Wednesday, December 27, 2006

AKA Year in Review 2006: The Movies – Part Two

Time for the rest of my dirty dozen. Let’s get on with it:

Snakes on a Plane – The movie that was supposed to change the way that films were marketed, and was then deemed a flop when the massive online push for this modern-day B-movie was not enough to make it a hit. Who gives a shit about box office? This was still great, unashamed popcorn movie-making. Sam Jackson spends a sprightly and hugely-enjoyable 105 minutes getting some motherfucking snakes off a motherfucking plane. It’s time to open some windows…

Thank You For Smoking – Aaron Eckhart at his fast-talking, scumbag best, as the leading spokesman for Big Tobacco, beset on all sides by a stupendous supporting cast made up of Robert Duvall, Sam Elliott, Maria Bello and Rob Lowe, amongst others. Maybe not as smart and as funny as it thinks it is, but still smart and funny enough to make my Top Twelve.

United 93 – Paul Greengrass’s clinical dissection of the events of 9/11, with the focus on the fourth plane. Never judgmental, and all the more powerful for it. The line between documentary and fiction is blurred to leave a painful exploration of an important moment in recent history. Everyone needs to see this.

V for Vendetta – Comic book adaptations are notoriously hit-and-miss. When you add Alan Moore adaptations to the mix, the misses far outweigh the hits. After all, comics have an unlimited effects budget, and the only limitations are the creative ones in the mind of the writer. I went into V for Vendetta expecting the worst, and ended up being delighted by it. Hugo Weaving is masterful as the titular V, in a performance of subtle physical acting, using his impassive porcelain mask as an asset, rather than being hindered by it, and the subtext of Thatcher’s Britain updated to Blair’s Britain didn’t hurt one bit. Remember, people should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

Wolf Creek – A movie I finally caught up with on DVD. Where most horror movies use well-worn variations on long-established genre tropes such as the things hidden in the black of night and the claustrophobic confines of the cabin in the woods, Wolf Creek spins it around to the vast, endless expanses of the Australian outback in the blinding bright light of the brutal sun, and there’s still no-one coming to the rescue. With one single, solitary line of appropriated dialogue, John Jarratt becomes of the great movie monsters. That’s not a knife, this is a knife!

Zatôichi the Fugitive (Zatôichi Kyôjô Tabi)
– Made in 1963, and I finally got to see it in 2006. In the only night of pure self-indulgence I allowed myself this year, I settled in for an evening of cult Japanese movies at the NFT, one of which was this, the fourth entry in the long-running series about the blind swordsman. There are no words to describe the brilliance of Shintaro Katsu as Zatôichi. My face hurt from the perpetual grin I had smeared across my face watching this. Perfection.

And that’s almost a wrap. If everything had gone according to plan, this would have been posted before Christmas, and I would have ended things with the final part of the Sucker Punch Christmas Advent Calendar Funk Nuggets. But everything seems to accelerate out of my control before Christmas, and this got side-lined. And then on Christmas Day, I heard that one of my musical heroes had died. So this final piece of funk history should be given to Soul Brother Number One, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Mr. Please Please Please, Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk, Mr. Dynamite, The Boss, The Godfather of Soul and a man who was the living embodiment of the funk. Mr. James Brown, take it to the bridge…

Thursday, December 21, 2006

AKA Year in Review 2006: The Movies – Part One

The end of 2006 is almost upon us, so it’s time once again to hurl my body onto the burning embers of another year’s worth of popular culture. I notice that I didn’t do this last year, and that this is the first time I’ve done this since 2004. Then, like now, I’ve opted for a Top Twelve rather than a Top Ten. But, before I unveil the list, a few observations…

This year I saw far, far fewer movies than I have in previous years. There are many reasons for this: I was less enthused with what was available to me at any given moment; I seem to have less time to indulge myself; I’m tired. I don’t know where all my leisure time has evaporated to. Some serious lifestyle changes are needed for 2007, but I’ll save that for a different blog entry.

With that in mind, my Top Twelve is composed of what I have seen this year, without cleaving strictly to release dates. Some of this stuff I caught up with on DVD long after original theatrical release, and there’s a wild card as my twelfth entry on the list, as it was something that was made in 1963. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

As a result of my much-reduced movie-viewing (something I hope to address next year), there are some notable omissions – movies that I would imagine would have had a damn good shot at appearing on my Best of The Year list had I seen them. Missing in action, then, are Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, Joon-ho Bong’s The Host, Kevin Smith’s Clerks II, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver. Well, there’s always next year.

So in alphabetical order, here is the first half of my Top Twelve:

The Black Dahlia – Much-maligned on release, and not without justification, this movie is a colossal mess. The four lead roles are horribly miscast. Fiona Shaw’s manic, mannered performance looks like it has wandered over from another movie entirely. There is far too much plot and story vying for attention that it never really gets. It’s all over the place. That doesn’t stop Brian De Palma’s adaptation of the first part of James Ellroy’s LA Quartet from ending up in my Top Twelve. Audiences looking for noir ended up getting pulp instead, and that’s fine by me. I do so love me some pulp. It may be a mess, but I still loved it.

Casino Royale – Or, as I like to call it, Bond Begins. The icons need rejuvenating now and again. Sometimes it works (Batman Begins, the Doctor Who relaunch) and sometimes it doesn't (Superman Returns, the BBC’s Robin Hood relaunch). Casino Royale worked. Bond films are always entertaining diversions, but they’re rarely rewatchable. You just wander out of the cinema having enjoyed yourself, and forget all about it. Casino Royale strips away all the barnacles that have become encrusted on the 007 mythos over the decades (the gadgets, the girls, the suave debonair one-liners), and takes Bond back to basics. Daniel Craig is phenomenal, playing Bond as a bestial brute of a man. In a neat inversion of the formula, Craig becomes the eye-candy rather than the women, his body a rippling mass of cuts, bruises, cartilage and lethal simian musculature. He fails as often as he succeeds, but fights on with determination and animal cunning. I’d watch it again.

Hidden (Caché) – Michael Haneke’s tale of a middle-class French family terrorised by anonymous videocassettes delivered to their home is both ice-cold and razor-sharp in its forensic dissection of paranoia, guilt, culpability, and personal responsibility. Unsettling and truly brilliant, Hidden would make a nifty double-bill with David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

Inside Man – A heist movie to rank up there with the greats like Dog Day Afternoon (an obvious touchstone for this latest Spike Lee joint). To discuss it would be to spoil it, but I will say that Lee manages to create an exhilarating genre piece that still manages to seamlessly weave in dead-on observations about violence, the media, corporate America and living in post-9/11 New York. Glorious.

Little Children
– An examination of middles-class ennui that makes American Beauty look like the over-praised, overly-mannered Plastic Bag Full Of Nothing that I’ve always known it to be. Aside from the irritating and intrusive omniscient narrator that keeps popping up, this is a corker of a film with possibly Kate Winslet’s finest performance ever. So, so good.

Me and You and Everyone We Know – I have grown to loath the word “quirky”. It has become an all-purpose word that has lost its meaning. It’s hurled at anything that dares to be different or shuns formula and cliché. Miranda July’s beautiful look at how people interact and ache for intimacy and love is exactly the sort of movie that has probably been described as “quirky” many, many times. I would rather call it lovely, funny and uplifting.

The other six to follow. But before I leave, it’s time to get on the good foot with the Sucker Punch Christmas Advent Calendar Funk Nuggets! Today, I bring you the manly Minneapolis funk of Morris Day and The Time, the only band that could make Prince quake in his high heels. Everyone knows Jungle Love and The Bird, so I’ve gone instead for Jerk Out. From 1990, when the original line-up was reunited for Graffiti Bridge, here are those magnificent seven shameless hipsters making fools out of themselves and chasing girls. Oh Lawd…

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Peter Boyle 1935 – 2006

Holy crap. Peter Boyle died.

To most people, Peter Boyle will be forever known as the perpetually grumpy Frank, the curmudgeon always prepared to fire off a withering putdown as the patriarch of the dysfunctional Barone clan in Everybody Loves Raymond.

But for me, Frank Barone was just another chapter in the long and wonderful screen career of a fine character actor whose performances have tweaked my pleasure centres for decades. Even his briefest appearances struck a chord and stayed with me. The role of Wizard, the philosophical hackie who passes on his street-corner wisdom to the simmering Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver is a relatively small one, but it remains an unforgettable scene in a movie crammed full of them.

“You get a job. You become the job.”
Peter Boyle as Wizard in Taxi Driver


His broad glistening bald pate with the wisps of hair framing it on the sides, his immense grin, the eyes that could twinkle with either mirth or malevolence (or both at the same time) – whenever Peter Boyle appeared on-screen, you knew that you would be in for something to savour. Personal favourites include the tremendous Seventies caper movie Slither, and his showing as the standard-issue shouty police commander in Walter Hill’s Red Heat. He steals every scene from Bill Murray in Where The Buffalo Roam, despite the fact that Murray is superb as the good Dr. Gonzo himself, Hunter S. Thompson, and Boyle still manages to eclipse his efforts with a manic, wild-eyed, utterly hilarious performance as Carl Lazlo, a thinly-disguised portrayal of Thompson’s friend Oscar Acosta. But there are two films in particular that I can watch again and again and just revel in Boyle’s mastery of comic timing.

“I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me. Out of my way, asshole.”
Peter Boyle as Jack McDermott in The Dream Team


The first is The Dream Team, where he plays Jack McDermott, a former advertising executive with a predilection for undressing at inopportune times and who now believes he is God, set loose on the streets of New York with fellow crazies Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd and Stephen Furst. (All four of them are just terrific in this movie). Truly wonderful stuff.

“This is the body and blood of our saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. And a damned fine Beaujolais!”
Peter Boyle as Jack McDermott in The Dream Team


The other movie is, of course, Young Frankenstein. What can I say about this film that hasn’t already been said? Nothing at all. So, in a break from the onslaught of funk music I’ve been hurling up here all month, I leave you with this moment of comedy gold. Peter Boyle. Gene Wilder. Putting On The Ritz.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Stray Bullet Points

Ola! I’m back with some bits and pieces from Barcelona. It has been harder than I thought to weld all this stuff into something resembling a compelling narrative. The narrative part is easy. Making anyone other than me give a shit has proved much tougher. (This is what happens when you take three months off blogging and retreat to the harmless confines of the just-for-me paper-and-pen journal.)

The last time I left you hanging, I was heading for the airport armed with nothing more than a bagful of essentials and the rudimentary Spanish I’ve picked up watching Dora The Explorer with Buttercup. But there’s not enough meat on the story of my trip to write this out as a travelogue of “I did this, and then I saw that, and you wouldn’t believe what that motherfucker said to me then?”

When in doubt, go for short controlled bursts of easily-digestible highlights. It was a month ago now, so this is just an exercise in sense-memory and deciphering my disjointed notes. Enough of the cons, let’s get on with the prose:

The Schmooze – Years on from my time in the customer-facing world of retail, I thought I had lost the ability to talk unrelenting crap to complete strangers. I was wrong. It was as easy as ever to turn it on and turn it off. I just flicked my Internal Bullshit switch, and the effluent was flowing same as it ever was. I find that a bit disturbing…

Working the stand at the convention, I unleashed the closet carnival barker that must have been hibernating deep inside me for the last decade or so, and I was practically standing on tables shouting “Come and get some free shit!”. I was propping up the stand like a bartender, lubricated with free beer, doing some of that soft sell nonsense.

Man, that made me feel dirty. Never again. Forgive me. Marketing is for scum. I hereby permanently recuse myself from the ranks of the ScumPeople.

First Impressions
– In the spirit of fairness, I decided to give my colleagues a clean slate in Barcelona. No matter what I thought of them, I’d give them a fair shot to prove me wrong.

That was a colossal Waste Of Time. By the end of the week, I was having an internal conversation trying to decide whether Rainbow was a sleazy prick, or was he a scum-sucking fuck bag?

The Wednesday Night Party – More freeloaders eating plates of fried shit that you can only swallow with free beer. Also, the weird disconnect you get when the song on the sound system has nothing to do with the music videos playing on the large screens all over the place. It’s always disconcerting to see the video for We Are The World on mute, looking at Al Jarreau or Daryl Hall crooning earnestly into a microphone, when all you can hear is the thudding bass of Gwen Stefani on Hollaback Girl saying "This my shit" over and over and over again.

In a moment of serendipitous cosmic rebalancing, in the cab back to the hotel, the radio was playing John Denver. As I listened to him singing, I felt very, very homesick. “Take me home, country roads…”

Parting Shot – I did manage to get about five minutes to myself. One evening, I went to the roof of the hotel to take some photos. It was worth it. With all the money spent on so much unnecessary travel and food and software and bullshit, all the R&D, all the focus groups and extensive testing, NOTHING was as perfect and as beautiful as the one, free, pure thing I experienced that week. Sunset over Barcelona:



And we can finally say goodbye to all that. Thank Odin I’ve got that out of the way. Next time, something else. I promise. But before I go, lest we’ve all forgotten, it’s time for the Sucker Punch Christmas Advent Calendar Funk Nuggets! Back from the days when TV shows had the sound of screeching metal interspersed with the glorious madness of the wah-wah pedal, here is Laurie Johnson’s moment of funk immortality, The Professionals:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Too Much Coffee Man

This morning I drank three cups of strong, black coffee followed by a can of Red Bull.

Stupid. Very stupid.

Now I can hear my blood singing as it rockets around my veins, and I’m trying very hard not to grind my teeth. As a result, I’ll get back to that Barcelona stuff tomorrow or something. I can’t hold a thought down long enough to do anything useful today.

But I won’t leave you with nothing. Oh no. Here is the latest exciting instalment of the Sucker Punch Christmas Advent Calendar Funk Nuggets. This one is for my man B to wish him a Happy Birthday for tomorrow, because I know he loves this. Groove on, brother. Here are the Red Hot Chili Peppers with their cover of the Ohio Players’ Love Rollercoaster. Also, this record is the source of one of my favourite urban myths.

You give me that funny feeling in my tummy…

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Homage to Catalonia

Busy, busy, busy. I’ve been meaning to get to this for a while now, but it’s taken me a while to clear my backlog of lifecrap, but I’m here now, and that’s all that matters, right?

So, where was I? I was about to regale you with tales of my week away at the Microsoft Tech-Ed IT Forum in Barcelona, wasn’t I? Seeing as that was nearly a month ago now, I had better get on with it.

To say that I was going to Barcelona with a few reservations would be an understatement. First up, I don’t like being away from my wife and daughter for long periods of time. I like the relative simplicity of my day-to-day life. All the crap I have to endure is made tolerable because I know that, no matter what I have to deal with on any given day, when it’s all over I get to go home to Buttercup’s beaming face and shining bright eyes as she runs towards me shouting, “Daddy! Daddy!”. I get to kiss my beautiful wife. And I get to decompress in my refuge with a hearty meal and a hot bath and a good night’s sleep. Simple pleasures. If I get deprived of the emotional nourishment of seeing my loved ones for unnecessary reasons, I don’t like it one bit.

Secondly, I didn’t relish the thought of being on-the-clock 24 hours a day for an entire week. I knew that I wouldn’t get a minute to myself the whole time that I was there, and I knew that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to go walkabout and discover Spain and soak up the country. (I was right, too). For the duration of my time there, I was bouncing from hotels to conference halls and back again, and I could have been anywhere in the world for that. I can’t with any honesty say that I have seen Spain, which saddens me and seems like a wasted opportunity, but there was nothing I could do about that.

Thirdly, I’m not particularly fond of my colleagues. Let me rephrase that. It sounds too even-handed and it’s not strictly true either. I don’t like my colleagues. They’re fucking idiots. (There you go. Any last vestiges of ambiguity blown away right there). My company is so tight-fisted, I wasn’t even given a hotel room to myself and I had to share, so I really didn’t have a second to myself (unless you count trips to the toilet, but I tend to work that room alone anyway).

Finally, it’s crucial to remember that I.T. isn’t my vocation, or my calling, or even my career. It’s Just A Job. To me, it’s a high-end version of flipping burgers. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t have any particular aptitude or affinity for it. I just do it to pay the bills. No matter what I do between 9 and 5.30 every week day, I’m a writer. Bearing that in mind, and fighting my growing disdain for this week away, I thought: “Well, if you’re a writer, write about it then!” So, I decided I better report on this shit, cobbled together from a small pile of notes scrawled in dark corners on the back of receipts and shredded cigarette packets, every word saved so that I could file these Despatches from Nerdvana.

Before I wrap this up for the time being, and for the sake of some illusory anonymity to stop my ass getting fired, everyone I write about will be saddled with an alias, and I need to introduce my cast of characters. Let’s call my company WTF Software. In addition to me, I was accompanied by three of my colleagues. First up is one of the company directors, and he’s a dead ringer for Montgomery Burns. He’s got the same bald pate, the same beaky nose, the same slightly doddering gait and, worst of all, the same penny-pinching miserliness that characterises the owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. He’s a sly motherfucker too. The only difference is that he smokes his own body weight in grass on a weekly basis. So, I need a name for our Pot-Head Monty Burns. I’m calling him Rainbow.

Next up is an over-enthusiastic little ass-licking Marketing fucknut who irritates me intensely. I’ll get into him in more detail later. (Short version: I hate him). For now, let’s call him Cole.

Last of our protagonists is my roommate for the week and the only tolerable person I spent time with for the duration of the conference, and I’ll call him Olaf. Actually, he’s a pretty decent guy, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have his own fully-stocked arsenal of irritating tics and traits that started to grate before the week was up.

Shit, this is running long and the plane hasn’t even hit the tarmac at Barcelona Airport yet. But, for now, this is…

To be continued…

But wait! There’s more! Everyone loves an advent calendar and, here at Stately AKA Manor, I’m no different. So, with every blog entry posted here in December, I will be harnessing the power of YouTube to bring you the Sucker Punch Christmas Advent Calendar Funk Nuggets, where I will be cherry-picking a slice of funk buried in the YouTube vaults. I reserve the right to be idiosyncratic and self-indulgent in this endeavour. I know Buttercup will enjoy this. Whenever I hit shuffle on my iTunes, she lights up and shouts “Daddy! Funky Music!” and starts dancing…

Today’s selection is the mighty Black Moses himself, Isaac Hayes, performing the Greatest Record Of All Time – The Theme from Shaft – at Wattstax. He’s one badmutha…

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Intermezzo

I promised to return with the story of my week away, and I didn’t. Pull up a stool and I’ll tell you why.

The short version is this: I was sent away to the Microsoft Tech-Ed IT Forum in Barcelona for a week, and there are many, many stories to be told of foolish people and their foolish ways. But I must admit, I’ve been putting it off. I think the O’Jays put it best in a proclamation freighted with funky prescience. To wit:

“They smilin’ in your face,
All the time they wanna take your place,
The Backstabbers,
BAAAAckstAAAbers!”


Words to live by. There is all manner of skulduggery and shit going on in my workplace at the moment, and I have to admit that I was reluctant to discuss work and work-related matters on Sucker Punch. But, fuck it. I can’t keep skating around the events of my life in a non-committal way, writing about it by shrouding things in a vague fog of half-told stories that only protect the guilty and short-change the pure-of-heart. Truth is important, so expect an influx of important truths to flood this page in the coming days. Well, as close as I can get without getting my ass fired. Truth may be important, but so is feeding my family. Still trying to reconcile that one…

So, since I got back from what was a truly exhausting week away, I’ve just been getting back in the groove: catching up on my sleep, spending time with my wife and daughter, eating properly, wading through the backlog of e-mails and newsfeeds. Now I’m ready to hurl down words of righteous anger, liberally sprinkled with unnecessary swearing and stupid jokes. Business as usual, then.

Dave Cockrum 1943 - 2006



Read: here and here

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bus Stop

I’ve been out of the country for the last week, but I’ll get to that some other time. I want to show you this first - this is what was happening in another timezone, right in front of the industrial estate / hellhole where I work.



Some background: In the early hours of last Wednesday, a bus pulled out of the bus station, straight through both lanes of traffic, whacked a car, went through a wall and straight into the offices at the front of our estate. (A tiny bit more detail can be found here).

But that’s not what makes this picture interesting to me. What amuses me is the ad for Saw III on the side of the bus, and the tag line: “This time…he’s pulling out all the stops!”

Juxtaposition – you gotta love it.

Robert Altman 1925 - 2006



"To play it safe is not to play."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

And stay out!



Change is good, isn’t it? Before Donald Rumsfeld leaves the news cycle for ever, let’s remind ourselves of some pearls from the swine:

“I am not going to give you a number for it because it's not my business to do intelligent work.” - House Armed Services Committee hearings on February 15, 2005

“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know.” - Department of Defense news briefing, February 12, 2002

“I'm not into this detail stuff. I'm more concepty.” - The New Yorker, 17 June 2002

“Look at me! I'm sweet and lovable!” - Foreign Press Centre, 21 June 2002

Right then. Who’s next?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Them’s writin’ words

In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned.
Heaven sought order.
But the phoenix can fly only when its feathers are grown.
The four worlds formed again and yet again,
As endless aeons wheeled and passed.
Time and the pure essences of Heaven,
The moisture of the Earth,
The powers of the sun and the moon
All worked upon a certain rock, old as creation.
And it became magically fertile.
That first egg was named "Thought".
Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha, said,
"With our thoughts, we make the world."
Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch.
From it then came a stone monkey.
The nature of Monkey was irrepressible!


Maybe some kind of explanation is in order.

So, at some point leading up to June 8 2006, I looked Sucker Punch hard in the eyes and thought “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

I had other things I wanted to do with my words, both online and off, and Sucker Punch was gnawing away at a disproportionate amount of my headmeat, so I pulled the trigger on it, and it was gone. Easy, eh?

Well, no.

One of my plans had been to start another new blog, with a totally different remit. I played with this on and off for months, but the sort of thing I had planned would have been an even bigger timesuck than this was. So that idea died on the vine quite quickly.

The other ideas, though, took fruit. I was a writing machine, frantically chipping away at my latest idea. The working title is Rotten Timing and, the more I think about it, the more I like it. What’s it about? Well, it’s about time paradox and Buddhism and zombies and London and fate and sacrifice and love and kick-ass fight scenes. Amongst other things.

I want it to be a novel, but sometimes you have to let stories take you where they want to go and, despite my best story-wrangling efforts, it is fighting me to become a screenplay. You win this round, Story!

I’ve been reading and writing, writing and reading for the last three months, filling pages, solving problems and building worlds and, slowly, slowly, all the bits and pieces are coalescing into a bigger whole. I’m loving it.

But I can’t do that all the time. Sometimes I need to exercise (and exorcise) other, different writing muscles. And then I realised that there was somewhere where I could do exactly that and it was sitting fallow in a neglected corner of cyberspace. So I pulled open the shutters and threw up the sign reading “I ASSURE YOU, WE'RE OPEN”.

Because I am, and we are. I’m back for the long haul. I hope that you are too. It’s going to be fun. Promise.

One last chunk o’fun today:

Thursday, November 02, 2006

CSI: Cardiff

So, Torchwood

We’re three episodes into the “adult” spin-off of Doctor Who, building on the phenomenal success of Russell T. Davies’s relaunch of the much-loved BBC sci-fi classic, so now is as good a time as any to pin it to the table, stab a scalpel into its guts and see what we can find.

And I’ve been struggling all week to articulate exactly what it is about Torchwood that is bugging me. And I can’t.

It’s not just the lazy pilot episode Everything Changes, which is an uninspired imitation of the Doctor Who relaunch pilot Rose, following exactly the same path: A disenchanted woman (Rose / Gwen) is bored with her mundane life and her dreary boyfriend, until she is unwittingly hurled into the life of a mysterious charismatic stranger (The Doctor / Captain Jack Harkness) and a scary yet exhilarating world of aliens and monsters lurking around every corner.

It’s not just the transparent gimmick of having Gwen saddled with the thankless audience POV role, helping us wade through all that pesky world-building exposition. (Just like Rose in Doctor Who). Good writing should cleave to the maxim of “Show, Don’t Tell”, rather than having the characters sitting around explaining everything.

It’s not just Davies’s self-indulgent insistence on having a different member of the core cast engaged in a same-sex kiss in every episode for no apparent reason.

It’s not just the truly risible second episode Day One, which confirmed all my worst fears of what an “adult” show would mean. The orgasm monster, or whatever the fuck it was, was a horrible idea. The men reduced to little piles of dust after climax was a laughable visual. Silly me, I thought “adult” meant grown-up, intelligent entertainment, as opposed to bolting gratuitous sex onto bog-standard evil alien set-ups.

It’s not just the fact that I think Davies has failed to capitalise on one of his biggest assets in the character of Captain Jack Harkness. In Doctor Who, Jack was the ideal foil for the Doctor. Whilst the Doctor is an adventurer and scientist with a dry wit and unapologetically quirky ways, Jack was his mirror image - a swashbuckling con-man overflowing with charisma and gung-ho machismo. Jack is rampantly pansexual, whilst the Doctor is virtually asexual. In Torchwood, Davies has dumped all of that characterisation, and Jack has become a much darker, brooding figure. Granted, there may be a story-driven reason for this, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

And, in fairness, the show is getting better. It has its moments. It’s OK. It’s thoroughly watchable. But I’m still disappointed by the whole package. And yesterday I finally worked out why that is.

Nigel Kneale, the creator of the Quatermass series, died yesterday. And Warren Ellis posted a small obit on his website on Kneale and the cultural impact of Quatermass. Here’s a small excerpt: “…Britain used to shut down on Quatermass night, and it’s all people would talk about the next day.

And that was down to Nigel Kneale, last of a generation of writers for British television who were determined that this common culture should always be entertaining, intelligent, challenging and groundbreaking.”


Ellis nailed it. That’s my problem with Torchwood. Despite Davies’s claims that the show is “dark, clever, wild, sexy”, it’s just not dark or clever or wild or sexy enough. It’s perfectly serviceable, but it is startlingly unambitious television. What could have been a wonderful opportunity to challenge us with a smart genre piece has been squandered on endless sequences of Men in Black running around the streets of Cardiff, labouring under the weight of an oppressive score and some shonky special effects.

In the pilot episode, Captain Jack proclaims that “The 21st Century is when everything changes, and you gotta be ready.”

Well, I’m ready. And still waiting…

Monday, October 30, 2006

Drunk Man Walking

From my office window, I can see the murky, rancid waters of the Grand Union Canal. It’s awful. It’s just filthy brown water, full of plastic bags and coconuts, topped off with a grimy meniscus of duck feathers stuck in a greasy rainbow of oil that’s trickled down from the car repair place next door.

On the other side of the canal, on a stretch of pavement stained with calcified duck shit and discarded bottles of cheap Polish beer, there is a solitary piece of messily scrawled graffito. It reads “The Truth Is Out There.”

It’s been there for a while now and, due to the combined abuse of the sun, the rain, and the relentless scuffing of feet, it’s starting to fade. But, for now, it’s still there.

This morning, though, there was something different. At about 8.30, there was a human head poking out of the canal, thinning white hair slapping against the brown ripples of the canal.

By 9, the corpse was laid out flat on the pavement, surrounded by a small contingent of TV cameras and policemen. The cops said that it looked like he’d been in the canal between 8 and 10 hours. At a guess, I’d say that he was walking home from the pub last night and fell into the canal, too drunk to get himself out.

I’ve scoured the news sites all day and I can’t find anything. I suppose a drunk drowning doesn’t merit any coverage.

By lunchtime, the body was gone, whisked away to who-knows-where. I walked down there. There wasn’t a trace of the body that had been there mere hours earlier. Just a wet, body-shaped stain slowly drying.

Why am I writing all this down? What does it mean? Hell, I don’t know. Maybe it means “life is short”. Maybe it means “don’t walk by the canal when you’ve been drinking all night”. You can take whatever you want from it.

To me, it means “Make it count. All of it. Make the journey just as important as the destination.”

But what the hell do I know?

Return of the Mack

There are many things I could say. Reasons and excuses, glorious truths and brazen lies, and many, many other things…

I could say that you should never irrevocably close off a valid outlet for the manifold ruminations that skitter across the rippling grey mass between the ears.

I could say that this beats scrawling rude words on the walls of public toilets.

I could say that I’ve been thinking about this for a long, long time.

I could just say that I’ve missed you…

But I’m not going to, because all of that would detract your attention from the most important message I want to impart…

I’m BACK!

Oh yes.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

This is the end, my friend

This will be the 236th and final blog posting on Sucker Punch.

This is not an impulsive decision. This is something I have been thinking about for many months. In an attempt to reinvent and streamline my daily life, it was time to shake things up, change things around, and take that jump off a cliff.

Sucker Punch has outlived its usefulness. I don’t need it any more. Neither do you. There are new mountains to climb, instead of trying to plough the same ol’ furrow on an irregular basis.

I hope you’ve enjoyed coming here as much as I have enjoyed writing here. If you have been here more than once, then Thank You for indulging some of my more skewed flights of whimsy and strangeness over the last few years. But we had some fun, didn't we?

I have no doubt that I will blog again at some point in the not-too-distant future. And when I do, it will have my real name slapped on to it. No more hiding behind a flimsy alias. Time to stand by my words with a big badge pinned to my chest, proudly proclaiming who I am once more.

This is not an ending. This is a new beginning. There are other, new, different and exciting words to write. Somewhere else. So keep your eyes open. The Internet is a Small World, and you never know where I might pop up next…

Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pain In The Grass

Seasonal allergic rhinitis. Pollinosis. Hay Fever. Call it what you like. Me? I call it a month of neverending discomfort and nasal horrors.

I wake up every morning with my eyes glued shut like the cast of Facial Humiliation after a particularly gruelling shoot. After scraping the gunk away so that I can finally see again, my eyes remain puffy, swollen, itchy and ever so-slightly watery for the rest of the day.

I have to splash my face, hands and hair with water regularly throughout the day to get rid of any stray pollen that has decided to take up residence on my person in an attempt to make my whole body rebel in snotty anguish.

The sides of my nose are forever tender from blowing, wiping and removing the copious amounts of mucus that I seem to be generating. On particularly unlucky days, I get a nosebleed too.

Hay fever sufferers can never really enjoy the good weather of the summer, because of all the unpleasant side-effects.

The pollen forecast for the immediate future remains on High Alert.
And all the anti-histamine in the world isn’t going to save me from a world of pain.

Give me an arctic cold winter, a raging fireplace, a good book and a generous tumbler of bourbon over this bullshit. What have I got instead? A host of physical annoyances, made infinitely worse with the constant intrusion of either Big Fucking Brother or the World Fucking Cup, straddling the popular consciousness of the nation like two over-fed, brain-addled colossi, raining shit down onto our heads at irregular intervals.

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Devil's Advocate

It is the sum of the squares of the first seven prime numbers.

It is said to be the Number of the Beast, based on the Old Testament Book of Revelation 13:17-18.

It is the sum of all the numbers on a typical roulette wheel.

It is also a marketing hook for the shonky-looking remake of The Omen.

If you suffered from hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, you would probably be hiding under your duvet, shitting yourself violently right now.

But, for all of those sweating from a surfeit of superstition, and who are hobbled by an abiding love of dubious folklore and specious numerology, remember: it’s just a number. Let’s say it again. It. Is. Just. A. Number.

And, today’s date? It is 06/06/2006. Not 666. OK? OK.

Resume your normal daily routines. However, I would recommend avoiding angry crows and large sheets of glass if at all possible.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Desmond Dekker 1941 – 2006



"I don't want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde."

Details here and here.

Speechless and gutted. I know what I'll be listening to for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Final Punch Playlist

OK. Further to my earlier blatherings, and in the Spirit of the New, this is the last Punch Playlist. Far too much of the blog is being devoured by details of my aurgasms these days, and it has to go. In a clutter-clearing exercise, I’m taking this short-lived feature out the back and terminating it with extreme prejudice. In the exceptionally unlikely event that you still care about what I’m listening to on a regular basis, you can refer to the Funk Fiction box halfway down the right-hand side of the page.

And so, here is the Punch Playlist Special Swansong Edition:

Create your own Music List @ HotFreeLayouts!

Projectiles

Be warned: Lots of thinking out loud coming up…

“Learn to write well, or not to write at all.” John Dryden

It’s been almost exactly a year since I last had something published with my name attached to it. My last published article (a film review) was actually a pretty good piece. I can tell by reading it again, though, that I was ready to holster my keyboard and hang up my spurs for a while.

The article was the last in a run of twelve reviews written in the space of about a year for a music website. For that year, I held the title of “Film Editor” for that website, which was just a meaningless euphemism for “The Only Guy Who Really Writes About Film For This Site”.

So, I walked. (Not that anyone noticed). Partly due to circumstance, partly due to personal desire, partly due to changes behind the scenes. I knew I was done with film journalism. Maybe permanently, maybe I only needed a break to get the blood pumping again. Either way, I needed to walk away for a bit. Now, that may sound like an ending to you. To me? Sounds just like a beginning…

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” Cyril Connolly


Nevertheless, a writer writes, right? I can’t not write. I don’t know how to. It’s a compulsion. If I don’t write for a couple of days, I get restless and twitchy and need to get the words out to keep myself sane. A curse or a gift, depending on which way the wind is blowing on any given day.

So, with the film journalism on the shelf indefinitely (maybe even permanently), my mind wandered onto thoughts of What Happens Next. And it didn’t take me long to decide. I was going to take myself out of the game for a while. No pitching, no structure, no editorial constraints, nothing. Just me and words for the foreseeable future. If I just ended up with a shapeless mess of language, all jagged edges and lumpy blobs? No problem. It’s all a writing exercise. Gets the juices running. Gets the synapses sparking.

Hell, it’s all writing exercises. Film reviews? It’s writing to length, to house style, getting to the point, keeping it accessible, try to entertain, try to keep a bit of yourself in there. Blogging? Scribbling on scraps of paper? They’re all writing exercises, if you allow them to be. Nothing is a waste, everything has a purpose.

And it’s been good. I’ve had the freedom to dick around endlessly with whatever takes my fancy. And it’s all just for me. Learnt a few tricks and got a few things out of my system. But I’m getting that gnawing itch again. Time to jump off a cliff and think about What Happens Next again.

The Year of Film Reviewing for a Totally Inappropriate Website is sooooo 2004, and long gone. And now, The Year of Self-Indulgent Word Wankery is also drawing to a close. So, what next?

Well, it’s time for The Year of The Project. Get my name back out there. Impose structure once more. I’ve been playing with the art of writing for long enough. Now is the time to get back into the craft of it.

And ideas? Man, I gotta bunch of ‘em…

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.” Neil Gaiman

So, this is it. Day One of my New Year. Film journalism will be back on my slate of projects for the coming months, but not in the way it has been in the past. Not quite ready to make any announcements about that yet.

Short stories, comic scripts, screenplays, long-form novels….it all starts here. I’ll spend a while pulling together all the disparate threads I’ve cast out over the last year, and when they are nice and taut, twanging with tension, then the work begins. But it’s not really work if you enjoy it so much, is it?

“I am a galley slave to pen and ink.” Honore de Balzac


Something worth mentioning: One of the many things that has inspired me recently, for many reasons, is Monster Island by David Wellington. A novel originally written and published online as blog postings, it has recently been published as a print edition. And it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Want a quick bite-sized one-sentence review? OK: If Charles Dickens was a New Yorker who wrote zombie stories, he’d write Monster Island.

Monster Island bear-hugs every zombie cliché imaginable, before spinning them on their rotting heads and weaving something consistently surprising and original with every inventive twist and turn of the story. As it was published as blog entries over a period of time, almost every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, pushing you forward to the next bit. And, like every true Romero acolyte, Wellington doesn’t use the word “zombie” once. Top man.

And it’s made me think about the nature of serial fiction quite a lot. Monster Island, like the work of Dickens, started out as serialised fiction, which forced the author to think about making every scene and moment count, ensuring that you return for the next bit. So that’s got my wheels turning too…

The best bit? You can read Monster Island in its entirety online right now, for free. And the two sequels in the trilogy. And his latest, currently incomplete story, Thirteen Bullets.

Me? I’m old-school, so I’m forcing myself to wait until Monster Nation is in print later on this year before I dive into the second novel in the series. Also, the man deserves my money for giving me such a damned good read. I’m so tempted to nip into Chapter One though…

Anyway, enough of my yakking. There is work to be done.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Punch Playlist 12/05/06

Create your own Music List @ HotFreeLayouts!

It took me three full listens to get to grips with the Gnarls Barkley album, but I think I’ve finally cracked it. I’m a Danger Mouse fan anyway, so I just had to grab it by the guts and cram it into my ears until I yielded. It is, as they say, a grower. Obviously, I have the loping, heroically infectious pop of Crazy skipping around in my head now, but there’s absolutely nothing I can do about that...

Also, this seems as good a place as any to talk about my reignited passion for The Ink Spots, with their innovative melange of bluegrass, blues, doo-wop and jazz, swathed in irresistible vocal harmonies, particularly in their early stretch of hits from the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. In addition to the hypnotically mellifluous Whispering Grass, they are the legends behind the best song ever written about coffee ever. Yes. Ever.

Proof? Here’s a snippet of the masterpiece known as Java Jive:

“I love coffee, I love tea
I love the java jive and it loves me
Coffee and tea and the java and me
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup

I love java, sweet and hot
Whoops Mr. Moto, I’m a coffee pot
Shoot the pot and I’ll pour me a shot
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup

Oh slip me a slug from the wonderful mug
And I’ll cut a rug just snug in a jug
A sliced up onion and a raw one
Draw one -
Waiter, waiter, percolator”

Obviously, this is better when you hear them singing it. Honest. No, really. Trust me.

The Stationary Agent

Hey, Crabman.

Today, I come to you with a confessional of sorts. I’m a stationary addict. There, I’ve said it. It’s out in the world now, and I can’t take it back. But, you know, admitting it is half the challenge, right?

Before I dive into the fine print of my obsession, allow me to indulge in a moment of pedantry. I think it’s worth drawing an important distinction. Writing involves the usage of some kind of utensil such as a pen, in conjunction with some kind of media such as paper. Using a computer is typing, not writing. OK? OK.

You may disagree. And you may not be wrong to disagree. But this is my view of the world, in all its skewed majesty.

Amongst the many reasons why writing is superior to typing: paper doesn’t crash, it doesn’t need upgrades, it won’t erase your words, it won’t be infected by a virus, it doesn’t need batteries or a power source of any kind, and it can be used anywhere.

This reminds me of a line from an episode of cult 80s dystopic cyperpunk TV show Max Headroom, in a scene where Blank Reg has to explain what a book is: "It's a non-volatile storage medium. It's very rare. You should have one."

Non-volatile storage mediums. Gotta love ‘em.

Also? I’d rather stare at a blank white sheet of paper than the blank white screen of my monitor. Better for my eyes, anyway. Not to mention the fact that transferring scrawled words from a notebook to a Word file can also be called “a Second Draft”, as you do away with the misspellings, clunky sentences and just good ol’ fashioned shit ideas. In the immortal words of Errol Brown, “Everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s no lie.”

But I digress. I was talking about my stationary addiction. I love stationary with unashamed abandon. I love creamy white unspoilt pages just waiting for me to violate them with my unruly words. I love the whorls of dark ink as my pen glides across a page, seeping into the dead trees, leaving behind a mixture of divine inspiration and useless bullshit.

I carry a notebook around everywhere I go. You never know when an idea, or a character, or a line of dialogue, or an observation will drop, unprompted, into your mind. Also, I have a diabolical memory sometimes, so if I don’t write something down straight away, I might lose it forever. Other times, when I have some minutes to kill, I’ll whip out my notebook and just start free-writing, throwing up whatever shimmies across my parietal lobe at that moment. Sometimes all I end up with is a haystack, but occasionally I find the needle too. And that’s what counts.

And when I have trouble articulating something that I can visualise, I just sketch out a frame or a panel of action, knowing that when I refer back to it later, it will make more sense than if I had rambled on for a page or so trying to describe what I can see in my third eye. Can’t do that on my PC, either. Only on the Mighty Paper.

So, I’m a whore for stationary. I think I’ve made that clear by this point. But what kind of stuff punches my buttons? Well, for portability, I do love me a Muji notebook. Simple, elegant, takes a licking and keeps on ticking. I can cram it in my pocket or in my bag, beat the shit out of it, and it still stays perfectly bound at the spine, so I don’t lose any pages. A perfect receptacle for my scribblings. I’ve got a small pile of these, and I still need to grab a few more.

For long-from writings, I have a gorgeous Paperblanks Saddleworn Old Leather Wrap Journal, something that I treated myself to when I received my first paycheque from my current job, lo those many months ago. (I’ve also got one of their Back Pocket minis that I haven’t broken in yet).

And then there’s the functional Ryman hardback notebook with unruled pages where I stick newspaper and magazine clippings for reference and inspiration. And the battered old WHSmith journal that is filthy and damaged, well-used and much-loved. She’s the madam in my brothel of stationary.

To extend the metaphor past its break-point, the virgin in my stable is an Italian suede-bound journal that must have cost Mrs. AKA a small fortune when she bought it for me a couple of Christmases back. I haven’t managed to bring myself to write in it yet. I feel intimidated by its purity, and I don’t want to sully the pages with anything substandard. I’m saving it for something special.

I am powerless to walk past anywhere that sells paper in any of its forms, and I gaze longingly at displays of journals, forcing myself not to reach into my pocket for my wallet. (Thankfully, I haven’t been bitten by the Moleskin bug yet. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I weaken).

Anyway, just wanted to share the love. (And I didn’t even start to talk about pens…)

If the stunning London weather holds up, I might take a notebook for a walk down to the side of the canal, and share a beer and a chat with it at lunchtime.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The 'Show

After 26 years, London comic shop Comic Showcase is closing its doors for the last time…



Another London landmark freighted with memories is going to disappear, as my ever-evolving metropolis chews up some more real estate and spits it out looking like, no doubt, another Starbucks or something else the Big Smoke doesn’t really need.

As a young boy, when I was first hypnotically entranced by the monthly adventures of Stan Lee’s radioactive children, like many, many others, I used to depend on the local newsagent for my regular fix of sound effects that could shatter panel borders, with the reassuring sound of a “Thwip!”, a “Snikt!” or a “Bamf!”, or the rallying battle cries of “Avengers Assemble!” or “It’s Clobberin’ Time!”

But newsagents weren’t enough. It was easy to miss issues to the byzantine distribution methods that got American comics into British newsagents. But I discovered an alternative: shops that sold nothing but comics!

Occasionally, I managed to get my Dad to take me to two places that were ceiling to floor, wall to wall, four-colour picture palaces. The original Forbidden Planet on Denmark Street, and the original Comic Showcase on Neal Street, nestled in the margins of Covent Garden. Both stores were slightly crowded, messy, dusty, shambolic and utterly magical. I was always slightly awed by the Comic Showcase logo, a Brian Bolland-designed Joker fanning a deck of cards. I still absolutely love that picture.

Fast forward, and Comic Showcase relocates to its current and final resting place on Charing Cross Road, a prominent strip packed with book shops, and a perfect spot for passing trade, from locals to tourists. At the beginning of the decade, when me and many, many others were making a good living working in what was laughably referred to as “New Media”, before the dotcom bubble burst, Comic Showcase was a perfect central meeting point for lunchtime shenanigans.

Many a Thursday morning was spent with e-mails and IMs fired across London between B and I.

“Meet you 12.30pm at the ‘Show?”

After scooping up a small stack of comics, we would move on for coffee or pizza or maybe even a cheeky beer. But it started with an amble around The ‘Show.

Nowadays, I just don’t have the time to go and hunt down comics on a weekly basis. I just get them delivered to my door. But whenever I was in the vicinity, I always popped in to browse the racks.

And on Saturday, June 17th, it’s all over. By all accounts, the reason for closure is a 50% increase in rent, the leaseholders want to redevelop the area, and the management have decided not to relocate. (Another one of my favourite Charing Cross Road haunts, Murder One, has already moved across the street away from that strip).

Forbidden Planet may be bigger, Orbital may be cheaper, and Gosh! may have a broader selection of indies, but there was always something reassuring about Comic Showcase sitting right there in the middle of them all. I’ll have to make some time to get over there before they close to grab some of their going-out-of-business sale stock.

Farewell, Comic Showcase. Excelsior!

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Punch Playlist 08/05/06

Brand New Words are forthcoming, but I can't weave my addled thoughts together properly at the moment. I have been squeezing this stuff into my head in the meantime, however...

Create your own Music List @ HotFreeLayouts!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

And bambina makes three

Aaand we’re back with the previously advertised final instalment of my Neapolitan narrative…

Travel broadens the mind, right? But let’s not forgot G.K. Chesterton’s addendum to that hoary old saw: “They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind." And there ain’t no mind like the mind of a 19-month old little girl on her first holiday.

As usual, Buttercup impressed the hell out of me. Cabin pressure didn’t bother her in the slightest as our flight ascended and descended. At one point, she wiggled her little finger into her ear to indicate a minor discomfort, but that was all. And all around us, the other tykes in the air were wailing and screaming in agony as their tiny little eardrums popped. Buttercup couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about…

Another thing about travelling with a little child? You can never have too many pockets. Pockets are your friends. A jacket with lots of pockets is like the Minivan of clothing. In addition to the detritus of your own existence (wallet, keys, mobile phone, etc.), you have all the additional pockets you need for toys and books and, most importantly, tissues. You can never, ever have too many tissues. Tissues are also your friends. Banish spillages! Vanquish runny noses! Destroy the crumbly remnants of snacks that besmirch the face of your first-born! (Also? Mrs. AKA can get through more wipes in a day than Adrian Monk.)

From what I could see, Italians absolutely adore children. People just could not get enough of Buttercup. Waiters would smile and make noises and funny faces at her. Cleaners would scoop her up and kiss our little bambina, to her delight. If the same thing had happened in the UK, I would have been screaming "Take your stinkin’ hands off her, you damn dirty ape!" But in Sorrento, it felt like a totally normal and natural thing. It’s all about context…

Buttercup quickly got used to having all eyes turn to her, and big smiling faces looming over her. She’ll get over it after a few weeks back in the UK. When she smiles at a stranger here, and doesn’t get a smile in return, she scowls back at them.

It was amazing to hear her vocabulary slowly expanding. Her repertoire of familiar phrases like “up and down” and “thank you muchy” were joined by “ciao” and “grazie” by the time we left. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard my daughter say “grazie”.

One word she struggles with is “banana”. She really tries, but whatever she says, it always sounds like “dumbass”. (Which is interesting when we are out in public, and she looks at me and says “DUMBASS!”. My wife sometimes does the same thing, but for entirely different reasons). One afternoon, sitting by the pool, her desire for dumbass was so powerful, that she crammed far-too-large a piece of banana into her mouth and, very quickly, undigested banana spattered against the concrete at my feet. (Note: This is one of the many occasions when you can never, ever have too many tissues.)

Before I had a chance to scoop up and dispose of the banana glop on the floor, a small lizard skittered out from behind a plant, clamped the regurgitated dumbass between its teeth, and quickly ran off again.

You don’t see that kind of thing every day. And that’s just one of the many joys of getting another part of the world under your feet. To see the new things. Even if sometimes that’s only a lizard eating a banana that your daughter just puked up.

On our final morning in Sorrento, Mount Vesuvius was invisible. Hidden behind a haze of cloud and mist, the volcano had decided to say goodbye to us before we had a chance to say goodbye to it. But that’s OK. We’ll see it again one day…

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Punch Playlist 02/05/06

Create your own Music List @ HotFreeLayouts!

Ballsalicious!

A brief interlude from my holiday reminiscences to bring you this tour de force from the weekend, which was far, far too good to ignore.

But first, the set-up (courtesy of Wikipedia): At the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, which was broadcast on C-SPAN and MSNBC, Stephen Colbert delivered a blistering satirical attack on the White House and the journalism establishment that left many of its audience, including President Bush, decisively uncomfortable and silent.

In a world where the news media is increasingly and shamefully timid and toothless, it takes a satirist to stand in front of Dubya and deliver a withering smack-down of ballsalicious proportions. I am awe-stuck and downright delighted.

A full transcript of Stephen Colbert’s routine can be found here.

Don't forget to go and say "Thank you Stephen Colbert!"

Monday, May 01, 2006

Cliffhanger

Luckily for us, we set off early and managed to stay one step ahead of the holiday traffic all day long.

Our coach driver looked like a cross between Peter Falk and Jimmy Durante, and he was introduced to us as “the finest coach driver in all of Italy, from a long line of coach drivers”. This dubious accolade wasn’t particularly reassuring, seeing as there was a long crack spidering across the coach windshield.

The tight bends were still pretty scary, especially when little motorini kept trying to squeeze past us. The corners didn’t bother me that much to begin with, but fear can be infectious, and Mrs. AKA held her breath now and then, which didn’t help.

Our tour guide for the day was called Brigitte, who had been doing this day-trip twice a week for 32 years. Neither English nor Italian were her first languages, but she was knowledgeable and charming in a brittle, Scandinavian way, hurling out anecdotes and history lessons in her clipped English accent. Brigitte was wizened and weathered, her blonde, bouffant hair had come straight out of a bottle, and you could tell that she had probably been quite desirable in her youth, but those days were long past. She managed to evoke other times, pointing out the house that Rex Harrison used to own, where he used to sit on the sea front drinking champagne for breakfast with Laurence Olivier.

The coach first passed through Positano, the entire village consisting of houses clinging precariously to the mountainside, before we finally arrived in Amalfi. There, we jumped into a boat so that we could see the town from the water, particular attention being paid to the homes of Roger Moore and Gore Vidal. The weather was starting to change, so on disembarking from the boat, we rushed off to buy Buttercup a sweatshirt to stop her teeth from chattering.

The day ended with a stop in Ravello, by which time we were all tired, so we just sat in a café in the piazza, drinking coffee. I never did get the opportunity to drink as much Italian coffee as I would have liked, but I always enjoyed those moments when I could sit with my family, drinking coffee and watching the world go by.

It’s always interesting to see and meet new people in a new place. It throws a completely different perspective on everything. There was the builder from Bolton on holiday with his teenage daughter, enjoying his first holiday in 15 years. He was booked on excursions every day, and he was loving the endless diet of pizza and pasta. He worked mostly on houses in France, and he was focussed on the fact that “every nail I hammer is another Euro toward my holiday.” He was making the most of his week away.

Then there were the newlyweds from Yorkshire, who were always smiling, and the elderly couple from Cambridge in the room next to ours, who were utterly charmed by Buttercup.

Everyone was utterly charmed by Buttercup…

To be concluded…

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Beautiful South

We sat stalled in the middle of the road, the darkening evening sky speckled with candlelight, the muted sounds of chanting forcing their way through the insistent whirr of the coach’s oppressive air conditioning. The coach was surrounded by impatient locals revving their engines, their little motorini fut-fut-futting away in anticipation.

After just over half an hour, the road was opened again and we were let through to continue our journey to the hotel. We weren’t stuck for too long, then. But half an hour seems like a helluva long time when you have a hungry, tired little girl in desperate need of a nappy change squirming in your lap. A quick meal, an early night, and the following morning we were all ready to start our holiday in earnest.

We spent the weekend just recharging: feasting, imbibing, and sleeping, enjoying the weather and each others company. After all, this was the most time I had spent with Buttercup since she was born, and I was making the most of it. By Easter Monday, all three of us were ready for exploration and adventure.

Going on holiday with a small child restricts your options somewhat, especially somewhere like Southern Italy, full of narrow roads, overzealous drivers, and variable terrain which makes moving around feel like a crazed run across a neverending assault course. As a result, we had to forgo the opportunity to visit both Pompeii and Herculaneum, which was a shame, although we did decide to brave a day-trip across to the Amalfi Coast. We failed to take into account two things, though: the fact that on Easter Monday, the whole of Italy decides to go out for lunch, causing the roads to fill up very quickly with slow-moving traffic.

And the fact that we would be sitting in a large coach trying to navigate incredibly tight cliff-face roads with a huge number of hairpin bends. About 1,200 sheer-drop bends…

To be continued…

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Punch Playlist 27/04/06

Create your own Music List @ HotFreeLayouts!

La Dolce Vita

I’ve been piecing together ruminations and reflections of my time in Italy, but this is going to sound like a dry recitation of events if I just sit here typing “and then, and then, and then…” So I’ll just hurl out a series of impressions of my time away, and slowly, slowly, the picture should come into focus.

I reckon that it takes a good three days to settle into a holiday, to finally shake off the kinks and tics of normal, regimented, day-to-day life, and I can remember the exact moment in Sorrento when that happened. I had just drained off the last swallow from my still icy bottle of Peroni, looked up, and framed against the crisp blue sky, there was Mount Vesuvius, resting peacefully itself, enjoying a well-deserved break from those pesky eruptions, just sitting there bathing in the calm, azure waters of the Mediterranean.

That was when I knew that I was on holiday.

I certainly didn’t feel like I was on holiday on the coach ride from Naples airport over to Sorrento. And it wasn’t just because Italian drivers are crazy, dangerous motherfuckers behind the wheel. My restive mood was partially down to the jarring sight of a piece of clumsy graffiti spray-painted onto a coastal wall. The words read: “WEMBLEY PUB”.

I was in a different damn time zone, and there were those words right up in my face, like my own personal Bad Wolf following me around.

Nevertheless, it was still a Good Friday. Which meant that we were racing against the sun to get to the hotel. You see, the Italians take their Easter seriously. And the moment of sunset on Good Friday is the moment that a swarm of black-hooded penitents choose to chant and walk through the streets in celebration. Which means all the roads close temporarily. For how long? For as long as it takes. Which would mean our coach wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Guess what? We couldn’t beat the sun…

To be continued…

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Punch Playlist 26/04/06

Create your own Music List @ HotFreeLayouts!

Save The Internet

If you care even the slightest about anything you do online and the future of the Internet, and especially if you are based in the US, I strongly urge you to click on the link below:

SAVE THE INTERNET

Big Brother is watching you. The fucker.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Punch Playlist 24/04/06

Create your own Music List @ HotFreeLayouts!

Many Happy Returns

“Don’t call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin’ my peers and puttin’ suckas in fear
Makin’ the tears rain down like a monsoon
Listen to the bass go boom”
LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out


I have returned from the balmy embrace of Southern Italy, and I feel relaxed, rejuvenated, refreshed, rebooted and ready for battle.

My Impressions of Italy will follow later in the week, once I have made some time to decipher the scribblings in my notebook, and smashed enough words together to turn them into coherent sentences.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bonnie e Clyde all'italiana

It’s cold and it’s raining. Again.

There is absolutely nowhere near where I work to disappear for some kind of respite at lunchtime. Sometimes, I go to the local pub for a Red Bull. Usually, give me a drink and a book and I’m happy anywhere. Not here. I keep getting hassled by Chinamen carrying bulging black rubbish bags full of bootleg DVDs. And the pubs around here are two-tone shitholes, decked out in scuffed red and stained white, topped off with smeared mirrors partially obscured by football decals. The only thing that punctures the fug of smoke are the bronchial coughs riven with phlegm and blood that emanate from the toothless mouths propping up the bar.

Last Tuesday, outside where I work, a 53-year-old married father-of-two was hit by a 38-tonne articulated lorry. He was pronounced dead at the Royal London Hospital two hours later.

The other day, I saw two teenage boys shouting at the poor bastard behind the counter at the fried chicken place. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but every other word seemed to be “fuck”. The beleaguered till-jockey picked up a large metal pole and tried to scare them off. His arms were shaking. They weren’t convinced, but they slowly ambled away, throwing “fuck”s into the air behind them.

I’ve hardly seen my wife or daughter for weeks now. Get up early. Get home late. Just sleep and work and sleep and work and…

For a variety of not-particularly-interesting reasons, my social-life is virtually non-existent at the moment. The odd movie, an occasional beer, slivers of conversation, but it’s not enough.

I haven’t written anything worth a shit for too, too long.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying: I’m Burnt Out. The lack of frequent updates on this blog in the last couple of months bear testament to an absence of inspiration. I’m empty. The needle is in the red. I’m running on fumes.

At some point in the next 48 hours, I’m dropping offline for a week. Packing the family up, jumping on a plane, and heading for the welcoming climes of Sorrento. And I really, really need it. A chance to get recharged and reinvigorated.

No e-mail. No news feeds. No text messages. No phone calls. No intrusions. I’ll get a chance to recalibrate the level of Signal to Noise in my life.

Just food and fresh air, sleep and wine and, hopefully, laughter and play. I’ll stick a notebook in my bag and see if I can get the blood pumping again. Get the words swirling and the ideas dancing.

Which means I’ll be away for the Second Anniversary of the blog, but I’m sure you can blow out the candles in my absence. And make sure you save me a slice of cake.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Once I Caught A Fish Alive

Today:

Mrs. AKA: One…

Buttercup: Two, Free, Four, Five, Shix, Sheven, Eight, Nine, Eight, Ten

Pretty amazing stuff, eh? That’s my 19-month old daughter counting to ten for the first time. OK, so she said “eight” twice for some reason, but, come on, she’s only little…

I’m filled with a combination of glowing pride at my smart-as-a-whip little girl, who has been horribly sick all week, voiding herself messily from every orifice, yet still sharp enough to come out with this, and regret that I wasn’t there to see it myself. Working for a living sucks ass. Money may be important, but I keep on missing these milestones. And they're priceless.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Yeah But No But

Overheard on the way home this evening:

A mobile phone chirps.

Teenage Girl #1: (answers phone) Yeah, who is it?
Pause
Teenage Girl #1: Don’t be calling me on my phone, ya facking cunt!
Hangs Up
Teenage Girl #2: Who was that?
Teenage Girl #1: My gran.

Aaaaaand scene.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

It’s Just A Shot Away

There is a pub directly opposite my home, and in the three years I’ve lived here, I’ve never set foot in it. The one and only time I’ve crossed the threshold was on the day we came to view the house, and Mrs. AKA and I ducked in there for a quick drink to have a chat to discuss whether or not we should buy the house.

Until tonight. One of my homeboys has decamped from the ‘Hood to live up here as well, and we didn’t know where to go to for a drink. It was convenient and close, and it was raining, so we said “What the fuck?”

It’s great! A quiet little dive where you are left to your own devices whilst the divine fretwork of the indestructible Keith Richards shimmies over the opening seconds of the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, warming your insides whilst that first cold beer goes down nice and smooth.

And, with the new licensing laws in full effect here, you can sit and drink until the next day begins, heading out the door as the closing bars of Wild Horses filters through the tinny speakers.

Right now, I need to hit the shower before I bed down next to my wife and start working on my hangover. But I know I’ll be going there again. Wild Horses couldn’t drag me away.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Unfriendly Fire

I know it’s been quiet around here lately, but the words, they are a-brewing. Oh, yes. Stewing in my brainpot to get nice and strong, bitter and toxic.

Anyway, I just found this article, hyperlinked below. I always think I’m some jaded cynic, but when I read things like this, that make me feel so fucking angry and upset, I realise that I’m probably just a naïve, blind, ignorant idealist who seems to keep forgetting how warped and doomed this world and its stupid people are. Get your rage on:

Gunned down: the teenager who dared to walk across his neighbour's prized lawn

Friday, March 10, 2006

Ev'rybody take it to the top

Wednesday night. I ventured out for a much-needed night in the Big Smoke. The rain was coming down hard and heavy that night. As soon as I strode out of the underground, pushed out into the evening at Piccadilly Circus, it was like putting on a favourite jacket. Comfortable and comforting, baggy and worn, conforming perfectly to my shape from a lifetime of use. Slipping London on over my shoulders, the cold shards of rain whipped at my hair and nipped at my skin, pinching me awake. The air was twitching with vibrating umbrellas, jerking from the onslaught of the rain. I hate umbrellas. Never use them. I like to feel the rain on me, and I always like to be able to see the sky, and get a good sense of the world around and above me.

Striding down Haymarket with water glancing off the leather and soaking into the denim, the superhuman slap-and-pop funk of the Brothers Johnson’s Stomp thrumming in my ears, it was one of those moments of inexplicable perfection when everything feels Just Right, a serendipitous confluence that leads to The Way That Things Should Be.

Five minutes later, and I was drying off in an auditorium in the ICA taking in Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s Mirrormask, a whimsical confection that riffs on everything from Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz to Labyrinth, highly-stylised but lacking the human hook that makes you care about all the intricate and beautiful design work that’s gone into it. An interesting experiment, not without its charms, but I always felt that I was looking at something, and not immersing myself in it.

But the rain and the night and the city and the Stomp? I dissappeared into that like Cleopatra into a pool of luxurious ass milk.

(Do you have any idea how much fun it is to type the words “luxurious ass milk”?)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Gordon Parks 1912 - 2006



Anyone who knows me knows that Shaft is my favourite film of all-time. There are a multitude of reasons why, and I'm positive I've mentioned a handful of them here many times over the years.

Gordon Parks was a hugely talented man, and, along with Ernest Tidyman, Isaac Hayes and Richard Roundtree, one of the main architects of that iconic piece of pop culture history. But Shaft was only a small part of his life's work. Photographer, writer, director, musician...Parks was endlessly gifted.

"You know, the camera is not meant just to show misery," Parks said in a 1998 interview. "You can show things that you like about the universe, things that you hate about the universe. It's capable of doing both."