Blood and Poses

Over the past year, there’s been a mini-tidal wave of cinematic Shakespeare, most taking the Bard out of his historical era in, presumably, an attempt to add contemporary relevance. Thus, Branagh moved Hamlet to the 19th century and Richard III saw Ian McKellen operating just before World War 2. The most savage dislocation, though, is Baz Luhrmann’s MTV-heavy Romeo and Juliet — passing Brixton Ritzy, which had it and Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction, I was reminded that it’s certainly not the first gang-war version. Beside the well-known West Side Story there is also Ferrara’s China Girl, about love between the Italian and Chinese communities.

The romance at the heart of his 1987 movie is merely a symbol of larger events: when a Chinese restaurant opens in the rapidly-shrinking Little Italy, some Triad members want to “invade” Italian turf and collect their due. This brings them into conflict with their own race as well as, inevitably, the power of the Mafia. It requires no special skill to predict that the poor teenage couple in the middle will catch a great deal of flak. Unknown to them, they have surprising allies in the mob bosses of both communities – “peace is good”, says one Triad leader – but will that be enough?

A similarity to J. Depp? Mere coincidence.

In some ways, the film prefigures Ferrara’s King of New York, in which Christopher Walken played a mob boss also faced with rebellion in the ranks. The central theme of both is “loyalty in a changing world”; this should also be familiar from the Hong Kong movies of John Woo, where chivalric heroes try to adapt to the fact that honour no longer means anything, and the lead characters in China Girl must decide whether to go with their hearts or their heads. Like Woo, Ferrara is an “independent”, lured to Hollywood by the promise of big projects such as Bodysnatchers. His recent updating of the 50’s paranoid classic (already remade once before) had none of the lasting value of the original and was, like Broken Arrow, a spectacular empty shell. It never delivered on the promise of his earlier work and, unlike John Woo (who finally got it at least half-right with Face Off), Ferrara now seems to have returned to his roots. His vision of New York is as immediately identifiable as Woo’s Hong Kong: at first glance, this sense of place may seem about all the pair have in common, but in China Girl it’s possible to see other similarities to Woo’s work.

The New York it portrays is very male-dominated, something true for most of Ferrara’s movies, save Angel of Vengeance (Ms. 45), where Zoe Tamerlis was fearsome, yet plausible and sympathetic. Certainly there are women in China Girl but they are secondary, reactive characters: even relatively strong-willed, modern Tye (Sari Chang) takes little action on her own, requiring prompting by her boyfriend. This criticism is commonly levelled at Woo, whose ‘classic’ movies have hardly a single notable role for a woman. [It’s also true of Luhrmann’s Juliet, who does little save mope in her bedroom] Religion is clearly important to both directors, though with different levels of cynicism. Bad Lieutenant is shot through with Catholic symbolism and overtones, yet is more warped and twisted than any Woo film, where “faith” of some kind remains pure and untainted, even if all around crumbles to dust. China Girl has a brief shot of a statue of the Virgin Mary shattering, which has distinct similarities to The Killer and its climax in a church.

The parallels are imperfect. In Woo’s films, there is rarely any doubt over who are good guys, and who are villains — not quite black and white, certainly, but at least ‘slate’ and ‘cream’. The morality in China Girl, and Ferrara’s work in general, is much less clear-cut. He adopts an ambiguous tone, where the boundaries between heroes and villains is largely a point of view. In addition, Ferrara seems fiercely averse to happy endings, his heroes are not only killed, but usually fail to achieve their goals. this contrasts markedly to the “heroic bloodshed” pioneered by Woo, whose characters tend to die with the satisfaction of a job well done. Despite this, China Girl remains more a John Woo film than most he’s made since coming to America. But Woo at least seems happy with his current lot and it’s hard to envisage him returning to low-budget films in the near future. Only time will tell if either, both or none of these directors is able and willing to sustain a fully satisfactory critical and commercial transition to Hollywood.

Slightly more recognisable as Shakespeare – at least in some ways – is Tromeo and Juliet, a wild and twisted take on the Bard directed by Troma’s head honcho Lloyd Kaufman. To some extent, it is perhaps truer to the spirit than Luhrmann’s more technically accurate version, since it shifts large chunks of the dialogue into the 90’s too. Thus, we get: “A word with me? How about a word for me? Or better yet, how about a word for you? Let’s see, a word for Tyrone Capulet. Goofball. Dickbag. Peon. Freak. Cocksucker. Shithead. Ratcatcher. Geek…”.

“What light through yonder Plexiglass breaks?”

Kaufman takes the text of Shakespeare as little more than a jumping-off point, from which spirals a typically Tromatic spin on the battle between the Capulets and the Ques — the latter provoked some puzzlement until it was discovered that the head of the family was called Monty. [Think about it…just not for too long…] This frees the makers from the agony of deciding whether or not to produce a full-length version (Shakespeare was the Tarantino of his day: overlong scripts padded needlessly with excessive, albeit very clever, dialogue) and the ending abandons R&J altogether, drifting closer to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But what is taken out is probably less important or interesting than what is added: severed body parts, creepy child abuse, an excruciating mondo nipple piercing, Lemmy the narrator (keeping his record of about one film every five years!), incest, a penis monster, plus Juliet and her nurse in a pleasant lesbian sex-romp. Given the makers, none of this is surprising and I think it’s safe to say that Kaufman is not exactly overawed by his subject matter.

If you know Shakespeare, you’ll get more out of this since it’s stuffed with in-jokes and appropriately warped references to his plays. However, it’s not required — anyone who ever sat through an English class will appreciate the porno CD-Rom, ‘As You Lick It’. The performances are good by most standards (and thus awesome by Troma ones) and while the production remains unashamedly cheap-jack, it’s a viable contender for the best Troma-made movie since the original Toxic Avenger. Which is probably a better reference point than any Shakespearean adaptation; if you enjoyed Toxie, you should like this screwed-up and thoroughly warped spin on the tale. Oh, and as ever with Troma, be sure to read all the end credits…

The Incredibly Bad Dance Show: Lord of the Dance

Irish set dancing may seem a slightly unlikely subject for this august publication to be covering, but I’ve been something of a fan since a Dublin trip in ‘96. Suspicions this interest might be put down to excessive Guinness consumption were dispelled on my mother’s 60th birthday, when we went to see ‘Riverdance’. If seeing three dancers operating in perfect synchronicity is impressive, seeing forty is bordering on the amazing. Besides, the appeal of seeing attractive women in short skirts, bouncing up and down, should really require no further explanation here.

That Michael Flatley, the former star of Riverdance, is one hell of a dancer can not be doubted. He has feet to compare with Fred Astaire, Ryan Giggs, and that bloke at the end of Drunken Master 2. Flatley supposedly left the show which either he made a star, or which made him a star (depending to whom you listen) over the old artistic chestnut of creative control, but since then, Riverdance has sailed serenely on without the slightest problem. As the trip to Dublin showed, light-footed Irish people are not exactly thin on the ground — anyone wandering round Temple Bar has to beware gangs of masked set dancers who leap out from around corners and tap-dance relentlessly for you. They just pulled in some bloke who was nine-times All-Ireland light-heavyweight Set Dancing champion, and have continued to play to packed houses across the nation and around the world, as well as shifting shed-loads of video-cassettes and so forth. At Easter, you could hardly avoid seeing it: I think there were four separate programs devoted to Irish set-dancing over the long weekend.

Flatley gets to grips with his forthcoming role as Adolf Hitler.

Flatley, however, not a man to take replacement lightly, came up with his own show, and it is quite, quite brilliant — albeit in a strikingly tacky way. Riverdance took traditional Irish dancing and prodded it gently into the 20th century, with obvious affection. Lord of the Dance drags it down the Hippodrome and pours margaritas down its throat. It’s the terpsichorean equivalent of ‘Showgirls’: wildly entertaining, but you can’t help watch, just to see what will happen next. It may or may not be the product of an utterly bloated ego – but if someone with an utterly bloated ego were to produce a show, the result would probably look not unlike Lord of the Dance.

The first half is relatively traditional — on odd occasions, the show clearly desperately wants to be Riverdance, with similar moves and much the same music cropping up. The most significant variation is the addition of heady amounts of sex into the equation, for no readily apparent reason. Thus, you get two blonde violin-toting babes, who play a sprightly duet clad almost entirely in PVC, like a pair of fetishist Vanessa-Maes. This was followed by a flame-haired vixen oozing around the stage looking very nice, to be eventually joined by a bunch of girls who rip their skirts off. Now, this sort of dancing I can cope with, and it began to look like Flatley was making a single-handed attempt to destroy the prevalent belief that all male dancers are cocoa-shunters. Either that, or it was a touching tribute to Riverdance’s roots in the Eurovision song contest. So far, so not entirely unexpected, nor unpleasant, though I could have done without gratuitous close-ups of Flatley’s groin, encased in tight trousers and with what appeared to be an entire sock drawer down there (including the drawer). Much of the show revolves around his (seemingly pre-oiled) flesh, and his absorption and encouragement of applause was scarily vampiric in its intensity. But in the second half, that things really started to warm up — or down.

One advantage of being a star is that you get a big dressing room. If this isn’t enough, why not make up your own show, give yourself the spiffiest costume, and become the hero in s spectacularily shallow depiction of the battle between good and evil? For this is what you get here: a mutated strain of Irish folklore, infected with Judaeo-Christian mythology. A kid, pretending badly to play ‘Lord of the Dance’ on a penny-whistle, has her instrument stolen and broken by some blokes in masks [Behaviour which immediately endeared them to me]. Flatley, the self-styled Lord of the Dance, descends into hell, battles the forces of evil, is apparently killed and – get this – rises from the grave to victory. Resisting temptation by the previously mentioned flame-haired vixen, he prefers instead the inevitable Good Girl in a smock. Flatley sticks the kid’s whistle back together (the sleight of hand involved will not be giving Paul Daniels sleepless nights) and after a few dozen rapturous curtain calls, we live happily ever after, flogging $25 baseball caps.

Now, if my memory of R.E. lessons is right, the song ‘Lord of the Dance’ is about Jesus… And Flately has himself resurrected in a crucifix position… And for most of the show, he has something suspiciously crown-of-thorns like round his head… Yep, all the evidence suggests that for his solo debut, he has opted to start at the top and play Jesus Christ. Ladies and gentlemen, the ego has landed. And this is not any Jesus Christ, this is Christ Van Halen, with flashing lights, pyrotechnics and leather trousers. Think Spinal Tap doing Jesus Christ Superstar down your local faux-Irish pub and you’re getting there. All that’s missing is John Wayne turning up to say “Surely this was the Son of God”. [Incidentally, after the first take of that line, the director said “Very good, John, but could you do it with more awe?”. And, of course, next time, John says “Aw, surely this was the Son of God”. Sorry. I’ve been wanting to use that joke for ages, and since this article is looking likely to come up a few lines short of two pages, here seems like an ideal point]

Just as no-one lets Giggs run Manchester United, Flatley really should have been dissuaded from putting on his own show, or at least from making it so blatantly Michael-centric. The dancing is great, but beneath the surface lurks a monster of self-aggrandisement and artistic pretension, the odd tentacle languidly breaking the surface. His upcoming (TC print deadline withstanding) July show in Hyde Park may be his last, but Flatley has made noises about moving into cinema next. Hey, I can hardly wait…

It’s the End of the World As We Know It, and I Feel Fine…

In case you hadn’t noticed, the millennium is coming. This is affecting people in different ways: religious cults from California to Japan are preparing for the apocalypse (and starting it if necessary), the government here is building a big dome thing at Greenwich, and publishers are flocking like lemmings to open up publications on strange phenomena.

A trip to the newsagent can now easily turn into ATA — that’s Attack of the Three-letter Acronyms, as you are assailed by magazines about UFOs, BEMs, ABCs, MiB, and JFK. Such publications have always existed, but not so long ago, Fortean Times was only available through mail-order and specialist book-shops. Admittedly, in the general interconnectedness of things, it’s hard to prove cause and effect, yet there seems to be a massive increase in what might be generically termed “weird shit”.

Whether the popularity of The X Files is a cause or merely the most obvious symptom is an interesting question. Chris Carter certainly seems to have tapped into a rich vein of the collective unconscious, and this has been reflected in the publishing world. Most of the magazines make at least a nod to the X Files, and in some cases, it’s a lot more blatant.

So, in order to take the temperature of the world’s zeitgeist (as it were), I carried out a sweep of such publications, consciously omitting anything hard to find — everything below came from W.H. Smith’s, indicating just how mainstream previously fringe beliefs now are. Going by the strange looks from the sales assistant, the first thing I learned is that I’d probably rather buy £20 worth of porn than £20 worth of UFO mags. “Would you like a plastic bag?”, she asked; I mumbled acceptance and stuffed the ‘research material’ away. However, it was of endless interest to my work mates, proving its millennial fascination even in the financial institution where I toil away.

The common theme is an acceptance of the existence of strange phenomena with a near-religious faith, albeit one varying from the Agnostic to the Fundamentalist Islamic in intensity. There may be quibbles over whether this or that piece of evidence are valid, yet this rarely distracts from a general feeling perhaps best summed up by Fox Mulder’s poster: “I want to believe”. As the Heaven’s Gate cult showed, UFOs and religion are often intertwined parts of the same thing. And here are the results. These magazines lend themselves less well to quantitative analysis, as the blokemags did — after all, the ads are part of the experience, even (or perhaps especially) if they’re for deeply sad stuff like Star Trek credit cards. Instead, I’ve rated each in a number of areas:

  • Boggle — How off-the-wall are the contents? Football rates low, but “aliens abducted Reagan and replaced him with a cyborg” rates high. Though thinking about it…
  • Plausibility — The more bizarre your topic, the more authoritative you need to be. Just as with films, the best make anything seem viable through reliable, authoritative writing.
  • Longevity — There are mags you read once and dispose. Then there are those you carefully file away for future use – and I have cupboards of the damn things to prove it…
  • Amusement — Probably the most important thing, assuming you read them for the same reasons I do. Take these with a jaundiced eye and a six-pack of beer to hand…

Alien Encounters #11, £2.99, pp84. Though nominally based around the UFO theme, this covers a broad range of topics, connected tangentially. Mind control, drugs, and coverage of film and television are all included in a multi-disciplinary approach. The writing is good, making the abstruse tech stuff interesting and clear. It also benefits from an apparent sense of humour – they even had an April Fool’s joke – that to some extent defuses an especially unquestioning tone, which appears a common problem with Paragon Publishing titles (see Uri Geller’s Encounters). The Bubblegum Crash article also makes it probably the only UFO magazine to have a gratuitous anime reference…

Bizarre #2, £2.50, pp100. The major problem here is that it isn’t. Bizarre, that is. Despite coming complete with a free mini-booklet of “The World’s Most Bizarre Facts Ever” (Example: “slugs have four noses”), it’s only marginally left-field. Many of the pieces, such as one on being a Tornado pilot, could have come from FHM, Maxim or GQ — it feels more like Loaded, though it’s from the same publisher as Fortean Times. While not badly written, the blokish approach seems hideously inappropriate to some topics, and I suddenly realised this is really one of the men’s mags reviewed last TC. Against them, it’d stand up very well, but compared to the rest of this selection, it contains absolutely nothing to give you sleepless nights, apart from some great photographs. [On the other hand, they did get me to do a piece on Category III Hong Kong movies, so I guess we can at least congratulate them on their excellent choice of writers…]

Enigma #4, £2.95, pp68. Takes a slightly different angle, in that UFOs are just one facet of a broad picture, and is also the mag with the most space dedicated to the world of conspiracy theory. Needless to say, this gives it an immediate appeal to me. The articles tend to be longer than average, five or six pages on average, but often the better pieces tend to be the brief and punchy ones: the ‘Men in Black’ column is an excellent Q&A piece. Less gullible than some of its competitors, I loved its tongue-in-cheek suggestion that passport booth pictures are part of a plot by the government to embarrass people into not wanting to leave the country.

Focus, May 1997, £2.30, pp124. This is a long-running publication that used to be a hard-science mag, but now the cover trumpets “SPACE CONSPIRACY” — albeit, this turns out to be with regard to the Apollo 1 fire, thirty years ago. There are also pieces on exotic animals i.e. Surrey pumas, but you feel it has been driven, grudgingly, into covering the paranormal by the rise of its competition; it’s done without much enthusiasm, and it’s easily the most sceptical mag on offer. However, the mundane stuff is well handled and interesting, and it’s this that proves the saving grace. Worth it on that basis if you’re a science fan, otherwise, skip it. This feels horribly like the sort of thing that would have cropped up in your school library. Apparently, the #1 greatest invention of all time is sanitation. This comes from a combination of reader’s votes, and “the considered recommendations of the Focus team of experts”. Which pretty much says it all about this mag’s lack of imagination.

Fortean Times #98, £2.50, pp68. Another veteran, this has been chronicling the strange since ‘Carter’ was just that bloke off The Sweeney. However, they too seem to have changed, and been forced downmarket: no way would the old FT have printed a totally uncritical “Moon Landing Hoax” piece. Going monthly seems to stretch both the data (it’s among the slimmest of the regular titles) and the style a bit thin — I strongly suspect pressure from the publishers to dumb things down significantly, with the more esoteric stuff being hived off into their annual “Studies” volume. However, it’s tongue in cheek approach is unrivalled, and with every clipping assiduously dated and located, it’s rise from ‘zinedom to W.H.Smith’s is unsurprising. I do find the relentless promotion of Schwa merchandising a tad irritating though: they’re now big enough not to need it. Still the best, but should certainly be looking over its shoulder in a worried manner.

UFO Magazine Jul/Aug 1997, £1.95, pp68. Missed in the initial sweep, it was presumably between issues on its bi-monthly schedule. The contents appear to be angled towards the ‘hardware’ side, with pieces on hypersonic planes, a satellite launch platform based on an oil rig, astronomy, and a lot on Cydonia and the Pathfinder mission to Mars. This comes across as a little on the dry side, and the ‘book reviews’ section concentrates mysteriously on titles available from…UFO Magazine! Plus some sloppy proof-reading i.e. “cynagoen” instead of cyanogen, and a design style that includes such dainty delights as white text on a light grey background. Yuk. Some good stuff on Roswell’s 50th anniversary though. S’ok, s’pose, but I see absolutely no reason why it should be “The world’s best-selling UFO publication”.

UFO Reality #7, £2.85, pp76. Skates on the thin-ice of self-indulgence, and occasionally falls through, most notably with an 8-page interview with…the editor, in which we learn about his stultifyingly uninteresting life. Between that, the advert for his novel, and all the stuff he writes, this is teetering precariously on the edge of vanity publishing, but let’s be charitable and call it a glossy fanzine instead. It also suffers from too much that is pure speculation, but there are good photos, a lively letters column, and a nice little report on a trip to Area 51, in which the writer sees…nothing much at all. It’s always nice to leaven the weirdness with a pinch of mundanity; perhaps this could be the first in a series i.e. “I failed to see the Loch Ness Monster”, or “I have absolutely no idea who shot Kennedy”.

Uri Geller’s Encounters #8, £2.99, pp84. Though Geller’s name seems to have mysteriously shrunk on the cover. inside, he does get a two page advert for various products linked to him, most of which look totally dreadful (though the novel looks interesting, in an Incredibly Bad sort of way). Describes itself as “The world’s most paranormal magazine” — presumably this means it’s laid out via some method of thought transference, and then teleports itself directly onto Smith’s shelves. Another Paragon title, and credulous beyond belief, as you can tell from this sample quote: “Ever since the Beatles’ famous White album was released with the hidden backward message ‘Paul is dead’…”. Utterly gullible, an interesting game would be to see who could get the bizarrest tale printed on their “Reader’s Stories” page; there’s no effort to investigate or verify them. Chuck in simple factual errors, and the most amazing thing you’ll learn is that people buy this sort of over-priced dreck. Cheap laffs a-plenty, but precious little else.

The X Factor #9, £1.75, pp32. This is actually a part-work from Marshall Cavendish, though it’s not immediately apparent from the cover – it managed to fool me, and the title is obvious a blatant attempt to associate itself with a certain TV programme! As a part-work, it’s obviously less well-up on current events, and with its low page count and large type, probably contains the least data, though the lack of adverts and full-colour content make up for this to some extent. It loses points for a laughably ill-informed article on the Internet: apparently unsuspecting users can sometimes stumble across child pornography accidentally…[yeah, but what are they browsing for?] There is, however, a good article on electromagnetic weapons, and I suspect that it would indeed “build into a complete library” — and needlessly clutter up your bedroom floor until you needed the space for something else, as I recall.

Fortean Times* * ** * * ** * * * ** * * *16
Enigma* * ** * * ** * * ** * * *15
Alien Encounters* * ** * * ** * ** * * *14
The X Factor* * ** * ** * * ** * *13
UFO Reality* * * ** ** ** * *11
Focus** * * * ** ** *10
Bizarre* ** * *** * *9
Uri Geller’s Encounters* * * **** * *9
UFO Magazine* ** ** ** *8

There was, however, one publication that I failed to acquire, on which I do regret missing out, even if it is not strictly available from W.H.Smith’s. The following advert was clipped from an un-named publication and sent to me:

Despite sending off my stamp to the address, I have yet to receive a reply…

Memoirs of an Invisible Man

My career as a part-time trespasser was born out of two events, starting with a desire for a free lunch. I work for a multinational in the City, and while we had to buy sandwiches, at one of our sister companies, they got lunch supplied. Some bright spark eventually realised that you could hijack this facility by going in and flashing your pass; even though it was technically invalid, no-one would ever stop you, if you did it with the necessary cheek.

The second incident was getting sent to one of our other offices; I got the address confused and walked into the building next door. Again, a flash of the pass and I was in, even though it belonged to a totally different company. It took ten minutes to work out why I couldn’t find our office, but I got to wondering just where I could reach by sheer effrontery. Since then, I’ve explored many major buildings in the City, including Lloyds, the Nat West Tower and the Guildhall, and wandered round without real interference.

It’s a great way to spend your spare time, providing the necessary adrenalin buzz to counteract the dull afternoons, and you get a fascinating glimpse into the way the other 99.95% live. The odds are well stacked against any significant sanctions as a result of your actions, and really, it’s so simple that anyone with an average degree of common sense can do it. And much of what follows is no more than that, but it probably bears explicit repetition.

1. Selection of your target.

In general, the bigger the building, the better. With 1000 people, it’s hard for any guard to recognise everyone, and even the eidetically memoried will still have to deal with staff turnover and all those people who are there legitimately. A busy place is preferable to one with little activity. The more people going in, the better, as you’ll be exposed to proportionately less scrutiny.

Obviously, some places are more open and accessible than others, but the level of security at the front door varies surprisingly little: a couple of security guards are usually about all there is, unless the business of the building requires special protection. Eventually, even these may become viable for the experienced wanderer, but for the novice, it’s better to start with easier targets.

2. Advance preparation

You should be as familiar with the place as a “real” inhabitant — it’s a dead giveaway if you arrive, then walk into a broom cupboard! Most places have a foyer where you can wait, and sitting here will let you watch people going in, and learn things like: to whom they show their passes; what do they do after going past security; where are the stairs and the lifts? This will also allow you to check for internal security, such as turnstiles and passcard doors. The latter aren’t a problem (see below), the former are tough to defeat but are rare. You’re more likely to find them in offices that aren’t open to the public because they make that carefully designed airy atria look more like a football stadium, and distinctly unwelcoming.

Through observation, you will also learn which time of day is best. You want to follow the herd in, so early in the morning, or at the end of lunchtime are good times, allowing you to ride on the ratio of workers to security personnel. For this reason, evenings and weekends are pretty much ruled out; the building may be just about deserted, but you’ll have individual attention from whoever is on duty. Bear in mind that different buildings run to different schedules: stockbrokers start work earlier in the morning than bankers.

3. Appearance

This extends to a little more than the obvious; you’re not going to get far into the Stock Exchange wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but if you need to be told that, you’re not going to get far anyway. What this really involves is the stuff round the edges; if you are going into a building at lunch-time, carry a paper bag of sandwiches. If it’s morning, a briefcase may help, but at 3:20 will mark you down as a visitor. Perhaps there’s a standard sort of clothing, except on Fridays, which are dress-down days; a little care will establish what is the best approach to take.

4. The hit.

For the purposes of this introduction, we will assume a standard building where you have to present a pass to someone just inside the front door. There are four basic ways of getting in, which have advantages and disadvantages. In roughly increasing order of risk, they are:

  • (a) Semi-legitimate access
  • (b) A forgotten pass
  • (c) Using dodgy ID
  • (d) The fake visit

(a) is simply using a pass obtained previously, which you didn’t hand back when you left. Few have a date or other limitation on them; even one which says “4th Floor” can be taken off at an opportune moment as soon as you get inside. Rules about wearing these are rarely enforced with any firmness: it’s certainly better to wear no badge, than wear one which immediately marks you as a visitor outside his territory.

The next approach is to pretend you’ve forgotten your ID. This happens to everyone, especially on Monday mornings (“I left it in my other suit”), or after lunch (“It’s in my drawer”). You’ll probably have to sign in at reception instead, so have a convincing fake name and a mumbled apology ready. You may well get a temporary pass, which can be kept for a future visit.

While the above two methods are relatively safe, the next one is risky. You flash something on entrance that looks legitimate, but isn’t. The aim is to minimise the amount of time your fake ID is visible; ideally, zero. If you appear to have shown a pass, the guard may simply assume that you have done so, and will not hassle you. Certainly, you’ve a better chance than if he thinks you’ve tried to sneak past him. Timing is essential, if the guard is otherwise distracted, you can sweep past like a clipper in full sail. It goes without saying that what you flash should vaguely resemble the real thing, so it helps to have seen an example beforehand. In general, it should have your picture on it in the right place, and be roughly the same size.

The final method is really for the daring, and requires you to pretend you have an appointment with an inhabitant. It’s tricky because you have to know the name of someone in the building, and you must hope that you get sent up to see them, rather than them coming down to meet you! Of course, once in the lift, you can get off elsewhere, leaving them puzzled but not too bothered. If you do get held in reception, a rapid exit is your best option. One excellent, plausible alternative is claiming to be a photocopier repairman; just give a floor, and say there was no contact name.

For all of these, the key requisite is confidence. If you look like you should be there, you won’t have any problems. Seem unsure of where you’re going, and you stick out like a sore thumb. First impressions are crucial here: walk boldly past the entrance guard with a smile. Knowing his name, whether through prior observation, or his badge, is a major bonus; if he thinks you know him, it’s a major psychological hurdle to overcome.

5. Once inside

When you’re in the building, most of your problems are over; the chances of being stopped are slim, especially if you keep moving, and (as above) are confident about it. Best only to stop in communal areas, near coffee machines, lifts, or photocopiers, where hanging round is acceptable, and less suspicious. In terms of security, you may find passcard doors, whose locks require the application of a smart card or pass to open. The answer to these is the technique known as “tailgating”, in which you follow a legitimate worker through the door. Most people, placing politeness above security, will hold it open for you — especially if you have your arms full with a (possibly spurious) cardboard box. Smile gratefully at them as you head into the restricted area.

6. If you get caught

Even so, sooner or later, someone will become suspicious of your behaviour. Unless they are extremely sure of their ground, their reaction will probably be along the lines of “Can I help you?”, and it’s best to have an answer for this prepared. The ubiquitous photocopier is convenient, or you can claim to be looking for a spurious person — pick a less common name, as the last thing you want is to find there actually is someone called that around! If the building is occupied by more than one company, you can pretend to be on the wrong floor.

You have to be very, very blatant before an employee will even think about notifying security, and people are generally leery of mounting any challenge, as the potential losses outweigh the benefits. Most folk just don’t care. Of course, if you get caught at the front door, you’ll be face to face with security, and your tactics need to be a little different. It’s best to write off the occasion, and possibly the entire building (after all, there’s not exactly a shortage!), so make your excuses and leave. Pretending to be in the wrong building is good, just get the address slightly wrong, and affect surprise. It is, however, a bit tricky to do this if the foyer features a big logo for the company in question.

Almost certainly, the worst that will happen is that you will be asked to leave. Few companies want to create a fuss over simple trespass, and unless you’ve caused damage or broken the law in other ways, you’ll just be shown the door. It’s not worth the hassle for you or them, to extend the confrontation: just leave quietly. There’s little doubt that your face will be remembered, so don’t even think about revenge, unless you are incredibly fool-hardy.

7. And the point is…?

You may be wondering, why bother? This is the hardest facet to describe: it’s easy to teach someone how to elude security, but they have to come up with their own reasons why. I could, if I wanted, loot a huge pile of stuff, but I don’t bother — all offices are much the same, and if you’re going to boost stuff, it’s easier to do it from your own work-place!

If I had an axe to grind against a company, I could create chaos, by setting off the fire alarms, for example. [It’s also worth noting that after a fire drill, as the employees flood back in, security checks tend to be ignored] Realising just how lax most companies are, is something of a salutory experience. However, I am a good capitalist, and any such campaign would eventually backfire on me, as places started to get tough.

I do it merely for the excitement; it’s like exploring a new country, complete with the threat of hostile natives. I’ve seen brilliant views from the top of some of Britain’s tallest buildings; I’ve chatted to everyone from executives to cleaners; I’ve stalked the corridors of power in banks, newspapers, computer companies and hospitals. It is good to realise just how dumb the glorified bouncers in these places can be.

The next time you see a strange face lurking in a slightly suspicious manner by the photocopier, you never know who it might be. Go up to them, stare them straight in the eye…and ask them when the machine will be fixed!

“Arsene Lupin” was talking to Jim McLennan.

Against Christmas

We’re now well into the run-up to the festive season, a time when everybody looks forward to a few days of merriment and good cheer. By doing so, we exhibit the memory span of a goldfish, forgetting all about the utter nightmare that last year was, and which this year will be as well. Because Christmas, as she is practiced, sucks.

The basic principle from pagan times – eat a lot, get drunk, fall over, sleep till spring – is sound. However, this has been warped into something totally different, which is a whole lot more trouble than it’s worth. Now, this isn’t the usual tirade against the commercialization of Christmas – excessive consumption is almost its only saving grace. No, it’s just the sheer naffness, hypocrisy and pointless effort that aggrieves.

It tends to start with buying the presents. The horror! The horror! The expense is not, personally, a problem. It’s the sheer effort involved in slogging to get the damn things, panic rising in your throat as the day progresses, until desperation proves the mother of invention and you shell out for any old tat. With hundreds of millions of presents to be purchased nationwide, the resulting log-jam of the rude, the mad and the extremely ugly, make buying anything more than a paper-clip a hideous ordeal of ferocious proportions.

At least I don’t have kids to demand Bulimia Barbie at any cost — if they don’t get it, their classmates will sneer, they will be psychologically scarred for life, and it’ll be all your fault. Tough titty, tots: life’s like that, you don’t get what you ask for and the sooner kids realise that, the sooner we’ll end the “I want” culture. Say Rudolf’s got BSE and offer them reindeer pies instead.

Then there’s the crap which clogs up almost eve, medium. When was the last decent Christmas #1? The top 40 is crammed full of novelty records which wouldn’t get house room the rest of the year, while grandmothers inflict Cliff Richard on their unwilling descendants.

In 1996, we had the Spice Girls (remember them? The correct answer to “Who’s your favourite Spice Girl?” was, of course, “They’re all talentless, ugly slags”), just ahead of a gang of kids mauling a Bob Dylan song, in order to wipe out one of the very few sports at which Britain is halfway good. As with music, so with movies and TV. Cinemas brim with “family entertainment”, which usually means Disney’s puerile moralism, and Arnold Schwarzenegger “comedies”; hell for the majority of the population who don’t have kids. On TV, it’s films that have been sanitised for our protection, more family dross, and wall-to-wall Christmas specials of programs that you didn’t watch the rest of the year either. If something is crap in half-hour chunks, it’s unlikely to be any better in feature-length episodes.

This is forgivable: after all, the difference between 99% rubbish and 99.9% rubbish is scant. Sadly, you’re not even allowed to slump at home in front of the television, you are expected to spread good tidings of comfort and joy. This can be safely done by sending a card, with some banal sentiment such as “Thinking of you”, which acquires an ironic charm when sent to someone about whom you don’t give a toss. If you actually care about someone, you contact them during the year; a sudden pretense, after ignoring them since last Christmas, is the sort of rudeness you only get away with over the festive season.

But if there’s one thing worse than distant relations, it’s close ones, people with whom all you have in common are a few chromosomes, yet you are expected to make polite conversation and smile genteelly as your uncle spews out his annual sherry-fuelled racist diatribe. And auntie is convinced that your idea of a wonderful time remains a game of ludo, rather than a session of torrid sex with your second cousin, who would appear to have not so much hit puberty, as been smashed headlong into it, propelled on a tidal wave of raging hormones.

Readers are warned that attempts to act on such urges are unlikely to be treated lightly, despite it being the time of year when “festive spirit” exacerbates the prevailing view that alcohol is an excuse for any atrocious behaviour. Those who decline to take part in idiotic rituals involving party hats, balloons and the office photocopier are labelled killjoys, as if there were any joy to be had watching your boss prove precisely what an obnoxious cretin he really is. Better to stick with the hordes of conveniently drunken secretaries that you will find in the gutter, assuming you can find an orifice free of vomit and other unpleasant bodily secretions. For this is the time of year when pubs that no-one would touch with a ten-foot pole for 11 months suddenly start employing Neanderthals on the door to say “sorry mate, those are trainers”.

However, this particular problem comes to a climax not at Christmas, but at New Year, when you queue up to have the privilege of paying an exorbitant sum for entrance into an overcrowded club, in order to listen to someone else’s choice of music at deafening volume, while paying over the odds for crap beer. The cloakroom will be full and they will run out of glasses behind the bar, because no-one with enough common sense to foresee such obvious problems works in a night-club. All of us are at home, with our own CD players and a stack of drinks of our own choice, drinking heavily to celebrate the end of another dreadful fortnight.

Whoever was responsible for Christmas should have been taken out and crucified. Indeed, I think you’ll find he was. Maybe the Jews knew somehow that they were letting their descendants in for years of misery, and decided to get their retribution in early. I, for one, don’t blame them a bit.