Friday, May 30, 2014

Step To It

Bear Grylls hunted by Ray Mears Deliverance styleIt's not often I write about my sporting endeavours on this blog. And there's a very good reason for that. I tend not to undertake any.

When Prince Harry was slogging his way to the North Pole he did it without my help. Sure he asked me to come along but, you know, I only do white and ginger when it's Karen Gillan or Nicole Kidman so the thought of 3 weeks in the snow with the half-blood ginger Prince didn't do much for me. And really, the arctic circle is no place for strip billiards (balls tend to ice up when left outside the pockets for too long).

And the amount of times Ray Mears has telephoned or emailed me and asked me to be his wingman on some jaunt around the Amazon or the American Rockies... well, to employ the old saying, I haven't had as many hot dinners. And as tempting as it is to hunt Bear Grylls "Deliverance" style through the American back-country while he squeals like a pig it doesn't compare with killing Falmer in Skyrim from the comfort of my own office chair surrounded by the vast Lego world I have built around myself to protect me from the ravages of the real world outside.

And don't even get me started on the Olympics. I thought it only fair to give Mo Farah a fighting chance at a medal, OK? Such trinkets of idolatry mean absolutely nothing to me.

So it came as a complete surprise when I found myself lured into the competitive world of team walking. For the first time ever I have joined with some work mates from the corporate world that I inhabit in my daylight hours to undertake the GCC Get The World Moving Challenge.

Basically, for the next 100 days I will be living in one-sided symbiosis with a digital pedometer (not paedo-meter as my eldest son insists on pronouncing it) that will record my regular 24 hourly attempts to walk at least 10,000 steps a day in tandem with my team mates. Those steps are then input into the web site above and translated to miles that are plotted onto a satellite map. The goal is to virtually walk around the earth and, dependent on your competitive bent, thrash the Americans who are currently top of the leaderboard.

No donations from you are needed though your verbal support would be appreciated.

At the moment the pedometer is proving to be an almost hypnotic distraction. I find myself checking my step total so often I am beginning to walk like Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Show. Possibly the hump on my back and my odd, stilted way of talking had already placed that image in people's minds but I like to think my penchant for singing the Time Warp is a new development in an already damaged psyche.

I'm also becoming more annoying and inane in my interactions with those around me than normal. For instance did you know that it takes me 100 steps to get up in the morning, get dressed and feed the cats? Or that an average bout of meal preparation in the kitchen takes me approximately 500? Next week I hope to be able to tell you how many steps it takes me to walk to work and how many I clock up stamping my feet in the office when Skyrim crashes on me.

10,000 steps a day?

Effing easy.




Wednesday, May 21, 2014

47 Groanin’

Keanu Reeves - 47 Groanin' RoninTraditionally on this blog film reviews go down like Nick Griffin on Robert Mugabe, i.e. very awkwardly. The comments tend to dry up rather quickly as people take the excuse “I haven’t seen that film / don’t plan to see that film so I can’t leave a comment anyway so I won’t even bother to read the blog at all. Job done”.

However, I’m bloody minded enough not to care and arrogant enough to think that the power of my writing can overcome any wilful lethargy in my readership. But to show I’m not totally uncaring to your plight I will keep this short.

47 Ronin.

I had high hopes for this. I saw it trailered at the cinema – it looked rather good – but life circumnavigated my attempts to see it on the big screen. So I bought a copy on Blu-Ray for my wife and I to enjoy at our leisure.

We watched it over the weekend.

And now I want to kill Keanu Reeves.

Because having seen his performance I have been left in the emotional state of permanent WTF?

WTF was he doing in that film? Just WTF? And I mean that conceptually, metaphorically and professionally. What. Was. He. Doing. [Big question mark.]

The original story is based on an 18th Century Japanese legend. 47 Samurai avenge their murdered Lord knowing that their own code of ethics will ultimately demand their own deaths via seppuku. There’s a poignancy and sad beauty to this along with scope for lots of action and martial arts choreography. In cinematic terms the story should be a sure-fire winner.

And the supporting cast – mostly Japanese / Asian – were excellent. No big names (by Western standards – but really, what do we know?) but still they impressed me. They gave it their all. Pathos and sensitivity at war in a culture where emotion is not meant to be overly shown. I’d argue that their performances were poised and subtle and damned impressive.

And then there was Keanu. Shoehorned into the story as a “half breed” with special magical powers.

Really?

I’m betting there’s no sign of his character at all in the original legend. He was just inserted because the producers decided they needed a big name to sell the film to the box office. So we get this bolted-on element to the story. An add-on that the plot doesn’t really require and, as a result, is totally imbalanced by. Keanu is like a bogoff deal that you want to refuse. No really. I don’t want the extra bit. I don’t want the freebie. Please, please keep it.

Now, if I was Keanu I‘d be thinking: I’m extraneous to this story; I’m superfluous to the requirements of the emotional arc, therefore, I’d better pull my finger out and act like I’ve never acted before and earn my right to be on the screen.

But I am not Keanu. Keanu is Keanu.

And that is the problem. Because Keanu is Keanu all the way through the film. Sullen. Unresponsive. Flat. Incongruous.

He talks in the same gruff monotone whether he’s been being beaten (a criminally too short scene), offering comfort to a dying comrade or exchanging romantic pleasantries with his love interest. He talks like the Hollywood voiceover man from the 60s and 70s. The one who invites you to come see the next Warner Brother’s [or whatever] spectacular in that voice that makes it sound morally imperative that you come to the cinema right now and have your life changed by the experience. You know the type of voice I mean. Now imagine that voice reciting a fragile poem by e.e.cummings and utterly ruining it, utterly disembowelling it with the barbarism of its relentlessly galloping speech rhythm. Now you have Keanu telling his lady love that he will search for her through a thousand worlds, through 10 thousand lifetimes. He spits the poetry out like a half chewed hamburger. In his mouth it becomes pure American gristle and the gentle lotus flower breeze of the Japanese love-story curls up and dies in the blast from his meaty breath.

And he has but one facial expression. The bearded grimace. That is it. All the way through the film. He grimaces. From behind his inexplicably dirty looking beard.

Death: grrr! Sadness: grrr! Fighting: grrr! Male bonding: grrr! Standing still and not talking: grrr!

And then, at the end, he becomes an honorary Samurai and gets to kill himself – along with the other Samurai – with full, painfully tragic honour.

In that single moment Bushido becomes bullshit and the entire point of the film is utterly destroyed.

Because, in my view, Keanu has no honour. Keanu is not a Samurai.

Not by a long chalk.

But he has more chance of becoming a Samurai than becoming an actor.

In fact he has more chance of becoming Japanese.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Ban The Berk

I knew something was wrong the minute I got home.

My letterbox was grimacing. Like it had a horrible taste in its mouth.

Behind the door, laid out on the mat like cat vomit, was the item pictured below.

Ban The Burka? No! Ban The Berk!
Ban The Burka? No! Ban The Berk! I felt sickened and shaky. I felt besmirched. Like my home had been violated. I had been on the receiving end of a BNP leafleting campaign. One of their hate-monkeys had actually walked up my path and touched my door. And then had slid something bilious and nasty into my inner sanctum.

My first reaction was to screw it up and bin it without looking at it. But then I thought, “No. Know your enemy.” So I read the leaflet. Every word. And my gut ran through a gamut of emotions. Everything from contempt, scorn and vituperative ridicule to the confirmed belief that these people are genuinely missing a chromosome; that the wiring in their brain is missing a couple of essential connectors, forever denying them the opportunity to reason and feel like normal, adult, articulate human beings.

What I hate most is the way this leaflet doesn’t pose any questions to the reader. It tells. It orders. It assumes. There is no facility here to interact mentally with this leaflet. It doesn’t care what you think. It doesn’t care what you feel. It doesn’t care for your life or the precious individuality of your particular existence. And that is nasty. That should be of concern to everyone who has any truck with this absurd political party.

And then there are the pictures, the images. The lazy buy-in to outdated, outmoded metaphors that only have meaning to idiots whose view of Britain is trapped in some fake, bromide stained stasis chamber of pre-war empire-fed glory full of working men wearing cloth caps, wives who stay at home to cook Beef Wellingtons and children who play solely with gender appropriate toys. And we all extol the Christian virtues of love thy neighbour as long as your neighbour is as British as you are. And don't worry of you have no idea of how to benchmark those Great British credentials because the BNP will do it for you.

Check out the picture of the Burka wearers:

Women wearing burkas! They want to ban the burka because it is “offensive and threatening”. And to drive that singularly stupid and vapid point home they have pictured a couple of Burka wearers flicking their V’s at the camera – thus, in my opinion, totally proving their true blue British credentials forever. But that irony is lost on your average BNP member (and let’s be honest; they are all average). Is the picture mocked up? Is it real? Who cares. It’s like something out of Viz magazine. It is comic and laughable. But it is also tragic and lamentable because there will be some BNP mongrel somewhere, working himself up into an orgasmic fury of outraged indignation over this picture. It is akin to the fake Boer war footage that was played to English citizens centuries ago – shot in a London park but purporting to show Boer atrocities to galvanize the zeal of the average Englishman and give him fuel for the fight. It is nasty propaganda designed to spread hatred and xenophobia. And if that hatred and xenophobia already exist then it is designed to inflate it up into atomic mushroom cloud proportions.

And at the end of the day, is the Burka really, truly threatening and offensive?

Only if you are such a pussy you are scared of women’s clothing. It is no more threatening and offensive than a dog collar or a monk’s cassock and a good deal less threatening and offensive than a BNP rosette.

This entire leaflet does not seek to enlighten or educate. It does not seek to question. Because that would be dangerous and self-defeating. The BNP relies on the stupid misconceptions and inborn bigotry of its incestuous membership to continue its existence. The BNP more than any other party wants to halt upward mobility and free thinking and trap this country forever under a glass jar of anachronism and vile paranoia. This leaflet has but one purpose. To reaffirm the idiocy of those who are already tainted with stupidity and make them feel that they are right. Seductive. Comforting. And, sadly to some, a vote winner – those people whose innate cowardice prevent them from questioning and second-guessing their own assumptions and hatred of people who, if they got to know them despite their different languages and cultures, would be discovered to be just like them. More or less. Just without the silly haircuts. Possibly.

In all honesty, I would rather have had a urine stained tramp shove his cock through my letterbox than this leaflet. In fact, to piss Mr. Nick Griffin off even more I’d go as far as to say I would rather welcome a whole army of Polish / Arabic / Asian immigrants, each of them taking it in turns to make love to my door than to ever have one of these puerile leaflets land in my hallway ever again.

Ban the Burka?

No. Let’s keep Britain for the intelligent and the liberal and the fair minded and those with the guts and humanity to question and oppose hate-filled manifestoes and find a way forward that unites all cultures and all races.

Let’s ban the berk.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Credit

Lenny McLean - The Guv'norI got my first credit card when I was 18.

And that was the beginning of the end. The end of living life my grandparent’s way. Their ethos was very much if you haven’t got the money, you go without. I don’t think my grandparents ever owned a credit card. Ever. They had a cheque book and if they wanted cash they got it over the counter at the bank. And if there wasn’t enough in the account they didn’t draw it out. And that was it. If the bank ever sent them credit cards when it became de rigueur to have a bit of plastic in your wallet I never saw them use one. Aside from their inevitable mortgage, they were deeply suspicious of virtual money and ATMs. Undoubtedly it was a generation thing.

And, of course, ironic. Banks have for centuries dealt with virtual money and the idea of a “promise to pay”. The countries of the West are built on this ethos. On spending money that they haven’t got. It is the basis of all speculation.

When I got my first credit card no real harm was done. I was single, living at home with parents who hardly fleeced me for housekeeping money and so I had more cash that I sensibly knew what to do with.

I frittered it away on books, movies and music – and later travel. And it was fine ‘cos when that bill landed on my doormat at the end of the month I had enough spare cash floating around to pay it all off immediately.

And that’s the ideal. That’s how using a credit card should be.

But later in life – much later – paying stuff off all in one go became impossible. It became the norm not to do it and those halcyon days of settling my account without a second thought became a novelty. The honeymoon period between my flexible friend and my salad days was well and truly over.

When real life kicks in – when you’re standing on your own two feet – it’s all too easy to fall into the credit trap; the overdraft pit; the snare of buy now pay later and then keep paying and paying for a very long time.

And if you are canny you do the credit card transfer dance for a while. Or “debt consolidation” as it is sometimes called. Lumping all your outstanding debts into one big sum that you bung on an interest free credit card deal in the vain hope you’ll get most of it paid off before the interest finally kicks in.

Of course, all you’re doing is “promising to pay” the vultures who are happy to sit and wait and let your meat tenderize itself as the pressure softens you up. And the longer they wait the juicier you’ll be.

It’s the law of the financial jungle.

This year, however, I made a decision – a resolution in fact – to get myself out of the credit trap. To consciously and conscientiously budget each month. To pay off debts without accruing more. To not dip into my overdraft but to stay in the black.

So far, 5 months in, I’ve managed it. My debts are being whittled down, bit by bit – they’ll be with me for a year or two but they’re shrinking, losing volume and threat. And my overdraft is a 5 month virgin, i.e. undipped into and I mean to keep her that way.

My credit cards are, by and large, becoming orphaned. More, they’re becoming strangers.

We used to be so close but now I can see it was always an abusive relationship. I’m only sorry it took me so long to realize that and do something positive about it.

Now that I’m away from the situation I do hope that one day they’ll learn to forgive me and move on.

I know the fault was mostly mine but I can’t help feeling that, in their very nature, they colluded in my weaknesses and led me on. And despite the protestations of the banking history of the world I can’t help thinking that my grandparents had the right idea.

Virtual money never leads to virtual riches. It only ever opens the door to very real debt.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Year Zero

World War II: 1945 - Year ZeroThis post has been inspired by “Year Zero: A History of 1945” by Ian Buruma.

Being born in 1969 I grew up with the Second World War.

This possibly seems an odd statement to make but it is true.

Throughout the seventies WWII was there. Ever present through the medium of the comics my dad used to buy me – Battle and Action – through toys like Action Man and model Spitfires which, despite the air superiority of the Hurricane, was the one that caught everyone’s imagination. And through the good old “war film” that the BBC and ITV would roll out every Sunday afternoon. Before I was familiar with algebra I was familiar with The Guns of Navarone, A Bridge Too Far and Von Ryan’s Express. My grandfather occasionally showing me his medals and my Nan’s reminiscences of working in a munitions factory during the 1940’s made the myth making very personal.

Although WWII faded from my mind during the 1980’s – my teenage mind finally progressed to the Cold War and the imminent threat (or so we thought) of nuclear holocaust – there are those who argue that WWII did not end until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In reality, the world we have all been born into – all us post war babies – has been and still is shaped by the ongoing strifes and struggles that WWII either created or did not amply settle. The guns of WWII might be silent but the rumbles still produce shellshock in the unfortunates around the globe who found the taste of liberation merely a slightly less bitter pill to swallow than occupation.

In my mind, as a boy, 1945 must have been a great year. Celebration. Relief. Freedom. The end of suffering, death, starvation and chaos. The beginning of a better world.

In fact, 1945, even after the capitulation of Germany and Japan, was a horrific bloodbath. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in reprisal and revenge attacks all across Europe and Asia. In some cases the Allies made attempts to keep a lid on it; in others they supplied the means – be it guns or a temporary policy to turn a blind eye. Thousands of German women were raped every day by the Russian Red Army – and this went on until 1947 when the Red Army was eventually confined to barracks. Thousands of POWS and Death Camp survivors died after liberation – not through maltreatment – but through well-meaning ignorance. Soldiers and medical teams would give them food not realizing that a body, in an advanced state of starvation, cannot cope with rich food. Women across Europe who were accused of being “horizontal collaborators” were tarred, feathered, beaten, publically humiliated and in some cases executed. Others, male and female, were accused of collaboration with the fascists, or the communists, or whoever was out of favour that week and executed in almost endless rounds of reprisals as those who perhaps were not as brave as they felt they should have been during the actual conflict crawled out of the woodwork to flex last minute muscles and do their bit for glorious freedom.

And there were, of course, the political betrayals which were ultimately no less bloody. The Cossacks sold back to the Russians, disarmed both martially and emotionally by false promises spouted by the mouthpieces of the West and executed within hours of being loaded onto the trucks. The Koreans who within days of declaring their independence found themselves occupied by the communists in the north and the western powers in the south; years later the entire country would be split into two – an absolute travesty of liberation. And there were the Jews – who nobody wanted and whose true suffering at that point in time nobody bar a precious few really understood – who were still being treated as pariahs.

1945 was bleak.

But humanity did begin to exert itself again. Within days of the cease fires the Allies were mobilizing themselves to save Germany and later Japan from starvation. It was at least understood that the economy of Europe and later the world depended on their survival. Less charitably it was also understood that leaving them to completely collapse would make them ripe pickings for communist ideologies. Because despite the uneasy alliance with Uncle Joe Stalin, the battlefronts for the Cold War were already being drawn up and marked out.

The big idea – the big ideal, in fact – that emerged from the chaos of WWII was the United Nations. A means to prevent such a costly, disastrous war ever happening again. A means to exert and make sacred globally certain human rights and essential freedoms. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear. High ideals. But even at the time the Allied powers would only go as far as making these rights a “declaration” and not “a guarantee”. How could they with Korea occupied? The Shinto religion banned in Japan? The communist zone in East Germany already closing like a suffocating fist? National re-education programmes put into place in both Japan and Germany to “civilize the brutes”. And a hundred other nudges, pushes and pressures as the Yanks and the Commies divided up the spoils of war and created the world in which we all currently live.

The modern world then, our world, was borne out of good intentions and unholy hypocrisy. And the guns of its collective war machine, it’s collective peace machine, rumble on and on and on.

Sobering to acknowledge as we take stock of the world around us in 2014, both at home and abroad, that although good intentions can never cancel out hypocrisy, hypocrisy can and does fully cancel out good intentions.

Are those four freedoms really so unobtainable? So unmaintainable? Is it time to admit defeat and present each one of them with a single white feather?

World Wars, it seems, never end but the peace we as individuals make with them sometimes, sadly, does.