Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Four Per Cent Inebriation

I was reading the other day that nearly one third of the alcohol sold in the UK is drunk by just 4% of the population - which is a staggering statistic.  It certainly puts into perspective all those recent attempts to scare us all into drinking less alcohol.  Clearly, most of us are drinking less alcohol: the problem drinkers, the ones who should be targeted, are a relatively small group.  Moreover, the kind of alcohol they are drinking is, in the main, that cheap, rough as a dog's arse, cider or strong lager you can buy cheaply in supermarkets and the like.  Apparently, the average strong cider drinker can consume around sixteen litres of the stuff a week.  Which is very scary indeed.  The damage they are risking to their health is immense and potentially fatal.  But the point I'm stumbling toward here is that the problem drinkers in our society aren't drinking real ales or expensive spirits like decent whiskys - they are drinking vast quantities of strong lager or cheap vodka.  Yet always the proposals to curb problem drinking are the same: an indiscriminate surcharge on alcohol, making the 96% of us who drink moderately pay for the problems of a minority. 

Surely, it would be more logical, not to mention fairer, to focus additional alcohol taxation on the types of drinks which are actually at the root of the problem?  (Although, arguably, upping the price of cheap alcohol to try and put it out of the reach of the 4% will either result in them turning to crime to fund their habit, or turning to substitutes, such as narcotics, to feed their addictions).  But alcohol isn't really the root of the problem, is it?  It's clear that the majority of this 4% are living in poverty, a significant proportion of them street drinkers. Arguably, their alcohol abuse is merely a symptom of their problems - what starts as a way to numb the pain of their desolate lives quickly becomes a dependency.  The real base problem is poverty, complicated, in many cases, by untreated mental illness. Now, I'm not saying that we should ignore the damage being dome here by the alcohol abuse, but the excessive alcohol consumption of the 4% can only be properly addressed by tackling their most fundamental problem: poverty.  We really need to be asking ourselves why, in the twenty first century, in a technologically advanced and relatively wealthy nation, 4% of our population live in such misery that they end up drinking a third of the alcohol sold here in a vain attempt to oiliterate the miserable, poverty stricken reality they find themselves trapped in?


Monday, January 22, 2018

In the Worst of Health

So, last time I was wittering on about having my life turned upside down.  Well, the disruptions continued today.  The long and the short of it is that I finally saw my doctor last week with, what I thought, were work stress-related symptoms and the related mild depression.  In the course of the check up, she took my blood pressure and found that it was twice what it should be - extreme hypertension is the medical term, I believe.  It was so high that I was running the risk of suffering a stroke.  Consequently, I was prescribed medication and packed off for a series of blood tests and an ECG (all of which seemed to take up most of Thursday and Friday).  Anyway, I was back at the doctor's late this morning to discuss the results and review the situation.  Well, the good news is that according to the tests my kidney and liver are functioning as normal, as is my heart and my red and white blood cell counts are normal.  Moreover, the capsules I'm taking for the blood pressure seem to be working: my blood pressure has fallen since I started taking them.  It is still far, far too high, but it is now moving in the right direction.

The bad news was that my cholesterol level was higher than it should be, not spectacularly high, though, and that I have mild type two diabetes.  Neither of these would usually merit treatment at their current levels, but because of the high blood pressure, I've been prescribed more pills to bring the cholesterol and diabetes under control.  I've also been told to avoid unduly stressful situations - so I've been signed off work for the next week, until I see the doctor again next Monday, when the situation will be reviewed.  In the meantime, I'm trying to avoid stress and get more exercise (it's good for the blood pressure).  I have to admit that I've found the whole business both scary, disorienting and worrying.  In the short term, having to manage three sets of medication is challenging enough, but in the longer term, I have the even greater challenge of making significant changes to my lifestyle if I'm to get all of my ailments under control on a permanent basis.  Inevitably, it means that my plans to leave my crappy job will move forward - while the work related stress which sparked all of this off doesn't account for just how high my blood pressure has become, it certainly hasn't helped.  It has definitely exacerbated the problem.  I really need to take some time out to relax and plan my next move.


Friday, January 19, 2018

We'll Be Right Back...

That's right - another commercial break, which can mean only one thing: I can't think of anything else to post about today.  There are actually good reasons for this, which I might yet choose to share here.  But trust me, the last couple of days have turned my life upside down and I'm still struggling to get my bearings in the new reality I find myself inhabiting.  But to get back to the matter in hand, this particular commercial break is of interest to me for several reasons.  First up, it comes from Southern Television, the ITV regional franchise I grew up watching.  Their rather strange channel ident can be seen before the ads start.  Secondly, it was originally shown during an episode of Space: 1999, a series which Southern chose not to show until several months after it had premiered on other regions.  (They never actually screened series two, as I recall - for those of us in the South, it came as a revelation that there even had been a second series).  

This makes me think that this break must have been run on a Saturday morning, which is where Southern originally scheduled Space: 1999.  This would seem to be confirmed by the presence of an ad for confectionary (those were the days when advertisers were allowed to target kids with ads for sugar filled sweets, fast food and the like), and the PG Tips chimps ad.  However, the last ad is for a wine merchant (when was the last time you saw a TV ad for a wine merchant?), which would imply a later slot (that said, as noted before, there weren't so many restrictions on what type of ad you could run at particular times).  Of course, the ad for milk is pretty harmless, but seems somewhat adult-orientated for something shown during what Southern clearly considered to be a kid's TV programme.  Regardless of their scheduling, these ads encompass a range of products and techniques that you simply wouldn't see in a modern commercial break - the targeting of children with an ad for sweets, wine merchants (now seen as too niche a target audience and superseded by the rise of supermarkets selling wines).  Likewise, the commercial selling something as generic as milk, (only specialised milk like Cravendale or Arlo get their owns now), and, in the case of the PG Tips ad, animal cruelty (quite apart from the ethical considerations of forcing animals to perform.in the service of commerce, CGI animals are much easier to direct).  Once again, the seventies truly were another country.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Peter Wyngarde Remembered

Sadly, it seems that Peter Wyngarde has died at the age of ninety.  For many of us, he was a cherished childhood TV memory: the very epitome of late sixities/early seventies campness in his portrayal of Jason King, both in the character's own eponymous series and its predecessor, Department S.  I remember watching both series when they were rerun in the afternoons during school holidays in the late seventies.  Despite only a few years having passed since their production, they seemed to come from a completely different era, so different were the late seventies to the early seventies.  But despite the apparent campness of Wyngarde's characterisation, the fact was that extravagant moustaches, frilled shirts and velvet smoking jackets were all considered fashionable accessories for the man-about-town circa 1970, (just look at Jon Pertwee's costume in Dr Who if you need further confirmation of this).  Before becoming Jason King, Wyngarde had given many plamboyant performances in various TV series, including The Saint and The Avengers, usually playing the guest villain of the week and more than holding his own performing opposite the likes of Roger Moore and Patrick MacNee.  Prior to TV fame, Wyngarde had notched up some interesting film credits, including The Innocents and the lead in the interesting but relatively neglected horror film Night of the Eagle.

Wyngarde's early life seems shrouded in mystery, with confusion as to his actual year of birth and place of birth, something he happily contributed to.  Sadly, his career took something of a knock in the mid seventies after a pair of well publicised convictions for what would now be known as 'cottaging'.  But he managed something of a comeback in the eighties, with roles in Flash Gordon , Sherlock Holmes and Dr Who. Wyngarde's performances weren't confined to acting: in 1970 he released a self-titled album full of some truly bizarre spoken word tracks.  Most notorious of these was 'Rape', released as a promotional single.  Listening to the latter today, it seems unbelievable that a major label could ever have thought it a good idea to release a jokey record about rape.  But hey, the early seventies were a different country.  A different planet, in fact.  A planet where gay actors playing heterosexual ladies' men like Jason King, had to hide their sexuality for fear it would damage the character's reputation.  In the final analysis, Wyngarde might never have become a major star of either film or TV, but he gave many highly entertaining and memorable performances, justifiably making him a cult favourite.  I'll remember him fondly, not just for the likes of Jason King, but also for that amazing LP.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Land That Time Forgot Revisited

As I've mentioned here before, I'm something of a sucker for dinosaur movies.  When I was a dinosaur obsessed kid, there weren't too many dinosaur movies around - not only were they considered a specialised interest, but they were difficult to represent on screen.  Men in suits, and puppets were unconvincing while photographically enlarged lizards (usually with fake horns, spines and frill glued to them, were completely inaccurate.  Stop motion animation was undoubtedly the best way to portray dinosaurs realistically (well, as realistically as classic reconstructions of their fossilised skeletons allowed them to be), but was time consuming and relatively expensive.  With modern CGI, dinosaurs can be recreated relatively cheaply, which is probably why dinosaur pictures seem to be two a penny these days.  But to get back to the point, my soft spot for films featuring these long extinct leviathans undoubtedly explains why I found myself watching The Asylum's 2009 version of The Land That Time Forgot.  The fact that it was produced by The Asylum should have rung alarm bells, but hey, they have produced some reasonably entertaining 'mockbusters' over the years.

To be fair, this remake did add some interesting ideas to the Edgar Rice Burroughs source novel, although bringing in the whole Bermuda Triangle angle was somewhat hackneyed.  But, taking the 'Time Forgot' part of the title and presenting the island of Caprona as a location that exists outside of normal time and where groups of characters from different eras of history find themselves simultaneously stranded, isn't a bad plot device.  The problem is that the makers then fail to really make anything out of it, with the plot eventually retreading the familiar plot elements of the novel: the stranded U-Boat whose crew are eventually forced to work with their American adversaries to try and escape the island, the two characters left stranded on the island, their journal thrown into the ocean in a bottle.  However, the way it is set up, there is next to no conflict between the characters and consequently no dramatic tension.  Most crucially, though, the biggest thing lacking from this version of the story are dinosaurs.  Apart from a couple of Pteranodons, a briefly glimpsed giant sea reptile and a Tyrannosaurus (the main antagonist to the human characters), there basically aren't any, leaving me feeling seriously shortchanged.  To add insult to injury, the CGI used to create them was clearly done on the cheap, rendering them barely convincing.

Really, what is the point of an adaptation of The Land That Time Forgot which isn't chock full of dinosaurs?  Surely they should be the movie's main selling point?  I've seen versions of The Lost World with a similar lack of dinosaurs, trying to pitch themselves as primarily adventure stories.  Unfortunately for this version of Land That Time Forgot, the human characters are simply not interesting or engaging enough to carry the dinosaur-light story.  Indeed, it compares very unfavourably with the 1975 film version which, despite having technically inferior special effects, is hugely enjoyable.  It's dinosaurs might be a combination of full size mechanical models, puppets and men in suits, but they are at least present in significant numbers.  Moreover, its cast of second rank but solid and talented actors - including Doug McClure, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Barron, John McEnerey and Anthony Ainley - give full justice to a surprisingly literate script (Michael Moorcock worked on it at one point).   The World War One period of the novel is evoked to good effect, providing plenty of tension and dramatic conflict between the U-Boat crew and the Anglo-American survivors it picks up from the freighter it sinks.  Most of all, despite being a relatively low budget Amicus production, the 1975 film understands that audiences expect this type of movie to deliver spectacle.  Which it does: U-Boats, dinosaurs and climactic volcanic eruptions!  Believe me, it's all a lot more fun than the 2009 version with its dull characters, dull dinosaurs and dull plot mechanics.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Tabloid News

Today was the first day of The Guardian's new tabloid format - it was surprisingly successful.  Not to mention far more convenient to read - I didn't feel that I needed a clear fifteen square feet to open it up in.  Mind you, I can't help but feel that many down and outs will be disappointed at the loss of another broadsheet format newspaper - those big pages were as good as bed sheets when you were sleeping on a park bench.  Those tabloid sized pages just don't cut it when it comes to insulation from the cold.  One thing about the new Guardian which left me mildly disappointed by the lack of an attractive female philosopher displaying her intellectual assets on page three:  "Phwooar!  Look at the Double Firsts on her!"  Still, times change and there's no doubt that the tabloid format is the most convenient size for modern print newspapers.  That said, the last large size newspaper to go tabloid - The Independent - floundered and died, now existing only as a website. I hope that's not a portent for the future of The Guardian.

Not that there isn't plenty of news for the new sized paper to report on right now, what the ongoing implosion of the political right on both sides of the Atlantic.  There isn't much more to say about Trump and 'shithole' countries, besides, that new book does a far better hatchet job on him than I ever could.  So, let's look closer to home: the collapse of Tory-supporting Carillion (whose support of the Tories had nothing to do with it getting all those government contracts, of course) has been the icing on the cake of a week which has seen that odious right-wing creep Toby 'Look at me, I'm being daring and outrageous by consorting with eugenicists'  Young get his comeuppance, the current UKIP leader having to disown his girlfriend over her racist comments about Royal bride-to-be Meghan Markle and, best of all, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage calling for a second referendum on EU membership.   The latter development has probably amused me most.  Clearly, being part of the mainstream of political discourse, since the UK's suicidal decision to leave the EU, doesn't suit perennial 'outsider' Farage.  The solution?  Reverse the referendum decision with another referendum and Hey Presto!  Farage and UKIP are outsiders again with something to fight against, thereby justifying their existence! 

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Willard (1971)

A film I remember only vaguely from late night TV showings in the late seventies, Willard was a popular independently made horror film which, at one time, had something of a cult following.  Not only did it boast an above average cast, decent direction and production values, but it was also based around a reasonably original idea.  Oppressed and alienated young man Willard (Bruce Davison), forms a bond with the rats living in his mother's decaying mansion and trains them, turning them into a private army with which he can take revenge upon those oppressing and bullying him.  Obviously, it eventually all goes horribly wrong for Willard. 

It's easy to see the appeal of Willard - it is a classic empowerment fantasy, with a down trodden anti-hero able, if only temporarily, to turn the tables on his tormentors through the acquisition of extraordinary powers.  It is a fantasy repeated across many genres, its most common modern manifestation being the superhero fantasy, with mild mannered ordinary guys (and girls) transformed by super powers into world saving titans.  Older versions might see the hero empowered by being able to harness supernatural agencies to their cause.  Willard presents a more practical and, on the surface, realistic version of this fantasy - the harnessing of natural forces in the cause of vengeance.

Willard is one of the earliest examples of the horror sub genre which sees an individual's affinity with a particular species allow them to take revenge on their enemies.  Thanks to the film's success, a number of imitators appeared, (Stanley, for instance involved a snake obsessed weirdo using his scaly friends to foil the plans of villainous developers, unfortunately, it is deadly dull).  Alongside these appeared the related 'revenge of nature' cycle of films, such as Day of the AnimalsWillard also spawned a direct sequel, Ben, featuring the independently minded chief rat from the previous film (he even had his own theme song, performed by Michael Jackson), effectively transformed from villain to anti-hero.  There was also a 2003 remake of Willard, (although not billed as a remake, but rather  a 're-imagining of the original source material, Ratman's Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert, it still followed the original movie's plot quite closely). 

Just writing this 'Random Movie Trailer' has left me feeling that I really should try and watch both Willard and Ben again.  As mentioned earlier, they were, for their day, reasonably original in their central ideas, marking the horror film's gradual move away from the supernatural, which continued apace through the seventies, culminating in the dominance of the 'slasher movie' from the late seventies and throughout most of the eighties.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Winter Past

It seems that even Winters were better back in the day.  Or at least they were reported by the media in a more positive light.  Nowadays, snow is a complete bastard who prevents us getting to work, but back in the sixties it was simply seen as an opportunity for fun.  As for Hogmany, well now we'd have to endure all sorts of dire warnings about the damage all that excessive alcohol consumption would do to our health.  As for those revellers in London - now it would be reported as a drunken riot. 

It's interesting the way in which these old newsreels always try and put a positive spin on Britain and the British, in stark comparison to today's media which always seeks, it seems, to most pessimistic possible spin to put on events.  Of course, back in 1962, the UK still had the last vestiges of an empire, which encouraged the delusion that we were still a force in the world.  Consequently, the pressure was always on to present a positive image of Britain and Britons to the rest of the world: we couldn't be cowed by bad weather, in fact we laughed in the face of snow, we could hold our drink like no other nation on earth could, but still behaved ourselves when drunk and raucous.  All that drunkenly jumping in fountains was just a bit of boisterous fun in the true blue British tradition.

Nowadays we can't even get trains to run in the snow, so much have we declined as a nation.  (Actually, to be fair, back in 1962 the railways probably did cope rather better with snow than they do now.  Most trains were locomotive hauled, predominantly by steam locomotives, whose great weight allowed them better traction on slippery rails than the multiple units which tend to form most modern passenger trains).  Joking aside, I do love these sorts of news reels and public information films.  They allow a glimpse into a world gone by.  A world which might not be that  distant from us in temporal terms, but which look increasingly archaic.  The people we see in them are us, but not us and the world they inhabit is ours but not ours.  We recognise it all, but it just seems a more primitive version of  our world.  The past truly is another country.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Playing With Fire

So, apart from planning to quit my job, I have been doing other things.  Yesterday evening, for instance, I conclusively proved that I'm not safe to be allowed to play with fire.  To cut a long story short, I was using my garden incinerator to burn some rubbish (this is part of a clear up at home and has been going on for several days) and nearly succeeded both in setting myself on fire and burning the house down.  The problem was that the wind was much stronger than I expected and kept whipping the fire up so that huge orange flames kept leaping out of the incinerator.  Now, I know that these incinerators come with a lid, (basically an old-style dustbin lid with a metal chimney on it), which is supposed to allow you to burn stuff safely, without huge flames and sparks by protecting the fire from things like high winds.  Which is all very well, but I had a lot of stuff to burn and having the lid on all the time just got in the way of my constantly stoking up the fire.

The result was that, at one point, just as I was putting some more rubbish into the incinerator, the wind gusted in my direction and I was chased to my back door by a huge sheet of orange flame.  Then the wind changed direction and the sheet of flame set fire to some ivy which was crawling up the kitchen wall.  (OK, I will concede that I might have placed the incineration too close to the house).  Somehow, I got the lid back on the incinerator and put out the ivy fire.  Of course, I had to to take the lid off again to shove more stuff in - this time some papers (trust me, burning stuff like old bank statements is far more effective than shredding them) - and everything was OK until, just as I was poking the fire with a bit of metal, so as ensure that everything was burning evenly, there was another gust of wind and bits of blazing paper were flying everywhere: the garden, the path, even through the open back door.  Once again, I managed to get it all under control and apart from scorched hair and a singed shirt, I survived the ordeal.  I think I'll be giving the incinerator a rest for a while, though. 


Monday, January 08, 2018

Sitting in the Departure Lounge

I'm afraid that I'm finding coming up with anything to post today difficult - I'm more than a little distracted.  Things are going on at work which, I think, will finally result in my departure from the snake pit it has become.  I thought for while that I could reduce my working hours and carry on for a while that way, but it is clear that I was deceiving myself - the job is making me ill and will continue to do so, no matter how many, or how few, hours I work at it.  I've actually got a doctor's appointment scheduled for next week, during which I'm hoping to address several outstanding medical issues currently plaguing me, as well as the issues the work related stress are causing me.   In fact, I'd like to confirm that the way I'm feeling is down to the stress and doesn't have some other underlying cause.  Pending the outcome of this appointment, I'll make a firm decision on my future at work.  The facts is that I have no mortgage to pay anymore, no dependents and money in the bank.  Financially, I'm secure for the foreseeable future.  So, really, there's nothing to stop me from walking away.

I must admit that, over the past few days, I've been guided by the things I've said here, over the past three years or so, about my future at work.  Past me was quite consistent: once the mortgage was paid, I was walking.  Yet I haven't - more recent me has betrayed past me.  Part of the problem is that I've listened to too many people who have cautioned restraint, urged me to be 'sensible'.  But the fact is that none of them have any idea of just how sick the job is making me.  There are, of course, a select number of friends and family who have consistently advised me to quit.  I should have listened to them and acted on their advice sooner.  A couple of years ago, after yet another attempt to force me out of my job, I went AWOL for an afternoon - at one point I drove past a cafe called 'The Departure Lounge' (it's still there, as far as I know).  I thought at the time how apt that was as, with only a couple of years to go to pay off the mortgage that, effectively, was where I was: in the departure lounge.  Well, I've tarried there too long and I think, at last, that my flight is being called.