Monday, December 31, 2018

Not Remembering 2018

It's tempting, on a New Year's Eve, to do one of those retrospectives of the preceding year.  But, you know, I've always found that sort of thing tedious: I don't need a recap of the year - I was there, I know what happened and, in many instances, I don't want to be reminded.  The other temptation is to try and look forward to the New Year.  Something I also dislike: for one thing I think that the whole concept of New Year resolutions (which most of these exercises degenerate into) is utter bollocks, for another, the future is unknowable and it is pointless speculating about it.  Things never turn out the way you expect, (and trying to use the past as a guide to the future is equally pointless, as nothing ever happens the same way twice).  But, as my local pub has announced that it will be closed by ten at the latest tonight, I've got nothing better to do than write a few words about the year just ending.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that I won't be sorry to see the back of 2018.  What with losing three months to serious illness and troubles at work, (the two are, of course, inextricably intertwined), things didn't even start to return to some semblance of normality until the last couple of months of the year.  I'm finally feeling more my old self, (my old self from three or four years ago, that is, before the work stress started my downward spiral), and, hopefully, things will continue to improve over the coming months. 

But, despite everything that has happened, 2018 hasn't been the worst year I've ever known.  Not by  a long chalk.  After all, nobody close to me died, I didn't lose my job, I wasn't left struggling to keep paying the mortgage and stop myself becoming destitute - all things I've experienced in previous years.  (These days, of course, I no longer have a mortgage to pay - which has, as I've gotten used to the fact that it is now all paid off, radically transformed my attitude to work). I also, somehow, managed to keep The Sleaze going through all the troubles of the last year.  I'm not sure how - whereas in the past I've been able to plan stories weeks in advance, this year it was a hand-to-mouth existence, with stories written on the fly, on the day of publication.  Maybe I'll be able to keep it going in 2019.  Who knows?  Certainly not me - I don't even have a clue what the next story is going to be.  In fact, I don't seem to have much of a clue about anything any more.  One of the main reasons I don't like doing annual retrospectives is that, at the best of times, I can never remember what happened in the previous twelve months.  This year it's even worse: having spent a quarter of the year laid up sick, I haven't a bloody clue what went on.  It's pointless trying to do a 'top ten books I read in 2018', for instance, as I don't bloody recall parts of the year with any clarity.  But enough of all this, I'm going to settle down and welcome the New Year with a Dario Argento movie, some beer and some sausage rolls.  I've no 'witty' posts to make on social media to mark the arrival of 2019, as seems de rigreur these days when a New Year rolls around, so I'll just wish you a Happy New Year here and now.  See you next year.

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Friday, December 28, 2018

The Alphabet Murders (1965)



So, for those still complaining about the BBC's recently completed adaptation of The ABC Murders, if you really want to see a travesty of an adaptation, look no further than 1965's The Alphabet Murders.  As I mentioned yesterday, it is a truly awful adaptation, bizarrely cast, given a contemporary setting, using only the most basic elements from the source novel and then playing them for laughs.  Tony Randall's interpretation of Poirot seems to have been inspired by Peter Sellers' as Inspector Clouseau, (who had made his screen debut the previous year in The Pink Panther).  Captain Hastings (played by Robert Morley and recast, in this version, as an MI5 agent) is portrayed as a typically bumbling representative of the establishment, existing only to act as a comic foil to Poirot, while Maurice Denham's Chief Inspector Japp is reduced to being simply another curmudgeonly Scotland Yard man resentful at being bested by an amateur detective.  But, as already alluded to, the most damaging aspect of the adaptation is the descision to play it, and Poirot, for laughs.  With a sharper script, it might just have worked as a parody of Agatha Christie and the who English mystery genre.  Unfortunately, the script instead goes for slapstick and farce - the presence of Frank Tashlin, a former animator foe Warner turned director of comedies for the likes of Jerry Lewis, behind the camera simply compounds the problem.

The film comes from the same stable as the Margaret Rutherford starring Miss Marple adaptations, (which explains the bizarre encounter between Randall's Poirot and Rutherford's Marple in the above clip), and its box office failure might explain why a couple of the Marple films are actually based on Poirot novels.  The Alphabet Murders was the first Poirot film adaptation since a trio of 1930s films starring Austin Trevor (who appears in this one in a minor role as a butler), and proved such a stinker that another one wasn't attempted until 1974's Murder on the Orient Express.  It was an ill-judged enterprise, failing as either a Christie adaptation or a comedy. While the Rutherford Miss Marple films always included elements of humour, they never went in for full on farce, like this Poirot film.  Perhaps the producers decided that Poirot was such an outlandish character, particularly when put into a contemporary setting, that the film could only be played as parody.  Who knows.  Whatever the reasons, the portrayal of the character is far more 'disrepectful' than the interpretation presented in the recent BBC adaptation.  Like I said, before dismissing the John Malkovich version as a travesty, die hard Christie fans should really watch The Alphabet Murders.

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Dramatic Licence

So, here I am on what, the second day of Christmas?  Well, if you count it from Boxing Day, the third day if counted from Christmas Day.  Anyway, here I am watching part two of an adaptation of The ABC Murders of which I haven't seen part one.  My main motivation for doing so is that the aforementioned part one seems to have offended so many Agatha Christie purists.  For one thing it has John Malkovich playing Poirot (there's something I never thought that I'd write) as a somewhat darker and more tortured (by his World One experiences) version of the character than portrayed by David Suchet.  It also, apparently, takes liberties with the original text, eliminating some characters who played significant roles in the source novel (Captain Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp).  From what I've seen so far, it has also adopted a very dark, almost noir-like look for its production.  All in marked contrast to the beloved ITV adaptations with Suchet, not to mention the films with Peter Ustinov.  Already some viewers are protesting that it is a travesty, needlessly altering the original, simply for the sake of gratuitous shocks and titillation of the kind which have no place in an Agatha Christie adaptation.  All of which raises the question of exactly how faithful an adaptation of a work from one medium to another needs to be - in the case of a film or TV adaptation of a novel, for instance, should the original text be regarded as sacred, or can anything go in the service of dramatic licence?

The fact is that when transferring something from one medium to another, the makers can only ever offer an interpretation rather than a faithful copy.  The conventions of one medium simply cannot be translated literally to another.  Film, for example, is primarily a visual medium, meaning that the text of any literary adapted into a film has to be reinterpreted into visual terms: long passages of exposition are extremely dull when converted literally into lengthy dialogue scenes, for instance.  Plots have to compressed and truncated and characaters eliminated or combined in order to make a book (which can be any length) fit into the confines of a conventional feature film running length.  So it really should be no surprise that this version of The ABC Murders differs from the source novel.  Moreover, when a novel is adapted for screen or TV, it is inevitably filtered through the interpretations of a different creative team, all bringing elements of their own vision to it.  Moreover, just as the original source will inevitably reflect the era in which it was created, so any adaptation will reflect the era of its creation.  If you want something exactly like the book, read the book.  Film adaptations can be significantly different in their details to their source novels, yet still be faithful to them in spirit, in that they successfully capture and translate to the screen the essential themes and ideas of their sources.  The film adaptations of The Ipcress File and LA Confidential come to mind in this respect.

But the persistent criticism of this current Christie adaptation I keep hearing is that it simply isn't as faithful as those ITV adaptations.  Which ignores the fact that the ITV Poirot series frequently altered plot details and omitted characters for dramatic purposes.  Sometimes they even combined plot elements from several different stories in order to bring episodes up to the required length.  But what they did do was retain an essentially idealised version of the 1930s as their setting.  A version which incorporated the fashions and architecture of the period while rarely mentioning the realities of the era's politics or social and economic situation.  This, as far as I can see, is the current ABC Murders greatest crime - it seems to be trying to locate Poirot within a more realistic interpretation of the thirties, one which includes the rise of fascism, the existence of casual racism within the UK.  Still, if you want to see a real travesty of an adaptation of The ABC Murders, you need look no further than the early sixties film adaptation, The Alphabet Murders, which, incredibly, casts Tony Randall as Poirot, updates the story to the sixties and plays parts of it for laughs.  As for this current version, well, I'm disappointed that Malkovich's Poirot has so far not told anyone to 'go fuck yourself'.  Perhaps the BBC should have gone the whole hog and hired Dario Argento as director and delivered a Giallo-style Christie adaptation, complete with black gloved killers, bizarre murders, Goblin soundtrack and wild colour palette.  Now, I'd pay money to see that.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Art of Doing Nothing

Apparently, people don't know how to relax anymore.  At least, that's what one of those 'between-Christmas-and-New-Year' filler articles in The Guardian was claiming today.  Which all seemed more than slightly ironic to me as my reading of it was part of my relaxing Boxing Day.  This is actually my second consecutive day of doing bugger all.  Which is what Christmas is all about, surely?  Often, on past Boxing Days, I've engaged in a flurry of activity: I've coded websites, constructed model railway baseboards, edited films and many, many other things.  After all the 'excitement' of Christmas Day, it always seemed to provide an ideal opportunity to refocus oneself.  But after the last year's experience of stress-related serious illness, I decided that this time around I'd just relax completely for both Christmas Day and Boxing Day.  I mean, I needed the rest after the preceding three days of wrapping, then delivering, presents to relatives, recording and editing podcasts (both my own and a contribution for someone else's), putting together that bloody film of local Christmas lights, the start of my household clear out and baking sausage rolls.  By contrast, my only physical activity today was going out and buying a newspaper.  Yesterday I spent mainly on the sofa - I finally watched, in a single session, all 220 minutes of Once Upon a Time in America on DVD (the DVD I bought several years ago to replace my VHS copy, but never got round to watching until now), followed up by the 1978 version of The Big Sleep with Robert Mitchum, (a very nice DVD transfer, complete with introduction by director Michael Winner).

That's what relaxing is all about - being passive. Which, according to The Guardian, is a lost art nowadays, thanks to our 24 hour, IT dependent lifestyles.  We always have to be 'on' and interacting with something or other.  Which doesn't really describe the working conditions which eventually stressed me to the verge of having a stroke, although increased pressure from my employer to be constantly 'available' and their increasing encroachment into 'my' time in addition to the time I was actually being paid for, were big factors.  Another major factor in my case was that of Health and Safety, or lack thereof  - I was constantly being put in harm's way by the job, which, believe me, is hugely stressful.  But, over the past couple of months in particular, I've pushed back and made it clear that this situation simply isn't acceptable, that, whether they like it or not, my employer has a duty of care with regard to my (and their other employees') health.  I've also made clear that I'm no longer prepared to take risks on their behalf or work unpaid overtime.  Indeed, from January, I'll be reducing my hours and working only four days a week.  I'm also reacquainting myself with the pleasures of ding nothing in particular during this break from work.  Really, you should try it: just stretch out on that sofa and, well, do nothing in particular: watch an old movie, read a book, listen to the radio, or even just think.  People don't take enough time to simply think these days.  We all need time to have a good think - about life in general, our circumstances, where we wan't to go, our relationships, even just let your imagination ramble.  Believe me, you'll feel a lot better for it.  You'll find it helps bring clarity, improves decision making and is hugely calming.

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Monday, December 24, 2018

A Crapchester Christmas in the Rain


Christmas Eve, so it must be time for our now traditional Crapchester Christmas lights video.  It very nearly didn't happen this year.  For one thing, I really couldn't be arsed to go around filming people's decorations this year.  Even when I could be arsed, I usually forgot.  Plus, they were mostly the same as last years.  Oh, and every time I could be arsed and remembered to film, it seemed to pour with rain.  So I decided to make the rain a feature of this year's video. Many of the light displays might be the same as seen in previous years, but this time they are photographed through the rain.  The main shot, taken from inside a moving car, is, indeed, the same location as I used last year.  But the car is different: last year it was shot from a camera mounted on the dashboard of my old Focus, this year from a camera on the dash of my Saab.  And it is raining this time.  Besides, Christmas is always the season of repeats, isn't it?

Anyway, Christmas is now officially open: I declared it so a few hours ago when I poured myself a brandy, started baking some sausage rolls and ate a mince pie.  Now the relaxing really begins - I have a whole stack of DVDs, (which include a couple of Giallos, some British sexploitation and an Italian cannibal movie), to work through over the festive period so, hopefully, the schlock content here should start flowing in the New Year.  I'm also hopeful of spending some quality time with my trains, recording at least one new podcast, (I have a new seasonal one up over at the Overnightscape Undergound right now), and catching up with some friends.  It's been a tough year for me - from the outset 2018 was beset with problems and, for me, dominated by major health issues.  Things have, however, steadily improved, especially over the past couple of months, and I'm hoping that 2019 will be a better year for me personally, (although, as a nation, we're standing on the precipice of a disastrous Brexit and the concomitant political crisis).  Certainly, for many aspects of my life, I'm looking upon it as a fresh start, (indeed, I've already commenced an extensive clear out of my house, long delayed by illness and other crap that has distracted me). 

Before we all go off and celebrate the season, was I right, or was I right?  About those alleged drones at Gatwick, I mean.  All of a sudden yesterday I started to see all this speculation tat they might never have existed - what was I saying a couple of posts ago, eh?  I noticed that today the authorities were trying to back pedal on this, but it is clear that the police, at least, seem to think that it was a case of mass hysteria.  Just as I was speculating last Thursday.  (I must admit that when they arrested those two people, I began to worry that I was going to be made to look a fool very quickly, but then they released them without charge - after the right wing press had already found them guilty and libeled them - and the non-existent drones talk started).  But is anyone acknowledging the fact that, for once, I was actually right?  No, of course they fucking aren't!  But hey, let's get on with the celebrations.  A happy Winterval to you all and I'll see you on the other side.

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Friday, December 21, 2018

The Season of Sentimentality

Christmas is the season of sentimentality.  At least, in terms of TV adverts it is - there's nothing like a tug on the heart strings to sell some seasonal goods.  It's all about families, paeans to motherhood and concern for the poor and homeless - well, the latter, are what the ads for charities focus on in order to elicit a few more contributions.  Guilt can be a powerful motivator.  Don't get me wrong - the campaigns run by the likes of Shelter and the Salvation Army at this time of year are highly laudable.  But there's no doubt that they are designed to play on the heart strings and make you feel guilty over having a reasonable standard of living while others are forced to live in poverty or, worse still, on the streets.  Which is perfectly legitimate.  The Salvation Army ads, where those poor but terribly sweet looking kids are wondering whether Santa will call this year, are especially powerful.  They'd probably be even more powerful if they weren't now several years old - those kids are probably far less cute teenagers now.  I know, I know, charities like the Salvation Army can't waste money making new ad campaigns every year - quite rightly they need to concentrate their resources upon actually helping those forced to live in poverty.  Besides, only obsessives like me notice the fact that their ads are frozen in time.

To return to the point - advertisers smother this season in sentimentality and, I have to admit, it even affects me.  Christmas is the only time of year that I allow myself some sentimentality, so some of these commercials hit the mark with me.  Not the ones trying to sell me stuff, but some of the aforementioned charity campaigns do.  Particularly the ones for distressed and homeless cats.  Now, I know the specific ads I'm thinking of aren't strictly speaking Christmas commercials - they play all year round - but they undoubtedly play more at this time of year.  There are two of them, both on the theme of cats made homeless, either by the death of their owners, or abandonment.  One of them is from the RSPCA and features a tabby cat staring through the window of its former home, recalling the good times when its owner was alive, uncomprehending of why she is now sshut out of her own home.  It gets to me every time.  Thankfully, the ad ends with the cat being rescued by a lady from the RSPCA and the promise that the feline will be re-homed.  The other one is for the Cats Protection League or some similar cat-related charity and similarly features a cat - this time a white one - enviously staring through a window at another cat which is happily living in the bosom of a loving family.  Now, in this one, there is no neat conclusion where the white cat is adopted by said family, or rescued by the RSPCA.  We're left wondering as to his fate.  Which bothers me.  I worry about that cat. Really, I do.  That advert haunts me.  Which means it must be doing its job.

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Droning On

The key question nobody seems to be asking about these drones which have supposedly kept Gatwick Airport closed for the better part of two days is this: do they actually exist?  I'm moved to ask this because the actual evidence for their existence seems pretty scant.  We keep getting told that two drones were seen flying over the perimeter fence some time yesterday - but seen by whom?  Were these sightings from multiple sources or just from a single individual?  We just don't know.  Then we keep hearing that every time the airport is ready to reopen, there is another drone sighting.  Again, sighted by who?  Is there photographic evidence of their existence?  Apparently not.  Which seems odd, given the prevalence of smart phones these days, all of which come with a camera.  You'd think that at least one of the mysterious witnesses to these drone incursions would have thought to photograph or film it.  Moreover, surely the airport itself must have large numbers of CCTV cameras dotted about for security purposes - did none of these capture images of these mystery drones?  OK, it is perfectly feasible that such evidence exists, but isn't yet being released by the authorities as it forms part of an ongoing investigation, but in this age of social media, this sort of stuff tends to reach the public domain very quickly.  Add to this statements from the police that they haven't been able to identify the exact type of drones involved, let alone track down their operators and I'm left questioning their very existence.

It all reminds me of the 'phantom rockets' which were allegedly seen in the skies over Europe in the immediate post war period.  As with these drones, there seemed to be plenty of anecdotal evidence  in form of alleged sightings, but no physical evidence.  Certainly there were no photographs or radar traces of these 'rockets'.  They seemed to be some kind of collective hallucination resulting from the tensions of the nascent Cold War and the turmoil and upheaval in the aftermath of World War Two.  That these fears manifested themselves as 'rockets' was hardly surprising bearing in mind the Germans' V2 missile attacks on London and the Low Countries during the closing months of World War Two.  The V" quickly became a potent symbol of a new kind of warfare, focused entirely upon terrorising and demoralising civilian populations: apparently unstoppable and undetectable, it seemed some kind of 'ultimate weapon'. 

The 'ghost rockets' would, of course, be succeeded by the Flying Saucer mania of the fifties, also seemingly triggered by the paranoia which accompanied the onset of the Cold War proper.  They also had an antecedent in the 'mystery airship' sightings, stories of which proliferated in newspapers in the years leading up World War One.  Once again, a time of palpable international tension, with the newly invented airship fixed in the public imagination as a potentially terrible weapon of war, something which could inaugurate a whole new form of warfare against which there was no defence.  Which brings us back to these drones.  Perhaps they really do exist - time will tell.  But I can't help but feel that they are descendants of the 'mystery airships' and 'ghost rockets'.  Born, like them, against a background of political turmoil and international tension, with all the associated public fears manifesting themselves as a new type of technology which has been widely touted as an unstoppable weapon (just look at all those drone strikes against alleged terror targets conducted by the UK and US).  Is it any wonder that people start seeing these 'phantom drones' invading airports?

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Brexiting Bad

Did you hear the sirens?  I'm assuming that something akin to the air raid sirens used in World War Two must have been sounding earlier today, as what passes for our government warned us plebs that we needed to brace ourselves for a 'No Deal Brexit'.  Apparently public service announcements will be made in the weeks to come in order that we might prepare for a potential economic collapse, plunging living standards and shortages of everything as we won't be able to import anything from the EU.  Meanwhile, we can also expect to see all those wealthy Brexiteers who engineered the situation to be flying out of the UK in their private jets, en masse, while the rest of us will be unable to get a flight anywhere as commercial air travel from the UK will be paralysed.  I've no doubt that soon they'll be putting sand bags up outside of public buildings and advising us to put those tape Xs on our window panes to stop them from shattering when the EU's bombers start blitzing us.  Or whatever it is the government is trying to convince us they will do.  Trust me, it will be all tin hats, ration cards and 'Brexit Wardens' going around telling you that 'you can't buy that - it's from the EU'.  Doubtless, with the economy knackered and public spending slashed, the armed forces will be disbanded and the Home Guard re-instituted.  There'll be hundreds of pensioners armed with carving knives taped to broom handles lining our coast lines, prepared to defend Britain from invading hordes of illegal immigrants.

There's part of me which hopes that all this 'No Brexit' preparations panic the government is stirring up is merely a tactical ruse, designed to panic its own back benchers sufficiently that they will retreat from the brink and endorse May's Brexit deal in the January vote.  Sadly, though, seeing as it has been the spectacular incompetence of this government which has landed us in this situation, I somehow doubt that they have the collective wit to carry out this kind of political subterfuge.  Indeed, it has all the hallmarks of a government that has simply given up.  'No Deal' is the only move left to them: parliament won't accept May's deal, May won't accept a second referendum, so what else is there?  Well, there's always the option - raised by May herself, incidentally - of 'no Brexit at all'.  Right now, the best option, surely, is to halt the implementation of Article 50.  It could still be done, parliament could still legislate to abandon the 29 March 2019 date for Brexit arbitrarily set by May.  This need not be permanent (although many of us would prefer it to be), but it would give time for the UK to properly assess the form which Brexit might take, finding a formula which can be supported by a majority in parliament, before re-triggering Article 50.  Which, of course, is what ant competent government would have done in the first place.  But a sensible and competent government is precisely what we don't have.  So break out the tin hats and prepare for the worst.

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Coasting Toward Christmas

To briefly continue the seasonal theme from Friday, I finally put up a Christmas tree yesterday.  I was prompted by the fact that the BBC Sports Personality of the Year was on TV.  I never watch it, but it has come to be my cue for putting up my modest Christmas decorations, as it is always a sure sign that Christmas is close when it is on.  Indeed, I'm pretty sure that, in recent years, the BBC has been showing it a week earlier than they used to - I'm sure that it used to be shown on the last Sunday before Christmas Day, rather than the last but one.  Of course, another sure sign that we're rapidly approaching the big day is the increased number of retrospectives of various aspects of the year appearing in the media.  These will get more frequent as the New Year approaches, but they've already started their appearance - today's G2 section of The Guardian, for instance, seemed to consist mainly on a variation on the theme: 'the people who make Christmas'.  In essence a 'top ten' type listing of various seasonally-linked occupations, with (very) brief profiles of the people who do them, these sorts of articles represent a quick and easy way for journalists to turn out copy at a time of year when, in reality, they can't actually be arsed to do any proper journalism.

As I've noted, it will get worse as we get closer to New Year, with the 'Top Ten Celebrity Farts of 2018' and such like.  Not that I blame them.  Hell, aren't we all trying to do as little as possible during this last full week before Christmas?  I know I am, (with little success so far - for my employers, Christmas simply represents a last opportunity to put me at risk before the holidays).  Quite frankly, I've got better things to do right now, ranging from collecting parcels from the sorting office to renewing my parking permit.  Time is rapidly running out to do all of these things before everything closes for Christmas.  I'm afraid that work just has to schedule itself around all this vital stuff.  At least I managed to finish my present shopping today.  I just have to wrap them now.  What I haven't even started yet is getting my own seasonal provisions in: so far I have no beer, no peanuts, no chocolate, no sausage rolls, even!  Damn it, these are the things that make Christmas!  I do have a package of DVDs on order from Amazon (that's the parcel waiting to be collected), but beyond that, I've done nothing.  Anyway, it did occur to me that perhaps I should coast through the festive season here, by replacing proper posts with 'Top Ten' type stuff.  You know: 'Top Ten Sleazy Films Watched in 2018', or 'Top Ten Most Humungous Dumps I Took in 2018'.  It's a thought, I suppose.

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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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