Sunday, 25 July 2010

Colour-based Writing Exercise


Think of a colour.


Now think of a few things that relate to that colour.

Rain through the eyes of Prince
The “guy on another job” in Reservoir Dogs

You've got ten minutes. Weave a story using as many of those components as possible.

He's got his hands on my throat, teeth gritted, hatred in his eyes.

This is why I drive on a night out- If I was drunk right now, I could never defend myself. Not that I'm doing any good now, with my back on the floor and broken glass working it's way into my shoulders.

It was a misconstrued comment. Then my attempt to floor him backfired when I pinned hisarms in and he fell ontop of me.

In the middle of the struggle, with his hands on my neck, I wonder what kind of bar plays Prince at ten o'clock on a Friday night.

My strength is waning. I've managed to get a foot on his hip, but I can't kick out- I'm too weak right now. My vision is discolouring; the world seems purple and distant and hazy. I'm aching all over, thinking of grapes in the kitchen fruit bowl, and the veins in my wrists when I'm at the gym, and a t-shirt I never bought. My veins are bulging and it's only when a giant shoe enters frame and the man's head snaps backwards that the pressure is released and his hands leave me.

Two doormen have dived over him. A third slumps me in a chair, my ears ringing like a chainsaw, and gradually the real colours of the bar start to seep back into my brain- the browns of the whisky on the top row, the oak of the furniture and the red of the worn-out carpet. Throughout, this, Prince drones on- Purple Rain, Purple Rain....

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Bang or Whimper? A Slick Coincidence

“This is the way the fucking world ends. Look at this fucking shit we're in man. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. And with a whimper, I'm fucking splitting, Jack.”
-Photojournalist (Dennis Hopper) Apocalypse Now

How ironic. In Coppola's seminal 'Nam movie, Dennis Hopper's crazed photojournalist paints a very downbeat image or the Earth- as you would, if you were in the middle of a war that you were losing.

Two things now make this line ironic, not just iconic. First, the legendary Dennis Hopper has split for good. He died of prostate cancer on 29th May. Second, as Mr. Hopper was no doubt aware, There was trouble in the Pacific. An oil pipe was spewing its contents into the ocean, killing giant amounts of flora and fauna. Given how this will affect ecosystems around the globe, I would say “Apocalypse Imminent” would be a more appropriate phrase.

However, like the ocean itself, this story gets deeper. Another aging Hollywood actor has come to the rescue. Kevin Costner has spent the last 15 years- and $20 million of his own money- developing oil spill clean-up solutions. Costner's company, Ocean Therapy Solutions, says that their “Liquid-Liquid Centrifugal Separators utilize patented technology to refine and expand a proven formula for widespread use: by spinning two fluids of different densities within a rotating container, the lighter fluid is forced toward the center of the rotor.” Child's play, really. Cough. It seems to have paid off for the millionaire, though- BP have just bought 32 of the devices for use in the gulf.

The most ironic thing about all this is that both Dennis Hopper and Kevin Costner co-starred in the 1995 action sci-fi movie, Waterworld. At $175 million, it was the most expensive film ever made at the time. Costner played The Mariner, some kind of slightly mutated eco-warrior who has never seen dry land in his life- like most of the film's characters. The Mariner faces up to a gang of villainous “smokers”- they use oil-ran machines and chain-smoke cigarettes, no matter how old or young they are. The gang, led by Hopper, are killed in an explosion at the end of the film. An explosion that would have contributed, minutely, to further global warming and the depravation of the precious dry land that everyone is spending the film searching for. Bravo, stereotypical Hollywood characters!

Now in reality, as the world struggles to keep it's head above water (so to speak) Costner's investment is paying off- for him, and for every other living thing on Earth, I suppose. Let's just hope that these machines work- otherwise we might all be hearing the world end, with a whimper, much sooner than any of us would believe.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Fluffy Oakes Wants a Change in the Law

With all the charms of a woman
You've kept the secret of your youth
You led me to believe you're old enough
To give me love
And now it hurts to know the truth

Young girl, get out of my mind
My love for you is way out of line
Better run girl
You're much too young girl

-Young Girl, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap

“You need to be eighteen to vote in Britain. Any younger and you can't legally go clubbing, you won't get into many bars... There's the odd pub you'll get into if you're with your parents. You also can't buy 18-rated DVDs, or R18, which is basically hardcore porn.”

Thanks for clearing that up, Fluffy. I had no idea.

I'm sat, still drinking Aberlour as Rob Dougan's Born Yesterday snakes out of the speakers.

“With Broadband,” he continues, glass in hand, “I don't see how video outlets that sell R18 are going to survive. The net's changing everything.”

Fluffy is onto something here, as he paces back and forth across his living room. How old is “old enough”?

“Basically, yeah, the net should be made more secure to stop kids from checking out certain sites. And yeah, it should stay at 18 as, like, a minimum age limit. But what doesn't make sense is that, in Britain, it's legal to have sex at sixteen. Before video streaming came along, you could be banging someone legally, but have to wait a further two years before you could buy a video that showed someone else doing it. Granted, we don't have that problem any more. But then there's still lap dancing clubs, brothels... You've gotta be eighteen to use them. I dunno. I'm being rhetorical here. People change a lot in those two years of life. There's a reason why adulthood starts at eighteen. Around that age, you pull yourself together. You develop maturity. If you'd have met me at sixteen, you'd have met a geeky, weird kid who quoted films all day. If you'd have met me again at eighteen, You'd be talking to an adult who was knuckling down, learning a shitload of animal science- and was getting good at it. Someone who was serious about his passions- I mean zoology. But sex as well, obviously.”


Fluffy rolls his eyes. “Yes, Matt. Seperately. My point is, I'd matured. And so had everyone I'd gone through college with, whether they'd had sex or not. Sex is what turns a boy to a man and a girl to a woman. That's why you should at least be an adult, legally, when you do it. I mean, Would you shag a sixteen-year-old?”

“Hey,” I say. “I'm interviewing you. You feel quite strongly about the subject. Why's this a big deal for you?”

“I dunno. I probably read the papers too much. They say Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, the highest STI rates in Europe and, it's probably not surprising, but Britains schools apparently offer the worst sex education in Europe as well. And that's according to Broadsheets. I don't know how we managed to get ourselves into this state. I think I understand animals a lot more than I understand people. Species by species, animal behaviour is usually more predictable.”


Fluffy sighs. “Well... I told you I was going to do this... Back when I was about twenty-five I met this girl in [house music club] Area 51. She flirted with me loads; she was all over me. Not shy at all. Went to hers. Somewhere in Tameside, I think. When we got out of the taxi I could tell from the ornaments in the window- and the fact that it was a decent, middle class house- that she lived with her parents. Fair enough, I thought. Once we got inside, though... she started to quieten down. She got really nervous. Then she told me she was only sixteen. She looked older, though, and after all, I still wasn't going to do anything illegal. And when you're in the moment like that, well, you don't slow down, do you? She was drunk, I was drunk, she didn't say no... so, well... you wouldn't just lean back and put the TV on, would you?”

Fluffy stares into his drink. The ice in his Glayva liqueur has melted.

“I felt like a total bastard afterwards. I thought, I'm not waiting for her parents to wake up. If I was her dad, I wouldn't be too impressed. I made a drunk decision to bail. Straight out the front door. Couldn't even lock it behind me. Never found out whether they got robbed or not. Well... I guess she did...”

“I guess she did! Nudge-nudge-wink-wink. And that's why you'd up the age of consent two years if you had the power?”

Fluffy nods.

“But you do realise that upping the legal age of consent to eighteen would massively increase the number of people having 'underage sex'. Sixteen / seventeen-year-olds won't all change their habits. For example, here's another change in the law- do you think anyone put their joints out when cannabis was reclassified back from a C to a B again?”

Fluffy collapses back onto the couch. Head lolled back, he pinches the bridge of his nose, eyes closed.

“You're right,” he says. “People aren't going to change their habits just because the government tells them to. People are anti-establishment, especially around that sixteen, eighteen age. But something should change. And it's better to act and deal with the backlash than do nothing at all. Coupled with some actual decent sex education lessons throughout, say, fifth form, with a test and the end of it and a qualification to aim for, a raise of two years to the age limit would solve a lot of problems. I just hope that girl in tameside hasn't got too many.”

Given all the facts, is Fluffy right? What do you think about Britain's age of consent? Lower, raise or stay the same?

Saturday, 3 July 2010

June Stuff

Peter Griffin: The Fonz be with you.

Congregation: And also with you.

Peter Griffin: Let us aaaaaaayyyyyyy.

An extract from “The Father, the Son and the Holy Fonz”, a Family Guy episode, in which Peter starts his own religion by setting up The First United Church of the Fonz.

Hmm. June. Yes. A lot of crazy shit has happened this month, but most is stuff I'm not prepared to go into detail about right now. Or maybe ever. You'll have to wait. But stay tuned.

June's highlight- or at least the one I'm prepared to disclose here- was meeting a TV icon in Manchester Arndale shopping centre. Henry Winkler, AKA The Fonz from Happy Days, recently made a guest appearance in WHSmith. As Happy Days ended production in the mid-eighties, Mr. Winkler has since picked up a pen and written a series of children's books. He was signing copies of his Hank Zipzer novels, including “Holy Enchilada” and “I Got a 'D' in Salami”. I handed him my copy of Zipzer adventure “Day of the Iguana.”

“Matt... is great!” He reads aloud as he writes, and scribbles his signature underneath. The lady from WHSmiths takes our picture on my phone. Much respect to all involved.

I am now about to go all political on your ass, so brace yourself. In the recent elections, I voted Liberal Democrats- basically because Labour are incompetent and have allowed crime rates to spiral out of control, Delta-City-in-RoboCop style. They also opened the floodgates to Higher Education and made degrees so attainable that they no longer carry any worth. Conservatives, on the other hand, have put a “young” man in charge and have declared themselves “rebranded”, despite not even attempting to grasp the reality of life in the “noughties”- and now “teens”, I suppose you would call it. Their problem-solving abilities seem pretty minimal, seeing as they are now hacking off even more public sector jobs. We are cruising towards a Mad-Max-style dystopian future, I tell you.

The coalition government is now in power. I voted Liberal Democrats because they appeared the only appealing option- even though I thought they wouldn't get in power. I had to pick something- I think waiving my right to vote would render my opinion, on anything and everything, null and void. I don't really know much about the other little parties, and there wasn't much point voting for them anyway. So I voted for a mainstream party that I liked the ideals of, but I knew wouldn't win the election. Then I'd be free to criticise, no matter what happened.

Now look what has happened! My party has got into power, just about. And whatever barbaric treatment the government inflicts on Britain in the next four years, I have to share a portion of the blame. One tyrant out, another tyrant in. It's all very Animal Farm.

The FIFA World Cup is in full flow. I pulled out Netherlands in the work sweepstakes. A few hours ago they battered World Cup heavyweights Brazil 2-1. COME ON BOYS! MAKE ME RICH! I'll come back to this subject after the final. This is a brief mention because 1) it's too early to say much- let's wait 'til it's all over, and 2) I don't even like football anyway. I've seen enough diving, crying wussbags this month to last me a lifetime. Unfortunately, I'll be watching it all again in another four years.

Speaking of Brazil, I recently visited possibly the finest South American-themed restaurant in Manchester. Bem Brasil offers what could be described as a unique dining experience, with food “marinated in the traditional Brazilian way, fire roasted on our traditional charcoal BBQ and carved at your table”.

The first thing I noticed was the musician playing an unusually shaped guitar in the corner of the restaurant, laying down a latin vibe that set the mood for the evening. As I was a first time customer, the host explained the “churrascaria de Rodizio” service style- a £25-per-head, all-you-can-eat buffet with a twist. In addition to the laid-out salad and freshly cooked fish, waiters will offer you samples of different meats so, after picking up a plate at the buffet, you never have to leave your seat til you've had enough. You can sit, talk, watch the musician and admire the d├ęcor: paintings of parrots adourn the walls near the table, and at the back of the room one wall is completely covered by a stunning photograph image of Rio by night.

At the edge of each table lies a circular card- green on one side, red on the other. You want more food? Keep it on green. Had enough, or just need to munch through what you've got so far? Flip it to red. I, of course, forgot this, and ended up with a mountain of meats, sauces, potatoes and salad on my plate. My date had to remind me to flip the card once she noticed the pile of edibles I was faced with. I still managed to monster the lot, though.

Highlights of the food were the steak- which the Brazilian waiter carved straight off the metal skewer using a machete, straight onto my plate- and the pineapple-and-cinnamon dessert. By the end of it I was wishing I had a spare stomach so I could eat it all again. £25 for a meal is a little pricier than a lot of restaurants, even in the city, but at Bem Brasil it's worth every penny.

In last month's blog I mentioned Meet the Feebles, the bizarre 1980's puppet comedy by the legendary Peter Jackson. I bought this on Amazon, and the seller also sent me a bonus disc- a movie called Black Cat. It is a US film, but the sleeve was printed in German, so I didn't have much idea what it was about. I knew only that it was based on an Edgar Allen Poe poem. This unjustifiably raised my hopes. Slightly.

Unfortunately, by the end of the film I was none the wiser as to the film's story- basically due to it being possibly the worst film I have ever subjected myself to. I mean, I thought it would be bad, but... Jesus Christ. It starts along these lines: A couple adopt a cat, someone hangs themselves, the guy gets paranoid and starts yelling at said cat when they are alone, and the film ends with the other woman hanging herself as well. Oh, and someone gets an axe in their head. It all has something to do with this cat (which is also hanged). At the end of the film, one of the actresses reads out a segment of the Poe poem and expects us to see the relevance.

Black Cat offered up the most horrific editing I have ever seen in a professional film. Half the time, I couldn't tell who was talking, who was in the scene, where we were and, as mentioned, what was going on. Added to this was some bizzare screeching sound, like an eagle's call, whenever the cat was in frame. It sure wasn't a meow-type noise.

I felt dirty by the end of it, and not in a good way. To say Poe would turn in his grave is an understatement.

Balls to films. Books is where it's at, I say.

This month I read Shadows, a book by the Oldham Writing Cafe, a writers group I was a member of. It offered up quite a few interesting stories set in Oldham, most of which were factual. Quite an eye-opener.

I then read Pygmy, by Chuck Palahniuk. This tale of a group of foreign “operatives” infiltrating America with apparent terrorist intentions is one of the best stories I have ever read. The main character, a teenager nicknamed “Pygmy” by his American high-school classmates, narrates story broken English. Describes events thus. Operative constant have pure disgust all American culture.

You get the picture. The good thing about a narrator with sketchy English is that the reader has to slow down and concentrate on what the character is telling us. It's not a book you'd skim through. Each chapter has a new and justified plot twist and the conclusion is ridiculous but awesome. One of Palahniuk's best novels.

In June, Hollywood icon Dennis Hopper died of prostate cancer. A week later, Manchester Standup comic Frank Sidebottom (Chris Sievey) died after being diagnosed with a tumor on his chest. These events came almost a year to the day that Michael Jackson died.

I've noticed a lot of people mentioning that celebrities keep dying, and more so than when we were kids. I think there's two reasons for this. First, as you get older you become more aware of the media. We all watch TV, listen to the radio and visit the cinema. We consume media more as adults than we do as kids. Second, we consume a hell of a lot more media than previous generations did in years before. There there is an array of TV and radio stations- especially now digital mediums have come to fruition- and as a result, there are a lot more individuals appearing in the public arena. I mean, would you know who Frank Sidebottom was without me telling you he's the dude with the outrageously large paper mache head? In fact, does anyone outside of Manchester know who I mean?

This explosion of TV and radio stations means that people's niche interests are catered for by the media. We can all find something that we like. People in the media industry call this “narrow casting”- like broadcasting but to smaller groups of people. This allows more and more people to get into the limelight and become household names. And that, my friend, is why it seems that so many celebrities are dying.

June's been a pretty good month, I suppose. I guess, for the moment, I should say “happy days.”