Friday, October 14, 2016

A Pointless and Critical Analysis of The Walking Dead’s World and Why It Makes Little Sense

**Twelve months ago today I wrote a blog based partly around the concept of zombies and why they resonate with the living as proper scary monsters. Rereading that blog today I had a strong urge to do something utterly trivial with the same concept...

I give you the closest I have got to being a real geeky nerd for a long time mixed with the miserable git many of you know and love...

The Walking Dead started as a cult comic book and eventually became a massive TV hit, spawning a companion series and propelling Robert Kirkman, the ‘creator’ of the series into Spielbergian realms of fame and opportunity.
As any die-hard fan of the comic or TV show will tell you, it’s never really been about the zombies (a word that is NEVER used in the series), it’s been about the survivors. TWD is a bleak dystopian drama that shows how low humans will go to survive and has become more of an analogy of how some people believe humanity would perceive a post-apocalyptic world.
The problem is, while I have been a fan of the show since it began, it is hard work and during season 6, which started brilliantly and ended like some many other TV series now, as more of an introduction to what will happen in the next series, I started to think about the three or so years that Rick Grimes and his glum posse of survivors have been lurching around the locality of southern USA and while I’m no expert, I began to pick holes in the entire concept – not of a zombie apocalypse, but of what sensible humans would do in the event of one.
The genius of TWD’s set-up is there has never been any explanation about the plague, nor has there been anyone ‘official’ in it – no government, no radio broadcasts, nothing official. Therefore as a viewer we have no idea what the percentage of survivors is and while the world might be readjusting to it in some cities, in and around Atlanta, Georgia and in Virginia it’s the Wild West with flesh eating Indians and psychotic cowboys.
I mean, if you had half a brain you’d sit down and look at your situation and make some plans, which would be reassessed once you realise that it’s you versus everything. The problem is, while TWD has never been clear about the actual amount of time that has passed since Rick woke up in a hospital room (which itself was suggested to be about two weeks after everything went to Romero-land in a hand basket) and the point at the end of season 6 where one of his team faces certain death at the end of a militarised baseball bat, we have to presume that a minimum of three years has elapsed. Filming schedules means we rarely see a Georgia winter, but we have seen autumn leaves a number of times, so let’s presume Rick, Michonne, Carol, Darryl and all the others have been on the road for three years...

1. Food
TWD is set in and around some of the hottest and most humid areas of the USA. Research tells that almost everything that is organic in origin will begin to rot within a relatively small period of time. During the hotter months the humidity is so high that bread can go mouldy inside 36 hours and, more importantly, dry goods, even well packaged, succumb to the moisture in the air considerably quicker than in more temperate or drier regions. That means when we see a cast member munching a cracker or a biscuit they have found in a glove compartment or ignored in a deserted store, it should be soft, mouldy and inedible.
I have a friend who has lived in that area all his life, I asked him about food longevity and he confirmed things go off quickly. “Packets of chocolate chip cookies have gone stale within two days of opening them, hell, even Hostess Twinkies go off.” 
2. Water
It would be very stupid to drink any water, especially if the series is now three years since the Walker Apocalypse. Stream and river water would highly likely be contaminated, either by a number of pollutants or simply dead bodies. Bottled water, especially in areas where it will be heated, cooled, heated and cooled repeatedly runs the risk of whoever drinking it getting Legionnaire’s Disease. Most health bodies do not recommend drinking bottled water that has had the seal broken or is more than three years passed its sell by date. Water can go off just as easily as milk and therefore the safest things to drink would be alcoholic. Unless you have a way of filtering rain water or want to boil everything.
3. Vegetation/wildlife
Apparently in Georgia and surrounding states nothing grows or overgrows. Admittedly the constraints of budget and where they have to film dictate certain factual inaccuracies, but botanists, scientists and expert gardeners will tell you that inside one year, left unchecked, most vegetation will begin to encroach and take over anything man-made. After three years everywhere should resemble unkempt fields and meadows, roads would be covered, anywhere where vegetation exists in abundance would be overgrown.
Wildlife is portrayed as being eaten by man and walker. There are no deer anywhere; no domestic cats, in fact except for a couple of horses, some wild boar and some dogs, TWD world is almost devoid of any kind of life – no fish, no amphibians, no birds... Some of these are explainable, but generally animals outnumber people by a ridiculous amount and the USA has bears, coyotes, wolves, wildcats, mountain lions... Do I need to continue this list? Sheep can go feral if left away from humans for long enough... Why don't animals succumb to the same virus as humans? How come we haven't got flocks of zombified buffalo or armadillos?
4. Decay
Georgia isn’t a dry state like California is (where FTWD is based) and the point about humidity made regarding food is also prevalent with the general infrastructure and the Walkers. A book a friend has recently read by an undertaker points out that the human body decomposes almost 50% faster in hot and humid environments; it’s one of the reasons that funerals are fast and done quickly in hot countries.
Now, even if the walkers rate of decomposition was much slower by virtue of the virus, within three years the original first year walkers would have rotted from constantly getting wet from rain (as was witnessed early on in the series when they found a dead guy in a well), being frozen and defrosted constantly every winter, any of the elements from thunderstorms to high winds – dead humans would be as liable to erosion as everything else. Bones would become brittle and shatter; teeth would fall out, fingers drop off, clothes would rot – the smell alone would be horrendous, which leads us nicely to...
5. Climate/Environment – these states down south also have winters (as hinted at a couple of times) and sometimes temperatures can drop well below freezing for long periods and snow and ice storms are frequent throughout the winter months. The average lowest temperature during the winter is a reasonably nippy -4c, which would freeze the walkers – they generate no heat because they are dead and are effectively the same ambient temperature as any non-living object. This means they would snap or break if they attempt to move while frozen; could shatter if they fall and generally would be considerably easier to deal with if they were frozen to the road or a tree. Eventually the environment would become a far more dangerous adversary to the Walkers than any band of psycho humans.You have to ask yourself why the survivors haven’t broken into a library, looked up self-sufficiency; tried to find where the nuclear bunkers are, the survivalists, the people who installed generators, solar panels, independent water supplies – such as a well or an unpolluted mountain stream? Why haven’t they moved into the mountains where not only is the water safer, but the distribution of walking dead will be considerably less and much easier to deal with. Plus they have natural defences – high up, good vantage point against not just the dead but the nutters who still live. Why haven’t they given themselves an advantage? Considering the people ‘in charge’ are in charge, no one has come up with a plan to avoid the walkers; no common sense is being applied when you consider it is very clear that the real enemy in the series is now each other rather than the slow and usually easily dispatched dead. 
Obviously, a TV series about a bunch of self-sufficient mountain dwellers, safe in their beds with good solid defences against the rest of the world would probably make very dull TV. Just look at spin-off series Fear and its lifeless characters, dull plots and a post-apocalyptic world full of wankers – the creators of all of this must think the rational people will be the first to succumb to the bite of a zombie (probably due to our general disbelief) and the only people left will be the idiots who are too stupid to end up being bitten by anything. The underlying theme in both TWD series is the stupidity of people, it’s not really about surviving because it’s a TV series not real life.

So ask yourself this – if there was a zombie apocalypse tomorrow, would you make the same decisions as Rick and his mates or would you look for somewhere safe, well-stocked and presumably a place where, in this world, even Bear Grylls would forget about if a zombie was trying to bite his ear off?

Sunday, October 09, 2016

A Wonderful Lack of Sleep

Remembering Insomnia...

Shortly after Christmas 1994, I started reading what would eventually become one of my favourite novels. I have read it four times since and have just started a fifth.

I have recommended this book to a number of people and every single one of them have felt it is the author's best work (although none were that well-versed in his stuff) and a book they were glad they read.

I have seen this book described as 'science fiction' and as 'horror', 'fantasy' could also be attached to it and I'm sure it falls into all of them categories, yet I don't think of it as any of them. The fact it is written by Stephen King also doesn't automatically mean it should be pigeon-holed - some of his best work hasn't got a ghoul, monster or malevolent spirit anywhere near them. In many ways it could be considered one of the strangest of King's oeuvre and yet also the most revelatory in his exploitation of his own shared universe.

Recently, I found out that this book is considered the 3rd worst Stephen King book, in a poll, involving fans. The fact that Pet Semetary was in the top 10, perfectly explains to me the pointlessness of these kinds of polls and the opinions of supposed die-hard fans. That said, the same die-hard fans are getting excited about a Dark Tower series of films, despite the fact the series ended up being an enormous waste of useful words and the films of Stephen King are not likely to feature that heavily in an award-winning retrospective, with only one, maybe three, notable quality exceptions.

Insomnia has never been made into a film. Is called 'boring' by King fans and it doesn't have much of a happy ending. It hasn't been made into a film because it's possibly the most complicated single story of any King novel. Boring is a subjective concept, but I can understand how there's far more discussion and less action than your average blockbuster, but perhaps these people lose sight of the fact that the main character Ralph Roberts starts the book in his 70s or his beau Lois Chasse is also a septuagenarian. Or perhaps these people, who find it boring, have never known what it's like to actually get to know someone; because that is the first thing about this book that makes it endearingly wonderful; it takes its time getting to know the main characters and because of that you become emotionally interested in their adventure long before their adventure starts getting weird.

As for the not having a happy ending, it reminds me of the huge box office failure of the adaptation of a King written short story The Mist, which probably would have been one of the US's top sales hits had it not been for the utterly bleak ending. US audiences hated it, yet it received amazing reviews all over the world. In the short story of The Mist it concludes with the protagonist contemplating the worst; in the film he does the worst, it has no redeeming qualities. The difference between it and Insomnia is the latter does have a happy ending; it just doesn't have the happy ending that the reader wants.

Essentially, it is the tale of two lonely old people, both have lost their long-term partners and are both winding down their last days on earth. The focus of the story initially falls on Ralph who, after the death of his wife, begins to suffer insomnia and then exhausts everything in trying to cure it. It becomes as much of an obsession as his wife's terminal illness had become and before long what appears to be his sleep deprivation begins manifesting in peculiar ways - Ralph starts to see 'auras' or an arrays of strange 'lights' emanating from tops of peoples heads. Some are healthy, some are anything but, and some are unlike anything else. Not only is Ralph hallucinating strange things, he also appears to be getting younger and fitter again - although he initially dismisses it as part of the sleep psychosis he must be suffering from.

If waking up every night at 3am, regardless of what time he goes to bed, is bad enough, he begins to see three oddly rotund figures - without auras - that Ralph nicknames the 'Three Bald Doctors' and eventually there is an encounter between them all, but not before Ralph discovers that Lois is also having trouble sleeping and also sees strange things. Lois is also looking 'well fit'.

Eventually they discover that there is something wrong with the order of things and it might be to do with Ralph's young neighbour Ed, who has a wife and young daughter that the old man and his late wife had taken a shine to, as they had no kids of their own. Wrapped up in his own troubles, Ralph has paid little attention to Ed's young wife; not noticed the bruises or the unhappy child.

Now, there is no real way to convey the general weirdness of the book without having to go into minutiae. To King fans much of the weirdness is easily explained - the book is set in the fictitious Derry, home to It and setting for a number of King's most popular books. There are odd characters on the periphery of the book who are strange anomalies, one or two pop up in other books - something that often happens in King's wild and wacky shared universe. There are also two cracking elements that prove to me how clever Stephen King is as a writer - although whatever place Insomnia was going to inhabit in the author's magnum opus The Dark Tower, may well have been changed due to the hit and run accident the writer was involved in during the late 1990s.

The book's initial antagonist is one of the doctors' who has gone rogue and represents the chaos in the grand scheme of things - he is the 'random', the reason for the unexplained, the unprovoked or the unexpected death. But this is normal - the two orderly bald doctors are quick to explain this to Ralph and Lois when they become embroiled in the madness, the problem is it has become clear that the bald doctor of the random is indiscriminately cutting peoples life forces under the direction of some other antagonist.

The true villain - and the first element of genius - is The Crimson King: the named-but-not-seen major villain in the (then) unfinished Dark Tower saga. Many of his Constant Readers, myself included, believed that Insomnia was a dry run; an attempt to tell the Dark Tower's story in a contemporary setting. This was either because King had grown bored with it at that point, or because he didn't know if he would finish it so he wanted to do an allegorical version - one that scholars could paw over in the future trying to find clues. Whatever the reason behind King's use of the Dark Tower antagonist, the references to and brief appearance of Roland of Gilead and prophesying the future, they appeared in a book that apparently had nothing to do with The Dark Tower's own labyrinthine continuity.

The second and most brilliant, yet most tragic is Patrick Danville - a boy whose appearance in the book is ridiculously marginal, but it actually the entire reason the book takes place...

Insomnia isn't about the metaphysical battle on different planes of existence between two OAPs and their helpers from a much higher level of existence in battle against a mythical villain and a psychotic former colleague. It's really about obsession and how to turn people into things they aren't. The back story in Insomnia, one that beats heavily throughout the book, is the forthcoming arrival of women's rights activist and pro-abortion campaigner Susan Day. While it never is the focus, it's always there in the background like a tooth beginning to decay. Yet even this thinly-veiled Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate isn't the story. The Crimson King has recruited Ralph's neighbour Ed Deepneau to sabotage the big rally being organised in the Day's honour, but why? What could a prominent Pro-Choice campaigner possibly have to do with a powerful villain of an alternate King universe?

Ed is taking flying lessons because he is going to fly a plane loaded with explosives into the football stadium that Susan Day is going to speak at and Ralph and Lois have to stoop him from doing it - the rest of what I've talked about is just a red herring... except for Patrick Danville.

Ed might think he's just killing a woman who believes that babies should be illegally harvested, but his real target is Patrick, because Patrick will save the life of someone in the future who will go on to change the world and if the Crimson King can prevent that from happening...

I'd say 'ironically' but frankly there was nothing ironic about the way King (Stephen, not the Crimson one) almost shoehorned Danville into his Dark Tower finale to try and close an opened circle (that he seemed to have conveniently ignored).

It was like this brilliant idea from the future was saved for us to read about it further one day but it ended up being a plot device on a bad Chuckle Brothers sitcom instead... This book had been set up as a cornerstone - a key element - in the battle between The Crimson King and Roland and his Ka-tet only to be forgotten about, then, as said, shoehorned (no other way of describing it) almost like an afterthought.

Anyhow, to save the day Ralph makes a deal with the evil bald doctor and it's from this point on where you know, even without the knowledge of having read it before, that there's going to be tragedy on the horizon and the kind you have no control over.

Insomnia is bonkers. It has oddly benign characters, who seem to exist outside of the normal world; different levels of existence, where time moves much faster; it teases us with the elixir of youth and then explains that all you have to do is not sleep; and it has lovely and wonderful characters that should easily remind you of your own grandparents or of someone's, at least. The story is considerably more complex and entwined than you think and, it has this jaw dropper of a moment when, as stated, it was all to save the life of someone who would save the life of someone else - so the great wheel of Ka needs to revolve.

And then there's the tears. The first time I read the book I howled at the end. The second time, armed with the knowledge of how it ends, I howled even earlier. The same with the third time and the fourth, but by this time you feel the hitching at the point where Ralph makes the deal with Atropos and yet you also know that Ralph is being everything he has already proved; he is being the best damned hero ever created by Stephen King and the best damned hero has to die being a hero otherwise it would all have been for nowt. [When Ralph makes a cameo appearance in Bag of Bones a few years later I think I blubbed again]

Insomnia is a dense, at times overly complicated, story about obsession, possession and desire. It has wonderfully rounded characters with believable lives and wholly individual voices. There are elements in this book that King has, sadly, never re-examined - such as Dorrance, one of Ralph's more 'knowledgeable' acquaintances and as I said, there are elements of the story that we do revisit in the future, but I can't help feeling not in the way most of us expected (a criticism levelled at the bastard offspring of The Dark Tower far too often), especially the reduction of Patrick Danville to tortured patsy to allow King to interpret an ending for his bloated folly (you can tell it pissed me off).

For me, this book isn't a tale about lack of sleep, it isn't even the encapsulation of the entire Dark Tower series before the author had his epiphany and screwed it all up, it's about the last of the selfless society; it's about friendship, love, honour, relationships and how they ebb and flow and it's about sacrifices. It is heartbreaking: especially when Lois pleads with Ralph in the final chapter - every time you read it you want her to convince him, because you want Ralph to die of the old age he's had reversed, not at the hands of the crazy bald doctor who had it all planned out. But, you see, he wouldn't have become the greatest character King has ever written if he'd just lived happily-ever after.

Ordinarily I'd just put it down to my own personal desire to not conform to the norm for liking this novel so much, but every person who has read it has felt the same way about Mr Roberts and about the story. I know someone who didn't really understand what it was all about but was hooked on the adventures of these two septuagenarian X Filers and the real-ness of them.

If you ever see it in a second hand book store, or you fancy paying full price, you won't be disappointed and it might also make you wonder just how 'off key' some of King's stuff is. One reiterated word of warning; don't allow the blatant cross-over tempt you into the world of The Dark Tower, because that way leads to anger, disappointment and serious levels of disbelief.

Friday, October 07, 2016

The Long Dark Velux Window of the Soul

Being one of the 50 million people who don't watch The Great British Bake Off, I have to say that between Channel 4 and Love Productions they have concocted a Top Gear scenario that, going by past efforts, is destined to fail. Essentially Paul Hollywood is The Stig but with less screen presence and worse lines. Expect Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc to replace Mel and Sue and your nan to replace Mary Berry.


The Daily Express regurgitated its regular 'We're all going to die under 20 foot of snow' article last week. When I say 'regurgitated' I actually mean it. The much-derided article that appeared in the paper and on line was essentially an update of the same piece, written by the same 'journalist' from September 2015, with some added bits like: 'we narrowly got it wrong last year' - 'Narrowly' being the Express's definition of 'last year was the warmest winter on record'.

The thing is, without wishing to sound like a weather bore, they're claiming this impending Winter of Death is going to be caused by a constant arctic airflow, covering the country in sub-zero temperatures like 1963. Now, severe winters in this country are usually caused by a blocking high pressure, somewhere over Scandinavia, which forces east and north easterly winds, directly from Russia and Siberia, straight at us. This is very cold air that is also quite turbulent which means low pressure areas can form along it, dropping lots of snow all over Europe.

Northerly winds, which are cold but not as bitterly cold as easterlies, have to pass over 3000 miles of ocean and oceans warm air up - maybe only marginally, but enough to turn it into shower producing weather - the key word there being 'shower' (a little like the forecasts run in the Express). It's not impossible for a northerly air stream to have a deep depression on it, but it's considerably less likely. Anyone who has paid any attention to the weather forecasts in the winter will remember or know that with most northerly winds come showers to north facing coasts - so Cape Wrath might be a freezing nightmare in January, but no one lives there apart from the armed forces and they're trained for that kind of nonsense.

There's also the 'Boy Who Cried Wolf' factor here. If newspapers continue to stupidly forewarn us of impending apocalypses then when one does come along people will probably ignore all the warnings.


Many people I know think that I have become a Luddite over the last 15 years. They're probably right. When I worked in comics, I was as close to being an early adopter (or whatever they were called) as I was ever likely to become. Unfortunately my innovative ideas and approach to technology was an unmitigated failure (despite being years ahead of the field) and I lost interest in the advancement of things like mobiles, PCs, wifi and all those terms I avoid using that are common place now.

As a result, every facet of my life is NOT connected to my phone or my PC. I am not 'synced' with everything. I don't run my entire life through my phone and as a strange consequence I get really angry when I'm forced to change my passwords to something that according to various reports is easier to hack than individuals weird choices. The pattern of the new - insisted upon - passwords is clear - at least 8 characters, two of which must be numbers - that narrows down the possible combinations for a hacker by about 90%, whereas if you had a password something like 'IthinkStingsmellsofsick' (which isn't any of my passwords, I just thought it up right here and now) I'm guessing unless you're Trudy Styler then no hacker is going to even go there.

The thing is without wishing to sound like someone from the 16th century, I could see it all coming. The internet isn't a safe place to do your business. It isn't a safe place to store passwords, bank account details, or every photo you've ever taken, including the questionable ones of your wife and the dog... We get a reminder of this fact about every 12 months when all the biggies are broken into and information is stolen.

Plus, at least 52% of the population of this country alone are fuckwits and probably have passwords to suit their IQs. If you depend on the 'cloud' and the 'net' and your electronic devices, you ain't arf gonna be fucked if we have a mother of electro-magnetic pulses or a rogue state decides to target the west via the thing that'll probably hurt them the most - the internet.

The fact that Japan has mobile phone lanes on pavements is an indictment of how stupid the world is becoming... And it's only going to get worse.


Is it me or has The Guardian softened its anti-Corbyn stance? They still attack the man, but with less ferocity and there's even a modicum of support for him at times. I wonder if this has anything to do with the loss of a third of its readership since the neo-liberal Katherine Viner took over as new E-i-C.

The Guardian had become an extremely expensive anti-Labour paper and one that I personally would have dumped years ago, but the newspaper is fantastic as covering for the floor of the duck shed and nothing absorbs duck poo and pee like an established broadsheet.

Apparently though, if I was to obtain the Daily Mail or Express, maybe even The Sun, I'd only have to wave it at the duck shed and all the shit would be attracted to the paper as if by magic...


Mentioned briefly in a blog entry that ended up being deleted (because it read like a drunken rant) is the fact we've discovered one of the reasons why some houses in the part of Scotland we want to move to are so cheap. They're all riddled with damp, woodworm, rot and anything else you can think about that eats wood, concrete and probably people.

The house the wife had set her heart on turned out to be four walls surrounding a big pile of rotting shit and then the house I fancied ended up being even worse than the one the wife liked. Don't get me wrong, the part of Scotland we want to move to is still one of the cheapest in the country and we'll be able to buy a place near the sea or in the forest for much less than we would in most of England; but unless we're prepared to take on some kind of restoration project (which tend to be bottomless pits of money), we're going to have to be more realistic about our aims. Or so we thought...

Our new favourite is a Georgian style terraced house with established gardens (and a duck pond) in the place where The Wicker Man was filmed - Whithorn. It's not the most attractive of small Scottish towns and is pretty much isolated - 22 miles from the nearest large town and 40 odd from the nearest station; but it is only 3 miles from the coast and one of the better drinking establishments in southern Scotland and less than five miles from my personal favourite beach. We've even had someone go and look at the place for us and now we're nervously wondering if we can bring all of our plans forward by a few years.

And I've got to hope that both of us have the cajones to relocate there, because I think my dad would be disappointed with his three sons - not generally, just for their lack of spirit of adventure. My parents embodied everything that was good about being an inquisitive Brit in a post-war world. They lived in a pretty ravaged London and decided to do something daring - they moved to a new town. After a few years in a new town they decided to emigrate to Canada. While in Canada they moved around a bit - not like nomads, but like people searching for the right place in a new land and then (and I now believe that some of my mother's family conspired to bring them back) moved home and discovered newer new towns. Instead of staying in one place, they were always getting itchy feet - which might not have been good for their three boys, but they had very few selfish traits so this one is easily excused.

Bored with factory work and having climbed the management ladder as high as he could, my dad, ably assisted by mum, decided to do something quite extraordinary for them - they went into the pub business. What made this even weirder was that I was 15 when they did that and I could count on one finger the number of times my dad had been in a pub since I was born. That isn't strictly true because every New Year's Eve between 1970 and 1975 us and some friends always went to the Crossroads in Weedon, which back then was just a large pub that sold food - a very rare thing in those days, but the point is my parents were not pub people; they hardly drank and I thought they were antisocial because they didn't have that many friends (which wasn't the case at all, but how many teenagers really take any notice of their parents lives?).

After a few years of pubs, they went into clubs and moved back to the county of my birth, before ending up in Maidstone for nearly a decade - the longest they were anywhere. Then back to Northampton, for the third and for mum, last time. Even after we lost my mother, Dad's wanderlust never deserted him and he moved up to the area where my eldest brother lives and spent his last days pottering around Southport. He used to joke that perhaps he had some kind of geographical Saint Vitas Dance.

Now, let's look at the distinguished careers of Ron Junior, Steve and young (hah) Phil.

Ron: lived in Daventry for twenty odd years, moved to Liverpool and apart from moving down the road to Southport has been fairly static since 1969. The fact he's moved from West Northants to Lancashire is commendable when you consider...
Steve: has lived in Northamptonshire since 1969... and in just four houses since 1979 and all within leaping distance for the Hulk. Even yokels think he's a yokel.
Me: I ventured to London for a while, but only to live with my folks, then it was back to Northampton. I managed to move to Wellingborough in the late 80s, but was back here by 2000. I think I'm vying with my middle brother for the crown of lacking in the spirit of adventure and we're all at an age now where our old man was just starting to think about slowing down...

That's why it's imperative that the wife and I ensure that our dream (which has been there for 25 years) is finally realised. I might not have that long left and I'd rather not spend it wondering what if or always thinking I can put it off for a while. I'm just about fit and able enough to enjoy some isolated wilderness, bracing sea air and sporadic wifi. I'm still able to work and if necessary (or possible) I'll work in the local Co-op or Aldi to earn enough money to pay for the dog insurance and council tax.

I also don't want to think when I'm on my death bed that I spent too much of my life in what is essentially just a bit of a shit hole, regardless of what Alan Moore might think.


What is it with people no longer using paths/pavements? It's like people have decided - whether they're on foot or on a motorised arsehole scooter that the road is much safer than the path and the looks you get from them when you almost run them over is priceless. It's like people either have forgotten that cars can kill people, or they're so cocksure and confident of their position in the legal structure of the world that they know you're going to stop for them or drive round them.

I said it for a while with people in company cars versus any motor vehicle over 10 years of age. The driver of the company car knows you own your car and it's all you can afford and you might not even be insured, so they (and white van drivers) treat you and the road like they're doing you a favour being on them. People dicing with death by playing a kind of ignorance chicken are essentially saying 'fuck you, you wouldn't run me over'.

Perhaps we should, a couple of times, just as a deterrent.


That leads me nicely to NIMBYism.

I'm walking the dogs earlier in the week and the place where I sometimes park the car is being dug up for essential gas main repairs. This meant I had to park somewhere else; fortunately there's a lot of available places to park, which are safe to let the dogs out onto. So it isn't really a problem. Two minutes of inconvenience and frankly the dogs have no real concept of time.

At least three people made this the major topic of conversation when bumping into them along the walk. One man, a slightly elderly chap with a couple of lovely old dogs, was incensed - "It's bloody inconvenient. I've parked up there for twenty years. I don't know, they should think about other people before they do these things."
"They're doing gas main repairs."
"Well, they could do it some other time."
"When? After it's blown everyone up, or when it best suits you?" This wasn't said like it sounds, it was more in a jokey manner than to highlight his selfishness. He still didn't have an answer to that and I expect he'll give me a wide berth for a few weeks.

The thing is, that was exactly my next door neighbour last year when they were replacing all the gas pipes along our road. It was all so inconvenient and annoying and when I didn't agree with her and pointed out that there would never be a convenient time for everyone, so for peace of mind it's best to be inconvenienced for a few days than have a catastrophe, she just looked for someone else to agree with her at how bloody inconsiderate British Gas were replacing pipes when she didn't like it...

We're surrounded by these kind of selfish, self-centred, complete and utter wank splashes and we have governments and newspapers to thank for it. At some point they will rise up and bite the establishment on the arse... except, actually they'll bite it on the foot, because half of these idiots couldn't find their own arses with a map and a torch...


The wife likes Jürgen Klopp. She thinks he's a bit sexy.

I've hated Liverpool since they unceremoniously dumped Gerard Houllier (a very nice man) and became this football club that believed it deserved success, so spent the next twenty years whining about it.

The problem is, I like Jürgen Klopp too. He's so refreshingly different as a football manager and he also has a really wicked sense of humour and I'm sure he's a bit sexy (Problem is I think he looks like my mate Kelvin and he's a nerd) ...

This has created another problem. I can't hate Liverpool the way I have for the last 19 years. It's been easy, especially with the Fat Spanish Waiter in charge and that innocent Stevie Gerrard in their side; but those times have gone and we're left with an exciting looking team (not as good as mine, but knocking at the door) and I'm left with a dilemma as my best friend supports Everton and my solidarity with him about Liverpool is being put to the test.

What has to happen is Klopp needs to be tempted to manage Real Madrid or Barcelona and I can go back to hating Liverpool...


While I'm burbling, I've been having a kind of existential musical crisis for the last eight months or so. This thing is - why do I like (the) Cardiacs?

My only encounter with the band prior to this year was hearing a bit of something around 1980 (when they were a 'punk' band call Cardiac Arrest) and instantly dismissing it as shit (probably... you see I'm not even sure I consciously heard them at all). Therefore they never ever fell on my radar again and my circle of friends didn't really find them either and those that did didn't share their discovery (possibly for similar existential reasons).

I've harped on about Sing To God, the band's magnum opus double album from 1996 for best part of 2016, more because I can't believe I never heard it before and also whether it would have had the same effect on me had I heard it in '96.

Cardiacs are a pronk band. I'm not sure I agree that they're a prog punk band, but equally I'm not totally sure how you'd describe them. One of my favourite descriptions was my own - 'kind of like what you would have expected Pink Floyd to have become had Syd Barrett never left' but equally the wonderful 'there's more inventiveness in one song than some bands have in an entire career' is also a fabulous way of generally describing them. I'm not a musician, but I get the impression that even if you didn't get it you can still admire it.

We've been robbed of the genius of Tim Smith (the man behind the band); he's still alive but has been inactive because of serious ill health for nearly a decade and is unlikely to make a Lazarus-type return. Discovering his work - the magnitude of it - has been a welcome treat in a grim year, even if I'm not sure why I like it, only that some of it is remarkable.



Is the internet really just a load of rubbish?

Is it just one big Chinese whisper?

Have you ever looked for a curry recipe on the net? Were you ultimately slightly disappointed by your efforts to replicate that authentic Indian taste (or are you just used to bland Bangladeshi copies of the real thing)?

The internet has more recipes on it than I've got cells in my body and a huge wadge of these are Indian food recipes and if you need a recipe or some inspiration it is, at times, a very useful resource. The thing is has anyone really scrutinised some of these sites?

I first noticed something a bit weird when I was looking for a paneer jalfrezi recipe a couple of years ago and became slightly bemused by the fact that 22 of the first 25 recipes were all essentially the same, just presented in different ways with absolute minimal variation in the ingredients. And some of these sites were allegedly reputable places, with proper sponsors and shit like that. They surely didn't all cook this particular dish that way? Why was there no variation, at all? Why did every single recipe have carrot in it?

Then there was the other recipes, ones which were as inspirational as piles. When I look for ideas from recipes, I don't want a list of the vegetables you can use in a vegetable curry, I want to know what different types of spice combinations people use for their own (regional) variations of classic proper Indian food. So when I see a website which purports to be by some cook who originates from Gujarat, Karnataka or Kerala, I do not expect to see them promoting recipes which use shop bought curry powders or Patel's (other makes available) curry paste. That's like cheating at golf...

The thing is the more I searched, the more I tried different recipes the more I concluded that everyone - Asians included - must have aversions to hot or spicy food. Not only were all these recipes photocopies of a previous recipe, none of them were anything other than mediocre. They were meh. They were perfect for people who like their spicy food a bit milky...

A few weeks ago I stumbled on a website which had a recipe for a South Indian variation on Shahi paneer; which is essentially a Gujarati dish of thick gravy with cheese. Historically, for me, it is very nice, despite how it sounds, but usually as one of a variety of things - Thali style - not as an only course. I figured by adding some vegetables I could turn it into a wholesome main meal curry.

I had to take a double take at the ingredients because the first thing I saw was all the spice measurements were in TABLESPOONS not teaspoons. This curry had six Kashmiri chillies with the seeds removed, a tablespoon of coriander, a tablespoon of crushed garlic, 2 tablespoons of a garam masala mix involving cinnamon, cardamom, a clove, cumin seeds, black pepper, turmeric and a few other things. What I'm saying is it asked for FOUR times the spice I would normally put into a curry.

The outcome was most definitely a WOW! All of the spices were tempered by double cream, and it simply blew us away. It was really spicy, but because the seeds had been removed from the chillies it wasn't blisteringly hot; in fact the heat was lost by the flavours.

I've done six curries since then; five of them have been better than the one before and even saag paneer has taken on new dimensions. The last one didn't work so well, but it was the first one where I varied my spices to try and find new flavour combinations and sound like fucking Jamie Oliver...


I have to say that a little of me dies everyday I see some new act of hate occur in the country. It seems that being nasty no longer is something racists are privy to. Today, I got slightly pissed off at the driver of a BMW sports car cutting up other drivers and attempting to push in front of me because the driver, an attractive blonde woman, purposefully got in the wrong lane and then was prepared to rudely push her way in without any regard (or thanks most probably) for the people behind her.

So I thought 'I'm not having that' and stuck to the bumper of the car in front of me and didn't let her in.

I've been sworn at by experts. I've rarely been on the receiving end of a tirade like this. I think she thought I was going to acquiesce because she almost ran into the side of my car - with dogs in the back - and she starts honking her horn and ranting and raving at me through her open window.

I let the window down on the passenger side and heard her calling me something, so in my usual relatively quiet voice, I said, "So it's my fault you stupidly got in the wrong lane?" I turned away and started driving as the lights had turned to green. For the next 200 yards, on the slip road, I swear to whatever celestial beings there are it was like having Regan from The Exorcist in my rear view mirror. She was flicking the vees, making wanker gestures and generally acting like you'd imagine Phyllis Diller to be like having an anxiety attack (one for the kids there... eh?).

This continued as she sailed past me onto the dual carriageway and I ignored her.

I did create the situation, but honestly, you would have thought I'd accused her of being an air hostess blonde or a Corbyn supporter.


Doug is still systematically chewing his way through what's left of our house. He's lovely. I could kill him on an almost daily basis.

I grew a butternut squash. I think it's technically a miniature butternut squash.

I had massive success with my tomatoes this year. I have started eating tomatoes. I'm only 54.

I've been kept busy with mushrooms and a new drying machine. If I lived in Scotland I could turn it into a business...

Monday, August 08, 2016

Review: Sand - A Sleeper, Just Awake

A Sleeper, Just Awake
Vineland Music
Released - September 30

I feel both honoured and privileged to be given a preview copy of this new 'solo' album from North Atlantic Oscillation's Sam Healy. I suppose classing his debut eponymous Sand album as the best thing I've heard in the 21st century helps. I'm sure he'll be as pissed as hell at me telling you, he asked me to, you know, skip over it if I didn't like it... Yeah, like that's going to happen ... either way.

How do you follow up an album that I regard as the finest piece of music since 1999? By doing something familiarly different, that's how. But is it as good as 'Sand'? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm on listening #4 and what started as something considerably less welcoming than the debut is suddenly clicking into place. It's funny how music can do that.

On the first listening I got at least six moments where you get that chill running up your spine; the sensation that the lightning has been bottled again - and why not? I think Healy is a genius. It doesn't bother me a jot that I was listening to his contemporaries before his folks even thought of him, because his contemporaries don't have the 21st century to collect together half a century of song writing and condense it into something both completely modern and yet remarkably set in the kind of past you'd imagine in a Sinatra song.

Whereas Sand was a brilliant pop album; ASJA is anything but pop, yet it's splattered all over the record like it doesn't matter how hard he tries, Healy just can't shake a good riff. Plus, in many ways this is even more detracted from North Atlantic Oscillation, yet almost like stuff you'd imagine being done in the studio before Grappling Hooks came out. That's part of his brilliance - you know who he is even if he's wearing disguises.

Is it that awkward second album? It certainly is awkward at times, but not in a bad or negative way.

So, A Sleeper, Just Awake, what's it like?

Shall I get the awkward bit over and done with? I can see the influences and even if Sam disagreed with me, there are elements of Phil Collins (sounding like he really should have done more drugs when he was younger), as well as John Martyn, Steven Wilson and Guy Garvey. You can't help but draw parallels between this and especially the later Talk Talk albums because there's a 'jazz' sound at times - not jazz jazz but arrangement wise; like there was an element of sitting around the studio and seeing where something leads you. Despite what I'm about to say, the spirit of Mark Hollis is writ large here. I can also hear Scott Walker, 1980s electronica, Sam's Irish roots... but most of all I can't help but think of Peter Gabriel and the way Sam's voice contains that velvety smoothness that the likes of Art Garfunkel possessed and the former Genesis front man managed to make jagged and hard while never losing its warmth.

In many ways this album reminds me of Cardiacs. Not in the sound, they are almost diametrically opposite there, but in the simple fact that Healy, like Tim Smith, has more ideas in some songs than bands have in their entire careers. Layers of depth, sweeping crescendos, giant epic sounds mixed with quiet moments of contemplation - this is an album that is up and down - in tempo - like the Assyrian empire. If anything, I'd say Sam has tried just a bit too hard to come up with something different from both the debut album and anything N.A.O do, yet I can't help think that in years to come this might be looked at as something of a masterpiece. It begins with a track that sounds ever-so-slightly out of whack - modern prog as it should be - and ends with a slow exhale rather than a thudding crash. It's impressive. It is a bold statement not bound by convention. It gets better with each listen as more of it is uncovered.

I'm also glad that it's a grower rather than an instantaneous blast, because that proves to me that masses of thought has gone into this. I even spotted the turkeys. At the moment it isn't in the league of the first album (few albums can even lick its boots), but there's absolutely nothing to be bothered about, because it may end up being better.

Stand out tracks by the end of play #4: LBGT, Berceuse, Initial and Coward.

8 out of 10

Thursday, June 30, 2016

And the Beat Goes on...

What a tumultuous two weeks. A crazy crazy 14 days that has changed the face of politics, Europe and English football forever. I woke up last Friday feeling like I was in mourning and that 'what the fuck is going on' feeling has dogged me all week. That feeling turned into simply 'what the fuck?' today.

It's 4.45pm and I'm home. I've been home since about midday because I no longer have a job. Yesterday me and about 40 other people were informed that as of July 8 our employment was ending. The reasons were 'consolidation in light of an uncertain future', 'worries over future funding' and, to paraphrase, the need to ensure established employees get the most job protection. The company were very sorry about it and have guaranteed help and support in attempting to secure new jobs etc. Another 160 people have been put on notice - all of them in the Birmingham area.

So Brexit has a victim and the irony hasn't escaped me. The last 7 weeks have yielded enough money to keep our heads above water for a while longer and the few people who know have all said I'm being remarkably sanguine about it. Well, who the fuck am I going to shout at? And what would be the point? Time to knuckle down and get back in there.

I've discovered a few things about supposed 'old friends' this week as well; none of them particularly nice. If I wasn't trying to be upbeat I'd say we're not all going to hell in a hand basket, we're already there!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Procrastinate Now!


Don't get me wrong; as I wait for the day I start my new job, there are probably many things I could be doing: the vegetable garden has been ignored because of the rather inclement weather recently and when the sun came out it was far too bloody hot to be digging and weed clearing. There are probably many other little things that need doing - Doug proofing the house for when he's going to go into the inevitable separation anxiety - which probably won't be much different from how he is now; mad and destructive. The three girls just avoid him when he decides he's lost his mind and eats bits of the sofa or a dozen duck eggs - shells and all.

I'm in that weird state of limbo - a good kind, despite my protestations - of waiting to start the next stage of my life; it's all in place, we just need a number with a th after it.

As I said in the last blog, the last month hasn't been without it's depressing moments, but as I also said shit fades after a while - apart from white dog shit, which of course we rarely see now, even in places where people forget they have dog shit bags. I've been changing my schedule, so I haven't been completely wanky. My future shift pattern means that much of the dog walking duties will be the wife's responsibility (and that fills me with anxiety because despite being nutless Doug has a recall problem when he's bombing around terrorising slower dogs and you can't really chase after him), so as a result we went back to the old 3.30 walk which has slowly crept a little later and I took them out yesterday at a little before 4pm; it'll eventually be 4.30 when I start work and I'll only be available to walk them in the afternoon one week in four. See? This is how bloody bored I am, I'm managing to talk about the intricacies of dog walk scheduling with a professional aplomb and like it's the most exciting thing you'll read this week...

I could just abandon all hope, give The Imagination Station another read through and then print the bugger off. I'll be able to afford the ink soon, so that's an option. The problem is, unlike other would-be writers I know who are far more disciplined than me, I have the aversion to going back to it (for all the reasons given previously) but probably not because I hate it or think it's rubbish; probably more to do with over-exposure. Maybe if I just accept it's going to have mistakes in it (because of adding over 30,000 largely unedited edited words) I can return to it with a list of things to make it work/better? Who can say?

Another option I have is pretty much what I have been doing; carry on filling my days with nothing. I used to have no problem with being bored. I had this philosophy that take the boredom when it comes because it won't always be there; so I could pretty much do nothing for vast stretches and never feel as though I'd failed to achieve anything. Boredom occasionally allows for your mind to do other things than worse case scenarios, irrational bollocks and ruminating about things that are in the past and no one has any control over. The problem is I have so much of the former going on that trying to think of something else becomes difficult - like now...

My mate Tony said to me last week over a coffee and setting the world to rights, "You don't half know some obscure rubbish; what are you going to do when you start work, you'll have nothing to talk about!" Probably 'social issues' was my reply and we chuckled - that's pretty much what we talk about anyhow. The thing is he could be right. I have spent the last few years filling my day by reading all kinds of shit on line. Having many friends on Facebook who are as politically motivated as I am means that any old click-bait would be clicked. I've read about not just politics, but science, entertainment, I've looked at maps, read up on history and generally probably improved my general knowledge without really being aware - until I sit down with Tony and dazzle him with dull, uninteresting and random facts.

On the rare occasions we'll be able to sit down and chew the fat in the future, I hope to Jebus he has something to mumble about otherwise we'll be like those couples you used to see in local pubs; you know the ones, who sit nursing their pints with their wives with their gin and tonics and don't say a word to each other outside of 'do want another drink'? I mean, they might go home, rip each others' clothes off and have filthy dirty sex all over the rug; but if they do then it would be a transformation worth witnessing because you just know they'll go home and continue not talking to each other and besides, I don't think neither Tony nor I would fancy filthy dirty sex on his rug; the cat would get in the way and I'm sure his wife wouldn't be too keen, especially if we left a mess...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not particularly pleased with procrastinating especially when I've felt motivated to do things, only to discover I had to do something else. I've made arrangements several times in the last few weeks to meet up with an old chum, every time I set a date that's good for him something crops up - the first time is was a bad cold, then something else and most recently a funeral I'd completely forgotten about. I just hope my organisational skills resurface before I start work.

Probably my biggest fear about starting the new job is caffeine withdrawal. It is midday, I have been up since 8.15, I am on my 6th cup of strong coffee; this is below my usual average, I usually drink a cup every half hour in the morning - at least - and can have as many as 12 by the time the sun goes over the yard arm. I average 15 cups a day - that's pretty much two jars a week - it has literally been my only vice since we've had no money, so I expect headaches and fatigue for a while as I wean myself off it to a healthy level.

I'm sure I'm just regurgitating shit I've talked about before, so I'll stop, but not before I give you this...

If you can grow a stupidly Rip Van Winkle beard it doesn't mean you have to become a hipster; you can always have a shave, or a trim, or even a 21st Century George Michael look. Consider it. The same could be said for those pointless whispy moustaches that adolescents and non-hairy people think look cool. You look like you have a decaying caterpillar on your already pursed face - stop it now.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Closing the Book on Depression

A little over twelve months ago, I wrote a blog about depression - it was 'well received' and yet only scratched at the surface and that was down to my belief that some things should remain as personal as possible. I come from a generation that still views depression as a weakness, despite many people having suffered from it, at times. The thing about happiness is it's like recovering from an operation; as time passes you forget just how bad it was.

This goes with my theory that there is no such thing as rock bottom. When you think your life can't get any worse, you are deluding yourself. What actually happens is bottom becomes the new normal, opening up chasms of new depths to plumb.

The irony, for me, is that on April 19, 2015, when I was hitting a new low, I had no idea that the chasms about to open up to my then rock-bottom-self were too horrible to contemplate. If I thought April was a new nadir, then I wasn't expecting May and June. Really, I didn't think things could get so much worse. But they did and some people around me noticed that I was becoming... a worry.

Murray's death seemed to be timed perfectly to temper my heartbreak at a new Tory government; I was too concerned about him than anything else and the GE results just compounded the feeling that life had to get so much worse before I could see a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Being offered a job that didn't pan out didn't help and then being given hope from others that also didn't pan out made me think that people will say anything rather than say 'you're not right for this job.'

By September, I was not earning anything. I was not eligible for any benefits, my wife earns just too much money and I began scratching around, calling in debts, selling stuff and walking next door's dog to buy food and this existence lasted for four months until our neighbours' called an end to the dog walking. I could understand their frustrations - what if I got a job and left them in the lurch? I mean, there's only 25 registered dog walkers in Northampton, what were the chances of them getting another one at short notice? However badly my neighbours handled it, I can't blame them, because I bang on a lot about how people really don't care about others when they have no understanding of how bad things can get.

Anyhow, I'm waiting for a start date for my first proper job in three years. I've been paranoid about it, because as I discovered this week, depression isn't just a leaky tap you can switch off and even after a couple of weeks of positivity inside the Hall house, I woke up yesterday morning feeling like everything was about to cave in under me. Nothing has gone badly wrong (the car's brakes are knackered) and when misery has been a constant companion for so long and takes a break, you get lulled into a false sense of security.

I was in a solitary and withdrawn mood the day before yesterday and I avoided people on my dog walk because of that. I needed space and time to dwell and play out bad case scenarios to satisfy the demon that lurks and thrives on negativity. Then I woke up yesterday morning and instead of feeling like the previous day was a blip, I woke up thinking about Murray and how his death has affected us so much worse than previous deaths and how last May was still a yawning black hole of horror. I think Marley knew I was feeling melancholy because she crept next to me and cuddled up on one side, with Doug sprawled, unaware, to my right.

Then one of those Facebook memories came up and I remembered it was the day before we noticed something wrong with Murray. Our last long dog walk before the nightmare descended. That was the day the wife thought he had conjunctivitis but it was actually lymphoma.

I beat myself up about it at least once a week despite the fact that what Murray had was a death sentence however you look at it. He wouldn't have been cured and we would have had an undetermined amount of time to be looking at him, wondering when the nightmare would return. The fact he went quickly is really the best outcome, especially as he wasn't happy, but, you know, we're supermen when it comes to our loved ones and the past is always the worst time to reflect on.

What usually happens when I feel this way is I take a leaf out of the handbook for depression and go for a long walk and as some of you will remember from blogs passim that this usually ends up in one or two of the dogs covered in unsavoury animal poo and me wondering why on earth I thought it was a good idea. Cleaning shit from a dog that isn't its own is a great leveller especially when you feel down.

It hasn't helped that I've been bored. With nothing mapped out, I'd go through my daily ritual of an hour or two on the jobs pages; a bit of blowing things up on a Facebook game, reading the papers and doing housework. Currently I'm confident enough to not look at the jobs pages and with recent footballing events and the government getting up my nose at every move, the desire to look through the papers - real and on-line - hasn't been there for a few days, nor, I expect, will it for a few more. It's been too cold to do anything in the garden and honestly, I'm terrified of putting my back out or buggering up one of my shoulders before I start this job. I feel as if I should buy a containment suit for between now and my start date so I can't catch a cold or any germs. Oh, and then I ricked my neck...

A year ago I ended the blog by talking about my book project. It's crazy to think that it still hasn't been seen by anyone apart from me and that instead of 40,000 words it's now 77,000 and I haven't touched it since February because it is 'finished' to the point where I need feedback. That was a big positive in a year of negatives and yet it's been dormant, much like much of my life has felt since 2011.

So... This is all very down and dirty. The problem is I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I'm excited about it, so there's this fear that something will extinguish it. There is no such thing as an irrational thought when you suffer from depression and I wonder whether depression is a tangible cause of disaster. I mean, could your mental state of expecting the worst lead you to scenarios where the worst can happen? Maybe even subconsciously influencing it? I'm sure someone could tell me, I'm just not sure I want to know.

Yet, the future is brighter. It is, even in my down state of mind I can see that. New job. Easing of money worries. Purchase of much needed things. Holidays. The resurrection of pipe dreams and the thing I think is more important than anything - regaining self-esteem, because it doesn't matter how much someone tells you that you're not worthless, at the time you know you are and, ironically, you know how to flush it out of your system.

If I've learnt one thing in the last year it's that I did, do and have a place in the world. I have made a difference and I have said things that people identify with or have helped or made them understand.

Sometimes the person you see isn't the person inside.

I might feel as though ... well, people who have been where I have been will know all too well how I feel and that's really all that matters. Today, the demon is feeling admonished and is withdrawing; I can feel it because it doesn't like the fact that I can see the future again or that I can see how I can make it better. My mood has changed due to these 700 words, proving that sometimes catharsis through writing is worth a hundred psychiatrists. Everything is fucking horrible, but I've been playing that record for too long and I know it off by heart. It's time for a new beat.