Friday, August 29, 2014

A Rainy Day in The Forest

Both August's 'Monthly Movie' and the first of this year's holiday videos, 'A Rainy Day in The Forest' pretty much reflects the way this month has panned out: disappointing weather-wise, but still with plenty of points of interest.  This one was shot on Tuesday, in between downpours of torrential rain. Eventually it eased off enough for me to take a walk along some forest paths I hadn't explored in quite a few years.  The stream is usually fordable at the point it crosses the path, but the heavy rain had swollen it somewhat.

Interestingly, significant amounts of damage caused by last winter's storms, in the form of fallen trees and land slippage on the banks, can be seen along the stream.  So, there you have it - eight films into the 'Monthly Movie' project.  We're on the home stretch now with only four more to go!

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

South for Sunshine

There's an alarming tendency amongst people to assume that because it is overcast and raining where they are, then it must be like that everywhere else.  Consequently, they slouch around in a bad mood, mumbling at me that I picked the wrong time to take off of work didn't I?  Implying that I've completely wasted several weeks of leave, (the thought of which seems to cheer them up minutely).  My only response to such comments is to head South.  It's like the old Southern Railway advertising slogan used to say: 'South for Sunshine'.  It's true, as I've found several times over the past couple of weeks, by driving South of Crapchester, I inevitably run into sunshine and clear skies.  Well OK, I will admit that on Tuesday I spent part of the day trying to dodge torrential rain in the New Forest, but it did eventually ease off sufficiently for me to enjoy an interesting walk.  Today was a better example: as I left Crapchester the rain started coming down and the sky was iron grey with cloud, but the closer to the coast I got, the clearer the sky and the sunnier the weather, as these pictures attest:


Sure, it was a bit breezy - I think the correct term is 'bracing' - but nonetheless an enjoyable experience.  Indeed, for a while I thought that I might have fallen through a rift in the space-time continuum as, whilst checking my map book in a car park, a wartime DC3 Dakota transport plane, in full RAF WW2 colours, including 'invasion stripes', flew low overhead.  Less than half an hour later, whilst sat on a cliff top eating my lunch, a Lancaster bomber escorted by two Spitfires flew past.  Timeslip or nearby airshow? 

You know something?  Those skies stayed clear all the way back to Crapchester.  So, in future, don't just assume that because you are suffering fould weather locally, it must be just as miserable everywhere else - get off your backside and go South.  (Unless you are on the South coast already, obviously).


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beware of Boris

So, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and prospective Tory MP, believes that we should consider anyone who goes to Syria without getting permission from the UK government first, should be considered a terrorist.  Let's look at that in a bit more detail. Effectively, what he is proposing is to completely overturn one of the cornerstones of British justice by proposing that some people should be presumed guilty under certain circumstances.  The presumption of innocence is an essential part of our justice system: it is why you have a right to remain silent and why it is for the state to prove its case - all important safeguards of our fundamental civil liberties.  But hey, if people haven't sought the state's permission to travel somewhere, why should they enjoy such liberties, eh?  Which, of course, is the other main problem with Boris' latest pronouncement: that we apparently shouldn't be allowed free movement without the consent of the state - a bit like the Soviet Union.  Obviously, none of this would matter - it would just be the demented reactionary ramblings of some right wing blow hard - if Johnson wasn't a prominent politician in one of the major parties, with serious ambitions to be Prime Minister.

For years I've been warning people not to fall for Boris' 'lovable buffoon' schtick, which he deploys to try and appear somehow above partisan politics.  The reality, I keep telling everyone, is that all this clowning is designed to try and hide the fact that he's really an extreme right-wing bastard who believes that niceties like human rights are only for the wealthy elite of which he is a prime example.  Thankfully, the mask is beginning to slip, with badly misjudged statements like this one.  Nevertheless, there are still far too many people out there who think Boris is some sort of 'man of the people' and is a 'bit of a laugh'.  Doubtless, they're the same people who think that Jeremy Clarkson isn't racist when he refers to Asian people as 'slopes' - it's just a 'bit of banter' of the sort you'd hear down the pub, isn't it?  But I'm straying from the point.  The question is: would you honestly be happy having as Prime Minister a man who thinks that you should have your legal rights suspended simply because he doesn't like your travel plans?  Because that is what this comes dow to: Boris Johnson's contempt for the established legal process and whether we're stupid or lazy enough to simply go along with him.


Monday, August 25, 2014

The Day Time Ended

A rainy bank holiday is the time for sitting on the sofa all afternoon, watching bad movies.  Movies like The Day Time Ended.  I remember when this film was released to cinemas in 1980, in the wake of the science fiction boom which followed the success of Star Wars.  I missed it then.  Finally catching up with it now, I'm glad I didn't waste my money on watching it my local Odeon back in the day.  In fact, I think that most people would feel cheated if they rented it as a direct-to-video (or direct-to-DVD as it would be today) release.  Not that it is entirely bad, just that it has an incredibly ambitious scenario which its obviously low budget could never hope to realise properly.  It might best be described as a poverty row 2001: A Space Odyssey, in that it features a group of humans being subjected to a series of bizarre space-time phenomena by some alien intelligence.  Except that instead of the spaceship 'Discovery', the action mainly takes place in and around a remote ranch house in California.  Whilst a radio newsreader burbles on in the background about radiation from a distant supernova, hundreds of light years away, finally reaching the earth, Jim Davis and his family find themselves beset by strange phenomena, much of it apparently centred around his young granddaughter. 

The initial disturbances and the involvement of the child initially seems to presage 1982's Poltergeist, but probably owe more to the recently released Close Encounters.  First of all, she encounters some kind of alien artefact which, like 2001's black monolith, appears to be some kind of trigger for some of the phenomena, (except that it isn't black and changes size).  Then she has an encounter with a tiny, apparently friendly, alien, who protects her from the advances of some kind of hostile alien machine.  Said machine then menaces the rest of the family before the house is beset by UFO flybys and mysterious whirling orbs.  The characters get separated, hostile monsters appear and the house is transported through space and time to various locations, including what seems to be a graveyard of disappeared aircraft and other vehicles.  At times it seems that the characters are caught in some kind of conflict between two sets of aliens.  At others it seems they are simply victims of some kind of space time fracture, (caused, perhaps by the aforementioned cosmic radiation), with creatures and objects being randomly thrown from one time and location to another.  Eventually, they are all reunited within sight of a fabulous crystal city, with the daughter assuring everyone that everything is going to be all right.  And that's it.  No further explanations are offered.

All of this would have been fine if the film had had the resources to depict these epic events convincingly.  Even at the time the film was made, the special effects were poor and dated - they make it look as if Star Wars and its computer-assisted effects had never happened - and today look like the kind of thing you can achieve with the average video-editing suite on your own lap top.  Dr Who episodes of the era had more convincing green screen work - by 1980 they'd managed to eliminate most of the 'halo' from around the green screened object.  That said, The Day Time Ended does feature some stop-motion aliens and monster - rather clunkily animated and poorly matted into the live-action, but I'm a sucker for stop motion.  Also, in the end credits, the name of the great Jim Danforth is evoked, not, surprisingly, with regard to the stop motion (he animated monsters in Jack the Giant Killer and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, amongst others), but rather with regard to the crystal city, which he apparently created.

So, in the final analysis, what are we to make of The Day Time Ended?  There's no doubt that it is pretty terrible by any critical standard, with a confused and perfunctory script and bargain basement effects.  A cheap cash in on the late seventies/earl eighties science fiction boom, it fails on just about every level.  Indeed, it isn't even as much fun as the fifties and sixties B-movies it most closely resembles.  And yet - it still exerts a certain fascination.  Whilst watching it, you can't help but feel that there's potentially a good idea at the heart of the film, which, sadly, remains unrealised.  Still, with a running time of only eighty minutes, it's all over relatively quickly. 


Friday, August 22, 2014

Big Wednesday

With Gary Busey reduced to appearing in Celebrity Big Brother, I thought that this would be a good time to remind ourselves that he once had an acting career and starred in the greatest surfing movie ever made: 1978's Big Wednesday.  To describe Big Wednesday as simply a surfing movie is akin to describing Taxi Driver as, well, a film about driving a cab.  Covering a decade or so in the lives of the main characters, from the early sixties through to the early seventies, it takes in everything from the rise of the 'permissive society' through to Vietnam.  It's about friendship, ambition, hopes and dreams, life, death, mental illness and everything else.  It also boasts some magnificent surfing sequences.

I'm not a surfer - I've never even stood on a board, let alone ridden one - but it is one of my few regrets that I never learned to surf.  Coming from a land-locked county probably didn't help and I'm  far too old now to learn, (I've used up my mid-life crises on other things).  Instead, I watch films like this - just watching those guys riding the waves is exhilarating.  The film wasn't a box office success on its release, but has subsequently built a cult following.  It certainly rates as John Milius' best directorial effort, powerfully evoking a sense of time and place.  Subsequent films like Red Dawn and Farewell to The King come nowhere close to matching Big Wednesday, either technically or emotionally.  (Milius has found it hard to get either writing or directing credits in recent times, allegedly due to his gun fetishes and right wing politics - the John Goodman character in The Big Lebowski is supposedly based on Milius and said to be a pretty accurate depiction - which is a pity, as he has a stronger grasp of structure than most Hollywood writers and directors, not mention a sweeping sense of the epic).   The three stars fared little better than Milius in career terms subsequent to Big Wednesday.  Jan-Michael Vincent starred in a number of B-movies then moved to TV for Air Wolf, before becoming virtually unemployable due to drink problems.  William Katt went pretty much straight to TV movies.  As for Gary Busey, well, he did appear in the second greatest surfing move, Point Break, before sliding into the madness you can witness for yourself on Celebrity Big Brother.  I prefer to remember him in his prime, in Big Wednesday.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wet Feet, Warm Car

I've just spent the past hour having to drive with the heaters on and directed down at my feet in an attempt to dry out my shoes and socks, after finding myself ankle deep in mud after stepping on what looked like solid ground, but turned out to be something more akin to the Grimpen Mire in the Hound of the Baskervilles.  Obviously, I didn't have any alternative footwear in the car, so this was the only option.  I had to have a window cracked open to dissipate both the heat and the horrendous smell emanating from my drying feet.  Still, it was partially successful as I at least wasn't squelching when I got out of the car at this end of the journey.  The joys of being on holiday, eh?  Actually, it's funny how circumstances alter the ways you perceive things.  If such an incident had happened at work, I would have considered it a disaster and it would have ruined the day.  But because it happened on holiday, it seemed a minor, not to mention mildly amusing, inconvenience which did little to dent my good mood.

So, I've been on holiday for nearly a week and the worst that has happened is damp feet, which is quite a contrast to last year, when my holidays kicked off with someone going into the back of my car, resulting in me having to waste several days on the phone to my insurers, organising repairs and a hire car.  Fingers crossed that things continue in a positive vein.  That said, the weather so far hasn't been great, but it has at least stayed dry.  Working on the principal that just because it is raining here in Crapchester, doesn't mean that it will necessarily be raining anywhere else.  So far, I've been right.  In fact, down on the coast today, I even sighted the sun.  It was blowing a gale, mind you, but at least the sun came out.  The only downside of the weather has been that the cloudy skies haven't inspired me to shoot much in the way of footage for holiday films.  Still, there's plenty of time for that yet.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Deserving Sick

Would it be possible to sue one of those think tanks under the trades description act?  I was left wondering this after the latest piece of nonsense masquerading as a 'policy initiative' to emerge from something calling itself the Centre for Social Justice.  With a name like that, invoking the concept of social justice, you'd think that they'd be coming up with ideas about progressive taxation, equality of opportunity in education or universal healthcare. Well, their latest 'initiative' has to do with healthcare, I'll grant them that, but it has nothing to do with equality of access to healthcare.  No, they were peddling that hoary old idea that certain groups of people with lifestyles considered 'high risk' should pay some kind of surcharge for their healthcare as their ailments would be somehow 'self-inflicted', as if it was some new and innovative.  In this particular case, the group picked on were drinkers (in the past it has included smokers and even motorists), with the suggestion that there should be an extra tax levy on alcohol to pay for the treatment of alcohol-related ailments.

Now, this is clearly nonsensical on several counts.  Most obviously, the fact is that heavy drinkers are taxpayers as well and, as such, have already paid for the Health Service via their taxes and are therefore perfectly entitled to treatment for any ailment.  Moreover, alcohol already carries a heavy duty imposed the government - surely this should already be devoted to paying for the treatment of alcohol-related diseases and injuries?  (The same applies to tobacco revenues and smoking-related illness).  Most disturbing of all, though, is the idea that some illnesses are 'self inflicted'.  If we are to follow this logic, shouldn't, say, deck chairs, be subjected to additional duty to fund the treatment of illnesses related to exposure to the sun?  After all, people are only going to use deck chairs to sit out in the sun and get skin cancer, aren't they?  In truth, the idea of 'self inflicted' illnesses is simply an extension of the concept of the 'deserving poor', which the government, and most specifically Iain Duncan Smith, like to apply to welfare claimants.  Which shouldn't really surprise us, as the Centre of Social Justice, despite its name, is actually a right-wing think tank set up by Duncan Smith.  A Trojan horse if ever there was one.  So, do we sue them under the Trades Description Act for misrepresenting the term 'social justice', or for masquerading as a 'think tank' producing orginal policy initiatives?  

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer Holiday

So, what are these allegations against Sir Cliff Richard, holiest man in pop, I wonder?  That back in the day he spent his Summer holidays cruising about in an ex-London Transport double decker bus, picking up unsuspecting young men?  Did he invite them up to his 'top deck' with a promise of allowing them to 'ring his bell'?  Did he ask them if they were 'going all the way' before 'punching their ticket'?  To be clear, I don't like to make light of the ordeals suffered by victims of sexual abuse, particularly those abused as children and fully accept that they might be so traumatised that they don't report it at the time.  I also accept that the police, historically, haven't exactly covered themselves in glory when such allegations actually are reported them, especially when those allegations involve powerful figures or celebrities, thereby discouraging other victims from coming forward.  On the other hand, I'm always slightly suspicious of allegations made against public figures decades after the alleged event.  More importantly, such allegations are very difficult to substantiate - after such a lapse of time there is unlikely to be any physical evidence so, all too often, it comes down to one person's word against another's.

However, the real question here surely is, why are the police harassing the likes of Cliff Richard.  Sure, he's released lot of crap singles and is far too sanctimonious for his own good, but he's not that offensive.  When are they going to start throwing allegations at celebrities who really deserve it?  Why hasn't Noel Edmonds been targeted?   Damn it, he was working at Radio One at the same time that Jimmy Savile was sexually assaulting anyone under the age of consent with a pulse and Dave Lee Travis was (allegedly) groping the breasts of female staff.  Surely Edmonds must have been doing something untoward during that time?  Why haven't the police interviewed Mr Blobby?  I bet he has some tales to tell about Noel's Crinkly Bottom.  For God's sake, for all we know Edmonds could have been behind the recent death of fellow former Radio One DJ Mike 'Smitty' Smith!  He could have offed him because Smitty knew too much about that contestant who died during the making of the Late, Late Breakfast Show - how he had been so horrendously sexually abused behind the scenes, that he deliberately jumped off of that crane!  The one time I thought the police had targeted someone deserving of having their collar felt, they ended up dropping all charges against Jim Davidson!   What happened to the good old days when they just fitted up people if they didn't have any evidence but thought they must be guilty of something?

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Ramblings

You know, I'm growing tired of people dissing August.  Of late I've heard it referred to as the 'Sunday of Summer' because it is the last month of the season.  This has been accompanied by numerous references to the fact that the fact that it is August is a constant reminder that Summer is almost over, which is why it is impossible enjoy August. All of which is utter bollocks.  August is the best month of Summer.  It is high Summer.  It is the month which frequently features the highest temperatures and clearest skies.  There's nothing like a clear blue August sky - particularly when contrasted with a beautiful golden corn field.  August is all about childhood memories of trips to the beach - the smell of damp towels and soggy sandwiches from a plastic lunchbox with a seal down lid.  Which is why, to this day, I take my Summer break during August  (this year's, as of this evening, is now underway). 

August, with its long lazy days and all-month carefree holiday feel, is also the 'silly season', when newspapers traditionally fill their pages with tales of flying saucers, sasquatch and the Loch Ness monster.  Just today, The Guardian's G2 section carried a UFO-related story, for instance. If you hadn't noticed, 'silly season' is in full swing over at The Sleaze right now with our latest story, Right is Wrong offering the ultimate expression of the crackpot conspiracies I've been discussing here of late.  That was preceded by Taking Liberties, about the UK's latest surveillance laws and their use by ministers as a cover for their peeping Tom activities.  Coming up, I'm working on something about Hitler and mummies - I'm looking for a topical hook to hang it on.  If I can do that, it will be the next story up.  There are also plans for another look at the world of celebrity sex offenders before August is out.  So, there you have it - lots of reasons to love August.  So lay off, August haters!  

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Not Cliff Richard!

Cliff Richard!  Yes, that Cliff Richard!  The crackpot conspiracy sites have been whispering his name as the next alleged celebrity sex offender to be unmasked for weeks, nay, months, now.  The funny thing is that now his apartment has actually been raided by police over 'historical sex abuse allegations', their reaction has been strangely muted.  As Mr Spock once sagely noted on Star Trek: "To have is not the same as to want".  That definitely seems to be the case here: after all their anticipation of how world-shattering the exposure of another pillar of the British entertainment establishment (with all his links to other conspiracy favourites like Billy Graham and Tony Blair) would be, the actuality of the police operation turned out to be pretty mundane.  In spite of the efforts of South Yorkshire police (bizarrely raiding a property in Berkshire) to turn the whole thing into a media circus by allegedly tipping off the press, the whole thing has stubbornly refused to turn into a major sensation.

Perhaps we're still all numbed by the Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris cases that we've resigned ourselves to the fact that investigations into allegations of sexual impropriety on the part of anyone who was on TV in the seventies is the new normal.  Perhaps I read the wrong newspapers, but the feeding frenzy over which celebrity would be next to be exposed seems to have eased off of late. Maybe the media feel that we've all overdosed on this sort of salacious sleaze in the wake of the Rolf Harris' conviction.  Moreover, the 'twatterati', who frequently seem to drive these things, have plenty of other stuff to get outraged over at the moment: Gaza, Iraq, the shooting of a young black man in Ferguson to name but a few of the bandwagons they are currently jumping on as vehicles for their ostentatious displays of 'right on' outrage and hand-wringing.  (I know, I'm being far too cynical - they're all genuinely compassionate about whatever the issue of the day is).  The whole child abuse business is now so last week for them.  Although I have no doubt that if another celebrity is charged they'll all be back on their soap boxes tweeting their outrage to the world.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Secret Rulers of the World

You know what the true genius of David Icke is?  It's the way he has made the traditional conspiracy theory accessible to those of a liberal bent.  As I've noted in earlier posts, it is a depressing fact that the conspiracies presented by many contemporary conspiracy theorists, whilst ostensibly about modern, 'ripped from the headlines' subjects like child abuse and peadophilia, or the disappearance of that Malaysian airliner or chemtrails or whatever, are when you delve deeper, in fact still the same old anti-Semitic propaganda.  All the rest is just window-dressing.  The great 'truth' they all claim to reveal is simply that hoary old nonsense about the Jews being behind every evil in the world.  Sure, sometimes they throw in a dollop of homophobia for good measure, (because being gay is synonomous with being a paedophile in their warped world view), but by and large its all the fault of the Jews.  Obviously, this is exactly the sort of thing which completely discredits conspiracy theories in the eyes of anyone of a liberal disposition.  Even liberal cranks and crackpots find the anti-Semitic (not to mention the homophobic) aspects a turn off.

Enter David Icke, sometime professional footballer, sports presenter and self-proclaimed Son of God, who starts peddling what are essentially the same conspiracy theories, but with a major innovation.  The shadowy evil forces behind his versions aren't the Jews but instead giant shape-shifting lizards.  Which is a brilliant innovation - who could be offended by the idea of lizards being the evil secret puppet-masters of the world?  (Apart from giant lizards, obviously). Now, I know that there is a school of thought which contends that when Icke says 'lizard', he actually means 'Jew', but, personally, I think that he definitely means 'lizard' when he says 'lizard'.  If nothing else, it makes marketing sense - you can sell this kind of conspiracy to a constituency far wider than the usual bunch of right-wing nut jobs who subscribe to this kind of nonsense.  Suddenly it is OK for all those hippy dippy New Agers and their ilk to sign up.  Like I said, the man's a genius.  That said, I still don't know why we have to ascribe all the ills of the world to Jews or lizards, when it is quite clear that the real 'conspiracy' is what passes for modern capitalism and the tiny elite of super-wealthy individuals who use their accumulated wealth to manipulate the system to their advantage.  I say 'conspiracy', but it is all in plain view, for everyone to see.  But I guess it just isn't as exciting as mass child sacrifice plots orchestrated by a Jewish cabal who secretly rule the world...  

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Monday, Bloody Monday

What a weekend!  I broke a tooth, the coffee table in the living room then collapsed and died, breaking a glass as it did so and I ended up spending Sunday evening assembling a replacement coffee table.  Add to that such other exciting leisure activities as yet more decorating, scrubbing limescale from the toilet bowl and ironing and you'll see that I had a truly thrilling weekend.  Not to mention exhausting.  Is it any wonder that I'm looking forward to my holidays which start next week?  Not that my joy appears to be shared by everyone at work. It never ceases to amaze me how, most of the time, I'm treated like something scraped off the bottom of someone's shoe, but as soon as I announce my intention to take some of the annual leave I'm contractually entitled to, my proposed absence suddenly becomes an issue as I'm apparently essential to the running of the organisation.  If it helps, I'll promise not to enjoy myself while I'm away from work.  maybe that will make the bastards happy.

I hate starting the week on such a sour note, but the past weekend had already left me feeling irritable, so to have this negativity about me having the audacity to take time off thrust at me was the final straw.  Nevertheless, I'm trying to remain positive.  After all, I'm going to be starting my Summer leave next week.  An extended period away from the soul-destroying shittiness which constitutes work.  If nothing else, it means that I shouldn't have any trouble in coming up with material for August's 'Monthly Movie'.  Indeed, with the amount of footage I tend to shoot whilst on holiday, I'll probably have the basis for just about every remaining 'Monthly Movie'.  On the subject of my home movies, I'm currently trialling various editing applications.  I was never a fan of Windows Movie Maker Live - it's a seriously dumbed down version of their earlier Movie Maker which was actually pretty good, with a wide range of effects and options - but it's free and at least handles mp4 files and can output HD.  However, I've finally become completely fed up with its shortcomings and have decided that I need something more capable.  My upcoming leave will, hopefully, give me time to properly assess some alternatives.  Well, that's it for now.  Hopefully tomorrow I'll be less irritable.    


Friday, August 08, 2014

Out West Again

More from the West of England's crime capital, Yeovil, via the Western Gazette website:  
'Scream-mask knife suspect warned by police to stop terrorising Yeovil residents'.  That's right, the town that has already suffered arson attacks and street brawls is now being menaced by a potential crazy serial killer!  But don't worry, as ever, Avon and Somerset Constabulary are on the case.  
'In a statement, Yeovil PCSO Jessica Forsey said: "We are aware that there have been incidents recently involving somebody wearing a mask from the Scream film trying to scare people.
We advise that the person responsible for this stops immediately and want to make them aware that if they are caught may face arrest."'  May face arrest?   I would have thought that waving a knife around in public places almost certainly warrants arrest.  But this is Yeovil, don't forget, which is so overrun with crime that the police don't have the resources either to assign a real police officer to the case or actually investigate it, relying instead on simply asking the perpetrator to stop via the local newspaper.

Just in case the first warning wasn't clear, the PCSO reiterates it later in her statement:
"We believe that this is just somebody playing pranks on people. However, the person responsible should be aware that they could be committing criminal offences and should stop immediately."  Well, that's doubtless a relief for the people of Yeovil - they aren't being stalked by a psychopath, it's all just a prank.  Probably.  And they are bound to stop after a stern warning like that, especially as they are now aware that they might be committing a criminal offence.  The trouble is that this is exactly the sort of thing the local Sheriff always says in slasher movies: "There's no need to worry folks, it's just some high school kids playing pranks."  Immediately after which, someone murders them in a bizarre fashion before subjecting the local community to a reign of terror.  So, people of Yeovil, on the basis of this Western Gazette story you should be afraid.  Very afraid.

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Imperfect Memory

It's funny the way we remember some things.  Last night I found myself watching a documentary about the 1986 Commonwealth Games, which were held in Edinburgh, (yes, its exciting times here).  All I vaguely remembered about it was the opening ceremony, the fact that the weather wasn't great and the names of some of the athletes who competed for England, including Steve Cram and Daley Thompson.  However, according to this programme it was the centre of a huge political storm and was boycotted by a large number of African nations.  I really don't remember that.  Mind you, unlike the recent Glasgow Commonwealth games, it wasn't on TV twenty four hours a day.  Or maybe it was and I just don't remember it.  It was all about the Apartheid regime in South Africa (as most things seemed to be back then).  Mrs Thatcher, unsurprisingly, was refusing to join the Commonwealth's economic sanctions against the regime, (she was also refusing to finance the games, resulting in mega-fraudster Robert Maxwell stepping in as their 'saviour').  Incredibly, having done her best to wreck the fames, Thatcher then had the audacity to turn up at them, only to be roundly booed. 

Interestingly, economic sanctions are back on the agenda today, with regard to Russia, which has just announced its own 'counter-embargo' of those countries currently imposing sanctions against Russia.  In the midst of all this, we have the usual chorus of wealthy businessmen telling us how sanctions are counter-productive, hurting the countries imposing them - or, rather, cutting in to the profits of companies who find their  unethical trading with dodgy regimes curtailed.  This argument comes up every time an economic embargo is proposed against a rogue regime, as if profits should outweigh morality in foreign policy.  The other argument trotted out, (particularly by Thatcher with regard to South Africa), is that the sanctions will hurt poor people in the target country.  In the case of South Africa, this was pretty ludicrous - those black people Mrs Thatcher was supposedly so concerned about were already being deprived of what most of us consider basic liberties and were already living in shanty towns.  The sanctions would mainly hurt wealthy white South Africans.  Who were, of course, friends of  Thatcher.  The variation on this argument heard with regard to Iraq before the Gulf War was that ordinary Iraqis were suffering because of the lack of essential medical supplies.  Which was nonsense as such supplies are always exempt from embargoes. But hey, they needed to 'prove' that sanctions wouldn't work so as to justify a war.  Or am I misremembering that, as well?


Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Way Out West

There's a tendency here in the UK to think that nothing exciting ever happens outside of London or a handful of other metropolitan areas.  Worse still, rural areas, particularly those west of Reading and south of Bristol, are considered to be nothing more than sleepy back waters.  However, one of the marvels of the internet is that such prejudices can be laid bare as the blatant lies that they are by simply looking at the websites of various local newspapers.  Now, I'll grant you that many local newspapers are crap and their websites even worse - the Crapchester Chronicle, for instance, is especially poor when it comes to reporting anything resembling local news - but there are several large regional newspapers which have excellent web sites, chock full of up-to-the-minute local news stories.  News stories which prove that life in the West Country is every bit as exciting and eventful as it is in, say, West London.  My current favourite of these regional newspaper web sites is that of the Western Gazette - the local newspaper for Yeovil and Somerset - which, right now, is leading with the headline 'Man arrested on suspicion of arson and bailed after South Street house fire in  Crewkerne'. 

Now, you probably think that's the most exciting thing ever to have happened in the small town of Crewkerne, (other than having a Southern Railway locomotive named after it in the mid-forties). But you'd be wrong.  For an earlier headline tells us 'Pregnant woman was "10 out of 10" drunk when she lashed out at police officers having been found with a large knife up her sleeve in Crewkerne' .  Reading the story didn't yield any further information about this fascinating drunkenness scale which Avon and Somerset Constabulary apparently use to assess violent offenders, but it did tell me that on the day of her arrest, the woman hadn't just been drunk but also under the influence of cocaine and Meow.   Not the sort of stuff you'd ordinarily associate with towns like Crewkerne.  To be fair, the offender in question didn't actually come from Crewkerne (she just went there to commit criminal offences, it seems) but was actually a resident of Yeovil, which, as the main urban centre for the region covered by the Western Gazette is clearly a hotbed of crime and depravity.

Indeed, other headlines seem to confirm Yeovil's status as the Sodom and Gomorrah of the west.  'Brawls in the middle of Sherborne Road, Yeovil, with casualties taken to hospital and others arrested by police, according to eye-witness reports', screams one, conjuring up nightmare visions of mass brawls on residential streets, resulting in cars being overturned and set ablaze and houses wrecked.  'Young woman taken to Yeovil District Hospital after falling  from bridge in Yeovil' another tells us - thankfully her injuries weren't believed to be life-threatening, although police still didn't know if she'd jumped or been pushed.  'Firefighters tackle blaze at Mere Post Office' implies that arson attacks are rampant throughout the region.  To be fair, it isn't all arson and violence in the west, as other stories attest:  'Ceramics take centre stage at Wincanton' and 'Yeovil man triumphs in Somerset Fushia  Society Show' reassure us that the area also has a rich cultural life.  Nevertheless, thanks to the Western Gazette's calm and unsensational reporting, I think that we've finally nailed the lie peddled by the London-centric mainstream media that nothing ever happens outside of the metropolis.

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Monday, August 04, 2014

Fringe Benefits

It's that time of year again when I start telling people that I'm going to spend part of my summer leave at the Edinburgh Festival fringe performing my latest one-man show.  A complete lie, obviously, but you'd be surprised at how many people believe it.  Mind you, I've been spinning this lie for so long now that there are quite a few people who think that I must be a really crap comedian as I've been going to the fringe for years, yet have never one an award, featured on any of the TV or radio round-ups of the fringe which proliferate at this time of year, or made a breakthrough in the form of a TV spot on, say, Russell Howard's BBC 3 programme or a guest appearance on Mock the Week.  Maybe this year I should lie about that too:  I could make up some award I supposedly won and claim that everyone was unlucky to have missed my appearance on  8 Out of 10 Cats (I was on Jon Richardson's team, along with some bird from Made in Chelsea)- but don't worry, it's bound to be repeated on Dave soon.  I mean, who is ever going to bother checking these things out?  Even if they tried, they'd just end up watching Dave for ever more in the hope of catching that non-existent panel show appearance - which would be their just desserts for being so doubtful of my fake achievements.

All of which brings us to the question of what this year's (completely fictional) one-man show should be about?  Could it be time for me relate the mystery of the Stockbridge Sasquatch, or the 'Haunted House of Horticulture'?  If not the supernatural for a theme, then how about religion instead?  Maybe I could do 'Adventures of a Tribute Messiah' and tell of my life as a Jesus tribute act.  Then again, 'Holy Shit, Holy Grail', with its tale of the miraculous public toilets in France, under which lies Jesus' last resting place, would be more suitable?  I could use an actual toilet as a venue for that show, allowing the audience to gaze upon the face of Christ visible in the limescale in the toilet bowl.  Perhaps I could say I was doing something inspired by those crackpot conspiracy sites I've been looking at lately.  Or, in honour of the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum, maybe I could do something appropriate: 'Up Yours Alex Salmond', maybe?  A tirade against the SNP leader with delusions of grandeur, delivered in a cod Scots accent whilst dressed in full Highland regalia and performing a parody of a Scottish dance.  Hey, the Scots are good sports, I'm sure they'd take it in the spirit intended.  Whatever I decide, one thing is for sure, I won't be going anyehere near Edinburgh this Summer.


Friday, August 01, 2014

Into August

After another day feeling dead on my feet - I strongly suspect that all my recent filming in and near corn field might have triggered some kind of allergic reaction - I'm finally beginning to feel a bit better.  Mind you, just saying that is tempting fate and now I'll doubtless suffer a relapse and spend the entire weekend feeling like hell.  This really isn't the way I'd like to have kicked off August, that long languid month which constitutes my favourite part of Summer.  Despite feeling rough as a dog's arse for most of the week, I've still been ale o discern the change that has taken place as we've slipped from July into August.  There's no doubt that today the roads were far emptier than usual, feeling almost empty (in relative terms) by five o'clock, reinforcing the impression that, come August, the whole world is on holiday.  Everything moves much more slowly, time seems suspended and a carefree attitude prevails.  All we can hope for is that the dry and bright weather continues for most of the month.

Not that everyone seems to share the latter sentiment - it is amazing the number of people I've heard complaining about the heat.  I mean, after the run of fowl Winters and lousy Summers we've had over the past few years, you'd think that everyone would be happy to see a Summer heatwave.  I know that I am.  My only problem with the heat is that I've been working through most of it, meaning that I've had to spend considerable amounts of time in my car, where it can get stifling.  However, with the prospect of my annual Summer leave coming up in a couple of weeks, the idea of another sustained heatwave seems very appealing.  Although, of course, as soon as I mention that I'm taking time off towards the end of the month, I get people warning me that 'they' say the weather is going to take a turn for the worse in August.  In never ceases to amaze me, this apparent desire some individuals have to try destroy other people's expectations of happiness.  But, like the heat-haters, they're just ignorant pillocks.