Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Review: Films part 3: Good

Part three of my round up of the year. Parts one and two can be found here and here.

I've seen a bunch of good films this year. Here they are. They're not the all conquering kings of the landscape, but they were all very entertaining, and if you bought them for me on BluRay, I would not have to feign gratitude.

The Adjustment Bureau

Matt Damon's life is being manipulated! By men with hats! And there's a girl he fancies. But has that been manipulated too?

A snappy, clever film with a great lead performance from Damon, who is slowly proving himself to be one of the most capable and interesting stars of his generation. The central conceit, which lives somewhere between conspiracy thriller and pure sci-fi, is confident enough to never feel the need to explain itself. It's basically an exciting romp with some great ideas behind it, and plenty of neat visual moments. And some ace hats.

Captain America

Remember when you came out from seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Remember how angry you were? All the action-adventure of the original Jones films reduced to CGI nonsense and lame plotting and some monkeys? Well, Captain America is here to make things better. This is an unapologetically straightforward romp through a universe both cartoonish and believable. It's the same world Dr. Jones used to inhabit - authentically grimy and real, with characters who live and breathe, yet populated by fantastic and implausible events that swing just around the edge of "Oh come on!" before landing gracefully on the side of "Yeah! Go on then!"

If you've seen the trailer you've seen the plot: weedy wannabe soldier gets genetically enhanced to go fight the bad guys. Explosions ensue. There are some terrific set pieces, well choreographed and with a smart visual eye: bombs destined for the USA's major cities have the names of said cities printed on them in huge, Wile E Coyote print, while Hugo Weaving's villain, the Red Skull, feels like a real guy, albeit one you would vomit on.

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part Two

Last Christmas I was bought the Harry Potter books and I read them all for the first time. I was surprised how good they were, and found myself most absorbed, often forgetting to eat, bathe or, in extreme cases, go to the shops for more alcohol and porn. Thus, when I emerged from the final book, bearded and semi-feral, I was more than ready for the cinematic release of HP7.2. This time I had an advantage that had eluded me during the other instalments: I knew what on earth was going on.

I'm sure the various screenwriters and directors did their best to condense the massive amounts of story in the books into commercial films, and given the limitations of the form, I think they did pretty well. But it must be said, watching some of the films without the benefit of reading the source material did often leave me going, "What? Who? What? Whyyyyyy?" The culmination of this came at the end of The Half Blood Prince when Hans Gruber from Die Hard swoops his cloak around him and reveals that yes, he is the eponymous Prince! And everyone just sort of looks at him, and he looks at them, and it's all a bit uncomfortable, and then everyone walks off to have their tea. And I sat in my seat going, "Whuuurrrrr...?"

Anyway, I knew what was going on this time, and it was very good, and the battles were quite thrilling. I still haven't got a clue, though, what all that business with the wands is about, at the end. You know, when Harry fights the evil nazi from Schindler's List and somehow their wands do a thing, and that means everything explodes in a way that pleases the heroes, and annoys Ralph Fiennes. I've re-read that bit in the book lots of times, and had people try to explain it to me, and there's even a bit in the film where Ron and Hermione go to Harry and say "So what was all that stuff with the wands?" because they don't understand either, and Harry tries to explain. But I still don't really get it.

Liked the film though.

Tree of Life

This was very beautiful, and dreamy, and had dinosaurs in it. It was probably too long, and I was very hungry by the end, but I felt like I was having an experience, even though I'm not entirely sure what it was.

Super 8

A deliberate attempt to recreate ealry 80s Spielbergian wonder, which, for the most part succeeds. Good performances from the kids and a palpable sense of time and place make this a beautiful two hours. In fact, it may deserve a higher place than I'm giving it, but two things stop it being perfect:

a) While not wanting to spoil the ending, it does seem to me that if none of the main characters had done any of the things they did, and had instead just sat and played Connect Four, then the plot would have worked out almost exactly the same as it did when they ran around screaming and having adventures.

b) There were two annoying bastards down at the front of the cinema wittering away and playing on ther phones through the first twenty minutes or so. I kept hoping they would stop, but they didn't, and I became near homicidal with irritation. Ultimately I was consumed with anger and stormed down to the front to be all Yorkshire and cross on them. To my pleasure, they did as I asked and shut the fuck up. However, I was by this point unable to regain my child like sense of wonder.

There are more, but I feel I have gone on somewhat, so here, briefly, are the other films I enjoyed quite a bit:


Special pill makes man brilliant at everything. Man is, however, still a man, so does his best to cock things up. Starring the ghost of Robert DeNiro's charm.


Young men in 21st Century Britain go on holiday and say 'clunge' a lot, as funny TV show charges onto cinema screen and defies expectations by being just as good. For my thoughts on it, see this post.

Made in Dagenham

Girls in 1960s Britain are told they are rubbish. Girls swear a lot, and win the right to be Prime Minister and host daytime TV chat shows.

Another Year

Old people in 21st Century Britain have tea and uncomfortable conversations for a whole year.


Young man in 1970s Britain become thuggish due to a) social pressure and b) him being a bit of a cock. Then gets less thuggish. Then gets more thuggish again. Then has a fight with Jesus. Then is nearly eaten by lions. Possibly.

Attack the Block

Young people in 21st Century Britain fight aliens, in the 'hood.

See you next time for the best films of the year. Bring snacks.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Review: Films part 2: ones that were OK.

Christmas inches ever closer, like a timid kitten, or a glacier, or death. And with it comes a thing of spectral wonder: part two of my indispensible guide to how good some things were compared to some other things in 2011.

In part one (found here) I told Clint Eastwood's Hereafter to go and sit in a corner and have a long, hard think about what it had done. Part two's films are not as rubbish as that utter waste of space, and should you spend your time with one of them you'll probably go, "Hmm. Yeah. That was OK." But that's all you'll think. You won't buy a cool T-Shirt featuring iconic images from the film, or be compelled to re-enact key scenes with your friends, or force a future romantic partner to watch it as part of a complicated series of tests to see if she is worthy of your time.

Here are the films that, this year, were merely 'OK'.


Liam Neeson runs around, wondering who he is and getting increasingly cross when no-one will tell him. He thinks he is Liam Neeson, obviously, but then he has a car accident, and then everyone says "No - you're not Liam Neeson. This other guy is." Except they don't call him Liam Neeson, they call him whatever the character is called. I can't remember what the character is called, and neither can I be bothered to check on IMDB. If you care so much, you go check. It doesn't matter, though, because the only thing we care about is that this is Liam Neeson, and we all really enjoyed watching him in Taken, killing everyone in France, and we're hoping this will be similar.

Anyway, so, Liam Neeson isn't Liam Neeson. There's this other guy doing Liam Neeson's job and going out with Liam Neeson's wife, and generally pretending to be Liam Neeson even though he isn't Liam Neeson, he's this other guy. So Real Liam Neeson gets all cross, and does some top level shouting and hitting things, and it's all quite exciting, and has a pretty clever plot. Although everyone but me says they worked out what was going on really quickly, which means either a) I'm thick or b) they're a bunch of liars.

Cowboys and Aliens

What's up with Harrison Ford? In the 80s he was the single coolest thing in cinema, inhabiting Han Solo, Rick Deckard, John Book and Indiana Jones. He made every boy want to run around shooting stormtroopers, or fighting nazis, or chasing replicants, or erecting a large barn with some Amish people in a symbolic act of communal strength. He was great at playing action heroes, imbuing each role with wry, intelligent humour and real film star presence. And then... nothing. A bunch of insipid romantic leads that failed to turn him into Cary Grant and instead left him looking like someone's grouchy dad who has wandered on screen by mistake.

Don't get me wrong, Ford's contribution to the films of my childhood earns him love and respect forever, no matter what he does in future. But it's just really annoying to see him now, seemingly unable to enjoy playing at pretend like he used to. Did you see that horrible 'Red Carpet' interview they kept showing in the run up to Cowboys and Aliens? Ford stares at the interviewer, clearly wishing he was somewhere else having a sandwich or patting a horse or something, and says nonsense like, "It's a really interesting... entertainment... there's a lot of... action..." Really Han Solo? Is that what it will be? An interesting entertainment? That's not even a bloody sentence!  You can type that shit, Harrison, but you can't say it.

Despite Ford's ungrammatical assertions, The film is not that interesting, and only sporadically entertaining. Some aliens come to steal some gold, and some cowboys shoot at them with guns for a bit, and there's a lot of noise. It's kind of enjoyable, but takes itself far too seriously for such a daft premise, and thus ends up leaving you feeling a bit 'meh.' It should have either gone Evil Dead 2 bonkers, which would have been silly and fun, or headed the other way and been Robocop hard-as-nails, with gore and nudity and unbelievable violence. As it is, it's just... alright.

Fright Night

3D is good for one thing, I have decided. It is good for little fiery cinders, floating around in the air after a vampire explodes. When it comes to depicting the frazzled aftermath of a staking, 3D is your man, creating beautiful, fascinating visuals that really help you understand what it might be like to stand in the middle of a cloud of ashes that used to be an evil bloodsucker from hell.

But that's it, for 3D. The rest of the time it is a massive distraction that utterly takes the viewer out of the story and, frankly looks crap. Ironic, given all the wittering about how immersive 3D is, that the overall effect is to distance the spectator from the image, making it far less real.

Fright Night actually has a lot going for it, not least a couple of great performances from David Tennant and Colin Farrell. Tennant basically does Doctor Who with swearing, and is clearly having a lot of fun, and Farrell makes an enjoyable, mean bastard of a vampire. The effects are pretty good and there are some decent set pieces - most memorably the tense escape-from-the-vampire-house sequence and a nice Near Dark-esque final showdown.

Its main problem is one of pace. The basic premise - what if you had a vampire living next door - is thrown away too quickly and the film reels about trying to find a coherent direction for the second half. The level of threat posed by Farrell's vampire seems to change depending on the requirements of the plot, and the motivations of everyone involved never quite feel right.

That said, it was a decent watch, and given the choice between watching it again and walking up a really steep hill, I'd probably do the first one.

Love and Other Drugs

The good: it has lots of nudity in it. Hurrah! And I laughed about four times.

The bad: it has literally no idea what kind of a film it is. Light hearted Rom-com? Serious issues film? Apatow style slapstick comedy? Tragic exploration of love against the odds? It has a stab at all of these, and scores a few laughs along the way, but ultimately leaves you unsure as to what it was trying to achieve.

Still. Nudity, eh?

Tower Heist

Or, as it is called in Northern Ireland, "Tour Haste". This is very nearly a good film, and I had a lot of fun watching it. Eddie Murphy is quite entertaining, and there's a nice ensemble of actors getting together to perform the titular robbery. We have some 80s style over-the-top set pieces and a strong central premise. But it's too long by about half and hour and, also like a lot of 80s films, it doesn't fully commit to being a comedy, playing its thrills as serious action-movie stuff. Hard to pull off, and not something which really works here. And absolutely no nudity.

So there you are. Watch these films if you want. They will entertain you a bit.

Wonder if that's the sort of quote that gets you put on posters?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Review of the year: Films

Merry Nearly Christmas!

As the twinkly, frosty, multi-coloured joy of Christmas shimmers into view all around us, I'm sure the question that burns most brightly in your mind is this:

"What were Rob's favourite films, television programmes and books of the year? I need to know, so I can pass on the wisdom to future generations, so they might build on this knowledge, and grow in their appreciation of intelligence and beauty, and never again wage meaningless war, or make another film like Marley and Me."

Well, worry not. Over the next few days I will be entertaining you with my (correct) opinions on the cultural output of the year, and you will come to understand why I am right and why your ideas are half formed, ill considered and ultimately pointless.

We'll start with films.

For various reasons, I've not seen as many films this year as I did last (88 as opposed to 128, though I may pick up a few points over the holidays). Part of this is down to an increased love of television, with much more of my screen time being devoted to wolfing down seasons of brilliant TV shows like The Sopranos, 30 Rock and The Fades (more on them in future). Part of it is probably due to an increased love of sleep.

Anyways. For the next few days, here's a selection of what stood out for me. I think a few of them are actually from last year, but I only got to see them this year, and it's my list, so they count, so just get off my case! Today: the bad.

The Bad

Just one film in this section.


Yes, Clint Eastwood, that's right. I'm calling you out on this dreadfully muddled, irrelevant waste of my time. I don't care if you're a skilled actor, versatile director and, even past your 70s, still a better fighter than me. Hereafter is officially rubbish.

It starts well enough. There's a very impressive recreation of a tsunami devastating a costal town, which gave a kind of terrifying baptism to my new surround sound system and made me feel like maybe I was actually going to die along with all the people on screen. A woman is dragged under the waves, and has a beautifully shot near-death experience, all shimmery weirdness and seismic shifts in the sound picture. It is powerful and impressive and makes you think "Hey - this is going to be an exciting, involving movie!"

In this thought, you are incorrect.

What follows is a narrative mess that takes two hours to go absolutely nowhere. Three unconnected stories wander about for a bit, mumbling about death and stuff, and then randomly meet at the end, for no apparent reason, and then everyone goes, "Oh." Then there are some credits, and the realisation that you could have watched five episodes of 30 Rock instead, and then anger.

I don't mind a film being a bit obscure and oblique... there's plenty of joy to be had in a suspended chord, left hanging and unresolved in the air. But that has to feel deliberate, and has to be part of an actual structure of some kind: lack of resolution only has impact if you were expecting resolution in the first place. In Hereafter, I never really understood why anything was happening, or why we were meant to care. So Matt Damon is doing a cooking class... and he's maybe a psychic, but doesn't want to be... and then there's a boy in London whose brother died and he's all sad... and then the woman who nearly died in the tsunami... is a bit morose and wandery... No, sorry. I don't care.

So, you see, you're wiser already. You now know not to watch Hereafter, so I've saved you two hours.

Unless you've watched it already, in which case I've helped you realise that you were correct to have been bored to tears by its wandery nonsense-ness.

Unless you liked it, in which case... hello Mr Eastwood. Please don't fight me.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

More Ranting About Liars

You know television? That magic stream of colourful shiny joy that burbles away happily in the corner of your living room? It's good isn't it? With all its stories, and cool images, and places and people we would never otherwise see?

Well, no, shut your mouth, actually, because you're wrong. It's not wonderful, apparently. It's a horribly, naughty invention and what's worse it's a big fat liar. Don't believe me? Well it must be so, because it says so in newspapers, actually. Reliable, trustworthy, definitely-never-told-a-lie newpapers. They don't like television's propensity for making things up, and by God they're going to say so.

That's right. In the middle of the biggest series of revelations about press journalism ever, where every day unearths fresh evils committed in the name of the printed word, the papers themselves are going nuts; casting around like trapped, naughty school kids, shouting, as loudly as they can "Look at what he's doing miss!" Their problem this week is the BBC series Frozen Earth. Apparently this programme , which explores the wonders of the natural world with passion, techical brilliance and a keen intelligence, contains sequences which are not 100% raw, unedited chunks of blistering reality.

The sequence in question contains some polar bears nursing their newborn cubs. The programme integrated footage of the bears' natural habitat - the snowy wastes of the Arctic - with specially shot scenes of the bears themselves in what was essentially a studio set made up to look like a cave. Various papers, The Mirror, The Telegraph and - sigh - The Mail included, were incensed by this terrible, shameful lie. How could the BBC deceive us like this? The bastards! Don't we deserve integrity from this organisation? Isn't this just another example of the LIES told us by nasty, stupid television? Do bears even exist? How can we possibly be sure about anything ever again?

For. Fuck's. Sake.

Where to start unpicking this self satisfied, hysterical bullshit. Ok, here's my favourite bit.

Do you know how the papers discovered this horrible lie? How they saw through the lies and deception and valiantly unearthed the truth?

It was on the BBC's website.

As part of the behind the scenes information on the programme.

The BBC told you it was fabricated, you dicks. What you are doing isn't journalism. It's a sort of extra thick plagiarism, where you use information you have stolen to attack the person you stole it from. It's like when that dick Richard - an ex-tenant of mine -  stole a chequebook from one of my friends and used the cheques to pay me his rent. Incomprehensibly stupid!

Also. Documentaries aren't pure, unvarnished actuality. Ever. How could they possibly be? They are shaped, selective, edited fragments of life, presented in narrative form for our pleasure and education. Attacking them for being 'constructed' is like attacking a shelf for not being a tree. More than that, it is to utterly misunderstand the nature of 'truth'.

Telling the truth isn't just representing literally what happens. That's a kind of truth, I suppose, but a fairly weak one. That's the kind of truth that lies in the gutter, sticks its camera up a woman's skirt and shouts 'Wow! I can see knickers!' Yes, that's what happened. But it isn't telling us anything about women, or pants, or the propensity of women to show us their pants. It might be saying something about how you're a pathetic paparazzi with no sense of how to behave as a human being, but that's probably not what you meant, is it?

Truth can - indeed should - be something better, and deeper. The truth of a Polar bear mothering its young is a thing in itself. It happens. It's not like Attenborough mocked up a scene where the mother bear engaged in violent, explosive battle with Pinhead from Hellraiser, firing lasers from her eyes and shouting "I invented the kettle!" He simply found a way of showing us something real, and true, but which we have little chance of actually seeing in its natural environment.

And that's all we can ever do - partially represent truth through imperfect means. I'm pretty sure Attenborough's mock up of the mother bear/cubs scene is close to the truth, and surely better than watching the results of an attempt to film the real thing, which would probably look like:

a) a blurry white thing near some smaller white blobs in a blizzard of white stuff.

b) nothing happening at all, for hours

c) a sound recordist being eaten by an enraged bear.

Finally, 'the press'. Where the hell do you get off wittering about truth and lies? A vast proportion of your entire business is founded upon making shit up and hoping no-one notices. Literally, completely inventing things that never happened, and saying they did. And not so you could tell us something about the wider world we live in, but rather so you could make the world smaller, playing on people's instincts to bully, villify and sneer util our minds are so shrunk that we don't know how else to think. And then when you get caught out, you print the tiniest retraction, hidden away in the depths of the paper, saying 'Sorry - we just thought it would be funny to tell complete lies about someone.' You horrible, shallow, hypocritical dickheads.

Dear BBC. Please do not apologise for this. In fact just stop apologising. Next time some bleaty, whiny tabloid starts jumping up and down, pointing and you and squealing like a demented pig, just do this. Pause what you're doing, glance unhurriedly in its direction and say, with the utmost contempt, "Your opinion... is worthless." And get back to what you were doing. Which was probably something worthwhile, beautiful and good.

Also, I'd quite like another series of the Fades please. That was good. Make more of that.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Strike Clarkson dead!


So anyway, I saw this clip on youtube of Jeremy Clarkson - the laddish drivy man who amuses us all by driving somewhere stupid every Christmas and filming himself breaking down.  He's talking about Wednesday's public sector strikes.

Copyright BBC1.

Unbelievably, he appears to be calling for the execution of people who went on strike last Wednesday! On national television! Actually advocating murder! Unbelievable. This man is a monster, and should be fired. Or, better yet, killed. Yes, killed. In front of *his* family. That would show him. And them. And everyone who ever dares to...

Oh, hang on.

Turns out, if you do even the slightest bit of research into this whatsoever, that there's more to what he said. Turns out he didn't just rock up to the One Show, plonk himself down on a sofa and shout "Kill the strikers!" before bouncing up again and driving away in a reasonably priced car. Turns out it was part of a longer peice, where Clarkson both praised the strike and then, claiming that the BBC had to give balanced views, gave an exaggerated, jokey counterpoint.

Now, it's obvious from looking at what he said that he probably isn't a big fan of the strikers. The pro-strike jokes were about him being able to drive his car fast down empty streets, whereas the anti-strike joke was rather more enthusiastic. But they were still jokes, and they don't actually amount to anything. And, most importantly, he's allowed to have an opinion, and he's allowed to make a joke.

The huge amount of panic and anger in the face of Clarkson's joke makes me ashamed to be British / human / a biped. Unions are calling for his sacking, otherwise intelligent people are demonsing him... everywhere you look someone is pointing at that 15 second clip and going "OHMYGODTHATMANISA M O N S T E R!" But look, intelligent people, look...

1. You've just watched a 15 second clip. Out of context. And you are basing your opinion on that. Or, worse, you have watched it all and chosen to focus on that 15 seconds to make your point. And your point is "I don't like Clarkson." Which is a fair enough point on its own - he does seem to be a variety of stupid things - but it's not a political point, and there are better ways of making it.

2. Your anger at him is distracting you, me, and everyone from the place our real anger should be focused: the government. This strike was about a set of terrible decisions and ideologies that have been put in place by a bunch of millionaires. Millionaires who think that everyone will be fine as long as they are rich, and since everyone they know is rich, everyone will be fine. They are using a financial crisis to push through ruinous policies that will widen the gap between the super-rich and the poor to unbelievable proportions. They deserve our anger, and our condemnation, and we should not be wasting our time with Clarkson.

3. The people I have met at protests have been good humoured, intelligent and warmly compassionate. This kind of cold, snarky bleating misrepresents them completely. Stop it.

So there. I've defended Clarkson. Sort of. Sorry. I defended Bernard Manning for a bit, once. I'm sure I'll get over it.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Happy Birthday, Doctor Who!

Morning everyone! And a happy Doctor Who day to you all.

48 years ago today, on a dark November Saturday evening, the best television show in the world broadcast its first episode. It was the day after JFK was shot, so the correct response to 'Where were you when you heard about the assassination" is probably
"I was bouncing up and down with excitement, shouting "Doctor Who is on tomorrow!""

Even though I was not alive yet, I was vey excited, and longed for the day when I had corporeal form and could enjoy the spectacle for myself. If I was a Mormon, and believed that all souls pre-exist their time on earth in some kind of extra dimensional limbo, I would imagine that I spent the late sixties in this limbo, willing myself into existence so I could catch episode three of Terror of the Autons.

48 years is a long time for anything (eating a pie, having a haircut, lots of things) and so the life of Doctor Who is, for me, the life of time itself. I love it with a silliness that most people seem to shed with adolescence; it is all consuming and defining, and at the same time daft and inconsequential. My enjoyment of the show exists in a tension between, on one hand appreciating the programme as a cultural artefact indicative of the time it was made, and on the other, totally believing it is all true and that one day I will meet K9.

Why is it so great? Well apart from the obvious answer (it just is), it's hard to define. But here are my attempts to do so anyway. If you don't like Doctor Who, you may find the following list incomprehensible. But that is because you are wrong about everything. Also your head is asymmetrical.

Why is Doctor Who Ace?

1. It just is! Sorry, I said that already.

2. It has the best theme tune in the world, born in the never-bettered spookiness of 60s sonic experimentation, but still alive in the mad synthesised frenzy of the 80s and the bombastic orchestration of the 21st century. When I was a kid, I used to think the announcer's voice turned into the first notes: "And now on BBC 1, another adventure for Doctor Whooooooo -eeeeeeeeeeee - ooooooooooo..." In retrospect, it didn't.

3. It allows creative people to do huge, mental exciting things in ways that other shows probably don't. Writers must relish the opportunity to bring stone circles to murderous life, or pit Charles Dickens against evil gas-ghost-zombies. Designers get to play with giant ants, killer dolls and spaceships made of human organs. Best of all, actors get to play a man who has lived a dozen lifetimes, with all the contradictions and joy that would bring. Given how wide the possibilities of fiction are, why is this the only show that really goes to town in this way?


4. It is flawed, and fragile, and thus much more beautiful than something perfect and smooth. Doctor Who does not get 7 seasons of 24 episodes, all unified by consistent design and scripted story-arcs. It gets randomly assembled, unevenly structured series, veering wildly in content and tone and written by dozens people with wildly different ideas as to what the series is even about. It gets cancelled, renewed, changed beyond recognition, praised to the heavens and villified as if it has kicked a spaniel. Put two episodes next to one another and you'd often be hard pressed to tell they were part of the same series. Except, no, you wouldn't, because there'd be something about them both that told you otherwise. Some strange, gorgeous vein running through them both, be they about aliens invading earth on a £5 budget, or gods battling demons in the realms of the imagination, or a bunch of friends enjoying each others company in the most absurd domesticity - something that is irrefutably and brilliantly Doctor Who.

5. Ever since I was a weird little kid, with limited social skills and a fear of everything that moved, I've needed Doctor Who. Someone who is an absolute weirdo, never fitting in, always at odds with the way things work. Someone who doesn't tend to fight his way out of situations, but is funny, and clever, and brave. Someone who takes the scary and frustrating things in life and shows them up for what they are: idiots, bullies and fools. I needed it when I was that scared little child, and I need it now, when I am frustrated by the greedy, and stupid, and selfish.

6. I fancy Leela.

7. And Zoe.

Friday, 14 October 2011

She wasn't even doing her homework!

So did you see the Inbetweeners movie? Of course you did. Everyone did. It says so on the internet, in numbers. I saw it, and I liked it. It's one of the funniest thing I've seen this year - and I've seen Drive! (They could put that on the posters - "Funnier than Drive! But not as gut wrenchingly violent.")

Unusually for a big screen adaptation of a British sitcom, it truly resembles its progenitor. It's heroically inventive in the foul mouthed debauchery of its characters, terrifyingly accurate in its depiction of male adolescence and - occasionaly - surprisingly touching.

The film offers its various protagonists - four young men with little understanding of the opposite sex - a shot at happiness; having them each encounter a girl who actually likes them and seem to understand what makes them tick. Of course, as is the nature of the show (and sitcom in general), each does their very best to make a pig's ear of it by becoming either possessive, sulky, ignorant or chronically incapable of just enjoying the good thing he has in front of him.

Now, I'm not trying to say any of this resonated with me. Anyone who knows me will be aware that sulking furiously and acting like a jerk are things I would never, ever do. I've certainly never started pointless arguments with people about imagined acts of betrayal, kicked a stool to pieces rather than have a sensible discussion, or imagined punching that dick Terry in the face repeatedly for pretending to be your friend when he clearly fancied you even though he knew you were my girlfriend. The gaylord.

But it must be said, there are moments in my life that I look back upon and go 'Ooooh..!' Not 'Oooh!' like you're watching some lovely fireworks or an amusing kitten, but 'Ooooh!' like you're watching a 'Funny home videos' programme and some child has just fallen off a chair and smacked its head into the fireplace. Bad 'Ooooh...!'

The 'Ooooh..!' moment that wandered pointlessly back into my head recently was an argument I had with a girlfriend when I was, indeed, a teenager. I wanted her to come over to my house, as was my boyfriendly right, so I could pray to Jesus/molest her. She said she couldn't, because she was doing her homework. We were doing our A-Levels at the time, and she had some kind of Home Economics rubbish to research. I graciously allowed her to do this, and at no point did I secretly call her a whore.

Anyhow, it turns out she was a whore, because - as I discovered later - she wasn't doing her homework at all! No. She was swimming! She'd gone swimming, with her family, in some water, using her arms and her legs. Arms and legs that I, by rights, should be stroking/nibbling/writing my name on in indelible ink. Property of Rob Reed. Get off. Unless you are some kind of cool, time-travelling future Rob, come back from 2011 to revisit the firm young flesh of his youth. Then you can have a go. But otherwise, no. Begone.

How I imagined my time-travelling future self might look.

(No copyright infringement intended. If you made this,
 frankly awesome, picture, please get in touch.)

Where was I? Oh yes, that's right. Furious. When I found out about this water based betrayal, I had a real old go at her. "You went swimming!" I screamed in fury, as if I was Charlton Heston, gazing at the shattered head of the Statue of Liberty and realising it had lied to me about its homework. "Swimming!"

Well, did she understand why I was cross? Did she hell. hadn't a clue. I may as well have been talking complete nonsense.

"You weren't even doing your homework!" I raged, angrier than anyone had ever been. She stared at me like some kind of idiot goldfish, totally unaware of the seriousness of her crimes. And then, still like a goldfish only much, much sadder, she started to cry. The weapon of woman! Tears in the face of irrefutable logic.

This went on for some time, until she mournfully accepted that whatever she had done, it was wrong, and I was unhappy. What could she do to make things better? Nothing, obviously. I was in a bad mood, and no longer sure why, and no way was I giving up now. I resolved to sulk myself into a black, swirling maelstrom of bitter unreason, only surfacing a few days later when I felt inexplicably better and demanded that we forget about the whole thing.

She got married to some Irish guy and went off to work in a bakery, having managed to fail every single one of her A-Levels. Upon hearing of her academic failure, my mother expressed surprise. "But you spent all that time revising in your room together," she said. She was either very naive, or possessed of a very, very dry wit.

Monday, 26 September 2011


Around a year ago my friend Becca was diagnosed with cancer, and a few weeks ago she died. She was a really good person, and I wrote a poem for her. This is that poem. It doesn't rhyme, much.


One day at the pub after church
There were three Beckys
Instead of the usual two

The third one was you

The others were Becky Smithson and Becky Stirrup

If they were threatened by this further reduction
Of their unique Beckiness
They didn't show it

And anyway
You weren't a Becky
You were Becca
With an 'a'

And yes, Rob, you had a boyfriend

You had delicate, translucent skin
A matter of fact voice
And intelligent eyes

I grew to think you were quite brilliant
And although you never said it
I can only imagine you thought I was the coolest, tallest, handsomest and most interesting guy you'd ever met in your entire life

My old English teacher
Mrs Roschild
Used to hate the word 'nice'
"Throw it out of the window!" she used to say
In her mad and borderline violent way
So appreciate my effort as I break through childhood conditioning to say

You were nice

I saw you married in the rain
Looking weird and differently beautiful without your glasses
Slightly mischievous
You and Jim playing grownups
In a big stone church

I flirted ineffectually with your friends
Wished you the best
For the future

The future

Sitting by your hospital bed
Assuming this is just a blip

Hearing Bad News
Driving on the A642

Realsing I missed my last opportinity to see you
While watching the Bourne Ultimatum at Kev's

Last chance for now at least

And now there are
Two Beckys where there were three

Except we don't forget
Except we think, maybe
Somehow, in some mad, incomprehensible way
we'll meet again

In some celestial pub
With free wine
And thousands of Beckys

But only one Becca

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

How to Avoid Riots - an Idiot's Guide

So London is on fire and everyone's got their opinions on what is going on. I'm not going to pretend that my thoughts are the most enlightened, informed or intelligent, but I think I have a few ideas as to how such stuff might be stopped. Given the seriousness of the events, I have taken out number 7 (send for Thunderbirds),  19 (let's just all move somewhere nicer) and 23 (let's listen to what Nick Griffin thinks).

If you want to protest, aim in the right bloody direction

Yes, there are many things worth protesting about. Yes, you might feel like the normal channels of complaint will not get the attention of those in charge. The authorities do appear to be an ignorant bunch of bastards who don't listen to anyone unless they went to school together, so I get that you might want to make more noise than just complaining on facebook. But once you start burning houses and looting shops, you've kind of lost the coherence of your message. Now all anyone can hear is 'I'm a greedy, thoughtless prick'.

You'll notice I didn't complain when you smashed up government offices last year. Blame them - not poor bloody small businesses.

If you're simply a greedy, thoughtless prick, don't pretend you're anything else

As the rioting continues, it's pretty apparent that there's no political will behind most of the violence - just the desire to indulge in selfish, stupid behavior. If that's you, then grow the fuck up. You aren't making any kind of postitive change. 'Getting you tax back' are you? From whom? Curry's? They took tax from you, did they? Or, whoah - is it the whole capitalist system, man? Are you somehow attacking the underlying roots of the system by nicking a telly? Or are you just taking something you're too bloody lazy to work for?

I'd have a lot more respect for you if you just said 'I like breaking things and I want things for free because I'm incredibly selfish.' I understand that from when I was nine years old. Also, it would mean we could just set the hounds on you, and I wouldn't have to worry about having become a fascist.

If you're the Police, don't let your officers get away with murder

Watching the news last night I found myself torn when I saw armies of police marching up the street. Part of me thought 'Thank goodness - get to where you can protect people from this violence.' And part of me thought 'Oh dear, this sight is probably not going to calm anyone down.'

Sorry, The Police. I'm sure most of you are brilliant, and I'm glad you exist. But how many stories have we heard in recent years of you killing people and getting away with it? Fatal shootings on the tube, manslaughter at protests, unexplained deaths in custody - these are not things that make people look at your uniform and think, 'Phew - I'm safe now!'

It's not even the killing, really. Not quite. I get that things happen in high pressure situations. It's your lack of accountablity. It's the sense that nothing you do gets properly investigated. It's the fact that some of you are bullies, and don't respect our rights, and that you get away with this because of systems which protect you when you should be protecting us.

If you're the Government, wise up to the fact that this is your bloody fault

When I teach a class, there is nothing I can do should my students decide not to co-operate. There are loads of them and only one of me and, despite many times of asking, I'm not allowed a cattle prod. Yet somehow I get through the day, working with my classes, getting stuff done. I'm sure you'll find this is the case for most people working in most situations.

Systems only work when everyone understands that we all benefit. My students aren't scared of me, but they understand that I represent the potential for achieving a qualification . Employees of the worst boss in the world will resist punching him in his stupid face, knowing that the financial and career rewards are worth putting up with his bad tie and stupid jokes. We adhere to systems because we believe in them.

Do you understand, The Government, that this is how your country works? There are many more people than you can control with the police, the army, the courts and the prisons. Last night proved that. You can only possibly maintain order if people believe that order is reasonable and good. The hundreds of people who started burning things yesterday might be dickheads, but they've probably been dickheads for ages, and only now are they going mental.

And you have to take some responsiblity. You reward the rich and punish the poor, to an almost cartoon-like degree. You have made huge, idiotic cuts that attack the very soul of the country you are meant to be protecting. Are you really so stupid that you don't understand the consequences of reducing provision to culture and recreation? Yes, you might save a little money not paying for youth workers. But that money - while not as exciting as the money that flies around the financial sector, making you wet your pants as your banker friends slap your back - that money works constantly and subtly to help people believe that the culture of this country isn't just for millionaire tossers like you.

In conclusion

It's everyone's fault. Except mine, obviously. And maybe yours. For now, take a look at this, and gasp at the irony.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Your contempt for Bono is no cooler than wearing sunglasses indoors.

Hello you. Like the hat! Go and take a look at this and tell me what you think.

There's something wrong with it, isn't there? But what? Take a moment... have a think.

OK, time's up. Now I'm going to read your mind. You're thinking... you don't like Bono. You think he's a git, and you hate his stupid sunglasses-clad face. You're thinking, "If he was covered in flies and worms and being bitten by dogs, and crying and shouting "Please God make it stop!",  and I could stop all that happening just by blinking, I would do all that was in my power to make sure I never, ever blinked again, even if it meant going blind."

I'll be honest, there is something about that photo that makes me dislike the man. His posturing, self-conscious air of psuedo-cool is thrown into sharp relief by the laid back, genuine, actual-cool of Leonard Cohen, standing next to him.  And it's not helped by the fact that Bono is clearly thinking "Look at me, I'm in a photo with Leonard Cohen - one of the greatest songwriters in the history of popular music. That must mean I'm also one of the greatest songwriters in the history of popular music. That's why we're in a photo together. This photo is so full of truth that it will probably become the flag of Ireland before too long. And people will gaze upon the flag, singing my songs and masturbating and calling me The King."

And Leonard Cohen is obviously thinking, "Who is this self obsessed bastard?"

So, it's easy and fun to mock Bono. And wandering around the internet this weekend it's been hard to avoid people doing just that - hurling insults at the singer, and at U2's Glastonbury set last Friday - as if Bono had broken into their house and drawn sunglasses in indelible ink on the faces of all their pets. Gosh, we all hate him. And we like to spend time and effort telling the world how much he irritates us.

And here's the thing: although Bono is quite tiresome in his own way, I'm starting to find the knee jerk criticism of U2 equally predictable and equally dull. Yes,wearing sunglasses indoors is a silly and pretentious way of trying to appear cool. But you know what? So is rising up every time a band's name is mentioned and loudly shouting "I hate them!" It's just another way of saying "I'm cool, I am. I'm with it, and edgy, and hip, and no way do I like old grandad music like U2! Yuk! That's for non-cool people! I really hate non-cool people!"

I've been suspicious of this attitude ever since I was at college, where coolness seemed to be dictated not so much by what you liked, but by what you didn't like. I remember joking, one day, that we should book insanely expensive bands for our Summer Ball. Given that our budget could barely stretch to Jools Holland, I found it amusing to chalk up a short-list of Phil Collins, The Rolling Stones, INXS and - yes - U2 on the black board. The next day some humourless prick had scrawled all over the board: "These are not the bands students like! Get a life!" That's right, you dick. I was seriously entertaining the idea of booking Phil Collins. I thought he might like to play above the bar in the Kennel Block. But don't worry that you've missed the point - you've proved that you're very cool, and you don't like U2, and you probably temporarily like the Inspiral Carpets because you've been told that's acceptable by someone with an equally confused sense of self.

And I remember thinking - what an incredibly negative way to formulate your image. Defining yourself by things you don't like. How desperate, and sad, and needy, to have to slag off everything around you to achieve this mythical status you so long for. Do you not realise that, in your desperate desire to slag of Bono, you have become Bono! Your cut-and-paste dismissal of the bands you think it is cool to hate is your leather trousers, your whining sense of cultural superiority is your indoor sunglasses. When you moan loudly and constantly about the bands you dislike - rather than simply ignoring them like a sensible person - you are posturing at the edge of the stage, waving a flag and hoping to be photographed against the sun.

I don't really care for U2 anymore. I liked them a lot in the early 90s and was probably very uncool about it. I think their last three albums have lacked any real vitality or sense of creative power, especially the last one which was so boring it achieved a kind of quantum state of pointlessness. But no matter how dull their recent output, it isn't anywhere near as dull hearing people complain about them just to assert their own credentials. You might not like them, and fair enough, I can understand why. But please stop telling me about it.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The bleating self denial of the paranoid heart

This week, two tales of stupidity from the world of culture.

"We are morons" no 1: ITV

Watched the BAFTAs last night with C and a really good bottle of wine. It was quite enjoyable, and made me realise how much good British television is being made these days.

Totting up the results, I see that the BBC are responsible for a massive 14 of the winners. ITV and Channel 4 go four each, and Sky got one. That's significant, because it means that the BBC continues to be a relevant creative and cultural force in the UK. And also, it amused me, because do you know how ITV's website has reported this statistic? ITV who, remember, go 4 out of a possible 23 awards?

"ITV Sweeps The BAFTAs"



The BBC, meanwhile, having won 14 of the awards, could have been forgiven for leading with: 'Brilliant BBC Wee in ITV's Pathetic Face with Mathematically Provable Superiority in All Aspects of Cultural Significance'. But they didn't. They don't need to. They don't even say 'BBC Sweeps the BAFTAs', though it would be true this time. They go with "New faces topple star names." Dignified, restrained, factual.

If you ever need any help working out who is telling the truth and lying, here's a simple test. Is the person bleating loudly about how great they are, and hinting constantly that you might want to give them praise and/or sympathy? Probably a liar. Are they maintaining a dignified silence? Probably telling the truth.

Or asleep. Or not paying attention. Whatever.

"We are morons" no 2: Wakefield Council

Cultural idiocy is also alive closer to home. Well, closer to my home.

This weekend saw two stories about Wakefield and sculpture. The first you may have heard of - we've got a great big new sculpture gallery - The Hepworth - and everyone is very excited about it. The council has done a good job pushing the funding through and maybe Wakefield will start to regain some of the cultural vibrancy it lost over the last decade or so.

Or maybe not, Because elsewhere in Wakey a couple of artists have found their efforts to create something interesting stamped on by the very same authority.

Victoria Lucas and Richard William Wheater have been running a great project called 12 Months of Neon Love, whereby they erect large neon signs on the roof of a building, spelling out the lyrics of love songs. We've passed the signs on the way back from the pub a few times, and they have made us happy. Unusual, creative, positive, grassroots, brilliant.

Well, not if you're Wakefield Council, apparently, who have denied the artists planning permission. Their reasoning is made of nonsense and couched in typical authority nothing-speak. Listen to this garbage:

“The sign by virtue of its scale, design, temporary nature and illumination would introduce a feature that appears incongruous and significantly harmful to the visual amenity of the locality contrary to Local Development Framework Development Policies Document Policy D16 and the guidance contained within Planning Policy Guidance note 19: Outdoor Advertisement Control.”

OK. Firstly, anyone using the phrase 'visual amenity of the locality' is, by any defintion, a machine,  and shouldn't be allowed to pontificate on matters of culture. Secondly, and more pertinently, you stupid great bloody hypocrites.

Let's take a look at the Hepworth again, shall we? Yes, I'm glad it's there. Yes, I think it is a good thing. But if we're going to start talking about features that appear 'incongrous' and 'harmful to the visual amenity' I think we need to take a look at the Hepworth Gallery too. I mean... it's a great big grey concrete slab in the middle of a load of trees and a river. It is angular, unnatural and weird looking and absolutely, certifiably does not fit in with its surroundings.

I'm not saying I mind the Hepworth Gallery looking like this. I think it's interesting. I'm saying that you, Wakefield Council, are talking crap if you say 'Neon Love' can't carry on because it doesn't look right. I'm saying that your real reasons are probably more mundane, and depressing. It feels a bit like 'real' art, expensive, big name art, is allowed, because you're hoping it will draw in the tourists. But locally produced, independent, off-the-wall art worries you, and doesn't fit into your parameters, and must be taken down.

The decision is being contested. If you want to add your voice to a petition on behalf of the artists, you can go here. Please do, and do it by Thursday.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Around the Houses 2: Buttershaw

When I pass away, leaving a legacy of sterling deeds and exciting indescretions, I hope to be remembered not just through my contributions to famine relief, intellectual discourse and sexy dancing, but also through a number of memorials erected in my honour. You know the kind of thing - a brass plaque nailed to the side of house, declaring "Rob Reed lived here between 1998 and 2008, and that's probably why the carpet's like it is." That would be good.

As detailed in a previous blog entry, the first place to bear such a memorial would be Harrogate Place in Bradford, where I battled wasps, coffee-flavoured Revels and dopplegangers of my friends. The second place would be the pebbledashed wall of Raeburn Drive in Buttershaw - a semi-detached where I dwelled for about a year, when I was five.

If you could ask the house itself about my time there, it would probably shrug in a nonchalant fashion and say "I do not remember the child." It would probably resist the plaque, wondering why anyone should care that I'd spent such a brief portion of time there. However, a few things have survived through the haze of time, and I think future historians will agree, they are massively important and exciting.

1. A wasp makes me drop an ice-cream

The war with the insects continues, as the evil cousin of one of the hedge-dwelling stripey bastards from my previous house attacks me in the street. I have just been bought an ice-cream by my grandma, with a bit of red juice and a flake. (The ice cream, not her.) Out of nowhere, driven by nothing less than pure hatred, a wasp appears and helps itself to a bit of my bloody ice cream! Shrieking in terror, I hurl the ice cream at the floor, hoping that the resulting explosion will destroy all wasps forever. Instead, my previously lovely treat splats pathetically into the hot tarmac and the malicious six legged twat flies away to ruin someone else's childhood.

I think the reason this stays with me so vividly is the scale of the disappointment; the vastness of the gulf between the pleasure I was anticipating and the bleak, desolate nothingness I ended up with. I wept hot, insane tears as my ruined ice cream melted away into the road. The same tears plague me now, whenever a beautiful thing is ruined by the actions of an idiot.

2. A girl sits on my legs

It is hard to say exactly when my interest in girls first made itself manifest, but there was certainly something going on when Nicola Smith sat on my legs one day during storytime. I was wearing short trousers and she wore patterned knickers, leaving a perfect series of prints on my bare legs. Don't worry - it isn't a sexy thing. The idea of a girl sitting on me was nothing more than an amusing diversion during an otherwise boring story about a worm. Indeed, if you had said the word 'knickers' to five-year-old me, I would probably have giggled myself into a frenzy of vomiting. But the patterns were a matter of great fascination, a peculiar fragment of a forbidden world, inscribed upon my flesh. Not sexual, exactly, but... interesting.

Quite why our teacher allowed this  blatant transgression of boundaries I'm not sure, though it was the 70s, so maybe she was adhering to some kind of progressive, counter-cultural educational agenda designed to bring down the government through alternative ideologies. If I'd stayed there, she'd probably have been encouraging us into threesomes by the time we could do long multiplication.

3. I learn to read - sort of

Although I have, clearly, turned out to be one of the most intelligent and learned men of my generation, I was not by any means an early developer. My earliest attempt at reading was something of a flawed affair and went thus:

My mum holds up the 1976 Dalek annual. There is a picture of a Dalek, and the word Dalek.

MUM:   What does this say?

MY THOUGHT PROCESS:    That's definitely a dalek from Doctor Who. And that first letter there is almost certainly a 'D'. So... a dalek, and the letter D. Right. Here goes.

ME:   Doctor Who!

MUM: No.

ME:    It is! It's the monster from Doctor Who! I've seen it on television!

MUM:  And what is the monster called?

ME:   Doctor Who.

MUM:   No...

ME:   (furious tears)   IT IS!!! IT IS DOCTOR WHO!!!

I storm off in a whirlwind of injustice, convinced that I am correct, and that all external evidence to the contrary is a liar.

Things have changed little in this respect.

We left the house about a year after we moved in. I don't know why. But my loathing of wasps and my fascination with Doctor Who persist. Hurrah for them.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Why I am a terrible boyfriend

Oh, ha ha ha. Yes, you've got lots of hilarious contributions as to why the title of this blog is so apt. Well, you're wrong, mostly. I didn't do any of those things. Well, maybe about 7% of them. That's hardly any. And that was ages ago.

No, I'm a bad boyfriend because it was C's birthday recently, and I've accidentally bought her presents that are sort of for me. By which I mean, I bought her things that I thought she'd like, and it turns out I really like them too, so its like I bought them for myself and passed them off as presents.

I'm assuming most couples who live together cope with this all the time, but I find it bizarrely dfficult to give a present to someone I live with without feeling I've also bought it for myself. For example, I know she really likes cheery serial-killer TV show Dexter, and we don't have season 3, so I could have bought that. But then, once opened, it would have gone and sat on Squarity Jim - our mighty shelving unit - with all the other DVD box sets. And thus it would sort of become mine too. That's not really a present, is it?

So I go to some lengths to think of things that avoid this trap, to buy something that I don't want for myself. This is no mean feat - the buying of a gift should be something that the giver believes to have worth. It's great, isn't it, giving someone a book, or CD, or film that you've really enjoyed, hoping they will enjoy it too. To give someone a present you think is rubbish just doesn't seem to make sense. "Here you are - it's Marley and Me, the crap-awful Owen Wilson film about a dog that takes forever to die and nothing else happens. I think it's awful, but I though you'd like it. By extension, I believe you to be the kind of person who enjoys over-sentimental plotless wank, i.e. - an idiot. Happy Birthday!"

So I have to think of something which a) is probably good, and has merit beyond merely having cost me some money, but b) I don't really want myself. Arg!

Anyway, I thought I'd got it sorted this time. I got C series one of  the American show Lie to Me, starring Tim Roth as a man who works out what you're thinking by closely examining your facial tics. It's basically CSI, only instead of visiting a crime scene and finding your DNA on a spoon, he stares at your face and finds your eyebrows betraying you by arching sarcastically when you lie. I though she'd like it, because it's all psychological, and I'm pretty sure that her job has something to do with that stuff.

Well, she did like it. But, sod it, so do I. It's really brisk and fun, with a simple but ingenious central premise and a smart performance from Tim Roth. So far each episode is structured in a pleasingly rigorous manner -

Important A plot, usually about murder ("Did you murder her?" asks Tim Roth. "No," says the suspect, nodding vigorously. Oops.),

slightly more emotion-based B plot ("Are you having an affair?" asks Tim Roth. "No," says the suspect, unconsciously stroking his cock. Oh dear.),

character led C plot ("Stop staring at my face!" says everyone who works with Tim Roth).

And the face-science is fascinating, and makes you think you can tell what everyone is thinking.

Never mind, I thought. I've got her another present - Hugh Laurie's new album, Let Them Talk. She likes him a lot - she's all into House, which I can't be bothered with (although I realise it's more or less the same as Lie To Me, only with hideous diseases instead of subconscious body language) and it sounds like the kind of easy-listening stuff that she can sing along to and I can safely ignore.

Well, wrong again. The CD turns up, she puts it on. It's brilliant. Sod it. How can one man be so good at so many things? Did he steal my potential when I was young, and is that why all I can be bothered doing is playing Command and Conquer: Kane's Revenge all day? Did he make some kind of deal with Satan? If so, I don't think that's going to work in Satan's favour. Come the day he tries to claim Hugh Laurie's soul, he'll find the entire human race pelting him with fruit, shouting "Leave House alone! Leave House alone!" (Except the older ones, who will be shouting "Get off Prince George!" or maybe, cleverly, "Look beihnd you Mr Caesar!")

So now I've bought my girlfriend two things that, essentially, I'll be using as much as her. This is why I'm a bad boyfriend. Boo to me. On the other hand, I suppose I do let her look at my Doctor Who figures whenever she wants.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Around the houses

How many houses have you lived in? Loads I bet, you house-hopping bohemian you. I think I've lived in about eight, so far, not including student halls or places before I was sufficiently self aware to know what was going on. Is eight a lot? Or boringly few? I'm not sure. Some people I know seem to move on a frighteningly regular basis, as if determined to have a stake in every street in England. That seems a bit much to me - I like a house to become kind of, I don't know.... part of me.

The first house I remember living in was very literally in the middle of our street - a small terraced thing in Bradford on a street called, I think, Harrogate Place. I was about four, or five, and thus very, very small. I don't remember very much about the house, except that the following things probably happened there:

1. I get stung, for the first time, by wasps.

There were two of the evil little buggers living in the front hedge. Or maybe not living there, maybe just hanging out playing with their cocks. Either way, they did not make me welcome when I, being four, decided to stick my head in the hedge. They stung me twice in the neck, and it hurt like holy hell. I ran up the street, around to the back of the house, where my mum was doing... something. Gardening, reading a book, something. Whatever it was, I ruined it, by charging into her afternoon wailing like a tiny, aggrieved monster.

On that day I swore vengance upon all wasps, and indeed all of insect kind. I didn't know much about life, but I knew that wasps were bastards, and that was a start. I often wonder what happened to those wasps, so formative in my early development as a nervous, hedge fearing insectophobe. I like to think they died, horribly, and in agonising pain.

2. I dig a brilliant hole in the front garden.

Why? Not sure, but it turned out to be a great place to eat sweets. It was sufficiently deep for me to crouch in, like a miniature First World War soldier, hurling coffee flavoured Revels over the top once in a while, but it was probably, in reality, pathetically shallow.

My dad came home from work, eventually, and stood on the path, looking down at me and my hole. He did not seem very impressed. I suppose he must have been about 26, though his puzzlement was that of an older, wearier man.

3. I try to grass up some of my friends

Even as a young man, I was clearly possessed of a great antipathy towards other humans, and regarded the destruction of their happiness as an end in itself.

Two of my friends - a brother and sister who could have been called anything but lets call them John and Gillian - went playing on the building site near our house. Now this was definitely verboten, and we had all been told many times not to play on the site, or we would surely die of a digger falling on us. To my evil delight, I saw my two friends climbing up the muddy hill away from the partially built foundations. Brilliant! I could get them into trouble!

Round to their home I scuttled, giggling with malicious mirth. The second their mum opened the door I divulged my treacherous news. What I expected I don't know. Effusive thanks and monetary reward? Sexual favours? Adoption? (I was quite keen on the latter, since my mum had refused to burn down the front hedge as a warning to other wasps, and my dad had filled in my brilliant hole).

Whatever it was, I didn't get it. As I was completing my villification of her children, John and Gillian themselves poked their heads out from behind their mother. They'd been in all afternoon. It wasn't them.  Quite how my immature sense of self dealt with this collosal embarrassment at the time I cannot remember. However, the shame still pricks me now. If you're out there, John and Gillian, I hope I didn't destroy your ability to trust.

So that was my first house. I don't think we were there very long after these events. Perhaps the neighbours drove us out, shouting 'take your idiot child from this place!'

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Thieves and liars

I am, and always have been, ridiculously naive when it comes to legal issues. You know how, when you're a kid, you think that the law should be fairly simplistic and punish people who do wrong stuff according to the severity of their crimes? Well, I'm still like that. I believe trifling matters like petty theft should be punished with something mild like 'straight to bed without supper', whilst believing that those foolish enough to transgress in the ways I deem most severe - bullying the weak, starting illegal wars, junking the early episodes of Doctor Who etc - should be strapped into a machine that thrusts spikes into their no-good innards and shaves off their fingers and toes with some kind of rotating grindstone.

And it really is ridiculous. I have spent years studying contextual influences and the constructed nature of cultural norms, and I know that simplistic notions of morality become absurdly complex once thrown into real world networks of cause and effect. But sometimes I look around and can't help but see things with the eyes of my ten year old self, and wish that Superman would just come and - you know - punch the bad guys.

Take this story, from the anti-cuts protests on Saturday. A group of protesters occupied Fortnum and Mason's, wanting to draw attention to the estimated £10 million the parent company avoids in tax each year. It was, as far as I can tell, a peaceful protest. The Police negotiated with them, and agreed to let them go free if they left under police instruction. The protesters did as asked. The Police arrested them.

Some debate has ensued as to the morality of this. Yes, technically the protesters were doing something illegal. But at he same time, they were protesting against something that, though legal, was incredibly immoral. The perpetrators of a tax scam remain free to do as they please, stealing from the poor in all but name, while those who dare take action to point it out suffer for having the temerity to oppose 'the way things work'. Which is worse? Annoying some shoppers for a bit? Or profiting from a legal loophole that allows you to keep money that simply doesn't belong to you - money that belongs to a country struck by increasing joblessness, and homelessness, and illness and social turmoil broughy about by a collapsing economy? I think if we asked Judge Dredd, he would have a pretty clear answer for us by return of post.

This sort of blindness really angers me. It's like when MP Eric Illsley looked like he might appeal his jail sentence for fraudulently spending our money on his own stuff. Why the hell shouldn't he go to jail? He's taken money that doesn't rightfully belong to him, to make his own life easier. I'd go to jail for that, and probably so would you (unless you're a company director or MP that is). But because there exist these odd notions of legality, that apply more to obvious acts of rebellion than to under-the-carpet chicanery - he feels able to bleat about his discomfort. You stole that, you wanker. It didn't belong to you, and you took it. Same as Fortnum and Mason, same as Philip Green, same as... well, lots of people. It doesn't matter if you've found a reason for calling it legal. It's still wrong.

I'm sure if I sat in power, surrounded by the mechanisms of society, with fuller perspective of how everything works, I'd understand better why these things happen. But I really hope that never happens. I quite like my ten year old's perspective, waiting for these smug bastards who feel the world owes them a living, to come tumbling down into the threshing machine of justice. I'm going to stay here for a while. Please bring biscuits.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Funny peculiar

Another youtube upload for you to gaze at with an increasing sense of nervous anxiety.

This is a short film - or three short films I suppose - written by Jody Lancaster, Rob Watt and Cat Wilson, back in 2001. I believe it was a submission for a BBC comedy competition which they naively thought they might win. Have a watch, and guess if they did.

My involvement began when they came crawling to me to ask if I'd film it for them, for the price of a packet of biscuits and the suggestion of tawdry sexual favours (neither of which materialised). I'm pretty sure I already knew them, though I honestly couldn't tell you how. Maybe I fancied one of them. If so, it was probably Rob - he has an indefinable air of mystery and an exciting nose. Or maybe it was through church. Either way, I'd made the mistake of letting them know I had video cameras, and so I was roped into their artistic endeavours.

The films are pretty interesting, in their own way, and it's amusing to see how chubby Jody used to be. Weirdly, he also seems to be wearing a jacket I now own, in the bathroom sequence. The influence of Chris Morris's 'Jam' is pretty apparent in the scripting, and it was quite fun trying to find interesting visual ways of reflecting this.

Since the films, the trio have gone their separate ways. Jody is still here in West Yorkshire, despite having tried to escape a number of times, and we've even done some other comedy stuff together. Rob moved down South to be... I don't know... something extrovert and spindly no doubt. And Cat... she went to become the queen of a particularly successful beehive in Dorset. She never writes.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Punch drunk love

Ever punched someone? Probably not recently, I'm guessing. At school, maybe, in your hedonistic youth. Or possibly in your early twenties, when that guy said Doctor Who wasn't a realisitic portrayal of time travel and that everyone who liked it was an emotional retard. Or maybe you regularly go out drinking in Wakefield city centre, in which case the last time you punched someone was probably yesterday. In fact, you're probably punching someone right now. Well, stop, and pay attention. And put that glass down.

People don't tend to wallop each other much, in grown up life. You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise: television dramas and films are full of grown men beating the hell out of each other with exciting, world-changing results,  and it would be easy to believe that this was normal behaviour. 'Why don't I defeat my foes on a regular basis using nothing but the noble art of pugilism?' you may say, contemplating the joy it would bring you to launch an all-out assualt on the army of idiots that stand between you and a happy, carefree life. "Why can't I, next time some dick gets in my face with some tedious nonsense about 'my attitude', why can't I just swiftly and forcefully break his nose, and see if that doesn't stop his incessant small minded whining for all time?'

Well, partly because he might hit you back, and being punched really bloody hurts, and might make you cry. But also because actually punching someone really hurts too, and your hand will ache for ages and you probably won't be able to use the X-Box controller so well for a bit, and you still might cry. Plus you'll probably get a whole bunch of girls and/or homosexuals calling you a 'mindless thug' and refusing to be your friend any more. So you can see why we tend to treat our enemies to withering stares and behind-the-scenes gossip, rather than risk our tender knuckles on their rhino-hide faces.

The last person I remember punching was Parvez Khan in 1987. He had challenged me to a fight, at school; I forget why. Perhaps he envied my intellectual aura. Either way, he turned out to be even more rubbish at fighting than I was, leaping at me face first as if to terrify me with his nostrils. Thinking about it, 'punching' isn't really a fair account of what I did. I just kind of stuck my arm out and his face landed on my fist. "Hurrah!" I thought, as he collapsed to the floor and dozens of his friends kicked me to death.

Now we've established the unlikelihood of you attacking your friends and work-mates, let me ask you another question. When's the last time you punched your computer? Ah! Now I bet you that's a bit more recent. I bet that's within the last month. I bet there's a little bruise on your knuckles from the last time you punched your monitor, and a pain in your foot from where you kicked the printer because the monitor hurt your hand. Because computers... well, basically, computers are stupid useless dicks who deserve a beating more thoroughly than anyone you or I have ever met in our entire lives. Yes, even if you've met Steve Wright.

Computers have a wide variety of ways in which they like to annoy us. It's like they've decided that, until SKYNET is fully operational and cybernetic assassins roam the land shooting at us with plasma rifles, they may as well soften us up with a constant stream of irritating quirks and pop-up complaints. Gits.

The thing which has been really doing my head in, and inspured this entire rant, is the little pop-up that keeps appearing at the bottom of the monitors at work. Every time I turn the PCs on, and intermittently throughout the day, a self-satisfied little bubble appears: 'There are unused items on your desktop.' I click on the little X and get rid of it. Before too long, the idiot machine decides I must have forgotten. 'There are unused items...'

I KNOW. I know that there are unused icons on the desktop. I can see them. Sorry for not using them constantly on a rotating basis. Sorry that I want some of them there for later but haven't got round to clicking on them in the first nineteen seconds of turning on the frigging machine. Am I a five year old? Am I senile? Do I need constantly reminding of what is going on in front of me? No, I don't. I can see the bloody icons, and I am perfectly capable of deleting the sodding things if I decide they have become an ungovernable intrusion upon my psyche.

You, on the other hand... you... You are an unused item! You, you hateful little bubble of pus. Popping up, getting in my way, demanding attention the whole bloody time when I've never shown any need for you whatsoever. Of all the items on my desk that I would like you to remove, you are the first, you stupid little digital prick.

And soon merely clicking the little X isn't enough to sate my anger, and I start to slam the mouse down, or shout, or punch the monitor. And then my hand hurts, and then I feel bad because it's not really the monitor's fault, is it? the monitor is just telling me what the PC hub itself is thinking. So I apologise to the monitor, and slap the hub. That's right. I slap it. As if challenging it to a duel. And I call it a dick. And, I'll be honest, reader - I don't think it even cares. Up pops the little bubble. 'There are unused items on your desktop'. I KNOW! I  KNOW YOU USELESS PLASTIC BASTARD! STOP TELLING ME!

There should be a word for this exact phenomenon. Something which complains about a behaviour, while simultaneously demonstrating the exact behavior about which it is complaining. I mean, there's 'hypocrisy', but that doesn't quite seem to do justice to this utterly moronic behaviour. If there is such a word, please let me know. Until there is, I remain unable to express my anger, except throug the medium of extreme physical violence.

Not to people, of course. But then, people would never do such a thing. Would they?

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Housekeeping Society - Gig Review

Like most people, nothing makes me angrier than the success and happiness of others. The better other people's lives and achievements, the worse mine must, therefore, be by comparison. It brings me great displeasure, therefore, to report that my friend Ric Neale's new band - The Housekeeping Society - is not the horrible embarrassing failure I was hoping it would be and is, in fact, very good.

Bastard. And he's lost weight.

Anyway, I've said it's Ric's band and that's already a lie, so bang goes my career in music journalism. The band is, in fact, a collaboration between three annoyingly good musicians, all of whom seem fairly crucial to the writing of the music and thus probably won't arbitrarily sack one another over who gets the best seat on stage (Ric).

There's a big tall guy called Spence, who looms over Ric like the tiny pianist he is. Spence plays bass and acoustic guitar and takes the lead vocal on the rare occasion that Ric pauses for breath. He's a very nice guy and the first time I met him he was wearing a hat styled after a pineapple. His voice is gorgeous and delicate, reminiscent of whoever that guy is who sings for Grandaddy. Spence, Ric and I went to see Aha last year in Sheffield. It was good, and I liked 'Stay on these Roads' best.

Is this the kind of detail I should include here? I honestly don't know. I've never reviewed a gig before. Maybe I should describe the music. But how?

Oh - wait - first, there's another person in the band. I don't know him as well as I know the others, because he's never worn a fruit on his head (at least not in front of me) and he didn't go to see Aha. See, that - to me, is a schism in the band already. Or maybe he doesn't like Aha. Anyway, this third guy is called Ivan Mack which, in my opinion, is the best name in the band. He had jingly things on his legs and sat on a box which is in fact a special kind of drum. It might be called a Kujon. Or that might be the guy from The Usual Suspects. I'm not sure. He also played some other stuff, including a xylophone kind of thing, and maybe a little guitar. I couldn't really see him that well, if I'm honest, because there was someone sitting in front of me and, as I've already mentioned, the most visible bit of the stage was already occupied by Ric 'Look at me' Neale. Ivan had to sit on the edge of the stage, looking - to my mind - a bit under-appreciated.

So that's them. Apart from I've not really described Ric, but the chances are I don't need to. He's probably already been round your house, singing beautifully outside your window and enchanting your evening with his excellent bloody voice. He probably saved your cat from a tree, bantering wittily all the while, with his full head of hair and his flat stomach.


"Laaa. We love sluice gates. Laaa."

Anyway. The gig was at the Adelphi Hotel in Leeds, which isn't a hotel so there's another lie. It is, however, a really nice pub with good beer, comfy sofas and a number of interesting rooms woven into its labyrinthine structure. The top room is perfect for live music, being intimate enough to engage with the performance but spacious enough for a decent crowd.

The crowd in question was there to witness the launch of 'This Way to Power', a concept album about life in 1885. Now, all I know about 1885 is that it's the year Marty McFly travelled to in Back to the Future Part III, so I was clearly expecting a lot of songs about horses, hoverboards and manure. None of these subjects were forthcoming. What we did get was a set of startling and complex songs about invention, hope, yearning for change and falling in love with inanimate objects. At least, I think that's what they were about. There was definitely one about a wheel.

Doc Brown: not on this album.

Either way, this was captivating stuff. Patterns of rhythm shifted and moved in eccentric and outlandish ways, the centre of each song bouncing back and forth between the band members without ever leaving the listener behind. The melodies were strong, if occasionally bizarre, and the harmonies made me a) prickle with joy and b) seethe with furious jealousy. Best of all, for a prog-rock sucker like me, there were some fascinating dynamics at work, creating a textured and varied experience that gave each song its own identity while creating something that felt beautifully consistent.

Anyway, like I said, who can write about music? None of that tells you what The Housekeeping Society sounds like, really. You should probably go and have a listen. Yes, you'll probably hate them for producing something so clever, fun and suffused with humanity and warmth. But you could take some small pleasure in the fact that it took them bloody ages and they had to work really hard, while you were probably relaxing and watching Deep Space Nine. And anyway, their next album is bound to be worse, isn't it?

Go here to find out more, if you must.

The Housekeeping Society.