Saturday, March 03, 2012

2012 - 10

Up in Smoke

I started smoking again around my birthday... last year. I kept it quiet, but I never really discussed my smoking with anyone, so keeping it quiet was easy. My new smoking regime was simple, 4 or 5 fags a day, to stave off the boredom of my then impending unemployment - a really sensible time to consider doing something that eats a huge hole into one's finances, you'll probably agree.

I was buying a small pouch of tobacco and it was lasting me best part of a week. When I smoked in the house, it was by open windows with the wind behind me or by the fireplace where there's a good draw from the flue. During the summer it was easy, I'd just sit on the patio or on mild or warm nights, sit on the back step. I was feeling confident that I'd managed to deceive the wife.

However, I started to make mistakes. I'd leave a dog end on the hearth, or I'd hide it among the ashes in the grate; and I figured that storing the other dog ends in my office bin, saturated with Hugo Boss and out of the way of prying eyes would suffice. Some of the mistakes were even simpler than that - leaving strands of tobacco lying on my desk; noticing, but not doing anything about the growing detritus on my window sill and the fact that the longetr I continued to smoke the more I just wanted her to find out.

Then back in November, when I started my new job, I started having a smoke at break - me and my assistant would leave the school grounds smoke one of her cheap fags as quick as we could and return to school eating Polos and spraying (herself) with half a canister of perfume. After a couple of weeks of this my chest began to get tight. I haven't actually smoked tailor-made cigs this century, the main reason being that they fuck up my lungs (more than just smoking in general). So I knocked the break time fag on the head and it was then that I realised, truly realised, that if my wife had not realised I was smoking by now then she must be dead. My assistant would come back from her break and despite her precautions, she smelled like an old tramp. I did less to cover my smoking up, so therefore must have smelled like an old ashtray whenever I got into bed at night.

But I persevered. I said to my mate Tony, who was convinced she knew long before I was, that I think she was overlooking it for a couple of reasons - I'd lost 3 stone; was not the most miserable bastard on the face of the planet and I was, at least, trying to hide it from her and doing more, ironically, around the house and garden.

It's the wife's birthday on Sunday and last night we were treated to our customary visit from her mother (an ex-smoker), who apropos of nothing (although both me and the wife have coughs) if I was still not smoking and I looked over at my wife who was sitting there with what looked like a smug smile on her face. "No." I said, as ambiguously as I could and the remainder of the conversation just highlighted what a complete and utter twat I am...

The most telling thing was that she knew almost from the moment I started. The second most telling thing was that whenever I was out in the garden at night smoking, the smoke would waft into our bedroom or bathroom window and she, being a non-smoker, can smell random cigarette smoke from about a mile away. I sat there and heard how she was completely aware of every trick I'd tried and felt stupid.

Many years ago, because I have actually tried to stop smoking more times than I've eaten exotic food, my then GP told me that I was probably in the worst 5% of people who want to stop smoking but can't. It's a statistic that people who smoke 20+ cigs a day are twice as likely to stop permanently than people who smoke under 20 and they were four times as likely to stop than people who smoke less than 10. In my pot smoking days, I'd smoke about 6 a day and I treated it like a treat, a reward or a way of unwinding; like a small scotch or a big glass of red wine; but the sad fact is once you're hooked on nicotine and it has had the chance to rewire your brain - cos that's what it does - stopping it is tougher than shagging a rotting corpse. The intervening years have seen me stop smoking for 18 months, 7 months and a host of under 6 months attempts. I have actually tried to stop smoking 14 times since my mother died - of a smoking related illness and just like my wonderful mum, I'm rubbish at stopping, but a world beater at stopping stopping.

I'm pretty sure that the now public info hasn't changed her opinion and I know that it hurts her a lot to see me with bad coughs and resignation that I won't be spending my old age with her; like my mother, I'm growing resigned to having a horrible death caused by something I loathe but love in equal measure. My only options left are - seeing a hypnotist or having a heart attack; I'm pretty sure being handed a death sentence in person by a cardio-vascular specialist will kick my sense of self-preservation into overdrive.

I am, it should be emphasised, a complete and utter twat.

Fantasy TV

Occasionally I have waffled on about ideas I've had that have never come to fruition or sit gathering cyber dust in a directory on my PC and backed up on a series of discs. But last week, when I was writing my periodic TV Dump thing, I realised that I was growing disillusioned with the majority of TV shows I watch and as we enter the stagnant month of March (when most US shows go on sabbatical and most English ones are waiting for another time of year), I'm faced with trying to decide which of my many 'box sets' I will sit and finally watch.

Perhaps I'm just pining for some good weather so that I can get out more again, but most TV that I currently look forward to ends up leaving me slightly cheated or empty; at times it's like being in a perpetual shaggy dog story or to put a comicbook analogy to it, like I have been reading Chris Claremont's X-Men for 50 years, just hoping he'll resolve at least one of his sub-plots.

It might have something to do with the rare moments I get when I watch a TV show and think, "Jesus, I could do this 100% better." This was why my good friend Martin Shipp and I had a go at writing a TV show a few years ago. I mean, we're both brilliant. I am the ideas man and Martin writes like he should be getting paid shitloads of cash for just being in the room, inspiring others. However, Seaview never got past the draft script phase. We wrote a pilot; reworked it, actually got together and paced the thing and then got a few friends to read it.

Some friends are just blown away that people they know have attempted something so ambitious, while others donned critics hats - the kind of people we needed to read it - and tore it to shreds. I've talked about this before, but the point is I still think the premise for the series is better than 90% of the shit that gets churned out.

Seaview is about a man who inherits a run down hotel in a quiet seaside village from a father he barely knew. All is relatively normal or so it seems, but what he has actually inherited is a hotel that serves as a halfway house for time travellers because the village the hotel sits in also sits on a rift in time, which allows the inhabitants to run a black market operation by which they travel through time and steal things they can use - everything from food to antiques and money. We both saw it as a kind of Ballykissangel meets The Twilight Zone and like all bad script writers, we had all kinds of things promised for the second, third, fourth seasons... I even went as far as wanting the main character to be the son of another famous actor, so they could play the same role but in different times. Like all bad script writers, I firmly believed that if we could sell the idea to someone the rest would be easy - the problem was we had to have a good idea to sell, backed up with evidence we could do it and the draft for the pilot had lots of intrigue but barely anything else.

Another one of my failed novels - Second Contact - could be developed into an excellent TV series, IMHO. It is the story of how a race of aliens arrives on Earth with the offer of enlightenment, gifts and technology that would allow the planet to take its rightful place in the galaxy. However, these advanced beings aren't the first aliens to arrive on Earth. Back in the 1950s around the time of the Roswell Incident, a spaceship lands and a massive cover up is put in place. Only people at the highest level of the government are aware and the aliens are repatriated into a new town in the mid-west of the USA. They live there for half a century, part of the USA but also kind of annexed from it. The town is situated next to an air base and the people there also serve to watch and observe this new colony of aliens.

The newcomers in the present are actually intergalactic bounty hunters and are anything but friends of the planet; they just want to find the original aliens, wipe them out and if the planet dies as a result, then so be it. Earth has, after all, been harbouring galactic fugitives. It offers all kinds of possibilities from varying perspectives and has the added beauty of I never came up with an ending for it so it could go on and on and on...

Around the time that Dexter was beginning to prove itself to be one of the best programmes to come out of the USA for years and around the time Martin and I shelved Seaview, I had this idea that allowed me to draw more insight from my real life - always a good thing when you do this kind of thing. The idea was about an award-winning child behaviourist, who freelances for councils and services working with the worst kids imaginable - murderers, arsonists, psychopaths or just simply kids who have gone so far off the rails that only drastic action will bring them back. The guy, Mark Rigby, gets employed by all manner of people and has an extremely high success rate until he is asked to work with a young girl with some extremely disturbing personality traits...

The real intrigue (hopefully) comes from the fact that this expert isn't who he claims to be, or, at least, that is what a social worker attached to the case believes. When she was at university, she dated a Mark Rigby and shortly after their graduation they were going to travel the world for a year, but her Mark disappeared and she never saw him again. 20 years later another Mark Rigby walks into her life and he has the same life as her ex, up to the point where her's disappeared...

Martin and I talked about this, but he could see where we'd be accused of treading on Dexter territory, especially as I saw the modern Mark Rigby as being quite a dark and unpredictable character, prepared to do anything to preserve his position. I had this idea that the modern Mark would be a real enigma and that very little of his real life would ever be revealed and what was would be ambiguous, slightly surreal and seemingly unrelated to anything he did now.

I still think it's a good idea.

Tying this section into something else; I decided last week to add to the My Monthly Curse blog. Now that it has finished and I have an unexpected hole in my life, I've taken a suggestion made to me and tweaked it to suit me and t least two more entries are scheduled looking at the comics that have influenced me or I rate really highly. I talked about comics for 167,000 words and rarely touched on the reasons why I started reading comics in the first place.

One of the comic series on the first list is something called The Griffin, a kind of Rebel Without a Cause meets Superman with a bit of Starship Troopers thrown in. It was a prestige 6 part series by Dan Vado and Norm Felchle and told the story of Matt Williams, a young rebel who joins an alien army, is endowed with super powers and then, after 20 years, decides to go home, even though it is punishable by death. I read it again the other week and couldn't help wonder why it was never optioned for a film. It is quite a simple but expertly done little story that would, with current CGI, transpose to the big screen with ease and with very little changes to the existing story (not that that would ever happen). If film producers are really strip mining comics for future big screen blockbusters, they would do themselves no harm looking at this.

March of Unpredictability

My obsession with the weather never changes, but I suppose that this has more to do with my belief that I'm more human when the sun shines on this side of the world for more than 12 hours a day. I think my worst nightmare would be to become a vampire...

The end of February was stunning; there were a few days that could easily have been May and my sun glasses got an early year airing and even if last week was a bit misty and murky, you couldn't help notice that there was a warmth behind the cloud, especially when foggy days in February usually mean sub-zero temperatures. I stood on the school's artificial playing surface watching some of my charges play football on Thursday and the sun was shining and there was far more sweat on brows than you would expect at a time of the year when jumpers are worn rather than used for goalposts. It was glorious and I felt slightly disappointed that I had to go back into my stuffy room and miss the wonderful sun light.

Today, while sitting here, I've seen it start murky, then rain and now the sun is out, the temperature on the patio is 13 degrees and anyone with a memory would remember that 13 degrees is actually about 3 degrees less than it was on this corresponding day last year. The reason I say this is because the wife's birthday has, for most of the 29 years I've known her, been either cold and wet or very cold and snowy. She has often joked that even if we see no snow throughout the year, we'd see some on her birthday; but last year, we walked out with the dogs on March 4 wearing no jackets and basking in 16 degrees of heat. It was weird, but it made a pleasant change.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is awful; it's going to get very wet; it's going to start to get very cold and by the time the vast rain belt gets over us, the rain will start to turn to snow... Back to normal then?

Stuff
  • I am currently listening to Vs by Pearl Jam and Orang's Herd of Instinct (which is a bit like Talk Talk lite, but that might be because it's Talk Talk without Mark Hollis or Tim Friese-Green).
  • I am not reading anything but will start Chavs when the wife finishes it.
  • One of the two nectarine trees I have grown from stones, the one that never lost its leaves throughout the entire winter, has just started to sprout new ones. The other nectarine tree, which did what all normal trees do and shut down for the winter still looks like a twig stuck in a pot.
  • Still a bit miffed by Blogger's refusal to allow me to do much with my blogs. If I want to change a font or a size it allows me to do it in the editing stage, but once it's published it seems to ignore all these instructions...
  • I'm taking the dogs out on my own today - Lexy disappeared again last week for a couple of hours and is on leash punishment at the moment - and earlier than usual, because I still haven't bought the wife a present yet. When she finishes work I'm taking her to some fancy shop to buy her a new waterproof coat; at least that's the plan. Then it's on to Pooja for a nice meal and then home for copious amounts of filthy dirty sex. At least, that's the plan...

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