Saturday, March 07, 2015

Don't Interrupt The Flow

The Musketeers A small gripe, this, and in the bigger scheme of things doesn't count for a great deal. But it does, to use the Aussie vernacular, get my goat.

I'm at that age / station in life / financial situation where going out regularly - pubs, meals, cinema, cultural venues, etc - is nigh on an impossibility. They are special treats that must be saved up for and savoured. I don't have a problem with this. This is how life is at the moment and others have it far worse.

But for me a perfect way of unwinding after a hard day at work is simply time curled up on the sofa with my good lady wife watching some choice telly. Staying in and watching telly is undervalued and mis-sold in the modern media representation of our dynamic, thrusting, young techno-adept society.

But I'll bet I'm not alone in holding various TV show up as the highpoint of my week and viewing them as some kind of personal reward for another day at work got through / another ordeal endured.

Be it Doctor Who, The Musketeers, Dragon's Den, the forthcoming re-adaption of Poldark - whatever your poison - these humble little treats afforded us by a wonderfully creative UK television and movie industry (that is largely unsupported by the UK government) are what keep most of us going during the mundane, day-to-day drag of our everyday existence.

So it pisses me off - admittedly disproportionately to the crime - when the programming schedulers suddenly interrupt a series run to put something else on instead. Sport usually or some yaw-yawing political debate.

The current run of The Musketeers has been, to my memory, interrupted no less than 3 times. Now I recognise, with consummate bad timing for this post, that the current hiatus is because of Comic Relief next week and that's fine. That's understandable, acceptable and palatable. But the first two occasions were because of sporting fixtures.

Now I will also admit that I am not a sport fan. I am in fact the diametric opposite. I loathe televised sport. Watching other people perform sport is like watching other people play computer games without participating yourself or watching joggers run round the park. What is the point?

But by the by.

If I were the writer / producer / actor in any of these shows whose transmission run is broken for the sake of a football match I would be spitting feathers. A good drama series has a flow to it. An over-arc in addition to the arc of each individual episode. That flow is part of the creative drive of the show. And though some might argue that with the advent of catch-up TV scheduling no longer matters, historically the general public has an expectation that if a TV drama series is broadcast at some pre-specified and henceforth established time on a week evening then that is the slot which it will hold for all perpetuity - or at least until the series terminates. England expects. And I'm sure Scotland, Wales and Ireland do too.

To have all that time and creative energy, that carefully crafted flow cast aside for a rugby match is infuriating and insulting. I'm not knocking sport, really I'm not. If that's your bag good for you. Be welcome to it. But given the sheer amount of TV channels these days - and many solely devoted to sport - why should a sporting fixture be allowed to shoehorn its way into another schedule to attract probably less viewers than have been driven away by the banishment of the original show? Shove it onto a sports channel where the jogger-watchers can drink their beer, eat their pies and vicariously enjoy the healthier lifestyle of other people without incurring the wrath of the more tasteful majority!

Like I said, it's a small gripe. And I will accept all accusations that I am a stick-in-the-mud, dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist but, Goddamnit, Friday night is "Musketeers night" and that's all there is to it!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rat Fangs

Roland Rat in me kitchen Despite being an avid fan of the BBC's Springwatch it seems I still have not yet learned to tell the difference between a rat and a mouse (though I'm pretty sure I could tell the difference between sheep droppings and otter spraint). Our cats, Missy and Kia, managed to bring a rodent hostage into the house over the weekend. The thing went to ground beneath our oven and found further progress prevented by the constant supertrooper gaze of the cats who sat stolidly on patrol waiting for it to put a paw wrong.

In the end, armed with a torch and a stick, I set about trying to break the status quo by dislodging the creature - preferably into my custody - before the advent of Sunday lunch baked the little blighter into the lino. I was convinced it was a mouse. Small, cute, beady black eyes. I now suspect it was just an adolescent rat. Anyway, all I succeeded in doing was driving the thing from out beneath the oven and across the kitchen floor to the fluffy world that exists beneath the washing machine.

Our cats, prime mousers that they are, didn't move a muscle from the oven and indeed continued to sit on patrol for the rest of the night whilst Monty (as I shall christen him) gave them the finger from the other side of the kitchen.

I figured that sooner or later food would drive Monty out into the open and into some risky manoeuvre that would put him squarely into the hungry sights of our cats. I forgot about him. I let the cats wage their war of attrition and got on with my life.

Until I was awoken by terrified squeaking this morning and the sounds of a life and death game of hide & seek out in the hallway. I emerged to find the cats furiously pawing at the unloaded shoe rack and guessed that Monty had indeed made a bid for freedom and had got himself corralled by the cats into a hell of high heels and flip-flops.

If I'd been more awake I would have twigged that (a) a mouse would not have eluded 2 cats for this long, (b) doesn't make a huge deal of noise when panicked and (c) doesn't have a long, furless tail.

Trying to be a hero I thought I'd do the humane thing and rescue the little bugger. I am perversely proud to say that where the cats failed I succeeded and managed to capture Monty within my own paws after a mere 3 attempts.

At this point things went slightly awry when Monty sank his fangs into my finger and began to gnaw with the contempt only usually reserved for the UN by the Russians. I may have cried out at this point (in a manly way obviously) - especially as Monty was freely swinging from my finger like a weird piercing without any support from myself.  And I realise with the benefit of hindsight that Monty plainly felt himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He didn't want to be within my grasp so was biting me in self-defence but neither could he let go as gravity would drop him into the waiting jaws of Missy and Kia.

I did that stupid dance that one does in such situations - trying to decide whether it would be best to throw Monty out of the backdoor or the front-door before his gnawing pushed me to the conclusion that to part company in the quickest possible fashion would be best. I managed to get the front-door open with Monty still hooked into my finger and then, once outside, Monty was happy to let himself free-fall into the nearest bush. Missy followed him out and sat, slyly sentinel, for half an hour or so amongst the underbrush before returning empty jawed so I have no doubt that Monty escaped completely and utterly and is no doubt even now recounting to his family how he ran rings around 2 cats and a human and got a bit of a free feed out of it.

For me it has meant a trip to my GP and a week's course of antibiotics as according to my doc any kind of wild animal bite leads to infection in 9 out of 10 cases. Charming. I'm also to return immediately if I start to feel ill anytime over the next 2 weeks - rats can carry nasty diseases and while such infection is rare it can happen.

Next time I shall bugger humanity and batter the bugger's brains out with a pair of Doc Martens.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

To Wee Or Not To Wee

Weeing for joyThose of you who have foolishly connected to me via Facebook will already know of the great urinary cessation that I suffered yesterday on what has now become known as Bladderless Friday. But for those of you who have preferred to keep me at arms distance (i.e. occasional readers of this blog) let me fill you in.

I'm currently suffering a nasty bout of sciatica. I won't harp on about the pain (but if Job has sciatica then he'd really have something to moan about) but it was enough to drive me to the doc's on Tuesday and in some desperation demand some release.

I was furnished with a prescription for Zapain. A drug that sounds like it was lifted from the 1960's Batman TV series. I don't as a rule take pain killers (preferring instead to be vocally miserable) but this time it really was a case of needs must.

What I hadn't taken into account was my body's now apparent intolerance to Zapain. Initially it was fine. I could cope with the woolly-headedness and the light-headedness because I was at work and didn't care and, on the plus side, the incessant, crippling agony of screeching back and leg muscles finally began to dull down to an almost forgettable background hum.

What I failed to acknowledge to myself was that gradually my once strong and regular flow of urine (no, I am not talking about this blog but real urine) was beginning to dry up. To reduce to a tormentative trickle.

At first I thought it was my imagination. Thought it was psychosomatic. But as the days wore on it began to dawn on me that not all was well in the State of Denmark. Going for a pee was becoming harder and harder to accomplish. I was having to concentrate on relaxing and 'letting go' before anything would happen. I'd have to lean forwards over the toilet as if to relieve pressure elsewhere - tip the kettle over, so to speak - and let a desultory tickle dribble forth.

By Thursday night it was worse and I finally admitted to myself that I needed medical assistance. Going for a wee now required a gargantuan effort of will - all my focus drilled down onto the seemingly impossible task of relaxing my bladder. It gave me heart palpitations, it gave me the sweats, I thought I was going to pass out. And where once there had been a torrent there was now not enough to turn the smallest of Archimedes' Screws. Think of a hosepipe with the tap turned off. You know there is water in the pipe but as you lift up the hose only a sad, mean trickle plashes forth.

By Friday morning I was ashen and fearing the worst. The first thing a guy thinks of when he has trouble with his water-works is prostate. Or worse. In practical terms I was thinking catheters and the doctor's fingers shoved up my bum... neither of which were enticing me to the doctors but the thought of spending the day in bottled up agony didn't appeal to me either.

My good lady wife - as shaky as I - drove me to the doctors as soon as we got an emergency appointment. I was by this point fearing it would be a hospital job. Either that or death by drowning.

As it turned out nothing so drastic. My doctor (not the one who proscribed me the Zapain I might add) might have the bedside manner of a Findus frozen fish-finger but he knows his stuff. He quickly ascertained that Zapain was not doing me any good at all and had in fact set my bowels rock-solid. To the point where they were inhibiting my bladder from its usual functions. No more Zapain. Not now, not ever. Instead no more than 4 paracetamol a day, lily-livered, flower of ill health that I was. As for peeing... I needed to drink lots and lots of water and take some laxatives. He felt sure that as soon as the bowel was released the bladder would soon follow.

I must admit I was sceptical. The thought of chucking loads of water down my throat and becoming the physical embodiment of the Elan Valley Dam didn't seem to me to be the best course of action but I decided to trust my doc and I was heartily glad I did.

Literally within an hour of the softening effects of the laxative I'd managed to induce a small waterfall - with effort. A little while later the Dam Buster's Theme Tune could be heard blasting from my bum cheeks as several tonnes of blackened concrete dropped away revealing blue skies and clear air and an unfettered passage to the west.

Since that wonderful hour my bladder's pouring forth has become easier and easier - though I still feel tender and sore and rather battered. And of course the back pain has started again. Really, 4 paracetamol are just not going to cut it.

But I'd choose the rack over the plug any day of the week...

Thursday, February 05, 2015

In The Cinema Everyone Can Hear You Scream

4D cinema experienceApparently the next big thing in the world of cinema is going to be 4D. A speculative truth (at best) that various cinema moguls would like to convince us of.

Essentially 4D is a fully immersive, interactive experience where your cinema seat is made to shake and veer during car chases, you get pummelled with air during onscreen whirlwinds, you get hosed down during rainstorms or deep sea dives and you get blasted with the odour of stale alcohol and garlic when the leading man / lady moves in close for a tongue sarnie.

To be honest, there’s nothing new about this gimmicky approach to movie watching – most kids’ entertainment / holiday resorts have some sort of 4D cinema these days where we willingly pay an exorbitant fee to allow our kids to be waterboarded whilst watching The Smurfs because it stops them whinging on about wanting an ice cream for all of 20 minutes. But family holiday resorts is where 4D should stay in my opinion.

There is nothing cinematically immersive about having your seat shaken so hard you end up wearing the popcorn of the person sitting next to you or hearing the neurotics in the front row squeal every time a hidden air cylinder blows a couple of bars of pressurized cold air up their trouser leg. If anything this totally removes you from the film; it shatters the pleasurable suspension of belief that you have lapsed into in order to enjoy the movie and places you undeniably back into a darkened room with a bunch of people who will immediately become your sworn enemy should the fire alarm suddenly go off and you find your way to the exit blocked.

Books don’t need 4D effects. I didn’t need the smell of wet dog to assail me when reading The Famous Five or to hear the jiggling of female flesh when reading Game Of Thrones. And I imagine I would not need to have my hands manacled and tied behind my back to get the full effect of 50 Shades Of Grey. Though you might need to do that and threaten the lives of my children in order to get me to read it in the first place. Such artificial devices would break the spell that reading a book – submitting yourself to an imaginary world – weaves. It is the same with cinema. The only senses that need to be catered for are sound and vision. You can never fully recreate the entire gamut of physical sensation that the characters onscreen are being subjected to as part of the plot – so offering the audience piecemeal approximate sensations is not going to add anything to the movie at all. If anything it will detract.

And to be honest if you really need your seat to be shaken for you during a moment of cinematic jeopardy in order to feel the correct emotional response then you plainly have major empathy problems and cinema is not for you anyway.

Indeed, anything that involves being around lots of people or dealing with any kind of quantifiable human experience is not for you - you’d be much better off getting your kicks in a vacuum where nobody at all will be able to hear you scream and I can watch the end of the effing film in peace.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Who Is The Lord Of The Trolls?

Lord Of The Rings Galadriel #hateI feel it in the air. I feel it in the earth. I feel it in my water.

The internet is much changed for nothing is as it once was.

It began with the forging of the great chat media platforms.

MySpace for the aesthetically challenged cyber-dwarves. LinkedIn and Facebook for the middle-to-upper class aspiring elves who wished to share photos of their kittens and their children and what bottled wine they’d drunk the previous evening. And Twitter… Twitter was created for all those who wished to leave snarky, anonymous comments in 140 characters or less.

But in this they were much deceived, for in secret an umbrella term was forged – social networking – and into this was poured all hatred, malice and the will to denigrate all life on virtual Earth…

And I could go on and on but you get the picture.

The internet is not a nice place. I know it has always had dark corners; cyber attics and damp basements where the virtual world kept its various madnesses and psychoses locked up. In fact, not even locked up – the correct URL would take you there in an instant. But at least the internet used to have a happier, lighter side; it used to have a tangible nod to the ethos of freedom and free information. Something unfettered (largely) by legal constraints, authoritarianism and the bigoted fears of the few. Something fun, frivolous and nicely rebellious.

Sadly I fear the Internet’s Woodstock years are over.

The bigots and haters have taken over the playground.

Cyberbullying is rife – anything from common-or-garden peer pressure to the kind of nastiness that drives people to suicide. Trolling is commonplace – anyone or anything is subject to cowardly attack but if you are a celebrity who dares to have a Twitter account you can consider yourself easy meat for the armchair reactionaries. If someone steps out of line or is seen to be out of step the mob sets upon them in a manner that is as disgusting as it is unforgiving and unreasonable – think of that poor scientist bloke who was virtually destroyed last year for wearing a shirt that featured pictures of bikini-clad women on it; the punishment most certainly did not fit the crime. And who are these self-righteous gnomes who feel they have the right not only to judge but also to condemn?

Stealing information and photos is seen as the fault of those who stored the photos online in the first place (kind of like blaming a victim of burglary for only having a shop bought lock on their front door whilst daring to own stuff). And various groups can now shutdown whole web servers with seeming ease for a major cause or a minor gripe or just because they are so pathetically maladjusted they just want to create havoc for the sense of transient joy it inevitably brings them in-between bouts of Warframe or whatever other massively multiplayer online game is currently distracting them from thoughts of incessant masturbation.

I’m not feeling the love anymore, people, and I don’t like it.

I’m not sure I feel comfortable being a part of the internet; a part of the media monster that social networking has become.

Lord knows I’ve taken a pop at the odd celeb over the years on this blog. But in my defence I hope I’ve presented a balanced (or at least an entertaining) argument, have been able to admit if I’ve been wrong or missed a redeeming point and always, always I am identifiable and accountable. I don’t operate an anonymous blog and I can be easily contacted and given a spanking if I’ve been a naughty boy.

I don’t make death threats or rape threats or threaten to harm other people’s family or property just because they voice an opinion that is at variance with my own. I don’t call down holy war on individuals who I disagree with or who present an ethos that is the opposite of the one I choose to adhere to. I don’t even wish dead those few souls who I utterly despise. And there are a few, believe me.

Because their divergent views, in my opinion, do not mean they should be exterminated from the face of the earth at my say so. I recognize that other people have the right to their views, no matter how ill-informed I think they may be, and have a right to live unmaligned even with those views up to but not including the point where they start directly affecting others adversely.

There has much been made of the ideal of the freedom of speech in recent weeks. The murders in Paris have placed it in the forefront of everyone’s mind. And regardless of whether Charlie Hebdo was a platform for healthy political satire or just an outlet to knock already beaten down minority groups I would argue the point that people have a right to express even offensive views. The freedom of speech must be freedom for all without any caveats or it is not freedom at all.

And yet I despair at the nastiness that proliferates the internet now and wish it could be stopped. And I think it bothers me because too many people are voicing their bile in a most cowardly fashion. Using nom de plumes or alternative accounts. Obfuscating their identity. Claiming and utilizing a personal freedom in order to destroy the personal well-being of others without the risk of any come-back or fall-out.

And that is wrong. That is my problem with it.

If you want to join in the latest witch-hunt then do so without a mask on your face. Let the world see who you are if you have such strong opinions that they must be expressed in aggressive and violent language. If you want to verbally threaten someone then let them and the rest of us see you coming. Take responsibility for what you are saying / spouting.

Don’t stab someone in the dark and then run away back into hiding and imagine you are a hero or have somehow done the world a great service. Because you haven’t. You’ve lost all moral high ground and placed yourself lower than a snake’s arse.

At the end of the day I don’t want the authorities or the powers that be to police the internet. I believe it would be disastrous. But until enough people make a stand we can’t, alas, police ourselves.

So it is up to the owners of all these social media networking platforms to do something. To close down the trolls and the snipers. To make users somehow as accountable for their digital outpourings as they would be if they’d shouted a hate filled slogan out on the street in the real world.

Am I wrong to want this?

Tell me and I will reply. Engage with me and we can talk.

I’m happy for you to have a different opinion.

Please express it with respect.