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....