Archive for July, 2010

The terrifying beauty of the Monopods

Posted in Art, Books, Dreams on July 25, 2010 by Johnnie

I was at primary school when I read John Christopher’s brilliant sci-fi novel The White Mountains and it terrified me.  This was around the time I’d first heard Orson Welles’s The War Of The Worlds broadcast, and a good few years after I’d had my first nightmare about a Dalek invasion of my village, so reading about the alien Tripods’ takeover of earth had quite an effect on me.

Being a youngster of fertile imagination, and desperate to believe in anything supernatural or extraterrestrial, I was awe-struck by the Tripods’ scale and power.  When you’re the sort of child who grows up seeing a Dalek every time you happen across a council-issued dustbin, a lot of stuff nestles in your subconscious, only to leap out at you in your dreams later.  The Tripods never quite left me but it was only recently that I realised this.

On a trip home to my family seat on the Ayrshire coast, after an absence of a couple of years, I caught my first glimpse of our new Monopod masters.  Huge windmills were peeking over the tops of the hills and I was awe-struck all over again. Continue reading

Alex “Hurricane” Higgins 1949 – 2010

Posted in Dearly Departed, Grave News on July 24, 2010 by Johnnie

R.I.P. Alex “Hurricane” Higgins.  No matter what happens in world snooker, we will never see your like again.  There will be many tributes paid to the most entertaining player snooker has ever known and most of them will speak of a great, if wayward, man who tore up the rule book, transgressed the written laws, and stuck two fingers up at the stuffy dickie-bow-and-Brylcreem authoritarians who wanted to keep the game conservative and exclusive.

Higgins was The People’s Champion, the true antidote to murderously slow, deliberate players like Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths.  Even the 70s and 80s ‘playboys’ Kirk Stevens and Tony Knowles couldn’t hold a candle to him for entertainment on and off the baize.  His old sparring partner Steve Davis, whom Higgins called “the apprentice Grinder”, described him as “the one true genius snooker ever produced”.  Amen to that.

I was 12 when Higgins beat Ray Reardon 18-15 to become World Snooker Champion for the second time in 1982.  No one who saw that match, while rooting for The Hurricane, could ever forget the emotional scenes right after the game when he tearfully embraced his baby daughter Lauren.  I’ve watched that final frame more times than I care to remember, and I still get the shivers and the tears still well.  It’ll be tough to watch again now that he’s gone. Continue reading

Mary legging it to the top again

Posted in Unwanted Comebacks on July 22, 2010 by Johnnie

This is especially for those people who keep arriving at this blog after Googling “Mary Coughlan legs” (hello again, you lot – you’ll be pleased to hear you’ve long since overtaken those looking for ‘Carol Smillie spanking’), here she is (centre) in yesterday’s Irish Independent modelling a courageously short dress.  And her new “Anne Widdecombe” hairstyle.

Actually, her attire is perhaps not a surprise, given that she was unplaced in Social & Personal’s Sexy Legs Top 20 last year, having been perched in 20th position in 2008.  Her party needs all the help it can get, no matter the poll.  Of course, her prize assets were given a celebrity endorsement by St Bob Geldof last year but I’m not sure her new hair is the right accessory.  That said, Anne Widdecombe reckoned her own best features were her legs (which she apparently never shaves), so perhaps there’s more than just an economic policy bonding these two female politicians. Continue reading

Jeremys #1: Paxman

Posted in Jeremy..., TV on July 21, 2010 by Johnnie

First in a series of short tributes to well-known people called Jeremy

Why do I love Jeremy Paxman?  Let me count the ways.

He’s fiercely intelligent.  He’s fiercely articulate.  He’s fiercely bad tempered at times.  He presents two of my favourite programmes, Newsnight and University Challenge.  On the former, he’s the scourge of most politicians and spokespeople for (self) interest groups, which always makes for delightful viewing; on the latter, where he is currently the longest-serving quiz master on British television, he’s a bit more respectful to the students, but tends to become impatient when waiting for an answer: “Come ON!”

He was the subject of one of the best editions of BBC2’s Who Do You Think You Are?, in which he discovered his maternal great-great grandfather was a Scot, serviceman John McKay, who married Mary Nicholas in Glasgow.   Jeremy’s investigations revealed that John died in 1894, leaving Mary a widow with nine children.  As she didn’t receive his army pension, and had no other means to support her family, she was forced to seek poor relief – but her application was rejected following an anonymous letter telling the authorities she had an illegitimate child.  Upon discovering this, Jeremy was speechless with rage.   When he later visited the abandoned tenement where she brought up her children in squalor, he was reduced to tears.

But my favourite Paxman moments were always on Newsnight.  He famously pressed former Home Secretary Michael Howard for a single answer a total of twelves times within a three-minute period in 1997 – and as a lifelong ‘fan’ of Michael Howard, I never tire of watching that.  Then, in 2005, he reacted in typically disdainful fashion when the programme’s producers decided to swap a closing round-up of financial news for a brief weather forecast.  The results, seen below from Have I Got News For You, were little short of hilarious.  The weather reports were ended after the first week, as Paxman himself explains here.

Continue reading

It’s the demon drink talking, again

Posted in Disasters, Food & Drink on July 21, 2010 by Johnnie

Three pieces in the morning papers got a rise out of me today.  First and foremost, an excellent opinion piece in the Irish Times by Brian O’Connell about the appalling situation regarding cut-price or below-cost alcohol sales; then, a shocking (to my eyes) report on how the Irish are apparently at odds with the rest of the EU’s views on drink-driving; and finally, the depressing story of a gang of young arseholes who put their infantile driving ‘antics’ on YouTube, complete with their Toyota car registrations and ‘crazy’ nicknames.

All of them make frustrating reading in their own ways.  Both drink and driving are clearly major problems in Ireland, never minding the horror of what can happen when the two go together.  But I have too many questions about what constitutes common sense in these situations.  What is the problem with drink-driving?

It depresses me beyond words that such a swell of Irish residents (31% of those surveyed) believe it’s a ‘minor road safety issue’.  What is this mindset to do with?  Is this really a mentality issue?  Is it due to the slack attitude of the successive governments who allowed people to drive by themselves without a full licence for so many years?  Is it really to do with the preservation of the mythical ‘rural way of life’, where drink-driving is actually considered ‘a way of life’ and not of potential death?  Or is the drinks industry’s relentless whingeing about pub closures actually an influential factor here?  Continue reading

I wear a fez now…

Posted in Geeks, Star "Style", TV on July 20, 2010 by Johnnie

“It’s a fez, I wear a fez now.  Fezzes are cool.”

Well, The Doctor’s right, fezzes are cool.  Many of us have known this for years, way before the 11th Doctor, played by Matt Smith, said so in The Big Bang.  Never mind that the fez has perfectly serious Ottoman origins (by which I mean it’s from Turkey, not from a big toy box with a padded lid – although, thinking about it, if I had one, I’d probably use it as a dressing up box), no one in the world can wear one without looking mad or hilarious.

I’ve been a happy fez owner since the mid 1990s, when my sister brought me one back from holiday.  I couldn’t have been more grateful, I’d always wanted one. Continue reading

Gallows humour

Posted in Books, Words on July 19, 2010 by Johnnie

“It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name –and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared –it was now, I say, the image of a hideous–of a ghastly thing –of the GALLOWS!–oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime–of Agony and of Death!”

When I first read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat, it was tucked away amongst some depressingly bad ghost stories in a collection of supernatural tales bought for me by my grandmother.  She was surprisingly willing to indulge what my mother called my ‘morbid streak’, something I am eternally grateful for.  Not long afterwards, I borrowed Poe’s complete works from the school library (an edition my grandmother made sure to buy me soon afterwards) and so began a lifelong love.

But it was a new love that (literally) hung on a single word: gallows. Continue reading