Monday, 15 May 2017

As Seen On Facebook

About 30% of the posts I see on Facebook, always written by people that I don't know (but are invariably liked by people that I do) are a variation of this:

I had a profound thought today. I could easily tell you about it in a paragraph. I could actually tell you in a sentence if I was succinct. But no, this is going to be like some kind of novella where the profound thought is only revealed towards the end.

This next section gives context. I have a normal life - I really am just like you. I'm so very flawed that I'm relatable. Flaws humanise us. I use self-deprecating humour to prove that I'm OK with the fact I'm not prefect. I'm the sort of person that you would like to hang out with.

But then I have to tell you of my struggle, it's been a hard-knock life, especially since the birth of my eldest, Belial. It was a difficult pregnancy and I reveal other things that seem a little too personal to be putting on a social media site.

Now it's the happy conclusion where I get to be the hero. I am a role model and an inspiration. I have have discovered that doing things that I enjoy makes me happy. Isn't that amazing? We should all take time out to do nice things. I told you it was profound. Please like and share.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

10 Facts That You Didn't Know About Friends (Clickbait)

1) The role of Phoebe was written for Dame Judi Dench. Unfortunately for us she had already committed to rival sitcom 'As Time Goes By'.

2) The Friends logo was stylised with dots between the letters because FRIENDS was intended to be an acronym for Federal Research Into Enduring Normal Democratic Societies.

3) Getting the role of Monica Gellar meant that Courtney Cox missed out on Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. The infamous 'robotic rhino' scene was written with her in mind and would have seen a hot and sweaty Cox strip to her underwear. Jim Carrey did the risqué scene instead.

4) Joey's first three episodes were written around him being French-Canadian. Writers had not met Matt LeBlanc and simply assumed he was francophone because of his name. Those scenes were hastily re-written in English.

5) Ross and Monica were supposed to be Catholic but writers thought that Jews were funnier. The famous 'holiday armadillo' scene was written three months before the pilot.

6) Chandler's job was going to be the central element of Friends. His job title was so humorously specific (The Under Assistant to the CEO's Assistant in Charge of Finance and Planning), that the writers felt that it would become too much of a catchphrase.

7) Following the success of the 'Rachel' haircut, stylists lobbied the Warner Brothers studios to have complete control over Jennifer Aniston's hair; giving her a new style each week. Negotiations fell through when the stylists wanted to claim 10% intellectual copyright of the Rachel Green character.

8) Ross famously fathered Ben, though you may wonder why we see so little of his son (not even on his wedding day in London!). It seems none of the child actors who auditioned for the later series had the dramatic range or intensity that David Schwimmer demanded. In the end the producers felt that it was easier to give him a baby daughter, who had no lines, instead.

9) When Tom Selleck was contracted as a semi-regular, the intention was that he would play Magnum PI in a cross generational crossover. Angela Lansbury threatened to sue claiming that 'Murder, She Wrote' had exclusive rights to Magnum PI crossovers. The idea was quietly dropped.

10) The Ugly Naked Guy was actually intended to be the seventh 'Friend'. Unfortunately casting could not find a suitable actor in time and he became an off-screen character. It would no doubt have made those Central Perk scenes a little more...interesting!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Tragic Tale of the Candy King

At the risk of turning this into some kind of confectionary-based blog, I am going to write another thing about sweeties.  If you're a fan of pick and mix (do you remember buying Spangles in Woolworths??), then you may well be aware of Candy King, the omnipresent P&M brand.

When I was younger, fairy tales always seemed to feature a roly poly benevolent monarch, inevitably white-haired and bearded who ruled for the good of the land.  As I grew older, these kings were noble and wise, sometimes excellent warriors in their earlier lives and, older still, sometimes the kings were mad or malevolent.  Whichever incarnation of fictional head of state, these kings were older figures, even elderly.  Then there is the Candy King, a seemingly tragic cartoon figure.

The Candy King is primarily notable for his youth.  He certainly appears to be happy, but his position has obviously come of the expense of at least one of his parents.  What awful occurence left this child a demi-orphan and thrust him into power over the realm on non-branded treats (they're not Smarties, they're 'chocolate beanies')?  Yes, he has power, but I bet there is not a day that goes by that he would merrily swap it to have his parent back.  What kind of decisions does the young man make given his lack of life experience and do his advisors truly have his best interests at heart, or are they biding their time until they can claim the crown?

What kind of empire does he rule?  Surely one based primarily in sugary goods cannot be a healthy one.  Without the opportunity to enjoy a balanced diet he is, at best, going to be malnourished, at worst in some kind of diabetic coma.  His young age suggests that this deceased parent was quite young themselves.  It is a mayfly-like monarchy, short-lived and where there is an emphasis on procreation to keep the blood-sugar line going, but what kind of attention is this rotten-toothed king, poor complexion and all, likely to attract.  His early ascendency is likely to give him some level of having an 'entitled', perhaps arrogant, look on life.  His courtship will surely be with someone money-grabbing and shallow.

All he can hope is that he can perpetuate his family's control over this fairly niche retail area.  It is certainly not a life that I would choose

Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Crazy World of M&Ms

I was introduced the chilling world of confectionary adverts by the passing comment of a friend.  We were watching television and during a commercial break there was an advert that annoyed her, "Why do they have to sell everything with sex?".  I looked up to discover she was complaining about the M&M advert which features a woman being caught by her partner, Scott, in bed with the red M&M.  It's not the first advert featuring the two chocolate chums that has bothered her either; she was annoyed when the red dude saw a chocolate-coloured M&M at a social event, "Oh! It's that kind of party of party!" he exclaimed before whipping off his crispy shell, hands behind the head as he danced to "wiggle wiggle wiggle"(whatever that song is called).  It wasn't the sexing-up of adverts that bothered me, though, as weird as it might be for a product that is aimed at children.  No, it is the strange parallel world in which our red and yellow duo inhabit.

Both Red and Yellow (as I will call them) live in a world in which they co-exist with humans, humans who ultimately want to eat them.  The perculiar aspect for me is that fact that the chocolates seem to be aware of the fact that they are prey living amongst their predators and are relatively at ease with their circumstances.  Take, for example, the aforementioned advert with Scott coming home early. "You were going to eat him without me?!" asks an outraged Scott, "Now the biting makes sense!" comments Red.  From this short exchange we realise that Scott acknowledges that Red is more than a chocolate, "eat him", not it.  Red, meanwhile, seems a little peeved that he was merely food for the unnamed woman; not shocked, aghast nor in fear of his life.  Red rationalises his situation from the verbal clues presented to him.  He is sentient, aware, capable of rational thought and capable of articulating his emotions through the use of spoken language.  Vegans are upset at the treatment of 'dumb' animals, how should we feel about communicative chocolate?

There was an earlier advert which saw a man on a date getting some light food from the cupboard, only to have snacks thrown at him by the M&Ms that were living in there.  He commands Red to "Get in the bowl", a defiant Red sarcastically replies "You Get in the bowl!".  Red, who is many times the size of a normal M&M is then seen completely filling the entire bowl as the chap makes his way back to his date.  My concern is what happens after this advert.  Do they have to kill Red before they consume him, or does he continue his defiance until his face has been detatched from his body - as we learned earlier, he does not seem to suffer pain from being bitten.  Do they eat his limbs, which are not a part of a 'regular' M&M?  Do the other M&Ms try to save Red's life and, if so, would this forever change the relationship between humans and the little round chocolate treats?

The world in which our sweet pals live is surely a nightmarish existence, a world in which they seem resigned to their inevitable fate and are making the best of their situation with a gallows humour which would be grim if they were more human-like.  Imagine what it would be like if Hannibal Lecter films/shows were filled with his victims just hanging around with him, being playful even, well aware of what was to come.  Why do the M&Ms put up with it?  Well, probably because they are fictional.  What kind of human mind created these adverts?  A sick and callous one, surely.  Boycott M&Ms, people, it is the only way in which we can ensure the safety of our Red and Yellow buddies!

Monday, 28 September 2015

Three Short Reviews

So, three short reviews of sorts based on my reading and viewing this week with a common theme.

The first is a book by Steve Brookstein, 'Getting Over The X'. I'm not a fan of The X Factor nor of Steve Brookstein. It was recommended by a singer/vocal coach friend of mine and the book promised a glimpse into the world media manipulation. Priced at 99p on Amazon Kindle, I wouldn't feel bad if I hated it.

Brookstein was the first winner of The X Factor with the promise that the winner would get a £1m contract while the loser would go home empty handed. The success of runners up G4 soon proved that to be a conceit. Steve was fairly successful before the X Factor but had been presented as a pub singer having his last shot at fame. His disillusionment with Syco saw him ask for a release shortly after his first album. By the time Max Clifford was finished, of course, he was 'dropped by the label' to return to singing in pubs. This was untrue, however according to the newspapers Brookstein became synonymous with failure.

The book shows the damage that all those reports did to Brookstein's mental health and articulates his frustration at not being able to present his side in the press. It shows the human impact of the dark underbelly of the media. That said, the book is quite badly edited (very repetitive) and Steve is not always a sympathetic character. At times he is prone to whinging, being a tad self-absorbed and far from modest about his talents. There is name dropping aplenty. It is his story and he wears his flaws on his sleeve.

Sitting on the opposite end of the injustice scale is 'World in Action: The Birmingham Six - Their Own Story'. Dating from 1991, and to be found on YouTube, this 24 year-old hour long special loses none of its impact. The six spent 16½ years in jail and were part of a wider group of people from Northern Ireland who suffered at the hands of an *ahem* overly enthusiastic British police force. World in Action conducted the interviews within days of their release.

The injustices that this documentary recounts are almost unbelievable to the modern ear. From flawed forensics to falsified reports, from severe beatings to denied appeals; the past really is a foreign country and that country has questionable human rights. Ultimately, the six were freed to cheering crowds and, despite their mistreatment at the hands of the state, they seemed to lack bitterness and anger; instead holding a desire to fight other injustices. Thought provoking, terrifying and, at times, heartwarming, this is an essential watch; a stunning piece of television that stands out in a world of reality TV.

The final item is a series that I am currently watching - Rumpole of the Bailey. I was reminded of the series when I was watching The Prisoner. Leo McKern played Number 2 in The Prisoner on a few occasions, most notably in the final two episodes. A rather theatrical actor, he has an amazing presence that seems to fill the screen. Despite Rumpole being quintessentially English, McKern was actually Australian. Nonetheless, he is perfect as Rumpole, an eccentric poetry loving barrister who always stands for the defence and for whom pleading guilty is against his 'religion'. The series has just finished on Drama though I purchased the complete series for £20 (sans the BBC Play for Today 'pilot' which can be found on YouTube).

As a TV series, Rumpole shows its age (through references, language, dress and attitudes) but continues to amuse, entertain and remain challenging to the status quo. It is hard to imagine ITV making something this good. Combining witty comedy, moving drama and legal battles/whodunnits in such an intelligent seamless manner seems to be a lost art. John Mortimer created a compelling series and its ability to be relevant almost 40 years later is a credit to him.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Pure Evil of iCare Recovery


Evil comes in many forms, often typified by cruelty and deception. In the Cook & Moore version of Bedazzled, the Devil occupied himself in indulging in very basic, everyday activities to make people’s ordinary lives just that little bit worse, a tad more inconvenient.  How would the Devil do this in the modern world, one might ask. I imagine that it would be something akin to creating the rather vicious and ironically named iCare Recovery.

Like many people, my mobile phone has become my primary camera.  It is always there and utilised to record everything from significant events to minor moments, each tinged with some degree of personal attachment.  So it was, yesterday, when I was transferring some files from the microSD card that the tiny storage drive became corrupted.  No matter what I tried, no matter which device I used, I was advised that the card was useless unless it was formatted.  Thus it was that I lost about three years worth of photos. 

Now, I do back up my phone every so often but I tend not to back up everything, but I had not backed up some photos of a dying friend in the last stages of her life.  It felt ghoulish to look at them, and I was waiting for a suitable passage of time before looking at them again and putting them onto my computer.  No worries, I thought, there are all sorts of recovery programmes to recover data from accidentally formatted SD cards.  A quick Google for free software later, and I had downloaded iCare Recovery.

It took about an hour to find all of the files, but there seemed to be a problem – there was a limit imposed in the ‘free’ version of 20mb.  I wanted to recover 20gb!  I followed their link only to discover that if I wanted all of my data back, I would have to pay £60!  I cannot begin to describe my annoyance, my anger.  There were multiple references on Google and their own site to say that this was free software and here was I being asked for quite the ransom.  I wrote them a rather stern letter and found the far, far superior, FREE Pandora Recovery.  I received a reply to my letter:

Hello,
 
You may get a free code if you could share our website on your blog or
social media and send us a photo for the recommendation on your media.
 
-- 
Have a great day
 
Tom
 
Support Team
iCare Recovery

Well, Tom, you may piss right off.  I am using my social media to denounce your nasty software and promoting the wonderful Pandora Recovery with which I was able to recover about 95% of my files, though sadly not mp4s.  Your underhand practices make me shudder with disbelief and I sincerely hope that my mini campaign becomes a nail in the iCare coffin. 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Untitled/Unfinished

A novel that I started on but am unlikely to finish.

Chapter One

The footsteps sounded familiar, the pace, the noise of the shoes hitting the tarmac, the way the left foot seemed slightly more hesitant.  She slowed a little, allowing him to catch up to her.  The breathing sounded familiar, the pace, the slight rasp, the way it seemed to pause every fourth breath.  She slowed a little more.  As she turned into the alleyway behind her terrace she paused so that soon he would only be a few steps behind her.  Walking on a little she felt the wind on her back and the smell.  It couldn't be.  It had been more than thirty years but it was definitely that smell; sweet tobacco.  You never got it in this country, it had to be him, her father.  She felt her mouth turn into an uncontrollable smile, her frozen cheeks gave the illusion to her that they were cracking.  It had to be him.  She turned and, with the heel of her right boot, caused his shin bones to snap and without pausing, she pulled down on his head so that his entire body collapsed onto his malformed leg.  Before he even got the opportunity to cry out, she pulled his scarf over his mouth grabbing it tightly at the back of his head and angled his face towards her.  Looking into his eyes, barely an inch away, she quietly asked her incapacitated foe, “Remember me?”, she slightly loosened the scarf to hear his reply, “Natshja?”.  “Mr Thompson?”.  It wasn't her father.  The Thompsons had always been so good to her; looking after her pets, taking her parcels, baking her cakes.  “Mr Thompson?”.  He nodded, confused, in shock, the colour disappeared from his face.  She released his scarf, apologised and, with a single, blow, crushed his windpipe.  Natashja carefully laid him on the floor before calmly walking the rest of the way home leaving Mr Thompson's lifeless body to be found by someone who could truthfully say that they had no idea what had happened. 

A familiar noise greeted Natashja the following morning; a turn of the lock, the sound of her front door being opened slowly intending silence and stealth but achieving neither.  Natashja called down from her bathroom inviting her visitor to join her.  Josh made his way upstairs, already engaging his friend in conversation, oblivious to the fact her head was submerged turning his words into a low rumbling noise.  
“What did you say?” asked Nat, re-emerging from under the water and towelling her face.
“I said there's a lot of police outside.  They've taped off the backs, I had to park around the corner.  What's happened”.
“You know more than me.  Here”, she passed him a loofah, “do my back”.
By the time the police knocked on her door, Nat and Josh had settled down to watch television over tea, coffee and some digestives sandwiched with margarine.  Josh had nothing but contempt for the people at the door, he had just achieved a comfortable position and now had to wrench himself away from sheer bliss to see what they wanted.  He threw the door open, his face registering the feeling of disturbance.  He was ready to yell at them but saw the uniforms.  His expression softened, and he called for Nat, explaining that he was merely visiting.  The officer explained that they were just checking if anyone had witnessed anything unusual.  When he saw Nat, though, he recognised her immediately; she was the girl from the CCTV footage.  This was the first break that they had had all day.

Nat was slightly bemused by the sudden interest in her.  It soon transpired that she was in the convenience store at the same time as Mr Thompson, it was the last time that he was seen alive.  She hadn't seen him, a fact that was substantiated when the footage was reviewed back at the police station.  She was a little shocked that she had missed him.  She was usually so observant, but she was just buying some milk and was preoccupied by the sight of two lads trying to steal coffee.  If only she'd seen him, she could have walked back with him.  Maybe she could have saved his life.  Maybe the attacker would not have approached two people.  By now Nat had internalised her own  narrative to the extent that she believed her own story.  Of course she remembered her part in Mr Thompson's death but in the same way that she remembered putting the milk in her fridge, or opening it that morning; it was just a part of the day, something that happened.  Her mind made sense of Mr Thompson's death in a different way.  To her mind she was the person who could have, should have, protected him.  If only she had seen him, he would be alive today.  If only she had walked home with him.

It was three days later that the local newspaper reported that police had arrested two local men who were being charged with the murder of Mr Thompson.  Nat recognised them as the two lads who were intent on permanently depriving the shop of its coffee.  The article did not mention the work that had gone into capturing the two men, the amount of police legwork, the teamwork behind their capture.  That would not be made public knowledge until after their trial.  It was all based on a logical, but unfortunately wrong deduction.  The two men had found Mr Thompson's body as they made their way home from their unsuccessful shoplifting trip.  Nat's rather obvious observing of the pair had alerted the staff who later asked them to leave shortly after the shop after Mr Thompson had left.  Their initial response was to see if he was alive and, if so, call for an ambulance.  Having found him dead, they took his wallet, watch and his cigars.  This was their first mistake; the police assumed that the murder was a mugging gone wrong.  Using a high street pawnbrokers was their second mistake.  The watch was distinctive, and the shop had CCTV.  The pawnbroker had long suspected the pair were thieves but up until now, the things that they had pawned were fairly generic.  Laptops, mobile phones, tablets that could have belonged to anyone.  The pawnbroker recognised the watch as the standard retirement gift of the factory where his dad used to work, the person's name engraved on the back meant that the owner could be traced.  He told the pair that he needed a couple of hours to get it valued, hinting that it may be worth a small fortune and that he already had a buyer in mind.  He saw them make their way to the pub across the road.  Once they were safely indoors, he called the police.  The name was immediately recognised as that of the recently murdered Mr Thompson and a couple of plain clothes officers were sent to look at the CCTV footage and assess the situation.  It was the definitely the same two lads who were in the convenience store.  The pub was soon surrounded by police cars.  It seemed like overkill when the pair gave up without a struggle.  Their third mistake was revealed when the police searched the  men's flats.  They had failed to relieve themselves of the cigars or the wallet.  The bus pass was the most obvious piece of evidence, the South African cigars were similarly a give-away.  It's possible that if they weren't so laid back, so permanently intoxicated, they would have thought to have wiped prints off all the stolen goods.

Nat was thankful that they had caught Mr Thompson's murderers.  The bastards.  At least his funeral could now be had in peace.  With peace of mind.             

Chapter Two

It was a lovely funeral, that's what everybody said.  Mrs Thompson was dignified, strong and pleasant to all with whom she spoke, just as she always had been.  Nat was among those who had yet to pass on her condolences and waited in line, taking the opportunity to think of something to say.  Since the death of her grandfather she found that she hated funeral cliches; "he had a good innings", "he's in a better place", "at least he didn't suffer", nothing could take away the pain, the loss.

Unfortunately, tradition took over and Nat was only able to offer Mrs Thompson a "Sorry".  Mrs Thompson looked Nat in the eye, gently took her hand and thanked her.  Just as Nat started to walk away, she felt Mrs Thompson's gloved hand touch her fingers.  Her heart stopped.  The suppressed guilt flowed throughout Nat's veins, she closed her eyes, took a second to calm herself and turned back to Mrs Thompson.  "Really, thank you", Mrs Thompson gave her a kind smile, one that, to Nat, seemed full of forgiveness, "you must come to mine later, I've made some ginger cake for you".  Nat rejoined Josh, taking his left arm; Josh slid his arm from her grasp and put it around her shoulder, pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.  They looked at the grave for a few minutes in silence and then walked home, arm in arm.