Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Turn (a short story)

 A driver was driving a minibus along a major road at a good speed. In the back were 13 passengers. Up ahead the road curved a little to the left. “You know what,” said one of the passengers, “there’s a toll on this road up ahead, but there’s an off ramp just before this curve. It takes you to an amazing road that no one knows about. Where you travel as fast as you like, it’s free, there’s no tolls. In fact, they pay you to drive along it.”

“I don’t know,” said the driver.

“We should vote on it!” someone said. So they did.

3 people didn’t have a preference. 5 voted to keep on the on the road the other 6 voted to turn off onto the new road.

The driver threw his hands up and said someone else should take over driving. No one wanted to, but one of the passengers reluctantly climbed into the driver’s seat as they rolled along. She wanted to slow down to a moderate speed to mitigate problems. One section of the bus thought this was not slow enough, another wanted her to speed up to really hit this new road at a good pace.

Eventually, unable to please anybody, she gave up. One of the original cheerleaders for taking the right-turn stepped in. The passengers were still divided. Some questioned if there really was a turning and others said there really was, and it although it might be bumpier than they had originally thought, it would end up on an amazing road that would take them to their destination quicker than that stupid old road. Some wondered if they should recheck the opinions of the passengers given some seemed to have changed their minds, and this new road didn’t seem to be on the maps.

“No!” was the angry response from a vocal few. “We must turn!”

“Then at least slow down to mitigate a bad accident!”

“No!” Anything less than absolute faith in the turning was deemed as not believing in the van. In thinking that the minibus was not the greatest automobile on the road. The new driver put his foot down.

Suddenly a gap appeared in the fence. It was the turning. The minibus lurched off the road through an open gate into a field and immediately turned over.

A sign by the gate said “Welcome to Sunlit Uplands Farm. Beware of the Bull.”

Friday, September 18, 2020

Mo Moseff omd Isolosion: dojs 13 omd 14

 With the UK now conceding another lockdown seems inevitable, we end our period self-isolation. I can admit after the rules changed and we would have been able to go out if we’d been away for longer, we stopped taking it that seriously. We weren’t bad, but it’s hard to adhere to rules that are not fully logical. We might have bent them. “Hypothetically,” our lawyers have asked us to add.

I’ve been jokingly let the title deteriorate as a kind of joke about a deteriorating state of mind. And like a lot of jokes there is something serious behind it. Mental health is a big issue that has been being marginalised during the measures against the current pandemic. That’s on top of the marginalisation it was already receiving, particularly in the UK, whose approach to mental health has its roots in the “just buck your ideas up” approach.

I have it pretty easy being locked in. In fact it’s almost my ideal state. But, even I miss meeting people. I know there are people really suffering out there. It’s harder to get the help you need in these times and more people are needing it than before. Support networks are less reachable or not available. Be aware. Be mindful and look out for people who you know are or think might be suffering. If you are suffering, be aware there are people who want to help.

What have I become?

I know some of you have been coping by getting answers and a sense of control by really delving into the “truths behind the reality” or conspiracy theories. Which is a fine but you don’t need to tell everyone about it. Otherwise, you’ll have some serious reputation management to do when this is all over. The thing to have in mind is that when people say you have to “wake up” it means they want you to dream the same dream as them.

My simple advice: Don’t only get your news from twitter. Don’t read YouTube comments. Realise that there is a corner of the internet that will agree with you no matter how far-fetched an idea it is. Remember there are 8 billion of us. Every far-fetched idea has several people know also believe it. And at least one of them knows how to make a website.

Having said that, I have a 5G phone being delivered this Monday, and it is clearly going to inject an upgraded covid-20 directly into my brain so that Bill Gates and Mos Def can kill me remotely from their organ harvesting factory in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Mi Myseff amd Isolasion: daj 12

 Still a little of what Earth people call sick. It’s more mere exhaustion now. Probably all triggered by some bad nights of sleep. Or rather bad nights of lack of sleep.

The last few days I’ve been enthusing about what I’ve been watching, which I find very easy. I am a bit of nerd when it comes to movies. Sorry if that startled you.

It’s been so for a long time and started with a fascination for old and obscure horror and sci fi movies when I was a teen. If you press me for a favourite movie, I’ll say Fiend Without A Face, which is a British-produced 1950s sci-fi horror with invisible aliens. It is a great movie and as unintentionally silly as it sounds. But it is genuinely scary and has some surprisingly good special effects of the aliens when they finally become visible as brains propelled by their own spinal cords.

It’s not to be confused with The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), whose antagonist is a giant brain dangled from a thread. Don’t get me wrong, the latter is worth a watch, but more for how silly it is.

Fiend Without A Face. 

Meanwhile in the real, present-day world, things are still terrifying and a bit silly. Politically, the British government is fighting itself because, spoiler alert, there seems to be no way rush out of the EU cleanly. It was always going to take time, but the government has felt it has to rush it because people were told it would be quick, easy and instantly going to make the country wealthier. Once you’ve conned people, it’s very hard to uncon them.

The latest big fight is about the withdrawal agreement, which has had a comical history. The previous Prime Minister, Theresa May, spent a long time trying to get the government to vote for it. She tried several times and they kept saying no. Then with a few capitulations on both side, the next Prime Minister got it through, and scoffed at anyone who dare read the small print or vote against it. Now the same Prime Minister is saying it’s not very good. And instead of resigning for pushing through something that is no good, he wants to change an already signed agreement, which from a government would seem a thoroughly dishonest thing to do. But it’s dishonesty which has gotten us where we are, so why change now.

The toddler has taken to putting the tablet on the back of her scooter and pushing it around like some kind of mobile cinema. Which makes up for everything bad going on in the world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Me Myseff amd Isolasion: daj 11

 I’ve gotten a little sick. It just seems like a cold, but these days even the slightest sickness fells one with dread that it is the feared lurgy that is currently stalking the land. It most likely isn’t, but you can’t think it.

From my last entry you might be thinking I have been doing nothing but watching old TV, but that’s not true. I’ve been watching new TV too. Plus movies.

At the start of lockdown, I began watching things somehow inspired by the pandemic. These have been mostly disaster and apocalyptic disease movies. Here have been some highlights...

  • The Last Man on Earth (1964) Engaging (but slow) post-apocalyptic plague/zombie movie with Vincent Price.
  • The Omega Man (1971) Remake of The Last Man on Earth but with Charlton Heston. Less claustrophobic because of the big cityscapes, but the focus is more on the deteriorating mental state of the central character. The death cult are much more culty and cartoony; and there are no zombies. Tenser , darker, very 1970s. It was remade again as I Am Legend, which I have yet to see.
  • The Swarm (1978) Enjoyably terrible killer bee disaster movie. If you ever find yourself writing dialogue like "I appreciate that, Doctor, but, let me ask you. In all your fail-safe techniques, is there a provision for an attack by killer bees?" delete everything, walk away, save the studio millions.
  • Outbreak (1995) Biochemist (with relationship problems) investigates seemingly new virus. With added layer of US military top-brass interference/cover up). Semi nonsense, but enjoyable, big-name, well-directed nonsense. One of the last movies where a virus didn't turn people into zombies.
  • 28 Days Later (2002) British post-virus zombie movie. Tense and claustrophobic as you’d expect it to be.  Starts the same way as The Walking Dead and Day of the Triffids.
  • 2012 (2009 (2006 (2003 (2000)))) Huge budget, over the top, big name end of the world nonsense. It’s proof that even with big names, and no doubt plenty of people paid as consultants, there can still be major plot holes and the core science can still be ludicrous “Neutrinos coming from the sun have mutated into a new kind of nuclear particle. They're heating up the earth's core and suddenly act like microwaves.”
  • Pandemic (2016) Flu-like infection causes smart, fast, super-angry zombies. Pretty well done. Suitably downbeat and atmospheric. Some video game references for the modern audience.
What have I missed that I really should see?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Me Myseff amd Isolasion: day 10

A couple of days ago, we (as a collective culture) lost Diana Rigg. There is always a steady stream of people who are or were in the public eye or ear or mind who pass on. Some hit you where it hurts and others have less impact on you. Some make you think back to your childhood; some make you think about your own mortality; some make you think about beans.

Diana Rigg is someone even younger readers would know due to her doing an excellent job as the matriarch of the Tyrell family in Game of Thrones. Many others will remember her as the only “Bond girl” that managed to get him to settle down (for about the length of a wedding) and, of course, she was Emma Peel.

If “Emma Peel” means nothing to you, then it will take too long to explain. I’d have to go into The Avengers, and then explain that it’s not The Avengers you are thinking of. The one I’m talking about was the archetypal paranormal / science-fiction -influenced spy show (Psy-Spy-fi).

It’s made me intrigued to find and watch a couple. Been a long time since I saw one.  It has never been as easy as it is now to find old TV shows. Not that The Avengers would have been a hard one to find, as it was the ultimate in mainstream cult classic and a box set would have been available from shortly after the box set was invented and packaged up In a huge bundle of VHS cassette tapes. Now some of the older, more obscure series can be found for free, while others can often be streamed for a few shekels. And Box sets still exist.

I like the idea of boxsets, but I also like the idea of space in my apartment. Charlie Brooker (I believe it was) described boxsets as tombstones for old TV shows. The final clincher is that my partner hates music or movies on physical media. 

Totally self-indulgent list of old shows I have seen (some or all of) in the last year or so…

  • Hammer House of Horror – TV show by Britain’s best-known horror studio. I never saw any of these as a kid, despite my love of (Hammer) horror. Some are great. Some are terrible.
  • The Day Today / Brass eye – the greatest spoofs of the TV news business you could ever see. Still holds up today. Seriously, watch them. 
  • Blakes 7 – 70s/80s British sci fi series which even back then you knew the FX were wobbly. I must say I appreciate the dystopian view of the future much more as an adult. And the cast was first rate. This was one I thought rewatching would be ruining part of my childhood, but it didn’t.
  • Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace – something I missed when it came out. An amazing spoof of bad sci-fi/horror TV.
  • The Sweeney – tough British cop series from the seventies. Was inspired to hunt some down after watching the excellent Life On Mars. They were well made, and generally not as outdated as you’d expect.
  • Look Around You – I hadn’t even knows this existed. A joyful spoof of TV education / science shows. (Not everything I like is a spoof, honest.)
  • Nighty Night – I didn’t get to see this when it first came out. Very dark comedy (not really a sitcom although it has the feel). Great cast of exaggerated and monstrous characters and some very funny moments. Central character is a true monster with a mission.
  • Ripping Yarns – I saw one when they first came out and then never managed to see one again. Great, um, spoof, of boys own adventure stories by Michael Palin and Terry Jones.

So you can see, I’ve been busy. What else should I watch? Agree or disagree with my opinions? Let me know.

Also, we are not allowed to meet up in groups of six or more in England. A friend from Wales taunted us, but pointing out he could meet 6 or more people. In Wales 6 people is called a town.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Me Myseff and Isolasion: day 9

Self-captive’s Log. Starweek 2, Starday 2.

The people of this planet are strange.

The more false the ideas of the inhabitants the stronger the belief in them when confronted by contrary information. They have the power to have information shared by everyone, so that the people could be united by facts, but the devices that share this information shares everything and has very little to no distinction between truth and non truth.

They consider themselves rational people, but they are far from it. What they call their rationality ,is an afterthought. The think things based on emotion and then use their “rational side” to justify their thoughts.

They cordon themselves off into separate areas often marked by unnatural boundaries and worship the ground they happen to be on as somehow sacred and more worthy of similar dirt elsewhere. They consider the pieces o dirt around theirs the most evil and the most worthy of ridicule despite them and their inhabitants being the most like themselves.

They want to be loved but seem to value those who do not love as people worthy of exulting.

They scoff at the notion of worshiping money, but it is the thing they protect the most. It is generally considered to be mark of someone who is worthy. Perhaps that’s why the word is “worthy.”

Sometimes things are written that are so holy to them, that despite the ambiguity and anachronism of the words, anything that seems to contradict these words upsets them to a dangerous extreme. They words can be simple line in a national declarative text or a whole book to dictate an origin story and set of rites.

Often the less they know the more certain they are they are right.

In summary these are a strange people who see themselves above everything but fail to lose the shackles of scared, squabbling animals.

Self-captive log end.

Me Myseff and Isolation: day 8

 Week 2. The week that should not be.

Toddlers emulate us adults. It’s how they learn by copying us and trying to be like us. The downside is we realise, because we are always telling her what to do and being firm when she doesn’t do things, she has started doing the same with us. She has become very, very bossy. She orders us about and if we say no, she puts her finger to her lips and goes “Shhhh! The baby’s asleep.” This last part is not what we do, but it’s her own interpretation.

It isn’t helped that she watches a lot of Peppa Pig. Peppa is a very entitled, middle-class child that bosses everyone around and acts like the queen of knowledge. She’s a terrible role model, but she’s probably a very typical child.

Our toddler is also very quick to unleash her thermonuclear option, which is a kind of sonic bomb rendering all around her with momentary hearing loss. It’s a high-pitched scream channelled direct from Hades, but instead of an Earth-shattering growl, it’s an ear-piercing scream. A crystal clear ear-piercing scream thanks to her soprano genes. I’m worried it’ll form the basis of some superpower. I’ll be taking your ideas as to what her superhero/supervillain name will be. My thoughts are: Sopra-Noh! Ear Piercer. Siren. 

I have no drawing skills so I will not be making a graphic novel of any of these ideas, so feel free to steal.

If you do, after a while, she can team up with other similar super{hero/villain}s. Bari Tony, Alto Native, Bass Lynn, Ten Awe and of course Castrato, who has the most harrowing origin story of any supercharacter.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Me Myself and Isolation: day 7

Day 7. End of the first week. After today we are half-way through. 

We are greeted with the news that Sweden is now on the exemption list. I’d have expected to be more annoyed, but arbitrary rule changes are very much the norm these days. The rule is if you arrive from Saturday, no isolation. If you arrive before, you isolate for 2 weeks. I pity the chumps who land Friday night rather than Saturday morning, cos they gotta isolate while their slightly later friends are free. It does seem a little ridiculous.

What this means is that if we had stayed an extra week, we wouldn’t have to isolate next week. But as it stands we do. 

It’s a bit like we went on a 2 year thieving spree, and when we turned ourselves in, we got a 2 year sentence. But if we’d gone on a 3 year thieving spree, we wouldn’t have to give ourselves in because thieving suddenly wasn’t a crime anymore.

The news comes just as some of the surrounding countries seem poised for a second wave. However, Sweden might have achieved that fabled goal of herd immunity. Only time will tell. 

I think that phrase herd immunity might sound more attractive with a different collective noun. Very few humans want to be in a herd. No one wants to be cattle. Pack immunity, sounds better. As do Collective protection, Community immunity and local resistance.

Sad news, our robot vacuum cleaner – the one the toddler refers to as “the robot” – has reached that point in its life where the battery starts giving up. We hope it hasn’t got the electronic corona. Sometimes it goes for a few centimetres and then starts slowing down like it’s wheezing. It was just as the toddler started getting braver. A couple of times she even approached it as it slept and switched it on. She immediately ran away with that overjoyed / terrified scream, you almost never hear from adults.

Anyway, enough for now. It’s date night, and we’re watching Joker. Yeah, we do romance!

Me Myself and Isolation: day 6

Day 6. “Dag sex” in Swedish. Which is a whole other thing in Australian.

Toddler is putting face “highlighter” all over her hands and face. She now looks a bit like a friendly alien from a 1980s TV show. As I recall, the friendly ones were attractive and shiny and the bad ones scaly and warty. I’m warty.

"I have a specific set of skulls."

So in the UK, groups over six are to be banned from Monday. Unless they take place at work or in a pub or on public transport. Or, no doubt, at Dominic Cummins house. Dominic Cummins, who we referenced before, is the neurotic, self-important man behind the curtain of Boris Johnson’s Blizzard of Boz. Not to be confused with Tony Abbott, Britain’s new trade ambassador and former Australian PM, who is the Weasel of Oz. Or with Dominic Raab, the Gizzard of Owls. Or… I’ll stop.

I was a little unfair yesterday, presenting a very one-sided view of Brexit. Brexit is multifaceted and there are multiple opinions that lead to votes on either side. I’m happy to set the record straight with an analogy from other side. Brexit is like quitting your golf club membership because that is the thing stopping you from playing golf on every other golf club in the country. And the club you just quit will, of course, let you play for free still because you’re the coolest and they just want to hang out with you and they know you’ve still got it. In fact everyone will start paying you to play in their clubs because you are, like, really important and very soon you’ll be the most popular person in the world because the only thing holding you back was that stupid golf club membership!

Actually the toddler has been very contrary today. Resisting almost everything, but also insisting someone be involved in everything she wants to do. Although some of that was fun. But toddlers don’t seem to understand logic such as “you want to spin round and round, so why do I have to do it as well?” They have no concept that you don’t want to do what they want to do. And any suggestion that you might not want to can lead to screams. As I have said before, our child is half soprano and can scream at the top of anyone’s hearing. I sometimes wish I’d been to a few more death metal gigs when I was younger. I might not be able to hear those screams at all now.

On the plus side, I have a new phone. So it also means I can take pictures of me on my old phone. It also has an insane zoom, so you can take pictures of tiny things all the way across the room. I’m not sure why I’d want to, but it’s nice to have the option.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Me Myself and Isolation: day 5

 Day 5. “Undirt wah cat sank,” as they say in France.

The toddler is eating jelly and watching one of the many sleep-deprivation-conceived shows for kids. Honestly, young kids shows should mostly be categorised under “psychedelia.”

Baby Jake has LSD induced dreams interpreted by his older brother.

The other end of kids shows are more educational rather than make something like the way their brains work. The better ones can also be enjoyed by parents. There are a lot that cannot be. Peppa Pig is a better one. Every now and again, they’ll slip in a hint of something more adult or a reference to classic movies only us older parents would even get. They know a lot of parents are also stuck in the room when it’s playing.

See 3 mins in for some top refs.

But best of all is Hey Duggee. Hey Duggee sometimes seems like it’s aimed more at adults than kids. But kids still love it. I know people without kids who watch it. It is jam packed with references, parodies and well-crafted humour. It’s also one of the most inclusive kids shows ever.

News here is the usual confusion and buffoonery. The government has had to step back a bit on it’s attempts to reopen the country by banning gatherings of over 6 people in the face of an increase in cases. It’s also going back on an agreement it pushed very hard for and admitted that might mean breaking a little bit of the law. The latter is about Brexit. The easiest test for something being about Brexit is asking, “does this sound like something a 3rd world dictatorship would do?” Cos if yes, it’s most likely a Brexit thing.

For any non-Brits, Brexit is best explained as being like deciding to leaving a (lets say) golf club because you were persuaded that it would save money on fees only to realise you can’t then use the course now without paying each time which will be much more expensive in the long run. Plus, a little bit of you also wanted to leave because you had somehow thought if you left, the Muslim family at the end of the street would somehow move away if you did. There are no good analogies because it’s a complicated web of misinformation, ineptitude, duplicity and complacency. 

We’re still quarantined, but work is keeping us occupied. As is a toddler who is half soprano, so thus the loudest screams on anything remotely her size.

As you’ve been good, I’ll leave you with one of the greatest moments of children’s television in recent years: Hey Duggee – Stick Song. A treat for all those 90s kids who now have kids of their own.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Me Myself and Isolation: day 4

 Day #4.  (Day number four / day hash four / day pound four / day sharp four.)

The toddler is rolling her scooter over bubble wrap because just pressing it by hand won’t cut it anymore.

Yesterday got into some pretty murky theological areas. I realise I compared my child to Satan. Satan is the bringer of chaos, the sender of noise, the destroyer of all that is weak and fragile. So, that stands.

News comes in that the toddlers nanny on his mother’s side (mormor as the Swedish call it) has got some horrendous stomach bug. It’s not the corona, but it is not good. It doesn’t involve hospitalisation, but it does involve a lot of bathroomalisation. It explains why we all have slightly dodgy tummies. The fear is for us it’ll also go full Somme. [You might need to adjust this reference for your own region, by referring to the muddiest, messiest battle you know.]

Don’t worry. We’ll keep you informed of how this goes.

For general cleaning and the fun of it, we have a robot vacuum cleaner. It’s not one of the fancy ones and it’s not that smart. It has about 5 different programs, that it cycles through until a random point in time OR it has hit enough obstacles to give up on that one.

Somehow its programming means it spends most of it’s time under the chair, like a timid pet. Every now and again it emerges, usually with a ball. Under the sofa is a graveyard for balls, Lego pieces and anything else a child might want to throw or kick around. For that read “everything.”

 The toddler has a fascination / horror relationship with it. She wants it on and loves to see it move semi-randomly around the room. But, she is terrified of it. She will not stand on the floor when it’s moving. She’ll sit on a chair or stand on a step where it can’t get her. She might still scream with a mixture of fear and joy when it comes close. I hope she doesn’t pursue human relationships like that.

She’s very excited when the robot emerges with one of her toys. Sometimes she’ll be brave enough to run and get it, screaming the whole time. Others, she won’t dare. With three robots, I could probably keep the child herded in the other part of the house. Until she overcame her fear and hopped from robot to robot filled with revenge.

"Take me to your leader."

As for our self-isolation, no one has checked on us yet. Which brings us to Priti Patel, who sounds like a character in a satirical novel, is in fact a frequently inept, pandering, reactionary politician, like a character in a satirical novel. She’s the Secretary of State for the Home Department, meaning she’s in part responsible for things of State and indeed partly responsible for the state of things.

She has said, they monitor 1 in 5 people, which they do by calling them. Not sure this is the best thing to admit. Better keep us being good by not knowing the system rather than allowing people to think, “I ain’t getting calls, so I ain’t being tracked.”

Apparently I was right about one thing – they are mostly interested in the background noise. So never go anywhere where you can’t drown out the ambient noise with a recording of cats mewing, or a serial killer documentary or sounds of porn. But beware of having too many cats in the recording so that you sound like you are at a sanctuary, or that the documentary is at the point of an re-enactment so it sounds like you are killing someone, or that the porn sounds are too real and it sounds like you are actually having an orgy.

Anyway, so no call and apart from a lot of screams over the top of a droning robot, we’ve all still got it together.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Me Myself and Isolation: day 3

 Day, the 3. Already I’m reverting to old English (or ye olde Englishe as it’s known).

Back in the day, customs officials were keen to know did you have any illegal drugs or banned fruit. Now they want to know where you’ve been in the last 14 days. Which countries, in particular. If a country you have visited is not on the exemption list then you have to self-isolate. “Not on the exemption list” is effectively a double negative and, so, confusing. Much less confusing to say, “it’s on the inemption list.”

The UK government has a website, GOV.UK. And it certainly can govuk itself. 

Fair enough, a country like the UK, which loves itself some bureaucracy, is going to have a lot of forms and documents, but just a little thought could make things easier to navigate. It’s basically just a directory but organised how a civil servant would think. Something most people would describe as labyrinthine, a civil servant would call an in tray.

So even things I found yesterday, I can’t find today. There is a place to log in, but it’s not prominent on every page, you have to dig down and find the right page. The writing style is as dry and verbosely factual as you would expect.

Anyway, on one of these pages is a form to let the good people at Edge Case, Side Liners or Border Force (or whatever the customs people are calling themselves this year) know where you’ve been.

Sweden is on the inemption list. Countries come and go from the exemption list the same way that lockdown rules are relaxed and tightened. It’s the ebb and flow a country / world at sea.

Apparently, they do follow up on this. From some people I’ve heard that there was no checking. Emma is in some Swedish groups and people there have gotten automatic phone calls asking if they are at home. You answer “yes” and they’re happy, supposedly. Maybe they listen to the noise behind you. If it’s a lot of chatter and thumping bass, you might not be at home OR you are breaking the bo contact rules. If it’s the last 30 minutes of Netflix, you’re probably at home. They also do come visit, Emma heard. Some people have had several checks. So it seems that the checks are random or maybe based on some other factor such as age or how foreign your surname is. There’s no data on this.

MILK (Internet slang) - Man I'd Like to Know.

A hundred years ago, there was a similar pandemic, known popularly as The Spanish Flu. How much harder things were then. No internet. No YouTube. No Netflix. No way of remotely arranging food to be delivered unless you were wealthy enough to have a telephone or expendable servants. And even a few years ago, there were no affordable services delivering food or groceries unless you were house-ridden through age or sickness.

But now, it’s very easy to order groceries to be delivered. The biggest problem is that, in these times, the better ones will not have a delivery slot for quite a few days. Am*zon can deliver pretty quickly, but who likes giving money to an actual Bond villain. Of course, it means these delivery drivers are basically visiting all of the people deemed more likely to be sick and are now the potential spreaders. But, they seem to know this, and keep their distance. Leaving the boxes for you to empty at your door and only approaching to get the next one to you.

Self-isolation sounds like it’s a great excuse to not work. “I can’t work from home today, I’m self-isolating.” But, alas it actually means you have less things pulling you away from work. So, Monday morning is Monday morning. At home. Where it has been for months. And where it was for nearly two years before that (for me). 

There was the usual meeting in the people-panelled zoom room. And then getting back into doing whatever it is I do, after half a week of good old fashioned rest. I’m lucky in that what I can do can be done from home. I haven’t been laid off or been left without clients. Also, as an introvert, lockdowning and self-isolating are not as hard on me as they are others. I do count myself lucky. 

The toddler, however is an extrovert. She’s gregarious and so 2 weeks without daycare or other contact with fellow wee’uns is going to be the toughest part of this. But if Jesus can suffer 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness with Satan, we can suffer 14 days and 14 nights in our living room with a toddler. Not that I comparing myself to Jesus. 

Ugh, day 3 and I’m already comparing myself to the messiah.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Me Myself and Isolation: day 2

 Day 2. Toddler is scooting across the lounge with a liberated coin next to her on the footrest.

On the behest of a more scientific friend, I have looked up some of the coronadata.

When it comes to this pandemic, there seem are more opinions flying around than actual data. Maybe that’s true of nearly everything nowadays. You’d think the internet would make it easier. After all, everything that ever happened is recorded somewhere on the internet. On the other hand, every lie ever told is also on the internet. Every opinion you have, no matter how ludicrous has a website, group or channel backing it up. It has never been so easy to be wrong.

In terms of Deaths, Sweden is doing better than the UK (meaning there are fewer of them, to clear up any confusion), but that is not saying much. However, it’s still up there in the top part. Their hope is that now it’s all done and dusted and a second wave won’t bother it. We’ll have to see. Its neighbours are much lower down the chart, but in Denmark, according to TV, you are much more likely to die of a serial killer than anything.

It’s odd that despite its high death rate, I have some trust Sweden’s science-led approach. Even though a lot of the science is up in the air and all we have is predictions, and when the dust has settled, we can see what went down. Definitely, I have more trust than in the UK’s response which seems to have been “try all the methods” and is much more spin-doctor-led.

I’ll have to look into what Denmark, Norway and Finland’s methodologies have been for dealing with the crisis, but that’s enough geomedical statistics for one day.

Day 2 and everything is A-OK

The rules for self isolation in England are that you absolutely must stay indoors (or your own garden) except for when you or your pet needs medical attention, if you have to go to court(!), or “to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.” So, if the house is falling down or you are a character witness for your best friend accused of serial killing, then you can leave it.

You can also leave if you absolutely need some food you can’t arrange to be delivered in time, which we had to do on the first day due to a milk emergency that meant one of us had to go out under cover of mask to make sure we survived. Believe me. Somethings you can do without as an adult, but there are things without which children become unbearable monsters. Some of these can be bought from shops (such as milk or what ever the little things drink of choice is), others are unique items such as that one special soft toy (out of all the others that are somehow vastly inferior) or that one special blanket without which sleep is impossible except after an hour of tears and wailing.

There are some other specific exceptions / quirks. The people you are staying with do not need to self-isolate. Which is convenient but seems counter to how transmittable diseases work. Also if you are a child, and you have to change houses because it’s the turn of the other separated parent, then you can do that and continue your quarantine there. It doesn’t say whether you should hug your other parent or not when you arrive. It doesn’t say what you can do if you are leading a double life with two separate households.

Finally, you cannot change houses unless “there are exceptional circumstances in which it becomes impracticable [impossible] to remain at the original address.” This is very open and I guess includes your best friend / flat mate turning out to be a serial killer, crocodiles start living in the bathroom or demonic possession of the bedside tables. Feel free to share your own, and we’ll see which is the most likely. (Note: actual most likely are flooding and spousal abuse, but let’s not sully the mood.)

The big question I’m sure is on everybody’s mind is: do the authorities check up on you and your self isolation? Short answer: Apparently, yes. More on this in a later episode.

Did you know episode is an online version of a pisode? This is the state of comedy on day 2. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Me Myself and Isolation: day 1

 So, this is the first day of self-isolation after a trip to Sweden. We knew we’d have to do this, and so prepared. We decided it was worth it to have a break AND bury Emma’s grandma. We’re now stuck indoors for a fortnight. 

We planned for it by signing up for one of those services that delivers ingredients and instructions on how to cook a week’s worth of meals. I might mention their name if it works out.

So far it’s fine. But the two of us are ‘lucky’ in that being locked indoors for two weeks does not fill us with dread. The toddler, however, is gregarious and gets antsy if she can’t jump in a puddle every other day.

I’m not completely sure of the exact rules of self-isolation in the UK right now so we have to find out if nipping to the shops is allowed. The rules here change very frequently. I think the government assumes we’ll think they are on top if it if they keep issuing new guidelines. We are in the process of opening things up here, but it seems for every two new things opening up, something (or somewhere) has new restrictions. 

It’s a far cry from Sweden. Sweden didn’t do the lockdown thing. They kept things more or less normal, but said, “you must social distance.” Swedes, on being told they had to be two metres apart, had a brief initial panic worried that this meant they could be no more than two metres from other people. Social distancing is what Swedes call socialising. They were the odd man out of Europe, despite the fact they were apparently the only ones who did what they EU scientists recommended and didn’t panic into going full lockdown for everyone except the Prime Minister’s special adviser.

(If you are not from the UK, then I’ll explain that behind the prime minister here is a Rasputin-like figure called Dominic Cummins. At the height of the lockdown, he drove himself and his family on several long trips against all guidelines and, just to show his contempt of everyone with a soul, explained one of the trips was to “test his eyesight.” Driving to test your eyesight is like operative heavy machinery to see if you are drunk. He was quite rightly ridiculed for this, but these days in politics, shame only makes you stronger.)

In the UK, you have to wear one on public transport, shops and anywhere where people congregate. Except restaurants and bars or anywhere where you need your mouth for eating. Which makes sense, kinda. At the airport in the UK, you needed a mask everywhere. But the moment you wandered into a restaurant, and you didn’t need a mask, even though you weren’t any further from people, really. 

It was weird, after 3 -12 months (however long it’s been), to go somewhere where practically no one is wearing a mask. I was so used to a certain level of fear, it took a little bit to adjust that to caution. But that’s maybe a difference between Sweden and the UK. In Sweden they hope people see the reasons for rules and in the UK, rules and laws are often fear-based. I mean most of our headlines are fear-based. It makes Britain look like a bunch of scared people all trying to scare us into thinking they should be in charge.

But the fear creeping into Britain is not new. As I said, somewhat jestingly, fear is the main way that some of our most popular newspapers sell their product. Readers of these get at least one big fear for their way of life every day. The rise of UKIP and the further right (racism is always rooted in fear) and tactics used to secure a majority for leaving the EU attest to the power of fear.

Anyway it’s already day one and I’ve gone into the dank corners of politics. This is meant to be a journal of a family in self-isolation (albeit with a family unit), a chance to document some thoughts on this bizarre situation we find ourselves in and a way to force myself to write regularly. Expect 13 more.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Cry in Creativity

Because I work part time from home and my girlfriend works full time from an office that isn't at home, I am at home with our child most of the time. This is a fact that still takes some people a few seconds to compute even in 2019.

Mostly men, but also women. I think some men consider their masculinity threatened by taking care of a child. It explains the wailings that ensued when Daniel Craig was seen out with his child in a baby carrier.
"Now pay attention, 007, standard-issue baby carrier holds
a sophisticated vomit projecting device capable of emitting a loud,
piercing sound at the slightest provocation."
It's related to why some men, who are generally not very good examples of men / humans, like to force on you the fact they have never changed a nappy (diaper) in their lives. Let me tell you, I have changed nappies and I have seen unimaginable horrors that would make those so-called men weep into their snowflaky imaginary machismo.

But this is not what I wanted to talk about. Rather I wanted to discuss a preconception I had when going into this whole endeavour of being a stay-at-home dad. (BTW, the proper term for this is Day-Instructing Live-in Father, or DILF. If you tell people about me, don't forget to say you think I'm a DILF.)

I had thought, any spare time I had outside of part-time working and looking after a baby would be great creative time. The first mistake was thinking there would be any time outside of part-time working and looking after a baby. Actually the first mistake was thinking there would be any time outside of looking after a baby.

Babies fortunately do sleep a lot. They need time to convert residual energy into height and save up for tantrums. But not so much time that you can fit a part-time job in. And certainly not enough to have creative time left over, so there has to some amount of working when the baby is awake. Now, this can work fine with some of aspects of my day job, but not with creative endeavours.

I should probably say that my part-time work is as a software developer. It is not exciting but pays okay and allows me to use that part of my brain that is good at problem solving. Now, some aspects of this job that are repetitive and not so taxing on the old noodle. These things you can do with a child around you, but things that require deep thought or focussed thinking, such as solving complex problems or writing, are not good to do when there is a child around.

Add caption: dqejefw89fjfwejdmnewnewkifewfowef89fyuowhnfewfjuiwfjksdfdsoicmnoew

Those of you who know little of the workings of children, should know that every child is programmed to do as much harm to itself as possible. They are constantly trying to top themselves. What stops them is you, luck and the fact they are not very good at anything yet. A baby on a high surface will try with all it's might (which is not much in the first few months) to throw itself off. If you have sharp objects lying around toddlers will find them. They will be attracted to them no matter what array of wonderful toys that are lying around. If you ever lose your rat poison or descaling solvents, no worries, let a one-year-old loose in the house and it will track them down in no time and have the lid off in slightly more.

Because of this, you can't go into deep-focus mode when a child is around. You'll come out of it and the little horror will be under the wardrobe or head-first in the toilet bowl.

So, creatively this has not been a good time. At least not in the sphere of written things. In the arena of children's songs, however, it has been amazing. Babies like singing. They are pretty terrible at it themselves, but they love it being done to them. And as I can't remember lyrics for toffee, I am always having to make up songs on the spot. I've created hundreds and hundreds of songs, all short and mostly based on things that are going on in that moment.

I've sung about toy cars, puddles, farts, dirty clothes, food, dogs, cows, hats, crying, socks, leaves, books, mucus, stuffed pigs that look like bears, spoons, vomit, coats, sheep that look like poodles, having you face wiped and lonely dinosaurs.

This is the sheep/poodle equivalent of "that dress."
There is a whole sub-genre of “poo songs” dedicated to praising, deriding or describing the more solid contents of nappies. And let me tell you, the range of colours, volumes, textures and density of what babies can produce would make many a “macho” snowflake weep into his deepest insecurities.

A little postscript:
Anyone who is worried that I am in any way resentful of the little horror taking up so much of my time, energy and pigmented hairs has never been a father to the greatest little thing that ever crawled, puked and pooped its way across God's fair Earth.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

#NewYearHumbleBrag 2018-2019

In 2018, 
  • I moved back to my original country after many years away (it's now a country wrestling with itself as to the best way to shoot itself in the foot, but hey); 
  • I had several haircuts forced on me; 
  • I left an improv world where I was a big fish and one of not so many teachers – one that I had seen grow and flourish; 
  • I found myself in a new improv world, one which was far from being a pond and is vibrant and exciting and teeming with life (Hi, I'm available for teaching, coaching, company trainings and children's parties!); 
  • I failed to update my website despite numerous attempts; 
  • I co-devised a show which draws from my love of Scandinavian detective shows and seems to go down very well; 
  • I helped an aimless, human-like blob become the smiliest, people-loving tiny Frankenstein's laugh monster who ever wobbled about this Earth; 
  • I got a tattoo of two men carrying a fridge.
I hope 2019 has fewer surprises but as much fun. I hope my country decides nothing is solved by shooting yourself in the foot unless your foot is possessed by demons, and even then – do an exorcism! And I plan to stop lying about having tattoos.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Proud to be a Remoaner

Brexit has literally split the country in half. It's split political parties. It's split families. It's split past Teresa May from “holy crud, I'm in power!” Teresa May. There hasn't been such a divisive thing in British politics since the whole Cavalier v Roundheads thing.

I feel I've been restrained about the whole thing, especially considering it's been a bucket full of writhing shit-eels since the whole thing began.

You can probably tell something of my position on all this from the title, but both sides have their nuances.

I'm a Remoaner. And pretty proud of it too. I know Remoaner is the derogatory term from the “other side,” but it is one that is easily reclaimed. I quite like it as a term. It's a cute pun and there is some truth in it. We Remoaners do a lot of moaning. Which is not a bad thing. There is nothing more British than grumbling about things. We love to carp on about things don't think add up, don't feel right and are being handled in a very slipshod fashion. We especially like to complain about things we seem to have no control over, such as the weather and sporting results.

The main thing I like to remoan about these days is the fact that a year or so ago there was a referendum where the vote was pretty much, within a margin of error and international interference, 50-50. It was NOT a landslide. It was definitely NOT a clear mandate for anything. It's at best a slight preference. And although governments can lead with such a small majority, said government will only affect the next 4 years and then we can sling them out. Yet the result of the #Brexit vote is talked about as if it the referendum a massive landslide. As if the whole country voted leave. Instead, of those who voted and expressed a preference, just over half said “yes lets do this thing, whatever it is.” Sure it was a win, but the real truth the poll told was that this issue divides the country down the middle and getting bolshie about it from either side will annoy a lot of people.

I partly because the win was so flimsy (and so rooted in the time it took place) that those who really want it, are so desperate for it to happen soon, before more people change their mind. They get so angry when it is questioned.

I have an extra thing to remoan about. I was not allowed to vote. No kidding. At the time of the vote I was living abroad. By the rules of the referendum, I had been out of the country too long. (Note this rule does not apply to general elections.) Me, for whom the whole in or out of Europe thing has a direct relevancy. My ability to live and work abroad, or at least the ease of it, hinged on us being in and I was excluded from that decision. And not just myself but a very large number of people were in the same boat. Enough to sway the pretty close-run vote, by several accounts. Now, that IS something to remoan about!

So, I'm very comfortable with my remoaner label.

Liar lies in front of lying bus.
I was initially miffed there was no comic label for the other side. But actually there is. It's one I want to make everyone use, because it finally gives the remoaner label a counterpart: BELEAVER. I like it a lot. Why Beleaver?

BELEAVER because many of them proved they will beleave any old rubbish as long as it's written on the side of a bus.

BELEAVER because many beleave Brexit will fix all of the things they've been made angry about for all these years, which it patently will not.

BELEAVER because many of their number have an almost religious-like following of certain key figures. They make these people almost Christ-like figures. And by Christ-like, I mean they are usually people that for most people, when they hear about them, we go “oh, Christ!”

So go out and use Beleaver. Let's bring back an equality in the labels as there is in the numbers of people on each side if the people's poll from all that time ago is to be believed.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Travel: 18 Aug 2017, Amsterdam to Stockholm

Let's face it, planes are obsessed with being boats. Cabin, crew, (air)port - most of the terms about them are nautical. This is despite the #2 rule of flying being “avoid the sea.” (#1 rule is “avoid the land.”) The roles on planes always also take their names from the equivalent on ships: Captain, first officer, steward(ess). Thus the head of the steward(esse)s is called the purser, as it is on passenger ships, referring to this being the person who keeps track of the money or holds the purse. Not because of how they hold their lips.

Plane wing

The purser on this flight gave the safety rigmarole in the style of a man seducing a woman in a 1960s British comedy. Which made us, the passengers, buxom secretaries. (As 50% of women were in 1960s British comedies. The rest were buxom housewives.)

It is as if what he is saying is all innuendo. But in fact it’s the same stuff you get told every time a plane is about taxi to the runway. He was audibly winking. That is you could hear the equivalent of a wink in his voice, not that his eyelids made a noise you could hear over the intercom. That would be have been weird, but somehow pretty entertaining.

“The life vest can be topped up using the mouthpiece provided.” *short creak followed by impossibly loud squish of eyelids colliding*

Seduction over, the passengers giggled girlishly. Or at least adjusted their seatbelts. It was time for the plane to hit the sky. Although, this time the sky hit back with the sky’s favourite prank, turbulence.

Turbulence is a great word. It usually makes me think of super-fast ambulance from some ancient TV serial. "Now, Turbu-lance! In color!"

In the end, the sky only had a little poke with its turbo-lance which really caused the plan to drop a bunch of metres just the once. My only disappointment is that as this happened, the purser didn’t cry out over the intercom “Ooooh! Did you feel that, madam?” But he didn’t and the plane flew on to modern-day Sweden.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Pétulé (after Dorothy Parker)

Cats will scratch you;
Parrots just squawk;
Dogs attack you;
None of them talk.

Mice die quickly;
Rabbits breed;
Hedgehogs prickly;
It's a human I need.

(I urge you to read the the original and anything else by Dorothy Parker.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Serial Killer (2016)

With the sad demise of George Michael it has become clear that 2016 is a serial killer. More specifically a serial killer of the type that really only appears in movies. In films, serial killers always have some elaborate system for picking victims and circumstances which eventually the detective, who has spent the first three quarters of the mostly being flummoxed and dealing with a number of personal problems, gains an insight into.

The flash of inspiration came when it was clear it was too much of a coincidence that George Michael, who is indelibly linked to the song “Last Christmas,” died on Christmas day. From then on, it’s a matter of looking at the other key musical celebrity deaths of 2016 and finding a pattern.

David Bowie, who died on a Sunday, did write a song called “Sunday,” and as he seems to have been the first victim, it does make him the “Absolute Beginner.” These might seem tenuous, but this is the clincher: He wrote a song called “Underground” and the 10th of January (the day he died) was also the same date the London Underground first opened in 1863. Let that sink in.

Prince who penned the much-loved, haunting ballad ‘Sometimes It Snows in April’ died in April. Fans soon picked up on what seemed to be irony or coincidence or prescience but we now suspect was premeditation on the part of a rogue, sociopathic, killer year.

Leonard Cohen wrote a song called “The Old Revolution” and died on November 7 which is a Revolution Day in several former soviet countries.

Pete Burns, who perished on the 23rd of October, was most famous for the song “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).” October 23rd is also the same day that Richard Nixon agreed to TURN over audio RECORDings related to the Watergate scandal, an event Nixon had been SPINning since it started. Did the killer somehow reveal the hidden meaning behind this seemingly fluffy pop hit?

Rick Parfitt died the 24th of December. Although Status Quo did release “It’s Christmas Time,” more pertinently they released “You’ll Come ‘Round” and December 24th is the day that the final of the 13 Icelandic Yule Lad’s (Jólasveinar) comes round. A stretch? Not if you are a deranged serial killer.

People, we are the detective. It’s up to us to work out who is next. We have the clues; we just need to work out who is next and when. We have to stop “2016” before it kills again!

Saturday, December 24, 2016


When naming your home interiors company, it's probably better to steer away from stories by Franz Kafka. Especially ones where the main character becomes a cockroach.

Beware of the trial period.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Filming in the Round

Very recently I had the chance to help make a short film with one of the new generation of virtual reality cameras. This allows you to make a movie where the viewer can look all around them in 360 degrees (as well as up and down, so I guess that’s 360 x 360 degrees, which would be 129600 degrees).

It allows viewers to look behind them and see what’s going on. For once it’s not a line of dead-eyed kids shovelling popcorn into their popcorn holes, but more of the movie. It means you chose the camera angle and what you focus on. It make the whole thing very immersive when watched on 360 goggles.
90% of pictures of people wearing these goggles are men with beards.
For the film makers, it means some things have to be done differently. You don’t make a set with just 2 or 3 walls, but you need a complete set, so the audience can see the expected number of walls. It also means all of the usual personnel must be hidden or off the set. But as the camera doesn’t have to move, it just has to sit there and film in all angles, it means you don’t need a cameraman behind it or a dolly grip pushing it. (I’m certain “dolly grip pushing it” is a line on Nicki Minaj’s latest album.)

What is interesting for the actor, is that the set is complete. You don’t have one or two walls missing filled with cameramen, sound operators, makeuppers, directors, runners, gaffers and dolly grips pushing it. It is quite immersive for the actor too. You are inside the set with just the other actors. Oh, and the camera.
Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?
The camera looks like a ball-shaped cyberbug with eyes every 10 centimeters. Because it’s round and has these bulging eye-like camera lenses, it’s easy to imagine it’s a head, and so it really makes the camera feel more like another actor. Sure, an actor that doesn’t move or react, but we’ve all played with actors like that. It even has a cute name, Ozo, so I can see some actors getting very attached to it. I predict 4 years before some drug-addled starlet marries one.

Because of the immersive nature of VR movies, the camera will nearly always be another character. The viewer feels like he or she is there, so they will so often be made a character in the film. Even if it’s just one that sits in the corner and looks around at the action taking place. Our movie very much involved the viewer and made them the focal point. It justified the fact that character can’t really have lines. And it made stuff happen all around them so that the viewer won’t get a stiff neck from staring in the same direction.

Virtual reality creepy guy on virtual reality hospital bed.
The main downside to this is form of movie making is the fact that it is currently almost impossible to edit because there as are no forced camera angle changes because this disorientates the viewer. You can do cuts by simulating a blink or having the lights going out, but otherwise, you have to do all or large chunks of it in one take. Which is nothing new, of course, to theatre actors or those film actors who work with directors who like to do long takes.

But I like to characterise most film acting as walking from one point to another saying one line and then sitting out for two hours while they set up the next shot. It’s great. You only need to learn one or two lines at a time and you have so much time in between to read a book and lean the line for the next bit of the scene. Sometimes you have to just stand there and deliver the line, which is even easier. Or you have to deliver a line whist pretending to hit someone in the face or shoot a gun, but it’ll always take 3 days to shoot this, and most of the time there will be someone who knows how to hit someone in the face does it for you with a wig just like your hair so they can film it from behind and it makes it look like you have a clue what you were doing.

Anyway, this is a huge step into the future of film, but there are currently limitations in terms of integrating it with moving, and the possibility of all the sort of edits that allow time jumps and emphasis in stories. There will be a few very interesting films (and games) made using this, and lots and lots of point-of-view porn, but I am not sure it will take over current movie production techniques, where the story is often told through the cuts, focus and angles, for a while. But I do feel it will fuel a new branch of filmmaking. I’m very proud to be at the forefront of that.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Travel: Finny Dipping (Tampere, Finland, Summer 2013, part 2)

[The write-up for the first part of this trip is here.]

Warning: This story contains full frontal nudity.

The thing I really had difficulty adjusting to in Finland was the length of the days. Finland is north. Quite far north. In the summer, when I was there, it never really gets dark. It gets toward twilight until about 1am, and then it starts getting lighter again. The first night I woke up every hour expecting it to be morning already.

The following night I got out my emergency eye mask and slept a whole lot better, but would have been easy pickins for any assassins.

In winter it’s the opposite and barely gets light. Those long winters have the tendency to turn the good folk of Finland into Goths. I’ve never seen so many Metalheads, Goths and Emos in bright sunlight as I did that week. Over the summer, every weekend there is a music festival in Finland, and every single one seems to be Death Metal festival. I imagine every weekend, the average Finn throws off the work clothes, Goths up and spends the two free days in a field listening to the delicate strains of bands such as Deathbound, Torture Killer, and Impaled Nazarene.

Famous Finnish folk song.

I was in Finland for a festival. Not a death metal festival. My death metal days are so long ago and so dead, there are probably a dozen death metals songs about them. No, I was in Finland for an improvised comedy festival. For more information about my improv antics you can see the blog dedicated to that.

On the last night there was a party. It was the thing I feared the most. Okay I’m not afraid of parties, in fact quite the reverse. However this one was at a sauna.

I’m not a sauna person. I find them stiflingly hot and can never stay in for long. Plus the fact that the Finns sauna as God intended – i.e. as naked as the day he kicked us out of our mothers’ wombs – makes them especially unenticing.

For those of you who haven’t experienced it, which is most of you, naked I look like a frayed piece of string. Pale, fuzzy with sporadic bits flailing off. Although these days the string has a slight bulge in the middle like it’s a worm digesting a bead.

I don’t really have body issues, but I think people who have to encounter my body will have issues, so I try to keep it covered up. It remains quite covered up even when the sun is out because I can go from white to lobster-red in exactly no time at all.

The Finns have a system for saunaing (check this is the correct form of the verb). They boil their skin in the hot room for an allotted amount of time and then they jump in a frozen lake. Some of the real keen ones then birch themselves with bits of tree.

Well, I did that. All of that. I did it in the reverse order.

So that party was not as I had feared taking place inside the sauna, it was just that there was a sauna in the party location, which took some time to get to the lobster-boiling temperatures the Finns like. At some point someone rushed in and said there was a lake a short walk away. A party full of drunk improvisers, is going to find a lot of people who say “yes” to the craziest of suggestions, and so before we realised it, a group of us were heading down towards the lake with the intention to jump in.

So on the way to the lake, through the trees, someone pushed a branch aside that thwacked me in the face. I didn’t realise it then, but that was the start of the Reversed Finnish Sauna Ritual. I’d been birched.

There is a sting after a twig thwacks you across the flesh, but after that sting is the feint pleasure of relief as the pain ebbs away.

When we got to the lake, we threw off the raiments of mortal men and jumped. This act was dubbed Finny Dipping by international improv playboy Jstar Atlanta.

It was damn cold as you’d expect, but when you’re with a group of people all doing the same, you share that suffering. I was determined to not tough it out. I grimaced and watched as other people left the water until I realised the Finns were still in the water, and not only enduring it, but loving it. They were frolicking and splashing each other. It was time to leave. I was, however the last non-Finn to do so, so there.

When you get out of the water, the relief is amazing. It feels so good that the freezing water is no longer surrounding your lower parts.

People of the Lake. This is 1 am.

When we got back to the party, the sauna was at full furnace. Several Finns tried to convince me to get in. I told them it was not my thing. “I have been in a sauna before.” “A Finnish sauna?” “Well, no…” That was it. I could not convince anyone after than I knew what it was like because a Finnish sauna is different to other saunas. I assume the same way that a French firing squad, for example, is different to a firing squad from any other country. There is a clear difference to students of the whole firing squad ethos, but to the person being pointed at by all those guns, the difference is not apparent.

So I was convinced. I debriefed once more and got in. Yes it was hot. Way hotter than any sauna I’d been in before. The Finns like it hot. It explains that old classic movie, “Suomi Like It Hot.”

As soon as I was in, someone said, “okay, nobody leave for 10 minutes. It’s not warm enough.” NOT WARM ENOUGH!! It was the temperature of an angry sun in there.

But, I held out; I did my time and even went back for a little more, later.

Now, the feeling you get getting out of the steaming room into the (relatively) cool air is amazing. That relief is pure joy.

Finnish pleasure seems to be all about experiencing the extreme and then the pleasure you get from leaving it. I began to think that maybe the Finns don’t really like death metal. They go every weekend to a festival and listen to it for 3 days and then when the come back, put on the radio and listen to some cheery, cheesy Scandinavian pop it feels AMAZING.

The antidote to Death Metal?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Train of Thrones

Brussels isn’t really that far from Amsterdam. It’s an hour and a half on the fast train, and 3 hours on the cheap one which seems to stop at every farm on the way. In fact if a cow stands still near to the track, the train slows down in case it has a ticket.

Thalys is the service which runs the fast train. It’s French, so the ‘h’ is only hinted at or mimed and so it sounds like Talece, who I am sure was a character on Game of Thrones. The logo seems to be deliberately sphynx-like.

Thalys seems to massively oversell its tickets so much so that you can pay all that extra cash for the fast train and end up with no where to sit. The only warning you get about this is after they have taken your money. They add matter-of-factly, "oh, by the way you don't have a seat. Bummer." (I'm paraphrasing.) And I wasn’t alone. The train was full of people with refugee status. People who have to move on every time someone appears with a ticket for the seat they are in. They are made to feel like third class citizens in a second class carriage.

Why they have to be so duplicitous about it I don't know. Tell me before hand, maybe offer refugee tickets for a much cheaper price. But don't charge me full whack and do the internet equivalent of muttering under their breath.

It makes me wonder what sort of people ride the Thalys. Well, the answer is short people. The seats on Thalys trains all have foot rests in front of them, attached to the back of the chairs. Down, they reach half-way to the floor, and so are of no use to anyone over 4 foot. This would be fine, because the leg rest folds up out of the way. Except that it doesn’t fold up out of the way, it folds up but sticks out. It’s not in the way for short people, but tall people, such as myself, will have the this thing digging in their upper shins for 90 minutes. Or they can put it down and put their feet on it, but then have their knees in their face.

I don’t know who Talece was in Game of Thrones, but she is almost certainly a dwarf, hobbit or orc and, statistically, she was definitely killed of at least a season ago.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Great British Game Shows

The person who finds the next big game show format will be rewarded with great wealth and much public derision. Accepting that there will be derision allows you to dispense with shame and allow yourself to be inspired wherever you are. At some time, one keen production company bod was on holiday on the British coast and came up with Tipping Point. Tipping Point is a game show based on those annoying coin machines at seaside arcade; the ones when you drop coins onto moving shelves hoping to displace even more coins than you put in. It’s all made exciting by the soundtrack from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” which is a show based on an old Abbott and Costello routine.

Other popular British game shows are Deal Or No Deal (which is the dramatisation of those logic problems where you have to work out which is the best choice in a highly contrived situation), Pointless (which celebrates the knowledge of stuff everyone else has forgotten), and Countdown (which is officially the politest TV show ever, with a please-thank-you-to-minute ration higher than any other probably because the audience base was born in the 1940s).

So, I’m creative, I’m sure I can come up with a game show. Here’s my list of formats I’m working on:
  • Gin Rummy
  • Golf War
  • The Great Psychaedelic Cheesecake Badger Horse Challenge
  • To Bee or Not To Bee
  • Rape or Pillage

Look out one for these soon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Career Plan 9 From Outer Space

You have to feel a bit sorry for this guy. Gregory Walcott, who died recently at 87, was an actor who is pretty much only known for his role in the so-called worst movie of all time.

Walcott was in a few other movies, some of which you’ll (also) have heard of, and worked with some top directors, but on his way up, he reluctantly took one job that was to haunt him for the rest of his days. Normally when that happens the movie in question is porn or nazi propaganda or, worse still, both. But in this case it was neither, it was just another B-movie. Tons of such cheaply-put-together movies were made during the fifties. They still are being made to some extent. These are what used to be straight-to-DVD. Now they are probably straight-to-YouTube.

This is definitely a classic of the genre of terrible B-Movie. It is poorly written, badly acted, its production values are definitely shoddy, and it was made on the kind of budget you find down the back of a sofa. But what sets it a little bit apart is that it was the last movie of Bela Lugosi, who went from a top actor and heartthrob in Hungary to being king of terrible, cheap movies. In fact, this film is quite special in that Bela Lugosi was billed as the star even though he was dead before it came to be made. In fact the the movie was made around some footage shot for a different project before he died.

But let’s be honest, this isn’t really the worst movie ever made. It might be the most entertaining bad movie ever made, but there are worse movies. Basically because it isn’t boring. It has a zeal, which is one of the reasons it’s badness shines. It’s zeal comes because the director considered he was making a great epic picture. So much so, that the details of things such as wobbly sets and unconvincing dialogue could be glossed over. The greatness of the story is all.

There are movies I have switched off after no time at all because they are boring, I care about nobody and there is no entertainment value whatsoever. These terrible movies can still have high production values.

What is different about Gregory Walcott, is that it seems that most of the stars of an Ed Wood movie were on the way down on their career trajectory, but he was on his way up.

I think it’s a big fear for many performers to be remembered for the one thing you are not proud of. You see it often with musicians who are haunted by a big cheesy hit that is misrepresentative of them as performers. It haunts them. People demand they play it whenever they perform live. It’s the song that brings them the most riches, yet they resent it more and more each year.

Gregory Walcott certainly didn’t get rich from being in Plan 9 From Outer Space. He was talked into doing it and presumed it would disappear like so many other such movies. But it hasn’t. And it probably won’t. It’s one of my favourite movies in one of my favourite genres. Bad, 50s sci-fi B-movies were the movies I would sneak up late at night to watch, back in the days when you had to watch stuff when it was broadcast. Later I’d video them. Nowadays, I just search on YouTube - most of them are there.

I think the lesson here might be to be careful which projects you hang your name on, but that’s not always so easy to know. There are plenty of movies that looked like they would be great on paper, but the results were anything other. And any of those could become infamous. No, the lesson is more like, as Mr Walcott also acknowledged, that you have to be prepared that sometimes things outside of your control can take on a life of their own. You can only accept it. It’s a lesson the also recently departed Leonard Nimoy learnt over time with regarding his forever being identified as Spock. And at least the idolatry of Spock is nearly all positive; Plan 9 From Outer Space will not easily be beaten as the worlds most entertaining bad movie.

Anyway that’s what I think happened. In the words of Criswell, Plan 9’s narrator and psychic, “Can you prove it didn’t happen?” Yes, you probably can.