Friday, 30 December 2011
Take a deep breath and hold on to your seats because we’ve got a long wild ride ahead into one of the boldest decisions ever taken by a comics publisher and into 1200 pages of comics.
The superhero genre of comics is often derided by critics as inferior to more ‘mature’ or ‘serious’ works of graphic storytelling; though I suspect that literary snobbery is aimed as much at the fans whom these critics see as reading nothing else which, pretty much like most generalisations, both is and isn’t true. I have a broad taste in comics or graphic novels or whatever it is you want to call them but I still keep coming back to superheroes. Why? Because they’re just so much damn fun which is why they’ve not only lasted but come to be the most popular genre of comics. This massive book demonstrates why that is so.
But it was still a big gamble for publishers DC Comics. They cancelled all their titles and rebooted their shared universe from scratch with 52 No.1’s. And, in my opinion, they were extremely clever in the way they went about it. This new universe begins five years after the appearance of superheroes which allows some stories which worked well and were popular from the previous continuity to be carried on (specifically titles which feature Batman) and to adapt elements from it to makes changes to characters (Barbara Gordon was crippled by the Joker but has now recovered and is back as Batgirl). Vertigo (DC’s mature readers imprint) characters which were owned by DC (Swamp Thing, Animal Man, John Constantine, etc) have been brought into the new shared superhero universe. Elements of the Wildstorm imprint bought by DC years ago and previously in their own separate universe are now integrated into DC’s –Stormwatch, Grifter, Voodoo. Some defunct characters have been revitalised (Resurrection Man – a favourite of mine from the 90’s- I,Vampire, Omac). And there are a handful of new titles –Justice League Dark, Frankenstein Agent of Shade, and Demon Knights.
DC planned this as a jumping on point, though no doubt being well aware that for others, like a long-standing DC superhero fan and friend of mine, it could also be a jumping-off point. No doubt some did indeed jump off but many more jumped on. For the first time in decades, DC outsold Marvel Comics and while sales have dropped after the initial explosion, DC are still matching Marvel. So as a commercial exercise, there’s no question that DC’s New Universe has been a significant success.
But has it also been a creative one?
Well, having just read all 52 first issues and read hundreds of reviews on various websites of these and successive issues, the answer to that is a qualified yes. So, time to look at the book itself.
Although it begins with the first title of the New Universe published, it doesn’t reprint them in order of publication. Instead, they are arranged into categories. The first section is Justice League and does indeed begin with that title, setting it five years before the new current continuity when superheroes are just beginning to (re?)emerge. And concerns Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) meeting Batman, for the first time, in Gotham against a mutual alien enemy. It ends up in Metropolis where GL gets the crap knocked out of him by –oh come on; I don’t really have to tell you by whom. So these first few issues of JL are the origins of the current team. Next up is the founding of Justice League International in the ‘present’ day. Other titles in this section include Aquaman, Wonder Woman (superb), The Flash, Green Arrow (more in line with the character as shown in the tv series Smallville), The Savage Hawkman, etc. You might do a double-take when you see Mister Terrific in there. This is the first case in the book of DC shoehorning in a title which doesn’t fit anywhere else; unless there’s something they aren’t telling us.
The next section consists of four titles, one of them being the section title Superman, but it’s preceded by the Grant Morrison written Action Comics which is chronologically the earliest title and features Superman at the beginning of his career when his powers are limited (he can only leap buildings at a single bound, etc), he doesn’t have a proper costume as such, and he’s after crooked businessmen which puts him in line with the Siegel and Schuster original character. And it’s wonderful. In the George Perez scripted Superman, he’s in his new costume (no pants on top). The other titles are Superboy and Supergirl who seem to be newish takes on these characters.
The 11 titles of the Batman section are often the least changed yet the most startling. The final page at the end of Detective Comics is both surprising and deeply shocking and is guaranteed to get you to buy the next issue. Catwoman is already almost a legend for its graphic depiction of rough costumed sex between her and Batman. I’ve already mentioned the new/old Batgirl. There are also the usual suspects –Nightwing and Birds of Prey. Two new titles are Batwing (an African Batman) and Red Hood & the Outlaws which stars Jason Todd, Roy Harper, and a rather controversial version of Starfire. And then there’s Batwoman (which was delayed for months so as to fit in with the DCnU) which is in a league of its own. If you only buy one title, this is it.
I’ll skip the four Green Lantern titles of which only The New Guardians caught my interest and move quickly on to The Dark which happens to be the most interesting and diverse collection of titles which all happen to be generally pretty good or better. They also share something else in common, apart from the fact they appear to involve the supernatural, in that they are all setup issues introducing the reader to the characters. Justice League Dark features Madam Xanadu trying to form –oh you guessed- which includes, among others, John Constantine and the Enchantress. Animal Man and Swamp Thing have already garnered high praise. I, Vampire is probably the most surprising title to be revived and is about vampires surviving in a world of superheroes. Resurrection Man is the title I would have second least expected to be revived but the one which most delighted me. Demon Knights (written by Paul Cornell) is either Justice League Medieval or an earlier version of Stormwatch (see above). Add Frankenstein/Shade and that’s 7 trades I’ll be buying when they come out.
Less interesting, but not without interest, is The Edge a disparate collection of titles bunged together to call them something. There’s the Wildstorm titles (see above), Deathstroke and The Suicide Squad (same old, same old), Blackhawks (a completely new team of covert operatives), and Men of War (the grandson of an old DC character). But I’ve saved the best till last. Dan Didio and Keith Giffen channel the spirit of Jack Kirby in a new over the top version of his character O.M.A.C whose Mohawk hairdo is now an energy field of some kind. In All-Star Western, Jonah Hex has been hired to investigate the Ripper-like murders of prostitutes in Gotham City and finds himself way over his head in one of the best of the New 52 titles.
And finally, Young Justice starring the younger heroes though what Hawk & Dove are doing there I’ve no idea. There’s a nice reboot of the Jaime Reyes incarnation of the Blue Beetle which is welcome and a very promising Teen Titans. Static Shock mildly disappoints and neither of the two Legion of Superheroes titles impress.
And there we have it. It’s a mixed bag which ranges from the nothing special to the WOW! with an average of pretty good. Or, if you want it graded numerically: 3.75, 9.5, 7.5 respectively. (Except for Batwoman which rates a 10).
I’ve been going through the list of titles and, based on the first issues, I will definitely be buying 20 of the titles in trade editions when they appear, with another 10 as strong possibilities depending on reviews. This alone has made it worth me buying this book as that’s a lot higher number of DC trades than I have been getting. Additional material like alternate covers is minimal and could have been a lot more.
Sure, it’s also quite expensive but just remember you’re getting a 1200 page 52-comic hardback sampler of some of the best superhero comics around and you’re in at the ground floor of the DC New Universe. For superhero fans that’s as good as it gets.
This review has also been published on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com
Tuesday, 27 December 2011
So, there's this vaguely humanoid sea creature which lives in a sunken submarine in a Californian bay where it snacks on the remains of dead submariners which it shares with its friends the crabs. Now and again it is compelled by drifting pheromones to head to shore to kill and eat sexually aroused teenagers.
This is Grue, our hero. Now both confusing and stimulating him are the bottles containing pages of Shakespeare which keep appearing in the waters of the bay. Entranced by Shakespeare's language, Grue has begun to speak in iambic pentameter, an affectation that is derided by his friends the crabs who are more interested the scraps of human remains he leaves for them.
A chain of events occur which (I won't detail here) lead him to discovering where the bottles containing fragments on Shakespeare come from, how his actions impact on a human family, and him falling in love with a middle-aged female agoraphobic.
And now, here's the cover.
This really is almost impossible to describe. A plethora of adjectives spring to mind: graceful, witty, tragic, deft, bold -which are all appropriate but don't convey the full flavour. The artwork is delightful with its human figures reminiscent of Dave Stevens and Terry Moore. The art is also in black and white, not only devoid of colour but also of grey; there is no shading at all which is unusual but it works. This is really quite a unique and delightful graphic novel.
Monday, 26 December 2011
Needless to say I was still suffering from the strained shoulder. Since I first wrote about it had gotten worse and by Friday 23rd, I decided I'd go to Casualty (A&E) to get it checked out. By the end of Thursday I'd called an en to me driving because I just didn't feel safe. I load the van up with donated food, then went and bought some cat food and that was that. Before Susan drove me to Casualty, she'd phoned a physiotherapy number which was part of the NHS and got me to tell them my problem and arranged a formal phone interview next morning. Then off to Casualty while Susan continued on with the cat food to Carole's.
And after a preliminary interview they told me to sling my hook. I had to either go back to the Walk-in Centre (see Pain post) or see my GP. I rang my GP and got an appointment for 11 in a couple of hours time. I tried calling Susan to tell her but no answer so I slung my hook and got two buses back home. Pay for a taxi? You must be joking! Besides the hospital and my house are on two of the busiest bus routes and I hardly had to wait a couple of minutes at either stage.
Dr Mackrell, my doctor, checked me out thoroughly and put me on a different combination of pain killers. with one of them -cocodamol- I should have avoided alcohol but I didn't and it didn't seem to make much difference. The other was a once a day anti-inflammatory. And they did seem to have a stronger effect, though they didn't make any difference when it came to waking up in the early house with severe pain when I moved my arm and a painful ache even when I didn't.
On Saturday morning I did the telephone physiotherapy interview and got an appointment early on the 4th January. God bless the socialised medical service of the NHS.
Having 8 adults to feed, an injured shoulder and with Susan not feeling all that great, we decided to get as much prepared as possible. So later that day I peeled and cooked the potatoes which Susan then mashed as my shoulder wouldn't allow it. I'd prepared the breadcrumbs for the sage and onion using the food processor and did the same for the onions which, again, Susan had to mix up with the sage, eggs and seasoning and then went into the oven.
Later that evening, just as I was settling down to watch a DVD on my pc, there came a knock at the door. Turned out to be our next door neighbour who'd taken in two parcels earlier that day when we'd popped out. One was something Susan had bought as a present, the other was the massive 1200 page DC: The New 52 (see a couple of previous posts) arriving in only 9 days from the States at standard postage rates and during the Xmas rush and at least two weeks earlier than I expected. Hurrah! Of course the damn thing was so fucking heavy that I couldn't hold it with both arms to read it. It does, however, fit snugly on this computer desk where I'm typing. And that was Xmas Eve.
Christmas Day. Up early to peel and trim the potatoes which will be roasted later. Peel and wash sprouts. Prepare the two turkey crowns. We weren't sure if one would be enough so we got two. One, it turned out, was enough but only just. Susan started tidying the house up with some help from me. Periodically taking a break to rest my shoulder, it seemed to be holding up okay. Eleven o'clock and the turkey crowns went in the oven. An hour later I started on the vegetables which was about the same time as Susan brought her mother from Rowlandson House where she lives.
I'm not going to go into much detail about our guests as this isn't that sort of a blog, but just a little. Susan's mother has always been difficult and this has been worsened by her dementia and the virtual disappearance of her short term memory so it wasn't long before she started causing problems. Ironically, when the other guests started to arrive she became completely confused about who people were. They being Nick, Susan's brother and her son, Viv her daughter in law (who live down the street from us). Her grandchildren Alex, a mechanical engineering student at Hull whose 21st birthday is fast approaching, and Sarah, 24 and happily ensconced in Edinburgh where she works for a big finance company. Lastly there was Viv's elderly aunt Joan. She became completely confused about Nick, Viv, Sarah, and Alex and constantly had to be told over and over who they were and what they were doing. At least that meant she wasn't causing trouble by being obnoxious. Strangely she didn't seem to get confused over Susan and I.
So everybody arrived and started handing out presents. Me, I dashing between the living room being co-host and the kitchen as cook where I had a can of lager to help get me in the mood. Seeing as this was the celebration of the founding of a patriarchal sexist religion, I summoned Nick and Alex briefly into the kitchen for a glass of Jim Beam bourbon to toast Christmas and continuation of patriarchal structures. Okay, I was just being perverse.
Meanwhile I realised the turkey should have been in a little earlier which meant delaying lunch a little which meant turning the roasting potatoes down. The mashed potato was heating slowly in the microwave and the sage and onion re-heating in the oven. Carrots and sprouts were coming along nicely and Susan told me I'd forgotten the roast parsnips which I had but there wasn't room in the over for them anyway so tough. I'd also forgotten the mini pigs in a blanket which went in just as we began serving the food and were cooked by the time we'd almost finished the serving. Susan and I sat down by the time the others were halfway through the meal. The wine, a Banrock Station Chardonnay with a funny Spanish name tacked on, was acceptable. I thought the turkey could have been cooked a little more but it just about passed. The roast potatoes should have been removed from the goose fat when they were cooked but they weren't and tasted a little greasy.
While Susan was preparing the Christmas pudding, I managed to break the back of the washing up, then went upstairs to the loo. When I got back down, Susan told me there wasn't enough Christmas pud for everyone which fine by me. I went upstairs to lie down and when I woke it was teatime.
Tea was down and Nick and Viv's and it was very nice but there was too much and it didn't seem like five minutes since I eating my Xmas lunch. Afterwards we had a nice family time and when Susan decided to take her mother back to the home, I took the opportunity to retire to mine and see to the cats. Susan didn't get back for over an hour as she'd taken Auntie Joan to where she lived near Durham. We watched Eastenders together while I finished off the lunchtime wine and then went to bed.
I have to say, despite my reservations about some of the dinner (with no-one to blame but me), my shoulder held up and it was one of the less stressful family Christmases and really quite nice overall.
Today, Susan and I have been completely exhausted and done as little as possible in between naps. This is the most positive thing I've done today and in a few minutes time I'll be cooking the leftovers for our tea prior to watching a new version of The Borrowers at 7.30pm.
Happy Xmas everybody.
I almost used this image in the main body of the text.
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
This is going to be a short review because its been widely reviewed and, quite frankly, I don't have anything original to add.
In case you haven't heard of it, here's a short synopsis. A mixed gang of 14-15 year olds who live in the same London tower block mug a young nurse on her way home to her new flat in (unknown to the gang) the same block. After the mugging they come across an alien which eats a dog belonging to one of them and they kill it. They take the corpse to the local drug dealer in the block to show it -this unknown animal- off. Then the rest of the aliens arrive and attack the gang and anyone else in their way. The aliens are very black, shaggy, no-eyes, but with lots of luminous teeth. The gang pal up with the nurse they mugged out of mutual survival needs and surviving occupies the rest of the film.
This doesn't sound particularly wonderful I admit, but this is a very likeable and engaging little movie written and directed by Joe Cornish. The gang, aggressive and drug-taking thugs as they are, aren't as bad as they first seem with quick phone calls to relatives to assure them they won't be home late. Much of their macho behaviour is, like their nicknames, to do with image. Two kids around ten are continually laughed at as they try to claim nicknames for themselves. Much of the dialogue is slang but it's fairly easy to pick up from the context and it sounds right. The young cast are excellent and the characters they play distinct individuals.
There's some gore and a lot of bad language. The aliens are quite scary, partly because they're never shown in any detail. To be honest, they reminded me of larger nastier versions of Krites from Critters. Overall, this is a lot of fun and I think I'll watch it again quite soon.
One minor quibble: the aliens' life cycle is absolutely unbelievably unbelievable stupid rubbish even by the standards of low budget SF movies. I won't say why because that would spoil a major plot reveal, but it still doesn't spoil the fun.
After writing about how much I disliked Christmas, I've been struck down. Clearly I've upset that useless (nonexistent) omnipotent paranoid twat that some people refer to, this figment of their imagination, as god. Obviously I've pissed him/her/it off. Well, screw you, you non-existent piece of shit! How dare you do this to me!
Of course it could just be a coincidence. And I could think of worse things to be inflicted with just before Christmas, or at any time. Like developing allergies to alcohol and computers and to cats. That would be my life well and truly fucked.
No, I'm just suffering
I woke up from a Sunday afternoon nap to find a pain in my right shoulder and when I moved my arm the pain extended itself there as well, into the upper half at least. I decided that if it was no better the following morning I'd visit the 24 hour walk-in health centre about a mile and a half away.
Got up the next morning, still in pain but with stuff to do before I could even think about going to the health centre. I'd loaded the van the previous afternoon pre-pain with donated cat food which was fortunate. So out early to Asda to buy the week's load of tins of Kit-e-Kat and to take some cat food from the donated pet food bin there and over to Carole's to drop it off. On the way home I called in at Sainsbury's where there donated pet food bin was overflowing with, mostly, cat food -hurrah! I'd put a couple of stickers on it over a week ago saying we were in need of cat food so it looked like it had worked.
When I got home, my shoulder felt as if it had eased off slightly so I decided not to go to the health centre. Needless to say the pain got worse during the course of the day so at 5.00pm I drove there in the van. The place was almost empty and I got seen by a nurse within half an hour. He made me raise my arms in various positions and checked the muscles before deciding I'd pulled a muscle in the shoulder, probably through heavy lifting.
Well I do heavy lifting quite a lot, loading up the van with unsaleable stuff to take from the shop to the tip or stuck stuff to another charity like Barnardos. There was also the weekly tip trip from Carole's with a van full of sacks of soiled cat bedding and used cat litter and other smelly stuff. And in the last couple of days I'd done three trips to empty a flat of items we could sell. So heavy lifting is nothing unusual.
Then I realised what had caused it.
Until recently the skips at the council were about waist height (plus six feet further down) making it easy to get stuff out of the van and drop it in with no great effort. Now, however, the council have installed new skips which are twice the height and necessitate climbing up several steps to get to the rim which is then still higher than the old ones. When this happened I asked Carole to put less items in the black sacks and, when light enough, had got into the habit of hurling them over the rim with my right arm, sometimes without even going up the steps, and did the same with shop tip trip stuff when light enough. This was not a good idea.
So:diagnosis pulled muscle. Treatment: paracetemol and rest.
And about 1.30am I woke up in agony. Even the slightest movement caused pain. I struggled through the night until around 4.30 when I got up, emptied smelly cat litter, let cats out, read a magazine, and at 5.00am took two paracetamol and went back to bed. The pills must have had some effect as I dozed until half seven when I again woke in agony. An hour later I was on the phone to the doctor's. I wasn't disagreeing with the diagnosis, I just wanted to be prescribed heavy duty painkillers. She told me to start taking ibuprofen every three hours alternating with paracetamol and trying heat treatment (a hot water bottle on my shoulder).
It's now just before 2.00pm, I've had one dose of both and I have a hot water bottle which I'm going to place against my shoulder when I lay down for a nap in a few minutes and just hope this pain goes away before Christmas.
Sooner would be good.
Sunday, 18 December 2011
There is only one good reason for committing suicide -other than severe physical and/or mental distress -and that is so you never get to hear Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody ever again.
There is a very good case to be made that it's the most hideous Christmas song ever. Considering that is a very large field it's quite an achievement. As far as I'm concerned there is no such thing as a good Christmas song. Bear in mind that there is a considerable difference between a song which mentions Christmas and a song about Christmas. This definition automatically excludes A Fairy Tale of New York (Kirsty McColl/The Pogues), Feed the World (Band Aid) though after over a quarter of a century that too is becoming remarkably tedious and twee, and The River (Joni Mitchell, not Bruce).
It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on
I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
I wish I had a river I could skate away on
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
I wish I had a river I could skate away on
Extract copyright Joni Mitchell.
The melancholy lyric expresses to a degree how I feel about Christmas. It's partly the fact that I don't have kids and my niece and nephew are now all grown up. Yes, Christmas is about kids. Stuff any religious aspect; that's meaningless to most people never mind an atheist like me.
during the week preceding the shops are packed, especially stores like Asda which (and excuse me) -for Christ's sake- is only shut for one frigging day but people will be buying enough stuff for a week resulting in an enormous waste of food. Why don't people reduce the unnecessary food bill and make a donation to Oxfam instead?
And then there's all the shit Christmas specials on TV -previews rammed down your throat with all the fake jollity- which I found so much fun when I was a lot younger but seem to be now, well, a load of shit. I exclude Dr Who from this (but only provisionally as I haven't seen it yet).
At least there aren't the number of carol singers that there used to be. When I was a kid, even I went round carol singing with friends/kids from school.
And on every TV show which includes singing are yet more hideous Christmas songs. And on the radio, especially the local radio which gets played at my sports centre where I go swimming most mornings and every day last week while I was there they played fucking Slade's fucking Merry fucking Christmas Everybody which just fucking might have something to do with this piece.
Is there nothing I enjoy about Christmas then? Actually, yes. With one certain caveat which I won't go into here, I enjoy the turkey Christmas dinner with the family, particularly if I've cooked it. I cook it rather than Susan, not because she's a bad cook -in her own way she's probably as capable as me- but I can do one thing she can't: I can get everything ready at the same time. I don't even time everything, I just estimate but I'm very good at estimating. It's our turn this year and we have 8 adults in attendance and, as long as Susan stays out of the kitchen, it'll be fine, especially as for the half hour before it's all ready I'll be starting in on the drink.
But that's the only thing about Christmas that I like. Pity I can't pass the rest of it by. And doesn't that card at the top with its western Europeans make you want to vomit? Never mind, the paperback cover below will make you smile.
Oh, and then there's this-
Merry Christmas, everybody.
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
Saturday, 17 December 2011
It's no secret, especially to readers of this blog, that I'm not a great fan of Marvel superheroes. Thor, in particular, being one I found both irritating, with cod-archaic mode of speech, and boring, with a no-dimensional personality. So I was quite surprised when good reviews rolled in by the dozen and which encouraged me to buy the DVD when it came down in price a bit.
I still remained to be convinced but damned if Marvel didn't do the 2011 triple of really entertaining well-made super-hero movies. Captain America and X-Men First Class being the others which actually dragged me to cinema (see appropriate posts). 2012 brings Joss Whedon's Avengers which everyone expects to be utterly brilliant and anything less will be a disappointment. DC have much better characters than Marvel but, Batman excepted, they just can't seem to get it together on the film front.
There is a lot that Thor the movie gets right and very little it gets wrong.
First off is Asgard and the Asgardian gods. They aren't the supernatural based entities of myth and Marvel comics. Instead they are the products of science that is so far advanced that it looks -and here is where director Branagh is really clever- almost but not quite like magic. When Heimdall operates Bifrost to transport people to other realms, it is clearly a teleportational device. These gods are more like the Hindu gods of Roger Zelazny's award-winning Science Fiction novel Lord of Light. The Norse myths surrounding the Asgardians are the perceptions of a primitive people viewing a science they can't comprehend. The design of Asgard itself is very impressive which is just as well as a surprising amount of the running time is spent there.
Secondly, the story is kept quite simple. When Thor, on the verge of being given the kingship, arrogantly disobeys Odin and attacks the Frost Giants on their homeworld of Jotunheim almost bringing about disaster, Odin removes his powers and banishes him to Earth. While Thor learns a lesson in humility in a New Mexico town with the help of astro-physicist Jane Foster, his brother Loki, with Odin in a god-coma, seems to be bringing about the downfall of Asgard by secretly allying with the Frost Giants because (spoiler omitted). Odin has also sent Thor's hammer to Earth. The hammer can only be lifted by someone worthy of the power of Thor and is discovered by SHIELD which sets up a camp around it. Thor's buddies (the Warriors Three plus Lady Sif) go to Earth to help him and Loki tries to put a stop to it which leads to the climax.
It's all very clearly told, at a good pace, and leavened by touches of humour. On seeing the Warriors Three, a cop reports in that there's "Robin Hood, a ninja, and ...some other guy." The 'other guy' should be Falstaff after whom the portly character Volstagg is named and is a sly Shakespearean joke which, I assume, was inserted by director Kenneth Branagh who knows more than a little about Shakespeare.
The acting is more than acceptable. I can't imagine anyone giving a better performance as Thor than Chris Hemsworth, who can act. It's impossible to imagine anyone else convincingly playing Odin other than Anthony Hopkins who provides the gravitas necessary to take the character seriously. Tom Hiddleston underplays Loki rather than making him a hissable villain. Natalie Portman (Jane Foster) is one of the best young Hollywood actresses around. Idris Elba as Heimdall provides provides great dignity and power to an otherwise one-note role.
Branagh has done a terrific job on this film. Sure it's a popcorn movie, but it's a really good popcorn movie.
Saturday, 10 December 2011
Opinions are like arseholes: everyone's got one. A more accurate analogy, however, would be: opinions are like blood cells: everyone has millions of them. Doesn't matter how well or ill-informed we are on a topic, we've always got an opinion about it. This piece is, therefore, my thoughts, my opinions, on the EU and its current state.
2. How I got there.
I don't understand economics. I started taking it at A level back in 1964 and after several weeks gave it up for Religious Education, rather ironic given my long-standing militant atheism. I also took British Constitution A-level at which I was much better. So if I don't understand economics, I do have a modest grasp of politics and the political system.
I was born in 1948 at the height of the post-war baby boom and the shadow of the Second World War loomed large culturally and economically during my childhood. I'm old enough to even remember rationing. The rations were delivered to our door in a cardboard box, butter wrapped in greaseproof paper and groceries were still referred to in the house as rations for some time afterwards. Films about the war were popular in the cinema during the 50's and strips about the war were equally popular in kids weekly comics. All this combined to lead me to be of the opinion that a United States of Europe would a good idea to prevent war happening in the future.
Which is sort of what happened with the rise of the Common Market (or, more accurately, the European Economic Community -EEC- which ultimately became the EU). The drive to closer economic ties accelerated with the fall of the Iron Curtain, but it also resulted in the fragmentation of Yugoslavia and the horrendous events which followed.
3. Where I stand today.
Whatever the name, I've always been in favour of closer ties with Europe, indeed with every country. While I am deeply proud of Britain -a country where the acceptance of those who don't quite fit the perceived norm is actually practiced by the majority of its citizens rather than just paid lip service by its government and media- I remain an internationalist.
The problem is that the EU hasn't worked the way it was intended and this is becoming more and more self-evident. The organisation and the many organisations within it have grown out of all proportion to the work that they needed to do. They have become bloated and corrupt. The salaries of MEPs are inflated with perks, many unearned. Stories constantly come to light of MEPs signing in and then immediately buggering off to pursue their own interests. Powers are delegated to unelected bureaucrats with no responsibility to the tax payers who fund them. When, as rarely happens, a watered-down but decent piece of legislation does get passed, it is cynically ignored by any country (naming no names but one of them is France) for whom it is inconvenient except Britain which naively plays by the rules. The system has encouraged an enormous waste of resources and the spread of corruption. The EU is theoretically a wonderful idea that has been derailed by the vested interests of capitalism when a degree of socialism might have saved it.
The EU's refusal to control the banking system and limit international debt until it's all but too late and the internal failings of the Euro (which in theory I support) has lead to the current crisis where David Cameron has found himself and the UK isolated and no-one knows how this is going to end up. Ironically, as a lefty internationalist, I find myself, with my limited knowledge, supporting him so far.
The EU needs to be rebuilt from the ground up and based on firm clear principles and the chances of that happening is about the same as a snowfall in hell.
Sarkozy pointedly refusing to shake Cameron's hand at the summit.
Sod the French prat.
Thursday, 8 December 2011
It's not exactly unknown, quite the opposite in fact, for movies to be remade. It's also extremely common for one artist to cover someone else's song, though it's rare for it to be an improvement than the original. Ironically, one such cover is Jimi Hendrix's version of All Along The Watchtower which even Dylan prefers, as does everyone in the known universe. It's also one of my favourite songs and covers I own include those by The Grateful Dead and an absolute balls to the wall live version by Neil Young with guest Chrissie Hynde. It is, however, extremely rare for an artist to cover an entire album but Thea Gilmore has done it and with one of my favourite Bob Dylan albums.
Gilmore is one of those artists who can be classified as a singer/songwriter, folk, and folk/rock. Unlike, however, the album which followed this one -Don't Stop Singing (see earlier post)- where she channeled Sandy Denny, she doesn't attempt to recreate the original album, Gilmore does it her own way.
And she does it brilliantly by reinterpreting the songs in a variety of different ways, all different to the originals but always doing justice to one of Dylan's landmark albums. All Along The Watchtower is a shuffle, The Drifter's Escape rocks out. There are elements of country, folk, folk/rock, and more including echoes of Fairport Convention (the Sandy Denny-Jerry Donahue lineup) which is probably to be expected. The small band is tight as a newt's arse, playing with precision and skill -some great guitar solos too. Gilmore's vocals are flexible and expressive -she is truly one of the best current British female vocalists in any musical genre and I've a feeling I'm probably going to end up buying all her albums.
This is great genre-transcending stuff.
Monday, 5 December 2011
Ironically the day after I put up a post in which I said I hardly ever went anywhere, Susan and I paid a visit to the Durham City Christmas Festival. Okay, this was hardly a great effort as Durham is barely 20 minutes drive away and mostly along dual carriageways, plus, to coin a phrase, the city itself is absolutely fabulous.
Don't take my word, take that of American writer and anglophile's Bill Bryson who came and saw and fell in love with the place. In one of his books about travelling in the UK, when he comes to write about Durham, he insists you stop reading and go visit the city and he wasn't entirely joking. You've got the cathedral itself which is one of the most beautiful and inspiring cathedrals in the world (and that is most emphatically not an exaggeration) which is now nearly a thousand years old. It's perched, next to Durham Castle, on the top of a hill, around which wind streets that curl down to the River Wear which almost entirely encircles the base. The old streets themselves, still cobbled, are packed with restaurants, cafes, bars, bookshops etc. The walk along the river bank at the bottom is lovely no matter what the season. See for yourself.
But Susan and I were there for the Christmas festival, specifically that humongous tent in front of the cathedral in the first photo. Inside it contains a vast range of stalls selling all kinds of arts and craft items, clothing, food, and drink -a great place to spend lots of money on things for yourself and on Christmas presents for others. We must have spent an hour browsing before, laden down with goodies, we went inside the cathedral to the tea room for coffee, plus a cheese scone and a slice of lemon cake which we shared. After that we wandered slowly down the narrow streets to our car and then home.
You still here?
Oh right, you were wondering what fabulous things we bought at the festival. Well, Susan bought one fancy Christmas card and I bought two pies -a layered game pie and a layered pork with chicken, both wrapped in tasty crusty pastry and delicious they were too.
Saturday, 3 December 2011
I'll be honest, I'm not much of a person for going out, for going places. I've never really been interested in travel and in my entire life I've only been to Belgium, Holland and France (that on a school trip aged 10), Brittany (once), Spain (once), Yugoslavia (twice, when it still existed, these days the specific area is Croatia), and Lanzarote (about half a dozen times). Otherwise I've never been out of the UK. It's just too much trouble. Similarly I've never been to any music events like Glastonbury. All the gigs I've been to have never been further away than Newcastle or Middlesborough. Except for the 101 Club in London when I went down in a minibus with a band that my friend Ian Penman was managing and threw up in it (the minibus not the club) on the way back after smoking some dope.
So, yes, I have led a fairly dull life, mainly because I found the inside of my own head a more interesting place to visit. Other places are just too much of an effort, but-
I'm going to see Bruce Springsteen!
At the Stadium of Light, Sunderland
on June 12th 2012!
I probably wouldn't have bothered if he'd been playing at St. James's Park (or whatever they're calling it today), Newcastle -too much of an effort to get home- but I can walk home in half an hour from the Stadium of Light.*
Springsteen is up there in my pantheon of music gods being almost, but not just quite, on a par with Neil Young, Sandy Denny, The Grateful Dead, and Albert King (whom I saw at the Sunderland Empire a year or so before his death), and just above U2. I saw an add for it last Wednesday in the local edition of Metro the free paper while I was having coffee with my retired library colleague friends. Phil (ex-local studies librarian, was also interested). I'm 63. Big events don't happen on my doorstep very often and, while I wouldn't rule out the impossibility of Young and U2 playing the SoL, this could be my last chance at getting to see someone whose music I love and who I know gives the audience a great time. I'd have been mad to miss it.
So this morning I was logged in to the ticket website, ready for its opening at 9.00am. I'd pre-registered with the ticket company and was making my booking within seconds of the tickets becoming available. I've got myself a seat (I'm not standing for maybe three hours even for Bruce and it was only £5 extra). The total cost came to £69.25 but it's going to be worth it!
Post Script 1.
Susan looked at me in amazement. "You're going by yourself," she said.
"Yes," I replied, wondering why that should be such a surprise. Barry wouldn't be interested and another certain person would only go if could get in free. Being an only child, from childhood I've been used to going to places on my own. Not always, often with friends, but it doesn't bother me being on my own and never has.
"Oh," she said. Susan isn't like me in this respect at all and considers it just one my many strangenesses.
But as far as I'm concerned, I'll be surrounded by thousands of Springsteen fans and I wouldn't have expected to talk much anyway. It's the music, man!
Post Script 2.
* Talking about the Stadium of Light, in the last four days Sunderland Association Football Club has sacked manager Steve Bruce and appointed the acclaimed Martin O'Neil. He's so famous that even I, whose only interest in sport is the doings of Sunderland and other local football teams, have heard of him. If anyone can pull the team out their current doldrums it's O'Neil.
And after that, could it be -glory days?**
** That's the title of a Springsteen song you philistines.
Friday, 2 December 2011
Jeremy Clarkson gave his considered opinion about the recent strike (see post) when interviewed on the popular One Show (BBC1, 7.00pm weekdays).
It went like this-
It went like this-
- "I think they (the strikes) have been fantastic. Absolutely. London today has just been empty. Everybody stayed at home, you can whizz about, restaurants are empty," he said.
- "It's also like being back in the 70s. It makes me feel at home somehow," said the Top Gear presenter, before adding: "But we have to balance this though, because this is the BBC" and went on: "Frankly, I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?"
- Text copied from the BBC's website, emphasis mine.
Clearly Clarkson was taking the piss but he still managed to get over 21,000 complaints. This is an absolutely enormous number. You probably wouldn't have got many more if he'd suggested necrophilia with Diana's corpse. But I don't know why anyone was surprised that he should insult over two million people who were striking to maintain the pension they were promised. I think Clarkson is an arsehole and couldn't care less what this moron says. Except when I do.
Because there is often, and most certainly is in this case, a subtext to his so-called joke. Clarkson is an elitist misogynistic public schoolboy snob who counts the Prime Minister as one of his buddies. He's an arrogant snob who manages to disguise his utter contempt for ordinary people with a self-debunking wit which proves he doesn't really mean his barbs.
Don't believe it. He does. And that joke was Clarkson's way of expressing his annoyance at the temerity of working class people to go on strike and thereby inconvenience him.
Clarkson is a loathesome piece of shit who should have his cock cut off in public, followed by a slow disembowelling while a white-hot poker is gradually inserted up his upper class arse and his children are being eaten alive in front of him by pit-bulls.
Oh dear me, that was just a bit over the top, wasn't it? Sorry about that. Just a joke Tee hee. Oh I am awful.
Thursday, 1 December 2011
It's not too late to catch up on this new brilliant series of which three episodes have so far been shown in the UK. It isn't what I expected at all and is one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen on television.
A dysfunctional family buys an old house on the west coast. He is a psychiatrist who had an affair with a student. She can't forgive him. Their teenage daughter is a mess. Here they are.
What they don't know is that the house has a murderous history. But whether it is actually haunted is so far unclear, though that is suggested.
There are four other characters of note so far. Jessica Lange plays, and absolutely brilliantly too, their malign neighbour. She is absolutely the most scary woman you have ever seen.
She has an adult daughter who suffers from Downs Syndrome, who tells everyone who enters the house that they are going to die, and is impossible to keep out of it. (I couldn't find any photos of her on Google Images)
The psychiatrist husband is treating patients in the house. One of them is a male teenager who is dangerously psychopathic which the husband does not realise.
I'm not going to give away anything that actually happens as it really would spoil it. You may be able to find previous episodes on the net on on catch-up TV. You should because this is a brilliantly done piece of television: great acting, great script, great cinematography, suspense by the bucketload, some gore, plus an overall sense of deep unease and uncertainty. It really is unmissable.