Olympic Games Opening Ceremony 2012

It’s London. It’s 2012. It’s five coloured inter-locking rings. But wait, if I rub the one on the right and the one on the left together…they magically part! Want to see that again?

It’s 21:24 and I am watching the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. So far I have watched a lot of men in top hats and tails doing a sort of synchronised ‘digging’ dance. A bit similar to the one in the video for that classic 80s song ‘The Safety Dance’ by The Men Without Hats. Only this one wasn’t as good. It looked like they had lumbago and were reaching down to fish out some money they had dropped down a drain.

Then we had Daniel Craig escorting the Queen through Buckingham Palace. Why? Had she forgotten the way after all these years? They then boarded a helicopter together and there was a shot of Daniel looking down and smiling at the two corgis that were left yelping on the front porch. It was moving. Not moving in the way that Sawyer and Juliet spend three years living together in Lost, before forgetting they did live together, and then remembering it all again.

Sawyer and Juliet. They met in the year 2006, spent three years living in the mid 1970s, forgot it all, then remembered it all again in 2010. That’s ‘Lost’ for you. One of my favourite TV shows ever…

However, the best was yet to come. Suddenly, from nowhere, a huge number of nanny’s appeared on stage and started dancing. Now this was interesting. I was actually becoming slightly aroused. The sight of a group of women, of all different shapes and ages, in classic 1940s ‘Nanny’ garb, dancing around and showing off their petticoats and black woollen tights – this was something I felt was sorely missing from The Shining. And yet here it was, in the London 2012 Olympic ceremony.

Some nurses and nanny’s, all enjoying life and dancing and stuff…

Quite explicably (nothing was inexplicable any more), a melody of Mike Oldfield songs began, performed by a band full of unknowns. The guitarist, chugging away at the solo to the theme from The Exorcist, looked like Michael Landon, star of Little House on the Prairie and Highway To Heaven. I pointed this out to a friend, who told me that the Michael Landon look-a-like was actually Mike Oldfield. I wasn’t embarrassed by this as I frequently mistook Lesley Judd for Kylie Minogue.

Then we had Sir Tim-Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web protocol. He appeared on a chair, sat at a table, playing with a computer. There he was, sitting in this vast arena, with thousands of people in the audience clambering to get hold of him and rip off a bit of his shirt as a memento. He didn’t invent the internet mind you. Get your facts straight on this one. He only invented a ‘protocol’ for information sharing which he called ‘Wuh-wuh-wuh’ or WWW as we know it today.

It’ s now 22:15 and I still have another two hours of this high octane entertainment-fest to sit through, so I will update this blog in due course…

All About Eve

All About Eve

In 1988 I left school. If I was Groucho Marx I would add, “It was about time, I was forty four.” But I’m not Groucho Marx and I’m not that witty.

Besides, I was only thirty-seven.

Okay, okay, I was just seventeen and I left school due to the fact that my resolve not to learn anything had been very successful. I just didn’t seem to be that good at anything and had heard that there was something called the Youth Training Scheme that school leavers could join, which would pay you for not being good at anything.

So I signed up for a Pitmans course. Now there was no Wikipedia back then. All I had for research was the weekly copy of the New Musical Express which I bought religiously. I used to dress up in a robe and sandals when I walked into Martin The Newsagent’s. Incidentally, not once, in all the Martin’s I have visited in the UK, have I ever met the ubiquitous ‘Martin’ himself. I think he’s made up. A bit like John Noakes.

The other fountain of knowledge available to me in 1988 was Ceefax.

 

In the 1980s, Ceefax parties would be held at nightclubs and leisure centres.

It was through Ceefax that I learned about JHP Training, in Cwmbran, which offered a YTS course of ‘Pitman’ qualifications. This included typing, spreadsheets and wordprocessing. As computing was the only thing I was good at back then (I loved my Amstrad CPC6128), I signed up.

I was one of only two boys in a class of thirty. The other fifty six breasts, all arranged in pairs, belonged to twenty-eight girls.

This was my idea of hell. At 17, I was petrified of girls. They fascinated me of course but scared the hell out of me. So I made a beeline for the only other male in the room. He wore a green anorak and had a distinctive appearance. A few years later, the term ‘grunge’ would be applied to his kind of look, but in 1988, all I had to make do with was ‘pit of infinite angst’, which is how he came across to me.

“Hi,” I said, sitting next to him.

He had headphones on. In 1988, the earpieces of headphones were still attached to a band that went over your head. The earpieces were usually cushioned in small balls of coloured foam that were often blue. Coincidentally, blue was also the name of a classic Joni Mitchell album, as well as of a slightly cosmetically challenged boy band.

He pointed to his portable cassette player.

“What are you listening to?” I asked him.

“All About Eve,” he said, showing me the cassette inlay.

I took it off him and studied it carefully. Scrutinising the covers of albums was something that any self-respecting music lover did in the 1980s. The cover of this one was dark. Gothic, in fact. I knew what gothic was as I had read Anne Radcliffe’s ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ over the last few months, heralded as the first ever gothic novel.

Not as easy to follow as The Davinci Code, but definitely better than Paddington At The Seaside

I was into my 18th and 19th literary classics. While all my friends were head banging to Def Leppard and Bon Jovi and drinking Newcastle Brown Ale, I was at home reading Wuthering Heights and The Mayor of Casterbridge, sipping mead from stone goblets.

“Have a listen,” said my new friend, identifying himself as Ian, passing me the headphones.

The track listing had songs with titles such as ‘Flowers in our Hair’, ‘In the Clouds’, ‘Gypsy Dance’ and ‘Apple Tree Man’, it had a slightly hippyish feel about it.

I listened to ‘In the Clouds’.

“This is good,” I said to Ian, who by now had pulled out a gardening magazine from his rucksack and was studying it closely.

I continued listening and quickly realised I was enjoying myself. I did what any self-respecting teenager did in the 1980s. I asked him to make me a copy of it.

All About Eve, to me, was Julianne Regan. To a lot of us back then, the singer *was* the band. Def Leppard *was* Joe Elliott, Duran Duran *was* Simon Le Bon, Dollar *was* that nice looking bird and the other bloke. I began to see gorgeous pictures of Julianne gracing the covers and inside pages of magazines such as Smash Hits, Melody maker and Patches. She even turned up in a copy of Whizzer & Chips, which I still used to buy in secret. I don’t know why I bought it in secret – I used to end up reading it in public on the bus.

So, a few months later, being the proud new owner of an Amstrad midi sytem with a built in CD player, I was eager to amass an instant CD collection. With a generous amount of money given to me by my grandparents I went into town and bought some CDs. They were – The Kick Inside by Kate Bush, The Best of Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music and All About Eve. That was it. That’s as much as my generous £40 bought me as this was still in the age where it was rare to find a CD for less than a tenner. But I didn’t care. It was a new hi-tech medium of listening to music and I was there! I was there when it all happened!

I ended up seeing All About Eve live on two occasions. The first was at St David’s Hall in Cardiff but the second, and most memorable time, was when I went to the Fairport Convention festival in Cropredy, in the summer of 1989. I was barely 18 and it was my first ever festival. It was where I was handed my first ever Eccles cake. I think All About Eve played the early Saturday afternoon set. I do remember them playing ‘In The Meadow’ as their last song and they pumped up the volume and layered on the guitars until it almost became a thrash metal song. I remember sitting there, in a field with 20,000 other revellers, having one heck of a good time.

Great days and great memories. As Simon & Garfunkel once said, they’re all that’s left you.

Many years later and I still enjoy listening to that debut album and it takes me back to a halycon age when nobody questioned why you were on the dole and the thought of carrying a telephone in your pocket was frankly ludicrous.

 

Click the picture above to go to Julianne’s official website

 

 

My trip to the Isle of Man – Part 2

Yes, that was me in the hotel. I do look like that now. Once upon a time I used to look like this…

What I used to look like…

…and fed myself on a diet of Joni Mitchell, The Incredible String Band, Nick Drake and The Beatles. However, as you may have noticed from the video, on Tuesday 17th, my diet, nearly 25 years later, consisted of some Mr Kipling lemon cakes, spicy chicken wings, a tub of cous-cous and an orange Fanta.

Which I ate while listening to Lady Gaga.

The food I had grabbed as I walked past an outlet of Iceland on the way to the hotel. Now my stomach was full I was ready to brave the bad weather again and take a walk around the neighbourhood.

And that just about sums up my trip to the Isle of Man really. I’d love to say more, but today – 24th July 2012 – has been the hottest day of the year so far so I am going to sit out the back with a glass of cider now and watch my pussy chase flies.

Bye for now!

My trip to the Isle of Man – Part 1

A bench on the Isle of Man

Tuesday the 17th of July and I leave my small cottage in Calne on the adventure of a lifetime.  I had my small suitcase packed with everything I needed – snake venom antidote, a copy of Ray Mear’s ‘Essential Bushcraft’, a swiss army knife made in Wales, a compass made of adamantium, a signal mirror and a box set of the complete series of Lost.

Yes, you guessed it. I was going to the Isle of Man.

The opportunity came about via work and I was going there on business but I would have a few hours in the afternoon and evening of the 17th and 18th to explore part of the island.

However, first things first. Step one was getting a train from Chippenham to Bristol Temple Meads. Chippenham train station is quaint and full of charm. It reminds me a little of the train station that features in one of my favourite films, Oh, Mr Porter, starring Will Hay.

Oh, Mr Porter!

There is even an old Nestle chocolate machine tucked away in the corner, though sadly I don’t think it had been refilled for many years.

I love train journeys. I love sitting by the window, watching the fields roll by as I browse through a copy of Big Jugs, Mature Jugs, Granny D Cups, or some other antique collectables magazine. The journey to Bristol Temple Meads took just under half an hour and I departed the train exuberantly, whistling a specially prepared melody of Disney’s greatest hits as I passed through the turnstile and stepped outside the station.

Outside Bristol Temple Meads train station

The architecture of the station’s façade is reminiscent of a building I made with Lego when I was ten years old. A pointless coincidence it may seem, but that’s only because the meaninglessness of the banality of what I am saying is pathetic in its understatement.

I caught a bus to Bristol airport and checked in. I think this is the point where I reveal that I had never flown before. I had never, ever been on an aeroplane or any aircraft of any description. My life just hadn’t panned out that way. And the truth is, it had never interested me that much. For starters, lying on a sandy beach in Spain would be my idea of hell. I would be so bored. I would rather spend a week in Haworth in November, walking the moors and following in the footsteps of Emily Bronte, than a week in Spain in July, sipping enchiladas on the beach.

Or tequilas. Or whatever they are called.

I sat in the departure lounge, staring through the great glass windows at the planes that were departing. There were huge Easy-jet Boeing 757’s, with large jet engines and passenger cabins that could accommodate 250 people. There was a Virgin Airbus A340 with four impressive jet engines that could seat 350 passengers. I looked at my boarding pass. My plane was a Flybe Bombadier Dash. I wondered how many jet engines it would have and looked out of the window, searching for my plane. Ah, there it was!

There were crates of straw at the back where Indiana Jones was sleeping.

It looked liked something from an Indiana Jones movie. I was expecting Short Round to jump out, dragging the ark of the covenant behind him. Still, I was excited. I knew we would be going over Wales and I wondered if it would be able to climb high enough to avoid the Sugar Loaf mountain.

I navigated through security (Guard – ‘Take off your shoes please’. Me – ‘What shoes? These are Reeboks!’) and boarded the plane. It appears that not a huge amount of people wanted to go to the Isle of Man. My first clue was when I checked in and the lady behind the counter allocated me a seat but said “You can change it sir, once you are on board.” Basically, everyone was able to sit by a window which was perfect for me. I’ve always been a window person. That’s why I have six in my cottage and I’m planning to collect more. So anyway, I sat by the window. The plane taxied on to the runway and with an unexpected acceleration (nearly as good as my 125cc Piaggio Liberty) we took off.

This is an actual photo I actually took from the actual seat I was actually in on the actual plane.

The flight took just 55 minutes and I spent most of that time staring through the window, dreaming of new worlds, proletarian states and an end of the totalitarian regime in Porthcawl. We flew through the middle of Wales and turned left at Rhyl, touching down at the Isle of Man airport on schedule. A short bus ride later and I stepped out on to the promenade at Douglas.

The Promenade, Douglas, Isle of Man.

I had arrived !

END OF PART 1

Joni and the Brick.

Joni. Sleeping and dreaming of bricks…

It’s when your cat begins to stalk a brick, that the worry sets in.

The brick in question wasn’t moving. If it was, even I would have been concerned and would have contemplated stalking it too, just to see where bricks go when they think no-one is looking. However, this brick was as stationery as Rymans.

 

A stationery brick

Rymans

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reason it had attracted Joni’s attention was because it was in the garden, on the patio, next to another brick. For a cat, having two bricks, several inches apart, in the garden, on a  patio, is something very special. There is an outhouse outside my kitchen with a little alleyway leading to the main garden area, where the bricks were. Joni would run out of the back door, stop by the alleyway and stalk the brick. She couldn’t see it from the alleyway, but she knew it was there. Her back would arch while her body lowered to the ground and she would put one paw gently in front of the other as she slowly walked down the alley, approaching the corner which would give her a good view of the brick.

She would then stare at it for a few seconds, her bottom wiggling as she prepared to pounce, and then she would do it. She would pounce on a defenceless, hapless, innocent brick. She would do it again and again over the ensuing days until I finally swapped the brick for a cheap garden gnome.

At the moment, she is ignoring it but I am sure the day will come when her insatiable feline need for pouncing will target that too.

 

Friday the 13th, 2012

A typical Friday the 13th

It’s Friday the 13th, again. A day often associated with bad luck and mysterious happenings. You are more likely to be run over by a car today, so they say, or even a bus. A pot of paint, balancing precariously at the top of a ladder, is likely to fall on your head. That itch on your arm, that you originally attributed to hives, is probably a malignant tumour.

It’s Friday the 13th and we should be scared.

Or should be? I did a little research this morning and it turns out that on average, there is a Friday the 13th every 212 days. Since 1973 there have been 69 Friday the 13th’s.

I then accessed the national accident database to see if there was an increase in accidents on that day. Oddly enough, the records had been wiped by a religious zealot some years previously and recent efforts to fabricate new data to replace it had fallen foul of something mysteriously referred to as ‘the law’.

Not put off, I then asked a few friends if they had encountered any mysterious happenings on Friday the 13th. The first was my neighbour, Joan Tripover, an elderly lady with a penchant for dismantling packets of  Angel Delight. I once queried her on how anyone could actually ‘dismantle’ a packet, but she refused to explain on the quite reasonable grounds that she couldn’t.

“Joan,” I began. We were on first name terms.

“Lord chancellor,” she replied. I had given her a fake name some years previously and had forgotten about it. It seemed insensitive to let her know it was all a joke at this late stage.

“Joan, have you ever had an accident on Friday the thirteenth?”

“Interesting,” said Joan, “That you used ‘thirteenth’ there, instead of ’13th’. I wonder why?”

“It’s to do with speech,” I explained. “I cannot actually put ’13th’ in speech quotes – it makes no sense. It’s ‘thirteenth’. It’s to do with grammar and stuff.”

“Yes but you put a dash in just then. You could have just said ‘dash’. I’m not hearing that ‘dash’, but it’s there, in the speech.”

“You, ” I said in my most loving, paternal voice, “are mad.”

That’s when she gave me the stare.

Joan, giving me ‘the stare’.

“Joan,” I said, “I am merely posing a thoughtful interjection based on an incomplete hypothesis.”

“I am the dark lord’s rabbit dominatrix,” said Joan and hobbled off back into her bungalow, which reminded me of that cave in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom that looked like a big mouth.

So thus ended my detailed and investigative reporting on the history and prevalence of accidents during the day of Friday the 13th over the years.

I hope you found this informative and if you are able to use any of the above in your own research papers, it would be a privilege to read them too, if you would be so kind.

 

Saturday The 14th. A forgotten cinematic classic. Maybe.

Are Scooters Electric?

The eighties bore a lot of fruit. There were raspberries, strawberries, guavas, tangerines and even bananas, which some people insist is a herb. There were also melons. Some melons were bitter, some were sweet. Some were even bittersweet, like Gary Numan.

A bittersweet melon.

Gary became famous for one song in particular, where he ruminated over the classic philosophical question ‘Are Friends Electric?’ followed by another hit song where, in classic minimalist style, he posed the vastly underrated question, “Cars?”.

Now what most people overlook is the new question that arises when both song titles are merged. Yes, you got it. ‘Are Friends cars?’ I would say most definitely not. Friends tend to be people, made up of organic matter. Cars on the other hand are machines created through a totalitarian state via marxist values.

Another interesting question arises through a further amalgamation of song titles. It goes like this ‘Are Cars Electric?’ Well, some are, but most aren’t. So when Martin Rowan commented to me that the new exhaust I had fitted to my Piaggio Liberty 125 would have no effect on fuel consumption because “it’s electric isn’t it?” I nearly died.

“It’s petrol,” I informed Martin, who was busy cleaning his teeth with a hamster. “It always has been and it always will be. I fill it with five litres of petrol every other day. What do you think happens to it if it isn’t used by the scooter?”

Martin stared at me. He had taken staring classes in Pontypool college in the early nineties and had won the World Staring Championship in 1996.

“I see,” said Martin. So it’s electric AND petrol then?”

It was at this point I rang John Craven and asked him for another round of news…

Shitavar

Wipe that cheesy grin off your
pathetic blue face, you wannabe Smurf…

I have a nostalgic affection for James Cameron’s 80’s output. The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss have long been amongst my favourite films of the sci-fi genre. I was not impressed by his nineties output. True Lies was more like ‘False Promises’ and Titanic was a poor man’s Moby Dick. A bit like listening to Chris Rea when Mark Knopfler’s just next door.

Still, Avatar showed signs of promise. The trailers looked good and I was becoming interested in the new 3D technology. Pami and I had gone to see A Christmas Carol a month ago and loved that film. Some of the 3D sequences in that were breathtaking. Previous to that, the last 3D film I had seen was Jaws 3D back in 1984, which still used the red/blue paper glasses technology. These days the visors you get wouldn’t look out of place in the Mos Eisley cantina.

So the lights dim, we sit back clutching our tubes of Swiss milk chocolate buttons and the film begins. Within twenty minutes the main character, Jake Sully, has inhabited his ‘Avatar’ and is exploring the moon of Pandora. Pandora is a richly detailed, lush world of bright green and purple vegetation which lends itself fully to 3D technology. Tiny aliens that look like dandelion seeds blow in and out of shot, appearing to float an inch from my face and dirt thrown up by the bare souls of the Avatars as they run across the forest floor is thrown up out of the screen and into the auditorium. Initially, even the 3D effect of a person’s face in close up was fascinating to see and every single pimple, folicule and scar rotated in a beautifully realised 3D world.

However, the film is two hours and forty minutes long and after roughly an hour the novelty of 3D began to wane. In fact, towards the end I had to pinch myself into remembering this was a 3D film. Whether my eyes got used to the effect and began to compensate for it, I don’t know, but the 3D seemed to lose its impact and there were fewer scenes that utilised it effectively by the second half of the film.

Which leaves us with the story.

The Na’vi are the natives of Pandora. Humans want to mine Pandora. The Na’vi object. There is a war between the humans and the Na’vi.

That is the story in a nutshell. However, it is fleshed out by giving the Na’vi a mythology comprising of numerous deities, gods and rituals. If some thought were given to this, say for example, thirteen years of thought (which coincidentally is the time that Tolkien took to write Lord Of The Rings, a book which includes a rich, detailed mythology too) then maybe the Na’vi and their plight would have some weight and we would feel for them. As it is, the parallels with modern day concerns about our ecology have been drawn with such broad brush strokes that you end up not giving a toss about the Na’vi and start wishing you could maybe deep fry them in batter and have them in a tortilla with a bit of hot salsa.

The idea of Gaia was a wonderful science fiction idea that appeared in the 1979  book ‘Gaia: A new look at life on Earth’  by James Lovelock and had some cultural impact throughout the eighties. This idea has been used in the film in a greatly watered down version that has no depth or feeling to it. The Na’vi believe that all their trees are spiritually interconnected via their root system. That is a throwaway line given by one character to another and not pursued at all to give it any meaning. Like all ideas in the film really. Which neatly brings me to the dialogue itself. The dialogue – and there is plenty of it – seems to have been written for readers of The Sun. Characters speak in short staccato sentences, mainly to deliver a piece of information solely for the purposes of furthering the plot. Sometimes a question is asked by Jake Sully only for another character to sit down, light a pipe and take ten minutes to congratulate Jake on asking such a wonderful question as now all the viewers will understand a bit more of what is going on.

The climatic battle scene *is* well choregraphed however and for action fans there is plenty of eye candy on show. But we all knew James Cameron could do that – we were just expecting so much more from him after his thirteen year hiatus after the overwhelming success of Titanic.

Avatar?

More like Shitavar.

 

Some genuine alien shit.

Lost

Evangeline Lilly, who plays Kate in Lost. Kate is a hearty, wholesome, fulfilling character that re-energises you and can fill you up for the day. A bit like Weetabix I guess, only smoother…

A plane crashes on an island. There are survivors. A trap door is found. There are other inhabitants on the island. A strange energy matrix distorts time.

No, I’m not talking about Swindon. I’m talking about Lost, the six season show that began in 2004 and ended in 2010. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m about ten years behind everyone who got into this series when it first aired. It sort of passed me by when it was initially screened here in the UK. Several years ago when I had a subscription with Virgin Media, they began offering it on their ‘On Demand’ service and I watched the first series before an unexpected series of events led to me leaving my ex-wife and sleeping in a garage for a month.

Which didn’t have a TV.

So that brings me up to a month ago. I had a bit of spare cash and so bought the box set on a whim. The first thing that struck me, was disc two, that fell out of the box onto my foot. You may think that’s a lame joke, but I am sure Groucho Marx would have been proud of that one.

Can I just say that Lost is probably the most engrossing, interesting, moving series I have ever seen in my life? Like anything of a certain length, it falters occasionally (hell, even Lord Of The Rings does) but taken as a whole, I thought it was a fantastic piece of story telling.

And let me tell you another thing, I am a 39 year old man and bawled my eyes out during the two-part finale to the whole series. Cried like, well, like a big crying thing. What got me mostly were the ‘flash sideways’ scenes in the last series, although that’s a bit misleading. The term ‘flash sideways’ was used by the series writer’s, only it transpires it’s not really a ‘flash sideways’, it’s more like what the characters are doing in that limbo universe, which looks and feels exactly like Earth, while they wait for Jack.

It was the ‘flashback’ scene between Jack and Juliet, when Juliet hands Jack the bar of chocolate and their fingers touch, causing the flashback that told them who they *really* were and how they were connected. That’s what started my waterworks. (That’s tears, and not an uncontrollable flow of urine from my bladder due to a weakened prostrate. Which only happens now and then…)

Sawyer and Juliet

And you know, I am one of those people that *got* the end. I am not sure why some people thought it was a bit of a let down.  For me, I just got it – it hit all the right emotional notes and I loved every minute of it.

I watched it in marathon sessions too – during my two days off work each week, I was watching about 10 in a row, and during working days, about 2 or 3 in the evening.

It was a great ride…

So. What shall I watch next…