Monday, 23 December 2013

Condensing Grindhouse

The Grindhouse ventures- two films, the former by Robert Rodriguez, the latter by Quentin Tarantino- were an interesting revival of 70s schlock B-movie. They were all, in honesty, pretty shitty movies. But these films are worth watching just to see what the directors could have achieved, had they collaborated closer and put their storytelling abilities to better effect.

Grindhouse is comprised of two movies, Planet Terror and Death Proof. These movies also include a fake trailer for a movie called Machete, which Rodriguez later expanded into a full feature film and filmed in a similar style to the previous two.

Planet Terror (2007)
A go-go dancer and her ex-boyfriend lead a gang of stragglers through a zombie-populated night in a small Texas town.

Death Proof (2007)
Psycho stuntman murders girls in his protective stunt car in staged “accidents”. Heroine latches on to his plot and seeks revenge with her feminist girl-buddies.

Machete (2010)
Former Mexican Federal and general hard bastard Machete is still searching for the men who murdered his family three years ago. He's offered- or forced to take- a contract job on the head of the corrupt Texas Senator. When he's double-crossed and left for dead, he now has another enemy to seek vengeance on.

The first two of these films I thought were over-long. Machete, however, I thought could have been of a similar length but still could have portrayed a slightly deeper message.

The titular character is a bad man, a hired gun, an anti-hero who has sex with his enemies' wives and daughters, posting humiliating videos online and then murdering his enemies anyway. Some investigation into the Machete character would have rewarded the audience. He's a bad man. He knows it. Everyone else knows it when they meet him, whether they cross him or not. But he's a stereotype, an irredeemable violent gringo murdering his way through a cliché-ridden OTT revenge/action movie that doesn't add anything to the genre it nods towards.

Also, what are we supposed to feel about Machete and other characters being illegal immigrants? Are we supposed to sympathise with them? I suppose so. We're asked to share the perspective of many criminals when we watch certain movies. If it was a film about people trying to enter the UK illegally, however, I wouldn't want to sympathise with them. I wonder how American audiences reacted to this aspect of the movie, considering illegal immigration is the main catalyst for the story.

These films were all shot with a certain feel in mind, that of the grainy, low-quality budget image of 70s exploitation movies. It's an interesting deviation from the uber-high-quality image resolution that directors today usually prefer. The digital era has allowed film-makers to produce sharp, focussed photography. It's also allowed cinemas to use digital projectors that has left us with only faint memories of what 16mm prints look like. The Grindhouse movies are a throwback to the image and atmosphere of pre-digital cinemas.

I always thought, however, that the three movies above could all have been enjoyably shown with much less screen time. By the time Planet Terror came out, Tarantino's talky, steady style of exposition had already been adopted by a thousand copycat film-makers. Watching Death Proof's rambling, inconsequential opening we are no longer thrilled by watching characters in their natural habitat, unrestrained by narratives or dramatic need. Tarantino's work had started to become tedious, almost caricaturist when compared to his earlier offerings.

The directors, however, could have lifted the Grindhouse movies out of mediocrity with a collaboration and a very apt switching of format.

A grindhouse is an American term for a cinema that mainly shows low-budget exploitation films, the genre that the three films mentioned above attempted to emulate. As a pitch for an improved version of Grindhouse, picture this: The movie opens with a man running from the law. He darts, Oswald-like, into the Grindhouse theatre. There he hides, and the first movie trailer rolls. We watch this full-screen, like we are in the Grindhouse with him. Then the first movie starts: Planet Terror. The film runs for 20 minutes, with all the exposition crammed into quick-fire scenes. No old-hat waffling, no elongated lap dance musical numbers or torture- just fast, shocking plot.

Between the short films, we see the law close in on the protagonist. The theatre owner insists that the officers do not disturb the rest of the patrons. The police stop to watch the films, captivated by the stories. Whilst distracted, their suspect makes his getaway.

My Grindhouse pitch would have made a lot less money, being one single-standing film as opposed to a double-bill and a spin-off, but wouldn't it have been a more enjoyable and less tiresome feature?

Sunday, 22 December 2013


“A reporter is a man who has renounced everything in life but the world, the flesh and the devil.”
-David Murray, British reporter

I may not be a reporter but I'm developing a serious interest in the way information is passed from a tiny corner of the world, through the inverted funnel of the media and out into the public eye. That's what I've always wanted to do with this blog.

Whether I'm achieving that or not is questionable, but the Sunday Sport must think so: They're following me on Twitter. Here's me. Here's The Sport

If only I had their reach and prevalence. One day...

I've got 2 weeks off work over Christmas. It's like being at uni again. Only I'm not direction-less and wasting thousands of pounds and three years of my life. I'm making the most of the time seeing friends (Slug and Lettuce on Deansgate had some incredible old skool garage music last night) and family. I'm also reading as much as is practical

More to follow...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Chemical Brothers at The Warehouse Project

On entry to Manchester's Warehouse Project the door staff took the pen knife off my keys. It's unsurprising, although I did take the same knife into the building for Hot Creations a yearago. (Strangely, I was wearing the same jeans.)

They didn't, however, find the bottle of amyl nitrate I'd secured under my balls. Poppers- a legal high popular in the club scene- are really the only thing you can do if you're driving as once the effect of inhaling wears off, the head-rush, the floaty, chesty lift- after ten minutes or so- you're back to normal again.

Friday was Bugged Out, headlined by dance duo The Chemical Brothers. I've been a fan of the hit music producers since I was maybe 13. I think Setting Sun was the second or third single I ever bought. I shot a few videos but the lights and lasers made everything out of focus and unwatchable. Same goes for a lot of stills I took.

Here are a few videos shot by other people, who seem to have had similar problems

This video won't embed.

Brilliant music, atmosphere and company.

I got my ticket as soon as I found out about the night. The bigger the headlining act, the faster the tickets sell out, so if you're planning to visit The Warehouse Project, don't leave it 'til the last minute. The WHP season usually runs from September to the New Year. There are still some tickets available at the time of writing, including the NYE party.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Book Month

Over the last three years I've been to an array of book signings and met a number of authors and celebrities who've released books. Most of these encounters I've blogged about on this site. I picked up signed copies of these books at these events and now have a pretty heavy pile of unread novels and autobiographies stuffed into storage boxes, along with other books that I've found at Oxfam and the like.

I'm running out of space for these books, and fast. My unread books are in one cupboard, my read books in another to avoid confusion. So, for the next month, I'm going to attempt to read as many short books as possible- partly because I love reading, and partly to free up some space.

I'll make this a “finishing line” project, and keep my nose buried until 3rd January.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Meeting Jeremy Paxman

“There were some terrible generals in the First World War,” says Jeremy Paxman. “But the idea that generals would send men to their deaths... I don't believe it.”

It's Friday 29th November and tonight, in St. Anne's Church Manchester, the TV journalist and author is here to discuss his new book, Great Britain's Great War. As unaccustomed to standing in the pulpit as he claims to be, he commands his audience well as he describes how his great uncle Charlie, a soldier in World War One, was always a presence in his and his family's lives despite dying five years before his mother was born. This interest in his family history became more amorphous, and he started to find experiences and artifacts relating to past events, like interviewing a 105-year-old (now dead) who had survived German shelling, and some intriguing photographs taken during the outbreak of the war, which he shares with us tonight.

The collection of vintage photos starts with a peaceful scenes of ladies enjoying the beach in 1914, seemingly unaware of the placard advertising the war that they were now a part of, and would be for the next four years. Another was of a young man photographed outside his home who, like millions of others, had never left their county until the war. Then they died on the other side of Europe.

“Most wars had been fought a long way away,” he says, “and didn't particularly affect us. In 1914, it did. Most of our troops got sent to France and were badly outnumbered by the Germans. So the MoD need to recruit more people.”

That's where the UK used the iconic image of Horatio Herbert Kitchener.

“I personally don't like him,” says Paxman, “but he did say that the war would be won by the last million men, and he was staggeringly spot-on. But then, he did hate politicians almost as much as he hated journalists...”

The recruitment campaign, Paxman explains, used Kitchener's face, but the head of censorship wrote and organised all the advertising. This drive saw a huge surge of volunteers, but the MoD formed the battalions based on the neighbourhoods they were from. The drawback of this is that if in war, if a battalion fell under attack killing all the troops, an entire British village would be wiped out. The knock-on effect of this was that postmen were resigning, not able to take being the bearer of so much bad news.

It was easy to join the army in 1914, but incredibly hard to leave. What barred entry into the forces, however, was bad teeth- resulting in lots of poor people failing the tests. This infuriated a lot of largely patriotic members of the public. “What are we supposed to do?” quotes Paxman. “Bite the Germans?”

The recruitment general would advise them, “Come back tomorrow,” with a knowing wink. Or he'd say, “Come back when you're 'older'”, practically encouraging young men to apply underage.

They signed up partly out of patriotism, partly out of following the crowd- the rest of their mates were doing it- and partly out of excitement. They got that excitement, but maybe not the type they were expecting.

But the soldiers still tried to keep the experience homely. The trenches were nicknamed in sections, after British places, like 'Piccadilly Circus'. As homely as the tried to make the trenches, they just couldn't tell their families how bad they actually were. Zigzagged to prevent invading troops from firing down the trench and killing many, the trenches were filthy.

“There was shit everywhere,” Paxman says, and he recites a poo-themed rhyming poem by AP Herbert, getting a few laughs. “I bet it's the first time a poem has been recited from the pulpit,” he muses.

“If your friend goes over the top and into the battlefield, he may get shot. But you can't go out and bring him back. You can hear him screaming.”

The church is dead silent.

“Eventually he dies. And when you do steal a glance over the top of the trench, the body is moving. What you're looking at is the rats that have gotten between his uniform and his body.

“To come through that, to not be mentally stressed by it... it's quite an achievement.”

In 1915 questions rose regarding the ethics of conscription. Most of the accounts of people finding exemptions were mysteriously destroyed, but the records Paxman found relating to those seeking exemptions from service are hilarious. Bathing machine operators were successful. A man trying to put off service until after his course of hair restoration was not so. Not a single person was shot for cowardice, though- 16 were sentenced to death, but no executions were carried out and all were commuted

By 1917 there was a crisis of supply. German U-boats were sinking ships providing us with goods, hence rationing started. On 16th December, 3 German battle cruisers opened fire on Hartlepool. During research for the book, one of Paxman's interviewees- a 105-year-old who experienced the shelling as a child- described to him hearing the bangs, and mistakenly took it for a neighbour beating carpets. She walked out of her house and saw people fleeing the shoreline, pushing prams, being cut down in the street.

As the bombs continue to fall throughout the country, the nation becomes familiar with the sight of disabled people. After the war, when the soldiers have returned, the surgeons face a huge surge of workload. The Somme left 2000 men with serious facial wounds. Many surgeons realised that facial scars were a different type of injury to any other- that when a man loses his face, he loses his identity. So, in many of the hospitals mirrors were banned. Many patients never left the hospital, taking jobs as porters. Their own children feared them. They found work as cinema projectionists and any type of work that didn't need a great deal of public contact. And this led to the development of plastic surgery.

“Now plastic surgery is cosmetic,” Paxman says. “Then it was groundbreaking. It was something that... saved men, really. It helped them keep faith.”

The Q and A section begins. The first question relates to Syria.

“I was in Lebanon last month,” Paxman admits. “What's happening to children out there is heartbreaking. We should be helping. How precisely you help by firing a cruise missile I don't know. The vote was probably the right one, but I don't want to see Syria dominated by Islamist headbangers.”

A girl next to me asks to confirm whether Hitler sent people to leave mice and snakes in cinemas to stop people watching anti-nazi propaganda movies, and asks about soldiers' connection to wildlife.

“It's absolutely true that men really relished the sight of butterflies and birds, and admired their freedom. Away from the front line, they'd grow daffodils and acorns. When the soldiers stormed the German trenches, they found them in a better state than ours- lined with concrete and hung with tapestries. The Germans also had the luxury of choosing where they served.”

Question: Was the general public told enough information about the war at the time, through the media?

“There was no fierce scrutiny, but people cannot have been unaware of what was happening. Many people would return home to their wives and tell them their stories. But they endured until the end. Maybe the government should have an easy ride for taking the decision to go to war.”

The next question: How do we make World War One relevant to today's society?

“I discovered that schoolteachers are using Blackadder as if it were fact. Others are doing a better job.

“If you go to the memorials, the stories you will find portray a profound empathy. It's a very good way of reading a document archive. There's plenty of letters from the front to home, but not many going the other way. When you do find these letters, their banality is incredible. The contrast between these and the soldiers' letters is remarkable. It's amazing, and painfully moving.”

Question: I was wondering if you had thought about what you would have done.

“I have thought about it. As I was at that age, I would have gone. I was lucky enough to go to a school that had officer training- whether I'd have been lucky or unlucky I don't know. But we owe these men a memory. What these people did forged the society we know. There were some clever people, and some idiots, but that's human nature!"

The signing was held over at the Deansgate Waterstones branch. Mr. Paxman himself came across as a surprisingly friendly bloke, dropping his hard-nosed hack image for his fans. I'm going to give the book as a Christmas present. He picked up on that without me telling him, and he left a Yuletide message next to his signature.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Reading on a Step Machine: Take 2

I made one last attempt at combining these two activities this week, after trying it out a year ago.

This week’s text: Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, a novel blending fact, fiction and hypothesis and focusing on the man seen jumping from the towers of The World Trade Center on 11th September, 2001.

From the third or so of the book that I managed to read, It's a bleak but typically magnificent book from the New York novelist. Out of the smoke and ashes emerges a man carrying a briefcase that isn't his, picked up in a moment of confusion and fear. While he searches for the owner, a terror cell is planning another horrendous attack...

This time, I took breaks to work the stomach for 5 or 10 minutes between chapters, to let the legs rest and cool, which would increase stamina. I’m not sure this set-up was as successful as previous attempts: concentrating on the story was harder than ever, and I tried the exercise with this book on two separate days. Day 1 I managed just over 2 hours. Day 2, just under 2. The main problems were mental fatigue and muscle fatigue, the seizing up of the brain and legs. I think the movement of stepping isn’t as fluid as walking, and definitely not cycling, so keeping your eyes focussed on a moving page is a real struggle. The first 2 chapters took 20 minutes a piece, but the third I stopped 35 minutes in. Starting the next day I polished the chapter off in a further 12 minutes. The more I read, the more tired I got and the more I found myself rereading and trying harder to picture what DeLillo was conveying.

In short, it’s not the best way of combining exercise and literature due to the movement. I recommend cycling for mixing reading and exercise, particularly if the bike has a seat with a back so that your upper torso is in a reasonably fixed position.

Proper Falling Man review to follow in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


I dropped into Carluccios Italian restaurant in Manchester’s glassy, modern Spinningfields shopping area on Monday. I went with my parents after Strada mysteriously moved to Wilmslow on the outskirts of the city and we couldn’t use the vouchers we’d got for said restaurant. When I walked in through Carluccios’ large glass doors the carpet jammed the door open and the staff made no attempt to shut the door after me, meaning the restaurant was freezing most of the time I was there.

Eventually my mum got up and shut the door herself, only for someone else to come in and jam it open again. We ordered food. The service was quick but the food wasn’t fantastic. The soup was cold, the hot chocolate wasn’t more than lukewarm (a trait many establishments are guilty of, but that isn’t an excuse), but the eggs benedict I ordered was great. No complaints there.

On the whole, though, the restaurant has some work to do.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Meeting Chuck Palahniuk

Telling a story is like being a stripper,” says Chuck Palahniuk. “Don't take it all off and show your pussy. Take off one thing at a time; take steps towards what's going to happen.”

The first thing I hear when I arrive at The International Anthony BurgessFoundation is that there will be no meet-and-greet, no photos and no dedications involving the Oregon novelist. The IABF representative says Mr. Palahniuk has another event in another town to attend after this one.

To a seasoned celebrity stalk- I mean, erm, enthusiast, this is obviously a gutting setback. We'll see, I think. I've been to a lot of book signings out of curiosity and a general passion for stories, but Chuck Palahniuk has been a favourite for over a decade.

My old pal Fat Roland is on the door, and he tells me Mr. Palahniuk is in the back room, signing books. I wonder- can I get a photo-bomb? When the staff let us, I follow the crowd into the main room, nipping past the tall guy in Santa pyjamas to get to the front row.

The IABF representative takes to the mic to introduce the man, whose first novel Fight Club went on to define a generation and inspire countless other movies, and copycat clubs. Mr. Palahniuk takes the mic.

Tonight,” he says, “there will not be any bullshit beautiful stories.” But he reads a story that, well, you could call it beautiful in its own way. Beautifully graphic and shocking, but a delicately sentimental tale: a geek, his hot but totally mental girlfriend and a bus journey that takes what you could describe as a very wrong turn.

It isn't any of his numerous shorts that he's here to discuss, though. Doomed is the new novel he's promoting tonight: his first sequel. The book, following on from Damned, is the second in a trilogy, a collection that he's writing for catharsis, he says, to give him time to overcome the death of his mother and father.

In writing,” he says, “there's no reward. So always write what's personal to you so you get the therapeutic benefit, even if no-one buys it.”

And this is the first of a number of wise sound bytes from the author, during probing questions from the rep, describing his writing techniques and processes. (“Make the reader feel smarter than the character. We'll want to care for her. We don't care for people that are better than us. Make it so we wanna fix that.”)

The correct crafting of the answer is important to Mr. Palahniuk, and we can tell this by the consideration that goes into his responses, the anticipatory silent pauses as he finds the starting point for his explanatory anecdotes.

The rep throws out the questions to the audience. A 19-year-old budding writer asks Mr. Palahniuk about his story-writing processes.

Y'know, at thirty,” Palahniuk says, “you see the breakdown.” He doesn't explicitly mention it, but he's clearly talking about life. “In Fight Club, the narrator gets nurturing. In the second act, that nurturing falls apart. At thirty, you can't use your plan any more. You have to wing it. But that third act... that's when it all comes together.”

Next, a girl in her early twenties speaks up. “First, thanks for making me too scared to eat out anywhere,” she says. (She's referring to Fight Club's Tyler Durden, a part-time waiter who would lace his bodily fluids into the high-priced meals he served.) “It's made me a really good cook. I was wondering, do you find it hard to eat out?”

Palahniuk sighs. “The world is full of such atrocities. One time I was at a charity dinner with an oncologist. I had my wine glass; a woman next to me, a chatty woman in her forties, she didn't. But she was obsessed with wine. She was saying, 'I love wine, but every time I drink it, I get a burning feeling in my throat afterwards. I decided eventually that God didn't want me to drink wine any more, so I gave it up. But, boy, do I miss wine.'

This oncologist, he interrupts, and says, 'Miss, I'm a cancer specialist. That is not God talking to you. You probably have stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma.'”

Nervous laughter bounces off the Foundation's bare brick walls.

'Here's my card. You're gonna need 6 months treatment. It's not too late.'

She's not so chatty any more.

The oncologist, he says, 'after treatment, that first drink will be the worst drink you ever taste. But if it doesn't hurt, the second drink... that will be the best tasting drink. Sorry about that!'

I found out months later after the woman's GP phoned me: the oncologist was right.”

The IABF rep says there's time for one more question. My hand shoots up and he picks me.

I believe you were a journalist before you got into fiction. Given that blogging and citizen journalism is now becoming so popular, how important do you think qualifications in journalism are, and how do you see the future of journalism?”

A lot of us entered journalism because of the Watergate scandal. We all wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein. Then when we graduated, there were no jobs. I went and worked on a freight-liner. But I never wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to write fiction! So, if you want to write a lifetime of books, a background in journalism will help.

I remember on my first day on this freight-liner, the manager sent me to the foreman to get a squeegee sharpener. The foreman didn't have one, so he sent me to another foreman. I fell for it, but that day, I met every foreman I might ever work for. Another job I had, at Target, they took up a whole of my day sending me to look for a shelf stretcher.

I told this story at a party to a paediatric surgeon. He said, that's nothing. This surgeon, he told me that on his first day he'd been paged and ordered around the hospital all day, when he hears screaming from this other room. He goes into this room, a dark, unused ward, and follows the sound of this screaming to a hospital bed. He looks underneath it and a woman thrusts something into his hands and it's slick with blood and she screams 'YOU KILLED MY BABY YOU SON ON A BITCH!'

The lights go on. The woman, she's one of his team. What he's holding is a resuscitation baby, a training doll, drenched in fake blood. Behind a separation screen, the rest of the team are watching him, trying not to laugh.

I was in Paris talking to a veterinary scientist. What they do when they graduate is, the vets take you to an all-night party and ply you with wine. If you don't faint, they hit you with an animal tranquilliser. Then they strip you naked and sew you into the belly of a dead horse. When you wake up, your head aches, you want to vomit, and it's so tight and dark and the smell is awful. Your team-mates- you can hear them from inside the horse. They start yelling at you. 'If you wanna be part of this team, you're gonna have to fight. This is a terrible job!'

So you fight, you push against the wall and you start your rebirth. You find an opening and you thrust out your arm and someone hands you a glass of wine and you burst out of the corpse to rapturous applause, and from that moment on... nothing in your career will be as bad as waking up inside a dead horse.

I got these stories by coaxing this information out of people, and that skill came through journalism training.”

With that, the IABF rep stirs up one last well-deserved round of applause before the staff walk him through the crowd. He stops for a few moments for pictures, at which point I pounce...

and I slip him my blog card and the staff ferry who could be my biggest living literary hero briskly out of the room.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

I Accidentally Blagged my Way into an Ian Rankin Signing

So there's this gullible guy,” says Ian Rankin. “He gets taken to a party, or what he thinks is a party. It's really a derelict housing block.”

He's reciting a story that he's heard, a piece of Scottish urban folklore.

They tape him to a chair, put a bag over his head, and leave him there. Anyway, he gets his hands free, and escapes.” Mr Rankin's nodding to us, like we're the one telling him the story, egging for a conclusion. “And?” he asks, as he asked the storyteller. “End of story”, the storyteller told him. “Woah,” he says, like he said to the teller. “That's the start of a story.”

If you're planning to go to three book signings in a month, make sure you've bought the necessary tickets to all three. I didn't. I think I tried to buy an Ian Rankin ticket before they were available and the Waterstones bookseller told me to come back in about a week. Then I forgot.

I turned up at the event last night in St. Anne's Church in Manchester as the event was starting. The bookseller on the door checked the list for my name. It wasn't included. I rooted through my diary, finding the tickets to all the other events, but no Ian Rankin ticket.

The bookseller waved me in. “We'll sort it out later,” he said, eager for the event to start on time. I think he recognised me from the numerous events I've previously attended. I sat down among the rest of the audience, mostly in their forties, 180-strong, the church so full that temporary seating has been lined up in the main isle and is filling up fast.

It occurs to me that I've blagged my way in here, kind of by accident. I should try this more often.

As we're in a church, it's the vicar that introduces the event, addressing us from his pulpit. He hands over to Ian Rankin, author of the Detective Rebus novels and who bares a striking resemblance to Neil Morrisey, who takes the mic.

Er, why am I here... right, my new Rebus novel.”

A chuckle ripples through the pews and up the high walls, the first of many.

This is the second 'retirement novel', and it came about due to a change in the law. Rebus no longer needed to retire at 60, so he wasn't going to work as a taxi driver or open a bar in Marbella. Also, the Double Jeopardy law has been dropped, so that gave me a chance to revive Rebus.” Armed with a plethora of stories jotted down at numerous retirement parties for policemen, he started to form a plot for the new novel.

He doesn't talk for long about the book, however, as some things are better discovered on the page. So instead he describes his days on tour with a Scot singer, the late Jackie Leven, and how his haggis rider was met with disdain in the pub.

When he does mention the book he describes the title- Standing in Another Man's Grave- as a Mondegreen, a misheard lyric. Rankin misheard Jackie Leven singing "Standing in Another Man's Rain". “It's a bit of a long title,” he admits, “but it didn't do Stieg Larrson any harm...

One of the best things about being a crime writer is that if someone pisses you off, you go home and kill them. I hate to say it in a place like this-” he looks up at the whitewashed columns and ceiling- “but you can 'play God'. One guy was giving me stick, so I made him a Gorilla with impotency problems.” He takes a sip of water. “Why did I tell you that story?”

He describes how having a cop for a main character gives the author a “backstage pass” to all sectors and layers of society, and how police move around the city allowing for location changes within the novel. Similarly, as an author, Rankin gets a chance to meet people you might not ordinarily encounter- Chief Exorcist Gabriel of Rome, for instance, for his TV show Ian Rankin's Evil Thoughts. For this show he met a death-row convict of twelve years in Texas, and spent a Sunday night in the Italian capital, where Father Gabriel- who claimed to have met the devil 7 or 8 times- made him kiss a crucifix on camera.

I can't go in half the pubs in Glasgow now,” Rankin says.

The conversation weaves on through a myriad of crime topics. “PD James says we are all capable of murder. What stops us,” he says, “is the most interesting part. My least favourite part of novel writing is the ending. The crime genre isn't taken seriously by the fiction community because the closure that you need isn't realistic.

I don't even know who the killer is when I'm writing a first draft. My wife said, 'yeah, this could be problematic.'If there are any budding crime writers out there, don't do it the way I do it.”

The talk weaves on through Rankin's past, where he reveals he had once been a swine herder and had killed a pig through alcohol poisoning by feeding it an overripe, fermented leaf. He also accurately guessed the layout of an existing Scottish town without going there, to the disbelief of locals that read the book.

During the Q and A session he reveals how he carves dialogue (“Elmore Leonard said 'trust your reader. Allow them to make their own interpretation.'”) and how his crime novels cause a few riffs in the police community (“Rebus looks down on cops. But it's not me, it's him!”)

He also regales an instance when a policeman threw him out of a closed church whilst he was trying to do some research for a novel, and how he caused a police inquiry after he tweeted about something he'd seen in his local area.

My name's Malcolm Fox,” say's one audience member. “Please don't kill me!” This causes a laugh between those in the know (not me- I've never actually read a Rankin novel). Fox is a Rankin character appearing in many of his novels, an internal affairs officer and Rebus' ethical opposite. The real Mr. Fox asks about a theatre production based on Rankin's work, which Rankin admitted he really liked. It was the first time he could actually see people's reactions to his work, and he got to talk to the audience after the show.

Another revenue avenue for Rankin is to auction off an opportunity for your name to be used in his books. On one occasion the highest bidder was a fellow by the name of “Peackock Johnson”, who asked to be included alongside his pal, “Evil Bob.” Rankin admitted he really enjoyed writing these characters. When it came to chasing payment, however, the email address bounced. The author soon turned sleuth himself, and discovered that the man in question was a notorious practical joker.

The session talk ended here and the audience flocked briskly over to Deansgate, where I joined the queue unchecked. In my book, he draws a macabre hangman next to his signature.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Toronto Mayor in New Hollywood Conspiracy

Here's crack-smoking Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford.

And here's Gert Fröbe , AKA Auric Goldfinger in the classic '64 Bond movie.

Do you expect me to talk?”

No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to get high!”

Related much?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Three Strikes: Week 50

The Three Strikes project has come to a close. I just couldn't quite beat the personal bests in the last few movements on my list.

I started a new notebook to record PBs in November 2011. These records have been added to since that time. In November I came up with the idea for the Three Strikes project. See here.

Since 24/11/12, focusing on each movement for a few weeks at a time and over a period of 50 weeks, I amassed a total of 137 personal bests. Most of these came at the start of the project when I was lifting movements that I had been working not long before the project began. As the project ran on, however, I started to work movements that I'd had a VERY long break from. The last movement I worked was close-hand lat pulldown, working the biceps, chest and back. My record was notch 15 from June '11. I struck out straight away, getting 14 each time.

The hardest part of using the lat pulldown machine is simply getting on it. I would have finished the project much earlier if I'd have used the pulldown sooner, and not visited the gym at busy periods. EVERYBODY loves pulldown. I had to get up sickeningly early and do my session before work, when I was at my weakest. This is possibly why I didn't do so well on it. It is good, however, to shock your body by mixing up your routine. Work out early. Work out late. Hungry. Full. Tired out. Fired up. Make your body do the work. And get into the gym at quiet times, work the most popular movements first and leave the obscure ones 'til later.

Of course, it would help if OCL had a bigger gym in the town centre!

Other bits of advice: You get fit when someone else is pushing you. So have a break from the 3 Strikes project and go to a few classes. If I'd have done this from the start I would have been a lot fitter, and the project would have taken much longer to complete.

The other advantage to extending the project this way: Exposure. I'd been blogging consistently every Sunday night. When people come to expect this post as part of your blogging routine, your hits will increase. Mine did.

This only works, however, if you have something to say in your blog posts. If you spend your life in the gym with very little else going on, what are people going to read about?! Keep your life busy with other activities, not just hammering the gym. Then you have something to write about, and your hits will continue to rise. Towards the end of the project, I didn't have that much going on in my life and hence didn't write many other blog posts.

This week, for instance, I've visited relatives down south. I've seen watched Gravity in 3D at the Imax (fun but average. Predictable. Good performances from George Clooney and particularly Sandra Bullock. 3D is a fad that I don't know why the cinema industry has decided to revive).

I've also found time to get some reading in.

I've finished Emergency by Neil Strauss. I gave a pre-emptive review here.

Now I've read it fully I can say it's a fun, informative read. The most important information, the urban survival section, emerges in the last few pages. Read it now, before the “Cormac McCarthy's The Road” scenario emerges.

I also finished War and Peace: My Story, Ricky Hatton's autobiography. I started reading it in the signing queue a few weeks back, concurrent with Emergency and Ring. It's a funny, interesting account of the light-welterweight and welterweight former champion's rise from his humble beginnings in Hyde (5 miles from me) through to his last devastating defeat at the hands of Russian Vyacheslav Senchenko.

Although billed as an autobiography, it's pretty clear that editor Tris Dixon interviewed him over a period of a few weeks and transcribed his answers straight from the tape, adding in descriptions with Mr Hatton's consent as they went along. Can you see Ricky Hatton sitting in front of his PC and tapping out a 14-chapter, 300-page book? It's a strange blend of Hatton's northern, banter-laiden vernacular and Dixon's journalistic prompting and tailoring. But Hatton isn't your regular boxer- he's a regular bloke alright, a pint-drinking, wise-cracking Manc lad with a girlfriend and 2 kids of his own, but you don't always get that in a four-time world champion boxer.

An enjoyable read.

One of the reasons I started the Three Strikes project was to force myself to write quickly, to analyse the week's proceedings and hammer out a quick post. I wanted a bit of pressure to help induce a Thompson-style gonzo element to my work. Over the last 50 weeks I think I've become a lot more adept at just getting the fucking writing written, with only myself to pressure me into finishing. I start these posts after tea on Sunday nights and put them up as soon as I've finished. They're usually laden with errors and lacking details that I meant to put in from the start of the week, but I've tailored the skill of making notes about anything that might have happened over the course of the seven days. So this happens less these days.

And now I can do whatever I damned well want at the gym! Hooray!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Retrospective: Captain America Filming in Manchester

I watched Captain America last week, the predictable Marvel tosh about a genetically engineered soldier fighting in a war in an alternate 1940s. It did what I thought it would do.

What a lot of people don’t know is that Marvel Studios shot a small portion of the film in Manchester’s Northern Quarter back in October 2010. At the time, I swung by to see what was happening. 

I didn’t see a great deal going on, other than a few extras in trilbies knocking about. One blogger / photographer was given access to the set. The posts were quite interesting. More so than the film itself, it must be said.

There were a few other big-name films shot in Manchester in the last few years. I’ll watch them before I blog them though…

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Why Do Nightclubs NOT Do This?!

 Back in September I was stood on the edge of the courtyard of Ibiza Rocks Hotel watching Zane Lowe and Mark Ronson making valiant efforts to sing. I remember trying to get to the toilets and back without losing a grasp of where I’d left my friends, when a brainwave hit me.

Countless times in my adult life I’ve lost friends on crowded dance floors, and had no way of describing or being described to where I am / they are. The bigger the dance floor, obviously, the bigger the problem. Some clubs even have more than one room, complicating things further. When drunk, sometimes knowing what part of the club you’re in can be a massive challenge in itself.

But it needn’t be, and I realised that on the outskirts of IRH’s courtyard, thinking, my mates are around here SOMEWHERE.

I looked up at the sky as dusk fell. It hit me then: why don’t clubs have grid references on the ceiling? Letters on two facing sides, numbers on the adjacent walls, with letter / number combinations printed on the ceiling in big enough text for people on the floor to see. That way, if you lose your friends, you look to the ceiling- or the walls if writing on the ceiling has been impractical- and work out your club grid reference. All you’ve then got to do is remember it during the epic queue for the club toilets, and hope your friends don’t move…

Whether it's a decent idea or not, I realised, it wouldn't be of much use at an open air venue like the one I was in. I just had to keep wandering until I spotted a familiar face.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Three Strikes: Week 49

Koji Suzuki's Ring. No, not a title of a niche video on YouPorn, but a novel translated from Japanese to English and also adapted for the screen by The World's Scariest Man, Hideo Nataka. A journalist in Yokohama stumbles across a story involving a videotape that kills you after you watch it. Once he's watched it, he has a week to save his own life.

I watched the Japanese movie in '02 and I crapped myself. It's brilliant, and even if you've seen the (lame) American remake, you should watch the original. It's on a par with Don't Look Now as one of the most intense horrors ever made.

But this is a book review, dammit! How was the book?! Well, not great. It's much slower than the film, much more detailed and- if memory serves me- much weirder. It's still an interesting tale, but the behaviour of the characters is kind of strange. Their decisions and admittances are odd, but somehow drive the story in ways I don't remember seeing in the film. The translations from Japanese to British English are occasionally clunky and unintentionally comedic.

Yoko paused to catch his breath. There was a loud gulping sound. It wasn't clear which one of them had swallowed his saliva.”

I've found, over the last few years, a number of lame books that have been adapted into surprisingly good films. This is one of them. Nataka's team picked the best bits and made a decent, concise story out of it. I meant to watch it again before today, actually. You should give it a whirl.

I've hammered the gym and have made no PBs. I've managed to get on the popular machines by going before work and early on Sunday mornings. It's not difficult to get up early at the weekend when all of your friends are getting married and having babies...

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Anthems of House

I went back in time last weekend. Figuratively. Before housing the banality of business network meetings and car boot sales, Bowlers in Trafford Park was one of the most prolific clubs in the north of England. I was too young to go in its prime, but this man seems to have been a regular attendee and has plenty of retrospective info on the 90s club scene that Bowlers was so heavily a part of.

For one night, on the 26th October, Bowlers- now Bowlers Exhibition Centre- reopened as a club for History of House Music, a retrospective night of house classics. Look at the names on that line-up!


I paid £45 for a highly sought-after VIP ticket, gaining access to the VIP lounge, where DJ Bini shared the decks with Si Forestiero, Jason Herd and his partner-in-crime Jon Fitz (Herd ‘n’ Fitz had a hit with I Just Can’t Get Enough in 2004).

We were treated to a brilliant live PA by Freemasons front-woman Katherine Ellis.

Is that Inner City leaving the building?” she mocked. 

The Main hall of Bowlers is absolutely huge, with a 4,500 capacity and- on this night- a full-width stage with an immense LCD backdrop. The event was far from a sellout, though, and the venue had plenty of space at the back.

 As it happens, I did see Inner City, who performed their hits Big Fun, Pennies from Heaven and Good Life.

Here's DJ Adam Guy's  set

Vid 1

Vid 2

I suppose the problem with a retro night like this is that the people who go clubbing are too young to remember the era the Anthems night is celebrating, yet the people who ARE old enough are settled down and have other interests than going clubbing. That could be the reason the night had low numbers. The popularity of old-skool house music amongst 20-somethings could also explain the surprisingly young clientele. The majority of people there fit the demographic of the average clubber in any other venue- 18-25 year-olds, which says something about contemporary dance music.

There were a few signs that rave culture was still alive and well- laser shows, fire-breathers, stilt-walkers, axle-grinders, a few topless blokes scattered about, the smell of weed hanging in the air, a few delirious faces and a handful of crazy outfits (but it WAS Halloween). Oh, and this bloke:

I suspected his own zaniness floored him rather than any ingested remedy, and it didn't look like it had kicked off at all. I definitely didn't see any fights all night.

I had a great night and I got to see friends, enjoy performances, and dance my arse off. I think I missed a few PAs and DJ sets by holing myself up in VIP for too long, one drawback to paying for privileges. I suspect, though, that the Bowlers of the 90s era- the period that the night was celebrating- would have felt friendlier and more unifying. I mean, how many people were dancing in those videos? Only the VIP crowd! Perhaps the cliché that clubbers in the 90s didn't realise how good they had it isn't just a cliché. I was too young to know, but I gather the 90s club scene had a whole lot of love that can't be replicated by simply bringing back the acts and DJs.

But it was a damned good effort.