The Sky is Falling!

[I am groaning under the burden of a vastly increased workload — for my sins, I am even having to work all Saturday and Sunday. This week, I will thus hand you over to our American ambassador, for something perhaps a little more educational than our usual editorials…]

“Specialists recommend that just in case, if citizens do not have any special tasks at hand, they should stay indoors,” Georgia’s national radio said. “Foreign astronomers advise that people with circulatory conditions can suffer ill-effects. Those who are lovers of alcoholic drinks should be especially careful, because during times of world cataclysms people tend to become drunk more easily,” it continued without elaboration.

It was 3:00am – I set the alarm to go off and decided to stay in bed for just FIVE MORE MINUTES.. after all, this wasn’t something I HAD to do, just something I wanted to do. I sat in the darkness of my room, under the warmth of my covers debating with myself whether or not to get up and go outside. Arguing that this only happens once a year and this year it was supposed to be spectacular.

My decision was made for me when my bedroom lit up like a Christmas tree. I tilted my head back to peek through the blinds and squinted because I didn’t know exactly what I was looking at. I made out the sky and the stars, clear as a bell. It was a clear night. Then I saw it again, several streaks crossing the stars then seemingly *exploding* and streaking off again. That did it. Hopped out of bed, put on a jacket against the evening desert chill (yes, I live in a desert and it DOES get cold contrary to the belief of your fine editor), and ran out back with binoculars in hand. ‘Course I didn’t really need them, the sky was like a veritable light show. The atmosphere was clean and clear, no twinkling and that made for excellent viewing. Yes, folks, in addition to all her writing talents designed to entertain you, your American Ambassador is also an Amateur Astronomer. I had to see this, I had to document it.

I bore witness to the Leonids Meteor Shower which graces our system every year about this time. This year, however, we passed through a denser area of the Comet tail and were destined to see a lot more meteors than the norm. Last time the Leonids were this dense was in 1966. Reports of up to 1500 meteors per hour were reported. The original comet that made up this tail passed our system in 868AD and left its first trail in 902AD. Every year, we pass through this comet’s tail and see meteors or *Shooting stars* as many people like to call them.

The most dense shower in the history of this storm was in 1833 when it appeared over the Northeastern United States and it seemed as though it were raining meteors. The sky was illuminated with majestic fireballs all evening. It was estimated that over 240,000 meteors fell that evening and that is only a rough estimate since they didn’t start counting till it began waning!

Your American Ambassador was in awe this morning. I realize that we are a much smaller part of something huge in this universe. I felt amazed watching multiple streaks exploding in the pre-dawn sky. Makes you wonder what would happen if any of those rocks would hit something. Good thing we have an atmosphere that burns up most of the debris before it hits the ground, otherwise we’d all be wearing combat hats every few weeks when we pass through comet tails, although some renegade pieces manage to sneak through our planetary defenses and bash in the hood of a car or the side of a building. Nothing to speak of, and certainly not *Armageddon*.

Jim tells me I am outwardly passionate about everything. And why not? Stand outside this morning watching this and realize how cool it is to be here, alive and able to see this, able to enjoy life and all its pleasures with gusto. Besides, what is the alternative?

Chris Fata
Scottsdale Arizona
18 November 1998

Age regression therapy…

One slightly delayed editorial this week, due to a busy weekend. Saturday saw the start of the nightmare which is Christmas shopping; even at this early stage of the festive pre-season, I’ve already traded off significant sanity points, in exchange for a pitifully small pile of presents. At this rate, I will be experiencing Christmas lunch from inside a padded room, with no sharp implements in reach.

The day didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts in the nostalgia department, with the discovery of a calendar-challenged wasp in my bedroom, seemingly unaware it was now the middle of November. My dread of wasps has been with me since childhood, when I used to hide under the bedsheets at the slightest insect noise. I was thus less than impressed to return from the bath to find seriously peeved buzzing coming from the curtains, as well as the shadow of something large enough to contend for a role in ‘The Dambusters’. I rapidly discovered that the efficiency of insect murder-death-kill spray does not extent to operating THROUGH curtains. Mind you, at least I was using insect spray; on one previous wasp-invasion, I sprayed most of a can on the critter, to absolutely no effect — unsurprising, given that I was actually using air freshener.

Fortunately, the wasp (mandibles the size of small saws, attitude like a crack-crazed football hooligan) was too busy trying to chew its way THROUGH the glass to notice that I’d pulled back the curtain and unleashed a chemical weapon assault of which Saddam Hussein would be proud. It didn’t die easily, or quickly. Indeed, I got bored and drifted off to tell a housemate how I had bravely vanquished the beast, though they were not quite as impressed as I felt they should be. On the return, my heart nearly stopped, as Wasposaurus Rex was no longer on the window-sill; I had visions of it hanging from the ceiling eager to pounce. However, it had merely fallen off in its death throes, and was lying on the carpet. Amazing how much smaller it looked; by the time I carted it ceremoniously downstairs to the housemate, it was no more than average size…

We’ll draw a veil over the hell which is Camden Market on a Saturday afternoon as Christmas nears, and skip neatly to the evening, spent at a mate’s 30th birthday. In what could be seen as a last, desperate attempt to cling to the vestiges of youth (except for the fact that he looks a damn sight more than two years my junior), he’d been up in the attic and had dragged down some of the games which he and his brother had enjoyed, such as Rebound (kinda like shove ha’penny, with a U-shaped track and two elastic band powered bumpers), table skittles and the justly renowned Ker-plunk.

After a little scepticism, people really got into these. Though I don’t think it’ll quite replace VR Baseball in my affection, Jenga is a curiously satisfying game. You start with a tower of wooden blocks, each of the 18 levels made of three flat slabs not unlike shortbread fingers. Each player in turn has to take one block out from the middle and place it on the top; whoever makes the tower topple loses. Deceptively simple, yet a good test of a steady hand, and also your skills at mental levitation, as there are times when all intuition says gravity should take its toll, yet the tower resolutely stands tall. A good Christmas gift, especially for that relation with Parkinson’s disease (“Oh dear, Granny — you lose again! That’s 23-0 to me. Fancy another game?”).

Indeed, so compelling was all this, that I came within an ace of missing the last tube home — being stuck in Morden on a Saturday night is not something I’d wish to experience. And there endeth one Saturday; one less shopping day to Christmas, one fewer vicious, black-and-yellow striped insect in the world, and a new appreciation of the delights of childhood. Maybe I should ask Santa for my own Ker-plunk set…

Damp Squibs on Fireworks Night

Islington Garage,
5th November 1998

The origins of this outing lie in the last Flesh + Blood book — as is documented, Harvey Fenton devoted no less than TWENTY-SIX pages to Rockbitch, a satanic/sex/heavy metal (mostly-)girl group. Eyebrows here were raised as to whether they were really worth the coverage — Mr.Fenton assured me they were, so when I found out they were playing London on Guy Fawkes’ Night, what else could I do but turn up?

At this point, readers might want to visit the Rockbitch web site to get the background, especially if they’ve not got the Flesh + Blood book, with its tales of on-stage fistings, fan-fornication and general Excess All Areas. But was it all just a cheap ploy to get attention? If so, it was remarkably unsuccessful: here is Time Out‘s complete listing for the gig:

Rockbitch + Leech Woman + Breed 77. Garage N5, 8pm, adm £7. The opening set is provided by hotly-tipped metallers Breed 77.

Between that, and the fact that this tour takes in such stadia as the Fleece & Firkin in Darlington, it seems that mega-stardom is not quite banging on Rockbitch’s door.

The crowd were an interesting mix of hard-core heavy metal, the dirty mac brigade, and casually dressed men whose significance would become clear later. I carefully scoped out a position to stand; not so close that I ran the risk of becoming part of the show, shall we say, yet close enough to satisfy my entirely healthy journalistic curiosity — oh, alright then, and my prurience.

First of all, we had to get through the support bands; actually, I’m in agreement with Time Out, Breed 77 were actually very impressive, and I’d rate their chances of stardom considerably higher than Rockbitch’s. You heard it here first. The main support, Leech Woman, were familiar from Bradford; they were the ones with the angle-grinder, and once again the sparks were flying. The only noticeable change was the presence of black crosses of sticky tape on their nipples — again, the significance would become clear shortly. They cleared off, and the mob surged forward in anticipation of… well, whatever. It was really VERY tightly packed by now: I let go of my empty plastic beer glass and it took ten minutes to hit the floor. Then, to a roar from the audience, Rockbitch took the stage.


Let’s be honest. The words “Rawk Chick” do come to mind; rapidly smudged make-up, hair-colour from a bottle and so forth; not ugly, for sure, but not really my cup of tea. And hang on, what’s this? They’re also wearing crosses of sticky tape on their nipples! And one of them has ‘CENSORED’ scrawled on her stomach, above a large arrow pointing down… At the end of the first song, it became clear what was happening: the authorities had decided to take an interest, and the aforementioned casually dressed men were, in fact, plain-clothes coppers.

Now, if there’s one thing scarier than a Rawk Chick, it’s a pissed-off Rawk Chick. And, boy, were Rockbitch miffed; between every song, a tirade of vitriol was directed at the powers-that-be and the police for making them tone down the show. I had to sympathise, purely from a libertarian point of view, though some of their complaints were dumb. Saying “it’s just because we’re women” is palpable nonsense; they’d have got the same reaction had it been men sodomising each other on stage, or even straightforward heterosexual screwing. Claims to the contrary are just ignorant. I do also have to ask what they EXPECTED would happen; they’d have been better off going down the road a mile to Brown’s, where women ARE allowed to take their clothes off.

Anyway, despite the sign on stage saying “Fuck Censorship”, they didn’t, choosing to go under lamely; when the lead singer bravely exposed her nipples they was rapidly covered up again with more tape. Their stage act was reduced to a lot of lesbian kissing and some mock Satanic ritual, though covering the mouth of their skull prop with tape was a nicely ironic touch. The loss of their sexual exploits was a double edged-sword. While it certainly gave them something to complain about (Q1: is that why they’re called Rockbitch?), it meant they were thrown back onto their musicianship. This was largely bog-standard heavy metal (Q2: why do you only ever get Satanic metal, and never Satanic pop or Satanic C’n’W?), save their fretless bass player, who was not only the most skilled but the most attractive — and, an interesting point, kept her clothes on.

The overall effect was something between Spinal Tap and Showgirls, though sadly it had the sexual charge of the former, and the humour of the latter — though there was something ironic and almost charming in the way they described what we WOULD have been seeing, if it wasn’t for the presence of Mr. Plod. It is probably unfair to judge Rockbitch on a PG-rated performance, but the tame way in which this petered out does nothing to dispell the illusion that their attitude is nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy. [Whether or not it’s deliberate, it works as such, going by the inordinate interest the following morning in the office!] Still, at eight quid for the ticket, it was a ploy to which I was happy to succumb, having had an entertaining night. I may be deaf, as a result of leaning against the speaker stacks, I may be battered (the guy next to me was trying to slam-dance, even though there was about 3mm of play in the entire audience), and I may have no real interest in seeing them again, but it was an experience, and more fun than a handful of sparklers.

Litany of Hate 2: The Backlash

This editorial will be dominated by follow-ups to last week’s litany of hate. With regard to my dislike of the idiots on public transport, Miles Wood said “Me thinks Jim will LOVE Hong Kong!!” — and as he’s currently residing out there, it did indeed make me wonder whether to cross it off the list of destinations. But on reflection, that’s DIFFERENT: there, I am an honoured ambassador, who must abide by the traditions of a different culture. Here, it’s where I live, and everyone else can fuck right off. That’s that sorted. 🙂

[I’ll insert here a gratuitous plug for Miles’ fine book “CineEast – Hong Kong Cinema Through The Looking Glass”, in which he interviews some of HK’s top directors and actors. See the FAB Press site for details — and between this and the Rockbitch piece, I have given FAB more than enough free publicity. I hope head man Mr.Fenton is appropriately grateful.]

Secondly, there’s a lengthy follow-up from Mal Aitchison, who is the guy who pointed me in the direction of Ceefax P.576 to start with:

It would take a much longer letter to list all my initial reactions to the Litany of Hate editorial, as well as the several semi-considered responses to it. Even this reply is being written in the after effects of the catatonic shock your cataclysmic edict induced in the very core of my soul (how’s that for literary hyperbole?). Apart from the worryingly New Ageish slant to comments like “it is only by confronting your demons that you can control them” – not if they’re built like brick shit houses you can’t – I don’t think aversion therapy or whatever you were alluding to was intended to address issues like people “who put their bags on seats, walking three abreast, with umbrellas” etc.

Hell, I though the bit about demons was more Nietzche than new-age — unless new-age has toughened up a lot since I last noticed it massaging its crystals. As for aversion therapy, sadly, I’m too psychologically stable to suffer from any addressable issues. He continues:

Don’t take this personally, although you can if you want, but having read more than enough P576s (i.e. more than one) I think I’m well qualified to say that you are wrong about these lists. On the whole they fall into two categories (ie when produced by sane people, I’ll stick with my original assertion about the majority of 576ers); boring, self-important whinging by humourless bastards or, even worse, really laboured attempts at humour which fall somewhere between tautology and cliche (I’d be very surprised if “waiting for a bus, then 3 turning up at once” type comments had never been posted on Ceefax). I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and put you into the rare 3rd category – people who produce great zines and are therefore allowed the occasional lapse of taste.

Interestingly though, it’s still produced more immediate feedback than any other editorial I’ve written – not hard, admittedly – and I reckon this goes to prove the power of the underlying concept. I would at this point go on to discuss how it addresses fears of alienation by allowing people to realise that they are not alone in their hatred of, say, milk-cartons, but I’ll just get accused of being new-agey again.

I’ll finish now, I’m going to meet a couple of mates so we can stand three abreast on the left hand side of escalators, under the shade of the umbrella we nicked from an outdoor cafe table, while buying milk with a credit card and selling the Big Issue etc etc etc…

Of course, all the above is really my attempt to avenge your disparaging comments about Renee O’Connor during the TC World Cup 😉

Hah! Knew I’d forget something off my list: irritating blondes… Renee O’Connor still sucks, Hudson Leick is god. Dead, but a god… 🙂 [The previous sentences will not make a blind bit of sense unless you watch Xena: Warrior Princess. Sorry.]

Elsewhere, I was temporarily cheered to hear of the election of former pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura to be governor of Minnesota, thanks to the biggest turnout in the election. The American two-party system is even more screwed than ours, so for anyone else to break through is a major feat. And can you really see Giant Haystacks being elected to anything here? [I should mention there is a precedent in Japan, where pro wrestlers are held in a lot more respect] However, what largely seems to have escaped notice is that the “Reform Party” which backed him is the one started by H.Ross Perot, the loony computer mogul who made a failed run for President. Perot, head of EDS, is a very scary man. Maybe the two-party system isn’t so bad after all. But let’s give ex-Navy Seal Ventura a chance: he may or not break the mould, but it should liven things up a bit at the very least.