Sunday, December 20, 2020

A New Joy...

 

WARNING: Spoilers for the season 2 finale of The Mandalorian, so if you haven’t seen it then piss off.

 

On a weekly basis I watch two sci-fi shows. I look forward to both of them, one more than the other. On Thursdays it’s Star Trek: Discovery which, after the magnificence of the second season, has now gone right up its own gender non-specific orifice and become a mess of virtue signalling and wagging its finger at the audience (hint to the writers: Star Trek isn’t suppose to be trying at inclusivity, the future it has portrayed since 1966 is that it is no longer relevant because human beings have evolved past petty prejudice). The other is on Fridays and it’s the wonderful STAR WARS: The Mandalorian.


For those not in the know, this show is set IN the Star Wars universe, roughly 5 years after the destruction of the second Death Star. A bounty hunter from the planet of Mandalore (who has sworn an oath to NEVER remove his helmet in front of another living being) is tasked with finding a child and when he does it looks like a baby version of the Jedi master Yoda. Ignoring his mission and instead becoming a surrogate father to the child, the Mandalorian (named Din) goes on adventures trying to keep his adopted son safe and, in season 2, becoming involved with the few remaining Jedi that are left after Order 66 way back in Revenge of the Sith.

I have always enjoyed this show, mainly because it is Star Wars for grown ups and not the woke crap that the new trilogy has become (Force Awakens is pretty good, Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker are fair to middling at best). It is hard hitting and the fight scenes look like two or more people actually trying to hurt one another, not the rendition of Swan Lake you get when Daisy Ridley or John Boyega pick up a light saber. I have been a fan of Pedro Pascal since Game of Thrones, through Narcos and the Kingsman sequel. He’s a top rate actor and has proved his acting chops here by taking on a role where his face is only revealed once in the first season and twice in the second. Karl Urban stated when he played Judge Dredd in the 2011 movie** that he had to emote with his nose and mouth due to Dredd’s helmet never being removed. Pascal has to emote with voice and body language only for 99% of The Mandalorian, and achieves it magnificently.


The show references and pays respect to established canon but it did not feature any main or even secondary characters from days gone by until we got to season 2 where Boba Fett was reintroduced along with one or two characters from the Star Wars cartoon shows. The remnants of the Empire are still kicking about, including a Moff (sector governor) and the name of Grand Admiral Thrawn has been spoken. Stormtroopers still can’t shoot for shit and the Empire have retained their penchant for creating dangerous walkways above massive drops (or even open space) with no guard rails. The series was glorious because it was its own thing. A selfish, isolated  and violent man and his awakening conscience due to his bond with a small child. The action and adventure were a separate entity to the main canon, similar to the events of Rogue One, which effected the story of A New Hope but were their own thing.

The show rocked because it had a grown-up feel to it. Forget the Casino Royale Grand National from The Last Jedi and taking out Tie Fighters with backflips, this was a show where ammunition was used sparingly and people’s decisions would come back to haunt them. Din doesn’t fight fair, he gets his job done and makes no attempt to show mercy unless it is to his own advantage. Dying from his injuries in season 1 he refuses medical help because this would mean removing his helmet. “No other living thing can see my face” he tells the droid attempting to help him. After a pause the droid replies “I am not a living thing”.


We also got to see the story from the perspective of the imperial troops. Some were evil but, in a poignant moment, an imperial soldier angrily castigates a survivor from Alderaan for the millions of people who died when rebels blew up both Death Stars. The lack of order in the galaxy now the Empire is gone is noted on several occasions.

The Mandalorian is awesome because it took one of the primary joys of my childhood and made it into a show I could enjoy as I neared my 50th birthday.

And then we had Covid.

Netflix and Disney+ and HBO Max and all the other streaming services have now become a lifeline for many people. I spend my days fluctuating between teaching English (100% of my lessons are online now) and finding something to do to avoid going insane from boredoem. I cycle a lot and do yoga and meditae and clean my apartment and try to focus on a day when all this mask-wearing, distance-bearing, not-shagging, misery will be over.


TV shows have been a crutch for me, along with movies, since I was a child. This has become more apparent now with the isolation that the Corona restrictions have brought. I live in Rome and in May and June remember the utter boredom of being at home 6 days a week; only going out to empty the trash (this I began to look forward to) or on that magical seventh day, going shopping (where I had to queue like a gimp along with everyone else just to get in the supermarket). The rules changed again yesterday and over Christmas we have even more lockdowns. Last Christmas Day I spent the day with a female friend who had walked to my house from the centre of Rome. It took her about three hours and we spent a pleasant day eating, watching films and fucking. This year I’ll be watching Die Hard alone and might treat myself to a walk to the park if the rules allow me to.


So…back to The Mandalorian.

In the final episode Din launches a rescue mission to get the child back and encounters many obstacles on the way. This episode was already very good but the ending took it to a new level, in the best way possible.

Cornered by dozens of scary, red-eyed, Cylon-esque Dark Troopers (Terminators with no skin on) the heroes are trapped on the bridge of a space cruiser with no way out, while two Troopers hammer down the blast doors. When it seems all hope is lost a single X-Wing fighter appears in the background, docks in the landing bay and a single, cloaked and hooded, figure emerges. Through security camera footage we see this person cut through the Troopers with ease while wielding a light saber. We then see the figure for real, and the light saber is green. The person is blatantly a Jedi and he’s got a green lightsaber and his right hand has a black glove and….and…AND

IS THAT FUCKING LUKE SKYWALKER!!!???


No, it can’t be. They’re just baiting us. We can’t see the face so this is going to be a fake surprise. This show’s biggest Original Trilogy name so far has been Boba Fett for Chrissakes! No way is that THE biggest star of the entire franchise.

But then as the figure despatches the last of the Troopers (by Force crushing the fuck out of it, like it was a tin can) and enters the bridge, we finally see the face and it is indeed Luke Skywalker.

Now…I watched this on Friday night and I felt that joy rise up within me that I haven’t felt watching Star Wars since I heard the line “I am your father” when I was 10 or 11 years old. As soon as the X-Wing hoved into view in the background I hoped where this was going and it didn’t disappoint. I felt emotional, I felt elated and above all, I forgot for just a few moments that I have gone from holding down three jobs last April and working about 30 hours a week, to having one job and being contracted for only 4 hours, with sporadic freelance work to back that up.

The videos that have cropped up on YouTube in the last couple of days include compilations of grown men and women crying and joyfully freaking out when they slowly start to realise who the badass is that’s cutting his way through ranks of elite imperial soldiers. The one that had the biggest impact on me was the guy crying while his girlfriend/ wife affectionately places a hand on his shoulder and says “It’s OK babe”.

In all this misery and uncertainty that the world has given us, where Christmas is going to be utterly fucking shite for thousands or even millions of people, where we have to wear masks just to walk down the street, where we have a US President who is behaving like a spoiled child who has stayed up past his bedtime, this one little thing reawakened a childhood joy in a multitude.

Seeing Luke “Fucking” Skywalker swinging his lightsaber again gave a very simple joy and a much needed dose of dopamime to people who are potentially very close to their own Godzilla threshold. One of the biggest heroes of the 1970s and 80s was again back on form and it made people feel good.

John Favreau…I thank you.



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** I stress the 2011 movie and not that pile of dogshit that Sylvester Stallone made back in 1995.


Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Godzilla Threshold

 

 

A wonderful website that I found a decade or so ago, is tvtropes.org. This site lists all the cliches and established rules and patterns of all types of media and has some informative and amusing entries. Like Wikipedia, anyone can edit and last night I was looking over the Recap entry for The Mandalorian* when I saw a couple of headings that made me giggle. One was “Damn You Muscle Memory” where a character will react out of instinct in a situation that proves to their detriment and “The Godzilla Threshold”. The latter was intriguing because it concerns using an option so utterly extreme and badass and horrid and that will result in sooo much collateral damage that you would only dream of thinking of using it in the most dire of circumstances.

To illustrate…

In the wonderful Aliens, the surviving senior marine on a rescue mission, after the majority were wiped out by xenomorphs, decides to “take off and nuke the entire site from orbit, only way to be sure”. In the generally shite Jurassic World, the heroine** decides that that only way to fight the Supercalifrajilistic Rex is to unleash the original big bad from the original movie…the frowny-faced T-Rex. And in the second Riddick movie a character states that “evil must be fought by another type of evil”.

The Godzilla Threshold is where you decide that enough is enough and there is no further to go through less draconian or even diplomatic routes. The USA felt that the bombs dropped on Japan in World War II were justified (as did the bomber on Enola Gay) because it meant killing multitudes in order to save many more.

Godzilla itself was the ultimate badass*** and despite usually being a “goody” was known to wreak havoc on the surrounding population and wreck skyscrapers like it was going out of style. Anyone invoking this ultimate deterrent was either reckless or realised there was no alternative.

British Prime Minister Margaret “dead, ha, ha” Thatcher crossed the Godzilla threshold in 1980 by authorising the storming of the Iranian Embassy in London by special forces unit the SAS. These guys do not take prisoners unless ordered to and were found later on to have intended to execute a subdued and detained terrorist, until a genuine hostage intervened.

The Godzilla Threshold is there within most institutions and organisations at least theoretically, to allow for draconian measures to be taken. This could be from something like the laying off of a majority of staff (many businesses globally due to Covid-19) to the mythical “kill switch” that was rumoured to exist within British telephone exchanges in the 1980s (stopping all non-essential phone communication in the event of a national catastrophe or emergency).

Rarely utilised and more rarely even known about, these measures are the stuff of folklore and campfire tales that only have some credence. If you have a Godzilla option, you aren’t exactly going to be generous with sharing knowledge of it, be it financial, societal or even lethal.

Something that I’ve found recently is that the lockdown due to Covid has pushed people’s patience beyond what would normally be considered the outer limits. I posted last week on a Facebook group for expats in Rome, asking for advice on what items may be carried for self defence in Italy (pepper spray is legal here). The thread generated over 300 comments before the admins switched off the ability to comment. Some amusing, some helpful but a lot hateful or even racist, accusing me of suffering from PTSD, of wanting to carry a gun and that I should smile more. The irritability of people has become more and more mainstream now and things that can be used to initiate a fight sometimes will be.

Everyone has a Godzilla threshold. We just don’t use them very often or ever. One way to stop your neighbour from parking across your driveway would be to smash the bitch’s car windows and/ or let her tyres down. A method to stop your teenage daughter’s ex-boyfriend from pestering her would be to batter the shit out of the little bastard. A measure to punish a queue jumper in the supermarket would be to smash them over the head with bottle of prosecco. We don’t take these measures because our moral codes tell us not to but more so because we fear societal sanction for reacting to our base instincts. From playschool to your first job, life dictates that you must follow certain rules and that punishment will follow if you do not.

In Italy we are locked down over Xmas and New Year. No travelling outside your own municipality and a 10pm curfew. Italians don’t like this but the police are making sure rules are followed each day. On Wednesday I cycled to Vatican City and saw at least seven people getting stopped by cops and asked to show ID or told to put their masks on/ pull them up over their noses. In the UK however the Christmas rules are so fucking complicated that you need an Honours degree in cuntyness and an abacus just to try and fathom them out. For a five-day period, households may create a “bubble of 3”. I can’t be arsed to explain any more than that, so google it if you want to know more but this is, in my opinion, merely a way for the government to avoid a rise in Covid infections and potential rioting or even civil war as people have now been given SOME freedom over the Yuletide period rather than none and will not invoke their Godzilla options of simply throwing caution to the wind and doing whatever the fuck they like.

The fabric of society is thinly stretched. Having worked as both a cop and a postman in the UK I have seen just how rules and regulations and so called “normality” are balanced against a potential avalanche of chaos.

The governments of the world have always had Godzilla options. In the UK, 90% of police are routinely UNARMED but any Chief Constable (Commissioner in London) has the authority to arm their officers and they don’t only because of the fear of negative public opinion. Governments declaring martial law is the Godzilla option that is rarely and sparingly used but as time goes on we are seeing more and more disillusioned people who are getting fed up with being told to wear masks and simply sit back as their lives become static and their money dwindles away.

Sooner or later, people will move from fantasising about what they would do in the most extreme of circumstances and begin contemplating really doing it. And that is where things are scary.

If you even consider using Godzilla then you are past a point of tolerance that you shouldn’t be at.

Hopefully things will calm down soon but it could go either way. Time will tell.

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* Which give me such hope that Disney haven't completely fucked Star Wars up the bum.
** While running in high heels, no less!
*** Although the less said about its fucking nephew Godzooky the better.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Death of Immortality (RIP Sean Connery)

Today, Sean Connery died.

The man who defined machismo for the generation before mine and probably the one after me. The original 007*, the father of Indiana Jones, Robin Hood**, King Richard the Lionheart….the list goes on.

Sean Connery was always cool. From when I was a little boy watching Bond movies on ITV, he was always the guyI preferred to Roger Moore or George Lazenby. There was something reassuring about Sean. He looked like he meant business and was just as likely to smack a woman as a man if it meant he was closer to fulfilling his latest mission as a government-sanctioned assassin. His 007 was cruel, snarky and looked like the kind of person who’d probably been a bully at school. But that’s what made him so much fun. We were rooting for what should have been a bad guy.

As I got older Sean Connery was consistent the way the seasons are. You could always guarantee that he would liven up a movie and I remember always looking forward to seeing a film if he was in it.

When writing Time Bandits, Terry Gilliam wanted “someone who looks like Sean Connery” to play King Agamemnon. Sean got word of this and offered to play the role. I remember seeing this wonderful film as an 11 year-old boy and noting that Sean’s portrayal of the king was as if he was a kindly but strict schoolteacher and not the figure of history and that this interpretation rocked.

Outland, A Bridge Too Far and Meteor were all fairly average films, raised to being awesome by having Sean in them. When he came back to unofficially play James Bond in 1983 at the age of 53, MGM had to entice the 55 year-old Roger Moore back to the franchise, believing that keeping the current face of 007 was the only thing that could compete with having the original actor portray him once again in a duelling movie.

There was always something undefinably wonderful about Sean Connery. Even his films that I don’t like are entertaining for the bits that he’s in. Diamonds are Forever in 1971 has him as an overweight 007 and visibly not the handsome, svelte killer of Dr No or Goldfinger. He still carried the film though. Bits I noticed as a kid were the utter glee with which he kills Blofeld (by pushing him head first into boiling mud no less) at the beginning and the regret he briefly shows just before he attacks Peter Franks in the elevator. Sean was a great actor, even when he couldn’t be arsed or the material he was working with wasn’t up to much.

Something that has been noted is that his accent didn’t change. A British gentleman, a Turkish/ Egyptian prince, an Irish American, a Russian soldier or an English king…he still had the same tones. Thing is he had charisma, something that, years later Arnold Schwarzenneger would excel in in a similar way.

As time moved on people accepted that Sean was great and this went without question. The acid test for anyone claiming to love the 007 franchise was to ask “Who’s the second best James Bond?” it being an unspoken fact that Sean was number one. If they answered with his name, the conversation was done.

I remember going to university in 1990 to study Law and an 18 year-old girl on the same course had a massive crush on Sean Connery, who at this point had just turned 60 and was distressing gussets globally in the Hunt for Red October as a Russian turncoat. In 1996 while watching The Rock I heard a woman aged about 23 say loudly “Oh God! He is so fucking hot!!!”

And so to the death of immortality….

James Bond has always perpetuated the myth that men can remain between 35 and 50 permanently. Such a man can speak about 5 languages, shag loads of women without getting the clap, enjoy good food, be incredibly clever and kill people (who deserve it) with a smile and a witty remark***. The Bond movies I dislike are the ones where Bond doesn’t fit this trope (Diamonds Are Forever for Sean and the fucking awful A View To A Kill for Roger Moore) because they are meant to entertain, not remind us of the fragility of our own existence and the ceaseless march of time.

Sean Connery in real life, took this a step further. He got sexier the older he got. As James Bond at the age of 32 he was hot and women swooned. As a middle-aged and later elderly man he was for some inexplicable reason, even hotter and caused the knickers to catch fire of women young enough to be his granddaughter.

He carried the film The Rock, despite the odious presence of shit actor and all round gobshite Nicholas Cage. Many people regard this as an unofficial sequel to his tenure as Bond, because his character John Mason is 007 by a different name. The film is tremendous because he is in it. Without him it would have been an average thriller.

He made Indiana Jones even cooler by putting a character as iconic as Indy in with an almost-as-cool dad. Hell, Henry Jones even got to shag the same woman as his son and not one person thought that was icky!

When Roger Moore died in 2017 it was sad but he looked crap in the years before he passed on and the inevitability of his death was something we could see coming and accepted. The once handsome Saint, Persuader and Bond was almost unrecognisable when he shuffled off the mortal coil at age 89.

Sean Connery looked good as a septuagenarian and an octogenarian. He made us believe that we could age well, be shaggable to women 50 years younger and still be healthy well into our twilight years. He also made us almost believe that we could live forever. Now that he’s gone that bubble has burst and mortality seems a little too real again.

Thank you Sean for the films you made. I loved them as a kid and I liked them as a man. I just hope I can age as well as you you did.

 I'll leave the last word to a friend of mine, Diana, who lives in Mexico (translated from Spanish): "There are handsome men, manly men and sexy men and in a separate category, there is Sean Connery"

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* Yes, I'm well aware of the radio and TV versions so shut up!

** Also his dad but lets not go there. Michael Praed, I hate you for quitting to do Dynasty.

*** Sean's best was undoubtedly saying "Bon Appetit!" after throwing a guy into a tank full of piranhas.


Monday, October 19, 2020

Unconditional

 

A long time ago I fell in love with you and, for reasons long discussed and dissected, I couldn’t tell you until it was far too late.

Falling in love with you wasn’t something I did on purpose. I didn’t want to but it happened. Like Cupid’s arrow, or a thunderbolt, or Romeo seeing Juliet for the first time, something just took over my entire being.

I tried so hard not to feel this way towards you but nothing I did worked. Silence, aloofness and trying to simply “get a life” made no fucking difference whatsoever. Even not speaking to you for nearly 9 years didn’t douse the flames.

Every day I think about you at least once. I still dream about you and not all of those dreams are erotic. Some are where we meet and talk and I can feel your energy as if you are really there with me.

All my life I’ve dealt with paranoia and the kind of anxiety that should be bottled and used in chemical warfare. My feelings for you helped me through some of the worst depressions I’ve ever experienced. Thinking about you simply made me feel good. Imagining your smile and your scent and your laugh made everything just a little bit better.

I will never deliberately do anything to hurt you or those you care about. I love you unconditionally and for many years my greatest fear was that you hated me. That would have broken my heart but even if you had, I would have still loved you anyway.

I don’t know why I love you so much. I’ve tried to analyse it but I don’t get answers. Nothing about my love for you is explicable but these feelings exist anyway. I don’t want them to go and knowing you are living a life that doesn’t involve me is painful but not knowing you at all would be infinitely worse.

The situation now is that you are ill. Sick. Poorly. Unwell.

But this has happened right in the middle of the fucking Covid-19 outbreak and as I write this, we don’t know why you are sick, you are waiting to find out what is wrong with you.

Life is short so I’ll say this....

I still love you but I’m aware that there are boundaries.

I love you unconditionally.

For what we shared and left behind there is a light that will never die.

I will always love you.

My world is a much better place knowing that you are in it...somewhere.



Sunday, September 6, 2020

In Anticipation Of….

 

Something that has become apparent to me in the last few months is just how much of my reactions to life are pre-programmed; muscle memory from a long time ago. Similarly to how I wash my hands or tie my shoelaces, there is no conscious effort to the actions, I simply do it because I know how to and I expect things to be a certain way.

I’ve always been isolated from the age of about 4. I’ve had friends but not many and I’ve always found it incredibly hard to make anything other than superficial connections with other people. Recently (mainly during the cunting Covid-19 lockdown) I’ve been meditating and doing a whole load more yoga than before and tried controlling my breathing. The meditation has proved beneficial and the yoga has, on quite  a few occasions, succeeded in shifting my mood from one of either lethargy or negativity, to a more positive state. Through the clarity these actions have brought I’ve been able to unknot the tangled web of my own hang ups and get square with a few of the barriers that were preventing me from moving forward.

To whit…

One thing I’ve always done is been slightly aloof around people I don’t know, or people I know but don’t completely trust. This was a self defence mechanism triggered when I was very young. The brain when you are a child will try to make sense of a world full of new experiences and filter out what is good and bad for you. Our minds and psyches come choc’ full of pre-programmed failsafes to maintain equilibrium until we become independent (try and make a baby crawl across a glass floor towards you, it won’t do it). My mind has always been dialled up to 11 in response to situations that had the potential to hurt me. This would be fine if it was only for genuinely harmful scenarios but not when it cuts into making friends, forming romantic attachments or self-esteem.

Two days ago I spoke to a guy I went to school with who contributed a story to my most recent book 6 of One: Secondary School Days. I never got on with this bloke at school and he was a bully towards me. Rarely physically but every day verbally. Earlier this year when I was putting the feelers out to get the book written (short stories by ex-pupils of Kenilworth School, UK) me and this lad had a chat on Facebook Messenger. He asked why I was bullied and then he typed “we got on though, didn’t we?”

I tried to change the subject but he persisted so I then told him “You used to call me a queer and I was always afraid of you?”

Not only did he have zero memories of this he thought we had been pals at school.

My reaction to his bullying was to assume that he had a mindset of knowing exactly that he was doing and what it was achieving. Turned out he not only didn’t remember it (something I’ve encountered before from former school bullies) but actually THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS.

My mind has always been flinchy. I have tip-toed through adolescence and adulthood (my childhood was OK up to about age 11) always expecting to get hurt. Not only did that rarely happen but I also made the occasions when it did the “normality” and the 99% of positive experiences the “exception”.

I have lived for nearly 50 years in anticipation of getting burned. This is one reason why, when I have got hurt, I have reacted with intensity and even grief. My paranoia felt vindicated and then showed my self-esteem the red card by replaying, constantly, whatever the incident was that had confirmed that life was scary and people couldn’t be trusted.

Recently I have tried being less guarded and have found the experience to be a lot less scary than I had always thought it would be. Two weeks ago I was having dinner with three colleagues at a teaching camp and I was relaxed. On a sub-conscious level I ALWAYS believed that other people would hurt me and all I could do was try to skate around that.

Living in anticipation of getting hurt has made me incredibly lonely and given me an edge that made other people feel slightly uneasy as it was clear that I was, on some level, unable to unwind. From saying sorry to the woman of my dreams after 8.5 years (who, it turned out, was never mad at me and thought I was upset with her due the fact I simply vanished from her life without explanation); to not leaving negative references for unpleasant Couchsurfing guests…in case they left one back in retaliation; to wearing gladiator-esque body protection on my bicycle due to the legendary cuntish driving in Rome (I now wear only a helmet for protection and have still not had an accident….ever).

Letting go of fear isn’t easy but it’s been something that has proved worthwhile.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Finally Free...

Last week I published my 17th book. It’s called 6 of One and it’s a memoir, written by me and 27 other people who went to Kenilworth School back in the 1970s and 80s. This book wasn’t easy to put together (I tried on my own in 2013 but gave up due to the bad memories it brought up) but by making it a compendium of other ex-pupils’ stories we got a good book out of it and all the profits will go to Northleigh House in Warwick, a school for vulnerable children.

This book was something that, deep down, I always knew would help me to finally move on from the bad memories and bitterness that had plagued me since my teenage years, the majority of which were associated with this school.

Looking back on my social media posts, and also this blog plus its predecessor Lance Wandering, I’ve realised just how vitriolic and angry most of my stuff was. There were romantic and tender stories but also a desire for revenge and justice where I perceived that myself or others had been wronged. Being an angry young man is one thing. Being an angry man in his late 40s is another.

In my life I’ve had counselling, done seminars (most notably the Landmark Forum and its associated work), had hypnotherapy and written lots of books and blogs. While these things helped (mainly the writing) my issues have always been lurking just far enough away to be visible but not obtainable. I have made many efforts to move on with my life and forget my past but nothing had long term success.

I’ve found out in the last 15 years that I have both acute anxiety (although it has dissipated as I’ve got older) and enhanced emotional memory. EEM is the ability to recall things with vivid clarity when at the highs and lows of emotional feeling. So, I can remember every shag I’ve ever had but conversely can remember incidents that happened to me when I was 4 that were upsetting.

The problem with EEM is that it distorts the ‘reality’ of the situation you are experiencing and means that while you remember it, you remember a version that fits your view of it. It’s like photographic memory with a film crew and special effects team. This coupled with a really shitty case of anxiety means that I have spent most of my life making monsters in my head and creating mountains out of mole hills.

However…

I also had a lousy time at secondary school. I was bullied, lonely and for a time believed I was a freak. The experience was one of utter misery for four years and the lasting effects of this have stayed with me for most of my adult life thus far. Trying to move on wasn’t something I gave up on but it was a case of two steps forward and one back, every time. I couldn’t shift the feelings of frustration, bitterness and rage towards a past that I hated with vivid clarity.

In the 2008 TV show Ashes to Ashes, (itself a sequel to Life on Mars) badass Chief Inspector Gene Hunt turns out to be a ghost, a policeman who died on his first day of active duty in 1952 aged 19. Rather than moving on, his spirit entered purgatory and remained there as a shepherd for other cops who died with unresolved issues, to enable them to finally enter the afterlife. Gene Hunt is a man in his late 40s or early 50s but his attitude to life is still roughly that of the teenager he was when he died. As one character says to him “an immature relationship with both women and alcohol”. He became a hard-drinking, hardnosed, coarse, violent yet ultimately good man who represented what his younger self had imagined an ideal copper to be. He was stuck in this time frame, unable to move on due to having died before he could evolve emotionally and spiritually.

I was stuck at age 15 in many ways. I have always found it awkward to talk to people and created a persona of someone who was slightly obnoxious in order to avoid having to get too ‘real’. I drank a lot and for a brief time I also smoked cigarettes. I tried to be flippant and act like I didn’t care about much when in reality I was desperate to be with someone. I have made majorly awful misjudgements of other people’s characters that have resulted in me being hurt both physically and emotionally by those I had misread because I wanted to be able to trust them.

Very few people are islands. I envy those men and women you see on shows like New Lives In The Wild who live in shacks twenty miles from civilisation, in a forest accessible only by boat plane. To be that much at peace with yourself that you simply don’t want to continue within society. I would love to be like that.

But I’m not….at least not now at any rate.

Like most, I need to be loved and to feel valued and as Charles Bukowski once said “being alone never felt right. Sometimes it felt good, but it never felt right”.

When I started to write 6 of One again, during the really fucking awful initial lockdown in May because of Covid-19 (I live in Italy so our home isolation was almost total) I decided to open it up to anyone else who wanted to contribute. This was both a way of making my contributions less, but also to get different perspectives of a school that I hated but some people had alternate perspectives of and even enjoyed.

As the book was cobbled together slowly, with submissions coming in every week I began to feel both excited and also very, very scared. I do some meditation and I pondered on this mixture of emotions and I worked out that the 15-year-old me was terrified. Frightened of being left behind when the book was published and worried about the potential trouble that I would bring on that part of me through daring to publish a book that, very clearly, shows what an unprofessional bunch of cunts a lot of the teachers were back then. I reassured that side of myself that when the book was published, he would not be left behind or abandoned but would merge with me and we would both then become stronger as a result. Me because of being able to use that adolescent hunger for life to stay happy as I enter my 50s, and him for being able to see that the world wasn’t so scary after all.

About a week before the book was due to be published my anxiety was fluctuating wildly and I was dealing with it as best I could. Then the sink in the bathroom and the one in the kitchen got blocked. The landlord was on holiday and his recommended plumber was out of town. So, I went down the local Ferramenta and bought a plumber’s snake (very long wire with a handle on one end), stuffed it down the plug hole in the bathroom and wound it until a big, rancid glob of matted hair from years ago was dredged up, stinking to high heaven. The blockage was relatively small but as soon as it was gone the water began flowing freely again, in both sinks (they shared the same outlet). Also, the horrid, whiffy pong that sometimes greeted me (imagine old sewage) in the morning was gone.

The memories I had of school and my youth were the matted lump of hair. The book was the plumber’s snake.

I originally intended to publish on August 1st, holding out for last-minute story submissions from other people who had said they wanted to be involved but then I realised that we were over 30,000 words and I had enough to publish so, on July 21st, I submitted the memoir for publication via Amazon’s platform. Before I did, I created an image in my head of my 15-year-old self, next to me on the sofa and we watched the Netflix movie The Old Guard with Charlize Theron (which fucking ROCKS by the way!!!) I then went to the computer, got into Amazon.co.uk and as I hit the button labelled “submit manuscript for publication” I imagined that teenage part of me was moving on.

In the next few days, I felt changes in my emotions and my outlook. I also slept a lot; in a way I haven’t slept in many years. The energy required to carry that part of me for so long was now no longer needed and I was able to relax and have the luxury of unguarded sleep.

I feel more positive and more grateful for the things I have in my life. The scared and lonely child has finally had his voice heard. The book 6 of One does not pull any punches and both me and the other contributors have painted a very real and both funny and sad portrait, of life in a comprehensive school nearly 40 years ago. Back then I was told not to answer back and that frustrated and miserable part of me could finally move on after finally saying what he needed to.

This has been the most difficult book I’ve ever written (none were easy, book writing is boring, despite what you might think. It’s only the end result that makes it worthwhile) solely because of the emotions it has brought up. An unexpected side-effect of doing this is that I have realised that the perspectives I held with my Enhanced Emotional Memory, were not those of the other people involved. Most don’t remember that those that do are changed now, having evolved.

Suppression of emotion is always dangerous. In a child it can be catastrophic. Now, I’m free to move on.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Reframing Dad



I’m a big James Bond fan. Always have been and I can think of many movies in this long, long franchise that can still make me smile. The movies are a great way to unwind and dive into a world where a state sanctioned assassin is suave, sophisticated, shags loads, and never ages beyond about 50.
There are only two entries in this series that piss me off. One is A View To A Kill, which is awful on so many fucking levels and the other is Die Another Day. Now, AVTAK cannot be saved no matter what you do. Roger Moore looks pigging awful at 57 in the role and Bond girl Tanya Roberts’ mother was a year younger than Moore. The movie was the closest you can get to being a straight version of Austin Powers. Until you get to DAD.
Pierce Brosnan’s swansong was so over the top that it became farcical. Invisible cars, space lazers, ice palaces, race-altering plastic surgery and Madonna as a fencing instructor…to name a few. The film is irritating and so OTT that, despite some good moments, is something that die-hard fans will avoid when rummaging through the Blu-ray box set on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Unreality needs to have ground rules. I accept without question that Jon Snow in Game of Thrones can be brought back to life. I accept dragons and white walkers and wights and the lord of fire. What I don’t accept is when Snow falls through the ice into a frozen lake, climbs out and rides his horse back to Castle Black and recovers without so much as a case of the sniffles. No one said that his return from death made him immortal so an experience that would have killed Bear Grylls is, quite frankly, taking the fucking piss.
Superman can fly, is allergic to Kryptonite and has lazer vision. Accepted without a murmur. BUT…putting his spectacles on and combing his hair differently grants him a disguise? Fuck off!
Indiana Jones keeps his hat on in a bar room brawl? OK. He jumps out of an aeroplane in a dingy with two other people and survives…with his hat on? WHAT KIND OF CUNT DO YOU TAKE ME FOR?!!”
And then the other day while disinterestedly thumbing through YouTube videos I came across one called “James Bond dies in Die Another Day”. In the actual movie, after being captured in North Korea in the pre-credits bit, Bond is tortured for 14 months and then traded for uber-baddy Zao by the British Secret Service and the CIA. He then fakes flatlining while in hospital recovering, and escapes to take revenge in typical Bondian fashion involving lots of shagging, explosions and gadgets.
The video that I’d found, presented an alternative angle on proceedings. What if…..Bond flatlined for real in that early scene and the rest of the movie is a dying dream. The final shot of the film is Bond and the female protagonist lying on a pile of diamonds while making out which then fades to black, which the documentary maker interpreted as saying this was where Bond finally died. He added that this is why Judi Dench is still M when Daniel Craig got the role and that the reason she is so fucked off with him for creating havoc in the embassy at the beginning of Casino Royale is because this type of foolhardy behaviour is what got his predecessor killed.
And…not only does this make sense it also makes Die Another Day a LOT less shit.
If Bond is simply hallucinating and dreaming of palaces carved from ice, fist fights amongst swirling lazer beams and cars falling like confetti out of aircraft then the movie is a fine homage to Pierce Brosnan’s tenure in the tuxedo and makes sense. Bond imagines that every woman he meets finds him phwooarsome (including a nurse who tries to give him the kiss of life) and that a Chinese contact he hasn’t seen for years wouldn’t bat an eyelid when meeting him again, even when he looks like Robinson Crusoe in pyjamas. The ludicrousness and weirdness of the film is sooo much more enjoyable if you take it that NONE of this is real, and it is all Bond’s final dream of a final adventure. The opening sequence is relatively grounded in reality compared to the later excesses and last night I watched DAD again and enjoyed the movie much more than I previously had, solely through approaching it with a reframe.
This attitude has been used for other films in the past. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has a fan theory that Ferris is merely Cameron’s imaginary friend and none of the film is real except Cameron wrecking his dad’s prized sports car. He even brushes Ferris off once he decides to stand up to his father (for the first time in his life). This TOTALLY changes the experience you get when watching the movie.
So….let’s try and put this in other films. Maybe Superman has some kind of Kryptonian mind control technique that means that people can’t recognise him as Clark Kent. Maybe Jon Snow was granted immortality when brought back from the dead in Game of Thrones but we just weren’t told that. And maybe Indiana Jones is just incredibly lucky?
And then maybe the reframe can be applied to real life?
As I write this we are in a global lockdown because of the fucking, pigging, cunting corona virus. I spend most of my time indoors, getting a taste of what it must be like to be a geriatric and looking forward to the weekly trip to the supermarket. While I’ve kept busy (I’m still teaching, albeit online now) and read, meditate and do yoga on a daily basis there is a whole load of boredom to deal with.
If you reframe the monotony of quarantine it becomes less of a chore and more of a time to reflect, work through some anxiety issues and appreciate the solitude. I’ve been borderline misanthropic since I was in my late teens so this isn’t that much of a haul for me, staying in and having limited contact with other people.
I have a class on Saturday mornings. The students are between 12 and 14 years old and as it’s a 9am kick off, are invariably grouchy, cheeky, arrive late and have side conversations in class. I’ve taught them for a couple of years through two levels of English and while, individually, they are all nice kids, as a group they act as a catalyst for each other and get right on my frigging tits. Now it’s less of an issue because I can mute their microphones or even kick them out of Zoom into the “waiting room” if they push it too far. When I go back to teach them face-to-face I’ll apply the following reframe. It’s Saturday. They’ve just spent a week at school and the LAST bastard thing they want to do at 9am on the first day of the weekend is have nearly 2 hours English tuition as an extra curricular activity. This flips the perspective not to one of sympathy for twatty behaviour but instead to make me realise that I need to try and find other ways to stimulate them into learning rather than rely on methods that work fine from Monday to Friday. The 11am group just after them are no problem whatsoever and it’s basically the early start that is the mosquito in the yoghurt.
I can reframe interactions I’ve had with other people that have been both positive and negative. It’s not an attempt to empathise but more a desire to be able to view events without getting annoyed or emotionally attached to what is going on. Things that happened to me as I grew up were, I have found, quite often meaningless to the other people involved. Merely reframing events can reduce the drain that these memories place upon my psyche and my anxiety.
You don't have to try and get hippyfied over this and be constantly trying to seek reasons for bad situations. What I've realised is that if you reframe, even if only for your own benefit, then things can and usually do appear more bearable or even become enjoyable.
Things that meant so much to me in a negative light before corona lockdown have now become much less important than they were, solely through reframing with the eyes I now have.

A View To A Kill still honks though.

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Black Projector




In isolation due to the corona virus lockdown, I have spent many days on my own finding various slightly different ways to pass the time. Reading, watching TV, yoga, sewing, tidying the flat…all have helped alleviate the boredom of this monotonous experience. Leaning towards misanthropy when we’re not on lockdown has mean that I have coped well with what has, for some people, become soul destroying.
As I’ve moved through this seclusion, I’ve also done more meditation than usual and thankfully have found answers to things I’ve needed answers to…and this morning I saw the significance of a blind spot that has held me back for quite a while.
The childhood and adolescence that I had plus my adulthood have been quite lonely and that feeling of separation has become woven into my life. It’s now part of me and I feel comfortable with it in the same way an old coat feels good. You know it needs replacing but it has, to some extent, moulded to your shape and movements. It’s predictable and warm and while it may not feel right, it feels good.
But then I realised this morning that I have lived a HUGE chunk of my life with my view of reality seen through what I now call the black projector.

To clarify…
Most of the fundamental and necessary paths of progression from infant to man were not ones that I trod, or even found. I found it had to make friends, believed I was fundamentally flawed and powerless and was desperate for something to find solace and inspiration in. I got that through the worlds of fantastical adventure of books, comics, TV and films. From the Chronicles of Narnia, to 2000AD, to Batman & Robin, to Star Wars there was a whole, rich, vivid world of heroes and villains, good and bad to be explored where I could vicariously live out my life, like millions of others, in escapism. This world was my salvation and I loved it. I lapped up the stories by CS Lewis and loved the exploits of future law enforcer Judge Dredd. Hey, I even liked Hawk the Slayer and found my ultimate passion in Enzo G Castellari’s two Bronx Warriors films in the early 80s.**


In about 1984 Marvel Comics ran a story that spanned many titles of its franchise called Secret Wars. In one story involving The Fantastic Four, a little boy, while trying to emulate his hero the Human Torch, doused himself in kerosene and set himself on fire. The Torch (Johnny Storm) visits the boy in hospital and the lad’s last words are “I wanted to be like you…” Grief stricken and racked with guilt Johnny hails a taxi rather than flying home using his super powers and tells the rest of the Four that he wants to quit. The Secret Wars antagonist, the Beyonder, then kidnaps Storm and takes him back in time as an observer to the boy’s life, sat in his bedroom alone happily reading comics about the Human Torch. Furious at what he sees as an attempt to rub his nose in the guilt he is already feeling Johnny demands to know why the Beyonder is doing this. The entity replies “it was not because of you that he died…but through you that he lived”.


The way I viewed escapist media as a child was that it was a distraction. I could read a book in a day if I liked it enough and would watch films but attach no significance to them beyond seeing them as a pleasant distraction. And then life became a bit more tedious and painful and I began to rely just a little more on what were meant to be merely pleasant diversions. Without even realising it I got more attached to the fantasy worlds and began to believe that there were aspects of characters in them that I could aspire to and be like if I tried hard enough. Fight like Jason Bourne; sing like Pavarotti; get muscles like Schwarzenegger, the list could go on. I had become so accustomed to feeling like this that I no longer realised it was unreal. I knew the movies were fake, I knew the people were actors but I felt that somehow their actions could be emulated. Feeling so fragile and worthless I held onto the belief that there was another world, somewhere, where I was so very much different. In 2011 I wrote a book entitled The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen and later a sequel called The Sunder of the Octagon, under the collective name The Tales of Alegria. These two books explore worlds of fantasy, right and wrong and justice that come straight from the worlds I loved to explore as a child from Lewis, to Enid Blyton, to Robert E Howard.

If you grow up lonely you will find anything to cling to in order to feel safe and entertained. A world where I could deny my isolation and depression was one where I was a hero and able to walk through the minefields of chaos with a smile and witty quip to pass the day.
There were two projectors in my mind. There was the one through which I saw the fiction laid before me and took it as it was mean to be seen. Then there was the black projector, slightly further back and hidden in a blind spot that I only saw this morning as I sat on the bed with my eyes closed and counted my breaths. The black one was the one that recorded this world and let the emotions they inspired stay with me, easing me through the anxiety, stress and crippling anger that came from feeling like I was worthless and unlovable. Today I saw that projector for the first time and it had no further purpose. It was something I had put there long ago to cope. I unplugged it and carried it to a fictional grinder (the kind that you see on YouTube videos that can mash up car engines). I thanked it for being there for me and then pushed the button and destroyed it beyond repair.
The clarity this has given me is substantial. I finally finished book 3 in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series yesterday, after roughly a year with the book sat on the shelf, only a handful of chapters left to read. The reason I left it like this (and have done so before) was that the world it so beautifully illustrated was not one I wanted to end, and by keeping it alive that little bit longer it meant that I could keep it with me. Sub-conscious defence mechanisms from a miserable childhood that serve no real purpose any more.
There are another 11 books in the Wheel of Time. I’m going to download the next one today on my Kindle and read it and enjoy it without being emotionally linked to what is happening.
Old habits die hard, but when they do, you are free.



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** In 2015 I was interviewed as a 'special feature' for the Blu-ray of the second movie. A 13-minute documentary called 'The Hunt for Trash: Interview with Bronx Warriors Superfan Lance Manley'. This alone attests to the power of the Black Projector, but in a good way.

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