Thursday, April 27, 2017

Cake Without Class

I know that I said I wasn't going to write about politics again this week, but Donald Trump isn't really politics, is he?  He's basically a branch of the entertainment industry.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: the man has no class.  Take his recent bombing of Syria.  What's the thing he focuses on when talking to the press about it: the casualties, the justification for the strike, the possible impact on relations with Russia and China?  No, it's the chocolate cake that he and the Chinese leader - who was on an official visit to the US - were eating at the time the missile strike occurred.  It wasn't just one passing mention of the cake, oh no.  He waxed lyrical about the bloody thing.  I don't care how good a chocolate cake it was, it was utterly irrelevant to the issue - you've just fired tomahawk cruise missiles at another sovereign state and all you can think of is a cake?  You are the president man!  Focus on the essential issues.  You didn't hear Obama go on about what he'd had for dessert when announcing the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Obama had class.  Trump has none.

In fact, Trump is so lacking in class, I'm somewhat surprised that he doesn't take visiting foreign leaders to strip joints as part of his hospitality.  You can just imagine it, can't you?  A mortified looking Angela Merkel, for instance, looking on as Trump, Steve Bannon and Sean Spicer clap and cheer a stripper with huge jiggling breasts as she struts her stuff, sticking ten dollar bills down her underwear (he's probably also cheap, in addition to having no class).  Probably.she'd have a huge slice of chocolate cake slithering down between her breasts.  And you know what?  I can guarantee that the main thing Trump focused on would be that bloody cake.  Any normal heterosexual man would be transfixed by those jiggling breasts, not that cake.  (I'm sorry to break it to any ladies reading, but us blokes are very shallow: put us in a room with some naked women's breasts, juggling or not, and we'll just have to look.  In fact, they don't even need to be exposed - just a hint of cleavage is enough to entrance us.  I could guarantee that even a fat greedy bastard would look at the breasts first, cake second).   So, beware world leaders.  If you visit the US during the next four years, you are likely to find yourself in some sleazy strip joint, with some poor girl grinding her arse in your face (possibly with a huge slice of chocolate cake slipping down between her buttocks).

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Stripping the Engine

Remember that model railway engine I was restoring?  Well, today I finally got back to it, while I was waiting for the heating engineer to arrive and look at my non-working gas boiler.  Progress wasn't spectacular, but I've stripped the worst of the paint off of the driving wheels, front bogie and trailing truck.  So, here's the 'before' picture:

All that garish red had to go as it is completely unprototypical.  (It was rare for British steam locomotives to sport any colour other than black (mixed with soot and oil) below the footplate, although their German equivalents usually did have red painted wheels).  Here's the 'after' picture:

As you will note, despite two treatments of stripper, the red hasn't gone entirely.  The wheels, bogie and pony truck are, however, now in a better state to take new (black) paint.  It wasn't just an issue of the brightness of red colour (which would have made painting over it difficult) but the fact that it had a gloss finish, which would have made it difficult for new paint to 'take' on it.

I'm not sure whether the next stage will be to repaint the chassis (and the tender chassis, which I stripped a while ago), or to proceed with stripping the blue paintwork off of the loco and tender bodies.  The latter could be a lengthy job - the surface area to be stripped means that it will have to be done in stages.

Oh, if you are wondering about the boiler, whilst the engineer got it working again, it failed its safety tests and has now been condemned.  So I'm now looking at replacing the boiler.  Which, whilst not cheap, isn't really unexpected: it wasn't new when I bought the house and I've just finished paying off the mortgage, so really it's a miracle that it lasted this long.  Of course, while I'm grateful for it lasting so long, the truth is that I could undoubtedly have saved money on my gas bills if I had replaced it with more efficient new boiler years ago.    


Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Election Rant

Being gay isn't a sin, according to Tim Farron, who, apparently, is leader of the Liberal Democrats.  But he's not too sure whether gay sex is a sin.  Not that his reservations about 'gay butt sex' are entirely due to religious convictions - it's just that it makes his eyes water.  Allegedly.  All of which constitutes about the most interesting election news over the weekend.  To call the campaign for this election a slow starter is an understatement.  It's as if the political parties are reluctant to actually start it - which isn't surprising as nobody is really sure why we're having a general election.  Instead of proper electioneering, all I seem to encounter are 'true believers' from the main parties trying to justify their leaders and their bad decisions.  When it comes to Theresa May, I'm afraid there really are no excuses - she's an opportunistic careerist interested only in self advancement and aggrandisment.  Politically, her record speaks for itself: she was a lousy Home Secretary and even worse Prime Minister. 

When it comes to Jeremy Corbyn, though, I've apparently been brainwashed by the biased media into believing that he is a hopeless leader with unpopular and unworkable policies.  Really?  What the individuals who write this kind of stuff (the example I encountered over the weekend having been posted on Facebook) don't seem to grasp how insulting to our collective intelligences it is.  It typifies the attitude which alienates so many of us when it comes to the Corbynistas: their patronising assumption of the self evidence of the fact that they are right about everything and that if you can't see that you are either stupid or, worse, a 'Blairite'. The fact is that it isn't Labour's policies under Corbyn that I have a problem with (such as these policies are - I've seen little evidence of any coherent policy actually emerging under his leadership), but rather that it is him I have a problem with.  It has become painfully obvious during his tenure that he is incapable of leading a modern political party.  He is utterly incapable of articulating any policies in such a way that they can be sold to the electorate.  He just doesn't seem to understand that in order to gain power you have to persuade voters, rather than party members, that your policies will be most beneficial to them. 

None of which should be surprising, as he only seems comfortable when preaching to the converted, at forums where nobody is likely to disagree or challenge him.  Consequently, he isn't used to having to actually justify his policies to a sceptical audience and persuade them to his point of view.  Indeed, if one thing has characterised his leadership of Labour, it has been a refusal to listen to voices from outside his band of supporters which might be critical.  Which, interestingly, is something he has in common with Theresa May who, similarly, seems unwilling to listen to critical voices.  There can be no alternative to her chosen path.  Anyway, enough election ranting.  I promise this will be my only excursion into politics this week.  (Unless something really exciting happens, that is).

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Back After the Break...

That's right, due to circumstances beyond my control (mainly trying to get someone to look at my gas boiler which has stopped working) I haven't been in the right headspace to come up with a proper post today.  Instead, I've fallen back on that old standby: a selection of some old TV commercials.  These are from the sixties and, right from the off, feature some points of interest.  First up is the Fry's Turkish Delight ad featuring the 'Big Fry', who is portrayed by none other than a pre-James Bond George Lazenby.  Indeed, before his one and only appearance as 007 in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the 'Big Fry' was the role for which he was best known to the public.

These ads come the period when London was on the cusp of becoming 'swinging' and a lot of them place an emphasis upon glamour and youth culture, with Sandie Shaw advertising Lux soap and young women being told that the secret to pulling blokes is to make out sure that their 'Head and Shoulders' are free of dandruff.  Obviously, she won't want to waste that effort with her hair by getting hot and sweaty in the disco: so Mum under arm deodorant is another essential.  The commercial for London Life magazine pushes the point that Britain's capital was the 'happening' place to be.  The Sunday Mirror ad is a reminder that the tabloid press's obsession with UFOs is nothing new and certainly wasn't invented by the Daily Mail.  I do remember from my early years that throughout the late sixties and early seventies the Sunday papers were always running lurid stories about UFOs, hauntings, black magic rituals and the like.

Then there's avuncular Jack Warner advocating the benefits of formica.  Did you know that there was a time when formica was considered such a desirable product that they had advertising campaigns for it?  Then there's the equally avuncular Captain Birdseye, who is still hawking his fish fingers to this day.  I'm guessing that this was the original Captain Birdseye - he's regenerated more times than Dr Who since then (they'll probably insist he has to be a woman next).  Before we go, let's not forget the brands seen here which no longer exist - most notably National petrol.  One of several brands which had their own strings of filling stations in the days before you filled your car up at the supermarket.  Ah, the nostalgia of it all!


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Election Fatigue

I suppose I should acknowledge that an election has been called.  Why, when there are still three years of this parliament to go and a government with a working majority, this should be considered necessary is a perplexing question.  Ostensibly, it is so that May can say that she has a democratic mandate for her policies, most specifically Brexit, rather than feeling bound by the manifesto promises made by a different Tory leader in the 2015 election, (which made no mention of Brexit).  Which might seem highly laudable, but it still doesn't justify calling an election early - manifesto promises aren't legally binding, so she could safely ignore them and all she needs to govern legitimately and pursue her own agenda, is a parliamentary majority.  Which she already has.  The real reasons are rather more cynical, I fear.  For one thing, calling a general election now rather pre-empts any charges against Tory candidates which come out of the Electoral Commission's investigations into alleged expenses fraud at the 2015 election.  If May stuck to the schedule and waited until 2020 to go to the polls, then she would have risked three years of criminal charges and trials involving Tory politicians and all the potential political damage that could have wreaked.  This way, presupposing she wins, all of that will have been safely out of the way by the time the next election rolls around circa 2022.

The other obvious reason for going to the polls now is the Tories. current commanding poll lead over Labour.  Of course, one of the reasons for the introduction of fixed term parliaments in 2010 (by a government of which May was a member) was supposedly to prevent opportunistic prime ministers from putting party before country and calling snap elections to try and maintain themselves in power. This piece of legislation also meant that the opposition could have denied May the opportunity to hold this election, as it requires a two thirds majority in the Commons for parliament to be dissolved.  They would have been justified in doing so: the Tories made these rules and should be forced to stick to them.  May shouldn't be allowed to go to the polls until after Brexit, when its consequences will begin to be felt.  From a purely tactical perspective, the opposition parties should have opposed her cal for an election simply because, right now, they are in no fit state to fight one.  Yet Corbyn, a man with no political nous whatsoever, happily voted with the government, gleefully leading Labour toward potential oblivion at the polls.  He really is unfit to lead anything, let alone what used to be one the UK' major political parties.  I know that he and his cronies see winning elections as some kind of irrelevance, but the fact is that without political power, you can achive nothing.  You certainly can't help the people you claim to represent.  By embracing an election now, Corbyn is risking Labour losing even more seats and putting them further away from power and being to help the less well off than before.  Indeed, he is pretty much guaranteeing Tory hegemony for the foreseeable future.

As you can gather, I'm less than enthusiastic about this election.  Not only do I fear that it is going to be an electoral disaster for Labour but, to be frank, I'm suffering election fatigue.  It was barely two years ago that we fought the previous election, then last year there was the bruising EU referendum. I just don't have the appetite or energy to go through all of that again so soon.  I know that a lot of other people, on both sides of the political divide, feel the same way.  I suspect that the Tories are relying on this, hoping for a high degree of political apathy which tends to favour the status quo.  The aggressive language already being used by the right wing press in their coverage is also depressing.  Already we have talk of 'crushing Labour' and pro-EU supporters being described as 'saboteurs' - this doesn't augur well for the election being fought on the basis of rational, well informed, debate.  I'm really not looking forward to the next few weeks. 

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Sandwich Man (1966)

Intended as an all-star comedy extravaganza, The Sandwich Man was very poorly received upon its original release.  After a couple of TV screenings in the seventies it vanished from sight until a 2008 DVD release and, more recently, its addition to the regular rotation on Talking Pictures TV.  Seen again now, it isn't difficult to see why the film was considered such a disappointment in 1966, but is also difficult not to feel affection for the portrait of a long disappeared London that it paints.  Charting a day in the life of the eponymous 'Sandwich Man', Horace Quigley, played by Michael Bentine, the film takes us on a meandering journey through London, from docklands (back in the days when working class people lived there in terraced houses) to West End, taking in various landmarks and venues.  Along the way Quigley encounters various characters (all played by well known at the time British comics and character actors) and observes various comic vignettes.

Underpinning it all are two subplots.  One about Quigley's favourite pigeon's progress in a race from Bourdeaux to London dictates much of his route as he goes from phone to phone, awaiting news about the pigeon from his neighbour, who is watching Quigley's coop for him.  The other involves Quigley's attempts to bring together a model Sue (Suzy Kendall) and her boyfriend Steve (David Buck), who have fallen out over Steve's suspicion that model Sue is having an affair with her photographer (Bernard Cribbins).  Although these two elements should give the film some kind of structure and coherence, it stubbornly remains a directionless series of episodes, which often feel as if they've been strung together at random.  This lack of narrative drive fatally undermines the film, robbing it of pace and purpose, making it difficult to for the viewer either to fully engage with the characters or really care what is happening.

None of this would matter so much if any of the various episodes were either particularly funny or original.  Sadly, they are all too predictable:  as soon as we see that lawn mower in the park, for instance, we just know that it is going to run amok and as soon as we see the overloaded Mini-Moke driven by scoutmaster Terry-Thomas, we know that it is inevitable that there's going to be some conflagration involving the vehicle and Ian Hendy's motorcycle cop.  Frequently, they promise to build up to some kind of wild and zany conclusion, but instead just peter out.  All of which is hugely frustrating for the audience, bearing in mind star and co-writer Bentine's reputation for anarchic and surreal humour, as seen in TV series like It's a Square World and Potty Time, not to mention his tenure on the Goon Show in its early days.  Here, though, his humour just never takes off - even the climax, which is clearly meant to be a huge slapstick comedy set piece, falls flat.  Part of the problem lies in the fact that the main characters, particularly Quigley, are never participants in these vignettes, which are instead played out by characters we've only just met and therefore have no emotional investment in.

Which isn't to say that The Sandwich Man is a dead loss.  On the contrary it is, on a technical level, a very well made film, superbly photographed in colour by co-producer and cinematographer Peter Newbrook, who makes the most of the London locations.  Some of Robert Hartford-Davis' direction is pretty stylish: in particular a sequence where two housewives (Diana Dors and Anna Quayle) argue the merits of rival TV doctors (Dr Kildare and Ben Casey) whilst walking through Billingsgate fish market, their descriptions of the various operations depicted in the respective series inter cut with fish being gutted on the slabs.  Interestingly, the film also embraces the multi-culturalism of post-war London, with the opening sequence introducing Quigley's neighbours as they leave for work - a pair of Sikh jazz musicians, an Egyptian carpet salesman and a Chinese ice cream vendor (who sells Italian ice cream from his van).  The point is somewhat undermined, however, by the fact that they are all played by white actors blacked up, (except the Chinese ice cream man who is, of course, played by Burt Kwouk), with Bentine himself appearing later as an Indian club owner.  But this was par for the course at the time in British film and TV and, although the usual racial and cultural stereotyping is present, it is all relatively benign and free of the more obvious racial prejudices which were often on display in pop culture of the era.

As mentioned before, the film captures a moment in time: a summer's day in sixties London.  Everything about it - the cars, the fashions, the advertising hoardings - reminds us of how much has changed since the film was made, whilst the various landmarks remind us of how much has remained constant.  The Sandwich Man was part of the eclectic output of bargain basement independent producers Titan, who are today probably best remembered for the horror movie Corruption and who, infamously, finally went out of business part way through production of another horror flick, Incense for the Damned, (the footage from which was eventually bought by a distributor and edited into a barely coherent feature).  Before that, they made another star comedy, Press For Time, for Norman Wisdom, who also guests in The Sandwich Man.

 Although The Sandwich Man largely fails as a comedy, it still holds many other sources of entertainment for the modern viewer and is well worth watching.  Not least, it provides Michael Bentine, who, I suspect, is largely unknown to contemporary audiences, with a rare leading role.  Whilst not typical of his usual characterisations or humour, his widowed Horace Quigley remains an engaging and likeable character as he wanders his way through sixties London, trying to fill the gap left in his life by his wife's death lving vicariously through eccentrics he encounters, his activities as the honourary secretary of the sandwich board men's union and his pigeons..  


Monday, April 17, 2017

Nothing Happening Here

So, the trouble with bank holidays is that as I tend to do very little on them, I don't have anything to write about here.  And when we've had as long a bank holiday weekend as the Easter weekend, by the Monday I;m really stumped as to what to post.  I mean, I spent the better part of today lounging about on my sofa watching films.  Not the sort of films I discuss here - far too mainstream (even I like to have a day off from obscure exploitation movies).  That said, yesterday I did finally get around to watching a pretty decent adaptation of a Joe R Lansdale novel - Cold in July - which I recorded a while ago.  That was pretty off beat and, in typical Lansdale fashion, took some unexpected turns.  Apart from the film watching, the only other notable thing I did today was buy some olive oil to pour down my ear.  It's meant to be good for softening impacted ear wax, making it easier to remove.  (I'm still holding out hope that the tinnitus in my left ear is down to ear wax problems, so I'm willing to try anything to shift it).

I did get threatened by Google over the weekend - they accused me of posting pornography on my Google Plus account.  I regularly 'plus one' old stories to my Google Plus timeline, or whatever the fuck they call it, not because it generates traffic (nobody actually reads anything on Google Plus), but because it forces Google to reindex the page for the search index and the backlink it creates might help ranking.  Google decided that one of these stories was somehow pornographic.  All pretty pathetic and< I can only assume, part of Google's ongoing war against satire: first of all they try to classify satire as 'fake news' and penalise satire sites in the rankings, now they are calling it porn.  Like I said, pathetic. Just fuck off Google, you tax evading, content stealing, privacy invading bully. Anyway, with the bank holiday weekend out of the way, my time off from work starts properly tomorrow.  Which, hopefully, will mean that I do something interesting to post about. 


Friday, April 14, 2017

Holiday Magic

To commemorate the fact that today was a holiday, I was going to try and post something suitably light and frivolous.  But it's hard to get in the holiday mood when the front page of the Daily Mirror is screaming that the world is on the brink of nuclear war and my intermittent tinnitus has returned after a couple of days off.  OK, I know that makes it look as if I'm equating an extremely irritating humming in my left ear with the horrors of nuclear war, but it is fucking irritating.  (Not only did it make it extremely difficult for me to get to sleep last night, but I'm having to have a dehumidifier running next to the sofa while I watch TV, as the sound from said device masks the tinnitus).  Mind you, the Mirror can't be too worried that a nuclear holocaust is imminent, as their front page is also promising eight days of Easter crossword puzzles and a free two quid bet at your local Coral bookmakers.  We might see the May Day bank holiday yet, depending on the difficulty of those crosswords.

But to get back to the point, what better to get us in the holiday spirit than a magic act?  (lots of things, probably, but the magic act is what I've got to hand.  Having taken a look at magician Channing Pollock's appearance in European Nights the other day, this time we'll be seeing French magician Mac Ronay's appearance in the same film:

There you go, if that doesn't get you in the holiday mood, then nothing will.  (Except alcohol and drugs, probably).

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hooray for the Holidays!

Thank goodness that Jesus was crucified on a Friday and rose again on a Monday, thereby giving us the long Easter weekend.  This four day week couldn't end soon enough for me - work has been both especially tedious and irritating, and my tinnitus returned with a vengeance during the first part of the week.   But I'm now off work, not just for the Easter weekend, but for the next sixteen days, (I had nine days of unused leave with my leave year rapidly drawing to a close and, by coincidence, the various bank holidays coming up mean that I can use those nine days to get off work for sixteen days), and the tinnitus has changed from an irritating hum to a high pitched singing which doesn't bother me.  Plus, in more good news, my endowment policy has paid out, which means that the last of my mortgage will be paid off.  Even better, the payout amount is higher than expected, meaning I'll be left with a very welcome windfall once the mortgage is paid.  Which, whilst not making me fabulously wealthy, does mean that I can once again reconsider my current employment situation, as I no longer have the monthly burden of mortgage repayments to worry about.

But what am I going to do with all this time of stretching ahead of me?  Well, for one thing, I'm hoping to finally do most of the stuff I was planning to do the last time I took time off, but was prevented from doing so by a heavy cold.  I've also accumulated a huge backlog of films to watch, both recorded from TV and on DVD - I need at least a week off to get through these alone.  Once watched these will, of course, provide more material to be posted here.  That said, I'm still mulling over the idea of setting up a new site to accommodate the film and other pop culture related material I turn out. That's something else I'll be giving some thought to over the next couple of weeks.  Then there's that model railway layout I'm forever trying to put together, various bits of DIY around the house I now own , not to mention the garden, which is once again a jungle (much to the delight of my neighbours' cat).  I'm also hoping to fit in a trip to the coast, (delayed from February by that bloody cold)  and maybe a trip to London, to visit Soho and see how much it has changed in the many years since my last visit.  Inevitably, I'll not achieve a fair amount of this as life, as ever, will intervene.  But I'm going to give it a good go.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

European Nights (1959)

Having mentioned European Nights, a 1959 proto Mondo in yesterday's post, I thought that we might as well look at the US trailer for it today.  Basically a chronicle of various popular nightclub acts from across Europe, there is a Mondo-like emphasis upon the weird and slightly sleazy.  The acts range from French comics, through circus trapeze artists, belly dancers, magicians and Paris strippers to British rockers.  All the sorts of things you couldn't see on TV in the fifties, in other words.  Like those rock and roll movies which were popular at around the same time, European Nights allowed audiences to see acts that they would never have the opportunity to see live.  Clearly a popular format, it was quickly followed by the similar World by Night movies, which took the concept global, showcasing acts from across the world.

I've found that it is possible to buy a download of the US version of the film, so I might be able to talk about it in more detail at a later date.  But until then, I'll leave you with an excerpt highlighting magician Channing Pollock: