Saturday, January 28, 2012

2012 - 4

Lobstrosity Domine

I've noticed friends talking a lot about their bizarre spam recently. I've touched on spam in the past, but I feel an urge to share with you the most recent batch of spam mail I've been receiving inviting me to sample 'A Free Lobster'!

Yes, in the land of Viagra, penis enlargement, Nigerian bankers, Russian brides, married women looking for fun and cheap meds, I get Free Lobster spam! I feel unique.

The Hangover Part 3

Exactly 12 pints of beer, two Jack Daniels and a glass of champagne have been drunk by me since December 15. Six of the pints have been drunk in a period of eight days leading up to the two fine pints of Hooky Gold in a pub in Oxford on Tuesday night. This piece of alcoholic introspective is sort of important because my tolerance to alcohol is probably pretty low at the moment.

Last night, while out shopping and looking at the woeful selection of bottled beers on offer (despite having 10 in the house any how), I decided that perhaps it would be nice to crack open one of the 8 bottles of wine I've got instead. So, that's what I did. I opened a bottle of McGuigan's Shiraz - a fruity 14% wine from south east Australia. Me and the wine have history...

The wife is doing overtime again today, so I have my chores (hoovering, dusting in the house; rubbish and dog shit removal outside), but apart from that I normally have a few hours to do my blog, watch some Sky Sports News and listen to some music (I am currently listening to the most recent Maxxess album). Saturday's when she's working are normally a breeze!

At about 9.45 last night, as the wife was getting ready to go to bed and I'd finished a quarter of the bottle of red, I contemplated watching some TV and maybe, having another glass. By the time the second in the Family Guy double bill had finished I'd drunk the entire bottle...

I got half way through it, felt a very nice buzz and picked up momentum which demolished the second half in about 20 minutes. I knew at the half way mark that any more would guarantee a hangover (and green pooh), but my inner self, the one that has been essentially abstinent for 6 weeks, said 'bollocks to that - get pissed!' So never one to let people down, I did!

When I say I'm listening to the latest Maxxess album, it is on very low and I've necked a handful of various pills, drunk lots of red bush and am working my way up to a coffee. My head feels like it is encased in amber and you'd seriously have to wonder about my brain. I mean, I've been ill or under the weather for 6 weeks, I start to feel really good again - this has been a good week - and I go and self inflict a day on myself that I will not enjoy and ultimately hate myself for because I'm probably going to waste a lot of one of the weekend days.

Wine was ever so nice though...

Will it Snow?

The weathermen are making a big deal out of next week's impending spell of winter, possibly the first real bit of winter we'll have seen this season. As for Northampton, I expect we'll see nothing more than a few snow flurries, if we're lucky.

The idea of lots of snow appeals to me now because of the possibility of having a Snow Day - you know the thing, where schools close because there is a risk that a child might slip on an untreated patch of ice. break a leg and sue the school for a lot of money, or something like that.

The good thing about Snow Days is that if the school decides it is closing, we get paid! It isn't our fault, so we don't get penalised. When I was at the Youth Offending Team, it was during two of the most severe winters many of us can remember and at times much of the areas my team and I had to work were pretty much impassable, yet if you couldn't get into work, because the council (who were also my employers) hadn't been able to grit or clear the roads, you had to take it as annual leave or unpaid. Which I always thought was something of an unfair penalty.

Vaguely related, I have rambling roses out at the moment; just a few in sheltered spots in the garden. I also still have a sapling nectarine tree in full leaf, despite the one next to it looking bare. There are daffodils and other spring bulbs poking though and the sweet peas my wife put in in June have lots of new growth and shoots on them and they should have all been dead by the end of November, at an extreme. However, we have learned that one of the best indicators of the arrival of spring is usually when the ducks start laying again. That never happens before Valentine's Day and the last couple of years it has been closer to the wife's birthday, at the beginning of March.

29 on 29

I suppose the biggest bit of news this week is that on Sunday, I will have been 'going out' with my wife for 29 years. It's a pretty scary number because it seems to have whizzed past - time flies when you're having fun!

Obviously, because this is January 29, our celebrations for the last 14 years have been slightly muted, because it was also on this day that my mum died. Therefore this 'anniversary' has always been one that has just been between the two of us. I'm going to take her out for a nice meal tonight.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gig Guide 11: M83, Oxford O2 Academy; 24th January 2012

I said to Roger when I picked him up that the evening would be something different.
The journey down was uneventful and smooth; it took 66 minutes.
Roger's navigation through Oxford was exemplary.
Parking was not hard to find, just a bit awkward.
The pub was surprisingly good.
The O2 is a complete and utter piece of shit venue. I thought it the first time and I haven't changed my mind.
It was over 100 degrees in the venue by the time the band came on.
The sound was awful.
The light show was foggy.
We were surrounded by quite extraordinarily fit posh totty, all very sweaty.
Did I mention how hot it was? The two pints I had were ejaculated through my sweat glands like Andy Sipowicz eating linguine.
We moved. Our view was poor and there were loads of ignorant sweaty twats being ignorant and sweaty.
The equipment malfunction possibly knocked 10 minutes off the set.
I don't know who the other musicians were.
The middle part of the gig had the best sound, the encore pandered to the clubbers.
The journey home was uneventful and took us 57 minutes from walking out of the O2 to walking through my front door.
Despite how this sounds, I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening - very sweaty, slightly underwhelmed by the sound quality and really unimpressed with the venue, but... I had fun. I enjoyed 75% of the songs and I felt good, but tired after it.
Not my usual gig standard - musically - but I'm glad I sampled it.

7 out of 10

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The TV Dump (i)

Jumping Small Sharks Often?

The phrase jump the shark comes from a scene in the fifth season premiere episode of the American TV series Happy Days and aired on September 20, 1977. In the episode, the central characters visit Los Angeles, where a water-skiing Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a confined shark, answering a challenge to demonstrate his bravery. For a show that in its early seasons depicted universally relatable experiences against a backdrop of 1950s nostalgia, this marked an audacious, cartoonish turn towards attention-seeking gimmickry and continued the faddish lionization of an increasingly superhuman Fonzie. The series continued for nearly five years after that, with a number of changes in cast and situations. However, it is commonly believed that the show, out of ideas and even trapped in its own success (largely due to the disproportionate popularity of the "Fonzie" character and the show's (executives') intense desire to continue "milking" that), began a downhill slide, becoming a caricature of itself often filled with little more than its popular catch phrases and character mannerisms.
It would probably be true to say that nowadays the expression is synonymous with drastic changes of direction reflecting almost desperate measures to continue the life of something - normally TV.

In my experience, the show I'm about to talk about jumped the shark with episode 8 of the first season, in probably a valiant attempt to stave off certain cancellation. Even if the producers had always intended the show to go the way it did, that particular episode felt so like a tying up all those uninteresting subplots and going in a direction the viewers of those first 8 episodes probably didn't expect. I'm talking about Fringe.

Now in its fourth season and in the supposed graveyard of Friday nights, Fringe may well have jumped the shark several times in its 70 odd episodes already. The end of the 3rd season was notable for one thing - the disappearance/removal of Peter Bishop from time. Bishop Junior is the son of Walter Bishop, the mad scientist recruited by the FBI's Fringe Division to solve the unsolvable. Fringe is like CSI: Barking and not the place in Essex. Peter was born in an alternative universe, stolen by a desperate Walter after the death of his own Peter and saved and brought up in 'our' reality. What you also need to know is that Peter is an anomaly; he should never have survived in any reality, but because he did the order of everything is out of whack. Enter the Watchers, a bunch of bald suit-wearing throwbacks to the 1950s, who make sure that what should be is and their own origins are far from clear - they appear to be otherworldly entities charged with protecting the space time continuum.

Mad enough for you? Well, that doesn't even scratch the surface. The lovely Anna Torv who plays agent Olivia Dunham has a fucked up history that is almost as crazy as Peter and Walter's; throw in a cow, lots of hallucinogenic drugs, madness, prog rock, shape shifters, umpteen dissections, an FBI agent who is an idiot savant in another reality but is essentially a surrogate babysitter for the totally crazy Walter in our world and you're still just getting to the next level. Fringe is barking, but possibly its madness is just not enough...

You could argue that Peter saved the world at the end of season 3 and his sacrifice was for history to be reset so that he didn't have a part to play in it, but while he disappeared into nothingness, he didn't and now finds himself in a reality that isn't the one he remembers and, of course, no one knows who he is apart from the fact he should be dead. And this new series has effectively become Fringe's shark moment.

The problem is we're dealing with a TV series like so many before it is faced with cancellation at the end of every series; season 4 appears to be incredibly ambitious for a show that industry insiders have forecast will be lucky to see a 5th season. The die hard fans who stuck with it through the first 3 series have been introduced to a new reality where only Peter Bishop is the same person and with that comes bags of unfinished sub plots and things that happened during the first 3 series that have seemingly either been completely forgotten about (convenient) or are retelling things in a different way from how they did happen. Confused yet? If you watched it, it would only be mild confusion; I've omitted a lot from this attempted short description of the series.

We're 9 episodes into this new look Fringe and the 9th episode was the first one of the latest season to actually feel like a proper Fringe episode; but it's just retelling a story from season 3 in a different way and that worries me a lot. What also worries me is we're almost halfway through a series; it has had its major season break - over Christmas - and we're heading into late winter and spring when the popular shows will ratchet up the tension and move the story along. I'm beginning to think that we're being duped by Peter's desires...

Peter Bishop has enlisted the two alternative Walter Bishops to help him return to his reality; they have (finally) both agreed to help him and I think, in fact I'm pretty much convinced, that they will all discover that Peter's reality no longer exists - because he fixed the universe, he can't unfix it so he has a place. So he will have to remain trapped in a universe he is ultimately responsible for saving. This would be a bad thing, not least because we'll have three seasons of simmering subplots that can now either be conveniently forgotten or get turned on their heads - Peter and Olivia became an item towards the end of season 3; but neither Olivias in Peter's new world are that interested in him; because neither of them had ever had their lives altered by Peter (or Walter) the way they had been in the original universe.

I want them to change it back; if for no other reason than ensure the survival of the show; but I also see it being cancelled - before they film the final episodes - so they can wrap it all up. The thing that made Fringe work so well in the second half of the first season and the subsequent two were the great and odd relationship between Walter and Peter; the development of Dunham from hard nosed FBI career woman into someone plunged into a very surreal nightmare; and that general feeling the cast had grown together so well that they were now this 'family' - they had all developed, become friends, depended on each other and now it's like we're having to get to know them all again, except for Peter.

I keep looking back at this review and thinking it's a hotchpotch of vague paragraphs; like the cohesion is missing from it; like I'm trying to tell you too much and getting bogged down with the minutiae and that's a little like how Fringe plays now. It was, for at least two years, my favourite TV show - Bonkers TV I called it, and that's real praise for something made in the USA - but now there's something missing...

Nobody Gets Out Alive

JJ Abrams is the man responsible for Fringe and he's also the driving force behind Alcatraz, a new mystery series that seems to have been cut from the same cloth as Fringe.

In fact, there's a lot of similarities to the opening episodes of the other show, not least in the recruitment of the female cop getting coerced into working for a special division of the FBI and because the lead actress is attractive, but like Anna Torv, not conventionally attractive. It also stars Hugo from Lost as a comicbook writer and authority on Alcatraz. Hugo has benefited from his time on the wacky island and is now twice the size he was when working in Hawaii; he drifts around the first two episodes like a pantomime Dame Princess Margaret on skates (and he looks old).

Alcatraz is about X number of prisoners and guards who all disappear - instantly - during 1963 and start to magically reappear in 2012, carrying on from where they were before they were incarcerated. My first impressions were that it's played slightly overwrought; my second impression was that it's going to be 'Prisoner of the Week', with each week focusing on a different inmate and his story from 1963; with the 2012 covert FBI team (or are they?) hunting down the convicts and re-incarcerating them in the 21st century facsimile of the old prison. The first two episodes did nothing to change those impressions.

I like time travel theories and stories; always have; but this doesn't feel like one. This feels like a conveniently placed idea to allow the show to be clever. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't brilliant. It didn't have the oomph you expect from something like this and even when the hint of a mystery subplot was introduced, I didn't find myself going, "Oooh!" I just thought, "Ooh, the USA have finally, successfully, applied the rules of prime time drama to science and fantasy."

I just can't see where this is going and I saw elements of The 4400 in it and anyone with a good memory will remember that The 4400 started well, quickly turned into a kind of V (in that most of the actors left and we were left with all the really uninteresting supporting cast) and disappeared up its own arse in an attempt to be seen as different. I think Alcatraz will do the same (at the moment).

Being Remade

That most brilliant of BBC3 dramas Being Human is either going to end after the next series or will go off in a new direction with new cast members; either way, it's one of those British series that the Americans actually envy us for and subsequently the series concept was bought by SyFy (not the best of moves on current form) and turned into a US version (or Canadian if you want to pick bones).

This version follows the UK version's basic themes, but has gone off in a slightly more Americanised way. The series probably works well because the special effects budget is small and it is character rather than set piece led. It isn't a patch on the UK version, but... it does have some elements that are interesting and the Yanks are doing something different with the ghost, while sticking to the same journey.

The biggest problem the series has is that it's just another vampire show and people are growing tired of vampires; heck, they're growing bored with zombies already, so the day before yesterday's big thing is on to a staking to nothing, to be honest. Sam Witwar - Aiden the vampire - is probably the most recognisable actor in the series (he played Doomsday in Smallville), therefore his story appears to be the main thrust of the 3-way and one episode into the second season and that has grown boring and dull and that's without the imminent new character we're going to be introduced to next week.

This is a show that is a bit like Smallville in that it's pretty much throwaway TV that you will forget all about until the next episode. It does have stuff happen in it, but there's this feeling that it's turning into a different show. It lacks the black humour of the UK version; the characters are struggling to make you want to like them - even Sam Huntington's werewolf just can't match Russell Tovey's version, even if he is the most likeable character and his girlfriend/werewolf character is no longer a plain Jane, but the fittest doctor in the hospital - but this is an American version where even geeks are gorgeous.

Buffy versus Elena

As many regular readers of my TV rants know, I love The Vampire Diaries and over the last twelve months I have likened it more and more to the fabulous Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In a film and TV world that is overrun with vampires, werewolves, zombies and other scary shit, you would think that VD is a shoo-in for being derided, hated and cancelled. I mean, it looks like Twilight on paper; feels like Beverley Hills 90125 and really has become the post modern equivalent of Joss Whedon's fabulous series.

Oddly enough, as I've mentioned before, VD started so badly that it appeared to jump the shark at the end of episode 3 of the first series. It was like after the making of the opening episodes, the makers looked at the finished product and thought, "Oh shit; this stinks!" So they seemed to tag an extra scene onto the end of the really flaccid 3rd episode and suddenly things started to happen. Gradually over the space of three series, it has morphed into one of the best series on TV, if you look beyond the frivolity, miscast teenagers (who aren't) and the glossy Dallas feel.

Now, halfway through the 3rd season, it really has become Buffy, even down to the lacklustre Elena Gilbert's transformation into ass-kicking potential heroine. Every character from Buffy has an opposite in VD: a witch, a werewolf, a wise-cracking admirably nasty vampire and the goody two shoes other vampire who can go bad; the Xander; the Dawn and a Giles in the form of Alaric Saltzman. Every where you look there's a parallel with BtVS and that's not a bad thing.

I spent last week watching the final dozen episodes from the final season of BtVS; I just had a whim and wanted to be reminded how Spike became a legend. The weird thing about BtVS is that it wasn't without a bag full of flaws; even in those last dozen episodes, there was this feeling that not all the writers were on the same page. But, in terms of a series, it still remains a triumphant attempt at doing a comedy/horror series where the comedy was deliberately incidental rather than arranged and you always felt that it was always capable of going out to leftfield for impetus. VD is so similar at times that you wonder if the producers have just decided to follow that template, flaws and all.

Currently, VD is continually upping the tempo; it feels like every episode is a game changer and one wonders if they can keep the pace up and also keep the stories as interesting. You get bogged down in some things at times, but in general the writers seem to have taken the path of following the path of cliché bashing - every time you think you know what is going to happen, it tends to, but not at all in the way you would expect. It remains fresh, even if the 'teenagers' all have world weary look of actors in their mid to late 20s, most of the supporting cast are really good and just like BtVS, the central character has actually become the most peripheral; the viewer no longer really gives a toss about Elena, because all of her friends are so much more likeable.

It's hard to think that we were going to give it up at the 40 minute mark of episode 3 and now it's first thing burned onto a DVD; but even that has echoes of Buffy. Arguably one of the greatest ever episodes of TV ever was The Body, the episode that dealt with Buffy's mother's death; this was preceded by most definitely the worst ever episode of Buffy and arguably one of the corniest TV episodes ever. If that specific episode had ended before the final 60 seconds, it could well have driven a big nail into the series' coffin (it was not going to be renewed for a 6th season unless another network stepped in), but instead it used a really crappy episode to prelude one of the most powerful arcs in TV history. VD did the same to save the series and while it might not have been done in such a dramatic way, it introduced a game changer that set the tone for the what was to follow.

Round Up

We have half a dozen episodes of Grimm to watch; the first 4 were okay and we've decided to stick with it, but with so many other 'must see' things, it's about finding the time to watch them. We opted to stick with Person of Interest, but I somehow expect us to drop that at the expense of cluttering up my hard drive with unwatched episodes.

And of course this is the biggest problem with us; we have at least a dozen other things to watch, but our TV habit isn't that big. We rarely watch anything on a Tuesday or Thursday; we like to watch films, even if most of them are crap and the wife has a slew of stuff she watches - history, DIY, animals, costume dramas and cerebral quizzes, of which I have no interest in at all. Then you have the TV we watch together, which doesn't amount to a huge amount, but still eats holes into our windows of opportunity. Subsequently, we still haven't watched The Wire.

We have Kelsey Grammar's Boss to watch; seasons of Nurse Jackie and some British stuff like The Inbetweeners and I want to watch Ideal. There is 46 gigabytes of material to watch, which at a rough guess works out as about 200 hours of TV to watch and mix all of this with the other deciding factor - apathy. I need to really want to watch some of this stuff and that hasn't happened yet.

TV and my TV habits is a mishmash at the moment; a bit like this blog entry...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012 - 3

Chesty Morgan?

Some vaguely related sentences:

Shortly after I had pneumonia (as talked about in a previous post), I had to go for a check up with my own GP in Northampton, on return from spending a couple of months with my folks in Herts. After an examination he announced he believed I had 'bronchial asthma' which, until the other day, I had just let wash over me. Then it dawned on me that asthma is a bronchial disorder, so what other kind of asthma can you get?

On Saturday evening, I thought what a pathetic specimen I am at times. Not only have I been cursed with bad backs, aching limbs, shoulder operations and broadcast about them to all and sunder; I've been whining about how shit I've been feeling since before Christmas. In fact my health is a regular inclusion in this blog and I feel it has to stop. To be fair, even I find my health boring and repetitive, so God knows what the casual reader must think. "Oh here's Hypochondriac Man again with a broken toenail or a split end!" I would.

My two wishes for 2012 were good health and a solid, no fuss, hard-working job year. 19 days into January and I've just had the rest of this week off sick and subsequently haven't been at work, during term time, which isn't good, regardless of how shit I've felt. My body had the good grace to be ill during my entire Christmas break, it could have at least waited for a relapse on or around February 10th.

One of the reasons I always let Dr Molla's asthma diagnosis wash over me was until I had pneumonia, me and breathing were like joined at the hip. Even when the diagnosis was repeated several times during my 20s and 30s, I just thought it was just another GP cop-out diagnosis like IBS or Back Pain. Then in my 40s, I started to have genuine asthma attacks - mild at first and probably caused by years of smoking. I have had possibly a couple of dozen proper asthma attacks in the last 10 years and I can honestly say I know what drowning feels like. I had one at work on Monday.

So, I came to a conclusion on Saturday night; I was going to try and stop talking about my health like it's interesting or something.

Saying that...

Fisio Fairoppy

I sometimes wonder if I would have made a good gimp. I've always found fiercely strong women quite attractive and a wee bit intimidating in a 'I want some of that' kind of way. Anyhow, my physio is a few years older than me and as straight talking as Jeremy Paxman. She doesn't beat around the bush; she says it how it is and when she says 'do this exercise' you straddle the pain barrier to please her.

Yesterday, I had what is effectively my last session until the next time. My back is officially okay. It wasn't so much what she said to me as how she said it. Don't even think about surgery! You're nearly 50, face facts, things go wrong! Do the core stability exercises or go through it all again, more often! Don't do any heavy lifting! Walk more - push yourself!

Obviously, some of these suggestions I would have taken on board even if I'd been told by a talking slug wearing a fedora and eating souvlaki in my attic. The one about not lifting especially appeals.

Oddly enough, she told me, as she works in a GP surgery, that the doctors reckon there have been more incidents of the novo virus, coughs, colds and other assorted viruses this year than in recent years; probably due to the mild weather. She also said something really odd. She said that while last winter saw more deaths, the number of flu, virus and other cases was considerably lower. I made a flippant joke about pensioners standing more chance of surviving the flu than the cold and she looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Exactly!" I'm not going to argue with her.

The cold kills germs. Unfortunately it kills people too.

Touchy Subject

Maggie's been in the news a lot recently. The release of the 'Film I Will Never Watch' and debate as to whether or not she deserves a State Funeral ala Winston of Churchill. Also the great idea of allowing the private sector to organise (and pay for) her funeral (which started as a joke, but now, well, you know, it's not a bad idea, is it?).

Thatch is a Marmite person and that analogy works okay apart from the fact I use Marmite in soups and stews and I couldn't imagine putting bitch-features into anything I cook, unless it means hanging, drawing and quartering first; maybe served up with some corned beef.

Never fear, if Thatch doesn't steal the headlines then the Queen will. We've already had to suffer the spectacle of a royal wedding last year and this time it's a diamond jubilee and it's coming out of our pockets. I know it's not Liz's fault she's been on the throne 60 years, but she's allegedly not stupid, she should be stomping on Blackadder's foot suggesting a low key celebration to fit in with the mood of the country. She should also be dropping large hints that while one would love a new yacht, it's an insult to anyone who doesn't even have a rubber dinghy.

Michael Gove is the imbecile with all these bright ideas and is obviously angling for a place in the Lords. His latest hair brained idea is to ship 300,000 personally autographed copies of the King James Bible to be sent to every school in the country as an Easter gift. Total cost about £4million. Blackadder surprised me when he told Gove that the taxpayer wasn't paying for it.

I mean, every school must have a King James Bible, it helps promote diversity.

TV Dump

My intention is to talk about TV in independent posts and there will be one soon; but a quick mention for Forbrydelsen II or The Killing 2, the latest (2009) Danish pot-boiler to hit the BBC. As much as we really enjoyed the first one, the wife did guess the killer in episode 1 and at times you wondered if it was a crime drama or a demonstration of how piss poor the Danish police are. The second one, while equally enjoyable, felt like it tried to do twice as much in half as many episodes.

I also found myself thinking, 'why don't you ask that or say this' a lot of the times as I struggled to believe the slap dash investigative work, the heavy handed politics and some of the stilted dialogue. Sarah Lund seemed to take on some kind of mythical maverick cop persona, which she seemed to unintentionally find herself in in the first series and embraced it like it was a character trait in the second, despite there really being no evidence that she's just a dysfunctional Inspector Colombo. The sequel was enjoyable, it just wasn't as good as I expected and left me thinking that maybe the Danes are trying just a little bit too hard.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Review - The Guardian

Many years ago, on an old blog, I reviewed the new look Guardian shortly after it changed to its Berliner size. I seem to recall I was ambivalent about it. I also got the impression that parts of the paper had become the sole responsibility of Tim Dowling and Lucy Mangan - two journalists whose names seemed to be embedded on just about every page. Both are still there as the paper underwent another facelift, this time through economic demands rather than aesthetics.

Gone since last year are the marginalised supplements - Media, Society, Education, which were preceded by the old IT and Technology section. Only the Music and Film pull out survived and apparently it still survives, despite the demise of the Sports section, which The Guardian has now rejoined the rank and file and puts its sport at the back of the main section. G2 remains - ever present.

There has been a subtle redesign of the page layouts, tweaks with fonts and sizes and subtle changes that only a trained eye would spot - which is probably what Alan Rusbridger wanted. Things have been dropped; columns condensed and it sort of just feels wrong. The Guardian, because of costs, has had to lose its relative uniqueness and now feels like a daunting task to tackle it in the morning than ever before.

There is nothing wrong with the journalism; 50% of the stuff in it is never even looked at unless it's a sunny and warm day and I have nothing better to do than sit in the garden and digest everything. Arguably it's easier on the eye now, but that could just be the newness of it in my eyes.

From what I've heard, there will still be a film and music section on a Friday, but bigger and expanded - woo and indeed hoo; like The Guardian's Saturday Review section, it can be up its own arse more often than not. The sports section will be there on a Monday (and possibly a Saturday) and I have no idea what the usually, imho, boring Saturday edition will bring and frankly I don't care, because sometimes I wonder why I even bother with a daily paper.

The new look Guardian is essentially the same beast as the old look and the now very old broadsheet version; sometimes it's too dry; sometimes it tries too hard and sometimes it gets things just right. It has writers who I'm not partial to and columns I find pointless and uninteresting. Its analysis is second to none and very unbiased and that's probably the reason I still read it in paper form - you can only really read a newspaper (or a book) on the bog!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

This is an Entry About Football

When I rediscovered my love for football (summer 1996), I'd missed a few years where my team - Spurs - had reasonably good seasons, but if you asked me to tell you where they finished or who played for them between 1988 and 1995, I would struggle beyond Gascoigne, Lineker and Hoddle. I remember telling people how I hid in the cellar of my shop during the 1991 Cup Final because I was too scared to watch the game against Nottm Forest and Brian Clough's last chance to win the only trophy he didn't win.

Since 1996, I've returned to my dedicated following of Spurs and as a result have had many lows and a couple of highs. The League Cup win in 1999 seems more recent than it really was. But in November 2008 with Spurs sitting bottom of the table with 2pts from a possible 24, Harry Rednapp was hired and despite his positive but hardly winning CV, I felt confident he would save us and take us back to the level we were when Big Martin Jol was getting the best out of a, now, average team.

On a sunny August day, Benoit Assou-Ekotto thumped a 25 yard shot past Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal to cement a 2-1 victory and launch the team onto a campaign that would end with them finishing 4th and finally getting into the Champions League. Of course, this was the first game of the season and no one could have guessed that that goal probably won us that spot because our record against Liverpool until 2009 was patchy at best.

On Wednesday night, BAE or Bennie as he is called by supporters, hit a 30 yard shot, that ricocheted off Tim Cahill's arse and settled in the corner of the net away from Tim Howard's outstretched arms. It gave the team a 2-0 win over Everton and 9 points clear of Arsenal in 5th place (and 11 clear of Liverpool). That statistic after half the season is good enough, the fact that it brought us level on points with Man Utd in 2nd and just three points behind Citeh (who are wobbling a wee bit) in 1st. That fact has suddenly turned the team I've supported all my life into Title Challengers!

Ooh, heady days indeed. It's weird. I mean really weird because I support Spurs and Spurs are always guaranteed to screw up just when you think they could be onto something. In 2010, when Spurs dropped 23 points to team that finished in the bottom 6, if they had won all of these, they wouldn't have finished 5th, they would have been 1st by 5pts! And if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle.

At the start of the season, Spurs were 100-1 to win the league. Yesterday they were 6-1, today it's 13-2. Arsenal are 100-1, Chelsea 66-1 and Man Utd 13-8. Citeh are 4-7 favs, but I think that#'s more hedging than certainty. I always say that bookies odds should be respected, they're probably the best guidance tool. 3rd would satisfy me, especially if it leads to buying new players and cementing a regular place in the Champions League. But, I can dream, even if I am a Spurs fan. Shit, if we won it because the other two kept tripping over themselves, I'd be as happy as Larry. It would be a day I walk as erect as I possibly can, head held high, with the knowledge that even though my Scouse-loving friend Jon will continually remind me that Liverpool are the best team in existence.

In my wildest dreams I never really suspected Spurs would actually challenge for this ultimate prize. Even in football simulation games where I've turned Spurs into the new Barcelona, I always have to remind myself that it is fantasy generated by a relatively easily solved algorithm within a game play.

On Wednesday night, something strange happened. I sat down in front of the computer to watch the match against Everton and I, um... I felt, er... I felt confident. There I've said it - fatal. Just. Plain. Fatal. I support Spurs not Man Utd. I don't feel confident when my team plays any one, so accustomed to witnessing banana skin exploits that would make a hard core porn star blush.

The worst thing? My confidence was justified. We never looked out of our comfort zone. We played like a team that wants to win. We didn't show the remotest sign of letting the altitude go to our heads. We continued to play with the consistency that has made us the form team in the league and we lost to the two teams above us 1-5 and 3-0 in our opening fixtures! Today, with a win against Wolves, we could go joint top. This is the kind of hurdle that Spurs teams in the past have found to be a maximum security wall. I've seen my team go into games like today knowing a win would catapult them to new heights and they've surrendered the opportunity with aplomb and have become a bit of a joke because of it.

It's January and nothing is won in January, but plenty is lost.

Here is my two forecasts. One realistic and the other the one in my head that gives me happy thoughts.

Scenario 1: The top three stay the same, but Man Utd win the title by 5 points from a Citeh team that did what everything feared they would. Spurs will finish third, but it will be a hard fought thing, going up to the last day, with Arsenal and Chelsea.

Scenario 2: Spurs beat Wolves to go joint top, then go to Eastlands and manage to get a draw. All the top 6 teams take points off of one and other and the positions are pretty much the same come the end of March. Spurs have a phenomenal run in - their last eight games are: Swansea (h), Sunderland (a), Norwich (h), Bolton (a), QPR (a), Blackburn (h), Aston Villa (a) and Fulham (h). Paul Merson stated quite firmly that if Spurs were still 3pts behind the leaders with seven games to go they would win it and I'm hoping that Spurs go into the last day of the season needing just a win to ensure the first title for 51 years.

I can dream.

In reality though, because I'm a Spurs fan, I'm waiting for the bubble to burst. I'm waiting for Spurs circa Christian Gross to suddenly re-emerge in a game against, I dunno, Wigan and throw 3 points away because they forgot how to play for the day. Or an injury crisis par excellence, with half the brilliant players breaking legs in a freak training ground incident involving Adebayor's bobble hat. I'd like to see the club be big enough so the likes of Defoe, Krancjar and Huddlestone are content to be on the bench of a team actually on the verge of achieving greatness. The promise of Champions League football and a tougher schedule, therefore more playing time, should be incentive for any player if they want to win things, especially with an upwardly mobile team like Spurs. But I'd also like to see a definite Spurs striker capable of scoring 25 goals a season up front. I'd like a fit world class centre back to sit alongside Kaboul or Dawson and I'd like a nippy two-footed winger who can slot into Bale or Lennon's position, because they will get injured.

Other than that I'm pretty happy that my club has a first 11 that I pretty much wouldn't change on current form.

I remember asking my mate Dez how he felt when Chelsea won the title for the first time in a billion years, just after Abramovich bought a team to do it and he said it was pretty much indescribable. For a couple of years, he walked around expecting Chelsea to win everything and they often did; but he remembered the dark days in the old English Third Division, the Leyland Vans trophy and almost losing Stamford Bridge. His joy has always been tempered with realism and now with his team not doing so well, he's just pleased to be up there competing, even if he secretly wishes they were where Spurs are.

I want to have that feeling, just once in my life. Where I can say I support the Champions.

I know that this is the most excited I'm probably going to get.

2012 - 2

Notes and Queries

Suddenly the idea of writing a blog as regularly as I once did seems a distant dream. The sometimes mentally intense nature of my new job means that most nights I come home and slump in front of the telly, exhausted.

My usual modus operandi is to write stuff when I think about it and remember it; but occasionally I employ an age old method - I take notes. Jot them down on a piece of paper and they're safe for the future. My pad this week has very little on it, to reinforce the above paragraph, but one line has the word 'Vicks' written down. Now I've been using a menthol vapour rub on my chest for the last couple of weeks in an attempt to sleep better and to clear the airways, but obviously the other night I must have had some inspired idea about it because I wrote just the one word down. It must have been so good I probably thought I wouldn't forget it...

I also have another note on the pad that has nothing to do with the blog. It's an idea I had for another short story. I wish I could remember what it was about because 'Giant Crazy Things' sounds like it might have been fun.

Who am I, again?

Magnificent Bastard

While at t'pub on Thursday night, Roger mentioned that he thought a comment made by my good dear friend Kelvin Green was really good and later on further reflection it seemed to be the logical ascension of one of my more colourful nicknames of the past.

Kelvin referred to me as 'You Magnificent Bastard' in response to an adventure I had that will not make its way onto these pages and in my mind's eye the journey from Phil the Bastard (created probably around 1984) to Magnificent Bastard has concluded.

Chuckling to myself after t'pub, it triggered a memory of what were probably my very first nicknames - Hall-E and Horlicks (which I still find an incredibly funny word, even if I wasn't that enamoured by the nickname at the time). Obviously Hall-E was not the inspiration for Wall-E, it's just the best way of visually explaining how my name was said - Hall-eeeeeeee essentially and I think even my peers got bored of that really quickly. Then the famous bedtime malted chocolate drink started advertising a lot and some wag saw the connection between Hall and Horlicks.

Most kids are supposed to love their nicknames, but I hated mine. Even at an early age, I liked being called Phil and it irritated me when people would add the Lip bit. There are Phils and there are Phillip/Philips and I'm definitely in the first group. It took a lot of careful persuasion by my mum to get me to accept the name and embrace it. Eventually very few people called me it and they did so to try and rile me.

Some other popular nicknames I have had for periods of time include: Big Nose (which is still popular with the wife and among specific groups of friends, the same group that popularised Phil the Bastard and its more offensive Phil the C**t), Fil Fil Fil which eventually became Fi Fi and sometimes Foo. Fuck knows why. Unusually, I've never been a Pip unless it's outside of a 50 mile radius of Northampton. A number of my estranged Internet friends refer to me as Pip, but as I have a friend called Pip (who I saw last night, coincidentally), it's never been a name that my friends would associate with me (even if our Pip's real name is actually Karl...)

My dad had a number of ways of addressing me - Oy or Shitbag, but usually just Oy Shitbag; Ugly (which the lovely Mammary Lass uses with much joy still); Boy; and once or twice Demon Child. He rarely called me Phillip, but did when he remembered my real name. Towards the end of his life he'd lost the slightly mad aspect of his personality (because he'd lost my mum), but he still managed an Ugly from time to time - that was cool.

No one really calls me Phillip now, if they do I usually correct them quickly (or in the event One El calls me it on Tuesday I might have to resort to violence). I'd change my name by Deed Poll if I could be arsed. Of all the things I've been called Phillip is the one that grates on me the most.

Phlegm-atic

The chest is still giving me a lot of grief. I sound like a rattling cage most of the time and I'm not getting much sleep because of it. It's also stopped being productive and I feel like shit, but just not shit enough to suggest that I'm ill.

I've had a weird week because at least two things happened that would potentially be headline stories, yet I have no desire to talk about them publicly. It's not like I use this as a diary of my every waking minute (even if sometimes I do), but some things just have to stay out of this (much as I'd like to).

I went to a training course next to Liberty's on Regent Street in The Smoke. I was looking forward to it like my own death and yet it turned into one of the most interesting courses I've ever been on. It was presented by a guy called Jason Bangbala (Google him) and... well... after ten minutes I'd thought I'd walked into something totally surreal which I couldn't understand (he has a really broad Manc accent, like). But by the end of the day my brain was absolutely whirling with ideas. And that's all I'm saying on the matter.

Homolka Boy

You learn something every day (I think). I always thought that the little hat Jews wear was called a homolka (or maybe with a U or two), but it's called a Kippah. Why is this important? Well it isn't, except to say that I still managed to get a laugh out of it even if I was wrong and a Homolka is a Czech surname and doesn't appear to be anywhere else in modern language.

My mate CJT, for reasons we won't go into) drew a circle round a number 8 and embellished it a little at the top to make it look like a masked kid with a skull cap on. I added a couple of dots and a line for nose and mouth and Homolka Boy was born. The joke was: Homolka Boy, the Boy with No Foreskin For Crime and much laughter was generated (you had to be there). However, on research it's a load of bollocks... Funny bollocks at the time, but ultimately just bollocks.

Weirdy Beardy

Me and facial hair, I talk about it now and then. At work last week someone asked me why I had a goatee, which had been cultivated on Christmas because I felt so shitty I didn't want to shave. It's one of those odd questions, a bit like, why do you breath?

I have a history of unimpressive facial hair which started as quickly as I was able to grow bum fluff on my top lip. My immediate family, with the exception of my mum, have all had impressive moustaches in terms of thickness and depth, but my dad and eldest brother were blessed with dark hair, so when they grew them they looked proper gay. My middle brother was fair haired and his often blended into his fake tan, while Blondie here grew the things but no one ever noticed.

My reasons for wanting a tash were simple. I got a really bad split top lip playing rugby which left a scar midway between my septum and my lips and being a self-conscious teenager I hid it as often as I could. Even if my blond moustache couldn't be seen it camouflaged the scar.

I've never really successfully grown a full beard and it's only been the last few years that I get minutely close to it and now all the hair on my face down the flanks is as white as a Dulux paint factory.

However, one bit of facial hair that crept onto my face around 1989 and has been there ever since has been that bit of fuzz under my bottom lip and now, despite the grey in it, it at least is visible and adds to my small desire to be independent and non-conformist. Oddly enough the reason for its existence is because of a shaving rash. Eventually my face got used to being wet shaved, but that little triangle under my bottom lip never toughened up and whenever I shave it I get a square inch of a teenager's face stuck on it until the stubble starts to grow back. Doesn't matter how much I do it or be careful, it's like that part of my face still thinks I'm 16.

The beard came off last night. I couldn't make up my mind if I liked it or not.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Book Review - January 07, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King

It's pretty sad to say nowadays that a good Stephen King novel comes along as often as a blue moon. In the last ten years since his accident, I can count the number of enjoyable books he's written on three fingers and one of the those digits might be unused.

Far too often, King's recent novels have either been bogged down with too much 'shared universe' bollocks or have just been average at best. Duma Key was the best of a bad bunch and that, at times, felt like a reinterpretation of an earlier book. The thing that set King's Florida opus above his other 21st century turds was the character development; he seemed to have rediscovered his skill for creating well rounded and interesting people - in Wireman, he created a character that compared to many of his great earlier creations.

A lot has been said about the new book; a kind of What If Someone Managed to Save JFK from Being Assassinated; and not all of it positive. The reviewer in The Observer hated the book, but this was the same reviewer who claimed that Cell was the best thing King had written since the 1980s and that left me wondering if the reviewer had even bothered to read Cell (because it really is the worst piece of shit King has turned out ever). This particular quirk actually got me quite excited - I really don't take much stock in what reviewers say (despite accepting the irony in that statement considering what I'm writing) - and I hoped that 11/22/63 would be the exception to the rule.

The good news is - it was!

One of the things that blights King novels, especially in the last 20 years, has been their failure to feel 'complete'. Yes, they all have beginnings, middles and ends, but rarely do they feel like a nice little closed circuit. This book just radiates King's passion for his youth and at a time in the USA that was both much simpler but considerably harsher.

It starts off considerably quickly, which might be the simplest reason for why I liked it. Instead of King's usual 100 page preamble of character establishment and scene-setting this one dives straight in and is rollicking along within 50 pages. The reader literally gets no time to think before the main character goes back in time. Time travelling has its rules, which ultimately prove harder to negotiate than you would think; even if you have several stabs at something, this is something that the main protagonist discovers mostly on his own.

This is essentially a SF novel, but only in theme, it really is just a love story that happens to have a lot of nastiness going on around the edges - the consequences of Obdurate Time. Time is defensive because it doesn't want to be changed and if you try and change it then it tries to stop you and the more vehemently it tries to stop you is linked directly to how much of the future will be changed. The Butterfly Effect is pondered a lot in this story.

Jake Epping knows the guy who runs the local burger joint mainly as a customer, but is dragged into a situation that his 2011 brain struggles to comprehend. Al the owner of the greasy spoon has a doorway to the past in his pantry and has been using it to buy 1950s goods to use in his establishment, thus keeping his prices down. But Al is a patriot with a past that remembers the way USA mourned the death of JFK and he firmly believes that if the president hadn't been assassinated then the alternative 2011 would be a far better place. So he decides to stop Lee Harvey Oswald and change the world.

The problem for Al and subsequently for Jake is that whenever you go through the portal you arrive at exactly the same time on the same day in the same year - 1958 and Kennedy wouldn't be assassinated until late 1963. This meant you have to live for over 5 years in the past, which was the same as living 5 years in the present - you age. The other problem facing the would-be time changer is that he has to make sure that Oswald was really the lone gunman and didn't have accomplices - no point in killing LHO if someone else shoots Kennedy instead.

Al gets cancer and will not live long enough to try and stop Oswald and because time doesn't want to be changed, Al isn't strong enough to fight it as well as Lee Harvey. So he nominates Jake, a regular customer, nice guy and with no specific family ties and then sends him through the portal to experience a little of 1958. Like a drug, Jake is hooked, but he is also sceptical and wary; Al is obviously not telling him everything. What he has told him is that time is reset every time he returns to 1958. Anything that is done can be undone by just returning through the portal and it's September 1958 again. What Al doesn't understand and Jake eventually does is that it isn't that simple and both their actions are having infinitely serious repercussions for the planet.

Jake returns to 1958 to change the course of one of his mature student's life; a job that takes him 2 months to complete while only 2 minutes passes in 2011 (another of the strange quirks of the portal) and finds it difficult but not impossible to change the future, except while he saves an entire family, the man who he does the deed for loses his life in Vietnam. This convinces Jake that if Kennedy had lived the USA wouldn't have got so embroiled in south-east Asia. His mind is made up, he will return to 1958, repeat his first two months but with more information and then eventually find his way to Dallas, Texas, where he will kill Oswald and change the history of mankind.

Armed with just a few thousand dollars, but still a lot in 1958, Jake now using the name George Amberson gently eases into 1950s life, getting by on his savings and having the occasional bet, which meant exposing himself to mobsters and an assortment of dodgy bookies. His luck runs out and he leaves his comfortable Florida setting and heads for Texas where he stumbles into work as a teacher and we are introduced to the small town of Jodie, Tx and the steps are put in place for a typical King interlude, which I felt rounded the book out entirely.

The Observer reviewer felt Jake/George's love story was superfluous to the book, but I felt it was essential; there wouldn't have been a story had George not grabbed Sadie's right breast on their first encounter and set off a train of events that allowed all the elements to gain momentum and urgency. Without Jake/George's mini-adventure it just wouldn't have worked and I can't see what said reviewer would have replaced it with.

Suffice it to say but killing Oswald proves to be considerably more difficult than one would imagine and time weaves intricate tentacles that are somehow all interlaced - time doesn't want Jake where he is and it is continually trying to re-harmonise itself, like antibodies attempting to rid the body of an irritant.

During this intimate section of the book we are introduced to a series of rounded and likeable characters, not least the school librarian Mimi, who will probably go down as being another of King's brilliant supporting cast members; sadly she isn't used enough, but that might have been because time didn't want her to. Jake/George essentially lives a double life and the charade can't go on forever without someone noticing or taking an interest and it isn't long before different people are making different assumptions and this being the ultra-puritanical Texas of the early 1960s you can imagine what a lot of their fears were.

The upshot is that Oswald dies before he can kill Kennedy and Jake/George ends up a national hero and someone, quite amusingly, who the FBI believe works for the CIA. He is given a quick and easy escape route to wherever he 'needs' to go and so he makes his way back to Maine and the portal back to 2011, thus creating a new conspiracy theory. Before he makes it back to the doorway he is stopped by someone who knows who he is and what he is doing and some of the mysteries from earlier in the story are explained. For Jake the ramifications of what has done become all too clear. He is given a choice, but instead runs away (literally) and back to 2011.

Except now there's no Al's Diner and there's not much left he recognises. There wouldn't have been much point in having Jake return to Utopia, but equally the fact he returns to a Maine that is now part of Canada and a USA that is a complete and utter mess was pretty predictable, but like I said, had he returned to Utopia it wouldn't have worked either.

Jake had already decided that he was going to do it all again and this time, with foresight, ensure that he fixes everything that will be unfixed, but his meeting with the strange man near the portal and the fact that the world is a considerably worse place in the future puts a different slant on things. Jake knows he has to reset time; he knows that he either returns to 1958 and either relive the past yet again, but not trying to change it and not trying to make his presence cause too many ripples or reset it and return back to how the world was originally and shut the portal forever and healing the damage that has been done and preventing any paradoxes.

I won't tell you what he decides because I've already given away too many spoilers, but I will say that the final pages of this book are what elevates it into one of King's potential classics; you can't help closing the book at the end and feeling good. It is a great ending and one seemed fitting.

I'd give 11/22/63 a booming 8 out of 10

2012 - 1

Sex is Back!

Just when you thought it was safe to switch on the TV again - now that Channel 5 has swapped tits for CSI - BBC3 unleashes a week of programmes about having it off, losing ones virginity, solo pleasure and how to get your keyboard all jizzumed up.

The advert makes it look like it was designed for teenagers and young twenty-somethings, but in reality BBC3's audience of middle-aged men will probably explode. What I found particularly worrying was the line from said advert that features a man saying something along the lines of, "there are less people talking about it and more people doing it" meaning 'sex'. This baffled me somewhat because when I was young there were hundreds of people talking about it and only a minuscule percentage were actually doing it!


What a Load of Bollocks

I got my first bollocking, of sorts, this week.

After 4 continuous hours of being picked at the way you pick an ageing scab, I finally lost my cool a wee bit and suggested the person who was giving me a generally hard time was 'talking a load of bollocks'. Said recipient of the statement took umbrage at it and reported me to my boss, who didn't really give me a bollocking but it's such a good intro...

We tend to forget that the word 'bollocks' was the subject of a court case brought by Virgin Records on behalf of the Sex Pistols. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bollocks and that, as this Wiki piece says, has two distinct meanings and in modern parlance is used more often to describe something as rubbish or nonsense. The problem is, like the German composer Thomas Wanker, you can't really use the word (or his surname) in sensitive company...


A Fruity New Year

On January 5th, I ate what will be the last raspberries off of my canes. The fact that all that was left on these sheaths of new wood were some plump bright red berries, while all the leaves have gone was weird enough, but there is something slightly surreal about eating this year's raspberry crop as early as June and they won't be my first of the year!

The Met Office has suggested that January will stay above average, but we might see some real winter weather by February. The Daily Mail was quick to point out that the winter of 1947 - regarded as possibly the worst of the 20th century according to this doyen of original facts - didn't really start until January 24th and lasted until the middle of March. I believe we still won't be able to forecast what the weather is going to do more than a couple of weeks ahead in 100 years, mainly because of the chaotic nature of meteorology and the millions upon millions of variables no computer yet invented could predict.

It'll be how it'll be.


Snot Fair

If you are of a delicate disposition then look away now.

I went back to work feeling like I could have done with a few more days off, just to make sure that I had shaken off the last of whatever bugs ruined my Christmas. But the reality was I felt well enough to face the hordes. I did, however, realise that I would need to go armed with a mountain of paper tissues because every square inch of phlegm I'd built up over the previous two weeks decided that Wednesday would be the day it started to make an appearance.

Having a chest and head full of green gunk is unpleasant at the best of times and you really don't want to be around someone hawking great globules of goo unless you're in a different county, but I had to deal with it in a very public setting. Catarrh is possibly one of the most unpleasant of human bi-products and I've always believed that it has its own intelligence, mainly because it seems to do whatever it feels like and we have little or no control over it.

This bizarre trait has come to my rescue somewhat in the last few days; it's like my body is holding it all in until I can be alone, to really have a good blow or cough. The wife went back to work this morning - yes, it's a Saturday, but it's worth a lot of money and she's been off two weeks and I think she's got a little bored. I got out of bed just before 9am and have been ... um... expectorating like a bastard all morning. I could have wallpapered an entire theatre with the amount of junk that suddenly feels the urge to depart my warm and crappy body.

Still, it will be nice to breath properly again. However, I get the feeling I'm still going to be the country's leading phlegm producer by the time this supposed cold weather finally hits us.

It's a shame that you can't use it for something. It's like bindweed, tons of it and with no practical value or application whatsoever.

Now, while I have the house to myself, I'm going to write a review.