Friday, December 14, 2018

It's Christmaaasss!

OK, fuck politics.  I've ranted enough about it this week.  Let's get back to Christmas.  As I was driving arond this freezing cold December Friday, I heard all the Christmas perennials played on the radio.  You know the ones I mean: Slade's 'Merry Christmas Everybody', Wizzard's 'I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day', that one with Shakin' Stevens and all the others.  It's the same ones every year.  Now, don't get me wrong, it isn't that I particularly dislike any of them, (indeed, I have a profound love for the Slade and Wizzard tracks as they are inextricably linked with my childhood memories of this time of year), but I'm always left wondering why these particular songs apparently captured the public imagination, while others didn't.  I mean, when was the last time that you heard, say, The Kinks' 1977 Christmas song, 'Father Christmas' played on the radio?



It's a perfectly decent track, with a catchy tune, performed by one of the legendary bands of the sixties and seventies, yet seems to have fallen by the wayside in terms of popular Christmas songs.  Perhaps it is the fact that its lyrics involve a degree of social comment, not to mention threats of violence against Santa and the mention of kids wanting machine guns for Christmas to frighten the other kids on the street with.  Sadly, when it comes to Christmas songs, it seems that the public prefer something lighter - both the Wizzard and Slade songs are essentially upbeat celebrations of the festivities.  Not that there's anything wrong with Roy Wood with glitter in his beard blowing his horn or Noddy Holder and his sideburns shouting 'Its Christmaaaas!', but sometimes it would be nice to throw something a bit more cynical into the radio play lists at this time of year.  Certainly, the sentiment The Kinks' song is as relevant now as it was in 1977.  So come on Radio One, give it a spin!

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Crisis!

So, the dust has settled on yesterday's bit of 'excitement' as the Tory party self-indulgently decided to have a vote of no-confidence in its leader (and Prime Minister), whilst we are in the middle of a political crisis which could yet become a constitutional crisis, and what has changed?  That's right: very little.  May is still Tory leader and PM and she still can't see any way of getting her lousy Brexit deal through parliament.  She still won't countenance either a second referendum or any alternative Brexit deal and the EU won't budge on any of the terms of her own proposed deal.  The only difference is that May's position is weakened in that around a third of her own MPs voted against her and by the fact that, in order to secure the support of the other two thirds, she had to make the concession that she won't be leading the Tories into the next general election.  (The latter was pretty much a foregone conclusion following her abject performance in the last election).  On a slightly more positive note, the Tory remainers have been emboldened by the vote and Brextremists like Rees Mogg and the European Research Group (ERG) have been weakened by the vote (which, ironically, they orchestrated).  Not, I fear, that that will mean the ERG will shut the fuck up or that we'll see less of the abhorrent Rees Mogg on TV.

Despite all of this, British politics remains in crisis and the worst government in living memory still clings to power.  I've been surprised that living through a political crisis of this magnitude has been so uneventful: you'd think that people would be out on the streets and protesting outside parliament.  But no, they just carry on doing their shopping.  Still, it is Christmas, I suppose.  But really, people should be getting angrier - this the first British government to be foud in contempt of parliament, they also lost three Commons votes in a day and have been forced to postpone a vote on a key piece of legislation - Brexit - which will have profound consequences for the UK economy for decades to come, because they can't even persuade their own MPs to support it.  In the meantime, no other parliamentary business is getting done.  The government is effectively paralysed.  So why aren't people marching on Downing Street and demanding the government's mass resignation?  Perhaps it is the lack of any inspiring alternative.  Certainly, none of the Tory contenders for the leadership have any popular appeal.  Not even that buffoon Boris Johnson - the public has seemingly tired of his bumbling schtick.  As for Labour - well, their apparent unwillingness to outline an alternative to may's deal and their own weak leadership are hardly inspiring.  God, it's all so depressing!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Carambola! (1974)

You'll excuse me while I allow myself a moment of ecstasy - Spurs have just, somehow, managed to qualify for the knock out stages of the Champions League.  Ahhh, it feels good!  But, to business.  I mentioned in passing yesterday that, over the weekend, I'd been able to catch up with another of those fake Terrance Hill/Bud Spencer films starring Antonio Cantafora and Paul L Smith.  These film have long fascinated me and I've now managed to catch up with four of the five they made (over a period of less than three years).   I first became aware of the existence of Cantafora and Smith in their capacity as Hill/Spencer impersonators, when I found myself watching what I at first assumed to be a genuine Hill and Spencer comedy spaghetti western on Movies4Men.  I'd missed the opening titles and simply assumed from the style of the film and the presence a big bearded bad tempered guy and a slimmer blonde guy, both performing slapstick orientated athletic stunts and fight sequences, that it was the real deal.  But then it dawned on me that the big guy wasn't Bud Spencer - he wasn't quite big enough and looked to be lighter on his feet - and the other guy most definitely wasn't Terrance Hill.  Indeed, he only bore a passing resemblance to Hill.  But I stuck with the film, which provided some undemanding late night entertainment, and later did some research into it.

The movie's title was Carambola and was the first to pair these two actors.  It was a clear attempt to cash in on the popularity of the earlier Terrance Hill and Bud Spencer hit My Name is Trinity.  Which is where its problems as a film lie: Trinity was essentially a parody of the spaghetti western genre, playing most of its tropes for laughs, which leaves Carambola being, in essence, a parody of a parody.  But it must have been popular (demand for genuine Hill and Spencer movies was high in Europe at the time, so audiences were apparently even willing to accept imitations), as it quickly spawned a sequel (the only one of the Cantafora/Smith movies I haven't seen), and they went on to make three similar films for other producers: We Are No Angels, a semi-western with what looks like a reasonably big budget and featuring some recognisable American supporting actors, and a pair of movies for PAC, Kid Stuff (aka Convoy Buddies) and its sequel The Diamond Peddlers, which imitate Hill and Spencer's contemporary set comedies.  But to get back to the point, I do intend talking about the latter two movies here at length sometime in the near future but, as an appetiser of sorts, here's a trailer for Carambola that I've found, (It's not in English and Cantafora, as he often was during this period, is billed as 'Micheal Colby'):


It gives a pretty good impression of what the complete movie is like: lots of cartoonish violence and a pair of 'heroes' with an adversarial relationship.  The plot, as I recall, involves ex-soldier and carambola champion turned outlaw Cantafora involving his sometime partner in crime Smith with a mission for the army to find out who is smuggling arms across the border to Mexican rebels.  Their investigations seem to require the destruction of large amounts of property.  While the leads don't have the same kind of on screen chemistry as the real Hill and Spencer, they were both highly accomplished performers in their own right and deliver professional and reasonably enjoyable performances.  Smith is notably meaner and more menacing than the equivalent characters played by Bud Spencer, while Cantafora, although lacking Terrance Hill's natural charisma, delivers a slightly harder edged character than those played by Hill, bringing a smooth cunning to his character.  All in all, not as good as the real thing, but a fascinating and audacious attempt to imitate it.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Yuuuup!

Sometimes, very rarely, we get to enact our fantasies.  It's OK, I'm not going to go into a graphic description of some horrendous bit of cosplay or anything like that.  No, but over the weekend I got to behave like Dave Hester from Storage Wars, by bidding someone up on eBay.  It really was quite exhilarating.  Even if I didn't shout 'Yuuup!' every time I put a new bid in in.  Now, to be clear, I wasn't bidding to be a complete bastard - I did have a genuine interest in the item on sale, but it was being seriously undervalued when I joined the bidding but, as it turned out, the top bidder had clearly bid a huge amount of money on it.  I just pushed a few times until we got up to the maximum I was willing to pay, which was clearly still some way short of the other guy's top limit.  But hey, at least I forced him to pay something closer to the item's true value.  Truth was, I was pissed because I thought that I was the only one who had spotted the item and had been stalking it for over a week, only to find this other guy muscling in at the last minute.  But, as I said, it did feel exhilarating, especially as I've been on the receiving end of such bidding so many times in the past.  (The more I think about it, the more I think that perhaps I should have turned it into some kind of cosplay, by donning shorts and baseball cap to impersonate Dave Hester as I bid).

I had better luck bidding on a couple of other items, though, where I really was the only person interested.  I was actually forced to bid on these as replacements for another item I won a couple of weeks ago which has failed to materialise. The problem being that the seller has used a courier, namely Hermes, to send them.  Basically, they have made no attempt to deliver them and, according to their tracking, the package is now being returned to the sender.  Now, their tracking also claims that they made three calls at my house in delivery attempts, except that they left no cards, so I unaware they were even trying to deliver them (when they knew I would be at work).  Moreover, I was in on one of the alleged attempts, but never actually saw or heard anyone knocking on my door.  Very mysterious.  If (and that's a big if - let's not forget tat Hermes was not only the Ancient Greek god of commerce and communications, but also of thieves) the seller ever gets the items back, I'm prepared to give them the option of resending them via Royal Mail (I'm prepared to pay the difference in postage).  Otherwise, I'll just recover my money via PayPal and be satisfied with the replacements I've obtained (all of which are being sent by Royal Mail).

But, all-in-all, it wasn't a bad weekend, despite having to deal with Hermes (or not, as they haven't actually had the courtesy to respond to my e-mails).  Not only did I obtain the replacement items and play at being Dave Hester, (I have to admit, being Dave from Storage Wars has never been a top fantasy - I'd much rather be Barry Weiss, the 'Silver Fox'/'Dirty Old Man' of the series, but he doesn't bid people up all the time), but I also caught up with a couple of old films I've been wanting to watch for a while: the Marty Feldman comedy Every Home Should Have One and Kid Stuff, the English-language version of one of those films where Antonio Cantafora and Paul L Smith pretend to be Terrance Hill and Bud Spencer.  On top of all that, I've also sorted out my great nieces' Christmas presents via US Amazon.  The orders have been placed, and the delivery is now in the hands of Amazon and the US Mail.  I can do no more.  It's a huge relief.  It means that I can start turning my attention to buying stuff for my Christmas.  A Christmas which will have to be less sugary than in the past and less alcoholic, for the sake of my health.  I'll also have to decide what wonderful present I'm going to buy myself - last year it was my Tassimo coffee machine.  Nothing has really sprung to mind so far this year.  To be honest, the thing I'm most looking forward to this Christmas is being able to spend some quality time with my model railway, progress on which has stalled since the summer.

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Friday, December 07, 2018

Some Stupid Questions Answered

Why do people keep asking me the same fucking stupid questions?  To be specific, why do they keep asking me -in respect of my work-related extreme ill health this past year - why I don't just retire?  I mean, how many times do I have to explain the fucking obvious?  In the first instance, I'm too young.  In the second, I can't afford it because (with reference to my first point) I can't collect my state pension until I'm 67.  In the third (with reference to my second point), I won't get said pension in full unless I pay another five years of National Insurance contributions, for which I need to be employed.  In the fourth, contrary to popular belief, my civil service pension isn't so generous that I could live off of it, plus, I can't claim it until I'm 55 and even then, it would be a reduced rate.  So, to recap, I don't retire because, quite obviously, it isn't financially viable.  Sure, I have no mortgage and money in the bank which mean that I could give up work and exist for several years.  But eventually the money would run out and I'd still need those five years of NI contributions for a full pension and still have bills to pay.  So, no matter how much I hate my current job and no matter that it nearly killed me, for the time being, at least, I have no choice but to carry on with it.  Trust me, if I could afford to retire, I would.  But it just isn't feasible right now.

Right, now can people stop asking me that fucking stupid question?  If only.  And people wonder why I've been so irascible this week.  At least it has been regular irascibility, rather than the blood pressure fueled anger of the recent past.  This time last year I felt as if I was on my last legs, which, as it turned out, I very nearly was.  Thankfully, this December, I feel a lot better.  I'm just suffering from the regular levels of tiredness and irritation that I do as the nights draw in, the temperature drops and the weather gets worse.  The only thing to look forward to is the time off I usually take around Christmas.  I've already told work that I'm not prepared to provide cover while I'm off this year - I've been 'on call' for the past two or three years - it's somebody else's turn by now, surely.  I'm under medical orders to avoid stress anyway - and being 'on call' all over Christmas and New Year is stressful as it comes.  You just can't relax, in case that bloody work phone rings.  But hey, we're in the season of colourful Christmas lights everywhere.  They are certainly beginning to proliferate now, with fully illuminate houses everywhere I look.  Nevertheless, my house still remains Christmas decoration free - it still feels too soon.  Not only that, but right now I really can't be arsed.  See, there's the answer to another fucking stupid question I get asked: have you put your decorations up yet?  It's also the season of Christmas parties - I've avoided two so far, already. I remember, many years ago, when I was much younger, at this time of year I used to walk past various offices and businesses on my way home where the Christmas parties were clearly in full swing and used to think - that will be me attending that sort of thing soon.  Then I actually did attend my first office Christmas party, which was so horrendously shit that I vowed to avoid them from there onwards.  Which I have done.  (Another stupid question answered: are you attending the office 'do'? No, you know I never fucking do).  Ah, Christmas, eh?

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Thursday, December 06, 2018

Unprofessional Politicians

Remember how people were always complaining how what was wrong with modern politics was that it was full of 'professional politicians; who had made politics their career and how everything would be better if only we could get some non-politicians (preferably multi-millionaire businessmen) into power?  Well, now that we seem to have 'unprofessional politicians' in power in many countries, I'd just like to ask them how they think it's all going. I mean, do they honestly think that Trump's presidency (to take the obvious example) actually represents an improvement?  Scarily, plenty of people do seem to think that having someone who behaves like a petulant child in the White House is a good thing.  To digress slightly, I'm amazed at the free ride Trump gets in many quarters - despite his continued complaints of bias against him, I've found no end of apologists for him out there.  Many of them aren't even Trump supporters, as such, but instead seem to be professional contrarians who, because mainstream opinion is that Trump is an arse, will start making excuses for him.  There are plenty of them rushing to sign up to his cranky claims of a liberal media conspiracy against him, simply because they don't like the mainstream media or politicians.  Trust me, the enemy of your enemy is most certainly not your friend.  They are still your enemy.  The probe into potential Russian interference in the last Presidential election is not a 'witch hunt' orchestrated by disgruntled liberals - serious allegations of electoral irregularities involving foreign powers have to be investigated, even if simply to exonerate Trump and validate the electoral process which put him in the White House.  Nobody is saying that he personally was involved or instigated the alleged interference, but it still has to be investigated.  That's how free and democratic systems work.

But, we've digressed.  Getting back to the wider issue of 'unprofessional politicians', how about that fucking lunatic in the Philippines, who legitimises and institutionalises murder/  Hell, who needs due process, evidence, trial by jury or any of that nonsense when you can just shoot alleged drug dealers on sight?  Sadly, there are plenty of morons out there who do seem to believe this sort of shit.  Then there's that bunch of clowns currently holding the reins of power in Italy: the Five Star movement.  Actually, you could argue that they are quite literally clowns as they were founded by self-styled comedian Beppe Grillo.  Now, I know that humour is notoriously difficult to translate, but I have to say that what I've seen of his act is utter shit.  So it should come as no surprise that, in power, the movement he created have revealed themselves as being utterly incompetent. But here in the UK, we too have our fair share of these 'unprofessional politicians', who claim to be anti-establishment whilst actually being part of the elites they supposedly despise, from crypto-fascists like Nigel Farage to charlatans like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.  They want to be seen as 'anti-politics', peddling 'populist' policies like Brexit, which will supposedly remedy all of our political and economic ills while actually pursuing their own agendas of permanently shifting the balance of power back to the super wealthy by undermining and destroying existing political structures a institutions.  But the mainstream politicians are no better with our two main parties led by figures with no concept of leadership, who believe that if they just do nothing, then everything will work itself out.  No wonder we're in such a fucking mess.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Mondo Bizarro (1966)


A US imitation of an Italian Mondo movie, Mondo Bizarro offers the viewer all of the usual 'forbidden' (in mid sixties America, at least) delights of nudity, homosexuality, teen wildness and Nazis. Unlike earlier Mondos, though, this one is fairly obviously entirely staged.  Whereas films like Mondo Cane and Women of the World actually were filmed all over the globe, most of Mondo Bizarro's 'travelogue' actually takes place in the US.  Most notoriously, the supposed Arab 'slave auction' sequence was filmed in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, a popular location for low budget movie makers.  Less than five years after the release of the first Mondo movie, all pretense of art has been abandoned in favour of naked exploitation.  Pure titillation has replaced any idea of social commentary, while the talk of 'powerful telephoto lenses' marks a change in emphasis from 'documentary' making to pure voyeurism.

For sure, the first wave of Italian made Mondos were exploitation, but they at least wrapped it all up elegantly, with authentic locations, beautiful cinematography and fantastic musical scores.  Which isn't to say that later films like Mondo Bizarro aren't entertaining, it is just that they feel far less substantive than their predecessors.  But with TV fast catching up with the early Mondos in terms of what they could show and travelogues like Whicker's World (which often covered similar ground, but less sensationally) growing in popularity, the only way forward for MOndo movies was to become ever more 'shocking' and, well, bizarre.  Director R Lee Frost became something of a one man US Mondo making industry, turning out both films like this, utilising original footage and others, like Witchcraft 70, cobbled together from footage from Italian Mondos. 

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Monday, December 03, 2018

Random Friends

Perhaps even worse than those 'friend requests' from people you've never heard of on Facebook are those apparently random 'friend suggestions' that the system sends you.  Of course, the requests are coming from people who have doubtless had you randomly suggested to them as a possible 'friend'.  I particularly dislike it when Facebook suggests to me as a 'friend', someone I do know and have just seen in person.  Not only is it creepy (I feel as if Facebook has somehow been watching me and decided that if I know someone in reality I need to know them in cyberspace, as well), but the very fact I seen them in the flesh means that I really don't need to keep up with them vicariously through following their online activities. At the end of the day, why does Facebook think that I want to be friends with anyone?  Which begs the question of why I'm on Facebook in the first place.  Which is a fair point.  The answer is that I'm a member of a couple of groups connected to some of my online activities and I maintain a Facebook presence for The Sleaze.  The groups are simply an easy way to keep up with the activities of everyone else involved in the particular organisations they represent.  My Facebook 'friends' I have are generally people from those groups who I don't see in person as they live overseas.

But social media is based upon the idea that we're all lonely and isolated and have a deeply seated need to share our lives with random strangers.  An idea which increasingly seems to be taking root in the 'real' world, where I keep reading reports about 'epidemics' of loneliness and the isolating effect of modern life, not to mention the difficulties people have making friends.  All of which leaves me feeling somewhat bemused.  As I've mentioned before, I'm one of those people who enjoys being on their own.  'All by myself' isn't a lament in my world, but a statement of desire.  I don't make lasting relationships with other people easily and, in fact, avoid doing so.  I just don't want to be drawn into the complications of someone else's life - my own is enough for me to deal with.  I just want to be left alone a lot of the time.  I accept that other people don't feel the same way and apparently want and need all these relationships.  But I do find the constant pressure to be 'sociable', to be part of this movement or that society not just irritating, but downright patronising.  The idea that being alone is the same as being lonely is one I find particularly pernicious.  It implies that being solitary is somehow 'abnormal'.  Personally, I've always believed that if other people learned to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on others, then many of our current social 'ills' would be easily resolved. I know, I know, I'm a miserable anti-social bastard, but trust me, once you accept, as I have done, that friends, family, the entire human race, in fact, are fine, but only in small doses, your relationships with them will improve immeasurably.

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