Tuesday, November 30, 2010

There Goes the Fear

This is about SPORT...

Good buddy Roger is frothing like a rabid clunge about last night's Panorama, which he believes has single handedly ruined England's chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup. I was one of the measly 141 people who signed the Facebook petition - something that left him even more incredulous than Panorama's exposé.

However, I refer him and many others to the following: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/nov/29/world-cup-fifa-panorama which among other things questions whether or not we really want the World Cup and shines a light on the fact that FIFA are essentially a bunch of corrupt cunts.

I don't think Panorama's programme was in the public interest; especially as they have a piss poor record of actually having factually accurate football stories (Just ask Alex Ferguson, 'Arry Rednapp, Kevin Bond and even Lord Coe) and it beggars belief that they could offer such flimsy reasons for killing off an already floundering bid. I think pretty much anyone who knows anything about football politics knows that FIFA and its European equivalent UEFA are run by a bunch of self-serving greedy gits; but having this kind of exposure isn't going to change it overnight. It isn't going to make the 18 or so FIFA voters untouched by these allegations opt to refrain from voting until the organisation is made more transparent.

Poor show by a one time pinnacle of political programme making, which seems to have sacrificed facts for a bit of sensationalism and the need to justify its existence by attracting lots more viewers.

***

It's not often I can have a smug grin on my face for getting a forecast totally wrong; but after England's brilliant display in the latter stages of the first Ashes test, I feel as though I'm entitled to.

Yes, I said continuously that we'd lose and we didn't. in fact we ended up on the front foot (cricketing term there ...) and go to Adelaide with momentum.

However, I still think we will lose this series and I will continue to think we'll lose it until we can't be beaten. So there.

***

If I see one more reference to the English Premier League's 'Big Four' being Manchester united, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool once more I am going to scream and scream until I vomit all over that hairy bloke Richard Keys.

The 'Big Four' are arguably now a Big 5 and that Big 5 does not include Liverpool. Yes, the Red Shite have a tradition; they've finished 2nd in recent years with a higher points tally than some teams win it with and they have won and been runners up in the Champions League, but thanks to one Fat Spanish Waiter they are now the equivalent to what Spurs and Man Citeh were a few years ago - also rans.

The Big 4 are: ManUre, Chelski, The Arse and Spurs, with Citeh an add on because of their vast resources. Citeh won't be included in that list until they finish in the top 4 and while they currently occupy that spot, they have played less than Spurs this season so far and against lesser opposition - even Juventus cannot be classed as a good side seeing as they are yet to actually win a Europa League match yet and are not in the top 5 in Serie A.

Spurs have slipped up against inferior sides, but they've also ripped Inter a new arsehole, come back from 4-0 down to run Inter to within an inch of their lives and qualified for the last 16 of a tournament that people said they'd be lucky to even get past the qualifying stages.

For all of Citeh's resources, they should be top; but they're not and the manager Roberto Mancini has not got the nous that 'Arry Rednapp has. He also doesn't have Gareth Bale. Spurs might not qualify for the Champions League next season, but if they don't they won't do it with style. They will be a constant threat to any team that comes to White Hart Lane; they have shook up the normally stagnant Champions League and even after losing to West Ham, Bolton, Wigan and ManUre so far this season are still only 6 points off the lead.

I've despaired over my team at times, but they make me proud to be a Spurs fan. We are that close to being contenders and while we have invested a lot of money, we're still one of the Top 10 most solvent football clubs in the world and the 18th richest. It doesn't matter how much money you invest in players, just so long as you show a profit at the end of it. This year was the first time in 22 years that Spurs showed a small loss - £6million. Man Citeh's balance sheet had a 9 figure loss - over £170million. If Abramovich had spent that much money on Chelski back in the early 2000s he would have expected the side not just to have won the league, but the FA and League Cups, the Champions League and probably the world Cup too...

***

Thanks to m'colleague and good friend One Ell, I rediscovered the joys of Rugby Union last year and feel quite giddy now. Apart from Warwickshire* - the only team I've ever supported in my lifetime - I've never followed a team that have bestrode their league in such a dominant fashion.

Last Friday, the Saints pummelled their closest rivals, London Irish, at Franklin's Gardens, without 6 internationals and of those 6 internationals most, if not all, of them are bloody good. The win put the team 8 points clear of the chasing pack and we're fast approaching the halfway stage of the season.

Admittedly, as an Association Football aficionado I struggle to comprehend the fact that the Saints can walk over the league and still not end up as champions, because of the play offs at the end of the season that allows the team who finish 4th to probably win the play off final and be crowned Premiership champions even if they end up being 20 points behind the 'winners' of the league.

What I struggle with the most is genuine rugby fans accepting this with little or no complaints. Can you imagine the football premiership's top 4 going into play offs and Spurs, limping into 4th place, 10 points behind 3rd and 30 points behind the winners having two cracking matches and walking away with the prize? I'd be happy, but ManUre, Chelski and Arse fans would be storming parliament...

***

Sitting here looking out of my window, I am glad that there isn't a world snowball throwing championship because if the two young lads who just walked past are anything to go by we'd lose to Namibia...

***

* Why Warwickshire? I've not mentioned this before have I? I think I might have... When I returned to the UK in 1969 after spending 6 years in Canada, we went to live in Daventry, which is out on the far west of Northants. Except, for some reason I thought Daventry was in Warwickshire. It might have had something to do with us always going to Rugby or driving out to Coventry or Leamington Spa; but when it came to picking sides in the bizarre game that is cricket, I went for Warks and at the time they were great - the likes of Denis Amis, Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharran, Derek Murray to name just a few. So when I discovered I lived in Northamptonshire and saw that their cricket team were a load of shit, I stuck with Warks.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Neighbourhood #4

It's Global Warming, innit!

I have to say after seeing footage of parts of Scotland and the North-East today, you don't expect to see 10 feet of snow in January or February, let alone at the end of November! It has looked pretty remarkable and at the time of starting to write this (16:40pm) it was starting to snow heavily again in the worst affected places. Good luck to them and I'm a bit envious - as I said the other day Northampton doesn't do snow much (you have to feel a bit sorry for the kids, especially those who see it snowing everywhere else and wonder what we've done to just get the freezing cold).

It looked like it was going to snow in Northampton today. The skies looked heavy and the temperature was -2 and I thought, 'Well, they said if it was going to happen today it would be between 9am and noon.' It still hadn't by 1pm, then the sun came out. By 1.30 there were clouds appearing, a few light snowflakes appeared and then stopped. By the time I took the dogs out for a walk the gauge on the Zafira read +2 and I was overdressed.

***

The other neighbour - the idiot rather than the fishwife - was out tipping hot water on his car windows this morning. I've seen him do it a couple of times and thought of a word that rhymes with banker. This cold and frosty a.m. however was slightly different. I suddenly heard him curse like a Tourette's syndrome sufferer given a massive wedgie.

I looked out of the window, saw nothing, looked again, and noticed a huge great crack running down his windscreen. I stifled a hysterical laugh, resisted the urge to go outside and call him an idiotic twat - because it was bound to happen - and realised that he's going to do it again; regar
dless of what happened. Also the word 'wankspanner' comes to mind - a great word and one not used enough! He was too lazy to scrape it and too impatient to sit in his car and let the heater do its job, serves him right. This gave me more reasons to be cheerful!

***

This WikiLeaks business says something that the media doesn't seem to have thought about: what are in the Top Secret communications?

It also makes me laugh when the Americans called Mohammed Karzai (of Afghanistan) 'paranoid' when its obvious that its the USA that is the most paranoid. It also suggests that going into politics is not a good idea, especially if you don't want your life coming under then scrutiny of the CIA or the US Secret Service (Notice how the initials of Secret service are SS).

The Arabs are as bad as every one else, but don't like admitting to it. That is so funny.

Face it people; we live in a scary world where it isn't just the overtly scary people that can terrify. In America, they want Right Wing Republicans in charge - people that make George W look like Zippy from Rainbow...

That bit of waste ground at the foot of your garden? Consider this - do I have a holiday next year to some warm country or do I build that fallout shelter I considered obsolete back in the 1990s? Mind you, after seeing The Road and watching The Walking Dead, I'm not terribly keen on living in post-apocalyptic planet Earth; there will be far too many humans, like cockroaches, that survive...

***

On the cable TV station UK Gold at the weekend was a Fry and Laurie Reunion. It was great and made you realise that it has been 15 years since the last series of A Bit of... 15 years!!! It made you want the two of them to put aside their National Treasure statuses, disregard their documentary and most popular TV show in the world things and do another series.

They are both comedy geniuses and Gold should have shown more of the two of them and got the rights to show the four series of A Bit of... rather than use the reunion to promote the fact they were doing a Blackadder weekend.

***

http://www.blowuphollywood.com/home.html check it out and cycle through the different multimedia pages.
Buy the new CD and help build houses in Nicaragua at http://www.hollyskite.com/merch.php.
But above all, see why I like them so much (and they must be good, I've got Roger into them and he has very discerning tastes). Ambient, rock, Indie and any other description you can think of - they are undefinable!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Black and White Town

A film recommendation: see Despicable Me its a great film and seems to continue the tradition for kids' CGI films being a damned sight better than most of the shite that gets made nowadays. It is a touch sentimental at times, but, oddly enough, that's the entire point of the film. It will also have you laughing like a fool in many places.

+++

Woke up yesterday morning to a light dusting of snow; a frozen duck pond and a next door neighbour who seems intent on chatting inane bollocks regardless of the weather - which was still chucking it down with the white stuff. I was in a rush; I had to get to One Ell's house to help him destroy things; I was freezing my bollocks off and I had a cup of tea stewing in a mug. This was the third time this week that the neighbour in question has just decided that I look as though I need to be talked to. Don't get me wrong, he's a lovely bloke, but he's also a bit of a fishwife (which incidentally is part of the name of a poem I read in 1982 and have been unable to find ever since*)...

Anyhow, despite us having the snowiest winter since 1963 last (this) year, people in cars are complete plonkers. I saw a prang, between a Peugeot and a black van and amazingly it wasn't the black van's fault; although to be fair he - the driver - could have been a but more aware. It's like 9.15am, the thermometer says -1 and the roads have a layer of snow on them. You don't attempt to go for the gap in traffic in this kind of weather without fucking up. I wanted to get out of my car, tap on the Peugeot driver's window and ask him if he felt like a twat.

But, I still got to One Ell's; we destroyed things, put excellently burnable wood in the back of my car and by the time we'd finished there was no snow left to speak of.

+++

*Conan the Fishwife was the name of the poem. I was given it at my first ever Glastonbury festival, which I think was 1982, if there was one in 1981 then it might have been that one. It entertained us all for most of the long weekend and partly that was probably due to the amounts of illegal drugs we consumed. I've searched for it several times on the 'net since, but I think it is something that has been lost forever.

But, speaking of poems... Jesus, I can't believe I'm agreeing to this (and it isn't even one of mine). I have been requested to reprint a poem my brother-in-law Neil wrote at least 15 years ago, in honour of a very special man who is being honoured for his work in children's television.

The poem is called appropriately Brian Cant and I'm only doing this because 3 people requested it (4 if you count Mike)...

Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cant, Brian Cunt.

+++

This week I shall mainly be playing CDs that are not in conventional clear plastic CD cases.

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After a long discussion with the wife (you remember her); it has been decided that I need to use ... product. I think you know what I mean. It has been something that I've avoided for most of my life. I don't do men's stuff like that. I've never used hair gel; I've never really been an aftershave person and essentially I use deodorant. Full stop. I've never needed to use anything else. A few years ago, I relented and started to use conditioner; but only once in a blue moon. However, my biggest fear was that once you start to use these things you have to continue - like going to the dentist.

The wife noticed that the dry skin problem I seem to have developed since stopping smoking (yeah, it is weird) needs addressing and I've had to agree with her. So, I'm using... ahem... coconut moisturiser on my face and some form of hand cream stuff on my, er, hands. I said, 'This doesn't seem to be doing much?' and was informed that I have to keep using it now to be able to feel the benefit. See? I told you; start using these things and you have to continue! Bastards!

***

The wife won a scanner at a works raffle last Christmas. I decided to check it out today. I grabbed it out of the cupboard and saw that it had written on a sheet of paper the words 'Brand New'. Excellent, thinks me. I can scan all of those bloody photographs I have and maybe some from 30 years ago to impress the people I'm going to be reconnecting with next Saturday at an Old Friends Reunion at the Bold Dragoon, in Weston Favell.

We already had a perfectly working scanner until one of the dogs decided to chew the power cable to bits. The scanner, a very old, but perfectly good one, is so obsolete that you cannot buy the power cable for it any more and, of course, it's a unique to the model and make kind. So, that left the 'Brand New' one. Which wasn't.

The USB lead looked as though it had been stuck up a dog's arse for a couple of years and then chewed by a donkey. It had never come out of its box, so mine couldn't be blamed. It was broken, rusty and one of those fixed unit jobbies which means even if I could replace it, I couldn't without dismantling it and rebuilding it with the correct electronic components.

I've discovered that I can buy one for loose change over £40; so I'm doing that...

+++

Sticking with the earlier repetition theme: bollocks bollocks bollocks bollocks...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Alone Again So

Overheard in Sainsbury's: two, ahem, chavs were buying some bread and the first one picks up a fresh loaf and looks at it puzzled and then turns to his mate and says, "'Ere, this bread is warm. Why is this bread warm?"
"It's probably just come out of the oven," says his mate.
"Really?"

***

Mitchell and Webb have a sketch on their TV programme called The Quiz Broadcast. This is: is a post-apocalyptic television show broadcasting on the British Emergency Broadcasting Service sometime in the year 2013. The country has been destroyed by "The Event" ...
There is, during this sketch a sign that appears on screen whenever 'The Event' is mentioned - REMAIN INDOORS.

Now, in the great tradition of Lost, there is a new mystery SF series on telly at the moment called The Event. For starters, I can't help but refer to it as either The Quiz Broadcast or Remain Indoors. I just wish it was as enthralling as Mitchell & Webb's comedy sketch.

The problem with The Event is it is a bit of a construct. It's like TV execs thought, "Lost was popular; 24 was popular, science fiction is in - lets do a hybrid and rake the cash in..." Except it is getting to the stage where like that wonderful piece of crap TV Flash Forward it is going to get cancelled.

We've watched the series and it has potential; the problem with shows like this is if you're going to constantly pile mystery upon mystery you need to give the dog a bone; you need to apply your mystery with a soupçon of answer or reveal. Think of it as Burlesque - its nice to have all that titillation, but every so often you have to see a nipple otherwise it's just a constant prick tease.

The Event doesn't do that. It just plies one enigma after another to the point where you start not to give a shit - not that you gave much of one anyhow. I think that Fringe was in danger of doing this until someone realised that the best policy is to actually show the viewer what the big picture is and build a series around it. JJ Abrams did it in reverse with Lost and it worked, because it was the first of its kind. American viewers are easily bored and if Abrams wanted Fringe to work, he had to something different. The makers of The Event don't have that foresight or guts and it will fade into the same limbo as Flash Forward and no one will care.

Of course, the other problem is it's a bit shit and there are a heap better programs out there at the moment.

***

Talking TV; the wife and I have been very impressed with No Ordinary Family. It's a kind of post-modern Fantastic Four and the first 8 episodes were an enjoyable romp. The brother-in-law and his lovely girlfriend are visiting and we talked up the show to the point where they wanted to see the latest episode I've downloaded. This has happened before to our regret and guess what? Episode 9 of No Ordinary Family was mawkish, overly far-fetched and so poor, I felt embarrassed by it...

***

Hey, while we're on the subject of TV, lets stay there: Stargate Universe is depressing. Not as depressing as say Battlestar Galactica, but still one of the most downbeat TV series for a while. yes, it still suffers from Deus Ex Machina fever at times, but this week's episode turned that Stargate quirk on its head in a really downbeat and ultimately sad way. This is a series that has massive flaws, but they're done in such a miserable and desperate way you can forgive it.

The Trip is British; it stars Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan and is directed by Michael Winterbottom. It's fictionally semi-autobiographical and it has become the funniest thing on telly at the moment. The opening 5 minutes of Monday's fourth episode will be remembered for a long time.

The Walking Egg as its become known already in Chez Hall has all the hallmarks of being a supremely brilliant TV show and you get the impression that like Robert Kirkman's comic - reviewed here last week - only a handful of people are going to be exempt from being eaten, killed, maimed or in some way driven insane by apocalyptic abuse. It does have one thing the comic doesn't have - a degree of levity.

***

Apparently, despite having been to the dentist about as many times in the last 30 years as George Michael gets convicted for drugs and driving offences, my dentist thinks I have remarkably good teeth and gums. He is delighted that I've stopped smoking and even the wife has noticed that me old gnashers appear to be cleaner than a brand new Royal Doulton bog.

I was looking at the some of the pictures of me; including many on Facebook, and I was very self conscious of the fact that I looked like I took no care of my teeth at all. Now, I'll gladly grin like a fool just to show off me pearly whites!

***

Someone suggested to me today that I'm only saying the Aussies are going to win the Ashes because I'm trying some kind of reverse psychology; a bit like doctors giving a patient the worst possibly scenario only to come out smelling of roses if the person on the receiving end of the potentially bad news makes a full recovery.

No. I think we will lose. Plain and simple. The only thing that will prevent us from losing this 1st test is the weather.

***

I managed to find out what those mystery songs were thanks to K and his useful suggestion. I really should have remembered what they were without help.

***

A (not so) short mention about my health... Back slowly improving, but the sciatica is literally a pain in the arse (and leg). I seem to have developed really dry skin - which is weird considering I've stopped smoking. My hair seems to have rediscovered grease, which isn't very pleasant and I'm not talking about Olivia Newton-John or John Travolta. I cut my leg on some brambles today and thought it was never going to stop bleeding. I'm still getting this bizarre intermittent itching and my eyes are still as sore as a bastard. oh and I really am getting very lardy. If I carry on the way I'm going I'll need a mirror to see my penis...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Horizons

That's all sorted then.

***

Time to be a bit contrary...

While Britain shivers in its worst early snowfall for 17 years and potentially as bad as it was in the 1930s, when many parts of the country were subject to 12 inches of snow before December even raised its head above the pulpit; I am again reminded that geographically Northampton has to be very lucky to see anything more than a dusting of the white stuff. It appears that last winter was something of an exception, but then again, everywhere last winter was an exception.

While the last thing I would want is for my wife to struggle to get into work, especially if the roads become blanketed with snow and then ice; she is driving my 4x4 at the moment and therefore should cope with the icy conditions better than when she had her Postman Pat box on wheels. This means, as I'm sort of stuck in the house, I wouldn't mind seeing some snow. Except that isn't going to happen. Earlier this week they said it might snow here on Thursday, but by yesterday that threat had all but disappeared; however, there were suggestions that Monday might see some significant snowfall, but now the forecast suggests the worst we'll see will be some thick cloud.

We were treated to a proper winter last year - as much as it pissed me off - and I think we all got a bit blasé about the snow; in fact, when it was still snowing in April, I was getting royally cheesed off about it, expecting to see some milder, spring like weather and still having to turn the electric blanket on at night! But, I'm not expected back at work until the 16th December, the dogs (especially Ness) love the white stuff and I have fur-lined boots and a balaclava ...

***

I was searching through my countless (illegal) discs for something a bit different to listen to and stumbled upon a various artists disc that had December 2008 written on it. I thought, 'yeah, why not?' and put it in the ghetto blaster. Now my office music player is a useful little bit of kit, it has a display that tells you what song and whom its by, except this disc is all 'unknown artist' and that's proving to be a real bitch.

The reason, it seems, is that two of the tracks - 2 and 11 don't appear to have recorded. They're there, the first of these tracks is 9 minutes long and the second is a little over 5 minutes; but instead of the song there's just silence. It's like the disc has recorded the data but not allowed the song to play - I don't know, I don't understand technology like I once did (hell, I avoid self service tills at supermarkets because they frighten me!). This is by-the-by, the thing is, there are at least 4 tracks on this disc that I really like, but I don't know what they are because on the player they are 'unknown artist' and on the PC they are just Track CDA1, CDA2 etc., etc.

So, I downloaded some song recognition software, loaded it up and it doesn't recognise any of them (but to be fair I might not be doing it properly because it doesn't recognise songs that are well known either) and I'm now at the point where I must have known what these songs were in December 2008 otherwise I probably wouldn't have downloaded them onto a disc - would I?

Hopefully someone reading this will be able to suggest something that I can download that will explain to me what these songs are; or maybe not.

***

Born Again Christians - hypocritical wankers or just complete wastes of space? Discuss.

***

Sometimes, I get the urge to cook something not derived out of my head, so I will scan the 'net for interesting sounding recipes. Tonight, I wanted to do a veggie curry but fancied seeing what others do. I found something truly annoying...

My Glass Onion (oo-er missus) is at least recipes that I put together; yeah, my use of quorn can be an embarrassment at times, but they're generally ideas that have been developed by me. In my search for an interesting veg curry recipe (incidentally, I ended up using several as guides and devising my own - don't know what it's like as I haven't eaten it yet), I came across umpteen websites and blogs produced by individuals rather organisations; i.e: Betty's Food blog or World Recipes dot com, stuff like that. The thing that really amazed me more than anything else and left me slightly perplexed was the number of recipes put up by people on their blogs that use 'curry powder' or 'curry paste' of the shop bought variety. I mean, vegetable curry - take a selection of vegetables and mix with curry powder is essentially what all of these recipes boils down to; there's no spices involved, no skill in producing a masala that works, so no real point in wasting anyone who finds it. If I wanted to make curries the cheap and easy way I'd go and buy some curry powder rather than buy numerous whole spices and components and then make my own.

I'd like to think that I at least contribute something in my blogs - some originality, some sense of care and thought about what I'm doing. If wasting people's time with recipes that use, I don't know, cook in sauce jars, pre-bought spice mixes, jars of Italian seasoning or whatever, then why waste the discerning recipe hunters time... Gah! They should all carry a warning - You might be better off going to the Takeaway you lazy good for nothing wasters! Gah again!

***

The curry was remarkably good; the wife was pleasantly surprised and I shall put it up at some point (oo-er missus, again).

***

It appears that I'm getting my sense of taste back. Taste buds taste that is; I still have no taste, before any of you decide to throw that in!

***

The Mighty Spurs will be playing Champions League football, still, in February. How good is that?

***

I hooked up with an old 'friend' the other day. As she said, despite us having never met in real life, she still remembered me - quite specifically at that - and it made me realise that even if I hate comics and never really feel as though I want to be involved in them again, there are some genuinely wonderful people who earn their daily crust from the industry. Shawna Gore works for Dark Horse, but don't let that put you off, and is into hard thrashy music (she plays drums and guitar) and small furry animals - not a lot there you couldn't like really! It made my week reconnecting with her and one of her colleagues Mike Martens - two people who made my long time in comics worth remembering! Good show!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Demolition Man

I always has this idea that if I couldn't write a best seller, then perhaps I could have a brilliant idea, sell it to Hollywood and make shedloads of money by being an ideas man. Quite how you become an 'ideas man' without knowing the right people; the ones open to ideas, never really occurred to me. But, hey, as pipe dreams go this was one of my better ones.

Of course the problem with being an ideas man is that by the time your idea is actually turned into a feature film or TV series it has been dissected, defenestrated and put back together with considerably less care and attention than Colin Clive managed in 1931. What you're left with is not a Karloff, but more likely an Ed Wood.

Joss Whedon had a good idea. He sold it to a woman called Fran Rubel Kuzui, who with her husband, made the feature film Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Go here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103893/ if you don't already know about this abomination that starred Kirsty Swanson (a relative of Gloria), Luke Perry, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer and Pee Wee Herman (it also had Hilary Swank and David Arquette in it, for you people who need to know all the facts).

It would be fair to say that even though Whedon is credited as the writer on this film, he did lose most of his control and best part of his script to the talentless Kuzui family; who, it seems, felt the film would be more of a success if they made it a sort of bad teen comedy rather than a seriously funny examination of an emancipated woman. It is also fair to say that the film probably made as much money from the curious few who delighted in the strange title and opted to go and see the film rather than any good reviews it might have received - which, after extensive searching, it didn't.

5 years after and Whedon was approached by some genius of a TV producer and asked if he wanted to resurrect his vampire slayer as a TV series. There were no guarantees, it was being optioned as a filler; the type of short season designed to replace televisual failures that never make it past the opening 12 or 13 episodes. It replaced a TV series called Savannah which had the distinction of having Ray (Twin Peaks) Wise in it and had managed a second season, but died a death suitable for any Buffy episode.

I remember the TV SF show Babylon 5 and how, to be fair, it managed to make it to 5 series, because with a couple of exceptions, the first season was utter crap. It was poorly acted, had substandard Star Trek ideas and very little soul; yet it went on to become one of the greatest SF TV shows of all time and feature one of the most ambitious story lines ever attempted before or after - The Shadow War. The thing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer was that the first 12 episodes of the first season were pretty dire. I remember watching a couple of them when they first appeared on British TV in 1998 and thinking, "This is shit."

However, by the end of that year, the second season has already found its way onto our screens. While the wife and I had given up on it, Neil, her brother, hadn't and one evening as we were getting ready to go out on the town, he asked if we'd ever watched Buffy. We explained that we had and thought it was rubbish. He laughed at us and said that we were missing the best thing on television. Now, both of us respected Neil's opinion; he had good taste, so we decided to give Buffy one more opportunity. We sat down and watched the repeat showing of season 2, episode 6, called appropriately enough Halloween.

It was the same cast and crew as season 1, but there was something altogether more... developed than the initial episodes we'd watched, which appeared to be poorly executed monster of the week show. Halloween was quite extraordinary, as was Lie to Me the following episode. It only took two and we were hooked. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had not only come of age, it had surpassed all expectations.

Now, at this point it has to be said that Buffy wasn't immune to some really awful episodes and that not all of the first season were that bad. Like Babylon 5, you really need to watch the first season of Buffy, because it sets the groundwork and like many great TV shows since, there have been episodes that have you shaking your head in disbelief that something as genuinely unique as Buffy could succumb to such shit as Ted, Beer Bad and I Was Made To Love You - but it did and invariably these really cheesy episodes were a prelude to something altogether bigger and badder.

I still believe, special FX apart, that seasons 2 and 3 take some beating. It fulfilled Whedon's High School as Hell metaphor perfectly and we watched all the characters grow, flourish and become individuals. this wasn't just a cast made up of Hollywood brats who could all have walked out of the same casting room; there was something genuine about them; even Charisma Carpenter, who played the brunette bimbo (a great counterbalance to Buffy's anything but blonde bimbo) became a rounded, believable character. Whedon and his team spent as much time investing in the supporting characters as they did in the ongoing story. By the end of it all, it wasn't about Buffy; she was almost unimportant; it was about the way all of the supporting characters had become the most important characters, because without them the series would never have been so successful.

Returning to the cheesy elements; there was an episode in season 5 - a season that destroyed a lot of preconceptions about the series - which stands out as the real low point of the entire story. The previously mentioned I Was Made To Love You is 44 minutes long and the first 42½ will have you cringing in disbelief. I remember that by this time Neil had moved out and was living in London. Fridays were still Buffy nights and we all watched it rather than go and strut our stuff. The episode was so bad that it prompted Neil to ring up during the 3rd advert break. "Can you believe how bad this is?" He asked me and for several minutes we whined and moaned about how Jane Espenson, normally a solid writer, had besmirched the good name of Buffy to produce this rancid piece of crap. At 8.55pm, the phone rang again; it was Neil again. "Oh wow. Did you see that coming?" He asked and no we hadn't. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it and may decide to treat themselves; but suffice it to say the following episode is probably the best 45 minutes of television I have ever seen. It was above brilliant, it was so good it got nominated and won an award. TV critics still cite it as one of the greatest episodes of any television series ever. And that was what Buffy possessed. The ability to floor you; to blind side you and then shatter any preconceptions you might have.

It wasn't the first time that this kind of thing happened. During season 2 something totally out of left field happens that makes you realise that things are capable of happening to characters in this series that you really wouldn't expect. Take for instance the introduction of Spike in season 2. He had a bad mid-Atlantic accent, got on your nerves from almost the first moment he appeared on screen and ended up being the most heroic and lovable vampire you could possibly imagine. His transformation from bad ass vampire slayer's slayer to smitten puppy dog could only have happened in this series and if you forget his reappearance in Angel, his was possibly the most beautiful and magnificent screen death of all time. It was one of the few moments in the entire 7 seasons where I had to wipe a tear from my eye.

As you can see, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was more than just a television series for me. I could bang on about it for hours. It wasn't just me either - despite only ever getting, at its height, about 5.5million US viewers a week, discerning television watchers all realised just how important it was. In many eyes, Buffy is up there with The Sopranos, The Wire, The West Wing and NYPD Blue as essential viewing.

Now, we have the news that Fran Rubel Kuzui has sold her stake in the picture to Warner Bros and they intend to resurrect the character - without Whedon and his team, and without Sarah Michelle Geller, Allyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head or any of the other unbelievably important actors who made this series everything that was good about television.

Go here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2010/nov/23/joss-whedon-buffy-vampire-slayer?intcmp=239 and here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/23/joss-whedon-buffy-vampire-slayer and finally here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/nov/23/buffy-rises-again-new-film?intcmp=239 to get an idea of why this has made national news and why it has a lot of people more than a bit miffed. Some things just make very little sense and this is one of them...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

April

The tale of the fucking useless cripple continues unabated. As many of you will know, if I do something to myself, it's usually in spades. Yesterday, when I accidentally buggered my back up again, doing of all things, walking down the bleedin' stairs. It took me by such a surprise that I managed to bite my bottom lip so hard I drew blood... The wife (you remember her) looked at me. I shook my head and asked her to suffocate me while I slept; that way I wouldn't continue to be a burden, a sad bastard and a seemingly constant drain on the poor steadily going broke NHS...

However, I woke up this morning and was still alive. Well, I think I am as the dogs are acknowledging my presence.

***

Did I mention that I'm turning into a fat bloater? During the first month of stopping smoking I lost 3lbs. Admittedly, a lot of that had to do with the morphine-based drugs I was on and my prolapsed disc giving me hell. It also had something to do with nothing tasting of anything but wallpaper paste.

In the last month, I have put on 17lbs. I looked at myself in the mirror last night as I got out of the bath and realised that, for the first time in my life, I have to go on something of a diet...

***

I told Roger about this on Thursday and then forgot. I remembered again this evening...

When the doctor told me that a prolapsed disc is essentially a modern term for a slipped disc it reminded me of something from my dim and distant past...

I once got a job as a Nursing Assistant. I was 18 and my folks, who I had gone to live with, insisted that I really needed to get a job. They were running the social club at Shenley Hospital in Hertfordshire. It was, for want of a better term, a nut house. It was packed to the rafters with people who would become victims of the terminology - Care in the Community; one of those Thatcherite ideas that saved money and was unbelievably ill thought out.

I didn't want the job; but there were plenty of them in this new Conservative dawn. I went to the interview, barely uttered a word and got offered the job. My first morning proved to be my last.

I turned up at Villa 18a - renowned for being one of the places where the oldest and nuttiest of the fruitcakes lived - and was introduced to the staff, who I knew anyhow from getting very drunk with on a daily basis. I was then told what a Nursing Assistant's job entailed - it was helping the qualified nurses to do their jobs and rather nastily, to do all the jobs that the qualified nurses didn't have to do because of people like me. This included cleaning up shitty beds, wiping shit encrusted bottoms and other bits and essentially bathing and treating these poor unfortunate people like babies. I could feel my stomach turning over.

Then one of my 'friends' said, "Of course, that isn't the worst thing. because a lot of these poor fuckers actually have no control over their bowels, they just go whenever they feel something coming on and sometimes there's nothing there to push out. So, a lot of the women end up with prolapsed vaginas."
"What's a prolapsed vagina?" I asked, knowing what a vagina was, obviously, but having no idea what a prolapse was.
"It's a bit like when you turn you coat inside out." I looked puzzled. The person in question, a staff nurse called Pat O'Connor (whose motorbike I used to service) took off his white coat and pulled his sleeve inside out. "Imagine this is a vagina. They push so hard it just turns itself inside out and literally falls out of their own cunt." He said in his soft southern Irish accent. I looked horrified.
"What do you do?" I asked, feeling decidedly queasy.
"You get some Vaseline, smear it on your hand and push the fucker back up." While turning his lab coat arm back to where it was supposed to be. All the colour must have drained out of my face because he said, "You feeling all right, fella?" I shook my head, turned on my heels and walked out of villa 18a and never went in there again. my career as a Nursing Assistant lasted 45 minutes...

When I told Roger the abbreviated version of this story on Thursday, I added that I thought, after all these years, that it might have been a wind up. I have since checked on Google Images and have discovered it wasn't a wind up at all. I have been posting more pictures on the blog than ever before. I won't be posting one of this!

***

I was busy searching for a decent Sambar Masalla recipe on the net and couldn't find what i was looking for. Indian recipes are notoriously contrary - there doesn't appear to be one specific recipe for anything and I didn't need to know how to make the spice mix, I needed some guidance as to how to make the soup. Every bloody recipe I found either seemed as dull as dishwater or didn't actually have the soup/dal recipe. So I made my own up. It's really nice. It isn't really a sambar, it's more like a spicy mixed lentil soup and I shall write it up and include it in my next Glass Onion thingy.

***

Winter's coming back and with a vengeance it would seem. Forecasts indicate that we'll be shivering in 0 degrees by the weekend and many places will see their first snows of the season. Autumn, it seems is really over and the UK is about to return to the weather we all got so accustomed to last winter.

Why can't I be incapacitated during the height of summer? Oh, yeah, I was, in 2009. It was a lousy summer and I got webbed feet from sitting in the garden. Being off of work is not really much fun, especially when I can't really do much and if the temperatures are about to plummet, that means I'm going to have to put the heating on, costing me more bloody money and because it'll be cold, my back will continue to scream at me.

Fuck this. I have to convince the wife (the one I mention quite a lot) that moving to a country where it's warm every day is really the best way forward; even if I have to buy her a refrigeration unit and big bags of fake snow!

***

Normally, when I have a review to write, I do it independently. You know the thing - Glass Onion for recipes; Us Versus Them for football, Gig Guides for, um, gigs and reviews tend to be under whatever heading I fancy, but they have their own unique format. However, I have a review to write and I can't be asked to post this and then another in an hour or so. There's overkill and there's too much Phil and they both probably equate to the same thing...

The Walking Dead 1-78
Image Comics; Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard, w/Tony Moore (issues 1-6)

Nearly a decade ago, I wrote what would be my second completed novel. It was only the first draft and very few people were unfortunate enough to read it. It was called Gentle By Name and it was, as one of its readers said, totally unrelenting and grim. it had so little levity in it that by the end you felt totally browbeaten. The comic book which became the hit AMC TV drama makes my novel seem positively light hearted.

Robert Kirkman, the writer and creator of this series, was almost an unknown in the comics industry when I was scrambling away from it. I read a few things he did, including Tech Jacket and Invincible and came to the conclusion that the boy had potential. In one of the last ever Movers & Shakers columns I wrote, I forecast big things for him, despite thinking he was emulating one of comics greatest plagiarists - namely Alan Moore. Now before anyone sends a hit man out to get me, let me explain. Alan Moore was great at taking other peoples ideas and transforming them into great comics product. If you look at some of his hits you'll notice that virtually all of them were other peoples' creations, which he put his own distinct (and verbose) mark on - Swamp Thing, Watchmen, Batman, Top Ten, Miracleman and all of these were other peoples ideas, characters or concepts. Kirkman made Invincible a really excellent read, yet it was nothing more than a revamp of Dan Vado's The Griffin and The Walking Dead is basically a comicbook version of George Romero's Dead films. Arguably, Romero could have done with someone like Kirkman to write the last three of the Dead films, because the comic is considerably better than any of them.

In the TV series, the wholly capable Frank Darabont has thankfully taken elements of the comic and added his own unique twists; because, frankly, if he adapted the TV series straight from Kirkman's scripts, you would be reaching for the sleeping tablets and razorblades before the end of season 1. Yet the amazing thing is that for the first 6 issues (with the best artwork) it doesn't really give you the impression that it would get so horrible.

If you take the E and the S off the end of Rick Grimes surname you get the word GRIM and that is an understatement as far as this comic is concerned. It is an immensely successful series for Image Comics, yet I know a lot of people who have actually stopped reading this comic because it is so relentlessly nasty. It taps into every single loathsome trait of humanity and polarises it; amplifies it beyond belief. There are very few people/characters in this book that have any redeeming qualities whatsoever - perhaps Glenn; the Asian kid in the TV series; he seems to be the only character in the entire story that you don't, at some point, feel contempt for and he's still alive after 78 issues!

After issue 7, the British artist Charlie Adlard comes on board. He was obviously recruited because unlike original artist Tony Moore, he could produce an issue in the allotted time frame. Unfortunately, not only is Adlard a poor artist, he makes the experience of reading this comic even more grimmer. For people who are watching the TV show, don't be put off by this review; already 4 episodes in, it seems that only the themes are the same and even if the show runs and runs, I don't expect it to stay true to the comic. I really don't think the viewer would have the stomach for it and I'm not talking about the zombies.

In short, as stated earlier, there are few humans that walk out of this story with any shred of decency and Rick Grimes isn't one of them. Over the space of the comic's life he transforms from the good ol' boy likeable police officer into a fascistic, nasty piece of crap with very little mitigating circumstances for his at times psychopathic behaviour. He is actually an anti-hero. But, that's possibly the entire reason for the comic; you see it isn't about the walking dead, it's about the depths humanity will go to survive in a world where there are no longer any rules.

I read all 78 issues over the space of 3 days and even in parts where you're supposed to be happy for the characters, you just wait for the inevitable hell to come crashing in. No one, even Grimes, is safe. Just about everyone in the series either gets killed, mutilated, shot or fucked up and over. It makes you wonder what goes on in Kirkman's head - does he really think humanity would be like this when the chips are down? The problem is, you kind of think he does and that he's not wrong, especially in the USA, where guns and bigotry are rife.

It is not a pleasant read. It doesn't look pretty (but this is down to Adlard being a crap but really quick artist) and its a bit like rubbernecking a car crash; you want to look away, but you also want to keep looking to see if it really can get any worse. Even when you think it has reached genuine low points, it manages to sink even lower. It's like Kirkman has this bet that he can't gross people out further than ever before and again, I'm not talking about what the zombies do, I'm talking about what the humans do.

One thing is obvious to me, comics are no longer escapist entertainment; a chance to enter a make believe world for 15 minutes of fun; with The Walking Dead you get transported to a world where humanity is nestling in a big bucket of rancid shit and is enjoying, even wallowing in, the stench.

There are a slew of trade paperbacks available on Amazon. Once upon a time, people would joke to aspiring suicidal types that they should invest in a Leonard Cohen album, or maybe The Cure's Pornography album. This is the best investment you could make if you want to kill yourself. Yet, for all of that, it's still got me hooked and I want to read #79 and #80 and so on and so forth; because like rubberneckers, I want to see how low humanity can go.

***

One final Facebook game mention. There's this game called Bejewelled Blitz. I resisted it for months; but finally decided to try out the game that over 40 of my actual friends play. I now know why I don't like computer games. I'm crap at it. It doesn't matter what help I get, I'm just no fast enough to get a high score and the only reason I have got some of the scores I have is because of the way the game has been benevolent to me.

Us versus Them (part 4)

At this point of the football season, last year, I was crowing about my ability to be a prophet of football forecasting genius. This season, I have been brought down to Earth with a thundering crash. Not only have some of my predictions been wrong, some have been laughable bad.

For starters; for Blackpool to finish bottom of the table; they're going to have to lose the next 24 matches and frankly that looks unlikely. In fact, of my bottom three forecast only Wolves look like saving my blushes and even they arguably don't deserve to be there, having played some great football and yet only have 9 points after 14 games.

Then, I forecast that Bolton would narrowly avoid the drop, finishing in 17th place. Yesterday, Owen Coyle's team recorded their 4th straight win (which included a 4-2 thumping of my beloved Spurs) with a dismantling of Newcastle by 5-1. They are prolific scorers and were 4th until Citeh thumped Fulham today.

I forecast that west Ham would have a better season and finish 14th; at the moment they're bottom on 9 points, with a marginally worse goal difference than Wolves and look really crap. They're going to have to do a lot to avoid the drop and Avram Grant will probably get the sack in the next few weeks.

Sunderland are doing better than I forecast, Fulham doing much worse. The top 7 however could have been forecast with me extremely drunk. For starters, I believed that Roy Hodgson was going to transform the fortunes of the Red Shite. He has. Liverpool are worse this season than they were under the Fat Spanish Waiter. However, as crap as they are, they're still only 9th and even without their talisman Gerard, who is injured, they are holding their own in a league that is as crazy as a nun with a pick axe.

I also forecast that Man U would drop out of the top 4 and flounder. At this point - over a third of the season gone - they are unbeaten and level on points with Chelsea, who are there by virtue of having won lots and drawn hardly any. They have lost 4 times, which shows you how many times SAF's team have drawn games.

As for my belief that the Arse would win the league... Heh... Heh heh. They got beaten by Spurs at the Emirates yesterday after leading 2-0. It's the third time they lost at home and that isn't the form of champions; but saying that, some commentators are suggesting if Spurs play like they did in the second half of that game and with everyone else dropping points everywhere else, they could be a surprise package for champions. This is my team and they are the only team to have lost to West Ham this season. The Hammers made Spurs look ordinary. Bolton made Spurs look poor last week. However, if spurs continue to upset the odds and win a few more games they shouldn't (on paper) then a top 4 finish isn't out of the question. Even if they are performing beyond everyone's expectations in the Champions League. The defeat of Arsenal was brilliant, but thumping Inter at the Lane and wiping that fat twat Rafa Benitez's smug smile off his face was still my highlight of the season by far!

Enough of the Premier League for the time being - more in March.

My gut feeling for the League cup - Everton - are out. Man U, my tip, are still in it and I think this will be their only trophy this season.

My tips for the Championship - QPR and Cardiff are 1st and 2nd. My powers of prophecy appear to have slipped down a division or three. I also said Northampton would struggle at the bottom of League 2 and they aren't disappointing (well, actually, they are really disappointing, but it isn't unexpected, especially when you dismantle the team that finished so well last season and replace it with 70% of a new, untested, team. Stevenage's season is panning out exactly as I forecast.

I also wrote this at the beginning of August: As for England and the new squad. Ho-hum. ... I'm not dramatically hopeful of any kind of improvement. The future is bereft of English talent at the moment.

It would appear that I still have the power of prophecy when it comes to guessing the 'kin obvious!

Friday, November 19, 2010

What Have We Sown?

I'm going to delve into something highly controversial and decidedly inflammatory. I'm going to risk the wrath of some good friends and I'm going to ridicule people I wouldn't dream of doing it to in person. Sorry, but I was once known as 'Phil the cunt' ...

I have this pad on my desk; I write down stuff that I want to extrapolate on in my blog. Sometimes its a couple of words, normally its a sentence or two, so that I know what kind of tack I'm taking with the extrapolation.

There is a growing phenomenon, especially with a specific social networking site, that is slowly killing the art of real time conversation. This weird anomaly is people who live with each other having conversations on Facebook - in public.

I was first alerted to this strange behaviour by a good friend, who mentioned that two people close to his heart were holding a conversation in Facebook chat while sitting on the same sofa. He rightly pointed out that what took about ten minutes could have been achieved in seconds had these two people bothered to speak to each other!

So over the last couple of months I've seen all manner of things on Facebook that has just made me go, 'Wha..?' A few examples: two married people sending each other wall posts; people living together making comments in each others status updates - and I'm not talking about witty or amusing bon mots here, I'm talking about bland and boring shit that could be kept between the two of them in the frigging kitchen. Or how about the profession of love between two people; yeah they might think its great to profess undying love for each other in front of all their mutual friends, but it really is just sick inducing. If you want to get all lovey dovey, then do it in the bedroom with the curtains drawn, for God's sake!

Is Facebook destroying the art of conversation more than television ever could? Well;, you could argue that it's stimulating conversation. These people are communicating with each other - after a fashion - so it all can't be bad. Can it?

You could argue that status updates, like Joe Public tweets, are only interesting to the person who writes it and maybe, very occasionally, others who feel the need to make a witty comment about it. I'm just as guilty of putting banal bollocks in my "What's on your mind" box; but I know for sure that if my wife (you remember her) had a Facebook account I would avoid responding to anything she said because she spends 50% of her life with me anyway!

Can you imagine me shouting this at you in an incredulous way? Good, because that's how strongly I feel about it! Maybe not as strongly as the fuck up the ConDems are making of my country, or the fact the BBC are a bunch of worthless twats who rival News International in their own self-serving way, but enough for me to wonder if most of my friends and acquaintances all need a good boot up the arse!

***

I did something yesterday and this morning that I've never ever done before and it didn't involve any form of strange or degrading sexual activity!

I listened to an audiobook.

I listened to UR by Stephen King, read by some geeza called Holter Graham. I downloaded the audio version because I wasn't about to buy a Kindle to read it.

I can even review this story in a really succinct way. Here goes: Meh.

***

Incidentally, speaking of Mr King. I also read Blockade Billy. I don't really understand baseball, therefore most of the 81 pages of it were meaningless. I can also review this very short story in a very succinct way. Here goes: Shit.

I want his new book of four novellas for Christmas. The words: For, Glutton and Punishment seem to spring to mind.

***

I've been trying to get Roger to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer for years. He normally takes my recommendations on board and 99% of the time thoroughly enjoys them; but he's constantly resisted this series.

I watched the finale of season two the other day and while it has to be said that the special effects are no longer special and some of the set pieces have a definite whiff about them; it is still a thoroughly brilliant TV series, one that deals with issues in a superb way and a series that still to this day has my favourite single episode of television in its canon. For those who would be interested, that is The Body, which, even today, has me laughing, crying and remembering that even superheroes have to face the reality of sudden death.

***

Nostalgia, eh? It's not what it used to be...

***

Right. That's enough of that. I'm being taken down the pub by Ex-wonky Finger Man and One Ell. So I'll leave you this with this thought: Bollocks!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hard Day's Night

Let's lighten things up a bit...

The picture to my left is edited. I can't get the original anywhere apart from inside today's G2 (The Guardian's tabloid shaped daily insert). It's a good picture of the woman who will be queen. However, I'm confused. You see the full version of this picture of Kate Middleton outside Blenheim Palace in 2004 shows off her ample thighs and one wonders if there has been a block put on the full picture because they make her look like she has legs that could crush ol' jug Ears' first son's cranium should he delve anywhere near them during bedroom antics; if you catch my drift! There is also the fact that it's one of the few pictures - in its entirety - that makes Ms Middleton look a bit horsey and possibly likes nothing better than to go orf on a hunt or sit around on a horse with a shotgun slung over one arm and a bloodied fox over t'other.

I know someone who went to school with William's mother. The big issue back in the early 1980s was whether or not she was a virgin; I mean, you couldn't have the future King of England getting married to some old tart who'd had more pricks in her than a second hand dart board, could you? I'm betting that Kate and Wills have been making the beast with two backs for over 8 years; either that or he's got a really cramped right hand and she's going into the wedding as a frustrated would be spinster!

Good luck to her; she needs it.

***

While searching for the previously mentioned picture, I found a picture of Rush's lead singer and bass guitarist, Geddy Lee amongst the 'Kate Middleton Getty images Blenheim Palace' search. Yes, it threw me a little as well; so I clicked on it and saw that some Canadian news agency was canvassing famous Canadians for their reaction to the Royal Engagement (have you noticed how its all proper nouns now?). Unfortunately for all of us I couldn't find Geddy's comments. I know how gutted you all must be...

***

So, yeah, in case you hadn't noticed there's going to be an austerity Royal Wedding; just to cheer us all up a bit when everything else is shit in a handbasket with an express ticket to Hell. Call me cynical, but I just had this vision of Dave calling up the Queen and saying, "What ho, old gal, we're in a bit of a pickle and those blasted socialists will be back in power before you can say tax evasion, unless we do something to take their minds orf it. I can't very well start a war, no money in the old coffers you see and besides that woman you didn't like has already tried that. Any chance of a royal wedding? What? What?"

What does it all mean for us? Possibly a paid day orf work? Lots of worthless memorabilia? 24/7 televisual bollocks? Lots of faked Kate Middleton porn cropping up on the net? I just hope the latter is done with a semblance of originality - she hasn't got whacking great norks (but she does have thunderous thighs!).

***

I remember embarrassing the wife at an art gallery in Cumbria many years ago by declaring that modern art is well and truly just a load of arse. I haven't changed my mind. I mean, face it, anyone can cut a cow in half and dunk it in formaldehyde; even I could do an installation based on what my bedroom looks like after a few days of not tidying it up (I can also dress up in drag and look like an old dog); we could design some pots and dress up in woman's clothing and look like we've just escaped from a mental institution. Or alternatively, you can hire ex number of thousand Chinese labourers to work for bugger all painting little porcelain seed shaped things to look like half a million sunflower seeds that you can then tip over the floor of the Tate Modern and pass it off as art.

Some modern art isn't even art. It's just pretentious bollocks presented by loud and extroverted wankers who believe their own hype and are blessed with other wankers believing them. Because, if you want to be in the In Crowd then you have to appreciate this kind of wanky jizzum.

But, saying that; there's a new ballet coming out that's set during the blitz. I want to say something, but I think I'll just settle for ?????

***

Part one of my 17th of November health day is over. It would have been a health trilogy, but my physio assessment has been cancelled until December 22nd. Yes, after waiting 3 weeks, I got a call yesterday saying the person I had to see was off sick (I could see the irony) and the next available appointment is 3 days before that thing that happens the week before New Year.

So, the dentist is really pleased that I've stopped smoking and now wants to give me teeth and gums a good deep cleaning. I can see my fear of dentists returning, I really can...

Part two is in an hour. There might be an addendum to this.

***

Good pal Roger has had one of his wonky fingers hacked about by a mad surgeon. He just sent me a picture of his heavily bandaged hand sticking out of his brightly coloured dressing gown with the word 'ouch' accompanying it. I could see what looked like blood on the bandage.
I am squeamish.

***

I have the utmost respect for Aung San Suu Kyi; she's been under house arrest for best part of her adult life; she's campaigned tirelessly for pro-democracy in Burma and lives in a country where us Brits have no comprehension of how bad it must be if we don't agree with the ruling Junta.

But seriously, you would have thought she would have had a day off. She gets released from her imposed arrest and what's the first thing she does? She's back on the same political schpiel that got her locked up in the first place. Advocating peaceful revolution is one way of getting right up the Burmese government's nose. You would have thought she would have taken a day off, gone and visited some relatives; had a day at the beach, gone and looked around all the new shops in her local city. But no, there she is holding interviews with every news agency that is prepared to shove a camera up her nose. I really hope she doesn't get into trouble, but one can't help think that if she does get stuck back under house arrest, she's the only person to blame...

***

We're a week away from The Ashes - the periodical cricket series between England (with a lot of ex-South Africans) and Australia. The betting has it swinging backwards and forwards between who is fancied to win this test of cricketing notoriety. We haven't beaten the Aussies on their own turf for a long time, nearly 30 years I believe and they are allegedly in decline, while we're ahead of them in the cricket world rankings for the first time since WG Grace played test cricket (or so you'd think).

Everybody's bigging up our chances of causing an upset and coming home with the replica urn of burnt stump ashes, of which the real one stays at the MCC in Lords in perpetuity unless Prince Charles goes to Sydney for some cottaging. Personally, I think we're going to lose, simply because every one thinks we're going to win, so by the time the 4th test on Boxing Day comes along, we're all going to be crying into our mulled wine and wondering what we have to do. Meanwhile Ricky Ponting will have crept even higher up the Death Wish List of anyone who knows owt about crickit!

***

In case you've forgotten; there's going to be a Royal Wedding next year. Are you sick of it yet?

***

New bits - added extra addendum!

I have spondylosis, which is a problem that will never go away but with proper management will be kept at bay. I have also been suffering from a prolapsed disc, which has been fucking up my sciatic nerve and causing me all this pain and differing it to other places. This is a relief, even if I'm not getting that much pain relief. Have an appointment at the spinal injuries clinic next month and they will assess whether or not I'll need surgery!

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Monster mash!

I had a really colourful dinner, the recipe of which I will put up in Glass Onion (part F), but the upshot was it was the most colourful meal I've ever had. Yellow for sweetcorn, green for broccoli, red for peppers, white for cauliflower, a brownish gloop with various other vegetables in it and purple mash...

Purple mash?

Oh yes. Majesty potatoes make very nice mashed potatoes. The only thing is they come out a dark lilac colour. It's quite off putting really; you don't expect actual purple food. yeah, you can get purple sprouting broccoli and purple dwarf beans but they lose that colour and revert to green. only aubergines stay their colour and you sort of expect that. having bright purple mash is disconcerting. very nice, but disconcerting!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Judas Cradle

The day I started to 'go out' with my wife was January 29th, 1983. It almost didn't happen. I was a whisker away from moving to Maidstone with my parents, who had just accepted a new job running a social club at a big nut house in the Kent town. I had all but packed my stuff, when I suddenly had a change of heart. My folks were actually okay about me staying in their house; they were going to rent it out.

On the evening of the 29th, I had just got back from helping them move. I was alone in my own little bachelor pad. I had this idea in my head that it was going to become a Shag Palace.

Several weeks earlier, I had gotten involved in a drama group at Lings Theatre - it was this, er, theatre that was attached to my old school and I was asked by a guy called Stuart Blake (who had been one of the community workers based at my old school, when I went there) if I wanted to help with the formation of this youth group. I had little to do, so I accepted. It was here that I met the woman who would become my wife.

[Now, this preamble isn't the beginning of a history of my marriage, it was however important for a couple of things. Firstly the date and secondly the location. Below is a map and on the map are two white boxes with the letters A and B in them. I will explain all as this blog entry is revealed.]

I don't think it was the party at Kevin Benstead's house that convinced me to stay in Northampton, but it was the thing I intended to go to on my first night in my own place. I had my motorbike and nothing else planned; so at about 8pm - after having a takeaway from round the corner - I set off to try and find this place (which is shown by the A in the white box at the top right of the picture).

The rest, they say, is history...

On January 29, 1998, a full 15 years after I met my wife and on the dreaded Dryden Ward at Northampton General Hospital, my mother died. It was one of the worst days of my life and it should have been one of the happiest. Patricia Hall (nee Rodway) was a tremendous woman (yeah, I know, you expect me to say that, but the thing was most people thought my mum was a bit of an angel; in fact, she was one half of a truly angelic double act). She died far too early; she was 64, and it was all down to the fact that she smoked about 40 cigarettes a day and had been smoking since she was 6. yes, 6. It was her only vice and she loved a fag; she'd wake up twice in the night just to have one...
My mum is buried in Kingsthorpe Cemetary, right underneath the little white box with a B in it. It wasn't for a couple of years that I realised that she was buried less than 200 yards from where I effectively started my marriage.

Now, coincidences don't finish there. My folks were married on September 13, 1952 and had celebrated 45 years of marriage a few months before mum died. They had a by and large very happy marriage; the biggest headache for them was undoubtedly... um... me.

The wife and I got married on September 13, 1986. We figured that if my parents (who my wife adored) could have a long and happy marriage, then we would try and emulate them and so, we got married on the same day. We will celebrate 25 years of marriage next September. Oddly enough, I remember my parents' Silver Wedding anniversary very well; it was a low key affair at their house in Boothville. Their three sons were there and my godparents. If my godparents are well enough to travel next September, I'd like them to come to our party next year. They were, after all, my folks' best friends and they're my godparents.

Anyhow, my dad lasted five years without the love of his life. He spent five pretty miserable years existing. There was no better way of describing it. He was never the same man again; not after she died. On October 1st, 2003, he passed away from a massive aneurysm. It was again one of those devastating things you live to forget about.

Unlike my mother's death, which is imprinted on my memory and will never, ever, go away. I wasn't at the Southport hospital when dad died. I had been there a week earlier, a few days after he came out of surgery and in a coma. I intended to go and see him again when he started to pull out of it. I mean, he was as strong as an ox and if any man in his 60s could pull through a life threatening surgery it was Ron Hall senior.

He didn't...

I got the call from my brother the day before he died. He wasn't going to pull through. In fact, he was slipping away. Ron junior told me that Steve, my middle brother would pick me up. I said, 'No.' I couldn't do it. I'd been told that the 8 days he'd been in a coma had ravaged his body and he looked bad. I had visions imprinted on my mind about how bad my mum had deteriorated during her last few days alive and I couldn't face it. I'd seen him a week earlier; kissed him goodbye then. I couldn't do it again...

My dad had stopped smoking after my mum died; like her he loved his cigs; but he'd had a heart attack and while he wanted nothing more than to join his love, he wasn't going to encourage it. He still had 3 sons, 4 grandchildren and at least two daughter-in-laws who cared for him more than he felt he deserved. He did the lottery every week, even after mum died. He always said, if he won he could make sure all of us were financially stable. The last words he said to my brother Ron as he was being wheeled into surgery were, "Bloody hell, Ronnie, I forget to get my lottery tickets."

I tried to give up smoking in 1998. I failed miserably. My brother Steve tried and he's been stopped for 12½ years. I tried to pack up after Dad died. I actually managed to do it for 18 months. No nicotine based products passed my lips for a year and a half (although, to be fair, I didn't really stop smoking, if you know what I mean). During this 18 months, I started to dream again and on one night I had this dream where me, the wife, our two old dogs and my parents were in our old house in Wellingborough. We were sitting there, not doing a lot. I woke up and felt like a million dollars.

Last night, I dreamt about them both again. Dreams about them are as rare as rocking horse shit and I don't know what prompted it. I mean, I think about them every day and I still love and miss them both so much it hurts (after writing the paragraph above the last one, I was blubbing like a 5 year old). I miss my mum more, because she was my best friend; yet I get more upset when I think about my dad - weird that. Anyhow, last night's dream was very much like my life with my folks. It was a travel dream. I have a lot of travel dreams; they're brought on by anxiety. I have to be honest, I've been thinking that perhaps I have something serious wrong with me. It's been 6 weeks since my back went and while it is better, the affects of it haven't really got any better. I still limp like I've hurt my leg; my joints ache like a bastard - everything from my fingers to my ankles (but I haven't got arthritis - a blood test proved that) and I still don't feel well. It might all be to do with being incapacitated for so long; it might have something to do with having stopped smoking substances that I've ingested for 31 years; or it might be something wrong...

The details of the dream aren't staying. It involved driving and getting somewhere. My mum was far more prominent in it than my dad; she seemed to have a lot to say and while I can't remember any of it, I remember that she was trying to tell me not to worry. She was, after all, the woman who could do wonders for me in times of genuine stress. She was my safety net and I never really let her know how much I depended on her. I could talk to her about things that I'd never dream of discussing with my dad, so having her in this dream was apt.

Someone asked me a long time ago if dreaming about my parents wasn't upsetting. I looked at them totally incredulously. Upsetting? Never. They're both dead and I'm not a religious person; so I don't believe I will ever see them again, unless its in my dreams. So when I see them in the land of nod, it is something to celebrate, to be happy about. They're the same as they always were in my dreams and that makes me happy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Glass Onion (part E)

Before anything else. Majesty. They're potatoes and they're purple. Not just skins, but all the way through. Totally purple spuds. Sainsbury's sell them and they're produced by Bartletts, the same people who produce Roosters - the red spuds that are allegedly good for most things. We had a couple of Majesty with dinner last night and they taste like potatoes, have a slightly floury texture and are apparently very good mashed. How weird would that be - bright purple mashed potatoes!

Anyhow...

Leek and (not purple) Potato soup

Although, one wonders what this would be like if you used purple spuds...

2 big leeks - sliced and chopped up into quarters - so small bits of leek
6 medium potatoes - now the one I'm doing today has 6 Anya and 2 Red Duke of York - the Anya are small to medium and essentially a salad spud, the RDofY are a floury spud that will slowly dissolve the longer its cooked for; but you could use Maris Pipers, King Edwards, Kestrel, basically whatever left over spuds you might have apart from the likes of Cara or Osprey which are both really crappy.
1 onion - chopped finely
4 bay leaves
One 2" round of butternut squash, chopped into small cubes
1 ltr vegetable stock
Freshly ground pepper
1tsp coriander powder
3 tbsp fresh cream (optional)

Sweat the leeks and onion down, add the spuds, add the coriander powder, bay leaves and squash, add the stock and pepper, leave to simmer for about an hour. The longer you let it cook for the richer it gets. When finished, get a potato masher and mash the soup. I used to blend it, but this way you keep some lumpy bits in it, making it more of a country styled soup. Add the cream if you want it rich and creamy.

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Quorn Spag Bol

Obviously this isn't a spag bol at all, it's really a sort of bastardised version of savoury mince and some kind of half-arsed spaghetti dish. It's also one of those things that I throw together rather than 'measure'; so all the ingredients are mainly guess work and depends on what you have in the freezer.

Some quorn mince
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic
some diced mixed peppers
some mushrooms
1 tin of tomatoes - blitzed
a stick of celery - diced
1 small carrot - diced
some fresh or dried basil
splash of red wine
a tsp vegetable stock powder
some diced quorn bacon bits

This is really lazy, but once I've fried the onions, celery, carrot and quorn mince for a while, I just chuck the rest in the pan and stick the lid on for about 45 minutes until about half an hour before I serve it, then I throw the quorn bacon bits in and check the seasoning. If its light on taste I might put a dollop of Marmite in it, which occasionally gives it some depth. Like my chilli, it's essentially a throw everything in and forget about it dish.

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Vegetable hotpot

This is something I created because it was something that I missed from when I was a meat eater and like many soups it'll never quite compare but it's still a fave in this house.

I do two versions of this. One is more like the old standard hotpot I used to have, which I prefer and the other is more like a casserole, which the wife prefers. You need an oven proof Pyrex styled dish, small to large sized, depending on how many you're doing it for. You also need something that I no longer see for sale anywhere and that's dried chestnuts. We picked loads of them this year - English ones - and dried them out in the bottom of the oven for about 6 hours, but they work and they add a real depth to this dish - without them it's a bit meh. vacuum packed ones are okay, but the problem is this is something that needs to be in the oven for a minimum of 2½ hours and by the end of cooking the vacuum chestnuts get obliterated and you want them to remain there, not just for flavour but for texture too.

The recipe for 1 is as follows - just increase it accordingly if you're cooking it for more.
½ an onion
½ stick of celery
1 small carrot
½ dozen dried chestnuts
8 or 9 chunks of quorn chicken or beef styled chunks, that has been marinated in
½ pint of vegetable stock with extra white pepper (you can also put the dried chestnuts in this or use more chestnuts and leave the quorn out)
2 bay leaves
3 mushrooms diced - and a few dried ones, if you have them. this is all about flavour and I have loads of dried varieties this year.
½ diced ripe tomato (optional)
½ tsp mixed herbs or a bouquet garni
some floury spuds, peeled and then cut into half at the thinnest point.

Chuck all the ingredients into your dish and leave for a while to stew; when you're ready to stick them in the oven, put your cut spuds on the top, arranging them so that the majority of the contents is covered. because this is going in the oven for a long time, I advise against having sliced spuds; they'll dry out too quick and go crunchy and what you want is spuds that have soaked up all the excess liquid and have a nice hard, crunchy top. Bung this in the pre-heated oven at about 150 for about 2 hours, checking to make sure the liquid hasn't disappeared; if it gets low top it up, normally just some warm water will do. For the last 45 minutes, turn the temp up to 200 so it gets a nice crunchy spud outer topping.

For the casserole version, use the tomato and add a heaped tbsp of tomato puree to the liquid mixture, cook it at a slightly higher temperature, say 160 and then give it an hour at 200, so that the liquid turns into a thick gloopy sauce.

***

Mushrooms and Gruyère on Ciabatta

This is something I put together for a dinner party and ended up as a really nice lunch time snack. It's great with wild mushrooms, but as most of you wouldn't know an edible wild mushroom from a hole in the ground, you might have to make do with whatever you can get from the supermarket. A mix of ordinary buttons, chestnut, oyster types work nicely - I'd avoid shiitake and Enoki mushrooms - too tough or inconsequential.

A load of mushrooms
some butter & oil
a couple of cloves of crushed garlic
some chives
seasoning - maybe a splash of white wine or some brandy

Chuck all of this into a pan and fry quickly - you don't want to stew them, so make sure the butter/oil is as hot as you can get it without burning the butter.

While that is flash frying, slice your ciabatta in half and grate your cheese. When the mushrooms are cooked, pile them on your bread, carefully spooning the liquid onto the top so that it soaks into the ciabatta. Put a handful of cheese (doesn't have to be Gruyère, but it's tasty and stringy) and then shove it either in a very hot oven (my preference) or under a hot grill.
Eat with your hands!

***

I will get around to meat at some point. I've been asked for my Chicken/Turkey soup recipe - which, even if I say so myself has become legendary (I haven't had it for over 15 years, so it might not be as I remember it). I've also got this really interesting variation of Toad in the Hole which my mum invented and I rather miss because there really isn't a veggie alternative and there's an interesting thing with Turkey livers that beats other liver dishes hands down (which, to be fair I have recreated as a veggie dish, but like hotpot sometimes meat dopes make things taste so much better!)