Friday, May 26, 2017

Local Matters

I really must congratulate one of my local charity shops for the speed with which it moved to try and exploit the death of Sir Roger Moore.  When I walked past the Crapchester branch of the British Heart Foundation Shops on Tuesday, I was surprised to see that it's window display has changed since the previous information, to feature a selection of James Bond DVDs featuring Roger Moore.  These were accompanied by several Ian Fleming Jame Bond novels.  (I have to admit that I can't fault their selection of bond novels: all were made into films starring Roger Moore).  I know that it's 'all for charity', but I still couldn't help but feel that it was in pretty poor taste.  But it's all par for the course these days.  I'm only surprised that it didn't feature as a story on our new local TV station: That's Crapchester.  Or, as I like to call it, on the basis of its first few days of broadcasting: That's Crap.  On their first night of broadcasting (on Tuesday), they appeared to have only three stories: A charity fun run in Fartley, something about allotments and a priest whose shed might be Britain's smallest cathedral (don't ask).  In addition to these was a vox pop involving getting the reactions of local residents from across the county to the previous night's terror attack in Manchester.  Well, they claimed it involved people from across the county, but they actually interviewed three random Crapchester residents in the town's main shopping centre, (only a few yards from that charity shop window display).

This report also involved an interview with a local Tory councillor on the same subject.  All of which leads one to inevitably ask: why should anyone care what people in Crapchester think about what happened in Manchester?  We're nowhere near Manchester and, as far as I'm aware nobody from here was directly affected by events there.  Sure, it was a terrible tragedy, but it didn't happen here.  I'm especially not interested in what some Tory twat thinks about it.  Anyway, these three stories were cycled continuously for more than twenty four hours, until that added something new: a report on Crapchester winning some kind of award, accompanied by another vox pop.  Except it was actually the same vox pop, in that it had clearly been shot at the same time as the previous one, using the same three people and the same Tory councillor.  Other stories have been added since then but they all seem so bloody trivial.  It also doesn't help that they clearly don't have anyone monitoring the channel out of hours: last night, one report ran without sound at least half a dozen times.  Mind you, I get the impression that nobody is watching the channel at all.  Except me.  Every time I tune in I get the feeling that I really am the only person watching.

Clearly, they are in need of my services to help them create better content.  (Actually, according to the postal address they give on air, they are only a couple of streets away from me).  Perhaps this could be the new direction I've been looking for?  Producing no-budget local TV that nobody watches.  A bit like running a website, in fact.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Those Convenient Conspiracies Strike Again

Well, that didn't take long, did it?  The conspiracy theories, I mean.  Most specifically, the conspiracy theories which have sprung up around Monday night's bomb attack in Manchester.  The surprising source of the main theory seems to have been someone who was once on the X Factor (as a contestant, he might even have won it, but I'm afraid I wouldn't know as I hate 'talent' shows), who, via social media, seemed to be implying that the whole incident was a 'false flag' operation, masterminded by the government to draw attention away from their recent poor performance in the General Election campaign. I have to say that, while the timing might seem convenient, it really is a bit of a stretch to claim that the government would be prepared to kill twenty two innocent victims, including several children, just because Labour had started closing the gap in some opinion polls and Theresa May had just had a nightmare of a televised interview with Andrew Neill. 

I can think of several terror incidents which appeared to be incredibly conveniently timed for those in power at the time.  The July 7 attacks on the London Tube spring to mind - just as the Blair government was encountering resistance in trying to push through more repressive security measures, including compulsory ID cards, along comes a major terror incident which would appear to justify their proposed policies.  Then there was 9/11 itself, which seemed conveniently timed for George W Bush, as it could be used to justify declaring war on Iraq.  But I think that we have to accept that these things are simply coincidences - the supposed linkage only seems apparent in retrospect.  Moreover, whilst Bush did succeed in using 9/11 to push forward his aggressive policies in Iraq, the fact is that if it hadn't been 9/11 then he would have seized upon something else as justification.  The invasion of Iraq was an inevitability from the moment Bush took office - 9/11 just allowed him to achieve it sooner rather than later.  In the case of Blair,let's not forget that, ultimately, he wasn't able to bring in all of his extreme security measures: in the end he still lost the argument on ID cards, which, thankfully, we still don't have in the UK.

The only one of these 'convenient conspiracies' I'm minded to give any credence to is the alleged attempted military coup in Turkey, which allowed President Erdogan to award himself more exedutive powers and repress critics in the press and politics.  That had no massacres of innocent civilians, instead it was based around Erdogan calling upon the public to oppose the supposed coup attempt, thereby making it look as if it was a populist victory.  He was then able to manipulate public anger to consolidate his position.  That said, I don't think that there is any proof that he orchestrated the whole saga.  It's just my unfounded suspicions.  But to get back to the issue in hand: the fact is that some politicians simply have the luck of the Devil, in that, when they are in trouble, something always comes along which they can exploit to try and dig themselves out of their hole.

And that's the key thing - their willingness to exploit disasters, wars and terror incident to their advantage, the ability to see these things as opportunities rather than tragedies.  I have no doubt that May will seek to use this to push her hardline security agenda, justifying more restrictions on civil liberties, more invasion of privacy, more monitoring of the web.  I'm sure she'll use it to ramp up the 'fear factor' in the last couple of weeks of the election campaigning - we've already got armed troops in evidence -which always tends to favour the ruling party, as a frightened electorate tends to stick with the status quo.  Better the devil they know.   None of which means that the government actually orchestrated the attack in Manchester.  They're too incompetent, for one thing.  But you can be sure that they'll exploit it to the hilt.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Exit The Saint

On top of everything else, Roger Moore died.  Sorry, Sir Roger Moore.  He was one of those people who become a fixture in your life.  You expect him to always be there.  Of course, in a way he always will be with us - one of his Bond films always seems to showing somewhere.  Right now, The Persuaders is being re-run, yet again, on True Entertainment channel.  Then there was his tenure as The Saint - the colour episodes are regularly repeated on ITV4.   It's actually with The Saint, rather than James Bond, that I most associate Moore - probably because I saw him in the role long before I saw him as Bond.  The series was one of my earliest and fondest TV memories - the bit at the end of the pre-title sequence, when the name 'Simon Templar is first uttered and the halo appears above his head, was an eagerly anticipated weekly highlight.  (Back in those days, even a special effect that simple had novelty value. Especially as it was similar to the Colgate 'ring of confidence' in the toothpaste brand's then advertising campaign, resulting in all sorts of jokes).

Simon Templar was a role Moore was far better suited to than James Bond:  whilst his 007 bore little resemblance to the character from the Ian Fleming novels, his Simon Templar is pretty good equivalence to the character in the Ian Charteris stories, particularly the later entries in the series.  His relaxed, devil-may-care, acting style and ability to effortlessly deliver smart one-liners seemed a perfect fit for the character who, like Moore, never seemed to take himself and his adventures entirely seriously.  As with Bond, Moore wasn't the first to essay the role of The Saint - Louis Hayward and George Sanders had played him in the RKO film series and Vincent Price had been a notable Simon Templar on US radio - nor was he the last, but, unlike Bond, he is pretty much the definitive version of the character.  Indeed, it is his performances which make episodes of the TV series so entertaining, even when seen today.  (Although frequently ridiculed, the reality is that it takes more acting skill than generally appreciated to maintain the sort of nonchalant, unflappable performances Moore was associated with).  Without him, it would simply have been another cheap sixties ITC action/adventure series, where the back lot of Elstree Studios masqueraded as various exotic foreign locales, with the aid of rubber palm trees.  Just try watching episodes of The Baron, with Gene Barry, if you doubt me - even at half the length of an episode of The Saint, every episode seems interminable.    

Of course, Roger Moore did much more than just play Simon Templar and Jame Bond.  Even before The Saint, he'd enjoyed success in US TV, most notably in Maverick.  He also made some interesting stand alone films - The Man Who Haunted Himself, which gave us two Roger Moores for the price of one, springs to mind as a particularly fascinating oddity.  He was also the man who, in the seventies and early eighties, made the safari suit fashionable.  Well, if not fashionable, then at least popular.  Even my dad sported a safari-style jacket back in those days, (he often wore it whilst doing the gardening - it had lots of pockets for carrying all those clippers, trowels and the like that he apparently needed to carry in the garden).  Every summer I find myself frustrated by my inability to obtain a safari suit - once Moore stopped being Bond, clothes retailers stopped stocking them.  Finally, we shouldn't forget his work as a UNICEF ambassador over the past couple of decades.  So, on this thoroughly miserable day, I'd like to remember the great pleasure that Roger Moore has given me over the years, whether as Bond or Simon Templar.  Long may they keep repeating his films and TV shows.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Back on Track, Again

So, after all the disruption caused by boilers needing to be replaced, mortgages paid off, digital TV recorders failing, yet more hatefulness at work, not to mention that bout of tinnitus (now seemingly passed), I'm finally beginning to get stuff back on schedule.  Or back on track, even, with regards to that model railway I've been talking about building for an age now.  The baseboards are finally complete and assembled and I'm hoping to be able to start laying the track this coming weekend.  Indeed, I have high hopes for the weekend as, not only is it a bank holiday weekend, but it is one of those rare weekends I get entirely to myself.  So, with luck, I'll be able to get most of the track down on the station side of the layout.  The best thing about all this model railway activity is that it isn't actually costing me anything other than time.  Just as the baseboards were salvaged from a previous layout, so all the track I'll be using comes from previous layouts.  I should have more than enough points (always the most expensive item of trackwork) to complete the project.

I'm also hoping to get back to the schlock movies soon.  Despite having lost a whole load of unwatched stuff when the video recorder died, not only have I started filling up the hard drive of its replacement, but I also have a couple of Pete Walker movies on DVD to catch up with.  I also really need to buckle down and get on with producing, at the very least, a pilot for that new podcast series I've been mumbling on about both here and over at the Overnightscape Underground for more than a year now.  Funnily enough, whilst searching my archives for unused material to try and fashion into some kind of contribution to this week's Overnightscape Central group podcast, I discovered a complete, twenty five minute piece of narrative audio I recorded last year but, for some reason, never used.  So, with a bit of editing and expansion, this has become my contribution for this week's Central.  It isn't, however, quite what I have in mind for my proposed new series of podcasts, (it's in the same ball park, though), so it won't act as a 'back door' pilot.  Of course, the 'elephant in the room' in all of this is my work situation. I'm afraid that things are rapidly reaching a point where I'm going to have to make the decision whether to jump ship now, or try to tough it out for a while longer.  I might have to start looking for some kind of alternative employment , just for the short term, while I try to work out my long term plans in more detail.  We'll see.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Searching for Votes

Apparently people are asking Google 'Who should I vote for?'  Clearly, things are worse than I feared if Britain's voters are so confused/thick, that they think they can get any kind of coherent guidance from a notoriously bad search algorithm run by a tax dodging multinational corporation.  Leaving aside, for one moment, the frightening fact that there are, apparently, people among us who are entitled to vote, yet incapable of making a decision how to cast this vote themselves, the fact is that Google's search results these days won't help them as they rarely, if ever, actually return results on the first page which are actually relevant to the user's query.  Below half a page of adverts about voting machines and second hand ballot boxes, they'll probably get several links to Amazon, selling books with the word 'vote' in the title, a You Tube video of someone doing something 'whacky' outside a polling station and a couple of eBay auctions of old political manifestos and rosettes.  That's if they are lucky.  There's also a fair chance they'll get a page of results full of links to the websites of various extreme right wing groups who have been gaming the search results.

But why would any prospective voter be so desperate/stupid as to delegate their decision making to a search engine on such an important issue?  The excuse which is always given is that 'there's no difference between the parties'.  Which, whilst never actually true, is a particularly spurious argument when it comes to the current general election.  With the publication of the party manifestos, there is clear water between Labour and Tories.  Although the Labour manifesto has been lazily characterised by the right wing press as being 'back to the seventies' because of its commitment to restoring public ownership of various privatised assets, I have to say that there is a lot of stuff in it that I like.  The problem, I fear, is the presentation: like it or not, 'Nationalisation' has become a dirty word in politics today and, thanks to decades of right-wing propaganda, now conjures up images of monolithic and inefficient state owned institutions.  And, like it or not, in the modern world, you have to be able to 'sell' policies to the electorate.  Most won't buy 'nationalisation', but they might well buy 'public ownership', especially if the latter can be defined in different terms than the former.  Following a popular continental model, where things like railways are reconstituted as commercial ventures in which the government holds 51% of the shares, for instance.  This ensures that the state retains control, ensuring the venture is run in the public interest and can, if necessary, use public funds to finance infrastructure projects, or subsidise loss making lines, but the company would also still be able to seek private investment.

Unfortunately, under Corbyn's leadership, a much needed debate on issues such as how to define public ownership, simply hasn't occurred. which brings us back to the main problem with Labour's manifesto: in the public consciousness, it is inextricably linked with Corbyn.  The fact is that elections aren't won or lost on how left or right wing a manifesto is perceived to be - it is factors such as trust and credibility which ultimately sway voters.  And, like it or not, Corbyn simply isn't trusted or seen as a credible Prime Minister by large swathes of the electorate.  My great fear is that if Labour lose badly, then Corbyn will inevitably (and rightly) be blamed and the policies in the manifesto most closely identified with him will also be branded vote losers and abandoned for another generation.  Which would be a pity as a lot of those policies are, fundamentally, good policies which try to reconnect Labour with its core vote.  They just need to be refined and recast in a 'modern' idiom, so that they can more easily be 'sold' to the wider electorate.  So, there you go - we had my political ranting on a Friday rather than a Monday this week.  Makes a change, doesn't it?.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Murder From Beyond the Grave

Police are apparently guarding the body of 'Moors Murderer' Ian Brady, day and night.  Presumably because they are worried that he's going to spring back to life, just like the crazy serial killers in all those slasher movies, and continue his murderous activities from beyond the grave.  Actually, I'm surprised that at least one of the tabloids hasn't run a story claiming that Brady had a team of acolytes, all trained in occult rites, on standby to resurrect him as soon as his death was announced.  No doubt some kind of human sacrifice would be involved.  Or maybe it would involve crazy scientists reviving him with a shot of their experimental life-extension serum - resulting in him becoming an even crazier serial killer.  Like in that Chuck Norris film, Silent Rage.  Then again, he could be revived by a gang specialising in secretly reviving executed gangsters and killers.  That was a popular theme in thirties and forties movies and pulps.  Sometimes the revival process would result in the subject needing constant infusions of blood, (like Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Dr X).  Then the tabloids would have a new evil to add to Brady's crimes: 'He craves the blood of young children!'.

Then there's all that business about people wanting guarantees that Brady's ashes won't be scattered on Saddleworth Moor - are they worried that an army of Bradys will spring up if that happens?  Could it be that his victims, buried on the Moor, will act as some kind of ritual sacrifice to make this occur via black magic?  Whatever, it all fills pages and provides sensational headlines for the tabloids, which have been full of Brady since his death.  This continued exploitation of his notoriety and, by extension, his victims to sell newspapers is depressingly familiar.  Yet another example of  Britain's gutter press on the one hand trying to take a high moral stance - highlighting the depravity of his actions - whilst, at the same time, reveling in raking over the gory details of these crimes for the titillation of their readers.  I can't help but feel that it would have been sufficient merely to take note of his death, rather than allow him to continue his notoriety from beyond the grave.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere...

I heard today that a recent MacDonald's advert had been pulled after some people objected to it's content.  The commercial in question was the one with the boy asking his mother what his deceased father was like - inevitably, they end up in a branch of MacDonald's, where it is revealed that the one thing they had in common was a taste for fast food that tastes like cardboard.  The objection raised about this ad was that it was exploiting bereavement to sell burgers.  Well, obviously.  That's what advertising is about: exploiting our emotions to try and sell us essentially trivial products.  Personally, I found the sickly sentimentality it was trading in objectionable.  My dislike for other series of ads is less easily pinned down.  I detest, for instance, those Sainsburys 'food dancing' commercials.  In part, I think it is because they seem such a desperate attempt to create a 'trend' (note the hashtag they ran with the ads, in the hope that they could get #fooddancing trending on Twitter).  Moreover, the kind of people doing the 'dancing' in the ads, far from appearing to be ordinary supermarket customers of the kind I might relate to, just seemed like the kind of exhibitionists desperate to get on TV, that I generally run a mile to avoid.

But there are some commercials which, even over a distance in time of forty years, or so, still have a special place in my heart.  In particular, the Martini Bianco ads which played on British TV in the seventies.  These were incredibly glossy mini-movies with a catchy jingle, which aimed to show how, simply by drinking Martini, you could enjoy the international jet set lifestyle.  As I've noted elsewhere, as a young child, these seemed to represent the epitome of adult sophistication and believed that they were a reliable guide to how adult life would be: flying planes to rendezvous' on remote Caribbean islands with other beautiful people, or riding horses along a beach.  Of course, things haven't quite turned out like that, but I still have warm memories of the vision they created.  So, here's the Martini ad which, I feel, best encapsulated the dream they were selling:

Hell, I enjoyed that so much, here's another one:

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Cyber Defence

Those bloody Cybermen, eh?  They've been at it again, this time attacking the NHS.  It wasn't so long ago that  they were satisfied with just bullying people online.  But it seems that now they've gotten more ambitious, holding hospitals to ransom and, presumably, subverting them to turn their patients into more Cybermen.  I want to know what the government is going to do about these 'Cyber attacks' - this really should be an election issue.  Why isn't Jeremy Corbyn pressing Theresa May more on the matter?  Surely this is all down to spending cuts?  If the coalition government hadn't withdrawn funding from UNIT, then we wouldn't be suffering all these alien attacks.  They're clearly targeting the UK because they know that we're vulnerable, having withdrawn from the world's main international alien defence organisation.  I mean, this time we got lucky, thanks to the intervention of this mysterious individual who fortuitously registerd the right domain name to trigger the 'kill switch' on this latest attack by the Cybermen.  But we can't keep relying on rogue Time Lords turning up to foil alien invasions.

I ask you, have they even done a study into the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of Cybermen?  Knowing the government, they'll probably commission a study from some bunch of chancers, sorry, outsourcing company, which will cost the taxpayer millions, when all they have to do is watch a few episodes of Dr Who.  Of course, the key thing is identifying which type of Cybermen are involved in the attack: at least three types have appeared since the sixties.  The original ones - with their cloth faces and searchlights on their heads - came from Mondas (Earth's long lost twin planet which was destroyed at the end of the story) and were vulnerable to radiation.  When they reappeared, they had metal heads and lots of hydraulic tubes all over their limbs - these came from Telos, a Cyber colony.  All sorts of things killed this type: they used to wear lace up boots, so the Second Doctor devised a ray which destroyed boot laces, resulting their feet dropping off.  In the seventies and eighties they developed a vulnerability to gold, (indeed, I've heard that one Cyber attack on a hos[ital last week foundered after they tried to convert a patient with gold fillings in his teeth, which resulted in a rogue Cyberman, which went berserk and destroyed several other Cybermen before exploding).  Then there were those alternate universe Cybermen who turned up in David Tennant's era.  As I recall, the way to deal with them was to create a space-time vortex which sucked them into the space between universes.  Or something like that.  Anyway, the government needs to start taking this threat sriously and start allocating proper funding to cyber defence, or the metallic bastards will overrun us.


Friday, May 12, 2017

In Ruins

In Ruins from Doc Sleaze on Vimeo.

Another slideshow made up of stuff from my photo archives.  The main part concerns a ruined farm building I sometimes walk past.  These used to be hugely obscured by impenetrable foliage, but when I visited them last year, most of this had been cleared away.  Now that I can see them more clearly, I'm guessing that they were once used to store farm equipment and possibly temporarily hold livestock.  Whatever their original purpose, they haven't been used for that, or anything else, for at least two decades now.  The latter half of the slideshow is some footage taken in the New Forest in Spring a few years ago.  The bleak, leafless scrub land constitutes another sort of ruin, whilst the bridge (which has featured in an earlier film) if not ruined, is certainly of some vintage.

I'm afraid that I resorted to another slideshow of vintage material for today's post for reasons of speed.  I ended up wasting a lot of my evening trying to get my digital TV recorder to work after it unexpectedly died in the middle of a playback.  Unfortunately, it appears irreparable, meaning that I've lost several movies I'd recorded but not yet had time to watch.  It also means that I'm going to have to buy a replacement tomorrow, which means that my plans to replace this wheezing old laptop will have to be put off yet again.  To say I'm annoyed is an understatement - the bloody recorder was only a couple of years old (but conveniently out of warranty).  Modern manufacturing standards really are shit.  


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Phone Etiquette

I've clearly got my phone etiquette all wrong.  The other day I was walking through Crapchester town centre when I heard this rough looking bloke, thuggish, if we want to be accurate, shouting into his mobile phone.  I say shouting, it was more bellowing really.  A very angry bellowing.  Anyway, what's important is what he was bellowing into his handset, which was as follows: "Answer your fucking phone, YOU FUCK!"  The last part being bellowed several decibels louder than the first bit.  I assume that he was leaving a message on somebody's voice mail.  Now, I don't know about you, but if were to check my voice mail and encounter a message like that, I'd pretty much be disinclined to answer.  In fact, I'd probably delete and block the sender's number.  Indeed, maybe that's why the recipient of this outburst apparently doesn't answer his phone when he sees this particular caller's number come up.

On the other hand, assuming the bellowing man was calling somebody he knew - although we can't entirely rule out the possibility that he dials random numbers and shouts scary and sweary messages at strangers' voice mails - this would seem to be his normal method of communication with his friends and acquaintances.  Perhaps using these tactics are how he ensures that people do return his calls - by scaring them.  Which leaves me pondering as to whether I've got it all wrong - I'm too polite when I leave voicemails, or even send texts.  People assume I can be safely ignored, as I won't make a fuss about it if they can't be bothered to respond.  Maybe I need to be more assertive - perhaps, when my boiler died the other week,  I would have had more success in getting heating engineers to call me back if I'd left messages along the lines of: "My fucking boiler is fucked, so fucking call me back you stupid fuck."  (I'm pretty sure that the repeated use of the word 'fuck' is key to improving my communication skills to the level of the bellowing man).  Maybe I'll try that with the garage next tie I book the car in for a service...