Against Aardman

“Aw, c’mon, how can anyone not love Wallace and Gromit?”, I hear you cry. But here’s a simple test to show the iniquitous effect they and their creator have had on British animation: how many other animators can you name? Very few, I imagine — because Aardman’s (carefully hyped) success means that the media now won’t look beyond cuddly animals, lovable old men, and roguish penguins as far as animation goes. British animation is rapidly being driven into a PG-rated ghetto, just as our cinema was in the late 80’s. Only this time, the ghetto is made of Play-do.

There’s no question Park is hugely talented, and the work-ethic in Aardman’s output is easily apparent; but this just makes his apparent subservience to the god of light entertainment all the more aggravating. It’s the repetition that gets to me. Animation is a limitless medium, where imagination is your only restraint; looking at Park’s work, though, you wouldn’t think so. The first piece of his I saw was jaw-dropping stuff. When the second one turned up and was the same again, I was less impressed. Then number three, pitched at exactly the same “gently amusing” level. And the fourth. Zzzzzzz…

It’s like Tarantino’s relentless usage of gangster motifs (is this the first time these two have been compared?). I find Park’s work quickly goes stale, and rate more highly animators like Jan Svankmaer who’ve shown their talents in a wide range of genres. And how many Oscars has Svankmajer won? None. Note, however, that Park has some way to go to match the success of Tom and Jerry: 13 nominations, resulting in seven Academy Awards. And despite the inherent limitations of the “cat chases mouse” scenario, you’ll find far more breadth in half a dozen random selected cartoons of theirs than all of Wallace and Gromit’s adventures put together.

Both Tarantino and Park (is this the second time these two have been compared?) have also spawned legions of wannabees, devoid of whatever technical skill their role-models possess. Post-Park, it seems every animator in Britain rushed down to their local Toys R Us and stocked up on half a dozen packs of plasticine.

Here is a textbook example of marketing hype and crass, cynical commercialization. And the one wearing the cute rucksack is Baby Spice.

In the dash for commissions, more traditional skills seem to have been thrown to one side, whether or not they’d be more appropriate for the story in hand. The results so far have been at best mediocre, and at worst pathetic — witness the dire Gogs which BBC2 inflicted upon the public last Christmas.

All populist animation must inevitably also invoke comparison with Disney. While Park’s films are at least free of piss-poor songs and overt moral preaching, he and they have the same problem with characterisation — as mentioned in a previous TC, Disney villains are a hell of a lot more memorable than the heroes. It says something about A Grand Day Out that a vending machine comes across as having more personality than Wallace.

Disney and Aardman share another major activity in common: merchandising. T-shirts, books, videos, CD-Roms, cuddly toys, mugs, the range is apparently endless; behind the meek, rather nerdish persona of Nick Park is clearly a razor-sharp business mind. Flogging twenty-five minutes of animation in HMV for £12.99 isn’t bad going, especially given the vast quantities being shifted. Who needs value for money? And why bother rocking the (very comfortable) boat by making challenging animation? With Park now making a feature, Chicken Run, for Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks, the opportunity for tie-ins increase exponentially (Gromit Happy Meal, anyone?). But from the artistic point of view, development is required; surely no 90’s audience will sit through ninety minutes of animated Ealing comedy?

I don’t blame Park for any of this. He’s acquired popular, international renown denied all save a very few animators in the West – Disney, Chuck Jones, Hanna & Barbera – and is entitled to enjoy his fifteen minutes of fame, probably as measured on the Wallace and Gromit (TM) watch pictured. I can’t help feeling, however, that in the broader scheme of things, his stretching of said fifteen minutes to five years is not a unanimously good thing. Next, please…?

An Infusion of Dreams

The parlour was crammed with party-frocked children, all eager to be let loose upon the games they thought in store for them. One boy (I think it must have been me) wondered if games could exist without children to play them. He imagined hide-and-seek with mere wisps of shadow darting in and out of the corners; musical chairs with a feast of empty seats; hunt the invisible thimble; sardines with only loneliness to come between; Nobody’s Knock…

Forgetting his thoughts, he surveyed the remains of food upon the excited faces, almost more to eat than they had in the first place. The dining-room had been a wondrous place that afternoon. With an early dusk outside, the candles had shone out a treat, casting golden tea-leaves of dream upon all the faces. The red jelly had wobbled deliciously. The cakes had dribbled fresh clotted cream even before they saw the tiny white teeth. Steaming samovars of infusions. Neatly manicured cucumber sandwiches. Drinks with more bubbles than liquid. The birthday cake decorated with a mysterious number none of the children could possibly count towards.

He had seen the girl for the first time around that table. Initially attracted by the pinafore frock, the face was very much second best. But the more he became accustomed to its frequently dimplish smile over the trifle, the more he fell in love with the rest of the girl he couldn’t see.

The parlour was lit by a log fire. The faces were keen to get the planning phase over and the campaign of games under way. He spotted the girl again — she was towards the back, the furthest from the fire that one could possibly be. She was no longer smiling but, even at his tender age, he knew that angels did not smile all of the time. There was at least one grown-up ranging about between the tangled limbs, so tall it was difficult to see the lines of the face. It was issuing instructions, however, which, for the boy’s part, were pretty pointless. He thought the best present he’d receive today was being the seeker and the pinafored girl the hider whom he’d find in some solitary part of the house. Apparently, though, he was not chosen to be seeker, despite the party being in his honour. Indeed, the sole grown-up was intent on the role of seeker.

Suddenly the children rose in uproar, the girl included, and scuttled off in all possible directions. Only the boy and the grown-up were left staring at each other across the shadows of the flames.

The deep mumbling had no meaning. But the boy understood only too well. He followed the tail-end of the children into the dark hallway outside the parlour. The landing at the top of the steep stairs looked forbidding — although, of course, he realised that nowhere was out of bounds today of all days. Even the servants’ quarters were eligible hiding-space, the occupants having been given the night off with a few halfpennies to spend at the Christmas fair. The night off? He wished he could have had the night off. He tore at his face as if trying to scrape the shadows of night from it.

The girl in the pinafore frock was disappearing up the very stairs he found so forbidding. Distantly, he followed the heels of her sandals — catching glimpses of thin calves in light seeped from some undarkened rooms elsewhere in the house.

D.F. Lewis

Against Diana

New York, Sept 2 (Reuter) – Slimming company Weight Watchers International has postponed the formal launch of an advertising campaign in which the Duchess of York says losing weight is “harder than outrunning the paparazzi.”

Admirable words of surprising sense from the Duchess of Pork — what a shame that her sister-in-law instead tried to escape them by driving through the streets of Paris at 200 km/h, in a heavily armoured limousine. If you’re going to do this, it’s probably worth remembering to:

  • a) Fasten your seat-belts
  • b) Try and have a sober driver.
So young; so well-loved; such fabulous baps.

I used to be a fervent monarchist. This was back in the golden days, roughly between the Silver Jubilee and Charles and Diana’s wedding. But since then, the continuing saga of the Royal soap opera, not least the Chuck ‘n’ Di show, has destroyed my respect for this institution. And, frankly, Diana’s death, despite the subsequent media canonisation, makes no difference.

Sudden death is always sad, but in many ways, she’s just another in a long line: Dean, Monroe, Kennedy, Lennon, Phoenix, and now Diana, all greeted with howls about “unfulfilled potential”. However, even allowing for the high-pressure world of the Royals, her life wasn’t exactly a massive success, despite a sudden late burst of charity work. One failed marriage, several affairs, a nervous breakdown and some botched suicide attempts isn’t a good record.

Watching TV the day she died, and seeing her mythic status grow by the hour, I felt like I was taking part in Heathers. The establishment fell over to embrace her in death, as they had excluded her in life, but I am forced to wonder just how deep and widespread the claimed grief over Diana actually was. Certainly, there was little sign of it in my office, going by the number of jokes doing the rounds:
   Why did Diana die in hospital?
   They hadn’t any parts for an ’81 Princess…
Yes, it’s crap (and believe me, I’ve got lots more of them), but it serves to indicate that the entire country was not quite as grief-stricken as the press would have us believe.

For Diana was a media creation, who used them just as they used her. She sold papers, while their perpetual pushing of her as the “Queen of Hearts” must have been one hell of a confidence boost for someone chucked out of the world’s most dysfunctional family.

The most fitting and appropriate comment on all this came from Private Eye, who said, “In recent weeks (not to mention the last ten years) we at the Daily Gnome, in common with all other newspapers, may have inadvertently conveyed the impression the Princess of Wales was in some way a neurotic, irresponsible and manipulative troublemaker…the Princess of Hearts was in fact the most saintly woman who has ever lived… We would like to express our sincere and deepest hypocrisy to all our readers on this tragic day and hope and pray that they will carry on buying our paper notwithstanding.”

Private Eye was about the only publication to come out of the whole fiasco with its integrity intact [Time Out also did not badly, though the timing of the accident meant they missed the initial furore]. Witness the cover cartoon on PE’s post-death issue:
   Man 1: The papers are a disgrace
   Man 2: Yes, I couldn’t get one anywhere
   Man 3: Borrow mine, it’s got a picture of the car.

They suffered as a result, said edition being blackballed by a sizeable number of newsagents, yet continued to do a fine job of exposing the double-think of the mass media:

Lynda Lee-Potter, Daily Mail, 27th August — “The sight of a paunchy playboy groping a scantily-clad Diana must appal and humiliate Prince William…As the mother of two young sons she ought to have more decorum and sense. She has for many years criticised Prince Charles for being a distant, undemonstrative father. In the long run he’s been the more responsible parent and certainly inflicted less damage, anguish and hurt”

Lynda Lee-Potter, Daily Mail, 1st September — “Throughout their childhood, she gave her sons endless loving cuddles…She adored her children”

What a difference a car-crash makes. Despite this, and those who said “Yep, it’s sad — now get on with life”, the country basically ground to a halt for a week, most notably on the Saturday morning. The pressure exerted on anyone who failed to toe the line was incredible; those who wanted to mourn insisted everyone else did so too. Our local supermarket intended to stay open, and donate its profits to charity, but was forced to shut instead — you do have to wonder which would have been preferred by the ‘Queen of Hearts’. Little wonder her funeral drew the biggest TV audience ever, because there was sod-all else you could do, though I was amused by C4’s scheduling of a cartoon called Princess Cinders opposite the funeral…

After that passed, things calmed down, with a blip when Andrew Morton re-released his book on Diana, with extra added salacious bits. Needless to say, this treacherous little volume sold like hot-cakes — one wonders how many copies went to the same people seen weeping uncontrollably outside Kensington Palace? I await with interest the (surely inevitable) Hollywood movie, and would suggest Madonna for the role — for who better to play the world’s biggest media whore than the world’s second biggest media whore? Sign up Antonio Banderas to play Dodi, and let’s have Jeremy Irons as Charles. Get Oliver Stone to direct it, and we can play up the conspiracy angles. Speaking of which…

None Dare Call It alt.conspiracy.princess-diana

The above picture is allegedly Di trapped in the wreckage, though I’ve my doubts; apologies for the quality of the reproduction.

Was there more to Diana’s death than meets the eye? Immediately after the event, rumours and theories began circulating. A conduit for many was the Internet: a group set up to discuss the possibilities had 400 new messages a day, clearly striking a chord. However, the unanswered questions began before the accident. Given events since, the ‘surprise’ she threatened to reveal a couple of months back acquires ominous overtones. Engagement to Dodi, perhaps, or worse still, a pregnancy?

But it’s in Paris that paranoia runs out of control, like a Mercedes-Benz with its brake-cables cut. Diana apparently had no British security cover, nor had the UK papers anyone on her tail: were they warned off? It seems strange that Diana allowed herself to be taken at speed by a drunken, non-professional driver, while her trained chauffeur went on a trivial diversionary mission, and near incredible that neither Dodi, a Muslim, nor the surviving security man, realised the driver’s state and drew attention to it. It is easy to tamper with a blood sample [it’s also easy, incidentally, to give someone a ‘heart attack’ in an operating room…], and rather than a single figure, we’ve seen a surprisingly wide range of values quoted for the amount of alcohol in the driver’s blood.

The only public evidence of what happened came from eye-witnesses discovered by the media – although you might think traffic cameras would have provided impartial data – as the survivor hasn’t given many interviews to the press: perhaps he was given the choice of that or a mysterious relapse. Oddly, everyone else seemed to be American, as if there were there no French around Paris at the time. One also wonders what happened to the paparazzi film and cameras; I suspect they’ll be quietly destroyed out of “respect for the Princess”. The Al-fayeds said “motorcycles were seen swerving in front of the vehicle”, though the source of this information is unclear.

Eye-witnesses describe hearing a loud bang or explosion before the crash; no-one has followed this up, and while the car blew all the way across the tunnel, metal and glass flying, with enough force to kill three out of four occupants, there was so much as a reported scratch on any of the unprotected motorcyclists supposedly closely flanking it. The other story that the French police released and then later withdrew was the speedometer “sticking” at 196 kph. Someone must have pointed out that this type of Mercedes does not have a mechanical speedo… Witnesses driving by saw the passenger side door open and the survivor’s legs on the ground as if trying to get out. One described an argument as like that between people involved in an accident – was the security guard walking about? Indeed, the media first reported that Diana too was walking and talking after the accident. The first people at the scene of the accident, heard the bang and run into the tunnel, but were chased away by an unidentified individual.

This photo comes with a choice of two alternative captions: “Well, there goes your no-claims bonus for this year, Henri”, or “That’s what you get for trying to overtake Michael Schumacher”.

If the limo could travel at high speed, the roads must have been quiet, yet it took 15 minutes to get an ambulance to the scene. French emergency services often operate on accident victims on the side of the road using especially designed portable operating theatres. On this occasion, they didn’t: instead, it was two hours before she went to hospital — though there were two closer than the one to which the Princess was taken. There, they tried to revive her through heart massage, which seems rather primitive. By now, the BBC and CNN were already blaming the paparazzi who were allegedly chasing the car, strongly promoting this as the true cause of Diana’s death, and leaving virtually no room for other theories.

So many questions, so few answers. You don’t expect such a public death to be completely without inconsistencies – even the best Hollywood movies have continuity errors – but in this case there appear to be more than I’d expect. If “they” wanted rid of her, it was a terribly public way to do it, but public spasms of grief allow a great deal to be concealed, and it sent out strong signals to any other enemies of “them” out there. Conveniently, it happened abroad, out of British jurisdiction, but close enough to get her body back, and out of sight, within hours.

Given that someone killed her (and I appreciate this is a pretty big given), who was it? The favourite targets are the British ‘establishment’, an umbrella term which includes the Royal family. The benefits for them are immediate and obvious. Diana was more than an embarrassment; according to James Whittaker of the Daily Mirror, they regarded her as “poison”. Diana cut herself free, did not work for the Government, and was politically unaligned. She was a loose cannon; dangerous, out of control and her access to the future heirs posed serious problems. In death, she can be re-absorbed into the fold, boosting Royal popularity while simultaneously ridding themselves of the most public sign of their failures.

That alone might be enough, even discounting her relationship with Dodi, whose father feuded with the establishment, over both the control of Harrods and his application for British citizenship. He paid Tory MPs to raise the question in the House of Commons, then revealed he had done so, fuelling the “sleaze” crisis which helped bring down the government. But as a relation of the future King of England, it’d be hard to deny him a British passport. Any marriage would probably have meant Diana converting to the Islamic faith, like Jemima Khan. You can imagine concern in certain circles: “My God, what if the Queen Mother were a Moslem?”. Unsurprisingly, this has provoked a number of anti-Semitic angles, and to balance these, a few anti-Arab ones as well, with rumours suggesting Al-Fayed was thinking about disinvesting in the British economy.

Meanwhile, Charles, now a widower rather than a divorcee in the eyes of the church, can remarry without causing problems to the “Defender of the Faith” bit. [If I were Camilla Parker-Bowles’ ex-husband, I’d be more than a little nervous…] Don’t be surprised if it’s used as an excuse to bring in draconian privacy laws, limiting the ability of individuals to gather information on and document the activities of the establishment. This theory would presumably be popular with extremist American politician Lyndon LaRouche (and I mean ‘extremist’ even by their wild and wacky standards), who believes the Queen is the head of an international drugs cartel.

However, it seems pointless for Charles to have divorced her just a few months before the “accident”. Another strike against this theory is that Colonel Gaddafi believes it — though in the same speech, he warned his people that the West might invade Libya because of its sun, sand, seashore, dates, watermelons and, er, camel milk. “The camel is also a reason for them to invade Libya. The camel is unique because he can go for months without drinking. He also has good milk. In fact, why do you import milk from Europe when you have the camel’s milk?” [Ok, I take back what I said about American politicians in the previous paragraph…]

While this is the main scenario propounded, it’s far from the only one. Second up is that ol’ favourite, the industro-military cartel. As is well known, Diana was a outspoken campaigner against landmines. The manufacturers, not just in America but the rest of the world too, cannot have been too thrilled by her activities. Against this, her death will almost certainly result in a total ban, as any other result would seem churlish in the extreme. Maybe the anti-landmine lobby ruthlessly sacrificed their own spokeswoman. This reversal also applies to theories involving the Royal family, as Diana’s death could benefit, or be a mortal blow to them. Did a secret faction hope to discredit the Queen and turn Britain into a republic? With Diana at her peak of popularity, but about to remarry and fade from the limelight, they arranged the death of the Queen of Hearts — “our Queen, their pawn” as one proponent suggests! In so doing they create a martyr, a heroine to remain forever young, wronged by Charles, Camilla, and the nasty Royals.

Bizarre as that sounds, it’s by no means the most extreme idea: Interflora were behind it all, Eddie Large did it to divert attention from his road rage conviction, Elton John was to blame (Gianni Versace was just a dry run), or Di is still alive, and the whole thing was a scam to allow her and Dodi to vanish into hiding, with the connivance of the Royal family. Hard to tell who is joking, though the last does explain why there was no ‘lying in state’: someone would have realised it wasn’t her in the coffin — expect Diana sightings to follow. And Tom Cruise took a strong role in using the affair to support restrictions on news reporters. Cruise is a Scientologist; they have a long history of attempts to silence its critics. Mere bandwagon-jumping, or something more sinister?

But perhaps my favourite surrounds Princes Harry and William. A main tenet of conspiracy theory is “Follow the money”: in this case, the money goes straight to the heir-but-one and his brother. As a result of their mother’s death, they’re now looking at the rough equivalent of a lottery jackpot each, and under normal circumstances, would be prime suspects. I will admit, however, that doubts must be cast, however, over their ability to organise such a hit while on their summer hols, even if their pocket money could probably stretch to it.

We can be almost certain about one thing: the truth will never be known with any certainty. Now that these conspiracies have had mainstream coverage, the entire affair possesses all the trappings of a modern myth: history inevitably shows that such things become more, rather than less obscure, with the passage of time.

[Indeed, this already seems to be happening. Witness the following: is it cunningly constructed Government disinformation, designed to conceal the truth by making it ludicrous, or just a jape? Perhaps it’s even the truth — for who’d believe it…?]

Diana: the Vatican connection

“Ever since the botched Calvi job under Blackfriars Bridge, the Pope has sought revenge on British Royalty. An uncomfortable truce held between the Windsors and the Vatican during the 80’s, but the pontiff recently said on VNN (Vatican News Network) that Diana was no longer “the next Mother Teresa”, a position promised in 1984 when she followed papal decree and refused to open a new Wyeth factory in the Welsh Catholic stronghold of Abergavenny. The Vatican/Windsor truce was negotiated in early 1985, following four years of intense, secret fighting whose commencement can be traced directly to the ‘81 botched assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. Carried out by muslim Mehmed Ali Agca, it was arranged by Mohammed Al-fayed, father of the ill-fated Dodi. He longed desperately for British citizenship and was put up to the job by the current Capo of the Windsor mob, Price Philip, still stinging from the 1979 death of his uncle, Lord Mountbatten, at the hands of the Vatican’s special Irish service.

The ‘85 truce was negotiated by Senator Edward Kennedy, representing Vatican secret interests in the US, and vice-president Bush, former CIA Chief and Anglican lay minister, pressed to the temporary service of the Windsors by then governor of West Virginia Jay Rockefeller, a fellow Trilateral Commission member. In 1990, Bush would help arrange the embarrassment of the Vatican’s highly placed agent, Chaldean Catholic and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, by instructing American ambassador April Martin to lure him into encouraging Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait. The Windsors controlled the puppet government of Saudi Arabia, but had been shut out of the lucrative Kuwaiti market, and responded with a mass rejection of the Catholic institution of marriage. This resulted in all the Queen’s progeny – save closet homosexual Edward – being divorced in the same year. An angry pontiff almost gave the conspiracy away when, in a fit of rage, he ordered a special Vatican controlled IRA active service unit to firebomb Windsor Castle. The Vatican also instructed their puppet government in Westminster to tax all royal personages.

The burning of Windsor Castle, in which sixteen junior, and luckily nonphotogenic, Royal Family members lost their lives, forced the Queen to sign a treaty with the Vatican agreeing to abide by and promote the one true faith in the UK. At the end of that year in her Xmas Speech, Queen Elizabeth II clearly blamed the murder of Christ on the Jewish race. The last straw for the Vatican happened when Diana allowed herself to be photographed having unprotected sex with a Muslim, then drunkenly announced she was leaving Britain for good “because the last Tory government were such assholes”. John Paul II took this as a personal insult and ordered Masonic lodge P2 to eliminate her forthwith, financed by Du Pont, manufacturers of the world’s finest subterranean anti-personnel devices.

The car’s brakes were interfered with and her regular driver (trained in anti-terrorist driving techniques) was fed a dodgy meat madras by Catholic waiting staff at the Ritz. It is thought the Mercedes cruise control was hacked into over a land line from the Vatican and reprogrammed to accelerate to maximum revs when going around tight bends.”

Life’s a Riot With Spawn vs. Spawn…

While we’ve compared live-action and animated versions of movies before – Wicked City, The Guyver and City Hunter – with Spawn, it’s the first time two have come out so close together. Both are very much driven by Todd McFarlane, creator of the original comic-book: he’s been able to keep a firm hand on the tiller because, as he says, “what could Hollywood offer me except fortune and fame?”, and as creator of the top-selling comic in America, he already had plenty of both. Though it seems odd he authorised two such similar projects the same year. The common plot has government killer Al Simmons’ resurrected as Spawn, and follows as he comes to terms with his new role in Hell’s army, resulting from a demonic pact accepted after his death. He wants to break the contract, but where can a horribly disfigured dead man go? Certainly not back to his wife, now married to Al’s best friend and with the daughter she long craved. He also has to deal with the Clown, a satanic mentor who keeps an eye on Spawn to snuff out any signs of goodness.

The HBO animated series was first and is undeniably grittier, meriting an ‘R’, especially in the video version. In it, Spawn becomes entangled with the mob, intelligence community, and the child-killing relative of a US senator who wants to be the president. You’ll hear familiar voices, notably Ronnie Cox as both Senator McMillan and the psychopathic Billy Kincaid, and Mike McShane, cast heavily against type as a seven-stone weakling [The only way to keep him in character was to make him stand motionless, arms by his sides — as soon as he moved, he started to lose it!] William Hurt was originally down as narrator Cogliostro, but a throat infection ruled him out, so the part went to Richard Dysart, who played Doc Copper in The Thing. In one of those coincidences, that film marked the debut of actor David Keith as Childs. 15 years later, Keith and Dysart are reunited, since the former is the voice of Spawn…

Enough name-dropping; is it any good? Well, from the very start, it’s patently obvious that Spawn certainly ain’t no Disney film; not with the amount of body fluids, nudity and swear words which are spattered around. This is done in a refreshingly gleeful manner that evokes anime more than any American TV show — even one intended for broadcast on cable at midnight. The animation is decent enough, if not exceptional; though there are times when the Korean studio occasionally forget they are no longer working on My Little Pony, the storyline and voice acting manage to hold your interest, and there’s an appealing, bone-dry humour which runs through much of the script. The various facets of the production build upon and support each other, making the end result probably better than the sum of its parts. The atmosphere is heavily aided by Shirley Walker’s score, which rumbles along ominously in the background, distinctly reminiscent of the soundtrack to computer slaughterfest Doom.

There are loose ends flailing, notably a Spawn-hunter named Angela who turns up, kicks ass and then vanishes from the storyline. One presumes she’ll re-appear in the second series, to which the end of the sixth episode points unsubtly. But McFarlane manages to avoid the obvious clichés of an episodic structure — they don’t all have to end with a big battle, and watching the compiled version, it’s almost impossible to tell where one part stops and the next begins. Overall, it’s striking, original, and reasonably impressive stuff, whose success will hopefully spawn (ho ho ho) a host of imitators. If so, it might signal a new, more adult direction for the American animation industry: with rare exceptions, it still lives in a quagmire of ‘family entertainment’.

The live-action movie was originally passed ‘R’, “for thematic elements involving the demonic underworld, violence, intense fantasy action and crude humor” according to the MPAA, and was cut to gain a ‘PG-13’ certificate. This perhaps summarises the major problem with it: while the TV series was pitched at a slightly older crowd – college age, according to McFarlane – the film is aimed lower, with an inevitable toning- and dumbing-down as a result. Thus, the body count is low, there’s very little blood and nobody says anything worse than “asshole” even when the end of the world is nigh, and the fart jokes would seem to have escaped from Beavis and Butthead. The plot is a great deal simpler, with the multiple threads of a conspiratorial web replaced by something more akin to a James Bond film: evil villain (Martin Sheen, with an appropriately devilish beard) plots to take over the world, although he is being manipulated by the Clown into triggering Armageddon.

There are significant differences in the telling of the story; it begins before Simmons is killed, and the role of Cogliostro (Nicol Williamson, with definite echoes from his Merlin in Excalibur) is expanded greatly, from a mere narrator to Spawn’s guru. Terry, Al’s best friend, also has his part in things seriously expanded, and in a slightly puzzling twist, also changes from being coloured into a white dude. I guess one black hero is enough for Hollywood to handle in any movie not specifically targeted at an ethnic audience. An odd similarity is that, as in the animation, the live-action version also has a groovy kick-ass femme fatale who singularly fails to do anything of real interest: here, she’s Jason’s hench-babe, and is swiftly killed the first time Spawn and Jason meet.

Much of the production seems to have taken place inside a Silicon Graphics work-station, and the film’s special effects overpower everything else, even though they greatly vary in effectiveness. Spawn’s cape is amazing, an excellent showcase for the power of computer graphics, plus a lot of the virtual sets are also superbly detailed, an area in which animation cannot compete. However, the final battle in Hell leaves a great deal to be desired: apparently, their Satanic majesties inhabit offcuts from a budget computer game.

John Leguizamo does a fine job as the Clown, bringing a lot of personality through the make-up, which must have been hell to wear (ho ho ho). He’s helped by having all the best lines — neither Nicol Williamson, nor Michael Jai White as Spawn, can match him when they try and come out with the snappy one-liners required of any self-respecting comic-book hero. White is okay; there’s not a lot an actor can do, when all you can see are his eyes, and half the time they’re hidden behind some optical effect or other. The musical score, by Graeme Revell, isn’t really memorable, and has its work cut out trying to fight its way past the gratuitous interference of tracks from the (near-inevitable) soundtrack album.

Pitting the two against each other, I’d have to go for the animated version. It scores a telling blow with its darker, more cynical and adult edge, making it a more faithful reflection of the attitude inherent in McFarlane’s original comic. However, the cinematic experience certainly does add to the spectacle, and I suspect if the animation were blown up, it would rapidly fall over since it was made for the small screen. Both are interesting takes, despite leaving out background depth, especially the more metaphysical aspects. Conclusion: watch HBO’s series, then go rent the live-action version for additional fun!

The ‘97 TC Tour: Beer and Writhing in Las Vegas

Previous issues of TC have chronicled trips to both east and west coasts of America, but rumours persisted that there were some bits in the middle, between California (movies/sun/earthquakes) and New York (shopping/pizza/er, more shopping). To test the validity or otherwise of these reports, a two-week expedition was planned, sponsored, albeit unwittingly, by the Halifax, and the other nice building societies who decided to hand me a wodge of free shares. Having just safely returned (well, most of me, my brain would seem to have been held up at Customs. Jet lag, doncha just love it? All of the problems of being drunk with none of the pleasures. What time is it? What day is it? Which continent is this? Who am I?), I feel a need to get the (ir)relevant details committed to paper before the need for outright fabrication exceeds EC permitted levels.

When you cross off all the bits of America that lie next to oceans, one destination stands out like a beacon in the middle of the desert — precisely because it is a beacon in the middle of the desert. I mean, of course, that Disneyland for adults, Las Vegas. It’s a place that not only meets expectations but passes way beyond them: it is even more crass, commercial, garish, naff, flashy and shallow than you imagine. But yet, just as a bad movie can become a source of great pleasure, so Vegas transcends the tackiness which infects its very essence, and is perhaps the best place on Earth to spend a weekend. No more than that, mind, for it will chew you up and spit you out like a piece of used gum – except probably with slightly less personal wealth.

The first experience of the city was driving along the Strip from the airport. Luckily I wasn’t driving, having been met at the airport by TC-er Chris Fata, who had kindly agreed to see me through the first wave of culture shock. This was undoubtedly a Good Thing: I’d have managed about fifty yards, tops, before provoking a gawp-induced accident, since my mouth was so wide open it would have severely interfered with the brake pedal. The city has to be one of the Seven Artificial Wonders of the World (alongside Pamela Anderson): where else can you see the Court of King Arthur, comfortably nestling – if any building a hundred yards in each dimension can be said to nestle – between a large-scale replica of the New York skyline, and an F-sized pyramid made of black glass?

Nikater, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Said pyramid was my destination, the Luxor hotel, decorated throughout in appropriate decor — even the shampoo came in little plastic obelisks. It was undoubtedly the coolest place to stay, since it was the only one that looked good both during the day and at night. The Excalibur next door was a fairy-tale castle after dark, but the sun revealed it to be a ghastly multi-coloured pile of precast concrete. The Luxor was immensely cool during the day, and vanished completely at dusk, making it the world’s first Stealth Hotel. Or rather, it would have vanished, if it wasn’t for the beacon on top which shone up into space, for no apparent reason beyond being visible from 250 miles away. And that was after they’d toned it down because it was screwing up jets as they approached the airport…

If any city can be said to have a purpose, it’s Las Vegas: it is dedicated to the painless removal of wealth with a single-mindedness which would have impressed the Spanish Inquisition. This is despite the fact that, thanks to competition, the average house margin is tiny: on most slots, it’s a mere 5%. It says something about the sheer volume of cash flowing through them, that this 5% is enough to cover all the capital costs; subsidise the shows, food and drink; provide spectacles like pirate battles; and still leave enough left over to turn a healthy profit and make Las Vegas the fastest-growing city in America.

The appeal is simple: everyone thinks they can beat the odds, and win the startling jackpots on offer. To anyone used to ten quid machines in pubs, the prospect of winning a Harley-Davidson bike, a car, or simply $7.7m in cash is difficult to grasp, but the lure is obvious. Needless to say, I did not win any of the above: I topped out at thirty dollars, though I did come delightfully close to winning a thousand on one delirious occasion. Personally, however, I got the same buzz out of playing the dime slots, and with the good payout rates, you could play for ages without losing too many Halifax shares.

The hotels are designed to be self-contained. The punter should not ever need to leave them, and probably will never want to, as it’s rather warm outside, even at the end of September. Between the restaurants, shops, thrill rides and IMAX cinema in the Luxor, it’s quite possible to spend a fulfilling trip without seeing natural light, as I proved on my second day there, though I did cheat slightly and took the air-conditioned walkway to the Excalibur for King Arthur’s tournament. This is horse-riding, jousting, sword-fights and so on, in a central arena, while the audience eats a meal with their fingers, Just Like In Medieval Times. Two millennia of civilisation has brought us the freedom to throw it all away and regress. But in its defence, a) they’ve been restaging Arthurian legend since the 15th century, and b) it was pretty good fun, especially the fighting, though I could probably have done without the musical numbers. On balance, however, I’d have been as happy with a couple of Xena episodes and a kebab.

The individual casinos have slightly different personalities; one will perhaps be more family orientated (Circus Circus), the next might contain a good video arcade (New York New York), a third has tackier entertainment — the Mirage wins hands-down here, thanks to the presence of the amazingly camp Siegfried and Roy and their white tigers, not to mention the volcano in the front lot which actually erupts. Every 20 minutes. Despite this, they all blur together eventually into one cacophony of flashing lights, ringing bells, and clattering cash. Not only are there no windows or clocks, which might alert the unwary gambler to the passage of time, but exit signs are few and far between. Once you get into the middle of a football-field sized array of gaming devices which reach to head height, retaining your orientation is almost impossible. It’s easy to imagine stumbling across the skeleton of a Japanese tourist who took a wrong turning on the way to the bathroom in 1979.

Eventually, the appeal of the casinos will fade, and you will then realise that there is actually little else to do in Las Vegas. The downtown area is worth a visit, for the stunning light-show that happens every hour in Fremont Street: a massive array of computer-controlled lights above your head depict everything from the Amazonian forest to a fighter fly-by, in typically vivid and hyper-real Vegas style. But once you’ve seen that, and gone up the 108-storey Stratosphere Tower [actually, they’re only virtual storeys, as it’s a concrete pillar with nothing in the middle hundred or so], what else is there to do?

Er, well…there is perhaps one other thing. Think Showgirls. Think Kyle McLachlan and Elizabeth Berkeley. No, not the bit in the swimming pool with the spouting dolphin — what visit to Las Vegas would be complete without a lap-dance? I’d solicited advice on the subject from slightly more knowledgeable sources and opinion was that the best establishment was Olympic Gardens. So, armed with a fistful of dollars, I went to experience a lapful of bimbo.

The layout at the Olympic had several small stages, on which a steady procession of girls disported themselves, between which were armchairs and sofas in which the lap-dances themselves occurred. Oddly, it seems that city regulations prevent full nudity and alcohol from being served up in the same establishment, so the girls never went further than G-strings, although these appeared to be made of dental floss. And the artistes themselves were, without exception, quite stunning. However, mere beauty was not enough. What I needed was someone with whom I could connect on a higher level. And then I saw Darlene — or rather, the Hello Kitty lunch-box in which she was stashing her tips. How could I possibly resist a fellow student of Japanese pop culture?

The experience itself was undeniably very pleasant, even beyond the obvious level (my, what is the Stratosphere Tower doing here in my underpants). You know how it’s an ego boost if a pretty girl smiles at you? Well, think what it’s like when the girl is writhing over you like a nymphomaniac, not so much with ‘come-to-bed eyes’ as an entire come-to-bed body. And my ego is not so fragile as to be bothered by the fact that it cost me twenty dollars — the Sisters of Mercy song, Lucretia, My Reflection, will never seem the same again… Sweetly, she was perfectly willing to hang around afterwards and chat without demanding I buy another dance (I did, but that was entirely of my own free will – or what was left of it): she seemed a genuinely nice person, a fan of Beverly Hills 90210 who lived in California, and worked part-time at Olympic Gardens. All told, I was happier to have spent my money on her, rather than giving it to one of the casinos.

Clearly, though, it’s not the sort of thing you could cope with on a regular basis, and as mentioned previously, Vegas burns you up fast. You just run out of astonishment. As an example, on my last night, I had planned to go to the Mirage for their exploding volcano, but when the time came, I simply couldn’t be bothered. I had succumbed to an overload of excess. It was time to move on.

I was heading for Phoenix, but since the route there took me within inches of the Grand Canyon, it seemed churlish not to pop in. At least, it looked like inches on the map. I’d forgotten this was western America, where most single states could swallow up Britain, with Ireland for afters, and so the journey necessitated both getting up at 5:30 a.m. and an overnight stop on the way. But it was undoubtedly worth the effort. Neither words nor photographs can do the scale of the Grand Canyon justice, so I won’t bother much. I’ll just say:

© Tomas Castelazo, / Wikimedia Commons

It is enormous.

I was amazed, and I was somewhat ready for it — imagine what the reaction of the first people to see it must have been; ‘Grand’ doesn’t do it justice, but I guess ‘Fucking Huge Canyon’ would have been vetoed by the cartographers. I envisaged something U-shaped, yet it actually has incredibly crinkly edges (I think it was one of the bits of Earth designed by Slartibartfast): this doesn’t come across in photos, which inevitably portray only a narrow section. It’s the closest you can get to flying with both feet firmly on the ground, and is stepped, which somehow makes it seem deeper; rather than one inconceivable drop, you get half-a-dozen slamming off into the distance. Combined with the different shades of colour in the rock, it looks like a chocolate layer cake attacked by a hungry but discerning pack of mice.

Speaking of layer cake, I have got to mention the quite incredible meal I had that night in the Arizona Steakhouse at the Bright Angel Lodge. A 16-ounce steak was so delicious and fresh you could almost sense the bovine bewilderment – “Hang on, where’s the meadow gone?” – and was followed by the most awesome slab of chocolate layer cake, doing much the same on my tastebuds as Darlene had done on my crotch. Altogether, it has to rank among the top five meals I’ve ever experienced. The total cost, including soup and drinks, was under twenty pounds. Things like that make me seriously contemplate shipping out to America permanently.

One of the problems which always stood in the way of this possibility – the lack of decent beer – has largely been solved since my previous trips, when the choice was limited to Bud, Miller and, if you were lucky, Molson. The incredible rise of the micro-brewery has meant that every area now has a plethora of entirely palatable choices, available in all but the most backward establishment. The only problem is that these are only distributed locally (Samuel Adams is a notable exception), so when you move somewhere else, you get a totally different selection, and have to begin the sampling process all over again. What a pity…

I want to say a few words about the bus journeys from the Canyon down to Phoenix, which was in two parts. For the first, Grand Canyon-Flagstaff, I had the bus to myself, so sat up front and chatted to the driver, who was a nice guy. This was great fun, and I was quite sorry to see the journey end, not least because his views, which had started off on innocuous subjects like the weather, were notably drifting into “how immigrants are screwing up America” and I’d have liked to have seen how long it took before he started to advocate things involving fertiliser, fuel oil and Federal buildings. But he was at least polite and friendly.

Perhaps this was an omen for the second leg, the Greyhound from Flagstaff to Phoenix. The bus station was bad enough; I scanned the low-life scum inhabiting it, trying to work out who was the psychopath, as my subconscious gleefully played scenes from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The worrying thing was that everyone looked a perfectly viable candidate… For let me dispel absolutely one myth about American life, maliciously propagated through adverts for Wrigley’s gum. Attractive women do not use Greyhound buses. Those who do fall into three categories:

  • Recently returned ‘Nam veterans, now retraining to be mass murderers.
  • Their mothers.
  • Students.
  • Better make that four: naive tourists who really should know better.

But as a general rule there is absolutely nobody with whom you would want to want to share air, let alone your chewing gum. As a rough idea, imagine a rush-hour National Express coach with less gun control.

[Down in Phoenix at last, to my immense relief, I was met again by Chris — who deserves a formal tip of the TC hat for efforts that go well beyond what was expected, and without whom, I would have seen and experienced a great deal less. If every tourist to America received the same level of personal service, there’d be nobody left in Britain. For showing me the most delightful sights possible, and for tireless work not just as chauffeur, but in every other position, I am utterly grateful. End of fulsome praise, before Chris’s head swells excessively!]

Scottsdale, where I was based for the next three days, is a sprawl of a city, in which a car is not a luxury but an absolute necessity, not least because the ferocious heat makes walking any distance an ordeal. Mind you, having said that, my first day there, the populace were running in all directions as the media did a striking impression of Cassandra over the tail end of hurricane Nora, allegedly about to sweep across the state, bringing death and destruction in its wake. Much filling of sandbags by the nervous later, it finally hit, drenching Phoenix in a torrential… er, 0.03 inches of rain. I was distinctly unimpressed, although the lack of any drains in the road meant a surprising amount of surface water.

This was encountered that evening on the way to ‘Rawhide’, a pseudo-Western tourist attraction on the outskirts of Scottsdale featuring gunfights, saloons, etc. While hugely entertaining in a deeply shallow sort of way, the highlight was the restaurant where I chewed down on another new breed of dead animal: deep-fried rattlesnake, complete with backbone on the side to prove its origins. Tasted like chicken more than anything else. Despite the irony present in sinking my fangs into something which would happily reciprocate given the chance, the day was a salutary reminder that life in America is not entirely without peril, especially on the natural side of things: hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes are something with which we just don’t have to contend. And we’re a bit short on animals that endanger your health as well, unless you count things coming off boats from the Caribbean — such as West Indian fast bowlers. But even they pale into insignificance beside venomous snakes, spiders, ants and scorpions: one of the best souvenirs I picked up was a plastic paperweight containing an especially evil-looking scorpion, lurking with sting poised. To add the final touch of trash value, the entire thing glowed in the dark…

The time in Scottsdale was so laid back as to be near horizontal. While undeniably just as entertaining as Vegas, it provides little true tourist action on which I can comment in these pages. I was pleased, however, to see that American talk shows continue to plumb the sort of depths to which we British can only aspire. A personal favourite was Jerry Springer, who has since acquired a cult following on ITV. If you’ve not seen him, he favours deep and searching topics like “My Teen Worships Satan”, and derives both guests and audience from the sort of trailer trash beloved by John Waters. A typical show might have a couple, with the woman revealing to the man that not only has she been cheating on him, but with another woman. Turns out he’s been unfaithful too: either with a) the same woman, or b) a man — I only watched a week’s worth, and saw both. This is roadcrash television at its very best.

One day, however, we headed North (indeed, almost back to Flagstaff) to see Sedona, which is a bunch of rocks — in the same way the Grand Canyon is a hole in the ground. These were red and eroded into the most remarkable, fluffy cloudlike shapes. Slartibartfast must have had some help from Salvador Dali around that corner of the world. On the way back, darkness fell, revealing the sort of shimmering sky I had forgotten existed after ten years living in the South of England. We pulled off the highway and just bathed in the splendour of it all: stars, planets, meteors, satellites and our galaxy, sweeping majestically across the sky like a spilt tin of condensed milk.

10 titles from Spy Headquarters
1. Build Your Own AR-15
2. Everybody’s Knife Bible
3. Home-Built Claymore Mines
4. Improvised Explosives
5. Ragnar’s Guide to Home and Recreational Use of High Explosives
6. Pipe and Fire Bomb Designs
7. The Butane Lighter Hand Grenade
8. Successful Armed Robbery
9. Execution: Tools and Techniques
10. Kill Without Joy

I must also mention two shops in Scottsdale — I hadn’t actually intended to do any real purchasing until I got to New York, but this pair both succeeded in talking me into some fairly drastic plastic action. Zia Records had the biggest selection of second-hand CDs I’ve ever seen. Now, compact discs are cheap enough in America anyway, so the opportunity to pick up ultra-recent titles for $7.99 was certainly not to be sniffed at. I don’t think anyone had ever asked them for a shopping basket before. The other one was Spy Headquarters. There are a couple of similar places here in Britain, but they pretty much stick to tedious stuff like bug detectors, for legal reasons. No such problems in Arizona, and the main delight of Spy HQ was the delicious publications on offer [see side-bar], as well as the chance to purchase signs that read “Warning: Trespassers Will Be Shot. Survivors Will Be Shot Again” and “Nuke Their Ass and Take Their Gas” bumper-stickers. Needless to say, I loaded up; I’m grateful that airport X-ray machines don’t show up books…

With sadness, I waved goodbye to the friendly natives of Arizona, and headed down to New Orleans. This was the part of the trip I was least certain about: I had a fairly good idea of what I was going to do the rest of the time, but New Orleans was something of an enigma. I’d seen plenty of movies set there, but on reflection, most were definitely on the dark side: Angel Heart is hardly a promotional device for the local Tourist Authority. My first encounter with the city seemed to confirm my worst fears, as I walked along the world-famous Bourbon Street, only to find it combined the most unpleasant aspects of Ibiza and the West End of London. Hideously touristy, powered almost entirely by alcohol, and with any jazz drowned out by the thumping disco beats from the numerous night-clubs which line its length. How long did I have to stay here? Three days. Er, is there any chance of changing my flight?

It has to be said that once you get away from Bourbon Street, the city improves beyond all recognition. It’s the only place in America I’ve been to that has any significant sense of history i.e. it has buildings built before the war — and the Civil War at that. Since I was brought up in a house which dates back to 1815, nothing younger provokes much in me, but the French Quarter has a timeless quality which makes it very pleasant to stroll around. [Slowly. Very slowly. Any activity beyond that causes immediate metamorphosis into a puddle of sweat] I didn’t bother going out of that area, apart from a bus tour, having heard dire stories about murder and robbery. I suspect, like most things, a certain amount of exaggeration has taken place, since dead tourists make good tabloid fodder — if you just exercise a modicum of common sense, as you should do anywhere, I don’t think you would have problems.

In the end, I had no trouble finding things to keep myself occupied, and indeed, there were a few that I wanted to do but had to miss out — would have liked to head out to the zoo and find a black panther to kiss, in the vague hope that it’d turn into Nastassja Kinski. [‘Cat People’ is another fine advert for the New Orleans Tourist Board] I also, sadly, didn’t get to see the musical version of Pretty Baby which was on at a local theatre… Instead, the highlight of the time in New Orleans was not the palatial homes in the Garden District, or the paddle steamer trip down the Mississippi to the site of the Battle of New Orleans (where the Americans kicked British ass — I suspect if the opposite had happened, it might not be getting quite as much tourist traffic 185 years later). The last night, I took a walking tour round haunted houses of the French Quarter, and the guide told some quite hair-raising stories. Naturally, these have to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the best of these is worthy of early Clive Barker, and concerns one Madame Lalaurie who…hell, I’ll give the story the space (and font) it deserves.

Madame Lalaurie: She-Wolf of New Orleans

In 1830’s New Orleans, Madame Lalaurie had a certain odd reputation, despite being one of the leading lights of contemporary society. Her slaves were notoriously jumpy, flinching whenever you went near them, and there was also the mysterious, unexplained death of one girl who ‘fell’ from a third-floor balcony in Lalaurie’s house at 1140 Royal Street, a block down from Bourbon, an accident for which the owner was merely fined.

Then, one fateful day in April, 1834, a fire broke out in the kitchens. It rapidly spread beyond what the slaves could handle, and the fire brigade arrived, eventually bringing the blaze under control. As was required, they checked the house for trapped people and smouldering embers, and came across an attic room, sealed by a heavily barred door. They broke through, only to be sent reeling by a stench which, though hideous, was but a mere appetiser for the room’s contents…

To quote a contemporary newspaper, “Seven slaves, more or less horribly mutilated, were seen suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other…These slaves…had been confined by the woman Lalaurie for several months…merely kept in existence to prolong their sufferings, and to make them taste all that the most refined cruelty could inflict”. Some of the slaves, of both sexes, were fastened to the wall; others were tied to makeshift operating tables. Organs and severed body parts were scattered around, and also kept in rows of jars on shelves. Most of the slaves were dead, but those still living were barely recognisable — one woman had all her limbs amputated, and most of the flesh removed from her skull, reducing her to a human caterpillar. Another woman, confined in a cage, had so many bones broken and reset, that she looked more like a crab than a person. On one wall was hanging a male who had apparently been the victim of a crude sex-change operation.

Reading Tom, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When word got out, an angry mob gathered at the house, but Lalaurie and her husband burst through them in their carriage, headed for the Mississippi, and fled, never to be seen again. People took to crossing the street rather than walk past the house, as some claimed to hear screams, moans and cries for help coming from the deserted residence, and it remained vacant for forty years. Eventually, the house was taken over by a group of Italian immigrants, lured by the cheap rent, but they were driven out after encounters with a white female phantom swinging a blood soaked whip, and ghost slaves bound in chains. Another future tenant, a furniture store owner, found his stock mysteriously ruined by a torrent of muck and filth; he waited, that night, with a shotgun for the vandals to return. The next day, the replacement goods were ruined, and the owner was teetering on the edge of lunacy. He didn’t stay around either.

The final, chilling edge came in the 1960’s; redevelopment work dug up the floor of the ballroom, on which many leading lights of New Orleans had danced in their day. Under it, lay corpses, numbering in the dozens: more victims of Lalaurie’s insanity. Worse still, scratch marks on the underside of the floor indicated she had disposed of her household before her departure, by the simple method of burying them alive. Those people who said they heard voices from the house, calling for help, had not been mistaken…

Leaving New Orleans with pleasant thoughts of hideous medical experiments going through my head, I flew on to New York. This in itself was something of an experience, as part of the trip took place on the smallest plane I have taken on a commercial flight. To someone used to bigger craft – I went across the Atlantic on a Boeing 777, the largest passenger-plane in service – the sight of…well, propellers, was a throwback to an earlier era. It was reminiscent of the fan in my New Orleans hotel room, positioned right above the bed, which ran with a pronounced wobble and gave the distinct impression that it might crash down onto the bed at any moment. The plane sat only three abreast, and had less than a dozen rows — I almost expected the air-hostess (singular) to hand out flying helmets and goggles before the flight. Had a nasty moment, as we taxied out to the runway with only one engine running, the propeller on my side staying resolutely still. I was just working out how I should bring this to the attention of the stewardess (“Excuse me, miss, shouldn’t that be going round every now and again?”) when the pilot realised he’d forgotten something and turned it on…

I like New York. It’s somewhere else I can see myself living, apart from London, as it possesses the same degree of life and intensity – there’s always something going down – and it has the same cosmopolitan mix of people. Not quite living together like ebony and ivory-y-y-y, but it’s a city that seems to work despite the inevitable deficiencies and problems, like the bumblebee which flies because everyone has forgotten to tell it that it can’t. [Actually, that’s a myth, but why let scientific truth stop a good simile?]

Eagle-eyed readers may notice a) the roller-coaster and b) the turrets of King Arthur’s court. Yep, this is New York, Las Vegas style..
Max Richard, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

There isn’t much to add about my time in New York, since I spent more time in Virgin, HMV and Tower than anywhere else. I had wanted to take in a baseball game, but the end-of-season playoffs had just started, and I never did quite work out how tickets were sold. Still, watching them on television had a certain decadence, sprawled on the bed of my tiny hotel room, with a six-pack of beer, eating cheese and crackers, like some low-life from a Martin Scorsese movie. I also got to see Michael Gingold again, whom I’d met the very first time I visited the city, when he was then doing Scareaphanalia. He’s now deputy editor of Fangoria, which is rather more career progression than I’ve managed over the intervening years. Beers were consumed, more excellent food eaten, and vast quantities of scurrilous and (probably quite unprintable) gossip discussed.

The flight back was notable only for the worst turbulence I’ve ever encountered — so bad that they had to stop serving dinner and strap the stewardesses in. [Lino, stop drooling!] We’re probably not talking anything really significant – the odd spilt glass of wine, perhaps – but what would have been minor on a roller-coaster takes on a great deal more significance at an unsupported 30,000 feet. I was more than mildly relieved when we came out the other side of the storm.

And so to Tulse Hill, pondering on how gravity is a lot stronger in Britain than America — what else can explain the massive apparent increase in weight of my luggage between JFK and Heathrow? It was a quite superb fortnight, with more jaw-dropping experiences than on any previous trip: while generally, you get maybe one or two per holiday, I was closer to one per day, especially in the first week. It had been a while since I’d been to America, but on the basis of this trip, it’s not going to be very long before I return once more.