Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Open Sea

In the last week, I've been asked two very similar questions: I didn't know you wrote a blog and why do you write a blog? I could argue that you could take the words 'a blog' out of those questions and it would largely mean the same thing.

I always wanted to be a writer; I've discussed it in these pages and other defunct blogs. For many years, I got to be one; being paid for words flooding out of my head onto a hard drive (or paper, in the old days). The weird thing now is when people find out that I used to write for a living. I still get that frisson of embarrassment when I confess to having worked on a comics magazine; because in my heart of hearts I know that only me and Roger (who was my accountant for many years) knew that it was actually a real job. I've edited my history to a certain degree; whenever people ask about my 'journalistic career' I tell them what is, ironically, closer to the truth - I was an editor and production manager on a trade magazine.

I've said this before; I'm not really qualified to be an editor, I'm just quite good at it. I might not be the most grammatically brilliant editor that ever lived - in fact, I could be one of the worst - but I can and have turned sows' ears into silk purses; saved better writers than me a lot of embarrassment and learnt enough to be able to hoof it in more distinguished company. I struggled for years to edit myself; claiming for many of them that I couldn't do it. It was a crap but believable excuse, which my boss at the time actually believed. What it was was a mixture of laziness and my misguided perception that what I'd written was already good enough - a problem many with less ego than me have suffered from).

I talk about the books I've written, yet very few of them have gone past the first draft stage. You know that common line for underachievers at school? Could do better - well, that's me in a nutshell. The reason I finish so little could be because I splurge. I get an idea, it rattles around my head for an undetermined amount of time and when I finally get something like a 'framework' in my head, I start to metaphorically put pen to paper. Unless my own idea can keep me entertained and my imagination stimulated I'll stick with it; but as soon as I start to see hurdles or I begin to grow slightly disillusioned with things, it gets consigned to the 'in progress' folder on my hard drive - quite possibly the biggest misnomer in my writing life. Less than 10% of that folder has progressed...

So when I finally do get an idea out on paper from start to finish (a rare thing), I feel like the splurge has been purged and I've succeeded in the main aim - to finish it. When it comes to rereading it and starting the hard work of polishing the turd; I just haven't got the energy or enthusiasm to even face it. I like to give a novel between 5 and 25 years before I reread it; I sort of have that mindset about anything I've written that's over 10,000 words.

The thing is, I set out to be a writer. It was my ambition from a very young age, but I never really applied myself. I figured having a dazzling imagination and a good use of language was enough to wing my way into a career as a successful novelist. When my writing career (for that is what it is) changed direction in the late 1980s, I discovered that I actually was better at writing fact than fiction. My former employer probably wouldn't piss on me if I was on fire, but he has admitted a couple of times in the past that it was my raw talent and ability to inject energy, pace and imaginative turns of phrase that convinced him that taking me on rather than someone with experience was a gamble he was glad he took. His former partner once admitted to me that I infuriated my boss: "How can he be so good yet so bad?" I'll tell you why. I spent most of my English lessons at school either fucking about or being conceited. I realised at a very early age that teachers were impressed with my writing - considering I didn't attend a proper school until I was 6, I was streets ahead of other kids - so once I won that approval, I didn't actually learn anything else. I think the day I started at Comics International, I had the grammatical nous of a 12-year-old.

Last week, I was asked if I could give any advice to a colleague's 16-year-old niece, who wants to become a journalist. I don't know how much she was able to take in, because I gushed. It wasn't being asked for the advice so much as making sure that she didn't make the same mistakes as I did. The main advice I can give anyone who wants to write is simple: write. It doesn't matter what, it just matters that you practice and you learn, not just from your own mistakes, but from other writers. You don't need to be the most grammatical person in the world - it helps, but isn't essential. What is essential is that you take what ability you might have and play with it.
I couldn't write fiction for years, it was because I wrote so much fact and I was exhausted and sitting down and writing for pleasure was a bit like a busman's holiday; but I still wrote and I still retained the verve which made people like the things I wrote, even if sometimes I wrote difficult to follow sentences or got my tenses wrong. That's what an editor is for: editors are the people who make great writers great (and also stops them from looking like prize tits).

Oddly enough, the best practice I have had has been in the last 9 years. Because I've had to make sure that my work was of a higher standard because I no longer had a safety net (admittedly that isn't as much a priority any more, as some pointless rambles have shown). I also think that, at times, I've written better articles than I ever did for any one I got paid by.

So, I write because I have a passion for writing. I enjoy it, even if people only ever see this kind of thing. I write a blog because it's good practice and I advise young people I work with, who want to write, to create a blog. It doesn't matter if no one reads it, it's important to get the practice in and, in my humble opinion, there's no better way of improving yourself than by doing it in public.

My biggest failing is the inability to use my free time to write anything that might have legacy. While I enjoy writing, even if I spend hours on something and never go back to it; I'd still like to turn some of my wacky ideas into something more tangible than notes and scribbles or half finished tomes.

I'm currently having an epiphany of sorts regarding my 'in progress' folder. I spent a few hours one evening looking through all my old ideas and I started to see a correlation. So much so that I managed to sub-divide my ideas, notes and beginnings of stories, into specific themes or ideas that were similar or linked in some way and from that I noticed that a couple of ideas had reoccurring motifs. To give you some examples, I seem to have a thing about a certain character who has popped up in several different ideas as an ideal way of telling the story; I have this thing about the end of the world and I have a real nagging idea that has been attempted in myriad ways and it's the last one that bugs me the most...

It is an idea that I think is actually quite unique. The problem is it's totally science fiction and while I read and enjoy sci-fi, I have never really wanted to write it. Space opera is a different matter; but the concept I have is totally scientific and I've yet to find a way to make the two sit together. The concept, at the moment, is bigger than any story I can dream up for it. The concept needs to remain a secret until I come up with a story, because I believe it's a winner.

However, many of my other ideas are coming together. I have a folder with the title 'Thin Walls' and I'm seeing at least four separate ideas suddenly start to merge, almost as if they were waiting for me to make the connection. Now all I have to do is sit down at the PC and start to put them all together and hope that I can keep my interest in it. Then finish it. Then edit it. Then re-write it. Then get it assessed. Then find an agent. Then a publisher. I need to be dedicated to the cause. I need to stop procrastinating. I need to write something and finish it, again - it's time.

I'm going to a party later!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Open Mind

Other than stuff like 'How are you?' and 'Would you like fries with that?', have you got any idea what question you've been asked more than any other? Then kind of question that requires more than just decision making. For me, the question I've been asked the most throughout my adult life is - why didn't you have children?
Depending on who I'm talking to I have a number of answers: too selfish; too expensive; wouldn't want to unleash another version of me on the world and God help us if it had been a girl; I'd get imprisoned on infanticide charges. I've even resorted to saying that I just hate the little fuckers - which isn't strictly true and any of my closest friends will sneer at that statement as both improbable or a downright lie. But sometimes it works, especially when I get someone obstinate, the kind who start to preach to me about making a massive mistake in my life.
The thing was, I always wanted at least 5 children; but by the time I got married and witnessed my brothers' struggle with their kids, the idea was rapidly being replaced by the desire to keep pets. The wife might have liked the idea of children at some point in her life, but I'm betting that was before she met me (not that I'm suggesting that the sight of me put her off kids for life, or anything), possibly even before she was capable of having them.
Now we're in our 40s, the question seems to have reared its ugly head yet again and none more so than last week when I excused myself from a discussion about births, cesarean sections, labour pains and various other unpleasant symptoms associated with carrying a small human around in one's belly. I was asked the question. I gave the what I felt was the most appropriate answer for that moment and was told that I was an idiot - not bad coming from an 18-year-old girl with a dodgy past (present and probable future).
The truth is that had I had kids I would probably have made a good father; but I didn't want them. If I'd have wanted them then I would either have persuaded the wife or divorced her for someone who wanted to ping them out at a rate of knots*. I might have missed out on all the joys of being a dad, but I've also spared myself the continuous heartbreak, anguish and worry that comes along with it. I chose to spend my life the way I wanted to live it and I can honestly say, sitting here at this moment in my life, that I have zero regrets. It really hasn't bothered me. If it had bothered me, I wouldn't have suggested having a vasectomy for one of my wife's 40th birthday presents. More so, I wouldn't have had it done, had I not been 100% sure it was what I wanted to do (frankly, the idea of a strange man fiddling with my scrotum does not have the same effect on me as it does some of my friends and its only something I'd do if I was adamant or under severe duress).

*Actually that's a lie. I would never have divorced her.

I could bang on for several hundred reasons why I didn't want kids, but there's this saying about protesting too much and frankly you can give some people any incentive whatsoever to pick holes in your alibi...

***

Comic creators have been in the news again recently - the deaths of Harvey Pekar and Al Williamson; a recent retrospective appreciation by Jonathon Ross of Jim Steranko and something else in the Guardian that, I'm have to say, didn't tickle any thing enough to make me even want to read it. In fact, I didn't read the Steranko piece (despite having met the once great man), I skimmed the Pekar obit and read the Williamson one, because I was a bit of a fan of Alex Raymond's protege (especially, for some unknown reason, his work with Brett Blevins).

***

Glutton for Punishment Award of the Week!

Despite an almost pathological hate for the series; I decided to sit and read Stephen King's The Dark Tower from start to finish (if, indeed it is finished). So, quietly, without the wife finding out, I started by reading The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three. I opted for the revised version of the first book, which I had, for some strange reason, bought.
It's been a weird ride so far and one that has been really enjoyable, up to a point. I have in the back of my mind the knowledge that at some point King really jumps the shark, and I'm actually just about at that point. However, I'm trying to combat this feeling with the help of the theory that very little actually changed in the actual story of the Dark Tower; it was just King chose to add certain elements to the story that meant having to rewrite earlier editions. I still believe that ultimately the world of the Dark Tower was fundamentally changed from what it was originally designed/intended to be; but as a friend pointed out, 'the world wasn't the story'.
My friend, a real bona fide nerd, also likes to point out that at several points in the 7 book story, the past is changed, meaning subtle alterations to reality in the then present happen; so any ideas we might have formed at first weren't necessarily important to the overall journey.
I hate it when nerds get philosophical.

***

Speaking of nerds; it's time to be Mr Generalisation again. I have this theory. If you are male and between the ages of 18 and about 40 and you possess a goatee or facial hair in the guise of the kind sported by Ricky Gervais in his The Office days, then there is about a 90% chance that you are a nerd of some nature. Whether its D&D, films, porn, comics, Warhammer, computers, on-line gaming or whatever you're into, I'm betting if you can grow facial hair, you've got a goatee.

Case in point: I'm sitting in the pub last week and there are a group of guys talking; 3 of them are sporting goatees. I couldn't help but hear that they were discussing the TV series Lost and two of them, both with facial hair, were getting very heated about the philosophical ramifications, the spiritual simile and the hidden meanings and messages. I also noticed that they were all drinking lager...
Stop. It. Now!

***

I was in a community centre last week having a meeting with some old people and I noticed, in the corner, some chairs. Nothing unusual there, except on one of the chairs was a sheet of paper saying: This Chair Is For Sitting On Only!

Huh?

***

I got a circular through from my bank - the Co-op. In it was the great strap line of: Mr Hall, there's so much to love about our home insurance.

Love? Strange choice of word. Can I really see myself saying, "I'm in love at the prospect of having to pay out money every month to ensure my house is covered in the event of a burglary, house fire, or some other insurance disaster"?

Love and insurance are just two things that don't really go together; like Marmite and vanilla ice cream...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Us versus Them (part 1)

A new general name for a new season... Football will be back, in full force, very soon. I can hear the groans already. Barely midway through July and already they're playing Champions League and Europa Cup qualifiers. The hangovers in Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Valencia and Majorca have barely died away and suddenly everything is gearing up for August. The start of the new Premier League season is less than a month away; the rest of English football kicks off a week earlier and this Saturday, not only does the Scottish season get underway, but Liverpool will be gearing up for their first appearance of what could be a very long season for them.
Purists are calling for a winter break; to give our National team a better chance of being fresher for major championships and yet I seem to recall a time when the football season kicked off at the end of August and was all over and done with by the second Saturday in May. There were more teams in the top flight, the League Cup was a 2 leg affair all the way through until the final and FA Cup replays could go on forever =- no such thing as penalty shoot-outs. 40 years later and half of the clubs in the top flight play more games now than they did then. If Liverpool emulate Fulham's exploits of last season or go one better and do well in all cup competitions, they will play 38 league matches, and could play up to 19 Europa Cup matches, 7 League Cup matches, and 6 FA Cup matches (minimum). Without winning any trophies, they could play 70 matches in total in a season that would stretch from the last week in July to the last week in May. If they retain the services of their World Cup players, some of them will have played Football almost non-stop.
You can argue that they get paid shedloads of money and if we had the chance we'd jump at it; but because of the financial demands of the sport, we get too much football. Last Saturday night - 17th July - Spurs were playing San Jose in a pre-season friendly. It played out to a dull 0-0 draw, yet it was shown live on ESPN. Subsequent tour friendlies are also being shown, as are many other pre-season friendlies featuring top English clubs.
If you gave the Premiership a month off in January, it could backfire big time. Because of our peculiar country, the whole of January could be a mild and dry month, while February could be covered in snow and ice, meaning that while games could easily have been played in January, because February is a white out, there's a fixture congestion problem putting extra strain on the players to finish their games before the major finals take place. Can you imagine the Football League agreeing to a winter break in 2014, declaring that after the January 1st, there would be a 28 day break, with the season recommencing at the beginning of February, only for us to have a repeat of the winter of 2010? Yes, Premiership sides have ways and means of combating the weather to allow matches to be played; but Arsenal had to cancel games last season because of fears for the safety of travelling fans. The Football League cannot beat the country's lack of infrastructure.
A solution could be to change the format of the two main domestic cup competitions - but this would only really work for the 7 or 8 teams involved in a potentially long European campaign; and arguably it could work against them if they have any designs on winning either. I thought that if Premiership clubs were made to play at least 7 squad players during the League Cup that might work, but many of them do and if you get kicked out of the competition, you no longer have any of those games to play. Why do we see teams in danger of being relegated treat cup competitions like a problem rather than an opportunity.
Remove the European qualifying from the League Cup; make the Premiership clubs play Academy teams only; Championship teams can only use 4 non-academy or youth team players and the lower divisions can play who they wish. That would take that competition out of the major clubs equations (unless they are teams like Arsenal, who regularly get through to the latter stages with teams full of kids), but also allows their youngsters the chance to play in a meaningful game with a prize at the end.
There's a call to end FA Cup replays, at a time when the old cup seems to have started to regain a bit of glamour. The FA Cup needs to remain as it is...
You see the dilemma for British football? How do you put a quart into a pint pot? How can you change the most popular league in the world without devaluing its economic worth?
I have a really radical idea; one that would never see the light of day unless it could be made to work financially: Completely restructure the football leagues, making it more viable for lower league clubs to exist and reinvigorating a competition that actually doesn't need that much reinvigorating. Here's what I'd do if I was in charge.
Decrease the size of the Premiership to 16 teams; but form Premier League 2, with 20 teams. These 36 clubs would form the basis of a league that would have less fixtures, bigger games more often and would take 8 games out of the Premier league clubs schedules. The remaining 56 clubs, plus the top 4 in the Blue Square Premier, would be split into 3 leagues of 20 teams, divided by geography. A South division, a Midland and a North. The winners of each league would qualify for the EPL2. No runners up, no play offs. The money lost by lessoning the fixture list would be compensated by a bigger division of money from TV rights.
It aint going to happen. Not ever.

Now... the real reason I'm here. Every year, at this time, I start thinking about what's going to happen during the coming season. But as much as I'd love to sit down and give you my forecast, I feel it's a wee bit premature. Barely anything has happened in the world of football transfers (unless its Man Citeh) and with a month to go before the start of the season then there's a good chance that there will be many changes to personnel before then. So, I'm holding off until next month. Besides, I don't even know what I think at the moment.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Olympians

Many moons ago, one of my oldest friends, made a comment about Morrisons, the supermarket chain. It was a highly subjective statement regarding the store's fresh produce and its quality, or rather lack of it.
I dismissed the statement as inverted snobbery - some people think of Morrisons as a kind of British Aldi or Lidl - mainly because my local branch has possibly the best bakery department in the town. Back when it was Safeway, we'd go there just for the bread and I reckon they either kept the same baking team or the ovens there are just the bee's knees.
Over the last month or so, my opinion of Morrisons has changed in line with my old friend (who is still old, but no longer chooses to associate with me - a strange and befuddling story that maybe one day I'll try and get my head around and explain). The quality of the fresh produce in Morrisons is frighteningly poor...
Now for the boring, unscientific stuff: On June 6th, I bought a cauliflower from Sainsbury's. One week later, forgetting I'd bought a cauliflower, I purchased another from Morrisons. Today, I finished the 6 week old cauli bought from the poor man's M&S. It was quite perfect. Two weeks ago, we composted the Morrisons cauli. The reason was simple, the one bought a week later had started to go off. In fact, by my reckoning and the state of the supposed white vegetable, it had probably started to go off before I bought it.
The thing is, this shouldn't be definitive proof, apart from the fact that in recent visits, I've put back a bag of mixed peppers because a green one was more grey than green. I put back a cucumber, because it was floppier than a gay man's penis in a bath full of clunge and I've baulked at purple sprouting broccoli, not because of the price, but because of the slightly yellowish tinge around the edges of the plant - supposedly green and purple, not washed out mauve and sickly orpiment.
They might be cheaop, but I really can't vouch for the quality and freshness...

***

My word, wasn't that dull?

Well, it gets worse. Two football stories ...

Next football season could see an interesting development - a London derby with little or no acrimony.

Fulham are about to unveil, possibly, the most popular man to have managed Spurs in recent years, as their own new manager. Martin Jol, or BMJ as he's affectionately referred to by Spurs fans is unbelievably popular at White Hart Lane. When Spurs won the League Cup the other year, 3 months after Jol was fired and replaced by a shite Spaniard called One Day Ramos, the fans were singing BMJ's name rather than that of his successor. Win, draw or lose next season and I expect the reception to be the same - massive respect and love for a man who transformed Spurs' fortunes and led us to two 5th place finishes. Yes, Harry went one better, but the fans love the big Dutchman and will treat him with that respect.

Another popular manager is Roy Hodgson, now in charge at Liverpool after the devastating departure of the funniest man in football - Rafa 'Fat Spanish Waiter' Benitez. However, one thing hasn't changed at Anfield, the dearth of confidence. Last season FSW complained that his poor team were being priced out of the war for good new players and that they would struggle to do as well as the previous season (he wasn't wrong there!). This season, with everything still up in the air at Liverpool, Hodgson has said that at least 8 of his first team will be missing from the club's important Europa League qualifiers. Reading the news item felt like he was basically saying, 'despite the near success I've recently had with this trophy, I'm looking at it as nothing more than a League cup and my main job is to consolidate the Red Shite's league position; so don't be disheartened if we don't go far.'

I can but dream of a continued Liverpool plummet to the depths, but, unlike the FSW, who really didn't have a clue, Hodgson might be playing a different ball game and that worries me.

***

Oosthuizen reminds me of Oosterhuis and I wonder if long ago, in (royal and) ancient times whether the two might have been related. Louis Oosthuizen won this year's Open Championship of golf; Peter Oosterhuis was arguably Britain's best golfer in the 1970s, despite not being able to emulate his great rival Tony Jacklin and win a major.
The nature of Oosthuizen's win today was boring. The contest was over by 4pm, despite nearly 3 more hours of play. It needed a collapse of Greg Norman proportions and a charge from the pack to even dent the man's ascendency to golf's greats and neither of those things happened. I'll stick my neck out and say if Louis wins another major, I will eat a pair of my used socks. He's going to join Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton as people who have won majors and done bugger all else through the rest of their careers.
When Paul Casey (along with Lee Westwood, two people almost guaranteed never to win a major and emulate dear old Colin Montgomery as the new nearly men of world golf) drove into the middle of a gorse bush on the 11th, it was all over bar a heart attack or an assassination attempt.
The last Brit to win this tournament was Paul Lawrie and arguably he won because everyone else screwed up. The Open has become something of a poisoned chalice for British golfers. It's played on links courses that should be far more suited to a British game than any other, but we fail consistently.
I have no solution.
Next year, I doubt I'll take two days off to watch it.

***

Before you all get mortified and bored to death...

Yesterday, I found a clump of pleurotus cornucopiae - the first edible mushrooms of the season! You'd know pleurotus ostreatus very well; it's commonly called an Oyster Mushroom. The big difference between shop bought oysters and the much desired cornucopiae is that the latter tastes of something; cooks well, doesn't break up too much and works well with all mushroom dishes. The other good thing is this is the first of this species I've found for 10 years! I knew of two places where it grew when I lived in Wellingborough, but this is the first time I've seen it since living back in Shoesville.
I left some to go back to in a few days (although I have this theory that a wild mushroom stops growing once it's been looked at, by me!).

***

Last week was a mildly stressful week at work. This week, I fear, that will change from mildly to massively. The first half of this coming week has a number of things happening that I'm really not looking forward to.

I chatted to the wife today about upheavals; she took it better than I expected. I told her that over the next 6 months, I'm going to be looking for another job and in the current climate that will probably mean taking a pay cut. I did soften the blow by telling her that if things change the way some people are forecasting then I could face either a 5% pay cut or redundancy anyhow.

I'm hiding the increasing stress well from colleagues. The sudden bought of insomnia I seem to have picked up, will get worse before it gets better. I know my body, my psyche and my brain, so why try to be positive about something that I know will get worse before it gets better?

***

The title of this blog entry is a piece of music by the marvellously named Fuck Buttons. The Observer reckons their album Tarot Sport not only deserves a nomination for the Mercury Music prize, but also deserves to win it. But, opines the journalist writing the preview, the track Olympians deserves to be used as the BBC's theme tune to the 2012 Olympic Games.

We live in a very informal world now, one where bad language is the norm. I really can't see any of the above happening - not in this reality.

***

Further to my mention of Eureka in a recent entry. This programme has just shown the TV world how to jump the shark properly. The creators obviously wanted to go in a slightly different direction and the way they did it was both scientifically sound (in a fictional way) and intriguingly surreal, while keeping its inherent sense of fun and wonder. It might not be the best TV show ever, but it appears to have spawned its first clone: The Jensen Project is a new TV movie cross Pilot episode for a family programme about a settlement run by the world's greatest minds...

***

Nuff said

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Windstorm

My new buddy Phil heard it. If anyone else I know did then I don't know yet. I got this message on face book, it just said 'Meeja tart' or Media tart for those of you who don't understand phonetics. Yes. I'm a media tart. I succumbed to the slightly pointless exercise of contacting a radio station and relating a story. It appears I gave Jon Inverdale and his crew a bit of a laugh.

And that was essentially it, but while congratulating myself on my unexpected radio appearance, something struck me; well, actually a couple of things struck me. The first was that Jon Inverdale or his producer had edited me; except if adding to the story is editing then I was obviously doing something wrong for years. I can agree with all the derogatory and unflattering things my friends will say about my former boss, the one who owned a comics magazine, but I think he was actually quite an ethical journalist. He taught me the Joe Friday approach to journalism - just the facts, ma'am. Now, I could put on two hats - the news editor and the gossip columnist (who is allowed a lot more subjective creativity), but one thing you stuck pretty rigid with was contributions from readers. You didn't change their words; you maybe tidied up their copy, but you didn't embellish the contribution or try to put yourself in their shoes. This is essentially what happened to me on Radio 5 today.

Jon Inverdale was hosting R5's Open golf coverage and to fill in the vast areas of nothing much happening at all and to get some audience interaction he threw out a question to the listeners - their horror story golf rounds. I'd just finished checking whatever it is I check in the morning, opened an email and sent this:

This is more of a tragedy than a horror story. I've never been a particularly good golfer, normally hacking round in the 90s and the best round I've ever achieved was 88. Back in 1996, on a lovely sunny Saturday morning, we teed off and I subsequently bogeyed the first two holes - pretty much par for the course for me, but on the third, a par 3, I put the ball less than a foot from the pin and birdied it. I went on to birdie the 4th, 8th 9th, 12th, and 13th, before dropping another at the 15th before getting it back at the 16th. I was heading for at least a 68, 20 shots better than I had ever played. At the tee of the par 3, 17th, I hit a peach of a drive and left the ball less than a foot from the pin. Another birdie was on the cards. I turned to my playing companion and we high fived. At that moment, a nerve in my back went twang (it was sciatica) and I doubled up in agony and unable to even putt to try and get another birdie. As a result, I've only played 3 full rounds of golf since.

This is slightly paraphrased as I didn't save the email I sent. When it made it to the radio a number of little things were changed, including me slipping a disc and having to be carried off the course. I'm sure he added these little bits to dramatise the story a bit more, but he actually changed my words and this isn't the first time this has happened to me.

A few years ago, I gave an interview to Time Out magazine about... ahem... comics... By the time I got the magazine a few weeks later, there were loads of quotes from me that I didn't actually say. Fortunately for me, nothing that was 'misquoted' amounted to a hill of beans, but its a little off, don't you think?

Still, it's now my 4th time (written only) on Radio 5Live. The first two were 606 emails, the third was during the General Election to the Tony Livesey show and that was the fourth. it goes with my 6 radio appearances and 23 newspaper clippings!

****

I either discover bands a couple of years before anyone else has ever heard of them or before they become huge, or I fail to spot something everyone else is going on about. The latter applies to Florence and the Machine, who are a band that I've avoided like the plague because I figured because everyone else likes them they must be shit. I was wrong. Florence Welch has a brilliant voice and the album Lungs has rather taken me by surprise.

The same cannot be said for School of Seven Bells. I was crowing about this band before Radio 6 Music found them. This is mainly because as a fan of The Secret Machines, I was gutted to hear that co-founder Ben Curtis had left to form this new band with a couple of twins. But, I made friends with the band on MySpace (back in the days...) and was profoundly impressed by their 21st century Cocteau twins stylee. So, I bought Alpinisms, their d├ębut album, long before it was album of the week for anyone and that's why I can't recommend Disconnect From Desire enough; it's a little more immediate than the first album, but don't let that put you off.

****

So, I took a couple of days off to concentrate on watching the Open Golf. I managed to sit on the PC until midday listening to it on the radio. Went down to the lounge to watch it for the first time in HD and promptly fell asleep about 12.30 only to wake up at 2.15...

I'd like to say its a one-off, but i know the same thing will probably happen tomorrow afternoon. My day will go something like this: get up, watch golf, have some lunch, maybe prepare the dinner, watch some more golf, meet Phil for a couple of pints, walk the dogs, get home, watch the golf, fall asleep, be woken up by the sound of a hungry wife, feel completely washed out for the rest of the evening. I should maybe not do that.

I have developed a habit of falling asleep in front of TV. It started with documentaries - any documentary, whether I was interested or not. If I lasted 20 minutes, it was a good day. Then it started to happen during films, especially ones that were crap. Then it happened at the cinema and I decided I'd never go to the cinema again to see a film that could do that (it was a Star Wars film, the 5th one with the dancing Yoda). Then it started to happen during football matches and then programmes I classed myself a big fan of. There are times now that I only have to look at the TV and I start yawning. But, last year it started in front of the computer. I'd suddenly wake up with my chin on my chest and amazed to see it was 3am. I can be in the middle of something really important and then

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dog Days Are Over

Summer has gone (on holiday?). Rain, wind and cooler days are the order now. Expect a reprise of halcyon days in September...

***

As much as I hate the go compare dot com adverts, I have to admire the tenacity of the producers and the company to constantly subject us to them. However, one insurance themed promotion that has begun to really grate on me are the current spate of Directline ads. It's this No Comparison series that has tinkered with my anger button.

For starters, it has both Stephen Fry and Paul Merson, who, I would have hoped, had more scruples than that (and probably no real need for the money). More importantly, it's a thinly veiled attack at places like the above mentioned GoCompare.com. "We don't use comparison websites, etc" is the motto. The cynic in me reckons this stinks of desperation and the experienced shopper in me knows this refusal to be drawn into a price war with the comparison websites is mainly because of the specific sales technique that Directline use. Once they have you on the phone it's difficult to get off of it. You have to give them loads of details before they'll give you a quote and they're not always cheaper. They just get the business from those who can't be bothered to see if there's a better deal.

***

Howard Webb's main problem with refereeing the World Cup Final was his lenience. At least two extra Dutchmen - Nigel De Jong and Marc Van Bommel - should have joined Johnny Heitinga for an early bath. If anything, a couple of his Spanish yellow cards were a bit harsh, but one can't help feeling that he was just trying to even things up.
My prediction came 2nd, my other 3 semi-finalist tips finished - bottom of their group (Italy), 3rd in their group (Serbia, despite beating Germany, couldn't beat anyone else) and 1st knockout stage buffoons England, who we have agonised over in perpetuity.

My feeling about the World cup is that it again flattered to deceive. I'm beginning to think the best World Cup finals ever were in Mexico in 1970, because so many subsequent tournaments have been largely dreary apart from the odd stand-out moments. Forget the vuvuzelas, the real talking point was playing the entire world cup finals with a ball that resembled the 99p footballs you could buy in seaside tat shops. The Jabulani proved that footballers had to have skill or they'd just look like England.

In 1970 there were 4 groups of 4 teams, the top two went through to a quarter final, etc. The WC now has 32 teams, 8 groups and a first knockout stage; some people inside FIFA would like to see that number increased to 40 teams; having five teams in 8 groups with the top two qualifying and adding an extra week to the competition. This idea must surely be driven by greed?

When I was a kid, I wanted to see the World Cup equivalent to the FA Cup. There are currently 207 'countries' playing competitive football, so Anguilla, Montserrat, American Samoa, Central African Republic and Papua New Guinea - the five lowest ranked teams would then draw lots and the two losers would then play each other in the qualifying round. The winner would go into the main 1st round draw of 28 lowest ranked teams. The 14 qualifiers would then join the next 114 world ranked teams to make a total of 128 teams playing for 64 places - the 3rd round. These minnows would then go into a drawn with the top 64 ranked teams in the world and like the old European Cup, these teams would them play over two legs, the winner would go back into the pot until there are two teams left who would play a big one-off final. No seeding at all - when the top 64 teams go into the hat, you could get Spain versus Brazil as a 3rd round match.

There are many calling for the lower ranked team to be annexed from world football. Purists who believe that teams like England, Germany and Italy shouldn't be playing teams like Andorra, the Faroe Islands or San Marino, but how else are these small countries ever going to improve if they don't get exposure from the world's top players? 40 years ago, the whipping boys of world football were Iceland; now they might not be qualifying for major competitions, but the football has improved to the stage where the country narrowly missed out for qualifying for Euro 2008. A host of Icelandic footballers ply their trades on the world stage - Eider Gudjohnsen has played for Chelsea, Barcelona, Monaco and Spurs! India is a massive country with an even greater population; consider how improved both the USA and China are at football? USA regularly play in the World Cup and if the country embraced the game like they do their own mickey mouse sports then there's a good argument that they'd be world champions sooner rather than later. If Indians fell in love with football, who can say how they could influence football in the late 21st century?

Football is a global game; minnows need exposure because that helps generate interest, which generates money and community and may well lead to the discovery of hidden talents and eventually world peace. Well, maybe not the last one, but you get the message. Personally I'd love to see Brazil versus American Samoa; if Australia can put 36 goals past the Samoans, can you imagine what a good team could do? It would be no more humiliating than your average reality TV show.

***

Two examples of exercises in futility:
Recently I made the error of announcing I'd be writing an essay on a famous TV show that recently finished. 8,000+ words later and I decided it was going nowhere, read like a lurching corpse of a blog entry and probably wouldn't have interested many people.
I also re-read The Stand (mentioned in an earlier entry) and decided to write my definitive take on this masterpiece of a book and the subsequent bollocks that happened after it - namely the Dark Tower. The thing was after nearly twice as many words as my epitaph to Lost, I realised that I'd written everything I'd just written about three years ago for my Comics village column. On re-reading that I realised it was actually better, more precise and wittier.
There's nothing wrong with writing anything; it's practice.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

***

I went to Leighton Buzzard on Sunday evening. I know there are some strange names for towns all over the country, but I reckon we're blessed with some really eccentric village names in this region. We might not have names that compete with places in Somerset or Devon and Cornwall, but with place names like: Newton Blossomville, Yardley Hastings, Yardley Gobion, Preston Deanery, Marston Trussle, Milton Malsor, Mears Ashby, Clay Coton, and the wonderfully named Clifton Reynes, Grafton Regis and Moreton Pinkney, I think we do ourselves proud.
When I was younger, working in London and driving back and forth almost daily, I let my imagination wander and I'd conjure up scenarios where all these village names were actually people and I'd imagine what kind of people they were with names like that. Mears Ashby had an entire family, including Castle Ashby, Canons Ashby and cold Ashby, plus a distant cousin called Ashby St Ledgers. I always saw Clifton Reynes as some Shakespearian actor from the 30s; Grafton Regis as some tenacious boxer and Moreton Pinkney as a suave Edwardian private detective.
Look, driving 130 miles a day took it's toll. I had to keep myself amused somehow...

***

I now have two days off and a weekend to look forward to. The golf will take up a large part of this, but I will find time for beer, more beer and possibly even more beer. I have to go to the post office too. My life can be just so exciting at times...

Sunday, July 04, 2010

For Absent Friends

Just over 20 years ago, the concept of owning a personal computer was a dream - for those that knew about home computers, it certainly was; despite the fact that the earliest home computing systems didn't actually do that much and what it did do was pretty underwhelming.

It's hard to believe that now we depend on our once expensive boxes in the corner, possibly far more than any other gadget of the last 100 years - even the television and radio. Obviously, the Internet was responsible for this change and has become this massive controlling aspect of most of our lives. The good thing about the Internet is that it has become a valuable tool to help with our lives. I've spoken at great length for years about what's wrong with it.

On Thursday, while I was at work, my good old geriatric PC bit the bullet. It packed up and died. I wasn't surprised, I'd sort of expected it to happen at some point in the last two years. But... the void it created! At least five times during Thursday evening, and I was out for two hours, I had reason to need to check the computer or go on line and find out information. Of course, I couldn't and that was frustrating. I remember the TV breaking down back in the 1980s - the wife knocked a vase full of water down the back and blew it up. we didn't have a TV for over a week, yet amazingly, we managed to find things to do.

In 2010, without a computer, I managed to watch more TV; do a bit of extra gardening and um...

The new PC is a cheap one. it cost less than £400 and makes my old PC (which cost £1000) look like an abacus. In fact, it's so quick, I've spent 40% less time in front of the computer. This might have something to do with my need to lift my spare hard drive out of the old computer and fit it into the new one. it's only an 80gig drive, but it has so much on it. The last back up I did was in January.

What I have lost is my bookmarks for the net and over 10 years worth of emails and addresses. yes, 10 years! The way I upgraded my PCs back in the late 90s up till the last one, was done by copying the mbx file and loading it back into a newer version of Outlook Express. I no longer have OE and as Virgin Media screwed up our pop3 accounts a couple of years ago and I'll be buggered if I'm going to spend another hour talking to a Mumbai call centre, with a support technician who can't support. So, if any of you have an email for me that ends in .ntlworld.com then it don't work any longer.

Try squonk_uk@yahoo.com - it's an email account I've had for 17 years!

******

I don't think of myself as politically naive, but I'm beginning to struggle to understand what is going on at the moment. We're slowly coming out of recession - possibly due to the fact that something was going to happen rather than not - and from where I'm standing, it looks like coalition is banking on the private sector to fill the void made by the billions in cuts we're about to suffer. As the private sector no longer pays anything like the public sector and is likely to employ less people - not more - than is needed; how is this going to make the mood of the millions who suffer better? How is it going to stimulate the economy if 1.5million people are going to be effectively living on less money in a far more unstable jobs environment? What are charitable organisations and the care industry going to do when the squeeze on money starts to hit them the hardest? How are the ignorant, socially excluded or challenged going to understand that they are having to suffer for the good of the country, when someone 'better' than them isn't going to suffer nearly as badly?

I cannot see these 'austerity measures' doing anything but causing similar social divisions as Thatcher caused in the 80s.

I'm concerned, because I can see massive job losses and not because these positions are obsolete, but because they can be cut; and that means that these peoples jobs will need to continue to be done, which means those that remain, regardless of their own workloads, will have extra responsibilities, an extra burden. And they'll have to do it because their own jobs will no longer be as safe as they once were and in many cases, good workers will become bad because of the pressure of expectation.

I'm already going to be a victim of cuts and on Thursday, I met with someone who knows the score about all the shit that I could only dream of knowing. I wanted to talk to her about the future and what I heard, I have to be honest, scared me a little. She doesn't know for a fact, but she believes that a series of measures will come into place in this 'new world' as she liked to call it and none of them will be to any one's liking; but, as she says, quite emphatically, we might have to accept what's offered of get nothing at all.

She claims the best I and many of my colleagues can expect is a 5% wage cut. this might offset the need to make 1000 people redundant. However, she believes that job cuts will become a necessity, even after the deadwood has been axed. There is going to be no money for projects, community development, crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Many voluntary agencies and organisations dependent on grants and funding are either going to have to have major rethinks or are just going to cease to exist. She reckons that by 2012 we'll have councils radically different from what we have now, doing a different job and there will be nothing to fill the void. For some people life will not change that much, for others it will be the end of years of struggle, because now they face a massive struggle, especially if they are the victims of the cuts and there will be so many that are.

By Christmas 2011, I expect there will be a growing movement to pull the troops out of Afghanistan and scaling back on defence spending - people struggling in poverty will be asking why we're fighting our own personal Vietnam, when our council estates start to resemble 3rd world regions...

The thing that frightens me most though is if we pull out of this huge budget deficit and have nothing left to show for it; we're not going to generate enough money to ensure that worthy things and projects get reinstated; there isn't going to be a sudden mass investment by the government into youth work, community development and social schemes; because by the time we're out of debt, everything will be far more expensive and the only young people getting anything are those with parents that can afford it.

*******

I've been very prolific over the last few days - blame it on the weather.

WMD

It doesn't matter how you balance it, stack it up, compare it to other things; I was, for 12 years, a gossip columnist. I know; it's not something I should be proud of, but, I am, immensely.

Gossip columns are lies, damned lies and statistics. But, depending on just how well versed you might be in your chosen gossip subject, you develop a kind of 'bullshit meter' - something that alerts you to either the plausibility or implausibility of a scenario. In layman's terms - I got a very good nose for a true story, or a story with an element of truth in it.

About four days ago, I received a text message from a mate. He is not someone who you'd immediately connect with serious gossip. In fact, while reading the very long text he sent me, I half expected some cheesy punchline to conclude it. It didn't materialise. This was a text with an undercurrent; one insidiously plausible.

Hopefully I've set the bar. Those of you reading this will be thinking that I've privy to some mind-blowing information. Sadly, it is likely from this point on, to turn off most of you off.

Apparently, since the bleak midwinter, there has been a rumour circulating on the net, claiming that recent England captain - for the World Cup - Steven Gerard, has got a 16 year old girl pregnant. While this is a spurious and potentially libellous piece of gossip, it has been allowed to drift around the net, unchallenged. Then as the inquest into England's first game of the WC with the USA was being conducted, a couple of less salubrious websites began to speculate that Gerard had been involved in another recent extra-marital affair. Depending on what you read, it was either with Alex Curran's sister (Curran is Gerard's wife) or someone else, connected to this collection of WAGs and associates.

By the time the Algeria match came around things were getting incredibly heated in Rustenburg - where England were preparing for their expected humiliating exit from the tournament. According to the text, two days before the Algeria game, Gerard's lawyers asked for and gained a high court injunction against a daily red top to prevent it from running a seriously damaging story about Gerard's possible unofficial play time. The injunction was granted, in a similar vein to John Terry's gagging attempt about his shagging of a team mate's girlfriend. As soon as news of this filtered back to England's training camp, there was an immediate reaction from former captain Terry; who allegedly confronted Fabio Capello and demanded to know why Gerard hadn't been stripped of the captaincy.

Another website spoke of the deep divisions inside the England camp, with the 23 dividing themselves into 3 cliques and the remainder. The groups were the Chelsea crew and associated players; the Liverpool mob and I'm happy to report, the Tottenham connection, that was used by the FA to make the peace and get the team focused on the final match. However, the two opposing camps - Chelsea and Liverpool were pretty much at war. Rumours of Terry and Gerard's apparent hate for each other began to circulate. Statisticians began to show graphs about the number of times Gerard and Terry actually passed the ball to each other during the 4 competitive matches England played (not bothering to check their figures against any of the previous games the two played in; it was no more or less than an average of the previous 20 times they had played together) and soon you were getting newspapers and serious websites speculating that there might be suggestions of a sex scandal that has deeply divided the England camp. But again, it was almost like editors were saying, "we need to put something up, just so when the news finally blows we can say we knew too. But we know there's an injunction."

A second high court injunction was asked for and granted last Monday; which might explain why the normally explosive and highly emotional Fabio Capello seemed to take the news of a two week moratorium on his potential future tenure as England boss remarkably easily; almost like he was told he was being used as a smoke screen for something far worse than his failure to deliver a nation's expectations. Capello's laid back attitude at that press conference didn't seem to bother anyone else; they all seemed really busy speculating on a potential successor. But, even before I received the text that set this column in motion, I thought Don Fabio seemed just a little too comfortable. And if this proves to be a real scandal, then who can blame him? He's got a custom made excuse ready to be rolled out by the FA: it was the players wot done it!

This might also explain why Fabio's two week wait ended up being less than a week. Because, if all of this is true then, in a few days the real truth is going to leak out and his poor performance is going to be overshadowed by a scandal that will cast a massive shadow over Premier League footballers, the high earners and the young men forever being touted as role models for us all.

In a nutshell: Gerard is alleged to have had either one or two affairs, resulting in at least one sprog. He has possibly managed to get a gagging order on the press for what seems to be one month - that month would be up at the weekend. There was a massive bust-up at the training camp forcing Terry into going public with some of the feelings in a hope to win support from the non-partisan members of the team and failing miserably because the majority of them there just wanted to play in a World Cup.

With hindsight, any good writer, with a sense of the devious in him or her can take any story, however unlikely, and make the events around it seem inter-related. Hey, that's how conspiracy theories start! Writing gossip columns is like riding a bike, you get a little rusty, but you don't forget how and this smacks of a cross between wishful thinking and crazy conspiracy theory to give a plausible excuse for England's poor performance.

However; here's where I stick my neck out. The Daily Star had an in-brief news story last week. I can't remember it word for word, but i do remember one specific thing - see if you can from this paraphrase. There is a growing internet rumour about a sex scandal possibly responsible for England's poor performance. And that was essentially it, but a little more flowery. It isn't a news item; it's a statement of fact and a suggestion that this, by law, was the only thing the paper could say without risking much. Yes, it could be the Daily Star covering all angles, so that it could justifiably say they ran something ambiguous just to allow their readers to know that something was possibly afoot... But, you know something? I don't know if it's my desire to want to believe there was some alternative reason why England played so poorly in the tournament, or if it has genuinely tweaked the last of my journalistic instincts.

In this case there's barely any smoke let alone evidence there might be a fire. Sometimes horribly damaging apocryphal stories are invented because they are a good way to ease a collective nation's pain. Heck, even if it isn't true, the nation needs a hate figure, so why not Steven Gerard? I mean, after all, he did get off Scott free from that assault and affray charge last year and it was obvious to everyone apart from the judge and jury at his trial that he was as guilty as I am of obsessing over the weird, wonderful and downright distasteful proto-rumours.

**********

So Brazil, Argentina, France, Italy, England and a host of also-rans are all out of the world cup. We're down to 4 teams now - Holland (my tip), Uruguay (who'd have thunk it?), Spain (the favourites) and Germany (the most impressive team in the tournament). Only Uruguay probably don't stand a realistic chance of winning, but I'm not about to write them off just yet.

Of the beaten quarter-finalists, we have to remember that Ghana were without their only truly world class player - Michael Essien. With him, they might have been in the semis; they might even have ensured that England wouldn't have been paired with the Germans. Brazil and Argentina are both the football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters - teams made up of brilliant players who fail to play as a team when it's really needed. Paraguay fought above their station and scored less goals than anyone else, but I'm betting the nation would have taken their performance over England's any day.

In realistic terms, England aren't 8th best in the world, they're closer to 16th, possibly considerably lower. There were teams that didn't qualify for the knockout stages who, on current form, would still beat us despite their own problems - Italy, Serbia, Ivory Coast, Switzerland and even France. Time for Capello and the FA to have a reality check and do something about the future, the way Germany did. Because hate them all you want, they're streets ahead of us at the moment.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Versus

This is weird... most of the following has already been written; however my wonderfully ancient computer finally died on me yesterday, leaving a huge PC sized hole in my life.

I hope to have a new PC by Friday night, but it will be a while before I'm up to scratch with that, or before I can get my spare hard drive out of my dead PC and installed in the new one.

I needed this like a hole in the head. Thank the gods that libraries have computers and that I'm working in one this morning!

Normal service will probably be resumed long before you realise I'm gone.

*********

There is an amusing column in the Guardian's weekend The Guide section; it's about overheard conversations. I think the following tops that by a country mile...

I was working (at one of the pensioner events my work project does) and two elderly women were talking about mobile phones and modern technology, more to each other than anyone else and to be fair I was only paying half of my attention to them. Then I heard the following that sort of caught my attention:
"My mother used to say electricity is the root of all evil. That Belsen has a lot to answer for."
"Belsen? Are you sure it was Belsen who invented electricity. I thought that was a concentration camp?"
"No, it was Belsen, they just named the camp after him because they tortured the Jews with electricity." Her friend looked puzzled.
"I thought Edison invented electricity," she said looking pretty sure of herself.
"No, he invented the lighthouse."

************

I remember writing a blog entry about 5 years ago on one of my deceased blogs; it was essentially a question that was asked me by one of the young people I was working with. It was 'Why do we pay so much tax'?

During a very interesting discussion with some of the young people I work with, one of them really highlighted the gulf between politics and young people. This particular young person missed out on voting by 12 days and felt frustration about that rather than the usual ambivalence I see from most of the young, almost voting age, people I meet. He took the question I was asked nearly 5 years ago and turned it on its head.
"Tax is so unfair. Why should we have to pay for the mistakes made by people we had no say in electing?" He asked me. I mentioned that while he was not working, arguably people were paying for him, but he's a little cleverer than that. "When I get a job, I'll have to pay single person's tax. I'll also have to pay Council Tax, as someone under 18, I'm still forced to pay VAT and all that is is theft. Taxing people to be able to live. It's appalling!" I was gobsmacked; I didn't think that proto-socialists were still being born.

The thing is, he's right. Isn't always the supposedly naive that make obvious things more focused? 600,000 people will join the dole queues in the next few years - I might possibly be one of those people - and yet, those 600,000 people will still have to pay for the country's inability to elect people to run it without dumping loads of extra debt on us. Living in the UK is a bit like taking a second mortgage out; in fact, if things get as bad as some are forecasting, then we might all have to take second mortgages out just to live!

Tax isn't just income tax, VAT (remember it stands for Value Added Tax, whatever that means), and council tax; we have all manner of other little things that essentially boil down as indirect taxes. We have to pay to park in the towns we work in; not only do we contribute to the commerce and employment of a town, we have to pay to be able to do it. If we travel to work, we're either paying extortionate fees for public transport or we're paying masses of fuel tax on petrol or diesel. When we're not paying VAT on things that probably have little or no value, we're paying duty on tobacco and booze. If we fall into debt we're penalised even further, by banks, utility companies and bureaucrats. We have to pay a licence to watch the television; we have to pay taxes if we want to leave the country; we have to pay them if we die.

When you sit down and look at everything, it's just depressing. We live to repay all the people we entrust who repeatedly fail to deliver what even a small majority of us want.

**********

Was listening to Nicky Campbell this morning on 5Live and the subject of fox-hunting reared it's ugly and bloodstained head again. This woman from Gloucestershire, who sounded like she possibly gave the Queen elocution lessons said, "people in the city don't understand the hell country folk have to go through. Foxes are a blight to the farming community, they kill senselessly, not for food, just for pleasure and hunting them is the only guaranteed way of eradicating this menace."
So, there isn't a viable alternative to killing foxes other than chasing a single one - not necessarily the perpetrator of all these heinous crimes against new born lambs - through peoples lands and without much care for the environment or the people using it; so that a pack of dogs can rip it to shreds and then allow the elders of the hunt to smear blood on the faces of virgin hunters? Puh-lease.
I so wanted to call and say with the proliferation of urban foxes, perhaps gangs of urban unemployed can train their Staffies, hot wire some cars and chase these rapscallions through the streets of major cities, totally exempt from prosecution, because they're doing the country a service. I'm sure Campbell would have laughed...

************

(Now)
I've been making lists of things I'm either going to forget of things I want to remember when I get the new PC. So at least I won't forget anything important. One of the things I wrote on my pad last night was the words 'pubic hair in the 70s' and I've just got five minutes to tell you about it!

Bored out of my mind, last night, I decided to watch Carrie, the 1976 film based on the Stephen King novel and directed by Brian DePalma and starring, amongst others, Sissy Spacek. This film is memorable for the, at the time, fantastic closing scene, one which had cinema goers in the 70s howling like scared kids. 35 years later, that scene isn't anywhere near as effective, despite knowing it was coming. That was the thing that most people remembered about Carrie, that scene, the pigs blood scene and the opening shower sequence.

As a 14 year old pubescent sex balloon, the film's opening sequence probably put far too much lead in my pencil for a teenager sitting in a cinema. It is laden with naked girls romping round a school changing room. I think it was probably the first time in my life I'd seen moving pubic hair on a screen and the images stayed with me for years. So when I decided last night to rewatch the film, I was absolutely staggered and horrified by the amount of pubic hair on display. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against pubic hair, I have some myself; but some of these girls on display looked like they had shaggy dogs hanging from their naughty bits. Now I know pubic topiary is something of a modern phenomena, but did anyone seriously find this kind of thing sexy? Apart from those weird freaks that like hirsute women...

Anyhow, more when I finally get back into the 21st century!