Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Blame Mexico - My Private Aztecs Story

Here's another one from the article files! I wrote this for a fanzine but I'll be blowed if I can remember which one or, even, if it ever appeared. So here it is now, the story of why 'The Aztecs' became, and remains, my favourite bit of Doctor Who.

My viewing of Doctor Who began in 1968 with ‘Fury from the Deep’ (probably episode two) when I was almost five years old. It was one of those quasi-religious experiences with a television series that, I suspect, most of us have at some stage of our childhood that remain with us throught to our adult lives. (Well, those of us that are, you know, sad do, anyway.) I was lost to this strange other-world immediately. Doctor Who was something of a family tradition by that stage anyway, my mother and older brother were confirmed fans, and it was therefore somewhat expected that I’d follow in their footsteps.

However being, you know, born in 1963 meant that I missed the William Hartnell era completely. I used to hear stories about those first episodes of course but, with the exception of the brief interludes in ‘The Three Doctors’ it wasn’t until 1981 that I ever saw any proper William Hartnell episodes - that was when the BBC repeated ‘An Unearthly Child’ as part of their The Five Faces Of... series. And, to be honest, it didn’t do much for me at the time.

Okay, now for a brief history of videotaping of Doctor Who episodes in UK fandom:

Some of our more wealthy collective cousins had their own video recorders in the mid 1970s and had been taping episodes live off-air ever since. But, most of us weren't on the sort of wage that could afford a huge luxury item like a VCR. Astonishing as this may seem today, VCRs were actually very rare in this country until well into the 1980s. I got my first model - a Ferguson - in 1983 having started work earlier that year for the Civil Service; I was the first person in my family, the first person in my street and, I think, only the third person in the office that I worked to have one. It was a beautiful model - size of a suitcase - which I bought on hire purchase and which cost a bloody fortune! I then acquired, within a few months from people who could do such space-age stuff as copying tape-to-tape, most of the early Peter Davison episodes and bits and pieces of late-period Tom Baker. But for anything prior to that, getting hold of copies required you either to know somebody who knew somebody who had access to the BBC archives (which was, let's face it, very unlikely) or, more possible even in those pre-Internet days, to know somebody who knew somebody who lived in Australia, New Zealand or a part of the US that had a PBS station which showed Doctor Who. By a series of circumstances so bizarre as to border on the ridiculous, I did.

A friend of a friend of mine was a doctor and, on one of those dreadful development courses that you most people have to go on in the fullness of their employment, he met a colleague from Australia who, during a drunken night out at the end of the course, revealed that he, too, was a Doctor Who fan and, more importantly to this story, had copies of just about everything that ABC had shown in the last five years (this would have been around 1985). Which, for the purposes of shortening an already lengthy cock-and-bull story, was just about every full story that existed in the BBC archives at that stage.

A deal was quickly done, copies were made and sent over to England, our doctor friend then loaned all of his priceless tapes to two other friends of mine who promptly hired a couple of VCRs from their local Rumbelows, bought some duplicating leads and then spent approximately the next three or four months running off copy after copy (after copy) of EVERYTHING. This is where most of the Doctor Who videos circling in UK fandom from that period came from. Need a copy of 'The War Games' run-off overnight? Ask Rob and Ian. Want a copy of 'The Mind Robber' to take along to your DWAS local group and impress the 12-year-olds? Ask Rob and Ian! Desparate for an eighth generation copy of those two 'Moonbase' episodes so you can laugh at the silly Cybermen voices? Rob and Ian are yer very guys.

You’ve got to remember that these were stories that most of us had heard about (in so much as we knew the title and the rough plot from The Programme Guide), that we might have read the Target Novelisation of, but that nobody who wasn’t ten years older than us and wearing a suit like ours dads and, usually, a beard had actually seen. 'The Web Planet'? Wasn't that, like, the holy grail or something?

One of the first batches that I received from Honest Rob and Ian’s Third Hand Video Emporium (actually, what happened was that Ian came up to Newcastle for a weekend in early 1986 and brought a holdall full of videos with him and I did most of the copying myself) contained a little known Hartnell historical from season one called ‘The Aztecs’. I wasn’t a great fan of historicals and almost passed up the opportunity to leave the tape running on that one whilst we went out and had a beer. ‘It’s a good one, that,’ said the sage-like Ian. ‘Funny, too.’ I’m glad I took his advice.

‘The Aztecs’ is John Lucarotti at his very best. A meticulously-researched piece of cod Shakespeare. I’ve said before and it bears repeating that Doctor Who often works best when it’s pretending to be something other than a family science-fiction drama series and here was a 90 minute script that desperately wanted to be a BBC Sunday afternoon classics serial. It had the sets, the costumes, the quality of actor (John Ringham, Ian Cullen), the period aesthetics and the moral and ethical ambiguity that you’d expect. It also had the TARDIS. For two scenes at the very start and the very end. When I was pitching my novel Byzantium! to the BBC and Justin Richards asked me whether I thought the lack of the TARDIS in the story could be a drawback I said, with staggering pretension, ‘it wasn’t in ‘The Aztecs’, was it?!’

I can remember about a week after Ian’s drunken weekend at my gaff, sitting down and running through some of the tapes we’d made, checking that the quality was consistent (or, consistent for a fourth generation copy of material that wasn’t all that well-recorded in the first place). On, around, tape nine I hit ‘The Aztecs’ - it was somewhere towards the end of episode one, John Ringham was doing his sinister little Richard III-type rant about Barbara being a false goddess ("And I shall HAVE her!").

I was utterly transfixed - this wasn't what I'd expected from the story at all. I went back and watched it from the start, episode one was terrific. Episode two was, if anything, even better - that entire ‘how shall a man know his Gods?’ dialogue between the protagonists was mesmerising stuff. Then Hartnell managed to get himself engaged by drinking some cocoa to the huge amusement of Ian. Ian (my mate Ian, that is, not Ian Chesterton) had been right, it was funny. Having watched the story through to its conclusion, I had become a convert and spent the next year, until the Target novelisation came out, telling everybody that I thought would be interested how great a story this one was. The novel, thankfully, backed me up, as did the official BBC release of the story on video several years later.

‘The Aztecs’ remains a particular favourite of mine. At a convention I attended in Los Angeles a year or two ago, on a panel with various other authors we were asked our favourite Doctor Who story. Amid lots of votes for ‘Talons of Weng-Chiang’ or ‘The Deadly Assassin’, my lone voice saying ‘The Aztecs’ didn’t carry much weight, but afterwards one of the audience came up to me and said that that was a story he particularly loved too. A few hours later I saw him again in corridors of the hotel and he produced a copy of my novel The Hollow Men and asked me to sign it. ‘I bought that cos you’re an ‘Aztecs’ fan,’ he noted, probably sarcastically. But, you know, I like to kid myself sometimes that a fifteen year love of a thirty five year old piece of black and white videotape got me a sale.

There are worse delusions to have.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Les Cirque des Vampires

This is a slightly extended version of a piece that I wrote for Shivers magazine in 2002 and which I always felt worked quite well:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has, effectively, rewritten the entire Fantasy/Horror rule-book over the last six years. Keith Topping, the author of the best-selling unofficial Buffy guide The Complete Slayer, looks at why this needed to be done and how it was achieved.

‘I watched a lot of horror movies as a child,’ Joss Whedon told The Big Breakfast in 1999. ‘I saw all these blonde women going down dark alleys and getting killed. I felt really bad for them. I wanted, just for once, one of them to kill the monster for a change. So I came up with Buffy.’

Whether Buffy the Vampire Slayer, conceptualised when Joss Whedon was just 21 years of age, should be regarded as an example the writer’s precocious talent or as a triumph for his impressive persuasive skills remain unclear. But the very fact that the concept (addictively silly title and all) ever made it beyond its initial one-line pitch - "teenage airhead schoolgirl fights vampires in the San Fernando Valley" - in the cut-throat world of the Hollywood system more than suggests the latter.

Comedy and vampirism may seem strange bedfellows but Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) showed that such a merging of seemingly incompatible genres was entirely possible. Indeed, as the critic RW Johnson noted in New Society in 1982, ‘we have actually got round to really funny films about vampires - not burlesques, which refuse to take the myth seriously, but comedies which accept the myth head on, and still laugh at it.’ In the 1980s, at the very moment when the vampire novel was attempting to become a serious literary subgenre with the success of Anne Rice’s novels, a slew of teenage vampire movies were being made in America. Mostly low-budget, often sneered at by ‘serious’ movie critics who regarded the horror motif as unworthy of proper study and equally loathed by old-time horror fans because they didn't include capes, castles and bats, from Fright Night, Once Bitten and Beverly Hills Vamp it’s a relatively short step to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a critical and artistic failure upon its release in 1992.

Four years later and Whedon, now a much sought-after Hollywood scriptwriter with an Oscar nomination for Toy Story and script-doctor non-credits on Speed and Twister under his belt, was asked to revive the Buffy format for television. Nobody seriously expected that it would last more than twenty episodes. The title, alone, was ridiculous.

Whilst a lifelong fan of horror movies and comics, and acknowledging the influence of two stylistically fascinating modernist vampire films (Near Dark and, especially, The Lost Boys) on his concept, Whedon was smart enough to realise that the series could not live by vampires alone. The original movie script had started life as a witty pastiche on the real horrors of the high school years: about alienation, loneliness, isolation, peer pressure and parental expectations. ‘For me, high school pretty much was a horror movie,’ noted Whedon, who attended New York’s prestige Riverdale School. ‘Girls wouldn’t so much as poke me with a stick.’ So, when the chance came to expand his movie concept into a weekly TV series, Whedon decided that he would make the series ‘a metaphor for how lousy my high-school years were.’ But, from episode three onwards, vampires were to be only a part of the mix.

Buffy has all the classic monsters: vampires, werewolves and mummies,’ Whedon told BBC Online in 2000. It has also included in its bestiary of terrors a plethora of demons and witches (both good and very, very bad), hyena spirits, insect creatures, malevolent robots, ghosts, invisible girls, fairy-tale monsters, zombies, incubi, succubae, pan-dimensional gods and even the odd alien slug. A veritable carnival of horrors. As Rupert Giles tells the heroine in the series' pilot episode, ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’: ‘Everything you’ve ever dreaded was under your bed, but told yourself couldn’t be by the light of day. They’re all real.’

Whedon’s inspiration for Buffy involved not only his own experiences at school, but also the woes of others. ‘When I got together with my writing team, I asked them “What was your favourite horror movie? What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? How can we combine the two?”’ Like many modern fantasy television series (Stargate SG-1 and The X-Files are two other excellent contemporary examples), Buffy’s writers seem to revel in knowingly sampling exterior texts into their work. That is, to wear their source material like a badge of authenticity and ask, ‘hey, what happens if you take a bit of Dracula, Prince of Darkness and bit of Salem’s Lot and a bit of A Clockwork Orange and mix ‘em all up?’
They do this, seemingly, in the certain knowledge that their audience are sussed enough to know what they’re watching an homage to. And to celebrate that.

Intellectual parallelograms to classic monster movies like The Bride of Frankenstein (‘Some Assembly Required’) and The Curse of the Werewolf (‘Phases’) and of modern horror fables such as Hellraiser (‘Hush’), Nightmare on Elm Street (‘Killed By Death’) and Children of the Corn (‘Older, and Far Away’) are cleverly combined in Buffy. It’s a breathless mix of knowing allusions, visual references and outright name-checks. (The character of Buffy’s friend Xander Harris, for example, seems to have an encyclopaedic horror knowledge that matches Whedon’s own.)

What’s more to the point is that the show is made for an audience who, Whedon and his writers obviously believe, have pretty much the same video and comics collection and the same willingness to explore a favourite genre as they, themselves, do. This, kids, is what happens when the fanboys (and, in Jane Espenson and Marti Noxon’s case, the fangirls) take over running the asylum. We get what we’ve always wanted. Our kind of show.

Even in its early days, Buffy seemed to know exactly what the viewers wanted to see from it. Thus, within weeks of the show beginning we had an episode like ‘The Witch’, a beautifully fashioned combination of quite ludicrous body-swap shenanigans and Carrie-style high school supernatural horror full of self-combusting cheerleaders and frustrated sexual yearning. After this, the two key conceptual episodes of the first season were ‘Angel’, the roots of which lay deep in the doomed Byronic gothic romance backstory of Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the remarkable ‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’, a delicious revenge-saga which used elements from The Invisible Man, Halloween and The House That Screamed to fashion a story about the crushing cruelty of loneliness.

The Buffy production team, clearly, had enough wits about them to realise that a generic patchwork can be effective both for those viewers who recognise the origins of what they’re watching and for those too young to do so, but who don’t care anyway because, to them, it’s all new.
An episode like ‘Ted’ ably demonstrates this – in other hands, desperately faux-naïf - duality perfectly. It’s almost the definitive Buffy-as-teenage-horror tale in a series in which hyena-kids, vampires and witches are de rigueur as opposed to real life where we have bullies and abusive parents instead. Whedon and his writers use the clichés of the horror genre as a metaphor for the terrors of being a teenager (thus Buffy’s divorced mother’s new boyfriend is a violent robot because, to a teenage girl, that’s exactly how a prospective stepfather would appear).

Put simply, in Buffy the obsessions and fears of teenagers are, literally, made flesh. This is, largely, what got the show its audience from day one.

Many of Buffy’s viewers - far more than most other series could dream about - are hip to the metaphors at the heart of each episode, and of the series itself. The subtext stuff: ‘Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true,’ ‘I had sex with my boyfriend and he turned into a monster,’ ‘no-one ever seems to notice me,’ ‘the only way I can achieve anything is through a senseless random act of violence.’

This enables them to stay a step ahead of the characterisation so it was no surprise to the audience when, for example, Cordelia suddenly metamorphasised from a hollow two-dimensional bad girl archetype into something considerably deeper. Or when Willow evolved and blossomed.

Even more impressively, these viewers connected with the series’ sly and pointed observations on sexuality, the warming comfort of denial, the pleasure of guilt and the thrill of punishment and, most obviously, the joy of redemption (Angel, Spike, Wesley and, especially, Faith). The audience got with the programme, basically.

And, as a direct consequence, the programme got with them.

By its third season Buffy was still doing classy tributes to horror favourites of the past (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in ‘Beauty and the Beasts’, The Twins of Evil in ‘Gingerbread’, The Dead Zone in ‘Earshot’). But, by now, the show was confident enough to start subverting these knowing glances. In episodes like ‘The Zeppo’ and ‘Homecoming’ they both paid tribute to, and also laughed at, the sheer absurdity of much of the horror tradition. And they took the audience to very brink of parody in ‘The Prom’ wherein the episode’s protagonist, who intends to release hellhounds on the Sunnydale High prom night, has his own video collection of the movies that inspired the episode sitting on top of his TV when Buffy comes bursting in on him. There was clever subversion, too, in ‘Fear Itself’, an episode about the schlock of Halloween parties in which a clichéd ‘haunted house of horror’ becomes far less comfortable than one might have expected.

It’s probably the season four episode, ‘Hush’ that will be Buffy’s most lasting legacy to the genre and past, present and future. It’s the one that, in fifteen years time, the next generation of horror fans will be talking about in reverential terms the way that fans of my age do about Trilogy of Terror or certain episodes of Hammer House of Horror or Doctor Who. Joss Whedon wanted to create the modern day equivalent of a Brothers Grimm nightmare in The Gentlemen. A combination of all of the darkest and scariest things from the darkest and scariest places in the corners of his own, and his audiences, mind. Whedon had specific ideas about what his critical summation of all that is horrible should look like. ‘They came from Nosferatu (both the Max Shreck and Klaus Kinski versions), Dark City, Hellraiser, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Seventh Seal. From many storybooks, silent movies and horror movies and many nightmares. And Mr Burns from The Simpsons,’ he noted. And, indeed, they did. They were terrifying.

Perhaps the best example of Buffy’s deliciously Dionysian approach to traditional horror conceits is in its treatment of vampirism, per se. Taking a cue from several modernist texts, and with an extremely healthy disregard for the depressingly traditionalist approach of, for example, the works of Anne Rice (notice how dismissive on the subject of that particular author Spike is in ‘School Hard’), Buffy sees vampirism as less of a plague of evil and more as something akin to a sexually transmitted disease. Note, for example, how Buffy herself describes the process of a person being turned into a vampire as ‘a big sucking thing’ in one early episode.

The subliminal link between vampirism and sex is nothing new, of course, but in Buffy that link is less sensual and erotic and more like an addiction. In this regard, the series is much closer to something like Simon Raven’s classic 1960 vampire novel Doctors Wear Scarlet than to Dracula. Yet, ironically, when the old Count himself finally turned up for a somewhat surprise appearance in the season five opener, the series attitude to this horror icon wavered somewhat uncomfortably (yet very amusingly) between arrogant dismissal (Buffy knowing that the dead Dracula will return because ‘I’ve seen all your movies’) to the clever incorporation of elements of the Dracula myth within its own framework. (Giles’ meeting with the three sisters echoing Jonathan Harker’s decent in Stoker’s novel; Nicholas Brendon’s uncanny impression of Dwight Frye’s Renton from Tod Browing’s movie version.)

The message here seems to be, we may take the mickey at times, but at the end of the day we’re still fans at heart.

The horror that Buffy presents as its public face is a critical nexus of numerous styles and vogues. Gothic romance, urban alienation, myth and fantasy, postmodern sampling of exterior texts. All filtered through a charming gauze of Californian cynicism. If all this blather makes it sound like a dry and academic exercise in creating a cool TV show for kids of all ages by ripping-off all of the best bits of the movies that we’ve enjoyed over the last seventy years, then that damns Buffy with the faintest praise possible. Far less than it deserves.

What Joss Whedon and his writers have done with the horror genre is to perform a surgical examination of what, exactly, makes it tick. Not an autopsy, because the horror genre is as alive as its ever been, but a poke through the entrails to find new ways to scare people. They’ve come up with some absolute crackers - killing the heroine’s mother (‘The Body’) and, subsequently, the heroine herself (‘The Gift’) are brilliant examples. Then, they resurrected her and dragged her, bodily, out of heaven by clueless friends who were just trying to help (‘Bargaining’).

The recently completed sixth season had its moments of looking backwards to where we’ve come from, but most of its energies were concentrated on a new kind of horror to the Buffy oeuvre and the wider genre. The horror of, reluctantly, having to grow up fast. That’s one we all have to face and it never gets any easier.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Celebration of The English Way of Life

What with cricket being right back in the headlines, after Freddie's boys magnificent comeback against India last week, I thought I'd post this - it's an extended and slightly updated version of a piece I wrote for my semi-regular Home Thoughts To Abroad column in the American fan-magazine Intergalatic Enquirer a couple of years ago.

And, in celebration, here's a photograph taken at an international charity match at Northumberland's county ground, Jesmond, in about 1982 or 1983. That's the great Barry Wood standing signing autographs for a line of young children and, just behind (in the box!) me and my now-deceased dad.



"I love cricket. At its very best, cricket transcends sport and becomes something close to an art-form. Americans, by and large, just don't get the game - as evidenced by a 2004 episode of The Jay Leno Show when the host attempted to ridicule one of his guests, the actor Keanu Reeves who, during a stay in Australia had recently become interested in the game.

Reeves, according to most reports, put up a stout and defiant defence almost worthy of Geoffrey Boycott on a sticky at Brisbane. He said that he couldn't understand how anyone could enjoy, for instance, baseball and yet claim to find cricket boring.

I'd, further, go on to suggest that anyone who ever saw Ian Botham, Mike Proctor, Viv Richards, Dennis Lillie, Shane Warne or Freddie Flintoff in their prime and still thinks cricket is boring needs to visit either a neurologist or an opticion because there's something wrong with either your eyes or your brain!

For those who are unlucky enough not to have the game as part of their cultural background (so, that’s everyone who lives in a country that wasn’t part of the British Empire in the latter half of the 19th Century), it can, I admit, be a source of desperately confusing befuddlement. How can something go on for so long, for example (sometimes as much as five or six days) and still not produce a definitive result?

And as for the L.B.W. law, what the hell’s THAT all about?

Cricket’s socio-political origins, listed annually in Wisden’s Cricketers Almanack, and recently expanded upon in Derek Birley’s superb A Social History of English Cricket, are shrouded in mystery. What is known for certain is that the first probable reference to the game was made in Royal Wardrobe Accounts of 1299-1300, when a sum of £6 was paid so that the 15-year-old Prince of Wales (the future Edward II – yes, the one who ended up with a red hot poker up his unmentionable) could participate in ‘creag, and other “plays”’, with his Garçon boyfriend Piers Gaveston.

The sport probably first came to these shores with the Normans, whose particular form of French would become the official language of England for some 300 years after the Conquest of 1066. The Norman word ‘criquet’, probably a diminutive of the Old Flemish ‘krick’, meaning a stick, was the dialect name for a variant of jeu de crosse. Norman French also had a word ‘wiket’, meaning a small gate often used by shepherds as part of sheep pens. Together with the unusual curved shape of many early cricket bats used until the turn of the 18th Century, which somewhat resemble a shepherd’s crook, this has led some scholars to speculate that the game’s origins may have been in the farming communities of Kent and Sussex. Even the red leather of cricket balls may have been a nod in the direction of a sphere of dyed sheep’s fleece used in this pastime during it’s primitive early days.

Variants on the game were recorded throughout the Middle Ages - pila baculorea (‘club-ball’), which Edward III banned in 1369 as 'detrimental to his war effort against the marauding Scots' and ‘stool-ball’. The latter, a game somewhat like skittles but using a stool as a target, was also forbidden by royal proclamation (this time by Henry VIII) along with other ‘idle games’ – such as football – which ‘interfered with the practice of archery essential to the defence of the realm.’

See, even in the middle ages, the toffs didn't want us plebs enjoying ourselves...

Subsequent to this, Cromwell’s Commissioners proscribed ‘Krickett’ throughout Ireland in 1656, stating that ‘all sticks and balls should be burnt by the local hangman.’ The late 17th Century is full of references of parishioners being prosecuted for playing cricket on a Sunday, indeed, as late as 1796 a match between Eton and Westminster public schools at Hounslow was played in defiance of the Eton headmaster, one Dr Heath, who flogged the entire Eton XI on their return from a match that they, co-incidentally, lost by 66 runs.

Yet, within a few years, Eton and Harrow had commenced their annual match, at Lord’s, with a game in 1805 in which the Harrow XI was captained by Lord Byron. A decade later, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (and the Englishman responsible for more DEAD FRENCHMEN than any other), would be describing the remarkable (and unexpected) victory of the British army and their allies over Napoleon’s forces at Waterloo as having been ‘won on the playing fields of Eton’. In 1841, when Prime Minister, Wellington ordered that a cricket ground was to be made as an adjunct to every military barracks in the Empire. A sure and certain sign that something which was, once, banished by the establishment had become a fixed and important part of it.

Of course, any form of change in the game is often violently resisted by the old establishment – the advent of one-day cricket and the 20/20 competition, and of crowds actually, you know, enjoying themselves (what a radical suggestion!) still excites much debate within the cricketing community – sadly, most of it remains along class-lines. The novelist Simon Raven (a man whose work I greatly admire) is an classic example of this stuck-in-the-1920s traditionalist view of the game. In 1995 he wrote an article in Wisden Cricket Monthly. The main burden of the piece was Raven’s hostility to all forms of change in the first-class game. His pleasures, he stated were ‘far removed from the considerations of the “football yobs” at one-day matches.’ He liked the ‘peace and decency of the longer game … it takes up much time, which the modern world would like to turn into money.’ For which, it would appear, read Simon would prefer to be sitting – virtually on his own – at Canterbury, or Hove, or Chelmsford or one of the other county grounds, watching some dull four-dayer grinding to an inevitable draw than, for instance, being in the crowd on the last day of The Oval test last summer with England poised to win back the Ashes for the first time in 18 years from a brilliant Australian side.

What a pity that, even in the world of Flintoff, Pietersen, Warne and Lee, you’ll still find some old Tory moaning about something.

"Skinheads, skinheads everywhere - they've got big boots but they've got no hair..."

Those of you in church today who frequent the Ask Keith Topping board at Outpost Gallifrey may know that I had a bit of a dodgy run-in yesterday with one of that most delightful of breeds, the skinhead.

And for those of you who don't know what one of those are, they're a particularly loathesome, crude and ignorant bunch of racist knobcheeses as ever one could wish to meet.

This one happened to be one of a pair of surly, foul-mouthed men who were employed by a removals company who, in turn, had been subcontracted by the local council to do removals and re-deliveries whenever anyone on the estate has had anything put into storage. They were, in my case, contracted to collect and return 45 boxes that had been held in storage whilst I've been having all this building work done on my gaff. And, on Thursdays, they were bringing them back. Cause for some celebration, right? You'd think so...

Anyway, to cut a long story short these two (the other one wasn't a skinhead, per se, but was something of a miserable old scrote with a nasty attitude) turned up effing and blinding with every other word and complaining, very loudly, about them having to carry these 45 - admittedly heavy - boxes up the stairs to my flat. I did point out to them that this was, you know, THEIR JOB but that really didn't seem to cut much ice with them. So, I left them to it went into the front room and rang Helen, my liaision officer with the building company, just to note that I wasn't very happy about these chaps and their general attitude and would it be possible for a message to get passed through to their gaffer and for someone to have a quiet word in their shell-like to remind them that it's generally not considered very professional conduct to come into a clients home and say, as for example one of them did very loudly, "we shouldn't be FUCKIN' doing this."

I also informed them that if their management had any problems with the health and safety aspect of this particular job - i.e. the weight of what they were carrying being too heavy for them to manage - then they wouldn't have let them leave the depot in the first place, or they'd have supplied another couple of men to help them out. And, therefore, would they kindly just get on with what they were being paid to do.

At this point, things threatened to get ugly. The skinhead one, after giving me a perfectly evil stare and asking me if I had a problem (I replied "I don't, but you seem to have a problem with doing your job") gave me a mouth full of impudence and then stormed out of my gaff muttering "we know where you live." I asked him to repeat this and he refused. I then told him that I believed he had just threatened me, that I considered this to be wholly out of order and that I'd be reporting the matter. (Which, actually, I haven't done yet - except to the Internet! The police wouldn't be interested since it'd be my word against his and, frankly, why go to his boss and probably get him sacked when that'd likely only antagonise some shaved gorilla even further?)

So, anyway, if I'm found dead in a pool of blood anytime over the next few weeks, the police needn't be baffled in looking for potential suspects!

I'm not, normally, an overtly emotional person but that incident (which happened at around 9:30 in the morning) fair ruined the rest of my day. It takes a hell of a lot for somebody to upset me but this bonehead managed it with seemingly practiced ease.

Garry Bushell, you've created a MONSTER!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

"We come to speak politics to you today...."

I don't want to use the pages of this blog to voice too many political comments (either party political or national politics for that matter) for several different reasons. There are better places than here for such discussions, for a kick-off. Also, politics are an intensely personal thing and treading on someone's political toes usually ends up in a fight. I'll simply say VOTE LABOUR and leave it at that.

See, everybody wins.

I, especially, want to avoid taking any cheap-shots at American politics - and the President in particular. Again, there's an element of "easy target" there which even the world's worst alternative comedian should avoid like the plague (but, wanting cheap laughs, most don't).

There's also the complexities of many of the issues involved but, mainly, I just don't wanna go there because I remember how annoyed I used to get when some well-meaning but clueless American would end a sentence that began with "say, you're British, do you know Mrs Smith in Blackpool" with "and, I must just say, I LOVE your Mrs Thatcher. And the Queen..."

However, I would like to draw all of your attention to the posters and T-shirts produced by the violently anti-Bush www.whitehouse.org which is, quite simply, one of the best places for political satire on the planet. They're not subtle, but they ARE wee-in-your-pants funny.

Among my particular favourites is this one.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Serenity

In full and frank tribute to having watched Joss's "little movie" on DVD today - my opinion on which remains pretty much the same as when I saw it in the cinema: A decent (if somewhat flawed) movie that is, perhaps - and especially given the genre that it's a part of - a little too clever for its own good - here's the stars of the show.

Tell 'em all about it, ladies...


Technofear?



Anybody else having trouble accessing the blog this morning?

Or the Internet generally?

Doesn't it really piss you off?

Frustrate you?

Make you want to go out an torture innocent strangers for a laugh?

Don't you sometimes, you know, just want to smash your PC with a HAMMER and then go and live in the jungle?

Wasn't the world a much simpler place when all we had was pen and paper?

Isn't this a complete waste of time as, if the Blog can't be read by anyone then to whom am I talking?

Hello.... Is there anyone out there?

x

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"Seen it in yer eyes, read it in books..."

Today's random-cover-generator produces the following.

Good book, that.
Local author, apparently...

Anyway, it occurs to me that some people may have stumbled across this blog having heard me on The Book Club on BBC Radio Newcastle (18:30 GMT, first Monday in each month - be there or ... be somewhere else).

If so, hello, how y'doin'? Hope you're enjoying the show and, please leave a comment.

For those who haven't heard it, basically, each month I review a bunch of recently released books along with regular features like a competition and guest interviews. It's pretty light and fluffy - we cover a bit of everything; books with local interest, pop culture subjects, biographies and autobiographies, some fiction, sporting books ... something for everyone, in fact.

So far, I covered the following:

Show 1 (December)
John Peel - Margraves of the Marshes, Bantam Press.
More Magpie Memories - Malcolm Holt, Breedon Books.
Shirt of Legends - Paul Joannou, Mainstream Books.
Elvis Untold Gold - Ace Collins, Souvenir Books.
Valley of Lights - Steve Gallagher, Telos Publishing.
Really Daft Ideas - DI Saster, Summersdale Books.
The Pedant's Revolt - Andrea Barham, Michael O'Mara Books.
I Hate Christmas - Daniel Blythe, Allison & Busby Books.
TV Classics: Our Friends in the North - Michael Eaton, BFI Books.
Serenity: The Visual Companion - Joss Whedon, Titan Publishing.
The Sky Sports Football Yearbook, Headline Books.
Does Anything Eat Wasps? And 101 Other Questions, Profile Books.

Show 2 (January)
Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman, Review Books.
The Mercy Seat - Martyn Waites, Pocket Books.
Northstars - Chris Phillps, Sid Smith and John Tobler, Zymurgy Books.
Soapy Business - John Solomon, Zymurgy Books.
The Little Book of Tyneside, Zymurgy Books.
The Fashion of Football - Paolo Hewitt and Mark Baxter, Mainstream Books.
My Father & Other Working Class Football Heroes - Gary Imlach, Yellow Jersey Press.

Show 3 (February)
Spectre, Stephen Laws, Telos Publishing.
If I Don't Write it Nobody Else Will, Eric Sykes, 4th Estate Books.
McCartney, Christopher Sanford, Century Books.
The Modfather, David Lines, William Heinemann Publishing.
The Brothers, Ian Lennox, Gordon Liberty Publishing.

Show 4 (March)
Balderdash & Piffle - Alex Grimes, BBC Books.
Fanboys and Overdogs: The Language Report - Susie Dent, Oxford University Press.
The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova, Time Warner Books.
Old Wives Tales: Lipstick, Powder and Paint - Carol Cooke, Business Education Publishers.
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed - Alan Alda, Hutchinson Books.
Alan Shearer: Captain Fantastic - Euan Reedie, John Blake Publishing.
The RaW Quick Reads

Other recent books received include:
Shaun Lyon, Doctor Who: Back to the Vortex, Telos Publishing.
Jim Sangster & Paul Condon, TV Heaven, Harper/Collins Publishing.
Guy De la Bedoyre, Hadrian's Wall, Tempus Books.
Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Simon & Shuster Books.
James Lovelock - The Revenge of Gaia, Penguin.
Dave Gibbons - The Originals, Titan Publishing.
Alistair Moffat & George Ross, Tyenside: A History of Newcastle and Gateshead, Mainstream Publishing.
Ian Mortimer, The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Jonathan Cape.
Robert Crais, The Two Minute Rule, Orion Books.
Ashes Victory: The official story of the greatest ever Test Series in the team's own words, Orion Books.
Neil Doyle, Terror Base UK, Mainstream Publishing.
Kathryn Sullivan, Talking to Trees, Amber Quill Press.
Bernard Cornwell, The Pale Horseman, Harper/Collins Publishing.

All of the above are highly recommended.

Each month I'll be putting up a list of both books that I've covered on the show and an "also received" list as I usually get too many review books each month to include 25 minutes of radio time! In the next show, amongst others, I'll be looking at Raymond Khoury's new one (The Last Templar) and both laughing and swearing at everyone who has never read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Buddah of Suburbia and Revolution in the Head.

No, actually, I won't be doing the latter - although I probably SHOULD.

If you're looking for a decent bit of rock journalism and you've never read either the late Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head, or Nick Kent's The Dark Stuff, or Charles Shaar Murray's Shots From the Hip then, frankly, you've never lived.

I think, though, if push came to shove, my desert island book would still be either The Woman Who Slept With Demons by Eric Ericson (New English Library, 1980) which I bought in Soho for 20p or Testkill by Clifford Makins and Ted Dexter (Penguin, 1977) which I bought in Scarborough for 10p (!) both of which got me through some pretty horrid family holidays with my sanity just about in tact.

Either that, or Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks by the great Terrance Dicks (Target Books, 1974), purchased (for about 5p) in Ryde, Isle of Wight and which helped me overcome not only an 'orrible family holiday but, also, bronchitis during an 'orrible family holiday. So, double plus points there for Uncle Terrance.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

My Favourite Words

I'm not sure just exactly why I've chosen to include Paul and Paul's beautiful fizzogs to illustrate this particular post (Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan or Elvis Costello might've been more appropriate) although it is, undeniably, a VERY cool picture.

(It was, I believe, taken sometime during the winter of 1981-82 whilst the Jam and McCartney were both in AIR Studios in Oxford Street recording The Gift and Tug of War, respectively, and first published on the back cover of Smash Hits magazine circa February 1982.)

Anyway... What this is, is a list of my favourite words - in no particular order. If you spot any that are missing which you think should be featured, let me know and I'll try to include them in whatever I'm working on next:

MY FAVOURITE WORDS

  • namby-pamby

  • moist

  • hollow

  • quincunx

  • goitre

  • abeyance

  • thong

  • lugubrious

  • faux-naïf

  • risible

  • irksome

  • demisemiquaver

  • jiggery-pokery

  • oblong

  • yacht

  • rhombus

  • onomatopaeia

  • kitchen-knave

  • zeitgeist

  • crass

  • pretentiousness

  • blithering

  • parallelogram

  • snot

  • cromulent

  • plodding

  • lob

  • stymied

  • colloquialism

  • voluminous

My gaff, is a very, very, very, very, very fine gaff

Now, as some of you hot-shot kiddies out there in 'netland may be aware I've been having various bits and pieces of work done on my house over the last couple of months - some with my willingly participation (new windows, electrics, etc.) others, less so (the back garden).

My last trip to America was almost ruined by having all of this crap dumped on me just before I left. Anyway, to cut a very long story somewhat shorter, the work is pretty much finished now (apart, that is, from getting 45 boxes worth of books, CDs, DVDs, videos, magazines and other household essentials out of storage - that's going to happen sometime over the next few days).

So, whilst my gaff is in it's current half-decorated-and-half-empty-but-actually-quite-tidy state I thought I do a quick "before and after" photo competition.

Can you stop the difference, dear reader?

It used to look like this:

And now, it looks like this!



Ace, eh?! Don't worry about the massive plaster stain on the wall, that'll be gone soon enough!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Who I Am and How I Came To Be...

Ah, what a sweet little chap!

Anyway recently the Beeb asked me to put together a pen picture of myself to use on their RaW website to advertise The Book Club.

I did a nice short version but I also did a long version too which, because it'll never see the light of day elsewhere, I thought I'd share with y'all here. See, bloody ego the size of Rwanda:

HE’S AN URBAN GUERILLA HE MAKES BOMBS IN HIS CELLAR

A full-time survivor, dandy highwayman, bon vivant, raconteur and all round decent chap Rockin’ Keith Topping is a freelance author, journalist and broadcaster who first stumbled across Buffy the Vampire Slayer, quite by accident, in 1997 whilst he was still working as a mild-mannered Civil Servant by day and attempting to kick-start a pathetically underachieving writing career by night. To say that the series changed his life is, frankly, the under-statement of both the 20th and the 21st Century.

Keith’s bibliography includes over 40 books. He was the co-editor of two editions of The Guinness Book of Classic British TV (1993/1996) and has written or co-written books on television series as diverse as The X-Files, The Sweeney, Star Trek, The West Wing, The Avengers, 24 and Stargate SG-1 as well as volumes of music and film critique. He has authored four Doctor Who novels (including the multi award-winning The Hollow Men, co-written with Martin Day) and a novella (Ghost Ship). His books include two editions of the acclaimed West Wing guide Inside Bartlet’s White House, A Vault of Horror: A Book of 80 Great (and not-so-great) British Horror Movies 1956-1974, Do You Want to Know a Secret?: A Fab Anthology of Beatles Facts, A Day in the Life, High Times, Triquetra, The Complete Clash, Beyond the Gate, Shut It!: A Fan’s Guide to 70s Cops-on-the-Box (with Martin Day: ‘Book of the Month’ in Loaded magazine) and X-Treme Possibilities and Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide (both with Paul Cornell and Martin Day).

He is also a regular contributor to numerous TV and genre magazines, including TV Zone, Xposé and Shivers and is a former Contributing Editor of DreamWatch. Keith is widely considered one of Britain’s foremost experts on the bewildering complexities of US network television. No, he has the faintest idea why either.

Notoriously articulate, erudite and a right wow with the ladies (allegedly), Keith was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in October 1963 on the very day that his beloved United lost 3-2 at home to Northampton Town. Things haven’t improved much since.

Keith is the presenter of the monthly Book Club and a bi-weekly televison review slot on BBC Radio Newcastle. He has contributed to the BBC television series I Love the 70s (albeit wearing a particularly nasty green shirt for which he wholeheartedly apologises to viewer). He has also written for Sounds, the Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times Culture Supplement and many other magazines and periodicals.

Keith writes, and occasionally performs stand-up, and has written radio comedy, an (unproduced) stage play and a TV pilot that is, currently, stuck in “Development Hell.” A failed pop star at the age of fourteen as bass guitarist in (the never-legendary) Slime, he lives, works and occasionally sleeps on Tyneside. His favourite six movies are The Godfather Part 2, Almost Famous (Untitled extended cut), The Usual Suspects, Apocalypse Now, A Matter of Life and Death and Dr. Terror’s House of Horror. Though not necessarily in that order.

He much prefers ‘Can You Dig It?’ by the Mock Turtles to ‘Can U Dig It?’ by Pop Will Eat Itself, and Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ to Russ Abbot’s ‘Atmosphere’. Perversely, he considers the Talking Heads’ version of ‘Take Me To The River’ to be the definitive one, and not the Reverend Al Green’s. But then, Keith was always weird like that.

And he still dines out on the story of how he and some friends once stalked George Harrison down the entire length of Oxford Street.

The ultimate tragedy of Keith’s life is that he would love to write the definitive Elvis Costello biography but knows he never will.

Keith’s hobbies include socialising with friends, exotic foreign travel to wild and outrageous locations, loud guitar-based popular music, trashy SF television and even trashier British horror movies of the 1960s and 70s, football and cricket, tasty chicken and king-prawn curries from his favourite takeaway - the Kam Ming on Monkchester Road, military, social and local history, archaeology, wondering whatever the hell happened to both Nutz and Arthur Two-Stroke and the Chart Commandos and, most importantly, winding up the pseudo-intellectuals, the boneheads, the school bullies - especially those in their 30s - and the clowns and watching them squirm…

His autobiography, I’ve Had Her, will be published posthumously.

Self-indulgence, eh? It's what makes the world go round.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Songs to Sing and Learn...

As space in my profile section seems to be somewhat limited - how, in all honestly, can a 42 year old geezer who grew up with an, even if I do say so myself, reasonably decent grasp of popular culture in all its forms reduce the impact that about a thousand different bands have had on his life to a mere 600 words, I ask you? - this would appear to be an ideal place to list those musical acts (groups and artists) that have had a moderately significant effect on my life.

The list goes something like this...
abba, abc, a certain ratio, ryan adams, the adult net, the adverts, age of chance, a-house, alabama 3, alisha's attic, altered images, alternative tv, amen corner, the animals, angelic upstarts, the aphex twin, arab strap, arctic monkeys, argent, art of noise, asian dub foundation, ash, the associates, aswad, atomic rooster, audioweb, the auteurs, the average white band, aztec camera, eric b and rakim, b-movie, burt bacharach, bachman-turner overdrive, badfinger, badly drawn boy, david baird, afrika bambaataa, the band, the bar-keys, syd barrett, john barry, basement jaxx, bauhaus, the beach boys, the beatles, beats international, beck, the be good tanyas, beirut, the beloved, b-52's, big audio dynamite, big star, the birthday party, bjork, black box recorder, black grape, black uhuru, blondie, the blue aeroplanes, the bluebells, the blue nile, the bluetones, blur, the bmx bandits, the bodines, boards of canada, bomb the bass, the bonzo dog doodah band, booker t and the mg's, the boo radleys, david bowie, billy bragg, jacques brel, british sea power, edgar broughton band, james brown, jeff buckley, tim buckley, buffalo springfield, the butthole surfers, buzzcocks, the byrds, caleb, captain beefheart & the magic band, carter usm, martin carthy, johnny cash, cast, casuals, catatonia, nick cave & the bad seeds, the chairman of the board, chameleons, the charlatans, the chemical brothers, chicken shack, china crisis, chocolate watch band, the chords, clannad, the clancy brothers, gene clark, john cooper clarke, the clash, clock dva, the coasters, eddie cochrane, cockney rebel, the cocteau twins, leonard cohen, lloyd cole & the commotions, collapsed lung, edwyn collins, judy collins, the comsat angels, the godlike genius of julian cope, the coral, cornershop, elvis costello & the attractions, cotton mather, count five, the cramps, the cream, creation, credit to the nation, creedence clearwater revival, crosby stills nash young gifted and black, the cult, the cure, curve, cypress hill, the damned, dandy warhols, danse society, dantalian's chariot, darling buds, darts, miles davis, the dead kennedy's, de la soul, delerium, denim, the dentists, depeche mode, devo, dexy's midnight runners, bo diddley, dido, digital underground, dinosaur jnr, the disposable heroes of hiphoprisy, the divine comedy, dr feelgrood, dodgy, thomas dolby, lonnie donegan, donovan, the doors, carl douglas, doves, nick drake, dread zeppelin, dreadzone, dream academy, dubstar, bob dylan, east of eden, echo & the bunnymen, eddie & the hot rods, 808 state, the electric prunes, elctric light orchestra, electronic, eno, everything but the girl, the faces, donald fagen, fairport convention, the fall, the family cat, the farm, fat boy slim, the fatima mansions, felt, the flaming lips, flash and the pan, fleetwood mac, flowered up, flying burrito brothers, flying saucer attack, four star mary, four tops, john foxx, frankie goes to hollywood, aretha franklin, free, front line assembly, fun boy three, funkadelic, future sound of london, gang of four, the gap band, garbage, marvin gaye, generation x, geneva, gentle giant, geordie, the go-betweens, the go-go's, goldfrapp, goldie, goldie looking chain, goodybe mr mackenzie, davey graham, grand funk railroad, grandmaster flash & the furious five, reverend al green, green on red, the grid, groove armada, guided by voices, a guy called gerald, half man half biscuit, hamell on trial, the handsome family, the happy mondays, jeff hart & the ruins, keef hartley band, george harrison, pj harvey, hawkwind, isaac hayes, richard hell & the voidoids, the healers, jimi hendrix experience, the high, the higsons, hipsway, robyn hitchcock, the hollies, buddy holly & the crickets, the hombres, john lee hooker, the housemartins, house of love, humble pie, marsha hunt, hurrah, husker du, i am kloot, i ludicrous, the icicle works, isley brothers, chad jackson, the jags, the jam, james, bert janesh, the jesus and mary chain, robert john's children, johnson, joy division, the kane gang, kasabian, kid rock, the killers, killing joke, carole king, kings of convenience, kings of leon, the kinks, klf, kraftwerk, kula shaker, the la's, patti labelle, lambchop, leadbelly, led zeppelin, leftfield, liabach, lightning seeds, lindisfarne, little richard, robert lloyd & the new four seasons, lord sitar, love, love affair, love & money, love sculpture, lovin' spoonful, nick lowe, lush, kirsty maccoll, madness, magazine, manfred mann, aimee mann, mansun, mark four, bob marley & the wailers, marrs, martha & the vandellas, massive attack, john mayall's bluebreakers, curtis mayfield, mazzy star, mc5, david mcwilliams, men they couldn't hang, mercury rev, the mserseys, the meteors, the mighty lemon drops, mighty mighty, kylie minogue, smokey robinson & the miracles, misty in roots, the misunderstood, moby, the mock turtles, momus, monaco, the monkees, van morrison, morrisey, van morrison, the motorcycle boy, motorhead, the move, mungo jerry, mutant mirrors, the nazz, ned's atomic dustbin, new model army, new order, the new york dolls, the nice, nirvana, northside, nwa, oasis, ocean colour scene, the only ones, yoko ono, orange juice, the orb, orbital, roy orbison, orchestral manoeuvres in the dark, the ordinary boys, beth orton, the oyster band, the pale saints, paris angels, the pastels, penetration, pentangle, pere ubu, wilson pickett, pigbag, pilot, pink floyd, the pixies, the pogues, the polyphonic spree, the pooh sticks, iggy pop, pop will eat itself, portishead, prefab sprout, elvis presley, the pretenders, primal scream, the primitives, the artist formally known as talented, the prodigy, prong, the psychedelic furs, public enemy, public image ltd, pulp, radiohead, the railway children, the ramones, otis redding, the redskins, jimmy reed, lou reed, r.e.m, renegade soundwave, the residents, rich kids, ride, rogue traders, the rolling stones, the ronettes, roxy music, the rubettes, run dmc, the ruts, the rutles, st etienne, scissor sisters, screaming blue messiahs, scritti politti, seahorses, the searchers, the seeds, serious drinking, the sex pistols, shack, the shamen, the shazam, shriekback, the showstoppers, frank sidebottom, judee sill, paul simon, frank sinatra, siouxsie and the banshees, the skids, slade, guitar slim, sly and the family stone, the small faces, patti smith group, the smiths, smoke, soft cell, sonic youth, soup dragons, space, spacemen 3, the specials aka, spiritualised, splendid, dusty springfield, squeeze, big jim stafford, steelers wheel, martin stephenson and the daintees, stereolab, rod stewart, stiff little fingers, the stone roses, the stranglers, strawberry alarm clock, strawberry switchblade, joe strummer & the mescaleros, stump, suede, suicide, sugarcubes, the sundays, supergrass, the supremes, swans, the sweet, the talking heads, james taylor, the james taylor quartet, r dean taylor, the teardrop explodes, teenage fanclub, television, the temptations, 10,000 maniacs, ten years after, that petrol emotion, the the, them, thin lizzy, third world, the 13th floor elevators, this mortal coil, richard and linda thompson, the trash can sinatras, throwing muses, tindersticks, tintern abbey, traffic, t-rex, the triffids, arthur two stroke and the chart commandos, ultramarine, the undertones, underworld, unit 4 plus 2, u2, the velvet underground, the verve, wah heat!, scott walker, t-bone walker, war, the waterboys, muddy waters, the weather prophets, the webb brothers, paul weller, paul westerburg, the white stripes, the who, the wild swans, willard grant conspiracy, hank williams, lucinda williams, sonny boy williamson, edgar winter group, wire, jah wobble, howlin' wolf, woodentops, the wonder stuff, working week, robert wyatt, xtc, the yardbirds, yeah! yeah! no!, yello, neil young and crazy horse, frank zappa, warren zevon, zion train, the zombies, the zutons

... I suppose I should say something pithy like "and that was just last night" at this point. Well, tough, cos I'm not going to. That's, in fact, in the time since 26th October 1966 when I was bought the 'Yellow Submarine' single for my third birthday - black Parlophone label. Still got it. My favourite song up until that moment had been 'My Boomerang Won't Come Back' by Charlie Drake ... also on the Parlophone label and also produced by George Martin, interestingly!

It's an evolving process, of course and every so often I'll update the list (just added Arctic Monkeys and The Killers in the last few days, in fact ... the jury's still out on the Kaiser Chiefs).

A Mod's Odyssey

This is a very old photo of your bloggerist (is that a proper word? if not, it really should be don't you think?).

I believe, I would have been about 18 when this was taken in the back garden of my parents gaff in Wigmore Avenue. So that would mean it was around 1981.

I like to imagine that the vaguely tuned-in - albeit, slightly camp-looking (note the eyeliner!) - young rock 'n' roll scooter-kiddie staring into the camera here would, hopefully, have approved of his image being used, 20-odd years later, as a reminder to his cynical old future-self of his impressionable and wholly adrenaline-and-amphetamine-fuelled youth.

When this photo was taken I would still have been at school - in the Sixth Form, actually. Nineteen years in the Civil Service (yes, you do get less for murder) and a writing career that has seen me author or co-author over forty books (including a number of overseas editions), writing articles and reviews for numerous magazines and periodicals and, relatively recently, getting into local radio broadcasting was all way in the future when I slipped on my parka for the camera.

But I do like the photo's presence here. I find it somewhat comforting. He was a good kid was young Keith. A bit naive, maybe - but his heart was in the right place. Poor little sod, that was all knocked out of him when he got out into the Big Bad World!

So, anyway this, ladies and gentlemen, is my blog.

And you are very welcome to it.