Friday, February 27, 2009

Gis A Job, Garn, Gis It...

James May and Oz ClarkeI’ve finally found the job for me.

A job that I not only want to do but am pretty sure that I could do.

The only fly in the ointment is that the post is already taken. By Oz Clarke and James May.

I’ve greatly enjoyed watching the last two series of their “Big Wine Adventure”. Series one saw them clodhopping their way across Europe, supping wine from every vineyard north of the Equator – and even dipping an inebriated toe into the wines of California. Series two they concentrated more on Great Britain and beer. Plainly more of the budget went on intoxicants than on air miles in series two but you can hardly knock the lads for wanting to reduce their carbon footprint.

They are an oddball pairing but one which seems to work. Oz yearns to educate the palate and mind of all around him while James' sole purpose in life is to pull the rug out from every wine-tasting oik that he encounters. The friction between the two is in the nature of friendly fire and is bizarrely entertaining.

Man banter I believe it’s called. And it works because the mentally adroit Oz Clarke is a secret lad at heart and the charmingly boorish James May is a secret Brainiac. They kind of fulfil both the best and the worst of each other in a boozy bezzy-mate man-on-man type marriage thing – only thankfully without any of the hanky-panky and sweaty-hairy stuff. Phew. I really don’t think their beer guts would allow such shenanigans anyway.

Basically the show is like a lad’s night out compressed into a half hour slot, with the bad language sanitized, the peeing over your own shoes glossed over and the embarrassing chat-up lines deleted... with the extra advantage that our heroes sup the poisonous brews on our behalf and suffer our hangovers by proxy.

Quite frankly it’s the best night out I’ve had in a long while and it didn’t cost me a penny. They even threw in a curry one week and you can’t say fairer than that.

Best of all each week I was home on time and wasn’t sick over the carpet / wife / cat / lava lamp.

But I digress.

Mr Clarke and Mr May were no doubt paid vast sums of licence payer’s money to “live the dream” for a couple of months while a temperate and Methodist film crew doggedly filmed their every move and ne’er touched a drop between them for the duration.

And let’s face it, the crew didn’t need to. May and Clarke must have consumed enough quaffables to completely submerge a south sea archipelago or three.

And I bet the BBC paid for all that booze. And the curry. And the petrol and the caravan they supposedly lived in. I bet May and Clarke didn’t have to dip into their own pockets for anything. Not even to spend a penny.

I mean bloody hell, how the hell do you get a gig like that? What qualifications do you need (aside from being already famous)?

I mean, I can drink beer. I can drink wine. And as for eating curry, well, I can do that with my eyes closed and my mouth open. Easy peasy lemon Brinjal.

And I bet I could sleep in a caravan with either James May or Oz Clarke without compromising my lad-hood to boot. I’m as qualified as the next man.

But I bet I’m a darn sight cheaper.

Come on, BBC. Give me a chance! I’ll even wear a ridiculously flowery shirt if you pay me nicely.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Abilities

Cerrie Burnell
Knickers have been a little twisted in the UK this week over an issue which, quite frankly, has not merited the amount of column space given over to it.

And here I am adding to the word count when other bloggers have written about it at least half as well as I am about to (ha ha ha)...!

To clarify for my international readers: we have a kids channel here in the UK called CBeebies and they have employed a lovely blonde presenter called Cerrie Burnell to do the fill-in slots between the various kid’s programmes.

She’s warm voiced, gentle, enthusiastic, obviously a mum herself (you can just tell) and she was born with only one hand. Her other arms finishes just below the elbow.

And neither of my boys – Ben who is 7 and Tom who is 16 months – care a damned fig about it.

Sadly a very small minority of “well meaning parents” (i.e. sentimental bigots) have written in to the BBC’s various online forums to complain that Cerrie’s physical differences could “scare” their young children.

Oh please.

My first reaction was to shake my head with pity that such small minded people not only exist in the world but are also polluting their own children with their xenophobic and ridiculously neurotic points of view.

But as the newsworthiness of this debate has grown with more and more press coverage and Cerrie herself being called in to take part in worthy “spread the message” interviews my pity has turned to exasperation and annoyance.

Poor girl.

She’s a presenter and an actress doing a job like everybody else. Her physicality in this day and age should just not be an issue for anybody.

It’s certainly not an issue for my boys. I think Ben commented with vague interest once about Cerrie’s arm but didn’t really seem that bothered. As for Tom. He’s pretty much accepting of all that goes on around him and doesn’t see anything at all as “abnormal” or out of the ordinary. It is all new. All part of the adventure. And all entertaining.

If only our species could retain the mindset of a 16 month old baby... how much happier the world would be.

The only positive to come out of all this is, I suppose, the debate it has sparked and the huge wave of support that Cerrie has received from the majority of the population who are well balanced, intelligent, cogent and capable of coherent thought processes. As she says, if kids ask questions about her hand then just tell them the truth – she was born with it like many other people in the world and it doesn’t stop her from doing anything at all. It’s a good opportunity to try and educate them gently about such issues and nurture them into well balanced, emotionally sound adults.

I doubt that a single one of them will have nightmares about it... unless the parent completely mishandles the situation, of course... and that responsibility is hardly Cerrie’s or the BBC’s...

But it is a shame to have such a sweet, innocent children’s programme marred with such heavy-duty adult issues. But then again I suspect it is only us adults who are picking up on that anyway. The kids just want to get on to the cartoons and the fluffy puppets.

Well, don’t we all?

To my mind then, Cerrie’s only (to use an old 70’s word) handicap is her co-presenter, Alex Winters, who is so wet, bland and lifeless he looks like he spends his free-time taking part in Agatha Christie Murder Weekends playing the corpse. I’ve never seen a man on TV so damned dreary. It’s as if he’s constantly holding back, afraid to commit himself to the nursery rhymes or the baby talk in case his RADA mates see him and rip the pee out of him later in the pub.

If anyone is physically unable to do the job it is him.

As for Cerrie, she can read me a bedtime story and stroke my furry teddy any night of the week...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Haunted

Guy's Cliffe HouseMy usual Friday blog post last week was dropped as, quite rightly, I was busy elsewhere ensuring that my wife, Karen, had as lovely a birthday as possible...

Part of this extravaganza of generosity and celebration entailed lunch at one of Warwick’s finest eating establishments – The Saxon Mill. If ever you’re around these parts I can recommend it. I won’t wax lyrical about the menu as, really, with the best will in the world, mere adjectives and metaphor can hardly replace the reality of eating food. Suffice it to say, you had to be there. And, no offence intended, I’m rather glad that you weren’t as it would have cramped my style and ruined the atmos somewhat...

But talking of atmos...

The Saxon Mill – being (surprise, surprise) a converted mill – is built over the River Leam. On the opposite bank stands what at one time would have been a very grand old house indeed: Guy’s Cliffe House.

The legends surrounding this building are numerous. And as varied and embellished as Chinese whispers. The one strand that runs through them all, however, is that the place is haunted. Haunted by a woman who – through being jilted / abandoned / widowed / whatever – threw herself into the River Leam far below and drowned. Quite when this occurred nobody really seems to know. 500 years ago... maybe more... medieval period some even say.

Then layered on top of this legend is another one. A newer one. The building was purportedly used at one time – again in some unspecified period of history – as the HQ for a local coven of witches and Satanists. They are supposed to have used the cellars and caves that the house is built upon to carry out their perverse rites – orgies, blood sacrifices, the lot. The Butlins of their day.

Nowadays the Mason’s own the property. Nothing unusual in this except why buy a building that nobody does anything with? About 20 years ago a major fire further gutted what was already a ruin and thus the building has (barely) stood... closed off to the public, free access granted only to the crows and pigeons that roost in it’s shambolic gables. Nobody “straight and true” has been seen there for years. Certainly not by daylight anyway. All very strange.

Anyway, after our meal Karen and I took a slow saunter along the river and viewed the house from the safety of the opposite bank. I say safety because Guy’s Cliffe House gives me the freaking willies.

Partly because of the legends and the hearsay and partly because of personal experience.

When I was 18 me and my good friend, Tris, being full of youthful bravado and foolhardiness decided to put the legends to the test. Mostly though I think we just wanted to cock a snook at the Masons and so climbed over the boundary wall and took a wonder through the grounds. As it was, even then (before the fire), the house was visibly unsafe and so we wisely steered clear of venturing within the crumbling walls but we did skirt the perimeter and work our way round to the cellars / caves at the back. To do this we followed what I assume hundred of years ago would have been the old river bed.

I recall it being jungled with massive leaves and vegetation which seemed to have grown elephantine in the August weather. It felt almost prehistoric and I remember feeling quite disconcerted and dwarfed by my surroundings. Maybe this merely added to the burgeoning sense of atmosphere – who knows? All I do know is that as we turned round to the back of the house the air itself seemed to grow black in a split second. We both experienced it and stopped dead in our tracks. I have never felt such an oppressive, furious, outraged atmosphere as I did that evening. The air seemed to increase in mass and waves of anger bore down on us like a nuclear wind. That and the distinct feeling that we were not at all welcome and should get the hell out of there immediately. We both flinched under a snarl of “get out!” mentally screamed at us from a source that appeared to have no shape or form. Neither of us had to discuss it. We turned tail and ran like something out of Scooby-doo, me bringing up the rear praying that nothing was pursuing me... because, let me tell you, at the time it felt like a real possibility.

We laughed about it afterwards and shrugged it off. It was an August evening, the sun was setting; it had merely dropped down behind the house and plunged the ground level into shadow. What jolly japes. Ho ho ho.

I’ve never been back but have often wondered about that evening many times over the intervening years.

I didn’t see anything coalescing out of the air but do remember the impression of something trying to. Maybe if we’d found more courage and stood our ground we would have seen something... an apparition, an orb of light, Derek Acorah in his cheap imitation gold jewellery... who knows.

All I know is the atmosphere was unquestionably real and it produced a very real reaction in us both.

Was it a ghost? Was it our minds playing tricks on us – using the rich food of local legend to fuel a waking dream?

Or is it as someone whose name I can’t remember once wrote: human memory exists in two places – in the hearts and minds of people; and in the buildings, stones and earth that house them?

Maybe a distraught young woman hundreds of years ago, dashing out her unendurable sorrow into a treacherous river, unwittingly impressed herself onto the stones of Guy’s Cliffe House and every now and then treats foolish young visitors to a sensory cinema show where the only tickets required are gullibility?

You’re guess is as good as mine.

Sleep well, people. Sleep well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Theftbook

My relationship with Facebook has always been fraught to say the least.

I find the site annoyingly clunky, slow loading and just too bloated with useless “apps” and fly-by-night user groups who constantly paw at me wanting my cyber attention when in truth I’m rarely in the mood to give it.

The facility I use most on Facebook is the “ignore” button and I do apologize if you have been on the wrong end of it. It’s nothing personal.

Why be on Facebook in the first place then?

Well. I was curious. It was recommended to me by a friend (a real one). And I thought “why not?”

And once you’re on there it’s damned hard to get yourself off.

Facebook, you see, doesn’t like to let go.

Facebook has ownership issues.

Facebook is something of a smug, grasping, bully that doesn’t like to let anyone of anything out of its mucky clutches.

Want evidence?

Facebook has now decided to grant itself rights to users’ photos, wall posts and just about every conceivable bit of information that people are na├»ve enough to post on its site. Forever.

Even if you manage to delete your account all your photos and information will be archived somewhere and available for use by the Facebook bigwigs for what has been quoted in the Metro as “public performances”

Public performances?

WTF?

Has Facebook not heard of the data protection act or are they somehow exempt?

Here’s another quote for the Metro (only the best sources for me):

“Yesterday, the site’s founder Mark Zuckerberg attempted to defuse the row, insisting in his blog, ‘In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want.’”

Ri-i-i-i-ght.

In a way I wouldn’t want.

So that’ll be not at all then.

So what’s the point of Facebook hanging onto such information and private (can you read that, Zuckerberg: P – R – I – V – A – T – E ) photos in the first place?

Or is Facebook hoping that at some point in the future I will be quite content to let my personal information be used in some viral advertising campaign or pasted over a Beatles soundtrack to sell an updated version of their shitty little web site to invading Martians? Or even enable Wal-Mart to target me with useless white goods that they think I desperately need and must absolutely buy?

Dream on, Facebook.

Keeping my information without my express permission is theft. Holding my photos – my intellectual property – for a future use that I cannot control or opt out from, no mater how innocuous, is an infringement of my basic human rights.

Facebook, it’s time you were de-faced.

Permanently.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?

When a person has very few pleasures in life do you have a right to deny them those few in order to preserve their health?

Years ago I wouldn’t have hesitated with my answer and would have no doubt spouted a load of guff about free will, choices, self autonomy and a load of other textbook slogan-making twaddle.

Now I’m not so sure.

My granddad, God bless ‘im, has a pretty meagre existence in terms of self fulfilment. He’s 70% blind, lonely as hell since my gran died 4 years ago and my aunt (his youngest daughter) died last year. He’s going deaf and is becoming rather unsteady on his feet.

As far as worthwhile activities go there is precious little he can do to fill his days except listen to the radio full blast, talk to his various visitors, eat and drink.

Drinking as a pleasure would be fine if his beverage of choice was a nice cup of Earl Grey. Sadly, being an ex-Navy man, his preferred tipple is rum.

And the stronger the better.

In the past this hasn’t been a problem as he’s always been responsible / careful / respectful. Now, however, with little else to live for, I suspect, and little else to occupy his days he’d been hitting the bottle rather hard.

The family has grumbled but lived with it for the last few years and bar a few tellings off and a flurry of nags when he’s got himself particularly sizzled we’ve let him get on with it with the proviso that he doesn’t overdo it. I mean at his age he hardly needs to worry about drinking himself to death, does he?

However, yesterday he had to activate his emergency helpline button as he’d got himself so drunk he’d slid out of his chair and onto the floor and couldn’t get back up again.

It would be almost comical except that an ambulance man had to attend and spend a great deal of time sorting him out.

Thankfully all was well.

He’s ok. He’s fine. He’s embarrassed and a little chagrined after getting the sharp end of my mother’s tongue but no lasting damage has been done.

Or has it?

The problem is that even without the thought that it could have been so much worse an ambulance man had had to devote time and energy to a “non emergency call out” when he no doubt could have been better employed elsewhere.

Which isn’t to say I don’t think my granddad is worth it because he most definitely is.

But this cannot go on.

And I don’t think getting trollied makes him particularly happy anyway as he tends to get maudlin drunk as opposed to waving-his-pants-in-the-air-happy-as-larry drunk. He might not agree but he’s a lot brighter when he hasn’t got a couple of pints of Captain Morgan sloshing around his central nervous system.

My mother agrees and, being the policeman of the relationship (as indeed all mothers are), she’s going to advise him and the loyal network of family and friends that support him that rum, if it ever appears on his shopping list again, will be dispensed and distributed in much smaller volumes in future.

It is the only thing to do. It is the right thing to do.

But I can’t help feeling a tad uncomfortable and inappropriately authoritarian about it. What right do we have – even to preserve his health – when he has so little else in life that he enjoys?

Back to that old chestnut again.

What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?

Early in the morning!

Put him in the hold with the Captain's daughter,
Put him in the hold with the Captain's daughter,
Put him in the hold with the Captain's daughter,

Early in the morning!


Hmm. I tell you now, that he’d bloody love...

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Sheffield Samaritans

Let’s start with the facts:

My parents and youngest sister live in Sheffield.

By Monday morning the Midlands – where I live – was all but thawed of ice and snow, only a few discoloured remnants of obscene snowmen remained.

Sheffield however, like much of the North, was still flinching under a heavy gauntlet of snow. Not great travelling conditions by anybody’s standards.

On her way to work my sister slipped over on some ice in the middle of the main road and came crashing down heavily onto her back and hip.

And then lay there, gasping for breath, in dreadful pain, unable to move while the person walking directly behind her carried on walking as if nothing untoward had happened at all.

No offer of assistance, no polite enquiry as to her well-being, not even a jokey “ooh send us a postcard next time love.”

Just a kiss-my-arse cold shoulder and gone.

Thankfully a passer-by on the other side of the road crossed over and helped my sister up and walked her part of the way to work. She was very upset, very shaken and very much in pain.

5 days later she’s still in a lot of pain but is mostly hurt and confused as to why a fellow human being could just step over her and leave her – sprawled and helpless – in the middle of the High Street.

As indeed am I. Though I’m less hurt and confused about it as bloody furious.

How could anybody be this callous and uncaring? What does it cost to give someone a small helping hand – even a stranger?

I suppose I ought to be grateful that this person didn’t stick the boot in while she lay there and help himself to her purse and jewellery. Or just whip out his mobile phone and film her plight so he could shove it onto YouTube later and so boost his online kudos.

I know the chances of Mr Charming reading this are so slim as to be incalculable but if ever “what goes around comes around” needed to be a prayer and a curse it is today in my heart.

Back at yer, Mister. With nobs on.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

All That We See Or Seem Is But A Dream Within A Dream

I love dreams and I love dreaming.

Aside from a period during my childhood when I suffered a recurring nightmare for 7 years (which I now realise was caused by carrying the measles bug around with me until such time as it manifested properly – but that’s another story) I don’t as a rule have bad dreams. Ambivalent and ambiguous, yes, but rarely bad.

Which apparently is unusual.

Last night’s episode of Horizon probed the nature of dreams – why we dream, how we dream, the meaning of dreams. It was fascinating stuff. According to research 75% of people’s dreams are negative. The theory is that while we sleep our survival instinct kicks in and attempts to mentor us in the art of coping with bad shit. Hence we have bad dreams as a sort of trial run for real life – a virtual reality shit sandwich if you like that puts us through our paces while we catch some Z’s.

It’s an interesting theory and plainly I’m either already fully prepared or my mind has just decided to give up trying to prepare me for anything.

My dreams are just weird rather than overtly negative, the symbols as yet too obscure even for me to analyse usefully.

I do know that I dream of flying quite regularly – something Karen is quite jealous of as it is something she never dreams of (a fact I find deeply unusual). In my dreams I have flown across oceans – usually to America for some reason – and several times I have even left the gravitational pull of the earth and visited other planets. I’m not sure what this means.

Alien invasion is also a recurring theme but is never shocking or threatening. The skies are usually full of alien ships and I’m swept along with the spectacle but never feel particularly scared.

Most of the time I dream of my childhood home – the place I lived in for a good 30 years (and more) of my life. It was sold a few years ago and plainly I’ve had trouble letting go of it. Usually when i dream of it I know I shouldn’t be there and am nervous of the new rightful owners returning... and yet I can’t stay away from it.

Bizarrely (or perhaps normally) I find that there is a definite, fixed geography about my dream world. Various locations in Leamington Spa are contained within my head and seem to hold their shape and detail in between my somnambulistic visitations. Occasionally I’m even aware of having visited them in dreams before and even more occasionally reach that wonderful state where I know that I’m dreaming. The much sought after “lucid state”.

I’m afraid I don’t use it to solve real world problems, write novels or do anything at all useful with it... I just tend to fly around and enjoy myself. I’m evidently something of a hedonist in my sleep.

What I do find strange is that I rarely dream about people that I see regularly. Karen, the kids... I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt of them while people that I hardly see at all feature quite a lot. I also often dream of dead people (“mom, I see dead people!”) – though usually relatives. Most of the time I seem to have forgotten that they’re dead but very occasionally I am aware of the truth of things in my dream and know that they shouldn’t really be there.

Anyway, there was no real conclusion about any of this dream research for all it got the scientists very excited. Basically we all dream (apart from stroke sufferers who suffer damage to the part of the brain that controls dreaming) but nobody really knows why. And we dream not just in R.E.M. sleep but also in non R.E.M. sleep too. To quote one bod the only difference between the activity of our brain during awake time and sleep time is that during awake time we interact with the reality around us. Other than that there is little difference between the two in terms of brain activity.

Curiously, while our brains remain active during the moments we dream our bodies become effectively paralysed. Our muscles completely relax and we are unable to move. Plainly this is a safety feature provided by dear old Mother Nature herself to stop us acting out our dreams and breaking our necks whilst we sleep. The most memorable part of the programme for me was footage of a cat whose brain had been operated on to prevent this sleep paralysis. The result was a cat, fast asleep, stalking an invisible dream mouse across a work surface...

Remove that part of my brain and, who knows, you may see me flying past your bedroom window one night.

I promise not to peek.

Much.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Motivation

Progress on the novel (yes I am still writing it) has become tortuously slow of late.

It’s a mite frustrating as I am now into the last phase of the plot. Just a matter of tying everything together. And at 170,000 words (and counting) I don’t think anyone can knock my dedication.

But finding time and energy to devote to it lately has proven to be monumentally difficult. The worst thing about this is that it makes me feel distant from the novel and then it’s doubly hard to get back into it again. It requires a huge effort to pick up all the piece and embrace the myriad strands once more.

And then yet more interruptions and delays... it soon feels too difficult to re-engage.

I’m being lazy and moany, I know.

Part of the problem is that I have an idea for a second novel and, human nature being what it is, I want the first one done and dusted so I can get on with the shiny new one.

Which feels a rather childish reaction.

I suppose I ought to try and see the positive. All these delays are ensuring that I don’t rush the ending – a crime committed by many a writer and of ineffably annoyance to any reader... cos you can always tell when a novel has been rushed. The conclusion is invariably shoddy, unbelievable and way too convenient... altogether very, very dissatisfying.

I guess I’ve just got to tell myself that the tortoise is always better then the hare and just knuckle down... Instead of distracting myself with constant displacement activities.

Like writing this blog...

Friday, February 06, 2009

No Grit

John Wayne - True GritIt’s official.

There is a lack of grit in the UK.

It’s all over the news. Local authorities in the Midlands are already completely out of it.

Salt reserves are also dangerously low in at least 8 far flung counties.

So there you have it folks. Clear and undeniable indications that the country has gone to the dogs. Standards have fallen. The Dunkirk Spirit is no more – oooh it’s much to cold and wet, I’m staying right here, girlfriend...

The UK has lost its grit and we’re running low on that hardiest of stand-bys: the salt of the earth.

All that’s left are the whingers, the ne’er-do-wells and the people-with-the-best-of-intentions-but-no-motivation-to-see-it-through.

The nation has been broken by a little bit of snow.

Back when I were a kid in a land that smelled and sounded like a Hovis advert we didn’t let a little bit of the white stuff hold us back, oh no lad. I’ve already reminisced in a previous post how, a mere 25 years ago, even in half metre drifts of snow, people still battled into work and kids still battled into school with no real expectation of scamming a day off.

In fact the only time my school closed in bad weather was when the boilers broke.

Fair enough. Can’t argue with that.

But when the boilers were working the school was able to function as normal and people made an effort to get in despite the snowy conditions – to carry on as normal, to keep the wheels of industry turning. To not be defeated by a little bit of weather.

True grit, folks. True grit.

Not so now alas.

Now, the slightest flurry of the most fairy-like of snow flakes will see people inhale sharply through their teeth, shake their heads in mock sorrow and exasperation and unravel the control leads to their PlayStation / Xbox in preparation for a couple of days at home, “snowed in”, while the country grinds to a comical halt once more (though it’s funny how we expect the gritting crews to still get out there and do their job, isn’t it?).

Yes, we’re all snowed in. We can’t possibly risk our lives getting into work or getting into school. Not in all this snow and ice. Might catch pneumonia. Or frostbite somewhere nasty. Or, like, just really painful chilblains.

Which is why the town yesterday was full of people of all ages, all playing out in the snow, all dressed in their best protective winter gear. Everywhere you looked there were snowball fights, sledging, snowmen and preposterously appendaged snow-women... and people dressed up quite comfortably like Sir Ranulph Fiennes. It was a real winter wonderland blah blah blah.

It seems to me then that the snow doesn’t really stop us doing anything very much at all if we actually set our minds to it... Just the stuff we don’t like doing... like, for example, going to work for a living.

Except this isn’t down to the snow, folks.

This is down to the lax and lazy attitude that has infected this country from the last generation downward. Suddenly it’s ok to be lazy, ok to take the easy way out. People who battle into work regardless of the conditions are seen as idiots and foolish. Why bother? Hard work and dedication are plainly rubbishy attributes for any man or woman these days and you’d best ditch them bloody quick if you want to fit in with the new laid-back modern world.

Just put your feet up. Relax. What’s an education and a work ethic at the end of the day? Look – daytime telly! How often do you get a chance to watch that? Go on. Treat yourself. Nobody else is bothering to turn in today. You’ll be the only nerd in the office if you go. Good lad. Stick the kettle on. The kids’ll enjoy a day off. It’ll teach them a valuable lesson. Or something.

“True grit? Ha! Not much.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Underclass

Kate Beckinsale as SeleneBack in the days when I was healthy - before a seasonal virus transformed my previously sparkly-clean lungs into two mildewed tea-bags (i.e. about 5 days ago) - Karen and I enjoyed a rare treat: a night out at the cinema whilst our friendly neighbourhood babysitter did exactly what it said she'd do on her tin.

Nothing too weighty or worthy for us. Oh no. It had been a hard week and we fancied something "light" and "fantastic". We also both fancied some cinematic eye candy. Kate Beckinsale for me and Michael Sheen for Karen. "Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans" then, seemed a rather apposite choice.

The first 2 Underworld films are universally judged as "frustrating". The cinematography is excellent. The casting is good. The use of technology within the age old tale of Vampire vs Werewolf was smart and intelligent. The scripts weren't half bad. And yet...

And yet they both fell short of the mark. And fell short in ways that were extremely annoying to the viewer.

"They could have been so much more..." "They almost made a great vampire movie..." Etc.

The first film was great right up to the final battle sequence with the long awaited vampire / werewolf hybrid. The effects men caused the film to fall down at the last hurdle. The resultant monster was clumsy looking and visually risible.

The second film... well. The second film had a storyline which should have resulted in the death penalty being given to the script writers immediately. It was lazy. No other word for it and a complete waste of the talents of both Kate Beckinsale and Bill Nighy. Gah. Let down again!

So I wasn't expecting a great deal from the third Underworld film...

Except it did feature the startling Michael Sheen reprising his role once more as Lucian the Lycan / human hybrid. Now Sheen, I have to say, had been faultless in his earlier Underworld performances but the role of Lucian was given too little screen time for his character and Sheen's acting skills to impinge much onto the consciousness of the general viewer. He was given far too little to do.

Not so in "Rise Of The Lycans". He carries the entire film. In fact he doesn't just carry the film as hoof it straight out of the chasm of disappointment and into the starry stratosphere of "total film satisfaction".

Mr Sheen (shines all things clean) is already building up a humungous career for himself in Hollywood and I suspect his rise will be (unlike the Lycans) meteoric. On our tellies in the UK he's been fabulous as Nero. A revelation as Kenneth Williams. And at the cinema, if the critics are to be believed, he's totally masterful as Frost in the current Frost/Nixon film.

He's going to be big.

"Rise Of The Lycans" is the best of the Underworld films by far. Sheen brings depth, poignancy, believability, empathy - his full and formidable acting range in fact - to his role as Lucian. Plus (according to Karen) he looks damned hot in leather. He's also surprisingly believable in the brutal fight sequences. It's bizarre to see such a sensitive character actor suddenly tranformed into an action / romantic hero. And yet he accomplishes it all effortlessly and, most importantly, without losing any of his sensitivity. The man has my respect. He has finally brought something much needed to the Underworld franchise: a sense of emotional relevance.

Bill Nighy reprises his role as Viktor and is just joyous to watch as always - totally convincing as the grand vampire patriarch and the bird-blue eyes are a nice touch. He somehow manages to be cold, cruel, callous, delicously English and yet always "warm uncle Bill Nighy" all at the same time.

And as for Kate Beckinsale... well, there is no effing Kate Beckinsale. Apart from a brief appearance at the very end that is - no more than a blinking cameo!

Cue curses and sundry howls of frustration!

I've been robbed!

I've been done!

I've been remiss and probably should have read the film synopsis more closely and realized that this was a prequel not a sequel to the Underworld series! Doh!

So instead of Kate we were served up Rhona Mitra as Viktor's sensually lipped vampire daughter, Sonja, and Lucian's illicit love interest. Yes, she's eye candy. Yes, she's good. But she's just not Kate Beckinsale in tight black leather no matter which way you cut it, so I was a mite grumpy and a little bit sulky for the first third of the film to say the least.

And yet it still managed to completely win me over.

Now from me, folks, that's a recommendation...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Week Dragon

I don’t know about everybody else but the conveyor belt of life has become something of a relentless monster of late. A dragon that rears its ugly head every Monday morning and roars its unending demands at me in tones that demand my immediate obeisance.

House chores, work chores, personal chores... all spewed forth in a stinging fountain of flame and brimstone and interlaced with little charcoal briquettes of “washing up”, “hoovering the house”, “fixing that shelf” and “cleaning the bathroom”... all those little jobs that get continuously put off because the big ones are taking up so much time and energy... so much so that the little ones eventually require an entire day in themselves to be faced up to because they have stacked up into a pyre that would vaporize Joan of Arc’s asbestos knickers in a single second.

Surely life isn’t meant to be like this? We human beings shouldn’t be waking up every morning heart and body heavy with a hundred foot long list of things that must be done before one can rest one’s weary head again the coming night?

Where is the sun lounger beside the unnaturally blue swimming pool? Where is the perfect sun – neither too hot nor too cold – that cooks me pleasantly without turning my body into a dripping Beef Wellington of sweat? Where is the pina colada, newly frosted in my hand and dripping with fresh pineapple slices?

This isn’t the life I envisioned for myself back when I was a kid. Not that life now is in anyway bad... there’s just too much of it trying to be lived in too short a space of time. Or too little of it trying to encompass too many things. I’m really not sure which.

I know Karen feels the same. By the end of each day we’re both shattered. Exhausted. It’s hard to find the time or energy to do enjoyable things let alone the leftover chores that seem to append themselves to the end of each day.

Back when I was a kid I imagined adult life to be a brilliant smorgasboard of constant spontaneity and adventure. Why shouldn’t you just do anything? I mean who is there to stop you and tell you that you can’t do it? Another adult? Pah! They’ve no right to be in charge of you when you’re an adult yourself!

And in a way that was all perfectly correct and fundamentally astute. But my childish self didn’t take into account the one adult who will always tell you not only that you can’t do that but also tell you why you can’t do that.

Yourself.

The poor you that through habit and conditioning loses its innate ability to cut itself free of the twin chains of “must” and “have to” and soar up unfettered into the boundless blue sky of possibility and freedom... and instead becomes a rather stern and ineffably anal task master who won’t let you off the hook even when your brain is rattling around inside your skull like a walnut with terminal fatigue.

Poo. Sometimes growing up really sucks.

So is it the livelong week that I’m fighting? Or lance in hand, horse rearing up on its hindlegs like Champion The Wonder Horse, am I going to remove the dragon’s battle-mask only to find, like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, that it is only myself that I have been duelling?

Already I can hear the roar of the Monday beast approaching... I need the answers fast, folks. I’m getting battle weary.