Monday, April 30, 2012

The End of Anonymity?

Apparently I'm up to no good.  Which might well be true, depending upon how you define 'good'.  However, this assessment has nothing to do with anything I can be proved to have done or written, it is simply because I don't use my own name online.  I don't know if you've noticed, but of late the whole concept of online anonymity has been under attack.  We've had the various web luminaries behind such sites as Facebook and Google proclaiming that it is a 'bad thing', that the only people who don't use their real identities online must have something to hide and, therefore, must be up to no good.  Indeed, social networks like Facebook and Google Plus practically insist that you use your real name, (although 'Doc Sleaze' apparently looks enough like a 'real' name for it to get past Facebook), not to mention actual photographs to identify yourself.  On top of all this, we're seeing more and more media stories about 'internet bullying', all emphasising that the perpetrators hide behind web anonymity, using online alter egos - the clear implication being that if people were forced to use only their own names online, then this cyber-bullying wouldn't happen.

Of course, it is all bollocks.  The likes of Facebook and Google have a clear agenda when it comes to ending web anonymity - data mining.  These corporate behemoths want to gather as much personal data about you as an individual as possible for the purposes of marketing and ad targeting.  To do that, they have to know for sure who you are.  They'll witter on about the need to personalise services and the like, but the real reason for this data collection is economic exploitation.  Which brings us to the other side of anonymity: privacy.  That's why most of us who use pseudonyms online do so - we wish to preserve our privacy.  I've outlined my own reasons for using an alter ego both here and on The Sleaze -  primarily because, in an age where employers and prospective employers do web searches to find information about employees, it would otherwise be pretty much impossible for me to write online satire.  In addition to those reasons, the fact is that I'm a very private person - I don't want people tracking me down online.  Thanks to my refusal to use my own name in any public online activities, various former school mates and acquaintances have been unable to track me down - they can't seem to grasp the fact that I didn't keep in touch with them for a reason: I didn't like them!  But even if my reasons for remaining anonymous are perfectly innocent, the anti-anonymity brigade will still point the accusing finger at the internet bullies.  The problem with this argument is that cyber-bullies are generally also bullies in real life, where their lack of anonymity doesn't seem to deter them.  Moreover, it usually isn't that difficult to identify them online - they generally aren't smart enough to cover their tracks.  So, beware these people calling for the end of web anonymity - they're clearly up to no good.  


Saturday, April 28, 2012

State of The Internet (Part Two)

Continuing my barely coherent ramblings on the State of The Internet from yesterday, the other thing I don't see so much of on the web these days are the so-called 'pro-bloggers'.  It might be that I just don't visit the neighbourhoods where they hang out nowadays, but they thankfully seem to have died a death.  These 'pro-bloggers' were the literal personification of all those internet get rich quick schemes which proliferated a few years ago.  These were the people who claimed to make their entire income from blogging.  Now, I'm not saying that it is impossible for an individual to make a living from writing online, but to do so they would have to be producing some very compelling content or providing some unique service in order to generate sufficient traffic to generate the kind of ad revenues required to make that kind of money.  Believe me, none of the self-proclaimed 'pro-bloggers' I ever encountered ever produced anything like that.  Their blogs were full of fluff about how much money they were making, interspersed with recycled Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) 'tips', (all received wisdom rather than anything original based on their own experiences), and 'reviesw' of various of those online money-making schemes with affiliate links to them.  That's right, they were nothing more than a variation on the affiliate sites I was on about yesterday, although the 'pro-bloggers' would undoubtedly describe themselves as 'internet marketers'.  It's just that they're marketing shit.

The most interesting thing about these 'pro-bloggers' was that many of them were allegedly non-existent.  Apparently, many of the get rich quick merchants, desperate to push their dodgy products, (which were usually a form of spamming), they invented 'pro-bloggers', creating false identities and setting up blogs for them to then push the product, posting about how much money they were making with this particular product.  Twitter seems to have become the focus of this sort of activity in recent years, with a plethora of fake personalities pushing shit through their feeds.  Obviously, it's easier to set up and automate a Twitter feed than it is a blog.  That said, I was once horrified to come across a Wordpress theme which automated blogging.  Basically, you set up a blog as an affiliate site, then applied this theme, which would pull in (ie steal) material from RSS feeds and article directories, which were vaguely related to the blog's supposed subject matter.  Why bother creating high quality content when you can steal it, eh?  But getting back to the fake 'pro-bloggers', there was one high profile blog which got a lot of publicity a couple of years ago when its then owner picked a very public fight on Twitter with Lily Allen over the whole business of illegal music downloads.  To me it was obvious he was just trying to generate traffic for his own (ostensibly legitimate) site, where, as it turned out, he was pushing a highly dodgy Twitter-based get rich quick scheme.  (To reassure everyone he was legit, this guy spent a lot of time 'debunking' other people's schemes.  Of course, all he was doing was trying to eliminate the opposition). 

Anyway, he had a whole network of other 'pro-bloggers' endorsing the product.  They frequently commented on his own blog, bigging him and his product up.  I've long suspected that most, if not all, of them were fakes.  He eventually 'sold' the blog, (although I strongly suspect the current listed owner is another front for him), when the wheels came off of his schemes big time.  Interestingly, whilst many of his legion of supporters stayed online for while, with still active sites, there postings gradually dwindled.  I recently decided to see what had happened to some of the most prominent of this group.  Whilst most seemed to have vanished completely, I did track a couple down who might actually have been real people!  One, who used to claim to be a web designer appears, from his Facebook profile, to now be working in retail (ie a shop), whilst another, who claimed to be a top content provider who made thousands from his work, has closed down his site, let his domains expire and, on his Twitter feed at least, nowadays just identifies himself as an IT student, with no vast web incomes.  So there you have it: 'pro-bloggers', either fantasies or fantasists.  Oh, and before I forget, what happened to the original blogger in this case?  Well, ironically, after championing the file-sharers and free music downloaders against Lilly Allen, he is currently running a 'record label' devoted to producing only analogue recordings and uses his Twitter feed to denounce file-sharers and others who want to download music for free... 

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

State of The Internet

Before getting down to the main business of this post, I'm happy to tell you that I can be heard making a guest appearance on the most recent Overnightscape Central podcast (here) over at the Overnightscape Underground, talking about Bob Blackman, the guy who used to bash himself on the head with a tea tray.  I know you apparently don't want to listen to me on my own podcast, but maybe you'll find me more palatable on someone else's!

But enough talk of my internet fame, on with today's musings on the current state of the internet (it's a bit like the US President's state of the Union Address, but rantier and with fewer implications for global affairs).  Now, I know what you are all thinking: 'Oh God, he's going to whine on about the evils of Google and how its algorithm changes have destroyed his traffic again.'  In which case, you'd be almost right.  I am going to talk about Google and its algorithm changes, but I'm taking a different perspective on them.  What if we were to take at face value the search giants' claims that its algo changes are aimed at cutting down web spam and low value sites in its index?  Has there been a decline in such sites?  Well, I have to concede that I see fewer and fewer affiliate sites, (sites set up to push a particular product, for which the site owner gets a commission for each sale of the product resulting from a referral from their site - they usually contain text designed solely to get them a high search engine ranking for a few keywords, rather than offering any worthwhile original content), and fewer and fewer of those 'get rich from the internet quick' schemes they promote.

Now, bear in mind that this is purely anecdotal evidence, based upon my own limited observations, so it may have no statistical significance.  Whilst this sort of site seems to be on the decline, I know that a lot of people are seeing what they consider to be increasingly poor search results from Google, dominated by spam and irrelevant sites.  The problem is, of course, that such judgements are entirely subjective. What I consider an 'irrelevant; or spammy result might be exactly what someone else was looking for.  Moreover, without knowing the entire contents of the whole world wide web, it is impossible to say for sure that for any given search query there are a 'better' set of results.  Sure, I know that you can run the same search on Bing and compare the results, but how do we know that the Bing results are 'better'?  We know no more about their algorithm and what criteria it uses than we do about Google's.  What is clear is that Google's results definitely seem to favour its own sites (YouTube, Blogger, etc) in terms of placings.  It also seems to favour the bigger 'brand name' sites over smaller, independent sites these days.  That said, the kind of results it returns are very dependent upon the kind of search terms you are using. 

I have to say, in the kinds of search terms that interest me as owner of a satire site, there does seem to have been a modest improvement over the past month or so.  It's not that there's been a vast increase in the volume of traffic I'm getting, (although it is up), so much as an improvement in 'quality'.  I've noted before that, back in the days when The Sleaze was getting big traffic, much of this was the result of poorly formed searches for porn, which, in turn, resulted in lots of visitors with no interest in the site's content who clicked on the one page and then left, (presumably in search of more porn).  Lately though, there have been far more visitors arriving as the result of relevant search terms like 'satire', 'humour' and 'UK political satire'.  These visitors are far more likely to click on multiple pages and stay on the site far longer.  They are also more likely to return at a later date.  Which is exactly what has been happening over the past few weeks.  As I've always maintained, I'd rather have a lower level of traffic generated by visitors interested in the site than huge traffic levels based on irrelevant porn searches.

So, have I suddenly become a convert to the cause of Google?  Well, not really.  Despite the improvement in the kind of traffic I'm getting, I still think that Google dominates the search market far too much and continues to abuse that position, leaving us all at the mercy of its whims.  There are still problems with the criteria they use for ranking search results - too much emphasis on factors other than relevance, for instance.  Worst of all is their obsession with using all of their operations to surreptitiously gather data on us - it's creepy, not to mention an invasion of our privacy.  Oh, and stop pushing Google bloody Plus - nobody is interested, we all recognise it for what it is: another data collection device.  Actually, Google Plus is symptomatic of much of the problem - it represents a further dilution of Google's core business.  For most of us Google is about search, not social networking.  If we want social networking we'll go to Facebook.  Whilst the demotion of things like affiliate and doorway sites is welcome, Google still has a long way to go to win back my trust.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

England and St George

So, how did you celebrate St George's Day yesterday?  Did you attend an English Defence League (EDL) rally?  Or perhaps you fire bombed a mosque?  Maybe you just confined yourself to shouting a few racially offensive obscenities at women wearing burquas?  All done with your face painted with the cross of St George, of course.  I mean, that's how we're meant to celebrate our national saint's day, isn't it, with displays of aggressive faux-patriotism, expressed through bigotry?  Why is it that, unlike say, St Patrick's day, when we try to celebrate St George's day in England, it seems to get hijacked by the 'Bulldog Drummond' brigade?  The Irish just go out and get drunk, hold the odd parade and wear silly hats.  It's all very genial and not shot through with the worst kind of narrow-minded nationalism.  But that's modern Britain for you - if you don't wave a Union Jack or unconditionally support 'our brave boys' in Afghanistan, (all of whom are heroes, by the way, even the Catering Corps), you are branded as some kind of pinko-liberal unpatriotic bastard who wants to flood the country with immigrant peadophiles.  In fact, you should think yourself lucky that you aren't stoned to death in the street.

Clearly, we should be grateful that St George's day isn't a national holiday in England, otherwise we would, without doubt, be subjected to military parades and the band of the Coldstream guards marching through every town.  Probably through streets lined with those idiots who turn up whenever dead servicemen are repatriated through RAF bases.  You know who I mean - despite not knowing the deceased, they stand to attention, saluting as the hearses pass by, turning what should be a solemn occasion into a bloody media circus.  Whilst some of them might well be ex-servicemen, I'm sure that the medals festooning the chests of many others are made from cardboard and tinfoil.  To be fair, this year I didn't notice any St George's day celebrations of any kind, (a few years ago I had the misfortune to stumble upon the most desultory attempt at such celebrations in a nearly empty local pub - it was very traumatic).  This year the cultural Olympiad seems to have resulted in the focus being on the fact that the 23rd of April is also Shakespeare's birthday.  Which, thankfully, didn't result in pillocks dressed in tights performing the soliloquy from Hamlet in the pub.  We should be thankful for small mercies.  

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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Official Blog of the London 2012 Olympics?

I was planning to shut down as far as posting on The Sleaze went for the duration of the Olympics later this year.  As I found out four years ago, the Olympic games is one of those events that hogs the web, traffic-wise, so that nobody else can get a look-in.  Consequently, I figured that it would be pointless publishing new material when they were on this year, as nobody would read it.  However, I've subsequently devised a new strategy:  I'm going to declare this the official blog of the London 2012 Olympics.  Which, of course, means that it will be the only blog that anyone attending the Olympics can read.  That should drive traffic up, with a knock-on effect for The Sleaze.  I did consider trying to make The Sleaze the official wb site of the London 2012 Olympics, but I thought that might be pushing it a bit.  As far as I can see, all that I have to do to justify this as the official Olympic blog is to stick the Olympic and London 2012 symbols on it - after all, that's all that the manufacturers of the official chocolate bars, burgers and colas of the London 2012 Olympics have done.  Apart from that, as far as I can see anyway, these products have absolutely nothing else to do with the event.

OK, I know there's the matter of copyrights as far as the Olympic logos are concerned, but hey, that's just a minor point, isn't it?  I mean, surely the International Olympic Committee (IOC) isn't going to come after the likes of a blog like this, would they?  Actually, they might.  They've gone after a butcher in Weymouth who had the audacity to have a sign on his shop with sausages mimicking the Olympic ring symbol.  In fact, in this crazy wold of corporate branding, where just about anything is for sale, it seems that the IOC have succeeded in copyrighting or registering as trade marks even the words 'London 2012 Olympics'.  You have to pay them royalties to use them in any context that could be considered commercial.  Likewise, those concessions they've sold to the likes of Coca Cola to be 'official' products of the games are legally enforceable.  Trust me, if you've got tickets to, say, the athletics events and you take a can of Pepsi in with you to drink, you could have it confiscated, or even be thrown out of the stadium for infringing Coca Cola's exclusive right to sell soft drinks at the venue!  Perhaps I should follow a similar policy with regard to readers: I don't like Macs, so I'm granting exclusive surfing rights at this blog to people using non-apple products.  So, if you are reading this on an iPad - fuck off!  Or, if you are drinking Fanta whilst reading this post, spit that Nazi drink out now and get a can of Dr Pepper - the official soft drink of Sleaze Diary!


Friday, April 20, 2012

Run Down a Bigot Today

I had the opportunity to run down a bigot today.  Unfortunately, I was in a hurry and just didn't have the time to run off of the road and up the grass verge - where he was fly-posting a placard advertising the visit of the leader of UKIP to Crapchester next week - and watch him bounce off of my bonnet.  I'm beginning to regret that decision after having the misfortune to see said UKIP leader, Nigel Farage on the news.  What a pillock.  Even if I was in favour of the UK leaving the EU, I'd change my mind on the basis of that twat leading the anti-EU lobby.  I've often wondered, as he is so against tax-payers money being 'wasted' on supporting the European Parliament, he gives the wages he receives as a Euro MP to charity?  But I digress, getting back to my failure to run that fly-poster over, (I say fly-posting, to be accurate he was attempting to affix the placard to a traffic sign with a cable tie), I know that running over a minion wouldn't have stopped UKIP immediately, but we've got to start somewhere, haven't we?

But perhaps I shouldn't characterise the UKIP as bigots, it makes them sound like the BNP.  But, unfortunately, that's how UKIP appears to me - a sort of respectable form of bigotry for nice middle class people.  At least, unlike the BNP, UKIP's bigotry isn't based solely on race.  They just don't like anybody from Europe.  Oh, I know they'll tell you it isn't about hating foreigners, it's really about economics and political sovereignty, but, in truth, it comes down to good old fashioned xenophobia.  They just don't want Johnny Foreigner sullying Britain's glorious constitution with their grubby hands.  They're still wrapped up in the dangerous delusion that the UK is somehow still a world power, capable of acting unilaterally in military, political and economic matters, that the British are still somehow superior to the rest of humanity.  This is the delusion which has held the UK back for decades, frequently isolating us from the mainstream of international politics. 

It's also incredible, that in the light of the current economic crisis, anyone can seriously believe that nation states can survive alone.  What this crisis has lain bare is the truth obvious to many of us - that multinational corporations and international financiers have rendered individual nations states virtually irrelevant.  Whilst the EU certainly hasn't done itself any credit in its vain defence of the Eurozone, that's no reason for the UK to pull out now.  Instead we should be trying to reform the EU, to make it a more effective bastion against these multinational brigands.  Nation states can only fight back against them by following their example and organising across national boundaries.  But I'm afraid these very concepts are beyond the mental capabilities of narrow-minded Little Englanders like Farage and his Daily Mail reading acolytes.  So, when an 'independent' Britain is having what's left of its assets stripped by multinational predators, just remember that I warned you!

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rambling Along

I finally went back to work today, after my Easter break.  Not surprisingly, it's left me feeling knackered and planning my next leave.  It increasingly feel as if I'm just going through the motions as far as work is concerned.  I'm on autopilot all the time I'm there.  The real measure of how disaffected I am work-wise lies in the fact that I didn't even do much when I was off work over Easter - just the fact of not being there was sufficient.  Obviously, the weather didn't help, confining me to the house for a lot of the time.  Which is always dangerous, as I could then easily be enticed into DIY projects.  Like putting together a new bookcase.  I really don't know what came over me, assembling that on the day before returning to work.  I got up this morning aching from head to foot as a result of manhandling that bloody thing.  Still, at least it afforded me the opportunity to do some hammering and drilling in the evening as retaliation against my noisy neighbour.

As you've probably guessed, I'm rambling with no clue as to where this post is going.  I'm pretty sure that I had a clear idea of what I was going to post about today, but somewhere along the line, amidst the trauma of assembling bookcases and going back to work, I've forgotten what it was.  So let's deal with some admin issues.  First up, I have to thank pq ribber for giving me a shout out on his excellent podcast Bug Out a couple of weeks ago.  I'm truly honoured!  Once again, I'd urge everyone to go over to The Overnightscape Underground and listen to an edition of Bug Out, or any of the other excellent podcasts there.  Actually, pq hasn't been banging out his podcast as regularly as I'd like of late.  But that's just me being selfish, I'm sure he has other things to do than entertain me!  In the absence of new editions of Bug Out, I've been going back over pq ribber's back catalogue, catching up with some of his earlier podcasts like Night Project and Bedcast, which are all highly entertaining.  Speaking of podcasts, I've been very disappointed at the poor reception my most recent Sleazecast seems to have received.  After its predecessor set new records for downloads, quite literally nobody has bothered with this one!  OK, you might think it crap, but if you don't listen, how can you know for sure.  I accept that posting it just before the Easter bank holiday weekend probably didn't help its visibility.  So I'm considering bumping it back up to the top.  Ha!  I'm determined to force you to listen!  Anyway, that's enough for now, perhaps I'll remember what I'm meant to be posting about by tomorrow...


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Sinking Feeling

Is it over? Can I watch TV again without being bombarded with images of sinking ships, lifeboats ans sepia tinted pictures of people in Edwardian dress? Yes folks, it's true, I'm sick and bloody tired of the Titanic. I sincerely hope that now the actual hundred anniversary date of its sinking has passed the media will let it drop. Unless, of course, we're going to have the hundredth anniversary of the melting of the iceberg. If the sinking were still in living memory and there were survivors still alive, I might be able to understand the fuss. Or if there was some 'mystery' surrounding the disaster. But there isn't. The ship struck an iceberg and sank. That's it. Which is one of the reasons that I've never actually been interested in the whole Titanic business - it really isn't much of a story, is it?

Basically it's just a case of big liner goes on maiden voyage across Atlantic, big liner hits iceberg, big liner sinks slowly with huge loss of life. If you were to pitch that to a film studio the money men would just shrug their shoulders and say 'So, what?', before showing you the door. I mean, it didn't even capsize, trapping passengers in the upturned hull, like The Poseidon Adventure, did it? Which is why all the films about the Titanic have to jazz it up with entirely fictional sub-plots involving those poor Hollywood Irish-accented steerage passengers being locked below decks and shot by the nasty English officers, or romances across the class-barrier, etc. If it isn't that, there are plots about the negligence of the owners, (they were complete bastards, but so were most shipping lines in those days, probably still are). Even Raise The Titanic has to come up with some nonsense involving spies and rare elements vital to the US defence programme, in order to explain why anyone would be interested in raising the bloody thing. Even the few conspiracy theories about the sinking of the Titanic are boring, involving alleged insurance scams and the substitution of sister ship Olympic for the Titanic. Yeah, that's the best they can come up with, the Titanic wasn't the Titanic, it was the Olympic. That's it - even if true such a substitution wouldn't change any of the facts of what happened. So, for the sake of my sanity, please let this be an end to the Titanic industry!


Monday, April 16, 2012

Evil Salami Drug Gang?

My local newspaper, The Crapchester Chronicle, has done it again - amusing and bemusing me with a wonderfully nonsensical headline: 'Evil Salami Drugs Gang Jailed'. To be fair, I'm not sure if that was the actual headline on the paper itself, (I can't be bothered to buy the thing), but it was certainly the headline they were using on the posters they stick up in local newsagents' windows to advertise the local edition. I know - I had to read it about half a dozen times to check I wasn't mistaken. I'm still none the wiser as to what it actually means. Was a drug gang calling itself 'Evil Salami' jailed? I mean, that's a pretty crap gang name. It's not exactly up there with the Crips or the Bloods, let alone the Hell's Angels as snappy moniker guaranteed to overawe your rivals. It's not as if salamis are particularly menacing as meat products go, not even amongst sausages. Those huge German sausages that look like horses' wangers are far scarier. Perhaps an evil salami is more menacing. Although I'm not sure how a salami could be evil, as such. Maybe it's the way they use them - enemies and errant gang members are sexually assaulted with a large salami whenever they step out of line. Yes. that must be it.

Then again, I could be misreading it - the key phrase could actually be 'Evil Salami Drugs'. Perhaps it is about a gang dealing in salami-based drugs which has been jailed. Could it be that the police caught them in the act of peddling hallucinogenic salamis to punters? What better way to openly sell and consume drugs than to consume them in the form of a sausage? Not that I've ever heard of any type of salami having naturally hallucinogenic properties, like some mushrooms do. Perhaps they're laced with cocaine or LSD whilst they're being made. Could it be that the whole racket was blown after a drugged up salami accidentally ended up in the hands of a non-addict after some kind of mix-up? Did some old dear make a salami sandwich for her infirm husband, only to see him go on a sex rampage as a result? Mind you, if that had been the case, I would have expected to see headlines on the local paper concerning naked pensioners on zimmer-frame sex sprees. Perhaps they're saving that one for next week. Not that it would induce me to buy the paper. Not only is it a terrible rag, but if I was to read it, I would undoubtedly find that the actual story behind the salami headline was quite mundane. Which would disappoint me greatly. I much prefer my versions of it.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Suspension of Disbelief

Suspension of disbelief is a funny thing. As I mentioned yesterday, it's what allows us to watch films without question, allowing us to ignore inconsistencies and anachronisms for the duration of the movie. However, it also has limits. Indeed, these limits are something which fascinate me - at what point is our suspension of disbelief pushed beyond the limits? How many anachronisms in an historical film, for instance, too many, so that they destroy our willing suspension of disbelief? Obviously, it varies from person to person, dependent, to a large degree, on an individual's particular knowledge of the film's subject matter. Many people will happily ignore the many scientific inaccuracies in so called 'science fiction' films for instance, dismissing them as unimportant when pointed out to them, usually with the words 'it's only a film for God's sake', yet would be up in arms if they saw a Boeing 747 fly past in a John Wayne western. The difference being that they have no detailed scientific knowledge, but know enough history to recognise that the Old West and airliners don't mix.

Personally, I find railways and tanks in films problematic. The former are very specific to particular times and places. Furthermore, it isn't just a case of getting the right type of locomotive and rolling stock: their liveries are also very specific to particular eras and regions. I remember that a TV adaptation of Tess of the D'Urbervilles was compromised for me by a railway sequence. Whilst the makers got locomotives and carriages of the right era, they were clearly liveried as being from the South East and Chatham Railway (SECR) which, as its name implies, served counties like Kent and East Sussex. Hardy's Wessex is clearly in the South West, which would have been served by the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) at that time. I'm not saying that my viewing of the programme was ruined (I'm not that much of an anorak), but it did severely dent my suspension of disbelief, abruptly reminding me that I was watching a fictional construct, thereby breaking the 'spell'.

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, most of the tanks you see in World War Two movies are anachronistic, usually being 1950s US models. There are actually good reasons for this; very few German tanks survived the war intact and those that did were mainly scrapped, with only a handful winding up in museums. Likewise, many allied tanks were scrapped or, in the case of the US, sold off to various allied nations. Also, throughout the 1960s and early 1970s it was possible to hire most of the Spanish Army to pretend to be both sides for war movies, the only proviso being that most of their heavy equipment, including tanks, were post-war US types. (The alternative was to shoot in Yugoslavia, which could muster lots of US WWII era Sherman tanks and other equipment and a number of Soviet T-34 tanks modified to look like German Tiger tanks. The disadvantage of Yugoslavia was that it couldn't offer the range of climates and geography that Spain could). Now, I know that for most people watching these films, a tank is a tank, they really can't tell the difference. But I'm afraid, thanks to my mis-spent youth building Airfix plastic kits, to me they just look wrong and seriously undermine my willing suspension of disbelief.

Now, the interesting thing is that, where war movies are concerned, my suspension of disbelief actually varies from film to film, regardless of the tanks. So, why can I ignore the anachronisms and enjoy Patton, whereas I find Battle of the Bulge unwatchable (despite the fact that both were shot in Spain using the same tanks)? The difference, of course, lies in the quality of the films - good film-making can help negate the effects of those anachronisms, making you more willing to suspend your disbelief. The fact is that Battle of the Bulge's problems go beyond the tanks: it is wildly inaccurate, not just in its depiction of the events of the 1944 Ardennes offensive, but also in its portrayal of the battle's context. On top of that, it is poorly scripted, badly mis-cast and badly acted. None of which would matter so much if the film didn't make so many claims of accuracy. Patton, on the other hand, is far better scripted, cast and acted and more historically accurate (although it does take several liberties for dramatic purposes). Unlike Battle of the Bulge, which claims to portray a specific event, but instead delivers a generic war movie, Patton never claims to be definitive portrait of either the war or General Patton. Instead, it is presenting a portrait of a man who lives both for and through war. For him war is a sate of mind, to emphasise this point, the cinematic Patton is constantly at 'war', not just with the Germans, but also with colleagues (in the form of Bradley), allies (personified by Montgomery) and even his superiors (the unseen Eisenhower). Consequently, the military hardware of the film, although deployed in some impressively staged battles, is never foregrounded in the way it is in Battle of the Bulge, making it easier to ignore the anachronisms and suspend disbelief.

So, there you have it, my brief guide to suspension of disbelief! There's a lot more to it than that, of course, so I'll probably come back to the subject eventually. But Hell, it's Friday, so let's go and enjoy the weekend folks!


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Not a Fan

As I seem to be mainly reviewing things this week, I might as well tell you why I don't like that Star Trek remake. OK, I know, the makers will tell you that it wasn't a remake, it was a prequel, or a re-imagining, or a reboot, or whatever other phrase Hollywood uses these days to try and disguise its paucity of original ideas, but we all know it was a remake. First up, I should tell you that whilst I've seen a lot of episodes of Star Trek, (and still think the original series was the best), I'm not a fan, as such. I don't collect models of the USS Enterprise or other memorabilia, I don't wear Mr Spock ears or read the books based on it. I really don't have a problem with different actors playing the characters or changes being made to the continuity for dramatic purposes. (Although if you take a property like Star Trek and make wholesale changes to the continuity and accepted canon, what was the point in it, why not just start from scratch with an original idea? Oh yeah, then you couldn't cash in on the brand name to sell your crock of shit to fans, could you?)

My problems the most recent film are more basic than that. First off, I have a real problem with 'origin' stories, (which is what it is, in essence). Why does Hollywood seem to think that we need them? Especially with regard to a well-established scenario? Do they really think that audiences are so stupid they can't accept or understand an established scenario when it is presented to them? I mean, in real life, whenever we encounter a new situation, a new workplace or new people, we don't expect to have their entire history and how they all came to met spelt out to us on the spot, do we? Besides, it's surely part of any film maker's, (or writer's), craft to be able to provide the viewer/reader with essential background details through things like dialogue, therefore removing the need for unnecessary exposition? My other problem with the film is that it simply isn't Star Trek. Putting everyone in primary coloured uniforms, having someone speak in a Russian accent, someone else in a Scottish accent and have a hot black chick operating the radio, doesn't make it Star Trek. To me, the film just felt like another big budget science fiction action extravaganza, none of the ethos of the TV series or original films was in evidence. Leading me to suspect that, despite their claims of being fans, the makers of this movie simply didn't understand the original.

Oh, and one last thing - it strained my credulity. I know that sounds crazy when referring to a film set in the future, featuring aliens, starships and the like, but the fact is that any work of fiction requires that its audience is able to suspend disbelief. Star Trek falls down completely in this respect when, at the end, on the basis of this one exploit, Kirk gets promoted from Ensign to Captain in one go - utterly ludicrous! I think most audiences would assume that even a fictional twenty third century Star Fleet would have a strict formal structure for promotion, based on experience and achievement, with each step up the ladder representing a vital developmental stage for employees. The idea that they'd entrust a Starship with a crew of hundreds to some callow youth really insults our intelligence. It's just a step too far in terms of suspension of disbelief. Indeed, if it wasn't for this ridiculous conclusion, I'd say that the film merely left me cold, but its inclusion ensures that I actively dislike it!


An Apologetic Aside

Before doing anything else, I'd like to apologise to anyone unable to access The Sleaze earlier today. Thanks to the idiocy of my host, the site was unavailable for several hours. To cut a long story short, at eight o'clock BST this morning, a new story auto posted, as scheduled. It proved to be far more popular than I expected, with the result that, an hour later, the web host suspended my account! Apparently they can't tell the difference between popularity and suspicious activity! Unfortunately, I didn't find out about this until lunch time, when I went online to check the story had posted properly and was being indexed by search engines. About half an hour after sending them an e-mail pointing out that I have no control over the popularity of my site (unfortunately) and that I'd actually upgraded my account with them last year, to increase my bandwidth allowance to cater for such surges, they restored the site.

I must admit that I've been left flabbergasted by this fiasco. I never realised that being popular could be interpreted as a breach of a host's terms of service. I wouldn't mind but, as I pointed out them, even with the early morning surge in traffic, the site was nowhere near reaching its bandwidth limit. The potential damage from this outage is pretty severe, particularly with regard to the site's ranking with search engines: site unavailability is seen as a very negative indicator. Moreover, the past few weeks have seen a modest and sustained increase in traffic. There's a real risk that this recovery could be stopped in its tracks by an outage like this, negating the work I've put into rebuilding traffic. I've put some precautions in place to try and prevent this sort of thing from happening again, primarily signing up to Cloudflare, which will at lest ensure that visitors can see a cached version of the site, even if the account is suspended again.

In the long-term, I'm once more looking for a new host. I'm afraid this fiasco is the last straw. The current host used to be pretty good, but over the last six months there has been a noticeable decline in the standard of their service, including one serious security breach in which the site was briefly hacked (luckily I was able to deal with the incursion before any harm was done). I think the problem is best summed up by the attitude adopted by the current host in their e-mail to tell me the site had been restored. Not only did it have a very grudging tone, but I was tersely told to 'ensure the issue doesn't occur again'. Yeah, I'll do that - I'll be sure not to write anything popular in future. Dick wads.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hot Metal: A Warning From History

I spent some time this cold and dreary Easter weekend rewatching an old 1980s ITV sitcom on DVD. Which, on the face of it, doesn't seem like a great prospect entertainment-wise. However, back in the 1980s ITV still made decent programmes and the one in question - Hot Metal - is only nominally a sitcom, having more in common with contemporary satires like Spitting Image. Written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick and first broadcast in 1986 the series, which concerns the antics of a newly downmarket tabloid newspaper, seems more relevant than ever. Many of the story lines and characters could have come straight from the Levenson enquiry. It's all there - the spurious public interest defences for outrageous stories, the claims that restricting tabloid's invasions of individuals' privacy would somehow threaten the freedom of the press, and much, much more. Indeed, in the very first episode, tabloid reporter Reg Kettle is found hiding in a woman's wardrobe and when she challenges him as to what gives him the right to spy on women as they get undressed, he replies imperiously: "I think you'll find that it's called 'freedom of the press'!"

Kettle is a magnificent personification of all that is wrong with tabloid hacks; a man who can turn the most straightforward assignment into a piece of scandal-mongering sensationalism. In series two, for instance, he's sent to report on educational standards at a local primary school and returns with a story about children being subjected to classes in S&M, sexual perversity and prostitution. Of course, it isn't completely fabricated - Kettle merely twists every fact to fit his 'story'. A field trip by a class of children becomes a 'lesson in prostitution as their teacher takes them to the notorious red light district of King's Cross to practice street walking', and a six year old's innocent answer to a loaded question becomes further evidence of impropriety: 'when asked if she'd done French yet, she replied "No, but my fourteen year old sister does it regularly".' My favourite Kettle 'exclusive' comes in the first series, when an attempt to smear a hapless local priest as a left-wing extremist because of his campaign to stop his church from being closed, escalates into branding him a werewolf.

Entertaining though Kettle's antics are, he's only a supporting character. The main thrust of the plot concerns the efforts of millionaire Terence 'Twiggy' Rathbone (played by Robert Hardy) to take the Daily Crucible, a respectable but dull and failing newspaper he has just bought, downmarket as a rival to The Sun, Star and Mirror. Retaining former editor Harry Stringer (Geoffrey Palmer) as a figurehead 'Managing Editor', in order to retain a pretence of respectability, Rathbone installs Russell Spam (Hardy again) as editor. Spam is a pure tabloid man, able to spin the most fantastical headlines out of next to nothing. He is completely amoral, caring only about readership figures. Whether or not stories are true is immaterial to Spam. "We can't be sued for printing malicious rumours in good faith," he declares when Stringer raises the issue of libel, before going on to create the 'malicious rumour' the story in question is based on, himself. People, like the priest, are smeared simply because Spam believes the paper needs a new hate figure to boost circulation and bizarre stunts, such as 'wobble vision' (a pair of glasses that appear to make the paper's page three girls' breasts, well, wobble), become commonplace.

Sadly, Hot Metal only lasted two series, broadcast two years apart. The first series is the stronger, with a supporting cast which included John Gordon Sinclair as cub reporter Bill Tytla, focusing on Stringer's desperate attempts to curb Spam's worst excesses. Series two saw Stringer replaced by a new figurehead managing editor, Dicky Lipton, played by Richard Wilson, who gives a magnificent performance, suffering various humiliations and a nervous breakdown as he tries to control Spam. Interestingly, the second series eerily prefigures Rupert Murdoch's conversion to the cause of New Labour, with Rathbone - whose business interests include all manner of dubious enterprises based in places like Libya - declaring himself a 'lifelong socialist' after the election of a (fictional) Labour government.

Interestingly, Marshall and Renwick don't condemn tabloid journalism out of hand. Both series feature an ongoing story arc in which an apparently insignificant story turns out to be the key to uncovering a huge conspiracy with far-reaching consequences, but whose revelation is in the public interest. In both cases the reporters investigating this story (Bill Tytla in series one, Maggie Troon in series two), are often shown using similar techniques to Kettle, the. Moreover, the conspiracies themselves, when outlined, sound more bizarre than any of Russell Spam's fabrications. They simply have the virtue of being true.

There's no doubt that Hot Metal was a series ahead of its time. In subject matter, at least. Whilst I'd urge you to go out and beg, borrow or steal a copy of the DVD to watch, I'd also caution that its production values are typical of their time. Over lit sets, clunky camerawork and poor acoustics, made worse by recording on video tape, were the norm for 1980s TV series. But if you can look past these, Hot Metal is still a very funny and perceptive comedy. It is also graced by some terrific performances from Geoffrey Palmer, Richard Wilson, Richard Kane (as Reg Kettle) and, in particular, Robert Hardy, who plays both of his reprehensible characters with true relish. The only danger is that, in view of the phone hacking scandal, you might end up thinking that Hot Metal is a documentary.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Trog - An Underground Movie That Should Have Stayed Buried

These days there is tendency to elevate every bad movie to the status of being a 'cult classic', by claiming that it is 'so bad that it is good', or because it is 'camp'. This is particularly true of anything made in the 1960s and 1970s, especially if it features some down-on-their-luck once famous star or director. Well, Trog (filmed in 1969, released in 1970) boasts, incredibly, Joan Crawford in her last film role and, behind the camera, Oscar-winning cinematographer turned director of horror flicks for Hammer and Amicus, Freddie Francis. Sadly though, it's no classic, cult or otherwise. It's just bad. So bad that it stinks. To be fair, most critics and writers in the horror genre have always flagged this one up as a turkey, which inevitably begs the question as to why I subjected myself to viewing Trog this weekend? Well, it's one of those films I remember being in the late-night TV schedules as a kid, but never seeing, and having read about but never seen. Surely it couldn't really be as bad as everyone reckoned, could it? So, when I saw that someone had uploaded the whole film to YouTube, I couldn't resist.

So, what can I say about Trog? Well, for one thing, it is far too slow moving to be considered a cult movie - I felt the will to live leaving me several times during its 91 minute running time, as lengthy dialogue sequence followed lengthy dialogue sequence, with little, or no, action for long periods. To make it worse, the dialogue was atrocious - dull and poorly written, failing completely to move the plot forward in any meaningful way. Ah, the plot! Apparently there's this troglodyte living in a hitherto undiscovered cave system in the Peak District, he's discovered by chance by pot holers, one of whom he kills, with the two survivors finding shelter at at a conveniently nearby scientific institute run by Joan Crawford. Well, you can guess the rest: 'Trog' is flushed out of the caves by the police, captured by Crawford, who tries to study him at her institute, believing him to be the 'missing link', local villagers object, 'Trog' escapes and goes on small-scale village rampage before retreating to caverns and being mown down by the army, (who are terrible shots - they fire hundreds of rounds at him virtually point-blank before finally hitting him).

All pretty standard, except that the script is so poorly constructed that even the most rudimentary logic flies out of the window. Despite the fact that the capture of the apeman is broadcast live on TV, it doesn't seem to excite the interest of the authorities beyond the local police inspector - you'd think that the discovery of a living prehistoric man would have scientists from all over the world descending on the place, but no, Joan Crawford is allowed to keep him locked in the basement. The only time the authorities do seem to take an interest is when the local property developer, (played by professional ham Micheal Gough), complains that his presence is driving down local house prices. At this point the local Magistrates court gets involved to decide the fate of 'Trog'! It is only at this point that Joan Crawford brings in a team of international scientists to assess her captive. At the court hearing everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten that 'Trog' has already killed at least three people, (two cavers and that TV cameraman he brains with a polystyrene rock, not to mention the number of people he must have seriously injured, hurling them around), the last couple live on TV, apparently more concerned at his recent killing of a dog. There are also various plot lines which seem significant, but go nowhere. Like the business of the operation on 'Trog' to give him the power of speech - no sooner is it raised than it is forgotten.

On top of all this, the whole endeavour looks just so, well, shabby. Nothing is remotely convincing, from the polystyrene 'cave' at the beginning to 'Trog' himself, who simply looks like a man in a bad gorilla mask. "Frankly, it looks to me like something out of a student rag week," opines the police inspector. Quite. Not even the locations convince. We know it's meant to be the Peak District because the TV vans have 'Peak TV' written on their sides. However, nobody has a local accent and in one location shot you can see a white horse carved into a distant hill side. You tend not to see those north of Oxford. Most tellingly, there are no peaks in sight, just hills. Bearing in mind that the production was based at Hammer's former studios at Bray, I'm guessing these location scenes were filmed in Berkshire. The feeling of shabbiness is emphasised by the gratuitous inclusion of several minutes of second hand dinosaur footage from 1957's The Animal World, purporting to be the apeman's flashback to his own time. Clearly, none of the actors were convinced - their performances are uniformly poor. Joan Crawford spends the entire film looking into the middle distance, clearly hoping it will all end soon. Even Michael Gough, who could usually be relied upon to give a bizarre performance, can't seem to be bothered.

What finally kills the film is its pretension - despite knowing they were making a low-budget pot-boiler, the makers of this farrago seemed to think that they were saying something profound about the nature of humanity. How else can you explain the tedious and portentous speeches that Crawford keeps making about 'Trog' to anyone who'll listen? In one sequence she plays him classical music, which seems to calm and civilise the beast, but when the record is changed to a rock number, he goes berserk. Are we meant to draw some deeply significant conclusion from this? Who knows, as 'Trog' himself is deeply unsympathetic, left to his own devices he just kills people, and everyone else just seems stupid. Like I said, none of these developments are ever followed up. Still, what should have I expected? The film was produced by Herman Cohen, who had already been responsible for a number of cinematic atrocities on both sides of the Atlantic. That said, at least most of his previous efforts, like 1960s giant man-in-an-ape-suit movie Konga, really were so bad they were good, full of camp and unintentionally hilarious moments. Trog was once released on DVD with the tag line ' Camp Cult Classic'. The problem is that it isn't camp, just sad. Many years after its release, director Freddie Francis commented that Joan Crawford should never have appeared in Trog, saying that 'she should have known better', adding 'so should I'. That about sums it up.

So why have I devoted a post to this sad excuse for a movie? Well, the next time some bad movie apologist tries to convince you that some hoary old 1970s tat is actually a 'classic of pop culture' or some such nonsense, just remember what I've said about Trog. In truth, these things are usually more fun to read about than watch. Look at it this way: I've given up 91 precious minutes of my life watching this rubbish so that you don't have to. I've only linked to the trailer for the usual reasons. If you are determined to watch the whole thing, you'll see the link to the right of the screen if you visit the trailer's YouTube page. If it hasn't been taken down due to copyright infringement, (although I doubt that anyone would want to claim copyright over this turkey). But remember, if you do watch it - I warned you!

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Friday, April 06, 2012

Slightly Above Average Friday

Thankfully, I'm off work for a while now. The three days I worked this week crawled past in a haze of boredom and exhaustion. Consequently, I spent most of yesterday asleep, my slumbers punctuated by a shopping trip to buy the younger of my great nieces a birthday present and a trip to the pub. Feeling somewhat more rested today, I awoke looking forward to Good Friday, and all the delightful entertainments TV would have lined up for me on this bank holiday. You know, I can remember the days when the main TV stations made an effort on bank holidays and religious festivals, instituting special schedules packed full of film premieres, one-off TV specials and appropriately themed editions of regular shows. These days, the only concession to the fact that it was a bank holiday seemed to lie in BBC1's afternoon schedule, which changed to include a couple of family films and a live football match. As for the evening schedules, well, they just seem to have given up. The best I've been able to find on TV today has been ITV3's ritual bank holiday screenings of the film versions of George and Mildred (dreadful - even its star Yootha Joyce died before it was released, it was so bad) and On The Buses (the film which made the 1970s seem even more depressing than they really were and, even more depressingly, outgrossed Diamonds Are Forever at the UK box office in 1971), followed by the same three Carry On films they always show. I don't hold out much hope for the rest of the Easter weekend.

Away from the TV, a few posts ago I commented that I intended slowing down with regard to the output of stories on The Sleaze. I feel this needs a bit of elaboration beyond my original statement that the increased output had made no difference to traffic. Actually, there's a bit more to my decision than just that factor. The bottom line is that writing for the site was beginning to feel like working on a production line. I simply wasn't able to spend as much time as I would have liked on each story and I felt it was beginning show in terms of quality. Many of the stories I've published this year have - to me, at least - felt hurried and formulaic. Which isn't to say they were bad. Just not up to the standard I'd usually strive for. The only answer, as I see it, is to put quality before quantity and go back to something closer to the publishing schedule we had on the old version of The Sleaze, thereby allowing more time to properly develop stories. It will also leave me more time to pursue other projects, like the Sleazecast. OK, that said, it's back to Bank Holiday TV (Carry On - Follow That Camel is on at the moment). I don't know about it being Good Friday, more like Slightly Above Average Friday, even that's only because I wasn't at work today...

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Sleazecast: Random Thoughts

Just in time for Easter - it's the eighth Sleazcast! Random Thoughts is just what it says on the tin: there's no pretence of any theme, it's just a random ramble through my mental processes. Now, I know that last time I said I was going to keep the running length down to no more than thirty five minutes, but I was having so much fun that this one has ended up coming in at something like forty two minutes, not much shorter than the last one. But it's all good stuff! The mix is much as before, with my ramblings punctuated by various bits of pop culture. Whilst I talk less than before on this one, I still feel that I'm talking too much - I'll try and address that next time. Hell, I'm talking (or writing, if you prefer), too much now. So, without further ado, here's the show, which you can hear here:

The Sleazecast: Random Thoughts

Alternatively, you can download it here in mp3 format.

As usual, here's the track listing:

1. Intro - The Shadow Knows...

2. Lana Del Rey, Mantan Morland and George Formby; musings on racism in pop culture

3. Bold Venture, Part Two - Bogey and Bacall get it on, how long can he keep it up?

4. Body image and women's behinds, the Doc's dark secrets revealed...

5. The News with Suzie Sleaze

6. More Movie Musings from my kitchen: the sixties - did they really swing?

7. The Summer of Love in newsreels

8. Closing credits, George Formby plays us out.

I'll be looking to vary the features next time - I'm already working on some new ideas. Before we go, I'd like to thank all of you - the last Sleazecast was listened to by a record number of seven people. I'm not being sarcastic - this is quite an improvement! Not only that, but some of the older editions have also seen some new traffic. So, thank you all for listening, and let's see if we can do better for this edition. Maybe we'll get that elusive eighth listener! Until next time, keep listening!

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

More Cock Ups Than a Cheap Whore?

You know who I feel really sorry for in the fuel crisis fiasco? Those Buddhist monks protesting at the Chinese occupation of Tibet - they had to queue for hours to get enough petrol to set themselves on fire. Some of the poor buggers even found that, after waiting in line for hours, that by the time they reached them, the pumps had gone dry. They had to go to Sainsbury's and buy cooking oil to try and immolate themselves with. Anyway, it seems to be over for the time being so we now find ourselves waiting for the coalition's next cock up. I'm sure we won't have to wait long as, to paraphrase Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles: they have more cock ups than a ten dollar whore. (Ah, the seventies - that era of casual bad taste and offensiveness. How I miss it). The plans for monitoring your web activity, just in case you are a terrorist, is shaping up nicely - let's face it, any policy being fronted by Theresa May is pretty much guaranteed to be a fiasco, not to mention probably stolen from UKIP. (Quite frankly, I don't why MI5 doesn't simply join the al Qeaeda Reunited group on Facebook if they want to track terrorists, or follow Osama bin Laden on Twitter - he's still active there despite supposedly being killed by US Navy SEALS).

Of course, we don't have to worry about the web snooping proposals, because senior Lib Dem MPs are reportedly going to vote against them. Just like they did the NHS 'reforms', student fees, tax cuts for the rich, etc. But getting back to the non-existent fuel crisis - where the government's idiocy sparked panic buying and shortages, which resulted in fuel price hikes - there's still one thing about it which really bugs me: why does Cameron think that the Labour Party should condemn the tanker drivers over their threat to take industrial action? The last time I checked, it was perfectly legal for workers to combine into unions and take action against employers in industrial disputes up to, and including, withdrawing their labour. What kind of country are we living in where workers are condemned for exercising their fundamental rights? Especially when the decision to strike has been ratified by a ballot of the relevant Union members? I know that we're descending to the level of a banana republic, but the slide into authoritarianism is clearly more rapid than I had feared. Personally, I'd like to know when David Cameron is going to condemn his banker friends for continuing to award themselves huge bonuses despite having fucked up the economy - I know they haven't done anything illegal, but neither has the Unite union, so fair's fair. Except that it's not. Fair, that is. Workers are condemned for exercising their legal rights, whereas wealthy tax dodgers are rewarded by having the top rate of tax they pay reduced by George Osborne. There endeth this week's political rant.


Monday, April 02, 2012

Tales From the Pub

Loud talkers - we've all had to endure them, I'm sure. Particularly in the pub. I don't know why some people feel it necessary to speak at a volume several decibels louder than an elephant farting, (which is pretty loud - trust me), when in a public place, thereby inflicting their conversations on anyone else within a five mile range, but a surprising number do. The other night in my local I had the misfortune to encounter an entire group of this species. The most perturbing thing about this lot was that they felt it necessary to shout their conversation in a near deserted bar. A word or two of explanation is required before we go any further here - my local pub has two main bars (lounge and public) and a third area which, during the day acts as a dining area, but in the evenings is an overspill for the bars. Now, I usually drink in the lounge bar, (the public bar is usually full of piss artists not watching the TV they've turned to full volume), but this particular evening I'd spotted Ted, the pub bore, haranguing another unfortunate regular, so I made my escape into the dining area, which was completely empty (as was the public bar, it turned out).

I was perfectly happy there, reading the paper and drinking my beer when this group of blokes I didn't recognise bowled in and, despite there being another completely empty bar next door, decided to sit at a table at the opposite end of the dining area. They then proceeded to talk to each other VERY LOUDLY. Honestly, it was as if they were speaking to each other through megaphones, despite sitting next to each other. I wouldn't have minded if they were actually saying anything interesting, but they weren't. I can really do without being deafened by inane chatter about football. But the best was yet to come. After about ten minutes, another member of the group turned up. He was clearly the alpha male, as he didn't just shout his conversation, he bellowed it. Indeed, he seemed to think that the louder he bellowed his 'witticisms', the funnier they were. These 'witticisms', by the way, all seemed to involve belittling other members of the group by questioning their sexuality. "YOU'VE ONLY HAD SEVEN PINTS - WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU, ARE YOU A HOMOSEXUAL OR SOMETHING?" "FRED'S WEARING A PAISLEY TIE - IT MAKES HIM LOOK LIKE A HOMOSEXUAL!" and "I SEE BERT'S DRIVING A PINK CAR - HE'S TURNING INTO A HOMOSEXUAL!" were the highlights. (Actually, those aren't verbatim quotes - they're actually far wittier than anything he really said).

To make things worse, he turned out to be a Liverpool supporter of the worst kind - a non-scouser. Trust me, they are always arrogant bastards who refuse to accept that Liverpool aren't a major club anymore and are just mid-table, and who whinge about referees and God knows what else every time the don't qualify or the Champions' League. According to him, if Harry Redknapp wants to win the league he should move to Liverpool, as they have a better chance than Spurs. (Yeah, that's why we're four places and sixteen points ahead of you, knob head). Eventually, fearing for my hearing, I left. Still, it was an interesting experience from a sociological point of view. I'm off to the pub now, to see if they come back. This time I'm taking my own megaphone, so I can shout "I'M SORRY, COULD YOU SPEAK UP, I CAN'T HEAR A THING YOU ARE SAYING!" at them.

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