Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rainy Day

The trouble with being off work during rainy weather is that I end up spending my days mainly in the house doing DIY, leaving me with little to talk about here.  Take today, for instance, which was the second consecutive day of skimming the worst bits of the kitchen walls in preparation for new paint.  Now, I could go into detail about the labourious application of the skimming paste I use to the end wall, smoothing it down and then waiting three to four hours for it to dry sufficiently to be sanded flat, (those three to four hours being filled by putting an undercoat on the outside wall, which I'd skimmed yesterday), but I fear it would be pretty dull.   It might get a bit more exciting tomorrow when, not only will I put an undercoat on the bits I skimmed today (you need to wait around twenty four hours before applying paint), but I'll also be putting the first coat of the new colour on the bits I undercoated today.  It's 'Lemon Sorbet', if your interested.  The new colour, obviously.

Originally, I'd intended to do all of this last week and spend this week generally wandering around the countryside, (as I'm apt to do when off work).  However, a look at the weather forecast indicated, (rightly, as it turned out), that it would be better to switch my plans around.  So, I enjoyed the sun last week and now I'm repairing plaster work.  Not that decorating is the only thing I've been doing.  Obviously.  I've also been continuing with my attempts to revamp The Sleaze with a new theme.  Which is trickier than it sounds, as, where Wordpress themes are concerned, there might well be lot out there, but too many of them look the same and lack any of the features I'm seeking.  I keep coming back to the Elegant Themes 'Extra' theme.  The problem is that for a theme where you can supposedly change almost anything about its appearance without having to hack the code about, it's bloody hard work to get it even close to what I'm looking for and involves hacking the code.  Moreover, whilst I've got a home page which is almost what I want, the post layouts are an absolute mess and next to impossible to change without resorting to some extensive rewriting of the source code.  We'll see if I can make any head way with it this week.  In the meantime, I've got that painting to look forward to tomorrow.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Murders at the Zoo

Look, I don't want to be controversial or sound callous, or anything, but I just have to say that in that business about the gorilla being shot at at that US zoo after a four year child fell into its enclosure, well, I think they shot the wrong one.  I mean, the gorilla is the endangered species whereas four year old children - well, they're pretty commonplace, aren't they?  Not that I'm advocating the shooting of children, obviously.  But killing the gorilla did seem a little extreme, considering that, to the best of my knowledge, there are no documented cases of gorillas attacking humans.  Apart from King Kong, obviously.  But he was forty feet tall and severely provoked.  To return to the point, there was a similar case many years ago in a zoo in, I think, the Channel Islands, where a small child fell into the gorilla's enclosure and the ape took up a protective stance.  The child was recovered, completely unharmed, without having to shoot the gorilla.  But hey, in the US gorillas always seem to get a raw deal.  Just ask King Kong.

But it isn't just captive gorillas getting shot through no fault of their own.  There was also that business of those two tigers being shot dead after a naked man got into their cage in some kind of suicide attempt.  One wonders why he couldn't have just thrown himself under a bus or taken an overdose like normal suicidal people?  But, no, he had to run naked into a tiger enclosure - and it was the tigers who got shot, presumably so that they couldn't eat him.  Which, surely, was his desire?  Once again, the tigers are the endangered species and naked loonies are, sadly, far too numerous.  Was there any indication that were going to attack him, or were they just innocent bystanders, stunned into inaction by the sight of this stark bollocking naked lunatic running through their cage?  The only reason for shooting the poor bastards was, presumably, the fear that if they got a taste of human flesh, they'd become man eaters.  Although it's hard to see where they'd get an opportunity to put this into practice, as they were safely locked up in a zoo.  Sure, they'd probably lie there giving leery looks at zoo visitors and licking their lips as they passed the cage, but that's just the sort of thing all cats do, big and small, to try and wind people up.  No the only time they could have eaten anyone was when someone was stupid enough to break into their cage - and even then it would surely count as natural selection, wouldn't it?

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Getting Around

Apparently, I'm currently in El Segundo, California.  Which is odd, as I appear to still be sitting in my living room here in Crapchester.  I've peered out of the windows, just to check, but I'm definitely still in the UK.  My house hasn't mysteriously crossed the Atlantic, then flown over the US to settle on the West Coast.  It's still the usual Toyotas and Vauxhalls driving down the street rather than Buicks and Plymouths.  The confusion arises from the fact that, according to one of the stats services I use on my websites, my current IP address is located in El Segundo, (a coastal city in Los Angeles County, California, if you are interested).  And if you are wondering, yes, I do visit my own sites, it's the easiest way to check they are still up and running and I also like to check they're still displaying correctly after I've posted new stuff on them.  I know that I could block my visits so that they didn't show in the stats logs, but then I wouldn't know where my IP address is placing me geographically, would I?

To return to the point, like most domestic broadband users I have a dynamic IP address, meaning that it changes every so often, particularly if my router is disconnected for any reason - when I reconnect I get new a IP address.  Usually, they place me within the UK, sometimes to a specific city, but rarely one near where I'm actually situated.  As my current ISP is Plusnet, my location is usually given as being in Sheffield, which isn't surprising as they are Yorkshire-based, but it is the opposite end of the country to where I'm physically located.  Previous ISPs more often than not gave IP addresses which located me within twenty miles of here, but now, apparently, I'm in California.  Interestingly, my other main stats service still locates me in the UK but, very oddly, lists my ISP as being 'Wartsila Diesel'!  Odd because, obviously, it is actually Plusnet, (a BT subsidiary, which is why it often shows up in the logs as BT), and, as far as I'm aware, Wartsila is a Finnish company which makes marine engines and power systems, not an ISP.  It's also based in Helsinki, not the UK or El Segundo. 

The way in which stats services assign a location to an IP address is something which has always fascinated me.  Obviously, they are primarily using data about the IP address derived from, mainly, the WHOIS database to determine the ISP it is associated with.  Some simply assume that the location of the ISP is the location of the user: which is why, for one of my stats services I'm currently in California - the IP address is assigned to Infonet Services, a California-based subsidiary of BT, the parent company of my ISP, Plusnet.  (Infonet also uses some IP addresses returning a Sheffield location).  The other stats service clearly uses a more sophisticated look-up service which knows the ownership of Infonet and that the IP address is used by UK located Plusnet customers (it includes Plusnet in the IP information it provides).  The Wartsila Diesel business is more difficult to explain.  It could simply be that they were once the owners of Infonet, I suppose, or that they were a customer of Infonet and the IP address was one once assigned to them, the records of the look-up service having not been updated. 

Whatever the reason, it's clear that I've been getting around quite a bit without leaving my sofa - all that virtual traveling has left me exhausted.  IN fact, I think I might have jet lag thanks to all this hopping across the Atlantic and changing time zones...


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Not the Spice of Life

You know how people who do non-office based jobs like to go on about how the best thing about their job is that you never know what each new day will bring?  They're talking bollocks.  Whilst they'd like to convince you that the supposed variety that facing new 'challenges' every day brings, the truth is that it all becomes more than a little wearing.  I speak from experience: my job has become increasingly unpredictable and I can tell you that all this 'variety' of activity has left me craving for good old boring routines.  Believe me, knowing more or less what you are likely to encounter each day and when you are going to finish is a wonderful thing.  As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing 'exciting' or 'invigorating' about being suddenly thrust into potentially dangerous situations or, just when you thought that you were close to finishing for the day, getting called out to another potentially hazardous situation.  Give me routine any day.

I've no doubt that my feelings toward 'unpredictability' at work have a lot to do with my attitude toward my job.  At the end of the day, it's just something I do to earn the money I need to pay the bills.  As far as I'm concerned, the sooner the working day ends, the better, because I can then get back to doing the things I actually enjoy.  Thankfully, being in the middle of taking a couple of weeks off of work, (I'm still using up untaken leave from last year), this week, so far, I've had plenty of time to do stuff I like.  Interestingly, I've found myself falling into a new, non-work, routine: get up late, potter around the house or garden doing various bits of DIY, before driving off in the afternoon to find somewhere in the country I can take a long walk.  It's all very relaxing.  The stress and anxiety which has been characterising work of late has melted away completely.  I've caught up with lots of stuff I've been recording from the TV, caught up with my reading, listened to podcasts I haven't had time to listen to whilst working, and even recorded a new one of my own.  The best thing about being off work is that I haven't had to deal with people.  Sure, I've stopped for chats with other walkers in the country, exchanged pleasantries with shop assistants and talked the usual bollocks with fellow regulars in the pub, but I haven't had to have any of those stressful work-related conversations with people I'd ordinarily cross the street to avoid.

The fact is that I like being on my own.  For many years I worried that I was somehow abnormal, in the face of all the social pressure to socialise and 'join in'.  I really tried to do this, but it just left me feeling uncomfortable - especially all that attempting to socialise with the people I worked with.  Never a good idea, as you quickly realise that, apart from work, you have nothing in common.  So I stopped trying to 'fit in'.  Eventually people realised that it's nothing personal - I'm just a very private person who is highly selective about who I count as actual friends.  I'm very proud of the fact that I've only ever let one person I work with over the threshold of my house, (to be fair, by the time that happened, she'd changed jobs, so we were no longer colleagues, just friends, which we remain to this day).   Anyway, I seem to have wandered from the original point: just take it  from me, variety is not necessarily the spice of life.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Castle of Fu Manchu (1968)

This is actually the only one of the five Fu Manchu movies produced by Harry Allan Towers during the latter half of the sixties that I haven't actually seen  I say that I haven't seen it, but in reality, I have seen parts of it, as parts of it are cobbled together using stock footage from other movies. Indeed, some of that stock footage can be seen in the trailer, including a chunk of a previous Fu Manchu movie, Brides of Fu Manchu, featuring the late Burt Kwouk. In fact, this footage, from the climax of earlier film, apparently makes up the first few minutes of Castle. The scenes of the sinking liner come from the Titanic movie A Night to Remember, (blue tinted, as this film was made in black and white), whilst a bursting dam is from Campbell's Kingdom, (the stars of that film, Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker are apparently clearly identifiable in these sequences).  The rest of the film is essentially a rehash of earlier entries in the series, with Fu Manchu kidnapping a scientist and blackmailing him into completing some scientific device that the inscrutable Oriental can use as a weapon with which to hold the world to ransom, (this time it's a device which can instantly freeze sea water).

Not surprisingly, this was the last in the series, which had started quite reasonably with Face of Fu Manchu, but had rapidly gone downhill.  The first three clearly had reasonable budgets for what were essentially B-pictures, (there was considerable German finance behind them, in common with many of Towers' productions of this era), and boasted surprisingly good period settings and location shooting in Ireland pretending to be twenties Britain in the first and third.  The third film was actually shot in London and at the old Hammer studios in Bray, whilst the third also featured some actual Hong Kong locations.  The first two could even muster a 'name' director in the form of Don Sharp, whilst number three had Towers regular and future Coronation Street director Jeremy Summers at the helm.  This initial trilogy were pretty decently made, with good supporting casts and plenty of atmosphere.  By three, however, it was clear the series was flagging, with a plot that took too long to get anywhere and too many pointless diversions designed to do nothing more than pad out the running time.

The last two films - Blood of Fu Manchu and Castle of Fu Manchu - were, by contrast, clearly shot on far lower budgets and slapped together with little care or sense of plot logic.  There is little attempt to maintain the period settings, modern cars frequently appear in shot, and the 'exotic' locations, Brazil and Turkey respectively, undoubtedly dictated by the fact that they were countries where Towers wasn't wanted by the police, (he was variously accused of living on immoral earnings and espionage, amongst other things), and/or didn't have extradition agreements with any of the countries he was wanted in.  Both are perfunctorily directed by the prolific Jesus Franco, who, certainly on the basis of Blood, had no interest in them whatsoever.  And who could blame him?

Of course, one can't discuss these movies without mentioning the vexed matter of casting.  Back in the sixties it was still considered OK to cast badly made up white European or American actors as characters from South East Asia.  To be fair to Christopher Lee, beyond a droopy moustache, he doesn't go in for the usual grotesque make-ups.  Indeed, he brings a surprising degree of dignity to the role, establishing Fu Manchu as a highly efficient and intelligent villain who easily outwits his western enemies, (until the final reel, obviously).  Moreover, from the second film, Brides, onwards, Fu Manchu's various cohorts seem to played entirely by actors of South East Asian origin, which was relatively unusual at this time.  (The first film features large numbers of clearly non-Oriental extras running around dressed as Chinese minions).  The biggest problem I have with Lee's Fu Manchu is that, as the series goes on, he seems to have less and less to actually do in the films, other than stand around his lair looking insrcutable and evil, whilst others actually go out and do the evil stuff.   

That the last two films in this series are held in poor regard is reflected in that, traditionally, British TV has only ever broadcast the first three.  I eventually caught Blood some years ago, when it turned up in ITV's all night schedules.  I don't recall it as having surfaced since.  As far as I'm aware, Castle has never turned up on British TV.  Certainly not terrestrial TV, as far as I know.  These days it is available on DVD, so I could finally get around to watching it.  But, you know, after seeing that trailer, I don't think that I can be bothered.


Monday, May 23, 2016

A Funny Old Game...

Football, they say, is a funny old game.  In which case former Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal must be splitting his sides.  One minute he's leading United to their first trophy since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, next thing, he finds himself locked out of the dressing room at Wembley, before finding that the team coach has left for the hotel without him.  I think that it was about then that he realised that he might have been sacked.  He really should have suspected when the team arrived in London for the final and he was told that, due a booking error, there wasn't room for him at the four star team hotel and that he'd instead been booked into a Travel Lodge two miles away. Still, he did make that valiant, last ditch, attempt to retain his job by chaining himself to the FA Cup, but finally had to give in after armed police were called to the club's training ground: 'Step away from the trophy, NOW!'   Not that I'm saying that the club handled the situation badly, obviously.

As an armchair Spurs fan I have mixed feelings about Van Gaal - he was seriously pursued by the club as a successor to Tim Deadwood, sorry, Sherwood and, at the time, seemed like a considerable step up, but now it feels like we dodged a bullet - but I can't help but feel that he was treated pretty shabbily by United in recent weeks.  The whole fall-out from the FA Cup win, in particular, was shambolic, with the press reporting that he'd been sacked, even as he was holding the trophy, despite the fact that nobody had told him.  A situation which persisted until earlier today.  I mean, if you are going to sack someone, just do it and have the decency to tell them to their face, rather than leave them in limbo for a couple of days.  Not that Manchester United are unique in their bad handling of managerial departures.  Earlier this season we had Manchester City announcing that Manuel Pellegrini would be leaving at the end of the season and even announced the signing of his successor.  No wonder the rest of City's season turned to shit.  Spurs themselves haven't exactly covered themselves in glory in this department either.  Their handling of Andre Villas Boas' departure was pretty poor and the sacking of Martin Jol in favour of the disastrous Juande Ramos was shamefully handled.  That said, all of the aforementioned did receive pretty sizeable pay offs, so perhaps we shouldn't feel sorry for them.  Then again, money can never compensate for the sheer indignity and humiliation of being dismissed in such inept fashion.


Friday, May 20, 2016

In, Out, Off With Their Heads

Watching the BBC's 'Wars of the Roses' Shakespeare adaptions unfold, I inevitably find myself making a mental comparison with the unfolding debate surrounding the impending EU referendum.  Both chronicle the gradual breakdown of old alliances as the ruling classes fall upon each other and competing leaders struggle for supremacy.  Most specifically, it is the disarray within the Tory party which seems, in my mind at least, to most closely parallel the conflict for the crown between the competing factions of the Plantagenet family.  You can't help but feel that Boris Johnson, self-styled 'leader' of the the 'Leave' campaign sees himself as a Richard of York figure, denied what he believes is his birth right to be leader of the Tory party by the usurper Cameron.   Speaking of whom, there's definitely a touch of Henry VI about Dave - weak, prevaricating and prone to falling into fugue states when he becomes completely incapable of governing.  Sadly for Dave though, he doesn't have a wife like Margaret of Anjou who was prepared to take up the fight against the Yorkists whilst her husband was mentally incapacitated.

Of course, the analogy between the EU conflict within the Tory party and the Wars of the Roses falls apart when we come to the issue of beheadings.  The Wars of the Roses saw quite a lot of these, with various nobles on both sides being decapitated and having their heads displayed on spikes when they ran afoul of the rival party.  One can only live in hope that Boris Johnson meets the same fate as Richard of York, his severed head adorning traitor's gate.  (After which his sons took up the cause, guaranteeing another couple of decades of chaos - could Michael Gove be a modern Edward IV and Nigel Farage Richard III - the crook backed evil Shakesperean caricature, obviously?).  Maybe we could make it a condition of the EU referendum that the losers have to agree to be executed?  On the basis of current polls we could be rid of Johnson, Farage and Gove in one fell swoop.  And if it goes the other way, those of us supporting 'Remain' will at least have the consolation of seeing Cameron and George Osborne put to the sword.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Same But Different

Do you ever watch an advert on TV and find yourself feeling that, somehow, it's undermining its own case for the product it is selling?  I get that feeling every time I see that commercial for Air BNB.  You know the one I mean - it tells you not to 'visit' various cities around the world, to instead 'live' in them whilst on holiday, courtesy of Air BNB.  Which seems a reasonable way to sell the service.  But then it goes on to tell us that by spending your holiday living in someone else's actual home, you can do all the things you usually do, like cook, do the washing up, vacuum the carpet and so on, (actually, they don't actually mention the last two activities, but they are a logical extension of the first).  Maybe it is just me, but surely spending your vacation doing the same things you'd do in your own home defeats the object of taking a holiday?  Surely the point is to do something different than you would normally, rather than do the same things, just in a different location?

Personally, I usually end up doing it the other way around: I don't go away on holiday, but instead stay at home and do different things than I normally would.  When I say different, I mean that I try to completely change my routines.  I get up and go to bed at different times, go to different places, speak to different people.  Sometimes I even change my breakfast cereal when I'm on holiday.  Perversely, I often find myself drifting back to the same old familiar haunts when I'm on holiday.  But there's nothing wrong with a bit of familiarity - it's nice and reassuring and, let's face it, that's whay=t being on holiday is all about: feeling reassured and relaxed.  But to get back to the original point, I can't help but feel that, in the eyes of some potential customers, that Air BNB advert might be shooting themselves in the foot by suggesting that you take all your regular chores on holiday with you.  Which is what I won't be doing over the next couple of weeks when I use up some more of my untaken leave.  That said, the 'different' I will be doing will probably involve repainting my kitchen.  Not exotic, but different and necessary.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cancel My Reservation (1972)

Bob Hope seemed to be ever-present on TV during my childhood.  Whilst he might have passed the peak of his fame and popularity by the early seventies, he was still big enough that his old movies were always playing in prime slots: most of the Road pictures turned up on Sunday afternoons and stuff like Paleface and Son of Paleface were regular Bank Holiday or early Saturday evening features.  It wasn't just the films, I seem to recall him also being a fairly regular part of the line up on things like the Royal Variety Performance, (which was still a big thing back then, drawing in huge TV audiences).  Watching the films he starred in during the forties, fifties and even sixties again now, reveals the jokes to be decidedly corny and dated, with the visual gags generally faring better, but Hope's regular film persona of a cowardly, lecherous, fast talking chancer who quickly finds himself out of his depth, remains engaging.  Which is what makes watching his last feature, 1972's Cancel My Reservation such an unnerving experience: the old smoothness and charm is gone and the tone hugely uneven, it's clear that the wheels have well and truly come off of the Bob Hope comedy vehicle.

In plot details, Cancel My Reservation harks back to earlier Hope vehicles like My Favourite Brunette, with his character falsely accused of murder and having to prove their innocence whilst being pursued by both police and villains.  Like that earlier film, the plot itself is pretty much perfunctory and poorly realised, but whereas in the earlier films this could easily be overlooked, the plot deficiencies effectively masked by non-stop gags and Hope's energetic performance, here the gags are thin on the ground and the only thing looking more tired than the jokes is Hope himself.  Which is hardly surprising as he was nearly seventy when Cancel My Reservation was shot and, despite his character claiming to be in his late forties, looks it.  The idea that he might appear attractive to even forty eight year old Eve Marie Saint, playing his wife, let alone twenty-something Ann Archer, playing the local jail bait, seems dangerously like wish-fulfilment on Hope's part.  His performance seems completely off-the-pace, at times giving the impression that he really doesn't want to be there.  The visual gags feel old hat and the humour coarser than usual for a Hope movie, giving the impression that it is desperate to show that the 'old boy' can keep up with 'modern' humour.  The whole thing comes over as an uncomfortable attempt to somehow update Hope and his humour for the seventies.  Contemporary 'issues', like the rights of Native Americans, are worked into the plot in an attempt to make the film seem relevant, along with far more explicit sexual innuendo than usual for a Hope vehicle.  At the same time, the film keeps making reference to the 'classic' Hope film formula, with the requisite cameo from Bing Crosby and similar walk ons from John Wayne and Johnny Carson, resulting in a very uneven tone.  The problem was that whilst audiences no longer wanted to watch the old-style Hope vehicles, they also didn't want to see him trying to be 'edgy'.

To be fair, Bob Hope himself wasn't at all happy with Cancel My Reservation and, following its poor box office showing, decided to retire from playing the lead in films, subsequently confining himself to cameos in other people's films.  Cancel my Reservation isn't all bad - it has a good supporting cast, with Ralph Bellamy and Forrest Tucker as villains, Keenan Wynne as an incompetent local Sheriff, Chief Dan George as a hundred and ten year old medicine man and Henry Darrow as a local Indian leader who tries to help Hope.  (Darrow is a huge favourite of mine, a hugely underrated yet prolific actor whose performances are frequently the only thing worth watching in some of the stuff he's appeared in.  He and Cameron Mitchell, another massively underrated performer, for instance, are about the only things which make old episodes of the High Chaparral watchable).  Director Paul Bogart does his best with the material and Dominic Frontiere supplies a typically interesting score, including a hugely catchy theme song.

Intriguingly, the script was supposedly based on a novel by Louis L'Amour (The Broken Gun).  Now, whilst I know that L'Amour did write in other genres, the bulk of his output consisted of westerns and, despite its contemporary setting, various aspects of Cancel My Reservation feel as if they belong in a period western.  All those references to people being hanged for murder, (by the seventies, in those states still enforcing a death penalty, things like the gas chamber, electric chair or lethal injection were the favoured form of execution), for instance, not to mention the fact that the Sheriff apparently has to wait for the circuit judge to visit the town before he can formally charge Hope.  Surely by the seventies they'd just drive him to a court house in the nearest large town?  Then there's all the business with Indian reservations and the plot hinging on hidden maps which show that the villain's ranch is actually built on land stolen from the Indians.  I'm assuming that The Broken Gun was a period western - maybe the original idea was to make the film as a western, but the producers realised that Hope was far too old to play a cowboy and westerns were less popular with contemporary audiences than Bob Hope comedies, so the script was modernised.  Who knows?  What I do know is that Cancel My Reservation is a disappointing end to Hope's film career - only fitfully amusing and the star a shadow of his former self.  Still, Bob had the last laugh: he might have retired from films aged seventy, but he lived to be a hundred.  That's some retirement.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Down to the Sea in Model Ships

I know that I often bemoan the gradual disappearance of those wonderfully esoteric websites which used to seem to make up the bedrock pf the web, but I recently stumbled across a truly wonderful example which is still extant.  The site in question - Model Ships in the Cinema - is, as its title clearly implies, about the use of ship miniatures in film special effects.  You surely can't get much more esoteric than that, can you?  As someone who loves ships, loves miniature models and is fascinated by special effects, not to mention movies with maritime themes, this site is truly fantastic.  For most maritime themed movies made in the pre-CGI era, the use of miniatures to represent full-size vessels on screen was obligatory.  For one thing, chartering real ships would have been prohibitively expensive, let alone the complexity of the logistics involved in co-ordinating real vessels for shooting purposes.  The only alternative to miniatures would have been the use of stock footage, which is never satisfactory, as it rarely proves a good match with the newly filmed footage and is usually jarringly inconsistent, (just look at the way stock footage of trains is often arbitrarily slapped together for film use, with the locomotive and rolling stock changing radically from scene to scene, the producers desperately hoping that nobody will notice as the motive power changes from stem to electric to diesel and back again). 

When it came to films set in the age of sail, there really was no alternative to miniatures work to represent the ships.  Likewise, in World War Two, in order to represent naval combat, miniatures were the only way - access to real vessels, be they military or merchant for film makers would have been highly restricted.  Post war, security and practicality dictated the continued use of miniatures.  More often than not highly successfully.  Of course, for the models to be truly effective, they have to built to a large scale, with lots of detail.  Some of the most fascinating photos reproduced on the model ships site show such large scale models being manually manipulated by special effects technicians either in studio tanks or, on occasion, at sea.  The thing which usually gives away a model ship as a miniature rather than the real thing, though, is the fact that water cannot be scaled down.  Consequently, the waves produced by the bows of the model ships don't appear right, with foam, splashes and water droplets, for instance, clearly too big. Fins and other 'disturbers' fixed to the model's bow below the waterline can often compensate for these problems, giving the impression that the model is actually displacing as much water as the real vessel would as it moved through the water.

It's remarkable the number of films which employed maritime miniatures without me realising it: whilst being aware that that oil tanker and submarines in Spy Who Loved Me, for instance, were actually very large scale models constructed by Derek Meddings, I hadn't realised that the submersibles seen in another Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only, were actually miniatures.  Perhaps the most fascinating thing I learned from the site was the existence of Japanese war movies.  Obviously, I'd always assumed that Japan must have produced its own war movies - propaganda films during the war and features after - but had never actually encountered any.  As it turns out, during the war there were various propaganda movies chronicling Japanese naval victories over the Allies, all making extensive use of miniatures.  Apparently, these were the films on which the technicians who would later create the effects for the Godzilla movies cut their teeth.  Post war, there were also feature films on similar subjects, colour miniatures footage from one such sixties effort was apparently later used in the US film Midway.  Which is one of the other great pleasures of this site: the way in which it chronicles the re-use of model sequences from one movie in another.  Not just footage either - it also tracks the re-use of specific model ships in other films.  Like I said at the beginning, a magnificently esoteric site which gives us all hope that Google hasn't yet succeeded in choking the diversity out of the web.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Well I Never...

Well, at least this week I didn't end up shouting obscenities at Tory politicians on TV.  (Although it was a close run thing).  I have spent a fair amount of time shouting at other motorists, though, as, during the course of this humid and sticky week I've found myself variously cut up by idiots at junctions and nearly driven into by morons who don't seem to grasp the concept of right-of-way on roundabouts.  To be fair, I've had my moments of poor driving, too.  Yesterday, in particular, I found myself losing my concentration during a hot and humid afternoon, with near disastrous results.  But enough of my week, what's been happening in the real world?  Well, the last seven days has seen the news dominated by stories where we are supposed to be surprised by what they tell us about their subjects. David Cameron thinks that foreigners are corrupt?  Well, I never.  Or, that the Queen thinks that the Chinese are rude?  Well, fuck my hat, I never knew that!  I'm afraid that our ruling class' xenophobia and general disdain for 'foreigners', especially if they aren't white, is something that never changes.  Not that it's confined to the privileged idiots - it's really quite disturbing how easily large sections of the middle and working classes can be whipped up into an anti-immigrant fervour by the right wing press or rabble rousers like Nigel Farage.

Speaking of whom, ITV's decision to have UKIP leader Farage represent the 'Brexit' cause in a televised debate with Cameron has left the official Leave campaign spitting blood and one of it's 'leading lights', Boris 'The Buffoon' Johnson threatening the broadcaster with 'dire consequences'.  Of course, such 'consequences' are predicated upon Boris' fantasy of, firstly, the Leave campaigners winning the EU referendum, Cameron consequently resigning and a grateful Tory party electing Boris as leader and PM in his place.  Only then will he be in a position to do something or other to ITV.  Again, it's one of those stories supposed to surprise us: Boris is a nasty bastard - what a shocker!  Except that Boris the bully boy has form for this sort of thing, once trying to intimidate a journalist investigating one of his dodgy friends by threatening to arrange to have him beaten up.  Still, it makes a nice symmetry, doesn't it?  John Shittingdale intimidating the BBC on the one hand, Boris bullying ITV on the other.  Who says the Tory bastards aren't even handed?  

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Slow TV Therapy

I'm sure that it must be a sign of encroaching age that these days my favoured TV viewing seems to consist of watching blokes of a certain age rummaging in sheds and garages in order to discover mechanical stuff that they can buy cheaply, then restore and sell for a small profit.  Or a small loss, as Count Arthur Strong once claimed. It's a form of what I believe they now call 'slow television', although I've never sought to force it into any of those new genres the media are fond of inventing nowadays.  All I know is that watching Mike Brewer on Wheeler Dealers drive to Cornwall to buy a battered Mk1 Ford Escort, which Ed Chyna subsequently transforms into a gleaming yellow modern classic, is highly therapeutic.  Especially after a hot, sticky and somewhat frustrating day like today.  There's something quietly inspiring in seeing a vehicle as knackered and battered as some of the cars I've owned restored to something like pristine condition.  Particularly when it is a something workaday, like that Escort (the Mk1 is full of childhood memories for me, as my father had one), rather than some kind of supercar.

To be honest, I do think that 'slow TV; is a misnomer when applied to programmes like these. Sure, nothing dramatic ever happens (apart from the odd exhaust falling off, or a gear box breaking) but these shows, in reality, are speeding things up by compressing the whole buying, restoration and selling process into just under an hour.  The reality is that the restoration bit, in particular, takes many, many hours of manual labour, which the average episode of Wheeler Dealers, for instance, glosses over, usually just showing us the beginning and end of any process.  As an example, I recall an episode where they restored a nineties Bentley, which involved respraying the car, which, in turn required the old paint sanded back to bare metal.  A process which only took a few minutes on screen, but which Ed Chyna admitted took him some sixty hours in reality.  Not that such time compression affects my enjoyment of this kind of TV show.  A particular favourite at the moment is Shed and Buried on the Travel Channel.  I must have seen every episode two or three times, (thankfully, they've finally made a new series, which starts next week), and continue to marvel at the number of barns and sheds full of old cars, bikes and the like which Henry Coles and Sam Lovegrove manage to come across.  I encounter quite a few barns, sheds and rural yards myself, but I only seem to find them full of crap.  Often literally so.  But, once again, I find it all very relaxing, watching a couple of middle aged blokes pottering around these venues on my behalf.  I just know it wouldn't be as much fun if I had to do it myself - like restoring those old cars, in real life it would just be chore.  But on TV, it's therapy.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Power of the Mind

Clearly, my long dormant super powers have finally come to fruition.  After weeks of beaming the thought 'You look like a hairy twat' at the idiot with the abominable hipster beard who keeps parking in my space, I noticed yesterday that he'd shaved it off.  Whether being able to see his face actually constitutes an improvement, I'm not sure, but the point is that my concentrated mental powers forced him to get rid of the unsightly face fungus.  I know that the ability to make people shave doesn't, on the face of it, sound like a particularly impressive super power, but if I can save humanity from those evil hipster beards, then I'll have done the world a massive service. Perhaps, freed of those parasitic masses of tangled, nit-ridden fur, their former wearers will be released from the curse of hipster-dom. Perhaps they will return to being normal, productive members of society, content to just quietly get on with their lives, rather than continually parading around with their ridiculous facial hair and fashion sense, which is clearly screaming 'Look at me!  I'm just so hip, cool and important!'

Of course, the real question is whether I can expand my powers beyond bending the minds of hipsters to shave off their face lace?  After all, once I've rid the world of the hipster curse, I'll need a new challenge.  Perhaps I could develop the ability to mentally 'persuade' BMW drivers to scrap their cars and drive Kias instead.  Or, at the very least, force them to use their indicators at junctions and on roundabouts.  But where can I develop my powers?  Do I need to join the X-Men?  And, if so, how do I contact them?  Does Professor X have a Twitter account or Facebook page?   I think that I'm going to have to develop my own programme for extending my mental super powers.  Maybe I can try focusing my thoughts on dogs and stop them from shitting in the street as practice.  I mean dogs aren't that intelligent and should be pretty simple to influence telepathically.  It wouldn't be too much of a step up from the dogs to making their owners then pick u the animals' shit and rub it into their hair.  From there I could move on to the idiots who text or speak on their mobiles whilst driving and make them throw their phones out of their car windows.  Then shit themselves.  Now, that would definitely be doing humanity a service.


Monday, May 09, 2016

Licence to Swing

Sometimes you watch something and feel almost moved to tears because it is so evocative of the specific time in which it was made.  I had that sort of experience the other day whilst watching On Her Majesty's Secret Service on ITV4.   Quite why it made me want to weep with appreciation for its encapsulation of 'peak sixties', I really don't know - I've seen it many, many times before, (I even still own the 25th Anniversary Edition on VHS).  But for some reason, this screening just made me appreciate it's sixties vibe in a way I never have before - perhaps it is because I've seen it so many times I no longer have to give the plot a second thought anymore, or try to evaluate George Lazenby's performance, leaving my mind free to appreciate other aspects of the film.  Anyway, OHMSS, (as it is known to us aficionados) was the last Bond movie of the sixties, shot in 1969 and released in the UK late that year, but the only one which went any way to actually embracing the ethos of the era.  Don't get me wrong - 007 doesn't renounce violence, grow his hair long and start espousing peace and love, but he does seem a lot more laid back than previously.

Whilst the cinematic Bond might have become something of a sixties icon, the series certainly never reflected the rebellious, counter-culture ethos of the decade.  As played by Sean Connery, Bond was most definitely an establishment figure - hunting down and killing anyone who threatens the cosy post-war status quo.  He might have occasionally had to descend into the murky world of criminality and deal with the odd gangster, but mainly he moved in the worlds of high finance and wealthy privilege.  He dressed in three piece suits and played golf like some kind of extraordinarily violent stock broker.  He certainly has no time for the popular culture of the era - who could forget Connery's curt dismissal of The Beatles in Goldfinger?  But in OHMSS Bond starts wearing those amazing sixties leisure suits, beige with collarless jackets, he exchanges his staid-looking Aston Martin DB6 for a sportier DBS, he even loosens up enough to read Penthouse (and purloin the centre fold, which he admires appreciatively, whereas before he might merely have smirked at it).  Most significantly, he even shows emotions other than violent but repressed rage, exhibiting remarkable sensitivity toward Tracy.

But it isn't just the more relaxed, in touch with his feelings Bond, which makes the film quintessentially 'High Sixties' - it's just everything about it, from art direction to John Barry's score, continually shifting gear from relentless action theme to romantic accompaniment.  The whole colour palette, the costumes, even the cars, scream 'sixties' in a way that no other Bond film of the era had.  Even the Secret Service's headquarters seem to have emerged from their previous gloom and mustiness, with both M and Bond's offices now appearing spacious and well-lit, as if the upbeat spirit of the decade was somehow seeping into them.  The plot too, seems more sixties than those of previous entries.  Blofeld has been transformed from Donald Pleasance's insane criminal mastermind of the previous entry, into Telly Savalas' New York gangster, blackmailing the world not for power or money, but rather recognition of him as the rightful heir to a noble title.  A very apt villain for an era when criminals were increasingly seeking respectability and acceptance as 'legitimate businessmen'.  Also, this time Blofeld isn't stealing nuclear bombs or sabotaging space programmes to achieve his ends, but instead threatening biological warfare. using mutated viruses to target specific species of wheat and livestock.  Again a far more plausible threat, tapping into the environmental concerns which were beginning to gain traction in the sixties.

So, whilst OHMSS certainly isn't the hippie version of Bond, it certainly marks a significant change of pace for the series.  A change that wouldn't really be followed up until Timothy Dalton took over the lead role nearly twenty years later.  OHMSS' immediate successor, Diamonds are Forever in 1971, was a return to formula, (although there was some attempt to make the returning Connery's Bond a bit more relaxed), although Roger Moore's Bond, from 1973's Live and Let Die onwards, was at least more laid back and less of a stuffed shirt, (but no less an establishment figure than Connery's version).  Seen now, Lazenby's single shot at Bond can be seen as a refreshing attempt to contemporise the series.  His performance is perfectly adequate and it is a pity that his acting career wnt off the rails after OHMSS (although he was in the highly entertaining giallo Who Saw Her Die? in the early seventies).


Friday, May 06, 2016

Sex and the Mystery Married Celebrity

I've had a traumatic twenty four hours: the BBC's disgraceful coverage of the local elections - which seemed determined to advance the narrative that the results were a disaster for Labour regardless of the facts - had me foaming at the mouth last night.  I ended up having to watch an old Bob Hope movie to calm down before I went to bed.  But I was still sufficiently wound up this afternoon that I shouted 'cunt, cunt, cunt' at the TV when Boris Johnson turned up on the news. Luckily the neighbours were out at the time.  So, to alleviate the tension I thought that I'd ignore politics and instead use this post to speculate on the identity of the 'A list world famous married British actor' who paid a prostitute for sex several years ago and has obtained an injunction to stop the UK press from naming him.  Actually, I know who he is and he really doesn't live up to his billing as an A-lister or 'world famous'.  Obviously, I'm not going to name him here as I don't want to be sued but, if you are interested, you can find out who is for yourselves by looking at US media sites.  Suffice to say that was very disappointed to learn who he actually was.  I was hoping it really would be a heavy weight British thespian. Sir Ian McKellan, for instance,  Now, that would be a story for the tabloids:"'Hetero sex scandal shame as Gandalf's gay life revealed as lie".  Complete with quotes from the man himself, perhaps:  "Can't a man try something different once in a while without being 'outed'?"

Obviously, it isn't Sir Ian McKellan, (to reiterate the point for legal purposes), but surely that's about the only way 'man pays prostitute for sex' could still be considered a news story, let alone shocking?  Unless, of course, it turned out that the celebrity in question was dead: "He's barely cold in his grave, but Prince is already cavorting with prostitutes".  Now, that would be a fine headline for a supermarket tabloid, along with: "Whacko Jacko in posthumous rent boy orgy".  Not that we're talking necrophilia here - it's a well known 'secret' in celebrity circles that certain famous personages are only 'dead' for tax purposes.  It's a loophole exploited by top tax accountants like David Cameron's supposedly dead dad - if you are dead, you aren't liable for income tax.  You just have to make sure that you don't leave any of your fortune to your relatives in order to avoid inheritance tax as well.  But the really shocking thing here is that the rich and famous apparently can no longer rely upon the discretion of the sex workers they use.  Damn it, shouldn't a chap be able to expect lifelong silence when he's paid good money for their services?  That said, in this particular case, where the mystery celebrity allegedly paid her £195 for a session, one has to say that perhaps he shouldn't have been such a cheapskate and instead coughed up for one of those classy sex workers one sees in movies, whose professionalism can be relied upon.  I mean, the girl at the centre of the revelations once went with Wayne Rooney - which is enough, surely, to indicate her lack of standards.

When all's said and done, this latest celebrity super-injunction just goes to underline how lightweight modern celebrities are.  Back in the day, when we had real stars, they would have been going out of their way to make out sure that the entire world knew about their indiscretions - it would enhance their status as 'wicked rogues'.   Mind you, back then their bad behaviour generally involved drunken rampages culminating in indecent exposure.  But you wouldn't have had Oliver Reed, for instance, trying to suppress headlines like "Drunken Ollie Reed gets his cock out in convent rampage."  He'd have been bloody proud of it!

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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Invisible News

I could feel the waves of irony washing over me this afternoon, when I heard BBC Radio 4 discussing whether anti-terror legislation or super-injunctions by celebrities were the greater threat to journalistic freedom.  Surely the BBC should know that the answer is neither - the greatest threat to press freedom is self-censorship.  Like when the BBC fails to report on what is potentially one of the biggest political stories of the decade: the allegations, being made by the Electoral Commission, no less, that the Tories committed election fraud by overspending during the 2015 general election.  In short, that they 'bought' the election by throwing more money at their campaign than was legal.  But unless you watched Channel Four News or saw the #toryelectionfraud hashtag trending on Twitter, the odds are that you wouldn't know anything about it.  I can understand most of the print press and the likes of Sky News ignoring the story, they are just right wing lick spittles after all, but the BBC really has no such excuse.  Yet it has chosen not to report the story in an inexcusable act of self censorship.

Of course, the Tories have got the BBC running scared - this past week has seen Culture Secretary John Shittingdale trying to intimidate them again with threats of allowing their competitors to effectively dictate their prime time schedules to them.  (Presumably 'Shitters' will deny having had anything to do with leaking this to press, using as a defence the fact that he was chained to a bed by his latest dominatrix girl friend and therefore unable to leak anything, other than bodily fluids, obviously, at the time).  This isn't the first time that the BBC has tried to avoid reporting anything that might embarrass the Tories - remember their reluctance to even acknowledge that 'pig gate' was all over social media?   Sure, they did report on the 'Panama Papers' but, like most of the UK mainstream media, tried desperately to focus on the revelations which implicated foreign leaders, rather than the connections with our own Tories.  The BBC really does need to find some balls and get up off of its knees - as long as they are in power the Tories are going to give the BBC a kicking regardless, so they might as well go down fighting by actually reporting the news.  Right now, we seem to be in the grip of the political equivalent of those celebrity scandals which can be reported by every press outlet in the world except those in the UK.  The difference is that in the case political stories which might embarrass our Tory government, there is no legal compulsion on the UK press not to report them - the Tories don't need super-injunctions, just good old fashioned intimidation. 

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Another Commercial Break

As, once again, I've completely lost the thread of what I was planning to write here today, let's cut to the commercial break, just like they used to on ITV in the seventies, whenever they encountered 'technical difficulties'.  (Such 'difficulties' tended to be Reggie Bosanquet being too drunk to read the News at Ten).  This particular selection, which I found posted on You Tube, look quite fascinating to twenty first century eyes, if nothing else for the kinds of things they were advertising in prime time back in 1970.  It seems inconceivable now that even as late as 1970 the UK had a coal mining industry so extensive and healthy that it had to run recruitment adverts on TV - nowadays you'd be hard pressed to actually find a working mine.  But these were the heady days before the Miner's Strike and when, despite the loss of British Rail as a major customer following the demise of steam traction in 1968, both industry and domestic customers in the UK were still largely dependent upon coal as a fuel source.

Equally strange - to contemporary eyes - is the lengthy advert encouraging people to emigrate to Australia, presenting it as some kind of fabulous land unknown.  But these were the days before we saw suburban Australia on a daily basis, courtesy of Neighbours and Home and Away, and the British public's impressions of the country were largely drawn from movies showing lots of deserts, nuclear tests and people herding sheep.  Consequently, they assumed that the only houses were broken down wooden shacks sitting in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by sweaty men in vests and wearing hats with corks on string dangling from the brim.  But if you wanted to stay at home, then clearly rail was the only way to travel - but only on British Rail's then new overhead electric services, (which only ran on West Coast services via the West Midlands in those days).  The locomotives and MK1 carriages might look quaint now, but back then, in 1970, they were cutting edge.  (Actually, the coaches weren't, they'd been superseded by the MK2 design in the late sixties, air conditioned versions of which were beginning to appear, making the choice of rolling stock for the advert rather odd).

These adverts are also a reminder of how fleeting fame can be: Fanny Craddock and her monocled husband/kitchen assistant Johnny were huge in the early seventies, but even ten years later were virtually forgotten.  She really was the original celebrity TV chef.  Indeed, like today's crop, she was also incredibly autocratic in her kitchen, making clear that hers was the only way to cook and constantly bullying and haranguing her underlings, (in this case, Johnny).  But she'd never do anything so vulgar as to swear on camera, though.  The commercial for the special On The Buses supplement is a reminder of just how big that show became, after only three series, making unlikely stars out of Reg Varney, Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis.  Watching repeats of the sitcom on ITV 4, it is hard to grasp the popularity the show once enjoyed.  Mind you, I'm sure that forty years on, people will be watching reruns of The Office and Miranda, say, and wondering why they were ever so popular.   

Finally, I have to make mention of the road safety film featuring Tufty the squirrel.  There seemed to be hundreds of these, but the one presented here, with the ice cream van, is the one I remember most vividly.  It made a huge impression on me as a child - like Tufty, I always told my mother where I was going and never went to the Ice Cream van unaccompanied.  Frustratingly, none of those kids who defied that advice ever got run over like Willie Weasel - most of them were complete bastards and I'd have loved to see them get hit by car, (but, like Willie, not severely injured, just left a bit humiliated).  It would have been Karma. But, sadly, as I learned, life isn't like public information films.


Monday, May 02, 2016

Baby Talk

As I got rather serious last time I posted here, and bearing in mind that it is a Bank Holiday, I thought that I'd keep the subject matter a bit lighter today.  So let's talk about babies - everyone loves them, don't they?   The British media seem to think so - especially when they are Royal babies.  The weekend saw us bombarded with pictures of one of them, (it's no good asking me which one, I'm simply not interested enough to care), which surprised me somewhat.  For one thing, I'm surprised that the media think that anyone is still interested.  I'd really hoped that the days when everyone fawned over cute pictures of Royals, even baby ones, were long over.  But the press clearly think differently.  I'm also surprised that they ran so many pictures of this infant because, well, they all look alike, don't they?  I mean, that could be any baby in the pictures, couldn't it?   I know that there are people out there right now saying that I'm wrong on this point, but they're probably the parents of young babies and consequently know their child intimately and could always pick them out from a crowd of infants.  But trust me, for those of us happily childless and not too keen on babies anyway, they all look the same.

Curiously though, despite not being at all keen on babies, I found my paternal instincts stirring the other day whilst watching an old film.  The film in question was Ken Loach's Poor Cow and I found myself increasingly irritated whilst watching it, by the main character's frequent neglect of her baby.  OK, I know that she was a single mother as a result of her violent husband going down for robbery and I know that she was living in poverty, but, at risk of sounding like a Daily Mail reader, that's no excuse.  It really shouldn't have taken nearly losing the kid when she left him to play with other local kids (he was a toddler by then, around eighteen months old) who took him off to a local demolition site, to make her realise how important he was to her.  I know it was only a film, but for some reason this aspect of the plot really riled me.  Something about it clearly touched my parental instincts which, regardless of whether we are parents or not, or whether we desire to have children or not, are innate in all of us and seem to activated by the must unexpected of sources.  I should add that pictures of babies, even Royal ones don't activate them.   That said, actual babies, even though I don't really like them, (I'm far happier with children when they're older), do tend to activate my protective instincts, (in truth, my uneasiness around babies might well be down to the fact that they seem so fragile to me and I'm subconsciously afraid that I might inadvertently injure them, so my protective instincts make me recoil from holding them).  So there you go, a bit of self analysis for a Bank Holiday Monday - much lighter than the anti-semitism allegations from last time!