Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ancient Idiots?

I found myself watching one of those programmes about supposed 'ancient astronauts' the other day. Don't ask me why, it was just on and I couldn't be arsed to change channels - an increasingly frequent affliction I seem to be suffering from.  Anyway, they were going through the usual schtick of presenting examples of Mayan and Aztec art in order to 'prove' that these civilisations had been visited by aliens in the distant past, trying to convince the audience that various carvings could only represent men in spacesuits and the like, because these ancient peoples couldn't possibly have had imaginations, could they?  Which is where I always part company with these sorts of programmes.  Why do these 'experts' find it so difficult to accept that anyone who lived before the twentieth century were capable of creating artwork depicting stuff from their imaginations?  Moreover, why do they think that all are art is purely representative?  Surely the point of art is that one isn't supposed to take it literally?  Mind you, the kind of people who believe in the whole 'ancient astronaut' nonsense would doubtless tell me that they aren't interpreting this ancient art in literal terms - they are reinterpreting it in extra-terrestrial terms.

But you know, sometimes a picture of a snake with a man's head emerging from its mouth might actually represent a snake with a man's head emerging from its mouth, rather than a man in a spacesuit.  Besides, you need to see it in the context of their cultural beliefs, which includes a lot of stuff about snake gods, but nothing about spacemen.  Ultimately, though, what the 'ancient astronaut' brigade seem to ignore is the fact that the people who created a lot of this art were undoubtedly off of their faces.  Hallucinogenic substances played a big part in the lives of many ancient civilisations in South America.  For them, it was less a trip than a religious experience.  It was perfectly natural that their art should reflect what they'd seen whilst under the influence.  Stuff like snakes with human heads emerging from their mouths, for instance.  I'm guessing that spaceships and aliens in spacesuits would seem pretty tame to the Mayans or Aztecs, compared to the sort of stuff they saw whilst out of their boxes on local narcotics.  To return, more or less, to the original point, I'm always somewhat bemused to find the purveyors of crackpot theories assuming that our ancestors were all idiots, incapable of creating their own civilisations or excercising any form of abstract thought.  Just because their available technologies and terms of reference were more limited than ours, doesn't mean that the ancients were any less sophisticated culturally, intellectually or artistically.  The idea that they'd need the intervention of external forces like aliens to advance themselves is not just idiotic, but insulting too.  

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Own Goal

It was never going to end well, was it?  Sam Allardyce as England manager, obviously.   As he makes an ignominious exit after just one game in charge, victim of a newspaper 'sting', it's difficult not to feel some sympathy for him.  I know what it's like to lose a job because of a lapse in judgement.  It's a humiliating experience, the more so for Allardyce as it has all been conducted in public.  Moreover, this was his self-professed 'dream job' and he's blown it before it ever really started, with a spectacular own goal.  So, I can take little pleasure in Big Sam's demise, but at the same time, my sympathies are very, very limited.  After all, you'd have thought that landing your dream, very well paid, job would be enough for most people.  But apparently not, as he still felt the need to seek out other income sources.  OK, to be fair, Allardyce did keep emphasising to the undercover reporters that he'd have get the FA's approval before actually taking their money, but nonetheless, the very fact that he was willing to entertain the idea of providing some kind of paid 'consultancy' whilst still in post as England manager, reflects very poorly on him.  You'd think that someone who so coveted the England job would, once they attained it, conduct themselves with greater decorum.

But Big Sam's apparent greed is simply a reflection of a wider malaise in modern society where, just being paid to do your job isn't enough. No, everyone has to be potentially 'for hire', always looking for that opportunity, no matter how dubious, to use your 'expertise' to make a quick buck on the side.  We shouldn't just be satisfied with what we've achieved - even if that includes landing your dream job -  that sows a lack of ambition, this attitude seems to be saying.  And 'lacking ambition' in this way surely marks you out as a loser.  Unfortunately, this kind of ambition can, as Big Sam as found, can also make you a loser.  But, to get back to the point, the FA has to take its share of the blame for this latest managerial debacle, for appointing such a manifestly unsuitable candidate - Allardyce's obvious ego was always going to derail him.  I always thought his appointment as England football manager an act of desperation on the part of the FA, revealing their total lack of ambition and imagination.  Rather than launch a proper, in depth, search for the right man, they instead went with the popular sentiment of Allardyce's friends in the media.  The FA should, perhaps, be thankful that Allardyce has tripped himself up with his off field behaviour rather than through inevitable failure on the pitch.  Hopefully, they can now redeem themselves by actually appointing someone capable as England manager.  Their appointment of Gareth Southgate as caretaker manager, however, doesn't fill me full of confidence that they are capable of doing this.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (1965)


The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters is one of those films I've long wanted to see and, over the weekend, I finally managed to watch it.  The film is actually three shorts featuring 'The Lemon Grove Kids' packaged together to make a feature length film.  The brainchild of legendary schlock director Ray Dennis Steckler, these homages to the old 'Bowery Boys' ,(or 'Dead End Kids', 'East Side Kids' or whatever else they were being called by whichever poverty row studio happened to employing them at the time), are really glorified home movies.  Steckler co-produced all three films, directed one and wrote another.  He also appears in all three, billed as 'Cash Flagg', playing Huntz Hall surrogate Gopher.  And, if you don't know who Huntz Hall was, well, along with Leo Gorcey, he formed the central duo of the 'Bowery Boys', around whom the various other members (who changed over time) orbited.  Hall's character ('Sach' in the 'Bowery Boys' series) was basically gormless looking and acting, the comic foil to Gorcey's 'Slip', a Brooklyn-accented hustler constantly trying to exploit Sach, (who, more often than not,temporarily acquired some kind of special power in each movie).

The three Lemon Grove Kids shorts embrace the spirit of the 'Bowery Boys', with Mike Kannon impersonating Leo Gorcey's 'Slip' as 'Slug' (complete with Gorcey's trademark malapropisms), constantly berating and exploiting Gopher.  It has to be said that these shorts, which Steckler happily admitted were primarily aimed at children, (indeed, his two young daughters feature heavily in the last two films), are really beyond any kind of cinematic analysis or criticism.  They are what they are.  If you've ever seen and enjoyed any of the 'Bowery Boys' series, then The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters will give you a nostalgic glow.  I have to say that I found them somewhat zanier and far more surreal than the 'Bowery Boys' films, (in some respects, they reminded me of the later Monkees TV series).   Of the three shorts, the first, The Lemon Grove Kids, probably comes closest to the original 'Bowery Boys' films, featuring the eponymous gang challenging their rivals - The East Lemon Grove Kids - to a foot race, after Gopher ventures into East Lemon Grove territory and has the sodas he is buying for the boys stolen.  Complicating things are a local would-be hoodlum who has promised to fix the race for a crooked bookie - to do this he hires 'The Saboteur', a cartoon-like character with a French accent, who proves utterly incompetent.  Thanks to this latter character's antics, the whole affair starts to turn into a live action version of a Warner Brothers' cartoon.  The episode takes a further surreal turn in its epilogue, where a badly off course Gopher encounters an ape, a mummy and even Rat Pfink, (from Steckler's cult classic Rat Pfink a Bobo).

The second short, The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Green Grasshopper and the Vampire Lady From Outer Space, is more obviously aimed at a juvenile audience and is even more cartoonish.  Hired to clear an old man's yard, Slug, Gopher and the rest of the gang encounter a flying saucer piloted by a grasshopper alien and nearly fall victim to the Vampire Lady, who has enslaved the house owner by drinking his blood and is busy kidnapping earth people to send back to her and the Green Grasshopper's planet.  Also involved are a group of witches and a couple of zombies.  The aliens are banished, but Gopher still ends up with a set of vampire fangs.  The final segment, The Lemon Grove Kids Go Hollywood, features only Gopher from the main gang, who teams up with guitar playing Don (Don Taylor) and three of the younger Lemon Grovers (including Steckler's daughters) to foil kidnappers trying to ransom a movie star (played by Steckler's then wife, Carolyn Brandt, (who had previously played the Vampire Lady and had had a brief cameo in the first short).

As mentioned earlier, these are really home movies, shot on or around the street Steckler was living on at the time ('Lemon Grove', naturally) and featuring his friends and family.  That said, despite their non-existent budgets, the three films are surprisingly well made, the only thing letting them down being the poor sound quality which bedevils many low budget productions.  Shot under beautiful blue California skies, they are good natured pieces of entertainment, made by people clearly consuned by the pure joy of film making.  To fully appreciate The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters, I;m guessing that you would had to have seen it playing at a drive-in in the late sixties or early seventies, when viewings came complete with someone wrapped in bandages emerging into the audience as the mummy in The Lemon Grove Kids lurches toward the camera.   Ultimately, the film serves as a fun reminder of an age of cinema sadly gone by, when it was still possible to make movies on a shoe-string, completely outside of the studio system and independent of big distributors, and still get them onto cinema screens in front of paying audiences.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Another Word From Our Sponsors...



For no particular reason, here's a selection of TV commercials from Christmas 1979 that I found on You Tube.  Interestingly, these are actually from the ITV region I grew up with: Southern TV.  Their uninspiring logo (nobody could ever work out what it was meant to represent, every other ITV region seemed to have exciting idents like ships or knights or, at the very least, a dynamic sounding jungle), can be seen at the beginning.  I do remember most of these adverts, particularly the Bloo cistern block one voiced by Kenneth Williams.  Indeed, around this time, Williams' main TV presence seemed to be in the form of voice overs - it was easy work and undoubtedly paid well and, with the Carry On films pretty much over by the late seventies, they provided a useful alternative source of income for him.  The end voice over on the Bloo ad is, of course, the late John Junkin, who was something of a fixture on British TV in the seventies, in a variety of roles including comedian, actor, game shoe compere, chat show host and writer.  Now, sadly, he's largely forgotten.

The Polaroid advert with Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers is another example of a commercial seeking to cash in on a popular TV series, in this case The Good Life, by featuring its stars, rather than its characters.   UK advertising standards prohibited the use of popular TV characters in advertising at the time, so ad agencies played the game of trying to get as close to the TV characterisations and settings as possible without provoking an reaction from the Advertising Standards Agency.  The ad for Summer holiday brochures represents something that always used to irritate me: the advertising of Summer holidays in the middle of Winter.  I understand the psychology behind it: what better time to persuade people to book holidays in the sun than when they are shivering in the midst of a dark Winter's evening?  But I always felt that such ads, showing blazing sunshine and beautiful beaches, simply made Winter feel even more miserable than it was, undermining any attempt to actually enjoy the season.  And yes, it is possible to enjoy the Winter, with its blazing log fires, the comfort of the pub lounge bar and the crispness of Winter mornings.  Nowadays, of course, it's the holiday itself, rather than just the brochures they advertise - and I've learned not to be irritated by them.


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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Outrageous Quotes

I'm afraid that mundane, real world, things have been occupying my attention for the past few days, leaving me unprepared to post here today.  The main thing preoccupying me has been the fact that my car insurance is up for renewal soon and my current insurer has given me the most outrageous quote.  It represents a massive hike that, quite frankly, I can't afford.  Quite how they think they can justify this increase, I don't know.  I'm well aware that the minor accident I had two years ago would affect my premium, but that was two years ago and I'd expect my renewal quotes to start coming down or, at the very least, stay the same, as I've made no other claims since then.  But the world of car insurance rarely makes any sense, with different providers rating different things as a risk.  I always find occupation to be a thorny issue with many potential insurers, as my precise job details aren't usually covered by any of their categories.  I usually end up having to simply put 'civil servant' (which is true, I am a civil servant employed directly by a government department) and then try to explain my precise specialism.  This some times results in the potential insurer virtually accusing me of attempting to defraud them, because they think that my specialised role makes me a higher risk.  I've tired of asking them what statistical evidence is based upon, as I can never get an answer.

Which shouldn't be surprising, as most insurers simply base their occupational risk assessments on assumptions, perceived wisdom, prejudice and anecdotal evidence.  Musicians are classified as 'high risk', for instance, because of their lifestyles - all that late night gigging, I assume - despite the fact that most musicians don't play in rock bands and don't indulge in excessive consumption of drinks and drugs.  Journalists are also, for obscure reasons, 'high risk' - apparently it is all to do with the fact that they might sometimes interview celebrities and end up giving them a lift, which is, of course, super risky.  The fact that most journalists don't work on national newspapers or broadcasters doesn't seem to come into it - sure, some reporters might end up following stories with some degree of risk involved, but that tends to be the exception, not the rule.  Moreover, I don't think that war correspondents drive their own cars in conflict zones.  Pub landlords are another 'high risk' group which makes very little sense.  The 'risk' element is that they work with alcohol and therefore get drunk and drive their car home in an inebriated state.  Except that most landlords live on the premises and therefore are much less likely to drink and drive, surely?   Anyway, as you've probably guessed, I'm in the midst of going through price comparison sites, trying to get ball-park quotes.  Interestingly, even my so far pretty cursory investigations have resulted in quotes more than £300 lower than my current insurer - even taking into account my supposedly 'high risk' occupation in the civil service.  Hopefully, I'll have it all done and dusted before the weekend is over.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fickle Followers

I'm shedding 'followers' like nobody's business, it seems.  I lost five from Twitter alone yesterday and two over the weekend.  Plus, I notice that I've lost half of my 'followers' from this blog.  OK, so I only had two, count 'em two, followers here in the first place, but what the Hell, half is half!  Not that I actually care.  I've mentioned before the fickleness of Twitter followers.  There are too many people using Twitter who seem to expect you to follow them back just because they've decided, for their own reasons, to follow you.  It's a mentality I've never really understood.  If I follow someone on Twitter it is because I think that they are tweeting interesting or entertaining stuff.  I don't necessarily expect them to feel the same way about my tweets and reciprocate the follow.  Following shouldn't be predicated upon the expectation of being followed back.  Not that I'm rigid about these rules - generally speaking, I'll always follow back fellow Humorfeed or Overnightscape Underground members who follow me - it's the courteous thing to do as these are the two main online communities I participate in: it should go without saying that their tweets are going to be of interest to me.

There's another sort of 'fickle follower' - the apparently automated accounts like, I don't know, 'John Travolta News', which aggregate tweets made about, in this case, John Travolta, and automatically follow the tweeting account in case it makes any more relevant tweets.  Sometimes their following is only for a couple of days, sometimes several weeks.  It is accounts of this type which made up most of my lost 'followers' over the past few days.  But they might come back.  I've had the situation where they unfollow you one week then, when you make a tweet on their subject again the next week, they follow you all over again.  They're a real pain in the arse, to be honest.  Then we come to the blog followers.  I've never understood this activity (which is facilitated by most blogging platforms these days).  If I'm interested in a blog, I'll just visit it whenever I've got time to see if it has been updated.  I don't need to 'follow' it.  I think that some blog followers expect some degree of interaction with the blogs they follow.  Well, I'm sorry, but that's something I'm just not into, replying to comments, for instance, is a chore as far as I'm concerned. Sure, I do respond to a handful of commenters, mainly fellow bloggers on specialist subjects. like exploitation movies.  But the fact is that I really don't want to be anyone's 'buddy' or 'pal' online.  I know it might seem strange for someone as anti-social as I am to be publishing stuff online, but the fact is that the web is the perfect platform on which to put your ideas out there without actually having to deal directly with people.  If you like what I write, great.  If you don't, that's fine, too.  But either way, there really is no need to tell me about it!    

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Pipes of Terror

I wouldn't want anyone to think that I was making light of terror attacks, but I found that whilst I was watching the news from New York over the weekend, whenever the term 'pipe bomb' was mentioned, I conjured up a mental picture of the smoking-type of pipe with its bowl packed full of explosive.  Could this be a new type of terror weapon, I mused.  Designed to wipe out infidel pipe smokers by blowing their heads off after a couple of puffs, perhaps.  Because, after all, pipe smoking is the sign of intellectualism, isn't it?  So a pipe bomb campaign could be part of a strategy by ISIS to, quite literally, decapitate the West's intellectual leadership.  Moreover, those Muslim fundamentalists don't approve of smoking, do they?  (Well, according to the likes of the Daily Mail, anyway).  Of course, the flaw in their nefarious scheme could lie in the fact that so few people smoke these days.  Especially pipes, it seems.  I don't know about you, but I can't remember the last time I saw a pipe smoker.  You certainly don't see them loitering outside office buildings with the cigarette smokers.

After going on about pipe bombs, the news coverage of the New York bombings then confused me by claiming that, far from involving pipes, one unexploded device discovered by the authorities was actually a pressure cooker.  A pressure cooker with a mobile phone attached to it, to be precise. This was pretty devastating news: the terrorists were now turning our own kitchen implements against us.  Not satisfied with trying to wipe out our remaining pipe smokers, they clearly wanted to make our kitchens a 'no go' area - possibly with the aim of making us starve to death.  (I have no doubt that a pressure cooker could be a lethal weapon.  Even without explosives.  When I was a kid, I was always convinced that my mother's wheezing old pressure cooker was on the verge of exploding, as it bubbled, fizzed and rattled away on the cooker.  It was bloody terrifying).  Any minute now, I thought, the Daily Mail is going to launch a campaign to have the sale of pressure cookers banned.  But only to Muslims.  I had a terrifying vision of anyone vaguely Arab-looking being surrounded by armed police officers and dragged off to Belmarsh whenever they tried to buy a new pressure cooker in Argos.  Trust me, it could happen.

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Forgotten Films: The Trygon Factor (1966)



Some time ago I was lamenting here over the fact that The Trygon Factor, a sixties movie I had fond, but vague, memories of, never turned up on TV anymore and didn't seem to be available on DVD.  (In English, at least).  Well, in response to that post, I was directed to a recently uploaded English language version of the film, reconstructed from multiple sources, (primarily a German DVD version).  Consequently, I've had the pleasure of reacquainting myself with The Trygon Factor.  From the off, I have to say that it is even barmier than I remembered.  It is also far more stylishly mounted than I recalled, boasting terrific production values, beautiful colour photography and a first rate cast.  All of which is quite surprising as the film is, in effect, a B movie. To be precise it is an attempt to produce a German 'Krimi' movie in the UK.  Whilst it is true that movies of this genre, (which is either based on or inspired by the works of Edgar Wallace, often featuring fog shrouded recreations of London through which prowl masked killers), had sometimes previously featured location shooting in the UK, these had been German productions, intended primarily for the domestic German market.

The Trygon Factor, by contrast, is an Anglo-German co-production, clearly aimed at the sort of international market enjoyed by the then new James Bond-type films.  As with most international co-productions, The Trygon Factor represents something of a collision of styles, with the typical murky monochrome world of the average 'Krimi' - complete with rain slicked roads and dimly lit noir-ish locations - is replaced by glossy, colourful and well lit locations, with a definite emphasis upon sub-Bondian glamour. In the midst of these slick production values a typically bizarre and convoluted 'Krimi'-style plot - including such traditional elements as a masked killer, bank robberies, faked deaths, spooky old buildings (a crypt and a British stately home, in this case), lots of murders and plenty of Scotland Yard detectives wandering around in homburgs and trilbys - unfolds.  Incredibly, this attempt at melding two apparently disparate styles actually succeeds.  The end result, interestingly closely resembles the look and feel of the colour episodes of The Avengers - a TV series which, at its peak, also specialised in combining outlandish plots with a striking visual style and very 'English' locations.

The plot involves Aston Martin driving Scotland Yard Superintendent Cooper-Smith, (played as a smoothy silver fox by Stewart Granger, who had already starred in a several German crime movies), who is investigating a series of violent robberies in London.  His suspicions fall upon an order of nuns working out of an English stately home who, of course, turn out to be a gang of international criminals, who are smuggling the jewels and bullion they rob out of the country concealed in the pottery they make.  For their next robbery, they need to smuggle a German expert into the country disguised as a corpse.  Said expert has a revolutionary multi-barrelled gun which can blast through the vault doors at the bank they are targeting.  Behind it all is the apparently harmless aristocratic old lady who owns the stately home.  Such a bare outline can't do true justice to the true insanity of the film, which includes a pair of murderous 'nuns' carrying out hits for the gang and a mysterious masked and black gloved killer with a penchant for drowning its victims. (Interestingly, this character prefigures by a few years the similar killers who would stalk the Italian 'Giallo' genre.  Even the way in which the drownings are filmed - from the bottom of the font the first victim meets their watery doom in, for instance - and the emphasis on the black leather gloved hands, are remarkably similar to equivalent sequences in later 'Giallo' movies).  Is the killer the old lady's simpleton son or her trendy photographer daughter (played by Susan Hampshire) who likes dressing in men's clothes?

As mentioned earlier, the cast is terrific, featuring not just the aforementioned Stewart Granger and Susan Hampshire, but also Robert Morley as the gang's increasingly uneasy respectable front man, his real life pal James Roberston Justice lends his weighty presence as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner for a couple of scenes, the nuns are led by Brigitte Horney, whilst stalwart British character actors Allan Cuthbertson and Colin Douglas turn up as police detectives.  Granger, in the lead, puts in a marvelously tongue-in-cheek performance which strikes just the right note.  Improbably smooth and urbane, yet still dashing enough to drive a sports car and sweep young girls off of their feet , he is called upon to both fight off killer nuns and romance a hotel receptionist who is, quite clearly, young enough to be his daughter.  Granger's genial performance is off set nicely by some gruesomely staged and interestingly shot killings and a violent central robbery sequence in which the gang first fatally gas the staff of a bank, then dispose of the 'superfluous' gang members during the getaway.

If the film has a problem it is that, to UK audiences at least, it never seems to be able to decide what kind of movie it wants to be: it seems part gritty crime thriller, part robbery caper movie, part detective film, with horror elements like the masked killer and the futuristic high-tech multi-barrelled gun used in the robbery implying a science fiction element.  This might explain why the English-language version of the film has fallen into relative obscurity, despite once having been a popular fixture in ITV's afternoon and late night schedules.  It's simply too difficult to pigeonhole.  That said, unlike many films I remember from my childhood, which I've subsequently revisited decades after last seeing them, The Trygon Factor remains hugely enjoyable.  In fact, I think I enjoyed even more this time around.  Stewart Granger's performance, in particular, left me smiling.  His Cooper-Smith comes on like a slightly down-market version of Patrick MacNee's John Steed.  Whilst Steed might wine and dine a woman before charming her into bed, one gets the distinct impression that Cooper-Smith would have her bra unhitched before the second course was served.  I'd urge anyone who has ever enjoyed any of those old ITC action-oriented TV series or any continental crime films to watch The Trygon Factor - it's a terrifically entertaining B-movie, stylishly directed and well paced, it probably represents a career high for director Cyril Frankel, (who often directed episodes of things like The Avengers).  Besides, how could anyone resist a movie where Stewart Granger punches out not one, but two nuns?

Finally, thanks and kudos to filmboychris 1 Walker for putting together the version of the film I saw and alerting me to its presence online.
  

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Phony War on Fake News

I see that the hoary old business about the evils of 'fake' news stories on the web has raised its ugly head again.  A fellow satire site owner has drawn my attention to a recent online article headed 'Facebook, Twitter Join Coalition to Defeat Fake News', the gist of the article being that the social media giants are joining up with other tech and news organisations to create a 'platform' where news stories can be 'verified' before they get disseminated across the web.  The article cites the usual nonsense about 'faux news' stories going viral to create fake terror alerts and false reports of celebrity deaths.  The problems with this are manifold.  For one thing, false death reports and fake terror alerts tend not, in my limited experience, to be the result of 'fake' news stories, rather they are a result of the way in which social media itself operates, where a single person with sufficient 'followers' or 'friends' can set something with no substance whatsoever trending.  The other big problem is how, exactly, do we define a 'fake' news story?  Just because something published online isn't true, doesn't mean that it has malicious intent.  Obviously, I have a vested interest here, as the owner/operator/writer of a satire site, (well, I like to think that The Sleaze is satirical, others might differ), nothing I publish is actually true.  But that doesn't make me guilty of peddling fake news.  The site makes clear on its masthead, which appears on every page and story, that it isn't true, that it is intended as satire and parody.

This, however, doesn't stop The Sleaze being lumped in with the so called 'fake' news sites on many of those web sites which purport to be able to tell people what they are reading is true or not.  The very fact that such web sites exist indicate where the problem with 'fake' news really lies: the lak of critical faculties amongst some users of the web.  I mean, really - if you can't make a judgement for yourself on the veracity of something you come across online, then I despair of the human race.  Sure, increasingly I find there's a problem when people whose first language isn't English read satire stories, the fact that what they are reading isn't meant to be taken literally, is sometimes lost in translation.  But, I'm afraid, gullibility is what lies at the source of this problem (if, indeed, it really is a problem, which I doubt).  I'm guessing that the very same people who allegedly believe these 'fake' news stories are also taken in by those emails from Nigerian generals and the like, who just need you to give them all your bank account details in order to make you rich.  

But to return to the point, online satire isn't targeted at such an audience.  It's aim isn't to bamboozle the gullible.  Indeed, the only people I've ever seemed to have 'fooled' with any of my stories are researchers working on TV programmes and journalists - people who really should know better.  Although, to be fair to them, I think that they are lazy rather than gullible, trying to find an easy story sourced from the web, without actually bothering to check out the origin of the information they've found in a Google search.  I am aware, though, that there are sites out there whose sole purpose seems to be to promulgate fake news stories, usually in order to generate 'click bait' via search engines and social media, which, they hope, will generate ad revenue from unwary visitors to their own sites.  More recently, we've seen the appearance of a number of right wing sites, some actually masquerading as satire sites, whose mission is to promote their pathetic, but still poisonous racist, homophobic and mysoginistic propaganda, trying to get it onto mainstream outlets via social media.  Of late, they've specialised in churning out outrageous nonsense about Hilary Clinton as part of their support for Donald Trump.  Ultimately, though, I can't help but feel that even if anyone does actually believe any of their fake stories, it will be a case of them preaching to the converted.

Of course, there's another, far more dangerous and prolific source of fake news: the mainstream media itself.  The very organisations which are apparently now committed to 'defeating' fake news on the web are, themselves, filling their pages with palpably false news stories, usually designed to push their own, highly dubious, agendas.  Just peruse the pages of any UK tabloid, from the Daily Mail to The Sun and you'll find all manner of screaming headlines about Muslims, benefits claimants, single mothers and immigrants, heading stories which, upon even the most cursory examination, prove to have no foundation in fact whatsoever.   Even worse are their 'science' articles, promising all sorts of medical breakthroufgs and holding out hope for the seriously ill and disabled, none of which are actually based upon any kind of reputable scientific research.  If the news media are serious about defeating fake news, then they need to start looking closer to home than the web.  Because, let's face it, few, if any, people are really going to believe any story originating from a site called The Sleaze, they might be inclined to believe it if it comes from a supposedly reputable and trusted mainstream news outlet.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Wind That Burns

Have you ever had the experience of letting rip a huge fart, smiling to yourself at the fantastic sound it made and feeling of relief that releasing it into the wild gave you and chuckling at the thought of how it would undoubtedly leave anyone unfortunate enough to be down wind of it gagging, then idiotically turned around and walked back into it?  It just happened to me.  I swear that it was so evil smelling that it left me gasping for breath and my eyes stinging.  Only seconds earlier I'd been proudly contemplating how it had reverberated around the kitchen as I'd let fly.  I mean, I was on my own in my own house, so I felt I had a right to let out a postern blast.  After all, if we can't break wind without inhibitions or regard for social convention in the privacy of our own homes, where can we?  It's one of the great secret pleasures of life, isn't it?  There's something, I don't know, therapeutic perhaps, about it.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who obsessively sniffs their own farts for pleasure.  You know the sort - they like nothing better than letting rip a huge fart in bed, then wafting the covers up and down so as to ensure getting a full nose full of their own stench.  No, I just enjoy the simple pleasure of being able to break wind without inhibition in private.

Anyway, this eye watering close encounter with my own fart left me, once I'd recovered, thinking nostalgically of previous fart-related incidents in my life.  Most spectacular, as I recall, was the fart-lighting craze which gripped many of my acquaintances in our teens.  It provided simple, yet highly amusing entertainment, requiring only a naked flame and a full gaseous load.  Obviously, it was important to only attempt lighting one's emissions through the fabric of trousers or underwear.  I'm sure that we've all heard the cautionary (and probably apocryphal) tales of those foolish enough to try bare arsed fart lighting, resulting in their bum hair or pubes bursting into flame, leaving them with serious - not to mention embarrassing to explain to the hospital - burns.  But, even filtered through trousers, a fart lighting session could produce some truly spectacular blue flames shooting out of one's backside.  Mind you, even with trousers on, there was a risk.  I once lit a fart whilst wearing a pair of trousers with a frayed and ragged hole in the crutch - the frayed material was left smouldering after one especially powerful rear end explosion was ignited. 

But, despite the thrills provided by fart lighting, perhaps my most satisfying fart-related memory is that of the time I used my effusions to defeat school bullies.  Said bullies - actually they were a pretty pathetic bunch who were semi-good at sports combined with a sense of social superiority engendered through having pretentious middle class parents - habitually loitered at the back of morning assembly and liked to demonstrate their 'superiority' by poking, kicking and hissing threats and abuse at those in front of them.  One morning in assembly, I had the pleasure of letting rip, for virtually the entire assembly, a series of 'Silent But Deadly' farts, which silenced them completely.  In fact, the farts were apparently so evil smelling that the bullying bastards were left gagging and incapable of carrying out any of their usual antics, Insisting on standing at the back, as they did, they found themselves trapped, unable to escape the horrific stench.  I'm sure the UN would have condemned me for use of chemical weapons in my war against bullying, but my faux mustard gas attack had a long lasting effect, with the little shits backing off from their bullying activities in morning assembly.     

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Half Baked TV

I know it isn't really the done thing to admit these days, but I'm really not remotely interested in the Paralympics.  Damn it, I wasn't interested in the Olympics - I couldn't wait for them to end and the TV schedules get back to normal - so quite why Channel Four thinks that I want to watch wall-to-wall Paralympics I really don't know.  That said, I'm not sure what it is that I'd be watching on Channel Four if the Paralympics weren't on there right now.  All I know I is that whenever I do turn to Channel Four, with some vague, instinctive feeling at the back of my mind that there's something I want to watch there, all I get are bloody Paralympic games, which just leaves me feeling frustrated.  Still, it has become something of a heresy these days to admit that you aren't interested in the Olympics, Paralympics, Wimbledon, Cricket Test Matches or whatever other 'major' sporting event is dominating the media.  As far as they are concerned, they've paid good money for this stuff so we're going to have it rammed down our throats, whether we like it or not.  And if we don't like then there must be something wrong with us - we're obviously unpatriotic or the sort of bastards who go around throwing disabled people out of their wheelchairs and calling for a cull in the name of genetic perfection.

Apparently, though, once the Paralympics are over, I can look forward to watching the Great British Bake Off on Channel Four, as they've poached it from the BBC.  Or rather I can look forward to not watching it on Channel Four.  I honestly cannot understand where the entertainment value lies in watching people bake cakes.  To be entirely fair here, I don't find any kind of cookery programme remotely interesting, let alone entertaining.  Their supposed popularity baffles me.  So, right here and now I'd like to thank Channel Four for stealing Great British Bake Off from the BBC - it might force Auntie to actually make some proper programmes to replace it.  In fact, I live in hope that Channel Four poaches the likes of Masterchef from the BBC as well.  With luck, the lower ratings they will inevitably get on Channel Four will kill them off for good.  I'm more than mildly surprised at Channel Four stealing Great British Bake Off - wasn't meant to be the channel of cutting edge programming that pushed the boundaries and challenged viewer expectations?  Whereas Bake Off is merely twee.  Mind you, encroaching twee-ness has been evident on Channel Four for some time now, with its penchant for historical dramas about thw Raj and such like.  Not to mention their long time prediliction for cosy afternoon gameshows like Countdown.  These days, sadly, their idea of 'edgy' and 'shocking' includes such dross as naked dating shows, celebrity dating shows and, inveitablt no doubt, naked celebrity dating shows.  These, far from being cutting edge, are just desperate attempts to win viewing figures.  And you know something?  I still can't remember what the Hell it is I thought I wanted to watch on Channel Four instead of the Paralympics.

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Friday, September 09, 2016

Groupie Girl (1970)



Groupie Girl probably represents Derek Ford at the height of his powers as an exploitation film maker, long before his ill advised dalliance with sex comedies like What's Up Nurse?, or the final ultra low budget, unreleased Urge to Kill.  Despite a shoestring budget, Groupie Girl is a gritty piece of drama, given an added edge of realism thanks to being shot entirely on location and the fact that most of the groups featured in the film are portrayed by actual groups of the era.  As the title indicates, Ford's film is a 'ripped-from-the-headlines expose of the seamier side of the British pop scene, as seen through the eyes of the titular character.  The plot is straightforward: teenager Sally, attending a gig with friends, declares that she wants to become a groupie and stows away in the group's van, bound for what she thinks will be the bright lights of the London pop scene.

The reality, of course, turns out to be very different, with the first band she shacks up with sleeping on the floor of a grimy bedsit in between their manager Brian herding them to recording sessions and gigs.  After being discarded by the band member she's been sleeping in favour of his girl friend, she 'trades up', joining the entourage of Donald Sumpter's vaguely Marc Bolan-like singer Steve and his group.  At first this seems an improvement, with Steve seemingly treating her with a degree of respect.  Things quickly go awry when she declines the opportunity to engage in a threesome with Steve and the Collinson twins, (who appear uncredited, have no dialogue and get their knockers out - they'd have to wait a couple while longer before getting their big break in the 1971 Hammer lesbian vampire romp Twins of Evil).  The end result of this is that Sally finds herself unceremoniously passed from Steve' van to that of rival band Sweaty Betty (portrayed by real life band Opal Butterfly), whilst both vehicles are careering down a motorway.  Unfortunately, just after she is bundled into Sweaty Betty's van, the other van crashes into a stationary truck, killing Steve, (prefiguring the real Marc Bolan's death in.a road accident by seven years).

The film then takes an even darker turn as Sweaty Betty become worried that Sally is a potential witness to their involvement in the fatal crash, turning to their domineering manager, Morrie, to resolve the situation Sally finds herself packed off to the country mansion used by Morrie's various acts when they need to hie from the public eye.  Following a police raid led by Neil Hallet's moralistic detective, who is determined to bust Opal Butterfly for something, be it drugs or the fatal crash, Sally finds herself alone at the mansion, tripping out from LSD she has ingested to prevent the police from finding it.  She's rescued by Wesley, another of Morrie's performers, who initially seems far more sensitive and sympathetic than the various musicians she has previously encountered.  However, with Sweaty Betty released on bail after being arrested for possession and Morrie's arrival at the house, things take a downward turn.  Morrie leaves Sally in no doubt as to her lowly status as a groupie - she's no more than a chattel.  When she ill advisedly threatens to expose Sweaty Betty's involvement in the crash, Morrie intimidates and humiliates her in front of Sweaty Betty and Wesley, the latter revealing his utter spinelessness in his failure to protect her.  The film ends with Sally walking away from the mansion and the grimy world of pop.

Packing a lot of incident into its less than ninety minute running time, Groupie Girl is hugely effective, presenting an unflinchingly downbeat picture of the pop business.  Never veering from its purpose, it relentlessly exposes the grime beneath the glamour, revealing the reality of being in a seventies pop group as being a never-ending round of grotty bedsits, rusty vans, cheap hotel rooms and sweaty gigs in provincial venues.  Whilst, today, none of this might seem surprising, let alone shocking, back in 1970, when Groupie Girl was released, the pop industry's public image was still very much that of glamourous, pampered lifestyles, with performers earning big money, living in luxury and hob-nobbing with celebrities.  The closest any of the acts in the film get to the celebrity lifestyle is when Steve and his group attend a part thrown by 'that guy off the telly'. which quickly degenerates into a series of puerile sex games designed to allow various middle aged, middle class pseudo intellectuals and semi-celebrities to get off with young pop performers and their groupies.  The movie also makes clear that most of the performers never see much of the money they make, their finances and careers being controlled by unscrupulous middle aged gangsters like Morrie, or wheeler dealer spivs like Brian, (played by James Beck, Dad's Army's wheeler dealer spiv Private Walker).

Ford's direction is exemplary here, with neither a scene nor a line of dialogue wasted.  He brings an almost documentary like verity to the film, efficiently chronicling Sally's ever darker journey into the seamy side of the pop industry.  (Some discussions of the film highlight an early sequence in the film, featuring Sally and the first group she hooks up with engaging in a series of Beatle-esque antics around London, which look they should be in a Dick Lester film, as being jarring and out of place.  However, it's purpose, surely, is to emphasise Sally's initial fantasy-like view of the pop industry, making the contrast to the reality of the industry she is subsequently exposed to, more stark).  The fact that various incidents in the film are clearly inspired by actual events - most notably the police raid on Sweaty Betty, which is closely modeled on the 1967 drug bust at Keith Richards' Sussex mansion - reinforces the film's air of authenticity.

Despite being marketed as a 'sex film', Ford films all of the sex scenes in a matter-of-fact fashion, characterised more by desperate opportunism on the part of the participants, rather than eroticism.  The cast generally performs well, with Sumpter outstanding as the detached, would be superstar Steve and Opal Butterfly acquitting themselves well as the, frankly, pretty obnoxious Sweaty Betty.  For Esme Johns, who portrays Sally, Groupie Girl was to be her one and only known film performance. A former Stripper, she gives Sally the right degree of teenaged petulance and whiny disappointment as she realises that the life of a groupie is anything but glamourous.  A gritty piece of exploitation, Groupie Girl is something of a minor classic.  A minor classic which proved to be very lucrative for  veteran exploitation producer Stanley Long when he sold the US distribution rights to AIP for £50,000 against a budget of £16,000.  Featuring a great soundtrack provided by several now mostly forgotten groups like Opal Butterfly, English Rose and The Salon Band, Groupie Girl deserves to be better remembered.

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Conflict of Interest?

Maybe he was just doing some research - Keith Vaz, I mean.  Obviously.  It's probably his best defence in the wake of the press stories (accompanied by photographs) about him paying rent boys to visit his flat.  Bearing in mind that the Labour MP is chair of a Commons committee which, amongst other things, is looking into the laws about prostitution, it is surely only natural that he'd want to get some first hand experience of the subject, isn't it?  Mind you, that still wouldn't have been enough to save him from having to resign from the committee as, arguably, having been revealed as a user of prostitutes, he was surely guilty of a conflict on interest.  Of course, the press don't like to see it this way, presenting it instead as a 'moral' issue.  The very same press which, not so very long ago, was found to be tapping people's phones, corrupting public officials and generally behaving like utter bastards with no regard for the law or any kind of moral code.  Moreover, bearing in mind that various of the tabloids still like to print pictures of barely legal girls with their knockers out on their inside pages, I really don't think that they are in any position to try and take the moral high ground.

But what is it that Vaz has done that is so scandalous or immoral (aside from the potential conflict of interest, obviously)?  After all, paying prostitutes for sex isn't exactly unusual is it?  Especially among politicians.  It's an activity that many men apparently participate in, for a variety of reasons.  To pretend, as the press try to do, that it is somehow shocking when a public figure is 'caught' by them doing this sort of thing is ridiculous.  It wasn't as if Vaz was doing it in the street - he was trying to be discreet until the press decided to get involved.  Much is made of the fact that he is married with children, but was entertaining male prostitutes.  Surely the newspapers aren't still living in a world where they find the idea of bisexuality shocking?  I thought we were all more enlightened now.  Sure, there's the matter of his cheating on his wife by using prostitutes, which would be no less an issue if they'd been female, but that's something between her and Vaz, rather than somethig that shoud be splashed across the front pages.

The fact is that I don't even particularly like Vaz, but I'm growing weary of seeing people's sex lives exploited by the press.  It's rank hypocrisy for publications who trade in sexual images of women, (even the tabloids without page three girls still like to publish lurid photos of female celebrities in their swim wear or underwear and to speculate upon their sex lives with lip smacking relish), to try and present this sort of stuff as 'shocking' or 'immoral'.  But enough of my ranting.  As a side bar to the Vaz story, my brother told me that when it broke he was left wondering why the press thought it so shocking that the MP had been paying rent boys, as he'd always assumed that Vaz was gay.  He was more shocked to learn that he had a wife and kids.  Interestingly, I'd had the same reaction many years ago when the former Liberal MP for Winchester, Simon Oaten, found himself all over the front pages for paying male prostitutes to (allegedly) urinate on his head.  His excuse was that he'd become depressed after his hair started receding.  Which explains everything.  Anyway, for some reason I'd always assumed that Oaten was gay and couldn't understand the fuss being made by the press.  Which all goes to show, well, something!  I'm not sure what, but it must surely mean something, shouldn't it? 

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Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Maltese Bippy (1969)



Clearly intended to cash in on Rowan and Martin's new found fame as hosts of  Laugh In, The Maltese Bippy fails entirely to replicate the success of their TV show.  Indeed, anyone expecting to see the anarchic and zany comedy style of the sketch show in cinematic form is going to be severely disappointed.  The duo's movie vehicle actually has more in common with the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope starring Road movies of the forties and fifties, (albeit updated to reflect the franker sexual attitudes and cynicism of the late sixties), which is hardly surprising as the director was Norman Panama, a veteran (as both writer and director) of many Hope and Crosby vehicles, including a couple of Road movies.  Interestingly though, Hope and Crosby are about the only comedy team the trailer doesn't invoke in comparison to Rowan and Martin.

Usually dismissed, by the few people who have seen it, as as an unfunny disaster, The Maltese Bippy actually isn't that bad.  To be sure, it isn't that good either, but it does produce a few laughs despite being an unholy mess with a confused script and poorly structured plot which offer few opportunities to the cast to display their comedic abilities.  It is, nonetheless, a quite fascinating mess, as it veers all over the place in its attempts to find a formula for showcasing its stars' talents.  Despite kicking off in Laugh In vein, with Rowan and Martin wandering on screen, breaking the fourth wall by addressing the audience directly and engaging in their usual banter as the opening titles roll, the film proper quickly settles into being a spoof 'Old Dark House' type of comedy thriller..  Reminiscent of the sort of Monogram B-movies which teamed the Dead End Kids, East Side Kids, Bowery Boys or whatever they were being called that week, with Bela Lugosi, The Maltese Bippy even features Fritz Weaver doing a Lugosi impression as the mysterious Hungarian neighbour or may, or may not, be a werewolf.  Or vampire.

A curious aspect of the film is that, having appeared in their regular Laugh In personas during the opening titles, in the film itself, Rowan and Martin play somewhat different characters, with Dan Rowan, usually the urbane, classy, half of the act, playing Sam Smith, a sleazy low rent and hard up entertainment impresario, reduced, as the movie opens, to directing low budget porn pictures starring his reluctant partner, Ernest Grey (Dick Martin).  Smith has previously persuaded the hapless Grey to buy a run down house next to a cemetery in Flushing - which Grey can't afford, so has to let out rooms to lodgers to pay the mortgage - to which they retreat after being evicted from their New York office.  They arrive to find the police investigating a murder in the cemetery, in which the victim had apparently been attacked and partially eaten by a wild beast.  Ernest, meanwhile, is experiencing the urge to howl like a dog and his doctor fears that he might be afflicted by lycanthropy.  Stan sees this as an opportunity to hit the showbiz big time, trying to pitch top agent Adolf a new act in which a man transforms into a wolf before the audience's eyes - but only at night and during a full moon.

Strange characters proliferate, Stan mistakes an Afghan hound for Julie Newmar, (playing Fritz Weaver's equally strange sister) and Ernest dreams that he actually has transformed into a werewolf. To no one's surprise, it turns out that everyone is trying to find a cache of diamonds hidden in Ernest's house by the previous owner.  It all culminates in a climax where the various villains end up shooting each other.  Except that neither Rowan or Martin is satisfied with this ending and both provide their own versions, before walking off into the sunset, hand-in-hand.  All of which sounds as if it should be amusing, but somehow virtually every comic set piece succeeds in missing the mark.  It is clear that MGM desperately wanted to transfer Rowan and Martin's popularity to the big screen, but had little idea of why they were popular.  Consequently, they had no idea of how to replicate the success of Laugh In on celluloid.  Missing the point that on the TV show much of the humour came from the fact that they were a relatively conventional comedy act linking together a series of mildly surreal, in the sixties convention, sketches, they instead placed them in a more or less conventional comedy thriller, topped and tailed by 'zany' opening and closing sequences.

The end result is a film which is neither one thing nor the other: it can't decide whether it is a spoof of the movies it resembles a homage to them or just a straight comedy thriller.  The poorly conceived and structured plot not only reduces much of the film to a series of loosely connected episodes, but also prevents any of the suspense required for a successful comedy thriller to build.  At the same time, most of its attempts at 'zaniness' just seem to conventional to work - the ideas just never take flight and the 'zaniness' rarely rises above the level of slapstick as director Panama keeps pushing the movie back to the kind of humour he was clearly more familiar with.  Moreover, its attempts to seem more 'contemporary' than the old kind of Hope and Crosby movies it is modeled on - the porn  movie opening and Stan's constant sleazy hustling - jar badly with the other elements.   Still, The Maltese Bippy remains a fascinating curiosity and well worth ninety minutes of your time if you are at all interested in the state of Hollywood in the late sixties, as the studios desperately tried to harness the popularity of any and every pop culture fad in their attempts to arrest rapidly declining cinema audiences.  Oh, and if you aren't familiar with Laugh In and are wondering about the film's title, it references the Rowan and Martin catchphrase from the show: 'You bet your sweet bippy'.  (This was usually followed by someone asking 'What's a bippy?'  We never found out). 

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Monday, September 05, 2016

Back to Business

Now my holidays are over, I suppose that I should get back to posting more serious stuff here.  But, to be frank, I'm too knackered after my return to work.  The interesting things is that while I was on holiday, I found myself completely running out of inspiration for stuff to write both here and over at The Sleaze.  I've come to the conclusion that it was because I was too busy actually enjoying myself to have time to think up story ideas.  By contrast, work is so mind-numbingly dull that developing new ideas for posts and stories is a welcome distraction.  So, I've now got plenty of story ideas for The Sleaze this month and, hopefully, we'll get back to the schlock movie write ups here later this week.  Of course, ii isn't just a matter of having too many other activities to occupy my mind which has blunted my inspiration.  It hasn't helped that this year's 'silly season' has been particularly dull, with very little in the news to set my creative processes off.  But, right on cue, as soon as August and the 'silly season' ended, stuff with the potential to form the basis of new stories started turning up.

So, before we, maybe, get back to business here, I'd like to reflect on some of the things that did happen over the past couple of weeks, but which I somehow neglected to write about at the time.  Actually, there's only one thing I can recall that I meant to mention here but didn't.  When I heard about that flight in Scotland which was delayed for hours after the pilot and co-pilot had to be replaced on suspicion that they were over the drink-fly limit, my first reaction was to think: 'God, I hope that they looked like Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin'.  It just struck me as the sort of situation you used to see them in in their seemingly booze-fuelled movies in the sixties.  A picture of Davis and Martin dressed as airline pilots, sat in the cockpit of a Boeing 707, drinking Martinis whilst surrounded by air hostesses (who have somehow found themselves locked in the flight deck with Sammy and Dean, flashed before my eyes.  It took me back to those halcyon days of my childhood, when the image of success and fun peddled by adverts and movies seemed to consist of such alcohol induced fantasies.  Back them two drunk guys in charge of an airliner full of passengers would been passed off as a 'bit of fun' rather than a serious health and safety incident.  That's what is wrong with the modern world - people just take things too seriously. 

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Friday, September 02, 2016

Two Weeks in an Open Necked Shirt

Here we are, at the tail end of my summer break.  It has, indeed, been two weeks in an open necked shirt, (not the same one for all two weeks, I hasten to add - even I change my shirt every so often).  It's one of the little things about not being at work I love, the dispensing of a tie.  Personally, I've never seen the point of ties, but they do provide a useful demarcation of work and leisure: tie means work and formality, no tie equates to fun and relaxation.  Taking my tie off at the end of the working day has become a ritual for me: once it is off, work has no domain over me until the next working day.  But these matters of sartorial elegance - tie or no tie and so on - can have wider repercussions, it seems.  Apparently, even in this day and and age, there are people who think that they can make some judgement upon your character, or even competence, based upon how you dress.  I've just been reading how wearing brown shoes in the City of London will have you marked out as 'lower class' and someone 'unsuitable' to work in city institutions.  You could also be in trouble if you look uncomfortable in a suit at a job interview in the City.  Even if you do look comfortable  in your suit, wearing a 'loud' tie (ie not an 'old school tie') will mark you out as unsuitable.

So it's just as well that I never wanted a career in high finance: I'm never comfortable in a formal suit, don't posses any kind of school or regimental tie and favour brown shoes.  To be fair, I don't wear them to work (I have a pair of black boots for that) and I do have a pair of black shoes I wear with my suit, (which still comes out for job interviews and funerals - ominously, the latter are becoming more frequent than the former).  Like ties, I associate black shoes with school uniforms and all the years that I had to wear the bloody things.  Wearing them makes me feel as if I'm still wearing a uniform.  Interestingly, these perceptions seem to be uniquely British.  Elsewhere in Europe they apparently aren't so hung up about the supposed correlation of shoe colour and social class.  Indeed, when I worked for the MoD and had to attend meetings at NATO in Brussels, I was always struck by the far more relaxed way in which continental colleagues dressed for work.  I particularly remember a Danish guy who attended meetings in a lilac suit - that certainly wouldn't be allowed in the city, or anywhere else I dare say, in the UK.  But, like I say, the tie is a useful symbol of authority to wear at work - I also found wearing a tie useful when teaching teenagers. It marks you out as the adult in the classroom.  But whatever the work uses of ties, there's nothing like spending two weeks in an open necked shirt to make you feel relaxed.  I've enjoyed the lack of restrictions it indicates - the fact that, for the past fortnight at least, I've been at nobody else's behest, answerable to no one but myself and master of my own life. I've been able to go where I like, when I like.  Something I clearly need to do more.

Anyway, with my return to work next week, things will doubtless return to normal here.  In between all my travels I've also managed to catch up with some classic schlock movies (including the obscure 1969 Rowan and Martin vehicle The Maltese Bippy).  So, hopefully, write ups of some of these should start appearing the next couple of weeks.

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Thursday, September 01, 2016

Summer's Over

So, September's here and summer is officially over. Possibly the best month of the year - August, with its long, lazy days and permanent holiday feel - is behind us for another twelve months.  That said, too many people, particularly in the media, make far too much of the change of month, lamenting summer as if it is dead and gone forever and giving the impression that the leaves will immediately start falling from the trees and temperatures drop like a stone.  Whilst it is true that, in meteorological terms summer has officially ended and autumn officially began today, that doesn't mean that summer-like won't persist for some time, (just as autumnal feeling weather can occur during summer).  Indeed, today was a beautiful sunny day with decent temperatures - I spent a lot of it on the beach.  By contrast, yesterday, officially still a summers day, was cooler, overcast and characterised by intermittent drizzle.  I know, I was out in it.  But it isn't just the change of month which symbolises the end of summer: the football transfer window has shut and children are beginning to drift back to school.

The latter event is actually one of the reasons I try to time my main summer break to occur close to the end of August every year.  Not only does it mean that sometimes, when it extends into early September, I get some holidays free of other people's children, as they've started school again, but it also, sort of, aligns me with the academic calendar.  I spent so long in various types of education, that September still feels like the start of the year for me.  Gong back to work in September has the feel of a new start for me.  This year, though, more than ever, it's a new start I dread.  These past couple of weeks (and the earlier week I took off in this irritating split leave I'm forced to take these days) have given a lot of time to think.  The result is that it is quite clear to me that I can't continue to delude myself that I can somehow find a way of carrying on at work - the stress levels are taking too high a toll on my health.  That, combined with increasingly poor working conditions and piss poor management are making it virtually impossible to do the job.  Consequently, simply trying to tough it out until my mortgage is paid off next spring isn't going to be enough.  It's obvious to me now that I'm going to have to start taking action to find alternative employment now - I know I've got everything, particularly my age, against me, but I have to try.  Anyway, we seem to have strayed from the original point - summer might be over, but the fun - and my holidays - aren't over quite yet.

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