Monday, January 31, 2011

Transfer deadline day as it happens... (Part 2)

Part one here: http://toysoutofthepram.blogspot.com/

16:53
Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson has issued a 'Hands Off Warning!" He has insisted that under no circumstances is Howard Webb for sale.

16:58
Newcastle accept a £26.85 offer from Liverpool for Mandy Carroll, Andy's 17 year old sister.

16:59
Newcastle accept a £3.5billion offer for Andy Carroll. The money will go to the regeneration of Mike Ashley's swimming pool and personal solarium.

16:60
Liverpool accept a £50 Gazillion for Hair by Nando Torres from the People's Republic of Chelski. Reds boss Kenny Dalglish is believed to have thrown in a bottle of perm solution and some blonde hair dye.

17:17
Ashley Young is still staying at Aston Villa. "Honest he is, he's going no where, la," says Villa manager Gerard Houllier. "However, Stephen Ireland can fuck off!" And apparently he is, on his way to Newcastle who now have more money than sense - so no change there then.

17:20
Tottenham have a bid for half of Spain rejected by King Juan Carlos.

17:22
Blackpool manager Ian Holloway has said, "It's all a bit boring now, me beauty, isn't it? Now that Chelski and Liverpool have spent the GDP of Romania between them there's bugger all left to talk about. The £10million being offered for our over rated central midfielder who no one had heard of this time last year seems trivial and I don't even know if I can sell him now that the Premier League have decided they pick my team now, me beauty, me precious. Do you want zum zider, me lovely?"

17:33
Everton chairman Bill Kenwright has told manager David Moyes that if he wants a new kettle he needs to sell someone or loan someone out to cut the wage bill. Moyes, who has a pathological fear of strikers is believed to be considering offers for Louis Saha, Jermaine Beckford and Victor Anichebebebebe and quite fancies http://www.amazon.co.uk/Martin-Executive-Collection-Cordless-Kettle/dp/B001C4E0AO/ref=tag_tdp_sv_edpp_i however, the company appear to be out of stock of this product and are unlikely to get any new ones until after the transfer window.

17:45
Birmingham City have been linked to a playground scandal involving a bus load of 9 year olds. While Bolton Wanderers have confirmed they have made a bid for Nat Lofthouse's ashes.

17:47
Crawley Town have made an audacious bid for Gillingham. The chairman has been reported as saying he can't be arsed to wait for promotion to the real league. A £40million bid for Dimitar Berbatov is way off the mark according to the man who speaks on behalf of Alex Ferguson, "Berba likes the idea of playing non-league football, but is concerned about the standard of pies."

18:01
Recently sacked pundit and presenter Dicky Keys has had an offer of £2000 for a bag of his back hair accepted by Oldham.

18:08
Amazingly, with only a few hours to go before the close of the window, there has been barely a whimper from Man Citeh. The oil rich billionaires of football were believed to be attempting to sign Tottenham's Welsh prodigy Gareth Bale for the Maldives and a fleet of Bugatti Veyrons. Spurs manager genial Harry 'Grout' Redsnapper is reported to have turned the offer down as he doesn't know what the Maldives best playing position was. "Someone said it played best as an attacking midfielder and I have 207 of those on the books already." The Spurs manager is considering playing an experimental 1-1-1-7-1 formation against Blackburn on Wednesday.

18:18
Liverpool have confirmed they have signed Andy Carroll, but not his ponytail, which, it seems, has to stay on Tyneside and play as a left sided midfielder.

18:20
With less than 4 hours and 41 minutes to go until the end of the window, there has been more money changing hands than Britain is currently in debt. Chancellor Osborne has asked Newcastle for a loan to get the country out of debt and if the country defaults, the Geordies own us all.

18:30
As well as paying more money than sense for Nando Torres, Chelsea have also just bought an oxymoron, or in other words, a Brazilian defender for almost as much money as Katy Price has had boyfriends.

18:31
Tottenham have just confirmed they have loaned Peter Crouch to a runner bean grower in Kent until September.

18:40
West Ham United have been prevented from loaning anyone else by the Football League; according to the League's rules they can have no more than 6 loanees, however the club has just completed a deal to loan its 14th striker. manager Avram Grant believes the east London club can flaunt an 1877 rule that will allow them to play a 4-4-14 formation for the rest of the season. The club's odd for relegation lengthened from 8-11 to 1-20 (or is that shortened?)

18:50
Gosh, it's been pretty exciting hasn't it? The latest news is that Michael Owen is loaning someone else's knees for the rest of the season.

18:62
Notts County are formed.

19:02
Blackburn have made a bid to sign Everton's Tea Lady Mavis Herdnerf on a free transfer. They're offering a three year deal and an urn. Everton, who are desperate to reduce their wage bill have also offered their groundsman, the receptionist and David Moyes' hair stylist.

19:14
The First World War starts. Germany attempt to sign Arch Duke Ferdinand as their new coach prompting Kaiser Wilhelm to invade Italy.

19:15
Ipswich striker Jason Scotland has left the England club to play for a club in Wales while retaining his right to play for the Ireland national team.

19:16
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has criticised the press for not speculating anything to do with his club. "We're 6th and yet we're not linked with anybody; you'd think people would at least have linked us with someone, even if it was from one of the other clubs that haven't been mentioned, like West Brom or Stoke."

19:30
Speaking from his mansion on Wallasey, former Liverpool Manager Rafa Benitez made this statement about the selling of Nando and the buying of the Carroll twins, "I think eet is good beesknees of ze cloob. Nando deed not have ze right hair style for ze cloob. Eet was clever of Keeng Kenny to buy ze Man-dee, she weel be a good sign eeng for ze cloob geeving ze hand and blow jobs before ze keee matchees."

19:39
The Second World War starts after Germany beat Poland in topless 5-a-side knockout.

19:40
David Beckham has agreed to have a tattoo of a walrus on his penis.

19:45
The Second World War ends with the declaration that England have to win the World Cup within the next 21 years.

19:49
Northampton Town have sold their entire team in a profiteering exercise and have signed an under-18 team from Doncaster to replace it. Chairman David Cordoza said, "How else am I going to pay for my cocaine habit and all those girls?"

19:59
Roger Trenwith is born and chooses to support Everton, who have to sell their entire midfield if David Moyes wants a new duvet.

20:01
Steven Gerard has tweeted on Twitter that 'there is no S in Scunthorpe where Nando is concerned.' Rumours that he is looking for a fight in a Walton night club have not been confirmed.

20:10
Wayne Rooney has announced that he has managed to get to a complete set of Star Trek:The Next Generation dvds off of eBay.

20:12
The Olympics prove to be a complete and utter disaster for Bangladesh as they don't win a single medal and their cook is fired for using too much clarified butter. Taiwan complain about the buses.

20:40
Not a lot has happened for nearly half an hour. Norwich have confirmed that Delia will be cooking coq au vin at the next home match, but not sausage rolls. Wigan chairman Dave Whelan is thinking of renaming the DW stadium again and rumours that he is trying to buy Fylde are way off the mark, but he has applied for membership of Southport Golf Club. Cardiff have signed Shirley Bassey on a free transfer.

21:00
With two hours to go, Spurs still haven't signed anyone and the press are growing concerned. Genial Harry was seen with his feet up in his living room in Sandbanks, Dorset earlier and Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman was at a Mosque in Ryadh touting for business, but neither was seen with a mobile phone. Rumours about Peter Crouch have stopped as his agent's mobile phone battery has died. Rafael Van Der Vaart's missus is not to model topless as first reported, but she has signed papers to play in defence for Wolves.

22:00
With an hour to go in the window, Liverpool haven't spent any more money and several of the Arsenal players have gone for an early night. Everton manager David Moyes has run out of coffee and may have to sell some of the lead from the roof of Goodison Park to get some more. The Merseyside team will play their match on Wednesday with paper turnstiles as the original ones have been sold for scrap.

22:22
Zager and Evans have been seen at QPR with Bernie Ecclestone, Peters & Lee and several members of Abba. Colin Wanker aka Neil Warnock has been taking tango lessons and several footballers with two Christian names have turned down the chance to join the west London club. They have signed a Nigerian who plays in the Russian league because the temperature in London is higher than that of Minsk.

22:30
Half an hour to go and Spurs have announced that one of their attacking midfielders has agreed to join a Spanish club for a kilo of onions, some ham and a used skateboard. No hang on, that was what Everton offered Spurs for the midfielder who declined and took real money instead.

22.45
Fifteen minutes to go and the feeling here at Transfer window control is something big is coming up.

22:46
Fulham have signed a small terraced house in Bermondsey on loan until the end of the season with a view to a permanent move in August. Apparently, Stoke were after the house as well, but could not agree terms with the owners. This is the first and possible only time Fulham have been mentioned during the entire day.

22:52
Everton have transferred £7 from their savings account to the current account to buy some biscuits and a new tea towel. A local housewife has volunteered to be tea lady until the summer when the club hope to sign former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez as the new tea boy and groundsman. The Spaniard said, "It's a small cloob but I have ze reputation to rebuild and it isn't my fault, it eez every one else's." It is believed he has some history of waiting.

22:59
The window draws to a close for another 6 months. More money has changed hands today than Wayne Rooney's pimp and John Terry's drug dealer handle in a week. The big winners are Liverpool and Newcastle, but what they've won is highly questionable and both teams have lost a degree of loveliness that neither had in the first place. Spurs have done nothing at all which has surprised everyone, but Harry managed a quiet night in with his missus, so that was nice and the big losers are Chelski who are something in the region of £6billion down, but have an oligarch who likes large breasted women and big guns, so no one is going to be giving him a hard time over how he spends his money. Man Citeh's big money signing, Edwin Gecko, who was bought for a small aircraft carrier three weeks ago has so far scored one goal against a non-league side made up of gay transvestite nuns and children under 9. Man Citeh manager Roberto 'Like my Scarf' Mancini claims the player will need time to settle.

23:00
Just remember that other deals might go through but we haven't heard about them, so stay tuned until at least Thursday and remember a transfer window isn't a proper one unless there's a last minute Spurs deal or a sacking for sexism by Sky TV. You all smell and I am a friend of Jesus...

Wool Pie Fencepost

Odd jobs...

Or, as the case may be, not.

Twice in my life I have done jobs that I would have sold my soul to continue doing. Back in 1984, I was working for the Borough Council at the Community Youth Centre on Guildhall Road in Northampton, better and commonly known as Number 9. I was chatting to one of the workers who produced the monthly newsletter - a kind of in-house affair that was also available to any discerning members of the general public. The conversation was about an interview I said I could get (bare in mind this was many years before I ended up working as a journalist). The magazine, which I have a copy of somewhere in the loft, was doing a feature on drug abuse in Northampton and I just happened to know a drug dealer. I proposed doing an interview - anonymously - and using it for the magazine. The editor thought it was a great idea and I went off to do the thing.

I suppose in many ways it acted as a catalyst for my future career, I don't think I'd ever considered journalism until that happened and I did a good job of it. So good the aftermath proved to be very interesting. A week after the interview appeared, two police officers from the Northants force came to see me and asked me to divulge my source; my then manager, on my behalf, said that this was not going to happen and the old Bill left without finding anything out or even speaking to me. A week after that, the editor of the magazine came to see me and asked if I would meet with a professor of sociology from Nene College (now the University of Northampton). I agreed and he asked me if I would give a talk to his sociology degree students about the contents of the interview and other things that were omitted from the interview. I agreed and ended up doing an actual lecture - completely off the cuff - about drug dealing and the social reasons and implications. It went down very well and I got paid £75 for the 75 minute talk and the subsequent 30 minute Q&A session.

I thought this might be the start of something big. I could quite easily have done this again and again, especially as the guy who arranged it thought the entire session went down really well; but this was at the height of Thatcher's massive public spending cuts and it didn't happen. I did get contacted by the professor in the early 1990s about doing a talk at the OU, but I actually managed to talk myself out of doing it!

The best one however happened in 1997. I was at UKCAC (United Kingdom Comic Arts Convention) in London and had just finished doing a talk on The X-Men for an audience of about 150 people. I had made my way back to the bar and was followed by this trendy looking bugger who wanted to put a proposition to me. The guy worked for a software developer and he wanted me to act as an adviser for a game they were developing. I was a wee bit skeptical at the time, thinking that it might have been a wind up (this was before computer games became massive business), but my then employer reckoned it would be a good way to pick up some extra cash. So, I gave the guy my phone number, told him when my busiest days at work were over the coming two months and didn't expect to hear from him again. This was the Saturday, on the Monday morning I got a call asking me if I could go to their development studio in Cricklewood, London the following week. They said it would be two days work of consulting and they would pay me... £200 a day plus my expenses. I almost fell through the floor!

The two days there were fantastic. I was bought lunch, waited on hand and foot by nubile wenches and all I had to do was give them my knowledge of the X-Men and whether or not aspects of the game they were developing were accurate to X-Men continuity - the game was authorised by Marvel. I even came up with a villain for the game! I got £400 plus travel costs which was a ton of money for two days work as far as I was concerned then and would still be now. I offered my comics skills for any other projects they might be thinking of making and got this idea that while I couldn't programme to save my life, I could come up with great game ideas. Unfortunately, I only heard from the company once more, to send me a copy if the game in 1999, which included a credit in the handbook. It was a Wolverine game and was designed for early versions of the PC. I did speak to one of the developers in 2000 at a Bristol comics convention; he claimed I gave them far too much information and had I been a bit less generous they probably could have used me for a couple more days, but I kept on giving them info and calling me back would have been pointless. "You gave us enough information for two games," he said to me.

The reason this came to mind is that a friend of mine is off to the local uni next week to do a talk about his work in Youth Justice. He does about 20 a year, some for unis, some for local authorities and some for the police force and gets a lot of dosh for each of them. Enough, he reckons, for him to only need a part time job for the rest of the year. It would be nice to be in that position. I always used to say that I should have got more TV work from my time in comics, purely based on the fact that I knew a lot and didn't look like a geek; but that never happened mainly because I could count on one hand the number of comics programmes I remember being made. I've done a lot of radio work relating to comics, yet have never been paid for any of them - the BBC doesn't pay people they drag in off the street to talk to DJs, or if they do they managed to keep it from me!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Good, the Bad and I'm Ugly

It's that day again - January 29. The day that is rather important to the two most important women in my life. The day I started courting the wife and the day my mum shuffled off this mortal coil. Paula (there I've said it) and I were supposed to be celebrating our 15th 'anniversary' but my mum had to go and spoil it by dying. typical of us bloody Halls, we're always trying to upstage each other!

Now, the 29th of January is treated as a celebration. The 13 years since mum died have whizzed past and its hard to believe that she's not here, especially as I often still talk to her - can't go to Kingsthorpe Cemetery very often though, buggers me up for the rest of the day. We celebrate the 29th because it gives us a chance to remember mum fondly and to celebrate the fact that the wife has got another year closer to achieving her Duke of Edinburgh Platinum Award for perseverance.

This year is a biggy in many ways; in a little under 8 months we'll be celebrating 25 years of marriage and having a big party to celebrate it; there will be a few people not there who we'd want to be there: Glynn, my brother in law who lost his fight at the ridiculous age of 26; of course, my mum and dad and a number of friends whose funerals we've attended over the last few years. Just to put a real dampener on the day, the odds suggest that at least one more person we'd like to be there on September 10th will pop his or her clogs, leaving another gap that won't be filled.

I'll tell you a little about my mum one of these days; but not today, eh.

Whoever reads this today, I hope you have a good day and if you've lost someone dear to you, take a few minutes out to remember them, that way they never truly die.

Love ya xx

Friday, January 28, 2011

Rantus Norvegicus

Oy pedestrian! You see that crossing? That one that's five feet away from where you are dicing with death in an attempt to cross the road. Fucking use it, you twat!!

Jesus Hairy Christ, how many times am I going to see an idiot, a woman with a pram or a 'lad' attempting to cross a busy main road without using the pedestrian crossing which is situated so close to them they must either be blind or completely fucking ignorant to not have noticed it? I wouldn't mind, but there's enough of the poxy things distributed around the busy parts of town to lose count of the amount of sticks you can shake at them. They stopstartstop the traffic enough and yet some people seem to think it's easier for them to cross the road by jumping in and out of moving cars, knowing full well that however much it pisses the driver off, they're the pedestrian and they have right of way.

Well, it should stop. Drivers should be free from prosecution for mowing fuckwits down provided they are not drunk and their cars are fully insured with valid MOTs and its within 25 feet of a level crossing.

But, imbeciles like this are not the only culprits. How about the fuckwads that use pedestrian crossings but don't wait for the green man to appear? You know the kind; they just wander out when there's a gap of more than a gnat's cunt hair between cars and wonder why drivers hurtle 50 million kinds of abuse at them. These people, in many respects, are even worse than the wankers mentioned above, because they actually went to the trouble of finding a crossing and then still managed to completely ignore how they're intended to be used. These people should be forced to shove their heads up George Osborne's arse. No, that would be horrible, but not horrible enough...

Not content to deal with pedestrians with the brains of small near extinct marsupials, getting into work in the morning also has the added bonus of wankspanners in white vans, who seem to believe that now Volvo drivers are no longer vilified, then they will go out of their way to make sure they get the honour. I followed a white van into work this morning that seemed to think that a two lane carriageway was theirs and theirs alone. Oh I'll wander over here and I'll wander over there and you people behind me can go fuck yourselves with the tools I have in the back of my white van. When the driver stopped and got out of his van near the bank on the Wellingborough Road, not far from the pedestrian crossing where the road traffic massacre almost took place, he seemed totally bemused when a driver of a Volvo 4x4 called him a 'wanker'. Who me? He seemed to suggest before jay walking across the road and almost decorating the front of another white van that seemed to visibly speed up when said wanker got into the road.

***

As a side rant, we might not see another World Cup hosted in this country before I'm dead, but we might also never see a British tennis champion. For all the promise Andy Murray shows, he seems to bottle it when the chips are down and can't raise his game the way others can. Even if he claws his way back into this game against David Ferrer, what chances of beating the other bloke in the final, given that he's prone to choking?

I suppose we have golf to fall back on and rowing and, um... Oh look, a herd of flying pigs wearing tutus and singing Hallelujah have just flown past my window...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wobbly Bottom

There are a couple of adverts floating about at the moment: The Credit Expert one - Experian - and the family tree one - Genealogy.com. These are two examples of companies attempting to get you to pay for something via a monthly direct debit scheme that you're not likely to need more than once.


***


Adverts piss people off, so now we have a situation where you can pay not to have adverts. If you don't want to pay, aren't you more likely to search round for an alternative that isn't advert led rather than pay not to have them? Or, if you're like me, you're just likely to ignore the advert, turn the sound down (on your speakers, because the crafty buggers have worked out people do that and it freezes the advert if you're on line) or just exit the programme you're in and... go and find an adless alternative.


***


Designer underwear for kids is just a bit silly and not even an advert for affluence; however spectacles are! Why do some parents stick their kids in glasses that are just going to attract ridicule? The Fishwife has a child who is a bit myopic; the boy's glasses look like something out of a nightmarish Tim Burton kids' film. So now not only does the kid's foghorn voice attract attention, but his 21st century Timmy Mallet glasses attract more attention. I swear if calipers were en vogue, he'd have some of them.


***


Even the government can blame the wrong kind of snow now!


***


Composting - it's good that councils are encouraging it. We compost a large percentage of the waste we have; but to be able to compost a lot of garden refuse - twigs, lawn trimmings and leaves; or to compost the contents of the rabbit hutch, duck shed and any large amount of garden waste, we'd need at least 3 more composting bins and a shredder; this would increase during the spring, summer and especially the autumn. Why then do we only get 11 brown bin collections in a year? As a result of composting and recycling, our black bin would take a month to fill up, yet that gets done every fortnight. We're not the only household that ends up putting compostable materials in our black bin because our brown one is full to brimming.


***


People can be complete and utter wankers about parking.


A few years ago, before the exhibitionist Eastern Europeans moved in, there was a couple living over the road. They have a drive and a front of garden road bit. My dad used to visit us about once every 6 weeks and for the two or three days he was here, he would park his Honda in front of their house. They only had the one car and as I mentioned, a drive.


Now, the guy who lived there was the best friend of the guy we bought the house off of. We knew we were buying a pretty unkempt house - hence the price - but in the 6 weeks between our offer being accepted and us moving in, the family appeared to allow their cats and dog to piss every where; managed to somehow let the bath leak and generally allow the house to be treated like a toilet before they moved out. The day we were moving in, the guy across the road, wanders over, while I'm struggling with stuff out of the back of a van and says, "How's thing going?"
My reply, being one of a hassled man was, "It could have been better if the bloke who lived here hadn't used the place as a toilet for the last month." I pointed at the pile of putrid carpets that my dad had ripped off the stairs and the living room, lying on the then front garden. "Every carpet in the house stinks of cat's piss." The guy looked at me and wandered back over to his own house and for the next three years did not utter a single word to me - not even a hello.


Then in late 2002, I'd get home from work and would find his car parked in front of our house, while his drive would be empty. Then one day, when I was on nights, he pulled up outside my house, parked his car, got out and walked over the road to his house. his drive was empty, the road out front of his garden was empty and I thought, 'I'm not having this.' So, I opened the front door and said, "Excuse me mate, but why are you parking your car there?
"Now you know how I feel when your dad's here," was his reply.
"What? Is that what this is about? You have a drive, we don't!" his reply was quite extraordinary, he made his hand into that duck bill shape and started opening it and shutting it in my direction. I just looked at him and just as he reached his door I said, "I bet your wife thinks you're being really adult about this!" And shut the door on him.


Ten minutes later he'd moved his car. I'd like to think his wife had said something to him. Three months later they had sold their house and moved.


Anyhow, we have a new one. #46 is a rented property and new tenants moved in during August. Within a week the guy there realised that parking in the street is pretty much fair game; you grab what is available if someone, usually not a neighbour parks in front of your house; but you try not to park in front of someone else's house because the knock on effect pisses off a lot of people. Neanderthal Twat next door - the one who can't parallel park, stuck his car in my usual spot, I put my car over the road, leaving enough room for a small bus to get in between my Fiat and #44's Fiesta; #46 has an old Nissan and obviously thought his car was bigger than it actually was, so he parked in front of my house; the wife gets home and she parks in front of his house and Neanderthal Twat then moves, so I put the wife's car there so we could safely get the dogs in the car without attempting to get across the road with them.


Man at #46 comes out of his house and starts shouting at me, "If you park in front of my house again I won't be happy," he shouts. I try to calm the situation down, point out to him that my neighbour had parked where I normally park, so I parked in one of the 2 spaces in front of #48, plenty of room for him to get his car in. He claimed that you couldn't get a mini in the gap and I point out that the wife has a Doblo, which is damned sight bigger than a mini and she's a woman, so why couldn't he get his Almeira in the gap. He flaps about a bit, goes and gets in his car and I move mine back to my side of the road and he to his and this dance goes on several times throughout the summer until we're down to one car with the loss of the Doblo.


Fast forward to yesterday; I get home from work at 3pm, the road is virtually devoid of cars, even the spare spaces are empty and there's a blue Vauxhall Zafira parked outside the front of #46 and his Nissan is parked where I would park. I pulled into the space where the Fiat is normally parked and thought to myself that I'm not letting this one go and walk over to #46. I knock on the door, but before I've even got my hand away from the knocker, the door is flung open and he's right in my face. "I told you if you park in front of my house again, I wouldn't be happy, you could have parked your wife's car anywhere in the road, but you chose to park it here! I'm not moving mine, I'm having my dinner and he goes to close the door."
"That's not my wife's car," I say.
"Yes it is, she drives a Zafira."
"No, my wife does own a Zafira, but I'm driving it at the moment, she's driving my orange Fiat and besides, our Zafira is silver not blue as you will see if you look over the road at the car parked about 10 feet away from your car." He looks over and you could read his thoughts perfectly; he did a sort of double take, grabbed his keys and walks past me, without saying a word.


Feeling that I'd won a small victory here, I tempted fate and said, "That's alright mate, apology accepted." To which he glowers at me, but does not say a word, gets in his Almeira and moves it up the road.


I had some toast and a cup of coffee, take the dogs out and five minutes after I get back there's a ring on the door bell. Standing there is the guy's missus. "I thought I'd better apologise to you on behalf of my partner," she says. "He's had a busy day."
"It's not really your place to apologise. To be frank, he was quite rude. I wouldn't have minded so much if the car had been the same colour, but that car," pointing at our Zafira,"Is the same colour as yours."
"He won't apologise. He's far too proud." She said, looking uncomfortable.
"Thank you for coming over, but like I said, it isn't your job to apologise and pride has nothing to do with this, he shouldn't have acted like a twat." At that point I thought, 'oh shit, she's going to take serious offence at that', but instead she just nodded, said sorry again and that it wouldn't happen again. It actually left me feeling sorry for her...


***


I like my local (although it isn't really local), but at times I wonder about the landlord's ability to be a decent human being or even whether or not he has any acumen at all, let alone business acumen. One of these days he's going to appreciate the fact that his staff are humans or he's going to go out of business...


***


So, my niece has a serious infection; my nephew has a heart attack and today I find out that the full extent of how budget cuts will probably affect me. I have an earache, the lack of feeling in my left leg meant that I managed to rip a toenail off my foot without realising it until I noticed the blood; the extra head I'm growing out of my cheekbone is slowly disappearing but still looks pretty ugly and some bugger at work fiddled around with my special chair so it needs resetting up again. The wife is sad because West Ham are shit and they're not going to Wembley; Liverpool won again, which means my obsessed friend will be texting me talking about the second coming and how the Red Shite will be finishing ahead of Spurs, will win the Europa League and how Kenny Dalglish has a massive knob; the economy is a mess and it's going to get cold again.


The King's Speech was a damned fine film though...

Monday, January 24, 2011

January, sick and tired you've been hanging on me...

I hate November; in reality I should hate January more. Too many bad things happen in January. Don't get me wrong, good things happened - I started going out with the wife on January 29, unfortunately my mother died on January 29, so it sort of negated that.

Today, while limping round Bradlaugh Fields with the dogs, I had this bizarrely weird, almost prophetic, thought. What if I collapsed? In the middle of the hills and dales with no one around - what would happen? Having four dogs, two of which are fiercely defensive could well be a problem. Neither Lexy nor Marley would let a stranger go anywhere near me and if I was unconscious, I'd probably die before a paramedic could treat me. I mean, heart disease runs in one half of my family; I'm an ex-smoker, with asthma and the reason I even contemplated the possibility of collapsing while out today was because I've been a bit wheezy and I'm carrying a big fat gut, cultivated with nuts, crisps, Twiglets, peanut butter and beer. Just the other day, I mentioned that my niece was in hospital; she had a mixture of Scarlet Fever and Supraglotitis, which is potentially fatal in adults. She's 30 and I could have lost her...

There I was, standing there, listening to my chest and thinking that it isn't beyond the realms of possibilities that I could have a heart attack standing less than 25 feet away from a busy path, used by literally hundreds of school kids and no one would find me because I keep the dogs away from all regularly beaten paths. Only, it didn't really feel like a thought; it felt more like a premonition. I had that little frisson of something that humans tend to ignore because they don't want to face the fact that something might be wrong somewhere.

At 8:00pm this evening, the wife started to watch University Challenge and I decided to spend half an hour on the PC. Lou, my niece, wrote on my Godson's wall on Facebook and what I read made me shiver. It looked bad. I clicked on Jon, my nephew's page and he'd put nothing on there and if he had it would have been on my page anyhow; but I saw that there were some well wishers postings on there; people I'm not friends with, so they wouldn't be on my page. Then I saw that Jon had replied to one of them saying he was in hospital and my stomach sank.

Countless phonecalls later, to his mum, to my other nephew, to my other brother and the news wasn't good; not good at all.

My Godson had had a heart attack at the age of 25.

Fuck.

He'd not been well for a few days; he thought he had some kind of virus, but it seems that he had something far more serious. I should be grateful that his mother insisted he went to A&E rather than going to work and I should be doubly grateful that it was a mild one and he was in the right place and saw the right people. But. He's 25 for fuck's sake?

I got scared tonight. Really scared. I spoke to him and he sounded ill and very scared and I can totally understand why. He's 25. He smokes, but not much. He's pretty much a healthy, quite fit guy and his dad, like me, seems to be more like my mum's side of the family rather than my dad's as far as health is concerned - we have bad lungs and stomachs, not bad hearts. He's 25, he should have none of that shit.

Fuck.

I didn't get much sleep last night. I'm not going to get much tonight. I won't be the only one. I won't be the only person scared shitless. Jesus, my brother must be in a state. He's the most stoic person you're ever likely to meet, but inside he's just a mass of emotions wishing they could break out.

Januarys are shit.

I hope that Jon's going to be okay. We're all scared and Januarys are shit...

Box Clever

I lied about not talking about my health yesterday. This morning I sort of managed to get out of bed in agony. The pulled muscle was bad enough, but my back is screaming at me like an Edvard Munch painting, my shoulder, which I've been neglecting to talk about, is raging (I did mention a long time ago that I was going to get calcification in my left shoulder as a result of my 2009 operation; well it's happened and it's just as bad as the last time it happened, when it was a result of the damage I'd done to the soft tissue because of the impingement...) and my leg just doesn't work very well. I feel as bad today as I did a couple of months ago; even the painkillers are proving to be pointless.

And speaking of the frigging painkillers. I'm 48. I shall be 49 in a couple of months and, as much as it pains me to say, I shall be 50 next year. I have had more spots in the last 3 months than I have since I was 18. The latest one looks as though I'm growing a new head out of one of my cheekbones. If I'm going to suffer from adolescent crap like this then I want to look 30 years younger and have nubile 18 year old girlies throwing themselves at me. Oh yeah, that isn't going to happen...

I fucking hate this with a passion!

***

Finally watched all of Skins USA last night and have deemed it to be a load of shit. What with the UK version back next week, I can safely do without this kind of pathetic bollocks cluttering up my hard drive. Shameless USA is the only one of the US remakes that has anything remotely going for it and even that only works because it's a carbon copy of a once brilliant socio-drama.

We also watched The Vanishing on 7th Avenue last night; despite it being given a dreadful review. By the end we realised why it had got such a bad review. Like The Mist and Skyline it doesn't have a happy ending and Yanks hate it when they lose. I read some of the IMDB reviews after I watched the film, which incidentally is as creepy a film as I've seen for a long time, and couldn't believe I'd watched the same film as the reviewers. I have quite a few American friends, but the vast majority of Statesiders seem to want everything carefully explained and everything to end with a happy and conclusive ending; this film doesn't even remotely try to answer any questions and concentrates on just 4 survivors of a strange event. The worst thing about the film was that it proved without reasonable doubt that Hayden Christensen or Annakin Skywalker cannot act to save his life; fortunately John Leguizamo, Thandie Newton and young Jacob Latimore more than make up for it. Don't be put off by the IMDB reviews as I'm pretty sure that some of them were written by people who didn't even watch the film.

Tonight saw the return of two favourites in Chez Hall - Top Gear and the fabulous Being Human. Top Gear was something of a vast improvement on the entire last series that seemed to lack something previous series' had. Essentially this is Boys' Own TV which just happens to be loved by as many women as blokes. What they find attractive about Clarkson, May and Hammond can make all of us men over 45 feel like we might still have it.

Being Human returned and it was wonderful. Toby Whithouse is a genius and it was like having old friends back in the living room. It is a truly fantastic programme with believably unbelievable characters, who are beautifully flawed. It also appears to now have a (bigger) budget and sets the scene nicely for the next 5 episodes that promise to take the series considerably deeper than ever before. Mitchell is brilliant; George is full of fantastic human touches, Nina is really becoming part of the 'team' and Annie was... well Annie and it was very emotionally charged to have her back, as the last few minutes showed. The new setting, the different characters and the even blacker comedy all look set to make this BBC3's biggest success story by a country mile. If you haven't seen it, then you should treat yourself.

***

Every so often, I write something and then wonder if I should publish it. I normally run it past someone like Roger first and he advises me not to. However, it's almost midnight and I've been quite prolific this evening with my typing fingers...

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my exploits at the YMCA. It was an event in my life that has several of my friends involved in; or in other words, it isn't the kind of thing that I'd make up or embellish because there are too many people who know the truth and I would expect my friends to pull me up if I say something inappropriate or an exaggeration. The morning after the YMCA story appeared, one of my oldest friends had posted something in the comments section that suggested the entire thing was fictional. Normally, I would have just ignored it, but as the person who said this was the former partner of the girl who died in 2009 and was largely responsible for me being in the career I'm now in, I took a massive exception to it and told him so. The person who questioned the factual legitimacy used to be my best friend. He is also responsible for me being ostracised by a large group of my friends during the late 1980s, because he refused to corroborate something he heard because he felt it would be wrong to divide his loyalties. I struggled to forgive him of that for many years, believing he was defending a liar over a person who had done many many things for him during our friendship.

The problem with this person is that he's now a virtual alcoholic. When I approached him about his remarks, I had already deleted his comment and he claimed he couldn't even remember writing anything let alone reading the blog entry. I copied his comment into a reply and explained to him, as he was being apologetic but vague, that it was just plain unhelpful to make spurious comments, especially when something can be corroborated by a number of people and that, I thought, was the end of that.

Last Thursday night, while having a beer with Roger, he said that a former friend of mine, who no longer likes me because I apparently don't give a shit about anyone but myself, had told him about the altercation, claiming that I had emailed my old friend out of the blue making unfounded accusations and being completely out of order. At the time, I just shrugged it off, thinking that it was pretty typical of my old friend; but as the weekend wore on it started to get under my skin. As I said, I've forgiven this guy for a lot over the years; I've defended him, helped him out, been there and done a lot for him and stayed friends with him despite his overwhelming ability to be incredibly selfish and uncharitable. I suppose tonight I ran out of patience. I think I just finally got fed up with being accused of things I'm not. Fed up of having my word questioned. Yes, I'm a story teller, therefore I embellish stuff; but I try to keep my experiences as close to what happened as possible and yet I find myself constantly having to justify myself to twats like this guy and I've had enough of it.

He is the last remaining vestige of an old life, one that I haven't missed, so I suppose I won't miss him now...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review - January 23, 2011

Full Dark, No Stars
Stephen King

When you've read as much Stephen King as I have and been disappointed by a large percentage, a book of four novellas, or in this case one novella and three of varying length short stories, doesn't exactly set your heart pounding. There was once a time when a new SK book would have me rushing to the book store on the day of its release, but now I'm more than happy to wait for Christmas and begin reading it when all the fuss has died down.

Full Dark, No Stars isn't a return to form, because most of these type of King books tend to be entertaining. Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight have both yielded memorable stories, the most famous being Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Body both of which were made into excellent films. I expect at least two in this book to make good feature films, it's just a matter of which ones they are.

My guess would be that Big Driver and A Good Marriage will end up as films of variable quality; but lets start at the beginning of the book and 1922. This is another of King's homages, in part, to H.P. Lovecraft. The author claims it was inspired by a non-fiction book about Wisconsin, but it reminded me of The Rats in the Walls, with a little of Poe's The Telltale Heart thrown in for good measure. This is a story about madness and the power to ruin your own life through guilt. It revolves around the murder of a dislikeable wife and the consequences for the two reasonably decent men responsible for it. Being set in a time when things get overlooked makes this easier to believe, but despite it being the longest story of the four, I felt it often got lost in itself, like King had the belief that with a few more twists and turns it could have been another Dolores Claiborne. Fortunately it didn't as this was by far the weakest and most predictable of the four tales.

Big Driver is the first King story I've read in a while where I could imagine it all visually and I was surprised at how well the simple story worked as both a morality piece and a revenge thriller. It concerns the rape and brutal beating of a nearly middle-aged writer and her subsequent retribution. It goes along at a cracking pace and has you rooting for her from almost the word go. It's one of those stories that if it was a film you would be cheering by the end. It reminded me of a time when King seemed to care a lot for his creations and actually made therm real people. It also spirals out of control in a believable way.

Fair Extension is my favourite of the four stories, but only just. It tells the story of a good man who is dying of cancer and the opportunity he has of extending his life. It is the only really supernatural tale and has elements of The Dark Tower, Needful Things and the Derry mythos, especially as some of the action takes place in a familiar part of Derry if you've read Insomnia. The dying man in question must trade his impending death for the chance to live 15, maybe 20, maybe even 25 more years; but his trade has to involve ruining someone else's life. The life the dying man chooses is that of his best friend; a man who has nothing but good luck. Fair Extension is just 30 pages long - it's barely a short story, but it's shocking in its coldness and it proves that King is still capable of delivering shocks.

A Good Marriage was almost my favourite, but was beaten to it by Fair Extension because the story of a woman who discovers her husband is a serial killer seemed almost rushed at some points. It could quite easily have been a longer and potentially creepier story, but too many things happened too quickly for it to work entirely for me. but, saying that, it is a strange story that led me to ask the wife what she thought her reaction would be if she found out I'd been a serial killer for best part of our marriage. I can see this being made into a very good film, especially if the film makers are not scared to delve into the parts that King almost breezes over. Admittedly this is a story about a wife's reaction, but it would have worked better if we'd seen more of the inner workings of Beadie - the totally insane split personality of her, on the surface, totally normal husband.

Over all, Full Dark, No Stars is a treat. It has three totally creepy stories, four if the first one floats your boat, and harks back to an era when King could deliver a scare or two without seeming like a cliché of himself. Therefore I feel compelled to give it an 8 out of 10.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Anorexic Filth

A good friend of mine, who I haven't seen for far too long, used the expression 'fuckity fuck fuck' a few weeks ago and I laughed. Today I used it in a similar context to her. I pulled a muscle in my back. I did it walking out of the toilet - not sitting on it or standing up from it, but walking out of it after sorting my hedgerow hair out. The pitfalls of lack of use means that muscles become more prone to being pulled. Thank fuck for Tramadol...

The specialist has deemed me worthy of seeing. February 16th is my date with destiny. We shall attempt to leave my skeletal woes alone until then. However, while having a late afternoon beer with a friend yesterday and listening to his scary health stories, I couldn't help but comment (and tempt fate) by saying that apart from two days of lurgy over the festive season, I have been surprisingly germ free and I'm no longer adolescent. The wife commented that maybe, before I started smoking (a time I barely remember as I was probably 3 when I had me first fag) I was quite healthy. Oddly enough, the only thing I really remember about my youth and illness was suffering from tonsillitis almost continuously until I was 25 and had them out.

Speaking of which; big shout out to my adorable niece Lou, who is in NGH at the moment after succumbing to a raging infection, which it seems started life as tonsillitis. She's perky enough to update her Facebook status, so fingers crossed she'll be released and back home before anyone notices she's missing!

***

I discovered post rock beauty the other day. I really like Sigur Ros, but I find some of their stuff a bit meh. They're the sort of band that produce an album and you love half of it and want the other half to go and haunt someone you don't like very much. Regular readers of this here blog might remember me mentioning Liam Sharp, the comics artist who I wrote horrific reviews about who came looking for me at a comics convention, not to rip my head off and shit down my neck, but to thank me for helping save his career? Well, I reconnected with him this week via Facebook and on Wednesday he posted a link to a video and song by a band called Kwoon.
It is quite possibly one of the greatest videos I have ever seen (the actual video is at the beginning of this section); the song is quite extraordinarily brilliant and the two Kwoon albums are heart lifting works of utter genius. Learn about them here: http://www.myspace.com/kwoonmusic here: http://www.kwoon-music.com/kwoon_news.php and here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kwoon-Official-page/39730491984?v=info I can't quite get over the fact that they're French...

***

Back in the early 1990s, I had two business partners. One was an utter dipshit, the other was a nice man with only one leg. Yesterday, I thought I should go and look for the latter on Facebook; see if I can reconnect with him. There were over 1000 people with the name Brian Curtis and it's been nearly 20 years since I saw him. The search ended up being fruitless. I should maybe try and track him down some other way!

***

The beard went last night. I got bored with it. It wasn't a great conversationalist and like the wife's tights made my face itch...

***

Fingers crossed for me over the next week, please.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Menage et Trois

A clutch of reviews!

Skins USA
S01E01

First off, this is a slightly fraudulent review. Unlike the following two reviews, this is not complete. The first copy I downloaded was corrupted in some way and by the time I got to the 15 minute mark it was virtually impossible to watch. However, saying that, there is little to differentiate this and its UK counterpart (a description you will grow tired of by the time we get to the end of this blog entry). There is very little about the opening moments of this US version that is different from the one in the UK. Tony's quilt cover has spiders on it rather than a headless naked woman, Eura (was Effy) returns home from a debauched night out in the middle of winter rather than the height of summer and needs to sneak back in without the parents knowing. Eura like a number of the other characters have had their names changed. Their father, played so brilliantly by Harry Enfield in the UK version, is more of a twat in this and essentially it is just a re-shoot of the original in a different setting.

MTV claims that after using the UK version as a template, this series will deviate into its own path and destiny. On 15 minutes evidence, it needs to. It should be noted that the woman who lives across the road from Tony has a far better pair of tits than the one in the UK version. The biggest disappointment is Stanley (Sid), but I'm sort of judging the book by its cover and the prologue. More when I've seen a few episodes.

Being Human USA
S01E01

There is little to differentiate this and its UK counterpart... I had serious hopes about this; figuring that the total Britishness of the UK version would, maybe could, not translate well, therefore giving the writers the need to develop a different strategy; forcing them to think out of the box. I had visions of penthouse flats, doctor or lawyer vampire, a chef werewolf and a ghost that didn't whine. What we get is not just a complete rehash of the first UK episode, but a mishmash rehash of the first series, with aspects of all 6 original episodes thrust into the pilot, in a setting that's eerily exact. I am of the opinion that SyFy could take a silk purse and turn it into a sow's arse; forget the ears, they'd go straight for the shitty end.

I seem to be continually disappointed by SyFy's current output and this Canadian tripe is just another in a long line of Canadian tripe. The acting is poor; what special FX we saw were poorer, the script is woeful and even actors we've grown to recognise from other series fail to make this anything more than cringeworthy. It is an abomination and fails in every aspect where the original wins. I hope Toby Whithouse got loads of money and left the American continent as fast as he could.

The names have changed but the plot remains roughly the same. Now John Mitchell is a character called Aiden (remember that John is played by Aiden Turner in the UK); George has become Josh and Annie has become Sally. Aiden and Josh work at the local hospital where Aiden is a nurse and Josh is a porter. Sally is dead and her ex-boyfriend rents their former home to the undead twins. Josh is considerably more whiny and annoying than George could ever be and Aiden isn't anywhere near as cool or likeable and torn as John. Sally is a fucking nightmare, although the special effects for her are better than what BBC3 could afford. Like I said, much of the first UK season is shoehorned into the opening 45 minutes and done considerably badly.

I wouldn't waste your time; but I'm sure a lot of my anally retentive nerd friends will insist they watch it and probably will try to find the good points. What's worse is they won't do what I'm going to do and stop watching it.

Shameless USA
S01E01

There is little to differentiate this and its UK counterpart. Now, having given up on the UK series around series 6, I wasn't really looking forward to this, especially as I knew that it was an almost carbon copy of Paul Abbott's UK version. However, it transposes extremely well and even feels a touch edgier. This is the USA after all and there is the feeling that it is a great deal more threatening. The US version uncannily close to the UK original, they have even used 95% of the dialogue and sets, there is one exception though - Frank Gallagher's 2nd ex-wife Sheila and her daughter are introduced in this, therefore much earlier than they were in the UK - about 3 seasons earlier.

William H Macy is excellent as Frank, but it's Emmy Rossum as Fiona (Ann-Marie Duff's character) who steals the acting plaudits and has a quite remarkable pair of tits - you have to see them to believe them. The rest of the characters all have peripheral roles to play, as they did in the first two series of the UK version and we'll no doubt get to know them better as this version continues. The US writers claim they are only using the UK version as a starting point and intend to drift away from Abbott's premise as the series progresses; this is where it might work. The other thing is that while it stays faithful with script and scenarios, it isn't actually as rude as the UK version. It feels slightly sexually inhibited and this might be because it is dealing with a family environment where the majority of the characters are all under the age of 21.

It did make me laugh out loud a number of times, but that might be because it reminded me of a time when Shameless was about the Gallagher family and not people from a Manchester housing estate who had been forced into the series because all of the actors playing Gallaghers decided to leave. An extremely entertaining remake; not keen on the US versions of Kev and Veronica, but Maxine Peake and Dean Lennox Kelly take a lot of beating.

The most enjoyable of the three US remakes.

***

Not brilliant reviews, but I knew what I was going on about. I also watched Off The Map which was a mixture of entertaining and a wee bit mawkish. I might give it a couple more episodes to see if it gets any better. The weird thing about it is that its using the old Lost sets, which is weird.

I also watched that programme about teen sex this evening on C4... Oh. My. Word. I never knew they were allowed to be that, um... explicit nowadays. Vajazzling and all manner of other things on display - literally. Good lord.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blancmange Steak

Despite not knowing whether I will keep my job, I've been proactive and applied for another job. The details of it are neither here nor there at the moment, but I figured if there was something I could do being advertised, I might as well beat the rush. Work knows and are being very supportive; I was even praised for my sanguine attitude - but I figure that's mainly because everyone else is running around predicting the end of the world.

My feeling is that if it's going to happen then get on with life, don't sit around waiting for the next shitty thing to happen. It's an unusual stance for someone so historically a glass half empty person, but this is the new "Now I've stopped smoking I expect to live till I'm 80 at least" kind of attitude, I should have had all along.

Of course, living till I'm 80 could be one long pain in the arse. I've been avoiding talking about my health for almost a month (yes, I've been keeping tabs) but that's been mainly because I got bored writing about it, so my loyal and growing band of readers must have been getting to the chopping their ears off with any available sharp vegetable stage. Don't get me wrong, there's something cathartic about exposing your soul (or in my case, my spine) to the world, but you can only say ooh and aah so many times before people are actually wishing you would die.

The amitriptyline appears to be working, albeit slowly and with its own bizarre set of side effects. It is essentially a muscle relaxation drug, so I take them at night before bed and wake up the next morning feeling human; if I don't take them, I wake up feeling like someone has dropped me from a moving airplane, one flying at 40,000 feet. Whether or not they are helping me get the feeling back in my midriff and my left leg is debatable. It seems whenever I do get some feeling back in these places, it's accompanied by pain, which is both... um... painful and reassuring. The reassuring part is because I realise that I still have feeling there, it's just on an extended holiday. As I said have said quite often, it is a pain in the arse, literally.

The upshot is that at times I'm needing to use my stick; this is down to the fact that my left ankle is shot to shit. I have about 20% of the expected use and that is frustrating. It's weird as well because I can tell it to do something and it just sits there and looks at me. I can stand on my toes, it even thinks it's doing it, but I look down at my feet and my right foot is arching like a porn actress in full flight, while my left foot is doing the limpet... It is a mixture of crazy and annoying; I'm sure it must be like amputee's who get itches on phantom limbs, only slightly different.

If, like me, you think that my ankle being buggered is a weird thing considering I had a prolapsed disc and am suffering from sciatica, then you wouldn't be wrong. It seems strange that something so far away from the source should be the thing to suffer the most; but the entire left hand side of my body is seemingly on some kind of protest; even my shoulder is getting in on the act and that's had corrective surgery on it. I feel like that character Frank Gorshin played in the original Star Trek, who was exactly half white and half black, or was it the other way around?

I don't have a long term prognosis on it; I am waiting to see if the surgeon thinks I'm worth an appointment and the biggest fear I have is that I won't regain enough fitness to be able to do a full time job. I'm a long way from retiring and therefore a long way from having to be poor by circumstance rather than choice. Something like DLA does not, as first believed, pay you enough money to do anything but survive; so it isn't like I could work part time and get my money topped up by a benefit. I am, however, beginning to comes to terms with the fact that I am now disabled and therefore I'm beginning to see how being disabled is unfair and almost a burden to society.

I did get my special chair finally set up the way it should be today; for nearly two years I've had it set up how I thought it should be set up and I'm not surprised it was more of a chore sitting in it than an aid. It's remarkable what an expert can do! Laura was lovely, very helpful, very affable and very pregnant!

***

My mate Wilky gave me 15 CDs of Tangerine Dream stuff the other day. The first 5 were Tangents, which is/are a selection of old songs remixed and remastered and the other 10 a kind of conceptual mega album of stuff recorded in the last few years.

I know why he gave them to me now. He must really dislike me...

***

Downloaded Being Human USA and Skins USA last night. I was looking forward to seeing what they did to them, but Being Human USA is by the same people who brought us Haven (see http://farkynell2.blogspot.com/2010/08/rainbow.html for a reminder of what a fantastic series I thought that was). The amazing thing is that Haven has been renewed for a second season, while Stargate Universe hasn't been renewed for a 3rd. Sometimes you have to wonder about Americans, then you see and hear Sarah Palin and it all fits back into place.

The good news is that the real Being Human is back on Sunday, 9pm on BBC3.

I haven't watched Shameless USA yet and I'm thinking it might end up being like a number of other US TV shows. I download it and then lose the will to watch it.

I'm half expecting a Misfits USA, a Holby City USA and Only Way is Essex USA in the next batch of press releases, maybe even an Episodes USA, where a husband and wife writing team from Hollywood come to England and are forced to work with June Whitfield...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Strange Towels

I had a dangerous childhood. My dad tried to kill me twice. I mean, I was a horrible child, but that's a bit extreme. The first time was when I was about 9. I wanted to go conkering and he reluctantly agreed. Taking his sons out for 'quality' time wasn't really on dad's agenda. I'm not suggesting he was a bad father, he just came from an era where dads were so busy they had little time for frivolity; so taking me down Wilton to throw sticks up a tree was really something unusual.

Now my dad was a hulking great man. Somewhere between 6' 4" and 5" and built like a brick shit house rat. He was a gentle giant, but as strong as an ox. When average dads would be searching out handy sized stick to throw up conker trees, my dad was looking for half branches. He figured if he could throw something big up into the boughs then he'd save us some time - saving time and shortcuts were two of his 'things' and sadly I've inherited them; both badly. Anyhow, he finds this log that would keep a large family warm in an open fire for a month and launches it into the branches of this massive horse chestnut; unaware that his youngest son was now wandering into its direct path. it would hit the tree and then fall, probably crushing my skull and breaking my neck, back and legs...

"PHILLIP! DON'T MOVE!!" He bellowed at me. When my dad screamed something at you, you took notice, if you didn't you were apt to feel his wrath. So, as if playing statues, I stood dead still and watched as this monstrous branch came crashing down inches from where I was standing. It was so close I could feel it's back draft tickling my nose. Now my dad wasn't the world's most affectionate fella, but he rushed over, grabbed me in his arms and asked me if I was all right. I was totally oblivious. I didn't realise how close I came to being human porridge. We stopped conkering immediately. I had a bag full of them anyhow. I was a little confused as to why my dad had gone as white as a sheet, but I was also totally drawn into the world of horse chestnut nuts. It wasn't for a few years that I realised how close I came to being dead.

So, you can say once is just an accident, but how about the second time? Suggesting my dad was responsible for me almost drowning is stretching the point a bit, but for the second time in less than a year, he felt helpless as I danced around with the Grim Reaper. We were on holiday in Westward Ho, Devon and I was using my new inflatable dinghy; the one he'd bought me especially for the holiday. While mum and dad were sunning themselves on the beach, I took the dinghy down to sea, where the tide was going out. I was having a whale of a time until I realised that I'd got a little too far out. I could no longer touch the bottom with my feet. I didn't really panic, I thought it was quite funny and began waving at my folks up on the beach. They saw me and waved back - remember I have 20/10 vision, so I could see them as clear as day. I started to paddle back and realised that instead of heading for the beach I was actually heading out into the Atlantic ocean. Still not too perturbed by this, after all my dad - my superhero - would save me. So I started making SOS signs in the air with my arms. I know, with hindsight, that my mum and dad had no idea what I was signalling, but they both felt I was getting too far out; by virtue of the fact I was the furthest out of all the people playing in the sea. So, in what was not his proudest moment, my dad, resplendent in shorts and sandals, wandered down to the sea edge and soon realised that I was heading out rather than in. So he started towards me, got as far as the legs of his shorts and realised I was much further out than he feared; he also realised that he had his fags and lighter in his pocket, so he fished them out of his pocket and kept them dry. he got up to his chest in the sea and realised I was far too far out to be able to get to me and what was worse was that my dad wasn't a very good swimmer. he could float on his back for hours, but lifesaving? Forget it; he'd more than likely drown himself.

So there he was, the incredible hulk, with his fags and lighter held above his head looking around for someone to help rescue his son - who incidentally had just got a certificate in June for being able to swim a width of the local pool. It wasn't like I could swim well and this was the sea, an entirely different proposition. Two swimmers saw the situation I was in and asked my dad if they could help and he was dead keen for them to rescue me. I can still remember the looks of disdain and disgust on their faces and immediately I didn't like these people who would ultimately be rescuing me. They both swam out to me, told me to hang on and began to push me back towards the shore. this was the most frightening part of the entire adventure, because I actually realised a) I was in danger and b) I was struggling to hold onto the dinghy and was now scared of falling into the sea. But the point was, I got rescued and my dad felt really bad; but, hey, I still loved him.

It wasn't like this was an isolated incident either. Several years later, my brother Steve almost drowned in the old swimming lake at Castle Ashby. The 'waving not drowning' adage came into play here too as Steve, obviously in trouble, was waving frantically at us and dad thought he was just doing that - waving, so he waved back. If it hadn't been for a fit young woman, who Steve ended up dating for a couple of weeks, diving in and saving him, we would have lost Steve. The young woman gave my dad the same look he received from the people who had saved me in 1972.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Grow Your Own Marmalade

Nails.

Not only is it a good word and an excellent name for a comedy hard man, it's also something (like a beard) I've never really possessed. I have been biting my nails since I was in the womb - I'm sure of it. Currently, I have 5 long nails, which is a 50% improvement on the past. I had 6 until about an hour ago and then, for some reason known only to my subconscious, I chewed off the one on my left forefinger. In pauses between writing sentences I'm gnawing at it as I type, or not as the case may be.

***

Type the word 'Flange' into Google Images, turn the safe search off. Do you know after 77 pages there's not one single rude picture? I'm disappointed; but it might be that the word flange is only considered by a few of my friends and I as a mildly excellent description for a clunge.

***

Spring in January! It's 14 degrees outside. I might take the dogs out for a walk in shorts!

Of course the problem with that is it is really difficult to get shorts that fit dogs, especially as we have 4 of different shapes and sizes. I'm pretty convinced that Lexy would look good in a pair of lurid boxers. But obviously that brings up all manner of other dog images and I've just had my lunch...

***

Bizarre question of the week: Does giving up smoking really make your sense of smell better or does it just make your shit stink worse than ever before?

***

Miriam O'Reilly is only 51. Jesus, working on Countryfile must be really hard work and extremely stressful. Apparently, John Craven is only 35...

***

The old boy across the road, who is friends with the fucktards next door on the left, appears to be oiling his brakes. Is it me or do I live in Moron Avenue?

***

Today, I was stuck in a room with two people who both were talking like they were comics experts. it was a strange mixture of hilarious and annoying. I wanted to stop them and explain in as rude a possible way that neither of them have a fucking clue what they're talking about. However, it became clear that both of them were infants when I stopped working for Comics International and were oblivious to the pleasures of Borderline. However, one of them has a massive comics collection with over 400 in it...

I suppose with most bottom of the range comics costing as much as £3.00 each now that 400 is probably a sizeable investment.

The other one, an odd girl, has a crush on Melinda Gebbie. If you've ever wondered what I'm like when I'm speechless you should have been in that room at that moment! Even I was amazed...

***

Having given up on Shameless about season 200, around the time that every single member of Frank Gallagher's family had left the series and it consisted of David Threlfall and a cast of moronic unknowns, I was quite surprised to learn that the series has been transposed to the slum area of Chicago and been made for cable TV in the States. William H. Macy is apparently very good, as is the girl playing his daughter. However, critics are divided as to whether it's a joke or just a pile of shit.

We'll see what mess the US really make of taking our excellent drama series' and redoing them the Yankee way when Being Human USA débuts next Monday night. As for Episodes, I was tempted, especially with the Green Wing link, but once I discovered that it was co-written by one of the Friends creators and starred Matt Le Blanc, it put me off it forever. Still haven't forgiven him for... No, I'm not going to make a very poor joke at Matt Bianco's expense.

***

That'll do for now...

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Strange Beard & Another Story

About 31 years ago, I said to my dad, who always had a moustache (or at least for most of his life), "Why don't you grow a beard?" He laughed and said that he'd never been able to grow one. He'd had various attempts when he was much younger and he had all kinds of bald spots and straggly failures. By the time I asked him, he was 50 and he added that over the preceding few years he'd noticed that he actually needed to shave less often; or to be more precise, he realised that the bald spots had grown and whenever he went a few days without a shave (which wasn't that often), he noticed that it was sparser than usual. He put it down to getting older and my grandfather confirmed this when he said he shaved less and less the older he got.
My brother Ron Junior, if memory serves me correctly, grew his first beard at 15. it took him about 4 hours. Considering we all come from a particularly unhairy family, Ronnie was (and probably still is) a hirsute freak. When I say he could grow a beard in 4 hours, I'm only half joking. He was the kind of guy, when he was younger, that would have a shave in the morning and would need another by the time he got home from work. I really used to envy this ability (no, I don't know why, either). Both Steve (my middle brother) and I were both very smooth and blond, whereas Ronnie was dark, so this probably explained why both of us had the words 'bum' and 'fluff' used to describe what little hair we ever had. Dad could grow a great Zapata moustache, Ronnie could evoke Larry Talbot, Steve and I did a good Gillette G2 advert.
Because of the ridicule I received about my lack of hair growing ability, I steered clear of trying until I was 16, when, during a rugby match, I got kicked in the mouth and walked away with a lovely split top lip. For a while I looked like the victim of a cleft pallet operation gone bad and as I'd just discovered girls, the only way to solve this massive crisis was to try and grow a 'tache. I did and naturally all of the bum fluff jokes came out with its appearance. But, it covered up this Y shaped scar enough for me to live with the mocking taunts and this was 1978 and moustaches were actually VERY common and weren't the sole property of either gay men or Ann Widdicombe.
I managed to keep mine for many years; in fact, I didn't lose my facial hair until 1993. In those 15 years it went from actual bum fluff to proper hair, but because of my light coloured hair barely anyone noticed when I finally shaved it off. I have not had a solitary moustache for 18 years; I've had beard attempts and the occasional goatee/'tache combo that were popular during the 90s and early 21st century, but the scar is now so faded and even though I'm not vain enough any longer, I would never consider having one ever again (but I did say that about flared jeans and I think I own a pair of them again).
I've attempted to grow a beard on several occasions and there's plenty of documented evidence to suggest that I can't. If you're a friend of mine on Facebook there are a number of photos that show that my beard attempts are more laughable than a Morecombe & Wise Christmas Special. Plus, I find wet shaving quite relaxing, so when I got into the habit of shaving, I sort of never got out of it. A few times in the last ten years, I've considered making another attempt, but I just figure it gets to a point and then it starts looking pathetic, with lots of straggly hair and I end up looking like the bass player out of Thin Lizzy circa 1974 and shave it off.
Then about five years ago, I noticed something very peculiar; so peculiar that just talking about it makes me feel a bit silly. Now, I've had my face for 48½ years; I've been shaving regularly for 32 of them, so I'm pretty much used to my face and its quirks; some point around 2005 or 6, I noticed that I shaved more at certain points in the month. Now, I've never really been like Ronnie, I've needed, on average, three shaves a week all my life. But towards the waxing of the moon I realised that I was shaving four times a week, but once it started to wane it dropped down to twice, sometimes three times. See, you can understand why I'm reluctant to admit this; not only does it sound ludicrous, it also paints some kind of lycanthropic subtext that I would like to avoid...
The problem was, the two or three people I mentioned this to had the same reaction to the one all of you are having, so I just shut up and got on with my odd shaving schedule. But then something really odd happened last autumn, something even weirder than having to shave more when the moon is getting full.
Now, as you know at the beginning of October I stopped smoking and a week later I had a prolapsed disc. I then went on a series of ever increasing in strength painkillers, while managing to avoid smoking. Then at the end of October, because I'd grown so bored and had become acutely aware of strange changes in my physiology - mainly because of the morphine. The weirdest thing was that I seemed to grow more stubble much faster. The wife noticed this, asking me several times when I last had a shave and looking at me slightly puzzled when I'd tell her. She was used to going a couple or three days without noticing my stubble when she kissed me; now it was happening 24 hours later and what was more unusual, I started to think it felt like I was getting stubble in many of the places that had never had it before.
I carried on shaving and carried on noticing that I was now having to shave five times a week and if I wanted to be honest with myself, I could quite easily have shaved every day and that made no sense at all. Then on New Year's Day, a few days before I was due back at work I decided to grow a beard. I could have done it at any point during the 3 months I was off work, but I didn't. It has now been 10 days and I have the fullest beard I have ever had; yes, it is absolutely rammed with white hairs, but it's also not straggly, looks like the kind of beard that Ronnie can grow in minutes and apart from itching like a bastard, is looking remarkably spiffing. I like it. it looks wrong because my face has never had this kind of beard before; but I'm growing accustomed to it.
I'm aware that the above sounds totally crazy, but if you look at the three pictures I've posted with this you will see (other than I had some really bad hair days) that all four attempts at growing a beard, on show, were done while I was an adult. The last one being taken a couple of years ago. I haven't got a picture of me at the moment, but I shall endeavour to get one taken in the next few days, so that you can see what I mean. But I can assure you, I'm not mad and I have grown hairier!

*******

Four years ago today, my boy died. His name was Gifford and while he was just a few short weeks away from his 16th birthday and therefore had a really good and long life (considering the fact he had an auto immune disease), his passing devastated me more than losing my parents. I know that sounds almost callous, but I spent 16 years with the boy; he was at my side for every day bar one, the first time and only night he spent the night in vet hospital. That night, during December 2006, was one of the hardest nights of my life and on January 10, at 10.45pm, when we ended his life, I don't think I've cried as much. All I remember saying was 'what am I going to do?' over and over again. Six months later, I lost his sister Megan (in the 2nd picture above) and that was nearly as bad. 2007 was probably the worst year of my life...
I now have four dogs and they are slowly becoming the most important things in my life apart from my wife. However, as much as I hate to say it, I doubt these four dogs will ever get into my heart the way Giff did.
I miss my boy...

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Son of Lardzilla

Now, I have nothing against people being overweight. In many cases, it's glandular - honest. Being overweight is now really common. Being morbidly obese is becoming very common in this country. I always thought the word 'morbid' pertained to an unhealthy fascination with the grim or someone who likes looking at unwholesome pictures of death or misery and, if you check dictionaries, it still is. But it also means affected with or inducing disease; therefore morbid obesity becomes a disease. It would appear that being morbidly obese now means you are a sufferer of some strange affliction or disease rather than being addicted to all the pies and every other bugger's.
This is a picture of Paul Mason; who, unfortunately for anyone living in the Look East television region, lives in Ipswich. He is Britain's fattest man. This man cannot walk now because he is so large; he also probably can't find his penis and by extension probably can't find his anus. However, with that many layers of fat he could take a shit and it would probably take a month to surface. Apparently, the large area in the middle is not just a massive bald scrotum, it's part of his leg and this is not a pornographic picture, he is wearing underpants. Unfortunately they were lost at some point during the summer of 2005.
To believe just how wrong this is, look at this: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2011/01/obese-man-sues-government-for-failing-to-help-him.html. If you don't want to read it, in a nutshell (something he probably wouldn't eat as it doesn't have enough calories), Mason is attempting to sue the NHS for failing to take heed of his cries for help as far back as 1996. Presumably, his cries for help included, "Help me, I'm eating too much" and "Help me, I'm stuffing my face with shit 24/7"?
As a newly ex-smoker with the lungs of a much older man, I really feel I should be screaming at the NHS and threatening them with legal action because all the times they tried to help me stop smoking wasn't good enough. Just because I didn't have any fucking willpower was obviously not my excuse and my local GP and NHS trust should have been threatening me with, oh, I dunno, death by removal of lungs or kidnapping my rabbits and forcing them to smoke unless I exhibited more self-control?
There seems to be a point missed by all the recent press coverage which I'd like to highlight if you haven't already worked it out for yourself. Mason, apparently, can't walk. He's so fucking fat that he has to stay in his specially constructed bed with reinforced everything. Therefore, he cannot possibly make his own food. this means that there's some half retarded fuckwit making his food for him; or, if his testimony is true, a fucking army of half retarded fuckwits helping him shovel the contents of a Sainsburys Local into his gob 24/7, 365 days a year and double helpings on National Holidays, his birthday and the day someone finds his arse hole.
What flabbergasts me more than his near 1,000lb frame is the fact that there are people out there feeding his food habit. Why the fuck don't they just stand in front of him and say, "Paul, if you want to eat, you're going to have to go to fridge yourself. You're going to have to cook your own food. You're going to have to peel the 200 weight of spuds to make enough chips to get you through an episode of Eastenders, on your fucking own, you unhealthy bucket of cellulite!" And then they should just walk out and leave him with the knowledge that he could live for seven years on his body fat alone.
The day he manages to drag himself off of his bed and into the kitchen to eat a small Walker's factory's worth of crisps and nuts; the contents of his kitchen should be moved, down the road, at least 100 yards away from him, so that he has to lose even more weight to manage the distance.
I find it brutally offensive that people have been feeding this... thing. Can't they see that there is a food shortage in some countries and that he could probably keep a small town in the Sudan going for a couple of months in steaks and cheap candles?
This is from The Sun, so it might be largely a load of bollocks, http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2692469/70-stone-Brits-tragic-ambition.html but it's worth reading to give you an idea of just how totally offensive this man is and why any government worth their salt will not allow people like this to, ahem, sponge off the State. And don't give me any crap about it being an illness or it's like a form of reverse anorexia; it's just plain and simply wrong and must be costing us more money to feed him in a month than it does to feed us in a year.
If this man sues the NHS and wins, I'm going to sue someone for me being a miserable bastard, because it's obviously someone else's fault!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Pre-Post Rock

Talk Talk: Live at Montreux 1986

25 years ago, during what would become their last ever live tour, Talk Talk played Montreux and to a packed crowd of mainly hysterical European fans. They didn't get this kind of reception in the UK; in fact, a few years earlier I was in the audience that watched them get booed off the stage at Milton Keynes Bowl when supporting Peter Gabriel and Genesis - not the most prudent of support bands, to be playing before a reunion of renowned prog rockers, but at least I got to see the band who would become my favourite band of all time, even if I did boo too!

The DVD of the show was released in October 2008 and was greeted with mixed reviews. Some excellent ones in the UK, where the band struggled to fulfil their European popularity until they'd just about disappeared and poor reviews in Europe, where the band were their most famous before they invented post-rock. In Germany especially, it seems that reviewers were not aware of singer Mark Hollis's penchant for introversion and shyness. One German reviewer complained about the band's 1980s appearance, which makes you wonder if said reviewer was aware the DVD was from a performance 23 years prior to its release.

The most obvious and striking thing about the film is indeed Mark Hollis. This was probably a couple of years before he reinvented Talk Talk and was shortly after him and Tim Friese-Greene had begun taking the band away from their Europop roots and into the realms of dark free-form rock. Hollis has never really been anything but an introvert; he rarely gave interviews, shied away from cameras and only Tim Pope, the man responsible for most of the band's videos, was able to get Hollis to 'be himself'. I often wonder if Hollis was surprised at the popularity he had, especially in Europe, when in reality he just wanted to produce music that was appreciated in his own country. Having said that, if it hadn't have been for the success of songs such as It's My Life and Such a Shame in Spain, France, Holland and Germany, then EMI would never have let them go off kilter with The Colour of Spring and then have an eppi when they delivered Spirit of Eden. Success enabled Hollis and Friese-Greene to experiment and produce music that appealed to them and in so doing that they dispensed with the standard band format and just got a bunch of musicians into a studio to jam until something good came out of it. But all of that happened after this Montreux appearance.

Hollis seems pretty timeless, standing on stage like a shy Damon Albarn, wearing a shirt and jeans and sockless sandals - he looks almost timeless, even if his hair and Lennon sunglasses point to time when fashion forgot itself. He sticks out like a sore thumb amongst his fellow stage musicians, who all look like rejects from 80s workout videos or Vivian Westwood fashion parades. And there was the fact that Hollis didn't say much; he thanked the audience and looked embarrassed and then he mentioned if a song was off the new album and just went into it; there was no witty banter or anecdotes, he was not a public speaker; which makes you wonder why he ever wanted to be the frontman in a rock band.

The set
  1. Talk Talk
  2. Dum Dum Girl
  3. Call In The Night Boy
  4. Tomorrow Started
  5. My Foolish Friend
  6. Life's What You Make It
  7. Does Caroline Know
  8. It's You
  9. Living In Another World
  10. Give It Up
  11. It's My Life
  12. I Don't Believe In You
  13. Such A Shame
  14. Renée
was a mixture of pure pop with a smattering of the post-rock band they would become. Tracks might not have had badinage between them, but Hollis occasionally would give the audience a hint of himself with solo snippets of Chameleon Day and the opening lines from Mirror Man; plus he was happy to just sit in front of the drums while the other musicians got on with their solos. I wondered whether or not he was really that happy with the jazzed up versions of the singles, with hints of flamenco, poodle rock and 80s disco beats, which seemed to be included for the European audience rather than for any artistic merit. John Turnbull, a much travelled session man, was the guitarist on this leg of their tour and I got the impression that was why he didn't appear on any of the Talk Talk albums that followed this show. His style and incredible mullet didn't seem to suit the band and the image they were, even then, trying to convey.

The only consistent thing about the entire show was Hollis's voice. Rarely does a singer have the ability to sound as good as he does after a producer and an engineer have been hold of it, but this man could and did. To the casual viewer there is even the bizarre look and feel that he might even be miming, because he is very accentuated in his enunciation and mouth movements. It's only when he forgets the mic is in front of him that you realise that he is human. The rest of the band, some of whom would just become session musicians for a band they once were full members of tried hard, but no one on that stage had the presence or the ability of Mark Hollis; which, in a strange way, makes the man even more of an enigma.

My one criticism of Talk Talk was that they always ended up doing the singles, because either the record company insisted on it or the band felt they would get a better reception. Playing the few new songs from The Colour of Spring they did, I wanted to see Time, It's Time performed or Happiness is Easy, not Living in Another World or Give it Up, regardless of how much better live they seemed. I Don't Believe in You could have been a highlight, but Hollis either forgot the bulk of the words or he felt it needed stripping down and remarkably two of the weakest tracks are the two greatest Talk Talk songs of all-time, even though they were written before the ascendency into art rock. Both It's My Life and Such a Shame lacked oomph because of what Friese-Greene managed to flesh the songs out with in the studio; these two classic songs lost a lot musically and were only salvaged from true mediocrity by Hollis's superb vocals and theatrical voice.

It is a fantastic document of 1986 Talk Talk and as there was never another concert filmed and never another tour, despite two more albums and a solo, it's the only real testament to one of the best bands that ever existed. I still see people expressing the wish to see Hollis perform or record again; there have been articles about the man's genius and very little about the fact he was extremely shy and grew to hate the music industry with a passion. His older brother Ed Hollis, formerly of Eddie and the Hotrods complained once about always being asked questions about his little brother and never about him or what he was doing and Hollis's withdrawal from public life has continued to cause discussion and speculation amongst rock and pop journalists. His last public appearance was to receive an award for writing It's My Life; he uttered the same four words that he was most commonly heard saying on stage during Talk Talk's career, "Thank you very much."

Hollis is now 55 and I think we are unlikely to see him produce music for anyone but himself ever again. Apparently the closest thing you can get to Talk Talk is Tim Friese-Greene's Heligoland project, which a lot of it is like a public appearance by Mark Hollis - as rare as rocking horse shit.