James Hydrick Speaks — Part I

•May 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment


You may remember a previous piece by me entitled Fifteen-Minute Messiah, about the incredible, and sadly-forgotten story of James Hydrick, the page-flipping Kung Fu psychic, turned man-no-prison-could-hold, who fooled the entire world, at least for a while, back in the early 80s. If you don’t, then familiarise yourself at that link, or check out my book, Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal, which features that, and similar stories.

A remarkable cross between Bruce Lee and Professor X, the tale of Hydrick’s rise, subsequent disappearance, and muddled mythos has fascinated me for years. Now, thanks to the generosity of a third party, who’s interviewing Hydrick for an upcoming project of their own, I’ve had the opportunity to put a series of questions to the man himself. So right here, speaking publicly for the first time in over thirty years, direct from the source, James Hydrick shares some exclusive insight into this amazing story, and clears up some of the misconceptions swirling about his legend.

— Did you have a plan for how far you’d take things had Dan Korem not made his film, or were you playing it by ear?

I had no plan going into the Korem Show. The deal presented to me was another demonstration of my illusions and magic tricks. There was no dress rehearsal. However, early into the show, I caught on quickly that this was about promoting Danny Korem at the expense of James Hydrick. And, when it was over and edited, the show presented me in the worst light. I came off the bad guy and Korem the hero; that hurt my career for years. I just want to say that where James Randi is a clever gentleman, Danny Korem cannot pull scruples out of a hat.

Nothing in the show was premeditated by me. I came into it with a third grade education and strong martial arts skills. I’d had an abusive childhood like you wouldn’t believe; I’m not looking for sympathy. So, I accepted the appearance on the Korem show in ignorance of what was going to come down. There was no script except what Korem had in mind to defame me, and grab the fame for himself. He told Steve Bo Keeley’s brother Tom Keeley, before starting the show, that the goal of the project was to debunk a famous magician.

I never intended to deceive anyone on the show. I used magic that others call ‘psychic abilities’. Korem had two shows going: one while the camera was rolling, and the other while it was off. The things I did on the show were illusion and magic that I’d picked up and practiced hard over the years. I was a pretty fair stage magician, and combined it with my martial arts to make a show. I performed magic to get new students in my martial arts classes, and to pull myself up out of the hole of my childhood. It’s as simple as that.

— In news footage of you from the time, one could squint and think they were watching Bruce Lee. It seems like there wasn’t the time for you, at 21, to become such an adept martial artist. Did you start training young, or just pick it up quickly?

Regarding Bruce Lee: When I was six years old, I visited my father in a jail cell where he was on the chain gang. On the jailhouse television was Bruce Lee in ‘Fists of Fury’ beating up Bob Baker with fists so fast… I just stared, and memorized. I thought, if I can get that fast nobody can beat me again, or beat on my brother and sister. We had all suffered terrible abuse. At first, I practiced martial arts for hundreds of hours in the woods along the Savannah River. So, I’m self taught originally. Then, over the years, I trained with many grandmasters. Ed Parker was like a father to me, and I learned hardly imagined martial arts moves (note: Parker was karate teacher to, among others, Chuck Norris and Elvis). I also trained with Wayne Fray, Brandon Lee, the White Brothers and others. I eventually met Bob Baker, who became Bruce Lee’s historian, and Lee’s family and his wife. It all began with me and Bruce Lee on TV. If anyone tells you you’re a nobody, don’t listen. You can become a somebody. Just put your mind to it. Never say never.

— As your legend started to grow, did you ever hear a tall tale about something you were supposed to have done with your powers that surprised even you?

The most surprising thing to me that grew out of proportion was in Egypt when the big wind came up from out of nowhere. I believe it was a coincidence, but others who witnessed it called it supernatural. I can’t judge, except to say that it happened. The Muslims thought it was supernatural and many of them feared me for it. All this was covered in the news around the world. The Egyptian government wanted to hustle me out of the country before I got assassinated.

Part II to follow soon, where we’ll learn the truth of the tale where James Hydrick terrified the police by using his mind-powers to damn-near rock a prison van right off the road.

So Excited, So Scared — Screech’s Woman

•March 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The following is a sample from my new Kindle book, So Excited, So Scared: The Saved by the Bell Retrospective, which is AVAILABLE TO BUY RIGHT NOW. There are chapters like this on each of the other 85 episodes, as well as detailed sections on the history of the show, what happened next, and a bonus chapter about the Lifetime TV movie. More ordering links can be found at the bottom of this post.

Screech’s Woman

I’m hummingbird droppings.”


This is another episode where I find myself surprised at how labyrinthine the plots are. I imagined a 25-year-old kids show, running at twenty minutes minus the credits, would be a simplistic A-B, easily surmised in a handful of sentences. Not so, and Screech’s Woman reads like an end of the pier farce, with misunderstandings, double bluffs, and a tangled web of lies that ends up strangling its weaver.

After the perversely-tinged antics of the previous episode, what better way to open than on Jessie and Slater’s spunking papier-mâché volcano, which suggestively pukes a bubbling wad of lava from its opening like something you might see on Chatroulette before your finger reaches the F5 key? Said cardboard volcano signals this week’s ticking clock, Bayside’s upcoming Science Fair. We didn’t have Science Fairs over here, and I know them only from chucklesome internet pictures of awkward kids standing in front of displays investigating Moon Babies, or goldfish who’ve been kept in a tank of Pepsi, or positing the question “Could you poop your butt right off?” My personal highlight of science lessons was when our real-life Screech turned the gas tap on full blast before lighting it, causing an in-classroom recreation of the end of the Gulf War, and our sudden evacuation through the fire exit.



There’s only four days until their projects are due, and Zack’s been letting Screech do all the work on their entry, a giant circuit-board with blinking lights and revolving antennae that exerts control over nearby canaries. But Screech can’t keep his mind on the job, as he’s obsessively pining for Lisa. When she embraces another guy who’s an actual adult and not some shrieking, eight-year-old Harpo Marx, he slinks out of The Max, head down like Charlie Brown.

Mopey, heart-sick Screech is the epitome of that wretched sitcom trope, where moon-eyed losers spend season after season trailing behind the female character they’re desperately smitten with, and usually fated to end up marrying. Ross and Rachel, Niles and Daphne; the “keep plugging away and you’ll get her in the end” storyline doubtless encourages stalker behaviour in the sort of guys who believe in the existence of the Friendzone, and feel like they’re owed reciprocation for being a ‘nice guy’. No matter the never-give-uppitude of their quest, they won’t get the happy ending television tells them will come their way if they persist with the emotional blackmail and misguided grand gestures. For the televisual sacks of shit upholding the fallacy, at best, “no” just means “try again next week; maybe you’ll finally break her.” The many-versed ballad of Screech and Lisa is possibly fiction’s most one-sided, unbelievable ‘will-they-won’t-they?’, to which the answer is a solid “Of course not. Just look at the fucker.

Ladies man Zack coaches Screech in the ways of being cool, and tries to break him out of his funk by feeding him chat-up lines to help him land a girl of his very own. But in the hallways of Bayside, the obvious age difference between Dustin Diamond and everyone else just makes it weird, as the pubeless wonder hits on girls who look like they should be in college. Even if he wasn’t half their height, everyone knows highschool girls like creepy older guys with motorcycles; at least they did back in the pre-Bieber days; so Screech gets shot down, time and again. As the audience showers him with patronising awws, a distraught Screech climbs into the nearest locker and shuts himself inside.

"Tidings of love, fairest m'Lisa!"

“Tidings of love, fairest m’Lisa!”

Out of ideas, Zack tries to set him up with Jessie, who, when sat across from him at The Max, looks more like Screech’s babysitter than his classmate. Though lefty, socially-conscious Jess is appalled at the way Zack’s nameless friend has never been given a chance by a girl, all because he looks different, and chirpily volunteers to take him out herself, when she finds out it’s Screech, she almost vomits. In desperation, Zack tells Screech that a secret admirer will call him on the payphone at 3pm.

After Slater gets done chatting up an Italian girl on the phone, Screech answers to find Zack’s “friend” Bambi on the other end. She’s seen him around, she says, and she likes him; eliciting swoons of delight at his finally finding validation. Bambi, of course, is Zack, hiding in the bathroom and putting on a high-pitched voice, in catfishing incident #2. Luckily this pre-dates the internet, saving us the indignity of Screech interfering with himself as Zack cybersexes him over AIM as LimpBizkitGrrl69. As Zack reels in his buddy, Mr. Belding – who’s in the pupils’ bathroom reading a newspaper while taking a dump for some reason – overhears every word. From inside the cubicle, he assumes Bambi’s flirtatious come-ons are for him, nervously slamming his knees shut like she’s about to kick in the door and go straight for the prostate. A flustered Belding tells “Bambi” how flattered he is, and that it’s natural because, “…rock stars, ball players, principals. Heck, we excite people.” Unknown to him, Zack/Bambi has already exited, while Slater’s entered to overhear Belding’s rejection of the girl over the cubicle door.

The following morning, Screech is full of the joys of young love, as he and Bambi were up all night talking. Consequently, Zack’s nodding off at his desk. With Screech eager to meet his new chatline girlfriend in the flesh, Zack’s forced to make excuses, sending Screech into an instant depression, and slinking out of the room with his chin to his chest. A random extra soon runs in, announcing “everybody come quick, you’ve gotta see this!” They rush into the hallway to find Screech hanging… but sadly only by his wrist, having chained himself to a locker as a demonstration of his love for Bambi. Importantly for Zack, a handcuffed Screech can’t finish their science project, and he refuses to unchain himself until he meets with Bambi in person. Now, that’s a nice little narrative conundrum.

Baggy, 1989 shirts. Zack's mom-jeans. Dustin Diamond. Terrible scenes.

Baggy, 1989 shirts. Zack’s mom-jeans. Dustin Diamond. Terrible scenes.

As Belding gives Screech a talk in his office, the camera pulls back to reveal he’s still attached to the lockers. On mention of the enigmatic Bambi, Belding perks up – “The Bambi?” – and orders Zack to bring her to The Max to meet Screech or he’ll make his life a misery. We all know where this is headed, right? A couple of notes about this scene; Kelly casually enters, uses her locker, and leaves without saying a word, and the bit closes with Screech telling Belding he has to use the bathroom. As Belding goes to his desk, I’m 100% sure he’s about to grab the waste paper bin so Screech can do his dirty business in it, but instead he just phones the janitor.

Unsurprisingly, we were all right, as Lisa and Jessie play dress-up at Zack’s with a big box of dresses, make-up, nail varnish, and a razor for his legs. Screech arrives for his date at The Max in the sort of comically oversized suit wacky characters are legally required to wear, and holding a bunch of dead flowers, which Max replaces with some fake ones he pulls out of thin air, the magician prick.

Zack enters in full drag and a lady’s wig, weirdly dressed like a conservative forty-year-old lawyer who falls asleep with a glass of wine in her hand every night, filled with regret over how readily she sacrificed family for a career. Why would hip, young fashionista Lisa Turtle own such an outfit? Within 0.5 seconds of walking through the door, Bambi’s immediately hit on by a background extra, while every male character in the vicinity gives her the sex-eye. This had to happen, as part of the long-standing tradition where dudes forced to drag up for plot reasons are flirted with and goosed by every man they come into contact with, who find them so irresistible, they’re driven mad with lust. Of particular note in this cliché is Sid James in Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head, who makes for an absolutely grotesque woman – seriously, he looks like a bollock in a bonnet – yet still sets the hearts a-fluttering.

The original Catfish.

The original Catfish.

To flesh out the character of Bambi, Zack uses a “Well, I do declare” Southern Belle accent, but it’s never clear what age she’s supposed to be. She dresses and talks middle-aged, yet is simultaneously entangled with a forty-something principal and a twelve-year-old schoolboy. Screech introduces Bambi to Slater, who – of course – priapicly leers at her, loving what he sees, until he twigs that it’s Zack, and suggests that she and Screech kiss to make Lisa jealous. They don’t, as Bambi’s not that kind of girl, and she lays out her ground rules for dating; her “rules of livin’ and lovin‘.” If Screech wants a piece, first he’ll have to straighten and dye his hair, get rid of his pets, and most importantly, stop being friends with Zack Morris. Ooh!

Despite his aching heart, Screech tells Bambi that he wouldn’t trade Zack for anything in the world. The two have an amicable parting of the ways, with Screech feeling like he’s grown emotionally – though he’ll have forgotten all about it come the next episode – and the relationship having given him a big confidence boost. As the episode ends with the dress-wearing Zack trying to follow Kelly into the girl’s bathroom, presumably to watch her piss, Screech is left none the wiser about the con, nor the likelihood that his sexual awakening consisted of a dozen violent tommy tanks over his best friend.


So Excited, So Scared on Amazon.co.uk

So Excited, So Scared on Amazon.com

Amazon’s free Kindle app for phones, tablets, and computers.

So Excited, So Scared — Pinned to the Mat

•February 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The following is a sample from my upcoming Kindle book, So Excited, So Scared: The Saved by the Bell Retrospective, which is out next month, and available for pre-order right now. There are chapters like this on each of the other 85 episodes, as well as detailed sections on the history of the show, what happened next, and a bonus chapter about the Lifetime TV movie. More ordering links can be found at the bottom of this post.

Pinned to the Mat

He used to be a jock, and now he’s a joke.”


Though most episodes of SBTB feel like something produced by Old White Dudes, the Dudes that made Pinned to the Mat are perhaps the Oldest and Whitest of the bunch. In the whole run of 86 episodes, there’s only a single show with a credited female writer, and it’s definitely not this one. Maybe my own hippie leanings are clouding my judgement, as I take a barefoot wander through the less-enlightened world of 1989, but there seems to be something inherently archaic about the weird gender issues at play here.

Career week at Bayside has everyone talking about their futures. With each unanimously playing to type, Jessie’s going to be a lawyer, Lisa a fashion designer, Screech an astronaut, and Zack a gameshow host — which is a bit he does throughout the episode, fake interviewing people with a ketchup bottle that he comically covers with his hand when they go off topic — while Kelly aspires to be a wife. Or an actress; but a married one for sure. And she also wants to be mom with lots of kids. Slater’s not bothered about the rest of his life, as he can’t see past his upcoming wrestling match against Valley’s undefeated champion, Melvin Nedick — a surname which possibly doubles as a finishing move. Of course, Zack’s got a scam going, and during a Time-Out, where a busy hallway of extras makes a really bad job of standing still, he explains how he’s bet his own dirtbike against that of Nedick, on Slater to win. Zack doesn’t even own a dirtbike, but he won’t need to, cos Slater’s gonna crush that Valley punk. Incidentally, dirtbikes were a real-life interest of Gosselaar’s, and their inclusion here is the result of the forms all the kids filled in when the series began, listing real-life hobbies that could be used in the show.

In a continuing observation, the young Dustin Diamond is a truly horrendous performer, with terrible timing, unclear diction, and speaking every line like someone who’s phonetically repeating words that have no meaning to him, like a stranded alien. This is possibly why he’s rarely given more than a single line of dialogue at a time, and is mostly kept to pulling stupid faces.

The gang’s barracking of Slater, and how he’s ruining his life by not having a career plan, plays on his mind, inspiring one of those now-familiar fantasy sequences. Set at a class reunion in the future — and we know it’s the future because Max has baby powder in his hair, denoting that he is old — the now-adult gang are introduced one by one. There’s Judge Jessie; Lisa the fashion designer; Captain Screech Powers, space explorer, who literally beams down from Mars; and lastly, Zack, who gets a hero’s welcome as the most successful game show host ever. If you’re wondering what Kelly’s done with her life — Teacher? CEO? Deputy Parks Director?  then wonder no more, as Zack introduces his wife, Kelly Morris. As a demonstration of her skills, Kelly ‘presents’ a 19 inch CRT television as her gameshow-hosting husband looks on proudly. Dream big, girls.

When Slater enters, potbelly strapped into a leopard skin wrestling outfit, with a Hulk Hogan wig, tash, and voice, they barely remember him. Isn’t that the over the-the-hill loser who’s lost 30 matches in a row? And all because he didn’t didn’t pick a vocation at career day? While that kind of stupid pressure to make very important, arbitrary decisions about your entire life, when you’re barely old enough to sing the low bits in This Jesus Must Die, is still upheld by teachers today; kids, I wouldn’t sweat it. I told my career advisor I was going to be a juggler in the circus, and look at me now; I’m a penniless writer.

Dirtbike (L), Dirtbag (R)

Dirtbike (L), Dirtbag (R)

After his vivid future-flash, a panicked Slater quits the wrestling team, which is bad news for Zack, whose bet with Nedick is at stake. So, the blonde bastard surfs on the wave of sexism and washes up on the shore of another scheme. Inspired by Max’s tale of his own father quitting his job, only to have his mom drape an apron around his neck and show him where the kitchen is, causing him to run screaming from the house and back to work to avoid her stupid, female nagging, Zack whips out his cellular phone. Putting on his best guidance counsellor voice, he convinces Slater’s dad, the Major, to make his son find an after-school activity to replace the wrestling. The only activity Slater’s interested in is girl-watching, so Zack suggests the one place where you’ll find tons of the little madams shaking their tushes; but such a place will take a special kind of guy to be able to handle it.

Are you man enough,” asks Zack, “for… the cooking club?” It is a hilarious notion, I grant you. A man in the kitchen. But there are girls there; girls who can be ogled and hit on; so Slater takes Zack’s advice and signs up.

Slater in an apron?” says Zack, “He’ll be laughed back into the gym!” Just to be clear about what’s being sneered at here; the preparation of food. One of the basic tenements of survival as a carbon-based life-form.

The notion of a guy cooking being so comical, and the kitchen exclusively the domain of girls and pooves, is probably mystifying to younger audiences, but when I was a kid, around the time the show was airing, cookery was viewed as an effeminate pursuit. Along with hairdressing, it was a career choice that would give a dad a fatal aneurysm. Even venturing into the kitchen other than to ask your mam how much longer your tea was going to be, you aul’ bitch, or to have a slash in the sink, was tantamount to whipping your trousers down right there in the living room and camply directing another man’s william right up your pipe. Don’t blame Zack for the crimes of the 1980’s, where chefs were presumed to be homosexuals, before they reinvented themselves as terrifying ogre-men pretending to be really, really angry all the time, in the wake of Gordon Ramsay screaming the bricks from the walls just because someone’s flan was pointing north instead of south or some-such other bollocks.

Zack attends the cookery class too, just for the giggles, where a bubbly teacher has them throw away their recipes! She’s a regular Dead Poet’s Society, singing the instructions like jazz and tap-dancing around the room. Maybe the dads were right all along. What do you know, Slater bakes a perfect cake, and the girls, who’ve increasingly shown themselves to drop into fan-wafting vapour fits at any vaguely romantic deed, are positively simpering at how sensitive he is, because he’s baked one fucking cake. Devastated by the failure of his latest plan, Zack calls himself a “hula hoop.” Don’t be so hard on yourself, buddy.

Shortly before jerking a dozen dicks all over his own face

Shortly before jerking a dozen dicks all over his own face

At Zack’s behest, Nedick himself shows up to taunt Slater for being a girly girl cook, in order to reverse-psychology him back into the wrestling match, which makes no sense, as if Slater didn’t show, Nedick would win the match, and the dirtbike, by forfeit. Regardless, Nedick’s needling only further steels Slater’s resolve, and Zack’s forced to stick Screech in a singlet and offer him up as a replacement opponent, hoping it’ll lure Slater out of retirement. No dice, Preppy, and Screech and Nedick limber up at the gym for an inter-school bout that’s perfectly legal, despite there being about a dozen weight classes between them.

Luckily for Screech, Slater shows up at the last second and instantly pins Nedick with a German suplex that’d make Chris Benoit drop his World’s Greatest Dad mug in jealousy. With about thirty seconds to credits, Slater, who’s not only loved cooking, but shown a genuine natural aptitude for it, throws it all away at the last moment for nothing, as “my quiche blew up and I didn’t care.” Oh, cool then, back to the status quo. To wrap up the out-of-the-blue ending, everyone suddenly agrees that they’re just kids and shouldn’t worry about careers until later. Zack’s winning bet is also for nothing, as Belding informs him that gambling is banned in school and all he’s won is a detention.


“Congrats on being straight!”

There’s a way better ending hidden away in all of this, had they had Nedick confess to Zack that he didn’t really have a dirtbike either, so they were both betting imaginary dirtbikes with each other. I assumed that’s where it was going, because why the shit would anyone need two dirtbikes?


So Excited, So Scared on Amazon.co.uk

So Excited, So Scared on Amazon.com

Amazon’s free Kindle app for phones, tablets, and computers.

So Excited, So Scared — available for pre-order now

•January 30, 2015 • 2 Comments


The Jock. The Brain. The Hustler. The Princess. The Fashionista. The Nerd. Bayside’s iconic six vowed to be friends forever. It wasn’t even true backstage.

So Excited, So Scared delves into the full history of the show and its players, from its unlikely creation and unlikelier success, to what happened when the cameras stopped rolling. Was it a hormonal, dating free-for-all behind the scenes, and was Dustin Diamond really the despised outsider of legend?

The centrepiece of Millard’s unauthorised trip back to Bayside is a comprehensive, show-by-show breakdown of all 86 episodes. Relive the sociopathic scams of Zack Morris, the story of history’s greatest romantic coupling, and memorable guest faces like Maxwell Nerdstrom, Jeff Hunter, and Rod “call me Rod” Belding, plus the scattershot continuity of Malibu Sands and Tori Scott; which evolves into full-on quantum theory; in the most complete take on SBTB ever put to print.

With no stone unturned, revisit every classic moment; such as Jessie’s freak-out, the rise and fall of Zack Attack, and No Hope with Dope; and discover how a day-glo, nineties teen sitcom become one of the most culturally influential shows of the last thirty years, changing the entire landscape of entertainment along the way.

This is a book no Tigers-cheering, chair-straddling Saved by the Bell fan can live without, so c’mon, Preppy; don’t be an A.C. Hater.

After a few false starts, some kickstarted help from some amazing people, and a lot of months spent thinking and writing about bloody Screech, we are live. So Excited, So Scared: The Saved by the Bell Retrospective is now available for pre-order on Amazon, to be sent to your Kindles/devices on March 16th, when it’s finally released.

For readers of my previous works, So Excited, So Scared is longer than my last four books combined (161,000 words), so if you want a giant helping of Millard, there’s enough here to overdose on. Also, not to parp on my own horn, but it’s definitely the best thing I’ve ever done. To help pass the time between now and March 16th, feel free to spread the word, and of course, head over to Amazon immediately.

So Excited, So Scared on Amazon.co.uk

So Excited, So Scared on Amazon.com

Amazon’s free Kindle app for phones, tablets, and computers.

The Beach Diaries 2014 – #3 in an Occasional Series

•December 30, 2014 • 2 Comments

(Beach Diaries? At the end of December? Yeah, I know. I’ve had this sat in my notepad since the summer, where I got so focussed on the Saved by the Bell book that I didn’t have time to go to the beach again. Plus I knew this one was a bit too personal, so I left it to fester in my backpack. But what are blogs for if not for over-sharing and making everyone feel uncomfortable? Enjoy?)

New to the Beach Diaries? Scroll to the bottom for enlightenment.

** I watch a strongman contest round the back of the amusements. The ground shakes as the weights clank down out of their fists. Two men standing next to me discuss a mutual friend who put a child into a coma while drink driving. Big men sweetly interact with watching children, like friendly ogres. A little girl says of a hulking man who’s dusting his hands in chalk “That’s my teacher!” A boy comes out of the nearby arcade, and excitedly shows his father a rubber ball.

Daddy, want to see how this bounces?

No,” says the dad.

** An alternative goth type, dressed all in black, with hair like a Japanese cartoon and a white cloth trailing from his back pocket, paddles barefoot along the tide; skinny jeans rolled up as high as they’ll go; a pair of black winkle-pickers in his hand. Later, I see him stopped by and pleasantly chatting with an older couple. Friends of his parents, I guess, who use him as an example of not judging by appearances.

** As his owner tries to leave, a dog refuses to go home, placing his tennis ball by the sea and sitting down with a resolute look on its face. It’s the same dog who drops his ball out of his mouth over the wall on the prom, resting his chin on the wall and nodding towards it with his eyes, so that passers by will throw it for him. He’s got it all figured out. That ball is the grossest thing I have ever touched.

"Yes, it is a spiffing day, Mrs. Farquar!"

“Yes, it is a spiffing day, Mrs. Farquar!”

** It’s one of those days where impossibly beautiful people are everywhere, like an infestation of flying ants. Laying in the sands; tottering past with uneasy bare feet on hot concrete; like something from an unrealistically cast TV show. It just makes you want to smash your awful face against the breakwater until all the bones are sticking out like toothpicks in a Christingle orange, and then politely ask them if they’ve got the time, dripping burst eyeball-fluid all over their chicken wraps until they all run away screaming and leave you alone on the beach, like the Quasimodo freak in the tower summer makes of you when it shines a light on the world and all its corners.

Part of the reason I cut down on the number of entries was that this theme becomes both unavoidable, and repetitive. Yeah, there are hot people everywhere and it’s depressing and makes me feel half-ghost, half-monster, but what can you do? Should I magically become comfortable in my own skin? Or suddenly, somehow deal with my feeling like a diabetic on Willy Wonka’s factory tour?

Many would probably kill for the freedom of the beach bum. No ties, and nobody who cares where I am and what time I’ll be back; no steady career; just the complete freedom to wander of my own accord, where and whenever I please. People in a BO-stinking office, with a pay-check and a mortgage and a wife, might gaze out of the window, at the thin, blue slab of sky visible between the buildings across the street, and have momentary daydreams of sacking it all off for a life of artsy meandering. “I’ll write a novel,” they think, “paint a picture. Tell my boss to go suck his own bollock.” But days like today, if I’m honest; horribly, violently honest; I can’t shake the feeling that I’m raising my flag in a rather hollow victory.

A group of 40/50-something men hoot and lech over a pair of women who’re peeling off their shirts, revealing bikini tops underneath.

Get ’em out, then,” cry the men — which is a direct quote — like literal Benny Hill characters. They look tremendously pleased with themselves, and very comfortable in their booze-worn skins, as they leer their way down the prom. They’re also among the most grotesque caricatures I’ve ever seen, on the cartoonish level of a red-faced butcher chasing after a dog who’s got a string of sausages in its mouth.

Sussex, 1983

Sussex, 1983

** I’m stopped by a Bieber-looking sixth former with a clipboard, and agree to help him with a survey about memories. He asks me to recall my earliest happy, and then earliest sad memory. Both times I stand like I’m Dr. Sam Beckett, leapt into the body of a stranger, gazing into the middle-distance, and trying to rouse something — anything — from my brain, which becomes fugue-state-blank of any memory further back than twenty minutes ago, as we drown in the weird silence I’ve made. In the end, I go with the generic happy memory of “feeling safe, I suppose,” and try to explain with waffle about childhood innocence and having no concept of adult worries like money or crushing ennui as a toddler. But I can see he’s not taking nearly enough notes to cover what I’m saying, and though I try to put him at ease, he seems nervous, and eager to get away. For my earliest sad memory, I give the almost-sitcom answer of a dead goldfish, and he thanks me and runs off in such an abrupt manner, I suspect he cut the survey short.

As soon as he’s gone, a sudden, vivid memory hits me with the strength and clarity of being shot in the temple by a pier-side sniper, of my being babysat by my granddad when I was 3 or 4. Together, we built a Lego tower that seemed 100 feet high. I can see my arms reaching out and being unable to touch the top, and his big grin; though I see it toothless like it was in later years, and not how it was back then. I always remember it as being really late; dark outside and feeling like it was just the two of us left awake in the entire world; as though we’d illicitly stayed up to the middle of the night in a way that broke all of the rules my mum would have set, to construct this monstrous building together; but I’m sure it was barely past sunset. Even now, in my mind, the spire of that tower is virtually wreathed in clouds, and it’s the purest, most distilled recollection of joy to make its home in my brain. Immediately, I’m gripped by an almost overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. Why didn’t I think of it at the time? Instead, I stood there like some fucking Dickensian orphan who’d never even seen Lego, let alone had a granddad who’d built the Biggest Tower in the World with him, thirty-something years ago. I feel so awful, I have to neck a big drink of water to stop myself sobbing like a wretch.

From where I’m sat, with the raw, rotten feeling in my guts, I can see the building where my granddad spent four happy years at the end of his life; the building where he died, eighteen months ago. Part of me wants to chase the boy down and stand over him as he writes the whole thing onto his clipboard, brick by coloured brick, but I’ve put him through enough already.

** One of a group of three lads unfurls a 12ft long yellow snake from around his shoulders and lays it beside them on the grass so it can sunbathe. They take casual selfies, quickly drawing a crowd. A husband drags his wife down for a look. The owner wraps it around the husband’s neck and they pose for a picture, shoulder to shoulder, draped in writhing furs. A man with learning difficulties, enamoured, but standing at safe distance, makes hissing noises — “ssssssss…” He waves with child-like glee at the passing boat-train. An elderly couple wave back.

Actually, it wasn't this guy. He's banned from the UK for animal cruelty :(

Actually, it wasn’t this guy. He’s banned from the UK for animal cruelty :(

** Overheard conversation snippets. Little girl to her mother:

Did you really eat dog biscuits?

It was only once…

** From where I’m reading, I can see the car park. Among the day-trip coaches, there’s a quirky little retro car, like something Roger Moore would have tooled around a windy Swiss mountain road in, sending rockets blasting out of the bumper with the push of a large, red button. A green bag sits tied to the roof, suggesting this is merely one of a series of spur-of-the-moment, carefree stops around Europe.

The next time I glance up, the off-white of its chassis is darkened by the shadow of a traffic warden, writing a ticket to slide under its wiper.

** Mother to barefoot child:

Go and put your shoes on. No, you’re going to the toilet, you need your shoes. There’ll be wee all over the floor; do you want to stand in all the wee?

** A car flying a UKIP flag like it’s cheering them on in the World Cup. A seagull with an entire burger in its mouth. Once I’m in Beach Diaries mode, it’s hard not to mentally narrate every passing sight like a film noir PI. While I didn’t witness this personally, someone told me about a thing they saw last week; skip this bit if you’re eating your tea. One of the town ‘characters’ was vomiting in the high street, onto the pavement, and all over his own straggly hair. Seagulls were picking at the beery trail of puke left in his wake, and as he staggered off down the street, still being sick, more seagulls dropped out of the sky to follow him, like they do when tourists scatter uneaten chips down the riverbank. I could make a metaphor where I’m the heaving man, you’re the seagulls, and these Diaries are what you peck your little beaks at, but this chapter is already pretty bleak, so let’s keep things cordial.

** On the way home, I’m passing through an alley when I spot a bloke standing at the other end, talking on the phone, with Iceland shopping bags sprawled across the floor. With my mind rotted by scaremongering representations of youth and my own broken mistrust of people, I interpret the warning signs of a possible mugging. I’m not slipping my keys between my knuckles or anything, but merely being aware; being ready.

Picked up a DVD,” he says into the phone as I pass, “Saving Mr. Banks.”

** A kid sits on a wall of a front garden, next to a bird cage. As I get closer, I see the cage is empty, and its door wide open. The boy on the wall makes whistling and clicking noises out into the street. A few hours out in that mocking summer world and I figure the bird will be yearning for the bars again.

A week later, there are hand-drawn posters stuck to all the nearby lamp posts for a missing budgie. Who’s a pretty boy?


The Beach Diaries have been running since 2011, spawning the two Kindle books you see above. Both are available on Amazon, for the price of a pint, and I highly recommend you buy them, because I like money.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on Amazon.co.uk$2.99 on Amazon.com

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on Amazon.co.uk$3.99 on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did last year. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

And 2014: #1, #2

The Bell Has Been Saved

•December 8, 2014 • 1 Comment

If you saw my last post on here, my sumptuous retrospective of Saved by the Bell was in fatal jeopardy, so I turned to you — at this point, imagine a giant, Lord Kitchener finger poking through the screen, causing you to lean back in your seat. Summoning that Muppet spirit of “C’mon, gang, let’s put on a show!”, the metaphorical evil property developers, represented by the deathbed rattle of a dying computer, were bested by what, even I, in my status as overgrown misanthrope can only describe as the human spirit, and like that, my Bayside book is back on.

I don’t know what I expected from that post, but it certainly wasn’t the incredible flood of generosity that sprang forth. Each email or message was supportive, and nobody called me a digital hobo or told me to go fuck myself with a claw hammer. In the huge, wonderful list of people who’d been kind enough to donate, I saw names I knew well, and names I didn’t recognise at all; I saw people I talk to all the time, and those I hadn’t spoken to in years; I saw people I knew couldn’t afford to be slinging money in outward directions, but who were doing it all the same. Every name a band-aid on my battered, crumbled, black heart.

There’s a line from My Dinner with Andre, attributed to Ingmar Bergman, that goes “I could always live in my art, but not in my life.” This is where I’m at. Day to day, while I’m drowning in the utterly overwhelming, hopeless depression that’s now a permanent part of me; like a heavy, smelly coat with a broken zip that’s too tight to get off by pulling it over my head; writing for 12, 14, 16 hours a day is the fingers in the ears “la la la, can’t hear you” that gets me through. My work is where I hide. It’s where I exist. The only place I exist. There are no other parts to me. I don’t want to poke my head above the parapet and see the unhappy wreck of my real life. Consequently, I topped 250k words in the first ten months of the year. It’s a good motivator.

Almost always, especially in the daily hustle of being an ‘indie author’, it feels like you’re shouting yourself bloody into an empty well, and it’s all been for nothing. So, to know that enough people give a shit, and want to see me finish at least this one project, well, it’s a big thing for me. A huge thing. And I want people to understand that. People who donated. People who retweeted and shared the link. People who did want me to put a claw hammer right up there but kept their mouths shut anyway.


“Let’s help this fuckin’ dickbag publish his book about Screech!”

It’s taken a while to gather myself enough to get back on the horse because a) the coat with the broken zip, and b) I got super sick the day I put up the last post, and proceeded to not sleep at all for about two weeks. I will get around to thanking everyone individually at some point, but for now, please accept this sickly, gushing blog. That said, I did return from my internet hiatus to find that the word ‘bae’ is still being used, but you can’t have everything, I suppose.

Presumably there’s not a single reader out there who doesn’t want me to immediately cease with this meandering me-me-me shit and get back to stuff about Hulk Hogan’s penis or compiling the Top 10 Best Pop Culture Farts. As you wish.

Incidentally, there’s no film list this year. This is unrelated to the recent catastrophe, and more just a time issue (those things eat up a solid month). But I’ll probably name my favourites on Twitter at some point, so look out for that.

Alright. Back to it. Cos I gotta bury the real world beneath the words.

The Laziest Kickstarter Part II: Save Bayside

•November 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

You might be wondering where’s the Saved by the Bell book I promised before year’s end. It was due to be available for pre-order next week, for release in January. But recently, its status went from:

Released Jan 2015


Posponed indefinitely.

It was 95% done, and I was just tightening up the 170,000 words and about to get onto the cover, when my computer died.

As a one man band — writing, editing, cover images, promotion — I’m snared in a catch 22. I need a computer to write and promote my work, but without one, I’m unable to raise the money for a replacement. Let alone other stuff like, you know, food. Bottom line is, without this, I’m effectively done. Never in a billion years of my current situation could I cobble together the cash, not without this book.

Believe it or not, Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal just about paid the bills (and no more than that) for six months. Since the computer died and I’ve been unable to promote it, it’s sold a single copy. The SBTB book was already a financial make-or-break. Without it, I have no idea where I even go from here. Except down. Fast and hard.

I feel like I’ve constructed something people are going to absolutely love. It’s the most comprehensive look at Saved by the Bell ever, and the sitcom genre, among the many other topics it takes on. There’s a super detailed history of the show’s production, before and after, and I’ve dug up a ton of stuff that’s never been revealed before. There’s also, in what’s likely the big selling point, an exhaustive, episode-by-episode deconstruction, of all 86 shows. It’s a truly monstrous work — 3x the size of Smoke & Mirrors… — and by far the best thing I’ve ever done.

Unfortunately, the only way it, and any other future releases, can ever see the light of day is with help, so I’ve put a Paypal donation link at the end of this post, should you kindly like to help see that happen. Maybe it feels a bit less like begging for the focus to be on the finishing of a (potentially) crowdfunded project, especially as that’s how this all began anyway. That’s how I’ll settle it in my head when I’m laying awake tonight.

Incidentally, I’m writing this post on a borrowed netbook with the RAM of a 1980’s calculator watch. I don’t own a phone, so I’ve no way of accessing the internet besides five minutes here and there on other people’s laptops. I’m completely out of the loop. For all I know, mankind’s colonised Mars, and lovely, sweet old Bill Cosby’s gotten caught up in a sex scandal.

Anyway, seeing as this is a quasi-kickstarter, what are the perks? I can’t really offer anything, outside of mildly-early-release PDF copies, but who ever wanted a PDF, even a free one? The only perk is knowing you’ll have saved this book, and my very existence on this planet.

I know times have never been tighter, and I know we’re all feeling it. I know there’s barely a spare bean to go around, especially not on frivolous nonsense like Mr. Belding’s tour of duty in Vietnam. I know it’s the 21st century and people still can’t afford to eat. I know this because I live this. As I twist my cap in my hands, it’s meant as a ”if you can, and you want to,” and if you do feel you’d like to toss something — anything — towards me to get this book out, then no matter how small, I couldn’t be more grateful. If not, then of course, we’re still cool, homeslice. And hey, maybe one of my followers is an eccentric billionaire.

I’m not putting a target goal up here because I have no expectations (beside a flood of messages telling me to fuck myself with a clawhammer), and there’s nothing sadder than a lovingly desperate Kickstarter with its progress bar stalled at 1%. Also because this netbook doesn’t have a pound sign key. Whatever a new desktop PC costs I guess.

I wish I could fully put across how much I hate that I’m doing this. I’m agonising over the existence of this post. I’m agonising over its wording (”am I sounding like an entitled prick?”) It puts a heavy, rotten feeling at the pit of my guts. I absolutely would not consider it unless I was out of options. I’m out of options.


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