Thursday, 30 July 2015

Check Four








Driving used to have criteria, things that you had to do before embarking on a journey. There were special clothes to wear, equipment you needed to keep in your boot, sweets you needed in the glove box: there were gloves. It was also a time when men were expected to be useful, and so a series of mechanical checks were expected to be made before every trip. Now people just jump in and piss off at high speed in the same casual way that they might sit on a chair, or a toilet.

So, next time you need to use the car, humour me. Check the lights; check the steering; check the tyres; check the brakes; put on your car coat and pull on your driving gloves. When you've done all these things, light your pipe, make a hand signal and set off. The drive-thru KFC will still be there in a few seconds time.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

It's Magic!




If you actually like looking at random selections from an eclectic range of literature, don't forget about The British Esperantist. As bad habits go, it's a cheap and fairly harmless one to get into.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Sucked To Death







As a child I had a morbid fear of quicksand. I'd probably watched too many Tarzan films*, and PIF's like 'Keep A Grid On It', a warning about the dangers of children dying in grain pits ('drowning without water') didn't help. Come to think of it, as an adult I'm still pretty scared of quicksand AND grain pits, I'm just wise enough to know that if I don't go looking for that sort of danger, it certainly won't coming looking for me.

*There is no such thing as too many Tarzan films.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Dracula, Prince of Deadness







It's a convention of vampire films that Dracula starts dead, and ends up dead. In Hammer productions he is usually ended by a member of the Van Helsing family, but his nemesis can also be a callow youth or a monk who likes to warm his arse on an open fire. In 'Taste The Blood Of Dracula' he just gets giddy from being in a church and falls off a ledge. Fact is, Dracula is very much a bully. He's cock of the walk when biting young, vulnerable girls, but he crumbles when faced with any real opposition. Literally. That said, he'll be back. He always comes back.  

RIP, Sir Christopher, you pompous old marvel. See you again soon.

Interesting Postcards


Dolphins at Brighton Aquarium, Sussex

I know what you're thinking, 'yeah, dolphins are cool, Paul, but they're not that interesting'. Well, wind your neck in, mate, because these clever little bastards are Dick and Delilah, the dolphins the CIA trained to sabotage Soviet submarines during the cold war. And you can't prove otherwise.

Monday, 20 July 2015

The Evil of Banality


The writer, theorist and academic Mark Fisher recently set up a Facebook page called ‘Boring Dystopia’, and invited the submission of photographs of Britain in the 21st century to illustrate the concept. I’ve already uploaded a few snaps, as manifestations of dullness and decay have long been an interest of mine, particularly the places where the banal and the broken intersect, and the true, terrible, tedious horror of modern life is revealed.

We’ve all read ‘1984’ and seen the implications of totalitarianism: the endless war, constant surveillance, the relentless propaganda machine, the purges, the torture, the executions, the mind boggling twists and turns in ideology, in language, in life under the heel of the system. But this is a very different dystopia that lacks even the charm of the police state: there are hardly any police for a start (the phalanx of coppers in the picture below dates from 2012, and the procession of the Olympic Torch).

This dystopia is held in place by neglect, by apathy, by a lack of resources, by a lack of interest. Everything is falling apart, but we lack the money and energy to make it right. Newly built things look half-dead even as they are unveiled, MDF where wood used to be, bricks made out of old bricks, slates and glass made out of plastic, all covered with a single coat of watery pastel paint.

New housing is prohibitively expensive and resembles a series of bird boxes split into quarters, sixths, eighths depending on how many newly weds are expected to cram into them. The pity of the boring dystopia is that these poorly and hastily constructed pens are sought after. It has come to this: we are so desperate to live somewhere that we will settle for a Lego house with a tiny consolatory patch of polyurethane lawn. There are some townhouses near to where I work. Each of them has one large window has a tiny balcony attached to it, like a fancy fringe on the bottom of a sofa. You cannot stand on it, sit on it, or even dangle a child over it. In any event, it just looks out onto a dirty, busy road.  




Local authorities and other central civil organisations are not instrumental in the boring dystopia, they are subsumed by it, just like everybody else. Lacking money, resources and motivation, their interventions are confined to putting up signs, or erecting fences and barriers to keep members of the public away from areas that they already have no interest in.




Old and empty buildings are no longer demolished, as that costs too much money, and the boring dystopia has put too many rules in place about blowing things up or setting fire to them. Instead these buildings ossify with pigeon droppings, and stalactites form like spindly toxic fingers. After a while the buildings become invisible.


Yet, despite the underpopulated office blocks, in spite of the abandoned buildings, we keep on building because we are not able to stop, perhaps because we want to fulfil the life trajectory we expected when our world was not so dystopic, not so boring. Or perhaps it’s to see out the job that our distant ancestors started several centuries ago: to carve up and chop down this land until every inch of it has the brand of civilisation upon it, until there is no corner or parcel of space that does not have a foot print or a unit or a trampoline upon it.   
There CCTV cameras everywhere, but they simply provide a continuous flow of unmonitored images. They flicker through the night in unmanned offices. If something happens, someone will review the footage, in exactly the same way that a store detective might rewind the day’s surveillance tape to check out a shoplifting incident – in 1990. We’ve spent billions on replicating a process that already existed. We’ve lost the whirring noise and gained blurred footage of Michael McIntire shopping.     




Who runs the boring dystopia? The answer is no-one. There is no-one driving. The government are too busy to bother with little things like the administration of the country now. They are like burglars who have meticulously planned a precision raid on a gold warehouse, only to get there and find all the doors open and the alarms switched off. They wander around, taking what they want, not quite believing their luck. After a while, they take their masks off. They know no-one will stop them, and they no longer care who sees them.

We can obey a dictator, respect an ideologue, fear a tyrant. These individuals lead by bending parts of the world to their will, and, whether we go along or fight against, we live or die in the shadow of their monstrous ego. But this dystopia is boring, and it is run by boring people, with boring motives, except for Ian Duncan Smith, the previously underestimated 'quiet man' who is apparently a sociopathic maniac.




So, yes, thanks to Mark Fisher, the Boring Dystopia has a name now, and Facebook users can participate in its cataloguing. It is unlikely to spark a revolution, or challenge the parameters of this society that we have created. We are too tired and disengaged to throw a brick, so we press a button to ‘like’ a picture of something that, actually, represents our cultural penury and societal subjugation, like condemned men unknowingly shaking the hand of their executioner, who uses the contact to estimate the length of the drop. We should be ashamed, really, mortally ashamed, but this dystopia has made us all boring, and we are too stupefied to do a fucking thing about it.   

POSTSCRIPT: I have now left the group. It was boring.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

A Million Horns


It’s 1970, and Cliff Richard faces up to the challenges of a new decade and a less than inspiring recent sales record by teaming up with his old pal Hank Marvin and releasing a single that is not only rockier than his usual output, but also exploits a topical theme: the unstoppable rise of the car, and the damage pollution is doing to the environment.  

Written by Hank, ‘The Joy of Living’ features an interesting guitar effect that seems to evoke the grinding futility of a traffic jam, and lyrics that are both deeply sarcastic and rather angry and are redolent of J.G Ballard (who would have thought lots of big, sexy, deadly cars a good thing) or even Patrick Hamilton (who would have thought it disastrous*). In this dystopic version of the future where the motor car is King,  man is reduced to living in state appointed high rises, looking down on the world and remembering what it felt like to breathe clean air, like a scene from the credit sequence to 'Soylent Green' come to life.

In the end, however, a strong ecological message and a jaunty chorus were not enough to propel the song  higher than number 25 in the charts and the backlash against the dirty bastard car didn’t take place after all.  As someone who was stuck in a lovely multi coloured crocodile for twenty minutes this morning, I wish the world had listened to Cliff more closely. He was also right about young ones not being young for very long.
* Hamilton had more reason than most to hate the motor car, having been knocked over and nearly killed by one in the late 1920's. In 'Coleoptera', the last chapter of his 1953 novel 'Mr. Stimpson & Mr. Gorse', he predicts a Britain over-run by cars, created by man to serve but now completely in charge of their inventors and 'pitilessly exacting' in their demands. 'The beetles were not magnanimous in victory', he notes.

Friday, 17 July 2015

F*** Me, It's Freddie!




FMIF as Philip Proudfoot in 'Otley' (1968).

We've actually done this film before, but it is well worth revisiting, especially with facial expressions this good. Freddie plays what is called in olden days parlance 'a flaming homosexual', i.e. he isn't scared of what you think of his sexuality. He's also quite a dandy, and at the centre of the intrigue, like a camp mod spider. It's a broad performance, but it works - after all, as you can see from the second screen shot, Freddie has his tongue firmly in its cheek.

Otley








'Otley' is about fifteen minutes too long, but it's a fun film about the rather shabby world of espionage that features a stellar cast of British character actors, led by the great Tom Courtenay as Gerald Arthur Otley, a shiftless moocher and compulsive pincher of ornaments who, by sheer idiocy, finds himself at the centre of a web of slightly incomprehensible intrigue.

A nice mix of comedy and drama, 'Otley' is very sixties (never a problem in my book - or on my blog, anyway), but gives us a glimpse of the 'real' London behind the swing: the markets and bedsits, cafes, pubs and tube stations, people in polo necks and socks that need darning. The grooviest person in it is Freddie Jones, who is so sharply dressed it makes Beau Brummel look like Worzel Gummidge.     

Tom Courtenay is excellent, as always. His light Yorkshire accent, bony face and slightly camp delivery are miles away from the usual leading man, and he's not afraid to appear cowardly and pathetic, which is probably why he never made it big in action films. He's also very funny and, at times, the self-obsessed, duplicitous Otley is reminiscent of a (slightly) more grown up Billy Liar, which makes you wonder sometimes if all the running around and gun play is simply part of some elaborate, extended fantasy. 

The rest of the cast is a veritable who’s who of contemporary character actors, including James Villiers, Alan Badel, Leonard Rossiter, James Cossins, Ronald Lacey, Frank Middlemass, Geoffrey Bayldon and, of course, our beloved Freddie Jones. The last two on the list are still with us (aged 91 and 87, respectively) and, I hope, will remain so for a good few years to come. Romy Schneider makes an attractive female lead, but then she always did, particularly when sporting thigh length white pvc go go boots as she does here.  

Light hearted and full of twists, it’s the sort of film that should be on TV right now but, for whatever reason, never is.  Bloody nowadays TV.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Adieu, Aubrey


The purring, sinister, wonderfully eccentric Aubrey Morris is dead. He lived for 89 years, and was acting up until a few months ago. Here he is as an utterly bonkers psychiatrist Dr. Putnum in Hammer's 'Blood From The Mummy's Tomb'. Adieu, Aubrey.

What Might Have Been


It's February 1979, and Punk is moribund enough for Legs & Co to get involved and start clod hopping about in plastic sandals and party wigs. If they'd only flipped the record over they would have encountered 'Frigging in the Rigging', a puerile chant full of explicit sexual imagery that is crying out for literal interpretation in dance by five ditzy dancers. Can you imagine the hand gestures?

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Christ Almighty


Art therapy is an essential part of prison for those serving long sentences: they've got to do something, after all, and smearing a load of paint all over a canvas can be cathartic.

Ronnie Kray was a keen amateur artist, and his paintings (not all of which are as good as his 'Crucifixion' above) now sell for several thousand pounds each. Good news, Ronnie, wherever you are: people are still fucking mugs when it comes to your tawdry legend.

A tip of the cap to  Jonny Trunk who originally posted this on Instagram and made me aware of it. Now I can't think about anything else, so, yeah, thanks a lot.

Keep It Broken!







While we're thinking about shotguns, rural settings and sudden, violent death, remember --

'A gun should be broken and unloaded whenever it's not being fired, and especially when getting through a fence or over any obstacle. If you don't follow the rules, sooner or later there'll be a - BANG! - tragedy'.

Look at the geezer being shot. Is it just me, or is he hamming it up a bit?

Saturday, 11 July 2015

House On Straw Hill










‘House On Straw Hill’ has either an illustrious history or a terrible reputation, depending on how you look at these things. It was the only British film on the 1984 list of banned video nasties, mainly because of its fairly explicit mix of sex (some consensual, some not) and violence (some consensual, some not). Made in 1975, it exists in any number of different versions, and under several different titles, although a more or less definitive version has recently been released on Digital Versatile Disc.

The always odd Udo Keir plays Paul Martin, a successful author who rents a remote cottage in Essex in order to work on his second book.  He has an on-off relationship with porn star Fiona Richmond, i.e. he gets on, then off, then sends her packing. Their ‘love’ scenes have a rough and ready quality that makes them seem more explicit than they really are, but then some of that might be due to him putting on latex gloves every time they get it on.  

Paul hires a secretary over the phone to help type up his masterpiece and is delighted when she turns out to be Linda Hayden, who brings her usual blend of jailbait precocity to the role, and forgets to bring a bra. Linda is a compulsive masturbator and, when she is caught fiddling with herself in a field by a couple of bicycle riding 'youths' (including an already balding Karl ‘Brush Strokes’ Howman), an unpleasant rape scene (is there any other type?) ensues.  This young woman is not quite the pushover she seems, however, as the yokels who assault her find out to their cost.

The last half hour explodes in a frenzy of rough sex and sharp knives and a soap opera plot twist which makes enough sense to validate all the huffing, puffing and intimate touching  that has gone before. Unlike the BBFC, I wouldn’t describe the film as nasty, rather as an adult psychodrama that occasionally gets a little too adult for comfort: if Ingmar Bergman had made it, it would have been hailed as a masterpiece (it’s worth remembering that Bergman’s film ‘The Virgin Spring’ was the inspiration for ‘Last House on The Left’). Probably.



I enjoyed the rural setting (it was filmed near Chelmsford, the furthest extent of 'my' Essex), and the scene where Keir drives a brakeless Morris Minor into a pond. I liked Linda Hayden, who always does an excellent sexy psycho, and I was intrigued by Fiona Richmond’s lissom body and bricklayer’s face. Most of all I enjoyed hearing extracts from the book Paul is working on, which sounds like it’s going to be truly fucking awful.

Music lovers will be pleased to hear that the film has a rather good soundtrack, but you needn't take my word for it as my friend and colleague Fearlono has made a custom soundtrack for it that you can download at his smashing website Cottage of Electric Hell. One thing: you will need to pretend to be an adult to gain entry, as there are grown up themes and some sexual swear words.