Chocolate For Breakfast

Good evening dear readers.  Reader?  Lionel?  Anyway, with another year over and a spare few minutes I figured it was a perfect opportunity to return to my neglected blog.

2012 proved to be somewhat of a whirlwind for me and the second half has sped by with me scarcely noticing.  Last time we spoke I was 6, 000 miles away from home in South Korea, hot but happy.  Today I’m sat at home, hot and contemplative.    I think if I tried to detail all I’ve been up to this would need to be broken down into volumes so I’ll keep it fairly vague.  Where to start though?

I guess, as I’ve mentioned it already, “home” would be a good place to start.  Last year saw four places lay claim to this title and thus I’ve been left feeling a little like a nomad, although that may just be the terrible beard.  From Cheshire, to Korea, to the West Midlands and to the Netherlands, it’s fairly safe to say that I’ve been all over the ruddy gaff.  With the first two well documented and the third less than exciting let’s skip straight to the fourth.

After a year of what essentially amounted to getting my shit together I finally embarked upon my journey to become Vince Panther MA.  As if going back to university as an allegedly mature student wasn’t enough, I also chose to do so abroad.  No part of this endeavour has been easy but I’m determined to soldier on.  I came perilously close to letting this opportunity slip through my fingers and exist forever as a “maybe one day” idea.  However, I chose not to let it.  With the help of both the beautiful lady in my life and Public Enemy I somehow find myself the other side of my first semester at university since 2009 and half way towards achieving what, up until very recently, was unthinkable.  The days leading up to my departure were some of the hardest I’ve had in a long time.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I was terrified.  Whilst I would never claim to have the courage levels of a certain Little Toaster, I do usually cope quite well with stuff, so this knocked me sideways a little.  The day of my flight was a battle against my stomach, my eyes, my brain and my feet and when I lay my head down on my, quite frankly rubbish, pillow in my new home that night, I had a million thoughts racing through my head and I was scared.  Four months later, I’m not scared any more.  I’m surprised I managed it, even shocked, and I may even allow myself a slight sense of pride.

In a curious piece of ordering on my part, allow me to enlighten you with my biggest, most exciting news of the year, and indeed, my entire life.  The girl I have written about on numerous occasions, the one mentioned above, the one who has been there for me from the very moment I met her, my perfect woman agreed to become Mrs. Panther.  I could carry on for a mighty long time about how incredibly happy and lucky I am to have her and for this to be happening but, as I’m sure listening to me gushing isn’t top of your to-do-list for today, allow this little guy to demonstrate for me.

Ahh yeah.

 

By sheer coincidence I’ve just realised how much better that gif is when listening to ‘Push It To The Limit’ from Scarface.

Now I’m back home in merry old England, free from university work (if I pretend I don’t have to do it, then it doesn’t count), I find that I’ve come back to reality with a bump.  After a few months of feeling oh so intellectual and contemplating what makes a just society, the semiotics of cinema and Spinoza’s account of the state of nature I find myself now tackling the real questions in life such as “why does it matter if the curtains are closed or not?”, “how often can the woman over the road possibly wash the windows in order to less than subtly spy on the neighbours?” and “does putting spare cuttings of carpet underneath things really look better than the tiny dents they would leave?”  All massive queries, I’m sure you’ll agree.  I guess it can’t always be top-level prattery.

All this should give you some idea as to how excited I am about 2013.  It looks like things are finally falling into place and I may start to become a real person soon.  Maybe.

Long Time, No Speak

Good evening everybody.  How are we all today?  Yes, it’s me again, back from the dead.  Or holiday to be more accurate.

As those of you have visited before will be aware, I’ve been living in South Korea (with a short trip to Japan) since May.  I intended to write regularly about my experiences and adventures but I guess everything kind of got away from me a little and I realised that if I was sat writing about it then I wouldn’t be out experiencing things.  I know I could have done it when I got home but I didn’t go half hearted on the experiencing, I was a sleepy man.

So how would I describe my last few months?  I may well go into more detail at a later date given a bit more time but as a general statement, and in no way an exaggeration, they were the best 3 and a bit months of my entire life.  I saw, ate, visited and lived so many weird and wonderful things that I couldn’t begin to make a comprehensive list.  It all passed by in an amazing and bloody strange blur.  I think the thing that really hit me as strange was when everything became normal (that makes sense right?)  It wasn’t until I stopped to think about where I was that I remembered that actually, yeah, this isn’t very much like home at all.

 

One of my holiday snaps.

One thing I never quite got used to was the level of celebrity you acquire just by being obviously foreign.  As you may well imagine, Korea isn’t the obvious tourist destination for many (it totally should be though.  Quite honestly, it’s unspeakably awesome) and so non-Koreans are few and far between.  Add in some height, fair hair, blue eyes and some Englishness and you’ve got yourself some instant fame.  This hit me hard when I got home and I was back to not being special again.  Stupid reality.

Turning 24 whilst away provided me with one of my best “this is weird” moments, of which I’m not lacking.  My birthday was a lovely occasion with presents, delicious food and drinks with new, firm friends.  Things got even more awesome when the three of us remaining got chatting to some Korean chaps (remember what I said about fame?) after a challenge to a game of beer pong.  The game never materilised but what did was being dragged through the deserted streets of Seomyeon to a street cart where we were treated to BBQ, beer, soju and chocolate cakes.  Why?  Because it was my birthday and Koreans are bloody lovely.  We sat and watched the sun come up with our new friends, not paying a penny for the pleasure.  Best birthday ever?  Not half.

No brief summing up of a life enriching experience would be complete without an awesome highlight.  Something that truly changed the course of the rest of my life.  I’m not talking about being one of those clowns who gets back to the airport in a straw hat and baggy trousers insisting that that’s who they are now because they’ve experienced true culture.  You know who you are.  Clowns.  No instead something unspeakably wonderful happened to me on my travels.  One lovely evening I finally plucked up the courage to ask the girl of my dreams to marry me.  Even better, she agreed to become Mrs Panther.  The time we spent apart showed me that I absolutely cannot imagine ever being without her and that I want to be with her for the rest of our lives.  This is the only part of the last few months that has yet to fully sink in.  Wedding pretty much planned, talk of weddings commonplace, even seeing the ring on her hand still hasn’t quite hit home that the most perfect woman I could ever hope to meet wants to be with me forever.  I still question her decision to associate with me at all though so perhaps this is understandable.  On a side note, I am working on her actually becoming Mrs Panther but this doesn’t seem to be progressing as well as I’d liked.  Apparently my real surname is better.  A man came dream though.

I already grow nostalgic of my time away.  Even every day things seem so much more mundane.  It’s a country of endless charms, delights and horrors.  Every day is sure to provide you with at least one moment of “aww, bless ’em”.  I would return to Korea in a second.  Not just because that’s where the future Mrs Panther is (maybe if I say it a lot, she’ll get used to the idea), it’s not one thing I could hope to put my finger on.  It’s everything.  One day I’ll definitely be back, just to check in and see if it’s still its adorable self.  One day, but until then Korea, thank you.

Food, Glorious Food

Going out for something to eat in Korea is very often a hit and miss affair.  When you walk into an establishment it’s not always clear whether you’re going to end up with a haircut or a live octopus.  However, needs must so perseverance is necessary, with varying results.

On the whole, food here is delicious.  The prevalence of barbecue restaurants never fail to excite the appetite and they quite often offer the ability to cook it yourself making me feel both full and manly in one tasty go.  Just the other day I ate myself stupid on beef and rice for about £3, something by no means out of the ordinary.  This also satiated my desire to eat a meal sat on the floor in the traditional style.  Less than five minutes in when realising I couldn’t fit under the table and my leg had gone to sleep I quickly fell out of love with tradition and began rolling around the floor like a child.  Fried chicken and beer gaffs are ten a penny and it’s not hard to see why.  They’re the best partnership since Cannon and Ball.  Quite why this insanely good mix is yet to make it home I have literally no idea.

Affordable meat and seafood restaurants are something this country does very well indeed but this is obviously not the full picture.  It’s not uncommon to see watermelons for sale for upwards of £20 and chocolate peanuts costing the best part of a tenner.  That’s of little real consequence though, when it costs so little to eat like a king who needs enormous melons?…..stop giggling.

The weirdest thing I think I’ve eaten so far on my trip were the silk worm larvae.  They smell utterly repellant and taste average at best.  Somewhat similar to beans in texture except beans don’t explode, spraying their innards everywhere when you bite into them.  All in all, not really worth it.

The market…ahhh the market.  Home of all sorts of wonders at rock bottom prices.  Mounds of garlic, delicious fresh doughnuts, more kimbap than you can shake a 3 foot long dried tentacle at, the possibilities are endless.  Living in Busan there are a plethora of seafood stalls offering all manner of marine life I’ve never seen before and plenty I wish that was still the case with.  Looking at you penis worms.

You sicken me.

Of course, fish sale=fish death and this is something that you get forced into coming to terms with pretty quickly.  I can’t tell whether it’s a good thing or not that seeing the poor little guys meet their grisly end doesn’t bother me any more or not.  In a way it’s kind of good for them.  There seems to be a weird divide here between the treatment of animals as pets and animals for eating.  Obviously I’m not suggesting it’s odd that they don’t fry up their hamster when a bit peckish but rather a pet is pampered beyond belief, shaved into all sorts of weird shapes and died all the colours of the rainbow.  Animals as food stuffs though have next to no consideration.  Seeing literally hundreds of crabs packed into a tank, or turtles in a bucket, or fish swimming amongst dead friends is quite shocking so perhaps if they find themselves in this situation in may be best to get it over with.

The dispatching of said animals can also be quite brutal.  In a short space of time I saw a woman snap the head off a live fish which made a not inconsiderable noise.  I saw an eel have its head impaled by a screwdriver mere seconds before being skinned alive and perhaps worse was the fate that befell a pair of octopuses at the weekend.  Plucked from their tiny plastic prison cell to the screams of the child of the woman purchasing them, the seller proceeded to turn their heads inside out and detach something from something else that it seemed it very much needed to be attached to.  All well and good, not to mention horrifying, for the first one, but for the second this didn’t quite do the trick, it didn’t want to go into the bag but that’s sure where it was headed.  Peeling the thing off her arm the fish monger shoved the flailing creature in with the other.  At least she triple bagged it.  Better safe than sorry I guess.

Despite witnessing the scenes above I’m still rather fond of the odd dried sea creature (it’s very hard to tell what they are at that stage).  That is until whilst I was munching my way through one whilst innocently watching the football.  Whilst attempting to liberate a few tentacles I noticed a small bundle, I was intrigued.  What could it be?  My mind was racing.  Upon closer inspection I saw what the free gift was….a fucking beak!

The Gateway to Hell

Of course it can’t all be delicious but it is nearly always an experience so, horrifying secret discoveries aside, it’s always entertaining.  You have to take the rough with the smooth and so for every mentalist throwing dogfish at you, you’ll find any number of wonderful restaurants ready to serve up…something.

Culture Shock

My arrival in South Korea in mid-week gave me scarcely enough time to even begin to tackle my jet lag and prepare for a long weekend of cultural experiences but I did my best and slept away Wednesday and Thursday like a trooper.  Friday…well, Friday was just about as awesome a “Welcome to Korea” as my sleepy little self could have wished for.

I sleepily ventured outside to meet my girlfriend when she had finished work with the impression that we were going for a little walk with her co-teacher and then for dinner somewhere.  No problem I think, sounds lovely.  The first step was to get to the park where it was we were going to be walking.  Transport arrived in the form of the aforementioned co-teacher’s non-English speaking husband to whisk us through the rush hour traffic.  The language barrier obviously prevented him talking to the three of us but he did make it known that he would like his wife to tell me that I’m very tall.  I’ve heard this a lot in the last few weeks.  Said wife later commented that I’m the tallest person she’s ever met.  Just to clarify, I’m not that tall, 6′ 2″ at most but I am the tallest person I’ve seen for about a fortnight.  Height in Korea appears to gain you instant celebrity and envy, average as you think your own stature may be.

We arrive at the park a short while later with it soon becoming apparent that it was up a mountain.  Maybe not mountain but hill seems inadequate for the steep climb we were faced with.  Also the cable car we got to the top seemed to suggest that it was at least a ruddy great hill.  I digress.  The views of the city from our little capsule were amazing, I could finally see where it was that I had decided to live for the following months.  The peak was decorated by serenely quiet twisting trails, streams and cats.  It was round about now that it was starting to sink in that I now live in Asia.

After excitedly shouting “kitty!” every time we saw a cute little feline friend, no doubt convincing our guide that her colleague had made some questionable life decisions, we arrived at a Buddhist temple.  “Would you like to look?” I was asked.  I gratefully accepted.  Upon entering the small courtyard the group of monks sat talking were instantly drawn to us and apparently very interested.  I was slightly stunned by this.  I mean, you’re a Buddhist monk sat in a temple halfway up a mountain in the Far East.  I’m a scruffy bugger from the Midlands who has recently left a job in a call centre.  I think I know who wins the interesting battle there.  After smiling, making a hash of bowing, distracting a chap from praying and trying desperately not to launch into a rousing rendition of ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ it was time to continue Vince’s Culture Tour.  I ignored the 4×4 parked just behind the temple, I didn’t want my fledgling sense of spirituality to be crushed just yet.  Anyway, even those who shun material possessions need a sweet set of wheels.

“Namaste, bitches”

After merrily winding our way back to the road we were informed that “going for dinner” in fact meant “you’re guests of honour at a barbecue at my sister’s house”, or so I like to think.  We were certainly made to feel very welcome visitors.  Even this lady’s daughter visited and brought a friend to eat with the foreigners.  Over the next few hours we ate, drank and ate some more.  I made solid friends with two middle-aged Korean men who barely spoke a word of English between them but knew enough to say how handsome and brave I was.  Quite where they got this from I’m not sure but they had sat drinking soju for at least three hours so maybe that had something to do with it.

Incredibly well fed and watered, a few new Korean friends and a big bag of soy bean sauce the richer, we were accompanied back to the train station.  A few jokes were shared about how I looked like a bodyguard for the women accompanying me.  I love Korea.

In one incredibly eventful evening I feel my cultural horizons were expanded far more than at any point in my life so far and way beyond what I would have imagined less than a week beforehand.  After my first week I could have travelled home safe in the knowledge I had seen, eaten and experienced more than many of my friends ever will.  Every day I feel 100% vindicated in my decision to quit the first proper job I’ve ever had and exchange life in the North West of England for the Far East.  Whether it’s the change of scenery, pace or even just temperature I couldn’t be happier to be as far away from home as I’ve ever been and cannot wait for the next time I find myself thinking “oh Korea, whatever next?”

Oh…the culture shock?  Nothing more than the amazement of how awesome this country is.

I Know You Got Seoul

So after what seemed like an eternity of waiting and travelling I finally arrived in South Korea.  It still seems a little weird to be here, the obvious differences between here and home seem to be preventing it sinking in to any great degree.  Consider this the start of a change of direction for my posts.  For a while at least we shall put the gripes on the back burner and focus on my awesome adventures in Asia.

Somehow I’d failed to appreciate how far 6, 500 miles is and how long 28 hours is.  Not sure how, but I did and so I wasn’t too fussed about the journey I was about to undertake until just after I checked in and realised that I had 3 hours left until my plane took off and I was already bored.  Having never flown by myself before I realised at this point that I had quite a challenge ahead to stay occupied.  I thought it might be a good opportunity to spend a bit of time inside my own head but when all I could think was “bored, bored, bored”, I wasn’t exactly the best company.

Still, two flights and a stopover in the phenomenally warm and busy Middle East, I arrived in one piece.  Now came the tricky bit, getting a train the entire length of a country whose language I have a command of sufficient enough to demand Frosties and squid.  Apparently once at the airport all I had to do was get someone’s attention and say “Seoul” until I was kindly pointed in the right direction.  I didn’t have total faith in this plan and couldn’t help but think that I would be wandering round yelling Seoul so much people would start to think that I was the caucasian second coming of James Brown.

“I gat get da traaaaaiiin….huh!”

Lo and behold I did eventually make it to the city I’d heard so much about but never imagined I would ever see content in the knowledge that I was a mere 3 hours away from my final destination.  A tad more awkward battles with language barriers and a bit of help from some lovely locals I got settled in on the most comfortable train I’ve ever been on.  Leg room and seats that leant back almost enough that they may be described as “pimp”.

The shortest of all of my journeys of the previous two days brought more cultural differences to the fore.  Every time one of the train staff entered or left the carriage they would face all the passengers and bow.  The first time I saw the ticket inspector do it I honestly thought he was just rearranging himself but as he did it more and more I realised that this was just normal polite practice.  That or I really didn’t want to get too close to him.

As the countryside flew by in the night and I counted down the stations I knew it wouldn’t be long till I could get some food, rest and a hug.  I thought every station had to be mine, not least because I didn’t understand the announcements, but eventually it was and my mammoth journey came to an end with a delicious bowl of beef stew.  I’ve already had some amazing experiences in the two short weeks I’ve been here and I cannot wait to have many more over the next few months.

Pasties, Politics and Publicity Stunts

Like many people I watched the recent unfolding of Pastygate with great intrigue.  The news that the government are considering putting up tax on hot food that would hit pasty lovers hard.  On a not very interesting side note, I had a pasty today and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I was feeling a little delicate.

Since the disastrous budget, the Tories seem to have made gaffe after gaffe and so they are in some desperate need of trying to shake the age-old image of being out of touch toffs.  Where do politicians turn to leech popularity?  Celebrities of course.  This time, curiously, someone suggested Shaun Ryder.

I love Shaun Ryder, his infamous antics would probably make for an interesting listening and I enjoy his music.  If tickets to the Mondays weren’t so steep I’d go and see them in a few months time but with saving up for travelling and what have you, that idea had to be put to bed.

You can see the logic of this move, get a man who embodies the rock n roll lifestyle who won’t scare the kids like Keith Richards and get him to plug your cause.  We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again so it’s no major surprise I guess.

Ryder isn’t the only one involved though.  Other celebrities such as Claudia Winkleman, David Tennant and the painfully unfunny David Walliams have been roped in to peddle the big lie.

Ryder’s first move was to promote a tshirt with Dave’s smug face tucking into a pasty accompanied by the words “We’re All Eating This Together”.  A clever play on George Osbourne’s recent quote but rather than talking about pasties, it seems more apt to assume that “this” is a load of bullshit and I, for one, don’t fancy eating it.

We’re not all in anything together.  More and more of us are becoming left to deal with “it” but with the help of this Tory government rolling back the years of social progress, the toffs are being spared the cold grip of reality.  They are systematically destroying education, health and any other public right we’ve enjoyed for so many years.  This business over the pasty affair is tedious and clearly isn’t a class issue.  However, what it has done is got people talking about class again and to realise that it is still very much a real divisive force in this country.  I was discussing the other day with my Cool Aunt Judi this matter and we agreed that now, more than any time in recent memory, the gap between those at the top and everyone else is widening with alarming speed.  Despite being an educated man (officially, I still let myself down every now and again.  I somehow hit myself in the unmentionables earlier, I didn’t really need that) I find myself in the new working class, a recent development where those who slipped through the net find themselves performing menial tasks, left behind because I don’t have the right tie.

It’s easy to think that class isn’t an issue any more, that we rid ourselves of that problem and that we live in a wonderful, level society but it simply isn’t true.  Stories like this make class at the forefront of politics and it’s a battle the Tories are doomed to lose time and time again.  They are out of touch, elitist toffs and everyone can see it.  They’re now encasing this bitter truth in pastry and cramming it right down our throats.  It’s been obvious since the outset but people just seemed to sleep walk through it with bewildering levels of apathy.  It’s a shame that it took such a ludicrous story to wake people up but at least it has and now maybe people won’t eat this anymore.

The celebrity shimmer only further enhances the toffee nosed reputation of the government.  It doesn’t fool anyone.  Paying shed loads of money to get celebrities to sing your praises doesn’t exactly scream in touch.  Much like all other attempts at looking down with the kids,  this one will fizzle out in no time when people get sick of convulsing in sheer embarrassment at watching over weight, middle-aged men in suits listening to some phat beats.  As a lad I spoke to the other day said, you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter but we all know what lies underneath.

Runcorn of the Dead

As I sit on what quite possibly is the world’s loudest chair, I look around to survey where I have found myself.  I am sat in a large square room which looks like it was designed with one eye on 1984 and the other on an institution.  The inhabitants of said room appear to lend a lot of credence to my theory.

Today, for reasons beyond my control, I find myself in Runcorn.  Until now it is a place I have never visited and I can fully understand why.  I’d heard the tales but laughed them off as I have so many others that preach similar warnings.  The town I grew up in is one such place but this really is something else.

I had rather a pleasant journey on the way here; a taxi from my door courtesy of the company through the lovely Cheshire countryside. “Perhaps this won’t be so bad after all”, I think.  I’m not one for superstition but, on reflection, it was rather apt that the fare for my taxi came to a nice round £13.

Granted shopping centres are never the most inspiring of buildings but I’m beginning to wonder whether I died in the night and that I am in fact in purgatory.  People roam the hallways with their children until their misdemeanours are deemed to have been repaid.  I can’t be in hell, that’s where immoral people go and immorality requires a certain amount of self awareness.  I have the unrelenting feeling that I don’t belong.  Maybe it’s because I dressed myself this morning, maybe it’s because I have a full compliment of fingers, toes and teeth or maybe it’s because I’m worried they can smell fear.

After I’d sat freezing my unmentionables off for a few hours, I decided enough was enough and proclaimed it to be dinnertime.  Surprisingly this was no issue once I’d fought my way through the amorphous, sweaty masses scrabbling over the pies (not kidding).  I ate heartily, I figured I needed my strength.  I went for a little wander in a bid to warm my cold feet and limber up should I need to make a swift exit.  I popped into Smith’s to have a little browse and to bask in the free warmth.  I firstly struggled to find the papers and could barely even see the book section.  The deserted aisles were cloaked in darkness, the dust lay thick on the floor and it would take a braver soul than me to venture in, lest I single myself out as one of them reading types.  It’s a similar story to tell in other areas of this marble labyrinth.  This place is awash with discount clothing stores, cheap food outlets and empty units.  Even the NHS has gotten the hell out.  Curiously the health food shop seems to have survived, although I am wondering whether it’s just a front and once inside I will be captured, imprisoned and burned inside a large wicker man, not unlike what happened in the Wicker Man.

I’m pretty sure I can outrun them.  Despite the excessive amount of sportswear, I doubt that these people could even spell exercise.  Ok, bad example.

I am patiently counting down the hours until I can make my bid for freedom…ah, sweet freedom.  It’s most certainly beer o’clock when I get home.  I’m incredibly tempted now but I need to keep my lucidity.  A number of the elders are gathering around me, silently watching my every move, their tartan baskets holding a world of secrets.

I’ve seen Dawn of the Dead, I know what can happen in places like this, and it looks like something terrible already has.  I’m on my own, entirely outnumbered and with no hope of a dramatic helicopter rescue.

HMS Austerity

With 2012 being a big celebratory year here in old Blighty, people at the top have been wondering what on Earth to buy the Queen for her jubilee in a few months time.  I’m awful at presents, I struggle to buy for my own girlfriend and so I wouldn’t really know where to start with an 86 year old monarch.  Some brazil nuts?  My grandad loves those little guys.  Something that smells like lavender?  Tis the universally loved flora of the elderly after all.  Risk?  The concept should be pretty familiar to them all, although the game is a bit fairer I guess.  Mind you, it’s a big occasion maybe we could get a nice Mills and Boon and bottle of gin.  You know, push the boat out…

Wait just a minute…

That’s it!

A boat!  Or to be more precise, and £80million, 600 foot yacht.

Yes, dear readers, we’ve done it again.  This former great country of ours has hatched another crackpot scheme to get on board with and distract the proles.

Before we get going it might be worth saying that I am far from being a staunch royalist.  I do, however, realise that they earn the country far more money that they cost in the form of taxes so archaic as it may be, the monarchy does pay its way through beefeater bears and souvenir fudge.

Unlike the ludicrous rail link idea of recent weeks ol’ Dave wasn’t behind this one.  Just when everyone thought he couldn’t be any more of a spineless, useless, toffee nosed twat, he stood up for what he thought was right, put the public interest first and said no to this floating monument to autocracy.  Well, for a bit anyway, then he decided to completely break character, do a U-turn and back the idea instead.  Twat.  Now to be fair to Captain Haddock, he did insist that his support was on the strict understanding that no public money should be used in order to pay for this generous gift; good show, sir.  This is no less than should be expected, at a time when people can barely afford to survive, there is absolutely no way we should be expected to foot the bill.  Also, being the head of the Queen’s government, Dave can’t exactly go around saying that he doesn’t think she should get a shiny new toy to play with, his hands are kind of tied on that one I guess.

The yacht is not just a plaything for the royals though, oh no, it’s also going to host young people for three months at a time for training and also for scientists to conduct environmental experiments (one concerning the environmental impact of a ruddy great boat perhaps?).  The tuition fees of the aforementioned children are going to cover the costs of running the vessel.  Is it just me or does this sound a little familiar?  This isn’t unlike the whinges of a demanding child promising that their coveted toy can do this, that and the other and that they’ll play with it every day.  I can’t imagine the royals being overly keen on a bunch of pubescent teenagers stinking up the gaff when they fancy taking the thing out for a spin.  Also, I imagine that the upkeep on a boat that size might be more than the average bank account of a sixteen year old will cover so either it’ll only be open to young priveleged people as well as old, or we’ll dip into public funds to pay for fuel and truffles after all.

The proposed new royal yacht has received great support from a number of people such as the Queen, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne to name but a few so clearly public support is in favour of the scheme.  Despite their enthusiasm, the Queen won’t actually be dipping her hands into her pockets to pay for the thing though.  No, there is to be an initiative whereby the public are asked for money to contribute to this marvellous present.  I think a bit of number crunching will help us get our lowly heads around this one a bit better.  I’ve seen estimates ranging from £60-£80million so let’s take the midpoint and call it a nice even £70million.  Apparently £15million of the cost has already been covered by private investors, leaving us with £55million to chip in.  Our old friend Wikipedia puts the population of the U.K. at roughly 62, 262, 000.  This means that every man, woman and child is being asked to cough up around 88p each.  Doesn’t really sound a lot when you put it like that but when you think that the main advocate of this plan, the Queen, has a personal fortune just shy of £300million, one has to wonder why the bloody hell the royals can’t pay for the sodding thing themselves.  Has she not been suitably reimbursed for her time already?  I stood umming and ahhing over a bag of sweets the other day because I thought could do without the expense so I’ll be fucked if I’m giving this outrageous notion any of my pocket money.

Time after time the phrase “service” keeps cropping up, “it’s to honour her sixty years of service to the country” and so forth.  This is usually trotted out by batty old women who wave those little flags and own copious amounts of bunting and so I’m naturally inclined to take it with a pinch of salt.  Sure sixty years is a long time, granted, but is service really the word we want to use?  She clearly puts the hours in; it seems like every day she’s off being bored by a factory owner here, a librarian there and dribbling kids at every turn.  We seem to be forgetting something though, and it’s a big one.  The Queen, along with all of the other royals, have been born into unimaginable wealth, privelege and power.  They have fortunes that would make your eyes water purely by virtue of who they are, or rather, who their parents happen to be so I think making the odd trip out here and there to be greeted by hundreds of adoring pensioners is a small contribution in return for millions of pounds, a few palaces, title, status, jewellery, land and pretty much anything they want.  My dad has worked very hard to get the job he has, you could say he’s put in many years of service, but if I turned up at his place of work and demanded a wage on the basis of our association I imagine I’d be on the receiving end of some choice language.

Rather than us providing a great big “thank you” present should it not really be, at very least, declined?  I know it must be hard to connect with the realities of life after so many years of privilege but there must be aides for that kind of thing.  Why don’t we all keep our 88p to buy a bag of scratchings to go with the pint we could all be bought?  Just a suggestion but that would be a jubilee celebration to remember.  On a serious note though, we are talking about a huge amount of money for a whip round to buy one of the richest people in the world a yacht.  Would this money not be better placed with an actual charity?  You know what, that’s not even a question; it would.

As the old adage goes, I want never gets, and I’m sorry, Liz, but you’re definitely not getting anything from me.

I know about films, me

Today David Cameron revealed his wishes for the British film industry.  His idea seems simple enough but it does somewhat suggest that he hasn’t exactly thought it through properly, if at all.

Yes, today came the news that world renowned film expert David Cameron has decided that what the film industry in this country needs to be doing is investing in more blockbusters.  Seems so obvious doesn’t it?  That’s that then.  British cinema saved, job done.  Well, not exactly.  As just about everyone else can see, there’s one or two issues with Dave’s stellar brainwave.  Perhaps after we were told of the news that plans have been set in motion for the world’s most pointless railway link we could have spotted that investment might not fall into an area we could class as Mr. Cameron’s expertise.

Now I would by no means consider myself a film expert but even I can come up with a few objections to this theory.  Firstly, and probably most practically, how on earth is anyone supposed to spot a successful film?  There are a plethora of factors that will determine whether a film takes off or not, plumping for which one is not exactly an easy guess.  Anyone that has ever placed a bet knows that it’s a far from guaranteed way of making money and that’s usually with far fewer variables.  Granted, once a series becomes established a studio can put out any old dross and people will go and see it (Pirates of the Caribbean, Twilight, Slags and the City to name but a few) but getting to the stage of establishment is far from easy.  Those making the predictions are experts in their field, the vast majority of cinema goers are impressionable fodder for the advertising machine.  It is very difficult for experts to predict the behaviour of millions of people.

Whilst we’re on more practical reasons let’s consider the level of investment made available to film makers.  £18million of public funding is offered to British film makers, obviously to be divided between any number of projects.  In terms of what the modern blockbuster costs this is a truly insignificant figure.  Modern production costs now run into the hundreds of millions for each picture, even donating the full amount to one project this would still be a considerable way off so how does Dave expect our film industry to compete with the US?  You can’t just look at the revenue of these films and decide that we’ve got it all wrong.  This alone has it’s own complexities that determine the profitability of pictures.  With most of the highest grossing films being of US origin, they are clearly going to be aimed at the US market and that is a very big market indeed.  In terms of sheer numbers the population difference alone is staggering.  With over 300million people living there a film doesn’t need to be that popular in relative terms to generate a huge source of income before it even goes overseas.

Right, boring stuff out of the way, let’s get arty (well, ish).  British films, with the odd exception naturally, have never exactly been the kind of productions to reach blockbuster standards.  Our culture in general leans more towards the subtle, the wry, the dry, the witty and yes, the gritty.  Blockbusters in the traditional sense are an assault on the senses.  The age old tits and guns formula has served Hollywood well over the years and a quick glance at the list of highest grossing films can back this up.  This isn’t us.  Tweed clad gents have guns and tits are what we resist the urge to childishly giggle at in the privacy of our own bedrooms.  We’re much more about the trousers than the mouth, something seemingly quite the reverse in mainstream cinema.  Admittedly one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen at the cinema in recent years was The Expendables, a film as thin on plot and as heavy on weaponry as it is possible to be.  However, this is kind of the point.  We don’t have $80million to give to a bunch of middle aged men run around blowing the shit out of anything and everything.  That and I don’t think you could make a British film packed full of weapons without it turning into a carry on.  However, just in case we do go down the big budget action route, allow me to throw my hat in the ring to be the English Vin Diesel figure.

Do we really want to move towards this style of film making?  As I mentioned previously, it is a million miles away from the traditions of our film industry which I think can only be a good thing.  Taking the three examples of film series from earlier we can see a collection of films that are appalling in quality, integrity and message.  The third instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean was so indescribably bad I to this day have no idea how I sat through it.  Twilight is a series so morally offensive it baffles me how anyone can gladly idolise the nauseating ham fisted actors involved.  Slags and the City is quite possibly the worst creative invention ever.  Everything about it offends.  It’s mixed messages, loose women, loose morals and loose…well, you get the picture.  Yet all of this bilge has been commercially successful.  There’s no accounting for taste I guess.  So should we sell out on our traditions and integrity in order to make a few quid?  Isn’t art supposed to be about expressing yourself, educating, enlightening, inspiring and enchanting?  Cameron’s Thatcherite view that anything that might not make money is clearly a waste of time really is troubling.  I wouldn’t want to see our films end up being awash with gun toting meatheads (though if they must, give me a call), silly jokes and obnoxious wastrels shouting, I think they’re fine the way they are.  If they make money along the way, brilliant, it’d be great to see a British film that isn’t Harry Potter get some recognition on the international stage but this shouldn’t be the sole reason for making films.

Film makers should be rewarded for their creativity and hard work but they shouldn’t be told by the government to only make films that are definitely going to be blockbusters.  Plenty of my favourite films aren’t blockbusters and it’s nice to share them people and enjoy them for their artistic merit (ok, one of my favourite films is Terminator which doesn’t really fit into those criteria but I still love it).  Are future generations going to lose independent cinema and childhood favourites because Dave told producers to stick a few tits in them?

Until Abortion Ends

Looks like I’m on for a prolific writing day today.  I wasn’t intending to write anything else today but I happened across something on the internet that left me aghast and, quite frankly, incensed.

Living in chilly old England I was unaware of the rising movement on the internet of a thing called ‘Until Abortion Ends’.  For those not in the know it is a website set up by a chap called Jason Jones that encourages people to give up a favourite food or drink until abortion is banned in America.  For those of you not instantly struck by the stupidity of this movement you might be thinking that it’s a very noble gesture and quite a nice idea.  Nice it may be but let’s delve a little deeper into this mind numbingly ridiculous idea shall we?  The more astute among you may have noticed that I have already formulated an opinion on this matter.

Mr. Jones said his idea for changing the world one sugary snack at a time came from hearing the tale of a man who gave up eating chocolate over thirty years ago until abortion ended.  This idea clearly struck a chord with Jones who thought that this guy was on to something.  This story was brought to my attention by one of his supporters, one Joshua Mercer, a man who looks like the love child of Bill from ‘Guess Who?’ and a toe.  Mercer was clearly impressed by this man’s act of selflessness and even went as far as to brand him as “courageous”.  Yes, you read right, courageous.  This man didn’t set off into a mine field with a metal detector and a stick.  He didn’t stand up to a tank.  He didn’t do a fucking thing besides giving up chocolate.  Courageous wasn’t the word I was going for.  If he wasn’t health conscious then there isn’t a word to describe his actions.  Oh, no hang on, there is; pointless.  I’m not going to get into the debate about abortion here, it isn’t here it should be discussed, it’s bigger than whatever project this is yet somehow this lone ranger whom happened to be discovered by an internet crackpot (not me) seems to think that his suffering from chocolate withdrawal is in someway comparable to the cause he is campaigning for.  Now I can’t help but think that making this comparison is massively undermining any credibility that you may potentially gain.  If people want to fight the Pro-Life corner then by all means go ahead, healthy debate is a wonderful thing but don’t attach petty acts of ludicrousness to it.  Recently I gave up caffeine.  I had to do this for health reasons (curiously and rather counter-intuitively it makes me really sleepy).  I didn’t feel the need to make myself a martyr for anything, I’m not “giving up caffeine…until they bring back The Krypton Factor”.

These two bozos (there’s probably more bozos too) encourage people to make little YouTube videos proudly telling the world what it is they are giving up in their monumental struggle.  The list consists heavily of people offering to give up sweets, crisps, chips, chocolate (it’s been working so well for the last thirty years, why not?), tobacco and ice cream.  Casually scanning this list I can’t help but notice a theme.  These are all things you should be giving up anyway.  So the way that you’re going to bring your cause to the fore and ultimately triumph over the “culture of death” is losing a bit of weight and being a bit healthier.  Wow, sainthoods ahoy.  Quite what making an insignificant dent in the profits of confectionary and tobacco companies is going to achieve I don’t know.  Do these people think that God owns shares in Coca-Cola?  The global recession didn’t cause a problem but pissed off teens?  Surely he’d have to step in to change things then.

What then are Jones and old ‘Guess Who?’ Mercer giving up then?  Jones opted for coffee which curiously he branded as “life” before deciding to turn his back on it.  Semantics? Probably.  Petty? Almost certainly.  Mercer decided to emphasise his lifelong adoration of ‘Butterfinger’ chocolate bars.  As mentioned I am an Englishman so I have no idea what these are like but I’m sure they must be pretty tasty if they’re deemed worthy of being sacrificed for the cause.  Taste aside, I can’t help but notice that Butterfingers are made by Nestle, a company that has landed in a not inconsiderable amount of hot water over the years for its business practices, not least those affecting children.  Their encouragement of African mothers to use formula over breastfeeding has been linked to numerous increased health risks including susceptibility to contracting diarrhoea which the child has an increased risk of dying from and  they have also been accused of using child labour.  So having poured money into such a child friendly company he has ceased his investment which can only be a good thing.  Of course this is only until abortion ends then he’ll be straight back to giving them his money again, hand over chubby fist.  Double standards?  Not half.

Surprisingly old ‘toe face’ Mercer has opened his ridiculous soap box of a website up to comments.  Well, how could I resist a little peak?  Oh how I wish I had.  If only I possessed the will of Saint Chocolate-giver-uperer and I wouldn’t have had to read the quite frankly bewildering comments people felt compelled to make.  To avoid missing anything I’ll give you the first one in full:

“I registered last week on untilabortionends.com and gave up McDonald’s! God grant me the grace to offer it up for all the unborn babies in danger of abortion and for all the unborn babies that are murdered every day. Archbishop Sheen, Pray for us!”-Brenda

McDonald’s!?  Ruddy Nora love, don’t go mental.  Seriously though (well as serious as this deluge of idiocy will allow), McDonald’s.  That’s what foetuses need, a fucking Big Mac.  Also, if you haven’t bought the McDonald’s, Brenda, how do you intend to get it to heaven?  Stealing?  That won’t go down very well.  I mean there’s bigger logistical problems with that one but still, remember your morals, I think you must be on a processed beef comedown.

Let’s think about the practical implications of what these people are demanding.  Making something illegal didn’t stop it happening, that’s why prisons exist, so all that making abortion illegal would be doing would to drive it underground again.  A major reason it became legal in countries is because it is undeniably to the benefit of the mothers.  Whether you agree with it or not it means that people in a position where they choose the abortion option could go and be cared for and treated with expert knowledge.  If these people’s aims are achieved then you’re going to go back to the days of back alleys and coat hangers.  This leaves us with the conclusion that either they haven’t thought about this or that they don’t care.  So which one is it going to be?  This got me wondering even more when I saw that a nine  year old lad felt compelled to deprive himself of his Sour Skittles.  You’re telling me he understands the ins, outs and implications of what he’s campaigning for?  I don’t think so.  Something that’s divided opinion for decades is hardly going to be grasped a child clearly still naive enough to think that giving up his sweets will change the world.

Now admittedly I have to applaud these people for giving up things so dear to them.  Providing they stick to it they will be achieving something very difficult, especially in today’s society of plentiful amusements and instant gratification.  I just question how they think that not eating ice cream (which you don’t need anyway so could we not file it under gluttony?  Just a thought) will get them anything apart from ridicule.  I don’t understand who they think they’re aiming their protests at.  Is it massive conglomerates whom even if you deny proceeds from one product you’re fairly likely to be giving it to them in another form, or is it people’s individual morality?  Either way giving up Coke isn’t going to get you anywhere.  I admire the belief you clearly have but I fear your movement is doomed to failure.  To compare your self-imposed ban on comfort food to the potential suffering that women in this situation are going through is appalling and unfathomably insulting.