It’s All In A Good Cause

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“It’s for charity though,” said Kevin.

“I couldn’t care less,” said Toby, “I’m not bloody doing it.”

“C’mon mate, don’t be such a curmudgeon.” said Dave.

“I don’t think I’m being the slightest bit curmudgeonly,” protested Toby, “I’m just exercising my free will. I don’t want to do it. So I’m not going to do it.”

“But we need you,” said Kevin, “We can’t do it without you!”

“I don’t care,” said Toby, “It’s stupid and pointless and I’m not doing it.”

“But it’s for charity mate,” said Dave, “It’s a really good cause.”

“Fine, I’ll make a donation,” said Toby, fishing a ten pound note out of his wallet, and then hastily returning it to his wallet when he realised he could ill-afford to part with that much money just to prove a point.

“Don’t be so boring!” said Kevin, “C’mon, it’ll be a laugh.”

“I fail to see how losing my dignity in front of other people is, in any way, ‘a laugh’” argued Toby. “Look, I’m not doing it and that’s final. Now if you don’t mind, I’ve actually got some work to do and I’d be very surprised if you two don’t also have things you need to get on with.”

He turned back to his monitor and continued the largely mundane task of entering information into a database.

Kevin and Dave, who both did indeed have plenty of their own application forms to enter onto the system, continued to ignore their work, but did at least move away from Toby, presumably to try and find some other poor sap to try and coerce into their ridiculous scheme.

As if those two idiots even remotely cared about raising money for charity, reflected Toby. This was all about wasting time at work, showing off to their colleagues and no doubt trying to hit on some of the more impressionable new-starters at the inevitable Friday night piss-up that would surely follow.

Not that they were the only two at it. For some reason the office had turned into a bizarre homage to the worst kind of TV talent show in the last week or so. It was nothing new, unfortunately. It seemed every well-publicised fundraising campaign caused this kind of lunacy, and if it was inspired by a viral YouTube video, then all the better. Apparently that was why someone had assaulted him with a bucket of freezing cold water eighteen months ago. In spite of his vociferous protests, no disciplinary action had been taken against the offender, indeed they had been congratulated for their actions and it was he – Toby – who had been told to stop being so tetchy.

When had work stopped being just about, you know, doing work? Why was there any need for all this stupidity? It wasn’t as if any charities even benefited. For all the supposed ‘fundraising’ that went on, there was no indication that any funds were actually raised. Perhaps he was being overly cynical, but to Toby’s mind it all seemed to be far more about ‘having a giggle’ than supporting any good causes.

Out of the corner of his eye, he became aware that Kevin and Dave had begun chatting to Samantha. This unsettled Toby greatly. There was no way they would be trying to convince Samantha to partake in their ill-advised scheme, which probably meant they were up to something far less palatable. The frequent glances in his direction more or less confirmed his worst fears, but it wasn’t until Samatha made her way over to his desk that his misgivings were confirmed.

“Hi Toby,” she said.

Toby managed an incoherent grunt in response. It was always this way with Samantha. He could never seem to manage to articulate any actual words.

“Kev and Dave have just been telling me what you guys are up to on Friday,” she said, “I must say I think you’re being very brave.”

Toby shot the two conspirators a look of sheer hatred, which merely served to cause them to collapse in silent laughter. He looked at Samantha, and tried to find the right words

What he wanted to say was, “I’m sorry Samantha, but you’re mistaken. There’s absolutely no way that I would ever participate in anything so insane as this. I’m really not that kind of person. I said as much to those two clowns a few moments ago, and now, in an act so unscrupulous and vile as to be beyond description, they are using the fact that I am clearly attracted to you, to manipulate me into going along with their stupid plan. But I’m not going to Samantha, I’m better than that. Instead, what I’m going to do, is take this opportunity to finally ask you to go out for a drink with me some time, which is something I really should have done a long time ago.”

Toby wanted to say all this to Samantha, but he couldn’t.

Instead all he could manage was to utter, in a barely audible mumble, “it’s all in a good cause.”


On Amplifie Également Le Malheur Et Le Bonheur, Nous Ne Sommes Jamais Ni Si Malheureux, Ni Si Heureux Qu’on Le Dit

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“He’s reading Balzac, knocking back Prozac, it’s a helping hand that makes you feel wonderfully bland”

The first I’d ever heard of Balzac was in the above song lyrics from the Britpop classic ‘Country House’ by Blur. I loved that song when it came out, but then I loved all things Britpop back in the mid-nineties. ‘Country House’ was the single that beat Oasis’ ‘Roll With It’ to the number one slot, back when people cared about the singles chart. It was the beginning of a faux rivalry between the two that would result in both bands going on to sell lots of records. As a fan of both groups at the time, I loved the whole affair, but it was clearly absolute nonsense. This stuff was in the actual news for goodness sake, and not just the tabloid press, it was the number one story on the BBC news.

I wonder what Balzac would have made of it all. Probably not much. He was French and unlikely to have been overly interested in Britpop. Particularly because it all took place 145 years after his death.

I later came across Balzac when I was studying for my degree in French Studies. There was a significant literary component to my course, so studying Balzac was inevitable. Unfortunately, as I was struggling to master French literacy at the time, reading literature in the language was a little beyond me. I couldn’t find an English translation of the Balzac novel we were supposed to read (Le Colonel Chabert) so I chose to study the other authors on the reading list instead – namely Stendhal and Flaubert, for whom the chosen texts were readily available in English. By the end of the course my French was good enough to have a go at the original texts, but by that stage I’d chosen to specialise in other areas – more of the aforementioned Stendhal (on the basis that I’d already read his stuff) and quite a lot of French theatre, (on the basis that plays are quicker and easier to read than novels).

So I never got around to reading any Balzac. I’m not sure if I missed out too much. Mrs Proclaims has read quite a bit, indeed that is predominantly what she spends most of her time doing these days. We met on our degree course. She was the one who came top of all the classes we were in, whereas I was the one who rolled into the lectures bleary-eyed and hungover most of the time.  She seems to not hate Balzac, but I’m not sure she loves his work, so much as she enjoys the act of studying. We’re very different to each other in that regard.

Maybe one day I’ll read some Balzac. Although, if I’m honest, the Prozac does sound more appealing.

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 11: The Silence Of The Lambs

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Hannibal Lecter is arguably one of the most iconic screen characters of all time. There have been multiple incarnations of Thomas Harris’ man-eating serial killer over the years, both in movies and through a more recent TV series. The most notorious portrayal is without doubt that of Anthony Hopkins, and of his three outings, the definitive performance is his work in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. Which is fortunate for me, as that remains the only Hannibal Lecter film I’ve ever seen.

This is in part due to a general indifference I have towards the genre. I don’t mind a good psychological thriller, but given a choice of watching that or a lower quality action flick starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, well, sometimes you just need to switch your brain off. But a good film is a good film and there’s no denying that The Silence of the Lambs is a very good film. It’s possibly an additional reason that I’ve never really bothered to watch another Hannibal Lecter outing – the 1991 movie is so astoundingly excellent that even if all the other incarnations are good, they still can’t possibly live up to the standards set by Jonathan Demme’s directorial masterpiece.

Winning multiple Academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, alongside an Oscar apiece for leading actors Hopkins and the equally brilliant Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs absolutely transcends any notion of genre and instead is the kind of movie for which there are insufficient superlatives to describe it’s virtuosity.

Hopkins rightly picked up the plaudits for his chilling portrayal as Lecter, but it’s actually Foster who does most of the heavy lifting and her performance as Clarice Starling is really what holds the movie together – she doesn’t get to have as much fun as Hopkins does, but it’s hard to imagine how the movie could work with anyone else in the lead role.

I first watched The Silence of the Lambs shortly after its release, some time in the early nineties. I was probably a bit too young to appreciate all of its merits at the time, though there was more than enough gore to keep the attention of a prepubescent teenager. On re-watching it in recent weeks though, it still seems to be more than a cut above Hollywood’s usual offerings. Given the darkness of the subject matter, and the occasionally visceral nature of some of the scenes, it doesn’t make for easy viewing and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it has more than stood the test of time. It’s abundantly clear why there will almost certainly be many more incarnations of everyone’s favourite cannibal for years to come, though it remains improbable that any will ever quite match this cinematic tour de force.

My Poem Is Better Than Yours

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It might seem disrespectful
To compare poems that we wrote
But in a poetry competition
Mine would get my vote

I’m not saying yours is bad,
I’m sure it is just fine
But alas it isn’t really
Quite as good as mine

No, I don’t think as a poet
You can compete with me
But I will try to teach you
To improve your poetry

No more soporific sonnets
Or repetitive refrains
Say goodbye to boring ballads
And quotidian quatrains

Metaphors are monsters
Holding back your verse
And as for snake-like similes
They are even worse

Alliterations are annoying
Personification looks askance
Bang goes onomatopoeia
Who can stand assonance?

You can enhance your work
By trying less hard to be smart
You don’t need all those tricks
Stop embellishing your art

Instead just keep things simple
And stick to this paradigm
It cannot be a poem
If it doesn’t even rhyme

James Explains The Art Of The Nap Amongst Other Things

James Explains

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Today represents a tragedy for fact-seekers everywhere, as this will be the last ‘James Explains’ for a while. I might bring it back in a few weeks or I might not. Only time will tell. There’s inevitably going to be something of a grieving process for some of you at this news. We’ll get through this together somehow. There are lots of other people who are still explaining stuff on the internet. You’ll be OK. But, just to tide you over, while you try to find another site that quenches your never ending thirst for knowledge as well as this one does, let’s enjoy one last Q&A together.

Pete, who has managed a question every week, is back again with this query:

Can I ask a question?

Now, it’s abundantly clear that you can ask a question Pete as you have asked many before. You are quite the accomplished questioner. But, alas, there will be no further opportunities for you to ask me questions that I will actually bother to answer. At least not for a few weeks. But you can still ask questions. You can always ask questions Pete.

Bear R Humphreys, who may or may not be the same person as regular contributor Bryntin asks:

Why can’t you stop once you’ve popped? I would have thought that was pretty much the end of your balloon trip myself.

Well Bear, that is a question, and you’re absolutely correct, the popping of a hot air balloon would indeed result in a fairly imminent ‘stop’. But there are other forms of popping. Most of them can also be stopped. For example, if I pop to the shop, I tend only to need to do it the once.

Even in the context of the savoury snack Pringles, which is where the claim about being unable to cease post-pop appears to originate, the claim is misleading. Presumably one will inevitably stop when one runs out of Pringles. Also, I once had the misfortune to try Mint-Choc flavour Pringles, which were a novelty flavour released for Christmas one year. I had no difficulty stopping on that occasion. No difficulty at all.

Meanwhile my friend Andrew, who doesn’t have a blog but occasionally likes to heckle me from other social media (I wrote about him before in this awesome post about Glastonbury and David Bowie, and he was also the ‘Second Bow Street Runner’ in this post I wrote on Friday), queries my assertion from last week that there are multiple ways to nap while at work. Less a question and more of a demand he says:

There are more ways to nap at work? I want to know what they are.

Obviously I don’t actually nap at work. That would be incredibly unprofessional, even for me. But if I were to nap at work I would do any one of the following, and fully expect to get away with it.

  1. As discussed last week, I might  pretend to have a meeting but, instead, not have a meeting and nap in the meeting room.
  2. I might sleep in a cleverly constructed den under my desk, like George Costanza does on that episode of Seinfeld
  3. I might well pretend to have a medical condition which necessitates the wearing of sunglasses at work, and then just sleep wherever and whenever I feel like it, while also looking cool.
  4. I could also make a mask of using a picture of my ‘awake face’, and then wear it over my actual sleeping face.
  5. I could design and make a robot that looks and sounds exactly like me, as per the trope of many a sci-fi film and TV show. Then I could have the robot live my life for me, while I stay in bed. Technically I wouldn’t even have to go into work for that one.
  6. Most likely though, I would just openly sleep at my desk without any form of pretence and see if anyone even notices or cares.

 

And that’s it for James Explains. Possibly forever. But maybe not. You can still ask questions in the comments section below. But those questions could be in vain,

The Horror Of Horology

James Proclaims (4)

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The clocks went forward yesterday. The downside of this is that we all have to get up an hour earlier. The upside is that it is now, horologically speaking, British Summer Time.

Actually, by anyone’s definition, British Summer Time is not really much of an upside. No-one comes to Britain for the weather.

Although the weather was quite nice today.

The snow and ice of recent weeks seems to have dissipated for the time being, although a third strike by the Beast from the East is apparently imminent and due to arrive in time for the Easter weekend.

Which will be nice. Who doesn’t dream of a White Easter?

Just like the ones I used to know.

It seems hard to believe that snow is on the way though, because today was positively balmy.

Not, really summer weather though. More like spring weather.

Because it is spring and not summer. British Summer Time doesn’t actually mean that it is summer. Much like when we go back to Greenwich Meantime, it doesn’t follow that we’ll all be mean to each other. Although we might be, because it’ll be colder and darker and generally a bit rubbish, all of which might engender a slightly meaner attitude towards the rest of humanity. Although GMT does bring a later start to the day, which mitigates the horror of winter a little.

But for now let us enjoy the fact that the days are getting a little longer and the weather is occasionally clement.

I’m still struggling with the getting up earlier though.

 

Magic Penguin And The Season Finale

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Magic Penguin, Fat Giraffe, Mystic Mouse, Stupid Donkey, Ed The Ostrich, Happy Rhino, Anxious Bull, Mardy Puffin, Fast Gibbon, Mistaken Moose, and Wise Owl were enjoying a drink in the Shoe and Phone one afternoon.

“Wow, there are a lot of us here today,” said Fat Giraffe.

“Including some characters who don’t usually come into the Shoe and Phone,” said Mistaken Moose.

“I think you’re mistaken there,” said Mardy Puffin.

“Well they don’t call me Mistaken Moose for nothing!” said Mistaken Moose.

“Actually, on this occasion I think it’s Mardy Puffin who is mistaken,” said Fast Gibbon, “given that Mardy Puffin, Mistaken Moose and myself were all part of an ill-conceived comic device used by the writer when we starred in a Magic Penguin story which didn’t feature any of the usual main characters and was set in a different – though equally badly named – pub to the Shoe and Phone.”

“Oh yes, that’s right,” said Mistaken Moose, “so I was mistaken about being mistaken. Well they don’t call me Mistaken Moose for nothing!”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Mardy Puffin, “but if the joke is that we don’t feature in the main Magic Penguin stories and never drink in the Shoe and Phone, then why are we currently in the Shoe and Phone?”

“That is a good question,” said Fast Gibbon.

“I’m not sure why I’m here either,” said Anxious Bull, “I’ve only briefly featured in one Magic Penguin story and that was as the punchline to a rather stupid joke about ‘grabbing the bull by the horns’….”

“I quite liked that joke,” said Happy Rhino, “but I too, as an entirely unmemorable and forgettable character, am wondering why we’re all here.”

“It’s political correctness gone mad if you ask me!” said Wise Owl.

“That doesn’t make even the tiniest bit of sense,” said Ed the Ostrich, “and no-one did ask you.”

“You don’t make any sense!” retorted Wise Owl.

“Why are there so many of us here though?” asked Stupid Donkey, “I mean there’s rarely ever more than two or three characters in any of the stories. I should know, I was on the cusp of becoming one of the regular characters until Mystic Mouse came along and ruined it for me.”

“What can I say? The writer needed a token female character,” said Mystic Mouse.

“You’re so much more than a token female character,” said Magic Penguin.

“Am I?” asked Mystic Mouse with scepticism, “Can you see any other female characters here?”

“Well no,” conceded Magic Penguin, “but the writer assures me that he intends to correct this oversight at the earliest opportunity.”

“A cynic might say that this is the earliest opportunity,” said a peeved Mystic Mouse, “ and yet he has singularly failed to correct anything.”

Just then, the door opened and another female character came in. She was called Friendly Goose.

“Hello everyone,” said Friendly Goose, “I’m here to correct an oversight.”

“Oh that’s much better,” said Mystic Mouse making no attempt to hide her sarcasm and thus wounding the feelings of the writer, who really was trying his best in spite of evidence to the contrary.

“Now that is political correctness gone mad!” said Wise Owl.

“I’m not sure that it is you know,” said Ed the Ostrich.

“So why are there so many of us here MP?” asked Fat Giraffe, who was trying out a new ‘thing’ of referring to other characters by their initials.

“Well, this is likely to be the last Magic Penguin story for a while,” said Magic Penguin, who assumed, correctly, that Fat Giraffe was talking to him, even though Mardy Puffin could also have legitimately been referred to as ‘MP’, “the writer has decided, against all reasonable judgement, to take part in that A-Z blog challenge thing in April, so this is sort of like the end of Season 1 of Magic Penguin, and as such I thought it might be appropriate to have a Season Finale.”

“Hold on,” said Fat Giraffe, “aren’t we British? Isn’t ‘season’ in this context more of an American term? Surely this is a Series Finale?”

“You say potato and I say potato,” said Magic Penguin.

“You do know that comparing that way two people say potato doesn’t really work in the written form?” said Fat Giraffe.

“I did know that, yes,” said Magic Penguin, “perhaps I should have used tomato/tomato instead.”

“Same problem,” said Fat Giraffe.

“Anyway, whether it’s a ‘season finale’ or a ‘series finale’, this is the last ‘episode’ of Magic Penguin for a while, so I thought it’d be good to go out on a high,” said Magic Penguin.

“I’m not sure this is a high, “ said Fat Giraffe, “It kind of feels like the opposite to a high if you ask me.”

“Perhaps we should just get Red Herring to show up with another of his misleading cliffhangers,” said Mystic Mouse, “they’ve always served us pretty well in the past.”

“Yeah, ok, let’s just do that,” said Magic Penguin.

There was a brief silence while the ensemble waited for Red Herring to come bursting through the door.

Friendly Goose broke the silence.

“Actually, I’ve just remembered, Red Herring can’t come and do a cliffhanger this week.” she said.

“Why not?” asked Magic Penguin.

“Well, it’s just that he’s disappeared without a trace,” said Friendly Goose, “no-one knows where he is. He just seems to have vanished.”

“But that means there’ll be no more cliffhangers for the Magic Penguin stories!” exclaimed Fat Giraffe.

“I dunno,” said Mystic Mouse, “that kind of sounds like a cliffhanger to me.”

“It does indeed,” said Magic Penguin, “and a pretty feeble one at that.”

“Oh, well that’s a relief, “ said Fat Giraffe, “I’d hate to think we were going to end our first series without a slightly rubbish cliffhanger.”

Will Red Herring be ok? Or will season 2 of Magic Penguin have to survive without cliffhangers? Will the writer even bother to write any more Magic Penguin stories?

Only time will tell.

But he probably will I expect.

And I should know, for I am he.

But maybe he won’t.

And maybe he isn’t me at all.

Who can tell anymore?

A Commuted Commute

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There was a narrow window between the earliest time that Stan could legitimately leave work and the point at which navigating the evening traffic became unfeasible. He had got it down to a fine art in recent weeks, but his decision to field an unexpectedly long call that afternoon had somewhat scuppered his plans to avoid the gruesome gridlock of rush hour.

Consequently he found himself sitting in a near-stationary queue, waiting to join the equally static dual carriageway, that would in turn lead to the Old Cross Roundabout, a veritable disc of despair that could render even the most cool-headed of motorists a seething sack of primordial rage.

The radio was playing an irreverent and satirical review of the week in politics. Stan found it vaguely entertaining, though its inevitable association with a gruelling commute, given that he only caught it on the occasions he found himself in this driver’s dystopia, muted the comedy value somewhat.

Still, the radio did provide some small relief as his little runabout crawled down the slip road towards the next stage of his purgatory. It was approaching the midway point of the show when he finally managed to navigate his way into the left-hand lane of the dual carriageway, though in some ways this did serve to slightly elevate his stress levels, as he now needed to achieve the more challenging feat of manoeuvring his car into the other lane, so that when he eventually did make it to the Old Cross Roundabout, he would be able to affect a right turn.

This was easier said than done, the traffic in the right-hand lane was moving a touch quicker than the lane he was currently sitting in, and he was rather dependent on the kindness of others in order to make his move. He flipped on his right indicator to alert other motorists to his desired outcome. It did not seem to serve as much of an incentive for the right lane motorists to let him in however, so he continued to crawl slowly forwards in the left lane, hoping in vain for a gap to open up.

The comedy show ended and another light-hearted, though less intrinsically funny, show started. It was tolerable as radio emissions went , but rather less entertaining that its predecessor. Stan also became acutely aware of his bladder being fuller than he was comfortable with. He had eschewed the chance of a quick trip to the gents on his way out of the office in his haste to fulfil his ultimately doomed desire of beating the traffic.

As the car crept slowly closer to the roundabout, a left turn was looking like it might become an unfortunate  necessity. He could still get home by taking this route, but it would likely add another fifteen minutes to his journey and he’d rather avoid that given the increasing urgency of his need to relieve himself.

Still, there was no give in the right hand lane, and Stan was loathe to try and force his way across, as some other motorists were attempting to do. The dual carriageway was a notorious accident hot spot and he didn’t want to risk a collision on this most anger-inducing of roads. Someone was bound to let him in soon, he reasoned.

As he edged ever closer to the roundabout and his optimism began to fade, he became aware of flashing lights in his rear-view mirror and the sound of sirens. There was an ambulance trying to force its way through the gridlock. It was  progressing at a speed that would utterly belie the sense of urgency that the sight and sound of an emergency medical vehicle ought to engender. Still, cars were attempting to move out of the way, albeit in an ultimately futile manner. It was, however, very much in the lane that Stan wanted to be in, and so a plan began to form. Eventually the ambulance was alongside Stan’s own little chariot and he gripped his steering wheel in anticipation. As the emergency vehicle moved slowly past, Stan swerved into its wake, before other motorists had had time to react.

Stan had no idea how serious the medical emergency was that had necessitated the arrival of the paramedics and he genuinely hoped all would end well for the afflicted parties. However, as he made his coveted right turn at the roundabout, he couldn’t help but reflect that their misfortune was rather a stroke of luck for him.

 

There Are Books Of Which The Backs And Covers Are By Far The Best Parts

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Today I’m taking the unusual step of honouring (through the medium of doodle) a literary figure whose works I am actually familiar with. Because even I have seen The Muppets’ Christmas Carol…

I jest of course, I’ve read actual books by Charles Dickens. And watched their on-screen adaptations. My favourite one to read was A Tale of Two Cities. My favourite one to watch was the aforementioned Muppet classic, but I generally enjoy a good Dickens tale, both to read and to watch.

And to star in of course, because I have appeared in two stage versions of Oliver! The first was for a primary school Christmas concert. My class did a rendition of ‘Food Glorious Food’. I played the pivotal role of ‘nondescript orphan’. My costume was a bin bag.

The second time was much later in my scholastic career, when I was in sixth form. I had a mate who was quite big on being in school productions and he got the plum role of none other than Bill Sykes. Me and my other friend auditioned to keep him company (and also cos we thought it would be a good way to meet girls – it was not). We were given the unforgettable roles of ‘First Bow Street Runner’ and ‘Second Bow Street Runner’.

A Bow Street Runner was a sort of policeman. We had a line each. We also got to do a comedy run, which wasn’t nearly as funny as we hoped it would be.

I was First Bow Street Runner. My line was “Stand Back! Stand Back!”

Surprisingly Second Bow Street Runner was a slightly meatier role. He got the line “This gentleman seems to know the lady.” He made the most of it and delivered it in a slightly different way for each of the performances.

Oh the fun we had.

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 11: The Specialist

James Proclaims (6)

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I saw 1994’s The Specialist in the cinema when it came out. Until recently that was the only time I’d ever seen it, so I imagine that even as a teenager I didn’t think much of it. Many years on, and when I saw it was freely available on one of the web based content providers I subscribe to, I thought I’d give it another shot. And that’s 105 minutes of my life I won’t be getting back anytime soon. Dubbed an ‘action thriller’, it’s not remotely thrilling and, while there is some action, there’s not a whole lot of it. What there is a lot of is brooding and staring and deep contemplative thought, although quite what the characters are actually thinking about is difficult to establish. There is also a lot of is really bad dialogue. Justifiably nominated for a host of Razzies at the time, age hasn’t been kind and it might possibly be even harder to watch now than it was then. I’m not even sure it could be considered as being ‘so bad it’s good’ – it takes itself far too seriously for that.

Directed by Luis Llosa, a man who is probably best known for 1997’s Anaconda, which probably tells you all you need to know about his credentials, the film stars Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Eric Roberts, and Rod Steiger, all of whom are better than this and none of whom manage to bring an ounce of credibility to the movie.

Stallone plays Ray Quick, a man who seems to have some kind of a moral code, but who literally blows people up for a living, and he’s probably the most plausible character in the film. Stone does do her best with the revenge-seeking May Munro, but honestly has nothing at all to work with. Woods, as villain, Ned Trent has some moments which are almost engaging and probably has the most potential to be interesting, but, actually, when he meets his entirely predictable end, it’s hard to care very much at all.

Truthfully, I didn’t hate The Specialist, it wasn’t anywhere near intriguing enough to provoke such a vitriolic reaction. What it provoked instead was a complete sense of indifference.

 

Pedantically Proverbial

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Music has charms to soothe the savage beast
But it can annoy the neighbours at four in the morning
And even at other times of day
I’d imagine the savage beast
Is soothed by some genres more than others

The early bird catches the worm
Although in truth
So the late bird probably catches the worm too
There are plenty of worms to go around

He who laughs last, laughs longest
He’s really irritating in that regard
He takes ages to get the joke and then finds it disproportionately funny

Great minds think alike
Which is why everyone should agree
On everything
All of the time
Otherwise we might just keep on evolving
Like idiots

A bad penny always turns up
But as it’s still legal tender
That’s not necessarily a bad thing
Although these days, good or bad
You can’t buy much for a penny
Though a penny saved is a penny earned
Which, again, will have little impact on your finances in the short term

A watched pot never boils
Except for when it does
Eventually boil

Early to bed and early to rise
Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise
Although there is no medical, economical or scholastic evidence
On which to base this assertion
And when that idiot next door
Keeps trying to soothe the savage beast
An early night does seem futile

James Explains Probability Amongst Other Things

James Explains

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Hang on to your hats, it’s explaining time!

Although if I’m brutally honest, I can’t begin to explain why I opened with that particular line.

But I will try and explain some other stuff that people have asked me this week.

And I will do it right now!

First up, and inspired by last week’s scatalogical insights, Pete asks:

How come some people do not believe in the poo fairy?If it was utter **** , fairy nuff, but we all know it holds water. Which raises another question…..why does poo hold water?

To be honest Pete, I found it difficult to research an actual answer to your question without making myself feel a bit ill. So I think you may need to ask the poo fairy yourself. Although I did actually make the poo fairy up, so I would suggest we just forget this whole unpleasant episode.

Jay, meanwhile, is more concerned with matters preceding digestion and asks

How do people make it on baking shows who have no baking skills?

I’d like to imagine it’s a philanthropic gesture by the show’s producers to improve the state of baking as a whole, by allowing inferior bakers to learn and be inspired by more able bakers. But it’s probably just a cheap and cynical attempt at retaining viewers by injecting some ‘comic relief’ into the show.

Bryntin imagined that someone else asked him a question that he was unable to answer so he has now kindly passed the imaginary person’s query on to me. It is as follows:

If you are deciding something ‘on the balance of probabilities’, by definition, being balanced, the probabilities are exactly 50/50. How do you then decide which of the things you are deciding between is ‘on the balance of probabilities’ when the probabilities are obviously balanced?

Now, I should be able to explain this, having been a secondary school maths teacher at some point in my, admittedly chequered, career. But my lessons were so boring, even I wasn’t paying all that much attention. I do remember something about probability trees. Maybe you should grow one of those in your garden.

Gigglingfattie meanwhile is disturbed by this question:

James, why is it, when at work 1.5 hours after you were supposed to go home, you are rightfully exhausted but after the 3 minute walk home and getting into bed, I will be wide awake hating myself for not being able to go to sleep?

I think the problem is the hating yourself. Don’t do that. Own the insomnia. Get up, have a coffee and spent the night writing poetry instead. It doesn’t even matter if the poetry is actually any good. Bad poetry is an art in itself. Just look at my regular Wednesday posts…

On another note, you really need to stop doing the ‘working late’ thing. That kind of work ethic will only ever end in tears. Or, if you are going to work late, then do what I do and nap at work. It probably helps to have a meeting room available, and a key to that meeting room, and a work calendar that proclaims that you have a meeting scheduled, when really you don’t. But there are other ways to nap at work.

These Were Humans left this question in last week’s comments, but perhaps should have sent it to me via Twitter instead, (because, yknow, it’s bird related…):

Is it just me or is the concept of birds suddenly appearing every time someone is near (as in the song Close To You) utterly terrifying (as in the Hitchcock movie The Birds)?

I’d have to agree, it does feel like those birds have more of an agenda than just wanting to be close to the aforementioned person. Unless the person is actually the ‘feed the birds’ woman off of Mary Poppins, or the slightly strange, but ultimately kindly bird woman off of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. But I don’t think anyone other than birds would especially want to be close to either of them. Although tuppence a bag is an absolute bargain…

 

 

Do you have a question that only James can explain? Well don’t just stand there gawping, ask it in the comments below!

 

As Easy As ABC

James Proclaims (4)

As my output on this blog is currently quite prolific, I thought I might partake in another blogging challenge. Specifically the A-Z blogging challenge, in which the purpose is to write 26 posts in 26 days throughout April (there are admittedly 30 days in April but you you get four Sundays off so it all works out mathematically) , each focusing on a different letter of the alphabet. I did this challenge in 2016 and I found it to be more than a little taxing. This was partly because I hadn’t really understood the rules and just leapt into the challenge without any real direction. I did succeed in writing 26 posts, focusing on each of the letters in turn, but without having any kind of theme underpinning my efforts, it all got a bit boring very quickly and I persisted through to ‘z’ out of sheer stubbornness, with all the joy long having abandoned me by the letter ‘u’. Genuinely it was probably the nadir of my whole blogging journey to date. You can check out my abysmal efforts here.

Frankly I thought the whole thing was best avoided in 2017, but, as I’m currently in pretty good blogging-shape, I thought it might be time to re-join the blogosphere’s premier mass participation event for 2018.

Also I have a theme for this year, which should certainly help to keep things ticking along.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post, for today is officially the day when participants of the A-Z Challenge are supposed to share their chosen theme with the world.

And who am I to defy this fine convention?

So, with that preamble out of the way, I can happily reveal that, starting on the 1st April, my A-Z blogging challenge will be to write about a different character from a beloved cartoon of my youth.

They will predominantly be eighties cartoons, for that was the era in which I watched the most animation, but for the sake of a few awkward letters (I’m looking at you ‘x’!) I may need to borrow from the nineties on occasion.

So join me in April, when my usual staples, such as Magic Penguin, James Explains et al, will be taking a much deserved rest in order to make room for an A-Z festival of nostalgia!

Obviously feel free to continue joining me for the rest of March when I will continue to post my usual nonsense on a daily basis.

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Magic Penguin And The Further Lowering Of The Bar

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Magic Penguin and Mardy Puffin were enjoying a drink in the Slipper and Pager, an establishment neither was known to frequent.

“It’s alright in here,” said Magic Penguin, “reasonably priced, good selection of craft beer, and the food looks pretty good too.”

“It’s not bad,” agreed Mardy Puffin, “I prefer the Sandal and Fax, but it’s nice to have a change every now and again.”

“Yes,” mused Magic Penguin, “I’d be loath to give up the Shoe and Phone, but a change is as good as a rest.”

“It’s not though is it?” argued Mardy Puffin, “I’d much rather have a good rest, all things considered.”

“True,” acknowledged Magic Penguin, “a rest is actually much better than change. But in these busy times, perhaps a change is all we can hope for.”

“To be honest, I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about,” said Mardy Puffin, “why exactly did you want to meet up?”

“Well, it does have something to do with change,” said Magic Penguin, “do you remember how you covered for me a couple of weeks ago?”

“Indeed I do,” said Mardy Puffin, “I thought I did an excellent job in that story. What was it called again?”

“It was called Magic Penguin and The Missing Main Characters,” said Magic Penguin, “and I’ll concede it was ok, but mainly because of Mistaken Moose. You were average at best.”

“I think I was a little better than average,” said Mardy Puffin, “I think I pretty much held that story together. Mistaken Moose was just comic relief. I was the true hero of the story.”

“If you say so,” said Magic Penguin with thinly veiled scepticism, “but it definitely wasn’t as good as if I’d been in it.”

“I’m not sure you’re right about that,” said Mardy Puffin, “I know you’re the titular character in these stories, but, for me, Fat Giraffe is the real star.”

Magic Penguin and Mardy Puffin both sniggered at the word ‘titular’.

“Obviously, you’re completely wrong,” said Magic Penguin, “Fat Giraffe is just comic relief, I’m the true hero of the Magic Penguin stories.”

“If you say so,” said Mardy Puffin with thinly veiled scepticism, “so why did you want to meet me?”

“Well, I was hoping you might cover for me again this week,” said Magic Penguin.

“Sorry,” said Mardy Puffin, “I don’t think I can.”

“Why not?” asked Magic Penguin, “You’d be doing me a huge favour. I need to meet my solicitor. There’s been some new evidence uncovered relating to the Kipper Scandal.”

“”Is that still a thing?” asked Mardy Puffin, “I thought you’d put that behind you years ago.”

“You never move on from something as big as the Kipper Scandal,” said Magic Penguin, “every time I think I’ve established my innocence, someone else makes a disclosure and I’m back in the spotlight.”

“I think the problem is that you’re actually guilty,” said Mardy Puffin.

“That has never been proven,” said Magic Penguin.

“But everyone knows that you are,” said Mardy Puffin.

“Look, we’re not here to discuss my whether or not I’m culpable for the Kipper Scandal,” said Magic Penguin.

“But you totally are,” said Mardy Puffin.

“That’s neither here nor there,” said Magic Penguin, “the point is that I need to meet with my solicitor rather urgently and I need you to cover for me.”

“Can’t do it,” said Mardy Puffin.

“Why not?” asked Magic Penguin impatiently.

“Well, the story has clearly already started, and you’re very much in it.” said Mardy Puffin.

“What!” exclaimed Magic Penguin incredulously.

“The story is happening right now,” explained Mardy Puffin, “this is it.”

“This is the story?” said Magic Penguin, “but this is just an inane conversation with no clear purpose or direction.”

“Isn’t that what every Magic Penguin story ends up being?” asked Mardy Puffin.

“I suppose so,” nodded Magic Penguin, “but this still feels like a new low.”

“I agree, this one has been pretty bad,” said Mardy Puffin, “but look on the bright side. If this is rock bottom, then surely the only way is up.”

“That’s true,” said Magic Penguin, “the writer is bound to up his game next time.”

But alas, once again Magic Penguin was being naively optimistic. The writer could, and definitely would, sink to even lower depths in the future.

A Saturday Story

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It was Saturday and therefore the day that James usually liked to post a short story on his blog. But this particular Saturday had been quite a busy one, and he wasn’t sure if he had adequate time to do so.

He had woken up relatively early, though by the gruelling standards set by his workday alarm clock he felt he had positively had a lie in, when he rolled out of bed at 7am. Being in a benevolent mood, he had proceeded to cook breakfast for himself and his beloved wife. She had declared it a triumph (for indeed it was), and thus, well in the spousal good books, the day had begun in the most positive of ways for James. After a satisfying morning repast, James then patiently awaited the delivery of his twice-weekly grocery shop. It was scheduled to arrive between eight and nine, though in fact did not arrive until ten past nine. He was mildly put out, but used the time to wash up the considerable mess left by his early morning  culinary activities, as well as the remnants of the previous evening’s delightful cod and chickpea curry. The delivery driver was suitably contrite when he did arrive, and the majority of the groceries were accounted for, though notably absent was the coffee that James had ordered, and he was, alarmingly, running low on supplies. He did have plenty of decaf, but that was not going to be enough to adequately get him through the day. He knew he would need to go out to replenish his caffeine stocks later on, but there was still an adequate reserve to get him through the morning, so he put the rest of the shopping away and proceeded to get on with his to-do list, which consisted largely of making a leek and cauliflower soup. Well, if he was being pedantic, he’d have to concede it was actually a leek, cauliflower, parsnip and potato soup, and he he was being super pedantic he might even describe it as a leek, cauliflower, parsnip, potato, onion, garlic, chilli, water, salt and stock-cube soup. While making the soup he also listened to music on his relatively old but still entirely functional iPod Nano. Currently he was listening to songs predominantly from the 2011-2012 era (if such a short time period could be described as an ‘era’). There was no particular reason for this.

Once the soup had been made, James proceeded to exercise in his living room, while simultaneously watching an old episode of Star Trek Voyager. Currently his exercise regime consisted of a combination body-weight exercises (he felt he should use his considerable body-weight to his advantage) and the use of a kettlebell. He had stuck to this particular regime for a number of months – it seemed to tick most of the fitness boxes he required from a work-out, with the added bonus that he didn’t actually have to leave the house to do it.

Exercise (and Star Trek) complete, James put the soup through the blender, and after ladling some of it into plastic containers to be frozen for later use, he heated up a portion for lunch. His wife, enjoying the second sampling of James’ cooking that day, declared the soup a triumph and James revelled once again in the spousal good books.

After lunch James walked into town. He needed to purchase a gift for his nephew’s christening the following day. It was a tad ‘last-minute’ but James still felt he should make an effort to get something decent. Granted, the six-month old recipient would be largely indifferent to the offering, and but James felt that the shop across the road would not be a suitable retailer for a christening present. True, he had purchased gifts from said establishment on previous occasions, but he was certain that a moderately-priced bottle of shiraz wouldn’t cut it this time.

The trip to town was relatively quick, town was busy, the weather was cold, and James did not feel inclined to hang about. He identified a suitable store, purchased an appropriate gift, stopped in a food retailer to buy some coffee and was home within the hour.

This should have left plenty of time for James to fulfil his blog commitment of producing a short story, but it was the last day of the Six Nations Rugby tournament and James had made arrangements to watch the final game in the pub with his friend. It was for this reason that he had worked so hard to establish himself in his wife’s good books, and he was due to depart for the pub shortly having earned her blessing.

This did not, alas, leave him sufficient time to write a brand new work of fiction, but he was reluctant to not post anything.

Suddenly James had a bright idea. He could create the illusion of a short story by just writing about his day so far in the third person.  He had seen this technique employed to great effect by fellow blogger Bryntin in recent weeks. It was therefore, as James acknowledged, not his own idea, but in the world of blogging, where people write unsolicited missives to the world at large for no financial recompense, surely intellectual theft was something of a given.

So, with his conscience relatively clear, James sat down and wrote what might well have been his most redundant post yet.

Pochi Vedono Come Siamo, Ma Tutti Vedono Quello Che Fingiamo Di Essere

Makivelli

It’s Friday, so hang up your scruples and enjoy a few vices.

But don’t do anything too Machiavellian.

Unless you want to of course.

I have gone with a Machievellian theme for this week’s ‘Artist’s Corner’

Because this week I present my fairly rubbish drawing of none other than Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, a man as underhand and duplicitous as they came.

I imagine.

I don’t know, I haven’t done even the most basic research for this.

Maybe he just wrote stuff with duplicitous character in and he was actually a nice chap.

Although, if my artistic rendition is to be believed (and in the end what other evidence do we have?) he probably was a little bit naughty.

A Post In Which I Answer A Load Of Film-Related Questions That Someone Asked Me In the Comments Section Of A Different Post I Wrote

James Proclaims (6)

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It’s Thursday, which in recent months has been the day I have posted an unnecessary review of a film I watched when I was younger. But this week I’m posting something a little different. Because a few weeks back, in the comments section of one my Tuesday ‘James Explains’ features, I found a load of film related questions from a fellow blogger called Paul S. It seemed rude not to answer them, but as there are so many and as they are so film related, I thought I’d answer them on a Thursday, when I tend to write about films, as opposed to on a Tuesday, when I tend to write about…erm…well other stuff…

So, here are the film-related questions and my film-related answers:

1. What film has been sitting on your shelf for the last six months waiting to be watched?
Alas, more films than I care to mention. Thor Ragnarok and Baby Driver are two recently acquired movies that I really should already have seen, but still haven’t quite managed to find time to watch. I’ll probably get around to watching them soon though. There are others that I bought a while back that I still haven’t managed to watch. Logan is the most surprising of those. I bought it when it first came out and still haven’t seen it, even though it’s exactly the kind of film I would definitely enjoy. I’m quite particular about the conditions needed for the first time I watch a movie, so on the rare occasions I do have a spare two hours, I’m as likely to put on a film I’ve already seen, on the basis that I’m slightly less irritated by interruptions if I already know what’s going to happen.
2. What is the one film you know word for word?
There’s more than one I fear. I’m pretty good on all three of the original Star Wars Trilogy as well as The Princess Bride, the first Die Hard movie, Airplane, The Commitments, and the first Austin Powers movie. Also quite a lot of Christmas films.
3. What screen character breaks your heart?
While I tend to towards the often-quite-mindless blockbuster, I have watched a few more worthy films in my time. La Vita è Bella has always stuck with me and the character of Guido Orefice is definitely heart-breaking.
4. If you could bring an actor back from the dead, and had to pair them on screen with a current actor (who is no older than 40), what would your combo be?
Not sure about actors under 40 – they all look under 40 but turns out most of them aren’t. Emma Stone is pretty good though. As for dead actors – there are lots of those I could choose from too, (although turns out some I thought were dead are very much not). Maybe James Stewart. That could work right?
5. How often do you check your phone in the cinema?
Never! People who do that are beneath contempt.
6. What film do you love which no-one else quite seems to ‘get’?
I’m fairly mainstream in my tastes so there aren’t many films that I ‘love’ that are generally lambasted by others. Having said that, I definitely don’t hate The Phantom Menace as much as most people seem to, but it’d be a stretch to say I love it. I love Star Wars in general too much to hate it though. There’s loads wrong with it, but if you ignore the excessive CGI, annoying characters and unnecessary plot-devices, there is a good film hiding in there somewhere. It’s just really well-hidden a lot of the time.
7. What is your favourite Al Pacino film?
A lot of my friends would say Scarface, but I think for me it’s probably Heat, as much for when it came out as anything else. Movies from the mid-nineties tend to have a special place in my heart.
8. Why do they always manage to make us go one size bigger with the popcorn?
It’s because they call the middle-size ‘regular’ and when you order pop-corn, they ask you if you want ‘regular’, as if that’s the ‘normal’ one to go for. It’s really hard to then ask for ‘small’, without seeming a bit miserly. Even though ‘small’ is usually still massive. I never have any trouble eating it all though…
9. Share one memory from a cinema visit long ago
To be fair, most cinema experiences are pretty unmemorable. The film might be good, but the rest of the experience is often not much to write home about. That said, I do remember going to see Groundhog Day with a friend back in the early nineties and we accidentally walked into the wrong screen. By the time the film started and we found ourselves watching 3 Ninjas we were too embarrassed to leave. To be fair we were stupid teenagers and therefore we did quite enjoy 3 Ninjas, but I’ve never watched it again since. We went back to watch Groundhog Day the following week (is there irony in there somewhere?) and that continues to be one of my favourite films of all time.
10. Have you ever used a line from a movie, in your life, without anyone knowing you stole it? Give details.
Almost certainly. Probably more than I’d like to admit if I’m honest. Back in the early days of our courtship when my now-wife but then-girlfriend told me she loved me, I’d sometimes reply with “I know”. These days she knows I’m just channelling my inner Han Solo, but I think she used to find it quite perplexing at the time. She still married me though…

So that’s all those questions answered. I think the world is now a more knowledgeable place. It’ll be back to the rubbish film reviews next Thursday (as in rubbish reviews of films that may or may not also be rubbish) but I’ll be answering questions on a range of topics on Tuesday, as is my way.

Thank You For Calling

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Thank you for calling Faceless Insurance, Utilities and Mortgages
All of our operatives are currently busy
However your call is important to us and will be answered shortly
Here is some prog rock
To keep you entertained while you wait

If you’d rather not wait, you could just check
The frequently asked questions bit on our website
Although chances are, the question you want to ask
Isn’t listed in the frequently asked questions

Actually, I expect you already checked the website
Most people probably do that before calling
Because who wants to wait 17 minutes for one of our operatives to be free
When you can just check online in a few seconds?
So actually, we’re being more than a little patronising
By suggesting that you check the website
But then some people who call us are a bit stupid
We’re not saying you’re stupid
But we do need to pitch this message
To the lowest common denominator
Here is some pan pipe music
To keep you entertained while you wait

Thank you for calling Faceless Insurance, Utilities and Mortgages
All of our operatives are still busy
They’re surprisingly busy people
It’s almost as if we don’t provide a particularly good service to our customers
When you consider the volume of calls we get each day
It’s highly unlikely that those calls are from people who want to congratulate us
On our excellent standards
It’s far more likely that these are calls from people who want to voice concerns
So you’d imagine that the least we would do is employ enough operatives
To answer the calls promptly and efficiently
Nonetheless your call is important to us
No really it is
And it will be answered shortly
Probably in no more than 22 minutes
Here are some power ballads
To keep you entertained while you wait

Thank you for calling Faceless Insurance, Utilities and Mortgages
If your call is because you want to purchase a new product
And give us more of your money
Then please press 1 and we’ll probably answer quite quickly
If your call is to do with an existing product
Then press 2 and it’ll take us a bit longer to answer
But we’ll still try and squeeze some more money out of you
It’s called up-selling and if you’re particularly vulnerable
We’ll up-sell you products you could never possibly need
And definitely can’t afford
However, if you’re too smart to fall for our attempts to get more cash out of you
Then press 3 and we’ll make you wait even longer
Because we’re really not that interested in speaking to you
And if none of those options appeal,
Then continue to hold and eventually someone might speak to you
But it’s highly unlikely they’ll be able to help
They might transfer you to another department though
And they won’t be able to help either
Eventually, after we’ve transferred you enough times
We’re hoping you’ll give up and go away
But your call is important to us
And we’ll probably answer it in around 35 minutes
Here is some smooth jazz
To keep you entertained while you wait

Thank you for calling Faceless Insurance, Utilities and Mortgages
We can’t believe you’re still here
Clearly we’re never going to answer your call
All of our operatives are busy
Stop wasting their time
They’ve got better things to do than speak to you
What’s your problem anyway?
Your call is of no importance to us
Our operatives aren’t even really busy
In fact there aren’t any operatives
We made them up
No-one has ever called our bluff and stuck it out this long before
Still if you’re really determined to speak to someone
A robot might possibly answer your call in 48 minutes or so
Here are some dubious cover versions of popular songs
To keep you entertained while you wait

James Explains Onomatopoeia Amongst Other Things

James Explains

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Hello truth seekers, and welcome back to the bit of my blog where I answer the difficult questions that other blogs choose to ignore.

Mostly because they weren’t asked them.

But I was asked them.

So I will answer them.

Because that seems like the polite thing to do.

To kick us off, Pete asks:

WHY NOT?

This is something of a callback to a question that Pete posed a couple of weeks ago, and like then I will refer you to the answer my parents gave me to this question back in my youth, which in this case was… BECAUSE I SAID SO!

Pete also asks:

My cat, sitting on a mat, has just had a urinary accident………Is this onomatopoeia?

Alas Pete, it isn’t. Onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like itself. Which is, to be fair, all words. They all sound like themselves. I may have misunderstood what onomatopoeia means. There must be more to it than that. But I know it doesn’t refer to cats urinating on mats. The word you’re thinking of is catonomatopoeia.

Bryntin asks:

James, why haven’t I got any questions this week?

I had so many last week.

I tried but I simply couldn’t conjure one up, even when I looked in my wardrobe.

I must admit, I was perplexed to discover that you didn’t have any questions Bryntin, but I think I understand why. It’s because questions aren’t kept in wardrobes. Fictional lands with witches and lions and never-ending winters are kept in wardrobes.

Stolzy’s five year old son is back with this scatalogical question:

Why is it that my poop is brown when I ate nothing brown?

I was going to come up with a silly answer to this, but then I realised that I was answering the question for a five year old boy and so I feel that I would be doing him a disservice by not taking the question seriously.

So Stolzy, please read the following answer out to your son, in order to further his education.

Poop is brown because of a tetrapyrrolic bile pigment called sterconilin.

Or it could just be because the poo fairy likes brown.

Take your pick.

Suze asks:

“WHY do men collect crap?” Model parts, dried out glue bottles, modeling paints that are dried up with the cap on crooked…none of which can be thrown out as it “might be needed later”.

Now I can see why you’ve asked me this question Suze, because, as a man I’m fully qualified to answer. Although I don’t actually collect any of that stuff, because I’m the kind of maverick who hurls caution to the wind and throws stuff away. That said, I’ve often been left to rue my cavalier attitude when I’ve desperately needed some dried out modelling paints and haven’t had any to hand. What a fool I was.

And that’s it for this week’s James Explains. As ever, if you’d like me to explain the seemingly unexplainable then pop a question in the comments below.

 

Thawed For The Day

James Proclaims (4)

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I was struggling to think of what to write today, and almost didn’t bother posting. But I’m on such a hot blogging streak at the moment (this being my 133rd post in 133 consecutive days) that I was reluctant to not write anything. I feel the run is likely to come to an end soon, but I think if I can get over the hurdle of today’s apathy, that I’ve got a few more posts in me before I run out of steam.

On the other hand I didn’t want to just stare at a blank page for hours on end, waiting for inspiration to find me. I have better things to do than that.

Like eating the rest of that ice cream that’s in the freezer.

And watching the next episode of that box-set.

And preparing for that presentation I’m meant to be doing in work tomorrow.

Well I’ll do the ice-cream and the box-set thing anyway. I expect I’ll be employing my usual ‘winging it’ strategy for the presentation.

So, in the absence of any genuine inspiration, I’ve imposed a ten minute time limit on myself to write today’s post.

Why ten minutes?

Well that’s the optimum time from taking the ice-cream tub out of the freezer to allow it to thaw sufficiently to transfer it to a bowl without bending the spoon, but not thaw so much that it loses its delightful ice-creamy consistency.

So, while this may not be the best post I’ve ever produced, I will get to enjoy a bowl of ice-cream at the end of it.

And that’s got to count for something right?

Magic Penguin And The Return Of The Main Characters

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Magic Penguin, Fat Giraffe and Mystic Mouse were enjoying a few drinks in the Shoe and Phone one afternoon as they tended to do with monotonous regularity.

“So, we’re back then,” observed Mystic Mouse.

“What do you mean?” asked Fat Giraffe, “We’re always in the pub. We literally don’t do anything else.”

“Yes, but last week we weren’t in the story at all,” said Mystic Mouse.

“Oh yeah,” said Fat Giraffe, “I remember now. The story was set in a different but similarly named pub, with three characters who had the same initials as us, but who weren’t us at all.”

“It was a bit strange,” agreed Magic Penguin, “I’m not quite sure why that happened really.”

“I thought, in many ways, it was actually a little bit better than the usual stories,” said Mystic Mouse.

“I agree,” said Fat Giraffe, “I thought Mistaken Moose was really funny.”

“It’s a bit worrying though,” said Magic Penguin, “why weren’t we in the story last week?”

“Well, I’m putting it down to the snow,” said Mystic Mouse, “everything seems to stop when it snows.”

“So does that mean that we are, in fact, in the UK?” asked Fat Giraffe, “because I’m not sure if we’ve ever really established that.”

“I’m not sure” said Mystic Mouse, “but it snowed in other places, besides the UK last week, so I don’t think it’s conclusive proof that the Magic Penguin stories are set in the UK.”

“On the balance of probability we are based in the UK,” said Magic Penguin, “but if we are, then it’s a heavily fictionalised version. I mean there aren’t really any talking penguins, giraffes or mice in the UK.”

“No, that’s generally more of a Scandinavian thing,” agreed Fat Giraffe.

“I think you’re probably mistaken there,” said Mystic Mouse.

“Well, they don’t call me Mistaken Moose for nothing,” said Fat Giraffe.

“They don’t call you that at all,” said Magic Penguin, “you’re quite clearly called Fat Giraffe.

“Oh yeah,” said Fat Giraffe, “got a bit confused there for a minute.”

“It’s understandable,” said Magic Penguin, “It’s been a long time since anything made sense in these stories.”

“True,” said Fat Giraffe, “they do seem to tend towards the absurd.”

“Which would be fine if anything ever happened in them,” said Magic Penguin “but nothing ever does.”

“Although if these stories are a homage to the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ movement popularised by Beckett, Ionesco et al. then it’s perfectly reasonable that nothing ever happens.” said Mystic Mouse.

“How do you mean?” asked Fat Giraffe.

“Well it’s like Waiting for Godot,” said Mystic Mouse, “Much like Vladimir and Estragon wait in vain for Godot to arrive, we’re waiting in vain for something to happen.”

“But we’re clearly not waiting for Godot,” said Magic Penguin.

“I realise that,” said Mystic Mouse, “I was referring to that play as an illustration of my point and the situation we’ve potentially found ourselves in.”

“No, I understood your point,” said Magic Penguin, “I just mean that we’re not waiting for Godot, cos he’s already here.”

And sure enough, sitting near the bar, drinking a pint of stout and reading a battered copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, was none other than Godot.

“Hey Godot,” called Magic Penguin, “how long have you been here?”

“Since 1953,” said Godot, “I told those idiots Vladimir and Estragon to meet me here, but they still haven’t shown up.”

“Well that certainly explains something,” nodded Mystic Mouse.

“What does it explain?” asked a baffled Fat Giraffe.

“Never mind,” said Mystic Mouse.

“Well I don’t want to sit around twiddling my thumbs,” said Magic Penguin, oblivious to the fact that penguins don’t have thumbs, “I suggest that we stop waiting for something to happen and we take the bull by the horns.”

“You leave my horns alone,” said Anxious Bull.

“Sorry Anxious Bull, I was using a metaphor,” said Magic Penguin.

“Well, it’s a bit of an insensitive metaphor if you ask me,” said Anxious Bull.

“Anyway, I thought we were waiting for someone,” siad Mystic Mouse, “didn’t the last story that we were in finish on a cliff-hanger, surrounding the imminent arrival of your evil cousin?”

“Yes, but as he clearly hasn’t arrived yet, I think we should go and do something else,” said Magic Penguin, “I mean we’re a good 700+ words in at this point, so I think it’s reasonable to conclude that he’s not coming.”

“Not so fast Magic Penguin,” said the voice of a mysterious stranger who had just entered the pub.

“Who’s that?” asked Fat Giraffe, with trepidation.

“Oh, that’s just Red Herring, trying to set up another meaningless cliffhanger,” said Magic Penguin, “I think it’s safe to ignore him.”

“Not this time Magic Penguin,” said Red Herring, for it was indeed he, “this time I bring news that your cousin, Evil Penguin is about to return, and make your life very complicated indeed.”

“You already told us that two weeks ago,” sighed Magic Penguin, “we were literally just talking about that. And Evil Penguin still hasn’t shown up and this week’s story was just as pointless as the rest of them have been.”

“Oh,” said a visibly crestfallen Red Herring, “well I’m sure he’ll be along next week.”

And Red Herring might well be right. But equally he could be wrong. Irritatingly, the only way to find out is to read next week’s Magic Penguin story, which will, in all likelihood, be just as disappointing as this one was.

Quality Of Life

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Neville rubbed his eyes wearily. It had been a long day of meetings. Meetings about progress, meetings about strategy, meetings about personnel, meetings about finance, meetings about data and at one point, Neville was fairly certain, there had been a meeting about meetings.

The majority of these gatherings had followed a similar format. They began with a review of the objectives set at the last meeting. Next came the acknowledgement that none of those objectives had been met. This was followed by a minor witch-hunt as individuals tried to pin the failure to meet their assigned objectives onto other people. This, in turn, led to some robust ‘conversations’ as the accused refuted the blame and tried to apportion the liability elsewhere. Ultimately there was a consensus that most of the failings were probably the fault of those reckless souls who hadn’t bothered to turn up to the meeting. Each conclave would end with a new set of objectives (or more accurately the re-stating of the last set of objectives) despite the near-certainty that none of these targets would be met by the time the next meeting rolled around.

But now the working day was finally over and Neville had a few hours of reprieve. He knew he probably should do some preparatory work for tomorrow’s meetings, but, as he was more than certain that no-one else would do so, he felt that any endeavours on his part to make the  following day’s assemblies anything more than a complete waste of time, would be an additional waste of his own time.

Neville had better things to do with his evening. There little enough of it, once his arduous commute home was taken into account, so he was certainly not inclined to spend it reading through the interminably dull, and predominantly out-of-date, reports that would be erroneously quoted by equally ill-informed colleagues in the various discussions he was due to partake in during the following day.

No, Neville’s time was his own and he planned to spend it, as he did every other night.

This entailed settling down on his sofa, sticking on a boxset, and consuming a moderately-priced Pinot Noir until he could see the bottom of the bottle or he passed out.

Whichever came first.

Nowhere So Busy A Man As He Than He, And Yet He Seemed Busier Than He Was

Chaucer

Ah, tis Friday, the day that cometh at the end of the week and doth mark the weekend.

And, after something of a European tour of literary greats, I return to these shores for one of our own. And if Shakespeare is very much the scourge of the GCSE English student, then Chaucer must surely be the equivalent for the English A-level student.

Not that I have an English A-level, nor have I read any Chaucer. I think there’s a copy of The Canterbury Tales on my bookshelf but I can’t say it’s ever been opened.

I have been to Canterbury though, which must count for something.

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 10: Romancing The Stone

James Proclaims (6)

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1984’s Romancing The Stone is perhaps as rare an entity as the eponymous gemstone around which much of the movie is centred. Very much a film of its time in some respects (soundtrack being the most obvious), it’s timeless in others, combining a classic adventure story with many of the elements that form the basis of a good rom-com. The action is non-stop, there are some pretty cool stunts on display and a genuine sense of jeopardy throughout. At the same time it manages to be genuinely funny – a young Danny Devito probably deserves the most plaudits for the comedy within the film but there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments when he is nowhere to be seen. The romance too, is definitely a central theme – protagonist and romance novelist Jane Wilder (Kathleen Turner) seems to find herself living out the plot of one of her own novels, as she forms an unlikely relationship with the seemingly unscrupulous but dashing Jack Colton (Michael Douglas). One of Robert Zemeckis’ earliest directorial outings, Romancing The Stone was a fair indication of the success he would go on to have, indeed his next project was a little known movie called Back to The Future. Unfortunately Zemeckis did not direct the sequel, and The Jewel Of the Nile (which admittedly is still a movie I’m reasonably fond of) was nowhere near as good and effectively killed what could have been a promising franchise.

Turner, Douglas and DeVito all do what they do very well in Romancing The Stone, and to be fair, none of them can be blamed for the inferior sequel.

But it’s a shame that the follow-up couldn’t live up to the original, because there really isn’t much out there that compares to it – a movie which attempts to combine a range of apparently conflicting genres and actually has the audacity to succeed. A rare thing indeed.

 

Snow Regrets

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Where did all the snow go?
There was so much last week
But now the temperature has risen
And the weather is less bleak

I don’t know if it’s better
Now that weather is more bland
I think I quite enjoyed
The winter wonderland

It might have been too cold
And hard to get around
But there is something quite fun
About snow upon the ground

No snowmen did I make
And no snowballs did I throw
But thanks to inclemency
Into work I didn’t go

And now we’re back to normal
Which is probably for the best
But I really did enjoy
My extra day of rest.

James Explains The Early Signs Of Madness Amongst Other Things

James Explains

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It’s Tuesday and therefore it’s time for me to get my ‘explaining hat’ on and do me some explaining.

Although, alas, the ‘explaining hat’ is entirely metaphorical. I couldn’t afford a non-metaphorical ‘explaining hat’. Also they don’t exist.

So hatless I come to explain. And what questions I have to answer this week.

Well these questions as a matter of fact:

These Were Humans asks:

Isn’t it possible that John Lennon was factually correct when he said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus given that there were 4 Beatles and 1 Jesus, whether you stack them lengthwise or side to side, the Beatles would almost certainly be bigger?

Think you’ve answered your own question there, which is marvellous. It saves me having to think of anything, so thanks for that. Still I feel I should offer a little something. It seems only fair. And in truth, I think you’re right, I’m sure that all four Beatles working together would definitely be physically bigger than Jesus, although we can’t be certain because there are no records of Jesus’ height and weight as far as I’m aware. Also Jesus was quite good at miracles as I recall, so he could probably still be bigger than four grown men if he so chose, I expect. And even if he wasn’t bigger than four Beatles, he would definitely have been bigger than four beetles.

Unless they were Volkswagen Beetles of course.

Pete is back with another query which is:

I  thought the first sign of madness was a hairy palm? …..and we all know what the second sign is don’t we?

As I stated two weeks ago Pete, the first sign of madness is talking to yourself. Hairy palms might be an unfortunate affliction but they have nothing to do with mental health as far as I’m aware. Although I would question the sanity of someone who elected to shave their palms. It just seems like an odd thing to do. That’s probably the second sign of madness.

What do you think James?

As ever James, I concur. Now where’s my razor?

Jay E is back with another intriguing question, which is:

What if there weren’t any hypothetical questions?

The only way to answer that question is with an hypothesis. And my hypothesis is that in the event that there weren’t any hypothetical questions, I might occasionally get some work done, rather than pondering whether or not I’d rather be a bee.

Suze is here again to ask:

Which is better..a chocolate hobnob in the hand or two in a bush? What IS a chocolate hobnob anyway and why does the Dr. (dr. Who…BBC…LONG-TIME television show?) like them…the tenth one did in any event. or was it the eleventh?

Lot’s of chocolate hobnob questions there Suze. And to answer your first one, there is no point in keeping chocolate hobnobs in a bush. So it’s always better to have one in the hand, but even better to have one in the mouth. Because, in answer to your second question, chocolate hobnobs are like regular hobnobs, but with chocolate on them. The combination of chocolate and hobnob is a heavenly collaboration, which renders it a biscuit that may be the greatest of them all, or at least the second greatest after the wonder that it is the noble Jammie Dodger. Incidentally the Eleventh Doctor enjoyed more than his fair share of Jammie Dodgers but it was the Seventh Doctor who was known to enjoy a chocolate hobnob. Although I’d be surprised if they both didn’t like both.

Stolzy’s five year old son is currently concerned with the following issue:

How is it that Pinocchio’s nose can grow if he is made out of wood?

It’s very simple Stolzy’s son. Pinocchio is a liar and when wooden boys lie, their noses grow. It’s basic biology. Also when they smoke they turn into donkeys, but that also applies to real boys.

When I was five I watched the Disney animated film and it gave me nightmares. But to this day I’ve never smoked a cigar.

Except on certain occasions when I’ve been drunk.

But I didn’t turn into a donkey.

Which is a relief, all things considered.

It is, however, more than probable that I made an ass of myself.

And that’s all I can be bothered to answer for this week’s James Explains. There are many more questions to be answered, however, and I’ll probably deal with some of those next week.

 

There’s No Day Like A Snow Day

James Proclaims (4)

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After the recent bout of inclement weather, caused by either ‘The Beast From The East’ or ‘Storm Emma’, which may be the same thing or might be entirely different things, I am happy to report that all appears to have returned to normal vis-a-vis the British weather. Or it has where I live anyway, which is really all that counts.

Not that things ever really got that bad here in Reading. We did have some snow last week, but not that much really. A few schools closed on Thursday, but sadly not the one I work in. Most schools closed on Friday, which, happily, did include the one I work in.

So I had a long weekend, which was nice. And there was snow, which is fun if you don’t have anywhere to be (though less fun if you do have somewhere to be). Fortuitously I had only been planning to go to work on Friday so it was no great hardship that I couldn’t get there. And actually, I probably could have got there had it not been closed, but it was closed so I didn’t bother leaving the house.

By Saturday, when I did have places to be that were eminently more appealing than work, the snow had largely dissipated and I was able to travel in relative safety, so it all worked out rather well really.

But now the snow has gone. It’s raining instead. Which is less fun than snow, but unlikely to result in much disruption to my daily commute, so it looks like I’ll be in work everyday this week. Which I’m broadly ok with because they do have the decency to pay me, albeit not as much as I’d like them to pay me.

But I didn’t mind having Friday off.

Today I spent the whole day telling anyone who would listen that I spent all of Friday completing paperwork at home.

But, if I’m honest, I didn’t do that at all.

Then again, pretending I’ve done lots of work, when really I’ve done very little, is largely my modus operandi on any normal working day.

Magic Penguin And The Missing Main Characters

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Mardy Puffin, Fast Gibbon and Mistaken Moose were enjoying a drink in the Sandal and Fax, as was their way.

“Something’s not right,” said Mistaken Moose.

“I think you’re mistaken,” said Mardy Puffin.

“That’s right, I am,” agreed Mistaken Moose, “I’m Mistaken Moose. What’s that got to do with my original observation?”

“No, I mean that, in addition to your name being ‘Mistaken’, you are actually mistaken,” said Mardy Puffin, “as in you are wrong.”

“Well, you might have used the word ‘wrong’ to begin with,” grumbled Mistaken Moose, “it’s really confusing when you use the word ’mistaken’ in that context.”

“I apolgise,” said Mardy Puffin, “I can see why that would be confusing. But you’re wrong about things not being right.”

“So you could say, I’m wrong about things being wrong then,” argued Mistaken Moose, “which would be a double negative. Which would mean I’m right.”

“No it wouldn’t,” said Mardy Penguin, “you’re mistaken about that too.”

“Well they don’t call me Mistaken Moose for nothing,” laughed Mistaken Moose.

“No, they call you that because that’s your name,” said Mardy Puffin, who was feeling slightly irritable and sulky and thus also living up to his name.

“I think Mistaken Moose is right about things not being right though,” said Fast Gibbon who had been uncharacteristically silent up until that point.

“So I’m right about being right!” said Mistaken Moose, “which is a double positive, so that must mean I’m wrong.”

“It doesn’t mean that at all,” sighed Mardy Puffin, “none of what you just said makes any sense at all!”

“But Fast Gibbon said I was right!” cried Mistaken Moose.

“I said you were right about things not being right,” explained Fast Gibbon, “but actually Mardy Puffin is also right, mostly everything else you have said today is utter gibberish”

“Well you’d know all about gibberish,” said Mistaken Moose, “what with you being a gibbon.”

“That doesn’t make any sense either!” moaned Mardy Puffin, “while I acknowledge that the words ‘gibbon’ and gibberish’ look quite similar in the written form, they aren’t at all similar in the spoken form, so there’s no way you could possibly have come to the conclusion that a gibbon would know all about gibberish!”

“But I did,” said Mistaken Moose, “so there.”
“Anyway, the point is that things aren’t right,” said Fast Gibbon, “I think we can all agree on that.”

“I can’t agree on that,” said Mardy Puffin, “I very much disagreed with that observation in the open exchanges of this story and nothing has happened since to change my mind.”

“Oh yeah,” said Fast Gibbon, “I’d completely forgotten that you thought the notion that things weren’t right was in fact wrong.”

“Which is another double negative,” pointed out Mistaken Moose.

“Shut up!” said Fast Gibbon.

“Yeah shut up!” agreed Mardy Puffin.

“Yeah, shut your stupid face,” said Mistaken Moose.

“It’s you that we were telling to shut up,” explained Fast Gibbon to Mistaken Moose.

“Oh,” said Mistaken Moose, “sorry, my mistake. They don’t call me Mistaken Moose for nothing.”

“Anyway,” said Fast Gibbon, choosing to ignore Mistaken Moose’s last comment, “back to my original point, which was that, although Mistaken Moose is usually mistaken, he wasn’t, in fact, mistaken in his original assertion that things aren’t quite right.”

“How so?” asked a perplexed Mardy Puffin.

“Well, we seem to be in a Magic Penguin story that doesn’t actually feature any of the usual characters and instead features characters who have names that share the same initials as Magic Penguin, Fat Giraffe and Mystic Mouse, but who are not them,” explained Fast Gibbon, “also we’re currently in the ‘Sandal and Fax’ which is a different, although equally badly-named, pub to the usual setting of the ‘Shoe and Phone’.”

“Oh yeah,” said Mardy Puffin, “you’re right. I wonder why the writer chose to do that this week, particularly when last week’s Magic Penguin story finished on quite a promising cliffhanger.”

“It does seem an odd choice,” said Fast Gibbon.

And he was right. It was really odd choice indeed.

If only someone could explain it.

Distractions

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Tim looked longingly out of his window. The sky was blue, the sunlight was reflecting brightly off the white wall of the convenience store across the road and the trees that lined the more affluent streets at the far end of his own were swaying gently in the breeze. There was still something of a chill in the air, but the few visible clouds did not seem to be carrying any portent of rain. It was, in short, a lovely day and Tim longed to be outside, strolling along the river without a care in the world.

But the sad reality was that Tim did have a care in the world. Indeed, he had several. The pile of manila folders on his desk was testament to that. He had a mountain of paperwork to complete by Monday and it was not going particularly well. It wasn’t really that the work was hard, but there was a lot of it.

Looking around the room, he could also see several DIY jobs that were outstanding, and this, his home office, was hardly the priority. A quick tour of the rest of the house would reveal significantly more jobs, of greater importance, that he had yet to tackle, some of which were now approaching a level of, not exactly urgency, but certainly precedency.

Elsewhere in his abode were smaller matters that needed to be tackled. He recalled a letter demanding that he renew his driver’s license, had he done that yet? There were unpaid bills that he was more than able to settle, but they had slipped down the list of importance. He wasn’t sure he could even locate them at the moment, although he was sure that his creditors would be in touch again if he didn’t get around to dealing with them soon.

But today Tim had resolved to get up-to-date with work stuff. After all, he needed to maintain his income in order to pay said bills and buy the paint needed to redecorate. Not that his job was in any particular danger, but the paperwork had got out of hand recently and it was matter of professional pride for Tim to be no more than four weeks behind on his admin.

He glanced out of the window again. It was an especially nice day.

Perhaps a quick stroll would be fine. It was looking like a long day of crossing ‘t’s and dotting ‘i’s was ahead of him, maybe it would do him good to clear his head first.

After all, he thought as he donned his jacket and laced up his shoes, the folders would still be there when he got back.

Mit Dem Wissen Wächst Der Zweifel

Goethe

This week’s literary great, captured in my inimitable artistic style, is one Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was a German writer of not inconsiderable repute.

As with so many of the literary figures I’ve featured, I’ve never read anything he’s written, but I hear he was pretty good. Maybe I’ll learn German. There’s a whole load of Goethe Institutes dotted around the world where I could do that if I had the money and the time to do so.

Alas I have neither at the moment. I could always read a translation of his works, but where’s the fun in that?

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 9: Basic Instinct

James Proclaims (6)

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As a teenager there was really only one reason that I, or any of my friends, bothered to watch 1992’s Basic Instinct. In much the same way as you might have raised an eyebrow had anyone claimed that they read Playboy for the articles (obviously before the internet removed the necessity for such lies – I presume anyone who still buys Playboy today might genuinely be doing so for the articles), you would certainly have had good reason to have been sceptical if any of my peers had made the claim that they watched Basic Instinct for the gripping storyline.

Indeed, such was the notoriety of the movie that when it made its UK bow on terrestrial TV, I videotaped it for a friend. The reason for this was that he really wanted to see it, for reasons that I believe were less than noble, and was too embarrassed to record it himself in case he got caught by his parents. I’m not sure why I was any less concerned at being caught by my parents, but I think, at the time, I reasoned that I had plausible deniability, because I wasn’t actually recording it for myself. Quite why I thought this was any line of defence is anyone’s guess, but I did record it and handed the tape over to my friend without actually watching it. So I hadn’t really ever seen the movie until recently. I mean not all of it anyway…

Technically, then, this is not a ‘film I watched when I was younger’ which has been the qualifying factor for the films I’ve been reviewing in recent weeks. But it is a film that had a role in my youth nonetheless, albeit, on reflection, not my finest hour.

When I saw that it was being shown again on terrestrial TV, I thought it only right that, now I’m a grown-up and my hormones are largely under control, I should watch it, and judge it on its merits as a film.

So I did just that. It is, admittedly, hard to ignore the ‘naughty bits’ because there are so many of them. As per last week’s movie of choice, Total Recall, the director for Basic Instinct was one Paul Verhoeven and he really doesn’t do subtle. Rather than Total Recall’s extreme violence (although Basic Instinct does certainly have a number of scenes of graphic violence), there are instead a lot of sexually explicit scenes.

But sometimes the actors do have their clothes on, and if you don’t fast forward through those scenes, it turns out they are just as pivotal to the plot as the ones where everyone is naked.

The storyline is all kinds of ridiculous, and most of the characters are entirely hard to feel any sympathy for, but Michael Douglas does play Michael Douglas as well in this movie as he plays Michael Douglas in all of his other movies and Sharon Stone plays as good a narcissistic psychopath as any I’ve seen.

Nonetheless, it’s all fairly derivative stuff. Verhoeven definitely knew how to get bums on seats, and frankly, without the movie’s overt sexuality and controversy, I doubt Basic Instinct would have left much of an impression on anyone based solely on it’s plot, but, judged purely on said plot, I have definitely seen worse movies.