Wednesday, April 30, 2014

There can be only one (and at least three others)

I don't usually go Googling myself, but spurred by the internet's Andrea Mann, I went looking for other Alistair Colemans. There aren't many of me, particularly as my name has so many variant spellings, so to find another Alistair Coleman in this world is a rare joy.

Multiplying in all the Alastairs, Alisters, Alisters and Colmans and so on, there are many like me, but very few who are exactly me. Add in my multiple middle names, then I'm pretty sure I'm unique, but not too unique for Lloyds Bank. They've had me as an Alister since 1984, and are in no particular hurry to amend their records, no matter how many times I prod them.

At least one Alistair Coleman (a former research student at a London university) has dropped off the radar, but the internet's like that sometimes. There are people I know very well whose internet footprint is exactly zero. Mine fills the best part of the first two pages of Google, for which I apologise.

So, how many fine individuals who spell their name the correct way can I find out there?

Irish bowler Alistair Coleman

New Zealand sheep and wool supremo Alistair Coleman

Musician and composer Alistair Coleman

He's also the Alistair Coleman that got all the good looks. Not to mention the talent. And the .com.

Of all the Alistair Colemans I've known about, this is the one I feel the most apologetic toward for pushing him down to the second page of Google. Sorry, chap. Please continue being excellent.

Over to you, John Smith.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Yellow Box

It sits there in the hallway, daring me to throw it in the bin. But even so split, so withered with damp, so ruddy useless, I know that I can't quite bring myself to do it. It's been in the background of my life for the best part of 45 years, and even with every reason to just chuck it out, there's no way that's going to happen. All this for a cardboard box.

I put it in the recycling bin.

Then next to the recycling bin.

Then leave it lurking in the hall for a day or two.

Then hide it under my bed, but not before writing about a yellow cardboard box and the act of clinging onto one's childhood, at any price, no matter how trivial the cause.

My dad used to bring things home from work. He worked in a hospital and once brought home a large bottle full of (he said) pig's blood, which he poured over strategic parts of the garden. Whether as fertiliser, or some sort of hideous cabalistic rite was never made clear, but it has only just struck me that he carried a gallon of blood down the Fulham Palace Road, seven stops up the Metropolitan line, then onto a stopper train from Paddington at the height of the evening rush hour, and nobody thought it unusual.

I've heard of the concept of "bunce", meaning that anything you can get out of the front gates of your place of work becoming your personal property, but come on...

He brought me a load of empty boxes from the X-Ray department. Big, yellow, with Kodak's unmistakable trademark on the front, they contained film for the hospitals X-Ray machines, and they got through an awful lot. Written in my father's hand on the side of the boxes was a date "31/12/69", which makes them 45 years old now. One of the five boxes – the one that sulks in my hallway - is almost comically large, and once held film for chest X-Rays. It's always been the awkward teenager of the bunch.

They have their own smell.

I used then to store my train set, because they were just the right size for the engines, carriages and track to fit just nicely. I had a Hornby 35-Class loco* and freight cars (which always, and still does, reside in its original box), along with several "best" cars, and a jumble of old engines, coaches and other trucks. A metric shedload of track filled two of the five boxes, along with parts of a bridge, a station and other ephemera of the schoolboy rail enthusiast. An elderly relative, a veteran of the railways, gave me a pukka British Rail hat to top the whole thing off, but that's been lost somewhere along the way, and may well be in a wardrobe somewhere in Cornwall.

The "best" cars are lovely – a set of Hornby-Triang freight cars still in their original boxes. Played with, put back, stored lovingly. Also: Looked up on eBay, worth bugger all, so they were spared in the rampant clear-out that marked my worst days of self-inflicted debt.

I'll admit that the train set hasn't been played with for the best part of thirty-five years. It would be impossible at the moment without further purchases, as the transformer and controller went walkabout in my mid-to-late teens during our experiments with round-the-pole flying – an interesting and potentially painful diversion in electric model-making, where we found that the sum total of all the fun to be derived from flying electric planes round a pole revolved around games of dare that resulted in bruised shins and arses.

The yellow boxes of railway stuff have followed me at a distance for most of my life, along with my Panini Football 78 album (completed thirty-something years later thanks to the magic and expense of eBay), my tin money box (a present from my Northern Ireland-based grandparents after the IRA were kind enough to blow up my annual postal order) and a biscuit tin containing a 1:72 scale Airfix kit of a Russian Mi-24 helicopter (still nowhere nearer completion than it was in 1982 when I abandoned it for computer games).

For the last few years, they've been sulking in my old garage at my old address in Weymouth, before the former Mrs Coleman reminded me that they were now technically her property, and would I mind collecting them the next time I was in the area.

The damp had got to them.

Thankfully, the worst of the damage was to the double-walled PC box into which I had shoved them when we moved to Weymouth in 2002, and I'd never quite got round to unpacking them.

The Best Cars are still in good nick, though the box around one of them is looking a little worse for wear. And I daren't plug anything in, just in case there's a loud pop followed by darkness. But that would mean actually paying for a new controller, and that's not likely to happen.
So, the yellow boxes of my childhood. Four of them fit – along with all the track – inside a shiny new storage chest from B&Q, and the whole thing sits, rather threateningly, on top of a box case in our bedroom. That slightest tremor in the night could bring an avalanche of Hornby 00-Scale train parts raining down on my head, and I can think of no more apt way to go.

But the big Yellow Chest X-Ray box is too big, too damp-eaten and not enough of a box any more to go in the new railway chest. It's split up one side, the lid was lost somewhen in the early seventies, and anything that goes in is pretty likely to fall straight out of the ragged hole in the bottom. It sits on its own, beaten up, glowering and useless, awaiting its inevitable fate at the hands of the bin men next Friday like some ultimately obvious allegory on the fragility of life and the inevitable victory of death.

But, then. But then... Not while I still draw breath.

"Why don't you keep - you know - railway track in it?" Jane suggests.

 I might just do that. Plenty of space under the bed.

* Edited. All these years I thought it was a Class 47. Thanks, Rich

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A list of the top one James Bond themes and you are WRONG

Forget all your bombastic Goldfingers and Diamonds are Forevers, there's only one James Bond theme that counts:

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

And the Propellerheads version from 1997 isn't bad either

No matter what criticism you can throw at OHMSS (and there's a LOT), any film that has this song in its locker can't be all that terrible.

That's enough Bond for now.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A list of the six worst James Bond films, and you are WRONG

"Do you expect me to talk?"

"No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die."

So ends Kim Jong Un's latest attempt to make it as a James Bond baddie.

But we digress already. After this week's skewering of A View To A Kill, we lay down THE LAW on which are the worst half dozen of the Bond films. And the rules are simple: Never Say Never Again is canon, Woody Allen Casino Royale is not. The judge's decision is final, and you are WRONG.

Let us proceed:

6. Moonraker
A desperate cash-in on the late-70s sci-fi boom, Bond flies off into space to defeat the nefarious Drax, mad scientist writ large. Utter mumbo-jumbo, it features Jaws, the Jar Jar Binks of the international assassin network. The only redeeming feature being Q's " I think he's attempting re-entry sir" line, voted double entendre of the year.

5. Quantum of Solace
Even at a mere 106 minutes, Quantum seems to outlast its welcome by at least an hour. The point about Bond films is that there's some sort of dire danger to all mankind (or at least the British and American parts of mankind) that only 007 can unravel through his charm, guile, and – where necessary – extreme violence. In Quantum, the charm and guile is all gone, and the whole thing seems to be based around a bad guy hoping to mildly upset humanity by laying a turd in every 10,000th Kinder egg. Big budget, little Bond.

4. Die Another Day
This one could be the best film in the entire world, but loses everything it has going for it for the shoehorning in of Madonna and the invisible car which was about the most bollocks ever seen on a cinema screen ever. Bond films are supposed to be fun, and I was rooting for the bad guy.

3. Octopussy
In which writing duties are given to one of my literary heroes – George MacDonald Fraser of the Flashman novels. Instead of Flashman, poor old George turned in Limpman, and a climax where Roger Moore is defusing a nuclear bomb while dressed as a clown. Before that, you have the tennis gag scene, seemingly shoehorned in because retired tennis player Vijay Amritraj is in the cast, and his character dies soon after, possibly of shame.

2. A View To a Kill
In a list which is rather Roger Moore heavy, we turn to his last outing as Bond. I've covered what is wrong with this film (everything) yesterday, but leave you with why even Moore though it was one Bond too far: He was older than his Bond girl's mother.

1. Never Say Never Again
"So, Mr Moore, you think you can do aging, bloated overlong Bond?" says Sean Connery, "Think again." 

I will never entertain the fact the Connery wore a hair piece for his outings as Bond, but just to make sure I photoshopped his hair out of the publicity poster.

But for the film itself: No double entendre left unturned, no plot stretched to breaking point, no horse-jumping-off-a-cliff too ridiculous, this remake of Thunderball (hardly the greatest of source material), seems to go on forever. However, the one scene that makes this the worst of Bond by a clear street is the computer game duel in Largo's casino. To say that scene hasn't aged well is an understatement - even when it was first screened it was like a punk band on Songs of Praise, and trumps Rowan Atkinson's ridiculous swimming pool plunge at the end for sheer cringe-making awfulness.

Never Say Never Again turned a $125m profit at the box office. So what do I know about good taste? All this proves is that the early eighties were Bond's darkest years. He was only ever any good with a Labour government.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why A View To A Kill is the worst Bond film ever (apart from Never Say Never Again)

You might have noticed that I have a quiet obsession with James Bond films. While Fleming's books about the fictional spy were never works of subtlety, the films have ranged from sublime (You Only Live Twice) to the downright awful (too many to name).

I love the awful Bond films just as much as the good ones - if not, more so - and the invitation to watch Roger Moore mugging for the camera is never one to refuse. And a Sunday afternoon watching what is arguably one of the worst of the official James Bond films brings so, so many questions.

The biggest of these is why did Cubby Broccoli insist on casting Roger Moore for the lead part, even though it was clear that both actor and his hair were never going to be up to the physical role that is a punch/shag first, ask questions later action hero.

Let us balance the pros and cons of A View To A Kill:


- The Duran Duran theme tune

- Christopher Walken

- A blink-and-you-miss-it Tom Selleck cameo


- You got Christopher Walken, but you could have had David Bowie, who did Labyrinth instead

- Roger Moore's stunt doubles, who they made virtually no effort to disguise. If I didn't know better, the guy in the cut-in-half Renault car chase is actually Vladimir Putin

Vladmir Putin makes his escape in half a Renault
 - You got a bad guy who escapes in an airship, surely the slowest, least efficient means of escape in the history of all evil geniuses

- The airship has - as part of its standard equipment - a fire axe and a bundle of dynamite. Because when you're in an airship, you're going to need to blow something up at some stage, and a bundle of dynamite is always handy

- A Bond Girl so bad that she appears to be a recent graduate from the Goldie Hawn School of Very Loud Screaming

- Lots of very loud Bird Girl screaming

- Roger Moore, aged 57 at the time of making the film, was twice his female lead's age. In fact, Moore noted at the time, he was older than her mother

- A bad guy obsessed with horse racing (at least for the first hour or so), who is so dedicated to winning that he has installed a number of cheat mechanisms on the practice course at his own stud farm. Yet all it does is knock his own henchmen from their horses

That leotard will haunt your nightmares
 - A French detective with an outrageous Clouseau accent called Monsieur Aubergine. He is killed by a poisoned paper butterfly, wielded by Grace Jones

- Grace Jones

- Roger Moore doing the sex with Grace Jones

- When Bond is caught by San Francisco's Comedy Police, instead of reasoning with them, he steals a fire truck. As you do

- ...Which he jumps over an opening bridge. As you do

- The not-even-trying double entendres. You start to wilt after the 20th "getting my end up" joke. Even Moneypenny looks like she's had enough

And as the end credits roll you realise the moral of the story is this: Don't cheat at horse racing, because it'll only draw attention to your plans to destroy San Francisco through a contrived plot involving earthquakes that Lex Luthor did much better in the original Superman film (and he would have got away with it too if it wasn't for meddling Kryptonite time travel). A message to us all.

Hang on - I just remembered Never Say Never Again. Never Say Never Again and Rowan Atkinson's bumbling sub-Johnny English cameo at the end where he ends up in a swimming pool in a prat-fall that the Chuckle Brothers would have refused. Don't get me started on Never Say Never Again.Which I declare canon, so there.

Roger Moore, Grace Jones and the legs of infinity

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Who is Blondie Longneck?

When you return to a town where you've lived for several years, you notice all the little changes. And so to Weymouth, where I spent ten years of my life, but haven't called my home for the last three.

It's faded seaside glamour writ large, but in a nice way - the Georgian seafront defiant against the changing tides of British holiday habits. The bucket and spade holiday may be dying a slow, lingering death, but Weymouth does enough to keep the tourists coming back again and again.

The town still looks the same - with the addition of the modern new viewing tower at the end of the beach, and the Pavilion Theatre hangs on, now in private lands after the council did its level best to run it into the ground with a diet of tribute acts and very little else.

I notice the small changes. Tweaks to the bewildering traffic system, so there's now less than half a chance of killing yourself completely to death trying to turn right off the Esplanade; and the ASBOs on the town's cider enthusiasts appear to be working as there are very few to be seen in the beach shelters.

It being the school holidays, there's a small traveling funfair in the car park by the beach. Waltzer, dodgem, everything you'd expect - with pictures of all the latest celebrities painted on the side to bring on The Kids. If they were The Kids from about twenty years ago.

 There's Robbie Williams! There's Jim Carrey as The Riddler! There's Tina Turner with one breast clearly larger than the other! And ...err... Blondie Longneck!

Stumped, I uploaded Blondie Longneck onto various social media sites and asked the Hive Mind what they thought.

And the Hive Mind said Cameron Diaz, who - mid-90s - was riding the crest of a wave with that film she was in. You know - There's Something About Blondie Longneck. Obviously, Mr Fairground Owner had stumbled out of his local fleapit, absolutely determined to immortalise Blond Longneck on the side of the waltzer, right next to One Big Boob Tina Turner. ('Thunderdome' joke goes here).

Another Hive Mind suggestion was Anneka Rice, and Weymouth and Anneka have history. In 1989, she came to the town to sort out the white horse for her Challenge Anneka programme. The white horse is a depiction of King George III on horseback carved into a hill overlooking Weymouth Bay. By 1989, it was looking a bit tatty, and Anneka's crew was charged with freshening it up.

Unfortunately, corners were cut, the wrong stone was used, and within a few years, the white horse was an embarrassing shade of grey. So, to get revenge, a local fairground operator painted her on the side of a waltzer, so her face would be the last thing you saw before puking candy floss and hot dog all down your front. Makes perfect sense to be.

So, to sort this out for once and for all, I reached out to Cameron Diaz on Twitter to see if she had posed for a fairground artist, or would she like us to send the boys round.

She does not reply.