Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Load Of Tosh

Actually, despite the title, this is going to be a favourable review of last night’s episode of Torchwood...

At last we were presented with a story that had depth, emotional content and decent social commentary. It also made far better use of Toshiko than her usual sidelined role of pretty-but-not-pretty-enough-Asian-geek-girl-in-the-background.

I have to confess that Toshiko has grown on me. Out of the all Torchwoodies she’s my favourite by far. Gwen I’m still ambivalent about: nice hair, nice eyes, but annoying trailer park attitude. Toshiko is quietly intelligent and the most morally upright member of the team.

And yes, she’s another brunette but that has no bearing on my opinion at all. Honestly.

Anyway yesterday’s episode revolved around a shell-shocked soldier removed from 1918 and cryogenically frozen by Torchwood in order for him to be reinserted back into his own time and so close up an immense rift in time that was forecast to destroy the world in 2008.

But let’s not get bogged down with the science.

This poor guy had been awoken / thawed out once a year since 1918 (and then refrozen) to give him a breath of fresh air, a walk in the park and to make sure that “everything still worked”.

I have to say that Toshiko was very thorough in checking that all his parts were still in working order. Having been his guardian on his previous “awake days” she’d fallen head over heels in love with him...

Geez, but Tosh needs to get out more! 4 dates in 4 years and she’s smitten?!? I’m not saying she’s easy but...

Sorry, ignore my ingrained and in-growing cynicism. It was actually a very touching relationship between the two of them, aided somewhat by Toshiko’s inherent shyness and social ineptitude and the young soldier, Tommy’s, fragile and wonder-filled state at being removed from the conflict of WWI and being allowed glimpses of the world that slowly formed in its aftermath.

And the fact he called Tosh a “daft lass”.

Hey, you may scoff but it got Tosh into bed and young Tommy showed what he was made of by going over the top with his bayonet fixed. Or something like that.

The clash between 1918 and the present also allowed the writer’s to critique the modern world – nothing too astounding or earth shattering here and nothing that hasn’t been done before but it was all expressed rather nicely and personably. As Tommy says: they fought the war to end all wars and then 3 weeks later (from his perspective) there was another one. What was the point of it all?

Cue sad and weary bout of naval gazing.

Of course it had to end. Badly for Tommy and Tosh but well for the rest of us. Tommy had to go back to 1918 when the time rift threatened to pull reality and the whole dang future down into the pan... unfortunately, according to the records from 1918 it was plain that Tommy’s condition, like so many struck down with shell-shock at the time, was hardly met with kindness and understanding by the army top brass. A few weeks after his discharge from hospital he was sent back to the front, suffered a relapse and was summarily executed for cowardice.

Thank you for saving the world and any last requests?

Bang bang.

Hey but at least he’d got a chance to smoke a last cigarette post coitus with Tosh.

That’s not too bad a way to go and in terms of the “big push”... at least the earth moved for them both.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Grundies

It could be the pall of fog that has descended over the Midlands. It could be the cold that has swelled up in my respiratory passages like a water filled balloon. It could even just be the time of year...

But I feel like pants this morning.

And not nice, saucily exotic pants either but dull, off-white, verging on grey pants with a bobbly gusset.

In the great Pantheon of the Pant Gods, I have been transfigured by the Pant God of Death and Depression.

My elasticised waist is ropey and loose. I’ve gone horribly baggy around the back. The fabric around the front is wearing unpleasantly thin. And the less said about the skid-marks on the left inside leg the better.

I need a makeover but boxers and G-strings just aren’t my style.

I’d go commando but I have strong pacifist leanings.

Sports briefs on someone as naturally sedentary as myself just wouldn’t wash.

And as for fig leaves... well, they bring me out in a rash.

Geez. Is there really no other alternative but ladies underwear?

Aren’t I depressed enough without having to shop at Ann Summers for myself...?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Grot Wars

With all the recent stresses and strains it was inevitable that one the many microbes that inhabit our atmosphere – a nasty flu-like one in this case – should seize on our apparent weakened state and launch a full frontal assault.

Karen and Tom are currently under siege. Boiling oil is streaming from their noses in a vain attempt to stave off the attackers.

I myself am having to engage in flashy sword-play along my air passages just to try and keep my defences un-penetrated. If they wheel out a siege engine, I tell you, I’m done for.

I’ve left Karen and Tom in bed sneezing their bogeys and ballistas over the perimeter of the bedclothes. It’s a dirty war but someone’s got to do it.

I’m at work putting together a master plan that involves vitamin C, Iron tablets and Echinacea tea. My boss has agreed to release me from my duties early at 3pm sp that I can pick up our boy, Ben (currently neutral in this conflict), from school and then head home and rejoin the fray. My boss is sympathetic but unwilling to commit any of his own men to the battle. Reinforcements will not be coming.

If the worst comes... I have a whisky warhead hidden in a secret silo.

The countdown has already begun...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Even God Loves A Good Brunette

I interrupt my normal television programme review service to bring you a quick update on the mother-in-law situation.

She’s still in hospital and is still receiving speech therapy. Her vocal chords and tongue are still paralysed. Other than that though she’s in fine fettle.

Fine fettle enough to be extremely rude to Karen who journeyed down to visit her on Monday. The MIL wants an MP3 player so she can while away her time in hospital listening to a choice selection from her classical music collection. Fair enough. No problem. Karen did a great deal of research over the weekend to find the player that would be most ideally suited to her requirements – both in terms of technology and ergonomics (her dexterity is still not fully restored).

However the chosen unit is £50+. Not a great deal of money to the MIL (who is, shall we say, “well off”) and not a great deal of money to Karen’s other relatives (who are the same). But it is a lot of money to us – Karen is still on maternity leave and gets a bare £100 a week and my local authority wages are... well, the basis of a tragic-comedy. Anyway, the MIL suggested we pay for it and recover the money later from one of Karen’s relatives.

Sounds simple enough except – and this will sound horrible – the chances of getting the money actually reimbursed are very slim.

Why is it that people who are rolling in dough are the ones who are most lax about paying up?

Anyway I acknowledge that all this is really just a storm in a teacup in the bigger scheme of things...

...except that when Karen tried to tell her mother how poor we are at the moment her mother (and this is quite unbelievable) put her hands over ears and refused to listen!

I was furious on Karen’s behalf when she told me later.

Such childish, selfish behaviour. It’s the type of thing our boy, Ben, does when we are trying to tell him something that he just doesn’t want to acknowledge as true. It’s acceptable behaviour for a 6 year old. But unacceptable for a 68 year old?!

It basically says: I’m not interested in your problems; they’re not important and are unworthy of my consideration. If she could have spoken I’m sure she would have shouted “Blah blah blah” over the top of what Karen was saying.

For those that may read the above and merely shrug: just imagine if someone did that to you when you were trying to express a concern or voice a legitimate opinion.

Unfortunately, this dismissal of other people’s problems is a constant MIL trait, so we can’t even comfort ourselves with the thought that this is unusual, off the wall behaviour.

And all this occurred on top of the fact that Karen had a hellish journey down to see her mother in the first place: bad weather, an accident on the M40, baby Tom not well and Karen not well herself. My constant question to myself at the moment is: why on earth do we bother?

My one consolation – and maybe this exposes a central wickedness to my personality – is the thought that maybe there is some poetic justice to the MIL’s current condition. It’s deeply ironic (and rather apt) that someone who has caused so much damage, pain and misery with her voice over the years now finds herself totally unable to use it.

Folks, great news!

There IS a God.

P.S. In case you hadn’t guessed it. Karen is a brunette...

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Sunday Bodice

Sunday evenings have become bodice and bonnet night in our house.

The Beeb’s recent costume dramas – Cranford and Lark Rise To Candleford – have gently melded into one quietly glorious bosomy soap that appears to be set in some hazy non-specific Victorian period where smallpox, rickets and plaguey prostitution are virtually unheard of.

At least they don’t appear to have touched the lives of the cloth-capped and lace-collared villagers who play out their small, Hardy-esque existences in the wonderfully constructed BBC sets purely for our televisual entertainment... and never for our ill humour.

If the villagers had television sets I guarantee they’d all be tuned into Songs Of Praise.

And yet, for all there is a distinct lack of engorged bodices being pantingly ripped open Andrew Davies style, the writers have still managed to craft dramas that are both engaging and absorbing.

And feature Julia Sawalha.

As I’ve mentioned before, Julia – much favoured British actress of this ‘ere blog – seems to have cornered the market for chaste, wryly laced up dramas where the bodice’s are not so much ripped open as securely fastened for most of the time with the slightly pouty suggestion that they might be loosened a little bit later but only when the cameras are switched off or you’ve switched to another TV channel...

Cue raised eyebrow, a quirky smile and a slight flash of wrist and that’s about as risqué as Julia gets...

And I’m loving it.

In Lark Rise To Candleford the sexuality is repressed and understated. Its mouth has been washed out with lye soap and stuffed into clothes so starchy the collars could support the Severn Bridge without buckling. Looks and smiles are exchanged in substitution for bodily fluids. A blush and a stammer are acts of wanton desire and impropriety. The sex lies in what isn’t being said between the parties.

Not everybody’s cup of tea I grant you but much as I’d like to see Julia jiggling herself out of the enviable confines of her corset I also recognize that I’d be disappointed in her if she did. Does this make me a hypocrite of some kind? Am I impaled on the horn of a dilemma so old, boring and completely trad that feminists themselves no longer acknowledge it with anything more than a slight sigh and flinty eyes rolled skyward?

The old angel / whore dichotomy?

Who knows?

All I know is that Julia looks damned fine in a corset and damned fine out of one.

As dichotomies go, it’s one (two?) I can quite happily live with for a few Sunday’s more.

Lark rise indeed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jacking Off

The new series of Torchwood lit the blue touch-paper last night and flared up for another run on the BBC.

Straight away we were presented with a rather well mannered, well spoken, red blowfish driving a snazzy sports car around the windy streets of Cardiff. He didn’t exceed the speed limit, used the brake in plenty of time and seemed intent on following the Highway Code. He was even urbane enough to let an old lady cross the road in front of him. All this before he shot some poor innocent home owner in the gut and taunted the Torchwood crew members for their namby-pamby prevarication. The Torchwood team admittedly looked at a loss as to how to react without their AWOL leader, Captain Jack Sparrow, sorry, Captain Jack Harkness around to tell them what to do... But all was not lost. Suddenly Jack reappeared and shot the blowfish in the head in a scene reminiscent of The Fifth Element. “So, does anybody else want to negotiate?”

Welcome to series 2 of Torchwood.

A rather uncomplicated plot then unfolded involving Captain John, one of Jack’s old flames, played by whatsisface who played Spike from Buffy looking for some radio-active canisters inexplicably secreted around various Cardiff locations... a plot that was rather silly and shallow but was nonetheless rather entertaining. It served no other purpose than to re-introduce or, perhaps, try to reinvent the Torchwood regulars... attempts are being made I believe to render them “more likeable”. It’s early days yet to say if that is working or not but the major players are all interestingly interconnected in a bubbling web of sexual tension, lust, sarcasm and camaraderie that is certainly full of potential and could bode well for future episodes.

Basically Torchwood is Doctor Who with lashings of sex and attitude. The only members of the team who seem to buck this trend are Ianto Jones and Toshiko Sato... the former is far too wet and limp to be a believable love interest for Captain Jack H and Toshiko is well, Velma from Scooby-Doo.

However, I like Toshiko and am hoping the writers will develop her character further in this second outing of the show and give it a bit more of an edge. The potential is certainly there given her brief lesbian liaison in Series 1...

And then there’s Gwen. It’s taken me a long time to make my mind up about Gwen. It’s the annoying voice and the gap-tooth. Is she a fox or isn’t she? She’s got va-va-voom in spades but there’s something of the fishwife about her too. Or should I say “tidy wife”? The will-they-won’t-they tension between her and Jack is more annoying than an entertaining tease. I wish they’d just get on with it and move on. It’s hardly of the same calibre as Mulder and Scully. It doesn’t warrant this long, contrived abstemious delay. Get ‘em out, whop ‘em about and then show us some more aliens.

That would be a show.

But much as I enjoy this tour of sexed up sci-fi, shouldn’t there be more to Torchwood than just adult content? Shouldn’t there be more to it than all this inter-species spooning and inter-office bed-hopping? Doesn’t there need to be?

Good sci-fi needs to press a few intellectual buttons among the hi-tech barrage of flashy effects and glistening cleavage. Otherwise it runs the risk of being all gimmick and no content. And that is bad.

Torchwood has potential. It has legs. But it needs to think about the direction it’s walking towards. Sex and violence – shallow hooks as they are – are admittedly nearly always behind a great story. But there needs to be depth too. There needs to be philosophy and a message. There needs to be content.

After all, isn’t great sex supposed to originate in the mind?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tic Tac Toe

I have managed to acquire yet another noble injury (some of you may recall my previous dip into the murky world of foot injury at the end of 2006).

Skipping, as is my wont, round the house yesterday afternoon with nought on my feet but a good pair of woollen socks my foot erroneously came into contact with the corner of a book shelf.

One humungous snap crackle and pop later... and suddenly I had a beautifully purpled little toe that had ballooned to the size of a New World red grape.

Folks, it’s going to be one helluva vintage.

Though doubting the efficacy of the family doctor Karen nonetheless packed me off to the surgery this morning and he more or less fulfilled my every expectation.

Yes it’s probably broken / fractured but there is little that can be done. It needs to be strapped to the next toe and caressed with ice. It was also recommended that I swallow whatever pain relief product I desired and, most important of all, keep the foot elevated and rested as much as possible.

Fat chance.

I’ve already spent the first 90 minutes at work this morning chasing carpenters, electricians and painters around the building.

A nice warm Shiraz anyone?

Monday, January 14, 2008


I like Louis Theroux. I like the way he masks determined confrontationalism and gritty balls of steel beneath a calm, genteel, ultra polite, very British veneer. I suspect it’s this mask of nervous warmth and humanity (though I have no doubt that it’s more than skin deep) that allows Louis to attain a proximity to the kind of people and situation that normally most of us would run a mile from.

Last night’s documentary saw Louis spending time within the formidable walls of San Quentin jail and getting to know some of the many in-mates. Although Louis’ approach with people seems to conjure up its own all inclusive comfort zone his interviews with the prisoners were nevertheless frequently on-the-edge-of-the-seat viewing. Both the living conditions of the in-mates and their candidness about their reasons for being incarcerated were sharply discomforting to say the least. But more than that: their very humanity – their very normalcy – was unsettling. Their honesty and good humoured acceptance of their fate (at least to the cameras) was even more so. It felt incongruous. I guess deep down we want them to be monsters. We want them to be visibly marked and set apart from the rest of us. To show evidence of a corrupted gene pool, some sign that they are, against the odds, a slightly different species.

We certainly don’t want to recognize certain of our own traits in a person who is serving 551 years for house robbery and torture... This particular lifer termed his crimes as “home invasion”. A far gentler epithet yet with far more disturbing and unsettling connotations... Louis questioned him closely about his criminal activities. It was interesting to watch Louis’ urbanity and almost effeminate politeness peeling away the steely body armour of machismo and de-sensitivity. I guess it worked because there was an uneasy respect maintained by and between both parties. And more importantly Louis didn’t let any of his reactions betray any kind of judgment about what he was hearing. No mean feat when the lifer casually described torturing his victims to reveal the whereabouts of their valuables, half drowning people in their own hot-tubs and using a pistol to abuse his victims sexually... this from a man who then calmly accepted he would spend the rest of his natural life in prison without a trace of anger or frustration twitching at the edge of his benign smile.


But I guess at the heart of the documentary was the simple fact that no matter what circumstance you throw people into they will “make do”. They will seek out and pursue some sort of life. They will make the best of it. They will take their comforts where they find them. Hence, married ex-Nazis forming intimate relationships with Jewish homosexuals, long haired rock star wannabes becoming the lovers of pre-op transsexuals... Although Louis could see the ironies his gentle illuminations were blanked by all the prisoners involved. It was weird to see such an optimistic openness and also such a fearful, self-denying closedness operating in tandem in their minds.

It would be too easy to dismiss life in prison as merely an alternate reality to life outside it. Certainly life in prison is extreme and people in extremis react in extreme ways... but I don’t think life in prison is that far removed from ours own. In a lot of respects it’s almost the same – just with less baggage; with more stripped down, more rarefied choices. In terms of the need for intimacy and relationships, the need of hierarchies, rules and rites of passage life remains the same. Yes it’s harsh. But isn’t life in the outside world too? A lot of the comforts are obviously filtered out. But a lot of the heavy responsibilities and burdens are gone too.

As Mr Home Invasion pointed out: he doesn’t have to worry about getting a job. He doesn’t have to worry about keeping a roof over his head. He’s going to be “taken care of” until the day he dies.

Hell, what are we all waiting for? Let’s sign up to the Hotel California!

Until you see the cells where these men spend every day, every week barring 2 hours in the recreation yard. They can’t have been no more than 4 feet across. You could almost smell the constant pall of sweat and testosterone. The noise was constant – shouts, catcalls, whoops, nasty laughter. It sounded like a madhouse. The food was basic and could hardly be described as a comfort. There is the constant threat of being beaten, stabbed, or raped. To avoid these scenarios there is the constant “invitation” to join any number of gangs who’ll offer to protect you against such ends provided you do a little work for them in return... beating, stabbing or raping people who have happened to find themselves on their hit-lists... Dog eat dog and dog returning to its vomit ad infinitum.

If prison isn’t an alternate reality but merely mirrors the society that has a need for the prison what does that say about our world? Do we measure the progress of our civilization by the best it produces or the worst?

Louis didn’t have the answers. At the end of the day that isn’t his shtick. He asked his personal questions, remained affable in the face of constant, potential danger and then walked out of San Quentin jail when his stint was done with a considerably lighter tread than when he went in. And I for one was glad to be leaving with him.

Suddenly I was glad that I have a job to be worried about. That I have to constantly fight to keep a roof over my head. That there isn’t an institution taking care of me until the day I die – just me, myself and mine.

True freedom comes by accepting the weightiest responsibilities that life throws at you... not by shirking them and taking the easy or the fast way out...

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

How To Suck Eggs

Things with Karen’s mum are looking better this week. The word processor we got to her on Friday has proved a real boon and has improved her communication with the world around her a hundredfold.

Unfortunately it’s also improved her ability to cheese off the world around her with long, roving lists of unreasonable demands... including wanting her own duvet and bed-sheets brought into the hospital from home (and then laundered), a mini TV, a radio and other bits of hardware plus her Black & Decker Workmate.

Ok. I made up the last one but you get the picture.

The TV and radio I can understand but bringing in your own bed-sheets to a hospital is ridiculous. The hospital is clean and (unusual for a British hospital) the ward is infection free. To bring in foreign sheets is a real risk and I doubt the hospital will be offering a home laundry service! And Karen simply can’t be trailing dirty and freshly laundered duvets back and forth to Slough all the time.

Karen got home yesterday looking like she’d run a marathon, climbed a mountain and then done a full day’s work broking a Middle Eastern peace deal on top of it. To top it all Tom’s feeds had got so messed up he woke several times in the night rather than just the normal once. The knock-on effect is that Karen is like a zombie this morning.

However, there is a positive. The hospital have started speech therapy and are hoping to get her mum’s vocal chords and tongue working again over the next 5 weeks. Other relations have now all been contacted so hopefully other visitors will now start calling in to see her thus alleviating some of the pressure on us...

Lastly, the consultant, after listening to or rather reading another long barrage of demands, said something to Karen’s mum that was very pertinent. He told her that deep down she needed to accept where she was with the illness – physically, emotionally and environmentally – and to try to derive some peace from that acceptance.

I suspect, however, that is a life lesson she really needed to have learnt many years ago. Sadly I’m not sure she’ll be able to manage it now... she’s simply too old and much too stuck in her ways.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?

Karen and I are exhausted. We had to be realistic and give up any thought of visiting Karen’s mum over the weekend or else risk Karen’s health as well. As it was Tom had a bad day on Sunday – possibly a cold of some sort – and wouldn’t have been up to travelling.

Whether Karen’s mum will be understanding about this remains to be seen. I can’t go into too much detail for reasons of family confidentiality but let’s just say she’s a very difficult woman.

I leave it up to the reader to fill in the blanks.

On a brighter side, although Karen’s mum is still unable to talk/eat she has retained the use of her limbs and mental faculties. Karen and I managed to furnish her with a word processor on Friday which frees her from having to point to letters on a sheet of paper in order to communicate with the hospital staff or indeed anyone. I dare say the poor nurses are already ploughing through great epistles and imperial requests of legal complexity as they go about their day to day chores on the ward...

Karen is planning to visit on Tuesday and Fridays – although more frequent visits would be preferable to try and do anymore with a 3 month old baby is just asking for trouble: it’s a 4 hour round car journey there and back. I’m already paranoid about Karen undertaking such regular journeys on her own with Tom as it is and, to be honest, neither the weather nor other drivers improved my confidence during the trips we made on Thursday and Friday last week. But what else can we do? Even if I could get the time off work to go with them we still have to consider Ben – he starts back at school tomorrow. It’s a very messy situation.

We’ll do what we can, when we can. But I mean to see to it that we also take care of ourselves too.

At the end of the day, as cruel and cold as this may sound, my first priority is Karen and the children. For me they come first and everybody else comes second. And that unfortunately includes the ill and the invalided...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Come Friendly Bombs...

As some of you will know from the comments on the previous post Karen's mum suffered a stroke on New Year's Day. By an amazing coincidence her granny also had a heart attack on the same day. Both are recovering in hospital.

Without going into too much detail Karen's mum suffered a stroke to the brain-stem region of her nervous system/brain - mentally she's fine but at the moment is unable to eat, swallow or talk... so communication is carried out by the aid of an A4 sheet of paper with the alphabet printed onto it. To say it's very frustrating for all concerned is an understatement.

Karen and I are making regular journey's down to Slough to visit her in hospital... with a 6 year old and a 3 month old baby in tow this is a massive undertaking to organize so my blogging might be intermittent for a week or two - but I will keep you all posted.

Anyway, this has been my first experience of Slough and aside from jokes about The Office I can see little that is noteworthy in the wide, compressed and desolate thoroughfares of Slough. Sir John Betjemen was right - what a thoroughly drab, down-at-heel, concrete pancake of a place!

The highlight of the journey was spotting the Lego offices. The lucky buggers have all the latest Lego models lining their office windows. Freebies I bet. Lucky gits. I would give anything to work there...

...if it wasn't in Slough!

(It isn't fit for humans now...) too bloody right!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Square One

The smell of stale disinfectant in the foyer, the glum faces of everybody I meet, the mouldy hum of my office computer all tell me that Christmas is well and truly over. I’m back at work. Back earning the crust that allows me to maintain my precarious chocolate and Lego lifestyle. Back up to my hips in leaky pipes, malfunctioning machinery and air conditioning that patently cannot or will not air condition.

And am I glad to be here? Am I f***.

I’m quite shocked at how easily I dropped all thought of work over the last 10 days. It was like it never existed. I let go of all thought of university too, my web design business, even my novel... and just wallowed in relaxation and pleasure. So easy.

And so difficult to pick it all up again this morning. Demotivated. Not a good way to start the New Year but, in a way, really quite traditional.

And I suppose it could be worse. Work has its down points certainly but it does have a few pluses too. Mainly that it allows me the time and (just) enough energy to do other creative things – like my novel and university for example; the things that keep me relatively sane when the conservators are sobbing on my shoulder about a painting that has been doused in rain water due to a leaky roof...

Normally this compromise is enough. Normally this molecularly precise balance between the good things in my life and the crud is enough to keep me on an even keel. Enough to keep me content and satisfied and functioning.

But after a long break where the crud has largely been expunged it’s hard to accept it back into my life again now that the holiday period has drawn to a close.

Why should I compromise? Why should I accept any of life’s drudgery and trash?

Because it pays the bills. It pays the bills. It pays the bills.

This is the New Year song that kick-starts every new year for every single one of us I’m sure.

And as for resolutions...

Well, I’m not a believer in compiling a foot long list of things that I know I will never accomplish.

Last year I seem to remember I kept things simple: start a novel.

I did and am now 96,000 words through it. Mission accomplished.

This year my resolution will be to finish the novel.

Mission accepted.

And in the background, the bills will all, every single one of them, get paid...