Friday, June 28, 2013

Time Sensitive

Phil's theory of time isn't new. It's something I have used to explain the passage of time to make myself feel happier about the fact that most of the people I've grown up with, if they're not dead yet, look like they are going to be on first name basis with it in the next 20 years.

Space is another. Being a sensitive soul, when I was younger - very young - I used to work myself up into a right tizz because ... the universe never ends. It has essentially always been there and it always will be. Wrong, you say, but I'm talking existentialism here. When you're 8 and someone tells you that it doesn't matter how fast you travel and for as long as you like you will never ever come to the edge of the universe and if, somehow, you did there would be nothing on the other side; it was the 'nothing on the other side' bit that fucked me up. Being told that the universe sits in a huge sea of nothing works on a basic level until you realise that nothing is... um... nothing. Proper nothing is nothing at all - no air, no dust, no Justin Beiber, no... space or time - nothing, nought, nout, bugger all.

Now, you can look in the fridge and there's nothing in there, but there is, even if you don't want to eat mould, stale air, that thing at the back that you were sure didn't have legs and fur when you bought it. Space time nothing is something that can have you thinking your brain into twists, knots and aneurysms and because I'm just a wee bit special, it bugged the life out of me for years. Then someone said, 'Imagine this' and I did and everything was okay again ...

You get to the edge of the universe; it's still expanding at a rate of knots, but you have a super-duper goes-faster-than-the-universe-is-expanding 'vehicle'. You step outside the universe and on the other side is just nothing. a bit, for argument's sake, white nothingness. You get into your goes-faster-than-the-universe-is-expanding 'vehicle' and move away from the universe at the fastest speed you can go for 1 million years (you don't age in this goes-faster-than-the-universe-is-expanding 'vehicle') and then you stop, get out of the goes-faster-than-the-universe-is-expanding 'vehicle' and walk back one step and you are back into the universe. One step!?! You've travelled at a billion miles an hour for 1 million years and the universe is just behind you - like some cheesy pantomime villain? What the...?

But you see outside of the universe is nothing, so you can't really go anywhere in a nothing that is both the biggest and the smallest entity never to have existed.

Time isn't at all like that even if time and space kind of gave this symmetry in that you probably could have one without the other - in that nothingness more like - but it would play havoc with our sense of perspective.

The thing is we take space for granted and therefore we take time as well and the two are immutably linked. If you drive the same route every day for 10 years; the journey you take on the 10th anniversary is the same as the journey you took the very first time; except in your head it takes much less time even if the journey time is always 27 minutes. You become so familiar with the 27 minutes that it takes less time - in your mind's eye - than it does, even if it doesn't. See?

A ten year old will be told she can have something next year and to her next year is like forever. In reality next year is a 10th of her life. If I'm told I'll have to wait until next year it's like a 50th of my life - basic maths at work here - a tenth is bigger than a 50th and add in the extra existentialism and wow, a ten year old's perception of a year is the kind of thing a 50 year old would sell their soul for.

Monotony is a time dragger. I'm guessing the summer of 1976 seemed like it went on forever not because I was only 14 (and therefore experiencing just a 14th of my life), but because the weather from May through to the end of September (except for August Bank Holiday where it tipped it down for three torrential days) was the same, every day. You woke up, the sky was blue, the sun was out, the temperature rose steadily and it didn't change. Some days the high pressure area over us brought bits of cloud and slightly cooler temperatures, but in general it was monotonous (not that I'm complaining; give me some of that weather-specific monotony now, baby!) and the reason us Brits think time flies is because of the temperate climate and ever changing weather patterns. I'm thinking if you were born in Dubai you probably think 80 years is more like 280 (but, equally, the human brain probably speeds up monotony when you live in a place that rarely changes).

This is all theory, but it stops me from going completely bat-shit or trying to build a goes-faster-than-the-universe-is-expanding 'vehicle' to prove my point.

The fact that the equinox is behind us already is a scary thought. When I was a child days seemed to last as long as years (it's that perception thing again) and I regularly did three and four things in a day and had bus fair for a bag of chips (or something like that). Today, I sit here for an undefined amount of time and suddenly it's next week and I'm thinking - 'my life is made up of emptying the dishwasher' because I seem to do it more than once a day, although I KNOW I only empty it once a day.

Moving on...

I've always been a bit of a twat. And while my latest 'kick' has nothing twattish about it in the slightest, I sort of feel like I should be hit with a huge twat stick until I cry.

I have this COPD thing, which, I explain to people is a bit like angina in that it's there and it shouldn't bother me as long as I look after myself. I have my new inhaler, my lack of cigarettes and this new thing... this alien fuckwittery that doesn't sit well with me from a past perspective.

My pulmonary system is buggered. It isn't fucked, but it has been irreversibly damaged; as a result I will suffer from chest ailments for the rest of my life and I have a 90% certainty that I will eventually suffocate to death, like my mother did...

Two of the dogs are overweight. Marley because she eats everything and Lexy because the winter and cold spring lasted so long none of the dogs did the amount of exercise they really needed; there was no swimming and I kind of think because we trudged them out, wrapped up like Eskimos, feeling cold and monotonous (because it lasted so long), they didn't get the amount of energy burn to keep them trim, because we lacked the urgency they needed to run around a lot. Subsequently, dog biscuit has been reduced and a harder, more determined exercise regime has been put into place. The dogs need to lose weight or it will shorten their lives. That bothers me more than my own life span, because, you know, the dogs are my kids.

So getting Marley to run around isn't difficult; she does it a lot, she just mixes it with eating ANYTHING she can put in her mouth. So, she has her muzzle on now. She doesn't like it and if people tell you dogs don't sulk, it's just our interpretation, you have my permission to call them retards. Dogs sulk like teenage girls who have been grounded and had their phones confiscated.

Lexy is just lazy. Lexy would like you to get her a Tesco trolley and push her around, or better still, leave her on a bench in a pub and take the others for a walk. Energy expulsion is reserved for barking at Fishwife when he goes into his back garden.

The need for them to burn off all this fat supersedes everything, even my health. So dog walks have increased in time and distance. I plan my routes via Google Maps and have to push myself as hard as the dogs because I'm suddenly giving myself hills and rough tracks to walk. At first it was all a bit of a nightmare and I found that for three days after I'd have that 'yawning' feeling, like I wasn't getting anywhere near as much oxygen into my body. Then at the start of this week - three weeks into this new 'walk until you think you've done enough and then walk for another 15 minutes' mindset, something really odd happened.

I started to feel good...

That's a lie. I didn't feel good. I'd be hunched over at the top of a hill I'd just pushed myself up and I'd be breathing like a woman who had just had the most explosive orgasm ever after the most dirty and energetic sex she could ever imagine.

Yet... A year ago, I would have taken 20 minutes to even be in a position to move again. Now, despite the lungs, I'm walking again within 3 minutes and I'm pushing myself to walk again. I don't procrastinate when I'm walking. It's about covering the distance and making sure that Lexy keeps up with me (because Marley is always ahead of me). I'm pacing myself; breathing properly while walking (and avoiding talking) and I can feel my body loving every minute of it to the point where I look forward to my next walk.

My body isn't loving it at all; at least it isn't in my head; but my legs have stopped aching; the burn I get from lactic acid in my thighs is disappearing. I'm never going to run a marathon (although I might power walk one) or even 400 metres without possibly doing some serious internal damage, but I think I'm fitter now than I have been for 30 years. Someone said the other day that one thing is sure, exercise is a good thing and the more I do the better I get. I might never be able to get my lungs back to how they were, but I'm hopeful that I can make my life a damned sight easier than it might have been. You see, I expect being in my late 60s with an oxygen tube stuffed up my nose and the need to travel around with one of those horrendous motorised scooter abominations is going to be so dull, so laborious, so time-draggingly tedious that my wish for time to slow down will probably only be realised when I have no control over it. So, lets work that body really fucking hard and have a heart attack at 80 doing the Waendal Walk or the Pennine Way. That would be a worthy death considering the damage I've inflicted on myself for the last 35 years (and it would shock a few people: Phil Hall died where? Doing what? You're shitting me?).

I have all the time in the world to get fit, it's just going to seem like it whizzes past.

Effercio et Ineptias
  • This week has been busy busy busy. I have had to juggle accountant's meetings, with phonecalls to people, spending some time with my old best mate Graham, and meeting up with my ex-assistant manager at the shop. As a result, I've missed things (sorry Phil); not got things I need to get done and despite working harder than I have for months, I've still managed not to do everything I wanted to.
  • I have come to the conclusion that if one specific thing will eventually drive (hah) me out of the country, it won't be the Tories, the lack of opportunities or the fuckwits I share the country with, it'll be because of drivers (now you know why I said 'Hah'!) and the fact that people no longer seem to realise that they are driving the equivalent of a loaded hand gun. I was on the receiving end of a road rage person yesterday and all I think I did was approach him a wee bit fast. He was pootling up the Welly Road doing about 20mph and I was doing about 40, the speed limit for that stretch. I slowed down, but he was giving me all kinds of grief in his rear view mirror (to the point where I thought I might have someone dead stuck to the front of my car). When I eventually overtook him, he drove from the outskirts of Northampton to Earl's Barton between 20 and 40mph depending on whether or not I could overtake him, he sat behind me and continued to give me all kinds of grief through the medium of hand gestures. When I finally had enough, stopped the car to get out and confront this twat, he pulled out and drove off, honking his horn at me and calling me a wanker. Obviously I missed something... A memo perhaps?
  • My playlist this week has been: Jon Hopkins, GIAA, Sigur Ros and, um... Oh yeah, I wee bit of Tears for Fears. I maybe need to vary it a little.
  • I'm still reading Joe Hill's NOS 4R2 and I am really enjoying it, sort of. I really enjoy it when I read it, I just can take it or leave it at the moment. I seem to be reading it in blocks and forgetting about it for days until I remind myself I'm halfway through a book.
  • I have given up on so many TV programmes now that I think I need to carry on watching the few that I do or I might as well just give my TV away. However, after watching the 2nd episode of the latest season of True Blood last night, I really think I should stop watching this kind of thing because frankly I could write it better if I was pissed and suffering from a serious head wound.  I cannot believe HBO produce this unbelievable heap of steaming cow excrement. They must pay the actors lots of money because I'd need to be paid lots of money to speak some of the dialogue uttered in this example of how fantasy TV should never ever be made. The shame is that somewhere in there is a promising story that has just been hidden behind soft porn, bad dialogue and some of the most unbelievably bad ideas ever wheeled out in any TV show. It needs to be stopped and sooner rather than later.
  • There's probably more, I can't be arsed though. I think I shall go and sponge alcohol from friends now...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The One Where I Moan Incessantly

That should confuse a few people...

I've tried very hard this week to be negative. It ain't happening. I'm just a bit too pumped up about stuff and ting, as da yoot say.

I was kept waiting at the dole office for 40 minutes and laughed and joked with the PA. We lost the pub quiz - finished 3rd - and that didn't really bother me. I thought I was going to have a heart attack on Thursday night, so I dropped a 3rd party a quick email in case I never show my face here again (although I have a blog scheduled for some point in 2025, so if I did drop dead today there's something to look forward to!) and today my back, which has been relatively incognito for the last year or so is sending me bad vibes. But, hey, I have painkillers. I can have a hot bath. I can ask the wife to put my socks on.

The weather forecast is meh, but just so long as I have the money to go on holiday in September...

I am struggling to understand why there is all the fuss about the British Lions tour; I know rugby fans who struggle to get any enthusiasm for bog standard internationals and this, from what I see, largely pointless amalgamation of four teams (which only happens in football at the Olympics and causes no end of grief amongst associations), who considering its made up of supposedly the best players from those four countries, probably should beat anybody. Still, some people seem to be enjoying it and it gives Sky Sports some form of bragging rights.

I thought Glastonbury was this weekend. I'm sorry, but if it had been it would have been funny.

I have been really pleased to see one of my oldest and dearest friends back in the UK this week. My old pal Graham is over on holiday from Australia and I'm really glad I'm getting to spend some time with him. But... Jeez, you can tell how age catches people up. Once upon a time (probably as little as 9 years ago) we'd be talking music, drugs, sex, all the things that men talk about. On Thursday we talked death, prostates, arthritis, COPD and pensions. WTF?

I was discussing with my '3rd party' friend the other day about my ability to procrastinate and how I really have to overcome it (I appear to be winning) and concentrate on stuff like this 'new project' of mine. This morning, I'd cleaned the ducks out before I had my breakfast. I'd written a few emails; done some necessary chores and decided that at this moment while I am writing this to go and sort out a couple of plants in the garden that need supporting. I got downstairs, put my gardening boots on and the heavens opened. Now, you could argue that I perhaps subconsciously planned it that way, but my peony and some raspberries are not being helped and I like them both...

I'm currently on something of a walking fitness drive. While I'm never going to be fit to run in a marathon or even 1000 metres (without coughing my lungs up or suffocating), I am not going to be restricted by my ailment nor am I going to use one of those motorised wheel-scooter things that Fuckwit uses but obviously just for show. So, I charge around with the dogs and I'm beginning to understand why some people are exercise junkies. The endorphin rush isn't like some exotic narcotic, but there is something exhilarating about it. It's keeping the hounds on their toes too! (The exercise, not my endorphins.)

I have discovered a lot about certain people this week and despite hardly any of it being good, I'm still in a good mood. I also need new glasses; they cost money; I'll make do with the rubbish ones I've got!

I have such a week ahead of me. I have things I have to do on Monday, possibly Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, possibly Friday and definitely Saturday, as we're going to Leicester to see the New Glimmer Twins* and eat food. [*Nothing to do with the old Glimmer Twins] I also have to start planning out my schmoozing schedule and possibly do some things that I've avoided doing.

On that enigmatic note, I'm going to get mud under my nails. Eff Oh Tee!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fishwife Tale

Today has been largely cloudy, one of those English summer days where it looks like it’s going to be cold and it’s actually quite warm. I’m sitting on the patio and the sun is trying desperately hard to come out; it’s 3.35pm.

You’ve got this preamble because initially I came out here, because of the above, to do a bit of research on part of a project I’m working on and because I don’t think I’m going to have that many opportunities between now and September (when I believe summer will start and end). However, within five minutes of sitting here and making half a page of notes, I was entertained by the dulcet tones of one of Fishwife’s loud children…

[Please bear in mind this kid is now about 8] “Daddy… Daddy… DADDY!!!” I know what’s coming; I’ve lived next door to them for long enough.
“What is it ######? I’m a little busy at the moment.” Which, from the sounds of his voice (because it carries), came from inside their house.
“Daddy, I’m having a pooh!” I knew this was going to happen. It happens just about every time the kid goes for a shit. I don’t know if he’s incapable of wiping his own arse, but considering both kids go to a school I could probably hit by spitting out of my bedroom window and yet someone still has to go and pick the little darlings up from school every day, I wouldn’t be surprised. 

In fact, I had this very same conversation with Fishwife about 45 minutes ago…
“Just going on the school run. It’s great fun.” Says he.
“Why?”
“Why am I going on the school run or why is it fun?”
“Yes.”
“The kids are always really happy at the end of the school day.” I’m thinking that didn’t answer my question, so realising what I was doing and quantifying it first by saying the following opinion was in no way directed at him, I said, “Don’t kids have working legs anymore? When I was a child, I went to a school that was over 2 miles from my house. I caught a bus or walked. Are you aware of the actual dangers that people picking their kids up from school is causing because these people want to protect their kids?”
“Um, er, I park quite a way from the school so I don’t block anyone.” He said sounding defensive.
“Why don’t they walk home? It’s not far.”
“Oh, I have to get them back because blah blah blah blah blah blah,” I just zoned out at this point because, being a Hall, I know all about people who put pointless reasons or obstacles up for why they have to or can’t do certain things. He drove his 2 litre turbo charged petrol guzzling cock car the 800 yards or so (as the crow flies and paths go) to walk there, but the near on mile and a half to drive, because of the way the roads round here are designed.

Every morning and every afternoon the country is inflicted with parents who are so fucking lazy they can’t allow their kids to get buses or walk home. And please don’t give me any of this shit about fear of them being abducted because we all know that happens once in a very blue moon; or utter rubbish about them being run over because that’s what some of these fuckwits are going to end up doing if you saw the quality of driving outside of schools or the foresight of some of the (I’m sorry to say, but mainly women) drivers.

We are breeding a race of humans that will resemble the ones out of Wall E within the next couple of hundred years except they’ll have extra-large thumbs for texting and eyes in the top of their head to stop them from walking in to lamp posts.

So anyhow, ###### regularly announces to his dad that he’s ‘having a pooh’ and I’m wondering if it’s some bizarre joke between the two of them… When I was 15 once and sitting on the loo having a dump, a mate of mine called round and my mum shouted up the stairs for me. I called down that I was having a crap and boy did I get told off for being rude, for being disrespectful to her and my friend and most of all for being crude. Oh, how times have changed…

Effercia et Ineptias
  • Fuckwit knocked on the door yesterday; I was cooking so the wife dealt with it. He actually did something neighbourly, but we discovered he is incapable of bending down, which might be his real disability. Too fat and stupid to bend at the waist!
  • We’ve finally got around to watching the Killing 3, the Danish one.
  • Two of the dogs are overweight and are now on extensive exercise programmes and diets. For the ethereal orange dog this doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary; however, for the shit-eating, dung-rolling, dustbin of a dog this is her opportunity to prove that dogs, especially 7 year old bitches, are very capable of being just like petulant teenagers. Jesus, you would never believe a dog could sulk…
  • It is 4.05pm and the sun has come out! Apparently we’re going to have an unseasonable hot day on Wednesday (if the cloud disperses) and then, typically, the weather will turn cooler and more unsettled again.
  • I miss playing Facebook Scrabble, but have been pleased to see all the coverage about the replacement abomination. I have been thoroughly disgusted by the disappearance of the term, ‘The Customer is Always Right’ because once upon a time one negative comment about something would have been dealt with and the Scrabble providers are getting about 30,000 a day and just continue to treat everyone like they are happy…
  • ####### has finished his pooh! I thought you might as well know seeing as the whole of my road does.
  • McVities new double chocolate digestives are possibly the nicest biscuits I have had for years.
  • I’ve been Skyping with my Octogenarian Godparents and I love modern technology!
  • One of my oldest and dearest friends is over from Oz this next week or so; it’s going to be great catching up with him!
  • Rick Stein's India - condescending, carnivorous and borderline racist - an abomination of a TV program.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bitter, Possibly Twisted

I suppose as a socialist I shouldn't mind if I'm used, taken advantage of or just generally looked upon as a vehicle for others to benefit...

Two weeks of rediscovering that my mojo hadn't fled, it had just been sitting at the pit of my soul waiting to be reawakened by something, and then just as it is coaxed out it gets butt-fucked back into oblivion. Tis the way of life for some people.

A more kindly review of my book, My Monthly Curse, suggested that if nothing else my timing is off. It's not like the opportunities aren't there, it's like I'm never in the right place at the right time. The book essentially says look how good and unbelievably unlucky I am. Look how I've helped others make loads of money or have careers while I try not to sound too bitter and twisted about not succeeding myself. I am aware of this. I do know that deep down inside me there is this black and nasty thing that hates everyone and everything because I feel I should have got more out of life than I did. Fortunately (or maybe not) there's this bright, colourful, reasonable angel that tempers the black and says things like - that's what happens when you spend half of your life stoned when you could have been doing something practical with it.

The black can't argue with that logic, even if it argues that even when I had my chances I never got the breaks I deserved... Back in the 1980s, long before any comics nonsense crept back into my life, I made a film; just a short that no longer exists, but despite all its arty pretentiousness, it was something I did and I was happy with the results and the guy who made it, using me as the only actor, was also happy and as a result it got him extra work, professional work. This was at the height of the music video craze and he was invited to do a video for a band and he was going to get me to reprise the part I'd done in the earlier short. But then he either changed his mind or someone changed it for him because a 'proper' actor was brought in and I was offered a small amount of nothing to be the on-set dog's body. Now, don't get me wrong, I can totally understand sacrificing an enthusiastic mate for a 'proper' actor, but I'm sure the proper actor started off as someone's enthusiastic mate...

It all went tits up when the 'producer' of the video stole from me. We were back at my place at the time and while I was upstairs getting changed and sorting some things out, he was helping himself to the contents of my food cupboard; crisps, biscuits, anything he could take and I went slightly fucking bonkers at him. I was unemployed and had little money and he had essentially eaten my weeks supply of munchie food in five minutes and couldn't understand what the fuss was. The director, who was more wrapped up in the film and is never one for minutiae of this nature, also couldn't see what my problem was and I sloped off of the video production with my tail between my legs thinking that I was made to feel like I overreacted. 26 years later I still don't think I overreacted. But, you know, if I'd allowed myself to be used without complaint, who knows it might have been me starring in the film made all those years later rather than the guy who 'replaced' me on that video shoot all those years ago...

I 'let him down' is a common phrase I hear from people I have worked for. Dez said it all the time although I never actually let him down on purpose. I didn't wake up in the morning and think, "I'm going to let him down today!" For starters I didn't like being him cruel to me so I wasn't about to do something to encourage his sadistic streak.

I think it's a fucking disaster when life gets in the way of ambitious people; don't you?

The problem is even there when it isn't someone's fault; when things go against me I sometimes feel like lashing out and often there's no one to lash out at. Take, for instance, a recent offer I had to do some work for a youth organisation in the county. I didn't get the job I applied for, but they were impressed enough to offer me some bank or session work. There was one catch; they didn't want to employ me, they wanted me to become self-employed and work as a contractor so that they wouldn't be responsible for anything from PAYE to sickness and holiday pay. It is a situation where an employer wants their cake and eats it.

Having a wife who is a taxman and a BMF who is an accountant this idea bothered them, but, you know, I'm not working and for all the financial stability we had it doesn't take long for that to become fragile, so any work would be good, especially if I could do enough hours to sign off of the dole. Then a series of information snippets were exchanged between me and a few knowledgeable people (plus my JCP PA) and if I become self-employed I can't claim any benefits. It's not even complicated; it's quite simple - self-employed people can't claim JSA and if you are working in that fashion, you are simply no longer unemployed therefore you can't claim any benefits. I would have needed to be guaranteed 13 hours work a week - taking into account travelling costs, incidentals and keeping some money back to pay a tax bill - to earn exactly the same as I get in JSA and guess what, they can't even guarantee me 3 hours a week at the moment, yet want me to surrender everything I get, which aint a lot anyhow, to do that?

I have another meeting about work today. At first it seemed just like a five or six week job, but after careful reading of the details I was sent it has become more and more obvious that the position is a voluntary one. There is no pay and when I approached the man doing the 'hiring', he just said, 'come in, let's talk about it," which I read as, yep it's a volunteer position perhaps I can persuade you that you should still do it. Fat chance.

I sometimes wonder if I have this big, invisible to me and close personal friends, neon sign above my head that says 'Use Me'.

The other side of the coin is my desire to do something with all the knowledge I've accrued over the years. The problem is I appear to have gained lots of experience in things that no longer work very well... Print and publishing might not be as dead as people thought, but the areas I have expertise in don't need a new magazine. I grew up in pubs and have had idea to make successful pubs for years, but, you know, 10 times as many pubs go out of business as become successful. And over the last 12 years or so, I made a career working with the young and disenfranchised. Now there's no money for these things, the best I can get is voluntary work - that's your Big Society for you - be proud working for nothing while you starve to death!

I can't believe someone who has had so many good ideas feels like he's just an extra in an allegorical play about landfill sites...

Effercio et Ineptias
  • Common courtesy behind the wheel of a car doesn't cost anything; it isn't time consuming and you are often not called a cunt by your unsuspecting victims.
  • I believe I am only watching Game of Thrones because the wife is. Every time I watch it I wonder where George RR Martin's integrity has gone and the wife reminds me that it's probably hidden under all the money he was given. I feel a bit underwhelmed by all TV at the moment, tbh.
  • I can be an unbelievable numbskull at times.
  • Highlight of the month so far: slowly burning in the Jazz Butcher's garden reminiscing, talking balls, magazines, bass players, cats, Chermans and wondering when he's going to buy himself a cafetiere that doesn't deposit half the coffee on the floor.
  • It hasn't escaped me I just don't want to tempt fate by talking about it.
  • I don't know if it's just the mood I've been in for weeks but I am still playing God Is An Astronaut to death. I have been playing them just about every day for over two months now and purchased my first album by them - using an Amazon gift voucher before you start thinking I'm being frivolous with my dole money. They have a new album coming out in September and Roger has offered to take me to see them. GIAA are post-rock, like Mogwai but good (with tunes).
  • I have also been heavily into David Bowie's albums between (and including) Young Americans and Scary Monsters.
  • I am sort of reading three books at once, but not. I am reading NOS 4R2 by Joe Hill, which is odd and weirdly disjointed unlike his previous novels. I also have his dad's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon in the loo and I'm several chapters into that. Plus I read the first part of the serialised King book The Green Mile but the film weighs too heavily on my memory at the moment. I'm trying to tell myself to think 'The Shining' and I'll realise that the book is different. The thing is, like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the film adaptation was that good...
  • I'd say my 2013 growing season has about a 70% success rate at the moment. We've got gooseberries, black and redcurrants that'll be ready by the end of next month; there will be raspberries but nowhere near the amount we had last year - and last year was shit and the new and established strawberry plants are so far behind what fruit I do get isn't going to happen for at least another 4 weeks, possibly longer. I would be very surprised to see any pick your own places before July and that's usually when the season is coming to a close. The nectarine has been decimated by some leaf crinkle; the apricot tree just looks like it would rather be in Fishwife's garden than ours; I don't count plums or apples but they are all well behind. Vegetables: my spuds are like the rest of everything, about 70%; a few haven't come up, while others are in need of being earthed up sooner rather than later. Beetroots are behind but alive. Tomatoes appear to be thriving but I'm rubbish with tomatoes so this'll end up being another exploded octopus of an attempt and the rhubarb doesn't look like it even knew it had been moved. None of my peppers have come up; one bean and that got eaten and no fennel at all. Now you can all sleep soundly tonight with that knowledge firmly tucked away...
  • One of my all-time favourite heroes and probably responsible for me winning more money on horses than I should have won died yesterday. Sir Henry Cecil - RIP.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A (n Old) Film Review

Monsters
a film by Gareth Edwards


"That's the film where nothing happens and then something with tentacles molests a petrol station isn't it?" Is possibly the funniest and pithiest one line review I've read about this film; yet, despite finding the review also quite accurate that was said by someone who hated this film, whereas I think it is an understated masterpiece.

Monsters is a love story between the slightly ditzy daughter of a media magnate and the deeply offensive photographer charged with ensuring she gets back to the USA from a rapidly disintegrating Central America. This is happening against a background of tension and fear brought about by aliens that were accidentally brought to Earth by a shuttle mission, which have colonised a huge part of Mexico and along most of the US border. It is a deeply paranoid world full of death, destruction, opportunism, the aftermath and gas masks.

The film is deeply allegorical. Scott McNairy, the photographer, has become desensitised to the havoc all around him and is a kind of empathy-less 'monster', drinking, womanising and generally treating the deprivation as an opportunity. Whitney Able, the media mogul's daughter, is out of her depth and ripe for exploitation; she is a monster in the way she is depicted as this rich young brat floating through the world, unaware of the real dangers and the only other main character, Mario Zuniga Benavides, a man who arranges for safe passage through or around the Infected Zone, is a true monster in that he worships Mammon and has obviously benefited from being a heartless, profiteering nasty piece of work.

You get almost 50% of the way through the movie without seeing much of the aliens at all; they appear on the TV in the background; there's evidence every where of their presence and the emphasis of the film is to show the way the relationship between Kaulder (McNairy) and Sam (Able) develops, or doesn't seem like it is, especially when a series of almost stupid things place her and then ultimately him in considerably more danger than either should have been.

Kaulders whiny attitude and Sam's rabbit-in-the-headlights ignorance is accentuated by the fact they are the 'aliens' in a foreign country; they are being exploited by the situation and they have little or no control but have to go wherever events take them - a little like the aliens when we finally meet them. It is never clear what affect they have on humans; if they are the source of any real infection and whether or not they just retaliate rather than act as aggressors; in fact, the aliens are as much used as an allegory as the rest of the film. It is a film makers film; it is a clever story tellers story; a great combination of an intelligent director using the script to best Illustrate what is going on without it really having to be said.

It is a film that doesn't rely on dialogue too much, but that isn't to say it lacks in powerful words; it's just the director has seen pain and beauty in much of the Central American landscapes he has chosen to use and this explains better than any dialogue what has gone on here.

The interesting, for me, thing about the film is how it speeds along despite there being big chunks where nothing much happens and it can feel like an amateur travelogue. But we're dealing with 8 legged octopus creatures and you get the sense that if something as weird as this actually happened, this is what it would be like, 6 years after the event; this is how people would react; this is more about the human condition than the alien 'invasion'.

It's possible that Edwards and his crew took advantage of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, because some of the scenes from the southern USA show harrowing scenes of destruction and desolation on a scale that belied the modest budget this film was made with and because of this stark realism it made it even more believable. As for the line about 'molesting a petrol station', this for me was the punch line, the raison d'etre of the film. The main characters are in a gas station that has, like everywhere else, been abandoned, presumably because the massive defences built along the border no longer stopped the aliens from spreading; it is clear that we're losing a war that only we appear to be fighting and to have the denouement in a petrol station is a perfect way of showing the ordinariness of everything outside of the aliens.

It appears that the aliens are like us in that they just want to be together, albeit for fleeting moments, to possibly procreate or just to say 'hi, I love you' and go back to whatever they were doing - and that is what happens at the gas station. While Kaulder and Sam reconnect with their lives, which in Sam's case is one she no longer wants and for Kaulder is a painful experience; two aliens find each other, fondle a bit while singing to each other and then go their own way just before the army turn up and return the movie to the harshness that runs through it like the ripple in ice cream.

It is a road movie and a love story with some aliens as a background but there is a parallel line between the two stories, one told so subtly that you could miss it, or not care about it, because even when the inevitable happens between our two main characters you can't help thinking that neither of them have become any more likeable as individuals, but together they have some spark and even with that there is abruptness and more allegory.

There are things that happen that make you question certain actions, the same way you shout at the single girl wandering down into the cellar full of psychopaths; yet, this is set in the future and embraces the fact that things like iphones and the digital age are in our consciousness all the time; the feeling that you can walk past something deadly, but as long as you're taping/filming it you've got immunity.

I described it as 'understated' and that is exactly how it wants itself to be seen; a story about two not even ordinary people thrown together because of the desperation of the situation. You don't even think they have a future after the credits roll because that isn't what this film is about.

A mention for the hauntingly superb incidental music by Jon Hopkins, which really added to the atmosphere and conveyed a sense of change, of menace and of an uplift in fortunes.

I can completely understand why people didn't like the film, how they found it boring because for lots of it nothing happens, but life is like that and you don't need to have massive budget special effects or lots of monster screen time to put across the feeling of doom and foreboding. The fact that the special effects cost less than a terraced house in Telford to make and were done on a laptop and then added to the film after is a testament to excellent film making and the vision that Edwards had. If his reboot of Godzilla is atmospherically anything like this we can safely consign the 1999 popcorn movie to history.

Monsters isn't what you expect but don't let the fact it isn't an action adventure movie with aliens stop you from enjoying it; if there hadn't been aliens in it and the two protagonists were just fleeing a civil war people would be calling it a work of genius.

8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Nostalgia Factory - The Late 1970s

June 6, 1976

37 years ago, on a very hot and sweaty day, during the longest, most memorable summer this country has ever offered up, a kid called Steve Gibbons and I got on a train in Northampton and went to London. We were both 14 and our parents were a little concerned that we were going off to The Smoke with £15 in our pockets - that was a King's ransom in those days and both mothers had visions of us being mugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. I'm sure my mum secretly hoped the last of those choices would happen; I was never the most acceptable of children.

My memories of this day are quite vivid, although where we went never quite seemed to tally with later memories I had of the same place. I was attending one of four events being held in the capital that year - I was going to the quarterly comic mart at Central Hall in Westminster, which I said never seemed to tally with my earliest memory of the place when I returned there many times during the 1980s and 1990s. 

A marks the spot where the comic mart was held and that triangle of green in front was where I sat and went through a huge carrier bag of more comics than I'd ever had at one time. It was about 90 degrees.
I remember despite the temperature being in the high 80s my mum insisting I took a jacket with me. I remember sitting in a park, adjacent to the hall, which appears to still be there, sort of. I remember seeing a Silver Surfer #1 on the wall behind a stall for sale at £25, which, of course, was £10 more than I had in my pocket and that £15 was also supposed to pay for tube fares, lunch, drinks and any incidental costs. Oddly enough the comic was being sold by a guy called Mike Conroy who would later become a friend of mine despite him stealing my job and treating me like shit for the last 12 years because I suggested he wasn't whiter than the white that everyone thought he was. He's still producing a comics magazine, after a fashion.

I'd been into comics for a couple of years by that time; I mean seriously into collecting rather than just buying whatever took my fancy at the local newsagents. But this was the thing that started me falling for it big time. I'm still not sure who to blame...

37 years ago I was still a virgin; I'd probably not drunk any beer because my parents still hadn't gone into the pub business (although I had got drunk the Christmas before and got into very serious trouble for smashing an empty bottle of vodka on the doorstep of our Standens Barn home). The people I associated with I have no links with whatsoever now. I know one of them lives down in the Portsmouth area (well, did about 15 years ago); but the others, Steve Gibbons included, could all be dead. Odds suggest one of them probably is. It might be Derek Paisley, who I have not seen since I was 16; or Sara Bradford (who always had the most phenomenal tits) who I saw four years ago and had barely changed. It could be Denise Bertram, who I actually haven't seen since 1977 (and hadn't thought of until just now, when I remembered her surname like it was yesterday and there are some girls I slept with in the early 1980s who I can't remember the names of), or Michael Plummer, who apparently went to prison (or his nerdy brother, who looked like he would either become a geek or a serial killer). The wife bumped into a relative of one of the people I used to hang with who still lives in that part of Northampton's Eastern District and some people I did know in in 1976 are no longer with us.

37 years ago I still abhorred smoking and used to campaign at my folks about them stopping and this, at a time, when the dangers of smoking were only universally being made public. I went to Lings School and was already developing a reputation - as the guy who could put together a magazine, or knew about comics and films and geeky stuff and while I never, ever thought of myself as a geek, I suppose all the girls who I fancied did.

One of my favourite stories, one I tell teenagers who have just started smoking or want to stop, which is also quite tragic now I have a COPD diagnosis, was the real reason I started smoking: to get in some girl's panties...

It was early in 1978, I was 15, nearly 16, and was going out with this girl called L, who was a year younger than me and not at all like her 16 year old sister C, who smoked, talked about blow jobs and obviously put out. L was Chastity Belt Girl compared to her sibling and C had a friend, S, who unbeknown to me fancied the pants off of me and as she appeared to have the same policy about sex as C did, my pants would have been gone pretty quickly...

Logic, when kids use it to their own devices, is a fucking odd thing. Take this 'logic' for example: "C quite fancies you but you don't smoke..." So I started smoking because C was 7 months older than me and as fit as fuck compared to her sister L. 

L continued to not put out, while C started to canoodle with me behind her sister's back; S all the time looking on wishing it was her. Now, trying to avoid the minutiae of teenage sexual shenanigans of the 1970s, you'd think that I would be happy because C was more than happy to get into my knickers, but she seemed reluctant for me to reciprocate (yeah, I know...), but it all boiled down to the fact she was a 5th former and I was in the 4th form (that's years 10 and 11 to you modern people) and she probably didn't like the idea of someone younger seeing her front lady bottom. Anyhow, I never really got to go out with her and I'd started smoking and I heard that S really fancied me, but she turned me down because I stunk like an ashtray and she didn't go out with boys that smoked (although she changed that opinion about a year later...) and I ended up with a habit and no notch on the bedpost (we did things like that in the 1970s; it was a primitive time).

Just because I fancied a shag I have cut short my life span. See? Sex is unbelievably dangerous in a vast array of ways. I'm amazed the human race is still alive.

Oddly enough, just to tie the two things above together a little better. By the time I got to be 15, I'd stopped telling people about or talking about my comicbook interests. For some strange reason I'd noticed that girls seemed slightly put off. I couldn't understand why... But I soon learned not to talk about it. At the time there was a relatively high profile comics person called Alan McKenzie, who I got on quite well with at that stage of my life - Alan was about 6 years or so older than me and was young, trendy and loved the girls. He came in for a lot of criticism from comics nerds for admitting that he never tells girls what he does for a living or that he was involved in comics. His argument was quite simple; by hiding this fact he was getting much more sex than the rest of them put together. I saw myself as someone who should follow that specific McKenzie ethic. Neither L or C knew about my comics habit and S only learned of it because she spent a lot of time in my bedroom in 1979 (nudge nudge, wink wink, you know what I mean?) by which time she didn't care and neither did I.

Had I discovered something else to devote my time to, there is no doubt at all that my life would have been completely different. I sometimes reckon comics kept me alive - not directly, but because it was something that allowed me to focus my energies (of which there were lots) and kept my imagination working. Had I decided to, I dunno, pursue a career as a basketball player or a mechanic, maybe I would be dead by now and not from having smoked myself to death.

Oh, incidentally, on Monday I will have been packed up smoking for 10 months and while my lungs are never going to be 100% again, I feel healthier, much healthier than I did and oddly enough the sex is fantastic...

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Another (Old) Book Review

From A Buick 8
Stephen King

You can count the number of Stephen King books I have read more than twice on one hand - Salem's Lot, The Stand, Insomnia and now From A Buick 8. There are a number of stories I have read more than twice - The Mist, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Mrs Todd's Shortcut and a few more, and there are the books that will be read a third (or even a fourth) time. King and I have an ongoing relationship and at times that familiarity has bred contempt; however, when he writes something that is exceptional, re-reading it can have a number of effects - like watching a film again, you see things you missed first time around and that makes the re-reading all the more worthwhile. When you read a book for the third (or in the case of The Stand fifth) time it is like sitting down with an old friend and things you forget come flooding back.

I recall loving this book when it came out. I did review it but I have no idea where and I think it might have been on my original blog, so that would be in the ether of the Internet's theoretical graveyard. I also think it was the last King book that I really, really loved. It was written between 1999 and 2002, during the time when King had been involved in his own car story. In fact, I think many people repudiated the idea that he could have possibly been working on another malevolent car story before almost dying in a hit and run accident - people thought this was a product of King's PR department. I was very much of the opinion that King was writing about his own experience while weaving another Christine type story - how wrong was I?

FAB8 is a book that spans 23 years in a couple of hours. It tells the story of something so remarkable that it becomes mundane and how rational men can allow the irrational to co-exist next to them while simultaneously getting on with getting on. The thing that makes this book possibly one of the best stories King has ever told is how utterly believable a story it becomes despite being possibly the weirdest idea he's ever had. If a story about something that resembles a car from another dimension can be even considered 'believable' it's made even more unlikely by the fact that it is set almost entirely in the grounds of a Pennsylvania Police Station, inhabited over those 23 years by over 100 State Troopers, who all managed to keep the story of the Twilight Zone Car From Hell under wraps and a subject that was never spoken about outside of the 'family' of officers.

I am now going to go off on a big tangent, but it is ultimately important.

I touched on an idea in my recent review of Lisey's Story that suggested that sometimes King plays with 'other worlds' just outside of 'our' world and the world of Roland of Gilead, which many believe most of King's novels are linked to, either directly or indirectly. I actually think there is another underlying theme, less dynamic but still there all the same. Bare with me for a second... Investigate Kings books and stories and you'll find links galore, most people know this - whether these links were direct: an actual mention of Roland or his world in a story; or indirect: a character or event from a direct story turning up in a definite indirect story. Yet sometimes things didn't quite... fit. Take Rose Madder as an example - what appear to be definite links to the Dark Tower saga, but equally the links might not really be links at all, they could be links to another, different, just-as-important-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things reality. The point is there is a character in Rose Madder who later turns up in Desperation and therefore in The Regulators. These two - linked - books might be associated to The Dark Tower but this particular avenue King went down might just possibly be a red herring. While there appear to be distinct links between Rose Madder, Desperation and The Regulators it might also be possible that because King has created all these vast array of different realities, these books might just be similar in theme because of their close proximity to other King novels. The point I'm trying to make is even though there is a definite Dark Tower 3 reference in Rose Madder - a mention of a city called Ludd - and there is a similarity between the fantasy world that Rose escapes to and the world of Roland - they might be Ludds from different realities as there were cities both called Topeka in different realities in the Dark Tower books.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

The point I'm trying to make, but failing dismally, is that I think King has/plays with a number of 'realities'; he uses the multiverse card while suggesting that some realities are more important than others. This is perfectly illustrated in The Dark Tower finale when Susannah is reunited with her (slightly different) loved ones in a reality that isn't any the ones she'd previously been to. If anything positive comes from the Dark Tower series of books it's the almost cast iron admission that there are untold realities and dimensions.

While the Dark Tower story tries to big itself up as kind of the second most important one after the reality that we, King's constant readers, live in, there is weirdness that lurks in those pages that has lurked in the pages of other King stories. A weirdness that might be so alien that even Roland of Gilead and his gunslingers would run scared. In the Dark Tower stories there are often references to 'Thinnies' - areas where the walls of reality are thinnest and it allows people to cross over, sometimes without even realising it, into different versions of the world they have just been in. However, 'thinnies' are anything but benign portals, some of them appear to be doorways into worlds where the laws of what we call reality don't exist. To further illustrate this, in the dark Tower stories Roland goes to great lengths to keep his ka-tet away from them as much as possible and they are often portrayed as places that border on the totally alien and anything that falls into one will die horribly.

So keeping the contents of these thinnies in mind, let us briefly skirt around the edges of yet another couple of stories before getting back to the business in hand. In the collection of short stories called Skeleton Crew there are two stories that, on the surface, seem completely unrelated, yet I believe have more to do with the jumbled theory above than is perhaps considered. The opening story in that compilation is The Mist and it has always been a damned weird book once you strip away the nastiness of humanity. I always saw that story as a strange juxtaposition between the creatures outside of the supermarket and the creatures a lot of the humans were becoming inside it, but it's when the story avoids its humans that it gets very odd.

You may have seen the film? It's about a big storm followed by a mist which has creatures - very alien creatures - lurking in it that come out and kill anything that moves. The creatures range from very small to unbelievably huge and it becomes very obvious very quickly that somewhere else has been merged with this world and the 'somewhere else' monsters are winning - very easily. Like FAB8 it doesn't really have an ending, just a hanging position that can go many ways and what made it so different from other King stories at the time was its attempt to be 'so different'. It worked. It also should be noted, purely as a bit of fun, that a quarter of the book takes place in cars.

Mrs Todd's Shortcut is a lovely little short story about a woman in her 40s who, like me, has a passion for shortcuts and will try anything to shave seconds or miles off a specific journey. In many respects it is a story about a car, and on the face of it has zero similarities to The Mist or FAB8, except... The two punchlines of the story are that Mrs Todd eventually manages to cut the 180 mile journey down to about 50 miles and that it's a kind of crazy love story; however there are two massive clues in the story about the nature of the story itself. The first is the transformation of Mrs Todd into a kind of younger version of herself - whenever she does the journey she seems to be knocking years off of herself (something touched on in Rose Madder, but more so in Insomnia) and secondly, when the man she eventually runs away with does the journey for the first time, he describes part of it like going through an alien world where the willows were not trees and strange frog-like creatures watched from stumps of things that might not have once been trees. Mrs Todd is obviously driving through a thinnie (but is so pumped up she barely notices). The Mist seems to suggest the government found a thinnie and tried to experiment with it - all these stories probably take place in realities similar to or close to all other King stories.

The Buick in FAB8 (which isn't really a car at all, just a kind of approximation of a car because the people looking at it perhaps wouldn't comprehend what it really looked like), in my humble opinion, is a thinnie made real. Perhaps from a dimension so alien that the only way it could be allowed to be in our reality is by making it look vaguely like something most of the people who would look at it could understand; even if there were so many parts of the 'car' that were off scale or just not right. This theory is constantly backed up throughout the book by the things that get deposited through the car's trunk/boot onto the garage floor, or the strange effect the car had on people, animals and just generally the entire area, especially when it was active.

Briefly (and with spoilers), the 'car' was left at a Pennsylvanian petrol station in 1979 by an odd man wearing a wide brimmed hat. He was never seen again and the local police impounded the car and before long they started to realise that there was something totally wrong with it. It couldn't drive, in fact it looked like a kind of version of a Buick 8 that a kid might produce. Then it started behaving weird (and took a trooper as its first 'meal') and intermittently continued to act weird for another 22 years. Enter Ned Wilcox, son of the car's original 'custodian' who was now dead State Trooper Curtis Wilcox. Ned being a 21st century kid wants to know how an entire police department could live with this most bizarre of receptacles without a) being more than just fleetingly curious and b) without the rest of the world finding out. Over the space of the book, the boy's father's former boss and his compadres try to explain to the boy the truth behind the strange thing in Shed B, the connection it appeared to have with his father and the old CO and while Ned never seems to grasp it, us, the constant reader, has already started to see a connection - the car controls things.

The 'car' is in the best place it can be and because of its very nature, it's totally alien with no real point of reference nature, it is very easy to leave work and get on with the rest of your life - something Ned just can't understand. As the book unfolds, it becomes clear to Ned's father Curt that the car is theirs to protect the rest of the world from and it will never fully be explained, even if the world's most advanced scientists had it. In the end, Curt comes to believe that it falling into the hands of the PSP was the best thing that could possibly have happened to the rest of us.

There is also an irony in the story that only rears its head towards the end; there are so many entwined connections throughout the book - the person who 'finds' the Buick is the person who, while drunk, kills Curt, but much wider than that; the troopers all think it's just sat there and 'performed' every so often, but it could be that it has been responsible for many things that have happened, either at the police station or in the vicinity of where it was originally found and it wasn't until someone sat down and tallied everything up that you saw that the Buick had far more control than is ever suggested.

I also believe this is something of a tip of the hat to Lovecraft in that King is dealing with an almost unspeakably different kind of being. A lot of Lovecraft's stories could have the sub-text 'I haven't got the imagination to describe this' and King addressed this - the world where the Buick comes from and the creatures that eventually spewed out of its over-sized trunk were not like anything ever described by him or other horror writers I've ever encountered. He attempted to paint a picture of something so alien that characters' minds could barely comprehend what they were seeing and even if they did it was so wrong it made their other senses go apeshit. The way that everything that was described throughout the book had the caveat of 'well, that's the closest we can get to it because in reality it was so different it hurt my eyes to look at it' and its this particular subtext that makes FAB8 such a brilliant book. The simple fact that the things that came out of the car were so alien, once they'd gone our minds went out of their way to attempt to expunge all traces/memory of it.

One of the book's other tragic characters explains to Ned that some of things they saw were so wrong that it took months for people to get a good night's sleep, but once they left Troop D and got on with their own lives it was easy because the memories disappeared as quickly as dawn mist; it was only at night when the true alien nature of the car and its contents would go to work on the people who thought they'd forgotten about it. Plus, how do you explain something that is described as being so alien it hurts your eyes to look at and makes your stomach twist in knots because it just doesn't make sense in your head.

In the end what I adore about this book is the inconclusive nature of it because that's how life often is. There are no grand explanatory endings in real life; sometimes things just happen. When someone you love dies you cannot comprehend how the rest of the world can just... carry on - don't they understand your pain? Of course they do, it's just this is a big planet and sometimes there are no resolutions; it is what it is and what good is there challenging it if you're not going to get the answers you want? The book could easily have been called 'A series of weird events in Pennsylvania between 1979 and 2002' except that might not have sold as well. Ned, in this story, represents the rest of us, the people who want answers, especially in horror books, and ultimately he too discovers, with age, that you cannot become too obsessed with something as undefinable as this Buick 8; you have to get on with your life otherwise you would go mad searching for answers you will never find.

It's also very scary, laugh out loud funny in places and deeply sad. In many respects I'm gobsmacked the book is so good considering when it was written, but it also suggests that the pre-accident Stephen King was still capable of doing weird exceedingly well and the post accident King allowed that weirdness to remain.

I really can't recommend this book enough.                                             9/10