Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Emigration, a short story I wrote a while back, has been published today in the on-line SF magazine Mythaxis. It's not the greatest story in the world (it's not the best story in this issue) but I was quite pleased with it. For once I managed to write a story that made some sort of sense, didn't fall apart within three minutes but, more importantly, I finished it. Often when I write stuff it never comes to any conclusion, it just runs on and on, without getting anywhere in particular, in a shapeless soon to be abandoned mass.
I have no idea of how to construct a story. I'm great (or at least I think I'm great when I'm not thinking I'm rubbish) at jokes and absurdities, and I can, with a bit of work, get a character to cross a room and open a door without letting vast numbers of ambiguities slip into my sentences, but story? Forget it. I have no idea how to construct even the simplest story. I didn't write this one. I found it. It fell out of a bigger thing that I had been working on for ages on and off (mostly, you will have guessed, off) and then, one day, I suddenly realised in the middle of all this waffle was this little moment which was actually working and was complete in itself. I took it out, polished it a bit, and Gil (Editor in Chief at Mythaxis) liked it enough to help me give it a final buff-up.

Two new
cartoons over on my other blog this week...

...and the plumbers have been turning up when they said they would (after four months of not quite getting round to it) and laying pipes all over the place for the upstairs bathroom.

Things are going suspiciously all right.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

There Will Be Bratz

Bratz™ the multi-ethnic bimbo dollies that have invaded our house recently, have strange, psychologically disturbing, weirdly detachable feet. Bratz™'s* shoes, unlike Barbie™'s infinitely losable shoe-shaped bits of plastic, are moulded onto their feet, so, when you want to change their outfit and have to have matching shoes to go with it (which if my limited watching of Sex and the City is to be believed, is possibly the MOST important thing in the Universe) then you have to change their feet.

Yesterday, when rearranging the clothing of her new dolls and swapping their feet to match, daughter number one discovered, that because Bratz are multi-ethnic and therefore have a wide variety of skin tones, when you swap their feet over they are often the wrong colour - leaving the dolls looking like they're wearing cheap pop socks under their Manolo Blahniks - or have been wading through bleach.

There is a roaring trade in spare Bratz feet on eBay.

*Sorry about the punctuation overload there but where do you put the apostrophe after Bratz™? Bratz' ? Bratz's. - Is Bratz singular? A Bratz? If so, is the plural Bratzs? The Bratz's shoes? Another reason to hate them.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Happy Birthday Holly, Six today and the proud new owner of several new dollies.

I used to hate Barbie™ - that seven foot tall, Arian ideal, micro-headed, super retrousse-nosed plastic bimbo I was so determined to keep out of my daughter's life - but, after the last two days, she has been replaced in my number one loathing spot by Bratz™. A whole set of hydrocephalitic, micro-nosed, multi-ethnic bimbos who make Barbie™ look like Andrea Dworkin by comparison.

My house is now full of small plastic mutants. I have no idea why kids' toys are so weirdly distorted like this. If any of us saw a Barbie™ or any of the many Bratz™ girlz made flesh and walking down our local high street we would, no matter how liberal, caring and inclusive we though we were, pick up a stick, point at them, and yell: "Freak! Freak! Freak!"

Donald Sutherland spotting Malibu Barbie™
coming out of Woolworths.

Aside from the fact I think they are ugly, and I hate the shallow "Passion for Fashion!" message of the things, what I have really come to loathe about them is the fucking packaging. "Easy to open" my arse - the boxes have a "Now Easier To Open Packaging!" tag on them. God knows what it was like before.

After opening a couple of these things I wrote down the procedure to get one of these overpriced cheap plastic dolls out of its wrapper. (Bear in mind I had opened a couple already and had streamlined my operation from the random slash and rip I started out with.)
  • Cut 3 pieces of tape to get into box.
  • Struggle to open the box while wondering what the tape was there for as it is so well constructed as to be nearly un-openable even when they have been removed.
  • Peel 3 more pieces of tape from the outside of the box which hold the piece of plastic which, in turn, holds the cardboard inner sleeve which (finally) has the doll attached to it.
  • Bend cardboard inner sleeve almost in half to get it free of the box.
  • Cut two pieces of tape that hold together the two halves of the folded cardboard inner sleeve.
  • Open cardboard inner sleeve (while wondering what the tape you have just cut was actually for as the two halves of the sleeve turn out to have been glued together.)
  • Cut or remove six pieces of tape stuck to one half of the sleeve. This lets you get at the plastic coated wire twists that hold the doll into place against all the plastic supporting struts - also held in place on the sleeve by yet more bits of tape. (On my first couple of dolls I wasted time and effort needlessly freeing these as well.)
  • Pull the doll forward and away from the sleeve, then, with a long sharp pair of scissors, cut all the strings (at least eight) sewn through the dolls hair into the cardboard. Be warned: The string is EXACTLY the same colour as the doll's hair.
  • Slide doll upwards free of double-sided vacuum formed transparent packaging designed to stop the the doll's psychologically damaging, weirdly detachable feet falling off in transit. (The removal or cutting of near invisible elastic bands may be called for here.)
  • Find secret compartment box hidden in base of cardboard inner sleeve which contains: a limited warranty (90 days RTB), an advert for more ugly, big-eyed mutant dolls, and the obligatory nasty plastic comb which is held in place (INSIDE a tiny box!) by another near invisible elastic band threaded through two holes in the side.
  • Give doll to daughter who vaguely remembers asking you to open the damn thing and is now too old to play with it.

All I can think is the Third World sweatshop piece worker who assembled this masterpiece of packaging was thinking: "Fuck you, rich western daddy!" as she stuck every vengeful piece of needless tape into a new and improbible place. "How dare you spend all that money on this plastic garbage for your kids; when I have to do this shit to stop mine from starving?"

Good question. I wish I knew the answer.

Irony Gap

Woohoo! 27 days to The 2008 Eurovision Song Contest!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Holly had a birthday party this afternoon. She'll be six in a couple of days so we had a few friends in from from school and a couple of mums roped in to help. (M and I do 'pathetic' very well.)
One of Holly's best friends at school is Jodie. Jodie's mum, Caroline, is landscape painter, you can't walk into a craftshop round here without seeing her prints of seascapes and moody mountains on the walls. The other day, half jokingly, I suggested that instead of just dropping Jodie off at the party and running away, she should stay and paint the kids' faces - being as she knew one end of the paintbrush from another, and I was desperate to think of some way of keeping the kids amused while I hid in the kitchen. (My plan for the whole party being to stay in there as much as possible and threw piles food out to them at regular intervals. Good plan. It nearly worked.)
Much to my surprise (and relief) Caroline said yes.
When I told Holly that Jodie's mum was going to do face-painting at her party, her first reaction was to jump up and down in the universal littlegirl bodyspeak for great excitement: "Hurray!" she yelled, "She can paint mountains on my face!" - that was her second reaction too - and her third. All suggestions of more usual facepainty subjects were stoutly ignored. And so today - when everyone else had pretty butterflies, and tigers, and dinosaurs on their faces - Holly had the sun setting over the Arnamurchan Peninsular plastered all over her for the whole party.

She loved it.

I love her.

I hope she's still as weird and funny when she's sixteen.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I went shopping today. Dumped Daisy on my mum (thanks, Mum!) and shot off to Oban as fast as I could. 30 miles to The Big City! Bright lights! (Red, red and amber, green! Amber, red!) - more than one shop!

Spring is here at last. It's sort of sneaked (snuck?) up on me this year. But driving down to Oban all the familiar signs were there: primroses on the roadsides, lambs in the fields, and fucking tourists driving at 40 mph in the middle of the road looking at them.

I prefer shopping in Oban to shopping in Fort William. One of the main reasons, apart from the fact Oban is bigger, better and, well, just not Fort William, is the fact that most of the shops I use there (Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and the wholefood shop) don't play music. I hate music in shops. I hate the way the crap they play gets into your skull no matter how hard you try to ignore it. I hate the fact that hours after I come out of a store I suddenly find myself humming a Wham! song, or even worse singing it. I also resent the feeling that I am being manipulated somehow. The music in shops round here is either the amateur inane drivel that passes for our local radio station Nevis Radio (hearing its sub Hospital radio wittering usually makes me head straight for the exit) or mood enhancing music that is presumably carefully chosen to put me in a certain frame of mind, and presumably thereby more susceptible to attractions of whatever the shop is trying to shove off onto the general public this week.

Aldi*, that bastard lovechild of Lidl and Marks and Spencers, has started playing musak. Fortunately they haven't gone down the Radio Local road but presumably have a CD player stacked with music from a playlist approved by Herr Aldi or one of his minions. At first I was annoyed that another of my safeplaces has been invaded by the relentless encroachment of earworming music but I left the shop feeling baffled, unable to work out what level of hypnoshopping I was supposed to feel while having Silver Machine by 70s SF Psychedelic rockers Hawkwind played at me at almost subliminal levels.

I just took a ride
Buy fish fingers
in a silver machine
Buy fish fingers
and I'm still feeling mean
Buy fish fingers
I got a silver machine
Buy fish fingers
Do you want to ride
Buy fish fingers
see yourself going by
Buy fish fingers
other side of the sky
Buy fish fingers
Well I got a silver machine
Buy fish fingers
It flies sideways through time
Buy fish fingers
It's an electric line
Buy fish fingers
To your Zodiac sign
Buy fish fingers
It flies out of a dream
Buy fish fingers
It's anti-sceptically clean
Buy very sterile fish fingers
You're gonna know where I've been
Buy fish fingers
In my silver machine
Buy fish fingers

*Aldi, for those who have never encountered it is the Fortnum and Mason of budget shopping, Cheap but smart - well, smarter than Lidl anyway. Pile it high and flog it cheap Euroshopping. It's the sort of place where you hear customers berating their children: "You gonnae no do that any more, Craig, or I'll batter ye!" between the ante pasto, and Kalamata olives - I digress**.

**A female diger.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Daddy, Do You Want The Biggest, The Smallest, Or The In-The-Middlest?

It's bloody typical isn't it?

I nominate myself for a highly prestigious blogging award* and then, suddenly, out of the blue - nothing happens. For days now, since introducing my beloved family to an eager and waiting world, life has been so utterly uninteresting that the only thing worth mentioning has been the fact there is nothing worth mentioning.

The weather is balmy, the kids are being normal, I haven't tried to kill myself or cause myself grievous bodily harm in any humorous manner since the bonfire incident, the plumbers didn't turn up to finish (ie start) the upstairs bathroom for the umpteenth week in a row, nothing.
"There were no wrecks and nobody drownded,
'Fact, nothin' to laugh at at all!"


I am so tempted to write to Mr Lakeland again. (Though, after the dead end that was the Chemical Free Ant Stoppa Tape Saga(ette), I don't think there's really a lot of point.) Today, because I didn't immediately bin the catalogue as soon as it arrived a couple of weeks ago - and Merriol found it, there arrived in the post a large cardboard box containing many plasticy delights from Lakeland including:

Lakeland Ecoclean Bathroom Cleaner
- Spring Water Fragrance

I cannot wait to find out what water smells like.

*too subtle?

Friday, April 18, 2008

New readers Start Here:

This blog has been nominated as a best blog over at in the Best Daddy Blog category. (In a moment of shameless self-promotion I nominated myself. It's in the rules; it's allowed.)

So, confidently expecting a doubling of my readership here, I would just like to take this moment to welcome both of you with a quick rundown of the Dramatis personæ:

Liam (me)
- 48 year old, sometime actor, full time stay at home dad to:

- aged 5, inventor of 'Fish Tennis', tragic comedienne, and big sister of:

- aged 3, surreal interior decorating master who, together with mum:

- (aged XX) who spends her time throwing herself in front speeding piles of NHS paperwork in order to allow doctors to actually see patients occasionally, all live in a semi-converted Victorian School (with inadequate comforts) on the wetter side of a tallish mountain in Scotland.

My parents live next door; Merriol's parents live about 300 miles away. We have two ducks in the yard.

This blog is a way for me to keep sane, and let off steam, and reassure myself I am capable of coherent thought after a long day looking after the psychotic dwarfs that are my children.

It not is here to promote any great ideas I may have once had. It is here purely to keep me sane. With only the kids to talk to for most of the day -
"Daisy, can Daddy listen to some of his music now? We've had the Lazytown CD on three times now? Pleeeaaase!"
- I need a lifeline to cling too,
a little project that I can work on and half-write in my head during the day while my body, and what's left of my brain after six years of child-caring, gets on with the tedious routines of the day.

It's that or think about naked ladies more than I do.

So here I am, and here is where I waffle on about my love of dreadful SF movies - I suspect I just lost one of you - acting, my kids, my unintentional attempts to get a Darwin Award, scriptwriting, my cartoons, the infrequently annual No Shit Sherlock Awards for statements of the blindingly obvious, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera...

Soon I will ask you to vote for me over at in the most pitiful and pathetic looking font I can find - the results to be announced sometime before the Zimbabwean election results finally come in.

If I make the short list.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fixed the kids' computer yesterday.

For a couple of weeks now they have been playing on it without sound - which is not a great hardship as they mostly play with painting and colouring packages. It's been silent ever since M and I unplugged all the peripherals, moved it, and plugged everything into another old computer that has been sat around for a couple of years. We did this on the off-chance that it worked (it didn't) and it was better than the one they have (almost certainly - apart from the fact it was dead).

After putting their machine back where we'd got it, and plugging everything back in, the sound refused to work. I tweaked and checked every setting I could find but nothing I did made any difference. My eventual conclusion was that, by moving the machine, we had dislodged something inside. Yesterday I took the case off - then switched it off at the mains (doh!) - and carefully took out everything in the expansion slots (the fact that I am almost certainly getting my terminology wrong here shows how much I really knew what I was doing), I examined each one of them carefully as if I did know what I was doing - "Hmmm", I hmmmed knowledgeably, just in case anyone was looking. "No obvious scorch marks, no big holes, cracks, or Barbie parts glued to them... well they look all right to me.*" - I put them all back in their homes again. I screwed the casing back on and plugged the speakers into the sound card.

Not the modem, the sound card.

The speakers had been plugged into the modem. When we had reassembled the machine, after trying out the other one, we had put the jack in the wrong socket.

Sometimes I feel so fucking stupid it hurts.

*Visual inspection of electronics is a life skill everyone should cultivate. Circuit boards are fascinatingly pretty. Don't understand a sodding thing about them but they look wonderful.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

This morning after dropping Holly off at school, it being an unusually not raining and sunny day, Daisy and I spent a little longer than usual hanging around the gates talking to the other mums. As we nattered this huge hydraulic cherry picker lorry thing slowly inched its way into the school playground. A van full of blokes in hard hats and flurescent jackets arrived shortly after. They all piled out of the van, and after a few minutes of blokish talking to the cherry picker driver and blokish pointing, and consulting bits of paper on clipboards, they deployed the cherry picker and two of them went for a ride. Up and up they went. Nowhere near any buildings, or pylons, or cables; just straight up into the air. One of the pair had a pair of binoculars and had a good look around - then they came down again.

The school is at the back of the village and is just about the highest building around. The playground is certainly the highest level space they could have set up their machine without having to demolish someone's garden or build something to stand it on. They must have had a good view of the whole area.

I left before they had finished coming back down again and before I succumbed to the temptation to go over and ask them what they were doing. I need more mysteries in my life. I would like to think they were lost and trying to find their way to the main road though I doubt it but I'll never know now.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I nearly set fire to my head today. I'll set the scene: A couple of months ago we had some horrendous gales which knocked over a couple of trees in my Mum and Dad's garden. To make it easier to clear up in the immediate aftermath, to give Dad room to chainsaw the trunk and bigger branches into logs for the fire, all the smaller branches were heaped in my garden - where they've sat for ages waiting for something to be done with them.

A few weeks ago I decided that the weed and scrub infested patch of garden outside my kitchen window was going to be cleared of all the weeds and scrub and become a vegetable garden. So, from time to time, as the weather and kids have allowed, I've been grubbing up all the incredibly invasive and evil Common Snowberry (aka Symphoricarpos albus, aka "Bobblebush"), Common Nettle, and Raspberries that had woven this impenetrable mesh of roots all over the place. The Snowberry was the worst. It's tenacious stuff Bobblebush. Digging it up is like trying to dig up a mattress. As I wrestled this bastard stuff out of the ground I threw all the roots, and sticky-uppy bits, into a huge heap in the garden (a different bit) where they've sat for ages - waiting for something to be done with them.

Today was the day I did something with them.

Down at one end of the garden is a big hole that was supposed to be a pond but I got bored with digging it - and then we got kids and we didn't think having a pond with toddlers was such a good idea - and I really was bored with digging the hole. Big holes in the ground are great for burning things in. These days the proto-pond just gets garbage piled in it till we get bored of doing that - then we burn it.

Today was sunny and bright, with a light wind from the west (ie away from the house) in short, the perfect day for setting fire to a hole in the ground. So: empty in the waste paper bin, lob on a bag containing six months worth of old candle ends - and apply match. Whoomf! Spend the next four hours throwing things on top and getting all hunter-gatherish and primitive - Fire! Mongo like Fire. Fire good. Fire is our friend - until Merriol comes home from work and asks me why I am being all hunter-gatherish and primitive in my only decent shirt? (Answer: "Erm? - It was the one on top of my shirt pile this morning?") She made me go change it.

From time to time the bonfire would burst into sudden and impressive crackling and roaring life. Sometimes it would just sit there and smoulder until poked. When it flared up, sparks and hot ashes flew into the air. Occasionally a nearby part of the garden would start to smoulder and need some water thrown at it. During one of the more spectacular flare-ups I heard another crackling noise, like the one coming from the bonfire, but a lot closer. I turned around to see what was making the noise - and the noise moved with me.

I'm glad to say it didn't take me THAT long to realise my hair was on fire. A few slaps round my ear and it was out.

I've never set my head on fire before. It's not an experience I think I'll repeat in a hurry.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I've Added Things To My Birthday Wish List. I Couldn't Find A Pencil So I Added The Last One In Lipstick!

Holly will be six in two weeks and we have done nothing about as yet apart from buying her a DVD of the The Singing Ringing Tree, a film I haven't seen since it was shown sliced into episodes on the BBC back in 1964 (I was 5). It had an evil dwarf, a weird talking fish, a singing ringing tree, a prince that turns into a bear and a petulant Communist princess. It's a movie which, if the reviews and bloggings about it (This is a good one) I found on a short hop around the web are to be believed, traumatised a generation.

I have vivid memories of it 40 years after having seen it. I think Holly is just the right age for it. I do so want her to get the full flavour of the weirdnesses and darknesses of real Fairy Tales. And not just the happy tra-la-la formula Disneyfied versions.

I grew up reading Grimm's Fairy Tales, which are not exactly My Little Barbyland, and having the bejeasus scared out of me by the Daleks on Dr Who (the real Daleks. Not the touchy-feely "Love me, I'm misunderstood." modern Daleks. None of this "We Are The Daleks! What is our motivation in this scene, Duckie? Motivate! Motivate!" Not that kind of Dalek; the real Daleks - evil fucking ruthless evil fucking fucking scary fucking evil things. Nazis in buckets. God! they were scary. I really did used to watch Dr Who from behind the safety of Dalek-proof furniture - though, now I come to think of it, I remember the Cybermen being the ones who really used to put the willies up me*.)

I don't think we scare our kids enough these days.

I was regularly scared - in a controlled and safe way. It was only make believe and it was obviously make believe. As kids we bought into the fantasy of Dr Who. We were willing participants. We could see the dodgy sets were made from stacked milk crates and bubble wrap and we knew all the corridors looked the same because it was the same corridor shot from 100 slightly different angles, and every planet The Doctor landed on looked suspiciously like the same abandoned quarry they filmed in last season, but we knew all that - and we chose to ignore it. We joined in. We could see the strings holding the characters up in Thunderbirds. It didn't stop us clinging to the edges of our seats in excitement. (Thunderbirds you could watch sitting on the Dalek-proof furniture not hiding behind it; Thunderbirds was exciting, not scary). These days, with the advances in CGI, and the increased size of the TV screens, and the fact that what they see on it is in colour - which it wasn't when I were a lad - I worry that my kids won't have that gap to jump. They won't have to actively suspend their disbelief like we did. When everything looks real, where is the space for their imagination?

I'm glad to say that Holly at least seems to be making that jump. I may have rattled on about this before, but some of her favourite videos are things like Chorlton and the Wheelies, The Clangers and Bagpuss. Ancient shows which use (by today's standards) very clumsy stop-motion animation. What they do have however is room for the kids to imagine. And some funny scripts. What they see on the screen in toys coming to life. Real toys, just like theirs.

Stotting around Google looking for The Singing Ringing Tree I also found this:

A sculpture called The Singing Ringing Tree Which lives on a hillside in Burnley Lancs. And very lovely.

*Stop writing your own jokes at the back there.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"I Know it Like the Back of My Own Hand"

Apart from sometimes.

I didn't recognise the back of my hand the other day. I can't remember the exact circumstances, I was probably upstairs in the office doing something or other trivial, but I do remember I was scratching the knuckles on my left hand when I became concious of the fact that I had been doing that a lot recently. An awful lot. I looked at my hand and had a really horrible moment of 'what the fuck is that?'. 'That' was my hand. Nothing weird about it, no sudden pustular growths breaking out, no suddenly noticing I had grown another finger in the night. It just looked so sodding OLD.

My hands were grey, cracked, and wrinkled. I really had trouble reconciling what I was looking at with the fact that I was looking at a bit of me. Parts of my 48 year old body were suddenly looking like the less attractive parts of Boris Karloff's make up in The Mummy - and he was supposed to be 3,000 years old! (Mind you ancient fictional Egyptian princes like Im-ho-tep didn't do the amount of washing up and laundry I do). A couple of days of slapping the kids' emollient cream over them at every opportunity and they were looking more like the the dirty pink things I'm used to seeing at the end of my arms but for a day or two I though someone had destroyed the portrait of me hidden in the attic.

It made me start to wonder how many people would recognise the backs of their hands if, say, they were presented with photos of their own hands to pick out of dozens of others. After a fruitless hour trying to find if anyone has ever done this simple experiment (The Institute for Improbable Research seemed like a good place to start) I spent another hour or so constructing a double blind trial to establish whether people really do know what the back of their hand looks like. (It involved hidden cameras and gloves.) I've added this experiment to my list of Pointless Projects I Will Never Get Round To Undertaking along with those I listed here a long time ago.

To wit:
  • An international data base cataloguing the times between the appearance of a swimming pool in a movie and the time someone falls into, is pushed into, or is discovered floating face down in it (depending on the type of movie).
  • An international data base cataloguing the times a swimming pool appears in a movie and no one falls into, is pushed into, or is discovered floating face down in it (depending on the type of movie). Because it annoys Phoebe.
  • The definitive episode by episode guide to the number of times characters say: "Omigod!" in Friends (the resulting site to be called
  • A detailed survey of the extras in Babylon 5 pinpointing (with screencaps) the appearance of a particular hat which seems to be in every episode of at least the first 3 seasons.
I am really grateful to my kids for keeping me too busy to get round to doing any of these.

But if there is someone out there with a truckload of money and a burning need to know...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

New coin designs were revealed to (and instantly reviled by) the waiting British public this week.


I'm not sure about them. It's clever but is it... what? Art? I don't know. I haven't made my mind up yet. I just know that, apart from that moment when a new design of coin or note turns up in your pocket, no one actually looks at the things for more than a moment. We look at money for as long as it takes to work out the value of the coin before handing it over but that's about it. Occasionally we might have a: "Coo, not seen one of those before." when something about the shiny round thing in our hand looks different (it usually means someone's slipped a Zloty into your change at the supermarket) but the novelty soon wears off.

I was surprised to see that they are still going to make pennies.

Why? Pennies are all but obsolete. There is nothing you can buy for a penny these days. Their only uses are to be given as that psychologically important piece of change for items marked up at £299.99. ("It was a bargain, honest! Less than three hundred quid!") and to lurk unnoticed in trouser pockets till they get their chance to clog up a washing machine filter.

How much does it cost to make a penny?

It's not as if they are even very attractive. Old pennies... * - (read this next bit in a croaky old 'When I were a lad, Cadbury's Creme Eggs were twice size they are nowadays, and plums actually tasted of something' voice:) - ** When I were a lad, Pennies were bloody great big things; the size of Wagon Wheels and all sorts of colours, from shiny, freshly-minted (or shiny, fresh from experiments with HP sauce), to blackish, almost featureless, discs used so often and for so long it was sometimes impossible to work out which particular HRH was on the front. Is that George the Fourth? or Edward the Whateverth? (I was always rubbish at my Royals). Some of them were green with the amazing, ages-old patina that makes Bronze statues so wonderful to look at, even when the sculpting is shite. Old pennies were great and as a kid I loved them. I always had this ambition to own a penny from every year of the century - but kept spending them before I got anywhere near realising it.
... and Cadbury's Creme Eggs were bigger - and so were Wagon Wheels.

Today, prompted by the news of the new issue, I pulled down my box with all the old coins that I have acquired over the years. It's not a 'collection', just a place I drop all those Zloties, Kopecs, and other unspendable bits of metal that have turned up in my pockets over the last couple of decades. Holly was fascinated with them, which is not surprising really as there are lots of weird and wonderful bits of coinage in there from all over the world. She really liked the ones that had crinkle-cut edges or holes in. I strung one of the ones with a hole on a piece of cotton thread and made her a pendant. There were a lot of old pennies in there too.

Modern pennies are piddling useless - and rust; there's a lot of iron in them. They look coppery but will stick to a magnet. Coins shouldn't rust! Rust isn't sexy or good looking. They'll look really rubbish when they get old.

Let's just dump the things. Every year the price of everything inexorably rises. Every year the penny in your washing machine is worth less and less. How worthless do they have to get before someone has the courage to junk the things?

*start of weird punctuation.
** end of weird punctuation.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Every Movie What I Have Watched in 2008 - Part One (of Four)

Sorry, but it's that time of the year again.

  1. Cat People
    - Jacques Tourneur's lovely little 1942 chiller.
  2. Dlug
    - Horribly realistic and compulsive Polish 'based on real events' crime film, with some slightly odd subtitling. Thanks M, I finally got round to watching it.
  3. Zeta One
    - Abysmal late 1960s British Ultra Soft-core Porno SF exploitation shite. Total pants with no plot but lots of nekkid tits (like THESE!) bouncing about (a bit).
  4. Missile to the Moon
    - second Matriarchal Space Bimbo movie of the night, with no nekkid tits this time (dammit!) but one of the most genius bits of American Desk Drawer acting ever. It's a well know fact of life that the only reason you ever open a desk drawer in an American film is to pull out a powerful (loaded) handgun. Only reason. The only thing Americans keep in the top drawers of any desk is firearms. Early on in this movie one
    of our aged scientists does just this. He opens a desk drawer and pulls out a luger which he slips into his pocket. A few minutes later his partner becomes aware of unexplained things happening out on the missile launch pad and decides to investigate - but first!... he goes
    to the desk and pulls open the top drawer. But what's this? The gun has gone! He stares into the desk drawer for a moment. No Gun? Drawer. Open. No gun? How can this be? A look of blank incomprehension registers on his face (not unlike that on William Macey repeatedly saying "Hi Honey, I'm home!" in Pleasantville and receiving no reply). He shuts the drawer - and after a moment - it's crazy but it might just work - pulls open the top drawer ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DESK - and Whew! pulls out a powerful (loaded) hand gun and rushes off to investigate...
  5. Empire of the Ants
    - and then there are those moments, usually at about 3:30 am like this one was, when you find yourself watching Joan Collins running round a mangrove swamp screaming at variably sized, giant, radioactive ants when you think to yourself, "Why AM I watching this shit? I really must get a grip." Bergman and Kurosawa for a bit I think...
  6. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
    - okay, It's not Bergman but it's not AS trashy as giant Radioactive ants - though equally scientifically dubious (apparently the world is DOOMED to a horrible death by hotness after a spark from a passing meteorite caused the Van Allen Radiation belts to catch fire and only firing a nuclear missile into it from a
    particular angle will cause the belts to pop like a balloon and save the human race from a severe crisping) okay it is as trashy but at least Irwin Allen won an Oscar! (though, admittedly, not for this film). I'll get to the good stuff next week.
  7. TXH 1138 The Directors Cut
    - This ain't the film I saw all those years ago. It's visually stunning but I wish it hadn't been fucked about with. I now need to see the original again.
  8. Ed Wood
    - Lovely film. My favourite Tim Burton movie.
  9. Bride of the Monster
    - and after a movie about Edward D Wood Jr what could be more appropriate than a movie by Edward D Wood Jr.? Starring Bela Lugosi in his next to last completed movie Bride of the Monster contains one of the greatest bits of weird acting of his career (and that's saying something). There's a moment towards the start of the film where a hapless victim wakes to find himself strapped to the Doctor's diabolical surgical table and about to be experimented upon.
    Hey, what gives! "Soon," gloats Dr Varnoff (Bela in white coat and stethoscope), "you will be asa bik as a chiant, wid the strength ov twenty men, or -- like all the others, DEAD!" He throws the lever. Lights flash. The victim convulses against the straps binding him tothe table then falls limp. Bela registers horror (or something) and steps forward. Dons the stethoscope, listens to the man's heart.
    His shoulders slump another failure.... Then. In a truly inspired moment of acting genius (Bela is so in the moment here) he discerns a possible glimmer of hope and... stethoscope still in place - listens to the man's head! .. and then his wrist! ...only then does he finally give up hope.
  10. Plan 9 From Outer Space
    - or another. RIP Vampira, the actress who played her, Maili Nurmi, died two days ago.
  11. Frankenstein's Daughter
    - better than expected drive-in monster-movie drek from the director of the dire Missile to the Moon. Best line: "From here on in, I decide what is evil."
  12. The Importance of Being Earnest
    - A dreadful 2002 remake which seems to exist only because someone lobbed some taxpayers money in the film makers direction.
  13. Carry on up the Khyber
    - Sod all those Merchant-Ivory, Helena Bonham Carter swanning about in muslin and soft focus, picture-postcard "terribly terribly" crud. This is the way to make movies about The Raj.
  14. The Doomsday Machine
    - again. Deliriously weirder on a re-watching.
  15. Timechaser
    - (MST3K) a whole movie full of people who never worked again.
  16. Living in Oblivion - Brilliant . I love this film.
  17. Gog
    - Funniest ending to a crap movie I have seen for ages. Aged, venerable Herbert Marshall bursting into the control room of the atomic reactor waving a flame thrower to destroy the OTHER killer robot on the loose. I nearly wet myself I was laughing so much.
  18. Lady in Cement
    - I gave my brain a rest from killer robots, V2s on Venus and the other
    absurdities of cheap 50s SF movies and watched Frank Sinatra sleepwalking as a private eye. Some of the worst sound I've ever heard on an American movie. The film was on the Free to Air Movies4men channel and I spent most of the running time wondering why a channel with such a butch sounding name was showing endless commercials for Dove beauty products, fabric conditioners, and 'Lite' mayonnaise. Movies4Men who shave their pits and look after themselves while watching fat old crooners running around waving guns?
  19. The Abominable Dr. Phibes
    - cheesy, bizarre, camp, and very funny.
  20. Dr. Phibes Rises Again
    - more of the same.
  21. Scream and Scream Again
    - 1970 British horror/SF movie with some really great hand held camera-work and a plot that almost worked if you didn't think about it.
  22. The People Vs Larry Flint
    - Mr Smith Goes to Washington - with porn.
  23. Hercules Unchained
    - I attempt to watch a Steve Reeves movie without thinking of the Rocky Horror Picture Show once - and fail as I knew I must. Shot in the same quarry as every other Italian Movie of the period and stuffed full with gems of mangilated movie Inglish, hilariously camp performances, and the only stretch war chariots ever put on screen.
  24. Phantom From Space
    - A masterful use of stock footage and very little plot. The highlight of the movie for me was watching a bunch of scientist and police hero types happily standing around an abandoned Alien's space suit sat on a shortish table, the top of which was about level with their nads, telling each other the suit was so radioactive that they shouldn't touch it. Clever that.
  1. Star Wars
    - it's 10 years since I last saw Star Wars. 1998 the New Improved with Added Jabba The Hutt Special Edition came out. I was working in Leicester on an aborted feature film called Dirty British Boys with Shashi Kapoor and some bloke from Brookside, one night most of the crew piled into town to see the New Improved! Star Wars (with added Jabba!) in the cinema. I fell asleep. I fell asleep again last night. I think I may have finally grown up. Star Wars, I have finally realised, isn't a particularly good film.
  2. Knight's Tale
    - The late Heath Ledger having fun. Enjoyable nonsense.
  3. Beyond The Valley of the Dolls
    - right off my Whatthefuck?ometer this one. Don't know what to make of it but I laughed a lot - I think I was supposed to.
  4. The Invisible Man
    - the 1933 James Whale original, not the best of Whale's films but fun.
  5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
    - More fun! What's going on? I don't watch films to have fun!
  6. The Phantom of the Opera
    - The 1943 Claude Rains Nelson Eddy affair. The DVD transfer was lovely I loved the Technicolor. Pity the movie wasn't much cop.
  7. Shrek the Third
    - bought as a Christmas pressy for the kids. I was rather disappointed. Beautiful to look at but the story was so thin.
  8. Vynález zkázy
    - a rather wonderful 1958 Czech weirdness of live action and animation based on a Jules Verne novel. Any movie which contains shots of roller-skating camels is okay by me.
  9. War of the Robots
    - early Al Bradly movies. (A mysteriously awful compulsion.) This one is famous for containing the longest and dullest space battle ever committed to film and certainly wins some sort of special award for reused footage. The same three shots get used over and over again - and then used again as back projection behind the "set" of the space fighter. It's one of those movies in which if you see someone going up a flight of steps, you will sure as hell see them coming down them later. Maximum use of minimal sets. There's one 'battle' late on in the movie between our heroic PVC clad crew and an neverendless supply of killer robots in wigs, that takes place in a single doorway. Zap! Next Zap! Next Zap! Next, (change the angle) Zap! Next Zap! Next...
  10. Return of the Killer Tomatoes
    - The best 10p I've spent in a charity shop for a while. Crude, stupid, and funny.
  11. Mighty Jack
    - Oh my dear god! Two episodes of a late 60s live-action, Thunderbirds type, Japanese Spy thriller TV series about the crew of a giant flying submarine combating international terrorists threatening the world with unmeltable ice, edited down to a totally incomprehensible movie-length mess. Off the scale on the old bewilderometer - at least 92.7 Centi-WTF?s per minute. I had absolutely NO idea what the hell was supposed to be going on. None. One IMDb reviewer hit the nail on the head when he described this film as having "all the logic of a fever dream".
  12. Humanoid Woman
    - an American slashed to ribbons version of what must have been an extraordinary Russian movie called Cherez Ternii K Zvyozdam. Despite being cut from 148 minutes to 90, cropped from it's full 2.35:1 aspect ratio to a square 4:3, dubbed by second rate actors making the script up as they went along, and crappily transferred to DVD from a very dodgy tape copy (it even had drop-out at one point) enough of the poetic, lyrical qualities of the original shone through to make it one of the most interesting looking films I have seen all year. There is, apparently, a restored version out there but not yet available on DVD with English subtitles. I have a new mission: see the original and see Sandy Frank the producer who butchered it for the American market, and a quick buck, rot in hell.
  13. Casshern
    - Japanese UberGrand Guignol SF real life Manga/Animé which had me enthralled for 141 bewildering minutes of incomprehensible fighting, philosophising,
    flashbacks, flash forwards, (and flash sidewayses for all I know) in which several characters died more than once, even more got to deliver portentous speeches while slowly descending stupidly wide staircases, and just about everybody had mystic revelations, including our hero who seemed to have his while in the very heart of a nuclear explosion -
    which he survives. All the way through I kept thinking I hope this design team gets to work on any movie they make from Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines books. The look is perfect.
  1. Back to the Future
    - Amazingly the first time I have watched this. I've seen most (if not all of it) in bits over the years but never sat and watched start to finish before. Great fun.
  2. Back to the Future ll
    - ditto!
  3. The 39 Steps
    - the pointless colour remake with Kenneth More proving (nice chap though he probably was) that he was no Robert Donat and vacant space that was Taina Elg (who?) was certainly no Madeleine Carroll.
  4. Weird Science
    - my catchup with all those films I never actually watched during the 1980s but are now dirt cheap on video in charity shops binge continues... This one cost me 20p. Which is about what it was worth.
  5. The Riddle of the Sands
    - my fascination with the not very good acting of Michael York continues; what DID people see in him?
  6. Back to the Future lll
    - Ditto previous BTTF comments up there. Glad that's out of my system at last.
  7. Singing in the Rain
    - never seen it all the way through before. It's Great!
  8. The Mutant on the Bounty
    - again! I managed to watch this piece of drek again! I was half way through watching it before I realised I HAD seen it before - and it was shit then too. But, being too knackered to pick up the remote, I kept my eyes pointed in the general direction of the screen and hoped I would fall asleep. I didn't. It was too awful to fall asleep to.
  9. She Gods of Shark Reef
    - Dear gods! that was dull.
  10. The Crater Lake Monster
    - creaking, zero-budget, There's Something in the Lake Eating Tourists, rubber dinosaur movie that wasn't anything like as funny or scary as it tried to be - well it was, but not in the ways the film makers intended.
Abandoned, for a variety of reasons:

Comic book based flick about 'Back from the dead' female assassin with issues. I gived up after 15 minutes when I realised it wasn't going to stop looking like a car commercial. Terrence Stamp appeared in flashback as the aged martial arts master and looked bored out of his skull, if he couldn't be bothered why should I? Presumably he was getting paid to be there; I wasn't.

- I can do no better than quote one of the IMDb reviews of this piece of shit: "a woefully unfunny film, with none of the 'so-bad-it's-entertaining' elements which similar films sometimes provide." Yep, that just about sums it up.

- Ethan Hawke in the title role and a cast of worthies totally at sea in a total fuck-up of a movie in which the director spends most of his time trying to point the camera at the BACK of
whoever is speaking's head in order to make the lousily-recorded, mumbling and whispering that they are doing totally incomprehensible.
Only Liev Schrieber (as Laertes) looked like he had a clue what his character was meant to be saying and then said it with a clarity and conviction that just made everyone else look even more lost. I lasted 30 minutes before hitting the off button.

- I love the original. This watered-down, fat, slick incredibly bland, mush made me want to puke. Dreadful. Which is a pity cos Mrs. JM bought it for me as a pressy and I wanted to like it so much. (In retaliation I bought her Love Actually which see had long wanted to see but had never got round to watching. She hated it; so we're even.)

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