Sunday, 28 July 2013

Three Strikes: Week 35

Went out for my birthday last night. Great night with the gang, although a) the heavens opened for the second year on the trot, soaking us all, b) taxi companies let my mates down and c) they couldn't get into Spinningfields Alchemist as it was full by the time they got there. So we dived in a taxi and hit Deansgate.

The rain didn't scare anyone off- the queues for taxis were long and the Deansgate bars were busy too.

Alchemist played good deep house and was populated by fine women, on the whole. No complaints. The Moon Under the Water is the same as it always has been- a chilled-out chain pub, good for a catchup and starting point for a night out. After this we hit Portland Street's Orchid Lounge karaoke bar, thus getting drenched further, and on arrival the DJ didn't just not let us sing, he didn't even acknowledge me- too busy “working” on his decks. The glowing flourescent poof seats that change colours every few minutes are worth going for alone, though. I turned down a line of cocaine from some chav in the gents' room.

Gym: 1hr cross trainer up 0.13km on the previous record. Feeling very strong with this.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Reading and cycling

How long can one pedal for non-stop? I decided to find out today, so I hit the gym with a copy of Dom Joly's The Dark Tourist. The creator/star of the Trigger Happy TV series and staff journalist for the independent newspaper decided to venture into the dodgiest and least-appealing enclaves of the world for his holiday trips, and returned with some strange tales of boozing in Iran and being turfed out of the Dallas Book Depository Sixth-Floor Museum.

I have tried reading and cycling a few times in the past, starting with the shortest book in the “to read” pile at the time- the Human Traffic screenplay

Over the course of a month, I tried the project a few times, upping the size of the book and, hence, the length of the time spent on the bike. By the time I'd got up to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I was taking lunch and evening meal breaks, returning each time to the gym to pedal more.

The problem with doing this is that the moment you eat, you're back to burning food again. You don't touch the fat you're supposed to be burning off. So this time I decided to cycle for as long as I could without stopping.

15 min cycling
15 min break for a phone call
2hr cycling

After this, my legs had seized up. I was a 3rd the way into the book. Multitasking sure does slow down your brain. Eventually you're just too tired to concentrate any more.

By the way, I got this book signed in Manchester a few years ago. Check it out.

Good book. A little too self-obsessed and Joly isn't as funny in writing as he is on screen, but an entertaining read so far.

And as for cycling, next time I might break it up with other exercises and see if I last longer.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Personal Best Vs Finishing Line

Over on Actualise the Impossible, blogger Sam Davies is writing about lifestyle design, self-improvement and confidence. Packed full of ideas for overcoming fears and laiden with interesting anecdotes from his own experiences, it's well worth a look. Check it out.

One particular post that struck a chord with me was this one from June, “The Finish Line Vs Personal Best”, where he compares two methods of attaining goals.

Personal Best” involves working on a project until it's done, no matter how long it takes. If you want to see your screenplay made into a film, for example, it could take years. After a month you might have gotten feedback on a draft, rewritten it and sought feedback a second time. If you're lucky you'll have found a film-maker who's expressed an interest, but to get potential contributors to read a finished script you could be waiting 6 months or more to get any interest at all.

This kind of project is a great structure if you know exactly where you want to end up.

Finish Line” involves setting an arbitrary deadline for your project. For instance, let's again use screenwriting as an example. Earlier this year I wanted to find out as much as I could about this area of the TV and Film industries. I also wanted to develop some of my own screenplay ideas. As I had more than one written project on the go, and I was looking for information about the profession, AND I didn't exactly know where it was going to lead to, I set a deadline a month away. I could then investigate as much as possible, without being so sucked in that I neglected other written projects like this blog.

If you're a regular reader you'll have noticed I section off a lot of my challenges by months. A month working on erotica. A month using Twitter hashtags

I've automatically worked to a deadline to investigate a subject without getting too sucked in. Having said that, perhaps sometimes a task CAN be finished if enough time is spent on it. Maybe I could have got those erotica stories and poems published by now if I'd have cracked on to the bitter end. Perhaps that should be an upcoming Personal Best project.

From now on, any projects I do on this blog will be either Personal Best projects or Finishing Line projects. I've got a few ideas in the pipeline for both types. Stay tuned for more...

P.s. the picture, in case you were asleep last summer, is of four-time paralympic-gold-winning wheelchair racer David Weir, who passed all the finishing lines before his competitors at the 2012 London Paralympics.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Month-Long Movie Marathon

Pic courtesy wallyg, Flickr. The Manhattan Bridge, seen from the same spot used in the filming (and subsequently the poster) of Once Upon a Time in America.

I went back to my teen days this month and geeked out by staying in watching copious amounts of films. I was getting tired of everyone I know saying “I can't believe you haven't seen that film!” So I did something about it. I also made a few notes while I was watching them, so that when it came to writing this post I could recap.

Here's the line-up:

Once Upon a Time in America with DVD commentary.

Watched this before a few times, but was desperate to figure this film out. After reading the plot on Wikipedia and this Q and A, I think the penny has dropped. Absolutely incredible movie.


Clichéd comedy about rivalling TV news presenters. Funny in places. Predictable. Think Austin Powers on CNN.

Training Day

Brilliant cop drama. Well plotted. Rookie character was a little too frail to have realistically been accepted onto the Force though.


Mates rave about this tale of two kidults brought together by their ageing parents' marriage. It's funny, but still pretty formulaic.

Batman Begins

Interesting to see the creation of this well-known superhero. Unfortunately, it was laden with unrealistic fight scenes and an unconvincingly weak-spirited mayor (Harvey Dent, played by Gary Oldman). Over-long. Unbelievable that no citizen of Gotham stopped to think, who's got the money for all these cars and gadgets?! Who's the only millionaire here?

The Dark Knight

Same. Fun but unimpressive.

This video says it all.

The Dark Knight Rises

Further Gothic hokum. Again, this video strips the movie bare and exposes it for the charade it is:

Michael Caine, as Alfred, predictably steals the show in all three.


An early Van Damme movie about a deadly martial arts tournament. An Enter the Dragon remake for the following decade. (Both films feature bodybuilder / Martial artist Bolo Yeung.) Fun, but an awful script. “The triads- they are like the Mafia...” As well as featuring the Muscles from Brussels in one of his earliest films, a young Forrest Whittaker also flexed his acting muscles. A few questions re the plot: Why would you get away with assaulting a police officer? And why, in the middle of a bare-knuckle, no-holds-barred martial arts fight, would you change your stance- on your opponent's suggestion?! Weirder still- this is a true story based on the exploits of martial artist Frank Dux. It'd be interesting to see how much is true.

Zombie Strippers

NOW we're talking. This no-budget schlock-comedy features a troop of marines sent into a strip joint to combat an outbreak of zombies. Exactly as cheesy as it sounds. There's a scene in which an eastern-European girl uses the phrase “boys with toys”, which is very reminiscent of a line from Tomorrow Never Dies, a line also delivered by an Eastern European female character. The movie is probably a metaphor for the average clientele of a strip club. Was hoping it would be funnier, mind.

Story of O

Erotic” story. Female photographer “O”, an young ambitious bimbo struggling for money (despite having silicone implants) dreams of making a book of her photos. She needs funding. Pervy rich aristocratic bloke (with a typically posh English accent- quickly defined as the protagonist's nemesis) offers money if she has a steamy S&M session with him. Silly girl ends up being abused repeatedly.

Characters praise O’s mediocre photos, like they’re the best thing to happen to the print media industry since Chinese wood block printing. Terrible music, editing, script, acting- just a wreck of a movie. Fans of 50 shades (i.e. morons) may like it.

Ju-On- The Grudge 2

This is the Japanese original sequel to the American franchise. Yes, they were Japanese movies first, just like The Ring, Dark Water and Infernal Affairs (The Departed). Japanese horrors are usually brilliantly effective, But this one fell way below the benchmark. Plot too brisk. No build-up of suspense. Terrible acting. Too many “why”s. As in, “Why would that happen, realistically?” Incredibly confusing edits.

No Retreat: No Surrender

Karate Kid remake with less charisma. The Mr Mayage figure is the ghost of Bruce Lee, and is played by a bloke who doesn’t look anything like him. DVD sleeve, featuring a young Van Damme, is misleading- The Muscles from Brussels is the bad guy and gets minimal screen time. Worst Van Damme movie ever. Worse than Black Eagle, in which VD also plays the baddie. Laiden with cringey moments, including the stereotypical black teenage sidekick with awful rapping “skills”. The wreck of a script is botched further by the terrible editing.

No Retreat: No Surrender 2

It gets weirder still: This one starts not in a city in the US, but in Vietnam. Vietnamese characters get no subtitles until around ten minutes into the film, by which time you’ll have no fucking idea what’s going on. One particular scene wins the award for featuring the most unconvincing crocodile in cinematic history. Another wins the award for weirdest barbeque, featuring white buddhist monks in US army fatigues dancing around an emaciated pig corpse on some kind of square spit. One of the worst films I’ve ever seen.

No Retreat: No Surrender 3

Gold Coast Florida… That’s in the USA alright.”

Oh God. Make it stop. Who PAYS for this shit? Who scripts it? Who gave the green light for this diabolical mess?! Poor print quality. Bad acting. And why do bad guys attack the hero one at a time just to get sequentially beaten up? Why not gang up and trounce the guy?

Source Code

NOW we’re talking. Comatose pilot can “jump” into situations from one reality to another using his mind, on behalf of the US military. His job: find a bomber on a train that will blow up on entry into a city. The bombing scenario can be repeatedly reenacted, through the source code, meaning he can be “killed” an infinite number of times- as many as it takes to save the people. Think Die Hard meets Groundhog Day. It’s also reminiscent of an episode of SF comedy series Red Dwarf, called “The End”, in which the characters are all killed in an explosion only to find themselves plugged into a virtual reality simulator.

Source Code is a complex, brilliant, inventive and engaging mind-fuck.

The Raven

Edgar Allen Poe is a talented but devisive author, whose violent stories are loved and reviled in equal measures. His popularity takes a nose-dive, however, when somebody starts committing murders in homage to his tales. Think Basic Instinct in the 1800s, from the perspective of the writer. It’s also reminiscient of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel Lunar Park. Despite a familiar premise it’s an exciting story. Thumbs up.

Zero Dark Thirty

Dramatisation of the hunt for Bin Laden, resulting in his assassination. It portrays the “official” story, appropriately brushing over Bin Laden’s CIA-trained past and with no mention of conspiracy theories, like “he’s been dead for years”, or “America is hiding him”. Despite this, it’s totally convincing, long but never tiresome, and always gripping even when you know what’s going to happen. What makes it interesting is the inclusion of events at the time that you might have heard about on the news. The characters meet at the Karachi Marriot. Does this sound familiar? If it does, you’ll find out why.

Immense. Watch this movie.


A surprisingly violent but impressive reinvention of the 2000AD comic strip. Dredd is partnered with a young female rookie to show her the ropes. With Megacity One being a violent hell-hole she’d be screwed normally, but she has one defense mechanism- she’s psychic. Her predictions help the pair when they’re locked into a Bronx-esqe housing complex. A little unconvincing that Judge Dredd’s Lawgiver gun can carry so many bullets, and the soundtrack included terrible 80s guitar riffs. Also unconvincing was the- interestingly female- nemesis. What was her semi-English accent about? Regardless, great fun and a massive improvement on the cheese-fest Stallone ’95 version.

Well. I didn’t get anywhere near as many films watched as I wanted, but needs must. The weather has been brilliant and I didn’t want to miss the minute amount of sun we get in this country. The films I did watch were, on the whole, well worth watching.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Manchester Comic Con

I hit Manchester Comic Con on Saturday with Tom. The event, held at Manchester G-Mex- sorry, Manchester Central, was a celebration of comics, movies and video games. The serious fans are mostly in their late teens who spend all their part-time wages on their costumes, which- despite being good quality- can only be identified by a handful of in-the-know comic geeks.

radio-muffled voice “What are you doing, sir? Get down. Hands above your head.”

And the highlight of the event? The DeLorean.

The guy playing Doc was incredibly stressed out and avoided getting his picture taken. My guess was that he was a bitter petrolhead, a DeLorean enthusiast paid to look after the car on the day, and paid to look like an ageing scientist, who was annoyed that such a fascinating car - and company-  is only known by most people due to the exposure from the Back to the Future franchise.

I was hoping there would be a few Aliens Vs Predator graphic novels to pick up, or something similar, but most of the lit wasn't to my taste. I did, however, manage to pick up a few souveniers:

Although a good experience, it was- expectedly- an incredibly nerdy event populated largely by people dressed as comic characters that I didn't recognise. “Celebs” in attendence were so niche that I didn't recognise their names or their faces.

It was no San Diego Comic Con in terms of cultural, recognizeable icons. Or at least I thought: I didn't spot Warwick Davies from Willow and Star Wars who was in attendance.
A good laugh though.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Three Strikes: Week 34

This week I spent a full 60 minutes on the cross trainer. I tried this once back in 2011. I made a 0.09Km improvement on it this week. That'll be not eating Subway, nor Tesco Value goods, MUCH less chocolate and better sleep.

Also this week:

Comic Con. More later.

Mum's birthday. Tapas meal. Good.

Glorious sunshine. Lots of. Made the most of it, sat outside reading Junky by William S Burroughs. A Penguin Modern Classic, and deservedly so, the book follows a degenerate but surprisingly eloquent (and surprisingly married) heroin addict as he makes numerous half-hearted attempts to kick his habit. A fascinating insight into a post-war American drug underworld. The glossary at the back of the book helps to pin down junk lingo and instill a sense of culture to a gripping, wasting habit. Fascinating stuff. More so due to being first person narrated and autobiographical.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Nursery Rhymes Redux

Group writing exercise:

Think of a popular nursery rhyme of children’s story. Most stories will have a couple of main characters and some secondary characters. Humpty Dumpty had a king, a whole army of men AND their horses involved in a failed attempt to rebuild him. Take one of these secondary characters.

With 10 minutes on the clock, write out the story in first person from the perspective of this secondary character, but don’t mention the characters’ names. After the timer has sounded, read out your stories one at a time. See how long it takes for the group to realise what story each person has chosen. Here’s what I conjured:

So he rolls in, me young lad, tears in his eyes and all. Once he’s stopped all his blubbering, it turns out it’s all over some girl- not the accident. He’s in a bad shape, mind. Summat wrong wi’ ‘is ‘ed. Can’t remember where his bucket is, so that’s us wi’ no water for stew tonight. I tries to comfort ‘im, but he’s not ‘avin’ it. I do what I can wi’ him, well, he’s me son an’ all. So I starts rummaging through the cupboards for bandages an’ antiseptic.

We ran out o’ all that ages ago, though, so I grabs what I can. Bit o’ vinegar should disinfect the wounds. Well, you’d think I were murderin’ him, the way he were squealing.

His cuts are ‘orrible deep, like, so I wrapped ‘em up tight around his head. We ‘ad no bandages, like I said, so I pulled the brown paper wrappin’ from the kitchen over the wounds, and said “keep that pressed on, lad.”

Teach him to go playin’ wit’ local harlots.

I take it you figured it out pretty quick. The group told me I’d made my vignette too easy. Interestingly, two other members of the group used Jack and Jill for their story. They pointed out, though, that in the original rhyme, Jack bandaged his own head. There’s no mother figure in this rhyme.

The purpose of this exercise was to think about stories from another perspective than the norm. This technique could be applied equally to popular nursery rhymes or historical occurrences.

James Ellroy's American Tabloid, for instance, describes a group of FBI agents whose dirty dealings result in the planning and executing of JFK’s assassination.

Forrest Gump weaves American history, pinning the events to the wanderings of a learning-disabled bloke from the Deep South.

Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy revealed that Earth’s evolution was nothing more than the development of a supercomputer intent on figuring out the meaning of life.

With that in mind, however, it’s clear that I completely messed up the original story. The popular version has no mention of the mother. Other versions do include her though- and she’s a big, mean woman. Well, I guessed that about right! 

Pic courtesy dacotahsgirl, Flickr

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Three Strikes: Week 33

The heatwave set in last week and continued into this one, baking northern England in particular. The locals walk their pitbulls in the blistering sun. A flat a few doors down blasts Dr. Dre's 2001. The police arrive to make them turn it down.

Saturday morning: I park up near the gym. I've not even got out of my car and I've already been chatted up by a transvestite. Gonna be one of those days, I tell myself.

Saturday evening on the Littlemoor Riviera: A solitary Tarzan call shatters the idyllic urban silence of the street. I look out of my window, and see no-one.

Later, a young couple have a domestic on the street. There's some grabbing, both ways, but nothing overly physical. They leave together out of view.

I spend every free daylight moment I can sat outside, noticing these things, reading. Occasionally I jump rope, in search of the six-pack I once had. The local girls accuse me of showing off.

This week at the gym I tried a second, slimmer type of cross trainer with a slightly less elliptical, circular motion. I struck out training forward- the motion is akin to walking with poles- but training in reverse I managed to get 2 PBs.

I finished Money, by Martin Amis. John Self is a 30-something movie money-man, making deals and spending like the privilaged, streetwise hoodlum that he is. He two-times his girlfriends, visits hookers, buys porn, tries a range of drugs and gradually fucks up his life. He fully accepts that he'll kill himself eventually, but it seems someone is keen to do that favour for him...

An interesting novel. It's gripping and believable, although the narrator is frequently and contradictorily cunning and intelligent and eloquent yet portrayed as a dumb street hooligan in a suit. He's reminiscient, in that way, of Victor Ward in Glamorama and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho- they were both “bimboys”- good looking idiots who happened to be successful, and could show their intelligence when the story required them to. Money and AP both have wealthy, money-driven and slightly soullless narrators. Money, however, was first published in 1984, when yuppie culture was I full flow. AP came out in '91 and Glamorama in '98. The book has that instant freshness of the period, like a first-hand account. It's occasionally over-descriptive, but, hey, it was the eighties.

A good read. By the way, I got my copy signed. Check it out.

Apologies for this pic appearing upside down. This doesn't happen anywhere else on my computer. For fuck's sake.

2 months 'til Ibiza.

Friday, 12 July 2013

My rap poem for Sing Date

I realise it's been a few months since I was on this show and I'm STILL banging on about it, but I wanted to offer you something straight from the cutting room floor of Princess TV.


The team asked me to write a love poem for my episode of Sing Date. Now, I HATE love poems. I think they're cliche'd and boring. So if you're going to ask me to write one myself, I'm going to have to twist it up a little and do it in a rap stylee. Cough.

You've turned on your TV and you hardly know me
You might have only seen me doing karaoke
But listen to the wisdom right now that I'm giving
I've made it this far on the channel Sky Living
'Cause Cupid's just sharpening up on his archery
So maybe you could find some room in your heart for me
Why not pick me and let this thing take flight
And you could be my Sing Date tonight.

So. This we filmed around the Oldham area, and was to be a big part of my segment. But it was not to be and the scene was cut, for reasons unknown. I'd had contact with the crew until just before the show's air date- 30th April- and not long after that, I asked them for a copy, reminding them that I don't actually have Sky. I got no response.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Three Strikes: Week 32

Highs of 25 today and yesterday. Scorching. I am not in the habit of preparing for the sun, living in rain-drenched Oldham, and ended up developing the lobster look in Manchester's Castlefield yesterday. Can't believe I've never chilled there before on a sunny day. With its canal and old stonework buildings, some modified into a range of upmarket bars, it's the perfect blend of urban chic and leafy suburbia- nestled right in the city centre.

I missed the last night at Prohibition Manchester. The bar, which was a favourite of mine, was a top spot for lovers of house music and trendy 20's décor. It's now shut, presumably due to dwindling customer numbers. Instead, I rocked a karaoke bar on Portland St with this number.

Yes, that WAS my Sing Date song, before you ask.

Today I sat in the strip of council grass that passes for my garden, doused in Factor 20, and finished off Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. An interesting, generous and slightly mental account of Hunter S Thompson's coverage of the 1972 presidential elections, the book is a compilation of Thompson's articles, written as he followed and supported the doomed underdog, George McGovern. If you're not well-versed on 70's American politics, you'll probably struggle and not find it half as interesting as Thompson's other books. At least, that's my experience.

The most interesting aspect of the book is its creation. As the deadline for publication loomed nearer, the writing became more and more manic, desperate and basic. The final few articles were transcribed from handwritten notes that Thompson had ripped out of his notebook and faxed over to his office to be typed verbatim. Also included towards the end are transcribed conversations with his editor about the election itself where no time was left to develop a more traditional format for the reporting.

Next week's Three Strikes post could be similarly urgent- maybe a Youtube vid or Soundcloud file for immediacy...

I've passed the 150K page view mark! I must be doing something right. I've been running this blog since late 2008 and I only passed 100K some time this year. The exact date evades me. I'm sure I blogged about passing it. If you can find it on here, let me know. Stats have slumped over the last few weeks, but overall people are finding the site, commenting and feeding back to me on Facebook and Twitter and the page views are flying in. I'm getting somewhere.

Likewise, I'm getting somewhere at the gym too- my cousin noticed my arms were “looking big”. Appropriately, I'm a weight higher on vertical dumbell fly, which is my sole PB this week. I decided to mix in a little cardio to my sessions again, and- unsurprisingly- I'm not anywhere near as fit as I was when I last used these machines. An endurance project might be on the horizon...

Thursday, 4 July 2013

"We will not repeat that..."

For this week’s exercise, we took the title of this post- from a conversation about past exercises- as our prompt. Here’s what I churned out in 10 minutes flat.

A factory in China
In the middle of spring
Working for designers
Making dresses and things
Conditions like a prison
Workers handling the vests
Burning with the friction
For the demands of the west
A closed-off room
Electrics badly placed
A tragedy is waiting
A disaster they will face
A machine overheats
When a room is closed off
The flames hit the sheets
above a forty-foot drop
the factory, the company
and the people are burned
Is this what has to happen
Before we all learn?
Yet in England there’s a shower
And the people take cover
In the high street clothes shop
Charging lower than any other.

Hmm. A few issues. I did this under pressure, spending the first five minutes thinking what the fuck do I write for this? Then this news story came to mind  (an incident which actually occurred in Bangladesh, not China). I also ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to properly contrast rainy, freezing England with scorched and arid Bangladesh (or China).

Furthermore, I wanted to tie the poem to the title prompt: “We will not repeat that”. Tragically, it has taken a disaster like this for Bangladesh to commit to improving their health and safety record. Here’s hoping that the country will work towards implementing safety measures to stop deadly incidents such as these from occurring.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Movies by Maths #3