers - basically all the shit jobs that most people born and raised in this country wouldn't dream of doing.

Now, obviously this will allow xenophobes, bigots and racists to get on their high horses and complain that British jobs aren't going to British workers; but why do you think foreigners are doing these jobs in the first place? Because most British people wouldn't be seen dead doing them. I meet idiot bigots all the time - many of them in places like Corby - who complain about Poles and Albanians 'stealing' British jobs. Yet ask these people of they'd be prepared to clean up someone else's shit for the minimum wage and suddenly they're not so keen.

Personally, if it is middle managers that end up out of work, it couldn't happen to more deserving people. If there's one thing about Labour governments' that infuriate me, it's their inability to believe that the workers are actually doing good jobs and their belief that they need to employ people to work out if others' jobs are justifiable. I've always believed that results tend to be measurable by success or failure, not by paperwork.

***

And speaking of the new austerity measures one more time; I earn a little bit more than £20k a year and if I don't get a pay rise for the next 9 years, I will have earned £200,000.

Wayne Rooney allegedly wants to leave Manchester United, not because he's fallen out with Old Red Nose, but because the club is not prepared to pay him £200,000 a week in wages. That's £10,400,000 a year salary before appearance, goals and International bonuses top it up to a cool £12,000,000 per annum.

Now, I understand that footballers have a limited shelf life and they need to do everything they can to ensure that the years after they retire from playing are as comfortable as possible and in Wayne's case, he obviously needs to ensure he has feathered his nest enough; because on top of his £100k a year prostitute habit; his need to spend a few quid on fags and booze and his ambition to own as many tacky houses in Alderley Edge as possible; he has the simple fact that he is both thick and ugly going against him - as we all know most thick and ugly people have to survive on Income Support or other benefits, many of which are going to get cut or abolished altogether.

I wonder (and yes I know this is unbelievably naive of me) if he ever considers the 60 odd million people in this country who are already earning considerably less than him and how they're going to make ends meet?

***

Changing the subject totally. I've been raving about Porcupine Tree a bit lately; I've been posting links to some of their great songs and videos on my Facebook page and I've always considered myself a bit of a fan of Steven Wilson, the Hertfordshire lad who is the driving force behind the band.

Wilson is possibly the hardest working man in show business. As well as Porcupine Tree who have just concluded a 13 month long world tour, he has also released a solo album called Insurgents; he is the member of an alternative pop duo called Blackfield, a member of a more conventional pop duo called No-Man; he produces solo material apart from his recent solo debut album; he is involved in remastering king Crimson's back catalogue; he releases weird and wonderful ambient music under the name Bass Communion and even weirder and more out there ambient music under the name of The Incredible Expanding Mindfuck. He managed to contribute to the new Pendulum album, has recently produced the new Opeth album; works with Anathema, is working with Dream Theater, Marillion, Yoko Ono, Robert Fripp, Alex Lifeson of Rush and has even released a cover version of an Abba record, because he unashamedly is a fan of most all Swedish music. To make matters worse, if you look at photos of him, he looks about 25 years old (he is, in fact 43) and is entirely self taught.

In fact, if you were to go out and buy everything he's had anything to do with in the last 20 years, you probably wouldn't have much change from a week of Wayne Rooney's salary!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Really Glad You Came

The latest in a line of reminiscent wibbling... Done because I have nothing better to do (and mostly written in May 2009). this is largely about comics; the subject I declared several months ago that I had nothing more to say about. Well, this isn't strictly about comics, more about what a totally unlucky fucker I can be.

I've been interviewed, properly, twice. And I don't mean for jobs. The first one was to promote Borderline magazine and was really nothing more than generic; the second time was by an old friend called Ande Morgenson. Parts of that interview have surfaced from time to time, but the interesting thing was it took Ande nearly 8 years to complete it. One day, the contents of that interview might completely resurface; I'd like to see it, I don't have a copy. I think a lot of it would be really enlightening.

Ande, like another old comics friend of mine, Pete Ashton, was totally baffled as to why I stayed in comics for so long, especially the last four or five years where I seemed to get repeatedly kicked in the teeth. "Aren't you bitter?" He asked me once and there are times when I was. The thing is, he thought I'd be bitter about certain things when I was actually bitter about others. Ande said, "But you've been really close, so many times, doesn't that bother you?"

Hell, if I wanted to make this an microscopic psychoanalysis of my life as a nearly man then this would be a really, really long and introspective blog entry. Fortunately, the fact I almost made it a number of times is something I'm actually quite wry about...

1976 - I was sitting in my bedroom surrounded by stacks of comics. I was always really careful how I handled them, long before I realised they had any value, and I was wondering how I could store them safely. That evening over dinner, I mentioned it to my folks. My dad was the general manager of a company called the Morgan Adhesives Company or MacTac International as they were known in the UK. This company made the world famous sticky backed plastic used by Blue Peter and every council home in the 1970s - washable, 'stylish' wallpaper made entirely out of plastic. You would not believe how popular it was.

The point was, my dad worked for a plastics firm and he looked at me and said, "Why don't you keep them in plastic bags. We have stacks of wasted stock at the factory, I'll see what we've got." True to his word he came home with a couple of boxes of different types and sizes of plastic bag - about 10,000 in total.

Some were excellent, all were slightly the wrong size. Some were, to the untrained eye, totally unsuitable (yet would later become one of the biggest selling bags of all time). But they were something no one else had. To this aspiring comics dealer, just starting out and hoping to start doing his first comic marts in 1977, this seemed like a great way of attracting customers and selling my product in a unique and cleaner way - no more grubby finger marks and thumbed corners.

Despite the bags being slightly too big, they were lapped up by the punters and by the time 1978 rolled around, I was selling discarded MacTac stock at 50p for 100 bags or £1 for 250. I was coming home from comic marts with £200 a time (after my own purchases) and the majority was from the sale of comic bags.

When the stock at the warehouse began to disappear, I investigated having bags made, specifically to the size of a comic book. The thing that deterred me was the cost. I was 16 and despite getting huge returns for a product that I wasn't paying for, the leap from that to buying stock for resale was too daunting and the start up fees to high. In reality, they were piddling and insignificant. I would have been paying about 1p per 100 bags, but I needed to buy a minimum of £1000 to get it at that price and I didn't have a grand and more importantly, neither did my parents - not spare anyhow.

An entrepreneurial young man by the name of Justin Ebbs proved that nature abhors a vacuum and within a couple of months of me no longer selling comics accessories, he'd started up and was probably one of the richest people in the British comics retail scene for years and he'd stopped selling comics in the late 1970s with any seriousness, because the real money was in comics peripherals.

So, I could have made a fortune. Incidentally, the bag that I rejected initially was an acetate bag that would become what was later called a Mylar bag, which retailed for something like 5 times what a standard plastic bag would.

Oddly enough, another nearly almost happened at around the same time. I had immersed myself into UK comics at a good time; it was just on the edge of becoming something organised and I had one of the popular fanzines on the market, I was a known young dealer on the London scene and I knew most of the young people who would be the future of British comics. In 1979, when the likes of Dez Skinn, Richard Burton and a bunch of other names that most of you would be unfamiliar with, were beginning to forge lucrative careers, I lived in Northampton. At that time, too far away to be considered commuting distance, especially for someone who would have been employed on a low wage, but with massive prospects. I was told that had I been in London at the time, I would have been more preferable to others who were there and filled the vacancies.

1980 - The weird irony was that in 1980 I'd had enough. I gave up reading comics and sold the lot. I then moved to the outskirts of London and amazingly bumped into one of my old comics buddies in Westminster, one Sunday, while in search of beer and women. He was delighted that I'd moved down to London, suggested meeting up and told me about a couple of potential jobs that I could quite easily get, considering who I knew.

I was 18 and desperately trying to put multiple notches on my bedpost, get pissed and stoned as often as I could. Comics didn't attract women, the bloke I bumped into had admitted it himself not 3 years earlier. I never bothered to contact him and the entire 1980s almost disappeared without me even being so much as an afterthought.

9 years later I would open my own comic shop; a year after that I started working as a freelancer for one of the people who would have given me a job in 1980... By 1993 I was working for Comics International.

1994 - DC Comics had an office in the UK. I'd just done a bit of work - badly, it should be noted - for Marvel UK and was desperate to impress the other people I had wanted to impress all my life. I received a call from out of the blue from a DC editor in New York called Neal Pozner. He was the editor of DC's in-house magazine aimed at freelancers and editorial staff called Shop Talk and he wanted to run a series in it about Brits working at DC and he knew of me through CI and columns I wrote for Comics World.

We discussed who I'd interview and we got a timetable sorted out, but he felt it would be a good way to ease me into the job by interviewing Art Young, the then editor in chief of DC UK (he later went on to work on Eastenders, in case some of you recognise his name). Art was an American, who was charged with keeping the Brit Pack in line; so interviewing him would be a good start.

I got on really well with Neal and we spent quite a while just chewing the fat and he was an inquisitive kind of guy; I wasn't just someone doing him a job, he genuinely seemed to like talking to me and we talked about many subjects. The last call I had from him before the Art Young interview, we concluded the business pretty quickly and he said, "Phil, have you ever wanted to be a comics writer?" I hadn't. I'd had some ideas for stories - one-offs and mini-series; but I'd always sort of considered myself to be a good backroom man. I worked for a man who loved and hogged the spotlight and I never had the desire to have the spotlight the way Skinn did. Besides, I'd never wanted to write comics, just novels. This peaked his curiosity and asked me about some of my ideas; those of you that know me will know when I go off on one it's difficult to turn me off; but Neal listened intently to me waffling on about stuff I'd written, stuff I wanted to write, and the thing that had been keeping me preoccupied for weeks - an idea that I thought was a uniquely different take on a subject often ridiculed. He, like me, could see how I could write this idea and give it credence because it was stuffed with allegory.

If Neal was just being polite (I'd spent best part of 75 minutes in a 2 hour transatlantic telephone call telling him my idea), he was disguising it very well. The story idea that must have seemed like a sales pitch with no sale was called Dead Girls and was essentially a post modern zombie story about three teenage girls who 'die' but don't stop living.

The story followed them through the discovery, the media frenzy, the religious aftermath, the wish to be left alone and ultimately their actual 'deaths'. Entwined throughout was a blossoming love story, a black comedy and an allegory to the AIDS virus, especially at the end of the story, when two girls in Australia develop the same 'symptoms' and then more and more after them.

Neal urged me to talk to Art about the idea and how it could be adapted into something for Vertigo. However, my then employer told me that if I did that I would come across as being completely unprofessional; that it would seem like I was using the interview to sell myself rather than the person I was interviewing. He was right, but I didn't know that Neal had spoken to Art and forewarned him.

After a pleasant meeting with Art, I started to say my goodbyes and he asked me if there was anything else I wanted to talk to him about. I said I had an idea or two I'd like to share with him, but I'd send them down to him when I had something down on paper. Neal really berated me on the phone for not talking to Art, but I got paid and we planned the next interview, which looked like it was going to be with Pete Milligan, a renowned writer also from these fair isles.

The next week, I knocked together a Dead Girls proposal and got it sent off to Art. The day I sent it I was due a call from Neal. It didn't arrive. The next day I heard the news that Neal Pozner had died of AIDS related illnesses - DC was in mourning. As a mark of respect Shop Talk was put on hiatus - it never came back - and my window of opportunity had vanished. Neal was trying to do me a favour, because he probably knew that if he wasn't around favours might be hard to come by.

Subsequently, Dead Girls landed in the general submissions tray, was looked at by Art's young ambitious assistant and got summarily rejected and if there had been a chance there, it disappeared.

1999 - My stock had risen in the world of comics journalism (yes, such a thing did exist!). Many people in the industry saw me as the person to deal with at Comics International and I had good relationships with almost all the UK's leading creators and most of those in the US. I was approached by a leading US publisher to act as their liaison - a sort position Art Young had at DC in the above anecdote. Except it wouldn't just be as an editor, it would also be as a facilitator; making sure the Brits who worked for them were happy and got what they needed. It would also only be a part time post, which would allow me to continue working at the magazine, but the guy who thought of the idea figured I was the best placed person to do it.

To cut a long story short, my then employer did such a good job at trying to sell the CEO of the publisher his own PA that the CEO decided to scrap the idea entirely. The worst thing about it was the two guys from the publisher's who had approached me with the idea having to explain to me that the idea had been shelved; they seemed more gutted than I was - but then again, neither of them had worked for the man I worked for.

I later found out that my employer at the time deliberately set out to put the scuppers on it. He thought he was getting some revenge on my supposed disloyalty. A year later, he got as close as he would ever get to apologising to me.

2002 - if anything was going to get me close to bitterness it would be Borderline. People seem to think that I'm blowing my own trumpet when I claim that Borderline was the best all round comics magazine ever to have existed and I probably am, but all I did was assemble the best people in British comics who weren't either working or involved in a clique. Those people produced a magazine about comics, not just about a sub-genre of comics. I might have come up with the idea, the design, the delivery idea and content balance; but the people who worked for it were the people that made it so good and were ignored and neglected when they should have been canonised.

I should have realised the day I got the phone call from Sheffield offering me lots of money for my magazine that I was about to be a nearly statistic again. I have a colleague in my real life who for last 5 years has this annoying habit of saying "Cool Beans" every time she was happy with an outcome for something. I could have happily killed her every time she said it.

Cool Beans World might as well have anally raped me, abused my non-existent children and pissed on the graves of my parents. They cost me time, money, credibility and in my naivety, pride.

CBW offered to pay Borderline £2000 a month to produce the magazine exclusively for them. They saw it as a mutual back scratching exercise; we get paid for producing this soon-to-be award winning magazine and they get more people using their new pay-per-view website. I should have realised that we were a last ditch attempt at trying to get people to use their financially crumbling company. We didn't get paid; some of my people lost loads of money on expenses accrued and some notoriously famous twats in the industry laid into us like vultures round a corpse. The fact we continued on for another 12 months, trying desperately to make something from a magazine that over 100,000 people were happy to have for free, but less than 100 would pay $1 for was both stupid and admirable - just don't ask me how the split worked.

I'm not suggesting that CBW were completely to blame. Six weeks after that fiasco died down, we were approached by Rebellion; the company that had just bought 2000AD and with their help we had pretty much walked away with the Best Magazine About Comics category at that year's comics awards. Rebellion were interested in taking us on and publishing us as a glossy monthly and giving us a physical presence. The owner loved us, his staff loved us, his accountants laughed him and his staff out of their offices and we never heard from them again.

Curiously, in 2000, while I was still at CI; I ventured down to Bath for a meeting with Future Publishing about starting up at comics magazine called Heroes. They liked me. They liked my idea. Their accountants laughed them and my idea out of their office.

I didn't become a comics peripherals magnate because I was too tight; I didn't get a job working in comics in London because I wasn't prepared to move and then I considered the medium too childish; I didn't take the advice of one employer over the other and I only have myself to blame; I worked for a destructive control freak, no one forced me to... That's why I can't be bitter about that stuff.
Remember ages ago, I talked about a comic I had that was worth thousands of pounds, but my mum had given it to the snot-nosed brat down the street? If I'd done what she'd asked me to do, that wouldn't have happened. How can I be bitter about it? I can feel as though I gave some twat from Goole the best years of my life and for nout, but it was my choice. I suffered the ignominy of being ridiculed, abused and belittled by him; I could have walked away; but I didn't. My choice, no one forced me.

Borderline was always different. I took it all far too personally. I allowed my loyalty to obscure the facts - it was never going to work as long as mankind have holes in their arses. The staff deserved to be picked up by any discerning organisation; they should be able to put it on a CV and be proud its there.

They can proudly announce that the 3rd issue of the magazine they helped produce was downloaded by over 200,000 people, 91,000 more copies than the X-Men in that same month. They can brag that they worked on a magazine that won an award within its first year and that we were all regarded as heroes in countries as wide and diverse as Poland and Brazil. 11 of the artists we featured in our sketchbook sections went on to get full time gigs with publishers; one now works for a major publisher producing book illustrations. Or the simple fact that we took a new computer format format and produced the world's first designed for PDF magazine - yes you could print it out, but it was actually designed to fill your computer screen. There had been magazine converted into PDFs before us, but never created with PDF in mind. Borderline was innovative and it deserves to be recognised as a truly excellent experiment; the people who contributed to it should be regarded with respect; by God they deserved it.

Actually, there's nothing really to be bitter about at all. It was 2½ years of rollercoaster craziness. The highs will outlast the lows for many years to come. Some good friendships were cemented and some true colours seen. It was enlightening; it was mad and crazy and I wouldn't change it for anything (except maybe a shit load of cash!).

I sometimes wonder what if... but equally, if I hadn't decided on January 28th 1983 to stay in Northampton rather than move to Maidstone, I wouldn't have met my wife that evening. If I'd never opened my shop, I would never have gone bankrupt, but I would never have ended up working at Comics International, created Borderline, worked at the YMCA or been where I am now...

Bizarrely, if I could turn back time, the things I'd do differently would be I'd never have started smoking; I would have bought an African Grey parrot or a Macaw and I would have made sure that my wife had all the things she went without while I fucked about on drugs and pipe dreams. I might also have taken more care of my body, because that's the one thing I'm really quite bitter about...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Paranoid Android

Nearly 3 weeks since I packed up smoking; nearly two weeks since my back got fucked up and nearly a week of having an interesting idea of what it must be like to be an heroin addict. Now there's a loaded end of sentence if ever I saw one...

Apart from the constipation - a really shitty thing (boom boom!) - the itching is, at times, worse than the pain. The painkillers are a man-made opiate; opiates derive from opium, heroin is an opium thing. Heroin addicts suffer from constipation and itching; all I can say is the high must be worth it.

I freaked the wife out yesterday, big time, and that's something that is as rare as rocking horse shit. I'm sure anybody who reads this is getting fed up of me harping on about packing up smoking and about how much pain I'm in. Yes, I see sympathy from all around, but deep down I can't shake the feeling that most people are probably just thinking, "for fuck's sake, so you're in pain - try having a baby or having a tooth removed without anaesthetic. Just stop going on about it!" And if they are, then I can't say I blame them. Reading about someone else's pain experiences can't be particularly entertaining (unless there's a lot of blood, brains, sex and nudity involved). However, like a broken record, I'm not finished, so tough titty...

Anyhow, I freaked the wife out. My back is still pretty bad, but like all injuries it has begun to subside. it might be the drugs, but it's probably more likely to be the spasms easing off and the swelling going down. However, because nothing in my life is particularly simple, the latest twist (and that's a great word) is the migration of the pain to my hip and groin (which apart from the new kind of pain, also makes doing the horizontal mambo nigh on impossible). It's actually been there since it started, but because the back was considerably more painful, I sort of overlooked it. Now, however, it is having its own moment in the spotlight.

I noticed the other day, that when I walk something happens; something decidedly unpleasant. My hip clicks and if you put your hand on the outside of it, you can feel it sort of slip in and out of its socket. It probably isn't doing that, but that's the best way to describe how it feels and seems.

So, we're walking the dogs, me hobbling along with my trusty walking stick, and I thought, "she should feel this, it might help her understand a bit better" (not that I'm suggesting she isn't understanding or considerate, but compared to me she is the healthiest person who has ever lived). So I took her hand, placed it on my left hand hip and carried on walking. Jesus Harry Christ, you'd think I just put a massive great spider with humongous teeth and 'MUM' tattooed on its knuckles in her hand. She literally jumped a foot away from me.
"My God, that can't be right!" She exclaimed and for the rest of day and evening she could not get over it. "I've never felt anything as wrong as that in my life!" was another statement. She is now convinced I'm going to need hip replacement surgery. I suppose I'd better mention it to the doc when I see her on Wednesday. I've just taken it for granted that its something to do with the general problem. The wife, however, thinks its weird, freaky and definitely not right.
I'm hoping, for once, she's over reacting (either that or these painkillers have made me impervious to worry - I mean, this time 18 months ago I was feeling really guilty about having so much time off of work; today, I really don't give a shit!)

***

Another side effect, but this time more than likely from stopping smoking, is the weird and wonderful inability I've developed of not being able to get cold! Anyone who knows me is aware that I am the world's biggest bleater about temperature. I have more fleeces, jumpers, thermal underwear, hats, scarves, gloves and mahoosive coats than you could physically shake a stick at, yet I'm actually looking forward to the cold snap forecast on Wednesday. Perhaps I'll shiver. Perhaps I won't walk around wearing barely anything and still be sweating.

The wife thinks its because my blood is circulating around my body again and not being obstructed by the affects of smoking. All I can say is its a bit like being my own nuclear generated sauna at the moment. The wife was cold last night and put the heating on - it was to be fair 0 degrees on the patio - within half an hour I was stripped down to a T-shirt and that was sticking to me. I, somehow, thought that having a bath might help. Ten minutes after getting out of the bath, I felt like I needed a cold shower; I was just pouring with sweat. I'm thinking I could solve an energy crisis if they could hook me up to some kind of energy collector.

***

Is this a coincidence or have I got a really clever Trojan embedded into my computer?

The new pills I'm on - oxycodone (or more familiarly known to Stephen King readers and Americans as Percoscets) are pretty good. While I've heard of the US version, I've never seen Oxycodone anywhere (and considering Boots had to order them in and the doctor said she hadn't ever prescribed them before) imagine my surprise when an advert for Oxycodone should pop up in my Spam In-box less than two days after mentioning them in a recent blog entry. Normally, its your usual Viagra spam, so seeing an '80% off your next order of Oxycodone' advert made me a little bit paranoid...

I'd like some Krugerrands, please!

***

I watched 30 minutes of a film called Hunter Prey last night. That's 30 minutes of my life I'm never seeing again. It was so bad, I switched it off and threw the DVD away. I can be cruel and heartless, but I'm not cruel and heartless enough to allow someone else to be subjected to it.

Instead we watched Toy Story 3. I didn't cry or get upset (like just about everybody I know), but that might have something to do with a) I have no kids of my own, and b) I was never really a toys kid. As an infant, I preferred drawing and making up stories - in my head rather than with inanimate objects.

That might explain why I'm such a miserly person when it comes to Christmas.

The wife steadfastly refuses to let me 'do' Christmas. Every year I ask her, every year she refuses.

Every year she spends between £200 and £400 on the whole kit and caboodle; that includes a 6 foot tall real tree; presents for nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, her mother and grandmother and R'n'B. If I was to 'do' Christmas, it would cost about £50 and that would include fuck all for anybody, a twig stuck on the mantelpiece with Blutac and some beer for me.

In the coming days of austerity, mine sounds like a eminently more sensible idea.

***

Have I mentioned how much I fucking hate this new keyboard?

At some point, I'm going to type a paragraph and I'm not going to edit it; just so you can see how my sausage fingers are not coping at all well with it...

***

If I haven't done this already; can I recommend two television imports from the good ol' US of A.

Forget what you've read about The Event. We're four episodes into it and it's really quite compelling TV. Far better than that load of Flash Forward twaddle and just barking enough to make it worth sticking with. It starts on Channel 4 on Friday.

The other is No Ordinary Family, with Michael Chiklis (he of The Shield and Ben Grimm in the Fantastic Four films) and Julie Benz (she of Buffy, Angel, and Dexter). It is funny, quite sexy and thoroughly entertaining. Ms Benz just gets more attractive as she gets older and the entire premise - lifted essentially from The Incredibles - is spot on and dare I say it, realistic.

***

I read an interesting football related article the other day. it suggested that in the next few years the English Premier League will be dominated by Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Spurs; with the likes of Liverpool and Man Utd declining in stature and slipping out of contention. With the news today that Wayne Rooney wants out of Man U and Liverpool fading quicker than Dulux paint on a south facing wall in Spain, it would be great to see a new world order.
It might have an extra team in that new mix up, if Bill Kenwright can sell Everton to a rich Arab, then I think they would be up there too.

***

I have to say that the BBC's decision to axe its two finest weathermen - Rob McElwe and Philip Avery - from national broadcasts in preference for the younger, personality less likes of what's his name and the other one is just a really pathetic and sad thing.

But, this is from a company that spends our licence fee on shipping out personality news readers to world events so that the viewer gets to see a familiar face on the 6 or 10 o'clock news broadcasts.

During the Chilean mining rescue; that poor sod Tim Wilcox - the guy who invariably ends up doing national holidays and weekend slots on the news channel - got sent out to Copiapo about two weeks before the rescue happened. I figured it was because he spoke Spanish. He was a star and really did an excellent job and one felt that after serving what seemed like an endless apprenticeship at the helm of every antisocial news slot in existence; he was finally going to get his moment in the spotlight.

But no. About 12 hours before the first miner was due to be brought to the surface; the BBC shipped Matt Frei and Rajesh Mirchandani out there - two familiar faces for regular viewers of BBC1 news reports. Why? Wasn't Wilcox doing a good enough job? Don't the BBC have faith in their man? Or is it that they seem to think we'll understand the news better if someone more familiar is fronting it?

This is our licence fee being frittered away by the cult of personality and celebrity.

And it isn't the first time. Back when that god awful tsunami struck south east Asia on Boxing day a few years ago; we had initial reports from Damian Grammaticus. once the scale of the disaster became apparent, they shipped George Alagiah out there, so he could present the 10 o'clock news from where the disaster actually happened!

And what about the flooding disaster in Boscastle. The Beeb was quite happy for the South-West of England reporter to cover the breaking story on News24, but the moment it was time for the 6 o'clock news, they wheeled Huw Edwards out.

This is where I can understand the criticism of using our licence fees on totally uneconomic things. Personally, I don't care who reports the news as long as it's accurate...