Friday, November 30, 2018

Back to Brexit

OK, fuck Christmas - we've talked about it enough for one week. So, let's talk about something else.  How about Brexit?  I know, I know, everyone is probably as sick of hearing about Brexit as they are Christmas, but unfortunately, both are imminent and we're running out of time to prepare for either.  So, having arbitrarily set an EU leaving date for March of next year before having conducted any negotiations or even formulated what the UK anted from any deal, what is Theresa May doing right now, at the eleventh hour?  She's farting around challenging Jeremy Corbyn to a live televised debate on the 'deal' she is putting to the Commons in less than a fortnight.  A deal she knows has, at the moment - only the slimmest chance of being accepted by Parliament.  A deal which the general public, at whom said debate will be aimed, will have no opportunity to vote on.  If she had endorsed a second EU referendum, a 'People's Vote' on the terms of leaving the EU, the debate might make some sense, but as May has emphatically ruled out such a popular vote (on the usual moronic grounds that, apparently, once we've voted on something once, we can never have another vote on it, although, interestingly, she seems to be keen on having a second Commons vote on her deal if it fails to pass the first time).  As it is, this debate (if it ever takes place as May and Corbyn can't even agree as to which TV channel it should be on) is simply a waste of time, another distraction from the impending potential economic disaster of Brexit.

But even if it does leave us all worse off, as this week's round of official economic forecasts indicate, it doesn't matter as, apparently, that's not what Brexit is about.  The line the Brexiteers are now taking is that people knew this might be the case before they voted to leave, but were instead voting in favour of 'taking back sovereignty' and 'securing our borders' by stopping freedom of movement from the EU.  Except, of course, that the EU never was the main source of immigration to the UK - most immigrants come from India and China.  The non-EU nature of most immigration was underlined by another official report this week that showed non-EU immigration to the UK increasing.  The uncomfortable fact for the Brexiteers is that the UK has always had the power to limit such non EU immigration.  Moreover, any of those much vaunted trade deals the Brexiteers claim other nations will be lining up to sign with us post-Brexit will inevitably include clauses to make immigration to the UK from the countries easier.  As for the 'sovereignty' issue - the fact is that membership of any supra national organisation or signing any kind of international treaty involves a surrendering of a certain measure of any nation's sovereignty - membership of the EU is not unique in this respect.  The UK wouldn't be truly 'free' unless it also left things like the UN and NATO and withdrew from every treaty we had ever signed.  Besides, the very fact that the UK is able to leave the EU demonstrates that the UK parliament has always retained its sovereignty.  But getting back to that bloody debate - to be honest, I've never seen the point of such things.  They never actually change anyone's mind and generally degenerate into slanging matches.  No real ideas are ever discussed, no new arguments advanced,  It's just a repetition of the same old slogans and mantras.

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Getting that Festive Feeling

To continue with the Christmas theme I started last post, I've been pondering as to how to get myself into the festive spirit.  Because right now, despite the proximity of the day itself, I'm still just not feeling it. Perhaps the problem is simply that it isn't quite December yet.  My dim and distant memories of my childhood tell me that, in the past, Christmas didn't used to start until December.  According to these memories, decorations, whether municipal or personal, didn't go up until December kicked off and shop Christmas displays likewise didn't debut until then.  I'm probably remembering it all wrong and Christmas has been starting in November since the year dot.  But the fact remains that I strongly feel that November should be allowed to stand in its own right as a month, rather than being seen simply as part of the Christmas build up.  It marks the end of Autumn, for goodness sake - the time when the leaves turn golden and finally fall from the trees in their entirety.  It usually features the first intimations of Winter, with a chill n the air and frost in the mornings.  It's a great month in its own right and should be enjoyed as such.

But getting back to the point, what can I do to get into the mood for Christmas?  Short of putting up my modest Christmas decorations early?  (I've noticed that quite a few people, presumably taking their cue from the municipal and corporate decorations now in evidence, have started putting up their own external lights.  I've even glimpsed a few fully decorated and lit Christmas trees lurking in peoples' living rooms).  Perhaps I should start swigging egg nog.  Sorry, advocat.  Some years ago, I went through an egg nog phase for a couple of Christmases.  I realised that I'd never actually drunk the stuff.  Whilst it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be, I think that I've now had my fill of the stuff. I suspect that now it would make me feel sick rather than festive.  Listening to Christmas Carols on a continuous loop while I'm driving might do the trick, although it might also drive me insane.  Maybe a visit to Santa's grotto would do it.  OK, I know that these are meant for kids, but nowadays, with all the media scares about peadophiles lurking behind every store Santa's beard, do any parents actually risk their offspring being sexually molested in exchange for some cheap tat disguised as a present, by taking them to these grottos?  I'd imagine that the average shopping centre Santa would be glad to see anyone in their grotto.  Even sad adults trying to recapture the spirit of their childhood Christmases.  I'm no closer to feeling festive, though, am I?  Perhaps I should just watch White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street or It's a Wonderful Life - after all, sentimental festive movies are what Christmas is about, isn't it?

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Apparently, Christmas is Coming

It has just hit me that Christmas is right around the corner and that I've done nothing to prepare for it.  I've had a lot of distractions, from replacing my old car to helping my mother move into her new retirement flat.  Plus, my employment situation was still unclear until earlier this month when an ongoing issue I can't discuss was finally settled, (the non-discussion is part of the settlement, but suffice to say that, in effect, I won, even though I don't actually feel victorious as all that has happened is that the status quo has been restored for the time being).  On top of all that, it just hasn't felt like Christmas so far.  I know that I say that every year, but every year it feels less and less like the festive seasons of my youth.  Sadly, that's all part of growing up - once you become an adult, the feeling of excited expectation that Christmas brings ebbs away, as you realise that it is now your responsibility to buy the presents and make the preparations which stoke other peoples' expectations.  Which is what I've spent this evening doing.  In a blind panic that I hadn't actually sorted out any presents, I decided to start with my younger brother.  He might be an adult, but he still likes building plastic kits (which is fine, I enjoy playing with my model railway), and now that he has been forced out of our mother's house (she sold it) and is once again living in a place of his own, I can safely give him these things as presents, secure in the knowledge that they won't be cluttering up mum's house.

So, I've spent the better part of the evening trawling through page after page of plastic kits in search of something suitable.  It's all so bloody complex. First I had to decide on a subject matter - I started with early British jet fighters, but finally settled on late World War Two fighters - then a scale (1/48, as the 1/72 stuff just doesn't seem big enough to give as presents), a complexity level (he's a pretty experienced modeller) and finally a price range (I've found that plastic kits are way more expensive these days than they were when I was a kid - too expensive for kids, in fact).  In the course of this, I've discovered that there are now all manner of new manufacturers on the block, many from the Far East, others from Eastern Europe, all of whom offer kits of decent quality and complexity at lower prices than the old favourites like Airfix, Revell and Monogram.  In fact, these latter firms still seem to be banging out kits so venerable that I remember them from my youth in the seventies, but now charge premium prices for them.  Newer firms like Hobby Boss, Eduard and Academy are turning out far newer and more detailed kits for significantly lower prices.  Anyway, the end result is that, by early next week, I should have two 1/48 scale aircraft kits to wrap up for my brother.  Next up, though, is the tricky business of organising presents for my great nieces.  Not only is there the challenge of keeping up with what they are into at this moment in time (it changes very rapidly), but also the fact that they are living in the US at the moment, which means I have to go via US suppliers.  Yet more seasonal joy to look forward to...

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Black Face Friday

Is the novelty of 'Black Friday' finally wearing off?  It all seemed be something of a damp squib here in Crapchester and I didn't see any of the usual news reports of near riots around the country as people fought each other for 'bargains'.  I didn't have to swear at or hit anyone in order to get my regular shopping done over the weekend.  I won't reiterate just why having 'Black Friday' in a country which doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving is such a moronic idea in the first place, instead I'll simply suggest that we try doing something more original and representative of our own culture.  So, how about 'Black Face Friday'?  People going to the sales should all black themselves up.  That way, we could at least guarantee a race riot if all else fails.  It would certainly address that great British tradition of intolerance (recently revived by Brexit) and allow the likes of the Daily Mail to bleat on about 'political correctness gone mad' when people brand racist what the right wing press would doubtless characterise as simply being a homage to 'classic' seventies BBC programme The Black and White Minstrel Show.

It would also give the police another excuse to arrest some perfectly innocent real black people as shop lifters or rioters in mistake for the real blacked up perpetrators, on the grounds that they 'all look alike'.  Yes indeed, 'Black Face Friday', where you can only 'bag a bargain' if your face is covered in boot polish could be just what the UK's High Streets need to boost their sales.  With clever marketing, you could even try to sidestep the racism issue.  After all, it would surely give an advantage to real black shoppers, as they wouldn't have to black up.  Which, in turn, would undoubtedly set the right wing press foaming at their collective mouths at 'positive discrimination' for non whites - cue reams of editorial bollocks about how the 'white working classes' are being oppressed.  Which would all be to the good as there is nothing like a bit of controversy to publcise an event like 'Black Face Friday'.  So, next year we need to embrace this new, distinctively British, shopping event which, I'm sure, will become an annual event.  Something for racists and bigots of all ages to look forward to: bargains and racial hatred - surely a winning combination?

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Friday, November 23, 2018

Twice Told Tales (1963)

It was inevitable AIP's hugely popular series of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, directed by Roger Corman and mainly starring Vincent Price, would spawn imitators.  Twice Told Tales is one of a pair of such movies made by Admiral Pictures in 1963.  Both made their intent clear by starring erstwhile AIP/Poe star Vincent Price, whose output was quite prolific around this time.  While the other of these two films, Diary of a Madman, is very loosely based on a Guy de Maupassant story, The Horla, Twice Told Tales seems to want to emulate Corman's 1962 Poe anthology film, Tales of Terror.   Instead of Poe, it takes its inspiration from Nathaniel Hawthorn, adapting three of his stories into an anthology film.  (Interestingly, Price had previously appeared in a  1940s feature length adaptation of one of these stories: House of the Seven Gables).  As the trailer indicates, production values for the film appear even more modest than those afforded by AIP for their Poe series.  The miniatures work, in particular, is very poor.  (This is also true of Diary of a Madman, whose climactic inferno is hugely underwhelming).

Admiral Pictures itself was, in effect, a pseudonym for Robert E Kent productions, Kent being a prolific B-movie produce, active from the late fifties and throughout the sixties, turning out low budget pictures in a variety of genres.  The adoption of the 'Admiral Pictures' name might well have been down to the fact that Kent saw his two Vincent Price movies as more 'prestigious' productions.  However, the fact, following their releases, he reverted to producing B westerns under his own name again, indicates that they were less successful than he had hoped for.  Indeed, both are far lesser known than Price's AIP productions from the same period and Twice Told Tales, in particular, has pretty much vanished from sight.  (Diary of a Madman, by contrast, turned up several times in the BBC's late night schedules during the 1990s).  Quite apart from their modest production values, both of the Admiral horror films are hampered by Kent's employment of two of his regular roster of directors to take charge of them.  Both Sidney Salkow and Reginald LeBorg (who directed Twice Told Tales and Diary of a Madman, respectively), were effectively journeymen directors who reliably delivered workmanlike B-movies, never really displaying any of the visual flair that Roger Corman (who likewise had a long career in B-movies) brought to the POe series.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Restless Natives

There are some news stories which leave me utterly flabbergasted.  This week, the one which has left my gast utterly flabbered is that story about the American guy who was killed by natives on the Sentinel Islands in the Indian Ocean.  Apparently he died in a hail of arrows when he landed on the beach, before his body - which still hasn't been recovered - was dragged off by the natives.  At first he was described as a 'tourist', which made me think that this had happened in or near some popular tourist location, which would have been pretty shocking.  But now it has emerged that he was some kind of crazy preacher who wanted to 'convert' the natives to Christianity and that the natives were on an isolated island which is off-limits to all outsiders.  At which point, any sympathy I might have had for him dissipated completely.  What is it with these people that they can't even leave alone the remotest tribes in the world?  It surely can only be arrogance which motivates someone to think that a people who have quite happily been living their lives without outside interference for centuries need to have someone else's religion rammed down their throats?  What makes them think that the end result will be anything other than a re-enactment of a seventies Italian cannibal movie? 

Even if had simply been a tourist, as first reported, his actions in landing on he island would have been idiotic in the extreme.  There are good reasons why the island and its inhabitants are off-limits to outsiders:  for one thing, their centuries of isolation make them vulnerable to even common diseases, for another, their isolation means that exposure to outsiders could have catastrophic consequences for their culture.  But hey, it seems such considerations are irrelevant for the religious crazies who just can't bear to accept that people might be perfectly happy without Jesus in their lives.  The fact that these people have lived their lives perfectly happily for centuries without any outside contact means nothing to the missionaries, it seems.  But it isn't just a matter of religious arrogance, it is all part of an arrogant belief that modern Western 'civilisation' represents some kind of pinnacle of human development and that everyone must be made to feel its 'benefits'.  The fact is that, historically, we're just another way station in history, which, like its predecessors, will one day wane and fade away, to be replaced by something else.  Moreover, who is to say that our Western lifestyle is 'superior'?  Sure, we enjoy the benefits of advances in medical science and technology, but these don't come without costs.  There was an interesting study recently, which indicated that remote Amazonian tribes who had had little contact with 'civilisation' enjoyed much lower stress levels than those that had regular interactions with the outside world.  So, clearly, if I want to get my stress levels down I'm going to have to go and live in a mud hut in the remotest part of the Amazon rain forest that I can find...


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Growing Irritations

Increasingly, things are irritating me.  Nothing unusual in that, you are no doubt thinking, but since I was ill earlier this year, I've been much calmer, more mellow.  no doubt on account of all the medication I have to take these days.  But, of late, I've been getting bloody irascible again.  Maybe I've been taking the meds long enough that I'm building up an immunity.  Anyway, stuff is starting to irritate me again.  Not to the levels it did before I was ill, when, fueled by my excessive blood pressure, trivial annoyances could turn into full blown rage.  But some things can still severely piss me off.  People walking too closely behind me in supermarkets, for instance.  The other day, for instance, remembering something I'd forgotten to get off of the shelves, I turned around to go back to find myself, quite literally, face-to-face with some bloody woman who had been walking inches behind me.  I'm afraid her startled look just annoyed me even more.  I mean, what did she think was going to happen?  I had a similar experience in another supermarket when I stopped and turned and was nearly mown down by some toss pot pushing his trolley inches from my heels.  What the fuck is wrong with these people?  Why are they invading my space like this, then reacting as f I'm the one behaving irrationally?  They are the pedestrian equivalents to those tail-gater you encounter on motorways.

Just as irritating are the pillocks who think that they can either text or read texts on their phones while walking through crowded shopping centres.  Inevitably, they collide with me (I've got to the stage where I simply refuse to take evasive action when I encounter fools who can't be bothered to look where thay are walking, they are so transfixed with the screen of their mobile), at which point they try to act as if they are the injured party.  Wankers.  Friends and acquaintances are also really, really beginning to annoy me again.  (No Andrea, if you read this, I'm not aiming these comments at you.  You might well be one of the most frustrating people I know, with your frequent lapses in communication, but, in truth, your infuriating qualities are among the things I most love about you).  We seem to be slipping back into the idea that I do nothing but sit waiting for them to call me - there's no consideration that I might actually have other things to do, that I can't simply drop just because somebody deigns to call me out of the blue.  I do have my own life, you know.  I also don't think I'm being unreasonable if I don't respond immediately to answer phone messages, particularly if they aren't phrased in a way which requires response.  (As you can probably gather, I recently had an exasperating friend-related incident in which the other party behaved in the most extraordinary manner, but I was supposed to feel as if I'd dome something wrong).  There's a reason I keep my circle of friends to a bare minimum - they can be a pain in the arse. 

So, as I'm meant to be avoiding stress and keeping my blood pressure down, I'm trying to ignore all these minor irritations and mellow out again.  Of course, if people stopped leaving messages on my answer phone, making demands on my time and bizarrely walking out of pubs they told me they were going to meet me in before I arrived, then it would all be a lot easier.  And people wonder why I prefer my own company!

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Inside the Brexit Bunker

I don't know about you, but I spent my weekend preparing my Brexit Bunker.  Believe me, it is time well spent.  We all need to be prepared for the disaster of a 'No Deal' Brexit as it edges ever closer.  We all know that May's Brexit deal is going to be rejected by parliament, she'll refuse to have a second referendum and the foaming at the mouth Brextremists like Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg and Andrea Leadsom will succeed in pushing us all over the edge into the 'No Deal' scenario.  So, when all flights to and from Europe are suspended, medical supplies become unobtainable and the lorries trying to get across the channel at Dover are backed up as far as Maidenhead, I'll be safe in my Brexit Bunker, enjoying all that food and medicines I've been stockpiling down there.  When I say 'down there', it implies I've converted my cellar into the Brexit Bunker.  Except, of course, that this house has never had a cellar.  But I didn't let that deter me - I lifted the floor boards in the front room and excavated downwards.  It has taken a few months and disposing of the earth I've dug out hasn't been easy - there's a pile of it in the back garden so high that it is blocking the light to my sitting room window - but it has been worth it. 

As I've already mentioned, I've stocked the bunker full of good British stuff like tinned Bully Beef, Cadbury's Smash, Fray Bentos pies and packets of Bisto.  I don't actually intend eating the latter.  I instead intend to use the red hot gravy like boiling oil and pour it from the bedroom windows over marauding Brexiteers who approach my house in search of supplies, post-Brexit,  Because we all know that they are the ones who won't have prepared, so confident are they that a 'No Deal' Brexit will be a huge success.  I've also adapted the letter box in the front door so that I can fire both barrels of a sawn off shotgun through it if the gravy fails to deter the Brexiteers when they stumble up, zombie-like, mumbling 'Brexit, we want our Brexit'.  Mind you, the usual anti-zombie advice of 'Shoot them in the head' obviously doesn't apply to Brexiteers as they don't have any brains to blow out.

Of course,right now Theresa May is hunkering down in her own version of a 'Bexit Bunker', recalling the last days of the Third Reich, as she barks out orders to ministers who no longer serve, having all resigned, with those remaining too scared to tell her that nobody in the outside world is listening.  Not that I'm likening May to Hitler and the Tories to the Nazi Party, but there's no doubt that the air of desperation which surrounds failing regimes on the brink of collapse now surrounds this government.  I would liken it to the fall pf the Roman Empire, but that took place over the curse of several centuries - a long slow decline culminating in a catastrophic collapse of order.  In truth, for those of us working in the public sector, the coalition years felt like living through the fall of Rome.  But things have now accelerated and we've jumped scenarios to Berlin 1945.  Still, despite impending doom and an inevitable political crisis, it is good to know that the standards of parliamentary debate remain so high.  Not only have we been treated to Tory MP Nicholas 'Fatty' Soames calling a Brexit supporting colleague a 'Twerp' during a Commons debate, we also had some unidentified MP audibly shout 'You're talking Cobblers' at arch Brexiteer Tory MP Peter Bone(head) in the House.  Both statements are, of course, true, but one somehow expects a higher standard of insult in the House of Commons.

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Friday, November 16, 2018

A Crappy Crapchester Christmas

We're at that time of year when, traditionally, we start complaining that the Christmas TV ads start earlier every year.  Perhaps they do.  Certainly this year, they feel as if we'd barely crossed the threshold of November when they started.  But as I can't ever remember when they started in previous years, I've no idea whether this really is earlier than usual.  When you think about it, though, pure economics would dictate that the Christmas advertising campaign has to start in November, if they are to capitalise on the sales potential of the season.  If they only started showing them two weeks before Christmas, potential customers simply wouldn't have time to buy all the crap they are trying to sell.  That said, I always thought that part of the fun of Christmas was all that last minute shopping: rushing around crowded shops fighting other shoppers for the last mince pies on the shelves.  The good old days.  At least most of this year's seasonal adverts seem less elaborate than usual.  Maybe money is tighter this year - I've noticed that Morrison's are running many of the same TV adverts they used last year. 

But Christmas has already been tainted for me this year.  Clearly today was the day that Crapchester's Christmas lights were switched on.  Which meant that when I traipsed into town to do my usual Friday after work shopping, I found myself having to fight my way through milling crowds - and I do mean fight.  Apparently it was all complicated by the fact that the main shopping centre, although physically one entity, is split,in management terms, into two main parts, all with their own decorations and Christmas trees.  Both decided to choose today for their switch ons.  Which meant that nobody knew which bit they should be in, so they just blocked every thoroughfare.  The staff seemed utterly ineffective in imposing any organisation and the whole thing seemed shambolic.  Those bloody street 'entertainers' I loathe so much were again in evidence (I had to shove some of them aside to get out of one shop) and just made things worse.  Really, it's ruined Christmas for me before it has even started!  Still, I should expect nothing less from Crapchester than a truly crappy festive experience.

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bad Day in Brexit Land

Even as we speak, Larry the Cat is undoubtedly preparing to take over as Brexit Secretary.  I mean, who else is there?   He's been biding his time for years, sitting in Downing Street, undermining various ministers - just look at how he usurped Nick Clegg's authority as Deputy Prime Minister during the coalition years.  Not to mention the way he sidelined Vince Cable.  I'm sure that he'll refocus the Brexit negotiations - on fish.  Before you know it, he'll be Prime Minister.  After all, he's in Downing Street already.  Moreover, he's more likely to be able to command a parliamentary majority than anyone else.  It really is all a mess, isn't it?  Cabinet ministers resigning left, right and centre, Jacob Rees-Mogg threatening to write letters, probably rude ones, denouncing Theresa May for having the nerve not to listen to his demented ramblings.  Actually, isn't it high time that May told Rees-Mogg to fuck off?  She'd get a vote of confidence from me if she was to find sufficient backbone to tell the obnoxious over privileged public school twat where to get off.  But she won't.  But it really is about time that someone called him out for the hypocrite that he actually is - busy trying to engineer the UK's withdrawal from the EU while simultaneously moving his hedge funds to Ireland to insure that his investors retain all the benefits of EU membership he wants to deny to the rest of us.  Not to mention his inconsistency on the subject of a second referendum: before he and his fellow brigands won the first one, he was all for a second bite of the cherry.

But getting back to those ministerial resignations - the reaction of the markets just underlined how irrational they are.  The pound's value dipped alarmingly when Esther McVey's resignation was announced.  Which is ridiculous, as surely the departure of that evil, stone hearted excuse for a human being from government should be a cause of celebration?  Knowing that she was no longer at the helm of the Department of Work and Pensions, oppressing benefits claimants, should cause the value of the pound to rise?  Because, if I believed in such things, I'd say that she is so irredeemably evil that she will burn in Hell for all eternity.  I'm clearly not alone in that opinion: she lost her seat at the 2015 general election and had to be parachuted into a nice safe Tory seat for the 2017 general election in order to ensure that her brand of uncaring evil was all present and correct for Mrs May's new government.  But despite all the setbacks, May is busy trying to sell her Brexit deal to anyone who will listen.  According to her it's either her deal, a no deal Brexit, or no Brexit at all.  Can I tick the box for the last option?  It's interesting that 'no Brexit' suddenly seems to be back on the table.  Except that it isn't.  Unless there's another referendum, of course.  All day I've heard the mantra from Tory ministers that this is about respecting the 'will of the people' as expressed in that bloody referendum.  Which, logically, means that 'no Brexit' can only be legitimised via another 'people's vote'.  Which May keeps saying isn't going to happen.  But she's apparently put the 'no Brexit' option back on the agenda.  Interesting.  But also a reminder of what a bloody mess this has become.  But hey, look to the positives - it isn't often that we get the chance to actually live through a full blown political crisis of these proportions, is it? 


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Horror of it All (1964)

A now obscure horror comedy in The Old Dark House mode.  In fact, to a large extent it is a remake of the 1932 Old Dark House, but played as comedy - much as the official remake of that film was.  Indeed, I can only imagine that The Horror of it All was made to attempt to cash in on the expected release of the 1963 Old Dark House remake, a feeling reinforced by the fact that, like that film, The Horror of it All had its UK release put back until 1966.  The similarities between the two films are blatant: both involve their imported American lead driving to an isolated country house and being stranded there after their cars are wrecked, and encountering an eccentric family living there.  In both films, someone is intent upon murdering family members in pursuit of an inheritance.  Whereas in The Old Dark House remake Tom Poston is delivering a car to the house but ends up falling for the 'normal' female family member, in Horror of it All, Pat Boone goes there to ask the 'normal' girl's uncle for her hand in marriage.  Both film's also include a vampish 'weird' female family member as a rival potential love interest for the hero and an apparently deranged and violent family member, (in the case of Horror of it All, he's kept locked up).  Interestingly, although Fenella Fielding plays the vampish character in Old Dark House, Andre Melee's equivalent character in Horror of it All seems to provide the template for Fielding's subsequent celebrated turn in Carry on Screaming.

To be fair, The Horror of it All actually bears more resemblance to the original Old Dark House than its own remake does, in terms of some of the characters, at least.  There's the aged bedridden family patriach upstairs, in both, and a mentally unstable relative kept locked away as a family secret in both films.  All that's lacking is a murderous butler in the Karloff mould.  But, like the Old Dark House remake, The Horror of it All eschews the black humour of James Whale's original in favour of attempts at far broader, often slapstick, comedy.  And, like the remake, it generally fails in this respect.  The script simply isn't sharp enough and the characters not interesting enough.  In addition to the attempts at humour, the presence of Pat Boone in the lead means that a musical number also has to be endured.  It doesn't help that the whole thing unfolds at a leaden pace, with every scene feeling as if it has been allowed to run too long.  Despite being only seventy five minutes long, the film drags interminably.  Ironically, bearing in mind that its intended rival, the Old Dark House remake, was produced by Hammer, The Horror of it All was directed by erstwhile Hammer director Terence Fisher, who had been at the helm of most of the company's early Gothic horror hits.  Unfortunately, his slow and deliberate style, while well suited to building the suspense essential to Gothic horror films, simply doesn't work in a comedy context.  Moreover, Fisher seems to be on autopilot mode as far as his direction of The Horror of it All goes, making little of the horror elements.

The Horror of it All ends on a confused note: having apparently copied the 'twist' ending from the Old Dark House remake, it then seems to have second thoughts, adding a second 'twist' and a conventional happy ending.  All of which look suspiciously like they were an afterthought, shot and tacked on after the original ending tested badly with preview audiences.  Still, it does boast a half decent cast which includes Dennis Price, Valentine Dyall and Eric Chitty.  The stand out performance, though, belongs to Andree Melly as the vampire-like cousin.  A typical Lippert production, (Robert Lippert was a UK-based American producer specialising in producing low-budget second features), The Horror of it All was paired with a far more impressive Lippert production, Witchcraft, (which was co-produced with Jack Parsons, a sort of British equivalent to Lippert), on its US release, which, coincidentally, was directed by another Hammer alumni, Don Sharp.  Little seen nowadays, The Horror of it All, despite some impressive credentials, such as the presence of Terence Fisher in the director's chair, sadly offers little in the way of either horror or humour.


Monday, November 12, 2018

How Far is Too Far?

Yes, that really happened.  Sort of.  Those are the animated titles for the aborted sitcom Heil Honey I'm Home, which was commissioned by the long defunct UK satellite channel Galaxy back in 1990.  In the event, only the pilot was transmitted: eight more episodes were recorded, but never broadcast.  (Interestingly, the pilot didn't have these titles, only the unaired episodes carried them, so they've never actually be seen on TV).  It's perhaps no surprise that Galaxy (part of the old BSB set up) got cold feet over showing the series proper.  While the makers always claimed that their aim was to satirise classic US sitcoms like I Love Lucy or Bewitched, by basing one around the most unlikely characters possible, it was inevitable that picking on the idea of the Hitlers living next door to a Jewish couple (and plotting to kill them) was going to attract the ire of the right wing press.  But it does raise the question of just what you have to do to go 'too far'?  After all, it isn't as if you can't parody the Nazis in popular culture.  Just look at the success of Mel Brooks' The Producers in it is various forms.  But then again, Springtime for Hitler, the terrible musical the titular producers are conning people into backing, exists only as a 'play within a play' and arguably doesn't the main plot of the story.  Which, perhaps, makes it somehow 'safe' in the eyes of many critics.

Nonetheless, it does constitute a pretty savage ridiculing of the Third Reich, rather than simply presenting Adolf Hitler as a character in a sitcom.  Mid you, the BBC subsequently had a big hit with a World War Two set sitcom in the shape of Allo, Allo.  Set in occupied France, this presented all manner of farcical situations centring around cafe owner Renee, who finds himself caught in the middle between the occupying Germans and the French resistance, forced to hide escaping British airmen for the resistance and looted art treasures ('the Madonna with the big boobies') for the Axis.  Why wasn't this considered as going 'too far?'  Despite some initial criticism, it became a huge audience favourite and is now considered a classic sitcom.  The usual defence of this series was that it was actually parodying the conventions of British war movies rather than the actual war against the the Nazis itself.  Yet, week in, week out, it portrayed German officers as buffoons (much in the manner of Colonel Klink in Hogan's Heroes, another WWII set sitcom in arguably dubious taste) and the Gestapo as blundering incompetents.  This latter portrayal was arguably, in view of the sort of atrocities committed by the real Gestapo, in extremely poor taste.  (Notably, they never portrayed, let alone parodied, the SS, who have, if anything, an even more toxic legacy than their colleagues in the Gestapo).  Then again, while there is always the danger of trivialising the crimes of the Nazis, some of us feel that ridiculing them is often the best way to combat their continued threat.  It's far more difficult for people to idolise a regime and its leaders who are mercilessly pilloried as lunatics and incompetents.

Mind you, to some extent modern Nazis seem to be self parodying.  Only today we saw three of them convicted of membership of a prohibited extreme right terror group.  Some of the evidence presented in court was quite bizarre:  two of them (a couple) had named their child Adolf and had photos taken of them wearing KKK type robes while cradling the child.  I mean, you can't make this stuff up, can you?  I suppose that we should be thankful that subtlety isn't their forte and that they choose to behave like sitcom characters (perhaps the writers of Heil Honey I'm Home were on to something after all), as it makes them easier to catch.  One detail which sticks in my mind is the fact that they even had swastika shaped pastry cutters in their kitchen.  Where do you even get such things?  I've never seen them in the Argos catalogue, for God's sake.  Obviously, in some respects I've lived far too sheltered a life - I can tell you where to obtain some highly unusual varieties of porn, for instance, but still have no idea where these lunatics find half of their Nazi shit.  Mind you, the government seems more intent on banning the porn than the Nazi memorabilia, despite the latter definitely being more harmful than the former.  In my opinion, at least.


Friday, November 09, 2018

Another Train of Thought

We haven't talked about model railways here for while.  Not that I've made any real progress with mine, but I have made a few new acquisitions.  First up are some old Trix BR Mk 1 coaches I bought from eBay a couple of weeks ago:

There's also a second buffet car, but in chocolate and cream rather than green.  A train composed of carriages in multiple liveries like this wasn't uncommon on the Southern Region in the mid to late sixties, as steam ran down.  With many locomotive hauled passenger services on other regions being replaced by diesel multiple units, the surplus coaches were cascaded to other regions which still had predominantly locomotive hauled services. Liveries other than the Southern Region's native green were also seen on inter-regional services, of course.  (Actually, I have to admit that, in either case, ex Western Region chocolate and cream coaches would be rare, as they were only used on named expresses working from Paddington, regular Western region services used maroon liveried coaches).

Here's a closer look at the coaches:

Bearing in mind that these models date back to the 1960s, the level of detail on the mouldings is excellent.  Indeed, they are some of the best representations of Mk 1 stock I've seen in 00.  Like all Trix products from this period, however, they aren't true 00 gauge models, as they are made to 3.8mm to the foot scale rather than 4mm to the foot scale, which makes them slightly under scale.  This can clearly be seen when they are compared to the Hornby Mk 1 (which is to 4mm to the foot scale) posed in the foreground:

As long as the Trix coaches are kept together in separate rakes and not mixed with true scale 00 Mk 1s, the discrepancy isn't noticeable.  Certainly, I like them enough that I'll be trying to obtain some more in the near future.  Perhaps due to the scale issue, Trix coaches are often cheaper to buy than their Triang/Hornby, Lima and Mainline equivalents.  (They also run better than the Mainline versions, which, I find, simply won't stay on the track).  In front of the coaches in the above photo is te tail end of a tanker train.  While I've owned the four tank wagons visible for more years than I care to remember, the foremost part of the train is composed of some more recent acquisitions:

I'll admit that there are better tank wagon models on the market than these old Triang-derived types, but their simplicity lends them a certain elegance.  Moreover, they have a nostalgic appeal for me, as I had one as part of my very first, clockwork, train set when I was five or six.

So, there you have it - I've done little in terms of pushing the layout forward, but I have, at least, expanded the rolling stock roster.  I really must get on with the wiring so that I can run more trains, then think about painting the exposed areas of the baseboard.  I've also got vague plans for the station area, which is currently composed of bare platforms.  You never know, I might actually find time to do some of this in the foreseeable future.


Thursday, November 08, 2018

The Colonial Western

The Western is generally thought of as being primarily an American film genre, dealing, as it does, with transition of the US from lawless frontier mentality to a more mature society observing the rule of law.  But the film industries of other countries have always coveted the Western genre and its action packed format chronicling the eventual triumph of law over lawlessness, whilst also incorporating a celebration of individualism as lone heroes and small communities prevail over the predatory interests of corporate land developers, railroad companies, even the Federal Government.  The most obvious attempt to co-opt the Western genre came from Italy, which, throughout the sixties and seventies produced a plethora of mainly Spanish-shot 'Spaghetti Westerns', which often subverted many of the genre's conventions.  The British film industry, however, also has a long-standing tradition of attempting to produce Westerns.  Some were actually shot in the US, others were European co-productions, (indeed, there is an argument that the whole Spaghetti Western sub-genre was kicked off by such a production: Michael Carreras' The Savage Guns, shot in 1961 in Spain), a few, like Carry on Cowboy, were shot in the UK.  But there was another sub genre of the British Western which, instead of trying to recreate the US locations of the real thing, sought to find a British equivalent to the US's Old West frontier: the colonial western.  These films found their setting in far flung outposts of the Empire which featured similar environments to the Old West: nineteenth century Australia, for instance, in films like Robbery Under Arms, or India, in stuff like The Long Duel (which was actually shot in Spain).

The other bit of Empire offering a faux frontier setting was, of course, South Africa.  Which brings us, finally, to one of the best known of these Colonial Westerns - 1961's The Hellions. Set in the Transvaal in the late nineteenth century, it incorporates as many traditional Western tropes as possible, a a typically dysfunctional family of outlaws ride into a small and remote town, hell bent on revenge against the local lawman, (a police sergeant rather than a sheriff or marshal).  The problem is that, in its quest to pack in as many genre cliches as possible, the film seems to lose sight of exactly where it wants to go.  The early scenes, with the outlaws' distaste for the encroaching barbed wire and the 'civilisation' it portends suggests that it might develop into something along the lines of the Kirk Douglas Western, Man Without a Star, which explores similar themes.  But this is quickly forgotten about (until the film's climax, when the outlaw leader perishes after falling into a wagon full of barbed wire) and the movie instead starts turning into a more conventional 'town under siege' type of Western.  But even here, it seemingly can't make up its mind where it wants to go:  the gang bear more than a passing resemblance to the Clantons, as portrayed in John Ford's My Darling Clementine, raising audience expectations of an OK Corral style climax.  But it instead then seems to want to ape High Noon, with the lawman finding himself facing the gang alone, as the townsfolk lack the backbone to help him.  Except that said lawman simply refuses to confront the outlaws for most of the film, barricading himself into his house and hoping that someone will break ranks and help him.

But even here, it fumbles the ball.  Rather than try to recreate the tension of High Noon, as the lawman tries to drum up support as the outlaws slowly approach the town, in The Hellions they are already there for most of the film, causing havoc and murdering the odd citizen, while the sergeant does nothing.  (This scenario is somewhat reminiscent of Day of the Outlaw, but nowhere near as well done).  Of course, someone does eventually break ranks to face down the gang, (the meek store owner, who has accidentally shot and killed one of the gang), at which point the lawman turns two-fisted and takes on the remaining outlaws, with the rest of the town finally taking up arms to assist him.  As can be seen, the script is all over the place plot-wise and has clunking dialogue to match.  The performances are hugely variable.  Lionel Jeffries, cast against type as the outlaws' patriarch, gives a very effective performance, while James Booth brings a nicely psychopathic edge as his unpredictable and sadistic son Jubal.  Singer Marty Wilde, also cast against type as the youngest son is quite forgettable, while Colin Blakely as a third son is given little to do.  As for the townsfolk, Richard Todd is utterly bland and uncharismatic as the sergeant, while Jamie Uys (who also co-produced the film) is downright awful as the storekeeper - seeming to think that meekness can be portrayed via a mumbling of his every line. 

Yet, with all that said, The Hellions is surprisingly effective as a cod Western.  Even down to the fact that the actual natives of the country where it is set are reduced to perfunctory walk on roles.  While it's no gunfight at the OK Corral, the climactic fight between Todd and Jeffries in the store (which also involves Booth at one point) is a spirited affair.  Interestingly, the film ends on as confused a note as everything that preceded it, with the townsfolk turning vigilante to deal with the remaining outlaws: both Wilde and Blakely are gunned down, shot in the back, in fact, as they try to flee the mob.  Neither of them actually fires a shot.  Which, if the film (as all good Westerns are) is meant to be about the eventual triumph of law over lawlessness, is a pretty confusing conclusion which seems to be endorsing the idea of ignoring legal process and instead aking the law into one's own hands.  Some of the film's unevenness might be down to the fact that director Ken Annakin was taken ill during production, leaving large parts of the film to be directed by other hands.  Annakin was supposedly treating the whole thing as a parody, directing the cast to interpret the script accordingly, but his stand ins directed their scenes straight.  I can't help but feel that this sounds like a convenient excuse to try and explain what is, in the final analysis, some pretty poor film making.  Still, it was popular at the box office back in 1961, so what do I know?


Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Arresting Behaviour?

I see that arrests have been made in connection with the burning  on a bonfire of an effigy of Grenfell Tower that I mentioned in yesterday's post.  Which, of course,  begs the question as to whether any arrests actually were necessary?  While setting fire to a model of Grenfell Tower might well be considered, at the very least, thoughtless, definitely tasteless, certainly reprehensible and probably offensive to the majority of people, it isn't actually a criminal act.  But here in the UK we seem to like arresting people for causing offence, whether it be drunkenly urinating on war memorials or posying idiotic things on social media.  Whilst these sorts of things might well be anti-social and most definitely reprehensible, do they really warrant arresting and prosecuting the perpetrators?  BUt that's the sort of society the UK has become: one obsessed with 'punishing' supposed 'wrong doers'.  The trouble is that, all too often, the real miscreants are simply not being caught and punished, be they burglars and muggers, con men and fraudsters, or top level tax evaders.  Probably because the police are spending so much time investigating complaints that someone said something rude about someone else on Twitter.

The Grenfell Tower effigy burning provides a typical example of this sort of very British overreaction to something, with both the traditional media and social media doing their best to whip up some moral outrage over something which, while undoubtedly offensive, is, in the scheme of things, quite trivial.  It is unclear (to me at least) whether any criminal offence has actually been committed.  (Unless they've criminalised stupidity, that is).  So, do we really think that it is a good use of police resources to identify and arrest the sort of morons who not only burn models of Grenfell Tower, but also film it and put it online?  Or do we think that the police's time would be better spent catching sex offenders and murderers, (or even right wing millionaires who have been illegally bank rolling Brexit)?  Would it be more appropriate to publicly vilify and shame these arseholes?  Most certainly.  It's the best way to ram home to them and their ilk that this sort of thing is socially unacceptable, that the majority of us think that they are sick, bigoted, bastards.  By arresting them, we are are risking giving them and their idiotic antics even more publicity, turning them into heroes in the eyes of other morons.  Indeed, there's always the risk that we will make martyrs out of them in the eyes of those right-wing extremists who like to cry 'free speech!' every time someone refuses to give a platform to racism and bigotry.

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Monday, November 05, 2018

Remember, Remember

Remember, remember and all that.  I sometimes wonder what the rest of the world makes of tradition of burning on bonfires effigies of a catholic who tried to blow up Parliament every 5th November?  I mean, it is uniquely British - just about everywhere else in the world fireworks are used to celebrate things like religious festivals or independence days.  But here in the UK, we let them off in commemoration of an attempt to assassinate the king and destroy the seat of government.  It's a bit like the Americans deciding to fire guns in the air every November to commemorate the assassination of President Kennedy.  Of course, these days it isn't just anti-catholic sentiment that Guy Fawkes Night is used to express - I was just reading about some sickos who were burning a replica of Grenfell Tower on a bonfire.  A replica complete with black faces at the windows.  Ah, the British capacity for senseless hate seems limitless.  (I seem to recall that, some years ago, I wrote a story in The Sleaze where a bigot accused his Muslim neighbour of burning an effigy of the twin Trade Towers on a bonfire - it seems that life has finally caught up with art).  Arguably, the actual tradition of burning effigies of a catholic on a bonfire simply encourages a deeply ingrained sense of hatred toward outsiders which seems to run through British history.  But hey - it's a tradition, so that makes it OK, doesn't it?

Which is the other thing about Britain that Guy Fawkes Night illuminates: our obsession with the past.  After all, anywhere else in the world would surely have let go of a grudge over something that happened centuries ago, wouldn't they?  But we just can't, so it seems.  The fixation on the past is also expressed around this time of year by our fetishisation of Remembrance Day.  It's taken on  quasi-mystical properties - being accused of desecrating war memorials, wreaths and even paper poppies is considered a worse crime than blasphemy nowadays: it's a stain on your character from which you can never recover.  because the memories of those who fought and died are now sacred, it seems.  Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with commemorating the dead of various wars, but things have reached ridiculous levels now, where you can be branded as 'disrespectful' if you don't wear a poppy, or wear a white poppy, or wear the wrong sort of coat to the Cenotaph, or don't bow sufficiently at same monument, or drive a car too close to it.  Or any number of other supposed 'infringements' of the sacred respect which has to observed now.  Can't we just go back to the  good old days when we observed that minute silence every Remembrance Sunday and engaged in some private contemplation of the follies of war and the terrible sacrifice of human life they involve?  Likewise, can't we just get Guy Fawkes Night back to being abut doing stupid and dangerous things with fireworks? It was fun back in those days.

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Friday, November 02, 2018

Trick or Treat

I forgot to ask - did you have a good Halloween?  Did you wander around your neighbourhood with a sheet over your head knocking on peoples' doors?  Mind you, it doesn't have to be Halloween to do that - in some parts of the US they do it all year round, except it is only the black neighbours they visit and its always 'trick' and no 'treat', as they always leave burning crosses on the lawns, regardless of their reception.  Personally, I neither went knocking on doors nor was I troubled by anyone knocking on mine.  And let's face, it would have been more than a little peculiar if I had dressed up as a ghost and went knocking on doors demanding confectionery with menaces. For one thing, I'm far too old for that sort of shit and, for another, I don't think 'trick or treat' is meant to be a solitary occupation.  Crazy, huh?  For some strange reason, going around in a mob and knocking on strangers' doors while wearing masks and threatening to throw eggs at their houses is considered less threatening than doing it on your own.  Yeah, that's right - if I was going to do it on my own, I'd be considered some kind of weirdo.  Or perhaps even a dangerous psychopath.  Even stranger, if I was to go around trick or treating on my own, I would be considered even weirder if I didn't wear some kind of costume while I did it, instead wearing my normal street clothes.

So, if I had wanted to go trick or treating, I would have had to tag along with a group of kids if I wanted to avoid being labelled as 'weird'.  But even that would have been considered dodgy: a grown man hanging out with kids to go demanding sweets from neighbours.  OK, I suppose that I could pretend to be the parent of one or ore of them, but that would probably be considered even stranger.  Besides, I wouldn't want people to think that I was the kind of parent who allowed their kids to hang out with strange men while harassing the neighbours.  The only other alternative would be to form a group of like minded adults to go trick or treating with - that way I couldn't be labelled a dangerous loner or a potential nonce.  Then again, you can guarantee that a group of masked and costumed adults wandering around knocking on doors and shouting 'trick or treat' at householders would inevitably be classified as a dangerous gang.  You just can't win these days, you really can't.  If you are an adult, you simply aren't allowed to indulge in any kind of innocent fun any more.  So, it's just as well that I didn't actually want to go trick or treating this Halloween.

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Thursday, November 01, 2018

One of Those Weeks

Clearly, it is one one of those weeks.  My old steam cleaner stopped working, my vacuum cleaner has, quite literally, fallen apart and this evening I had to engage in a huge diversion, thanks to roadworks, in order to get home from Salisbury, where I'd been helping my mother move into her new retirement flat.  Oh, and on top of that, I spent a large chunk of my morning at work in a meeting, with management outlining the latest plans for the organisation's future, (which seem mainly to involve cutting the workforce by a third, but not paying any redundancies, and forcing most of the remaining workforce into glorified call centres).  Did I mention it has also been freezing cold for a lot of this week, as well? Like I said, one of those weeks.  I do find that it is often the case that if a week starts badly, it continues that way.  And I kicked off this week still feeling somewhat upset following my last visit to the old family home before my mum moved out, which set the tone for the whole week.

Anyway, the long and the short of it all is that I'm now exhausted - and there's still another day of the working week to go.  Still, I'm amazed at what I have managed to get done in between all the other stuff: a new story on The Sleaze, completing those Halloween themed Random Movie Trailers here, recording a seasonal contribution to the most recent Overnightscape Central podcast over at  I even managed to get a plumber in to fix that dripping overflow pipe.  About the only thing I failed to do was record a new podcast of my own, which I had hoped to have done in time for Halloween.  But hey, timing wasn't crucial too it: just because it will have a supernatural theme doesn't mean that it has to be posted over Halloween.  So, hopefully, I'll be able to record and post it over the next week or so.  Provided I don't have another week like this one, that is.