Here We Go…

brexit-flag

I am not going to go on and on about this since so much has been said but given the historic nature of today I had to write something about it.

Well today history was made. The UK delivered its Article 50 letter to the European Council.

Thing is, looking back the Remain Campaign in Britain failed because they did absolutely nothing to address people’s concerns about remaining in the EU. Instead they tried their best to sell the EU to us and ignore the concerns people had of mass immigration, EU regulation, loss of democracy and sending colossal amounts of money to Europe that didn’t seem to come back.

The EU are going to call us everything under the sun because we dare to leave the “United States of Europe” which they want to build yet fail to realise that they treated the UK as a resource to be tapped and not an equal member to France and Germany. They even want to remove EU nations from being able to defend themselves by integrating European armies in to a single Euro Army. 

After all that it might shock you to hear I voted remain but I believed that the referendum would allow us to address our problems within the EU. However, the referendum has clearly energised the EU council to increase its control over its remaining member states and if they aren’t careful they may see more Article 50s in the future.

Burning up in The Twilight Zone

 

I, like so many people have made my peace with the fact that I am going to die one day – boy that’s a pleasant way to start a post isn’t it? When people talk about being afraid of dying they often don’t realise that they too have usually accepted the fact that they will die one day and are instead actually afraid of how they are going to die. That particular fear I am not immune to either.

While I am sure most deaths are unpleasant there are two that frighten me more than any other namely drowning and burning to death. Regarding the first fear I was once told that drowning does have the advantage of you being able to be resuscitated if you are rescued in time. Is that supposed to be comforting because I assure you it isn’t! The other great fear, burning to death, is actually the more relevant one regarding this post. It’s the thought of spending those last few moments consumed by a force that is breaking up your flesh, exposing you to intense heat, incredible pain and probably suffocating you all at the same time. Just writing that makes me want to jump in to a swimming pool…The irony there is obvious!

the-twilight-zone-the-midnight-sun-2-new-yorkI was reminded of just what a terrible end this is quite recently when I watched an episode of The Twilight Zone called The Midnight Sun. As I have written before, I love The Twilight Zone with a passion for its clever writing, its fascinating stories that balance between sci-fi and horror, it’s impact on pop culture and of course the twist endings. I had watched a number of them as a kid on The Sci-fi Channel but have forgotten most of them and so in the last year or so have taken to trying to watch them all again only this time as an adult.

This episode however, while it has a sci-fi premise takes the viewer straight in to the unsettling and leaves you almost praying for it to all end yet at the same time you can’t bare to look away from the screen until it is over. Almost right from start we know that this isn’t going to be a pleasant story as Rod Serling himself informs the audience that the characters we have just been introduced to are with out hope of salvation in this horrifying world in which they exist for as he puts it they are quite “doomed”.

The plot of the story revolves around a young woman named Norma and her landlady who are the only ones left in their apartment building after the last family leaves hoping to reach Canada. The streets outside are deserted and its clear that the temperature is soaring as if the city is in the grip of an intense heatwave. Only it’s not a heatwave as we soon learn when Rod Serling gives his opening narration.

…the people you’ve just seen have been handed a death sentence. One month ago, the Earth suddenly changed its elliptical orbit and in doing so began to follow a path which gradually, moment by moment, day by day, took it closer to the sun. And all of man’s little devices to stir up the air are now no longer luxuries—they happen to be pitiful and panicky keys to survival. The time is five minutes to twelve, midnight. There is no more darkness. The place is New York City and this is the eve of the end, because even at midnight it’s high noon, the hottest day in history, and you’re about to spend it in the Twilight Zone.

We aren’t given a reason why this has happened but in all honesty it is not important. What follows is nearly half an hour of watching these characters as their lives head towards their slow, hellish and tortuous death from which there is literally nowhere in the world they can escape to. Even the family at the beginning headed for Toronto are told that with so much traffic trying to escape north that it is now extremely dangerous to be sat in a car implying that people are baking to death in static traffic jams. Even worse is the fact that Toronto and other northern places only offer a brief respite as the temperature in New York today will be the temperature there tomorrow as the Earth gets closer to the sun.

The twilight zone the midnight sun lois nettleton.jpg

A radio announcement tells us that the remaining police officers in the city have all gone to try and control the traffic heading to Canada and that the city is now lawless for those who remain. This is brought to light when Norma and her landlady hear a noise from one of the abandoned apartments and a man appears who attacks them and tries to steal some of their supplies but just as you are about to hate this guy the genius of the writing in this episode shines through. The man breaks down crying as he realises what he is doing and pleads with them to believe him when he says he is a good man. He then goes on to explain that his wife was pregnant when this whole thing started and the heat forced her to give birth prematurely. Both his wife and the baby die shortly after the delivery from the heat.

Good Lord – I started to wonder if I was going to need counselling after watching this.

From there on Norma is left to die in her apartment stripping down her clothes in an effort to keep cool while her paintings melt and a thermometer explodes. Going mad from dehydration, heatstroke and the trauma of what is happening she lets out a God-awful scream.

It is at that point the Twilight Zone trademark twist ending comes. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it but what I will say is the nightmare is far from over.

the-twilight-zone-the-midnight-sun-1The fact this episode had such a profound effect on me and tapped in to that burning fear only demonstrates just how good this episode is and yet it’s not an enjoyable episode for that very fact. It is uncomfortable viewing for anyone far more so than is usual even for The Twilight Zone. The repeated shots of the out-of-focus sun and the hazy, empty street outside really emphasise the sensation of being in a world slowly being turned in to an oven while the intruder who attacks Norma and her landlady leaves you wondering how you would behave if you were put in this predicament. Would you hold on to your principles in the face of impending doom if abandoning them meant you might live just a few days longer?

Lois Nettleton who plays Norma does an incredible job and I was immediately on IMDB after this episode to see what else she had done. It seems she was quite a prolific actor and I was stunned to find that she was actually in an episode of another one of my favorite shows, Babylon 5, playing one of Londo’s wives.

This is a must-see episode of The Twilight Zone although its hardly one I would recommend watching if you want to just have entertainment for a free half hour (in case you are looking for recommendation for an episode like that watch To Serve Man – it’s brilliant!). It’s a real exploration of people at the end of not only their lives but of human civilisation. You could replace the Earth falling out of orbit with any number of other disasters with the most obvious one being global warming and the effect that will eventually have on our lives. When it aired in 1961 many critics claimed it was an anti-nuclear weapons story and while there are parallels with that type of story it’s only because the situation and character’s actions are presented in a rather narrow fashion which makes Norma’s suffering more universal.

My advice is sit yourself in a dark room with a set of headphones on to cancel out the rest of your world and immerse yourself in this doomed world as you experience the end of days courtesy of The Twilight Zone.

 

“What if I’m a ghost?”

ghost hanging over bedThis was something that occurred to me some time in early 2014. My daughter was three years old at the time and was usually a good child when it came to going to bed although once in a while she would decide she wanted to stay up. Other times, it was not that she didn’t want to go to bed but rather she wanted some company for a bit while she fell asleep.

This particular night she asked me to stay with her while she nodded off and so I found myself sat on the bottom of her bed waiting for her to go to sleep. She then complained that the lamp, the only source of light in the room, was keeping her awake so I knocked it off and ended up sitting in the darkness. About three times I suspected she had finally gone to sleep but each time I began to move she would stir enough to stop me from  leaving so I decided I had to wait until she had gone in to a deep sleep that would allow me to leave.

So like I said; I was sat there in the darkness.

Now, I am not one to be spooked out by the slightest little thing. Countless hours of working security jobs alone at construction sites and empty factories have seen to that. However, while I was sat there my mind began to wander and perhaps trying to find a way out so I could go back downstairs and watch TV before I went to bed I thought back to previous times she had refused to go to bed.

One night above all others stands out in my mind. She was about two years old and all efforts to get her to settle had failed and I found myself facing a category 5 temper tantrum. Bribery and blackmail had failed to find a resolution and so with no other options left open to me I decided the best thing to do was to put her in her room behind the baby gate while I would stay about half way up the stairs; just enough to keep an eye on her while staying out of sight. Five minutes of shouting and rocking the bars like she was taking part in a prison riot ensued.

But then suddenly, without any prompting I was aware of she stopped. Silence. Then I heard her say clearly as day, “But I don’t want to go…No…Ohhhh….Alright then.”

She then calmly walked away from the gate, climbed in to bed and within a few minutes was fast asleep. I admit there was something unnerving about it. It was almost as if she was having a conversation with someone who wasn’t there. I’ve heard plenty of stories of children seeing ghosts over the years, I once had a colleague who told me he had seen his grandson sat in his room talking to thin air for a whole hour, but I had never put much stock in to it. I still don’t if I was honest but again it was somewhat unnerving.

Anyway, back to 2014.

Thinking about that night I began to wonder, if only for fun, if it was a ghost that had told her to go to bed. Then, my mind decided to alleviate the boredom further by making me ponder the question – is the ghost in here now? Suddenly, the silhouettes of dolls and toys began to take on a more menacing feel while creepy, ambient music set the tone in my mind.

A quick brushing off of the thought saw the room return to normal and I turned my head back down to check on my daughter. She seemed to be settled nicely but just to be sure I thought I’d give it five more minutes before I left. Then strangely, as I looked down at her a thought crossed my mind.

“What if I’m the ghost and don’t realise I’m dead? What if this isn’t my daughter but some other little girl my restless soul has latched on to whilst clinging to my paternal instinct of protection?”

That was genuinely unsettling. How would I know? When did I die? I’ve had a few close calls over the years that could have seen me bumped off. I left work one morning in 2006 and while driving down the A48 a drunk-driver lost control of his car and hit the central reservation. I ended up smashing in to the back of his car but while my Mondeo was a total write-off I walked away with out a scratch.

Or did I?

Maybe everything since then was a dream before I died, a last look at what might have been, or even the afterlife before I returned to Earth to wander aimlessly. Maybe I am an angel – nah, that one’s unlikely.

Then, I heard my wife shout up the stairs. “Isn’t she asleep yet? The TV has been on pause for over half an hour now!”

Hello reality. Back with a bump. So no, I wasn’t a ghost but it was fun to think so for a bit.

 

 

The Time Element (1958) – A Prototype For The Twilight Zone

The Time Element Rod Serling The Twilight Zone 1958 4Given it’s cult status today it’s easy to forget that Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone was quite a hard sell back in the day. There had been anthology shows before but they weren’t all that successful. Serling was confident of his talent however and penned a script for CBS in 1957 entitled The Time Element that would incorporate all the elements that would ultimately become synonomous with The Twilight Zone – opening and closing narration, a science fiction or fantasy setting, a tell-don’t-show approach to narration and of course those great twists at the end.

The Time Elelment is very much therefore the prototype for the classic show. So what is it about?

Even if you had no clue of Serling’s involvement in the production you can tell that this was something from The Twilight Zone just by reading the synopsis. I won’t be giving too much away because there is almost an unwritten law amongst fans of the show that says you can’t give away the ending but here goes;

It’s Saturday October 4th 1958 and a man named Peter Jenson (played brilliantly by William Bendix) finds himself in the office of psychoanalyst, Dr. Gillespie played by a cool and calculative Martin Balsam. Jenson has spent the last week suffering from a recurring dream in which he wakes up in a hotel in Honolulu on Saturday December 6th 1941 – the day before the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour.

The Time Element Rod Serling The Twilight Zone 1958 3Once he realises his situation he grasps the opportunity to make money by placing bets on boxing matches and horses that won’t take place for several years yet. However, when he meets a young newlywed couple in the hotel bar and realises the groom is an engineering officer aboard the USS Arizona which will be sunk in the attack the next day he desperately tries to warn people of the attack but no one listens. He wakes up from the dream shortly after seeing the Japanese planes fly over the hotel.

Dr. Gillespie insists that time travel is impossible but Jensen explains that after the first few nights he had the dream he looked up the newlywed couple he met in the bar and finds out that the groom was indeed killed aboard the Arizona and his wife was strafed by a Japanese plane. They were real people…

I am sure more than one person will read that synopsis and have flashbacks to the movie The Final Countdown (1980) – which is another movie I recommend – as it deals with a similar theme of travelling through time to the day before the Japanese strike Pearl Harbour. Whereas that movie’s main focus is on the build-up to the attack, The Time Element is a more human story with the attack serving merely as the backdrop.

The Time Element Rod Serling The Twilight Zone 1958 2In essence this is two stories intertwined through the experiences of one man who struggles to convince people in both the past and the present that he has travelled through time. As a viewer you are left wondering just what is really going on the whole time and the fact that Jensen is hardly a likeable character makes you want to not believe him. He is a heavy drinker and gambler whose first thoughts are to help himself rather than try to warn people of the impending attack. Also, in his sessions with Gillespie he is quite confrontational throughout giving the viewer a feeling that he is a bully of a man.

That being said, when it becomes clear that no-one in 1941 will believe him about the Japanese attack he becomes a rather pitiful character as he drowns himself in whiskey. You honestly can’t help but be consumed by his frustration yourself as you watch him pleading with people in the bar for them to believe him. Utterly helpless, he wakes up (in his dream) in his hotel room in Honolulu just as the Japanese planes go overhead screaming “I told you!” like a madman but that is where the dream ends although he admits that he feels like there is more that he hasn’t seen yet.

Without giving away too much about the ending I will say this; there is no one firm conclusion. That’s what is so brilliant about much of Serling’s work on such stories. Two people can watch The Time Element and have two different views on just what is happening. There is both a science-fiction answer – which is that he is indeed time-travelling – and the rational one – which I won’t go in to because it would give away too much. If you make an argument for one there is evidence to the contrary and vice-versa.

The Time Element was almost never made, it being bought off Serling by CBS and then shelved only to be dusted off for an instalment of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse which ran from 1958 to 1960. In fact, The Time Element actually ends with the narrator trying to sell you a Westinghouse refrigerator but don’t let that put you off. This is an excellent piece of film and could very easily be adapted in to a great stage production.

If you want to see it for yourself it is readily available online. My advice is close the curtains, dim the light and put on the headphones to get immersed in the story.

 

 

Amazing Car Boot Sale Find

i was there the great war magazine.jpg

The internet is a wonderful thing. I use the internet frequently for both research and publishing my writing for Defence of the RealmBut the problem with the internet is that often a lot of what you are looking for is lost among the more common pieces of information out there.

Books have the advantage of just presenting you with information which you can then pick and chose what you want to read. Now, I am not a technophobe by any stretch of the imagination but I think both books and the internet can work together to produce results.

Where am I going with this?

Well, this weekend I found myself at a car boot sale in Bridgend. Usually, I wander car boot sales looking for old Sega or Nintendo games but walking past a guy with a few things sprawled out on the floor I found the above collection of magazines. There seem to be plenty of magazines about the Second World War onwards but very little about conflicts before 1939 so naturally I was intrigued. I asked the guy selling the how much he wanted for the lot and he said, “Chuck me 3 quid and you can have them.” I wasn’t about to turn that down and so I took them home.

It was then that I discovered just what it was I had purchased with just a bit of change in my pocket. This incredible series of magazines was published between 1938 and 1939 and features first hand accounts from the men (and a few women) who were there at the front between 1914 and 1918. I couldn’t believe what I had. For someone like me with an interest in military history this was priceless. Just a quick browse through revealed stories of the war I had never heard of before written in a very personal manner. My only regret is that the collection is incomplete but consists of 12 issues that I am sure will no doubt prove a vital resource for my research.

I look forward to working through them and exploring these stories.

Sometimes, luck is smiling on you.

Slipping the surly bonds of Earth for the first time

Griffin ht1.jpgIt seems odd to many of my friends now but there was once a time when I was afraid of flying. When I was 9 I was offered the chance to go to Disneyland but I said no because we would have had to go on a plane. I was convinced that any plane I would step foot on would crash and burn and there was a very important reason for this for it was not long after the Lockerbie disaster and the image of half a Boeing 747 cockpit strewn across the Scottish countryside was fresh in my mind. I may have been 9 but it was impossible not to escape the gravity of the tragedy.

Thus it seemed I would never fly.

Then, one Saturday morning a year after I declined Disneyland my uncle came to my house and offered to take me to the air show at RAF St Athan that very day. I didn’t have any real interest in aviation at that point but I was happy at a day out. Frankly, it was akin to a religious experience. Tornado. Jaguar. Harrier. Spitfire. Red Arrows. They were all there and I got a chance to speak to pilots and groundcrews and suddenly flying was not the stuff of my own death and destruction anymore. From that point on I become obsessed with aircraft reading any books I could get my hands on (I must have read the 1994 RAF Yearbook I bought that day several times over – it had a tribute to the recently retired Buccaneer).

Sadly, my chances of flying away on holiday with my parents began to diminish. My parents were self employed working their absolute tail-ends off to make a success of their butcher shop. I am immensely proud of them and while me and my sister wanted for nothing it did mean holidays were out of the question because for them to stop working was the household to stop having an income.

Then I turned 13 in 1997 and a visit to my school by a man in a blue uniform finally offered me the opportunity to fly. He was the Warrant Officer of No.631 (Maesteg) Squadron of the Air Training Corps. I had heard about the air cadets but I couldn’t believe that they were so close to me (less than 5 minutes by car). That Friday I joined up and started my First Class training which was the bare minimum needed to take part in the activities outside of the squadron.

At the same time the annual summer camp was coming up and it was at RAF Shawbury which is home to the Defence Helicopter Flying School. I desperately wanted to go and so my First Class training was a little rushed to say the least. I had all the book-smarts you could want but my drill was appalling made worse by the fact that I towered over most of the others in my squadron so naturally I was the “right marker” which was what everyone else worked off.

August 8th 1998 and I found myself leaving my parents for the first time and boarding a bus full of cadets I didn’t know. It was frightening and exciting all at the same time. Not long after arriving my marching skills let me down when I found myself marching off away from everyone else not knowing what “right wheel” was – instant legend! Camp was always a great place to improve your drill skills and by the end of the week my drill was perfected to the point where our flight won the drill competition.

We were scheduled to go flying on the Friday which of course I was looking forward to the most. On the Wednesday night we were at nearby RAF Cosford’s swimming pool for our RAF swimming proficiency tests when my Warrant Officer walked up to me and said, “Want to go flying?”

Breaking discipline and codes of conduct I simply said, “Seriously?”

He was serious. The staff at Shawbury had offered places for cadets to jump on a Griffin HT.1 which was going out on a night navigation flight over Shropshire and I had been selected to go. I couldn’t believe my luck. There were three of us in all selected to go that night and we were quickly shown around one of the Griffins regarding where we would sit, what we should (or shouldn’t) do while in flight and what to do in an emergency – which was essentially listen to what the loadmaster tells you.

We had to wait for the aircraft to be ready for take off and by now my heart was trying to smash my ribcage open I was so excited. Waiting with some of the pilots at Shawbury was an interesting experience since they were watching a video which I assumed was called The Greatest Plane Crashes Caught On Tape. I am not joking here. I was about to fly for the very first time and I had a history of aviaphobia and these guys were watching planes crash. It didn’t dissuade me however.

Then we got the call that it was time to go and we were led outside in to the darkness where the Griffin’s rotors were thudding away. As we approached the aircraft I found myself crouching down to the point where my body was almost an L-shape since I thought if I went any higher my head would be chopped off. I boarded the aircraft and was put on a fold down bench on the port side facing out. The loadmaster belted me in, gave me the thumbs up and I was left to stare out of an open door feeling like I was in a Vietnam war film (the Griffin is based on the legendary Huey).

Not being able to speak to anyone in the aircraft I felt quite alone and unsure what was going on. So it was with some surprise that I felt a bump under my butt as the helicopter left the ground and hovered a few feet for a short while. I was flying! Not very high but I was flying. Then the aircraft pitched forward and upwards and then I was really flying and it was everything I had hoped it would be. I kept having to remind myself it was real since it had always felt like flying was something other people did not me.

We were in the air for about an hour and a half making two returns and take-offs from Shawbury. It was incredible seeing the world from above even in the darkness. I remember vividly seeing a police car with its lights beaming across the countryside and a few trains with their headlamps lighting up the track. I could have stayed up there all night but it had to come to an end and we landed back at Shawbury where I was helped off and taken back to the barracks.

That Friday I flew again in a Bulldog T.1 trainer, this time in the day. If ever my love of aviation was confirmed it was that week. I honestly think I came back from Shawbury a different person. I was more confident than when I left having been away without my parents for the first time and I also had realised my ambition – to fly.

As I write this my 5 year old daughter is playing on her Wii games console flying a plane on Wii Sports (no joke that’s what is really happening). Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?

My thoughts on the new Ghostbusters trailer

Contrary to popular belief amongst my friends I am not opposed to reboots or re-imaginings of movies and TV shows. On the contrary sometimes I feel it is necessary. I am a huge Star Trek fan but even I admit that the franchise needed the turbo boost that was the 2009 movie. Sure, I will never place those movies in the same league as some of the originals but they are an enjoyable way to pass a few hours. When I heard that Battlestar Galactica was being re-imagined I was sceptical but what we got was a show far superior to the original. In this instance my reservations proved wholly unjustified so I am first to admit that if done properly reboots are not a bad thing.

Ghostbusters t-shirtThen I heard that one of my most beloved movies was being remade and naturally I was suspicious. I absolutely adore 1984’s Ghostbusters. Put a gun to my head and ask me what my favorite movie of all time is and it would be the original story of those paranormal investigators and eliminators busting ghosts in their converted 1950s Cadillac ambulance. It is one of those movies that doesn’t seem to age. Sure it looks old but the humour is timeless and it just seems to get funnier the more times you watch it.

It’s also one of the few films that my whole family will sit down and watch together. Every year on my birthday for the last few years my sister has even bought me a new Ghostbusters t-shirt. It started as a joke at my expense but has now become a tradition.

I therefore honestly thought that despite my experiences with the previous two reboots that this was going to be the one that would send me in to a violent rampage. Well today I finally got to see the trailer and honestly there were things I liked but on the whole I am not impressed.

If you haven’t seen it yet then have a look for yourself.

OK – now you have seen it yourself.

Now I swore I was going to go in to this with an open mind. I would give it the best chance I could and with the sound of the theme tune playing ominously with the image of the original fire station my hopes were building. Maybe they are going to do it right?

Then we got a slime in the butt-crack…I use the following term loosely…joke.

I sighed. Deeply.

Let’s just address the elephant in the room straight off the bat shall we? I don’t really have anything against the cast being female. I will admit I would have preferred a male cast or even a mix but I can look past this if the actors sold it. Judging from the trailer they didn’t. I do think Ernie Hudson is probably more annoyed than anyone involved in the original project because in this one the guy-on-the-street who gets a job as a Ghostbuster looks set to have a decent role. I have always said Hudson deserved far more screen time in the original and that is my only real criticism of what is otherwise a perfect movie.

This brings me on to a mistake made in the trailer that I actually missed first time round until it was pointed out to me by my friend Mark Berryman. The trailer claims that 30 years ago four scientists saved the world. Wrong. It was three scientists (Peter, Ray and Egon). Winston was not a scientist. He was literally just the first guy who applied for the job and got it because Ray and Peter couldn’t be bothered to interview him.

As for what they revealed about the plot; honestly I could see the mad scientist angle being a natural progression even for the original guys. The whole concept of the Ghostbusters is that they use technology to capture ghosts so it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination for someone else to use that technology for their own purpose. There were several episodes of the animated series that ran along similar lines so its not without precedent.

But why do I get a feeling its going to feature a lot of spoofs/homages/parodies of other movies? Aside from the Exorcist thing (which wasn’t funny) I get a Beetlejuice vibe from that lanky ghost. Again, it’s going to be the execution that determines whether it works or not.

One final note. It is clear from the trailer that they are going for a very slap-stick heavy style of comedy. This is a radical departure from the original movie. While the 1984 movie is remembered as a comedy the reality is that if you look at it closely it is in fact a balanced mix of horror, science fiction and comedy. The biggest difference for me with the trailer is that the main cast all seem to be bumbling idiots. The original cast were not idiots but they were socially awkward which was the key to the humour in those films and that resonates more with audiences because deep down we are all socially awkward in some way or another.

 
The trouble with trailers is they only show you a glimpse of the movie. I will hold off my final opinion until I see it and I will try my best to be objective. That being said it does have some big, slime-covered boots to fill.