Tuesday, January 31, 2017


It's not hard to see why the doppelganger has been such a popular device in horror movies.  The very concept of a malevolent double who insidiously infiltrates your life, presenting them to your friends, family and workmates as yourself, gradually usurping you from your own life, is surely the ultimate nightmare.  The worst aspect, arguably, is the fact that the doppelganger frequently engages in behaviour you would consider discreditable, yet those who mistake it for you are perfectly willing to accept that you could commit such acts - the doppelganger forces you to confront how others, even those close to you, see you.  But to get to the point, I've had my own, real life, doppelganger experiences.  Sort of.  The closest most of us get to encountering a real life doppelganger is having a sibling with whom we are confused.  For me, it was an older brother, now deceased.  Despite a significant age difference, people, even within the family, would insist that we looked similar.  We didn't, but we both had curly hair and shared the same first initial.  The problem with this, from my perspective, was that people were forever judging me by my brother's standards and behaviour.  Their entire expectations of me were based upon what he had, or hadn't done. Which was always problematic, as he was something of the 'black sheep' of the family.

It was like being constantly stalked by a doppelganger who was always being mistaken for me, despite the fact that we were completely unalike in our behaviours.  My brother was an apparent extrovert - a gregarious drinker well known throughout the pubs and bars of our hometown.  Terrible with money and with several drink driving convictions, he was the complete opposite to me: I'm the proverbial quiet man, I have a few favourite drinking spots I frequent for a couple of pints a couple of times a week.  I'm careful with money, never drink and drive and feel no need to surround myself with other people, even in the pub.  So you can see why I never liked being confused with him.  Sadly, the confusion persisted after his death, with the common first initial making it unwise for me to try and take out accounts at any bank he had had an account with.   But my doppelganger experiences didn't end there. Some time after his death, I found myself being mistaken for someone called 'Frank'.  I had several incidents with people who clearly thought they knew me, hailing me from across the street as 'Frank', despite the fact that I'd never seen them before in my life.  In the most bizarre occurrence, I was accosted outside a bar I was walking past, by a complete stranger who insisted that I was 'Frank' and got somewhat disgruntled by the fact that I didn't respond to his approach and didn't recognise him.  Eventually, the incidents stopped.  Maybe 'Frank' moved away.  Or grew a beard.  Whatever, it was still a disturbing thought that I had a doppelganger apparently frequenting the dodgiest bars in town and associating with some pretty dubious looking individuals.  A doppelganger just like my late brother, in other words. 

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Legitimate Revolutions

You know, I'm not sure that I can add anything meaningful to the furore currently surrounding Trump and his executive order effectively banning many Muslims from entering the US.  What is there to say?  I mean, it isn't as if he didn't tell everyone that he was going to do this in his election campaign, is it?  So, this should stand as a warning to the complacent: you can't keep dismissing all of the extreme stuff he came out with during the campaign as simply 'electioneering'.  He's really going to try and do all those things, no matter how dangerous and damaging to the US and the wider world they might be.  Frustratingly, there is very little anyone can do about it for another four years, when the US will get a chance to deny him a second term n the White House.  But as we found here in the UK, at the last general election, no matter how bad a job a government does and no matter how unpopular they seem to be, they can returned with a majority and start enacting extreme right-wing policies nobody mandated them to do.  Of course, US voters will get a chance to do something about Trump sooner than the next presidential election: Congressional elections will give them the opportunity to change the political complexion of the House and Senate, which might, provided that the Democrats have the political will and backbone, result in some of Trump's excesses being curbed.

Whilst it is good that people are prepared to go out on the streets, both here and in the US, to protest about  Trump's policies, I'm afraid that experience has taught me that this will do little, if anything, to change the situation.  That's the thing about democracies, once they've gained power through the legitimate electoral process, our political leaders can simply dismiss criticism expressed via protests as being unrepresentative, reiterating that they rule by virtue of winning an election, which implies that the majority of voters agree with their policies.  Moreover, they have the full panoply of legitimate law enforcement agencies at their disposal with which to deal with protesters, their use justified by the fact that they are acting to protect the legitimate, elected, government.  As protesters, we have no choice but to play by their rules, otherwise risking our protests being ruled unlawful and illegitimate.  Basically, the authorities hold all the cards.  The reality is that unless you are prepared to step outside of the rules, then mass public protest will ultimately be ineffective against the likes of Trump and our own Tory bastards.  Ultimately, we all have to ask ourselves, at what point do we consider the actions of our political leaders to be so illegitimate that it justifies us stepping outside of normal legal constraints to try and change their policies or even force them from power?  I'm not talking about armed insurrections (although, there must also come a point when we ask ourselves if and when such action might be justified), but mass civil disobedience, of the kind used by Gandhi and his followers in India, for instance.

The fact is that the only time in recent memory that I can recall civil protests forcing a change in the policies of a UK government were those against Thatcher's poll tax.  Even then, it took protests boiling over into mass riots in Central London to effect any change.  You have to scare the bastards into thinking that they are in danger of losing control - which isn't easy, bearing in mind that they have both the civil and military authorities at their disposal to try and restore 'order'.  So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that we all have some careful thinking to do about this situation and some difficult and uncomfortable decisions to make.  It's also important to remember that, even if we are able to rid ourselves of Trump and our own Tory bastards, by whatever means, then we'll still have the problem of preventing future extremists from being able to seize power through the legitimate political system. Whilst it would be damn near impossible to design any democratic system immune from extremists, reforming our electoral system, in the UK at least, would be a good start.  Let's not forget that it is our 'first-past-the-post' system which allows the Tories to enjoy a parliamentary majority which their actual share of the vote in 2015 in no way justifies.  But hey, the last time we had a referendum on electoral reform, our electorate (which continually moans about politicians, our political institutions and how unrepresentative they are) rejected it.  Draw your own conclusions.   

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Friday, January 27, 2017

First Man into Space (1959)

I haven't seen First Man Into Space in an age.  For a while it was a late night TV favourite, along with its stablemates Grip of The Strangler and the magnificently surreal and nightmarish Fiend Without a Face.   Like its predecessors, the film was produced by Amalgamated Films and distributed by MGM, but unlike them was far too derivative.  First Man Into Space is a pretty blatant knock off of The Quatermass Experiment, featuring an astronaut who returns to earth infected by an alien organism which turns him into a killer.  Unlike his counterpart in The Quatermass Experiment, who gradually mutates into a hideous monster, the eponymous protagonist of First Man Into Space returns to earth encrusted by a rock like substance (the monster get up is probably the best thing in the film).  This, apparently, is starving him of oxygen, forcing him to rampage around the countryside attacking cattle and people in order to drink their oxygenated blood.

The movie even tries to replicate the ending of the original TV version of The Quatermass Experiment, in which Professor Quatermass appeals to the human side of the now unrecognisably mutated astronaut, effectively persuading him to commit suicide.  In First Man Into Space, the mutated astronaut is persuaded to enter a high altitude chamber by his brother (who also happens to be the mission director), where a simulated high altitude enables him to regain his humanity before he expires.  Unfortunately, the film never comes close to replicating the atmosphere, tension or originality of The Quatermass Experiment, (either TV or film version) let alone its interesting characterisations and dialogue.  That said, it is, in its own right, a reasonably entertaining little b-movie, but without either the presence of Boris Karloff  or the truly surreal sight of a house besieged by crawling brains boasted by Grip of the Strangler and Fiend Without a Face, respectively, it has nothing to lift it out of the ordinary.  A cast of familiar b-movie faces perform as best they can within the film's limitations, but no one is outstanding.   However, it should be noted that First Man Into Space has, in the past, been unfairly maligned by some reviewers. There is a persistent story that the film was shot entirely in the UK, despite being set in the US, with Surrey standing in for New Mexico, which is entirely untrue.  Although some sequences were filmed around Hampstead Heath, the New Mexico sequences were, in fact, filmed in New Mexico.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Witchcraft Question

Perhaps the most depressing thing about Trump - aside from his utter lack of class, of course - is his lack of originality.  His every utterance involves retreading some long discredited policy.  Right now, it's the use of torture on terrorist subjects.  Most specifically, the use of so-called 'water boarding'.  It really is like stepping back in time to the bad old days of Dubya and the 'War on Terror'.  Or even back to medieval times.  Because, let's face it, a belief in the effectiveness of torture - something Trump has expressed - is evidence of a medieval mindset, where the 'truth' could only be revealed via ordeal: the bloodier the better.  The 'truth', obviously, was whatever the interrogator wanted to hear - as long as it conformed to their particular prejudices, then it would suffice.  The problem is that experience has shown that information gained under duress always seems to conform to the preconceptions of the interrogators.  The fact is that those under duress will, ultimately, say anything in order to relieve their ordeal.  Far from revealing any form of objective 'truth' torture simply breaks the will - not to mention body - of its victims to the point where they can no longer distinguish the difference between fact and fantasy.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to the 'Witchcraft Question'  - do you believe in the existence of witches and witchcraft (in the actual supernatural sense)?   Most rational people would answer 'no', yet a proportion of them will also say that they believe in the effectiveness of torture.  Which requires them to simultaneously hold two mutually exclusive beliefs.  Because if you believe that confessions gained through torture are true, then, logically, you must also believe in the existence of witchcraft.  Most of the torture techniques used today are essentially the same as those used during the witch hunting mania which swept Europe back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Sleep deprivation, beatings, even 'water boarding' (in the form of duckings) were used to produce confessions from the accused that they had cast spells on rivals, flown on broomsticks and even had congress with Satan himself, (a recurring theme was that his ejaculations were as cold as ice).  All of which must be true as 'torture works', as Trump himself has declared.  Presumably, any day soon, he'll also be declaring his belief in black magic.  To be fair, and baring in mind his alleged sexual antics with those Russian prostitutes, perhaps Trump is speaking from experience with regard to the efficacy of torture - I'm led to believe that, when chained naked to a bed and flogged by a dominatrix, people will answer 'yes' to just about any question.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Corbyn Project?

OK, perhaps I've been too hard on Jeremy Corbyn,  So he's completely lost the plot over Brexit, failed to articulate any kind of coherent policies and is presiding over a disastrous slide in Labour's standing in the polls, but he's got a lot on his mind.  This 'courgette crisis' the UK is suffering has clearly got him perplexed.  I mean, the shortages of European courgettes caused by this winter's poor weather are a major issue - it could threaten the livelihoods of hundreds, if not thousands, of British courgette growers.  Moreover, there's the vexing question as to whether the courgette production on the allotments of small growers like himself can possibly meet the increased demand created by the courgette blight.  So it is no wonder he hasn't been able to focus on minor stuff like providing an effective opposition to the government.  That said, it seems that he might have hidden depths and could have been behind an audacious attempt to avert global disaster.

As we discovered in yesterday's post, effecting some kind of regime change in the US would take more than just assassinating President Trump - you'd also have get rid of just about everyone in his succession, which would require twelve assassinations, preferably carried out simultaneously.  Clearly, this would be a pretty tall order.  A pre-emptive strike, to avoid the Trump regime from taking power in the first place would be a better solution. Something along the lines of dropping a missile on Trump, in some kind of 'accident, before he ever got to the polls.  Except that it is too late for than now.  However, we've now learned that last June a test firing of one of the UK's Trident nuclear missiles off the coast of Florida went awry, with the missile heading toward the US instead of the Atlantic, before being destroyed.  could it be that this wasn't an accident, but rather an attempt to destroy Trump before he could become President?  Could it be that someone had set up a sophisticate Artificial Intelligence, linked up to the internet, with access to global defence systems, which analyses political, economic and environmental trends to identify long term threats to humanity?   Could it be that this AI identified Trump as a threat and took pre-emptive action against him, using that missile?

What's this got to do with Corbyn, I hear you ask.  Well, who else has had that much time on their hands?  Maybe this is what he's been doing rather than running the Labour party, in between attending to the courgette problem, that is.  This sort of 'universal safety system' would be right up his street - it would make major wars impossible as, if they posed sufficient threat to humanity, the AI could prevent the use of nuclear weapons, for instance.  Just the sort of thing a peacenik like Corbyn would like.  Remember that film, Colossus: The Forbin Project?   You know, the one where Dr Forbin creates a super computer which achieves sentience, links up with its Soviet counterpart and effectively imposes a 'benign' dictatorship upon humanity by threatening us with our own weapons?  Well, maybe that's what Corbyn has been up to - maybe he's not the complete waste of space he appears, but instead some kind of crazy scientist?  Perhaps we're about to find ourselves living in 'The Corbyn Project'? 

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Kill List

So, Donald Trump is officially President of the USA and lots of people are unhappy.  Indeed, more people turned out to protest about him than turned out for his inauguration.  (Although in the parallel reality inhabited by the Trump camp, there was the biggest turn out ever for the inauguration).  But we're not here to dispute facts with the new US administration.  Instead, we're here to look at the practicalities of toppling it.  Now, before we go on, I think I need to make it clear that I am, in no way, endorsing political assassination, this is merely a 'thought experiment' (if we want to be pretentious).  Sadly, these days you have to be very careful what you say on line, as you never know who is reading this stuff.  But, back to the point.  A lot of people seem to think that assassinating the President would be enough to effect some kind of significant regime change, despite evidence to the contrary - which shouldn't be surprising, as they'd be succeeded by their Vice President, who generally holds similar views, lets face it, the wouldn't have been on the ticket if they didn't.  This is particularly the case with Trump, as his Vice President, Mike Pence, is as much a right wing reactionary as he is.  So, you'd need two assassins, (or one assassin with two bullets and both President and Vice President in close proximity to each other).

But even that wouldn't be enough to really change the current administration as next in line would be the Speaker of the House of Representatives who, right now, is Paul Ryan, another right wing Republican.  But if a hypothetical third gunman got him, the President pro tempore of the Senate would be the next to step up to the plate.  Guess what?  That's right, currently that post is held by Orrin Hatch, another right winger.  So, supposing that our overworked assassin(s) earns his bonus by offing Hatch, what next?  Well, we now have to work our way through the rest of the cabinet.  Now, we wouldn't actually have to have all of them hit - several are ineligible to hold the office of President, because they weren't born in the US or were, but are only naturalised citizens or, well there are all sorts of reasons I don't have the time or inclination to go into, so we can skip them.  That leaves eight cabinet members we have to work through, starting with the Secretary of State, we have o work through in order to have any hope of effecting some kind of regime change.  Obviously, as these people are Trump appointees, the odds are that most of them would be likely to hold similar views to him and follow a similar Presidential programme.  But there are some possible exceptions.  Defence Secretary Jame Mattis, for instance.  Despite his nick name of 'Mad Dog', he had a pretty decent record as a US Marine General and, unlike Trump, appears to take a more informed view of both Russia and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  It is possible that he might make a more moderate president.

So, we might be able to stop our campaign of assassination there.  But, if not, there are, currently, a smattering of Democrats in the cabinet.  These, however, are temporary appointments, until Trump's own nominees can be confirmed.  But if we were to move fast, we might be able to stop the killings with Defence, leaving the Acting Attorney General as the new president.  Failing that, we have to skip to number seven on the assassination list, the Acting Secretary of Agriculture, also a Democrat, before skipping to number ten, the Acting Secretary of Transportation. After that, we'd only have to off the Secretary of Homeland Security to leave us with no eligible cabinet members to step up to the presidency. With the succession thus destroyed, the whole administration would presumably collapse and political chaos reign.  Which might well represent regime change, but very possibly in the form a military coup in order to 'stabilise' the country.  But there you go, including the President, it would take twelve assassinations to completely destroy the Trump administration's succession. And that's presupposing that you can do it quickly enough to prevent any of the vacancies from being filled by new appointees.  Realistically, you'd have to take them all out simultaneously.  (Maybe Madonna was on to something with her talk of blowing up the White House).  So, getting rid of Trump and his legacy by violent means isn't as easy as it might seem.  Not that I'm advocating it in the first place, of course.  

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Trojan Horse

After yesterday's welcome diversion into the world of model railways, I feel a need to return, briefly, to the world of politics.  It must surely be obvious to everyone now that the whole Brexit thing is simply a Trojan horse for the right to completely tear up what's left of the Welfare State, reduce worker's rights, civil liberties and depress wages.  Any doubts must surely have been dispelled by Theresa May's recent pronouncements on Brexit, spurning the idea of trying to remain in the single market in some way and all the threats that if the UK can't get a satisfactory exit deal from the UK then we'll become some kind of low-tax economy to try and attract business.  Let's not forget that low taxes mean lower public revenues and fewer public services.  It's quite clear that the right-wing bastards see this as an opportunity to try and turn the UK into a Far East style sweat shop economy, where workers toil excessive hours for minimal wages in appalling working conditions with minimal legal protection.  But don't worry, I hear you say, the opposition will surely attempt to foil these plans, won't they?  Well, not while that waste of space Corbyn is leader of the opposition, they won't.

I know I've harped on about this at length in previous posts, but Corbyn really is utterly clueless.  He really doesn't seem to grasp the fact that in the EU referendum 'Leave; only narrowly won: 52% doesn't represent a landslide victory.  It certainly doesn't give the government a mandate to go for 'Hard Brexit' and risk the UK's economic future.  Nearly half of those who voted opted to remain.  We surely have the right to have our views represented and, ordinarily, one would expect the opposition to be doing this.  Instead, we have Corbyn spouting the same bollocks as the government about the referendum representing the 'will of the people' and threatening to apply a three line whip to Labour MPs to try and force them to vote for Article 50 to be invoked if and when there is a parliamentary vote.  Jesus Christ!  The man really is a joke!  You'd think that, as a self-proclaimed socialist, he'd be desperate to frustrate the government's right-wing vision of a future Britain at every juncture.  But no, he seems desperate to help them get started!  Idiot!

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Carrying Baggage

The cavalry have arrived, in the form of those model railway baggage vans I bought on eBay the other day, just in the nick of time to give me something to write about!  OK, where to start?  The Southern Railway (and later British Railways Southern Region) built two main types of baggage van: the four-wheeled long wheelbase Covered Car Truck (CCT) and the longer General Utility Van GUV) which was mounted on bogies.  I was fortunate to be able to obtain examples of both types, at very reasonable prices, last weekend.  So, first up is the CCT:

As you can undoubtedly guess from its name, the CCT was originally designed for the transportation of automobiles, back in the days when motor cars were very expensive and quite exclusive and therefore had to be protected from the elements.  What isn't apparent from the photo is that they had double doors at each end to enable the loading of vehicles from a ramp or platform.  In service, they were, more often than not, used for parcels traffic or to provide additional luggage capacity on passenger trains.  The model itself is an early seventies Wrenn product, produced from the old Hornby Dublo moulds.  I'm not sure why I was able to buy it so cheaply as, like all Wrenn items, the CCTs tend to be bought by collectors for ridiculous prices.  It might, in part, be because it is in the later BR blue livery rather than SR green, (I have one of the latter which I bought second hand more than twenty years ago, before their prices went sky high).  This livery tends to be less popular.  There is a common misconception that you can't run vans in these colours with steam locos.  In reality, the later BR corporate blue and grey livery started to appear in the mid-sixties when steam traction was still relatively widespread, especially on the Southern Region.  It was quite common to see blue and grey liveried coaches, for instance, interspersed with green liveried coaches in steam hauled passenger trains.  Indeed, somewhere I have a photo of a rebuilt Bulleid pacific hauling a complete blue and grey liveried train out of Waterloo on a regular service circa 1966.

In the photo, the CCT is pictured coupled up behind my unrebuilt Bulleid pacific (a much modified old-style Hornby model), whose tender can be partly seen, and in front of a blue and grey Mk1 BG full brake coach, (this one is the inaccurately long Lima model).

Turning to the GUV, the SR versions of these had corridor connections and were used both for parcels traffic and as baggage cars on passenger trains.  On the Southern Railway and later BR Southern Region, such cars were marshaled between the locomotive and the leading coach, rather than running at the rear of the train, which seemed to have been standard practice on other railways/regions. (An exception was the all-Pullman 'Bournemouth Belle, where it ran at the back of the train).  On boat trains it wouldn't be uncommon to see two GUVs running behind the locomotive.


The above model, (coupled up behind my old-style Hornby King Arthur class - you can just see its tender), is the old Triang model in BR Southern Region green.  The model was produced throughout the sixties.  The body, which isn't at all bad for its era, remained the same, but the bogies and wheels varied a bit over the period of production.  This one, judging by its running gear, comes from the mid-sixties. Prices vary wildly on the second hand market.  The blue ones tend to be cheapest, but you can sometimes get green ones at relatively low prices, as I did.  Hornby reintroduced it in, I think, the late eighties, with improved bogies.  These versions are inevitably more expensive than the older Triang versions. 

Returning to the real thing, you could still see examples of both the CCT and GUV in service until the early eighties.  In the fifties, BR built a new batch of CCTs to the same design, but with solid plywood sides rather than the planked construction seen in the model.  (I have an unbuilt Parkside Dundas kit of one of these).  Later in the fifties BR built both CCTs and GUVs to their own design, this time with steel sides.

With regard to the models, these should eventually see service on my model railway, (the new, smaller layout is still slowly progressing), the GUV in general passenger service and the CCT, along with the green one I already owned, on boat train service.  


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Listless Days of January

Maybe it is the miserable weather, maybe it is all the depressing stuff in the news (President Trump and the car crash known as Brexit), maybe it is just the time of year, but so far this year I just haven't been able to get into any kind of rhythm.  I'm back in that state of mind where I just can't settle to any particular thing, which is undoubtedly why my posts here have been all over the place.  Perhaps my inability to settle into any kind of routine simply reflects my wider feeling of detachment with regard to work - I feel like I'm in limbo as I count down to my mortgage being paid off completely.  I really don't want to be doing my current job any more, but I feel obligated to stick at it, just to play safe financially, until I'm mortgage-free.  That said, last Saturday I had one of those moments of absolute clarity, when I admitted to myself that there is absolutely nothing about the job that I enjoy any more, nothing which even gives me a sense of professional satisfaction, and that there is nobody I work with that I'd miss if I walked away.  Clearly, I need to start making plans for when the mortgage is paid, so that I can make a clean break from work.  If only I could figure out a way to make money from what I do online, it would be easy.

Anyway, to get back to the point of this post, I thought that, as I can't actually settle to write anything specific, I'd instead tell you about what I plan to do, post-wise, in the near future. (I'm also hoping that by saying I'm going to write these things, my sense of obligation will force me to actually make the posts).  Despite my general feelings of listlessness, I haven't been entirely idle since the start of the year - if nothing else, I've watched a fair number of exploitation movies, which I'll hopefully be writing about here in the foreseeable future.  Most notable amongst these are a pair of sixties British 'shockumentaries', West End Jungle and London in the Raw, which I was given on DVD at Christmas.  Both DVDs also featured a terrific selection of extras, including a number of rare short films on exploitation themes.  There's also a 1970s Italian police thriller, The Cynic, The Rat and The Fist, in the queue to be written up.  I'm also trying to draw up a schedule of further scuzzy exploitation pieces to watch in the coming weeks, which will, hopefully, provide more material for posts.  Away from exploitation films, I still haven't forgotten that model railway locomotive I'm meant to be restoring: I was planning to do some more work on it last weekend, but a bout of severe idleness intervened.  I'm also inching forward with putting together that new compact model railway layout to run the locomotive and other ongoing projects on.  Speaking of these ongoing projects, I'm currently awaiting delivery of a couple of old baggage vans I bought on eBay the other day.  All of which should provide me with more material to post about in the future.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Extreme Breast Feeding

The release of another XXX film, (starring Vin Diesel, thank God, rather than Ice Cube, a man permanently looks as if he's either angry or constipated, possibly both, as the second one did), left me thinking about the whole 'extreme sports' thing, which was big way back when the first film in the series was released.  It just doesn't seem as big any more - maybe it is a case of familiarity breeding contempt.  After all, stuff doesn't extreme after you've seen it dome over and over again. On the contrary, it becomes routine.  Which is probably why, at one time, they started coming up with stuff like 'Extreme Ironing', which involved people climbing mountains, setting up ironing boards on dangerous ledges before proceeding to iron their shirts.  Yes, really.  I'm not making this up.  Clearly an attempt to make extreme sports seem even more extreme, the problem with this is that ironing is simply boring.  Whether you do it on a mountain ledge or in your living room, it's dull.  That said, the underlying idea - of making an everyday activity extreme in order to broaden the popularity of extreme sports - is perfectly sound.  They just needed to pick a different activity, one which, unlike ironing, could be combined with a variety of extreme sports.

Which is where extreme breast feeding comes in.  Now, before you condemn the idea, just think about it - from a broadcaster's point of view it has numerous attractions.  Not least that they could argue that it is showcasing female athletes (unless they can find some lactating men) - women's sports are notoriously poorly served by TV.  Moreover, they can play the public service card by saying that they are encouraging breast feeding by making it appear more glamourous and exciting, whilst, at the same time, giving them a legitimate reason for showing bare breasts, thereby catering to the sexist lad segment of the TV audience.  Surely that would be unique?  Sports programming that appeals to both feminists and pimply sex-starved teenage boys.  Anyway, as I said, it could cover the full gamut of extreme sports.  Not only could you have women breast feeding their babies half way up a mountain, but they could also do it whilst white water canoeing, (it would be bloody difficult to set an ironing board up on a canoe), or even hang gliding.  Sure, there are bound to be people claiming that extreme breast feeding would be dangerous for the participants' babies.  But babies are resilient, you can drop them a few times without doing any real harm, (or so I'm told).  I mean, surely exposing some babies to a bit of risk is worth it if it means that you can glorify the institution of motherhood?  

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Catching Bullshit

It's all bullshit. Except if you write for the likes of the Daily Mail or Daily Express, in which you credulously report it as if it is true.  Conjuring, stage magic or whatever you want to call it, is what I refer to, of course.  We all know that it isn't real, it's an illusion.  There is no real danger involved, only the appearance of risk. Yet the press were recently happily reporting, as if it were fact, self-styled street magician and prize prick David Blaine's latest bit of publicity bullshit as if it were fact.  'David Blaine injured performing dangerous bullet-catching stunt', or words to that effect, were emblazoned across their headlines and web sites.  The clear implication being that the bullet catching illusion, (note that word 'illusion'), actually involves somehow 'catching' a real bullet.  Which is bullshit.  The only sense in which you can 'catch' a bullet is if you are actually shot with one.  Which often proves fatal.  Bullets typically move faster than the speed of sound - that's too fast to dodge or 'catch'.  It's bullshit.  It's a trick.

I can tell you how it is done, if you like.  Well, I can tell you the way it is usually done nowadays.  Historically, there have been quite a few variations, usually dictated by whatever firearms technology was prevalent at the time the trick was being performed.  Anyway, to return to the point, it's actually quite simple: they use a wax bullet.  The heat produced by the combustion of the charge in the cartridge when the round is fired, combined with the friction as it moves through the air, means that the bullet melts before it can hit the target.  But, I hear you say, they sometimes have a sheet of glass in front of the magician being shot at, which shatters when the gun is fired.  Well, that can be achieved several ways, but if the glass is positioned at the correct distance from the gun's muzzle, then the wax bullet, although melting, will still have sufficient mass and momentum to shatter the glass, (which will also handily ensure that the bullet is completely destroyed before it can ever get near the target).  Yes, that's all very well, you are doubtless saying, but how do you explain the fact that they get someone to write their initials on the bullet, which shows that the bullet 'caught' by the magician is the same one that was loaded into the gun and fired.  Again, bullshit.  I refer you back to the heat generated by actually firing the cartridge and the friction against the air as the bullet travels - whilst these obviously wouldn't melt a real bullet, they are sufficient to burn off anything written or inscribed on it.  So if the bullet caught by the magician still has stuff written on it, it hasn't been fired from a gun.  It's been palmed by the magician or his associate as the wax tipped round was substituted for the real one by sleight of hand,  The magician simply holds it in his hand until after the gun has been fired, then he reveals it, claiming that he has caught it.

So there you go, I've spoiled a classic magic trick for you.  You now know it is just an illusion.  Except that you already knew that.  We all know there is no such thing as magic.  Except apparently right wing tabloids who are seemingly in the pay of David Blaine's PR firm.  'Fake News' anybody?

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fake Gold

Well, I guess there are only two topics of conversation today: the fall-out from the allegations tat Trump has been taking golden showers with Russian prostitutes and the snow.  The latter is in the process of melting, so that just leaves Trump.  I have no idea whether the claims about Trump and the compromising material about him the Russians may or may not are true, (although, despite the lack of direct evidence, they seem very well sourced), but it speaks volumes about the President-elect that a lot of people seem to have no difficulty in believing them to be true.  Rather like Cameron and that pig.  In a way, I find it sad that we live in an age when people can so easily believe such things about  our political leaders.  Not that I'm harking back to some mythical Golden Age of Politics during my childhood, when politicians were all fine upstanding people, moral exemplars every one of them.  But back then, the worst you might suspect of them were a few dodgy business connections or the odd discreet affair.  Political scandals really were political: the issue in the Profumo affair was less that a member of the government was paying a prostitute for sex, than that he'd been foolish enough to sleep with one who was also seeing a Soviet embassy official.  

But to get back to Trump, his response to the allegations has been fascinating, angrily labeling them 'fake news'.  Which is interesting because the so-called 'fake news' which has become such an issue with regard to the Presidential election was universally associated with attempts to boost Trump's standing and the denigration of his opponents.  'Fake News' - the current media buzz word' - was of no concern to the right until it started targeting their man.  It was apparently OK for false news stories to be peddled if they only concerned the alleged involvement of leading Democrats with a peadophile ring centred around a restaurant, but not when they allege Trump was being pissed on in a Moscow hotel room.  Except, of course, that these Trump allegations aren't 'Fake News' by any stretch of the imagination.  They aren't click bait concocted by some teenager in their bedroom and posted on social media.  They are the result of an investigation by a former intelligence professional, using sources and contacts built up over the course of a long career in the business.  But, as we've seen all too often in contemporary politics, the right have moved quickly to co-opt liberal nomenclature to discredit their enemies.  'Fake News' is a phenomena created entirely by the left as an explanation for their defeat.  It was always a nonsensical idea and now it has been turned against them.  Just as the right have succeeded in stealing the liberal's clothes, portraying themselves as the outsiders and champions of the disenfranchised, now they've also stolen what their opponents thought was their new weapon to discredit the right.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Not So Fan-tastic

Fans, they're the pits, aren't they?  Oh, I don't mean your casual fan of things - the sort of people who are interested and knowledgeable about something, but not obsessive about it.  You know the sort I mean - they become obsessed with a film, TV series, pop group, book or celebrity to the point that they seem to believe that they have some kind of 'ownership' over the object of their obsession.  I've talked about their ilk before, these 'fans' who have developed a clear idea of what their favourite TV series or film franchise should look like or be about and won't tolerate any deviation from this, seeing it as a 'betrayal' on the part of the series' creators.  As I've noted before, Dr Who fans seem particularly prone to this mindset, with many seemingly unable to get past whichever regeneration of the Doctor they first saw, denouncing all other versions as heretical.  I was reminded of them the other day when I was reading, for no particular reason, something about Star Wars.  I was struck by the level of hatred many of the Star Wars fanatics directed at the franchise's creator, George Lucas.  Indeed, their refusal to allow him any credit for the movies' success is extraordinary.

According to them, the first film was a success in spite of Lucas, rather than because of him.  In this fan narrative, the film was saved by the intervention of others, particularly in post-production.  (This type of narrative is also common amongst those trying to debunk cinematic idols: the film Hitchcock, for instance, tries to rewrite history by casting Hitchcock's wife as the true genius behind Psycho, rescuing the film in the editing suite.  A nice story, but completely untrue).  As further evidence of Lucas' failings as a film-maker, they point to the despised (mainly by them) prequel trilogy.  Which, of course, brings us to the kernel of their problem - Lucas delivered a set of prequels which didn't conform to these fans' vision of Star Wars.  They'd convinced themselves that they 'owned' the franchise and saw themselves as 'keepers of the flame'.  Unfortunately for them, Star Wars was George Lucas vision, (at least, until he sold Lucasfilm to Disney).  Whether the fans like it or not (and they don't), Lucas was the creative force behind the franchise - without his determined efforts to put his vision on screen, the first film would never have happened.  And without that, the rest of the franchise wouldn't exist.

Regardless of who may or may not have done what to Lucas original footage, they couldn't have done it without his having shot it, imperfect though it might have been, in the first place.  Which is why their mean-spiritedness irks me so much.  They should be grateful, not petulant.  However, Lucas had the audacity to maintain creative control of his concept (for six films, anyway), challenging their vision. How dare he frustrate the ambitions of people who had no part, whatsoever, in the creative process?  It's notable that the first non-Lucas Star Wars film pandered to the fans by effectively recycling much of the plot and imagery of the first film.  Not surprisingly, they loved it - it wasn't challenging their vision of Star Wars.   Sadly, such an approach to film-making leaves little room for originality or innovation.  


Monday, January 09, 2017

Celebrity Apocalypse 2017?

Oh my God!  Oh my God!  It's started!  The 2017 celebrity apocalypse is upon us!  Haven't you heard?  Peter Sarstedt dies yesterday!  More famous people are sure to follow!  OK, I know Sarstedt's death might not have the same resonance of that of, say David Bowie, but I'm surprised not to have seen more bleating about how awful it is that 2017 has already claimed a celebrity victim when, after last year's holocaust, we'd apparently been promised, (by whom, I'm not clear), that no famous people would die this year.   I guess some old sixties singer just isn't famous enough for those social media hipsters to get worked up about.  Of course, he wasn't the first celebrity death of 2017.  I believe that 'honour' fell to Indian actor Om Puri.  Obviously, as he was a 'foreigner' (ie, not white and didn't appear mainly in English-language blockbuster movies), he didn't count.  Despite the fact that he was a major figure in Indian cinema and a familiar face in British films and TV, giving many fine performances, perhaps most notably in East is East

But why were people making such a fuss about last year's celebrity deaths?  It wasn't just the volume, there seemed to be much more in the way of public grief surrounding many of the individual deaths.  I'm guessing it was because for a particular generation of people, now active online in social media, many of the celebrities who died last year were 'iconic' figures, who represented an important part of their cultural personal histories.  I certainly understand why, for people of my age group, the deaths of Bowie and Carrie Fisher, felt hugely significant: Bowie seemed ever-present throughout my teens and adult life, whilst I'm one of those people who, as a teenager, queued up outside their local cinema to see Star Wars on its UK release.  Indeed, Star Wars was a huge part of my teen years - I remember being obsessed by everyone and everything associated with it.  But I outgrew it and whilst saddened by Carrie Fisher's untimely death, i don't feel devastated by it, or feel that part of my childhood has died with her.  To be honest, the only celebrity death last year which really affected me was that of Muhammed Ali.  I'd admired so much, for the better part of my life.  Not as a boxer - I'm not really a boxing fan - but for the fact that, over the issue of the Vietnam draft, he stood, unwaveringly, by his principles, regardless of the cost.  And it cost him dearly, losing his titles and having his boxing licence suspended for several years.  I remember seeing him on British TV in the early seventies, when I was very young - he impressed me immensely: witty and funny, frequently self-deprecating and passionate about the cause of civil rights.  In every way he contradicted the popular stereotypes of black people prevalent in popular media at the time.  So, when he died, I did feel a profound sense of loss.  He really was 'The Greatest', in and out of the ring.


Friday, January 06, 2017

Unhealthy Advice

I thought that today I'd respond to some of the vital questions recently posed by the press.  The Guardian, for instance, asks 'Is it time to give up sugar?'  The answer, obviously, is 'no', followed by 'now fuck off'.  Unless, that is, you are some kind of sanctimonious kill-joy who likes to spend their time telling the rest of us how everything we enjoy is bad, so we have to stop it.  According to this article, 'sugar induces the same responses in the brain as nicotine, cocaine and alcohol', as if that's a bad thing.  After all, the reason people smoke, take drugs or drink, at first at least, is because they enjoy it -doing these things is a pleasurable experience.  Unlike smoking, drugs and booze, sugar has the advantage of not being addictive.  Sure, it carries its own health risks - it can rot your teeth, contribute to obesity and late onset diabetes - but, overall, this seem to me to be less catastrophic than cancer, lung disease, kidney failure, heart problems and sclerosis of the liver, which the other stuff can contribute to.  Not, of course, that any of those things are an inevitable consequence of drinking, smoking or taking drugs.  Indeed, like everything else, done in moderation, they are probably relatively harmless, (cue hordes of experts telling me the terrible effects of smoking even a single cigarette). 

I'm at an age when every ache, pain or minor illness is, according to medical opinion, a possible signifier of something more serious and potentially life-threatening.  Every time I watch TV there seems to be some public health ad or another warning, for instance, that a persistent cough could be a symptom of lung cancer.  (Or, it could just be a persistent cough).   You end up checking your urine for blood, worrying whether an upset stomach is a sign of bowel cancer or that headaches are precursors to brain tumours.  Believe me, it sucks all the joy out of life.  Things aren't helped by realising that you are also now the target audience for all those ads about taking out insurance to cover your funeral expenses.  So those little pleasures in life, such as alcohol or a bacon sandwich, suddenly become more important: they can temporarily lift the gloom generated by all the health warnings and intimations of mortality being beamed at us by the media.  Yet we're even being warned off of these now.  Bacon is evil and will clog up your arteries, whilst drinking even a single pint of beer will destroy your liver.  I suddenly found myself reclassified as a heavy drinker when, following that alarmist report last year, the government decided to revise its guidelines on recommended weekly alcohol consumption, yet I'm lucky if I manage to drink half a dozen pints of beer a week.  And now I'm to be deprived even a sugar rush on health grounds! 

What I really object to in all these health scare tactics is that they treat me (and everyone else) like an idiot, as if we can't grasp the fact that imbibing these substances carry a risk.  Of course they involve a degree of risk but, like everything else we do in life, it is surely up to us to decide whether we consider that risk acceptable or not.  Every time I cross the road, I incur the risk of being run over, but I can lessen that risk by applying my judgement as to when traffic is lightest, or by finding a pedestrian crossing.  It's the same with, say, alcohol.  I can choose to regulate my intake, not drink every day, not drink super-strength brain rotting lager.  Besides, with the media telling me that I'm about to die horribly from some disease or another, I might as well kill myself doing something I enjoy, like drinking beer, or eating sugar-filled doughnuts. 


Thursday, January 05, 2017

Twelfth Night

I was glad to see that many people still had their Christmas lights blazing away today, when I was out and about.  God knows, we need something to brighten up these cold gloomy days.  But all that will end tonight, with the media urging us to take the decorations down as we've reached Twelfth Night.  not that they bother marking the end of 'Christmastide' in any other way, (just as they ignore all the days of Christmas which fall after 1st January).  Anyway, I'm busy trying to enjoy my own, personal, Twelfth Night celebration - which mainly involves eating as much of the stuff I've got left over from Christmas as possible.  I've already spent the evening eating chocolates and I've currently got the last of my cocktail sausage rolls baking in the oven.  Then there's the cheese - I've got to finish that tonight, as well.  Not to mention some mince pies. Of course, the one thing I won't be able to finish today is the Christmas cake which my mother insists on making for me every year.  Don't misunderstand me, it's very nice Christmas cake, which I enjoy greatly.  But it does take me an age to get through.  I'll undoubtedly still be eating it next week.

This little celebration is at least providing me with some temporary cheer in an otherwise miserable week.  It's always tough going back to work after a holiday, but going back over Christmas is worse still.  Apart from the abrupt end to all that seasonal cheer, there are inevitably also sub-zero temperatures to deal with.  I've spent the entire week so far feeling that I should still be at home, in bed.  But hey, surely TV, which was apparently so glad to hasten away Christmas, will provide us with some respite?  After all, with the festive season consigned to history for another year, they're free to show us all their fabulous new programming, which will chase away the New Year blues, won't they?  Yeah.  Tory voting tax dodger Gary Barlow is just the thing to brighten up our Saturday evenings, isn't he?  Well, that's what the BBC seem to think, as they have him fronting yet another talent show.  ITV, meanwhile, are countering it by dredging up an equally stale format in the shape of The Voice, poached from the BBC despite its singular failure to set the ratings alight.  And to think, on top of all that. we've still got Brexit and a Trump presidency to look forward to in the coming months.  Jesus Christ!  2017 is already shaping up to be a shitter of a year!


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Spectre (1977)

Definitely not to be confused with the 2015 Bond movie of the same name, 1977's Spectre nevertheless has a thoroughbred pedigree, in US TV movie terms, at least.  For that is what this horror movie actually is: a busted TV pilot given a theatrical release outside of the US, incorporating additionally shot footage.  It represents the culmination of two 1970s US TV trends: Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's attempts to get another TV series off the ground and attempts by producers like Dan Curtis to create horror subjects within the constraints of network TV.  The former had included a number of failed pilots like The Questor Tapes and Planet Earth, whilst the latter had yielded the Kolchak TV movies (and the subsequent, short-lived TV series), The Norliss Tapes (another failed pilot for a series about a supernatural investigator) and one off TV movies like Gargoyles and The Cat Creature.  Clearly feeling that the networks just weren't buying science fiction, Roddenberry decided to try his hand at the supernatural instead, (possibly inspired by the good ratings garnered by some of the horror themed TV movies of the era and the cult following built up by Dan Curtis' earlier Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows).

In short, Spectre concerns criminologist William Sebastian (Robert Culp) who, having exhausted rational explanations for the persistence of human evil, has turned instead to the study of the supernatural to provide an explanation.  Accompanied by his former associate and sceptic Dr Hamilton (Gig Young), he finds himself embroiled in the affairs of a trio of wealthy Brits, (portrayed by James Villiers, Ann Bell and John Hurt, yes, that's right, John Hurt), and the strange goings on at their country mansion.  The sister believes that one of her brothers is possessed by an evil spirit, whilst the eldest brother thinks his sister is mad.  The American duo endure various supernatural threats, have to fend off the police in the form of Gordon Jackson's Scotland Yard inspector, who is investigating the murder of an occultist associate of Sebastian and uncover an underground temple before resolving the situation.  Whether this could have been sustained as a weekly series is questionable, but as a one-off movie, Spectre is actually pretty entertaining.  Culp and Young carry off their occult Holmes and Watson act with considerable aplomb.  Whilst keeping commendably straight faces for most of the proceedings, (which do get pretty bizarre in places), they know when to take a lighter approach without tumbling over into full on campiness.  The rest of the, mainly British, cast provide stalwart support.  Villiers, in particular, was no stranger to this sort of material, having appeared in horror movies for both Hammer and Amicus.  Behind the cameras, Clive Donner provides stronger direction than usually seen in TV movies, building up reasonable amounts of suspense and atmosphere when needed and choreographing an effectively nightmarish climax in the underground temple.

As noted earlier, the version of Spectre I saw was the the one prepared for European theatrical release.  Producing such versions wasn't an uncommon practice at the time, as it provided production companies with an opportunity to recoup the costs of expensively shot pilot movies which never made it to series. And, to be fair, Spectre looks like a more expensive than the average TV pilot, filmed largely on location in the UK and featuring several credible name actors, it avoids the somewhat 'identikit' feel that pervaded many US TV shows in the seventies (most of which seemed to be filmed on the, by then, overly familiar Universal backlot). Not that this doesn't stop it from featuring its fair quota of styrofoam rocks and unconvincing interiors, but they don't detract too much from the film's otherwise superior production values.  The new footage - which was usually inserted into pilots to bring them up to proper feature length and/or provide material which couldn't then be shown on US network TV - is pretty obvious, consisting mainly of some bared breasts in the climactic orgy-cum-ritual sacrifice scene at the climax, which also includes a threat of both rape and incest. Not the sort of stuff you'd see in a TV movie of the era.  There's also more gore on display than you'd expect from a regular TV pilot.

However, I have to say that the question which kept nagging at me whilst watching Spectre was whether David Icke had ever seen the film.  Most of the central tenets of his main conspiracy theory seem to present: powerful members of the establishment are part of a cult based around human sacrifice, with its leaders being able to shape shift into various monstrous forms.  Indeed, at the climax, the cult's leader transmogrifies into a giant humanoid lizard.  OK, said lizard is, in the film, actually an ancient demon able to corrupt mortals by appealing to their basest desires, rather than being part of an ancient reptilian race, but the fundamental imagery of Icke's schtick is all there.  Perhaps it is all just coincidence, but I can't help but suspect that David Icke once watched Spectre and the imagery and basic plot stuck in his subconscious, so that when he had his revelation/breakdown, these long submerged memories reasserted themselves as the basis of his new world view.  It's a tantalising thought, that a whole best-selling cobspiracy theory had its origins in an unsuccessful 1970s TV pilot.


Monday, January 02, 2017

A New Year, Hurrah!

2017 at last.  The glorious new year when, apparently, nobody famous will die - because, like, that's 2016's bag, like, and 2017 just isn't into that celebrity death gig, is it?  That seems to be consensus of 'opinion' on Twitter, at least.  I can't help but feel that a lot of people are going to be disappointed once the celebrities start dying again.  New Year or not, I'm still not making any resolutions and I'm refusing point blank to make any predictions: Brexit and President-elect Trump have rammed home how bad I am at the latter.    The only thing I will say is that, in 2017, I intend finding a way to work less - I definitely need more time to myself.  Indeed, despite a large part of my recent time off being taken up with Christmas, I've still managed to advance various of the projects I'm currently working on more in less than two weeks than I have in the past year.  So productive has the Christmas season been, that I'm more reluctant than ever to let it go, this bank holiday being my last day of freedom.

But, although we might have entered a new year, strictly speaking, we haven't left the Christmas season - it is still Christmas until Twelfth Night.  Yeah, you've guessed it, I'm back on my annual beef about our failure to properly respect the Christmas season.  It is, after all, meant to be a twelve day celebration (thirteen, if you include Christmas Eve).  That's right TV stations and newspapers, it doesn't end with the dawn of New Year's Day, (when they all seem to drop their seasonal branding).  Indeed, today the BBC refused to acknowledge even that it was a bank holiday, reverting to its regular weekday schedule.  Only Channel Five, to its credit, retained its Christmas idents today.  The fact is that until at least the English Civil War, Twelfth Night was almost as big a celebration as Christmas Day.  Now it is marked only by exhortations to remember to take your decorations down.  (Quite where this 'tradition' originates is a mystery, as, traditionally, lights and decorations stayed up until Candlemas, In February, in order to bring some much needed brightness and cheer to the depths of Winter.  A tradition which continues to this day in some parts of Northern Europe).  The older I get, the less I understand why, having made such a fuss about it during the run up, people seem to be in so much haste to get Christmas over with and forget about it.  That's the trouble with the modern Christmas: it is all about the expectation rather than the experience of the event.  Ah well, back to bloody work tomorrow.