Monday, July 30, 2007

The Sixth Doctor: "Mindwarp"

Sadly this does not see the Doctor squaring up against an excrement obsessed Hessian rocker. It does however feature companion Peri (played by lovely Nicola Bryant) marrying a character played by BRIAN BLESSED.

A top tip – do not undertake a Google image search for "Peri", unless you like images of peri-rectal abscesses.

The Sugarcubes 'Christmas'

The Cubes are joined by The Jesus & Mary Chain for a new version of a-side 'Birthday', featuring fuzzy guitar and feedback. It is nice but maybe a bit redundant. Oh no wait – Einar comes in after a bit. That was always what was wrong with 'Birthday', the lack of any Einar action.

Polski Filmi

My old friend and quaffing partner Mad King Ken is currently travelling across Eurasia. He reports that Polish film posters of the Communist era are truly fascinating. Check out an online gallery and see what you think. One thing I found interesting about them is how often they simply ignore the original Western posters of films and shun using photographic likenesses of film actors in favour of design-heavy original artworks.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Sixth Doctor: "The Mysterious Planet"

This was the first of the totally suckass Trial of a Timelord linked season of stories, in which every story would be periodically be interrupted by a cut back to a courtroom where the prosecution would tiresomely assert that whatever was happening was proof of the Doctor's badness. The rubbishness of the framing device largely overshadows the individual stories. This one may have featured a loveable rogue character called Savalon Glitz. This fellow was showing up as a guest character in stories around this time.

I was reading that nearly every episode in the Trial of a Timelord season ended with a cliffhanger close up of the Doctor's face, presumably while he was going "Noooooooo!" in a Crisis on Infinite Earths styleeeee.

"Thug: The True Story of India's Murderous Cult" by Mike Dash

This book is about the practitioners of Thuggee, the practice of strangling unwary travellers and stealing all their possessions, with Thugs often going to elaborate lengths to hide the bodies of the victims. These unsavoury characters worked the roads of India until they were wiped out by the British East India Company. I have been fascinated by the Thugs since I read a brief article on them in The Unspeakable Oath, a journal dedicated to researches into the outré. That whetted my appetite for more, but I lamented the lack of a good book on the subject. Thankfully Mike Dash, author of Batavia's Graveyard has leapt into the breach and served up this book.

The great thing about the Thugs is that the main things everyone knows about them are not true. They were not a religious cult, murdering to appease Kali, goddess of death; rather they were economic murderers, killing to support their families. And they were not a closed hierarchical order either, but more a loose mass of killers who shared methods among their fellows, coming together to kill and then splitting up again into their own sub-groups. For all that, they are still terrifying, people capable of befriending travellers, passing time on the road with them, and then killing them in the most intimate manner.

They met their match when the British East India Company became aware of their existence. The book describes how Thuggee was systematically wiped out by an expanding British presence unwilling to tolerate maniacs making the roads unsafe. The chapters on the anti-thug campaign, led by William Sleeman, are fascinating but also disappointing – disappointing not in the writing style but in the subject matter. Sleeman crushes the Thugs by the systematic application of modern policing methods and informers against which the traditional killers can do nothing. They do not stage any kind of counter-attack against Sleeman, or make any concerted attempt to avert their doom. This is hardly surprising, given that the Thugs were not actually a hierarchical devil cult with a supreme leader directing them, but it would make history far more exciting if they were.

In other ways, the book is a bit sadface and exciting of melancholic thoughts. Partly I found myself dwelling on the victims of the thugs – men, women, and children strangled by those they thought their new friends. Or else consider their families, who had to live after their loved ones simply disappeared on the open road. But there is something poignant about the Thugs themselves, as they were often people driven by economic desperation to take to a life of murderous crime. The inexorable campaign against them of the Company also excites some sympathy for them, as the hunters become the hunted and their wicked way of life is extinguished. The book ends with an account of the last Approvers (the name given to the Thug turncoats who informed on their fellows to escape hanging) being released from jail as old men, hobbling through an India that had changed completely since they had worked the roads. Dash describes them as walking the roads of India, not looking for people to kill but for somewhere they themselves could die.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Seagull likes crisps

Sam the Seagull has taken to raiding Aberdeen news agents for packets of cheese Doritos. Sam is not in gainful employment and, as a non-human, is ineligible for social welfare payments, so he is not in a position to pay for his crisps. He does however share them with his avian fellows.

The Smiths 'Jeane'

I have this as a b-side to a reissue of 'This Charming Man', but it was of course originally the b-side to 'Hand In Glove', the band's first single. I don't think this has ever found itself onto a compilation, making it one of the rarest Smiths tunes I possess. It is an epic tale of kitchen sink misery, like something from the British cinema New Wave distilled into three minutes. I really like this song, although of course it is by The Smiths, a band with only three bad songs. Even among their oeuvre, I feel that this track deserves a higher reputation than its tucked away status earns it. That said, the production is maybe a bit murky.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Psychic Cat

Oscar the Cat lives in a nursing home in Providence, Rhode Island. According to a study reported by the BBC, Oscar has a most unusual ability. The cat can apparently sense when patients are about to die, invariably curling up beside those whose death is near. The nursing home's staff now alert the family of anyone beside whom Oscar curls up - they are marked for death.

Interestingly, if removed from the side of a soon-to-die patient, Oscar paces up and down, mewing in protest.

Is is just coincidence that Providence is the town where H.P. Lovecraft made his home? Could it be that Oscar is not a cat, but an incarnation of YOGSOTHOTH, and that he is drawn to the dying so he can eat their souls?More

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Psychic Princess

Princess Martha Louise of Norway reports that she has psychic powers and an ability to talk with angels. "It was while I was taking care of the horses that I got in contact with the angels," the BBC reports the princess as saying. Her Astarte Education organisation can assist other people's communications with these protecting spirits.

Shakin' Stevens 'Let Me Show You How'

This is a b-side to 'This Ole House', and an S. Stevens composition. It is also an enjoyable enough piece of old-timey rock 'n' roll pastiche.

They throw these kind of things onto b-sides as a way of snaffling 50% of the song-writing royalties. It is funny the extent to which people bother with them - Shaky could just spend two minutes playing the spoons and burping, and the publishing money would still roll in.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Film: "Vacancy"

In this film Mr & Mrs Bickerson are driving through the backwoods of America having an argument over a number of things, including whose fault it is that they are lost. Their car breaks down, so they book into this scuzzy motel run by this creepy weirdo. Strange banging noises come from the room next door, even though they are supposedly the motel's only guests. For some reason their room contains a video player and a couple of videos, and they decide to watch them. The vids are snuff movies of people being horribly tortured and killed. AND THEN THEY REALISE that the people were tortured and killed in the room they are staying in, that they are being recorded on hidden cameras, and that they are scheduled to star in the next feature. TEH HORRORE.

You can kind of guess what happens after that (it all turns out to be a misunderstanding and everyone lives happily ever after). I enjoyed this as a scary film that delivers the kind of creepy terror of expectation you want from this kind of thing. I thought the couple's endless bickering in the early part of the film worked as a great mood setter for what came after. I think this might be a standard feature of horror films, but the scripting, direction, and acting of those bits was very impressive. Popbitch, interestingly, reports that the two leads (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) failed to bond bigtime during filming. Eventually they they took to showing up on the set on alternate days to shoot their scenes, such was their mutual loathing. If this is true then it is an impressive example of mentalist method acting.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sheila B. Devotion 'Don't Go'

This b-side to 'Spacer' seems to be a pretty good minor Chic Organisation tune. OK, it is not as awesome as 'Spacer', but what is?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Film: "Black Snake Moan"

Are you familiar with this film? This is the one with the poster featuring a smouldering Samuel L. Jackson holding a chain restraining a somewhat underdressed yet coquettish Christina Ricci. One look at that had me thinking that this could be my kind of film. Subsequently I read things about it, and was struck by how much of the discourse* around the film dealt with how it did not really deliver on the schlock value of the poster and was basically all a bit tame and conventional at the end of the day. Now, there definitely were aspects of the film that bear relation to the kind of films your mother likes, but let's get some things out of the way first. The film does indeed feature Christina Ricci chained to a radiator in her underwear for much its duration, with the Samuel L. Jackson character restraining her like this to "cure" her of her nymphomania; basically if that's the kind of thing these critics consider to be a bit tame I really dread to think what the extreme films they prefer are like.

Black Snake Moan is an odd film, though as it does pull in two directions. Some of it goes down a well-trodden Southern Gothic route (albeit with a new trailer trash twist), and the whole radiator-chain-nymphomania thing feeds into this, with Ricci's non-stop shag lust being more like demonic possession than what you get with a woman in control of her own sexuality. The other strand of the film, though, is to do with heart-warming Southern values of folks being all friendly and looking after each other and stuff like that – the kind of thing you might have seen in minor Robert Altman film Cookie's Fortune. I think the previously mentioned critics found this whole aspect of the film deeply annoying and resented its very presence in a film that could otherwise have featured much more chain-radiator-nymphomania action. I think they also found the whole "curing woman of nymphomania" aspect of the film deeply offensive and an example of the patriarchal world we live in (these critics implicitly would have preferred if Ricci's character was chained to the radiator because Jackson's was keeping her as a sex slave).

I really liked the film – I thought the dark and the light aspects worked well together, providing a nice contrast and so on. I liked the whole sense of it being about damaged people attempting to overcome their limitations and become stronger and more functional people. The dénouement (oh no, spoilers) suggested that while Rae (Ricci's character) and her man (played by a creditable Justin Timberlake) retain their separate psychological scars, they can help each other to overcome them. That is a nice message to hear if you are feeling a bit fragile yourself.

The music in the film is most enjoyable, being mainly Blues based, with Jackson's character turning out to be one of those Blues players. There are two very memorable musical scenes in the film, one where he plays a song called 'Black Snake Moan' during a thunderstorm while trying to keep Rae's demons at bay, and then latter a performance of 'Stagger Lee' in a club.

Man, the South is great, I wish I lived there.

*By "discourse", I mean something I read in Sight & Sound

**Oh noes I R laugh at po' people.

Zoltan Wins!

A Google image search for "Dirty Vicar" yields a most impressive first hit.

Heroes of the Internet #3: The So-Not-Gonna-Happen Guy

It's easy to scove, but we were once all that soldier. Further discussion here: so not gonna happen

If you look carefully, you will see that this fellow made an appearance at the concession speech of Rick Santorum.
He has also received the Ken Chu treatment.

The Sixth Doctor: "Revelation of the Daleks"

The Daleks have opened up a mortuary home somewhere and are turning people into Daleks. Oh noes! I think general anti-Sixth Doctor sentiment has poisoned opinion against this one, but I remember enjoying it. The Glass Dalek (containing someone in the middle of the Dalekisation process), Alexei Sayle, and some futuristic space knight guy are the things that loom largest in my mind.

The Kingsmen 'Jolly Green Giant'

This is a b-side to the reissue I have of 'Louie Louie'. It is not the original b-side but a track the band released some time later. I remember this as being really bad, though listening to it again, it is a bearable minor beat track. Its big problem, apart from not being as good a song as 'Louie Louie', is that by the time the Kingsmen recorded this, their line-up had changed. The vocalist had left the band, and the drummer had been replaced on the drumkit so that he could take over on vocal chores. The band had thus lost their two great features. Small wonder that little more of them was ever heard.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Teenage Fanclub 'B-Side'

The most recent issue of Frank's APA has a b-sides theme. First up, let me talk about a song called 'B-side'. This was a b-side of the Teenage Fanclub single 'What You Do To Me' (the 12" also featured 'Filler' and 'Cover Version'). 'B-side' is probably still my favourite single song by Teenage Fanclub. It begins with a snippet of a radio interview with Big Star's Alex Chilton (in which he sounds amazingly camp), before launching into an epic tune about Big Star love. I occasionally shout for it at Fanclub gigs, and people look strangely at me.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Sixth Doctor: "Timelash"

This was not very good. I recall it having H.G. Wells in it as a character for no obvious reason, and while Paul Darrow might also be playing someone, he never says anything along the lines of "Villa... Where are you Villa?". This story ends with some odd looking fellow being lashed through time, only to end up in Loch Ness, where he presumably is eaten by the giant monster the Zygons were previously revealed to have living there.

Film: "The Battle of Algiers"

I have posted about it on my other blog, as my comments strayed into territories more relevant to there than here. I will nevertheless quickly mention the film's music, which is by Ennio Morricone. There are two pieces I remember particularly well. One is a kind of mournful Arabic influenced fragment they play evocatively when the camera is panning over the Arab city. The other is a generic militaristic drumming served up in the many scenes in which the paratroopers run through the casbah; you spend a lot of time in this film watching camouflaged arses running away from you.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Sixth Doctor: "The Two Doctors"

The Sixth Doctor meets the Second Doctor! And Jamie! Gourmand aliens come to earth on holiday, determined to dine on the finest meats available, including human flesh! The Sontarans are somehow involved!

I don not understand why this story is not remembered as a classic to rival The Brian of Morbius.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pyongyang, where many flowers are in bloom

Keen readers will be aware of my interest in matters pertaining to events in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. I mentioned previously a recording of music and radio broadcasts from that country. One of the highlights of that is a radio advertisement for the Arirang festival that took place in Pyongyang from April to June 2002. Seeing this kaleidoscopic performance by over 100,000 people would surely be a life highlight, the kind of thing I would love to travel back in time for. My beloved found a website on which an American fellow describes a trip to North Korea that included witnessing the Arirang festival... check it out.

There are some great pictures on that fellow's website, taken during his trip to the DPRK, and interesting accounts of his experiences there. I feel, however, that as an imperialist he was unable to appreciate the true greatness of a country built on adherence to the principles of Juche laid down by the Great Leader, Kim Il Sung and continued by the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Naturally it was Eoghan Barry who put me onto this.

The Sixth Doctor: "The Mark of the Rani"

At the time, DWM tried to talk up The Rani, a renegade lady Timelord played by Kate O'Meara, but they did not bother trying to claim that this story was anything other than formulaic rubbish.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Sixth Doctor: "Vengeance on Varos"

The Doctor travels to the planet Varos where political leaders are tortured to death on live TV if the public thinks they have made unwise decisions; torture generally seems to be the planet's main TV entertainment. The various torture scenes proved somewhat controversial at the time, with people not necessarily registering that the story was actually suggesting that TV violence might be a bad thing. Nowadays, though, I gather people see this as all a bit heavy handed, kind of like A Clockwork Orange without the clever dialogue. I bet the torture scene are rally lame too. Nevertheless, I remember this story fondly, but then it is over twenty years since I saw it. One plot device that seemed to work well was having a Varos family at home whose sole involvement in the story was to watch TV and occasionally vote on whether people should be tortured or not.

One thing I remember as being particularly striking about this story was the main villain, a repulsive slug-like alien called Sil. I remember being a bit uncomfortable when I registered that Sil was played by a disabled actor called Nabil Shaban. I mean, it's nice that disabled actors can get parts in popular TV programmes, but it is maybe a bit problematic if they only get to play repulsive slug-like aliens.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Little puppy, big heart

In Japan they have a little puppy with a heart-shaped pattern in his coat.

More pictures.

The Sixth Doctor: "Attack of the Cybermen"

Even establishment outlet Dr Who Monthly pointed out that beginning anything with the words "Attack of the" is not a good sign. I remember little of this, apart from the Cybermen attacking. I think it might have clumsily tied in with Invasion in an über-nerdy fashion.

The Sixth Doctor: "The Twin Dilemma"

I've decided to write about Doctor Who instead of working on my thesis. A while back, yer man Nicholas Whyte advanced the theory that there are no good Colin Baker era Doctor Who stories. I wondered if that was maybe a bit harsh, and so combining my memory and Wikipedia's list of Sixth Doctor stories I will now pass verdict on that era, starting with Colin Baker's first story, The Twin Dilemma. It was not very good. The John Nathan-Turner slide into shite is now very marked.

Things you never want to find yourself saying #2

"What I'm saying is I've seen him drink his own urine and I'd still make out with him."

Things you never want to find yourself saying #1

"We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Another Town, Another Place

One of the People From Work is doing something a bit mad - he is buying a car worth less than UK£500 with an engine smaller than one litre, and then he is driving it to Ulan Bator, starting in the next couple of weeks. Once there he will sell the car, for charity. I'm not sure he has thought through how he is going to get back home. To make things even more eccentric, he is taking somewhat indirect route to Ulan Bator - through Europe to Turkey, then through Iran, and through a large number of countries whose name ends in -stan. If you want to read about his adventures, or donate money to his featured charities, check out Rust-bucket express. Apparently this car to Mongolia thing is something a lot of people do every year, or so the Mongol Rally website claims.

[Linking to PFW websites is of course the path of madness... sooner or later they trace back the link, and then you are in trouble. This is life]

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I have stumbled onto this blog by someone who is travelling through similar countries to my workmate: Pamistan. It features pictures of the Father of the Turkmen's famous revolving golden statue. Maybe PFW Gordon will also get to see this.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Sumatran Tigers: very rare but very fierce

There are apparently only 400 Sumatran Tigers left in the world. They suffer from habitat loss and the depredations of poachers. They are however not going quietly. One tiger was recently caught in a trap, but managed to escape by gnawing his own paw off. He has been seen several times since, and is apparently in good condition.

Some of the other tigers are acting in a manner that is fierce but not entirely thought through. The parks in which the tigers live are full of motion triggered cameras, used to capture images of poachers. One tiger has become so annoyed by the flash on these cameras that he destroys them whenever they take his picture.

Feeling a bit parky?

Ah, that's better!

Thanks to Shazrazzmatazz for that delightful image.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

World's greatest ever obituary

"Count Gottfried von Bismarck, who was found dead on Monday aged 44, was a louche German aristocrat with a multi-faceted history as a pleasure-seeking heroin addict, hell-raising alcoholic, flamboyant waster and a reckless and extravagant host of homosexual orgies."

It continues.

A friend posted me the link, and she received it from this keen Telegraph reader.

Which is it, people?

Pirahnas not actually that fierce, claim scientists.

Zoo seeks mate for female pirahna who ate previous one.

Heroes of the Internet #1: The Lizard King

The Lizard King is an attendee at the church of the Reverend Ted Haggard.

The Lizard King was also the first additon to Santorum.jpg.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


I will talk about this at more length in the future, but for the moment let me just say that if you like noir-influenced crime writing, you would be well advised to check out the comic "Criminal", written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Sean Phillips. I started reading it with the issue before last; the current story is about some hard-nut trying to track down those responsible for the death of his brother.

There is already a book out compiling issues 1 to 7 (which had a separate story in them), but I recommend buying this little baby issue by issue, for full on pulpy cliffhanger action. Onlike so many of todays' comics, they aren't shy about including a usable "the story so far" bit at the beginning of each issue.

Big version of #7 cover.