Friday, December 28, 2012

On The Second Day Of Christmas I Was Given The Greatest Nosh In All The World...

Seductive red lipsIt was perhaps the most sensual experience of my existence so far.

A singular gift that most dream of but are seldom rewarded with receiving. An act that sends shivers down your spine and grants you the type of sensory satisfaction that you normally only find in works of fiction. Fifty Shades Of Grey doesn't even come close.

To some just the thought of it is repulsive. Dirty. Degrading. Even though, given the specialness of the time of year, there is justification for suggesting it to your loved one / partner.

I know. I know. Despite years of apparent intimacy, such requests - often coming out of the blue - can seem like a bridge too far. It can push boundaries to breaking point.

It is, I will admit, not everyone's bag. Some just can't handle the taste - slightly peppery, slightly salty - and can't close off the gag reflex.

Some switch off their taste buds and just go for it - functional, perfunctory - not really enjoying it; just going along to please and gratify.

This does not work for me. It does not float my boat.

I'd much rather an out-and-out no than a sighing agreement to suffer in silence.

No.

I want the peak moment to be shared. To be indulged by all participants.

The hedonist in me is just built that way.

And so it was that, this Christmas, I girded my loins and propositioned my wife.

"Please", I said.

"It is only once a year. It is a special time. Why don't we, you know... do it? Do the deed we rarely speak of?"

She gave a maidenly blush (special and rare in itself, believe me) and, blinking away her sudden coquettishness, replied, "You mean... you want me to..."

I nodded down to the small, firm, round objects cupped seductively in the palm of my hands.

"Yes," I said. "I want you to make bubble and squeak. After all," I winked slyly, "We did buy in an extra big portion of sprouts especially."

And with that, she took those dreamy green nuggets of deliciousness out of my hand and mashed them up with boiled potatoes, coated them in flour and paprika and fried them up into saucily green burgers of vegetable delight.

Bubble and squeak might not be the food of the gods but in my house, at this time of year, it is the one thing guaranteed to pop my cork.

And blow me to ecstasy and back if my wife didn't enjoy gobbling it all up just as much as I did.

You can't beat a good bit of nosh at Christmas time, you really can't.

Happy Season's greetings to you all.

Sprouts

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Believed In Father Christmas



I can’t remember the exact age I was when I stopped believing in Father Christmas. About 6 or 7 maybe. By modern standards that’s possibly a good innings.

I do know that nobody told me. Nobody let the cat out of the bag or suddenly decided that I needed to “man up” about Christmas.

I worked it out. A slow dawning realization that the logistics, the physics... they just didn’t add up. My parents didn’t help by declaring certain cupboards off limits during the run up to Christmas. That aroused my suspicions. Plus relatives got sloppy about bringing presents to the house. They did it in full view of us. When you’re a kid you remember even the smallest glimpse of wrapping paper. When Christmas morning arrived and that same paper appeared again... well, 2 add 2 inevitably makes 4.

I remember feeling gutted. An excoriating disappointment that left me completely deflated and flat. The world seemed greyer, drabber and smaller once the truth was upon me. No magic. No flying sleigh. No Father Christmas coming down the chimney. No toy factory at the North Pole with a happy workforce of elves making toys.

Just mum and dad. Just Nan and Bampap. Just Auntie Edie and Uncle Harry. Auntie Maude. Auntie June and Uncle Bill. And all the rest.

It is only now that I can look back and see that there was magic in the truth after all. All those aunts and uncles. My grandparents. All those jolly smiles – the jollier I suspect for having lived through WWII and thereafter counting their blessings for being alive every single day.

Mum and dad thankfully excepted, all those names that meant so much to me are now all gone from the world. Dead. Vanished. I have memories of their voices that I cannot pass onto my own kids.

Instead, we have Father Christmas still. And though my 11 year old sussed it out some years ago we persist in the ruse for the sake of my 5 year old. I think that small temporary belief in magic is the most precious gift of all. It creates, if nothing else, a capacity to find and cherish the real magic of life when you’re older... for all you have to battle through that initial disappointment. Sometimes lies and sham merely disguise other truths.

I do remember one year though, when I was about 25. It was Christmas Eve and I’d come back home late from a mate’s house. I hadn’t drunk too much; just enough to be warm and merry. I tucked myself into bed – it had gone midnight so technically was already Christmas Day. I remember wishing the world a very Merry Christmas as I settled down to go to sleep.

And I heard – just once – the sound of sleigh bells. Very distinctive. Very clear. Somewhere close in the crisp midnight air.

I know, I know. Some drunk marlarkying about on his way home. Or some parent going the extra mile for his/her kids.

A logical explanation is out there somewhere, I am sure, and probably not very hard to find.

But just for a second... I did wonder.

And every year since... just for a second... I still do.

Funny thing, magic.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

No More Merlin, No, No, No!

The bountiful Katie McGrath as Morgana PendragonSo the BBC’s Merlin closes its doors on Camelot for the last and final time on Christmas Eve.

After 5 series that have been smash hits all over the globe the Beeb now feels it is has “teased out all it can” from the Arthurian legend and it is finally time to knock the myths and magic bandwagon completely on the head.

No more Colin Morgan and his magic jumbo ears.

No more Bradley James and his pouty swordsmanship and swishy nipples.

No more Angel Coulby cinched so tight into improbably tight dresses that her kidneys grind up against her back teeth.

And worst of all no more Katie McGrath spilling her gloriously pale and fulsome d├ęcolletage out of impossibly black dresses as she icily stares wanton evilness over all who dare to cross her gaze.

I find the BBC’s decision unfathomable and unpalatable.

Even without the enticing lure of Katie McGrath’s curvy cleavage of evil bouncing across Camelot’s ferociously defended borders and causing fruity mayhem and musky spillages among the goody-two-shoe knights the BBC can’t fail to have noticed that Merlin has been rather good for their revenue stream.

In these days of financial hardship and the tightening of belts I find it inconceivable that any kind of corporation would willingly cut off a single cash supply. Oh I’m sure Merlin costs millions to make – the sets, the locations, the lingerie, the tight security around Katie’s Winnebago that repulsed my siege engines of love countless times... but I bet you it recoups twice that in international TV rights and DVD sales without breaking a bank manager’s sweat.

“Teased the legend out as far as we can?”

What rot.

There’s loads more they could have done. Loads. I mean, Christ, I could write them a few episodes by next week – provided they were willing to overlook the incongruity of Katie McGrath shod in leather and fishnet stockings sitting astride a vibrating waterbed.

She’s a high priestess of the old religion, for Heaven’s sake, there’s bound to be perks.

Seriously though I find it very sad. Merlin started off a bit too whimsical and kiddie-friendly but then magically matured into a glorious sword and sorcerific drama that restored my faith in the BBC after its appalling run with Robin Hood a year or so earlier.

And now some mealy-mouthed TV exec has drawn up the portcullis on one of the most popular shows of the last 5 years without batting an eyelid or even newting a toad. Or something.

Idiots.

On the bright side though it does mean that when I part with my cash for the Merlin boxed set I know I’ll be getting the complete and entire production output. Unless, of course, they run with my idea for a Christmas special next year (but that all depends on Katie learning to pole dance by then)...

*sigh*

Saturday nights just won’t be the same.

You’ve given me one hell of a sword, BBC, but taken away the stone I liked to fantasise driving it into.

Curse you!


Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit

Richard Armitage as Thorin OakenshieldI haven’t read any of the critic’s reviews. This isn’t an especial stance that I’ve taken just for Peter Jackson’s latest outing to Middle Earth; I’ve just never been bothered enough with some “expert’s” opinion to take it as gospel in place of my own. If I want to see a film I’ll go and see it and make my own mind up.

Which isn’t to say I’ve been unaware of some of the more miserly reviews regarding The Hobbit.

Overlong. Too bloated. Not enough story. Christ, some even slag off Peter Jackson’s decision to film it in 48 frames a minute – a complaint I find unfathomable in this world of HD TV and Blu-Ray crystal clear clarity.

Peter Jackson himself isn’t chasing an Oscar in this film. He’s said so in interview.

So you’d think maybe he didn’t try hard enough then, didn’t give the film his all.

That would be a misconception.

The Hobbit is Peter Jackson’s gift, if you like, to all those of us who fell in love with his cinematic version of Middle Earth in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. It is a luxurious, indulgent, joyous return to that world. It pulls us in and wraps us up warm and invites us to stay for as long as we like.

Yes the film is long. 3 hours and 2 more films to come. But it is not overlong. I could have stayed for far longer. I’m one of those fans of LOTR who choose the extended versions over the cinematic releases every time anyway. Hell, if Pete J has an extended version of The Hobbit up his sleeve then I’m all for it. Bring it on.

Too bloated? No. It is rich. It is full. But it is not heavy on the stomach. It has a gloriously British cast who each in their own way hold the screen and support each other without vying for attention. Peter Jackson has a deft touch. It is great to see Ken Stott and James Nesbitt on the big screen... even if Nesbitt does look like a weird cross between a Cossack and a dwarf.

Best of all though is Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. Brooding, dark and yet somehow deservingly sympathetic. It took me until the very end of the film before I could place him. The eyes, the voice, I knew them but where from? Gisbourne in the BBC’s Robin Hood and more recently as Lucas North in Spooks. He fills Thorin’s boots effortlessly and is possibly the most attractive Dwarf in the world (if you like your Dwarves to have singing voices like Barry White).

Weirdly it is very easy to overlook Martin Freeman’s role in the film. Not because it is inconsequential – as Bilbo it would hardly be that – but because there is just an expectation that he is naturally going to be good. And he is. He blends into Ian Holm’s portrayal and manages to make it his own all at the same time and rather selfishly we take his faultless performance entirely for granted. But then that mirrors Bilbo’s beguiling humility in the story.

The best scene by far is the riddle scene between Bilbo and Gollum. It is pitch perfect. I cannot fault it. It is the lynch pin of all the films so it damn well had to be. The actors step up to the plate and hit a home run. Spot on.

There are so many other notables in the film – Ian McKellan, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Kate Blanchett – I could easily make this post 3 hours long in itself and spoil the entire film for you.

But that isn’t my intention.

My intention is to get you to the cinema to enjoy it for yourself.

After all, I’m just another non-expert critic. Don’t take my word for it.

Go and make your own mind up.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Distributed Production... And Sex

The future’s so bright I gotta print my own shades.

Yep. It’s coming folks.

The death of the High Street shop. The death even of the internet mail order vendor.

At some point in the near future, when we find that our Breville sandwich toaster has gone on the fritz, we won’t bother heading out to Curry’s or surfing our way to Amazon to buy a new one. We’ll merely download a set of instructions from the internet and print a new one off in the comfort of our very own home.

The technology behind 3D printing is becoming more and more commonplace. Less of a freaky Tomorrow’s World prediction for AD2450 and more of a marketing forecast for AD2018. Google can already present you with hundreds of images of items fresh off the 3D printing production line.

What is amazing about them is their sheer diversity and complexity.

Our children are going to grow up in a world where people print their own cars, print their own tools and print their own kitchen appliances. And that’s just for starters.

On the face of it the technology of “distributed production” is awe inspiring. The command of science and physics involved in the process is incredible. The fact our species is making it all so commonplace and open to the general consumer is even more phenomenal.

But, of course, there is a disturbing dark side to this huge leap of technology.

It’s bad enough people downloading bomb making instructions without them being able to print off a real bomb directly from the internet. Not to mention grenades, knives, AK-47s and tanks. OK. Maybe tanks is a bit farfetched but the technology will reach that point one day. The MoD won’t bother with manufacturing plants; it’ll just have a warehouse with a huge eff-off printer that will print off whatever military hardware it currently needs. And you can bet your freshly 3D printed bottom dollar that there will be shady organizations all around the world with enough money to purchase such an eff-off printer for themselves... and suddenly, hey presto, as Prince, memorably sang a couple of decades ago, “mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?”

Rules and regulations will need to be put into place and they will need to be constantly monitored and policed. Kind of the way they are now to stop people pirating music, images and films off the internet.

OK. Maybe that’s not such a good example...

On the lighter side of it all though the technology should enable us to not only print something from a supplied design but also allow us to customize it to our own – to make it truly bespoke. I mean, who wouldn’t want a personalized Breville toaster with wings and built in Wi-Fi?

And why stop at kitchen appliances? What about bedroom appliances?

3D printing will revolutionize the porn industry.

No more plain brown paper parcels (batteries not included) from Sweden. No more avoiding eye contact with the postman or the FedEx courier when he drops off your latest blow-up sheep from Germany.

Soon you’ll be able to design and print off your own to your own personalized specifications. You’ll be able to tweak every fold and crevice.

Just make sure you always have a good supply of “ink” to hand.

Nothing will be more galling than running out just as you reach the good bits...

Friday, December 07, 2012

To DVD or Not DVD

Normally I’d be deriding the shameless consumerism of Christmas.

The special editions, the special offers, the special prices, the special gifts to make loved ones feel special because it is unheard of to do that at any other time of the year...

But this year I am mystified by the sheer bad planning of DVD vendors during the seasonal period.

DVDs make great presents. They make easy presents. But easy in a good way; not lazy. A great movie can be a family treat or just a treat for an individual that they can enjoy again and again. A good movie can be an immersive experience, a flight of escapism. A good movie can uplift and enlighten.

It can also keep the kids occupied and out of your hair for up to 2 hours.

Movies are great.

I had a list of DVDs that I knew would make great presents for people this year.  I’m not going to list them; just take it from me that they were all great, I have superb taste and I would have got you all something wonderful (because, yeah, I was going to send you all presents this Christmas but the vendors have foiled my plans).

I ploughed through my list online, tapping into my usual stockists and suppliers.

About 70% of the DVDs on my list aren’t being released until the New Year. That’s right. A frustratingly whopping 70%.

DVD after DVD crossed off my potential gift list.

DVD after DVD which I am now not going to buy.

To me it seems idiotic. The film industry is being hit by the recession like every other industry. Surely their marketeers must know that Christmas is the prime selling point of the year? The time when their wares fly of the shelves like chestnuts from an open fire proffered by an old bearded man in a stovepipe hat and fingerless mittens?

This is an immense lack of foresight and forward planning. Idiocy on a fathomless scale. It’s like Quality Street not selling their Christmas selection tin until March.

Now I know this is just a small gripe in the bigger scheme of things. Worse things happen at sea. Or even at the BBC. I know this. I’m not getting angina because of it.

I’m just saying, if you’re wondering why you haven’t received a Christmas present from me this year it’s because Debbie Does Derby isn’t being released until mid April.

And that’s it. There's nothing I can do about it. The DVD vendors plainly don’t believe in Father Christmas.

Sorry.

It looks like you’re stuck with Harry Hill’s Festive Burp on the telly.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Waiting For The Bailiffs

It’s the knock at the door we all fear.

That and the Jehovah Witnesses.

The three men in three quarter-length coats and porkpie hats come to help themselves to whatever they fancy of your stuff with the government’s full permission in recompense for an unpaid debt.

My wife and I have received 2 warning letters now. The last one was a red one. Unpaid traffic fines. Just under £500. What’s that in Guy Ritchie-speak? A monkey? 5 ton? Whatever, if they gain access to the house that’s the TV and X-Box gone. Or maybe they’ll be kind and just take our sofa?

I live in fear for my Lego collection. They can take my kids but my mid eighties classic space collection is definitely off limits.

I wouldn’t mind but the debt isn’t even ours.

A previous occupant of our house – please bear in mind that my wife have been living here since 2003 and have a mortgage and everything – has been running up some mid-range debtage and not updating her address with the creditors involved. Normally when we receive post for this ex-inhabitant I sling it back into the post with “return to sender (address unknown, no such number, no such zone)” scrawled all over it. Occasionally, when a particular company has been particularly persistent, I have opened the mail, read it and written a reply along the lines of: “Carrie doesn’t live here anymore, Carrie used to room on the second floor, I’m sorry but she left no forwarding address that is known to me...” but best of luck tracking down the dirty little welcher anyway.

We haven’t received anything for “our Carrie” for a while now. Until a letter last week from a company that shall remain nameless chasing down £450+ in unpaid traffic fines, that is. We had 2 weeks to cough up or the bailiffs would have leave to unburden my household of some choice goods and chattels to the aforesaid value aforementioned – they kindly pointed out that we didn’t need to be present for due process to take its course. A polite threat if ever I read one.

I rang them up. Annoyingly the automated message-bot tried its best to chicane me to its automated payment department and I had to cling on for dear life just to speak to a flesh and (cold) blood operator. “Oh yes,” they intoned, “You’re ringing about debt reference blah blah blah, aren’t you? Is that correct?”

I told them it was half correct. And then pointed out that their debtee was unknown to me and hadn’t lived in my house since 2002 at the earliest as my wife, two kids and mortgage lender would gladly testify if given the opportunity. The operator then deferred to a higher authority and I suffered piped Christmas tunes until she returned, suddenly a little warmer, a little more humane, and explained that her supervisor had given her permission to insert more up-to-date address details on this particular account and we wouldn’t now be bothered again; we could ignore the letter and put it all behind us. How kind.

Except it all left me mystified. They plainly had Carrie’s new address elsewhere in their company; they certainly didn’t ask me for it (I don’t have it anyway; besides which Carrie made me promise not to squeal) so why didn’t they just update their records as a matter of course in the first place? Why chase me for Carrie’s debt, eh? How does that work as an effective business plan?

Hmm.

And then I received the second letter from them – the red one – on Saturday.

The bailiff’s will be donning their lippy and their sling-backs and gearing up for a home visit unless the money is paid ASAP blah-de-blah-de-blah.

So you see, all this being the case it makes me think that, despite phone-lady’s warm assurances, the bailiffs are still coming. It makes me think they think I am actually Carrie - only I’ve had a sex change op in the interim and I’m trying to pull the wool over their eyes with some sick tale of fake domesticity.

Wife and two kids? Yeah right. Mortgage? A bloody fairy story.

They’re coming for my PlayStation! They’re coming for my set-top box with series 2 of Fresh Meat indelibly ensconced within its electronic innards! They’re coming for my wife’s Kindle Fire HD still unopened in the box (it’s OK, she already knows, it’s not a surprise).

Well, they’re not touching anything of mine! Not without a fight.

I’m defending my kid’s (and my) Christmas presents here! If I have to ventilate the lot of them then that’s precisely what I’ll do. And if a few Jehovah’s Witnesses get taken down in the confusion, well, just consider it a seasonal bonus from me to you.

A Christmas gratuity.

A yuletide freebie.

Totally debt free...