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.

Friday, 11 March 2011

40 Days of... what?

This weekend is probably your last chance to decide if you're giving anything up for Lent. The 40 days of abstinence started a few days ago, but the chances are there's still some options open to you - things you didn't do on Wednesday and Thursday that you could conceivably continue to 'not do' until Easter. Maybe you haven't punched an evangelist since Tuesday, and that could be your Lent thing, for instance.

Whatever it is, you'd better get a move on. Before too long you'll find that you've left no vice unindulged, and you'll have to give up something stupid, like eating blue M&Ms or wearing a hat at a rakish angle.

Of course, you're under no obligation to give anything up at all. Lent is a bit of a religious thing, Jesus in the desert and all that, and maybe that seems irrelevant to you, with your Ouija board, your rock and roll music and your fast cars. But I think Lent is worth your consideration regardless of whether you follow the Bible, love the Earth Goddess or - as in my case - worship a giant picture of Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

"But Rob, she's too young, and she was
a witch and she was a lesbian and

I'm not clear on all the theological implications of Jesus' decision to spend 40 days in a desert, focusing less on sandwiches and more on sandcastles. There's clearly some self discipline in there, and an ability to identify with those in society who have the least (take note, big rich churches of the West - you have missed the point). But one of the things I do like about it is towards the end where Jesus gets into a bitch fight with Lucifer himself and proves that no matter what the devil offers him, he don't want none of that.

For the uninitiated, what happens is that the devil suggests Jesus do a bunch of cool Messiah-stuff: turning stones into tasty snacks, showing off by jumping off big buildings and landing in the middle of everyone like Iron Man, and finally being King of the entire Universe (or something). Sadly for the devil, Jesus has just spent weeks resisting the temptation to stuff his face with Hobnobs and bananas, so these new temptations are frankly pathetic by comparison. Jesus gives the devil a bunch of cool-ass, Old Testament backchat, that basically translates as 'Are you still talking? Cause I'm not listening, bitch.'

I like this, because it suggests that an unwillingness to give in to temptation is a decent way of fighting some of the evils the world throws up. Certainly in the West, a lot of what causes us pain is stuff we voluntarily agreed to in the first place. We are seduced into lifestyles that destroy our souls and leave us insensible to the suffering of others, unable to protest because we are complicit in the very systems that bind us. Maintaining the ability to say 'No' may be one of the best weapons we have.

With that in mind, C and I are once again going to spend Lent abstaining from supermarkets. No Asda, no Sainbury's, no Morrisons (like I'd go there anyway). When we did this last year it led to a whole buch of benefits - tastier meat, cheaper fruit and veg, fewer shopping trips where we popped in to get some milk and came out laden with DVDs, chocolate, kitchen utensils and toys. Although we've drifted back into the habit, the first attempt has made some small lasting difference to the way we shop, and I'm hoping that doing it again will make that better.

Ethically, of course, this can only be a good thing. Quite apart from the economic policies of the bigger stores, there's something very sad about the erosion of 'locality' that comes about as a result of our migration to the bigger stores. Once community goes, everything goes. And I don't want everything to go. I need it.

So, believers and heathens alike, have a go at Lent. Resist something - show your independence from all the tossers who want you to shut up and go with the flow. Maybe we could make a big banner and go stand outside Asda: "Happy to shop... somewhere else."

(That image of Allison Hanigan isn't mine, obviously. I should be so lucky. Can't find who took it. If it was you, get in touch. No infringement intended. )

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Sports shop of Terror

I had to buy a cricket top yesterday, so I could go to a party and pretend to be from the 1920s. My first, foolish, thought was to scour charity shops around Wakefield for some discarded sportswear, perhaps donated by a cricketer who had got fed up of the whole pointless exercise.

Charity shops are peculiar beasts. They excite me a little, as they are like little museums of the modern age. Here are the stripey shirts and oversized hats of a  generation that realised they looked like dicks; the unloved books and outgrown toys that chronicle the end of childhood and the beginning of cold, cynical adult life.

I note that the shops cater predominantly for women. The colourful wonders that await female shoppers create a bewildering labyrinth of potential outfits - extraordinary hats, blouses, skirts, dresses and shoes, in infinite variety. Men get a couple of racks of shirts and the occasional suit that probably came off a dead man. Not for the first time in my life, I wished I might be a girl, if only for a while.

Whatever cricketers do with their cast offs, it doesn't appear to be 'donate them to charity'. Maybe they hand them down to their offspring, sealing the sport into a sort of self-perpetuating dynasty. Maybe that's why the rules are so incomprehensible - to keep out the 'not we'.

So I found no cricket top, thoguh I did get a rather nice stripey shirt and a spiffing hat. The only option was to go to an actual sports shop.

It would be something of an understatement to say that the sports shop is not my natural habitat. In fact, even finding one was quite a trick. I have trained my brain to edit from the universe all phenomena assocated with the concept of 'sport'. I hate sport in all its manifestations, and try to ignore it as hard as I can. So I had no idea where any sports shops might be found, or what they might look like, or indeed whether the notion of 'a sports shop' was even something that existed. What if everyone got their equipment from their dads?

Luckily, Caroline is much more open minded and is able to conceive of ideas beyond the acquisition of DVDs and Doctor Who toys. She knew that yes, sports shops did exist, and even better knew where to find one. She wouldn't come in with me, though. I had to do this next bit alone.

Reader, words cannot describe how out of place I felt in this cavernous warehouse of sporting goods. I wandered timidly through rows of football shirts, tennis rackets, swimwear and trainers, convinced that at any minute an alarm would go off. Intruder! There - next to the lycra basketball tops! It's that guy who was crap at football at school, and used to go hide in an old warehouse rather than do PE! (This is true - the fear of paedophile tramps and/or Freddie Kruger was as nothing compared to my fear of failing to catch a cricket ball and being laughed at, so I used to bunk off every Tuesday afternoon. If you're reading this, Mr Wright, that's where I was - in a warehouse. Oh, and we all think Miss Rush fancies you. But then we all also think you're gay, for no real reason).

Where was I? Oh yes, creeping nervously through the cathedral of sport. I didn't even know where the cricket tops might be. There was a big section for cricket bats, and balls, and those big things you strap to  your legs to stop them breaking when your opponents hurl insanely fast, hard missiles at them. But no tops. Did that mean there weren't any? Or would they be in a different section? Help!

Except, of course, I couldn't ask for help. If I did, the person I asked would probably assume I was a cricketer, and start throwing cricket balls at me, and I wouldn't be able to catch them and everyone would point and laugh and that includes the girls and I would go all red and that would make them laugh more and I would have no friends and I would go home and cry and then I would read Battle Action Force comic and imagine what is would be like if I had a jet pack and a flame thrower and I was chasing them across the playground and they were on fire and screaming and then we'd see who was a puff!


So, you see my problem. My other worry was that, having walked round the entire shop three times staring at every single thing in case it was a cricket top in disguise, I was starting to look suspicious and people might think I was there to abduct children or something. So I left, defeated by a combination of unresolved childhood angst, poor spatial awareness and bad store planning on the part of the shop's floor manager.

Caroline came into a different store with me and found a top instantly and with great ease. This is why she is in charge.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Flowers for Jennifer

Another old video, this one from a couple of years ago.

I was trying to demonstrate some basic visual language techniques for my students, so I decided to make a very short film using a bunch of editing and filming methods, most of them stolen from '28 Days Later'.

The filming, involving my good friends Gav, Lisa and Beccy, took one very happy morning to film and a slightly more rigorous afternoon to edit. I'm quite pleased with the results.

One of the after effects I quite enjoyed was that Lisa - zombie Jennifer in the film - had a date that night and only discovered after filming that fake blood stains your face for hours afterwards. I'm pretty sure that I let her keep the flowers too. This creates a happy picture in my head of her date turning up to find her with a big bunch of flowers and all the evidence of stubble rash.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Taking Dictation

Before I marshall my thoughts on the Oscars, just a brief thought that occurred to me yesterday when listening to the news.

Apparently ex British Prime Minister and lying failure Tony Blair made a phone call to the not-very-popular Colonel Gadaffi (or Qadaffi if you are feeling like using more exotic letters) advising him to, you know, consider the terrible state Libya is in, in case he hadn't noticed.

I instantly start to get cross when I hear liar and warmonger Blair insinuating his way into the news, so I stopped listening soon afterwards. But part of my mind couldn't help playing with the thought of him phoning up Gadaffi, and wondering what the conversation went like...

*ring ring*

Gadaffi:   Hello?

Blair:       Hello there! It's Tony!

G:            Tony?

B:            Blair. Tony Blair. Blairy-babes. T-Dog.

G:            Tony! Hello my friend. Listen, now is not really a good

B:            Yes, yes, I know. Some kind of protest?

G:            Indeed. Everyone in the entire country is shouting and
               burning things and saying they want me dead.

B:            Really? Gosh.

G:            Yes, so, I must go deal with this...

B:             Well.. yes... you could do that... you could...

G:             What do you mean I could? What other option do I have?

B:             It's just... hmm... have you considered... you know...
                 just... you know...

G:             What? What?

B:             ...just ignoring them?

G              ...

B:             You know... just... go do something else. Pretend it
                 never happened.

G:             But there are millions of people, ouside my window,
                 telling me they hate me.

B:             Yeah... but... so what?

G:             Millions, Tony! All of them utterly sick of me and what I
                stand for.

B:             I hear you, G-Dog, I really do... is it G-Dog? Or Q-Dog? I'm
                never sure.

G:             Either is fine.

B:             Cool. G-Dog. All I'm saying is... I'm a millionaire.

G:             A...

B:             Millionaire. I have, literally, millions of pounds.

G:             Still? Even after...

B:             Yup. I go where I want, have lovely dinners, give the odd
                 talk about how much I love peace...

G:             Just... ignore them.

B:             Pretend they're not even there.

G:             T-Dog! My friend! You are a genius!

B:              Just draw the curtains, G-Dog.

G:             Thank you my friend!

B:             Anytime. Bye then.

G:             Goodbye!


G:            The people love me. It is terrorists that are to blame.
                The protestors are delusional... ha ha ha ha!

I'm here all week.