Archive for August, 2008

Pointless Nostalgia: Public Information Films

Posted in Pointless Nostalgia, TV on August 28, 2008 by Johnnie
Lonely Water - Spooky

Lonely Water - Spooky

Apologies for repeating myself, but in the previous Pointless Nostalgia I mentioned those emails we all keep getting, about how on earth danger-loving children from the 1970s survived to tell the tale.  Well, I’ve just remembered how – in Britain, we had Public Information Films.  The government of the day were so concerned about our health, well-being and general survival that they spent literally some money on producing a series of these helpful, informative, often funny, sometimes downright terrifying films, which were shown both on TV and in cinemas.  Virtually every one of them was, necessarily, memorable: Charley the indecipherable Cat, whose owner warned us not to talk to strangers (“the man asked, would I like to see some puppies?”); Basil Brush and Roy North on being safe at the beach by using, amongst other things, terrible jokes; Rolf Harris on the necessity of learning to swim (he tells us his near-drowning experience“frightened the weets out of my mum ‘n’ dad”); Tufty the Squirrel on road safety in a town where the policeman was a badger; and, two of my favourite characters, the idiot couple Joe and Petunia, who were never more happy than when littering the countryside or watching sailors slowly drown – that’s comedy Northerners for you.

However, it’s the scary, gruesome and graphic PIFs that most people remember best from that era.  I imagine some budding horror directors cut their teeth on some of these masterpieces of child-terrorizing imagination; after a daily dose of these from my TV set, damned sure I wasn’t going to climb on electricity pylons, go tightrope walking over a railway line, cross the road in front of speeding cars, go head-first through a windscreen or try to drive straight through a moving motorcyclist – these were films which drove their points home to gory and lasting effect.

But the one which still give me nightmares to this day comes from 1973, and goes by the infinitely spooky title, Lonely Water.  The spectral, robed “spirit of dark and lonely water” stalks misty embankments and scrapyards, where foolish children are likely to play too close to water, usually with tragic results.  The spirit is voiced, to spine-chilling, teeth-chattering, bowel-wrenching effect by the ever-malevolent Donald Pleasence.  It’s the first film on this little compilation; please, don’t have nightmares.

Viola Watch: We’re There

Posted in Calcio on August 27, 2008 by Johnnie

Slavia Prague 0  Fiorentina 0 (agg. 0-2)

Fiorentina are finally back in the Champions League, after an absence of eight years.  A 0-0 draw with Slavia, in which the Viola had the better of the game, means that they return to the competition in which they last played in March 2000, when they drew 3-3 against Bordeaux. The side had technically picked up enough points to qualify for the preliminary round of the Champions League for the past two competitions, but had been the victim of severe points deductions from their alleged part in the Calciopoli scandal.

Nevertheless, the coach can now look forward.  “We have deserved to be in the Champions League for the last three years,” said a jubilant Cesare Prandelli.  “Now we are at the beginning and I hope the real fun starts here.”

American… Pizzas

Posted in Americans, Food & Drink on August 27, 2008 by Johnnie

A colleague has got me thinking, in the way that colleagues often do – by inadvertently riling me.  The poor blighter asked, in all innocent ignorance, “how do they make ‘pizza sauce’ in Italy?”  Pizza sauce?  Sauce? They don’t use sauce, they use tomatoes. Fret not, dear reader, I didn’t start ranting at him, I thought I’d do it here instead.

It isn’t really his fault, you see – it’s those people with whom we have a ‘special relationship’ across the ocean.  Americans have been responsible for many culinary atrocities in their short time on earth but little compares to their sacrilegious contempt for pizza.  Thanks to them, the very word ‘pizza’ has had its definition so mangled and pureed beyond authenticity that British and Irish people now associate it with stars, dots, huts, spongey slabs of dough, sweetcorn and bloody pineapple.  Oh, and dog food too, if the ‘steak’ topping another colleague had on his dotty birthday pizza last week is anything to go by.

What is most galling is the Disney-like fashion in which the U.S. has hijacked the name ‘pizza’ – it’s not pizza.  There should be a entirely different name given to this thick, doughy, sweaty, rubbery basin of fat; especially when it’s used as an open sandwich for ingredients you wouldn’t normally keep together in the same fridge – pineapple, sardines, chicken, banana, sausage, shrimp, ‘barbecue’ sauce and extra tupperwarezarella (don’t get me started on that).  And, in America, where they eat piles of these things, they have to bring along another table and a cake stand in ‘pizzerias’ to house them – no wonder they needed a bigger Hut.

Instead of trying to ruin the reputation of this traditionally subtle Southern Italian peasant fare, they should simply give each one of these monstrosities a different, un-catchy, entirely American title, so we’re all clear about where the blame lies – things like Chicago Deep Dish Meat Feast Fish Face Fruit Splat Dough Head should cover most of them – just anything but pizza.  Not even pregnant women should be craving such dreadful combinations.

A proper pizza, yesterday

A proper pizza, yesterday

‘Ping pong is coming home’, apparently

Posted in Grave News, TV on August 25, 2008 by Johnnie

I’m not sure what I found most bewildering on my TV last night – a smirking Boris Johnson waving the Olympic flag and raving about table tennis, or the sight of thousands of British people leaving their television sets to go out into the street and celebrate the start of Britain’s Olympic reign.  Actually, that’s just completely incorrect – of course thousands of sporting couch potatoes getting all Big Brother-hysterical and group-huggie as if the Olympics were starting tomorrow absolutely took the cake. 

Ignoring, if we can, China’s sporting and political exploits at their own event, it seems Great Britain’s method of creating an air of confidence and inevitable success is to come over all giddy-American with effortful jingoism taking to the streets of major UK cities.  American is not, I’m sure, how classical scholar, outspoken journalist and London Mayor Boris sees it, though; “Ping pong is coming home,” he declared in Beijing.  “Ping pong was invented on the dining tables of England and it was called whiff whaff.  There you have, I think, the essential difference between us and the rest of the world.  Other nations, such as the French, looked at the dining table and saw the opportunity to have dinner.  We looked at the dining table and saw an opportunity to play whiff whaff.”

What a hero.  Reclaiming ‘ping pong’ for the nation is, I’m sure, just one of his armoury of methods to ‘Keep The Olympics British’; hopefully he’ll get all John Major on us and resurrect spam fritters, rationing, Dixon Of Dock Green and forming an orderly queue, all in plenty of time for 2012.


Bits Of Me Are Falling Apart by William Leith

Posted in Books on August 25, 2008 by Johnnie

Confessions of the ultimate hypochondriac

Sunday Business Post, 17 August 2008

We are all doomed. Or, at least, those of us unfortunate enough to be born male now know how doomed we are.

After 202 pages of Bits Of Me Are Falling Apart, a day in the life, body and head of William Leith, we’re certainly suffering: there are twinges in places we never knew we had feelings, a freshly dark pessimism about the state of world has overcome us, and we can just about feel the first scatterings of soil falling over our heads.

Bits Of Me Are Falling Apart could be the most profoundly miserable book this reviewer has ever read – or at least it would be if it weren’t so hilarious, clever and downright entertaining.

As a journalist, Leith has written about a huge variety of subjects in his time, from Middle Eastern politics to Hollywood glitz – but perhaps none with such stark honesty and clarity as his own self-deconstruction. For men either side of Leith’s particular vintage – he is, he reminds us regularly, 47 years old – he offers an incisive terror about the health hazards awaiting each part of our bodies in future years, no matter how we’ve treated ourselves thus far.

Wherever we look, whether in the street, the newspapers or, most terrifyingly, in the mirror, there is decay; and, though there is little in the way of optimistic charity here, it all begins at home.

Leith’s previous book, The Hungry Years, was the tale of his own overindulgence, ending as a salutary warning against eating and drinking too much, and taking too many drugs. Sadly, having put us off all of that, Bits Of Me Are Falling Apart doesn’t find him in much of an improved physical state.

Despite curbing his food and drink consumption, avoiding drugs, going for long walks and taking up pilates, he is now confronted with the awfulness of his middle age, his tenuous mortality, his estrangement from his son and his post-relationship poverty.

His potential ailments seem limitless: he worries about his prostate, so checks it by stopping his urination function in mid-flow, even though it’s not a foolproof method, and it duly fails to reassure him; he worries about his knees and whether lumps and bumps appearing all over his body are or can be cancerous; he writes in wince-inducing detail about the state of his teeth, their varying types of filling and the fact that they are about to crack.

Most pertinently and poignantly, Leith analyses the deaths of both his grandfathers from separate smoking-related illnesses and, as a former smoker himself, worries that his lungs’ recovery from such abuse may be too little, too late. His feelings of mortality are compounded by an encounter with the body of his grandfather in his own house; in fact, with only five senses at his disposal, he seems to see a lot of dead people.

Many of his analogies, although grim, are marvellously and humorously inventive. He continually compares the body’s resistance to illness and disease with the German soldiers at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan – relentlessly pounding their advancing enemy with deadly weaponry until, eventually, Tom Hanks gets through and their resistance, bit by bit, crumbles.

But getting older is not all about decay, it’s also about the changing ambitions of males. Leith reflects upon how, when you’re ten, you want to be a professional footballer; at 20, you’d like to be Casanova; at 30, it’s back to being a football ‘‘veteran’’; but when you’re 40, all you want is a well-made, perfectly-ordered bookshelf.

If there is any hope in a book which states that ‘‘everything falls apart because it’s supposed to fall apart’’, it comes right at the end.

Not only does he have an unexpected encounter with a chain-smoking busker, whose life Leith had prematurely written off, there’s a heart-stopping and life-affirming scene where he momentarily loses sight of his young son in a public park and experiences ‘‘the happiest moment of my life’’ in their speedy reunion. We are so wrapped up in the destruction of everything we hold dear that it’s a victorious moment for us all.

Leith’s fundamentally miserable collection of thoughts are powered by snappy precision and darkly fatalistic humour. Like societal collapse, tooth decay, lung failure and, ultimately, death, resistance to Leith’s persuasive and hilariously downbeat analysis is useless.

We may put up our defences, deny that our lives in any way resemble the author’s, and resolve that it could never happen to us – but in the end, we can’t ignore its inevitability and the knowledge that we will all submit. In that sense, we, the readers, really are the Germans.

That new Oasis drivel

Posted in Grave News, Music on August 18, 2008 by Johnnie

Oasis are back – and they’re worse than ever.  They’ve been finding it harder to get away with their shameful, career-long dearth of ideas in recent years but, even by their own execrable standards, their forthcoming single, ‘The Shock of the Lightning’ has to be a career low.  “Love is a time machine/ Up on the silver screen/ It’s all in my mind/ Love is a litany / A magical mystery /And all in good time…”

Noel Gallagher told BBC Radio 1’s Chris Moyles: “If ‘The Shock of the Lightning’ sounds instant and compelling to you, it’s because it was written dead fast.  And recorded dead fast.”  That explanation/excuse actually makes more sense if you remove the word ‘fast.’

FIFA Come To Chelsea’s Moral Rescue By Mugging Mutu

Posted in Calcio, Grave News on August 15, 2008 by Johnnie

The old sledgehammer to crack a nut trick.  Fifa have ordered Adrian Mutu to pay Chelsea £13.68 million in compensation following his positive test for cocaine while at Stamford Bridge in 2005.  There are too many annoying aspects to this act of scapegoating but this appears to be completely lost on Chelsea and their lawyers, who seem to be trying to justify their actions by seeking compensation.  Never mind players who do absolutely nothing to justify their transfers/wages (Veron, Crespo, Wright-Phillips, Shevchenko), they are beyond reproach – but one positive test for cocaine and the club throw up their lily-white hands in some kind of moral contempt.  Mutu was sacked for breach of contract – oddly, not actually being a great player when they pay £30m+ for you is not a breach of contract – and has since rebuilt his career in Italy.

“This is a very significant decision for football,” says a statement on the Chelsea website. “Not only did the Dispute Resolution Chamber make us a very significant monetary award, it also recognised the damaging effect incidents involving drugs has on football and the responsibility we all have in this area.”

Mutu will probably appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. He signed a new contract with Fiorentina last week, worth a reputed £1.8m per season, due to Fiorentina operating a prudent, entirely un-Chelsea system of salary-capping – Roma were prepared to offer the player double that to sign for them this summer.  Certainly, Mutu, and any other sportsman who tests positive for drugs, should have to pay a penalty for such an indiscretion (he already served an automatic ban in the wake of his sacking) but the enormity of this fine is, in the opinion of I Have Grave News, entirely disproportionate.  Meanwhile, do have fun up there on the moral high-ground, Chelsea.