Saturday, 25 October 2014

'I Don't Want to Sound Like a Twat...But I'm Gonna'

I don't often post personal stuff on here, because I just don't feel it's that interesting and because I don't necessarily view a blog as a diary. Granted I may occasionally post about things I'm personally involved with, such as my recent voluntary work with a performing arts group for people with disabilities and health issues, but just general posts about how I'm feeling or what's happening with me are quite rare.

But today I want to post about something that happened to me the other day, in particular my brief (thankfully) meeting with a complete and utter stranger.

It had been a good night, I had been to see Jess Thom's Backstage In Biscuit Land (you can see the review of that fantabulous experience here) and perhaps in hindsight against my better judgement I decided to go for a couple of drinks afterwards with the group I had been to see the performance with.

We ended up in a bar I have been visiting quite regularly lately (a friend is set to start a regular comedy night there next month) and got our first drinks during the final round of the monthly pub quiz. As such, I ensured we sat at a respectable distance and spoke relatively quietly as the questions were being read out. 

A little while later and a few more drinks down the line we were approaching chucking out time. I had been spotted by a neighbour who beckoned me over for a quick chat and not long after I had sat down with him, the quizmaster joined us and began to stare at me as I was talking.

Finally, he spoke, addressing my neighbour rather than me. 

"Who the fuck is this?" the man demanded in a deadpan fashion. 

"I'm sorry?" I laughed somewhat uncertainly as my neighbour briefly explained the nature of our acquaintance.

"You've not introduced me, so I'm just asking who the fuck is this?" he repeated.

At which point, I thought I'd best interject "And who the fuck are you?" I laughed "You sound like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. Next thing you'll be asking if you amuse me, if I think you're some kinda clown" 

He seemed to accept this and laughed politely before returning his attention to his mobile phone.

A little while after, my neighbour excused himself to the loos and I was about to return my group. Before I did, the quizmaster had one more thing to say.

"I don't want to sound like a twat..." he began.

Oh dear. Now if you ask me, whenever anyone starts a sentence with a phrase like that or 'No offence' say, it usually means that is exactly what they intend to do. They want to cause offence, they want to be a twat.

And after all, the less than hospitable host had previous form in twattishness towards me right?

I decided to head him off at the pass "You don't? Oh go on, I'm sure you're going to"

He paused, met my gaze and said "You've got twenty minutes to finish your drink"

What? Was I suddenly in a Western? Was this a barely concealed threat for forthcoming violence towards me?

"The barman has ordered his cab and that's when it'll be arriving. So, drink up"

I assured him I would finish what remained of my pint (I had about a half to go) long before that point, and went back to my friends. Unfortunately I had missed one friend's departure having spent the last few minutes being insulted by this self confessed twat.

Why do people have to behave so offensively? I genuinely don't go out drinking all that often - I enjoy a pub but because of my own health I probably do more drinking at home than actual socialising/drinking - and it's at times like this that I realise just why I don't.

Since that evening I've been wondering just what it is that makes someone behave like that towards a stranger. Was it intentional, did he really want to make me feel so unwelcome? I realised that the bar in question was 'gay friendly' and as I am heterosexual myself I wondered if this man was somehow offended to be confronted by a 'not we'? If so, he is the first person to behave in such a manner as the bar has always lived up to its friendly rep. Maybe he was hoping to cop off with my neighbour and saw me as a threat?! 

Just what makes people behave so unfairly to one another? Do they ever wonder how their behaviour affects others?

Normally after a night out I often have a horrible feeling of guilt and melancholy which leads to much thought and analysis. It's something I've managed to self diagnose as being down to the previous night's alcohol intake and, perhaps, its lack of good companionship with the anti-depressants I have been taking for over ten years now. That feeling was there in spades the following day and continues to linger now, which is why I'm posting something personal for a change.

Out On Blue Six : Cream, RIP Jack Bruce

Another sad passing announced today, veteran rocker Jack Bruce has died of liver disease aged 71. One third of Cream (alongside Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker) his contribution to British rock music is invaluable.


End Transmission

Northern Soul (2014)

Nicely evocative of the scene - to the extent that you can almost feel the sweat on your body and smell the stench of the beer in the dance hall - Northern Soul, Elaine Constantine's debut mutually released cinemas and the DVD market this week suffers from being a project that is a something of an authentic style over actual substance piece.

2010's Soul Boy previously attempted to cover this ground and though that was a somewhat cliched depiction/representation of the Northern Soul scene it remains more peppy and enjoyable than this film which seems to want to be more realistic warts and all but ultimately remains less interesting and engaging.

The cameos of Steve Coogan, Lisa Stansfield, Ricky Tomlinson, Ashley Taylor Dawson, Christian McKay, John Thomson and James Lance add weight to the largely novice cast but the script in the main lets them down thanks to flawed or ill considered/confusing narratives that lead to dead ends and fail to add the character they so sorely require. It is perhaps only Coogan, naturally, who holds our interest playing a boorish school teacher.

As someone who lives not far from Wigan and can honestly claim to know several of the true 'Faithful' from this era, it's also saddening and unrealistic to see another depiction of this scene that concentrates itself with drug use. Those that I know who were there say that whilst drugs were spoke of - which suggests they were around at the very least - they were not truly part of the scene for the masses. For those that I know at least the music alone was enough to have them buzzing so energetically on the dancefloor, and kudos to them for that. If Northern Soul as a film does one thing it is to remind us of just how fantastic the music gleaned for that moment in time truly was.

Smoking Hot

Audrey Hepburn

Friday, 24 October 2014

Gig Review : Backstage In Biscuit Land

Jess Thom has Tourettes, a condition which makes her say 'biscuit' 16,000 times a day. Her unusual neurology gives her a unique perspective on life and in the guise of Tourettes Hero, she unleashes this perspective on the world with a glorious two-woman solo show entitled Backstage in Biscuit Land which weaves comedy, puppetry, singing and tics to explore disability, creativity, spontaneity and things that you never know would make you laugh.  

The show wowed audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe this year and I had the good fortune to see it for myself last night via the Culture Hub at St Helens Central Library. 

Jess dressed as Tourettes Hero and her co-star Chopin aka Jess Mabel Jones

Right from the off this was a real rollercoaster ride of entertainment. As an audience member you never knew what to expect, thanks in no small part to Jess' neurological inability to stay on script! No matter, because you were more than happy to go along with each wildly diverting turn thanks to the utter charm both Jess and 'Chopin' exude. Their humour and outlook on life is deeply infectious  and it didn't take long to get on their wavelength and appreciate Tourettes in a whole new light.

It's fair to say that inbetween the funnies - and there was so much funny; seriously laugh out loud tears in your eyes stuff - Jess offers a deeply insightful and thought provoking point of view as to what her daily life is like. So many preconceptions about Tourettes that I had were instantly blown away as she discussed, inbetween those tics which ranged from 'hedgehog' 'hairgel' 'merry christmas' 'happy birthday' the occasional 'fuck' and of course, 'biscuit' , her difficulty with walking that now sees her largely confined to a wheelchair (and her obsession with various types and models of chairs available on the market!) her near constant beating of her chest which means she now must wear padded gloves to save her hands from any injury, her early years and being diagnosed with her condition and also her fitting. Perhaps the most striking anecdote was the one where she discussed going to see the political comedian Mark Thomas live. Despite alerting Thomas, the theatre and the audience to her condition, some audience members still complained about what they viewed as 'interruptions' coming from her and Jess was asked to sit in the sound booth for the second act. It's a real sobering eye opener to consider just how different things that we would take for granted such as seeing a show are for someone like Jess. 

But before things got too deep, Jess and Chopin returned to comedy discussing how impossible a game of I-Spy is for someone with Tourettes, a quick round of 'Fingers on Buzzards', the creative joy that is a baby grow decorated with Les Dennis' face, a free biscuit for every audience member and finally a rousing rendition of the tic inspired song entitled 'We're having sex with animals again and they all like it hard in the face!'

Jess and her alter ego

Afterwards I got the chance to meet Jess and have her sign her book (a collection of her blog entries, with a foreword from Stephen Fry) for me and she proved to be a lovely friendly warm person who was genuinely touched by the audience's favourable comments. I would urge absolutely everyone to take the opportunity to see Jess Thom if ever her show comes near you. It's an inspiring, incredible one off - a chance to laugh and learn.

Below you'll find Jess' showreel featuring her many appearance on TV, stage and YouTube

Jess' website can be found here Tourettes Hero and her YouTube channel is here YouTube

Viva Hooky Street!

A series of photos by Nadia Lee Cohen taken on the set of Only Fools and Horses featuring British plus size model Felicity Hayward.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Benefits Sanctions Kill Update

As previously blogged about here Gill Thompson's brother David, a former soldier, died starving and destitute after being penalised for missing a meeting with the jobcentre.

Gill set up a petition calling for an investigation into benefit sanctions and the needless harm they create upon those the DWP impose them upon.

Today, after more than 211,000 signatories, it has been revealed that MP's will be holding an independent inquiry into sanctions.

Victory! Petitions do work. Read about it here

Hanging On The Telephone

Julie Christie

J. Edgar (2011)

It was perhaps fitting that the biopic of a man both revered and reviled received such mixed reviews upon release.

J. Edgar was a self confessed labour of love for Clint Eastwood and follows the template of his directorial style for better or worse; satisfyingly old fashioned, epic in length, stately, methodical and conservative. The criticism the film received is understandable given its structural flaws - using an episodic flashback and forward narrative, Eastwood gives us very little to hang onto other than the very flabby and creaky device of the main protagonist, in later years, dictating his life story - but perhaps more frustrating is the kid gloves approach he takes with the more reviled characteristics of Hoover. Certainly he addresses the notion of power and fame corrupting the man, how he  spun his own PR to suggest he was more hands on than he truly was, and, thankfully, he explores the seamier side and issues inherent in giving one man such power for so long most noticeably in his spiteful vendettas against public figures most notably Martin Luther King. 

Unfortunately, Eastwood's exploration is hardly even handed as more is given over to the considered successes and positives of Hoover's career, notably his forward thinking and faith in criminal science which came to a head in the tragic baby Lindbergh kidnapping case. 

Where Eastwood should be applauded however is in his sensitive handling of Hoover's private life; his oedipal relationship with his mother and the rumours he wore her clothing, along with his homosexuality and long standing relationship or companionship with his second in command Clyde Tolson, things that would once be held up as salacious indecencies that proved Hoover's unsuitability for his role and was used by way of explanation for his more monstrous behaviour are dealt with matter of factly, in context and touchingly. It's easy to protest that this biopic didn't focus on the dirt as much as we would perhaps like but, quite rightly, Eastwood ensures an audience realises there's no dirt to be found in the man's sexual preferences.  

Personally I would have liked to have seen more of all Hoover's stages at the FBI and for a film that runs at 2 hrs 10 mins it's a shame that so many things are glossed over, mentioned only in passing or ignored completely - such as his battles against organised crime, his involvement in McCarthy's witch hunts and his volatile relationships with successive presidents -  as the film largely concentrates itself with Lindbergh and Hoover's last days. It is in the climax that Eastwood offers us a brief yet tantalising parallel between Hoover and the then White House incumbent Nixon. On Hoover's death, the president worked quick to seize all of his personal files only to be outdone by Hoover's faithful staffer, Helen Gandy. Like Oliver Stone's Nixon (which saw Bob Hoskins play Hoover) before it, there's a gruesome yet fascinating similarity between both men that bears closer and more in depth observation - how they persevered to achieve the heights of their respective offices having both felt slighted by their contemporaries, superiors and supposed betters as well as their bullying styles which saw them shut everyone out  and their desire to record everything possible in finite detail - but this too chooses to only briefly address these mutual characteristics. 

Where J. Edgar totally succeeds is in the strong performance of its leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio. Having long since abandoned his 1990s teenage pin up status, DiCaprio continues to prove his fearlessness in tackling meaty roles that could potentially alienate his core audience. It's an admirable way to tackle one's career and it continues to pay dividends,marking Leo out as this generation's most interesting film star. Perhaps naturally given the nature of the film and his performance, much of the supporting cast fall in his shadow with Naomi Watts as Mrs Gandy and Armie Hammer as Tolson often just marking time. Neither actor are helped by heavy latex to suggest their later years (it seems like the budget went on Leo's alone) and Hammer's turn as the aged Tolson is too caricatured and cliched to convince. Judi Dench offers a brief yet enjoyable cameo as Hoover's mother but there's not enough for her to get between her teeth and seems to offer little more than an approach that fills the Judi Dench sized holes in the script. Her finest moment is in the heartless recounting of the fate a childhood friend of Hoover's endured following his outing as a transvestite. It's a scene that sends chills down your spine as it becomes clear Mrs Hoover, and her generation, cannot tolerate such 'deficiencies' in character. 

Eastwood's film is typically Eastwood, though its miles better than the dull Hereafter, and has some old charm appeal but one cannot help but wonder how much livelier and more visceral such a biopic could have been in the hands of a director like Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese or even Steven Soderbergh.

Out On Blue Six : Alvin Stardust, RIP

More sad news, as veteran glam rocker Alvin Stardust's death has been announced today. He was 72 and had been battling prostate cancer. 

Bit of trivia, he was once in our street when I was a kid, buying a German Shepherd from a neighbour who used to breed them.


End Transmission

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Nixon (1995)

Whilst my fellow film fans are spending their time watching films featuring the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, I decided to witness the real bogeyman of America in the run up to Halloween.

Oliver Stone's 1995 film Nixon remains my favourite of the director's works. Granted some of the striking imagery - a trademark of Stone's specifically in his previous film, the first in the presidential trilogy JFK - may appear a little heavy handed, dated and ill employed now, but this is still a toweringly provocative and blackly rich work.

I think it was Hunter S Thompson in his book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (which followed Nixon's road to gaining a second term in '72) who said that the trust and faith in the presidency was lost in LBJ's reign, a tenure which showed up the horrors of unlimited power to the world, warts and all. Personally though, and perhaps because I'm British rather than American, I have never truly been one of those people who placed the leaders of the US on a pedestal and so, I don't feel that turn towards the darkness from LBJ onwards. The general consensus may be that Richard Milhous Nixon was the one to shit in America's bed but, as I believe absolute power corrupts absolutely, I tend to believe the sheets needed changing long before then. It's a stance I think Stone is inclined to acknowledge too as he sets about depicting Nixon's biography as that of a classical tragedy. He never once excuses the man's actions, but he helps to create a character who is deeply flawed and complicated and even, in some instances, can elicit audience sympathy.  

The film is a wonderfully constructed piece, deploying the usual non linear/flashback structure, and creating a White House that is with heavy irony a dark and shadowy place and a seething, bubbling cauldron full of bile, anger, lost and wasted opportunities and blind revenge. A decaying Camelot being dismantled brick by brick from within, it's fascinating to see how the ghosts of the Kennedy's linger and loom large behind Nixon's shoulder.

Anthony Hopkins may be no one's idea of a Nixon look-a-like (who is?!) but it really doesn't matter. He captures the essence of the man as Stone wishes to depict; the loneliness and the loneness inherent in the characterisation is something Hopkins excels in, making the aforementioned bogeyman, this vilified public figure of hate, sympathetic and utterly hapless. It's a stunning performance that is often overlooked when considering the finest work of the Welsh wizard. 

There's no slacking in the supporting cast too with a note perfect Paul Sorvino as Kissinger, Joan Allen, Bob Hoskins, Ed Harris, Larry Hagman, JT Walsh and James Woods in one of my favourite performances.

A deeply absorbing experience, for my money Nixon is one of the finest films of the 1990s.

Theme Time : Alan Parker - Angels

Angels was a BBC drama series which ran from 1975 to 1978, before returning as a twice weekly soap opera from 1979 to 1983. Described as 'the Z Cars of nursing', the show could be considered a forerunner to the likes of Casualty and Holby City which achieved greater success in the 1980s and '90s and continue as flagship programmes for the BBC to this day. 

Devised by Paula Milne, the first three years of the show were set in Battersea add St Angela's Hospital (which is how the series got its name) and followed the private and professional lives of six student nurses. The programme helped launch a succession of actresses such as Lesley Dunlop, Fiona Fullerton, Pauline Quirke and Angela Bruce, who remain TV staples to this day.

The conversion from 50 minute weekly drama to twice weekly episodes of 25 minutes each was helmed by soap supremos Julia Smith and Tony Holland (who would go on to create EastEnders two years after time was finally called on Angels, and later would be responsible for the infamous flop Eldorado) and saw the setting switch from St Angela's to Heath Green Hospital, Birmingham. During this tenure the show was committed to tackling authentic issues hitherto unseen in the soap opera and medical drama format. Contraception, alcoholism and promiscuity all featured as part of the nurses lives much to the disgust of those who felt the show was painting the nursing profession as an unglamourous one. Smith defended the tone and her programme well, stating "There are a lot of tensions in a young nurse's life; it's no wonder some turn to drink. When you're eighteen you've got a lot of growing up to do"

The show's theme tune entitled Motivation was by Alan Parker. A deeply catchy tune, it still crops up regularly on TV as standard library music now, and, comparable to other hit programmes of the day such as The Sweeney, suggests the intentions of realism in the changing face of 70s television.

The first two series of Angels have recently been released on DVD

Out On Blue Six : Gerry Rafferty

Another sad passing, the saxophone player responsible for the fabulous solo on this track, Raphael Ravenscroft, has passed away from a suspected heart attack at the age of 60.


End Transmission

Monday, 20 October 2014

Out On Blue Six : Everything But The Girl

End Transmission

RIP Lynda Bellingham

Lynda Bellingham has sadly lost her battle with cancer aged 66.

If I'm being candid, she was never what I'd call a favourite actress of mine, but the fact remains if you grew up in the 1980s she was a big part of TV, playing maternal stereotypes such as the Oxo mum in the famous series of adverts for the cooking stock (pictured above) and as the second actress to play Helen Herriot, wife of James Herriot, in the BBC adaptations of his books, All Creatures Great and Small (below) before going on to star in ITV sitcoms such as Second Thoughts and its sequel Faith in the Future

She also gained cult credentials appearing in the likes of The Sweeney, Blake's 7 and Doctor Who's epic 1986 season The Trial of a Timelord


Saturday, 18 October 2014


Sky Atlantic and Sky Living have engaged in some 'blue sky thinking' and decided to axe two very funny sitcoms; Mr Sloane and Trying Again after just one series each.

I really hate these kind of short sighted decisions. Granted you could argue Mr Sloane, the 60s set sitcom starring Nick Frost, Olivia Colman and Ophelia Lovibond, had something of a beginning a middle and an end in its solitary season to satisfy viewers, but Trying Again, written by and starring Chris Addison, alongside Jo Joyner, ended on something of a cliffhanger and featured characters I'd really liked to have seen again.

Mr Sloane's team, which included show creator and Curb Your Enthusiasm director Bob Weide, have taken to Facebook to confirm the cancellation and to express how they found the fate of the show ''baffling''. Make that you and me both. 

"Sky had been very supportive during the first series, and claims the show to have been a success for them by every measure" they said, adding "There is a new channel head at Sky who, it seems, has a new agenda for the channel that doesn't include our pal Sloaney. What that agenda is, we imagine, will become more evident in the coming year"

Sounds like there's an idiot in charge of Sky then and that the new agenda is for its channels to be a laugh free zone. 

Breaking news: Someone's started a petition to get Trying Again's cancellation reverted. Please sign it here