Making a Clean Breast of It

Janet Jackson. Superbowl. There. That should ensure a rapid increase in the number of hits this site receives. Bizarrely, it’s already shot up recently – been averaging 750 visitors per day this week – I think in part because we are ranked #36 on Google and #10 on Yahoo when you search for ‘Aileen Wuornos’. May Charlize Theron’s run to the Oscars prove long and successful…

The Superbowl last week has already largely been forgotten – quick, what was the score? – except for Justin Timberlake ripping off part of Janet Jackson’s top. Initially claimed as a “wardrobe malfunction”, this was clearly bollocks, and everyone knows it was a wildly successful publicity stunt aimed at reviving the career of one has-been well past their sell-by date. And perhaps helping Janet Jackson too.

We were up at Chris’s sister’s for the game, saw the incident, and then largely forgot about it – Rob, my brother-in-law was out of the room, and expressed mild sorrow about missing it. Kid Rock wearing an American flag as a cape raised more eyebrows, to be honest. We then moved on, and it was something of a surprise to wake the next morning to the resulting, er, fall-out. If you didn’t know what it was about, you’d probably have assumed, at the very least, that Janet had given Justin a blow-job on stage, rather than exposing a breast.

And not an entire breast either, since the nipple was largely covered by a metal solar medallion [which is what gives the lie to the “wardrobe malfunction” claim]. The not-entirely visible breast was on-screen for about two seconds, tops. Yet that sound you hear is, apparently, western civilization collapsing all around us.

My perspective, as a Brit, is one of bemusement. I come from a land where broadcast television is full of tits (and I don’t just mean Jeremy Beadle and Matthew Kelly), and the Sun’s Page 3 Girl was a formative influence when I was a teenager, in all her grainy, newsprint glory. [I still remember the stunned silence in the common-room at school, when the Daily Star had theirs in C O L O U R ] Thus, Jackson’s boob made no real impression on me.

Everyone involved is, of course, acting all shocked and horrified, but that stench you hear is one of rank hypocrisy. Barely a day goes by without some NFL player being arrested – usually for drug offences or beating their wife – while MTV has made its niche with edgy programming like Jackass. Worse of all is CBS’s reaction, given their willingness to let advertisers get away with anything once they’ve paid their $2.25m for a 30-second ad slot.

If the multiple penile dysfunction commercials somehow counted as “appropriate family viewing”, there was the Budweiser commercial where a couple are seated in a horse-and-carriage. The guy hands the woman a candle; the horse then lifts its tail and lets out a thunderous fart. The woman ends up looking like Wile E. Coyote after the dynamite has gone off. Or there’s the other one where a talking monkey tries to convince a woman to head upstairs. Given this, CBS’s claim to be the guardians of taste and morality is somewhat suspect, to say the least.

Despite the backlash, I like to hope that it actually does mark a watershed in American attitudes, just not in the moralistic direction certain commentators wish. Maybe in twenty years, we’ll be looking back with a much more healthy attitude to the human body, and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Ticket Reservations

I often get asked if I miss anything about Britain. The answer is, not really. Sure, there’s minor stuff like Stella Artois, which is sold in California but not Arizona – and courtesy of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution and state law, customers are not allowed to directly import alcohol, even from another state. But it’s hard to be miffed when Pilsener Urquell is available in the local supermarket.

There is one tiny thing, however, in which Phoenix lags in the dark ages behind London: selling tickets to the cinema. Two words sum up the difference – “reserved seating”. Especially for popular films, this means that there’s no need to turn up hours in advance, since your ticket has a row and seat on it. You know where you will be; you know there will be enough room for your entire party. Life is good.

Here in Arizona – and, indeed, most of America – the law of the wild west still applies. The prospector who arrives first can stake a claim to as much territory as they can grab, using coats, rolled-up newspapers, food trays, animal corpses, whatever. They then must fend off predatory late-comers until their friends arrive to occupy the seats. “Sorry, those are taken” becomes a mantra heard only slightly less often at the movies than “Do you want popcorn with that?”

The worst venue, by far, is the Cine Capri, which is the largest screen in Arizona, and so the first choice for truly cinematic events. We went twice, and our second experience was so unpleasant, we vowed never to go back again. We were made to queue outside in summer for 30 minutes – and in Arizona, no-one, save illegal immigrants and prisoners, does anything outside in summer. Worse still, we weren’t even allowed to visit the concession stand to get a drink.

After a six-month boycott, we were finally lured back by the prospect of Return of the King, but things hadn’t improved any. We arrived 45 minutes before showtime, and the choice of seats was already very limited: this was for a screening at 9 o’clock on Sunday morning. When we left, people were already queuing up for the next screening, which didn’t start for more than another hour and a quarter. If there was a point to buying tickets in advance (especially one worth paying the “convenience fee”!), it escapes me. Memo to Harkins Theaters: forget it. The Cine Capri is nice, but it’s not that nice.

The weird thing is, cinemas are pretty much the only venues still in the dark ages. Go to the theatre, a concert, a sporting event, and you have to sit in the right seat, so it’s not as if Arizonans are unable to grasp the basic concepts. It is simply down to greed on the part of cinema owners. The longer customers spend in the place, the more likely they are to spring for a $3.75 cup of flavoured fizzy water, and that’s where the profits are made, with a 6-800% markup. [An example: in one year Hollywood Theater sold $26.7m in concessions, $22.4m of which was profit] Customers also have to endure more of the “pre-show entertainment” – that’s cinema-speak for “commercials”.

However, they are shooting themselves in the foot, long-term. Having to turn up an hour early, and guard seats like a lioness with her cubs is stressfully unpleasant. And the less pleasant the experience, the less often we will go, reserving the cinema for truly special movies. After all, there’s never any problem getting a great seat in our living-room…

The Tooth Hurts, Part 2

Previously, I’ve written about my dental trauma, following an encounter with a particularly malevolent slice of pepperoni pizza. Almost one year to the day later, I was ambushed once more. Yet again, the enemy was not hard candy, beef jerky, walnuts or pork scratchings – this time, it was the soft, gently yielding dough of a keema naan. As before, I bit down, heard a crack, and felt a hole, this time in an upper-right molar, where no hole has any right to be.

Two teeth down, 30 to go – at that steady rate of (literal) decay, by the year 2033, I’m going to have no teeth left at all. Since I’ll only be 67 at that point, this was a little worrying. And worse was to come; a check-up revealed no less than six other teeth in need of filling. Two sessions would be required to do all the work necessary – one for the left side, one for the right. I feel wronged by this, having brushed my teeth religiously every single day, and can only blame my frequent consumption of fizzy pop. Diet or not, it’s still clearly capable of rotting your teeth…

Sonja, our dentist, is pretty much as caring and sympathetic as one could wish for. Chris tells me that after an appointment with our daughter, Sonja was reduced to tears. “She’s so brave!” sniffled the white-coated one, as Emily’s lip quivered courageously. But it doesn’t matter how sensitive she is, I still hate the bitch. Nothing personal, of course: it’s just a Pavlovian reflex, the inevitable result when every encounter with her leads to pain and suffering. Just like my high-school girlfriend, in fact. Except with less poetry. And a diet of soup…

The weirdest part of the first session was when they stapled some kind of rubber sheet to my palate, for reasons I was unable to ask about – mostly because they’d stapled some kind of rubber sheet to my palate. After 90 minutes of having that, dental tools and fingers crammed into my mouth, I felt like Jenna Jameson after a particularly strenuous shoot. You hear about people who claim to have had radio devices implanted inside their teeth – I think Sonja had enough equipment in there to install an entire station, DJs and all.

I’m now partway through the torture: four fillings down, two to go, so the worst should be over. Certainly, hard to see how it could be much more unpleasant. However, I did hear the two words that strike more fear into dental patients than perhaps any others: “r**t c*n*l” – I dare not speak its name in full, for fear of bringing it on. One of the fillings was so deep, it ended up being a cap, pending crowning when the dental insurance finally kicks in. Even that might not do it, hence the possible need for an R.C.

Hang on, that’s three teeth down in 13 months – bringing my projected age of toothlessness down to a revised figure of 49. Ulp. That’s why part of my psyche is whispering maliciously that this is just the thin end of the wedge, as far as my body falling apart is concerned. Wonder how long it’ll be, before those spam emails I receive daily, advertising ‘V_IAGRA’, are no longer deleted without a thought? 🙁

Sonia said to call her if there was any throbbing or aching – however, she was somewhat vague on how to separate this from the throbbing or aching caused by getting three fillings and a cap in one session. Or the subsequent throbbing/aching whenever I eat anything more than five degrees above or below room temperature. The good news is, this seems to be subsiding nicely, in time for the holiday season to mean more than mashed potatoes and gravy. Though it would give me a good to excuse to avoid the fruitcake – not that any is ever really necessary there…

Power Struggle

Fuck APS. Fuck the useless bunch of cretins who work for that worthless company.

There, I feel better now, although a little explanation is probably in order. APS are one of the two electric companies here in Arizona, and unfortunately, they are the only one we can use. This effective monopoly is reflected in the service – or lack thereof – that they provide, and makes them a poster child for de-regulation. Readers of a certain age may remember, for example, what it was like trying to get a GPO engineer out to your house to fix your phone, back before they were privatised and became British Telecom. Yes, APS is that bad.

Their general service is questionable enough: I’ve seen more blackouts since coming out here, than in the twenty-five years since the era of the three-day week I spent in Britain. And they are swift enough to take your power away. It’s just getting them to bring it back that’s the problem…

This all started because our 40-year old circuit-breaker box could no longer cope with the strain of life in 2003. Careful co-ordination was required – don’t run the microwave and the washing machine simultaneously – to avoid tripping the breaker and plunging the kitchen into darkness. When it got to the stage where the whole house would go, we decided it was time to upgrade. An electrician was found, and an appointment scheduled.

Which is where APS (may they rot in hell!) came in. Before work could start, they had to disconnect the meter, and then after the work was completed, and it had been checked by the city, they had to come back and re-attach it. Nothing too taxing there; you’d have to be a bunch of brain-damaged monkeys to screw that up, right? Unfortunately, it seems as if the “S” in APS stands for “Simians”. The approximate timetable:


  • 8am: APS switches the power off and disconnects the meter. Makes mocking comments about electrician’s estimated time of completion.
  • 8:05am: Electricians begin work.
  • 2pm: Electricians finish work. Call city inspector.
  • 4pm: Inspector inspects, pronounces it good, calls office to fax APS and give them the go-ahead.
  • 5:30pm No sign of APS. We call, and discover that part of the company closes at 4:30, regardless of whether or not you have electricity.
  • 9pm We give up on the medieval lifestyle, and go to bed.


  • 7am We start phoning APS, and discover that part of the company hasn’t rolled in yet.
  • 8:30am They – we picture them with a cappuccino in one hand, and a bun in the other – deny having received any fax. We point out we haven’t had any electricity for over 24 hours. They fail to give a damn.
  • 8:35am The City confirm, yes, that fax of completion was sent last night. It was Message #18. The one marked ‘URGENT’? They agree to refax and also call APS.
  • 2pm Let there be light. And, perhaps more importantly, refrigeration. APS finally turn up, represented by the same smug, smirking motherfucker who took the meter away. He is lucky to escape without being torn to shreds by Chris.

30 hours without power was enough to convince us that electricity should be filed under Really Good Things. Every facet of life requires it, from the radio-alarm which wakes you, to the table light by which you go to bed. Sure, there’s stuff you can do which doesn’t require power – reading, for example – but the options are limited, and once the sun goes down…well, there’s only so much sex you can have. Especially with record-setting temperatures (this week saw the latest 100-degree day in Phoenix ever), and no air-conditioning. Fine if you want to recreate the Rourke/Bonet romp from Angel Heart, otherwise not ideal conditions.

I think it was partly not knowing that was irritating – if we had known from the start that power wasn’t coming back, we could have planned around it, but having our hopes repeatedly dashed to pieces on the brutal shoals of APS incompetence was remarkably dispiriting. Unfortunately, we have no option but to continue under their retarded regime – though the idea of solar panels was an option that grew a great deal more appealing over the 30 hours for which we returned to the prehistoric era. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and stare in awe and fascination at the toaster.

Lies, Damn Lies…and Journalism

As part of the publicity for our movie (don’t worry – this is the last you’ll hear of it, and it isn’t really the subject in this piece anyway), a journalist from the Tribune came out to interview us. Rather less impressive was how the piece failed to appear until several days after the premiere, and when it did show up, seemed to bear only a passing resemblance to the truth.

The errors started precisely four words in, with a woeful inability to spell our name: throughout the article, it was given as McLennon, rather than McLennan. Here are the other distortions, half-truths and downright falsehoods contained therein:

  • “Chris McLennon began creating handmade beaded jewelry at home and part-time 20 years ago.” – She actually started in 1991.
  • “Sometimes we take a break…I’ll go in my back yard and trim my citrus trees.” – Few things are less likely for Chris to do as a leisure pursuit. In the three years I’ve lived here, I’ve not seen her trim foliage once – this is what we have Mexicans for. 🙂
  • “The couple met electronically after Chris, who moved her business to Scottsdale from New York…” – it never operated at all when she was in New York.
  • “…e-mailed her future husband after reading his magazine on the Internet.” – she first got in touch with me several years before TC had any kind of internet presence, and before Chris even had a computer. The first contact was a hand-written note with $20 in it as a subscription.
  • “Chris McLennon paused, looked about her office, her living room and outside at her orange, lemon and lime trees” – Despite what he writes, the journalist was never actually here, the interview was conducted by telephone. Also, you can see no citrus trees from either our office or our living room.
  • “If you’d told me years ago that I’d have a very successful business from home on a computer I would have thought you were crazy.” – Attributed to Chris, who said no such thing. I said, that I’d have thought you were crazy if you’d told me when I was working for HSBC, that I’d end up selling beads in Phoenix.
  • “It’s the kind of movie we think people want to buy and watch, and the kind of film we’re adding to our movie business.”Adding? Not unless you count flogging off unwanted DVDs on Ebay as a “movie business”. Perhaps this ties in with the “new movie sales and rental company” attributed to us previously in the article.
  • “Trash City, originally a printed paper magazine that began in his native Scotland in 1989.” – By 1989, I’d been out of Scotland for two years, and was actually living in Farnborough, Hampshire.

Yes, most of these errors are trivial and unimportant – but the sheer volume and carelessness of them is disturbing. If such a simple, easily verifiable story can be executed so inaccurately, what chance is there for anything more complex? When you know the actual facts, then see the “truth” as reported in a newspaper, and discover the gulf between them, it inevitably makes you (even more) cynical about every other story reported in the press.