My holiday travels today seemed unnecessarily complex and frustrating. A rambling drive to the coast, taking in two different beaches and a walk across some bleak and windy New Forest moorland was beset with delays and queues of traffic. I'm beginning to think that it's a Tuesday thing - I had similar problems on different route through the Forest last Tuesday. Today, though, the delays weren't caused by roadworks, fat men on bicycles and bad drivers, as they had been last week, but instead by traction engines, agricultural vehicles and livestock on the road. Let's take the latter first. Now, anyone who has driven through the New Forest knows that one of its 'Unique Selling Points' is the fact that the 'commoners' there still have the right to let their livestock graze freely in most of the Forest. Which, in practice, means herds of cows, hordes of horses and ponies and, today, donkeys, wandering all over the place, especially the roads. Normally, this doesn't bother me, but today, I just felt it had gotten completely out of hand, as I was delayed in both directions at virtually the same spot by these bloody idiotic donkeys meandering across the road at a junction. The tailback they caused was phenomenal. It was the first of several delays which contributed to me not getting home until after eight o'clock this evening - an hour and a half later than I'd estimated when I set out earlier today.
Anyway, I was left feeling that things had gone too far - such delays were completely unacceptable, (at least, when they happen to me, they are) - and it's about time we curbed all this nonsense about common grazing rights. Bring back enclosure! At least fence the roads off to protect us from bloody horse, cows and donkeys. Especially the donkeys. To be fair, I've never known the ponies and cattle cause such problems - they know not to loiter too long on the roads. But the bloody donkeys: well, if we can't fence off the roads, then we at least round up the donkeys and ship them off to become the main ingredient in Iceland's beef lasagna (it would make a nice change from horse)? But the donkeys hadn't provided the earliest, or the last, delys of my journey. Before I'd even left Crapchester I'd found myself stuck behind a sodding traction engine for a while. Now, I like steam engines of the railway variety - they run on rails and therefore tend not to delay my road journeys - but the road variety are just a pain in the arse. Belching out noxious fumes as they trundle along at walking pace, they are normally driven by some gurning rustic in a badly knitted pullover who thinks he is a 'character' and thinks it hilarious that he's creating queues which can be measured in miles. I would have assumed that this particular contraption was returning from the recent steam festival in Dorset, (I'd been delayed by some its cousins heading for the event the previous week), except that it was heading the wrong bloody way. Maybe the rustic at the wheel didn't realise that it was over, or perhaps he'd set out early to be sure of getting to next year's event on time. Who bloody knows?
But really, should these relics really be allowed to run on the public highway, making a nuisance of themselves? I think not and I want to know what the government is going to do about it. I think this could become my new fixation: starting a campaign to have steam powered vehicles banned from Britain's roads. The trouble is, though, that if we get them banned from clogging up the roads under their own power they'll only transport them to shows and the like on the backs of huge lowloaders. I've been stuck behind one of these carrying a traction engine before now and, believe me, it's almost as bad as the bloody traction engine running under its own power. Having thus been delayed on the outward leg, my journey achieved symmetry with another delay as I re-entered Crapchaster. This time it was a combination of lane closures and speed restrictions due to roadworks and some bastard farmer driving his tractor and trailer from one side of the town to the other. Really, there is no reason why anyone should need to drive agricultural vehicles through the middle of town other than sheer bloody mindedness. These farming arseholes don't like is Townies driving in 'their' countryside, so they think they can get back at us by driving their tractors through our streets. Bastards. Ban them as well. Still, apart from all these delays, I actually had a pretty good day today.
This time it's butterflies. I know that, logically, after posting some video of bees going about their business, the next bit of video should have been birds, but the butterflies were there in front of me the other day, while I was on a walk. It's no good asking me what type of butterflies they are - they're white, that's all I know.
Anyway, it's a bank holiday again. One of my favourites, in fact, the August Bank Holiday, which effectively marks the end of summer as, with September looming, children go back to school and everything starts to return to 'normal' routines. Even though I'm on holiday anyway, I still get a kick out of today being a bank holiday, a non-working day for many people. It just has that different feel about it: the lack of traffic, the quietness compared to a normal day, just the general feeling of peace. Personally, I had a very laid back bank holiday, a fair proportion of it spent lying on my sofa watching DVDs. I needed to unwind after the events of the weekend, when my house was, for a while, under threat of burning down.
To be fair, it never actually caught fire or even suffered any smoke damage. But the fact is that a house six or seven doors down did suffer a serious fire and, as both it and my house are part of a terrace (which also has interconnected lofts), there was a very real possibility of the fire spreading to every other property in the terrace. The first I knew of it was when, late on Friday night, or early on Saturday morning, whichever way you prefer to look at it, I went to investigate why a vehicle had been idling opposite my house for the past fifteen to twenty minutes. I found myself looking at a street blocked by two fire engines and several police cars. By this time, apparently, the fire had been extinguished. Nobody was hurt as the property was, unusually, empty at the time. I have to be careful what I say next, as it seems possible that there might be criminal charges over the incident, but the tenant was, I understand, arrested on suspicion of arson, but subsequently released. Someone else, however, was consequently arrested and, the last I heard, was still in custody on suspicion of arson. All of which leaves me feeling bloody angry: an accidental fire which potentially could have burned down the entire terrace is one thing, but the idea that some bastard was irresponsible and callous enough to set it deliberately, knowing the possible consequences, appalls me. Fucking bastards.
I had the misfortune to listen to a local radio station the other day. It was only for a few seconds, so I only heard a snatch of conversation, but that was more than enough for me to switch it off. Before proceeding, I should emphasise that my hearing this snatch of local radio cobblers was a complete accident. I'd just retuned my Freeview receiver, (in order to ensure that I could still receive BBC 4HD after the BBC had fucked everything around so that they could broadcast every tedious minute of the Olympics), and was going through all the channels to check they were all there, when I found myself in the local radio section, which now boasts three stations ,(four, if you count the fact that it offers both regional variations of Radio Solent). All of them shit, obviously. Anyway, I clicked through one of them at the precise moment some stereotypically parochial local radio DJ was asking their equally dull sidekick if they knew what had come first in a public poll of the century's favourite sitcoms, with both of them apparently astonished that it was Mrs Brown's Boys. They seemed befuddled and mildly outraged by the fact that it should have triumphed over the likes of Are You Being Served?, Dad's Army and Porridge. Except, of course, that it hadn't. All of the aforementioned were made in the twentieth century and the poll was specifically focused on sitcoms made in the twenty first century. Quite apart from emphasising the general ignorance of tinpot local radio DJs looking to stir up a bit of cheap controversy, this desultory exchange also highlighted the extraordinary amount of hostility which continues to be directed at Brendan O'Carroll's sitcom by people in the media.
That it won the poll should be a surprise to no one - it's viewing figures indicate it's popularity with audiences. Yet this leaves critics and commentators unmoved as they still codemn the sitcom as being rude, crude and obvious. Which, to be fair, it is, but so, in reality, many of the sitcoms of yesteryear currently hallowed as classics. Sure, it lacks the elegant plotting and intricate character study of, say, Hancock's Half Hour, the pathos of Steptoe and Son or the wit of Porridge, but Mrs Brown's Boys certainly delivers in the basic laughs department, something most modern sitcoms are sadly lacking in. Furthermore, it is certainly no cruder that the likes of Are You Being Served? or 'Allo 'Allo (when considered in the context of their times and the broadcasting restrictions of those eras). It also boasts a a degree of post-modern sophistication absent from other sitcoms in that it knows that it is a sitcom, with the fourth wall frequently breached and the fact that it is shot on three studio sets made part of the situational comedy. Yet the critics and their ilk continue to dismiss it out of hand. There are many reasons for this - one being, I suspect, is that Mrs Brown's Boys is unashamedly working class. It's main characters have no desire to 'better themselves' by aspiring to middle class values. They recognise that there is nothing wrong with their values and lifestyle. This sort of attitude is anathema to many, predominantly middle class, critics - the sitcoms they rate are often about the frustrated middle class aspirations of the lower classes , (Hancock, Steptoe, even Only Fools and Horses, for instance).
The other is because of its popularity. There is a persistent belief in some critical circles that what is popular cannot be 'good' and vice versa. For them, mass popularity equates to 'lowest common denominator' in terms of content, In many cases, they are undoubtedly right: popularity most certainly doesn't always equate to quality - just look at the continued success of reality TV series and talent shows. All of which, in my opinion, are utter, brain-rotting, shit. Of course, the key word there is 'opinion' - our responses to what we watch are deeply personal and affected by purely subjective factors, (something you wouldn't know from reading the outpourings of many critics who clearly feel that their pronouncements are incontrovertible fact). Which isn't to say that there aren't objective measures of quality: some things are obviously bad because they are poorly executed with weak scripts, inadequate acting performances and non-existent production values. But do the opinions of critics actually matter to audiences? The popularity of Mrs Brown's Boys would suggest not. Moreover, this year has seen several movie blockbusters panned by critics yet attracting huge audiences. Part of the problem is that audiences and critics are frequently using completely different sets of criteria for judging their enjoyment of what they watch. After all, that recently published list of the hundred 'greatest' movies of the century so far was clearly compiled by critics - I doubt many regular cinema goers would have put Mulholland Drive at the top of the list.
There's another reason why many critics, especially the self-styled critics of social media, dislike that which is popular: exclusivity. They like nothing better than to feel that they a part of a tiny elite sophisticated enough to appreciate some cult TV series or obscure movie. Once it becomes popular, it is lost to them. They are no longer the 'experts' on it, they no longer 'own' it. I've discussed here before how this seems to have happened with the successful revival of Dr Who. After years of being a half remembered cult series, its memory kept alive by a relatively small band of die hard fans, it was suddenly back and hugely popular. Far from being happy, these 'keepers of the flame' reviled the new series, as they no longer had' ownership' and the new producers had the audacity to take in new directions without consulting these fans. The rise of digital and on demand TV has been a boon for this type of viewer as it has created a whole clutch of niche TV series which are popular in terms of the outlets they play on, but still aren't seen by enough people to become huge mainstream popular hits. Thus, they are allowed to feel a continued sense of exclusivity about their viewing.
I know my current bout of time off is having the desired effect as I'm beginning to lose track of what day of the week it is - always a good indication that one is mentally shaking off the regimen of work. It gave me quite a start to realise yesterday that I was only half way through the first week of my leave, I'd managed to pack in so much frenzied activity, (actually, on Tuesday, it was more frustration than frenzy thanks to traffic congestion and bad drivers). It's left me so exhausted that I had to take a day off of taking time off today - I stayed close to home and caught up with a few things. It was far too humid to do anything too strenuous, anyway. The upshot of all this is that I'm far too mellowed out to rant about anything - not even those bloody cyclists who plague all my attempts to drive anywhere. Moreover, I'm feeling far less introspective than I did this time last year - I think I got al out of my system during that first, isolated, week of leave I took. Now I feel free to enjoy myself, with bracing cliff top and beach walks.
Of course, right now we're well into 'silly season', with the world seemingly on holiday all August, newsworthy content is rare, leaving the mainstream news outlets struggling to fill their pages. Consequently, even if I had the inclination, there really isn't anything worthwhile in the news to rant about. Instead we have the usual suspects getting worked up as to whether Jeremy Corbyn could have sat in a seat or not on that train, with the rest of us shrugging and asking, who cares? Overcrowded trains are nothing new, unfortunately. I remember from my days as a commuter, (which encompassed both pre amd post privatisation on the Waterloo-Exeter line), frequently having to stand for at least part of the journey at peak hours. This was generally down to insufficient rolling stock having been provided for the service, usually the result of poor logistic planning. A lack of investment in new stock was the fundamental problem, both under British Rail and South West Trains, the former because of the Tory government's ideological objections to properly funding public services, the latter because the franchise's owners commitment to maximising profit rather than customer service. Filming yourself sitting in a vestibule won't solve the problem Particularly as the Labour party under Corbyn is never going to be in power to change anything about public transport.
Obviously, the Olympics proved a huge boon to the media, particularly the BBC, as it filled up hours of air time and column inches for more than two weeks. Which is why they've all been so reluctant to let go of the games, even though they ended on Sunday, with wall-to-wall coverage of the plane carrying the UK's athletes back to Britain. It's landing was even broadcast live, for God's sake. At the height of the games, even relatively big news stories were being relegated by the BBC to 'below the fold' on their news website and forced well down the running order on TV because of their Olympics coverage. There were days when you could have been forgiven for thinkinf that nothing else was happening in the world other than the Rio Olympics. You know, I really miss the good old days of the 'silly season' when, throughout August, we'd be regaled with tales of UFOs, sightings of the Loch Ness Monster and stories of how Hitler was still alive and well and living in Streatham (or Buenos Aires). All seasoned with tales of naughty vicars holding orgies in the vestry, of course. It was all so much more entertaining than either the Olympics or the battle of the two bearded bastards (Corbyn and Richard Branson) over train seats.
I decided that the highlight of my holiday activities yesterday was watching some bees buzzing around wild flowers. It's not a great film - the bees weren't terribly co-operative subjects, refusing to stay put on flowers and flying around willy nilly. Nevertheless, they are quite fascinating, busy and industrious as they flit from flower to flower, spreading pollen and collecting nectar. Their single-minded dedication to their task is, in many ways, quite admirable.
I can't help but feel that, over the years, I've neglected the insect world in my various summer holiday wanderings. Their activities have provided a background to a lot of my travels, yet I rarely acknowledge their existence. Hopefully, this summer, I might be able to commit a few more of their activities to film, along with some of the other wildlife I encounter. We'll see.
I know, I was barely coherent last week. I promise to try better with this week's posts. That said, there's already a setback. I'm back on holiday and actually recorded some video footage today, which I've edited into a short film, which I'd hoped to post here, However, uploading it to a video sharing service in order to facilitate this is proving problematic, with Vimeo estimating that it needs half an hour (!) in order to upload a three minute video and You Tube giving an estimate of over an hour (!!), neither of which is acceptable, as I'm about to go out to the pub and want to get this sorted before I leave the house. So, I'm going to have to find something else to talk about. Unfortunately, I haven't got anything else prepared - I'm on holiday, damn it! So, I can't go on about how shitty work is, as I wasn't there and I don't want to rant about politics again, as I'm sick of talking about Corbyn and now just want to take action against him instead, (I'm currently awaiting my ballot paper for the Labour leadership election).
I don't watch 'reality' TV, so that excludes celebrity Big Brother from the equation and the Olympics are over, so i can't moan about them taking over the TV schedules again. Low rent movies are a better bet - was up until four in the morning two days running this weekend watching such films. The first time wasn't intentional - I dozed off whilst watching something on Talking Pictures TV, then woke up just as another film started and, despite having seen it several times already, watched Who? in its entirety. I'm not sure why - it still isn't a particularly good film, although it has an interesting premise, which it largely squanders by focusing on the espionage elements of the story rather than the more intriguing philosophical and scientific aspects of the tale, (it was based on a science fiction novel by Algis Buydrs). The second time was, more or less, deliberate - I found that someone had uploaded a complete copy of The Mutations (which coincidentally featured here as a 'Random Movie Trailer last week), to You Tube. A film I'd been chasing for some time now, I decided I needed to watch it before it was removed for copyright infringement, but for some reason started viewing it in the early hours and lost track of time. Hopefully, I'll get round to writing it up here sometime soon. Ah well, the video has uploaded at last, but too late for today. Tomorrow, perhaps.
The Olympics are almost over, thank God. I can honestly say that I've managed to avoid most of it, despite the BBC's attempts to fill the entire schedules of every one of its channels with obscure and unwatchable sports over the past couple of weeks. Don't get me wrong, I'm not belittling those who take part in the Olympics - I'm well aware that simply to qualify for the Olympics, let alone win a medal, represents an incredible level of achievement. It's just that I'm not particularly interested in most sports. Not even when the UK is winning medals at them. I do find it fascinating the way that the British population suddenly become, say, dressage fans, simply because our riders start doing well at it during an Olympic games. The other day Simon Jenkins wrote a piece for The Guardian, in which he drew a parallel between the current media adulation of the UK's successful Olympic athletes and the way in which the Soviet Union used to use sporting success to deflect attention from its economic failings. The article endured an unsurprisingly hostile reception, but I can't help but feel that he has a point. The constant media references to 'our Olympic heroes' can't help but stir memories of all those athletes, cosmonauts and the like were raised to the status of being 'Heroes of the soviet Union'. Ostensibly to inspire their fellow workers but, in reality, to distract the public from continued shortages of consumer goods, poor housing and intrusive state security, theses 'heroes' were also there to help engender a general 'feel good' feeling in the Soviet population: if the people see us beating the world at sports or the space race, the theory went, then they'll believe we're doing well economically.
Is it any different with regard to the UK's Olympic athletes? I don't think there can be any doubt that they are being used to try and create a 'feel good' factor in a Britain battered by the EU referendum and the racism and xenophobia it stirred up, and with a fragile economy likely to suffer further setbacks as a result of leaving the EU. Not that there's anything new in politicians using sporting achievements in this way: there's no doubt that Harold Wilson was happy to use the euphoria created by the 1966 World Cup victory to his advantage. He had also relied upon a repeat performance by the England team in 1970 to create a feel good factor which would benefit Labour going in to that year's general election. Unfortunately for Wilson, England's footballers came up short. However, I noticed today that Britain's Olympians were being used as part of a particularly crude political propaganda, with one of the right wing tabloids emblazoned with a headline screaming that our 'Heroes' were going to be denied a victory parade by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Ignoring the fact that, whenever asked about this, Khan has clearly stated that he was in favour of organising some kind of homecoming, you can clearly see the political subtext in the story: he's a Muslim, he's a bit foreign looking, so obviously he he's an unpatriotic Britain-hating leftie bastard. Pathetic really, but what else should we expect from the right wing press? Anyway, that's another reason we should be thankful that the Rio Olympics are nearly over - it means that the media will have find a new vehicle for their pseudo-patriotic political agendas.
So, looking at internet pornography makes your dick fall off. At least, that's what the UK media wants us to think. (Presumably, they'd rather we all looked at that 'safe' porn they print on page three). Yes indeed, that evil scourge of Britain's youth, online smut, was under attack again earlier this week, with the media wheeling out an 'expert' to tell us that the reason why so many young men apparently suffer from erectile dysfunction is that they've spent too much time wanking over porn on their smart phones. I never knew that you could literally tug the stiffness out of your penis - are there really a finite number of erections a man can experience, so they shouldn't be wasted on wanking? I mean, that sounds suspiciously like that other piece of anti-wanking propaganda, that if you choke your chicken too much you'll run out of sperm. Completely untrue, of course - if you only had a finite amount of sperm, then men would be lugging around their huge testicles in a wheelbarrow like that Viz character, until they'd used enough up that their balls would fit in their pants again. Likewise, an ability to get it up has nothing to do with playing with your todger too much. I speak from personal experience when I say that wanking (whether over internet porn or just the regular variety) does not affect your ability to get it up. Believe me, overuse does not affect the strength of erections.
Obviously, as one gets older, things like blood pressure issues can affect a man's ability to rise to the occasion. (Erectile problems can, apparently, sometimes be an indication of more serious cardiac and circulatory problems). These days, mind you, I find that ennui is the greatest enemy of my ardour: there are times I just can't work up any interest. Which probably isn't surprising in a man my age, who is well past his sexual prime, (although I'm not quite sure when that was - I think it was in the afternoon, possibly on a Wednesday in May, many, many years ago), this sort of 'erectile exhaustion' is what's being blamed for the supposed problems of Britain's youth. They've effectively 'overdosed' on porn, thanks to its ready availability on the web, the theory goes, and the 'real thing', when they encounter it, can't match up the expectations raised by what they've seen, resulting in their inability to perform. Whilst it is true that, back in my youth, we didn't have access to pornography on the scale it is now freely available, (we had to rely on damp porn magazines dumped in hedges), it didn't curb our masturbatory fantasies. If it was possible to wank oneself to death, there would have been a massive mortality rate in my peer group. Moreover, in those parts of the world where porn was treated as normal - the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, for instance, there were no mass outbreaks of 'wanker's droop'. Arguably, the greater availability of porn the web has brought is a good thing for countries like the UK, where sex is still something we get hung up about. Being less furtive about such matters can surely only be a good thing, engendering a far more healthy attitude toward sex, seeing it as something normal, not something to be ashamed of or sniggered about. But the Tories are still obsessed with the idea that freely available internet porn lies at the root of Britain's moral decline, rather than their economic and social policies. At the end of the day, I don't know if there actually is an increase in erectile dysfunction amongst Britain's young men, Even if there is, i doubt very much it has to do with them whacking off over internet smut.
So, last week I was on holiday. I'll be back on holiday, this time for two weeks, next week. For the time being, I'm back at work. Quite honestly, I resent having to split my Summer break in this way: it takes me a week to wind down from the stress of work. Which is why I used to try and take three consecutive weeks in the Summer - I'd have a whole fortnight feeling completely relaxed. Moreover, there would always come a point, midway through the three weeks, when I'd be able to completely forget work altogether, existing in a blissful bubble of carefree joy for a few days. So, having become completely zoned out of work by the end of last week, I found myself rudely thrust back into the fray on Monday. I can tell you that by the end of yesterday, it felt like I'd never been away. So, I'll have to stat all over again next week.
Anyway, you'd have been forgiven for not realising I was o holiday last week: I don't think I mentioned it at all here. Certainly, there were no pictures and no videos posted here. Indeed, I didn't actually take any last week. Which is unusual, I know, as I generally seem obsessed with chronicling my Summer excursions. But last week, I was feeling selfish. I just wanted the first week of my holiday to be entirely about me. I didn't want to share any of it with anyone else, either vicariously through videos and pictures, or by inviting anyone else along. The past few weeks at work were bruising for me and I badly needed some time alone with myself. Being free to think, without the distractions and frustrations of work, is hugely therapeutic - everything becomes much clearer. Things which had seemed like major problems are put into perspective and revealed as mere irritations.
Certainly, it seems clearer than ever now that, once my mortgage is paid off next April (barring disasters), I'm going to have to make serious changes with regard to work. If not giving up this lousy job completely, I'm more determined than ever to at least reduce my hours until I find something better. Even if I don't find something better, I'll at least have more time to myself. It also has become obvious that there are some parts of my past I really have to let go of - some things are just never going to change, so I need to move on. But it isn't just life decisions that get worked through when I've got time to think. I also sometimes find myself speculating about the lives I might have lived, but didn't. I find my mind wandering into idle fantasies. On Friday, for instance, as I walked through a piece of down land I particularly like, with the sun blazing down, a gentle breeze moving the tall grass and a buzzard wheeling overhead, I found myself imagining that my walk would culminate, not in the car park of the country park I was in, but with me walking through the back gate of a cottage. I'd walk down the path and through the back door into the kitchen, whee I'd sit down and drink beer with a beautiful woman I'd never seen before, but who I clearly knew well, as late afternoon turned into evening. It all seemed so idyllic, but was over so quickly. Quite where that particular idle fantasy came from, I don't know. It will never come to pass in reality, I know. But it was nice while it lasted.
Well, I guess I'm just some anti-democratic, Red Tory Blairite bastard, as I applauded last week's decision by the Courts to uphold the restrictions placed by Labour's NEC on who could vote in the forthcoming leadership election. I don't think it at all unreasonable that anyone who joined the party since January should not be allowed to vote in the election: the odds are that many of these new members joined solely for the purpose of voting for Corbyn, or for anyone who stood against him. Indeed, one of the new members who brought the original court action to overturn the NEC decision admitted in a TV interview that his only purpose in joining the party was to vote for Corbyn. Which really reinforces the NEC's case. Surely, nobody should join a political party to pursue a single issue or support a single candidate. Unless they are some kind of entryist who isn't actually interested in the broader aims and ethos of the party, that is. Moreover, it wasn't as if these new members weren't given an alternative route to voting privileges: they could have paid their twenty five quid and become a registered supporter. It's what I've done, (and I freely admit that I'm doing it solely to get the chance vote against Corbyn - I thought I'd use those self-righteous Corbynite bastards' own tactics against them).
But apparently twenty five quid is a fortune and only fabulously wealthy people like me can afford to pay that sort of money. Yet more evidence, apparently of how us so called 'Blairites' (I really wish those Momentum tossers would come up with more original and/or accurate playground insults), hate the idea of democracy within the Labour party. The problem with such nonsense being that political parties, even those operating in democracies, don't actually have to be democratic in their own structures. They are also, by their very nature, highly selective about their membership and who they allow to vote in their internal elections. (Or they should be). Clearly, they have to try and ensure that any new members are committed to the same principles and ideology as the party, otherwise you'll have hordes of people who don't share those values joining in order to subvert them. (Which is effectively what has happened). Political parties aren't mass movements, (as Corbyn and his cronies seem to think they are) - they don't have to attract huge numbers of paid up members, (although all those subscriptions might help with the funding). After all, their function is to elect representatives to bodies such as local councils, Assemblies and the like, and, most importantly, Parliament, by persuading non-party members to vote for their candidates. Otherwise they are nothing more than pressure groups. But unfortunately, the Corbynites just don't seem to grasp this simple concept. Indeed, they don't even seem to grasp the fundamental fact that we don't actually have direct democracy in the UK - it is a representative democracy. Mass campaigns, rallys and the like are all very well, but they can't actually directly influence government policy - that can only be achieved through gaining power by electing representatives to parliament.
Lately, I've found myself thinking about the board games I used to play when I was a kid. These were generally trotted out at Christmas, bank holidays or other family gatherings in order to try and keep the peace with some kind of group activity. The trouble was that favourite games like Monopoly and Cluedo only seemed to stoke up the rivalries and inevitably ended in ill-tempered arguments and accusations of cheating. (Whoever turned out to be the murderer in Cluedo, for instance, would always claim that it was a set-up and that the cards put in that 'solution' envelope had been rigged by one or more other players). Personally, I always found the newspaper-based game Scoop more enjoyable (technically speaking, I suppose that it wasn't really a board game, having no 'board' upon which the players competed, as such). It just seemed less cut-throat and competitive and didn't seem to bring out the worst in the players. The copy we had was pretty ancient - two of the newspapers represented, The Daily Sketch and the News Chronicle, were long since defunct, (it wasn't until an eighties reissue of the game that they were replaced by the Sun and News of the World) - and included the original cardboard 'telephone' which was used to determine events like whether stories were accepted by the editor, for example. This device fascinated me - you had to move this cardboard lever according to some pattern in order to 'dial up' the editor. The later versions of the game replaced it with some sort of plastic telephone - I have no idea how that was operated. I'm sure it wasn't as much fun to operate as the original, though.
The game, if you aren't familiar with it, involved each player trying to complete the front page of their newspaper with different types of story (crime, politics, entertainment, or even the prized 'Five Star Exclusive', for instance) and adverts. In order to do this, you had to collect various cards representing reporters, photographers, ad executives and so on, which enabled you to 'pitch' stories to the 'editor' via that phone device. I don't recall all the intricacies, but I enjoyed playing the game immensely. A lot of that enjoyment came from the stories themselves, which came printed on cards which slotted into place on the 'front page'. They are were all utterly bizarre, involving such things as 'murder by telephone' (a poison dart being inserted into the earpiece of the receiver, so that anyone answering the phone received a fatal dose of the toxin), a fake Martian spaceship, a house building robot, a talking monkey - you get the idea. These stories entertained me greatly and, to this day, inspire the stuff I write for The Sleaze. I have no idea whether anyone still produces Scoop, but I got to thinking the other day that it would be ripe for a modern makeover. I'm sure that there must be some way in which to incorporate phone hacking, for instance, maybe even Page Three girls, celebrity scandals and the paparazzi. (The original did, sort of, reflect cheque book journalism, as I recall each player having to pay for stories using a stack of 'cheques' each paper had). After all, to this day they are still producing variations of both Monopoly and Cluedo, two games I found far less entertaining than Scoop.
Just time for a quick 'Random Movie Trailer' today. Back in the seventies, as the British film industry began to collapse and established studios like Hammer, Amicus and Tigon relinquished their grip on the horror genre in the UK, a number of independent producers started to put out some decidedly off-beat horror flicks. Eschewing Hammer's elaborate period gothics, or Amicus' generally insipid anthology films, this new wave of low budget shockers generally featured contemporary settings and non-supernatural threats. The Mutations is interesting as, despite its new-fangled nudity and violence, it represents an attempt to resurrect the traditional mad scientist movie,also incorporating elements of Tod Browning's 1932 Freaks.
Unfortunately, as I've yet to track down a complete copy of the film, I have to rely upon trailers, excerpts and contemporary critics to get some idea of what The Mutations was like as a movie. Plot-wise, it is pretty straightforward: mad scientist Donald Pleasance is using his students as guinea pigs in his experiments to combine humans with plants. The less than successful results are hidden in a carnival freak show run by Tom Baker (virtually unrecognisable under layers of prosthetics), who also kidnaps the students for Pleasance. Naturally, one of his creations - a sort of venus fly-trap man - runs amok and, well, you can probably fill in the rest yourself. Like Freaks, it uses actual carnival 'freaks', raising the same questions of taste as the earlier film had. All-in-all, it sounds agreeably bonkers and features a suitably rickety-looking seventies monster. Directed by acclaimed cinematographer Jack Cardiff, (who, like his contemporary Freddie Francis, took the director's chair for a fair few genre pictures in the sixties and seventies), you can guarantee that it will at least be nicely shot. Sadly, like many British genre films of its era, The Mutations seems to have undeservedly slipped into obscurity, not even turning up on obscure digital movie channels. Which is a pity as, based on what I've seen and read of it, the film appears a lot more entertaining than some of the better known studio product which still gets regular TV outings.
A more than mildly barmy action film, McBain was a box office failure upon its release in 1991, but has subsequently gathered a cult following. Neither fact is surprising - as an independently produced film, McBain simply didn't have the budget to compete with contemporary studio-backed action blockbusters. However, an action film which features Christopher Walken and his ex-Vietnam buddies tackling their mid-life crises by invading Colombia and helping local left-wing guerillas depose the right-wing regime and its drug baron backers, was always going to attract lovers of schlock movies. Indeed, if it wasn't for the presence of a semi-name cast, headlined by Walken in the title role, featuring Maria Conchito Alonso as the female lead and boasting B-movie favourite Michael Ironside in a sympathetic role for once, the film could easily be dismissed as the sort of direct-to-video action clunker you'd typically find in the bargain bin at your local petrol station shop. An impression reinforced by the fact that the writer/director is James Glickenhaus, best known for the low-budget vigilante flick The Exterminator.
But what lifts McBain above the level of simply being an average modestly budgeted action film is the air of the surreal which pervades it - everything, from the casting to the bizarre plot developments seems off-kilter. Whether that was actually the director's intent, I don't know, but the end result is a weirdly entertaining film. The scenario is pretty standard: having had his life saved by fellow special forces guy Santos in Vietnam, Bobby McBain (Walken) vow to repay the debt one day. Flashing forward to the film's 1991 present day, when Santos is executed in his native Colombia whilst attempting to overthrow the corrupt and brutal El Presidente, (having been let down by the CIA who had promised US support for his uprising), his sister goes to New York to find McBain. Walken's McBain, now working as a welder on a bridge, seems motivated as much by the existential ennui which has enveloped him in civilian life as he is by any desire to repay his debt of honour to Santos. His Vietnam buddies, variously working as a doctor, a cop, a body guard and an arms dealer are equally disillusioned with their post-war lives.
So, naturally, they decide to help the revolution in Colombia, first by raising funds to buy arms by extorting money from local drug dealers. Which is where the weirdness really starts to set in, with Luis Guzman's street level drug boss giving them a lecture - after they've mown down all his lackeys - on how the drug problem is all down to the evils of the capitalist system. It's because all the poor non-whites in New York can't even get low paid jobs at Burger King that they work for him (he also pays better). He suggests that if they want real money, they should extort it from the local Mafia boss. Which they do. This is one of several pieces of 'social commentary' which are, none too subtly, worked into the film. In an earlier sequence, one of the vets is working as a body guard to a company chairman during a stormy shareholders meeting during which the board of directors are revealed as venal and corrupt, the film inviting a direct equation between corporate greed, organised crime and El Presidente in Colombia. Whilst not subtle, it isn't the sort of thing you'd usually expect to find in this kind of action film.
Taking advantage of the fact that Ironside is now a multi-millionaire arms dealer who not only can supply the rebels with hi-tech arms, but can also provide a C-130 transport and fighter escort to deliver them, Walken and co effectively invade Colombia. Wearing loud Hawaiian shirts, naturally. In the process of doing this, Walken shoots down an F5 jet fighter with a pistol, fired from inside the cockpit of the light plane he's traveling in: incredibly, neither the side glass of the plane's cockpit, nor the fighter's canopy are broken. although the F5 pilot is apparently fatally wounded. It just gets more bizarre from there, with the rebels defeating overwhelming odds to capture an airfield for the incoming planes to land on, then shooting down the rest of the Colombian air force with their newly supplied Stinger missiles. Alonso and two of the vets capture the main TV station and she makes an impassioned plea to overthrow the forces of El Presidente live on air. In the meantime, Walken is leading an assault on El Presidente's palace, which mainly involves driving an explosive laden tanker into the gates. It all climaxes with Walken killing El Presidente and the regime being overthrown by the rebels.
None of this really does justice to the movie's fundamental strangeness. Part of its problem lies in a clear confusion over what its central message is meant to be. On the one hand, it seems to be condemning corporate capitalism and extolling the virtues of what is clearly a leftist revolution, yet also seems to be making a case for the virtues of free enterprise over state intervention - the CIA lets Santos down and throughout the film the US administration are shown as being incapable of action, whereas Walken and half a dozen Vietnam veterans succeed in overthrowing the Colombian government in a matter of days. Mind you the film's grasp of US foreign policy toward Central and South America in the nineties is pretty much non-existent: the Colombian regime shown was precisely the sort of governments then President Bush the Senior and his predecessor Reagan had happily been supporting against left wing rebels. To confuse matters even more, despite the film's apparent anti-corporate sentiments, writer/director Glickhaus later left the world of film making to work in corporate finance.
Despite its many lunacies, McBain is, on a technical level, quite slickly made, with decent photography and competently staged action sequences. The performances are variable - Walken appears to have lost interest completely part way through filming, but still provides glimpses of his manic energy and strange diction - but hampered by a cliche-ridden script with a tin ear for dialogue. Unfortunately, the film tends to undermine any real tension by regularly staging utterly ludicrous sequences clearly designed to manipulate the audience's emotions and heighten the drama - Alonso climbs all the way to the top of the bridge Walken is working on in order to meet him, for instance, when it would surely have been simpler to wait at the bottom until he came off shift. Later, there is a scene where a young revolutionary nobly sacrifices himself by destroying an army armoured car by sticking a grenade down its barrel -the scene is so ludicrous and cliched it evokes laughter rather than the intended gasps of sympathy from viewers. There are similarly cliched sequences littered throughout the film: Walken's doctor buddy saving the life of a seriously injured child with a ball point pen barrel and a pen knife, for example. We also know the regime is evil because they mow down women and children (not to mention running them over with their tanks), whereas Walken and co only ever shoot characters clearly flagged up as villains.
But, in spite of all of this, you'd have to possess a heart of stone not to enjoy McBain. In part, its pleasures lie in the fact that it evokes memories of other, better, movies as it unfolds. The whole business of Alonso gathering the peasants' valuables in order to fund her trip to New York to find Walken is clearly inspired by The Magnificent Seven, while the business of Walken and friends extorting funds for the revolution from organised crime and drug dealers reminded me of another Walken film, Abel Ferrara's King of New York, which had been released the previous year, and featured Walken's gang boss raising funds for a local hospital through shaking down rivals. The Colombian invasion sequences (filmed in the Philippines) are somewhat reminiscent of the early Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando, in which he also invaded the base of a South American dictator, taking on and defeating a small army in the process. Most of all, though, McBain is enjoyable simply because it is completely and utterly, barking mad.
In the wake of the Russian Paralympic team being banned from the Rio Paralympics because of the large scale doping of their athletes, the burning question is exactly what form this 'performance enhancement' took? In the first place, was it the athletes or their prosthetics and equipment being 'enhanced'? Were the Russians making illegal alterations to the racing wheelchairs of their Paralympic track competitors, for instance? (The sort of thing various Formula One teams allegedly used to do with their cars). I mean, I wouldn't put it past them to have whole laboratories formerly devoted to the Soviet space programme or nuclear missile development working on incorporating secret rocket thrusters and such things into those wheelchairs. Or maybe nuclear powered artificial legs. Then again, perhaps they've developed a serum which, when injected into their Paralympians before a race, allows them to regrow missing limbs, thereby giving them an unfair advantage. Obviously, as soon as the race was over, the limb would vanish again, making the cheating impossible to prove. OK, I know the video replays would appear to show them with a full complement of limbs, but nobody could argue with the fact that before and after, they didn't have them all.
There is, of course, another, far more sinister possibility: that the Russians are taking perfectly healthy athletes, deliberately amputating their limbs and replacing them with bionic arms and legs, then entering them in the Paralympics rather than the Olympics. In fact, this could be the real reason behind the Russian Paralympic ban. They were trying to circumvent the Olympic ban on some of their athletes in this way. OK, perhaps winning a shed load of Paralympic gold medals wouldn't have quite the same cachet as actual Olympic golds, but what the hell, it's better than nothing, isn't it? Sure, it would mean losing a limb or two, but what's that compared to the glory of winning a gold medal? Besides, the replacement limbs are actually better than the originals. Yep, you can just see how the Russian authorities would have sold it to their athletes. But, sadly for them, now this avenue has been blocked off, too. But not to worry, the actual Olympic authorities have turned out to have less balls than their Paralympic equivalents, as they passed the buck on imposing a blanket ban on Russian athletes, despite the whole doping scandal, resulting in lots of them being eligible to compete after all. If they hadn't already cut of their arms and legs, that is. (Actually, didn't they used to rather patronisingly call the Paralympics the 'Special Olympics', or am I imagining this, or confusing it with something else?).
Well, part one of my Summer break has arrived, as I look forward to a week off of work, enjoying the August sunshine. (Although, as ever, work did its level best to derail my attempts to finish early today with all the usual last-minute shenanigans of stuff that suddenly had to be done urgently and that only I could apparently do). In addition to all the usual wandering along beaches and through forests that I usually do during these breaks, I'm also hoping to catch up with some more exploitation cinema and, more importantly, actually find time to write about it. Over the past few months, work has left me too bloody exhausted to watch my usual quota of obscure and semi-forgotten exploitation titles, let alone write them up here. I'm hoping that situation will change in the coming weeks. Not just because of the time off I've got coming up during this month, but also because of changes at work. There's now a strong possibility that I'll be able to divest myself of the half of someone else's job I've been doing on top of my own job. Which, if nothing else, might reduce my stress levels.
To return to the present, next week is effectively the aperitif to the main event, Summer break wise, when I try to get myself into the stride of relaxing, before having to return to the fray of work again for a week, prior to taking the other two weeks of my break. Last year, I did it the other way around, taking two weeks off, going back to work for a week before taking another week off. Whilst it worked quite well, that last week felt too much like an afterthought and ended too abruptly for my liking. We'll see if the other way around feels any more satisfactory. I suppose I can't really ignore the other event which is going to dominate the next couple of weeks: the Olympics. I was hoping that this time around, with everything in Rio happening in the middle of the night relative to the UK, we wouldn't have to endure the unrelenting TV coverage, as we did in 2012. Nevertheless, the BBC has still contrived to turn both BBC1 and BBC4 into sports channels for the duration. Do they honestly think that licence fee payers are really that interested in the Olympics? I'm certainly not and would rather have the option of watching normal programming, particularly on BBC4. I know there are other channels, but, not only are they making next to no effort to provide an alternative, I don't actually pay for them directly. So, I guess it's a couple of weeks of solid exploitation movies, then.
Police have confirmed that the fart which yesterday caused chaos in a crowded hotel lift in central London was not a terror fart. Despite the incident initially being treated as a suspected terror attack, the authorities now believe that the farter wasn't politically motivated and wasn't connected to any terror groups. "We are now sure that the fart wasn't planned, but rather spontaneous, the result of gastric illness rather than radicalism," a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police told a press conference this afternoon. "Consequently, the farter has been released without charge. Although he is currently under medical observation in case of further dangerous emissions." The fart, so loud that it could be heard half a mile a way and so powerful that it shook windows in adjoining streets, erupted at approximately nine o'clock yesterday evening, leaving the occupants of the lift gasping for breath. Rescuers described those afflicted as 'highly distressed', with many suffering serious respiratory problems and stinging eyes, with several being taken to hospital. "Unfortunately, one elderly lady later passed away," the police spokesperson confirmed. "Obviously, until a post-mortem has been carried out, we can't say for sure whether her death was directly the result of the noxious fumes released from the farter's arse." Unconfirmed reports claim that the victim had turned green before expiring.
The sheer ferocity of the fart had resulted in initial reports that it was a terror fart, released by a jihadist, resulting the police deploying specialist bum sniffing dogs in the area, in case there other terrorists planning to break wind in the vicinity. "Based on its explosive power, the fact that the farter had been described as being 'olive skinned' and reports of the fart's toxicity, led us to believe that it might have been one of those evil-smelling Arab farts," the police spokesperson told the press. "The sort which are fueled by dates and frequently disrupt bazaars in the Middle East, usually when a westerner is trying to haggle over the price of a rug, or something. Anyway, we found it hard to believe that any westerner could have unleashed something that noxious" The police have been condemned in some quarters for what has been perceived as a massive overreaction to someone breaking wind in public. "Between them, the police, the government and the press have created such an atmosphere of fear, that now even a fart can trigger a huge anti-terror operation," a spokesperson for the human rights watchdog Liberty told the BBC. "I wouldn't be surprised if we see the government trying to introduce legislation making it a criminal offence to fart in public as a result of this fiasco."
Back to my old stand by when I can't settle to writing a proper post: some old commercials. These are from 1976 and are all ads I remember well from my childhood. I have to say that, even as a child, I found those two kids in the Birds Eye beefburger commercial incredibly irritating. Where I lived, in the South, children just didn't speak like that. Despite being voiced by Bernard Cribbins, I also found the cartoon bird advertising the virtues of telephone call boxes irritating. Today, the idea of advertising phone boxes seems bizarre: with the advent of the mobile phone, those boxes are becoming an endangered species, with many being turned into things like mini-libraries (!) or used to hose defibrillators. (I find it surprising that none seem to have been converted into public toilets, as that often seemed to be their actual role back in the day).
There are also a couple of classics in there - an example of the Smash ads featuring the Martian robots and one of the Campari series featuring Lorraine Chase. The Yorkie ad is another still well remembered today, as Rowntree tried to establish the masculine image of their chocolate bar. The Corona ad is of interest for several reasons, not least the continued popularity of Sgt Bilko on seventies Britain, thanks to BBC2's continuous late night repeats of the Phil Silvers Show. But, beyond the contradiction of advertising sugary soft drinks with a campaign featuring a fitness regime, the product itself is something that has now vanished - not soft drinks, of course, but soft drinks which were sold door-to-door. It doubtless seems ludicrous to young people today, but in my childhood the 'Corona' man used to come round, like a milkman, with a lorry loaded with crates of litre bottles of carbonated drinks, collecting the empties as he delivered this week's order of orangeade or lemonade, (or even limeade and the then highly exotic cherryade). Finally, the Guinness ad is of significance because it references the scorching Summer of 1976, which I remember vividly: there were times when it was just too hot to even set foot outside of the house. Unfortunately, I wasn't old enough to be allowed to drink a cooling pint of chilled Guinness.
Increasingly. I find myself thinking that living in UK today is like living through the last days of the Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire, if we are to be pedantic, (the Eastern Roman Empire, ruled from Constantinople, carried on for several hundred more years in the guise of the Byzantine Empire). I mean, it's all there - a once mighty Empire now reduced to its core, able only to influence its immediate environs, with even that power waning, yet still in denial over the situation. A rapid succession of increasingly impotent and venal leaders, frequently at odds with both their own legislatures and citizens, try desperately to convince the world that their country still matters, even as its domestic infrastructure collapses and corruption runs rampant. As the Roman Empire declined, its leaders made desperate attempts to buy off or otherwise accommodate the hordes of barbarians appearing at their borders. I'm surprised that supposed classical scholar Boris Johnson didn't use this as an analogy for the current migrant crisis facing Europe during his scurrilous Leave campaign. Personally, I think the Tory leadership's attempts to placate the far right, both in their own party and in the form of UKIP, with the promise of the EU referendum. Or, perhaps, George Osborne's effective selling off of various major infrastructure projects to China, in order to placate the economic threat they pose.
Brexit has undoubtedly hastened this slide into irrelevance. But the less relevant the UK becomes, the further we seem to try and live on our past glories, be it wallowing in the nostalgia of our single World Cup win in 1966, (the fact that we've gone from Alf Ramsey to Sam Allardyce as England manager since then speaks volumes as to how our ambition has wilted), 'Our Finest Hour' in the Battle of Britain or the supposed glories of our long defunct Empire. Even when our leaders acknowledge the country's economic difficulties, it does so in terms of the past: the very word 'Austerity' is calculated to evoke visions of the Blitz and 'plucky little Britain' (and its huge Empire) stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany. The reality, of course, is quite different. People aren't being asked to make sacrifices in the name of victory against a totalitarian threat, but rather to help bail out the banks and their corporate friends. It's all about maintaining appearances right now. That's certainly what the public sector has been reduced to - a mechanism for covering up anything that might embarrass the government and make them look incompetent or inefficient. I speak from personal experience: in recent weeks I've been finding it next to impossible to do my actual job, as I keep being dragged away to try and cover up other people's incompetence and entirely avoidable errors which, if they became public, would prove highly embarrassing to to the department and, by extension, the government. Which is all very well, but it means that my own work isn't getting done, making me appear inefficient and prompting yet more customer complaints, because the things they've actually paid for us to do have been sidelined in favour of pursuing damage limitation exercises. Yes indeed, I can well imagine that this was what Inperial Rome was like as the Empire crumbled.