21 October 2009

When Dogs Attack!

Today, as I trudged through the permeating Essex drizzle of a soul-destroying Wednesday morning, ennui wrapped around my soul and dragging me down like a brass diving suit, I was nearly savaged by a dog.

The owner, a stocky, oriental-looking fellow who I thought resembled "4th Gang Member" from every Hollywood gangster film ever made, had elected not to follow the standard convention of putting a collar and lead on the dog, choosing instead to let it run rampant around the streets, slavering and snapping at innocent passers-by.

Coat dripping with rain, man-bag slung diagonally across me, I just wanted to get to work with the minimum of fuss and spend the day trudging ceaselessly towards the sweet release of death. Instead, I had to deal with Triad-Boy and Cujo.

As the dog came running towards me, eyes fiery with hatred and blood lust, I immediately sensed it didn't want to "just say hello" but had other more nefarious plans coursing through its thick melon of a skull.

The owner shouted something at the dog like, "Oi!" but the animal, virtually smacking his lips by this point, disregarded his master's command and continued to approach, claws clicking on the wet concrete.

As the dog got within a foot of me, I froze, hoping that he might become confused and suddenly think "Well goodness me, there was I thinking that I'd seen a delicious, bipedal morsel just ripe for some early morning nomming, and it seems I was quite incorrect in this regard! In my haste to sink my teeth into a delicious stranger, I appear to have mistaken this impressively hewn statue of what must surely be a Greek God with a bedraggled member of the public. In all honesty, I feel slightly stupid for making this extremely basic, easily avoided error of judgement."

Unfortunately, I think I overestimated this particular beast's reasoning faculties. Instead, he ploughed on regardless, leaping up, mouth wide, and planting his front paws on my thigh.

It seemed like an eternity, but was less than a second. We regarded each other, hunter and prey, he with demonic malice, I with trouser-fouling terror. Although I couldn't smell it, I imagined that his breath reeked of rotten meat and cigarette butts that he'd snuffled off the ground, like a truffle-seeking, rage-pig. In all honesty, my breath probably smelt much the same, if not worse, so I deemed it unfair to criticise him on this minor point of personal hygiene.

At that moment, just as the dog was about to rend the flesh from my body, the owner shouted "Don't even think about it!".

This bemused me slightly.

First, the statement would presuppose that the dog had some elaborate thought process going on. I'm fairly confident that this slavering hell-hound had no subtle modus operandi or carefully reasoned rationale behind his actions other than a pretty fundamental aspiration to "KILL THE MAN".

Second, what kind of thing is that to say to a bloody dog? Personally, I might have chosen, "No!" said very sternly whilst administering a series of violent kicks to the genitalia. Alternatively, I might have bellowed, "Come here!" while staring menacingly and flexing a broken car aerial between my clenched fists. But no, 4th Gang Member chose the bizarre "Don't even think about it" as his opening gambit in what was obviously a mighty power struggle that had been ongoing for some months.

Amazingly, however, it actually worked. The dog stopped, teeth bared, claws digging into my leg, and fixed me with a malevolent gaze which seemed to say, "You win today, fuckface, but I'll be back, don't you worry. Keep looking over your shoulder you tubby bitch."

And with that, he hopped back to the ground and stalked away, shoulders rolling like a silverback gorilla.

The owner curtly threw a "Sorry mate" in my direction and carried on walking, possibly late for a drug deal or something involving a quantity of illegal firearms.

I continued on my way to work, slightly shaken and deep in thought.

And then the awful, crushing realisation hit me - I had come very close to being successfully mauled! I might have needed a rabies injection, or reconstructive surgery! I might even have required a state of the art prosthetic hand capable of crushing steel bars like bread sticks, impressing all those around me who would say in awed whispers, "Who is that man?", receiving the reply, "That's Dan, the man with the iron fist."

Men would want to be me, women would want to be with me. Finally, my life would have turned around and I wouldn't be a massive loser anymore. Everyone would know my name and utter it in hushed tones. I would never have to buy another drink for the rest of my days. Whilst walking down the street, people would nod respectfully. I would be 'The Man'.

But, of course, it didn't happen. The dog was successfully lured away and I continued my journey. Another opportunity for greatness snatched away.

I briefly considered pursuing the dog and pushing a disposable lighter up its bottom in a bid to anger it into violent retribution but, looking back up the road, I could see neither it nor its owner.

Arriving at work, I conjectured that, tragically, this failed attack was probably going to be the highlight of my day.

I was right.

EDIT: Just re-read this today. Nearly a 1000 words on not being bitten by a dog. Hopefully, if I'm not bitten by a dog again tomorrow and for the next six months, I should have enough material for a book by the summer. Woo and yay for pointless bloggery!

14 October 2009

Do The Job

I should point out that I have a hidden agenda with regard to this blog post. I won't reveal what that is until the end, because I want you to discover this little bit of magic for yourself. For now, read on, oh faithful blog-reading-person.

There's a band doing the rounds at the moment who've been lauded as 'one to watch' by various people, websites, magazines and dictatorships.

'They' are absolutely right - you should watch out for this band because I think they're going to hit big time.

Stop reading, right now, and watch this:

Good, wasn't it? That, my pretend friends, was Baddies and they, if I may use a common parlance much beloved by Essex folk and @lebrini (who, it appears, is now my literary agent) are "the shit".

Formed in 2007, Baddies have been variously described as an amalgam of (deep breath) Talking Heads, Blur, Manic Street Preachers, Kaiser Chiefs, Queens of the Stone Age, Rocket from the Crypt, The Futureheads, and so many others that it would bore me to type their names.

Suffice to say, Baddies are pretty damn good.

I saw them live in Southend and, to be absolutely honest, didn't enjoy the gig hugely. I'm a little old-fashioned when it comes to live music: I like to hear an album first, grow to love the songs, and then whoop like a chimpanzee when I hear those same songs performed live. With Baddies it was the other way round - I heard them live, couldn't make much sense of it, and walked away none the wiser.

However, they have now released their first album entitled 'Do The Job'. The title is a reference to the absolutely superb film 'Sexy Beast' starring Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley (in a career topping performance as Don Logan).

For me, their status was cemented in my mind when I was able to find a pre-release version of their album on a warez site, for illegal download. When you hit the illegal download sites, you've arrived. Being a man of strong ethics and robust moral fibre, I immediately procured it and threw it on my MP3 player.

Christ above, what an album.

Let me present another track for you so you can judge for yourself how amazing it is:

That's my favourite track. Amazing, eh?

Baddies were originally a group of guys working for E-On, the power company. This led to a tongue-in-cheek nickname of The Kings Of E-On but, mercifully, it was nothing more than an in-joke and they persevered with their current nomenclature.

Once the album was released, I purchased a legitimate copy and it's barely been out of my CD player since.

I'm not an expert on music. I can't wax lyrical about a particular track and name its influences. Fuck, I can't even think of appropriate musical terms to use. All I can say is, as someone who just likes music and doesn't give a rat's anus where it came from, this album is fucking magic.

One more track before I finish:

Amazing. I love these guys, and I love the fact they had the balls to give up their jobs, pool their resources and go on tour, trying desperately to break through against the odds and be something a bit special. I wish I had their cajones.

If you enjoy reading my blog posts and appreciate my pointless ranting, please do me one favour in return: gather together £8 and buy the Baddies album. I regard it as an investment. You will gain more than £8 worth of pleasure in the repeated listenings you will undoubtedly enjoy.

Oh, and to clarify my hidden agenda, I used to work with and share a flat with the bass player, Danny Rowton. He's a great bloke (I, sadly, was a shit flatmate and we lost contact for a while - entirely my fault because I'm a huge cock-monkey and degenerate loser) and I really am extraordinarily proud of what he's achieved. This motherfucker has worked hard for his music and it's so good to see him getting some success.

Good luck Danny. Good luck Baddies.

And as for the rest of you - "you're just going to have to turn this opportunity yes". Buy the album. Do the job.

12 October 2009

An anonymous comment

A while back, I wrote a blog post about the entirely avoidable death of an infant because her parents chose to use homeopathy instead of proper medical treatment.

A comment arrived today from 'Anonymous' (sad that this person decided to hide behind anonymity rather than reveal their name) which said the following:

in the US, allopathic (western) medical treatment--proper treatment--is the third largest cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. This as reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association, nonetheless. What makes me sad is that nobody brings these failures out one-by-one for public examination, just the cases where *other* forms of treatment fail. It's massively hypocritical.
The term that immediately caused alarm bells to ring was 'allopathic'. This is a term invented by Samuel Hahnemann, father of homeopathy, to describe conventional medicine. This causes me to surmise that the person leaving the comment is an avid supporter of homeopathy, otherwise they wouldn't use such a term.

The second thing that struck me, was the claim itself that medical treatment in the US is the third largest cause of death. Something about it didn't ring entirely true and I was disinclined to believe it.

However, as a sceptic, I never form an opinion on something until I've had an opportunity to examine the evidence. This, sadly, is a trait that you will not find in many homeopaths.

I researched the quoted article and guess what? 'Anonymous' was absolutely right.

It rocked me back on my heels a little bit, to tell you the truth. But such is the nature of scepticism and rationality - when you find out you're wrong about something, you look into it, learn from it and incorporate it.

In 2000, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study by Dr. Barbara Starfield in which she discussed the state of the American health-care system and made comparisons to other countries, namely Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Without doubt, the most sobering conclusion the report offers is that after heart disease and cancer, the third largest cause of death in America is iatrogenic damage. Or, in other words, ill-health or adverse effects resulting from medical treatment.

That is an absolutely astounding and tragic finding.

So what could possibly cause this? How has conventional medicine failed us so badly?

The answer is that it hasn't, no matter what 'Anonymous' may want us to think.

For one thing, the criticism in the article was focused entirely on the American health-care system. It did not focus on worldwide health-care, it did not focus on conventional medical techniques, it looked solely at how medicine is operating in the U.S. Let's briefly look at that now.

In the U.S. their health-care system is largely for-profit in nature. Corporations, Health Maintenance Organisations and pharmaceutical companies exist to make a profit. Indeed, they are legally required to maximise their profits for shareholders. What is the best way to achieve this?

Well, you increase sales and reduce costs. It's as simple as that.

In the American health-care system, you reduce costs by providing lower quality service. At the same time, you increase your sales by selling more drugs and performing more expensive, and potentially unnecessary, technical treatments. These increase your income vastly.

The problem in America is not the huge amount of medical knowledge being drawn upon, or the incredibly effective treatments available, it's the fact that companies are administering all of this with the sole intent of making as much money as possible. If the shareholders are happy, everyone's happy - except for the patients.

In the U.S. it's not necessarily about what is best for the patient, it's about what's best for the profit margins.

So you see, what 'Anonymous' has sought to do is present an article criticising the American health-care system in a light that will make it seem that conventional medicine is 'broken'. At the same time, they claim that homeopathy is being unfairly singled out for criticism.

Frankly, that's a disingenuous and very weak argument. Let's call a straw man a straw man.

Conventional medicine works. The problem is, sometimes, in the administration of it. That means the issue is not with the medicine, but with the companies running the system.

Homeopathy was singled out in my blog post for one reason and one reason only - it does not work as advertised.

Homeopathy is no better in clinical trials than placebo. There is no magic in your water. There is no memory of the active ingredient that has been diluted into extinction. Your
bottle of liquid or handful of pills contains nothing of value whatsoever.

To try and compare homeopathy with conventional medicine is like comparing apples with oranges - one works and one doesn't.

10 October 2009

I can't be trusted to do anything...

On occasion, I write blog posts dealing with my screenwriting. These posts are, invariably, not at all amusing, nor are they meant to be - I leave the amusing stuff for when I'm ranting about inane nonsense. When I'm writing about screenplays, another side of me comes out. You could call it the sensible, rational side, but I couldn't possibly comment.

But I am concerned that it makes for a rather changeable and, at times, stilted blog.

I briefly considered creating another blog just to write about, well, writing. I then realised that would be a ridiculous idea as 1) I barely have enough readers to keep one blog going, let alone two, and 2) having a couple of blogs on the go at once would be a ludicrously egotistical move - quite frankly, I'm nowhere near important enough to be spouting my nonsense from two places at once. Therefore, I'm afraid you'll have to put up with the mix 'n' match aspect for now.

So, on to writey news.

I met up with Mike last night, author of Mortal Remains which I've been banging on about for a while here and here and in other posts too.

Mike had read my redraft of his screenplay and we had a good chat about it over a few pints of delicious beer. There were parts that he really liked and parts that he wasn't so keen on, which is entirely to be expected with these things.

However, over the course of a couple of hours, something quite astounding occurred.

We discovered that I'd made an almighty fuck-up with my script rewrite.

Essentially, what I'd done (and this was quite unconscious) was to take an idea that had been formenting in my head for a while and graft it onto Mike's screenplay. In essence, the location that I'd placed the protagonists in was a character all in itself - one with a history, a gravitas, a presence. The location was the main character.

When Frank (the bad guy) was introduced into the equation, it felt somehow wrong, like an intrusion. He arrived on the scene, with his sharp, witty dialogue, and it felt slightly at odds with what I'd written up to that point. I continued anyway, hoping that it'd be sorted out along the line with another draft. I now realise that this was my subconscious saying "You know he doesn't belong there, don't you? You've created something entirely new and interesting, and now Frank's being crowbarred in".

I should probably listen to my subconscious more often.

After another pint and some more conversation, myself and Mike came to the conclusion that I'd smashed together two very good ideas into one screenplay, but they both needed the appropriate amount of breathing room. Basically, this script wasn't big enough for both of them.

So, it looks like we're now back at square one with regard to Mike's script, and also at square one with a brand new screenplay that I'm going to write.

It was a very interesting conversation and there is certainly no ill will between myself and Mike as a result of this. In fact, he's expressed an interest in working with me on the new script as well as Mortal Remains.

It's strange how the writing process works out sometimes.

The moral of the story is: never ask me to do you a favour. You may end up with twice the problem you started with...

9 October 2009

Join Me

Danny Wallace is doing OK for himself.

You may have heard of him, possibly seen one of his TV programmes, or even read one of his very entertaining books.

He likes to be nice, pleasant, friendly and altruistic. He embarks on what are described as 'stupid boy projects', much to the bewilderment of those around him, seeking to make the world a better place. Let's take a look at some of these projects in detail:

Join Me

Wallace decides, after attending the funeral of his great uncle Gallus, to follow in his relative's footsteps and start some sort of commune. Placing an advertisement in Loot, he soon gets enquiries from curious members of the public, wanting to join him but with no real understanding of what for.

This book is meant to be uplifting and show that all people are, at heart, good and kind. It seeks to hold a mirror up to society and present us as considerate, cheerful folk who really want to be as helpful and generous as possible.

This is, of course, utter balls.

All it shows is that if you put a vague advert in a free paper, you're guaranteed to find scores of bored, disaffected idiots who will willingly join together in a desperate bid to introduce some excitement into their pointless, inconsequential lives. The fact that the outcome of this repulsively banal granfalloot is a scheme entitled 'Random Acts of Kindness' fills me with dread and causes me to pine even more than I usually do for a 30-kilometre wide meteorite to plunge into the surface of the planet, destroying all the morons in one go.

Join me? No, I think not. I'd rather sandpaper my genitals and douse them liberally with organic Red Wine vinegar, while eating the contents of a medical-waste bin, thank you.

Random Acts of Kindness (365 ways to make the world a nicer place)

In this slim tome, Wallace suggests many ways in which you can be nice to people. The question that he never asks is 'Why in the name of all things holy would I want to do that?'.

The world is filled with despair, misery and abject horror.
That pleases me greatly.

I enjoy nothing more than sitting, alone, in my flat, picking at the lining of my threadbare armchair and gulping down cheap own-brand vodka, while chuckling wheezily at small children falling into stinging nettles on You've Been Framed. Why would I want to ruin that by doing something pleasant for someone and, God forbid, feeling 'nice'?

Read this quote from an anonymous reviewer on Amazon: "I defy anyone to read this book & not want to go out & help strangers! A top notch, A grade, tip top, super dooper, slice of fried gold of a book which I'd recommend to anyone & everyone!"

Jesus Christ, I'd love to meet the person who wrote that insipid, childish shit and kick their teeth in. Then I'd take a lump hammer, position the teeth, root-first, on their forehead and pound their own molars into a giant exclamation mark, as they seem to love them so bloody much. "Hey! Look! A giant exclamation mark! Cool, huh!?!"

Yes Man

This book is the worst offender of all.

While on a bus, Wallace is addressed by a 'mysterious stranger' who, clearly under the influence of some mind-altering drug, tells him he should "Say 'yes' more".

Any normal human being would recoil in horror at a fellow passenger engaging them in conversation on public transport, reaching instinctively for their phone so as to call the police and report what is obviously an escaped lunatic. However, Wallace being the most credulous man on the planet, takes this tossed-away comment from a transient, interfering maniac and turns it into some sort of mantra.

He decides that from now on he will say Yes to everything. Thus begins a series of stultifyingly dull 'adventures' in which he engages in a selection of tedious encounters and ill-conceived actions. He learns nothing and achieves even less.

The reason I hate this book is because I bought it at Heathrow Airport on the way to a holiday with my brother touring Thailand and Cambodia. Trust me, the last thing you want before you arrive in The Land of Ladyboys and deep-fried insects, is to read a book that brainwashes you into saying Yes to everything. I still have nightmares.

You may have seen a pattern emerging within these brief summations of Wallace's work. His books are, without exception, all about being bored and trying to find magic and meaning in the simple act of interacting with people.

Utter nonsense.

Who wants to interact with people? In fact, who wants to 'interact' at all? It's a stupid word which I classify as meaningless management-speak on a par with 'liaise', 'engage' and 'work closely with'.

So, as an antidote to this frighteningly popular middle-class trend of 'being nice', I've decided to start my own club.

It's called the 'fuck you' club and the rules are very simple.

1) You must maintain, at all times, a sour expression of utter disdain. I find a combination of unbridled scorn and barely-concealed disgust to be a particularly pleasing mix.

2) If you find yourself in a situation where you can help someone, don't. Turn around and walk away. Even better, stand there, laugh in their faces, revel in their misfortune, then walk away.

3) There is no 3. Everything you need to know is covered in the first 2 points. It's a very basic philosophy.

Someone's bag has torn and they've dropped their shopping?
Fuck you. You should have packed it more carefully at the supermarket.

An elderly woman has dropped her key and it's fallen down a sewer grate?
Fuck you. Not my problem, granny. Tie it to a piece of string next time, you grizzled harridan.

A tearful child has just witnessed their cat being flattened by the mighty wheels of a passing articulated lorry?
Meh. Nothing lasts forever, everything ends. All good things disappear in time like the flavour of a meal, the memory of a kiss, or the blissful caress of a lover. Existential angst, pervading melancholy and painful reverie will haunt you for the rest of your days. Get used to it, kid. Oh, and fuck you.

There is one final thing about the 'fuck you' club that it's very important to observe. There is no membership. You can't join my 'fuck you' club. If you try, I will merely observe rule 2 and say "Fuck you, start your own club".

Thus will there be a myriad of 'fuck you' clubs, each comprising a single, miserable, hatred-filled individual. There will be no meetings and you will not receive a newsletter - unless, of course, you decide to create one that you proceed to e-mail to yourself and read bitterly whilst sipping a cup of cheap instant coffee and eating a garibaldi, commonly regarded as "the devil's biscuit". Frankly, that would just be weird and possibly symptomatic of some underlying psychological condition that requires urgent attention. Don't write a newsletter.

So, that's the 'fuck you' club. I consider it my gift to mankind.

7 October 2009

Reasons to become a hermit, #1

I have, over the course of the last few years, become ever more disillusioned with humanity as a whole. People are generally a bad idea. They are loud, boorish, ignorant, stupid show-offs and not the sort of thing that any right-minded individual would have anything to do with.

So it is that I've been cultivating a deep-seated mistrust of society, shunning human contact wherever possible and working hard on my ultimate dream which is to never have to deal with another human being for the rest of my natural life.

The events of this evening have done little to disabuse me of the above notions, nor dissuade me from my goal.

Let me explain. This is what should have happened this evening:

1) Leave work.
2) Go and have something pleasant to eat in town.
3) Meet my flick buddy (similar to a fuck buddy, except instead of sleeping together you go to the cinema) and see 'Moon' at the Odeon.

Even for a curmudgeonly, sour-faced bastard like me, an evening such as that would be something to look forward to and cherish.

Sadly, things never quite work out the way you want them to.

I left work at 7 and wandered into the high street. We are fortunate enough in Southend to have a cornucopia of restaurants and eateries to choose from, each serving a splendid array of cuisines. Gastronomically, we are blessed with an embarrassment of riches.

French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Portuguese, Moroccan, Sri Lankan - all of these are available in the Southend area.

It is with some shame then that I have to admit I went for the easy option. So I wouldn't sit in the cinema reeking of garlic or other delicious foodstuffs, I decided to go to Frankie and Benny's for something simple.

Now, the last time I went to Frankie and Benny's in Southend was about 2-3 years ago with my father and his partner. They ordered fish and chips, if memory serves, and I chose a steak. My specific order was "the steak, medium-rare, with a jacket potato and sour cream". Immediately, the disinterested waitress informed me that I couldn't have sour cream with the jacket potato. Instead, I would have to order the 'jacket potato with sour cream' from another part of the menu.

"Won't I then have two jacket potatoes though?", I asked, slightly bewildered.

"No," she replied, chewing gum, "I can write down 'no jacket' on your steak order."

I mulled this over.

"So," I ventured, "will the steak cost less because a major part of the dish is missing?"

She continued masticating her gum for a few seconds before fixing me with a steely glare that was, impossibly, both hate-filled and indifferent all at the same time.

"No. You'll still have to pay the full price."

By now, I was intrigued as to whether she might, at some point in the conversation, remember I was the customer and that a reasonably integral part of her job description was to give me what I wanted (within the bounds of reason) as my satisfaction was directly linked to the amount of gratuity she was likely to receive.

Suddenly, inspiration struck.

"How about," I carefully explained, "I order the steak, medium-rare, and the jacket potato, and you just give me a side-dish of sour cream which I can apply to the jacket potato myself, thus completely bypassing this apparently insurmountable complication?"

She stopped munching on her gum and eyed me suspiciously, as one might regard someone who has just offered you a boiled sweet, opened their trouser pocket wide, and invited you to reach in and help yourself.

A moment passed.

"Yeah, OK", she said, scribbled in her notepad, and was gone.

Pleased that we'd been able to discuss the matter like adults and reach a mutually beneficial solution, I sat back and waited for my delicious repast.

30 minutes later, the food arrived. My medium-rare steak had been cooked well-done, the field mushroom on my plate had, apparently, been slow-cooked in the deep-fat fryer and sucked up approximately a third of a litre of vegetable oil in the process, and the diaphanous paper cup balanced precariously next to my jacket potato contained a generous dollop of mayonnaise, not sour cream.

Barely containing my anger, I proceeded to try and gain the attention of a member of the waiting staff (and this is genuinely no exaggeration) for about 20 minutes, before finally giving up and staring balefully at the rapidly emptying plates of delicious fayre in front of my father and his other half.

I swore never to return.

So, tonight, I made the fatal mistake of assuming that things must have improved somewhat at Frankie and Benny's and perhaps I should give them another opportunity.

I ordered this:

Tender salmon, fresh red pepper and mozzarella cheese fishcakes.
Fresh rocket and Italian hard cheese garnish (Italian hard cheese? Is it possible to describe an item of food and make it sound less appetising?)
Your choice of herb potatoes, house fries or a jacket.
Tartare sauce on the side.

What I received was this:

Frozen, mass-produced fishcakes, fresh from the deep-fat fryer.
Wilted rocket leaves with no Italian hard cheese.
A dry jacket potato with no butter.
Tartare sauce in the ubiquitous paper cup.

The rocket leaves looked as if they'd been nuked in the microwave for 30 seconds and then drizzled with cooking oil - the last time I saw something so limp, greasy and unappealing was when I had the misfortune to mistakenly watch an episode of Supermarket Sweep - and the jacket potato was so dry that I was afraid to breathe on it in case the contents blew away like a puff of talcum powder from the bottom of a flatulent infant. The fishcakes, in all fairness, were actually edible.

After toying disconsolately with the potato for a few minutes, I decided, like Marlon Brando, that the judicial application of some butter might improve things. Thus, I spent the next 15 minutes trying to attract the attention of the waitress who seemed to be doing little more than passing between tables at the far end of the restaurant, eyes resolutely glued to the floor lest one of those pesky customers actually require something and drag her away from the infinitely more important task of chatting to the kitchen staff.

Eventually, I managed to collar the manageress and ask for some butter with which to introduce some much-needed moisture to my dessicated jacket potato. She disappeared for a moment and then brought back two sticks of butter in yet another of those damn paper cups. Unfortunately, the butter had been in the fridge and was so hard that I feared if I exerted too much pressure, the knife would shatter in my hand and propel shrapnel at my eyes.

Iced dairy products and cold talcum powder are not a good combination and, rather than a pleasing medley of yummy jacket potato and delicious melted butter, I was left with something that resembled the yellowing, curdled ejaculate of a elderly greyhound.

Finally, after another few minutes, I put down my scratched cutlery, grabbed my bag and walked up to the waitress asking for the bill.

I took care to explain that my meal was largely inedible and didn't contain the ingredients listed on the menu, so she called the manageress over and they had a brief, whispered discussion about what to do. After some frenzied tapping at the till from the manageress, she handed me the bill saying, "I've taken 50% off your meal."

"Well that's handy," I replied, "because I only ate 50% of it. It was one of the worst meals I've ever had."

She turned and walked away without another word and, weary from hunger, I pathetically handed over my debit card. Yes, yes, I should have insisted that the entire cost was taken off the bill, but I was fast approaching the point where, if I'd given vent to my anger, I may well have ended up doing something regrettable, and possibly illegal, involving an un-buttered corn on the cob and one of the manageress' orifices.

All I wanted was a nice meal. Instead, I received a heaping platter of bitter disappointment.

Welcome to Schmucksville, population: me.

4 October 2009

And, relax...

Finally, the Mortal Remains script rewrite is finished.

6 months of work (well, 5 months of thinking about it, 1 month of feverishly typing like a lunatic) has gone into this so I hope that Mike, the screenwriter, likes it.

I've decided not to do a second draft for a few reasons:
1) because I've only just finished the first draft I don't want to jump back into it straight away,
2) if Mike doesn't like what I've done to his script then a re-draft would be wasted effort, and
3) I'm sick and tired of these sodding characters.

Tomorrow I shall print out and bind three copies of the script - one for me, one for Mike and one for Simon, our co-writer friend whose comments are always welcome on projects like these. Hopefully, we'll all meet up at some point in a week or two for a chat about it and I'll find out if I've done Mike's original idea justice. Frankly, there's an awful lot of new material in there for a simple rewrite, and Mike may feel that the script has strayed too far from his vision. We shall see.

Of course, this begs the question, "What next?". The answer is, "I don't know."

I have a few ideas floating around for full-length screenplays, but don't know if I'm ready to attack them yet.

One, called 'Provenance', is a story about an art forger, based very loosely on the life of the incomparable Eric Hebborn, another is based, again very loosely, on the tale of The Wandering Jew.

Alternatively, I was talking to Mike about creating a 10-minute short script which he might consider directing. I've had a lot of ideas for that lately, so perhaps that should be the next project.

Ah well, at least this one's finished now and I can sit back and relax, albeit temporarily.

Apologies for lack of 'funnies' today, I'm too knackered.

A complete waste of time

Watch this.

Looks pretty damn good, doesn't it?

In this age of Transformers 2, The Fast and the Furious 4, and Indiana Jones and the Fucking Kingdom of the Fucking Crystal Skull, it has become a rare and unusual pleasure to see a trailer which actually arouses your interest to the point that, for a brief foolish second, you seriously consider spending a tenner to sit in a dark, sweat-perfumed room with a clutch of braying chimps, watching as they fumble alternately with sugary treats and spray-tanned breasts while texting on their mobile phones despite clear instructions to TURN THE BASTARD THINGS OFF BEFORE THE FILM STARTS.

Thus it was that, breathless and filled with some perverse, oddly discomforting emotion that I can only imagine must have been what normal people call "joyful anticipation", my fingers nimbly brought me to the website of Odeon Cinemas, the largest chain of movie theatres in the UK. Feverishly, I looked at the listings.

GI Joe
GI Joe 3D
Ice Age 3
Ice Age 3 3D
G Force
G Force 3D

To my disappointment, it was becoming painfully apparent that my local Odeon were not showing Moon. "Joyful anticipation" ebbing, I decided to see which cinemas Odeon WERE showing the movie at.

Choosing 'Moon' on their irritatingly awkward website, I discovered that out of 108 potential cinemas in the Odeon franchise, only 8 of them were showing the film I wanted to see, and 6 of those were in London.

Now, I have nothing whatsoever against London, quite the opposite in fact. I find it to be a fantastic city full of wondrous exotica like 24-hour convenience stores, kebabs in wraps instead of pitta bread, and people who don't look like they've loped out of the green room at a taping of the Jeremy Kyle show and are about to start a fight with their own reflection because it 'looked at them funny'. London, in short, is great.

But, I quickly totted up the cost and soon realised that it was prohibitively expensive. £20 for the train, £10 for the cinema ticket, £10 for the inevitable alcoholic beverages, £5 for a taxi back from the station. "This film's gonna cost me a bloody nifty, you rubbish!" I exclaimed at the Odeon website, suddenly coming across all 'estuary' in my impotent rage.

Feeling my dander rising, I decided that there was little I could do except e-mail the Odeon and ask for, nay DEMAND, an explanation of why they weren't going to show this film. Sort of. Here's what I sent:

Could you please advise me if there are any plans to show 'Moon' at the Southend Odeon?

I'm extremely interested in seeing this film but, sadly, your company is only showing it at 8 cinemas out of 108 nationwide, none of which are close enough for me to easily, or cheaply, get to.

Thank you in advance.
To their credit, they responded pretty quickly, saying:

Please accept our apologies that we have not been able to screen the type of films you would prefer. Unfortunately, the range of films is not always within our control - it depends on the number of prints made available for use in the UK. Typically, blockbusters are released with over 600 prints however specialised films (such as "Moon") are only released with 50 prints for the whole of the UK. This makes it very difficult to obtain prints for some of our cinemas as the film distributors prefer to allocate these prints to special art-house cinemas as they will get higher attendance levels than at typical multiplexes.

However, we have our "Directors Chair" screenings allow us to show specialised films a few weeks after their general release. The details of the Directors Chair season is available by clicking on the Directors Chair logo in the “Now Showing” section, or going to


and selecting your local ODEON from the list.

Now, the Odeon group is the largest cinema chain in Europe but, apparently, they're unable to request additional prints of movies? Surely to Christ if anyone can request an additional, say, 50 prints it would be the Odeon?

I was left unconvinced by this message from them so found the contact details of the UK film distributor, which is Sony Pictures Entertainment Worldwide Acquisitions Group. That's rather a long name, so I'm going to abbreviate it to TWATS.

I sent TWATS an e-mail on 17th August which contained the following:
I am very disappointed that I was unable to watch this movie on the big screen, but would like to understand a little more about how distribution of such 'specialised' movies works. Accordingly, I would be hugely grateful if you could clarify a few issues for me:

1) Were only 50 prints of the movie released to the UK?
2) Why weren't further prints made available?
3) How many prints did Odeon Cinemas actually request?
4) Given that Odeon Cinemas are the largest cinema chain in the UK, if they had requested more prints would they have been provided?
5) Do you operate a policy of designating more prints for art-house cinemas?

As mentioned above, I would be extremely grateful for a response to these queries.

Many thanks to you in advance for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest opportunity.
It would be pertinent to clarify that, at this point, I was expecting to receive a reply answering my questions and thus enabling me to either 1) realise that Sony are twats, 2) realise that Odeon are twats, or 3) realise that I'm a twat with no real comprehension of how film distribution operates. The smart money was on option 3, but I was hopeful for either of the other two.

I waited, expectantly, for TWATS to contact me.

And then I waited some more.

Finally, after a prolonged period of waiting, I waited slightly longer then got bored and decided to e-mail them again, this time on 7th September:

I sent the query below on 17th August. To date, I have received no reply.

I'm sure that this is merely an oversight and not representative of Sony's customer service as a whole. Accordingly, I look forward to receiving a reply.
I then waited again, feeling that The Great Film Distribution Scandal I was about to uncover was slipping away from me. Thoughts of a Pullitzer Prize in investigative journalism gave way to more simple desires - like just wanting to watch a film that wasn't in 3D or designed for a roomful of people with a combined IQ of 6.

Finally, on 1st October, a staggering two months after my original e-mail to Sony, I received...precisely fuck all. Clearly, TWATS couldn't be arsed to respond to me.

I sent them one final e-mail later that day:

As you will see from the e-mails below, I wrote to you back in August with an enquiry regarding UK film distribution for the movie 'Moon'.

Despite a follow-up e-mail, I have not received the courtesy of a reply to any of my communications.

As a Sony customer who owns a number of your products, I'm extremely disappointed at Sony's apparently cavalier attitude to customer service.

It is with regret that I will now be taking my custom elsewhere in future, and will also be recommending that my friends do the same.

Clearly, Sony isn't interested in engaging with its customers. I consider that to be very sad.
I clicked 'send' with a smugly condescending shake of the head and went about my day.

Odeon at least had the common courtesy to send me a response even if I did consider the contents to be a bit iffy. But as for Sony, not a word. Apparently, when you're a company that big, you don't need to worry about the desires of an ordinary customer. The shite-hawks.

My journey was at an end. I wouldn't be able to see 'Moon' on the big screen because of several reasons:

1) Odeon only seem to show films that are going to make them a huge profit. Of course, I understand that's why one operates a business - to make money - but if that's their business model, maybe they should revisit their tagline "Fantatical about film" and change it to something more appropriate like "Give us your money and fuck off."

2) On the basis of my personal experience, Sony are complete TWATS. I can only assume that they are also TWATS when it comes to the business of film distribution so, accordingly, the reason I couldn't see 'Moon' was because, and I can't stress this enough, Sony are TWATS.

3) I'm unfortunate enough to live in Essex. It is highly unlikely that any film designed to titilate the cerebrum will ever be shown here. Just give us something we can gaze at while we toss popcorn into our gaping mouth-holes, vaguely wondering if there might be time for a quick fight after the film finishes.

So, to sum up:

Disappointment #1 - I can't see Moon.

Disappointment #2 - My desire to uncover a film distribution conspiracy is buggered up by Sony refusing to communicate with me.

Disappointment #3 - my local Odeon are now showing 'Moon' on Tuesday evening as part of their Director's Chair screenings, meaning that although I now get to see the movie on the big screen, all of the e-mails have been a complete waste of time, and this blog post is now completely redundant.

Sod it, I'm going to publish it anyway.

Oh, and did I mention that Sony are TWATS?

*Needless to say, my opinions of Sony and Odeon are precisely that - opinions. I'm sure they're lovely in real life and wouldn't dream of suing a blogger who only has about 3 readers anyway, and the fact that I've had to put this clarification into my blog post is in no way meant to suggest that they're the sort of companies that would partake in such actions, especially not attempting to curtail our much valued freedoms of speech although it would be rather nice to see them go to court and try to prove they are not twats*

*By the way, I've just noticed that this blog post is very sweary. Bad language is never an acceptable substitute for humour. I think we've all learned a valuable lesson today. Think on.*

2 October 2009

Do this. Do it now.

In the interests of scientific experimentation, I've been playing around with a few choice beverages recently. One is a classic that, sadly, has been appropriated by the Bacardi chaps in an effort to boost sales of their particular product, while the other is a rather forgotten cocktail that many won't have heard of. I'll deal with the forgotten cocktail in another post.

The first is that beverage much beloved of Ernest Hemingway and, for those of you who prefer their references to be less literary, Brian the dog from Family Guy.

Yes, folks, it's the Mojito. Don't stop reading just yet - bear with me.

Cuban in origin, it's roots have been lost in the mists of time. Some say it is similar to a drink called La Draque, created in honour of Sir Francis Drake, others that it was an invention by the African slaves working in the sugar cane fields. Wherever it came from, it's a most splendid drink indeed.

I first tried a Mojito in a Cuban Bar and Restaurant at Kings Cross, London. I was an immediate convert and, fortunately, was in the company of a couple of young ladies who were being bought copious drinks by amorous gentlemen, heady with rum and rumba. As they weren't Mojito lovers, they kept placing the glistening tumblers of minty, limey elixir on the table in front of me. It was a marvellous evening and my love affair with the Mojito had begun.

For several years, I've pursued the Mojito around the country. Whenever I go away for business and an establishment has the Mojito on its menu, I've ordered one. However, this has been a rather disappointing quest thus far. At one restaurant in Nottingham, I was informed that they couldn't make me a Mojito because the ice machine was broken and they didn't have any "mint syrup". That was a lucky escape, both for me and them. It's entirely possible that, if they'd had it available, I would have grabbed the bottle of mint syrup and inserted into them with a flourish of the wrist and a might roar of "Cuba Libre!" whilst leaping, shirtless, from table to table, hooting like an enraged ape.

At, of all places, a Frankie and Benny's in Cambridge, I ordered a Mojito which, when it arrived, didn't taste quite right. I subsequently learned that the barman, presumably some sort of 'care in the community' work placement, had neglected to add the lime. And the sugar. Only five ingredients, yet this inconceivably gormless cock-monkey forgot to add two of them. Unbelievable. It was only sheer willpower that prevented me from kicking him so hard that he was propelled into the heart of the sun.

I could name other disastrous Mojito encounters but, instead, I will simply say that I've been seeking that initial wondrous experience for a long time and simply hadn't found it.

Until a few weeks ago, after a significant amount of research.

After work one Friday, I went to the supermarket and bought myself the raw ingredients so that I could return home and create my own Mojito. Here, for your pleasure, is the recipe I used.

First, you need to make a simple syrup in advance. This is staggeringly easy to do. Just take two cupfuls (a teacup will do) of white sugar and dump them in a saucepan. Then take two cupfuls of water and dump those in the pan too. Put the heat on and gently bring the water to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Take it off the heat and let it cool down. There's your simple syrup. Put it in the fridge or something.

Now for the recipe:

40ml rum (if you can, get hold of some Havana Club rum. If not, Bacardi will do. I'm not a purist)
30ml freshly squeezed lime juice (if you can't be bothered to squeeze your own limes, simply buy a bottle of processed lime juice - I believe JIF manufacture it - shake several drops into your eyes and then fuck off. Just squeeze some limes, you pleb.)
15ml simple syrup
8 mint leaves
Soda water

Get a long-ish glass and put the lime juice, syrup and mint leaves into it. Gently 'muddle' the leaves with the lime and syrup. Now, to 'muddle' means that you're gently bashing the mint leaves so that they release their delicious oils into the liquid. Don't tear the leaves, don't smash them into oblivion, just gently bruise them. You can buy a 'muddler' which is a little wooden implement, or you can use a pestle. Alternatively, use the end of a rolling pin. Basically, use your imagination and stop relying on other people to solve all your problems for you.

Once you've completed your muddling, take a handful of crushed ice and pop it into the glass. If you only have ice cubes, a clean tea-towel and a rolling pin are your friends here. Alternatively, smash the ice with the bottom of a saucepan.

Chuck in your rum, then top the whole thing up with soda water.

Give it a little mix and then drink the bugger.

A well-made mojito, my friends, is a thing of joy. Fresh, tasty and incredibly moreish.

Ignore the fact that it has now become horribly 'fashionable'. Most of the mojito's you'll see in pubs and clubs are shockingly bad, thrown-together affairs that disrespectfully fling faeces into the face of the genuine article.

And remember, please drink responsibly. If you drink more than 20 Mojito's in a single sitting, you may be visited by Satan.