Thursday, April 30, 2009

Odds 'n' sods

I believe it's called 'Googlewacking', but in my days working in comics, we always called it 'Doing a Gibbo'. This is the peculiar self-indulgent gesture of putting your own name into Google's search engine and seeing what it returns. 'Doing a Gibbo' was a dubious honour bestowed upon Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons, who upon getting Internet access, typed his name in a search engine and was literally bowled over by the number of times his name was mentioned (I mean, it was more likely for him to find something than say you would, he is responsible for a number of comic books).

The first time I did a Gibbo, the first three entries on the list were for: "Phil Hall is an okapi at the Bronx Zoo", which as you might imagine, rather puzzled me. Yes, I know there are far too many 'famous' Phil Halls out there - former News of the World editors, novelists, musicians, artists, etc., but the last thing I expected was to see an okapi named after my name. Further investigation yielded bugger all - it appears there is, or at least was, an okapi called Phil Hall at the Bronx Zoo. This morning's newspaper ran a story that the Bronx Zoo is closing down because of the economic recession and most, if not all, of its animals have to be found new homes. This is shocking (in a relative way), because one never considers that other creatures can be affected by man's greed.

If there's still an okapi at the Bronx Zoo with my name - I have a shed, and ducks, a rabbit and 4 dogs, it won't be lonely. Stick it in a crate and ship it this way. If nothing else, when the wife accuses me of doing something I can say it wasn't me, it was Phil Hall.

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The following will spoil things for people who haven't seen what I'm about to talk about:

I sat down and watched Caprica, the pilot for the proposed prequel series for Battlestar Galactica. It was considerably better than I actually believed it to be, mainly because I felt that Battlestar, like my mate Chev, jumped the shark a little with the final episode (actually Chev thinks it jumped the shark a lot, but I'm being a little more benevolent). This, however, bore little more than a passing resemblance to that critically-acclaimed hell in space series.

Caprica looked like the Sci-Fi Channel meets HBO. There's enough titillation in the pilot to get many rampant fanboys erect for weeks, but that's an aside. It has an intriguing premise - the story of two families, one of which is the Adama family and their involvement in the creation of the Cylons, the other being the Graystones, the family responsible for the creation of the very first Cylon. It's full of political intrigue, covert shenanigans and endemic racism and excess, which comes at a time when our world is facing a downturn.

The series debuts in 2010. My gut feeling is it could flop.

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I'm currently laid up again with my back; but I might be seeing a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I had an assessment on my arthritis at the hospital on Monday and a couple of interesting things came out of it. My left shoulder, which has borne the brunt of most of my pain in the last 6 months, has something else wrong with it, not arthritis. Yes, I have arthritis in my shoulder, but no worse than the other one - what I have done is fucked up the natural shock absorber that sits between the ball joint and the shoulder blade. The physio did something on Monday that I would have gladly paid money for her to do it again - and no, I'm not talking wild sex in a cubicle. She took me firmly in her hands... one hand on my shoulder, the other gripped my upper arm and then she pulled and Jesus Harry Christ on a unicycle, it was almost better than an orgasm. The affect was immediate, the pain stopped, in fact it didn't just stop, it felt unbelievably brilliant. However, despite offering her money to do it for the rest of my life, she refused and I have to either have a big nasty kind of injection or an operation.

The rest of my arthritis is... about the same, if not a little worse, but while this has been a constant source of depression for me for months; I did have a talk with one of the pain specialists at the hospital, who assured me that in most cases my kind of arthritis becomes more manageable as time goes on - the pain might not subside that much, but mobility will increase, despite my advancing years. She also explained to me that depression is very common amongst younger people diagnosed with arthritis and the main problem is the general ignorance of GPs. I was given all kinds of leaflets and bumph to read about all the shit I've gone through in the last 18 months; contact numbers of support groups and now, for some strange reason, my glass is half full instead of half empty. But of course, that could just be the drugs...

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My play list has been a bit odd just recently. I discovered both Last.fm and Spotify (yeah, I know, but...) and subsequently have either been listening to stuff that sounds like other stuff I like or catching up on all manner of stuff I either haven't heard in yonks (such as LPs which I can't play at present) or stuff I wanted to give a chance to but wasn't going to buy (or couldn't download for free). This has meant a discovery of Ladytron, which, despite the 80s synth pop overtones, have rather impressed me and is good driving music. Pure Reason Revolution were recommended to me by Marc Laming ages ago and I think I gave them the briefest of listens; but thanks to Last.fm I've been playing their The Dark Third CD to death in the office for over a week (It's on now!). They're like a weird cross between indie band and Yes. Long proggy songs mixed with catchy choruses and spellbinding harmonies. If you like Mew you should like these.

Away from the Internet (sort of), my mate Roger did me a copy of an album by Pineapple Thief, who he described as a sort of cod Porcupine Tree. Neither of us knew much about them and because we're both forgetful Luddites neither of us bothered to check them out on the web. For me they were just a sort of poppy version of the other PT and the similarities were obvious - it was like Pineapple Thief had based their entire style on Porcupine Tree's MOR stuff. Then I saw an album by them which I hadn't heard of - What Have We Sown? I downloaded it and was totally blown away, especially by the 28 minute title track, which rather belittled the idea they were Porcupine Tree wannabes. The truth about What We Have Sown is that it pisses all over Porcupine Tree's output of the last 10 years. I've since 'discovered' the rest of their discography and while some of it is a little hit or miss, the last three albums have been progtastic examples of why fans of Radiohead and other art rock bands should be investing a few quid in this band.

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I'm hoping to cheer myself up this weekend by visiting two beer festivals. One at my new local and one at my old one.

The Victoria inn (on Poole Street and Military Road in Northampton) is a charming little pub that looks like it was built by converting a couple of terraced houses. It's smack in the middle of town and has limited opening hours, but it offers a fantastic selection of microbrewery beers, as well as the very palatable Vale Brewery Company, who own the tenancy.

The Vic is a really homely pub, and its new(ish) landlord Allen, not your conventional landlord goes out of his way to make improvements all the time. So much so that the pub has doubled its clients since he took the place over.

The Romany, which is on the edge of the Kingsthorpe area of the town, has been a regular haunt of mine for years, but has slipped out of favour in the last couple of years - mainly down to a few factors - the landlord died, the staff didn't know how to keep the cellar well and the decor reminded me of the inside of a cell block H room, the brown walls just reminded me of shit. But the place has had a face lift and a new landlord, and a cellar man I'd trust with my beer. It also has a beer on this weekend that I can't recommend enough, but that will do no good... HMS Warrior is brewed by the awesome Newby Wyke Brewer in Little Bytham in Lincolnshire. If they produce a bad beer I haven't tried it; this new one from the brewery is quite extraordinary - its the colour of lager and the taste of angels dancing on your tongue. It's a limited edition only available for this month only! Never again will I drink this ambrosia, so I'm going to have as many as I can on Saturday before I fall over.

Sticking with pubs for just a second more. There's this pub in a tiny village called Hunningham, about 7 miles north east of Leamington Spa. The owner is a huge comics fan and his entire pub is covered in framed comics - literally thousands of them. He's a nice guy the landlord, even if he was a bit top heavy with Batman comics.

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May has always been my favourite month of the year. Just to revert to type for a second; I somehow think that might change as of this year.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How Does It Make You Feel?

I'm 47. I'm sat here with the sound of Air in the background; the sun is shining and I have an abundance of new T-shirts and jeans. The fact that I'm not even a shadow of the man I was three years ago bothers me, but I've grown a little bit zen in my older age. Shit happens and sometimes there's absolutely no reason for it. You can stand in an open field, shaking your fist at the sky and asking for something to give you an answer as to why its you, but unless you're a really freaky born again Christian, the most you're going to get is guano on your jacket!

I've had a bit of a crap fortnight. I hurt my back attempting to be more healthy - I slipped down a pothole and jarred an already fragile set of bones and the subsequent injury buggered up the remaining parts of my torso because of the propensity to carry oneself in a different way to compensate for the pain. I ended up using muscles that I either didn't know still existed or ones that are normally used for other things and as a result I feel as though I've been dropped out of an aeroplane - every morning! Then I caught the wife's cough - she decides to have her first cough since I've known her and my immune system couldn't help but come out in sympathy. When your back is fucked, the last thing you really need is having a raking cough - it just exacerbates an already shitty situation. Work, which I really felt I started to get a handle on, has been fogged by the fact that my mind is preoccupied and at times a foetal position seems like a good alternative.

Yet... my mate Jodi died last weekend. She lost a short battle with cancer. She was 43. I mentioned her in an earlier blog.

I've had a really shitty fortnight, not just the stuff I mentioned, but other shit that, things that would have nothing but a negative effect on a fragile state. But none of it seems that important now.

I'm 47. That's 4 more years than my friend got.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I'll turn my revolt into style

It's Easter.

There's a couple of things about Easter that I don't understand. If Jesus Christ was born on December 25th and everyone is sure about that (ha!), then how come they're more confident about his birth than they are about his death - didn't they keep death records in Canaan or wherever it was that he was supposed to have grown up?

Obviously like just about every 'Christian' holiday, Easter has its roots firmly placed in Paganism, Druidism and any other spiritual festival that could be adapted to this brave new world of Christianity. But, what about atheists?

On the one hand, atheists get all the Christian holidays and I don't hear many of them complaining about it - I'm not! But on the other hand, atheists are not members of any club, therefore they don't get the same kind of central government or secular leniency as your extremist Christian, Muslim or those warmongering Buddhists.

I don't get a 'There's Not A God' Day, for me to do absolutely bugger all on and just sit around and eat sweets. There isn't is a Young Men's Atheists Association and probably has never been (although I'm pretty sure that some sections of society will probably have dispensed with the Christian aspect of that concept many years ago...), but arguably you could say that most God-fearing people now days practice some kind of paganism - whether it be through sex, drugs, rock or roll, so I suppose I shouldn't whinge to much and be grateful that I'm not stoned to death for being an unbeliever.

The thing is, as I've got older, I see big holidays like Easter and Christmas as being this massive waste of time and money. I know everyone is entitled to a break and a time of the year when they can just kick back and use religion as an excuse to stuff themselves silly and run up enormous debts, but.... Really? Plus, the concept of Christian holidays is so outdated. We don't see, in this supposed multicultural country, other religions festivals being recognised nationally and there's many of you who will say this is a jolly good thing and you're entitled to your small minded opinions - we're not on our own any more, we belong to a world community - live with it!

The problem I find with major holidays is that the natural order a person maintains throughout 50 weeks a year suddenly gets disrupted, but in a completely wholesale way, rather than the ordered disruption you get from a bog standard personal holiday. Not only are the shops overflowing with people panic buying because the shops will be closed for ONE ENTIRE DAY, but the television has (with, hopefully the exception of Dr Who) so much shit on it you feel dirty and in need of a bath and, above all, you're expected to be sociable and associate with family that you spend 50 weeks a year avoiding like the plague...

Plus it's Easter and it's raining!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Tomorrow

There's this interesting Stephen King short science fiction story called The Jaunt, which is about the discovery of teleportation just at a crucial point in mankind's history, when oil was about to become too expensive to be viable. Fiction has a way of solving off-hand crises with either a deux ex machina or an apocalypse.

Until a month ago, I would have said that I had barely seen any signs of the recession. The place where I work has always been a ghost town; fuel prices were dropping and the interest rate was about to become barely significant. Yet, driving around Northants now is a weird sight; the number of empty shops and buildings; the number of closing down sales; restaurants and pubs just ceasing trading without a moment's notice. But the worst thing is the feeling that, unlike the last recession, some of these places will stay empty for a long time.

This county is prolific in industrial estates and business parks, many of them new ones that are now half finished and show no sign of builder activity; the new housing market is dead in the water, despite cheap mortgages and many wannabe first time buyers. People are not buying houses; they're not starting up new businesses and they're not doing anything much than centring their resources on their core essentials - which means supermarkets will survive (while they still have goods to sell).

The press don't help; they don't deal in optimism, at least not at this point in the 21st century. Misery sells. The thing is the last biggie, the one they called the Great Depression, happened in a time when we weren't as technologically advanced; when the entire world's economy wasn't just a balancing act and because it would take a week to discover that the stock market had crashed on Wall Street. Arguably the 1930s populace could cope better with those conditions than 21st century man.

The problem this old pessimist has is that if the world continues to slip into a global depression, one of two homespun hypotheses could happen: there's an almighty shift in economic power causing unease amongst the former heavyweights, or the world's economy will collapse and that will lead to the eventual breakdown of society as we know it. I'm not forecasting anarchy or fighting on the streets, but I am proposing that if governments have no finance, then it won't be long before they can no longer control society. There will be factions that terrorise and extort, but the odds are that communities will begin trading with other communities for necessities; a kind of barter system could replace conventional coinage. Society may well regress in some ways, but without money there's a high reduction of all the trappings that go with it, meaning that one of the roots of all evil will have become an insignificant player.

Of course, if the world's economy changed so drastically, the other root of all evil would thrive - religion would run rampant and the majority of civil unrest will be racial, cultural or religion centred. In the UK, without proper government some parts of the infrastructure of the country would begin to decay - public services would disappear; travel would become very expensive and unpredictable; local councils would become autonomous from central government and the creation of local political parties will become rife. There would be a rise in xenophobia and many far right wing political parties would attempt to emerge to reunite the country. Isolationism would become normal for countries or alliances that are self-sufficient in most things. Commerce would still run the planet, but it would have constraints and it would prohibit the distribution of commodities depending on the risks and costs involved.

The world will become a very different place. Then there will be a war. A big war. A jihad style war that will annihilate huge swathes of the human race; decimate massive areas of the planet and leave those who remain the task of saving what's left of humanity...

Next blog: we're all going to die!

But seriously, this could happen in my lifetime; that's about 30 more years if I'm lucky. We're a race that is essentially pillaging everything. We are eventually going to eat the entire planet, while simultaneously building living space in any available square foot. If the means, the way the world operates, is severed, there is nothing else to prevent society from changing in unexpected ways. There'll be no deux ex machina in real life.