Thursday, 6 December 2012

TV Guides, Blank Tapes and Highlighters

                                                     

It's nearly here folks. The decorations are going up, the food and present shopping is being carried out and all of the usual Christmas traditions are lining up, ready to be instigated. A very important one approaches and will be happening in many homes, though not to the degree that as it used to.  It involved a popular T.V guide magazine, a pack of highlighter pens and a stack of VHS blank cassette tapes. Some of you may be aware that I love films and TV and hopefully this explains the following obsession I carried out every year.

I know that I'm not the only person who did this, but it is now a dying tradition due to advances in technology.  For any of you reading this who are too young to remember what happened, I'll take you through the recipe on how I used to plan my Christmas TV viewing:

The magazine I refer to was the Radio Times. You could use the TV Times, but only if the RT was unavailable, as in my opinion the latter just didn't cut it and this was a serious operation, there was no room for error. Next on the list was a set of highlighter pens of which there needed to be several different colours, for a very good reason. Finally we needed to have a substantial supply of blank VHS tapes. I always liked to use fresh tapes as, despite what the skeleton who advertised the Scotch tapes used to say, they did fade away after several re-records.

The first read through of the RT was just a quick browse to familiarise oneself with what was on and to make myself aware of any clear, no-questions-asked recordings that had to take place (mostly movies). To do this I used the most eye-catching highlighter (usually the yellow, a common choice I believe). At this point I feel I need to explain that for several years over the Christmas period, I was away from home and with other members of my family, where TV viewing would not be so easy.

The second perusal involved a secondary colour being used to mark out other programmes I would like to see which were to be broadcast over the festive period. This was usually Christmas specials and one-offs such as "Britain's Strongest Man". This is sadly no longer a special as, like so many other classic shows, there always seems to be a re-run being showed on one of the multiple channels now diluting our TV's.

Next up was the "Clash Check." This was a procedure whereby I would list the programmes in date and time order and see if there was a clash. In the event of there being so, which did occasionally happen, I had a  couple of options:

1) Watch one of the programmes and record the other (if viewing was an option).

2) Commandeer my parents VCR in the lounge to use in addition to my own. (This may seem extreme to you
    but any TV or film addict will tell you, it had to be done.)

Having now planned the recordings et.c I now had to calculate how I was going to get it all onto a tape. The most common species of the VHS cassette was the E-180. The "180" denoted the length of time in minutes available on the tape and also declared itself almost useless unless you used a "long play" function on the VCR, doubling the 180mins into six hours.  Not for me though, the E180, no I went straight to the E240. As you can probably work out, this became an eight-hour recordable behemoth of a tape.  All recordings were programmed into the VCR's timer and the preparation was complete. All that was left now was for me to enjoy my "meal" of Christmas TV goodness on returning from my travels.

Of course it doesn't happen like that any more. We shall purchase the RT as a matter of course, the same as every Christmas and there may even be a bit of highlighting going on. It wont be to the same degree because nowadays our Sky box does it all for us: Programme guide, recording et.c. The advance in technology from VCR to digital recorders, like most other changes, makes life easier. However, also like some other advances, it takes some of the fun out of it.

I think the difference is the involvement and the physical aspect of a plastic box housing a film or programme. Yes it can be replaced with another title in the same way a digibox can be wiped and new items recorded, but there is still a lot to be said for VHS in the same way that records have the individuality that compact discs do not.  I still have many videos and have no intention of getting rid of them, in fact some of the rarer titles have become collectors items of value.

Now if I can just fit The Two Ronnies Christmas Special on, I'll be happy. No? Right then, I have need of your VCR......

No VCR's were permanently damaged during this procedure. (Apart from a Panasonic NVG-21B)


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

BBQ Man


We all remember the transformation scenes in various were-wolf and mad scientist movies, but are you aware of a transformation that occurs quite possibly, in your very street, perhaps even your house!  There is actually a distinct chance if you are male, that it happens to you but you just don't know it.  There are certain conditions required for it to happen and British weather being the way it is, it doesn't happen very often. Have you guessed yet?  If not, I shall draw back the vale obscuring this horror.  The average man becomes the BARBECUE MAN!!!
   
Last weekend was perfect for the average man to undergo this transformation: It was warm.  That's it.  That's all your average man needs to initiate the conversion.  It happens as follows...

1. The sun needs to be shining for the majority of the day, and no rain must have fallen.(This is important only      BEFORE the barbecue.)

2. He will ask the disguised question "Shall we have a barbecue?"  By disguised I mean he's reversed the "Shall" and "We" parts of the sentence to be polite.  He is insisting, do not try and dissuade him, it will not work.

3. He then begins the invitation procedure, whereby he starts with a list of household members which then swiftly progresses to friends, neighbours, old work colleagues and on and on until his pen runs out of ink.

4. As the transformation increases, the mathematical capabilities begin to revert back to that of neanderthal  man. He will try and calculate how much food to buy for the meal. "Eight adults, that's two burgers and sausages per adult and six children, so that's...." His voice will trail off and his eyes will become glazed as he goes to the car, drives to the shop and proudly returns with about 36 burgers, 40 sausages, 30 drumsticks, 3lbs of coleslaw, crisps and goodness knows what else.  Then he unloads the booze.....

5.  When the guests arrive he will greet them of course, but he will be secreting a small notebook about himself.  This is to record how much and what each guest has brought, if anything!  He may use these notes to determine how much food guests are allowed or even if they are invited again!

6.  He will now realise that he hasn't enough fuel for the barbecue and get to the nearest supplier of coal and similar fuel sources, where he will share his anxiety with other men who are suffering the same condition.  You can spot them easily: wild-eyed, walking faster than a jog from aisle to aisle in desperation. More often than not successful, he returns to his cave, sorry, home.

7. The barbecue is lit and burning well. He is ready to cook as the flames are licking two feet into the air. Yes, two feet.  We know this is too high, but remember he cannot control his actions.  A combination of the alcohol he has consumed, the degeneration of his cognitive functions and the flames drawing his gaze towards them....red and yellow tongues tasting the air..burn, burn, burn..sorry, got carried away there...

8. The food is burning on the outside now and raw in the middle. He is unsure what to do. Several other males approach the area to assist their troubled friend and with beer (AND) or wine in hand, start making suggestions which suspiciously sound like grunts.

At this point the sensible, level headed members of this dining adventure may step in. Generally unaffected by this transformation, and as the inevitable rain begins to fall, females of the group will suggest "Finishing it off in the oven," purely because the "Fire will go out," and nothing to do with the fact that if anyone eats the food as is, the will contract food poisoning.  Whilst the food is moved indoors to be perfectly finished and cooked properly, the now fully-transformed infected men remain outside nursing their drinks and staring into the flames, muttering or is it chanting?

The following morning the average man rises after a fitful, indigestion-riddled sleep.  His head and stomach ache and there is a mess to be cleaned up, which of course due to the after effects of the transformation (not the alcohol), he cannot for the life of him remember from where it came.

Mess cleaned up, aches and pains gone he goes into the garden.  A bright light is reflecting off the ash dusted barbecue. He finds it almost hypnotic....the light is of course the sun, and it is warm on his face.......


Friday, 7 September 2012

The best film ever made.


The haunting, two-note theme.  The dark, seemingly endless ocean.  The perfectly evolved, almost unstoppable killing machine.  Most of you will already know from just these three details, which is my favourite film of all time. For those of you who don't (have you been with the Curiosity Rover somewhere?) the film I speak of is Jaws.
     "It's just a movie about a big shark eating people (and boats)", many will say.  So why is it my number one? Let me explain.  One thing that I think of that makes it different from any other film I enjoy, is that I can remember particular scenes at different parts of my life.  My earliest memory is the head floating underwater in the sunken boat when Hooper (played by Richard Dreyfuss) is investigating the missing vessel. It scared me silly and was all I could remember of the film until I watched it again, a bit older and not as fearful!
     Following that, it became the piece right towards the end as the original "sea dog" Quint (brilliantly portrayed by Robert Shaw) met his end by being bitten in half by the great fish, as it demolished the aft section of the "Orca."  So many more scenes joined these two as I gained more appreciation for this film, the more times I watched it: Quint checking Hooper's hands, only to state they hadn't done a days "hard graft." The fantastic scene which gives the audience a little rest from the anxiety of the shark's next attack: Hooper, Quint and of course Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), are getting drunk and comparing scars whilst singing "Show me the way to go home."
     It isn't just these favourite scenes which I like so much, it's also the production techniques used to have us on the edge and pull us back from being briefly relaxed.  Most people have a fear of the dark, we can't see what's out there.  A lot of us can swim yes, but If we were to be isolated in a vast ocean, we would panic.  The opening scenes are that of a girl, Chrissie Watkins, struggling in vain to fight off the great white shark which will not stop until it has its victim.  This happens during the very early hours of the morning, when the reassurance of sunlight has not yet begun to lay its blanket of hope on the sea.  She is alone, and it is dark.
    Director Steven Spielberg's often used, excellent use of a filming technique known as "Dolly zoom" draws us quickly into the shocked face of Chief Brody, as he sees the shark or whilst the local community of Amity celebrate the 4th of July in the water.  Due to regular failure of the mechanical shark or "Bruce" as it became known, Speilberg employed mere suggestion that the shark was near: barrels in the water being pulled under and use of the excellent music of John Williams.  Another great film, Alien, used this technique to great effect.  You didn't need to see the attacker, but you knew it was there.
     The interaction between the three characters is brilliant too, partially due to Dreyfuss and Shaw's on-set dissagreement but the majority is down to the excellent acting of course.
     The action rises like the peak of a wave and then smooths down into calmer waters (all puns intended). The interaction between Brody and his youngest son when imitating each other is a fantastic example of a relaxed moment.  The only things which detract from this great film are its sequels, as so often happens with blockbuster films. When you mention Jaws, inevitably conversation sways onto the second, third and fourth movies, when it shouldn't. Forget the half-breed second, I struggle to acknowledge the abomination third and
ludicrous fourth, we are talking about Jaws.  Not Jaws 1 or Jaws Episode 1 et.c, but Jaws.
    So there you have it, that is why Jaws is my favourite film of all time.  I haven't seen the Blu-ray version as of yet, but that will change and reviews suggest it is the best Blu-ray conversion yet. Oh and as for remaking or re-booting Jaws, if some studio or director really thinks he could, let me suggest this: Never mind a bigger boat, you'll need bigger everything if you even attempt it. You will fail though and it will bite you on the ass, and its a big bite with two rows of teeth.
   

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Kids in Cars



It came without warning.  I should have known it would happen sooner or later, but I still wasn't prepared for the inevitable.  Six years it had been coming, creeping up on me, waiting to scar me.  It happened during June of this year.
     The car was all packed for a holiday trip; the kids, myself and my wife all secured and our destination programmed into the Sat-Nav.  Off we went, reversing off the drive and then forwards along the street when the noise came...."ARE WE THERE YET?"  I don't recall which one of the children said it as my brain had been numbed and everything was muffled, as though I had my hands over my ears. We hadn't been in the car for a one minute and the dreaded question had been asked which so many parents fear every time they get into the car with their children.
     It's not so much the question that's difficult, of course it's a straightforward question with a two-option answer:

1) NEARLY (Recommend this is used all the time until reach destination, then use option 2).

2) YES

The question is not the problem, it is the environment and atmosphere within the vehicle it brings.  The parent thinks "Not already, I cant do this for two or three hours!"  The child thinks..no wait, the child doesn't think because they've seen the reaction to the question.  "Ha ha, I've got him.  How many times do I need to ask before he turns bright red, emits steam from his nose and ears and then explodes?"
     They ask again, and again.  Each time the answer becomes slighty louder, higher-pitched to a degree only dogs can hear it and more edgy. By now the child doesn't care about the answer, they wont stop until something else happens, perhaps bribery.  "Who wants a sweet?" Is the first piece of negotiating offered.  This may slow the questioning down by a minute or so, if you're lucky.  During this period the cars speed will also increase slightly.
     If you're lucky the questioning will peter out, either through boredom of the child or sleep inducing medicated sweets...I thought they were Fruit Gums, honest!  If you're not so fortunate then you will still hear the question in your head at night, when you're trying to fall into a peaceful sleep. No chance.
    I'm dreading the day we take them on a long haul flight somewhere and the questioning will start again.  I'll just send them to the cockpit and let fate be our pilot.....

Monday, 3 September 2012

Prometheus





I loved Alien and Aliens, hated Alien 3 and thought that Alien: Resurection was a lot better than its predecessor (almost impossible not to be). When I heard the rumours of Ridley Scott stepping once more into the Giger-inspired universe of Aliens, I was really looking forward to watching his up-to-date vision of his cult series.  Unfortunately it appears to me that the production of the film became too diluted with multiple stories, as a consequence none of which stand out enough to be the main gist of what could have been a modern epic.
     All of the tools were at his disposal considering the attraction such a movie would have on all parts of the movie production world.  The effects are fantastic, the 3-d works reasonably well. Effects can be great in any film and 3-d is commonplace these days. The characters are a bit wishy-washy also, with no specific one that you look for to save the day or enjoy the interactions between characters. The best actor is Michael Fassbender who plays the cyborg role as good as, if not better than Lance Henriksen did in Aliens.  I believe he could be the next James Bond, but that's another story.
     Where the film lets itself down is that it isn't clear what story it is telling.  Whatever Ridley Scott's original intention was with the storyline, I fear he has succumbed to studio pressure. I'm not that fussed about the plot holes as I think they were due to the story dilution.  I can see Scott explaining his story to the execs whilst they're constantly saying "Aliens, aliens, the public want aliens." I would have expected Scott to stamp his mark on this production and say "This is what I want this film to be about. This is the story I want to tell and this is how I am going to reference the predecessors."
     Okay, it isn't called Alien: Prometheus. But I certainly expected, and I know a lot of other people did too,  that the film would tie-up the space jockey query.  It did.  I expected it to say how the aliens started and it did.  But that is all. How we got to those answers could have been so much less complicated and the main story would have been much more solid.  Instead of ending as it did, with no doubt a further diluted follow-up, it could have been a film on its own, complete and worthy to be part of the Alien family.  As a consequence it is probably a good thing that "Alien" isn't in the title because it isn't worthy. It's okay, but that's about it.  A victim of over-hype, a victim of its predecessor's success.  Game over man, game over.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

INSTRUCTION DESTRUCTION


On delivery of a new dslr camera we had ordered, something confirmed to me what I had thought for many years: Instructions are rubbish.  Of course, as a man, I don't need them anyway, but I did find with the camera that I may need to browse through them.  It has to be the biggest example I had ever seen of lies, miss-prints, errors, in fact it may have well been printed in a different language. (It was, on several pages.)
     I followed the usual route, as with any new electrical device and just took it out of the packaging and looked at it for a few seconds and then began the normal system of just assuming things went where they looked like they should go.  Isn't this what all blokes do?  Only did I turn to the "Tome of deceit" as I chose to re-name the instructions, when I wasn't sure what virtually any of the buttons did and thought the camera was faulty.  As I said, and as I am sure many men will agree, they were wrong.  Quite simple really, they had obviously made an error somewhere.  There was no possibility that I couldn't understand them.
    To start with they were in the wrong order, by which I mean not the order MY BRAIN WANTS THEM IN!  Then when I did find what I wanted, they were wrong: Push this, turn that and there you have it...No, no I don't have it.  I'm not even bloody close to having it, but this camera's going to get it!  As I was about to give the instructions to Daisy to have a go with, my wife piped up "The worst thing the reviewers mentioned where the instructions!"  Now she tells me.
    Anyway, after fiddling about and watching a couple of guides on "The orb of visual knowledge" (YouTube), I now understand the very basics.  I'm sure it will be a fantastic camera once I get the hang of it, but the point of this short tale is this: Men, remember the instructions are your enemy.  Do not believe what they say, it is lies.  Even if you have tried everything, do not look at them as they will make you go mad and shout things repeatedly like "Turn the selector to A, push button marked P and...and...IT STILL DOESN'T WORK!"  Only when you are about to return the goods to the shop may you consult them.  As if you do return it, the instructions, when opened in the shop, will all make sense, for they are the devil's work.
    Ladies, as I'm sure you are aware and are used to, just stand back and let him get on with it. Only step in if he offers it to you, or you think he may destroy it.  For goodness sake please don't suggest he may be doing it wrong, you know he'll insist they are wrong, he is not and will carry out instruction destruction....

Monday, 30 April 2012

LIFE IN THE GUTTER...


Picture the scene: You get up on a Sunday morning, open your bedroom curtains and take in the view.  Looking out across your garden, you can see your neighbours house at the back of your garden.  Nothing strange there then.  Except this particular morning you can see a figure balancing on the window sill of a bedroom, in his boxer shorts, t-shirt and slippers, wearing yellow marigold gloves, trying to bend his arm at an unnatural angle out of the window and into an overflowing gutter.  This is what would have greeted my neighbours had they done the above, last Sunday morning.
     I was awoken by my wife from downstairs, shouting that we'd "Got a problem down here!"  The torrential rain had managed to find a way through the conservatory roof and was dripping onto the floor.  Part of the problem was that the guttering had become home to a very resilient plant, and so couldn't shift the deluge of water.  It was overflowing and the water was falling onto where I thought the leak was coming through.  After putting the job off for a long time, I had no option but to try and clear the gutter.  The biggest problem was access due to the extension we had above the kitchen, for the bathroom.  So it began, the impossible task, as I had put it.  I couldn't reach the gutter through the opening of Luke's window so I had to remove the window.  Yes, remove it.  "Can't be hard," I thought, "Just a couple of screws."
     With Louise's help, I removed the frame from the hinges and slid it into the room, bearing in mind that one slip and it would plummet down and through the conservatory roof.  Stage One complete, I climbed onto the 'sill and leaned the top half of my body out and reached up into the gutter to attack the plant.  I could only manage to tear off a few leaves and strands of my nemesis and so had to assemble a selection of weapons to use.  First up was the wooden spoon, so many times presented to the loser of a competition, I wasn't about to allow myself to be defeated.  Unfortunately it lived up to its billing and all I managed with it was to scoop black mush out of the gutter and together with copious amounts of rain water, dump it over my head and down my neck.  Angered by this and getting colder, I moved onto my next choice.  I had cleverly adapted (ripped the roller off) an old paint roller.  Surely given its angled arm I could get enough force behind it to stab down, into the heart of the beast, unblocking the gutter and letting the water flow.  Alas no, it was like a bird tapping on a window, another poor attempt.  I'm sure that if the plant had vocal chords, it would have sniggered and mocked my feeble attempts, but I wasn't beaten yet.
     My last weapon, my last ally, was a knife sharpener.  Legs like jelly, once again I took my position on the window sill.  The cold wind driving the rain into my eyes and down my back, which itself was aching from the position I had been adopting, I summoned one final effort and drove the bar down into the black core of my foe.  Was that something?  Did it give a little?  Again. Yes!  The plant slackened its resistance to my will.  Again and again I thrust the bar into it, each time it driving a little deeper.  And then it happened.  I almost lost the whole tool into the gutter pipe as the blockage gave in.  Lumps of stone and mud dropped out of the bottom of the pipe, followed by the blackest water I have ever seen.  Stab! Stab! Stab! I was unrelenting now, destroy, destroy!
     I shouted down for someone to get a bucket, fearing the tsunami like water pouring from the gutter would  snake its way into the conservatory, but thankfully this didn't happen.  My job complete, I slid off the window sill and surveyed my work: muck splattered walls, drain pipes and windows all for a small dribbling stream of water from a pipe.  After all this, I realised one thing: I still needed to source and repair the leak!  That'll be another story, hopefully that won't conclude with me falling through the roof, we shall see....


Friday, 20 April 2012

SAVE YOUR LOCAL....


The title of this blog entry is one of the most commonly used terms in society today.  I dare say it has probably been used for a long time before I was born, when independent high street retailers came under pressure from the supermarkets; family butchers, corner shop owners et.c.  More recently it has found its way as a pretext to Post Office, Pub and just this week locally, the daily newspaper, The Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph.
     Sadly, at the behest of its owner Johnston Press, the E.T, as many of us know it, will become a weekly publication.  Together with four other daily titles across the U.K, one of which is another Northamptonshire publication, the Chronicle and Echo, this 104 year old publication will no longer be available as a daily newspaper.
     The reasons given are that it needs to make itself available to the technological platforms that exist in today's society.  Ashley Highfield, the Chief exec of  Johnston Press states that they will provide their existing audience with an even better product both in print and on-line.  How can you provide your existing audience, which has diminished, with an even better product in print?  On-line, yes, undoubtedly as this is new ground, yet to be trodden on by the local paper.  I am sorry but the majority of the existing audience like to read the PHYSICAL paper, in their own time, in their own place. Yes i know we can do this with a phone or tablet, but not everyone can.  Some people choose not to carry their desktop p.c into the garden with an extension lead wrapping itself around their legs, so they can peruse the latest local news of how a squirrel stole some sweets from a small child.  Mock the content if you will, but this is LOCAL news.  It is YOUR community.  The Kindle is becoming hugely popular, and i can see why, but it is not the same for a local daily newspaper.  It will become a review, I wouldn't be surprised if it mutated into a glossy yearbook.  That is all.  Surely the name will only exist on-line.  You can hardly call a weekly publication the Evening Telegraph, can you?  More like "The Northamptonshire Weekly" or something.
     Perhaps the content isn't as full as it once was: see how it can be improved then.  Perhaps it is too expensive: you wouldn't buy a book purely on it's cost, would you?  It isn't just the news either, it is an invaluable medium for small businesses to advertise through.  It is some people's link to what's going to happen in their community, not just what HAS happened.  It also brings the joy of reading that someone you may know has good news with regards a birth or marriage or what-have-you, and it also brings the sadness or the relief that someone you knew has now passed away.
     I know why it's happening and that it makes financial sense but it's just a bloody shame.  When I read, I like the feel of a book in my hands.  It is about the physical aspect as well.  Of course I sit here typing this on an electrically powered (sometimes I think it's steam) laptop, lit by an electrically supplied lamp.  However, in the far future, when we have exhausted the power of the planet (going a bit far here I know but bear with me!) there will be nothing to power these devices, only physical print will remain.
     PRINT IS WORDS.  WORDS ARE KNOWLEDGE.  KNOWLEDGE IS ............ you fill in the blanks.   "Hold the front page." Oh, you can't.  There isn't one.

FILM REVIEW: BATTLESHIP


Battleship is a good film if all you want is to sit back on autopilot and have your eyes and ears flooded with explosions, loud noises and lots of special effects.  This is exactly what i expected it would be and to be honest i would be surprised if anyone else expects otherwise.  The basic idea is this: We build super satellite.  Super satellite sends signal to deep space.  Aliens receive signal and of course "come to get us."
      The start is sloooowww.  To begin with it has delusions that we need to know a lot about the lead character, and as such takes too long to get into the main storyline and action.  As I said, this is pure crash, bang, wallop and nothing else and consequently it didn't need the lengthy intro.  It does borderline sometimes on almost being a parody of itself (if you know what I mean).  This is because of the incredible volume of action film cliches.  It is almost saturated with them.  There were so many slow-motion sequences of people walking in a line and the camera panning up with them as they stood after being knocked over or something, that at times I thought there was a problem with the projector! You can sit there and spot which characters or events will feature later in the film, but again, this is what you should expect.  At one point some ex-seamen are called upon and I thought we had entered the "slo-mo" zone again, but no, they were just very old and couldn't walk at a normal pace!  In fact from that piece of the film forward, there is a clear recommendation for any ex-servicemen pensioners who have been screwed by the latest budget, as to how they can earn some coin.  I wont go further into that part as it may spoil it, but I'm sure you can imagine what happens.
     Another part where it almost teeters over the edge to fall into the realms of Scary Movie et.c is when another typical line is uttered by a character, only for another person to haul it back in by acknowledging the script is pushing it by saying "Who actually says that?"  This subsequent reply is very important though.  It shows the audience that it is not taking itself too seriously, and neither should the viewer.  This is also why I have repeatedly said that the film "almost" has too many cliches, why it "almost" teeters over the edge.  Due to it acknowledging its cliches, it doesn't go overboard and sink.  It keeps us entertained with huge effects, action cliches and the predictable course that  the story takes.
     Suffice to say that the two main characters, Alex Hopper and Samantha Shane (played by Taylor Kitsch and Brooklyn Decker respectively) do what's needed to be done without fuss.  Liam Neeson is there purely to add a name to the posters and to bark and shout at a few people, and all I shall say of Alexander Skarsgard is that those of you who know him from True Blood as a vampire, will find his vampiric abilities do not stretch to his character in this!
     At the end of the day you know what's coming with this movie.  If you don't think you will enjoy it, you wont.  If like me, you read a review which says it's loud, has big effects and has a rubbish script and acting, then like me you will enjoy it.  Of course it proves foolish for the aliens to think a race such as their's could travel vast distances across deep space and defeat us in our oceans....doesn't it? Or is it not THAT predictable.  Hey! You sunk my battleship!

Friday, 13 April 2012

FOR YOU'RE SKY'S ONLY..NEVER SEE, NEVER AGAIN..


As a fan of Ian Fleming's creation James Bond, i was pleased with the news that a new Bond novel would again grace the shelves of bookstores all around the world.  Following in the footsteps of Fleming, Amis, Benson, Faulks and last year Deaver, William Boyd has been commissioned to pen this latest addition to the saga of 007.  Many fans like myself, were drawn into the world of Bond by watching the films, the older ones as seasons of re-runs and the newer ones at the cinema as they were released.  I recall that not long ago there would be a trailer on ITV for a season of Bond movies, usually a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon. As i say i am a fan of the films and it may be just me, but i put them into a category of movies which you can "jump into"; you don't have to see the start every time, you can watch it from whatever point it's at and enjoy it. Today's news now reveals that unless you have the collection on DVD or VHS, or you pay a subscription to Sky's movie package, you will never flick through the freeview channels again and find James Bond waiting for you to join him on his ride of adventure and excitement.  Almost 40 years ago ITV broadcast Dr.No, the first Bond movie, to the public. They have shown 22 of the movies, many times over since 1975 but now it all ends.  ITV's deal with MGM runs out this summer and the Monopolistic Murdoch's SKY have snatched the rights.  Several fan groups on Twitter are already trying to make the films have some sort of protected status that allows them to be free to view, but i feel this will come to nothing.  Its a great shame that many children will not be able to find their way to Fleming's novels, like myself and many others have done, purely because of Sky's greed.  I dare say that the boxsets will be vanishing from the shelves of many stores, and indeed many sellers will try and cash in on this situation.  Bond is an institution of the film industry and as such copies of the films should be advertised as available as packages with the novels from Libraries.  I know the logistics of extra novels et.c to be kept in stock at libraries is difficult, but i fear the popularity of Fleming's creation will die off all because of Sky.  After all, the films would not exist were it not for the novels of Fleming...I imagine Murdoch was sitting there, stroking a white fluffy cat as he completed the deal.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A TRUE STORY......


The following piece is based on true events......

Run!  Just run!  It was all he could do, just to get as far ahead as he could, in the meagre five minutes head start he had.  First things first, he had to get to the gate which would lead to the gully where he could begin leaving items, that would hopefully slow down the inevitable hunters.  Only a minute had passed and yet his socks inside his boots had already begun their slow, rolling path off his legs, then ankles and down the soles of his feet before settling around his toes, strangulating the blood supply and causing great discomfort.  He dismissed this annoyance and placed the irritating feeling into a corner of his mind in accordance to it's lack of importance. How long had gone now? Two minutes? Perhaps even three. Stopping as briefly as he could to leave the items that should buy him some time and delay the pursuit of his followers, he cursed himself for wasting time thinking about how long it had been since he started. He had made three drops before he got the "feeling".  The "feeling" that many had experienced when no matter what you tell yourself, you're being followed.  He tried to quicken his pace, already breathing heavily from a combination of the initial sprint and the weight of his back-pack.  Now approached another foe, as if the followers weren't enough.  A climbing, muddy conduit threaded upwards, away from the trail he had left.  He had no choice: he must make his way through the quagmire and up into what he hoped, was a rest-bite from the chasing pack.  The wet, sloppy mud sucked at his boots, slowing his journey.  It was as if the dark brown mass wanted to hold him still, stopping him.  It lazily uttered gloopy protests as he found reserves of strength to pull himself clear as he climbed the slope towards a gate.  The ground changed in texture from muddy restrictiveness to a firmer, lush green base. He had to pause, sucking in oxygen to slake the thirst his lungs had. What could he do to slow his followers? He sent a coded message to an older member of the following pack asking, no begging them to slow down somewhat. "Hold them back! Please!" As soon as he had sent this message he stopped dead in his tracks, cocking his head to his left.  Had he heard something? Or was his pulse, pounding in his ears, tricking him? Then it came.  The noise was a high-pitched scream, piercing the damp air, arrowing it's way into his ear.  Too close, they're too close!  His message had failed, they were closing in! Wiping the beading sweat from his brow, he started down the slope towards another decoy point, where hopefully the items would buy him precious time.  The elements were most certainly not on his side as rain began to lash down on him, combining with the sweat from his forehead to sting his eyes. He turned, looking at where he had come from, was that a figure?  He couldn't tell, the rain was blinding him, confusing him. He couldn't wait, he had to move on. He found a burst of pace from somewhere deep within his tired legs, but with resignation, he knew it wouldn't be enough: he had the beating of his pursuers over the short distance, but they could maintain the slower speed for longer, eating away at the gap separating them from their prize. Checking his back-pack only added to his desperation, for he only had two more bags inside to use as tools to hamper their pursuit.  Turning the corner he found that he had completed a "loop", coming back to where he had entered!  What now? Where could he go? He was amazed that they were still not yet in sight, but it was surely only a matter of minutes, if not seconds.  He made his way out of the gate and began his trek across a field.  He had been here before in much more pleasant circumstances, and he knew a place that may just be a safe haven, at least for a while.  He made his way along a well worn track, his boots now dragging with every step and the wind and rain pushing against him like an icy hand.  With what little energy left he approached a large white stone and slumped against it.  His back against the rock, he could see every avenue from which the terror would soon come.  Perhaps it would have been better to not have seen them coming, but he decided he would rather watch them enter sight and accepted what was sure to happen. Clawing at the communication device he had, he sent a message simultaneously to many friends, hoping that someone could do something in time.  Then they came.  Things that should exist only in nightmares but were here, now.  Small, but not to be underestimated especially in this state of frenzy.  Was that mud on their faces? Or something else entirely? Incredibly they accelerated towards the stricken man, sensing his impending failure and more of the substance he had been leaving as a decoy.  Accompanied by what many would describe as a "hell-hound" with a "Fenton" like ability, they fell upon the exhausted figure, clawing at his pockets and bag, searching for their prize, their sweet scent the final thing he was aware of...  Many of you will have guessed by now what these "things" were and what their prizes were.  For those of you who have not and have bravely followed this tale of horror through to it's end, here you are:  The monsters were, what all parents fear, young children, already hyper-active from overdosing on easter eggs who sense more free chocolate is available!  Joined in their quest by the "Hell-hound" known as Daisy, their prizes were yet more easter eggs including the ultimate sugar fix egg, the Cadbury's Creme variety.

In conclusion i can tell you that my plan to hoard all of the eggs would have worked, were it not for those "meddling kids."  However we were all friends afterwards and went back parents and all, to our house for lashings of (ginger?) beer and a buffet. Will I eggscape next year when we do it again? We shell wait and see....

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

ART FOR ALL


Google's latest addition to its already impressive arsenal of abilities is http://www.googleartproject.com/ . Put basically, this gives anyone with internet access, the ability to view over 1,000 pieces of art from at present 17 major art galleries from around the globe.  Being uneducated in the appreciation of the world of art, i immediately thought of the huge advantages of this facility. Think of the educational prospects for students and the average man, woman or child who can now access both classic and modern pieces of art without the costs involved.  What has been traditionally thought of as an almost exclusively expensive club is now nothing of the sort.  I have already read that one critic of this feels that to fully appreciate a piece of art, you must absorb the entire experience; the journey to the museum and the ambiance and atmosphere of the place of the piece's display. This may be true but if you cannot see the piece in any format to start with, you will never reach that stage.  I would agree to a certain extent that this "full appreciation" can be applied to many different forms of the arts. Few would argue that to experience what a musician is trying to achieve, one would have to go to a concert.  On the other hand there is certainly a time and a place that you would enjoy a particular song in a particular environment, perhaps with headphones on and with your eyes closed, taking yourself to another "place".  A musical or stage play would no doubt be enhanced if you were to watch it live, but again, what drew you to go to the theatre?  Reading the play yourself? Or perhaps it has been translated from another format, possibly a musical sci-fi movie (i need not suggest which!) I really enjoy going to the cinema and experiencing the big screen, loud soundtrack and appreciating that some movies have to be seen on the big screen.  Although i also enjoy watching some films at home.  Perhaps because i want to watch a film again that i saw at the cinema, to want to understand it more.  This time perhaps being able to pause the action for various reasons.  The point is that i think the "going to see the piece of art at the gallery" may be not be the be-all-and-end-all of appreciation of a piece, which was not cheap and almost impossible for some, but perhaps the final leg of one's journey.  You may enjoy a piece of music, so you listen again and again and one day perhaps you think, "I want to go and hear this live." You may enjoy reading a play and want to go and see it.  I recall reading the classic "An Inspector calls" by J.B Priestley and i would like to see it love on stage. You may see a trailer for a big action movie that you think would be best enjoyed at the cinema.  Whilst the pieces available to view are not all the most famous, there is a huge selection which i dare say will grow when more galleries become available. Every journey has a beginning and every individual knows how they would best take their own path to enjoy and appreciate the arts.  Google have just removed the blindfold of expense that was hiding art for all, and now we have the chance to see for ourselves that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Well done Google.

Monday, 2 April 2012

FILM REVIEW:THE THING 2011


In contrast to my cynicism of premature re-boots, I believe that The Thing (2011) was produced using the correct values.  The producers of it went to Universal and convinced them to be allowed to make this film because it WASN'T going to be a re-make, as they felt the original could not be improved upon. Bravo! At last, a movie maker that takes a better view on how to build on the success of another film, whilst still respecting the qualities that made it a success.  The 1982 version is one of my favourite films, so i was already a little sceptical as i struggled to see how they could improve on, in what is my opinion, one of the most atmospheric horrors ever.  I have to say i was pleasantly surprised.  Straight away it tells us it is a sort of pre-make, in that it uses the scenario of  its predecessor; an isolated group of scientists who become increasingly paranoid due to an alien life form that can assume any ORGANIC form by a type of assimilation of the victim.  It acknowledges that if you haven't seen the 1982 version you wont have lost out on anything, its just you will gain more if you have.  There are no really big hitters in terms of the cast and this makes it a better movie because you have no pre-conceptions of style that you would expect from some famous actors.  It sort of ties up a few links and pieces of continuity to the original but without forcing them down your throat, they are quite subtle.  As in the 1982 version, a large amount of the effects were created using animatronics with only the most difficult of them being created with cgi.  This again for me only showed respect for the '82 version as they could have simply cgi'd all effects, but they didn't and so the look of the films maintained their "genetic" look.  You could watch this film without having seen the 1982 one and enjoy it. You would then enjoy the 1982 version even more, despite the age difference.  Given the tools at film makers disposals now, i think that if they do insist on continuing with re-boots and re-makes or whatever you want to call them, they would do a lot worse than to look at what has been done with The Thing 2011.  If you don't feel a good enough sequel can be made then don't just re-make, look at prequels as an option.  Okay George Lucas struggled with The Phantom Menace, but Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith got a little better each time, then again it was almost impossible to better episodes 4,5 and 6.  Promethius by Ridley Scott is due out soon and i am lead to believe it is some sort of predecessor to the Alien films. I am looking forward to it and already anticipate it to do well simply because it will not be a re-make.  It also looks like Men In Black 3 will also be following a similar route.  On the whole i enjoyed The Thing, and whether you have seen the '82 version or not, you will still enjoy it if you like atmospheric horrors.  Just be careful who you watch it with...it could be anyone of us....

Friday, 23 March 2012

LAWNMOWER LAMBASTING


I have a deal with my old petrol lawnmower: It starts when it wants to and that is that.  There is no logic to it, no reasoning with it (despite my attempts), it just starts when IT is ready.  A strange thing happens during the process also.  To an observer, with every pull of the starter-cord and every consequent non-start, the model name of the mower gradually changes.  It begins, in my case as a "Champion" model.  This soon deteriorates to "Old Girl", usually calmly whispered to the machine.  Then to something like "Bloody Thing", which is uttered through gritted teeth, through several other terms which question its fathers identity (were it to have one), until all i can emit are animal like growls, some high-pitched squeals and noises which cannot normally be constructed with the human tongue unless during an exorcism.  Only when these mowers "know" that they are on their last possible chance before they are ripped apart with Hulk-like strength do they finally cough into life.  Mine did exactly this to me today and not for the first time and i have made a poem explaining this relationship that many people may have with their mowers, or indeed many inanimate objects...

Mower, oh mower!
Why won't you start?
You know how you cause,
Great stress to my heart!

I pull and i pull,
And still you won't go,
You cause me to kick you,
Bringing pain to my toe!

I ask you nicely,
I ask "Just for me,"
But you refuse, cause anger
And fury for all to see.

"This is your last chance!" I cry,
My arm muscles torn,
Then, Yes! You now start,
And i can cut my long lawn.

The grass is now cut,
You are put in the shed.
Where you stay dormant,
Until next you play "dead!"

Thursday, 22 March 2012

RE-BOOT RANT


As you may have already guessed, i love films.  I like going to the cinema, to experience the big screen, effects and atmosphere.  I also enjoy watching a good film at home on the sofa.  I am a fan of many sci-fi greats and their sequels, few of which are better than their originals.  Recently though more and more films from a new category are emerging from the minds of film producers, and i think they are a disease infecting the fantastic myriad of options and alternatives that the film industry has at its disposal.  It is lazy.  It is squeezing every last drop of money out of already successful film titles and stories.  It is sucking the bones of the skeletal frames which used to support the body of the big-name film titles.  Perhaps the Hollywood film industry is lacking the creativity and originality that it once had, and is now becoming addicted to this easy-fix.  The media, the film going public and the industry have a name for this menace. It is called a RE-BOOT.  Simply put, it takes the original cell (pun intended), absorbs it, assimilating some of the good parts and then mutating into the modern day version of its predecessor.  The main problem is the part about the assimilation of some of the good parts.  What actually happens is that it takes the good parts, the parts that made the name cement its place in film history and then somehow dispenses of them, forgetting why those parts where there!  The other problem is that these re-boots are starting to be re-booted themselves!  Spider Man (2002) with Toby Maguire, was a good re-interpretation (significantly different from re-boot) of the late 70's early 80's t.v series which itself spawned a couple of t.v movies.  For me it was a fresh, modernised version of one of the greatest super-heroes.  Maguire's subsequent sequels were also good and could have been carried on.  Unfortunately, poor old Peter Parker (Spiderman's alter-ego) has been infected.  Not with another radioactive spider, but by the dreaded RE-BOOT disease.  A new film is coming out this year with nothing to do with the previous films.  Another superhero, possibly the greatest of all time, is about to become a re-boot of a re-boot!  Does that make it a re-boot-boot?  He can stop a speeding bullet.  He has x-ray vision.  He can fly.  And he could probably even beat Steven Segal and Chuck Norris in a fight.  But he cant defeat RE-BOOT!  Yes, Superman, the man of steel is being re-booted. Again.  The original, helmed by Richard Donner was in my opinion, one of the greatest films ever made.  Helped of course by a fantastic score by the master John Williams which sat alongside Jaws as "A film you can name purely by hearing the first few notes" it was immense.  The most recent version, Superman Returns (Could it be more blatant?) was alright i thought.  Brandon Routh was good and it did update the effects somewhat, but it was the beginnings of the infection.  Another Superman is due out in 2013.  The last one was just six years ago.  That's less time than some film series (original followed by two or three sequels lets say) last.  Absolutely ridiculous.  I recently felt that my eldest was at an age where i thought he would enjoy watching Superman.  I have a problem now though.  What do i show him? If i show the Christopher Reeve version what do i say the Brandon Routh one is about, or indeed the one due out next year?  The worst example is rumored to be on the horizon.  It is a mutation itself.  Michael Bay has suggested that he would be involved in the next Transformers film.  However, it is a sort of re-boot but with characters from the other three films he made about five minutes ago.  What is this horror?  In my view it is the personification of this problem.  "I can't think of anywhere to take this story" or "The main lead actor/actress does not want to be in another, and i cant think of a way of changing the actor/actress for the story."  Surely it cannot be right where someone has to choose which re-boot to watch?  Some new films out soon approach the problem from a different angle, in that they are a re-imagining of an old story.  This is different and can work very well.  Please do not confuse this with the "Pre-boot", which is another entity and something for another blog entry.  This disease is spreading and may be joined soon by another element which i shall reserve judgement on for now: retro application of 3-d to older films or films not filmed in 3-d, until i have seen a few.  I have only seen Clash of The Titans (re-boot!)in this format and all the bits that should have been 3-d weren't and vice-versa!  Some characters were created with the ability to re-boot themselves and so do it with ease and success.  Dr Who and James Bond are the main two.  Where re-boots are concerned, Hollywood is purely milking the public with these films.  There are many fantastic, fresh films that have come out recently, so it can be done.  I shall leave you with a list of films due out soon which have been made before in some form of another.  I'm sure some will be very good, but some will rely purely on their ancestry to make money.  Finally, and i direct this at Hollywood: See if you try and re-boot or re-imagine or re-anything my favourite film of all time, Jaws, never mind a bigger boat or Roy Schneider, i hope it would come back and bite you in half!  Here is the list, and i challenge you to read it without saying "NOOO!" or "It is sacrilege!"  You won't do it!
THREE STOOGES, SNOW WHITE, SPIDER MAN, TOTAL RECALL, JUDGE DREDD, RED DAWN, EVIL DEAD, THE LONE RANGER, SUPERMAN, DIRTY DANCING, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, THE CROW, ROBOCOP, LOGANS RUN and believe it or not, SHORT CIRCUIT.

Keep pushing that button pal, and it'll blow up in your face.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

GORDON'S ALIVE-He bloody should be!

The undoubted success of the hit musical "We will rock you", surely demonstrates the public's enjoyment of singing along to one of the greatest rock bands ever, Queen.  Given this success, i am amazed that no-one has attempted to transfer another fantastic score, together with a ready made script to the stage.  If the above sign doesn't tell you what i mean i shall enlighten you.  FLASH GORDON.  The soundtrack is already there, the songs are already there and the major scenes of the film could be translated onto the stage using modern effects and construction.  Perhaps it is just me, but can no-one else see the crimson meteors falling from the ceiling of the theatre harmlessly (health and safety) onto the audience and stage?  Could you not imagine Dr Hanz Zarkov's home-made rocket ship lifting off from the stage, billowing out smoke from underneath as it surges upward and into the roof?  How about the swamp scene where the spider-like monster envelopes our hero and sucks him down into the stage?  What about the American football fight in the court of Ming?  There are plenty more classic scenes: The great sky fight, and of course the Hawkmen flying across the audience and around the stage.  Let's not forget, you could have all of this, with a storyline, with impressive effects and the cherry on the top-the fantastic songs by Queen to sing along to.  Who wouldn't be cheering Flash on at the end, against Ming the Merciless (BOO,  HISS)?  When i go to London and travel on the tube, i see all of the posters lining the escalator walls, advertising the latest shows.  Imagine one of these posters showing a simple red background with a golden flash down the middle and underneath, short and sweet, the words "Gordon's Alive!"  If it were this easy i suppose someone would have done it and perhaps they have tried, but it seems to me its ready for the taking.  If i had the money or the expertise i wouldn't hesitate. I haven't, but i know of people called Lloyd-Webber and Rice that may have......

HOW TO MAKE AN ACTION FILM...


After watching and enjoying a vast number of action films from the 80's and 90's, i have constructed a checklist of all you need to make your own action film.  Read on, hopefully enjoy and of course feel free to use this template to make your own....Remeber these lists are not exhaustive, you can add others...

Part One: Select one of the following actors as your main star:

1.  Arnold Schwarzenegger.
2.  Sylvester Stallone.
3.  Steven Seagull.
4.  Bruce Willis.
5.  Wesley Snipes.
6.  Van Damme.

Part Two: Select one of the following actors as your villain (others may be chosen but they MUST be British-remember ALL baddies are British):

1.  Jeremy Irons.
2.  Alan Rickman.
3.  Garry Oldman.
4.  Malcolm McDowell.

Part Three: Now choose which job our good-guy USED to do.  If he still does that job, he must be retiring very soon, probably this is his last case.

1.  Ex-CIA.
2.  Ex-Navy Seal.
3.  Ex-Black Ops.
4.  Ex-Police Captain.

Part Four:  Select the reason he is involved in the case.

1. His daughter has been kidknapped.
2. His son has been kidknapped.
3. His wife has been kidknapped.
4. Any of his boss's or member of his old teams family have been kidknapped

Part Five:  Pick the relationship between the hero and the bad guy.

1.  Brother: full, half or step-it doesn't matter.
2.  Ex colleague who always lost to him. (And will again Heh Heh.)
3.  Disgruntled dictator.
4.  Someone our hero "Left behind man! You left me there to die!"
     "I had no choice.  It was the school or you man, i had to save the kids!"

Part Six: VERY important this, pick a first name from the list of ten options:

1.  John.
2.  John.
3.  John.
4.  John.
5.  John.
6.  John.
7.  John.
8.  John.
9.  John.
10.  Jim.  Sorry no, i meant John.

Part Seven: Not quite as important, but he needs a surname.  This must be a surname you can't believe someone would actually have, such as:

1. Quantum.
2.  Matrix.
3.  Omega.
4.  Mars (any planet name is a good choice.)
5.  Firebrand.
6.  Ironfist.
7.  Smith.

Part Eight:  His present job is...

1.  A chef.
2.  A security guard (who they shouldn't have messed with).
3.  A nightclub/pub landlord.
4.  No job, just passes his time staying out of trouble, whittling wood and studying tai-chi.

Part Nine:  Only two to go before you can write the screenplay, but first we need a tag-line:

1.  "He was having a bad day.  Theirs was about to get even worse."
2.  "One man, one mission, one million bullets."
3.  "John Omega really will be their end."
4.  "Out of the frying pan into the Firebrand." (Only use where surname=Firebrand.)

Part Ten:  How will he beat the baddie in the final scene?

1.  Kill him with his own poison.
2.  Kill him with his own gun.
3.  Kill him with his own fingers.
4.  Kill him with his own shoe.

In addition to these lists, you may find the following information helpful.
The actor MUST not be able to portray many facial expressions. (Steven Seagull is a master of this, as he is of everything else, including pretending to be a black tent.)
Every climatic scene MUST have a corny line. (See Commando-"Let off some steam Bennett.")
He MUST live in the countryside where he chops his own firewood, (in Seagulls case with his bare hands.)
He will need to assemble a team to go with him on this mission, which he will sell to them as "One we won't all make it back from." And that he will recruit them to because "He needs them one more time."  These too will be ex-something, though not wives or partners.  These characters (wives or partners) will all miraculously end up together watching the final stages of the battle from a live helicopter feed.  The helicopter will crash i'm afraid just before we know who will walk through the smoke in slo-mo at the end.
Take all of the above ingredients and mix with a soundtrack by someone like Kenny Loggins, with the final scene (walking out of the smoke having all survived, in slo-mo of course), being accompanied by Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits.  There, that's how you make an 80's or 90's action film, which lets be honest were all bloody great fun to watch.  Action!
And you thought i couldn't spell his name.






Steven Seagull.

FILM REVIEW: Is Real Steel the Real Deal???


Hugh Jackman is the big name in this "On the sofa with the kids on a Sunday afternoon" flick.  Set in the near future,  he plays an ex-boxer named Charlie Kenton who is involved in the popular sport of robot boxing.  Heavily in debt to various promoters, he is on his last legs when his ex dies, leaving him his eleven yer old estranged son, played by Dakota Goyo.  Their squabbles et.c lead them to an old discarded robot which appears to have a lot of potential in the ring.  You probably already have a good idea of where the story goes.  It is predictable in its path but is very enjoyable.  It has very loud echoes of Rocky 4 , in that it is the old underdog against the ***SPOILER*** (almost) undefeatable robot and its east versus west.  You get a feeling that the old robot may be more than just a clinical machine and of course the father/son gap is bridged as the film goes on, with a custody issue with the Aunt thrown into the mix. It does take too long to explain Charlie Kenton's background in boxing and something hugely lacking was the reason that robot boxing has taken over from the original pugilistic event.  I really didn't understand the reason behind this being left out, and could have easily been explained at the start of the movie however this is not a complicated movie so lets not worry too much!  It reminded me of when i used to watch films like Short Circuit and Flight Of The Navigator in the late 80's in that you have enjoy the interaction between the kid, the machine and the adults involved..  I can see kids, and some adults watching this more than once and enjoying it every time.  It can only be spoiled now if they make a sequel, so if you're reading Mr Gatkins and Mr Gilroy, don't.  Leave this as a "one film story" with a happy ending.  Seconds out....Enjoy!

Monday, 5 March 2012

CAPTAIN AMERICA or CAPTAIN AVERAGE?

It's a bit of a shame really but Captain America has been made purely as a background builder for the new Avengers film due out this year.  This is not just my opinion but it has been marketed this way too.  For example the title is "Captain America: The First Avenger."  I don't believe this means he is the first person to avenge someone so why suggest to the film fan that this is just a piece of the Avengers story?  As such this marketing has probably affected my feelings on the film.  It just about stood up in its own right as an individual movie but it was swaying badly and relied on the support of Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury and Dominic Cooper, who i thought was fantastic in History Boys, as Howard Stark.  The effects were fantastic, especially in the transformation of Steve Rogers, played adequately by Chris Evans, from the scrawny young man into the super soldier Captain America.  There is a story in there threading its way through the whole "This is Captain America, he is going to specialise in this in the Avengers film." It is based around the rumoured Nazi involvement in the occult during WW2.  A fanatical officer played by another of my favourites, Hugo Weaving, is involved in the early trials of the technology used on Rogers which have somewhat different effect on him than they do on Rogers.  He eventually uses a god-like power source to build himself an army of hugely advanced vehicles of which nothing can stand in their way...except you guessed it, Captain America.  For me the action builds too slowly for what should have been a stand-alone super hero film.  Captain America is third only to Superman and Batman in superhero lore and as such should have been treated with more respect, at least as well as the Iron Man films were (which i thoroughly enjoyed).  I can only recommend it as a device to learn who one of the Avengers team is.  Its ok but not a film i would choose to watch again and I will be more interested in what role the Thor and Iron Man characters will play in the forthcoming Avengers film as these were much better films.  As such i think a better name for this film would have been Captain Average: One of the heroes in the new Avengers film.

PETROL IN PERSPECTIVE...

When i am judging the value for money of a product i will compare it to other similar products and in comparison to other associated items.  This is the way most consumers decide where to spend their hard-earned (in most cases) money.  So is George Osborne going to realise this and alter the duty on fuel?  Thereby showing the public he does listen and loosening the rope marked "Ransom" from around the neck of road users.  It has always been a huge complaint from the voting public that the duty we pay is too high and as i said, when compared to other countries and associated products, it just doesn't add up.  Allow me to explain what i mean by associated products.  Take the average family car, a Ford Focus 1.6 petrol.  A tank of petrol will now cost you approx £70-80.  It will last you what, a couple of weeks at the most? A pair of discs and a set of pads will cost you about £60.  They should last you at least a year, most likely longer.  A service pack consisting of an air filter, oil filter, oil and spark plugs will cost about £50 and only the filters and oil would need replacing after a year.  Lastly, a battery for this vehicle would cost about £65. That is less than a tank of fuel and will last you at least 3 years.  So, Mr.Osborne, ask yourself.  How can the average man justify spending this sort of money on fuel, when he can purchase the essential parts to his average car for a small fraction of the cost of the fuel that is needed to transport him, or her of course, to their place of work?  It doesn't add up.  It is nothing more than a ransom.  He knows we have to have it, so we will pay it.  Viable alternatives are not ready yet, but they are coming George and then we will not pay that duty. (Though i expect you'll find some other way of taxing us).  I look at like this: if i need to buy a battery for my car i have to have it.  But the difference is it will cost me the equivalent of about £2 per month.  About 50p a week.  Not £30 that will last me a week.  The car manufacturers are building more and more economical and ecologically friendly engines.  If he drops the price slightly we wont all go out and by thirsty, smoke spewing cars.  What we will do is be a little more relaxed in our general consumer spending.  Thereby increasing the spending on the high st and so on...  Once again, Mr "I honestly do appreciate your votes giving me a job" Politician, please listen to what the public are saying, as we have been for many years and just show us a sign that I, the average man, can see as a gesture saying that you do want what is best for the TRUE people that run this country work
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Thursday, 23 February 2012

MY MOTORS...

Most people remember their first car with memories both fond and foul.  I have driven back through my memory and compiled a list of the cars i have owned and thought it may be of interest (or not) to provide a description of them and the memory that sticks to each one.  Some of you who know me well will remember them too....Please note that the pictures are not of my cars but are the same colour at least!!

European Car of the Year 1984. The Fiat Uno 45. 1.0 litre 45bhp!
Mine was a 1987 vintage, with all the extras including a four-speed gearbox and manual choke.  It was the only Fiat i ever knew not to rust, and rarely let me down.  From what i do remember the biggest repairs made were an input shaft bearing on the gearbox and the head gasket and considering the abuse i gave it, it did me well.  Of course being in my very late teens/early twenties, i added the obligatory 4inch oval Wasp rear silencer, a pair of 6x9's in the parcel shelf and a Soundlab amp with Pro Plus sub in the boot. As the exhaust was straight through from downpipe to back box, you can imagine the Wasp silencer was anything but a silencer! After a few years i part exchanged it with a work collegue and upgraded to...
Ford Sierra Sapphire 1.8lx  89bhp (Bit more, not much quicker!)
Looked reasonable.  Again it had to be fitted with a Peco 4inch back box.  Again reliable, this time i had a rev counter ooohh! AND electric windows  aaahhh! Quite a heavy car...especially with NO POWER STEERING! How could this have been an option on a car this size? When i traded this in the garage used it as a courtesy car.  I know this because a customer of mine said his car was at said garage for some work to be done and they'd given him "This effing red Sierra Sapphire!" I asked him what the matter was to which he replied "Its gearbox exploded just up the road from the garage!" Fortunately that was their problem now as i had traded it in with them for...

Ford Sierra XR4X4  2.9v6 150bhp (Much better)
Now i was getting somewhere and much quicker! This car was fantastic. It was modified before i had it, so the work was done; Adjustable, lowered suspension, Peco exhaust system, twin k&n air filters. Lovely to drive with the permanent 4 wheel drive. I had a big cheesy grin every time i opened her up because of the noise the filters and the v6 engine made. In fact i grinned all the time i drove this apart from when i visited my home from home, the petrol station. It had air con too but i didn't even acknowledge the switch for that, let alone use it because it returned about 20mpg. Yes 20. Now, the hill coming out of Wellingborough didn't help on my drive home every night as it split into two lanes and well, you have to don't you? But still 20mpg? That's only a couple less than a Bentley Continental GT!  Anyway it was becoming a bit expensive and in a bit of a panic i made a terrible mistake and traded it for a....

Ford Onion, sorry Orion 1.6i (that "i" was an extra 18bhp you know) 108bhp
Mmmm. A huge step down from the Sierra. It was more economical. I was in my early twenties though! I didn't want economy, what was i thinking? AArrgh! It had a trip computer which just reminded me that i was being economical and didn't do much else.  However my relationship with this lasted for just one month.  Not through the cars choice, it was reliable. Not through my choice, it was doing as i expected. My girlfriend, now wife, very kindly offered to take my mates to the airport. Her car decided it wasn't going to play so i very kindly suggested she use mine. All went well until her return journey, during which she was running late and consequently i was going to be late for work, she approached a roundabout and stopped to give way to traffic from the right.  Unfortunately the idiot driver behind her didn't stop and attempted to park a 3 series BMW inside the boot of the Orion.  For some reason it didn't fit and that was that. A write off.  At least i got a good figure from the insurance company for the car and we also got a payout for the injuries which caused my wife to have a stiff one.  Neck.  We shared her Escort for a while until i said enough was enough.  I was a branch manager and as such i wanted a better car.  For the first time and not the last i was going into turbo territory, and it wasn't an oil burning diesel....
Rover 620ti  197bhp
Just under 200bhp this and i knew it. It was the best all round car to drive that i have ever owned. Honda build quality meant it was very smooth to drive. Quick to 60 and up to (according to tests officer) 147mph. When i bought this i made sure i had a good warranty on it as i knew the inevitable would happen.  You see although the engine put out a lot of power it was a Rover design and not one of the Honda engines fitted in the 618, 620 and 623 and as a consequence being a Rover engine by law the head gasket had to fail and it did. Ha Ha Mr Garage man, i have that warranty, so no big bills for me, just your warranty company! Fixed under warranty and all good apart from the drivers window occasionally falling into the door and the fact nothing would fit in the boot, a disease which plagues most saloon cars. I would have kept this for a long time until one day at work a friend and customer of mine rolled up and showed me his new toy.  Little did he know that shortly after, the car would be mine.  Oh yes.  It would be mine.  It was a return to Fords.  This too had forced-induction..
Ford Escort RS Turbo 1.6 132bhp(standard, this one wasn't!)
I explained to my friend that you see in his line of work, an employment agency, he would need to shuttle some people about and well, you need a four door saloon for that, not a small three door hatchback. It was simple, i would give him some crisp notes, four door practicality and an extra 65bhp (when standard heh! heh!) in exchange for a 15 year old Escort...He agreed, and i began to rub my hands and emit a maniacal evil laugh...Mwahaha.ha...hah..uh?  On the day we exchanged (the day before new years eve) it broke. The alternator had failed. Bum. Cue taking the car to every garage on New Years eve, with every alternator listed asking, no begging them to fix it. While i was getting in the neck from my wife and feeling physically sick, wondering what had i done, i was keeping a close eye on the glowing red battery light on the dash, hoping it would last until it was fixed. A very helpful garage called Chaplins http://www.chaplinsmotorservices.co.uk/index.php
worked out which alternator it was, fitted it while we waited and got me out of a big hole. They were paid and thanked and had their shoes licked and..i was grateful you understand.  All done and running well.  It had a few modifications (just about every rst had i think!) Lowered suspension, stainless steel full exhaust system, k and n air filter, oil separator, dump (he! he!) valve, oh and a chipped ecu which raised the turbo boost pressure to 14psi which all in all meant a nice 185bhp.  Compared to the Rover it was an animal. Where the Rover would ease its power in throughout acceleration, the Escort would do nothing except emit a whistling as the turbo spooled up and then at about 3,000 rpm all hell broke loose. You would sort of pull yourself off the seat using the steering wheel (which was about the size of a cd) in an effort to stop the car going left or right but never straight on.  This would happen in first and second gear in the dry and you could include third in the wet. Brilliant! It was much more involving but unreliable. I started to have trouble with the fuel pump.  It became very temperamental, taking it upon itself to decide if i would be allowed to drive my own car. You would turn the key to ignition and wait for the buzz of the fuel pump.  And wait, and wait and...no.  Your'e not going to drive me just yet.  I know where Basil Fawlty was coming from when he thrashed his car in that episode on Farty Towels, sorry, Fawlty Towers.  It came to a head when i drove it to a dentist appointment i had. I parked it up, went to see the dentist and returned to the car.  Immobiliser off, key in, turn to ignition...nothing. Sure it had done it before but this time i wasn't at home on the drive or at work i was in the FAR CORNER of THE TOP FLOOR of THE MULTI-STOREY CAR PARKon top of THE NEWLANDS CENTRE!!!!!!!!! Never mind seeing someone else do it, i had to be towed from the top floor, all the way down the winding ramp and off to the garage.  I was sat in the tow truck as we went down and round and round and down et.c and hid my face using the drivers Hi-Vis jacket so no-one could see me.  It was the most embarrassing moment of my...no, that's Morrison's the other day, another story, another day.  Cosworth fuel pump fitted and all good for quite a while until our first child was on his way. We needed a more practical car and my wife was driving a Metro which i will tell you about soon. The Escort stayed for now and we became a three car family for a short time with the arrival of the car that was supposed to be one of the most reliable in the world...
Toyota Carina E Charisma Plus 1.6 103bhp
Ha! Charisma plus?  More like charisma minus.  Never before has a car failed so badly to match its spec. description. Excellent reliability write-ups guided me towards this purchase as a reliable, large family hatchback that would go on forever and ever.  Well i'll agree the boot was huge.  In fact i think it may have challenged a blue whale in the "How much can you get in in one go" competition. It wallowed everywhere and you slid about in the seats. It was very quiet. You had to check the speedo to tell you were moving as the rev counter went round the numbers and there was a slight murmur from the engine but you didn't seem to get anywhere.  However, this wasn't what many Toyota's were about. As the advert said "The car in front is a Toyota." Not this one. This would be behind most things. No, Toyota's were and so i am led to believe, still are all about reliability.  Tosh. This car had an excellent service history, didn't leak oil or water, or use any of them.  What it did do though, whilst my very pregnant wife was driving herself and her sister (and newborn) on the A6 towards Finedon was decide that it didn't need its water pump to be productive and this promptly seized, caused the car to overheat badly, pouring smoke from the bonnet and in turn blowing the head gasket. Ahh, my old nemesis, whom is rearing his ugly head currently, Mr Head Gasket Failure. Not a small repair on any car and certainly not on a Toyota as a friend can also confirm.  When i had regained consciousness following the quote the garage had told me i explained that i couldn't write those sort of numbers, let alone have anything near them in monetary value, i asked if he had something i could part-exchange it for, forgoing also the costs of the diagnosis work the garage had done.  You wont believe what he suggested and you most certainly wont believe that we took him up on his recommendation...But before that, a small interlude describing the story of my wife's Metro.....
Rover Metro Kensington SE 1.1 60bhp
Bought this to replace a Nissan Micra.  Very comfy for two ONLY. Tiny boot. Quite nippy and economical.  It became surplus to requirements for us so it was advertised in the paper for sale at £300. A couple came to view, had a good look around it, took it for a drive and bought it for £300.  The next day on my way home my wife phoned and said "They've brought the car back.  They want their money back!" Immediately i thought, buyer beware pal.  No comebacks, it was as described in the advert and sold as such.  I asked what the problem was, to which he replied that a mechanic friend of his (funny how everyone knows the most qualified mechanic in the world when they want some money back) and he'd said the back suspension was shot. Now, i had previously had the suspension pumped up but was unaware of further problems.  He said "I want my money back." To which i replied "Sorry pal, its sold as seen, i'm not a trader or garage." I laid it on thick saying that he was telling me i have to give him his money back and leave my heavily pregnant wife to drive a dangerous vehicle et.c! In the end i said that i didn't want to make enemies over £300 so how about i give him £150?  He agreed, saying he knew could see i wasn't FULLY aware of the situation and accepted the money and went on his way.  Leaving me with £150...AND THE CAR! Yes, he left the car as well.  Beat that. I hadn't even had the chance to post the v5 log book to the DVLA so i tore it up and asked them for a replacement! In the end we gave the car to my brother-in-law, who WAS aware of the repairs needed!  Now, back to the replacement for the Toyota...it was a...
..nother Toyota Carina E 1.8 gli 103bhp (again!)
You must think we were mad.  Let down by the most reliable car name in the world, we bought another one.  At least this time the garage had already done the timing belt and water pump, so surely this would be much better.  It even had a slightly bigger engine, which i thought might give it a little more oomph.  No.  It didn't. The 1.8 was a lean burn engine, giving the same power output, with a fraction more torque. It had a better spec and did seem a little tighter to drive and all was well again in the Wooding car department.  Until.  My wife said it seemed to be spluttering a little.  I checked and it was misfiring, running surprisingly smoothly on three cylinders on regular occasions. I changed the ignition leads, the spark plugs (bloody expensive, even where i shop!), the distributor cap and rotor arm, result-no difference.  I changed the fuel filter.  No difference. I took it in to a garage and they said the injectors weren't running consistently, so we changed three injectors all with no result.  This is the part in my motoring life that i learned that Toyota's, Nissans et.c may be reliable (apart from mine) but when they do need fixing they aren't cheap at all.  It had got to the stage where if i replace another injector and we still had the fault would we be pouring money away when it could go to another replacement.  I said out loud one night, what i'd been thinking for some time that what we needed was for it to be written off.  One week later, my wife pulls out of the junction at the end of our street, drives along for about 10 feet when a woman in another car pulls out from her parking space into our passenger door!YYYYYYYEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSS!!!!!! Result. Car written off and reasonable payout accepted with thanks. What were the chances?  During this period the Rs Turbo had been sold as we were very kindly given another car from my mother, which had become surplus and they hadn't sold.  It proved to be the most reliable, indestructible workhorse i have ever owned....
Ovlov (Volvo) 440 1.6 li 83bhp
This car, together with the Uno, Astra and our current Punto proved to me that the most reliable cars are the base spec models with very few extras to go wrong.  It was bought by my step-father as an ex-demonstrator, almost brand new from Volvo Cars London. It was serviced regularly until i had it! It had no power steering (very heavy), no electric windows, no rev counter and even the clock was analogue.  It did have heated seats though as Volvo's are designed to be used in parts that are colder than deep space. I had it from just under 100,000 miles if i remember correctly until 163,000. It had one oil change, a set of leads, plugs, air filter and a couple of exhaust parts during that period. The only oil it did use was because of a small drip that came from the sump. It didn't use water. It just started every time(until its demise), without fail, never missing a beat. When you folded the seats down it could accommodate almost as much as the Carina's. It wasn't the fastest car i owned but it certainly wasn't the slowest.  It developed an intermittent starting fault after years of reliability which i felt was the beginning of the end. Towards the end i had on some occasions reverted to reverse bump starts!  The paint was shot (it was pink) and the rear wheel arches were mostly rust. It was time to move on and i sold it as scrap.  It was quite funny in that i passed it in the other direction on my way home the day it went, it was on the back of a flatbed truck, on its way to its own "Valhalla" to take its place alongside i guess many other Volvo's. I really think i would have another (but with power steering, i'd take my chance on the reliability issue!) As i said, i passed it coming home from work that day. I was in my new car....
Vauxhall Astra Expression 1.6 74bhp
Similar to the Volvo in terms of reliablity.  It had power steering, but still no rev counter of electric windows and was had soggy handling.  It wasn't bad in a straight line and returned reasonable mpg.  I may still have had this had we not been VERY fortunate yet again when my father and step-mother offered us my current car.  I had a choice this time; keep the Astra and sell the Rover, or vice-versa. On paper the Rover was the one to keep. One owner from new (my step-mum) 30 odd thousand on the clock and good service history. I put the Astra up for sale and still have the Rover..for now. On boxing day 2010, the phone rang and a man asked if the car was for sale still. He wanted to come and see it asap.  On Boxing Day. In the middle of a roast dinner with my family. Anyway he came and i went out to see him whilst my family chomped away on roast beef and i stood out there in the snow with him.  The Astra hadn't been used for a couple of weeks and was covered in snow. I didn't expect it to start, but it did, first time. He actually asked me if it had been started already that day!! It was covered in snow! It would have melted you fool!  He liked it and gave me the cash and drove it straight to London.  In the short time i had it i enjoyed it.  Again, nothing special, did what it said on the tin, a good honest motor. I almost forgot.  This was not the first Vauxhall we had purchased.  Following the death of the second Carina we went for something i had always fancied. It wouldn't be very economical, which i had anticipated but it also proved to to be unreliable...
Vauxhall Vectra 2.0 Sri 140  136bhp(140 was a lie)
Never ever again. It was heavy to drive despite having power steering.  It had a computer that told lies about failed bulbs.  Both front windows dropped out of their runners.  It was excessively thirsty, even for a two litre.  It wasn't even that quick.  Its gearbox spat its contents over The Headlands in Kettering without warning.  No whining, juddering, nothing. In fact i've given it to much space just writing this. I would even have another Carina over one of these.  Moving swiftly on and all that's left is the current fleet of two cars on the Wooding driveway... 
 Fiat Punto 1.2 60bhp
Brilliant.  Every bit as reliable as the Volvo and my first car and its spiritual predecessor the Fiat Uno.  The pre-requisite for this car was four doors and enough room to fit Rose's buggy in the boot.  That was it.  Nothing fancy.  We tried Fiesta's-not a big enough boot and Corsa's-ditto, even trying another Volvo, this time a 460-an even uglier saloon version of the 440, but it was cursed with the disease of the saloon.  My wife spotted this and it was on our budgetary limit. We went for it and never looked back. We have clocked   about 30-40,000 in it.  Going fully loaded with a roof box to Weymouth and Burnham-On-Sea, doing 70mph officer all the way. Not a problem.  Starts first time on the button.  Runs on air i reckon, using next to no fuel. It did have a lot of work on the head done before we had it and perhaps that's why its so good.  Daisy has modified the boot slightly, but she is quite happy in the boot. We are just waiting for her to fail as she's been so good for us, the only thing we'd change,or should i say my wife would change, would be to have remote central locking as it is manual.  Again, like the Volvo and the Astra this is probably part of the reason it has been so reliable, because of the absence of too many electric extras.  The engine design is over 20 years old now and is almost identical to the one i had in my Uno. It has the same rocker cover oil leak as well, but she does us proud.  Lastly we have the car that was very kindly given to us by my Dad and step-mum.  It cost us nothing for which we are very grateful. We've put some new discs and pads on and that is all...or is it...
Rover 25 1.4 84bhp
Very solid handling. Pulls well. Very tall gearing, will hit 38mph in first according to handbook. Ice cold air-con, power steering, 'leccy windows et.c  Very good car. Enjoyable to drive, i like it a lot.  It has the lower output 1.4 engine due to a smaller throttle body than the higher output 1.4 but this is barely noticeable on the road i suspect. Recently though it would appear my, and many other Rover owners nemesis may be approaching.  The notorious K-Series head gasket failure.  Not as easy to diagnose on these engines as many other manufacturers because of its reputation many automatically presume head gasket.  Coolant loss and a little mayo in the oil cap.  No overheating though, and no oil in the coolant.  I thought it had stopped using coolant for a week and a half, but only today i checked and it had used a little.  Only a little, but it is using it and the mayo is still there.  I am hoping it is something else like a manifold leak or something, but i do fear for the worst.  It wont be as expensive as the Toyota would have been but nonetheless i could part exchange it, together with the money for the repair for something more practical like an estate for our growing family (and Daisy).  Time will tell and i shall continue to monitor the situation until we have no choice but to decide on which road to take.  I hope you enjoy this blog and can relate to it with your own memories of your cars and the good and bad times you have had with them. My conclusion and recommendation is to buy an old Volvo which has been looked after by its previous owner or buy a base spec Fiat, i don't think you'll have to (F)ix (I)t (A)gain (T)omorrow!