'It's the freakin' weekend and I'm gonna have me some fun,' as R. Kelly once said. Quite what form that 'fun' might take, I have no idea. Probably just enjoying the fact that, for two days at least, I don't have to get up and go into work. Which is always a source of joy for me. As a bonus, this weekend I'm buoyed by the knowledge that I only have to get through next week to reach the first week of my Summer holidays, (I then have to go back to the office for a week, before taking another two weeks off. The reasons that I nowadays have to split my Summer break up that way are far too tiresome and spiteful to go into). Returning to the present, I've already kicked off my weekend in my mow traditional way - a toasted cheese and bacon sandwich followed, this week, by a cream slice. A strange combination, some might think, but I like the contrast between the two. Once I've finished writing this, I intend settling down with some beer and some crisps and indulging in some late night movie viewing. Quite what I'm going to watch, I haven't decide yet.
Of course, with August and my Summer break on the horizon, it means that the Edinburgh Festival must nearly be upon us. More importantly, it means that my annual fiction of doing my one man show at said festival must also be upon us, (every year I tell people that's what I'm doing during my break, as it stops them asking about my holiday plans, then expressing disbelief at the idea I might want to spend time sitting on the beach watching the ships sail by). So, I guess the time is upon us to decide on the title and venue of this year's mythical show. Usually I tell people that it's going to be in a room above some unlikely sounding pub. Perhaps a new venue might be in order this year. I recall a few years ago, someone using some toilets in the basement of, I think, a pub, as a venue. Maybe that could be this year's fictional location - which sort of dictates the theme of this year's non-existent show: toilet humour. Maybe it could be based on one of the many lavatory-themed stories from The Sleaze. As I also have a yen for a supernatural element to this year's fiction, 'Flushed with Fear', a tale of a demonically-possessed toilet, is the obvious candidate. So, there you have it. My one man show at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe will be 'Flushed With Fear', in the toilets of the 'Juggling Jacobite' public house, performances commencing after closing time.
These are strange days indeed, that we find ourselves living through. The sort of days when I find myself receiving e-mails from Jeremy Corbyn, for instance. The latter, of course, is a direct consequence of my having become a Labour Party registered supporter, in order that I can vote in the forthcoming leadership election. Obviously, it's just a form letter, sent out to welcome all new registered supporters. Its arrival does mean that I pass muster as a registered supporter - as I should, as I've never been a member of any other party, nor have I been involved in any of those far left organisations which are now banned from involvement with the Labour party. Pity their checks weren't so strenuous last Summer, when all those Corbyn-supporting entryists from the likes of the SWP were allowed to join up - if they had been, we wouldn't be in the disastrous position we currently find ourselves in. I mean, really, how can the Corbynites keep deluding themselves that his leadership is good for the party when its support amongst the electorate continues to tumble?
But to get back to that e-mail, interestingly, it gives you a choice of links to click on depending upon whether you intend voting for Corbyn, for Owen Smith or you are still undecided. I'm assuming they take to you to the relevant pages on the party website for the candidates, but I haven't clicked on any of them. I can't help but suspect they are simply a covert way for the Corbyn camp to gauge support for their man among us newly signed up registered supporters. A suspicion reinforced by the fact that the corresponding e-mail from Owen Smith (yes, I've had a form letter from him, too) lacks any such options. So, I've decided to keep Corbyn guessing as to who I'm giving my support to, hoping to give him and his cohorts a nasty surprise when I don't pledge my vote to them after allowing them to think that I might. (Obviously, if he ever reads this blog, then he'll know that I'm voting for Smith on the basis that he isn't Corbyn). God, what a Machiavellian bastard I am!
I'm still battling those 'recommendations' You Tube keeps making me. There's less porn, baby and breast feeding videos, (I think my continued dismissal of such suggestions might finally be convincing them that I'm really not interested in watching You Tube videos about such things), but now the weird suggestions go beyond the 'Recently Uploaded and Recommended for You' videos. Now I get row after row of recommended channels full of weird and esoteric shit. Right now, I'm about to dismiss Fox News as a recommended channel, (that's one suggestion which is truly offensive). Previously, I've dismissed all manner of channels about crackpot conspiracy theories, right wing paranoia and reactionary 'news'. Trust me, You Tube, I don't want to watch videos of Nigel Farage, Alex Jones and sundry other fruit-loops. I don't want to watch bile-filled pro Donald Trump bollocks, denouncing Hillary Clinton as the anti-Christ. Surely my viewing history makes this clear?
The problem, of course, lies with the algorithm which You Tube is using to make these recommendations - it is clearly far too crude to be able to 'read' your viewing history correctly. It rather reminds me of those relatives you rarely see who give you birthday and Christmas presents based upon some vague memory of what they thought you liked twenty years ago. Or, worse, based on what your mother has told them she thinks you are interested in. You know what I mean - they vaguely recall that you like films, so you end up with a Julie Andrews Box Set, including The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, when what you'd rather have is the complete Russ Meyer collection. (I hasten to add that this scenario has never actually happened to me). Similarly, You Tube's algorithm seems to make the most cursory examination of your viewing history and makes the most simplistic of connections with its library of uploaded videos: if you've watched a clip of, say, Paul Robeson singing 'Old Man River' in Showboat, then you must be interested in musicals, so you get served up lots of clips from random musicals as viewing recommendations.
Which is why, having watched a couple of episodes of Hancock's Half Hour on You Tube, I now have channel after channel of vintage British TV sitcoms recommended to me. It seems obsessed with the the fact, presumably because I've watched quite a lot of vintage movie trailers, that I want to watch channels devoted to movie trailers. Which I might, if they weren't all current and upcoming films, rather than the fifties, sixties and seventies movie trailers I actually watch. Similarly, because I've watched episodes of various news satire series on You Tube, I get recommendations for lots of stuff the algorithm 'thinks' are similar. Unfortunately, it seems to conflate news satire with crackpot conspiracies and right wing propaganda. Right now, because I've been watching some 1960s British newsreels, often concerning stuff like the then new road-building programme, I'm suddenly being recommended all manner of transport-related channels, full of videos about buses in Birmingham. As I said, the algorithm is just not sophisticated enough to provide any kind of useful recommendations. Not that this bothers You Tube - they just want the clicks and the advertising revenue they generate. Still, at least the breast-feeding videos seem to have stoped at last.
The question right now is: why has this blog suddenly become popular in Japan? I say 'popular', it's a matter of a number of hits from Japan over the past week or so, but it's so unusual to see traffic from that part of the world, when I start receiving traffic from multiple sources in Japan, it is very noticeable. Now, you might well be wondering how I can be sure that they are from Japan when, as I've noted previously here, the location of a visitor indicated by some of the most popular stats tracking services isn't always their true location, (I'm still in El Segundo, for instance, according to one of my tracking services, although my back up service is now giving my location as London, still incorrect but at least in the right country)? Well, in the case of these recent visitors, as well as their given location, the ISPs indicated for them are all Japanese-based, indicating that they really are in Japan. But what's bringing them here? The main referrer seems to be Google. Unfortunately, as Google nowadays withholds search terms, (unless you use Google Analytics, of course), it has so far been impossible to ascertain what I might have written here recently which has attracted the attention of a handful of people in Japan. That said, the fact that they show a referrer at all would seem to rule out the possibility that they are bots of some kind. Mind you, the do all seem to use the Pale Moon browser, a Firefox derivative which, generally speaking, I rarely see. Maybe it's popular in Japan. Who knows?
These sudden clusters of hits from a specific location occur from time to time and have always fascinated me. For many years I was mystified by the popularity amongst Turkish visitors of the 'Doctor Sex' story over on The Sleaze. It was the only page they visited. Eventually the traffic petered out as they obviously realised it wasn't what they were looking for. (I eventually concluded that there must be some kind of porn performer called 'Doctor Sex' in Turkey). Then there's the Portuguese mystery. Every so often I get a visitor from Portugal who, over a period of several days, clicks through, quite literally, every page on The Sleaze. Their exact location in Portugal and their ISP varies, implying there might be more than one person involved. The visits aren't frequent, with up to a year between them, but when they do visit, the pattern is always the same. Who are they? What are they looking for? Again, who knows? Then there are the regular visitors from the UK who, often on a daily basis, click on the home page, but then go no further, even when new stories have been posted. They don't seen to be bots, so, what are they doing? Really, I'm curious. Of course, before wrapping things up, I feel I should mention the 'West Country Stalker' who haunted The Sleaze some years ago. Again, they always visited the same pages, often daily. Although I'm sure it was one person, day-by-day their given location would shift around the West of England: sometimes from Devon, sometimes Somerset, sometimes Dorset and so on. I had my suspicions as to their identity, but could never prove anything. If only Arthur C Clarke and his Mysterious World were still around - I'm sure they could have got to the bottom of it all.
I was reading the other day that some 180,000 people signed up as Labour Party 'registered supporters', in order to be eligible to vote in the forthcoming leadership election, during the two day sign up window earlier this week. I've also seen various political pundits and members of the Corbyn camp assuming that the majority of these new sign ups are Corbynites. Really? They could be in for a rude awakening - I'm one of that 180,000 who forked out twenty five quid for the privilege of participating in the contest and I certainly have no intention of of voting for the bearded bastard. Despite all the sycophantic Momentum cronies continually trying to 'big up' his supposed leadership, I've still neither seen nor heard anything to convince me that he's leading the Labour Party to anywhere other than oblivion. If they honestly believe that Labour could possibly win a general election under Corbyn, then they are even more delusional than I thought.
Then again, as I mentioned in an earlier post, they do seem to fall back on the kind of conspiracy theories, ('false flag' attacks and the like), which are usually the preserve of the extreme right. Today, they seemed to be moving further into such territory, with claims that Corbyn was a victim of 'dirty tricks' co-ordinated by MI5. Aside from the fact that the Security Service (to give them their proper name), would be hard-pressed to organise the proverbial bum rape at a barracks, the truth is that Corbyn is a victim of his own incompetence and lack of leadership skills. He preaches only to the 'converted', makes no attempt to reach out to Labour's broader electoral base, (indeed, he seems to have no understanding of the fact that average Labour voters aren't left wing firebrands who want radical change and who certainly don't favour unilateral nuclear disarmament - although they might be persuaded to such policies if Corbyn and his acolytes could be bothered to articulate convincing arguments for them to an audience outside of Momentum), and seems to have gone out of his way to alienate his own MPs. But what do I know? I'm just one of those 'Blairites' hell bent on derailing Corbyn's march toward a socialist utopia. (A march, incidentally, which seems to involve treading all over long-held Labour traditions and campaigns of intimidation against those who dare to differ from his line).
But the fact is that I'm a long-term Labour voter, somewhat to the left to boot, and, right now, I fear for the Party's long-term future as a credible political force in the UK. Which is why I became a 'regisetred supporter' - as long as Corbyn and his cult retain control of the leadership, the Party can only fail to do its job of representing and helping the less privileged in society. The fact is that I was prepared to give Corbyn a chance - I thought that, so long as he could achieve some kind of consensus within the party, there might be a long-term chance of at least increasing its presence in Parliament, even if that wasn't an out right majority. I was prepared to dismiss his critics among Labour MPs as embittered and out-of-touch right-wingers. But the fact is that he has made no attempt to build consensus, nor has he made any serious attempt to reach out to those in the party who disagree with him. His leadership has been woeful, reaching a nadir with his non-performance in the EU Remain campaign. I also cannot ignore the fact his critics among Labour MPS now encompass the full spectrum of opinion, from left to right. And if we can't dislodge him from the leadership this time, then we have to try again next year. After all, I seem to recall Corbyn, in his days as a leftie back bencher who spent his time defying the Party whip and trying to undermine the leadership, demanding annual leadership contests. It looks like his wish has come true...
You know, right now I'm feeling bloody exhausted. On top of my own job, I now seem to also be doing half of someone else's. Plus, I've just come off of two weeks of covering for yet another colleague, whilst they were on holiday, (all the time still trying to do my pre-existing one and a half jobs). Oh, and on top of that, last Friday, just when I thought I had a working day when I could catch up with some of the back log building up in what is actually meant to be my job, I got lumbered with providing orientation and initial training for the person who is about to take over as my manager. I've just endured two consecutive days of having to work late (with a third in prospect tomorrow - so much for finishing early on a Friday) and wasted a large chunk of today fighting with my work mobile, a godawful HTC which keeps going berserk and sending gibberish texts to random recipients, ignoring any number I dial and instead dialling numbers at random from my phone book and opening irrelevant and unwanted apps by itself. I keep getting told that it is the heat. Which is odd, as my own Nokia Lumia usually endures the same conditions during the working day and always functions perfectly.
Talking of the heat, spending large parts of my day in a sweltering hot car after a largely sleepless night courtesy of the current heat wave, isn't helping - it leaves me tired and irritable. Which isn't a good combination when it comes to the scumbags and idiots I have to deal with: twice this week I've had to stop myself from hitting a couple of them. Of course, management like to talk about the 'work-life balance', although I'm not sure how I'm meant to achieve such a thing when I don't even know when my working day is going to end these days. It's now a regular occurrence to get a call just as the originally planned end of my working day is in sight, expecting to go to the back of beyond to deal an urgent situation which has just come up. The end result of this is that, increasingly, when I finally get home of an evening, I'm too tired to actually do something. Weekends are blighted,too. These days I'm usually so tired by the week's end that I fetch up spending a large part of my Saturdays sleeping.Not that anyone in management seems to give a toss - I keep getting asked about my 'work-life balance' and I keep telling them that it is non-existent. Yet I still get more work heaped on me. It's getting to the stage where the only solution is going to be to tell them to 'fuck off' and walk. Something I was hoping to delay until my mortgage was paid off next April, but, needs must when the devil vomits in your kettle, as they say.
You'd think that deliberately running over and killing scores of people with a lorry in a busy city centre would, in itself, be heinous enough crime. I certainly do. Apparently though, the British tabloids seem to be claiming that he committed an even worse offence: using his mobile phone whilst behind the wheel. Among the ghoulish details which the press like to spread across their front pages in the wake of any given tragedy, were sensational claims about how they were going to reveal te selfies and tweets the driver of the truck involved in the recent terror incident in Nice made from behind the wheel. Now, as I didn't bother reading the actual stories themselves, I'm not clear whether he was doing this before or during his murderous rampage. But the implication seemed to be that it was during. No wonder he ran over so many people if he was texting or tweeting on his phone while engaged in a terror attack!
Now, I agree that people who use their mobile phones whilst driving are criminals of the worst kind - utterly irresponsible morons with no regard for the safety of others who are arrogant enough to believe they have sufficient intelligence to multi-task - but I'm not sure that their actions are actually worse than a terrorist attack. But Hell, I'm not a tabloid journalist, so what do I know? Of course, if he was using his phone at wheel, it raises the possibility that what happened in Nice was less a terror attack than reckless driving. Or, bearing in mind the various reports that the driver was on medication for, amongst other things, depression and a drinker, it could be a case of driving whilst hopped up and inebriated/ But he was a Muslim, so we all have to jump to the terror conclusion. Plus, of course, we had ISIS claiming, some time after the event, that he was one of their 'soldiers'. Mind you, ISIS will claim responsibility for just about anything these days: if a vaguely Arabic man farted in a crowded lift, they'd claim it as a chemical attack in the name of the 'Caliphate'. I suppose that it's a reflection of the time we live in that the immediate reaction to any violent ibcident is to label it a 'terror attack'.
To return to politics (and I keep trying to write about other things as it really isn't good for my blood pressure), I'm amused to see that the pressure is clearly getting to the Corbynite hordes. Faced with growing unease at the tactics of intimidation that some of their ilk have been employing against anyone else in the Labour Party dares to criticise Corbyn or has the audacity to simply disagree with them, they've launched a counter offensive. In essence, this involves questioning whether any of their opponents actually have suffered intimidation. Even where physical evidence of such intimidation exists - the brick put through the window of Angela Eagle's constituency office, for instance - it still didn't happen. (That brick was apparently thrown by a drunk as that sort of thing is common on that street after closing time - the timing, just as Eagle challenged Corbyn for the leadership - was purely coincidental). The trouble is that there are multiple documented instances of Momentum's bullying tactics - which can be as simple as denouncing anyone who questions Corbyn's leadership as a 'Blairite' (I've been on the receiving end of that one myself). So, if, as they claim, there is no intimidation going on, yet their opponents keep documenting these incidents, what are the Corbynites saying? That these are 'false flag' operations? That the so-called victims are actually staging attacks on themselves to discredit the Corbynites?
It's clear that Momentum is rattled by the Labour leadership challenge. They are beginning to realise that there is a possibility that their man could lose. So they react by descending into paranoid conspiracy theories. Which is fascinating, as such things as belief in 'false flag' attacks are generally the preserve of right wing conspiracy theorists. According to them, everything from 9/11 to the recent terror incident in Nice are 'false flag' attacks, orchestrated by 'the establishment' to spread fear among their own citizens, thereby justifying ever more repressive measures in the name of protecting their population from terrorists - and to discredit Islam, ('the establishment' being part oh a global Zionist conspiracy, of course). Even the alleged Zionist conspiracy is echoed in the alleged increase in anti-Semitism among Corbyn supporters. Of course, as far as they are concerned, Momentum's members are victims of a huge conspiracy involving the media, supposedly right wing Labour MPs, and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, designed to prevent the British working classes from seeing that their way is the only true way. The fact that their brand of confused far left ramblings have been consistently rejected at the polls by working class voters is down to the fact that the latter have been brainwashed by this conspiracy, rather than the fact they see through them and recognise their impracticality. The sad thing is that I am seeing people I previously considered rational, intelligent human beings buying into this paranoid fantasy. For some reason they've latched nto the idea that Corbyn somehow represents the true 'soul' of the Labour Party and is returning it to its 'traditional values' - a belief which demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of the party's history. They are buying into some fantasy version of the Labour Party that has never existed and never will. They really need to give up on these fantasies and face the realities of politics. That principles and ideologies alone aren't enough, compromise and pragmatism are essential to trying to implement any part of the former.
So, we limp to the end of another working week. In the case of my overworked car the limping is literal, not figurative. The clutch is going and the earliest I can get it booked in for a replacement (at an exorbitant price) is the week after next. So I'll be nursing it through the next nine days or so, struggling with the change down through second into first, (I sometimes have to force the shifter through the gate for the lower gears) and contending with the occasional slipping. For my part, I've had a lousy and exhausting three weeks or so at work - I genuinely came close to jacking it in at least twice during this period. I really feel at the end of my tether. As I keep saying, my mortgage will be paid off in less than a year, giving me more options financially, but I'm not sure I can wait even that long. The only light at the end of tunnel currently is the fact that I've got quite a bit of time off coming up in August and early September. Hopefully the prospect of an extended period of time to myself can sustain me through the next few weeks.
But here I am on a Friday night after an exhausting week, eating a toasted cheese and bacon sandwich and, for some reason, watching Moonraker yet again. What can I say? It was on and. despite flicking through the other channels, nothing else held my attention. Nostalgia probably has a lot to do with it - it was made in the days when Roger Moore, armed only with a safari suit and a public school accent, could save the world from some nefarious foreigner. Moreover, Anglo-American relations were, for the purposes of the US box office, at an all time high, with the Americans launching space shuttles full of laser gun armed marines to help Britain's top secret agent out at the climax. The special relationship is sealed by 007 shagging a female American scientist in zero gravity against the background of possibly the series' crudest double entendre up to that point: 'I think he's attempting re-entry'. (On a sadder note, the film marked an ill-looking Bernard Lee's last appearance as M - he died before the next Bond film went into production). I miss those days - everything seemed so much simpler.
It's interesting how quickly films can become dated, not just by their subject matter, but also their style. I remember when Moonraker was released - to mediocre reviews but big box office - it seemed the pinnacle of the Bond series, with everything about it seemingly even bigger and more spectacular than its predecessor The Spy Who Loved Me. Seen now, it seems so typically late seventies, with its glossy looking visuals, jokey script, campy performances and plethora of gadgets. It seems a million miles from the grittier Bond movies of recent years (to be fair, stylistically, it seems a million miles from the next Roger Moore film, the back-to-basics and quite gritty in places For Your Eyes Only). But give it a few years and the Daniel Craig Bonds will undoubtedly seem as dated and as much of their era as the earlier Connery movies do now. Even the Brosnan and Dalton Bonds which, in their day seemed much 'harder' and 'realistic' than the Roger Moore films nowadays look incredibly campy and dated.
I always find it fascinating to ponder how future audiences will view any recent movie I'm watching - will it still seem as intelligent or well made in ten years time as it does now? Several times in the past few years I've watched again, on TV, films I'd paid to see at the cinema on their release, several years earlier. I'm usually left pondering why I'd parted with money to see them in the first place - all their flaws and implausibilities suddenly seemed obvious. (Most recently, I watched again The Last Boy Scout, a Bruce Willis action movie I'd last seen twenty years ago at the cinema - it was a ghastly experience. What I'd vaguely remembered as a fairly entertaining and stylishly made action thriller seemed to have turned into an unbearably campy, poorly constructed and confusingly directed waste of time). Nevertheless, despite all of the above observations, the fact is that, increasingly, I find myself watching films made before 1980 - it all comes back to the nostalgia thing, reminding me of a time that seems much simpler than today. Even if it wasn't really.
It's like a slasher movie, isn't it? Specifically, that bit near the end when everyone thinks that Jason or Michael Myers or whoever is under the mask this time around, is dead - but just as the heroes are walking away, we get a close up on his face and his eyes flick open, just as the closing credits start to roll. I refer, of course to Boris Johnson's appointment as Foreign Secretary. Just two weeks ago we were rejoicing at what seemed to be the derailing of his political career for the foreseeable future, when he unexpectedly dropped out of of the Tory leadership contest. But here is - back again in a senior political post. Just what do we have to do to get rid of this utter cock end? His appointment seemed to blind side everyone. Certainly, at least one TV channel seemed to be busy trawling the web for dirt on Johnson - they were clicking on various anti-Boris pieces I've written both here and over at The Sleaze. For a while I was expecting news exclusives about how Boris was about to be unmasked as the Balham Buggerer, or that he had once blacked up and run through the streets of London, dressed as a Zulu warrior, singing 'Umbongo, Umbongo, they drink it in the Congo'. But, sadly, it wasn't to be.
After the initial negative reactions to the prospect of having a dangerous right-wing clown representing the UK abroad, I noticed that tonight the news programmes wheeling out various boris apologists, to tell us how great he was going to be as Foreign Secretary and telling us how, under the buffoonish exterior, he was really a 'brilliant intellect'. I'm afraid that I've yet to see any evidence of the latter. I think people confuse ambition and a sense of entitlement with intelligence. Indeed, there are too many people out there who still think that going to Eton and being an Oxbridge graduate makes someone intelligent. It doesn't. Money gets you through the former and helps with the latter. Moreover, Boris studied Classics, the quintessential bluffer's degree. But really, Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary? Didn't the Brexit vote make us enough of a global laughing stock that Theresa May thought it was worth destroying her credibility as Prime Minister less than a day into the job with this appointment? It seems we're determined to completely undermine our credibility overseas. I ask you, what next? Sam Allardyce as England manager just because he's English? I mean, that would be ludicrous, wouldn't it? A return to the dark ages of international football for England. Oh, hang on - apparently the FA are talking to him now...
I was watching a TV documentary about the Bristol Brabazon the other day and it occurred to me how perfectly the ill-fated airliner symbolised everything that seems to me to be wrong with the UK. Before going on, I'm probably going to have to give a brief explanation of what the Brabazon was, aren't I? Basically, it was a huge transatlantic airliner developed in the late 1940s - it was supposed to push Britain's aircraft industries to the fore of civil aircraft production post war. It was a truly massive aircraft - if you've ever seen the giant hangar at Filton airfield in Bristol, you'll have some idea of its size, as this was orginally built to house the Brabazon. Unfortunately, despite being a magnificent looking aircraft, the Brabazon was backward-looking, both in some of its vital technology and in the basic premises about air travel that it embodied. Despite the fact that the UK had developed the jet engine during the war, resulting in the deployment of the Gloster Meteor fighter in 1944, the designers of the Brabazon felt that it was still too risky a new technology to use in a civil aircraft. Consequently, the Brabazon used piston engines. But it wasn't just this use of yesterday's engine technology which hamstrung the Brabazon - despite its massive size, it carried surprisingly few passangers. But they would have traveled in relative luxury. It was a distinctly pre war vision of air travel, available only to a privileged minority.
Not surprisingly, the Brabazon never went into production - there was one flying prototype and another incomplete aircraft intended to use the new-fangled turbo-prop engines, (basically a jet engine driving a propellor, which, among other things, reduces fuel consumption). But it was typically British: it looked to the past for its vision of the future. It wasn't the only British aviation project of the era plagued by this backwardness: at a time when the Empire was shrinking, Saunders Roe was busily developing the Princess flying boat. That's right, a flying boat, just at the time when the world's airlines were starting to abandon such technology. Almost as massive as the Brabazon and, likewise, powered by piston engines, it was an equally beautiful aircraft. But like the Brabazon, a folly. But some things never change. Nowadays, egged on by politicians and the media, Britain seems to be looking to its past like never before. The whole 'Leave' campaign in the EU referendum seemed to centre upon appeals to our 'glorious' pre-EU imperial past. A time when we didn't need those pesky Europeans - we could just trade (or exploit, if you like) imperial possessions. (Apparently there's a future where we can do that again - they've all been patiently waiting for us to end this EU nonsense and start buying New Zealand lamb again, or something like that). An era when Britain was still a world power, thanks to its oppression of various other countries and cultures. And it isn't just with respect to the whole EU debate - much of the current Tory party's ideology seems to be based around the idea of returning Britain domestically to some kind of fantasy past, when we had a manufacturing industry, wealth was respected and the lower classes knew their place.
Such futures have about as much chance of long term success as the Bristol Brabazon and the Saunders Roe Princess. We need to look forward, not back and learn to let go of the past. To be fair, we aren't always entirely backward looking. Following the demise of the Brabazon, the UK succeeded in developing a truly technologically advanced airliner - the Comet. The world's first jet powered airliner, the De Havilland Comet was a true world beater and, initially, enjoyed huge success. Unfortunately, in true British fashion, it suffered huge set backs due to poor project management. It went into production with under powered engines, due to delays in the development of its planned power plants, which, in turn, meant that the early aircraft had to be built with lighter skins, contributing to the metal fatigue which resulted in several fatal crashes. Whilst the problems were rectified and the Comet 4 could be found in passenger service as late as 1981, it was too late - the lead in civil jet liner design had been taken by US manufacturers, with the DC8 and Boeing 707. That's the trouble, even when we have a potential world beater, we still manage to fumble it somehow, often by sitting on our laurels and congratulating ourselves instead of building on our success and pushing on with the next development, thereby allowing others to pass us by.
So, the 'least worse' candidate has, by default, won the Tory leadership election, following the withdrawal of her only remainig rival. The number of high profile withdrawals from this leadership race leaves one wondering whether someone had the 'goods' on the candidates in question. Were there compromising photos in the hands of some party with a vested interest in seeing Theresa May succeed? Actually, just the thought of such photographs involving Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom is nauseating. Just one look at them would probably strike you blind. You know, the thing about this whole Tory leadership contest which has left me speechless is the tone of much of the media commentary. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard, seen or read, political commentators noting the fact that the new Tory leader will automatically become Prime Minister with a tone of astonishment. Over and again, I've heard reporters who really should know better, expressing surprise at the fact that it will be a few thousand Tory party members who will get to decide who the new premier will be. The words 'unelected Prime Minister' have been bandied around the media, both mainstream and social, with the clear implication that democracy has somehow been subverted.
Which is complete and utter bollocks of course. I find it quite depressing that even supposedly professional political commentators are nowadays so ill informed that they don't grasp the workings of the UK's constitutional arrangements. To reiterate a point I've made over and over again, we do not directly elect a Prime Minister in the UK. We never have, We do not have direst democracy in the UK. We never have. We have a parliamentary democracy, whereby we elect a parliament of our representatives. Whoever, out of those representatives, can command a majority in parliament, (these days it only has to be in the Commons), whether by leading the party with the most seats, or by being able to form some coalition which can muster a majority, gets to be Prime Minister. (Even the fact that they must be an elected MP is a relatively recent convention - as recently as the early years of the last century, it was possible for a member of the Lords - who are definitely unelected - to become Prime Minister if the party they were affiliated to had a Commons majority). All of which means, of course, that Prime Ministers can resign, retire, even die and be replaced without the necessity for a general election.
It is only in recent years that this bizarre and unconstitutional idea that a Prime Minister is only legitimate if they come to power as the result of a general election has started to take root. An idea which demonstrates a profound ignorance of both the British constitution and two hundred and fifty years or so of political history. For the record, a surprising number of our best known Prime Minister's ascended to the post mid-term in a parliament: Lloyd George, Eden, MacMillan, Callaghan, Major, Brown, for instance. Oh, and let's not forget that, despite becoming Prime Minister in 1940, Winston Churchill didn't actually win a general election until 1951, when he was returned to Downing Street. He only became Prime Minister in 1940as the result of a series of 'back room deals'. (Basically, neither of the other two main possibilities, Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, commanded sufficient support in the Commons to form the 'national government' required to pursue the war -Chamberlain because of Munich, Halifax because he'd made statements implying that he saw Bolshevism as a greater threat than Nazi Germany. Only Churchill had sufficient anti-Nazi credentials to gain the support of the Labour party, which was crucial to forming a national government). So, no, we don't need a snap election to 'legitimise' Theresa May as Prime Minister - her legitimacy derive from her ability to command a majority in the Commons, (just like every previous Prime Minister). Besides, right now, under the non-leadership of Corbyn, the Labour Party would likely suffer further, disastrous losses, effectively destroying it as a credible political force.
Tawdry, tasteless and hypocritical, Night, After Night, After Night is a cracking slice of British exploitation. Made at the fag end of the sixties by low budget schlock specialist Lindsay Shonteff (hiding behind his Lewis J Force pseudonym), the film is ostensibly hell bent on exposing the sleazy and distinctly seamy underbelly of the permissive society and the supposedly swinging sixties. It features a stellar, by the standards of low budget schockers, cast, including future Shonteff regulars Gilbert Wynne (Clegg) and Linda Marlowe (Big Zapper), Donald Sumpter (now a distinguished character actor, but then a regular in exploitation flicks) and Jack May (Nelson Gabriel in The Archers), in its tale of a modern day Jack the Ripper terrorising London. Red herrings proliferate as Wynne's police inspector attempts to find out who is murdering prostitutes and any other women he considers to have 'loose morals'. Three main suspects are dangled in front of the audience: sleazebag pick uo artist Donald Sumpter ('I bang every bird I meet'), authoritarian judge Jack May ('I have to suffer degradation, perversion and every other sickening thing in society!) and the judge's clerk, Terry Scully, ('I blame the women, walking around the streets half-naked. They ask for it!'), who furtively reads wank mags in his boss' chambers, even as the judge is sending down another prostitute.
Whilst Wynne's Inspector Rowan becomes fixated on Sumpter as his main suspect, it is quite obvious to the audience that the real culprit is May's increasingly sweaty and twitchy Judge Lomax, as he becomes ever more obsessed with punishing 'degenerates', particularly if they are sexually active women. Really, May's performance is a tour-de-force, as he rapidly disintegrates in the face of the increased degeneracy instigated by the permissive society (as he perceives it), shifting from respected, albeit somewhat bonkers, member of the judiciary to crazed killer. Before going out to claim his next victim, Lomax dons a black leather jacket and blonde wig, clawing and fondling pictures of naked women whilst whimpering and crying as a warm up for his subsequent depravities. It really is quite extraordinary. Just when you think his performance can't go any further over the top, May dons drag in order to evade the police after he is unmasked as the killer. When harassed by a homophobic thug during his flight, Lomax coolly slashes him across the face with a flick knife. A sex killer judge in drag slashimg a gay basher - now that's something you won't see outside of exploitation cinema!
The two red herrings, Sumpter and Scully, also give memorable performances, the former's hustler a loathsome character, a sneering hedonist who treats every woman encounters as his potential next conquest. As played by Scully, Lomax's clerk Carter is no less misogynistic than Sumpter, but lacks the confidence or character to actually seduce them, instead decrying their 'wanton sexuality' whilst slavering over pornography when he thinks his boss isn't looking. When the smut rags aren't enough, he decamps to possibly the shoddiest and most depressing strip club ever committed to film. But, although these two are slimy perverts, they at least aren't killers. True evil lies at the heart of the establishment, the film seems to be trying to say, whether it is transvestite judges carving up women or, on a lesser scale, Rowan's obsessive hounding of Sumpter, culminating in his wrongful arrest and near conviction for a series of crimes he didn't convict.
But, like many a cheap exploitation films, Night, After Night, After Night's sensibilities are somewhat confused. Is it trying to say that the 'permissive society' and female sexual freedom is the root cause of sleazy lotharios, furtive perverts and murderous judges? Or is it trying to say that it is women who are the victims of aggressive male sexuality and a patriachal establishment? It never seems quite sure. Moreover, for a film seemingly wanting to expose and condemn the deark side of the permissive society, it does seem to revel in copius displays of naked female flesh and various copulations. But that's one of the defining features of great exploitation: having your moral cake and eating it too.
Riddled with huge plot flaws, (most notably the fact that Rowan is allowed to continue leading the investigation even after his wife has apparently fallen victim to the killer he is seeking), and reliant on unlikely coincidence, (Sumpter has the misfortune to have Lomax presiding over his trial), Night, After Night, After Night remains a hugely entertaining piece of schlock, a wonderful antidote to all those 'Swinging London' films of the era. Shonteff, as ever, keeps it all moving at a sufficient pace to maintain suspension of disbelief whilst the film is running. He also succeeds in creating a an atmosphere of sleaze and seediness, with 'swinging' London looking tired, dirty and downbeat. Like I said at the start, this is an absolute cracker of an exploitation movie. Don't misunderstand me - there's nothing classy about it and nobody is ever going to hail it as a lost cinematic masterpiece, but it does everything this sort of film is meant to do. Plus, if not exactly inspired, Shonteff's direction is solid and effective, delivering the goods.
Apparently we were all Welsh yesterday. At least that's what the media were telling us as, according to them, the whole of the UK rallied behind Wales in their Euro 2016 semi final with Portugal. The whole UK except me, that is. I do so hate it when the press presumes to know my footballing loyalties. No, I'm afraid that as the Welsh let us down over the EU referendum and came out as Brexit Bastards, there was no way that I was going to support them - I've successfully rooted for Northern Ireland, Belgium and Portugal as they successively played Wales in the knock out stages of the tournament. Finally, Portugal came through for me! Fact is that, even before Brexit, I've never really trusted the Welsh with their heathen made up tongue and their close harmony singing. Besides, they take every opportunity to be rude and hostile to the English, so it's only right that we should seize on any opportunity to reciprocate.
Much to the chagrin to the slavering hordes of middle class Corbyn-supporting nouveau socialists who have been eagerly anticipating it for years, the publication of the Chilcot Report was somewhat overshadowed by the Wales match. Not that it stopped them from getting over-excited at another chance for them to denounce Tony Blair as the anti-Christ and tell us all how they were right about the Iraq war all along. They must have been very disappointed to find that, upon the report's publication, Blair wasn't immediately arrested for war crimes - something they've been fantasising about for years. It must have been a bit like the disappointment Leave voters must have felt the day after the referendum: they'd one, but nothing had changed overnight, we were still in the EU. You'll have to excuse my lack of excitement over the Chilcot Report. Not only are none of its findings at all surprising, but it is thirteen years too late. Whilst not wanting to play down the traumatic effect of the war on those injured in it, or the relatives of those who died on both sides, but the fact is that the world has moved on and we're now faced with more pressing problems. I'm guessing, by their muted response to the report, that most of the great British public feel the same way.
Whilst I opposed the Iraq war at the time and believed that Blair had misled parliament in order to get cross-party support for going to war, I was in the minority at the time and, if the general public were really worried about it, they wouldn't have put Blair back into office at the next election. Unpalatable though it might seem, there is no appetite in the country for 'bringing Blair to account'. Moreover, no matter how angry Blair's decision to go to war made me at the time, there really is no case for labeling him a 'war criminal' - exagerrating a threat for political purposes simply does not a war criminal make. I'm not going to say that we should all 'move on', that would be incredibly insensitive to those who lost people in the war, 'moving on' isn't an option for them, their lives will always be scarred by the conflict. But to keep picking at this festering sore politically is simply unproductive. It will achieve nothing. To be sure, there are important lessons to be learned, but using the issue (and the grief of those who lost relatives in Iraq) as a stick to beat sections of the Labour party who supported the war at the time, in a partisan battle for control of the party, as those afore-mentioned self-righteous Corbyn supporters are doing, is downright offensive.
But I've wandered a long way from the football, haven't I? The truth of the matter is that I didn't even bother watching the match. Why would I waste my time on a Wales match? I'm not Welsh, after all. I instead spent a fair chunk of yesterday evening writing a rambling new editorial for The Sleaze and listening to the latest Overnightscape Central over at the Overnightscape Underground. I have a segment on this one (I'm third up, if you are interested) which I wanted to listen to again. When I completed it, I was quite proud of it - but listening back, I'm not so sure. It takes the form of a series of excerpts from a fake overnight radio show. The trouble is that all I can hear now are the flaws - the sound levels aren't quite right, some of the editing cuts are too obvious and some of the content now seems weak. I'm seriously considering remaking it to rectify these issues and releasing it here under the 'Sleazecast' banner. We'll see.
Watching What's Up Nurse!, a 1977 sex comedy, you start to realise just what a dire state Britain's film industry was in during the late seventies. Not because the film itself is especially bad, although it certainly isn't in the top rank of its genre, it is still amusing in places and professionally made. No, it's the fact that a cheap smut fest like this could muster such an impressive cast, featuring such British comedy veterans as John Le Mesurier, Graham Stark, Peter Butterworth, Jack Douglas, Chic Murray and Bill Pertwee among others. All of them still 'name' performers as far as UK audiences were concerned. Clearly, there was no other comedy film work out there. Indeed, the Carry On series was staggering to its doom following the release of two underwhelming movies, Carry on Behind and Carry on England, in 1975 and 1976 respectively, and would finally collapse and die in 1978, with the dreadful Carry on Emmanuelle, ironically an attempt to parody sex movies. The only alternative employment would have been TV sitcoms, but by the mid to late seventies, these were creating their own stars, rather than relying on the appeal of fading film stars.
That said, the number of sex comedies that Le Mesurier and Chic Murray appeared in seemed to indicate that they enjoyed working on them. And why wouldn't they? Le Mesurier, in particular, was there simply to add an air of 'respectability' to proceedings, usually playing someones' father, or some other authority figure, perplexed by the hapless protagonist's sex-capades. It was easy money and, for good measure, there were a lot of bare boobs thrown in to be ogled. It wasn't as if they were being asked to do anything really undignified, like participate in sex scenes. So it is with What's Up Nurse!, where Le Mesurier is the senior consultant (indeed, the only consultant) at the cottage hospital in a small seaside town, who also happens to be the father of the new doctor's main love interest. The ultimate authority figure for this sort of film, in fact.
The other thing you realise whilst watching What's Up Nurse! is that comedy probably wasn't writer/director Derek Ford's forte. A veteran of British sex films and with an impressive screen writing CV encompassing scripts for many of the top TV dramas of the sixties and seventies, Ford's best work as director were undoubtedly the films he made for Stanley Long in the late sixties and early seventies. The likes of The Wife Swappers, Groupie Girl and Commuter Husbands were effective, well crafted pieces of sexploitation. but they certainly weren't a barrel of laughs. But by the late seventies, sex comedies were where exploitation film making in Britain was at - Ford's former collaborator Stanley Long was busily (and profitably) engaged in imitating the Confessions films with his Adventures series, so it must have seemed a logical move for Ford to follow suit.
Unfortunately, Ford's script for What's Up Nurse! never rises above being a series of live action versions of saucy seaside post cards, (indeed, it's best gag - 'I told you to prick his boil' - actually is stolen from a post card), lacking any real narrative drive or proper comic opportunities for its performers. Corny, would be an understatement when describing most of the gags. Which isn't to say that it isn't mildly amusing in places - you'd have to possess a heart of stone not to crack a smile now and again, (mainly out of admiration for Ford having the nerve to try and get away with such hoary old material, I'll admit). But ford was an old pro and the film reflects this, being professionally shot and edited and moving along at a good pace. He also gets perfectly adequate performances from his cast, allowing veterans like Butterworth and Douglas, as a pair of incompetent coppers, to perform their regular schtick. Likewise, Stark, (who also has a producing credit), does hos stuff as a shady hospital porter and Le Mesurier retains his dignity as the exasperated chief medic. The stand out supporting player is Kate Williams as the Matron, who, if not exactly getting the best lines, makes the most of what she is given. Nicholas Field, as the hapless junior doctor, is no Robin Askwith or Christopher Neill, but nonetheless gives a perfectly adequate ans personable performance.
What's Up Nurse! came at a time when British sex comedies had reached a point when their formula had been pretty much established and, like the Carry On films before them, settled down to produce mild variations on the most popular elements. The settings and plot details might vary from film to film, but the basic elements and character types were constant. Which inevitably meant that, like the Carry On films, they quickly became lazy and repetitive. The biggest problem What's Up Nurse! has is that it is barely distinguishable from a host of similar films. All the ingredients are there: the catchy pop tune as a theme, the naive and bumbling hero, the professional/institutional setting, the standard authority figures, the sexual mishaps, slapstick, even the seemingly obligatory seventies comedy homosexual stereotypes. It's far too comfortable, lacking the gloss, charismatic lead performances, not to mention the gleeful vulgarity, of the Confessions and Adventures films, the satire of Eskimo Nell or the wit of The Sex Thief, for instance. It's not a great movie, but then again it isn't particularly bad, either. It remains an amusing diversion for seventy seven minutes, or so. Although looking dated and corny to contemporary eyes, in its day What's Up Nurse! was popular enough to spawn a sequel a couple of years later: What's Up Super Doc! with Christopher Mitchell replacing Nicholas Field in the lead. (I actually remember this latter film being shown at my local cinema when I was a teenager - it was even reviewed in the local paper. How times have changed).
Well, I did it again. I misread the title of a TV programme, setting me off on an entirely spurious train of thought regarding its possible content. This time it happened whilst I was watching the TV with the sound turned down, (I was speaking to someone on the phone at the time), I couldn't tell you exactly what was on - it was one of those US series about customizing cars, I think - but as I glanced at the screen, the title of an upcoming programme flashed across it. I could have sworn that it said Monster Crap, leaving me wondering whether there was really an audience for such scatalogically themed programming. Of course, the title was actually Monster Carp, a series about catching, well, monster carp. It's one of a surprisingly large number of programmes about fishing and angling which turn up on the various digital channels, their popularity is a mystery to me, a non-angler. Not that they confine themselves to angling, there are also quite a lot of them about trawlers. At least something happens in the ones about trawlers - it can all get a bit dramatic when the weather closes in and the seas start heaving. Indeed, I can understand their popularity more than the ones involving a bunch of blokes standing around on a river bank dipping their rods in the water.
In fact, I'm pretty sure that there would be a bigger audience for Monster Crap than there would be for angling shows. I mean, who could possibly resist a TV series looking at the world's most humungous turds and the men who hunt them (probably by tracking their skid marks)? Footage of guys in baseball caps creeping up on toilet cubicles and kicking in the door to reveal a toilet bowl with a gigantic jobbie hanging over the rim would be 'must see' TV wouldn't it? With segments including 'Turds Too Big to Flush', it would be a sure fire winner. I can just see the latter segment involving a couple of guys like the ones from Mythbusters finding ingenious new ways to dispose of such monster turds - beating them with shovels, high pressure hoses, maybe even blowing them up, like they do with dead whale carcasses. You could even have exterior sequences, maybe shot on location on a beach, with some fearless turd wranglers attempting to catch a huge floater expelled into the sea by a sewage outlet. It could be pretty exciting stuff, as they try to harpoon it, then struggle to reel it in, as it fights violently to go back to the ocean deeps. I can see that I'm going to have to pitch this one to Dave - it would fit perfectly with their current line up.
So, what's the etiquette on wearing hats whilst driving? To be clear, I'm not talking about the sort of protective headgear that racing and rally drivers wear for safety purposes whilst driving. No, I'm talking about regular hats, you know, like bowlers, trilbys and homburgs. I used to sometime drink with a guy who would get incredibly animated on the subject: to him it was some kind of affront against both nature and human decency to wear a hat whilst driving a car. "Is there some kind of separate eco-system inside the bloody car?" I recall him ranting over a pint of Real Ale after he'd seen an old bloke in a flat cap behind the wheel of a Mini Metro. "Does he think it's going to bloody rain on him in there?" Up until then it wasn't something I'd ever really thought about. But it's a good question - should one wear a hat whilst behind the wheel of a motor vehicle? Although, these days, I often wear a hat during inclement weather, (my thinning locks have turned me into quite a hat fan), I must admit that I always remove it once I'm in the car. For me, being in a car is effectively being 'inside' and I always take my hat off when entering a building.
I remember that my father, in his later years, would often sport a hat whilst driving - perhaps it is an age thing? Certainly, my father was born in the 1920s, when, for the working classes at least, cars were still something of a novelty. Moreover, they were often open topped back then, perhaps leading people of his generation to consider them as being 'outside'. But are there any practical reasons for not wearing hats in cars? I suppose that it is possible that a wide brimmed hat, or even the peak of a cap, might conceivably restrict a drivers vision. (Although surely not as much as driving with the hood of your hoodie up, as I once saw some idiot doing. Needless to say that his peripheral vision was severely compromised, as he demonstrated by nearly colliding with several cars on the roundabout he was trying to negotiate). Anyway, I was put in mind of all this when, this morning, I found myself driving behind car whose driver appeared to be wearing a stetson. Which is quite a startling thing to see on the streets of Crapchester. I have to say that it looked all wrong. Not only was the brim of that stetson clearly going to obscure their vision but, the fact is that the only way you can get away with driving in a stetson is if you are Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. And let's not forget, he was driving a Trans Am, not a Vauxhall Vectra, the interior of which was virtually filled by that hat. Not only is a Trans Am far cooler than a Vectra, it is also far roomier. Actually, as a fan of both Burt Reynolds and the second generation Tans Am he drove in those films, I have to admit that one of my few regrets is never having owned such a car, so that I could pay homage to 'The Bandit' by driving it whilst wearing a stetson. (I did once own a second generation Camaro Z-28, which was based on the same body shell and transmission as the Trans Am, but it wasn't quite the same thing). So, I guess what we've learned here is that it is only OK to wear a hat whilst driving if you are a seventies icon in a classic muscle car.