Monthly Archives: April 2008

Nostalgia…

I just came across a battered old diary I kept back in 1983 when I was all of 12 years old. The handwriting is almost undecipherable and the diary smells strongly of mould. Out of curiosity, I looked up what I was doing on this day 25 years ago and read this:

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“Went for a walk up St Marychurch. Did shopping, came home and had my dinner. Played in the field with Lucy [my pet cat at the time]. Came in and read.Watched TV all evening, Dynasty was on. Krystle and Alexis had a fight – ace!”

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Bloody hell – I was even writing TV reviews when I was 12! My life hasn’t really changed that much…

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Evil And Eviller

Earlier today I received a phone call from an automated voice telling me I was liable for a free loan or compensation or lottery winnings or somesuch rubbish. It told me that if I pressed the number five on my handset I could hear all about it. Annoyed at being bothered, I hung up. The call didn’t end. I hung up again. The voice carried on talking. I unplugged my phone for a few minutes, plugged it back in and the voice was still there. I listened, rather creeped out, as it came to the end of the recording and finally disconnected me.

I didn’t press the number five on my handset, despite it telling me to.

I dialled 1471 to see who’d called me and discovered it was a 001 country code, which meant that the call had come from America. So I rang BT to check with them that I hadn’t been the victim of some scam and hadn’t been paying for the call at extortionate rates from the second I picked up the phone (because I’m rather paranoid about things like that).

BT informed me that the call came from Michigan, that the only way I could have disconnected it was by unplugging my phone from the wall for 15 minutes, that I hadn’t been paying for it, but if I had followed the automated voice’s advice and pressed the number five on my handset, the call would suddenly have cost me over one hundred dollars a minute.

That’s around £51 for 60 seconds of automated voice.

BT also told me that people fall for this trick quite often. I’m imagining little old ladies pressing the number five on their handsets because they really believe that they are eligible for a free loan or compensation or lottery winnings or somesuch rubbish. One hundred dollars a minute.

One hundred fucking dollars a MINUTE.

What kind of sick scam are these despicable people pulling? After a quick internet search I found other people complaining about them, too. It seems they’re based in Lancashire and they’re a ‘debt solutions’ firm. Anyone fancy burning down their offices? While they’re still inside, perhaps? Although burning might be too good for them, actually. Immoral, scheming, thieving bastards.

Although at least they’re better than that guy in Austria who kept his daughter in a cellar for a quarter of a century. You’ve probably heard about it on the news, so I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that I have never been so sickened and incensed about anything in my entire life. If that guy was being kept in a jail somewhere near to me, I’d claw through the walls to reach him and rip him to shreds for what he did to that poor girl.

Sometimes I’m ashamed to be a human being. There are so many ways to hurt people, and so many ways to hate.

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A Peak Into The Past

Some of you – say, those who’ve known me since 1990 – may already know that I’m a massive fan of Twin Peaks. And I mean MASSIVE. Twin Peaks changed my life, in more or less the same way that Buffy changed my life almost a decade later. (For the curious: I went to a Buffy convention, bumped into a few members of SFX, heard there was a job going on the magazine and the rest is history.)

If it hadn’t been for Twin Peaks, I wouldn’t have visited London for the very first time in April 1991 and fallen in love with the city, prompting me to switch universities from Swansea (much hate) to Richmond (much love). If I hadn’t switched universities I probably would have failed my course in Art & Design, a subject which came to me about as naturally as a giraffe learning to surf, only not as funny to watch. I would never have gone on to earn a degree in English & American Studies – which came in very handy for my chosen career – at a university in the very street in which I live today. In fact, if I’d spent my entire three years of university in Swansea I would most probably have topped myself because I hated the place so much (with apologies to any Swansea residents reading this).

Swansea? Wrong course, wrong people, wrong town. Richmond? Right course, right people, right city.

The Peak-y reason I was in London in April 1991 was because I wanted to meet Agent Cooper, aka Kyle MacLachlan, aka that guy I’d fallen for after watching Dune and The Hidden before I’d even set eyes on anyone named Cooper. I sat in the crowd at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire to watch him being interviewed on Wogan. I sat in the crowd at the Greenwood Theatre to watch him being interviewed on Tonight With Jonathan Ross. I stood outside the studios of TV-am in Camden to get his autograph at a silly hour of the morning, and even managed to get a photo taken with him. It’s probably the nearest I’ve ever come to stalking a celebrity in my life, although I’m happy to say I was totally polite and respectful and didn’t hassle him in any way (unlike some of the other Peaks fans I saw hanging around the studios, but the less said about them – or the professional autograph-hunting crowd – the better).

I was simply a very young, very giggly girl with eyes as large as saucers meeting her idol in the Big City. No wonder I decided to move to London afterwards; dreams came true there.

I’ve just bought the Twin Peaks Definitive Gold Edition R1 box set. Last night I watched the show’s pilot, an episode I must have seen at least 50 times over the years; hell, I even wrote my university dissertation on the series. But watching it on DVD for the very first time… well, it was a different show. My grungy VHS tapes always made the series look soupy and muggy, as though it was shot on the kind of videotape they used in 1980s daytime soap operas. Suddenly I was noticing things I’d never seen before – the reflection of Lucy in the glass of the police station while Sheriff Truman gets the call from Pete to say he’s found a body; the image of the bike in Laura Palmer’s eye on the videotape (always a blur before now); the image of BOB reflected in the mirror above Sarah Palmer’s head as she has her vision at the end of the episode. It’s like I’m seeing the show with totally fresh eyes.

The other thing which has amazed me is that, all these years on, I can watch Agent Dale Cooper drive into the small town of Twin Peaks (“…five miles south of the Canadian border, twelve miles west of the state line”) and feel absolutely nothing for him. My girly crush has completely evaporated. Kyle MacLachlan is nothing to me now. I still love Coop, but that burning fascination with the man who went on to unknowingly change my life is no more. He also makes me feel old: I’m 36 to MacLachlan’s 31-year-old FBI agent, who always used to be someone I looked up to. I never thought I’d be older than Coop!

Life is full of nasty surprises like this. I remember my mum telling me once that when she was younger footballers seemed like gods, but as she grew older, they turned into little boys. It’s happening to me. I hate it.

On the plus side, I think I’ve discovered a new appreciation for Michael Ontkean’s Sheriff Truman, who seemed far too old for me when I watched Twin Peaks in 1990 but, these days, is of a perfect vintage. Swings and roundabouts, as the old saying goes…

Oh, and the lady with the log? They call her the Log Lady.

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George Clooney, In A Nutshell

I’ve just read this interview with George Clooney on The New Yorker‘s website and, while I have issues with the piece being written in a rather jarring past tense that bumps you out of the interview time and again, it does contain this wonderful statement:

Clooney is America’s national flirt, a pitchman on talk shows and red carpets who, against the background hum of the world’s lust and envy, is lightly ironic, clever, and self-deprecating, with furrowed brow and bobbing head, and a gyration in the lower jaw suggesting something being moved around under his tongue. This busy charm—a man on his way out to a party, feeling pretty good about his hair—was profitably packaged in “Ocean’s Eleven” and its two sequels, films that, more than anything, seemed to be oblique views of the A-list esprit de corps, real or imagined, that went into making them; they were fictions yearning to be “making of” documentaries.

The description of Clooney as “a man on his way out to a party, feeling pretty good about his hair” is so delightfully cheeky, and seems so perfectly appropriate, that I won’t ever be able to look at George again without wondering how he feels about his follicles that day.

Genius.

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Technological Marvels

When I joined SFX way back in 2000, one of the first things I did in my new role as their Staff Writer was to buy one of those newfangled DVD player thingamajigs.

It was obvious after only a few days on the magazine that videos were on their way out and DVDs were the way to go, something I hadn’t even thought about in my previous job working for flower company Suttons Seeds (where I lent Buffy episodes to half the workforce by way of spreading the Good Word, all of them on rickety VHS tapes). If I was to be expected to watch review discs and, more importantly, brush up on my back catalogue of films and TV shows in order to know what the heck I was writing about every day, I needed the latest technology to do it.

That first DVD player cost me a whopping £199.99. It played Region 2 DVDs and absolutely nothing else. It was huge. The remote control was fugly. It lasted for only five years, and then I had to buy another, which thankfully played Region 2 and Region 1 discs, although absolutely nothing else, and was only a little less boxy and space-filling. That one cost me £79.99.

I had to buy a new DVD player this month after that one went pffffft (I guess I must wear them out). My new player is sleek, smooth and pretty. The remote is lovely. It plays every region on the planet, Mpegs, Jpegs and every other format I can think of.

And it only cost me £39.99.

There’s something fundamentally wrong about technology getting so much better and yet costing less, as though the laws of the universe have stopped applying to economics. Except you just have to think of two words – “Blu” and “Ray” – and you have your explanation.

I guess I should be looking into buying a Blu-ray machine, but my new DVD player has HDMI upscaling to make my DVDs HD-pretty and I can’t afford to spend over £200 on a Blu-ray player, so I’ll just wait eight years and buy one for £40, thank you.

Now there’s progress.

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He’s Henry The Eighth, He Is, He Is…

Biddy came to stay with me last weekend and we paid a visit to Hampton Court, which is only 11 minutes away from my house by car unless there’s a rugby match on at Twickenham Stadium, which there was, or you get lost, which we did. Oh well.

The former abode of King Henry VIII was simply splendid; beautiful gardens, glorious architecture and an atmosphere so steeped in history you could cut with a sword. Best of all were the actors dressed up in period finery and left to wander around the site to interact with the public, all them perfectly in character and speaking the lingo of the time with practised ease. (I decided to humour one guy who stared at my cellphone and said, “I have no notion of what you are holding,” telling him it was a portable sundial so I could tell the time. To his credit, he stayed in character and replied, “Oh, how clever!”)

We also met this fellow:

Insert “balls of steel” gag here.

I’ve been very busy all week and should be for the next few days, scribbling features, reviews and advertorials galore. However, at least I’m not having to work till 3am like the poor guys on the magazine I’m working with today – not for nothing do the words ‘deadline’ and ‘hell’ go together so well. It’s sometimes hard to believe how much work goes into getting a magazine to the printers; no wonder mistakes get through sometimes.

Although there’s still no excuse for me writing “Sirius Snape” instead of “Severus Snape” in my Robin Of Sherwood feature in SFX a few weeks ago.

Oops.

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Fish-slapping Fun

I finished Michael Palin’s book last night. At around midnight my neighbours might have heard me howling with laughter at this diary entry:

[There’s a] very angry, abusive letter to The Times [today] from a man called Allott in Finchley, who clearly doesn’t like Life of Brian, but admits he hasn’t seen it. It is proposed to send a Python reply to The Times saying, “We haven’t seen Mr Allott, but we don’t like him.”

Perhaps inspired by reading Palin’s Python adventures, I went for a stroll along the Thames last week to Teddington Lock (considerably further away from my house than I thought it was, but it was a lovely walk). Python fans among you may already know that Teddington Lock was the setting for one of the show’s most famous sketches: the fish-slapping dance. Alas, I couldn’t stand on the exact spot on which the fishy skit was performed due to a considerable amount of building work, but I did get chatting to the friendly lock-keeper.

He informed me that when the Pythons rehearsed the sketch – which has John Cleese thwapping Michael Palin with a giant fish and knocking him into the lock – the tide was in and he didn’t have far to fall. Unfortunately, when they came to film it the tide was out, so he fell a bloody long way. I always wince when I watch it and wonder at his bravery. Now I just know it was bad timing.

The lock-keeper’s cottage contained this photo:

What a strange thing for a place to be famous for.

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