A Mugging

‘Hand it over,’ she said, and pressed wbat appeared to be a knife against my throat.

‘Hand what over?’

‘Your wallet. The usual.’

‘My wallet contains precisely ten pounds, which I’m going to use to buy a bottle of rum from Tesco. I can’t spend it and give it to you.’

‘It’s not a difficult one,’ she said, pushing the knife harder against my neck.

‘But is it really? Is it really? And when you’ve taken my money and drunk my rum, what then? You’re left with no money and no rum. It were better not to have started.’

‘Your cards then,’ she said.

I looked at her sadly.

‘They will mean less to you. That card has reached its limit since I used it to pay the electricity bill three days ago. If only you’d asked me last week! But credit cards? Money in the form of air? What satisfaction is there to be gained from such things? A transaction pinged from terminal to terminal – no, that is not the path to happiness. Count yourself lucky you haven’t been ensnared that way.’

She looked at me in silence for a while

‘I’m going to ask you again.’

‘I will not give you money or cards,’ I cried. ‘They can only bring you disappointment. I have something in my pocket worth more than any of those things.’

‘Okay.’

‘In my pocket I have something you can’t buy with money alone.’ My voice went quiet as my hand went into my coat. ‘It is … this’. And I held it in front of her face.

‘That’s just a bit of plastic,’ she said.

I chuckled. ‘Yes, I suppose that’s what it looks like,’ I said. ‘But it is so much more. This card is a gateway. A gateway to a world you never knew existed.’

‘But it’s not money, is it? It can’t buy chips.’

I smiled at her. ‘It can give you something much, much more. It’s called an oyster.’

‘An oyster?’

‘Yes. And it opens doors. Indeed, no door need be locked against you again. With this bit of plastic the whole of London is opened up to you. It lets you into any station. And lets you out. You can go to Cockfosters or Canada Water. Moor Park or Colliers Wood. You can explore the whole of the District Line. Plus some overground lines.’

She looked tired.

‘Take it. Take it,’ I said, and pressed it into her now yielding hand.

The days and weeks passed by like so much cheap rum. In time I forgot our brief friendship entirely. Until one day I saw her again. She was on the opposite platform. She stood a little straighter, a little calmer in her frame. In her eyes there was a new-found wisdom, the look of someone who had seen Upney, or maybe Gants Hill.

 

Advertisements

The Four Acceptable Middle-aged Rock Songs

by Degsie Pevner

I’m as amazed as anyone that I’ve survived so long in this business. Many of my contemporaries didn’t live to my age – and there are many more who would be dead now if I had my way. This isn’t a profession famed for longevity. There are bands who are content to reach a peak and stay there, wallowing in nostalgia, whiling away the time until retirement. As you’re reading this I’m guessing you don’t aspire to be one of them. You’ve got to change, to adapt, and keep it interesting if you want to create music for generation after generation to rock their bollocks off to.

‘But, Degsie, how do I do that?’ you might be asking. ‘I’m under contract to Gibson to include at least two widdling solos per song, and if I’m honest nothing much has happened in my life since 1994. How do I keep it real?’

Well, it’s very simple. In fact, all you need to do is write four songs.

 

1. ‘Drugs Are Actually Bad’

Life finally caught up with me following the success of my second album – I had been touring non-stop for three years and the lifestyle was starting to get to me. When you’re in that situation, and you’re young, it’s difficult to avoid temptation. Anything people offered me I would swallow, snort, inject or shove up my arse. This went on for a long time until one night I found myself in my hotel room crippled with paranoia that the G men were after me. In actual fact they were, for a combination of tax, public indecency and drugs reasons, but that’s not the point.  I knew this had to stop. I decided I didn’t want the drugs to be talking. It was my turn to talk.

So I had to face up to the truth of myself as a role model to my fans and tell them what they needed to hear from me. Hey, guys, you know all those times I said that drugs were good? well I was wrong: they are bad.

I checked myself into rehab and wrote some songs in there which surprised listeners with their stark honesty. The first single from the album, MDMA-Z, was a list of all the drugs I had taken and all the fun, profound and life-affirming experiences I had had with them and telling my fans they shouldn’t do what I did. It harked back to my earlier songs, the chorus adding ‘Don’t listen to him,’ but by him I meant me. don’t listen to me. listen to me now, obviously, but don’t listen then.

I’d learnt a valuable lesson from rehab. I took up yoga and running, I drank green tea instead of Mama Booze. My career was back on track, and I had rehab to thank for all of this. (After the enormous success of the album gave me more money than I had ever seen before and I went back to hanging out in toilets with bankers I ended up there again, but I was better prepared for it this time).

2. ‘Fix the World’

When you’re starting out in the music business everything is about what you can get out of it – it’s all me, me, me. But you can only maintain this lifestyle for so long. When you’re 25 it’s cool, but when you’re pushing forty it becomes a bit tragic. In my new-found maturity I had ditched the booze and kicked the drugs. I’d even settled down and married myself off to one woman, with only occasional lapses once or twice a year (which I hate doing). And that’s when you start to notice the world around you.

For me this moment came on a plane from LA. We’d been in the air for an hour or so and I was getting a bit shaky, so I read the Wall Street Journal. There was an article in it about a war, pictures of burning villages and sad-eyed refugees, people with haunted eyes that had seen too much and kids whose childhood was put on hold for ever. Or it might have been about the rainforests or something. Anyway, it got me to thinking. There’s some bad shit going down – I remember clearly thinking that.

So my fifth album took a more serious approach. For the first time I addressed the world around me, and found it wanting. This was nowhere more obvious than in the single Song About War, with its emotive chorus: ‘This needs to change/This is wrong.’ The video featured black and white footage of people abroad somewhere being harassed, possibly even fatally, while I mimed those words into the camera solemnly and looking very sincere. It was my biggest hit to date, an impassioned monologue that said everything you needed to know about the futility of war. Turning to the misery around you is an easy way of signalling to fans your more mature mood. And the good thing is there’s always a war going on somewhere, so the song never becomes dated.

3. ‘Kids Today’

When I started out in this business things were much less refined. We would shove all our equipment into the van and drive ourselves to the venue, usually the back room of a pub, hoping we had sufficient leads and everything was in tune. We were usually eight sheets to the wind by the time we got on stage, so we sounded like shite anyway. But it was raw, it was real, it was proper.

Bands these days suffer from having it too easy. They get put out if the dressing room doesn’t have quinoa wraps or decaff soy lattes or whatever it is, not counting themselves lucky they’ve got a toilet you can get your back end around without worrying about catching something nasty. And most of what they do is done online: promotion, interviews, recording even. You can get far into your career without knowing the reality of a hostile, beery crowd who don’t know you from a stain on their trousers, or a roadie who signals his resignation from the tour by crapping in your Marshal stack. (They can get quite hot, and the smell…)

I have never denied that I’m old skool, in every sense of the word. I still write all my lyrics in biro on the back of an envelope, and in case people weren’t aware of this I make a point of mentioning it in every interview. I have a website apparently but I don’t know much about it. My nephew maintains it, and just hearing him talk about it I know I’m way out of my depth. He could be talking about astrophysics for all I understand of it. I never saw much point in the internet until one time when we were touring Japan. All the groupies were safely in bed by half eleven rather than backstage with us, and it was then I found the www to be a great comfort to me in my hotel room.

So I’m definitely not a fan of our culture’s obsession with technology or modernity. My current album has a scathing track about Snapchat, for example, and the video for it features me watching some youths playing with fidget spinners and raising a wry eyebrow. Not like a nonce, or anything. just a cool older guy who’s looking at some teens.

4. ‘I Still Got It’

Just because you’re going grey on top and wrinkly around the ball sac doesn’t mean you no longer relevant. My moral objections to a previous government’s economic policies led to my angriest and most energised music yet. The album Sodding Off to the Caymans, featuring tracks such as Get Your Hands Out (Of My Pockets) and Creative Accunting, was described by one critic as ‘obsessive’ and by another as ‘very obsessive’. Like I said – angry.

And just because you’re a bit thicker around the middle and your eyesight’s going a bit and you splash piss on your knees every time you go to the toilet doesn’t mean you can’t lead the bunch. I won’t be outrocked. As one music blogger said about my album Schtumpfff, ‘you’ll need to buy yourself new pants after giving this a listen – it’s that noisy.’ The three minute bass solo on Song About Stuff, played through three distortion pedals and an old, buzzing amp which nearly electrocuted a techie, is testament to its innovation. Remember, you have more authenticity in your left bum cheek than any postmodern youngster who thinks he knows it all has in his entire skinny body.

So if your career’s in a dip, write these tunes. And if you need to you can always pad it out with songs about shagging and how great rock and roll is. Keep it hip, keep it heavy, keep it happening.

Degsie.

 

 

Film Review – War of the Dead

‘Living Dead Director Dies,’ was how one newspaper chose to report the passing of George Romero, as if finally settling a paradox. Although he made many other films (including one about killer monkeys, apparently), it is this trilogy, in which he single-handedly invented the concept of modern zombies, which people remember. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead set the blueprint for all zombies which followed: an outbreak occurs, infection is spread orally (something Michael Douglas can no doubt sympathise with); and through trial and error it is discovered that the only cure is an opportunistic head shot (I don’t know – Tulisa?). Without these there would be no Walking Dead, no 28 Days Later.

Of course Romero wasn’t content to leave it at that, and, after twenty years of silence, chose to follow up with another trilogy of frankly terrible films. Land of the Dead with its belated discovery, never again referred to, that zombies were sensitive beings worthy of sympathy, featured heavy-handed allusions to the Iraq war. Diary of the Dead showed an embarrassing enthusiasm for the found-footage format which audiences had long realised was rubbish, the screen equivalent of your mate’s dad who likes the Kaiser Chiefs. Survival of the Dead features an elderly Irish man with long white hair, given to saying things like ‘Bejasus, Patrick,’ while drinking from a hip flask. Romero’s bold attempt at rewriting the rule book on the depiction of Irish people on film was possibly too bold a departure for audiences. It is perhaps for this reason that scheduled follow-ups, including Holiday of the Dead, Pets of the Dead and Death of the Dead, never got made. So Romero’s other legacy was this affixing of the words ‘of the dead’ to any abstract noun to give viewers the impression they are watching an adequate zombie film.

War of the Dead is one such film. The blurb for the film – war, zombies – leads the viewer to await a film better than it actually is. Spoiler – the film is not better than it actually is.

The film begins with a written explanation, or justification of its existence. In the early stages of the war, it says, the Nazis were carrying out ‘antideath’ experiments on captured Russian soldiers. (The fact that this was two years before Germany invaded the USSR just serves to advertise the spookiness to follow). The Nazis abandoned the experiment and disposed of the test subjects, but now an elite force of American soldiers have been sent to assist Finnish soldiers in destroying the bunker, for a reason which is so obvious it doesn’t require any further clarification. This text helpfully provides some context, which is useful as the remaining 85 minutes of noise and dim lighting make no attempt to do so.

The Finnish and American soldiers – including Jim Carver from The Bill – get into difficulty with enemy soldiers on their way to the bunker, and on falling back are set upon by a scarier army. The dead have risen again and are no respecters of uniform, Americans being bitten by their fallen comrades. The survivors flee the massacre and bump into a mysterious Russian soldier who has knowledge of what is happening and offers his help.

By this point Jim Carver has disappeared, to an unknown destination. In the bad old days this would have meant to the nearest pub or Wine Rack. Being demoted from CID back to uniform triggered a personal crisis whose solution Jim felt could only be found at the bottom of a bottle, more likely several bottles. Many a time he was turning up to work drunk, to the annoyance of close colleagues who respected him too much to inform on him.

And then there came a strange episode in which he went on a quasi-Shakespearean journey of redemption among Sun Hill’s vagrant community, from which he emerged with a resolution to quit the drink.

Not that this was the end of his troubles. Later on he married one of the Avelines from Bread, in what turned out to be a very volatile relationship, sober Jim Carver falling victim to domestic violence.

The Finn, the American and the Russian move from one dark place to another, while shooting at whoever the enemy are. Into this situation are thrown the added complication of German soldiers, still insistent on fighting their conventional war. ‘Goddammit, we should be fighting these things together,’ the American captain says, and thus an American soldier learns about the futility of war. The Germans beaten, the captain takes the opportunity to fight off dozens of zombies entirely on his own while the others search for the radio room in order to send a message for help.

Once the message has been sent, a call for the destruction of the bunker, the Finn and the Soviet try to make their escape topside, in the course of which the kindly Russian falls to his death among the undead horde. The Finn gets to safety, shortly joined by the American, who has successfully punched a hundred zombies in the face. They witness the bunker being destroyed by some impressively bad CGI, before surrendering to an unidentified army who creep up on them.

Anyone drawn to this film by the last three words of the title – and to be fair, that’s literally everyone who took the time to watch – may feel short-changed by the paucity of zombie action. Battle of the Dead might be a better title. Skirmish, Fistycuffs. Moral: never steal another’s clothes to garb your substandard zombies.

 

The Most Disgusting Story I Have Ever Heard About Dogs

Historians of the future – if there will be such things in those no doubt troubled times – may come to regard 2010 as the height of humanity’s misguided indulgence of anthropomorphism.

This was when Andrex ditched real dogs for the easier to handle and longer lasting alternative of CGI hounds. In this advert dogs drive cars, fly on planes and live in houses like real people do. And the story the advert tells is of a woman dog flying home to see her man dog husband. The husband, a typical lovably bumbling advert man, prepares for her arrival by tidying the house, baking her a cake and arranging some flowers in a charmingly inept manner. (Incidentally, you can tell which dog is which by the fact that the female wears a flower behind her ear and the male wears a watch – just like humans in real life).

 

But it is just as the lady dog is arriving home that the advert throws in its final and worst play at anthropomorphism. This:

Screenshot_2017-07-13-21-15-15

Yes, the dog man has folded the end of the toilet roll into a triangle, like they do in hotels.

Now, even the biggest fan of dogs will be honest with you: dogs can be sickening creatures. They know that for the dog it is only a short crawl from the gutter to the end of the owner’s bed, and will not prettify reality for the sake of a loved pet. A dog would do many things, but a dog would not fold the end of a toilet roll because dogs are not that prissy.

Even the average person who has had no time in their life for dogs knows one ugly fact about them: they eat their own vomit. They are famous for this. But I heard a story about dogs once in which the eating of vomit was far from being the most disgusting element. Even the most experienced dog owner might not know the next fact, if dogs are all they have ever kept.

Dogs love eating cat excrement. They will eat it at any opportunity. It is a special treat for them, like expensive cheese or fancy crisps to normal people. Something in it, some as yet undefined element draws them in, and would make them risk all for its sweet taste.

And so a dog I knew once, living with a cat, availed itself in a stolen moment of the cat’s leavings. Perhaps equipped of a dainty constitution, this dog then felt its stomach rebel, and coughed itself empty onto the carpet. At this point another dog, perhaps feeling left-out over the cat bum bounty, chanced by and ate the shitty vomit mixture left by the first dog.

This is the reality we are dealing with. This is what they do and what they are.

Matt

One Sunday we were onto the second round before we realised there was an empty seat at the table.

‘Where’s Matt then?’

‘I thought he was coming with you.’

‘I thought he was coming with you.’

We phoned him and there was a bit of noise and a voice cutting off.

‘He’s on a train, he says.’

‘A train? What’s he doing on a train on a Sunday?’

‘The berk.’

‘The twat.’

We let it pass as one of those things.  But the next Sunday we were there again and could not help but notice the gap at the table denoting an absence of Matt.

‘Where is he then?’

We phoned him, only to be told that he was on a train into town for some family event.

‘A train?’

‘He bloody loves being on a train on a Sunday.’

‘”Matt, are you free to come to the pub?” “I don’t know. What day did you have in mind, only I can’t do Sundays as I’ll be on a train.”‘

‘”Sorry, can’t come out on Saturday. I’ve got to be up early to be on a train.”‘

“‘No can do, vicar – that’s my train day.”‘

For his birthday we had a t-shirt made with a picture of a train and the words ‘Is it Sunday? Then I must be on a train!’ We set up a Facebook group called ‘Matt loves being on a train on a Sunday’, which he refused to join. I was best man at a wedding, and in my speech I congratulated the bride and groom on their choice of date for the event. ‘Good thing you chose a Saturday. If you’d gone for a Sunday Matt wouldn’t be here. He’d be on a train!’

Matt was shot dead on holiday.

Film Review – The Thing (2011)

Set in the most remote place possible without leaving the planet, John Carpenter’s The Thing captured the claustrophobia and distrust of a small group of people far from civilisation with some camouflaged monster living right among them. The film has some famous scenes of monstrous readaptation of human bodies, which, like the best effects of the time, still impress today.

But someone must have watched this and not fully understood what was going on. We need more backstory, they must have thought. What could have happened in the hours before everyone died and the dogs got infected? Obviously some kind of prequel was needed, and to ensure efficiency they chose to give it exactly the same name as the film it precedes, in a move which couldn’t possibly lead to any confusion.

Norwegian scientists working in the Antarctic accidentally drive their snowmobile thing down a crevice, and find far below them a crashed spaceship. (It is not shown how they managed to escape from this tricky situation, thus providing scope for another prequel in the future). Encased in nearby ice is one of the occupants, some kind of arthropod with claws and tentacles. Thus the film fleshes out some of those ambiguous scenes in the original, where some scientists are found dead at a research station and there’s an alien loose.

A team of investigators are assembled – including an American palaeontologist, for what must be a perfectly good reason – to see what they can make of it. The Norwegians are pretty much interchangeable, possibly all grouped together due to the similarity of their beards. One of them seems to be a professional beard actor, also to be seen keeping his chin warm in Game of Thrones. The team also includes two women, as if trying to retroactively correct the gender imbalance prevalent in sci-fi before the twenty-first century.

The creature in its block of ice is brought back inside and then as good as forgotten about. While the beards are drinking beer and singing about Norwegian stuff one of the Americans goes to have a bit of a look at the alien, only to see it burst from the ice and run off into hiding. It attacks and kills one of the team, beginning to assimilate his body before it is killed with fire. Again, the viewer now clicks his or her fingers – So that’s why! That bit in the original film where there’s a shape-changing monster – it’s because there’s a shape-changing monster in the past as well!

What follows is pretty much a re-enactment (pre-enactment) of the original film, with just about every scene mimicked and foreshadowed. The aliens take over several of the cast and assimilate their bodies and adapt them in gruesome ways. Tendrils ensnare and flesh is split apart as the lesser cast members queue up to be killed. Distrust sets in when it becomes apparent that any of them could be an alien in disguise and people point flamethrowers at each other in fear. The prequel seems to want to be a remake.

But as any Star Wars fan can tell you, the reliance on CGI serves only to show how good the original effects were. The twenty-first century Things look cleaner, more sharply defined, more homogenous. This has an effect comparable to a xenomorph without the drool and wearing a cardigan: it lessens the horror. The muddiness of the creatures should contrast with the pure simplicity of the snow or the flames. Instead we have lithe, shiny monsters with claws and a predictable mouth structure. A predictable mouth is never scary (as Benedict XVI once said).

There is one other important difference between the films. Once the crew have been whittled down to Kate the palaeontologist and Carter the bland man-character they end up going back to the site of the spaceship crash. Kate gets trapped inside the ship, which has come noisily into life. The fact of the advanced technology makes clear that these aliens, unlike the ones Kurt Russell faced, are intelligent. Somehow the creatures seem less menacing when you realise that, far from being some primitive, grotesque form of parasite, they are looking down on the humans as their inferiors. It is as if the writers have got confused and think they’re dealing with Predators instead.

They also lose track of the fact that, for the Carpenter film to work, everyone in the prequel has to die. This almost happens. Kate and the man character kill the aliens in the spaceship and aim to head for a Soviet base fifty miles away. But the man’s inability to answer a question about his ear-ring proves to Kate he is no longer human and she burns him alive in the snowtruck. The aliens can mimic human form, but not inorganic structures such as metal piercings, hence an earlier scene where Kate divides the others according to whether they have fillings or not. Possibly no other horror film has such a subtext concerning mouths. (Actually, Teeth, try that).

So Kate drives off to search for Russians, an unexpected survivor of the events which lead into The Thing (1982). And in the meanwhile Norwegian stragglers, including the mysterious Lars who has been presumed dead pretty much the entirety of the film, chase after an infected dog, thus providing a seamless transition to the sequel to the prequel (there should be a name for such a thing).