Saturday 28 April 2012

Murder At Oil Drum Lane

Arguably the best British sit-com to visit the flickering one-eyed beast Galton & Simpson’s Steptoe & Son has a special place for me, sat up watching it as one of the few things that wasn’t classified as outright rubbish by my Dad alongside The Likely Lads and Dad’s Army. It was typically for Galton & Simpson extremely well written and in much the same way as they worked Hancock, with a very small cast. The interplay between two characters requires tight scripts and decent actors, and budgets did not allow vast numbers of sets. Aside from the usual ‘going abroad’ films that everything in the 70s suffered from Steptoe & Son was a genuine classic. But where did it end?
Well in 2005 we found out, or at least I’ve just found out that we find out, Ray Galton penned for the stage the last of the Steptoes, set in 2005, with an aged Harold in his 70s returning to an Oil Drum Lane now the property of the National Trust. Towards the end of the original series Harold was all set to finally leave his awful father with Joyce, only for Steptoe snr to reveal she was in fact his sister. The play covers much alluded to or shown in the series, from Harold’s captivity by his father (literally so in the war) to the affair with Joyce, and in this we learn that in the end they might have made it rich since amongst all the junk they had in their possession a rare Gutenberg Bible. Fearing to lose Harold Steptoe snr hides it and Harold finally inflamed beyond all reason kills his father, fleeing to Rio. Now in 2005 he returns, only to be visited by the ghost of old Steptoe. He too dies in the end, furious again when he discovers the bible was not after all lost, of a heart attack.
He is discovered by Joyce, now a nun, who makes sure Harold is buried next to old Steptoe and the two ghosts now trapped together fade away arguing over where they’ll end up, but certainly, and horribly, together.
And how marvellous is that?
With any luck then we’ll be due for a third series of Spaced by 2028.    

Thursday 26 April 2012

Billy Baxter, Butchery, and Poaching Lions At Longleat

We were hunting up houses around Bricester this weekend and coming home had cause to pass through our old haunts up around Cockermouth. Big enough to be a town, small enough to be nearly unique in that its occupied and Georgian high street boasts almost nothing resembling a chain store. The cities might have all the amenities, but you can go long miles without finding a real butcher in them. When we lived in the next village from Cockermouth our little shop was pretty good, and our bakery was wonderful. Cockermouth has three excellent butchers, grocers, a sweetshop, toyshop, everything you could reliably want. It even has a posh lane where you can dwell over coffee and make choice selections from an uppity delicatessen should that be your thing. I like that, I miss it when such things aren’t there and whilst it does have the usual supermarkets tucked out of sight then the meat you’d normally be used to from ‘em isn’t fit for ghouls.
But the best was Billy Baxter.
Billy’s is right down in Wiltshire where so too I lived some mumblety years ago. Before children and responsibility (and probably decimal currency). Billy was a butcher with a sideline as a baker and nothing came pre-packed. You wanted a pork chop, he’s show you the carcass. Rabbits and pheasants (and whatever else he’d scrumped the night before) hung by hooks. And Billy was something special. We got on really well. Just as I had odd walks and a host of odder people I’d meet on them most days, then Billy was the king. He came from Durham way, lived in a sprawling tumbledown house, shot to competition standard and was invincible. He once cut off the best part of a finger and not having liked the hospital on his previous visit just cleaned both bits and stitched them right back on. And it worked too.
He’d always round prices down. Really down. The week’s meat might come to twenty-eight quid – call it twenty. I thought I knew how to skin a rabbit until he showed me a better way. Nothing like a slow morning playing with dead animals and small, sharp knives to wile away the summer. He’d confuse people if you took them in to pick up a dozen of his famous sausages. You had to order months in advance for Christmas because everyone – everyone, went to Billy. There was no best-for-restaurants with Billy, it was all the same and it was all good. We were rather dull with goose. If we’d wanted lion he’d have probably been seen next day striping up his land-rover for a quick jaunt over to poach up Longleat.
And he was fair. I went in there once and before I could open my mouth he handed me a small sack of bread rolls, because he’d over baked and it was gone lunchtime. Then asked what I wanted and a bit shamefully I had to admit ‘bread’. He laughed and that was that, waggling his finger as if I’d gotten one over on him.
So I hope Bricester measures up. Ramsay Campbell reckoned there was nameless horror there, and he ought to know. Or was it Gordon Ramsay? I’m easily turned about. But not round Billy, because Billy Baxter was the best, a character from a Roald Dahl story never written.   

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Peter Griff & I, Hot Tea And Cold Streets

King’s Cross, Three Slides from True

The pub is battened down with railway sleepers and a single vast sign that despite the dents and heat blisters still advertises Pears Soap. We’re drinking tea from a tin mug and every third sip Peter Griff takes another from a bottle he keeps like a book in his coat pocket. It’s too cold for April. There’s not a cloud to be seen yet everything is damp with a dead man’s sheen across the road from an oil spill that runs all the way down to the Caledonian Road. Peter’s been loading and removing the five bullets from his revolver since we got here, lining them up and looking down the barrel where it breaks like a shotgun as if to spy who-knows-what. It’s a miserable day but we’re packed to the ears with egg and sausages thrust upon us by his aa further south. Peter’s ma is from an Ealing comedy. Something from the 40s or 50s, bright as burning gold, the mother everyone wished they had.
                          Every time I take my hands from my pockets they freeze. Every time I put them back after taking the hot mug they feel colder. We’re here to change the world for the better, something Peter’ll be good at if he’ll only let himself. It’s good to see him, I’ve been worried. He has to walk with a stick after misjudging a jump to the ground from a zeppelin, and I wasn’t surprised to hear him tell the story because on the list he doesn’t like (of the things he does well) then having a pair of big bold ones is probably somewhere near the top. Probably half the trouble.
                          I make some passing jibe at people we both once knew and he laughs, because it’s probably nice to be in some company where people want to. I’ve got a cushy life really. Wife, kids, I honestly don’t even look at other women. Seems like the people I know still that we knew together are in the same place whereas those likewise he still sees are competing to see how far up shit street they can live. We both look round when the flatbed goes by, slowing to take a corner with some trouble. In the back twenty spotty idiots in black glare at us, kids with lightning flash armbands.
                          “Don’t give ‘em an excuse,” I say.
                          Peter doesn’t hear, just stares at them until the lorry in a stink of a diseased engine vanishes from sight and towards the station. He puts his Webley away. He asks me, “You armed?”
                          I’ve got a sten gun in the bag, but it’s a piece of shit and say so.
                          “Pub’s’re open,” he says to change the subject. He can see I’m uncomfortable with the current one.
                          “Not that one,” I nod over the road.
                          Then, “Where’s this mate of yours? This ‘Collector’?”
                          He’s on his way. Last I heard he was likely to be delayed, and is. There’s a shop in Paddington that sells memorabilia and he’s heard that there’s a first edition Book Of Enoch to be had there. I’m not concerned even though this London is what happens when a war leaves behind socialism and ends up years later in something in quite the other direction. The young hate the old and we’re both of us here not looking the sprightly youths we once were. Peter says, “I’ve spoken to a few people, this idea of yours...”
                          “Oh aye?” there I go betraying my time up north.
                          “He likes it.”
                          “That’s good.”
                          He looks happy, if wary. You can be a good person that’s done some bad things, you just have to look forward. To see what life can be. And he deserves it because if you judge a man by those that love him then having met his ma then I doubt I’ve ever met anyone more deserving.
                          Distantly we can hear the thub-thub-thub of a dirigible. French almost certainly, and set to drop bombs on the docks. It’s a right miserable Slide this one and next time I’ll drag him to a better one. There’s poison in the air, and the milk is always sour.
                          So we drink our tea black and amuse ourselves with the metaphor.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Adventure Calls!

Adventure calls!
Whilst the good lady believes we are off to view new residences over the next few days, I and my fellow members of that worthy establishment This Vicious Cabaret have been pegged at short notice for dire doings. I have little to go on as yet but there is talk old friends, of music hall, a mysterious tramp steamer and the filthy plotting of that harridan of horror, the ever smug (and delectably dangerous) Miss Brunner.
Boo, Miss Brunner!
Worry not, I’ve escaped from worse scrapes, and yet will too. More anon, but not till Tuesday. Where before things will be quiet here at the Slide.
Normal service will be resumed once doings dire, are done with.  

Monday 16 April 2012

Workers Playtime

Before I blogged I still wrote regularly. Indeed and whilst it’s what I do for work then with it there are still millions of words sat on the computer. This is a piece from a while back that doesn’t so much go anywhere but was an exercise in getting-all-the-setting out of the way. It is entirely what it is and no more. A doodle. It’s cluttered, somewhat messy, but a bit of fun doing nothing otherwise.

Homes For All and here the outermost line of that great success and failure Keynes Progress crowded the entrance to the Necropolis Railway, making it grand. All along the lower side of Westminster Bridge Road the ugly tenement blocks squeezed through. In places over much older buildings where so few remained. There were others like the Necropolis, she could see the spire of Christ Church and knew that close by the gated grounds of Bethlem Royal Hospital pushed back the Keynes too, even if (as she had to remind herself) Bedlam was no more and the hospital as so many things no longer royal. Keynes Progress that ran in its broken teeth manner here to where it thickened close to London Bridge, Lambeth and the Elephant & Castle. Thence south, and ever cluttered to Herne Hill and Lewisham. A new city to abut the old, a new and clean environment with housing for millions but even then not millions enough. Now but forty years later rotten, wretched and horrible. Four decades to look older than the likes of the frontage of the Necropolis where as ever families stood in orderly lines to escort their lost to Brookwood Cemetery.
This had been intended to be a good address. Not as grand as those that ran along the more enduring freshness of the south bank, but a place for government and international trade here leaning against the whorish old aunt of Edgehill Station. And there was a name that remained despite the lack of a King. There was name that continued no matter that every sign and station post said Westminster Bridge Station. That grand dame of the railways that stretched from bridge to bridge and renamed for the one - though even the clippies on the busses gave tickets to Edgehill. The road stank of the railway. Something no one here noticed, a smell of smoking tin and hot ozone. The crackling of the so-modern power lines left the top storey of Keynes Progress empty no matter the crowding, for a family might do without space but it would never miss out on Workers Playtime, Harry Secombe Presents or Just A Minute. The wireless had not been without wire for years and she thought on that as did every time she passed along the road where at Number 100 Kenneth Horne House she knew spies read the papers and picked at news from Russia, Holland or Columbia.
No one looked at her. No one looked at anyone in London. She had once witnessed the scene close by in Edgehill where a lad from the west country had been stopped by the station’s Constabulary for the suspicious behaviour of nodding to, and even greeting, everyone he passed by. It was a relatively recent change she thought, certainly she could remember people passing the time of day back no longer ago than the 1940s. Admittedly then one could hardly have walked through Edgehill without being robbed naked. Certainly not with one’s luggage, and then the most common call had been from the flocks of ladybirds with their mock dandy clothes and love by the minute. You never saw that now. Crime had no colour. Thieves were just thieves. The cly-fakers still had pockets to pick but the dragsmen had no carriages and if the maltoolers might still steal in a crowded bus they would never recognise the name. Some remained of course where those that had once been ladybirds worked for a Hector or changed a little so that a mug-hunter was now just a mugger. She could not remember what people had called a murderer. She supposed it did not matter since neither would anyone else outside of her family, and they be unlikely to wonder at just another murder (and would call it murder even if they had). In that they would have been wrong. For she did not commit murder, she would never do anything so dry, so dull sounding. No, she had assassinated. The difference between what she had done and some accidental battering she thought to be rather profound. And even if anyone had looked at her what would they see? Another woman in the boiler suits most here, and more southwards, wore, because they were effectively free. A woman in heavy boots repaired and resurrected year after difficult year. Like so many others.
            Yet in the Necropolis they wore suits, they wore skirts and if they wore boots then those polished with Cherry Blossom or Wrens, or at need tallow or dripping. You could see the latter as dogs would lick them and have to be kicked away, ruining the shine. But not here. She tugged off her baggy cap. A touch of individuality only in that it was the same touch as half the people also passing by affected. Cricket style, slightly peaked and hers marked with the Admiral logo similarly stylish in that it was preferred by so many. She stopped to pay her respects and there too she was not alone in company with anyone else over the age of twenty-one. Just for a moment to see the family of the dead, a young woman weeping and an older man stiff in his Camphor-smelling red tunic. Another old soldier, who in his case wore ribbons from Ireland and Cumberland. She almost regretted what she had done then. She had not known the family had a hero in their ranks. And that was truly how she felt about those that had fought. Especially in that nasty little conflict when it had been nastier still along the borders and the Lakes. Where King Rupert, deposed, had sought and won the support of a Scotland that had long forgotten the history of Covenant and Popery and instead had welcomed all the oil that their North Sea now provided. Good for Scotland, not much either way for the now octogenarian Rupert who was said to live in paranoid fear of English assassins from the Socialist Intelligence Service or ever since Princes Gate and the Persian Embassy siege a commando raid from the now famous Socialist Air Service.
She laughed. In the years since England’s rather wet revolution it was as if they had to use the S word on everything just to remind themselves, all things to the contrary, that was what they were. Apart from all the personal ownership, and the way people were allowed to keep the titles, and the grants for new businesses – and frankly everything else. The English had just not been very good at revolution. The excesses of the eternal Stuart line might have gone on still she thought, had the absolute power of the monarchy not been challenged by chaps in shorts smoking pipes. Russia had put down its own uprising with cavalry and machine guns. Britain had ousted its King and then had to look around for what to do next almost over the course of an afternoon. It had taken longer for the King’s train to reach Scotland than it had for the revolution to be complete. But then England was such a little country compared to the gaudy desperation of the Dutch and the bloody strife of Russia it had probably seemed a bit impolite to make too much of a fuss. One or two of the mourners noticed her smile, hurriedly she moved on.
Poor Sebastian (she recalled) had been left on the steps of Buckingham House ready to defend Queen Greta from a mob that had never arrived. Instead two days later he had been asked to show the Members of the new Parliament, sent to deal with such matters, to where the glamorous old Swede had sat and taken tea with them and where she had agreed whole-heartedly with the exile of her despised husband. And so Sebastian had stood there with his old service revolver in hand whilst she agreed that the sprawling palace was owned by the state. Had agreed a stipendiary rent for her apartments and there she remained to this very day. She was indeed rather happy to see most of the old parklands opened up as whilst old as she was it had been terribly dull for her for so many years being the only one that had cared to feed the ducks. People still referred to her as the Queen, just as they called Rupert the King. Just in the manner as if not actually of here.  The Scots had got Rupert and shortly thereafter, all that oil. The English got to keep Queen Greta and in many ways seemed to have gotten the best out the whole thing.
If there had been issue there might even have been a restoration by now but as there was not then England it seemed would muddle through. After nearly four hundred years of increasingly mad, bad and frankly embarrassing Stuart rule people were still relieved, as if a slightly dotty Aunt still given to wanting to know what had happened to slavery had finally passed away. At least Rupert had married outside the line. Ever favouring the arts and the theatre he had become entranced with Greta, a starlet and at the time one of most desired of international film actresses. Once it would have been unthinkable for the Royal heir to marry a commoner, but since his father the-then King Charles VI had thought himself to bbe the Under Gardener it had been something of a relief to the Court to think they might make the end of the century without a monarch with one eye and three testicles. So England was socialist, which upset Rome no end. But which had on balance pleased the god fearing Columbians who whilst god fearing because it was part of the Covenant actually just did not want others to be Catholic. England was no longer a long distance ally of jumbled South America - and that was good enough for Uncle Nate.
Passing a tobacconist she nearly bowled over a greying man who she caught and steadied before apologising for the rudeness. She released him adding that her thoughts had been elsewhere.
‘Excuse me but have we met?’
She thought not, adding ‘I’m sure I would have remembered.’
He smiled at the pretty compliment but persisted, ‘Perhaps it was some time ago? School maybe? Or did you work at Comyn Ching & Co at some point.’
            ‘I’m afraid not.’
            It was a fine day if close and the old man too seemed to remember a time when people might pass the time of day. If he did then he was probably armed as many old people were, a sap perhaps if not with a cane many might not especially need to get about. He blew out his cheeks, ‘Surely you went to school? Milburne perhaps?’
            ‘Again and I’m afraid not. Now if you’ll excuse me?’
            But he was not to be so easily put off, falling in step as she made to walk away. He pondered, ‘My dear lady I cannot possibly be mistaken, perhaps you were once involved with the Army in some capacity?’ he noticed something, nodding. “Indeed yes, I think I have it. You were one of those politicals? Up north – Cumberland? Or if not, then something to do with the political, there was a commissar?’
            ‘I was only a young Lieutenant of course, in the Corps of Signals. A frightful time,’ he shook his head. A sad figure now and noticing her expression made a noise in his throat as if to distract her. ‘I am looking for my son,’ he said to change the subject. He walked with her still until coming to where a stream of people wound down one of the many sets of steps to Edgehill Station she joined them, ducked and merged with the shoal of boiler suits, and was gone. 

Sunday 15 April 2012

The 39 Steps

I had cause to be browsing The Independent’s website today and it highlighted an article from last year, where Sameul Muston produced a piece on the 10 Best Spy Novels. At number one I found John Buchan’s The 39 Steps. I confess I came to Buchan through the Hitchcock film but as regular readers here have doubtless picked up I’m rather a sucker for the 1930s, and no less for a little daring-do against agents of a foreign power. It was also a coincidence (and they’re lovely when they happen) because after a fulsome morning’s work I was browsing before turning to working up more notes for a game I’m running soon.
                          I love games, proper role-playing games. I’ve not used a commercial set for more than twenty years and the group I play with I’ve played with in some cases for thirty years now. We meet irregularly, not least because Tolly Maw is a long bloody way from anywhere – but also because my Q works half the weekend so it’s a rare and wonderful thing when we can play at all. Back in ’95 I started a game by the name of The Great And Secret Show (no real relation to the Clive Barker novel, I’ve just always liked the name). Since we don’t meet up for an evening we meet up for weekends – at least, and commonly two or so times a years over a Bank holiday. Often it’s been GASS, starting Friday and then nigh constant till late Sunday. It started in 1936 and over the last eleven sessions they’ve crossed the decades, mostly scuttling away from anything a bit frightening, crossed the world in pulp style, taking over countries and defeated old gods (well one, but it was particularly frightful fellow), ventured as far afield as Sommer Isle and even Mars. Every person they’ve met, every place they’ve been, has been from a novel or a film, from myth or history however remote or unnoticed. It’s drawn on Kim Newman, Michael Moorcock, and Christopher Fowler in style and everything for everything else – and it’s now the end of the century, and it’s the end of the world; and it’s the end of the game.
                          No really.
                          Whilst each session has been in normal terms three, four or more there was ever a finite limit. The century is that limit. Games tend to dribble out. I hate that. I have strong views on lot of things to do with games. I’ve been playing ‘em for decades and apart from a few weeks with the DHSS everything worky I’ve done has been in some way game-related. I’ve become tired mostly of being told what to do as a player. That sounds petulant and perhaps it is, but if the game is a story that tells people where to go, what to do, and how to do it – then roll a few dice, then there’s not much point in having player’s at all. It seems odd in games that characters mostly oppose, or destroy, and of course do what they’re told. Not so in GASS. They did as they wished and now all they did or did not do has come together with all worlds one, with night upon them, and curiously the last gasp of humanity living it up in tiny jazz clubs. One character having decreed that all he wants is for his children to be safe and outlive him begins the session with just that (and rather worried that’s all he’ll do). The characters have throughout been jolly nice chaps. They’ve pretty much killed no one – which is not the thing in rpg games, but after all – that would be murder!
                          And it’s a coincidence because that very first session in 1995 was the ’39 Steps’, with much the story intact although given the sort of slants and changes you’d expect. So it pleased me greatly to stumble across the article on this very day. When on their intent I’ve continued in an hour here, and hour there, to fill in and plot and wait ultimately to see what particular rabbit they pull out of the hat.
                          Because like a good novel I wait to be surprised!
                          Because that’s why you have players, else just write a novel. I do that too, so I know the differences.
                          And it’s the last session in a few weeks. That will be it for GASS. No more, the characters then if they see it out at all retired. The story closed, the shrouds pulled down and the door put on the latch – if not perhaps the lock. And it will be a little bit sad. But then there’ll be beers and doubtless a visit to a very nice Tai I’ve found locally.
                          For once no dribbling out, for once complete, for good or ill, and by their own hand.
                          Starting all those years ago, with the 39 Steps.    

Saturday 14 April 2012

Aunt Minerva - Don't Look Now

He hated himself even as he did it. A little drunk, the evening light, the grass was wet and the ground about the pond muddy with new grass and old weed. Every time it rained the pond seeped on the side by the garage his father had built. His father had been, like so many of his generation, idly competent with his hands. A salesman for Sutton Seeds his father had still built the garage with bricks unloaded in many journeys from the boot of the old Austin Dorset and mortar mixed with his own father’s spade. Somewhere in the tangles of the garden’s rear between the rusted mower and the wartime barbwire of the field was that spade. That spade and a hundred other tools handed down and added to until Phil (that could wire a plug but couldn’t hang a door) had needed the garage and in a fit, naked, had thrown them into the nettles and the spreading rosemary.
Phil missed his father. His father that had smoked surreptitious cigars in the garage, who had worked on two-stroke engines or tinkered with rusted clocks away from the house, and whose worn collection of Tit Bits Phil had found when the old man had died and the house had passed to him. He had come home, never feeling that in the bedsits of Earl’s Court nor later his little flat behind Liverpool Street. But home was small, and home had been empty, and the village hadn’t had the complications of London. And it certainly hadn’t had the girls.
            Phil had been surprised to learn almost fifteen years ago that he was handsome. He had never been that in the village, not hereabouts, not to the local girls. Even Lizzie Standish that he had watched through school and hidden away with, he alone, in the little bathroom in his teens. The little bathroom his father had made from the box room, plumbing and tiling it himself. Phil had seen Lizzie Standish in the post office the very day he had come back. Lucky escape...
            In London Phil had enjoyed himself, especially with the foreign girls, the back packers and the travellers passing through. A month had been about his limit before he found himself even when happy, in love he thought once or twice, chatting up another and taking her back to his bedsit, and then his little flat, switching off whoever he had been seeing right up until he had seen them. After a month, and normally less, they had usually tired of him too. The film posters and the hunting up of rare showings. The strange friends, or acquaintances at least. The pubs and the banter, the exchanging of stills, even reels, under the table like they were totting drugs rather than celluloid. There would always come a point when the girl would ask (or worse, laugh) at his obsessions. Scoff at how much he might spend on a rare print of The Valley Of Gwangi, or a signed photograph of Ingrid Pitt. Phil never hid it. Phil was proud of it. And Phil had heard of other prints, special prints. In the pubs and the places where they met, in a fanzine once or twice, talk, conspiratorial rumours of special films. Of Aunt Minerva.
            In the garage built by his father Phil kept Julie Christie.
            Not Julie Christie, but Laura Baxter. Julie Christie the actress was in London still to his insider knowledge. Laura Baxter had lost her son and her daughter to drowning. In his garage Laura Baxter came grieving from the hospital.
            The garage had two padlocks and a very good, very noisy alarm. Phil promised himself this would be the last time.  Inside and the garage was a perfect replica. The lamp was actually that in the film. He changed now, hopping with one foot caught in his trouser leg. He fished in the pockets for a small mirror to check his appearance. He looked close enough with the hair and the moustache, a little like Donald Sutherland, enough to be John Baxter. Enough he knew for Laura in the moment not to notice.
            In a recess, in the fourth wall, was the projector. Already threaded that little left of the film. Phil, now John, made sure that everything was it should be. That what was here was what was there. He had the eye for it, the eye of a collector. He washed his hands, leaving them wet. Wet was important; Phil knew his films.
            Worried, nervous, guilty, but horny Phil reached for the projector. He paused momentarily but the thought of his wife, of Laura, of Julie Christie was enough to outweigh any shame he felt. The film was rare. It wasn’t a part of the original production, it was that which had been cut out, the bits cut so that the print could intersperse in the original the couple readying themselves for dinner. That arty, cut, cut, cut – and this was the pieces filmed and unseen, between the pieces edited it and shown.
            Phil closed his eyes and turned on the projector.  He was going to fuck Laura Baxter, Julie Christie, again. He would open his eyes (he knew just the moment) just as she stepped free from the screen. And when it was over she would be gone. Until the next time, and there would be a next time. It was no different he thought than his father in this garage with his Tit Bits. Technology moved on. Phil could not replace a tile on the roof but he had his own grieving Julie Christie. And she never scorned his love of film. She was his love of film.         

Thursday 12 April 2012

The Best Tele Ever

In the 80s the politics were simple. They got a bit muddled over the Falklands but basically you were either Labour, or you were one of Thatcher’s children. The lines were broad and passions ran high. Nuclear power was a big thing and equally divided in opinion, and any day now as I’ve said before there would be a Nuclear War. It was pretty much a certainty. They were in many way dark old days and no amount of synth-pop was going to change that. If you’re too young to remember the 80s, you won’t understand. Let me help you.
In 1985 there was Edge of Darkness. The best, take no prisoners, go straight to the front of the queue, accept no argument – the best tele of that decade. And it vies still with anything produced afterwards. Six episodes each an hour long they told a story. Bob Peck plays Ron Craven, a Police inspector with a past mired in Northern Island. His daughter Emma is killed in front of him right at the start and whilst at first it is assumed he was the target all along he is not so convinced when he finds a gun and a Geiger counter amongst her things. Bob Peck’s performance is exceptional.
The story deepens and mires. Tapping into the fears of the time we witness Craven’s journey, from the murky corridors of Whitehall to the mines and then the secrecy of Northmoor. Games and double-games are played with a story well written, a show tightly directed and again, absolutely steller performances by everyone involved. If you’ve seen it, you know what happens. If you haven’t, I won’t spoil it for you.
It’s a dizzying piece of work. It’s the only time a show on BBC was repeated almost straight after it was shown as word spread. Everyone watched Edge of Darkness. Of its time it might be, certainly the atmosphere and society it both depicted and appealed to might not be hardly current. But as the plot unravels you’ll be drawn into a work of real drama, and at times tense paranoia.
If you’ve not seen it, run (don’t walk) to where you can get the DVD. It’s a fiver at Amazon.
Still here?
Seriously now, bugger off and watch Edge of Darkness.
Just make sure you don’t get the Mel Gibson remake.
And... Get me Pendleton!

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Especially Hitch Hikers

Douglas Adams four years short of fifty-three
Sadly, tragically, died
He never said, “Ad infinitum repeat after me
Everything I ever wrote -
So stop it.
Especially Hitch-Hikers.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Elf Protest Over Hobbit Movie Shocker

The producers of the much-anticipated Hobbit movie are again in hot water when the spokesman for the Elvish Society has hit out at the continued misrepresentation of elves in the cinema and games industry. Stanley Glitterleaf already condemning the makers of the inevitable blockbuster for using CGI techniques rather than casting genuine elves in the roll of elves, hit out at how once again elves are being portrayed as tall, long-haired pretty boys ‘with a stick up their arse’. “Speaking for myself, and I know it’s something shared by many of my elvish peers,” said Glitterleaf today, “I’m a fucking cuntwit.”
                          Whilst seen derisively in society as perverts, milk thieves and inveterate diggers in bins, elves continue to be shown in fiction as grumpy German rockstars, “They even had us turning up to Helm’s Deep to die gloriously for the greater good,” points out Glitterleaf. “I mean, trust me – no way. It didn’t happen in Tolkien, it doesn’t happen down the Mile End Road of a Friday night, and it never happens that I’ve seen. Believe me, we’d let you all die in a heartbeat. The closest you’d have got to me there would be the fiend selling route maps to the Shire from my black horse stall. Our ancient heritage is protected by law, which is why we prise open your milk cartons for a little lick.  It’s cultural.”
                          Rather than speaking out against Channel 4’s recent documentary Filthy, Awful, Elf, Bastards Silverleaf scoffs at what he calls ‘do-gooding lefty liberals with this sex-Nazi thing going on’, adding “Sorry nerds, we don’t want to go to bed with you, we’d rather leave our mess on your cats” as covered in the show last Tuesday.
                          It’s not the first time Stanley Silverleaf has been in the public eye. Declaring that Hampstead was the ancient and secret home of the elves he and a number of his fellow elves, hating each other all the time, took to ceremonially flicking rubber bands at anyone passing by in Ug boots. “It just takes the piss,” Silverleaf pleaded at the time.
                          Anticipated demonstrations outside of the premier in Leicester Square by the elven community have been downplayed by Stanley Silverleaf who speaking for all his people pointed out that, “It’s pretty unlikely, I can’t fucking stand elves, and I am one.” Then, “And fuck prog rock too.”

Sunday 8 April 2012

An Easter Ray Gun, Planet Goatwood, and Claudia Winkleman

No! Not the bore worms!

I missed Easter in Tolly Maw last year. I might well have avoided this one too had I known. The celebration of the resurrection through chocolate is something I find unsettling when our vicar only reluctantly entered the priesthood after being deposed as dictator of the planet Mongo. Subsequently seeking to capitalise on his infamy with the chain Planet Goatwood (with likewise deposed evil rulers Nogbad The Bad and that Fenella the Kettle Witch from Chorlton And The Wheelies) failure was assured given their target market of monsters to whom they might throw captive princesses ran dry. Even with fries, with that.
Not for us a bit of a chat about stones and caves, but a two hour exhortation to rally round as a community in order to produce a giant ray gun capable of dragging the moon into closer orbit with our planet, or more particularly Worthing. There’s an enormous wooden picture of a giant ray gun outside the church now so that we as a community can keep track of the giant ray gun fund. It’s a family affair with the vicar’s evil-yet-beautiful daughter (portrayed most famously by Ornella Muti) Claudia Winkleman striding about with bucket and football-rattle until we handed over the requisite 10p.
Already there’s to be a giant-ray-gun fete in June. There’s to be a proper jumble sale, five separate tombolas (all promising the same ropey bottle of whisky as top prize), a twat-the-rat game, a display by the Kingstonia pushbike display team, and a raffle from which one lucky ticket will grant the title to the forest-moon of Arboria.
We’ll try and be away over that weekend. But keep it to yourself; the milkman was heard to say the same and Claudia Winkleman (she-who-is-as-cruel-as-she-is-beautiful) had at him with a straight-razor. At least he seems to be smiling about it.
So give generously.     

Friday 6 April 2012

Paul Darrow Set To Star In Jane Avon

Jane Avon: Sir, you suffer to a conscience?
Paul Darrow: More like insanity. You believe in taking risks, madam?
Jane Avon: Calculated ones.
Paul Darrow: Calculated on what, pray? Your fingers?

                          Following on from the success last year of the RSC’s production of Blake’s Seven Ages Of Man that treasure of stage, screen and audio-production Paul Darrow has released advance notice of his latest foray into classical theatre with Jane Avon. In begins with the young Miss Avon witnessing the destruction of her homeworld from the Federation induced typhus epidemic suffers through a first act composed mostly of consumption and Jane’s growing ability to hack into pretty basic computer systems that nonetheless fly starships.

Jane Avon: Sir, one does not wish to go!
Paul Darrow: You surprise Paul Darrow, madam.
Jane Avon: One does not feel well, I fear myself to be a handicap?
Paul Darrow: Madam, Paul Darrow is used to that.

                          Falling into company with the dashing Paul Darrow, Jane Avon learns of Paul Darrow’s previous marriage to a mad muto and vows to discover a fortune for herself with which to save the brooding Paul Darrow from his cursed past, probably to do with Star One. Paul Darrow, a Byronic figure, is freed at length due to Paul Darrow’s muto wife setting the Liberator on fire and shooting herself twelve times with a gun that looks a bit like a hair tong. Paul Darrow and Paul Darrow marry, or something, and run about a quarry a lot.

Jane Avon: Sir, one is entitled to one’s opinion.
Paul Darrow: It is your assumption, madam, that Paul Darrow is entitled to it as well that is irritating. 

Jane Avon is set to run for six weeks at the Paul Darrow Theatre, Paul Darrow-On-Avon.

Thursday 5 April 2012

DCF Deadman

Short one today, I’m in the midst of backtracking and rewriting/rescuing three odd thousand words for work since on the original go through and then write I missed one teeny, tiny rite from the game – whose impact then affected the last quarter or so of a big old turn! I console myself that I caught it now, rather than having to do the same after it was sent off and looking a complete tool. I could have bull-shitted it out, but I can never bring myself to do that sort of thing. This is why we take the time to check and edit, boys and girls!
The piece here isn’t from a comic, but rather a one-off first page from the old DCF web fiction pages from something like ten years ago. Mostly American run and produced, the much smaller Brit contingent (mostly myself and Rob) had something of a different take on the whole thing. Admittedly you wouldn’t want to see a Guy Ritchie directed film of Moorcock’s Cornelius setting, but it made for a lot of fun prose - and it was a lot different to caped heroes being simply damn heroic! This piece was done for one episode, just as a bit of fun as a lead-in to the what was otherwise entirely text. And being ten odd years ago, I would cringe to reread what I did then – now.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Target Books And Beans On Toast

I don’t mind that Dr Who increasingly isn’t for me. I’ll happily watch it if it’s on, but it’s often been about when the sprouts have soon to be abed and to be honest cramming a whole story into forty odd minutes led to a lot of running around and waving a wand in recent years. But that’s all right because it’s a kid show, we forget, and if that’s what’s popular likewise who am I to complain? And I don’t.
I used to be mad on Dr Who. It never used to be repeated and I remember late Pertwee and early Baker as when I would sit there and eat my tea on a Saturday. But just as I knew a lot of radio-comedy I’d never heard I knew bloody everything about Dr Who, most of which I’d never seen, and nearly all because of the Target paper book novelizations. I was a reader as a boy and from a young age, and almost certainly because my mum has more books than what is now my local library. And I recall very clearly (I must have been about eight) being given the brand spanking new edition of Dr Who, Genesis of the Daleks. I’d seen the story on tele, I still like the trench ambiance coupled with the shiny futurism below. I read the book cover to cover and over a couple of evenings in dressing gown, tucked up in bed, and was very sorry when it finished.
This was the time when there were many, many second-hand bookshops. When you would get a paperback for pence from musty shelves, and I gathered quite a collection of the Target books and read ‘em all. I knew, in depth, stories I’d never seen – and here’s the thing, still in some cases never have. Dr Who was episodic then and I suppose this leant itself to the novelizations, often by people that worked on the show – Barry Letts was the long time producer, Terrence Dicks the script editor and where possible Dicks would always strive to have the story's script writer also turn out the novelisation. I like that, it’s so obvious, and of course there were things in the books that were not then in the show and the writer could put in what time, format or the edit had removed. They weren’t big books, but big enough well-pre-teen, to make it a journey but not a chore. I had a lot of these books. One year at Christmas I got something like thirty in one go, all second-hand (all books were to my sure and certain knowledge for much of my life), all in one parcel. That was a cracking Christmas, I’m not sure anyone saw me till new year.
Sadly I sold them some years later when as a youth I needed the money, and the other year I found twenty or so in a charity shop and snapped them up. I’ve not read most since then, or even since I was about twelve - or whenever my taste changed to Moorcock, and Herbert and others.
But it remains one of my fondest childhood memories; tucked up in bed with Dr Who, fresh from a bath and with hours yet till lights out.
I’d had beans-on-toast for tea.
And there was a genesis, for the Daleks.       

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Harry Potter And The Big Reveal

On the other hand, there's always everyone's-favourite-Goth

Now just as we know they’re all kids books, so too have many of us read them. Astonished as we are at our strange determination and somehow wondering why we didn’t give up after the third? When then it would have been a perfectly fine children’s series. Not Alan Garner, nor Susan Cooper, and certainly not Philip Pullman, but for those of us that read as children how could we not, despite the rising hype? And how did we sigh as they got worse, and how we knew really that it was never going to shape up, or that love would be a power and a reason all of its own?
But how could it have been better? And why should I say that it can be? Well, I can try. And in this perhaps there would have been something more. A reveal, a darker twist, something more in keeping with characters then in their late teens, because late-teens aren’t children and don’t really need books to their age.
So just for a moment let us suppose... was all a lie.
The Order of the Phoenix was not just good because it was, but rather it was made up of people who were fighting a guerrilla war. That had to make stark choices, desperate choices. So they took young Harry and made him a trap. They bound into the baby a counterspell, it can be a powerful one, it might have taken all manner of effort.
They couldn’t have stood  up to Voldemort, clearly. Even if all his silly disciples had a bloody tattoo on them, so not so very secret after all. And hidden as the Potter’s were one person had the key to their hidey-hole, as it says, and that person was Wormtail who they knew was betraying them – probably because he was a bit ugly or something. And they made him the whatever-it-was that held the secret to where the Potter’s were hiding because they knew he would tell the enemy. And the enemy came.
James Potter was in on it. He’s always been portrayed frankly as being a wanker, bullying, and superior. But Lilly didn’t know, and doubtless found out so ran to her baby and when Voldermort arrived, died. James too because he might be a complete tool but Lilly was his wife and we can assume he loved her. And so Voldermort because he’s just plain bad, m’kay, clearly had to use a death spell on a baby instead of just punting him through the window.
But baby Harry was a trap, and Voldemort for once was not all powerfully defending himself – no more than a Roman would have his shield up when stabbing a baby. So then and only then the counter spell not only rebounded Voldermort’s curse, but caught him with his defences down, Probably guffawing.
Dumbledore knew of course, so did they all. The baby was taken away, probably so that those amongst the Phoenix who were appalled at what they had done could not then blab it all out when faced with him. Sirius went mad with it. Of course then as Harry grew the old members of the Phoenix were always so nice to him, always saying how brilliant his parents were. But it was a lie, and in fighting evil they had done evil.
Until Harry finds out in the last book. And everything is turned on its head. And he’s a very angry teenager indeed, spitting on Dumbledore’s grave in the process.
So there’s a reveal. And a series of children’s books that by seeing them grow should surely have done so too with the readers, utterly surprising everyone. Who knows what then might have happened, but certainly everyone thinks wow and looks back and notices that everything makes a lot more sense.
Certainly compared to why a rich kid, the school sport champion, hero of all, seemed to have such a hard time at school. Unlike those nerds in Hufflepuff anyway.   
That took ten minutes.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Camping, And The Bomb (Pt 5)

I fetch up the Geiger counter supplied by Old Bittersweet. Cecil shakes his head. He says, “I have my own.”
“Oh?” Mme Roux is surprised, I recognise the look. To cover it she changes the subject, “All that tosh about scorpions and frogs?”
“It’s the sort of rot people expect from me, but it has a point to it. Do not pretend Mme Roux that you do not appreciate the difference between what one is, and what one appears to be. My jolly herd are ruffians.”
“They’re thugs,” I say instantly regretting it.
But Cecil is not offended. Indeed he claps, “Bravo,” he says. “But worse. Murderers and malcontents, thieves, bullies, what else would prey on others, and who else so willingly wish to be a part of something, to have order, of a sort, in which to sponge away such little guilt as they might feel?”
“And you’re their leader!”
“I am,” says Cecil. “But what is the alternative? We have defeated those as bad as we, recruited them as often as not thereafter. Every tribe removed, every enemy absorbed. And with each we become that little more horrid. They crave the sort of order where they are told what to do, as long as it is the sort of thing they wish to. It gives them...” he thinks on the word.
“...Legitimacy?” I say.
“Legitimacy,” he agrees, “Just so.”
 “But where next, to rule, to conquer, how much will be enough?”
“I agree,” Cecil says. “And now we have an atom bomb.”
“ Bon Bon,” says Mme Roux.
“Whose fertility we shall now discover,” he says leaving us, but indicating we should remain.

            Bon Bon is not an atom bomb. “Do you not think you might have told me before now?” I say. We’re being treated well enough. There’s even a gramophone outside the tent we’ve been given. The food is surprisingly good, a last meal it seems like now. Cecil’s been gone for an awfully long time. Summer and it’s still some hours before it gets dark. The grass is a different colour where planes used to take off to do battle, men younger than I now scrambling to defend Britain. It seems somehow grotesque then to be home now to so many thugs and fascists.
            “Our Geiger counter just goes click when you turn it on,” says Mme Roux.
            “But that mad man Cecil didn’t use our Geiger counter!”
            “No,” she says. She ruffles my hair. “If I had told you would you have come?”
            “Of course not.”
            “Well there you are then, I can’t drive a lorry. And remember, you have a pistol. We can fight our way out.”
            I’m not convinced. Even if the bloody thing is actually loaded I’m a rotten shot. Most everyone is with a pistol. It’s why they gave them to officers so that they didn’t get any funny ideas about actually doing any fighting, rather than making sure everyone else did. Besides which, “We shouldn’t have to fight our way out, adventurous and dashing though that would be against several hundred murderers handicapped by having all those tanks. Whose brilliant idea was this?”
            “I don’t really have an atom bomb,” she says. She thinks this is enormously funny. “I just told you I did and you told everyone else. I had to get Bon Bon off Mr Bittersweet. It does look the part doesn’t it? He made the arrangement to sell it to Captain Cecil. Or so he said. Anyway, something will turn up. It always does.”
            The bell sounds again, this time for dinner. I can see where they’ve moved Bon Bon to pride of place way over the field by the mess tent so that everyone can admire her, the late sun making her shine. It would be fortuitous had I not then seen Captain Cecil come the other way and with eyes firmly on us. He has a submachine gun tucked under one arm like a toff off to hunt grouse with a shotgun. Everyone is very respectful, especially now they have Bon Bon. They snap salutes very smartly as he goes by, but I can see he only has eyes for us.
            “We should run,” I say.
            But Mme Roux disagrees, “Too soon, too many people still about.”
            “By the time that changes Cecil will be here.”
            She doesn’t seem to care. I’ve seen her like this before, enjoying the excitement of it all. Besides which she hates running. Mme Roux is the only person I’ve met whose army boots have kitten heels. When she suggested we might fight our way free she meant at a swagger.
            Not wanting to show how much I’m panicking I say, “Perhaps Old Bittersweet will buy us out or something?”
            But no, “He won’t interfere; he and Cecil know each other of old. They were in much the same business once upon a time after all. They respect one another, professionally speaking. Using us to con Cecil is one thing, but there’s no profit in saving us.”
            “I hope you’re lying.”
            Mme Roux blows me a kiss, “Me?”
            “Yes you, you silly cow. You always lie. You wouldn’t know the truth if you got it tipsy and took it back for sherry. And if you did, you’d never remember its name in the morning.”
            And then there was Cecil who nodding to each of us in turn checks his watch and says, “Duck.”