Roger Corman’s Game of Thrones

•July 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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Despite its enormous popularity, most people don’t realise that HBO’s take on George R. R. Martin’s work is not the first time Game of Thrones has made it to the screen. Some decades before, in 1963, famed independent film-maker Roger Corman had his own crack at the material, with an adaptation that’s been virtually erased in the wake of its more famous, fresher-faced relative.

Corman’s ‘The Game of Thrones‘ — the change from ‘A Game…’ being far from the last deviation from the source material — is a forgotten piece of the GoT canon, much like the 1988 Bourne Identity film, which pre-dates the Matt Damon franchise, or Corman’s own, unreleased Fantastic Four movie. While a 21st century HBO had the budget, and advances in VFX, to fully render the scope and scale of Westeros as it’d been imagined, Corman’s adaptation saw five volumes crammed into 90, under-budgeted minutes of b-movie, resulting in a heavily condensed, and often nonsensical sprint through the material. That said, many of your favourite characters feature in some form, with surprisingly coherent retellings of major plotlines. Wobbly VHS copies were traded at comic conventions in the late 80s, before an original print was briefly released on DVD in China in 2012, until HBO’s legal team stepped in.

The first two acts cut between happenings in King’s Landing, Jon Snow at The Wall, and Daenerys’ story across the narrow sea. Corman’s film moves through the plot of the first book at a brisk pace, covering Robert’s death in the first ten minutes, with an unseen Ned killed offscreen.

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Robert Baratheon

The story then shifts focus onto the character of Tywin Lannister, thanks mainly to the big-name casting of Vincent Price.

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Vincent Price as Tywin Lannister

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Varys and Tywin

Dany, played by a young Jane Asher, was initially to follow her book journey with the Dothraki, but when Bernard Bresslaw — blacked up as Khal Drogo — fell ill the day before shooting, hasty rewrites led to material from the second book/season making its way onscreen instead.

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Daenerys Targaryen

Following the introductory bath, Dany’s arc follows the familiar beats of travelling to Quath, losing her dragons, and encountering a mysterious masked figure (Quaithe), who leads her to the House of the Undying to reclaim her children.

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“Remember who you are, Daenerys. The dragons know. Do you?”

Budgetary restrictions are obvious in this sequence, and though it’s imbued with a typically Corman sense of the dreamlike, the final reveal of the dragons as a pair of unmoving models is twee by today’s standards.

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The House of the Undying

Meanwhile, a rather clean-looking Jon begins his training at the Night’s Watch.

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Jon Snow

He quickly rises to the rank of Lord Commander, and executes Janos Slynt.

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“Edd, fetch me a block.”

The Wall itself, particularly during the Wildling attack sequence, is by far the biggest casualty of budget.

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The Wall

The battle is won thanks to the magick of Melisandre.

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Melisandre

Though the lean running time left scant wriggle-room for subtle performances, actor Willy Creamer’s turn as Tyrion, a perfect blend of scheming dignity and sick burns, was surely a model for Peter Dinklage.

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Tyrion

The relationship between Tyrion and Varys, which is much the same as would be later portrayed, is a particular highlight.

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Tyrion and Varys

Though Tyrion’s make-up, when later disfigured during the Battle of the Blackwater, leaves a lot to be desired.

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“Don’t fight for riches. Because you won’t get any.”

His marriage with Sansa did make it onscreen, and actually stuck closer to the source material, with Sansa much younger than her TV equivalent.

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Tyrion and Sansa

Ghost, the only other remaining Stark to feature, appears alongside the couple, but was recast as a tamer breed, after a real wolf bit a background extra’s knee off.

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“Ghost. To me.”

The Purple Wedding goes down, as it would some fifty years later.

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Joffrey (r)

After which, Tyrion eventually makes it to Daenerys’ side in Meereen…

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“Can I drink myself to death on the road to Mereen?”

…and accelerating past GRRM’s work, brings her back to King’s Landing. The casting of Price led Corman to play around with the timing, and see Tywin still living, to unveil Dany to the court of King’s Landing.

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Tywin presents Dany

Before Jon arrives to ask for Dany’s hand in marriage, so they might rule the seven kingdoms together.

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She’s your auntie, you dirty bastard

Anyway, I’m sure it’s out there on somewhere if you look hard enough, if you can drag yourself away from that video of the iguana farting in the bath for more than five seconds, you deviant.

Here’s some more pop-culture writing by me that you might like. Click on the covers to go buy them.

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The Beach Diaries 2016 — #3 in an Occasional Series

•June 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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Your mum goes to parties?!” says an aghast teenage girl to her friend, with the open-mouthed shock of somebody interviewing the only witness to a bank robbery committed by three cats stood on each other’s shoulders.

I know,” replies the friend, “so weird, right?!” I bet the mum’s ancient; like 35, which is basically halfway in your coffin. How embarrassing!

There’s a big school outing of children and teachers all dressed as pirates. Well, how a pirate would be interpreted by the Beano or Dandy, anyway. Skull-n-crossbones bandanas, hoop earrings, and plastic swords, with a fluttering Jolly Roger sticking out of the sand. Lazily, none of them have bothered to shoot for realism and contract scurvy, so to enhance their experience, I leap down from the promenade, with an aggressive cry of “I’m the captain now!” My new gang of child-thieves lash the teachers to the breakwater by the rising tide, before we storm the amusements, tipping the 2p slide machine on its side, and making our escape with the loot. You know, in my mind.

I give off such an aura of thuggery, it’s rare that a stranger in need of a seat will take the unoccupied end of a bench on which I’m sat. Even here, on the most sought-after bench in the entire town — perhaps even world — at the furthest end of the pier, facing out to sea, and at point of its peak value, high tide, where it’s like sitting in the middle of the ocean, a gentleman would rather unfold his own chair than park himself beside me to eat his sandwiches. Though if he does risk an interaction at this point, I’m fucked.

What are you writing about in your notepad there, mate?

“(Don’t say ‘you, and your little chair and your sandwiches’…) Oh, just a load of ol’ racism and vile sexual stuff…

No wonder nobody wants to sit next to me.

To amuse his grandson, an old man pushes a small toy bus all the way along the rail on the riverbank, making appropriately enginey brum-brum noises, and changing key when he moves up a gear.

Years ago, I invented a fun game to play, if you’re down at the beach by yourself like a lonely wretch, right as the tides are changing. Look for the wet part of sand, marking where the tide has previously touched it. This is the sea’s Personal Best. Now, you mentally cheer the waves, clapping them onto set a new PB. Will it push itself higher up the sand and on to salty glory, or be tantalisingly just out of reach? Oh what an exhilarating thrill!

I suppose another fun game might be to go to the beach with someone you like spending time with, and having nice chats and interactions with them, but getting into that is like making the fucking Olympic team, so c’mon, the sea, you can do it!

While for comedy purposes, these pieces may work better if I paint myself as a wandering loner and potential Sutcliffe, in the interests of full disclosure, despite the above paragraph, later in the week, I actually do go to the beach with a friend. It’s way better than playing the Ocean PB game, or taking lonely strolls to the toilets to check if there’s any new cottaging graffiti.

A super lovely day, it also differs from the rest of these diaries by our hitting the west side of the beach, across the river from my usual note-taking. As told in a previous entry, the west beach is sometimes known for its array of naturists, entirely of the middle-aged man variety, standing about with their hands on their hips, with an “oh, is my nob out? I hadn’t noticed” look on their faces.

And so, as we stroll about this delightful day, amid the powder blue skies and quiet beauty of nature, the pink heads of naked men, like a native species of dune-dwelling wildlife, pop up above the rushes we pass, meerkat-like, giving the feel of a rather disgusting Whack-a-Mole game. At one point, I completely lose my flow mid-sentence, and have to apologise with “Sorry. Just saw an old man’s cock.”

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Sam is very smelly” says some graffiti.

Pussyhole” says more, elsewhere.

Ham” reads a tag on a shelter, presumably sprayed by a pig or a prime minister.

Piss” cries a wall.

It feels like a storyteller’s scavenger hunt, seeking out the scattered words of a fable and piecing them together. At the moment, it’s all so scatological, it may very well be one of mine.

Later in the week, there’s more.

— “CALL 999” written on the ground next to the mock chalk outline of a dead body.

— “[name redacted] IS A PROPER MILF

— Perhaps the biggest chalk penis I’ve ever seen, drooping across the entire side of the shelter, with the word “CUM” drawn beneath the helmet. Interesting. Writing the actual word takes more effort than drawing a droplet of cum itself. Perhaps they weren’t confident enough in their art skills for the potential audience to differentiate between cum and piss. Those are the artistic risks one takes when adding cum to the image of a penis that has been rendered as flaccid.

— On the “NO CLIMBING” sign, the NO has been crossed out and replaced with an anarchic chalk YES.

— Lastly, in another huge daubing, “FREE CONOR MCGREGOR #UFC200

Once again alone, on the tide-out, early morning desert of the abandoned beach, I find what can only be described as a seaside Christmas tree. Its spindly driftwood trunk has been pushed into the sand, on a base-bed of pebbles, with seaweed deliberately draped from its branches like tinsel. It’s like something from True Detective season 3, where I team up with Louis Theroux to solve a murder-by-drowning linked to Satanic cult activity infiltrating the local coastguards.

It’s a flat circle…”

What is, time?”

Sorry, no; just saw an old man’s cock.”

Over the years, I’ve amassed a very small collection of shells and rocks. About once a summer, I’ll find something interesting enough to pocket. A perfectly round little planet. A fairy’s footprint. A witch’s finger. This year, it’s a pebble that, when wet, perfectly resembles an organ from the human body, say, a liver, or a heart. I needed a replacement anyway. And this one seems unbreakable.

It is of course illegal to remove pebbles or sand from the beach, and I rush to get this up on the blog, as an array of red dots has appeared on my chest, but hopefully I can hit the ‘post’ button before the SWAT team come bursting into the room–

I’M UNARMED! I’M UNAR

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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 three years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

In 2015: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6

And this year: #1, #2

The Beach Diaries 2016 — #2 in an Occasional Series

•May 19, 2016 • 1 Comment

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An old lady waves over the railing at the crew of a lifeboat idling along the river, who all return the gesture. I’m fascinated by the human instinct to wave at anybody who happens to be passing by on an open-topped vehicle; say, carnival princesses or Christmas mascots. Such a position obviously grants one a strange mixture of authority and approachability, while the leisurely, yet unwavering movement imbues the audience with a sense of urgency; of time’s limitless march — “Better wave now while I have the chance. Once they get past Lidl, it’ll be too late. Plus, we’ll all be dead one day.” Could this be weaponised somehow? Could we parachute badly-made carnival floats into warzones and see ISIS drop their guns to free up their hands for a bit of waving to employees of the local St Barnabas dressed as the Spice Girls; leaving their mortars empty to greet a mayor in an ill-fitting SpongeBob outfit?

Silly girl,” says a man, to a small, bemused Jack Russell, in that baby-voice people use to talk to dogs, but laced with genuine chiding. “Silly girl!” Then, he squats down to ask the question straight at her upturned muzzle, “Who’s a silly girl?” I can still hear him admonishing her as I get far into the distance.

What’s that quote? “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.”

Like most of it, a piece of graffiti on the back of the men’s toilet door invites anonymous sex, and leaves a contact number. But added at the bottom in parenthesis is “I HAVE VD

This reminds me of the entirely medically accurate wall-scrawl I saw at a service station recently:

CAN I SUCK YOUR COCK OR LICK YOUR WIFES CLIT AFTER YOU HAVE CUM IN IT?

Found a huge mat of dried seaweed the size of a living room rug, which makes me want to carpet the entire flat with it and march about like Neptune.

This time of year, and down at the quiet end, the beach is almost empty, except for a guy sat nearby, who’s etching into a pad with a stick of charcoal. He’s glanced across at me enough times to suggest I’m part of the artwork. It takes me back to being 11 or 12, when I was on the school council. No, I can’t really recall what that was, either. I just remember being voted as the house representative for my year, and that pupils had all the actual power of election voters (satire!), so I’m presuming it was nothing but vetoed suggestions of vending machines filled with Pepsi and mucky books, or cutting the school day to half an hour a week. Regardless, I’m sure it was a super cool and hunky way to spend one lunchtime a month. Anyway, literally the only remaining memory of it is being sat across from an older kid who was doodling on a sheet of A4 while looking intently in my direction, and half-laughing in a way that made it clear he was drawing a caricature of me.

As a short, fat, curly-haired 11-year-old, whose appearance saw him dubbed ‘Nigel Lawson’ after the grotesque then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, I made sure to exit the room as soon as the meeting was over, so’s not to catch sight of the etching, where my exaggerated features would further squash my feeble self-esteem.

As I write this paragraph, I’m utterly besieged by those little black flies, swarming about me and on me. I completely lose my cool, and to any witnesses, I’m basically just screaming “fuck off!” at imaginary assailants, while furiously slapping and scratching at my own flesh. They’re in my hair, they’re on my face; one of them gets snorted straight up my nose, causing me to let out a big bear-growl of distress and leap to my feet while retching. If the beach-side artist does somehow find the courage to warily approach, I’m sure his latest work “Portrait of a Raving Lunatic at Low Tide” will at least have a frenetic energy about it.

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Me and my lunchbox on the first day of school

I find the better part of an old tree washed up on the shingle. It’s gnarled and sea-worn, like a Victorian sea monster; buckled limbs and a tapered neck; a twisted tree worthy of in-his-prime Tim Burton. I feel I must have it, this tree corpse, but it’s taller than me, and very heavy.

I could drag it the miles back home, up the pebbles and onto the prom, that rasping sound of dead, black wood scraping against concrete. School parties watching, the deckchair man not looking up from his paper. People standing aside along the river, but nobody offering to help; feeling they don’t want to intrude on a private ritual. Some take photos, less sneakily than they think. Then, through the town, past the shops, busy on a hot day like today, where a stroll turns into a stop-start inspection of stranger’s backs, and now there’s a sweating man pulling an eight foot dead tree and it’s getting caught on benches and dog leads, scattering coffee shop pigeons, heaving across roads as backed up cars wait for it to slither across the kerb, spilling scabs of bark and dry splinters. Finally, force it through the front door, and up the steps. Clunking, ragged breathing, sweat patting against my jeans, where I wrench it into my bed, pull the duvet over us both, and snuggle up tight.

But I have to leave it, hoping the tide will deposit it closer next time I’m here. Hopefully when the floods come, it’ll find its way home.

Looking for a low-impact exercise that tells the world “Why yes, I do have diarrhoea!”? Then power-walking is the one for you!

Chalk” reads a piece of chalk graffiti on the prom. Very meta.

I probably shouldn’t have touched and licked the one in ‘crayon’ that said “Shit” on the toilet wall.

A red warning sign jutting out of the river orders the reader “Don’t forget your kill cord”. Who am I, the Hillside Strangler? Never leave home without it.

Another says “NO WASH”. I think I’ve got enough flies around me today already, thanks.

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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 three years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

In 2015: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6

And this year: #1

The Beach Diaries 2016 — #1 in an Occasional Series

•May 9, 2016 • 2 Comments

tin woodman

The sun is out, and I’m beach body ready!*

*ready for my body to be found washed up on the beach

Within the first hot weekend, ant-like swarms of humanity once again fill the place that was so pleasingly empty and so pleasingly mine over the winter months. Literal fair-weather friends, they see every cliché immediately spring into life, like someone flicked the beach and all its automaton cast back on, after a winter’s slumber; creaking and dusty in their unlit warehouse.

A boy walking on the bench is told “One more warning, and we’re going home.” An angry sound comes from the pink face of a fat, shirtless man with a bald head, as a wind-blown child’s bubble pops against his forehead. I move from my first spot on the grass when I notice I’m sat right by a dog turd. Welcome home.

Will these even work now? The Beach Diaries always came from my place as a flesh-covered Tin Man; the eternal outsider; but since the last entry, there was an… incident. Unexpected feelings magicked abstract concepts into tangible realities, and turned the wooden creation that last clacked along the prom into a real boy. However fleeting a sojourn into Other Worlds, these are things that can’t be unseen. Everything looks different now; feels different. I want to go back, but I can’t. I’m trapped here now, with the rest of you.

Okay, that’s enough penis-talk,” admonishes a mum to a boy. Or maybe she was talking to me. If so, fair point.

If you thought the previous year’s diaries were too laden down in the existential crisis I’d felt in the wake of my exhausting last book, then I’ve got some bad news. Along with the ‘issues’ relating to two paragraphs up, I’m a few days gone from turning 37; a sour number, particularly to those who thought — 10 naïve, hopeful years ago — that they would forge a career in the arts. Each birthday adds another round of admired artists and celebrities to the self-destructive, Wikipedia-checking game of “by the time X was my age, they’d already X and Y.” Chris Morris was 29 when he did On the Hour. 35 when he made Brasseye. Werner Herzog shot Aguirre at the age of 30. It’s also now gotten to where I’ve slowly outgrown all the people I held up as examples of making it late. I’m good, I thought, I’ve got eight more years. Then three. Then, oops, now I’ve passed them too.

Is there someone out there who finds similar prodding in my having birthed out 7 books out by 35? If there is, it’s not me. January marked 10 years since the release of my first paperback, and at the time, I mentally gave myself a decade to make it work. Having since chased my dreams straight into the gutter, with a succession of titles that always felt like ‘the one’, but never were, when that clock ran out a few months ago, I made the choice to stop. I promptly abandoned the (series of) novel(s) set in a 1980’s American wrestling company, that I’d spent months and tens-of-thousands of words on, and which honestly felt like great work, but also like a fucking slog. Book by book, I’ve been losing my life in year-long chunks, and no matter how satisfying or exciting the actual writing part, I knew I’ve had the unavoidable promoting process ahead of me, if I wanted anyone to see it. That’s the part I loathe; the part I am terrible at; the part which turned writing into horrible, soul-destroying toil; the part which made me hate the one thing I love, and the one thing I can do.

I mentioned above I’d chased my dreams into the gutter, but that’s not really true. The dream was never really to write books. I just got sidelined. I always wanted to write and make movies, intending to use the books as a financial springboard to get my spec scripts out there, or shoot small things myself and work my way up. Instead, I ended up with neither the money, nor even the time to pursue that anyway. So now I’m 37, without so much as a self-shot short to my name. Random Youtubers X through 1,000,00X were probably 6 when they first stuck a ten-minute short online. It’s time to move on, to be relatively normal, to, I dunno, get a regular job and work on scripts in the toilets or as I’m falling asleep over my keyboard at night like the rest of the dreamers. But if I don’t make something, every atom in my body is going to explode.

Was it a gradual transformation that saw these things become about 10% beach/90% diary? Now I’m free of Kindle-based obligations, I’ll endeavour to seek out more of other people’s madnesses, than focussing on the tedious, self-obsessed shit that’s rattling around inside my skull.

Overheard conversation snippets:

…Neil Morrissey playing Indiana Jones…”

A line of chips lay in a row along the edge of the prom, leading into an open plastic bucket which lays on its side. I watch for a while, but nobody falls for such an obvious trap. What are they hoping to capture? A tiny little tourist? A sand-gnome? A seagull? If it’s the latter, I’d expect to soon see somebody staggering along the pebbles, bleeding from empty eye-sockets, and screaming “What Hell hath I wrought?”, because seagulls be crazy. That said, a baby seagull got trapped in my chimney last summer, and after rescuing him, he seemed friendly enough that I still have fantasies of emerging from the ocean with three now-grown gull-children at my back, like Daenerys Targaryen meets Kes, and taking back my beach from all the fair-weather invaders.

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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 two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

And in 2015: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6

A Decade of (Artistic & Financial) Destruction

•January 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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A couple of weeks ago — although it passed me by because I could have sworn it came out in April ’06 — was the tenth anniversary of my first paperback, Frantic Planet: Volume I‘s release into the wilds. As time goes on, I’m ever-more impressed by young-me’s blend of confidence and utter naivety in writing and releasing a book when I had no idea what I was doing; and at how fearlessly I assumed everybody would love it, and that I’d be living in a Hollywood mansion within six months.

I do not live in a Hollywood mansion, but I am still writing, and other than pre-FP fiddling around with blogs, websites, and Ian Beale erotica, Frantic Planet essentially marked zero day of my status as a self-described writer. In creating it, I found my voice, and my purpose, and everything that’s been written and read since, came as a result of its conception, construction, and the reaction to it.

So with that waffle out of the way, I thought I’d share-slash-collate a selection of the best posts on this blog (of which there are 271), some of which were well-read at the time, while others slipped through the cracks.

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Most famously, there’s The Mad Lies of Hulk Hogan; a post which went viral and lead to me being blocked on Twitter by my own childhood hero. He eventually forgave me, but when this did the rounds again after the recent n-bomb business, Hulk Hogan took time out of his day to think about Millard, and what a bad seed he is. Re-Blocked, Brother.

Other wrestle-nerd things you might like are an early dissection of Bray Wyatt’s character, an obit of the Ultimate Warrior, and the anti-masturbation PSAs WWF Magazine definitely put out in the 80s. Plus Andre the Giant wearing ladies bras as sunglasses.

This post about the crazy, mostly anti-Semitic theories from David Icke’s followers about the life and death of Jimmy Savile, lead to almost two years of hilarious abuse from conspiracy mentalists, over hundreds of comments, emails and tweets. Although I did turn that abuse into publicity.

Funnily, the very first content on this blog, 7 years ago, was the Summer of Savile, where I picked apart Jim’ll’s autobiography as part of a running art project, back when he was still alive and yet to be outed as a deranged necro-nonce. The SoS ended up becoming a strange footnote in Savile history. After the first accusations came out, it became clear that his long-out-of-print autobiography was filled with ‘in plain sight’ anecdotes about schoolgirls and the like. As a result of the extracts I’d used, there was a mad rush to my blog, which had suddenly become the biggest online repository of the barely-veiled admissions of modern history’s worst ever sex-case. (Which would happen again with the publication of the Beach Diaries etc etc)

There’s also this piece, about the cultural oddity of Tommy Wiseau and his opus The Room.

And this series, about 3 songs that would make for awesome movies. Part I. Part II. Part III.

And this, culled from my most recent book, Buzzfeed style, featuring the 10 most sociopathic acts of Saved by the Bell‘s Zack Morris.

Then, possibly my favourite post on here ever, a look at the amazing, and artfully aggressive mind of Yoko Ono, via her Tweets.

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There’s this piece about the medieval werewolf trials that went on in Europe.

And the uncles I discovered on Chatroulette, back when that was a thing.

Here’s some local councillors who are very serious about potholes.

Most of the fiction has been scrubbed from here for the book Dirt Baby, but here’s a tiny piece of flash fiction about love, of all things, called Harpo’s Bowl.

Though its original piece can now only be found in Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal, here’s my exclusive interview with forgotten kung fu cultist, and the man no prison could hold, James Hydrick.

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As time went on, I did what most people do with age, and began to look inward. Then I did what people do next, and turned that outward to witter on about myself right into people’s bored, horrified faces.

The Beach Diaries, which started out as purely voyeuristic observation, ended up revealing more about me than the humanity I was observing, and if I have a trademark I’m known for, then it’s these. There are so many, it’s hard to pick a ‘best’, but I really like this one, which, over the course of a single day, seems to encapsulate every facet of Englishness.

Charles Manson and the Twenty-Fourth Trimester deals with the devoting of years and years to a project which never sees the light of day, and the mental toll it takes, especially when most of those years were spent trying to method-write as the mind of Charles fucking Manson.

Lastly, a couple of me-me-me pieces, beginning with a post tackling my issues with anxiety and overcoming them.

And to finish off, another rare brush with feelings, with what happened recently when your favourite coal-hearted robot-man fell for someone super, super hard.

All seven of my books are available right now on the Kindle for nominal fees, so please do check them out if the stuff here has tickled your interest. In order of release:

Frantic Planet: Volume I

Frantic Planet: Volume II

Dirt Baby and Other Small Mercies

The Beach Diaries 2011

The Beach Diaries 2012

Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal: The Burning Pants of Popular Culture

So Excited, So Scared; the Saved by the Bell Retrospective

And if you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s free app for phones, tablets, and computers

Here’s Your Answer

•January 19, 2016 • 18 Comments

roddy_piper

Last summer, the me of 2015 wrote this, on the topic of romantic feelings and love and whatnot.

Having never had that, caught as I am in the midst of this weird existential crisis, I find myself wondering what it’s like; that thing of knowing someone you like likes you back. It’s a thing which drives so much art, with the entire world chasing that feeling of reciprocation; of a magnetic pull instead of push, even on the small, simple level where you’re aware that someone of whom you think “she’s nice” thinks “he’s nice” in return. I wonder if there’s a specific feeling tied to that; a unique emotion that can later be called upon with sense-memory whiffs of a familiar aftershave or the opening bar to a song you once listened to together in the dark?

Part of me is curious to feel that before I die, just once, as a vague emotional bucket listing, seeing as it’s clearly such a central and driving part of the human experience. But I think it’s better not to know. You never hear anybody say “Took a big puff of crack, but I decided it wasn’t for me.” They’re always toothless and sunset-eyed; a decade more haggard then their forgotten school chums, after years of the obsessive, elusive hunt to recapture the sensations of that first high. Who wants to spend the rest of their life weighed down by that?

You feel so strong, don’t you, summer 2015 Millard? So cocky and untouchable? You’ve spent your time on Earth alone, but it doesn’t matter, because feelings and reciprocation and peace and happiness and safety; these are just abstract concepts, no more tangible than other things you’ve only seen in movies, like time machines or Robocop. You don’t have to worry about them, because they don’t exist. They’re the monsters lurking beneath the empty bed.

So what happens if somebody suddenly makes them all real?

The moment you see her, you’ll know you’re fucked. It’s like being hit in the forehead with a hammer. Your whole adult life, you’ve lived by the Buddhist Tenet “All Suffering is Born of Desire,” and worked a strict system, where you stayed away from anybody you found attractive, or removed yourself from a person altogether if you felt the distant, oncoming stirring of a tiny feeling. “Nothing can grow unless you let it,” you always said, “It’s easy. Just don’t be around someone. It’s not school. We’re not trapped together anymore. We can do what we like. Run.” But this time, it’s like having trained all your life as a master swordsman only to step on a landmine. Your defences are gone.

It’s not like you become a couple, or anything remotely close, but you do find that connection people talk about; sing about; write poetry and compose symphonies about; after a lifetime of being dead and empty. That impossibly rare connection. It’s overwhelming, and it’s intense, and it’s the most incredible thing you’ve ever felt, and strangest of all, it’s actually happening. You weren’t laughed at or shouted at or told to go fuck yourself, or shown that expression that says “I’m embarrassed for the both of us,” like all past experience would suggest.

It’s happening, and after always being alone – though you didn’t truly appreciate that until now – being an alien who fell to Earth; the ghost at the feast; suddenly you feel connected. You feel part of something. You feel at home. You’ll never have felt such kinship or understanding, nor such a bond made so quickly; nor such overpowering desire. You’ll want to protect and devour in equal measure. To drink her in with your eyes. It’ll be like looking at the sun, knowing if you stare too long, you’ll go blind; you’ll turn to ash. But you can’t look away, so eventually, that’s what happens. Enjoy the rest of the summer, as soon you’ll be brittle ash, blowing apart in the breeze.

Even in the moment, you’re aware that it’s a billion times bigger to you than it is to her. You’re a 14-year-old boy in an adult’s body, with emotional arrested development rendering small things and little moments enormous, where words and glances and touches become sensory nukes. But even so, there’s a day where you learn, for the first time in your 36 years, what it is to be genuinely, honestly happy. This caused a permanent seismic shift in the way you saw the world. The scales fell from your eyes. Roddy Piper beat you up for half an hour, then put the sunglasses on your face.

Of course, you’ll let your mind run away with things. You’ll break another self-imposed rule; the rule against false hope, by imagining this might go somewhere, and what would that be like? What if it’s not just some momentary aberration? What if you got to explore this bond, and hold and make happy and even kiss this amazing, amazing, most beautiful girl? You know you shouldn’t think that way. Those things don’t happen, not to you, and if you picture them, when the truth comes, you land from a far greater height. But you can’t help yourself. It’s intoxicating. You’d slipped, and were falling so, so fast. But you weren’t afraid, because you felt safe with her. You felt at home. So you let it all go, all of it. All the fear, all the instincts to run because you did not belong in this world; the knowledge that this couldn’t happen, and it would break you. You let go.

But you don’t belong in that world. You were not made for that. Your fear when you wrote that quote at the top was that the only way you’d get to know was some cruel joke by the Universe, to show you once and whip it away, just long enough to appreciate the weight of what you’d have to carry with you for the rest of your days. And now it’s all free. Everything you’ve kept safely locked away behind infinity-feet-thick lead walls for the last fifteen years has been let loose. The bottle is broken, and the coloured and acrid smokes are lost to the winds.

So now, those fleeting days of your life which were your best; your happiest; will become a poison, eating you alive from the inside. Memories which briefly elated you and made you feel warm and full will flash into your mind like a sudden fist to the throat. The scent of somebody on your clothes will choke you. The empty space they left will drown you. What fractured sleep you can grab is done beneath the blaring television, in a weak attempt to shout down the echo of things that were said; to hide from the shapes that smother you in the silence. Her eyes will look at you from the dark spots of your brain, the way she looked at you, once, and never will again. Her flesh and her bones and her scent is elsewhere – not with you – but the ghost of her presence, of her eyes, her laugh, her warmth, will haunt you.

Keep that pain close, slightly-younger me, so that you never chase those things again. They are not for you.

At least you have your answer, me of 2015. It would be better not to know. Because it will leave you with an enormous black hole, sitting over your shoulder. A black hole of everything you now know exists, and will never have again. You can’t unsee. You can’t unfeel. Everything is different, and you can never go back.

But you knew that already. And you’ll still do all of this anyway. Everyone does.

So Excited, So Scared — Teen Line

•October 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The following is a sample from my 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.

And for more samples from the book:

So Excited, So Scared — Screech’s Woman

So Excited, So Scared — Pinned to the Mat

The Ten Most Sociopathic Acts of Zack Morris

Teen Line

This young lady is handicapped…

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The opening of this Universe-T episode sees Zack saunter down the staircase, steal a bite of a nerd’s breakfast, get distracted by a girl’s ass in tight jeans and follow her, giving her a well-received nod of “well done for the nice ass,” before sliding into Belding’s office, in one of those ‘get this cool guy’ introductions.

It’s time for the kids to decide on the annual seniors community service project, and while I’m sure Zack and Slater would prefer to dole out free door-to-door breast exams, Tori suggests a teen line and rap room. Much like the teen line in 1-900-Crushed, it would allow kids to talk to other kids anonymously about their problems, while a rap room — a phrase that thankfully results in no misunderstood rhyme-dropping — is a face-to-face version of the same concept.

With the teen line in place, Tori runs off a list of rules, barring its operators from asking for real names, home phone numbers, or to meet the callers. A blackboard visible at the back of the classroom lists eight different phone numbers for the various issues on which to call the untrained, unqualified highschool kids.

SUICIDE PREVENTION

CHILD ABUSE

DRUG ABUSE

RUNAWAYS

OVEREATERS

ALCOHOLICS

SEXUAL ABUSE

CHILDREN OF DIVORCE

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Hands up who’s horrifically unqualified to talk to abuse victims

Yeah, that’s who you want to confide in when you’re necking a bottle of sleeping pills because your father molested you; Screech. Zack’s probably manning the sexual abuse line so he can jerk off over the deets. Proving that he should never be left in a position of authority, Zack’s first call, from a girl called Melissa struggling with her overprotective parents, sees him complimenting her on her sexy voice, and telling her to set back all the clocks in her parents’ house to sneakily extend her curfew, which is the same scam the Gremlins used to get fed after midnight. Then he finds out where she lives and talks her into a date at The Max.

Tori scalds him for breaking the rules, but ain’t nobody getting in the way of his excitable wang. Zack arrives to find Melissa already waiting for him, and sat at a table. He tells her how pretty she is and invites her over to the jukebox to pick out some music. When he turns around, in a moment used as the cliff-hanger break to commercial, it’s revealed that she’s in a wheelchair.

Whoa! You’re in a wheelchair!” gasps Zack, setting the tone for his open-mouthed, fumbling attitude to disabilities; an issue he approaches with the awkwardness of Ricky Gervais, a man whose unending fixation with tiptoeing around the supposed social minefield of interacting with minorities is meant to be observational humour, but just exposes his own weird hangups (“Isn’t it awkward when you meet a black person? We never know how to talk to them, do we, guys? Guys?”). Similarly Zack seems near to collapse, in a room-spinning daze, and having to lean against the jukebox just to keep himself from falling. Having used the teen line so that a guy could get to know the real her before he saw the chair, Melissa tells Zack she’ll understand if he wants to leave. While he does look desperate to make a bolt for it, it’s likely the only thing stopping him is the worry of rubbing a crippled girl’s nose in the sight of a pair of functioning legs as they speed towards the exit. So, they continue their date.

When the rest of the gang shows up, he introduces them to Melissa with the stern announcement that she’s handicapped but comfortable with it, so just get over it, okay? None of the others are remotely awkward in the least, and treat her just like a regular person, although you’d think someone would have to explain it to Screech considering he didn’t know what homeless meant. Incidentally, there are no ramps in The Max, which has two giant steps inside the entrance, and is really cramped, so I’ve no idea how she took her spot at the booth.

Actress Jennifer Blanc, not in a wheelchair in real life, racked up a prolific set of acting credits post-Bell, before moving into the producing of b-movie horror flicks. She’s also married to action legend Michael Biehn.

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M’lady (r), M’hero (l)

Now part of the gang, Melissa’s invited to see the teen line headquarters, where Zack wheels her around, even though she can do it herself. Having stumped Zack and Slater — even though Slater dated lanky Jessie for almost three years — a girl who hates herself because she’s tall finds comfort in the wise advice of Melissa, impressing Zack no end.

Even though she’s handicapped, she gave Cathy perfect advice!

Zack, my mind’s not handicapped,” she replies.

You can say that again!” says Zack.

His sensitivity continues on a date at the movies, where he makes a big public scene because someone’s illegally parked in the handicapped space. Now a lectern-pounding crusader for the less fortunate, he rants and raves about the evils of a world that can’t find it in its heart to care about disabled people, by reminding them their legs don’t work every five seconds. He protests the lack of wheelchair access in the bathrooms, and the fact Melissa has to pay full price when she’s not even using one of the theatre’s seats, finally making a guy sat in front slump down because “my date’s in a wheelchair!” leaving Melissa with her brave little head in her brave little hands.

The next day, Zack takes offence when Slater asks how the date went — oh you mean because she’s handicapped? — before Mr. Belding comes in with some bad news. The school budget’s been cut, meaning the end of all non-essentials, like teen line.

Tori, reason for the earlier 'Universe-T' reference that will have confused you if you've not read the full book

Tori, reason for the earlier ‘Universe-T’ reference that will have confused you if you’ve not read the full book

Meanwhile, Screech’s sub-plot involves him brushing off a kid in the rap room, who came into moan about his annoying little brother, to witter on and on about his own lonely life as an only child, and using an inflatable doll as a pretend sibling. The kid returns to dump his younger brother — Tommy — onto Screech, who lugs him around for the rest of the episode as his new little bro. A nine-year-old should be in school during term time, making this merely the most recent instance of child abduction on Screech’s lengthy rap sheet. Of course, the little boy is a monster, abusing Screech in increasingly psychotic ways, working his way up from the classic hand-buzzer, to stealing his clothes and a scary biker’s motorcycle helmet, and tying him up like one of John Wayne Gacy’s victims. Though we’re now well into the final season, while waiting for his turn to speak, Dustin Diamond can be seen lip-syncing other character’s lines again.

When Tall Cathy drops by The Max to tell them she’s got a date this weekend, it only proves how valuable a freak-helping service teen line is, so they pledge to raise enough money themselves to keep it open. Melissa happens to play basketball in her driveway — Screech asks if she can dunk — so the gang decide on a charity wheelchair basketball game, followed by a dance, because Bayside’s restless students will burn this place to the ground if there isn’t at least one ball a week.

Mr. Belding, with a say no to drugs and alcohol poster visible over his shoulder, introduces the two basketball teams in the school gym. The competitors wheel themselves in; reds — Slater, Tori, and Lisa — vs. blues — Melissa, Zack (doing a wheelie) and Screech (in a Stephen Hawking electric wheelchair, which is cheating). Screech’s new little brother has outfitted his chair with a turbo booster, signposting physical comedy yuks coming to your screen real soon.

"Relax, ladies. The weiner still works!"

“Relax, ladies. The weiner still works!”

As we’ve seen before, sports scenes are hard to realistically choreograph at the best of times, but six non-wheelchair-using actors playing wheelchair basketball, on a tiny gym set there’s barely room to move around on; let’s just say the thumping soundtrack suggests more excitement than comes across onscreen. Zack spends the game repeatedly asking an exasperated Melissa if she’s holding up okay, in a query that would be better served in one of his asides to the audience. Honestly, Zack, no I’m not. When Screech finally gets the ball in this interminably long sequence, Tommy, who’s sat in the crowd, pushes the turbo button to send him careening backwards out of the gym, living out the fantasy of every SBTB viewer. Screech will later appear whooshing across the top of another scene.

Tori gives a post-game speech, proudly announcing that the $1,000 they raised is enough to keep teen line open (though it’ll never appear again), before Zack takes the mic and gives a little shout-out of his own.

I want another round of applause for the real star of today’s game, the only one who has to be in a wheelchair the whole time, Melissa Donahue; come on, guys!” Everyone applauds the smallest girl in the world, who gets the zoom-in reaction shot to underline her utter humiliation. No matter how many times he cites The Apartment, there’s no way the entire oeuvre of Gervais wasn’t hugely influenced by Teen Line. Zack’s whole speech is classic Brent/Millman/Everything He’s Ever Done.

Slow zoom in on the smallest girl in the world

Slow zoom in on the smallest girl in the world

Zack’s stunned when Melissa brushes straight past him after the game, demonstrating that even though her legs don’t work, her cold shoulders definitely do.

Do you have to keep reminding the world that I’m handicapped?” she says, which still doesn’t get through Zack’s confused, blond head, until Tori throws in her two cents.

Maybe she’d rather be your friend than your cause.”

Screech is still in possession of nine-year-old Tommy at the dance, which is some days, or even weeks, after he first gets palmed off on him. Has he been living with Screech? He certainly hasn’t been going to school, and when his brother finally comes to collect him, it’s because he “misses chasing him around at home,” suggesting he’s not been back there the whole time. Presuming his parents aren’t laying in a crack stupor, Screech has been harbouring a missing child while his distraught family assumes he’s been fucked to death and left in a ditch. Considering where he’s really been, it might have been better if he had.

Tall Cathy brushes off her date for Slater, pulling him into a light embrace he sells like she’s Godzilla, rather than barely an inch above Jessie. When Melissa shows, Zack’s moping by the cheese and pineapple. Zack says he’s sorry, and she explains that she just wants to be a normal teenager.

I’m just an ordinary girl. Maybe I’ll never win a rollerblade race, but I’m still capable of doing most things. Don’t treat me like I’m broken.” All Melissa wants is for Zack to act the same way in person that he did on the phone; like a cocky prick. So he does, and they dance. Like Ricky Gervais did that time.

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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.

 
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