Thursday, 30 April 2009

Thar She Blows!

Have you ever seen a sea monster? Well if you're anything like me then the answer will be "No. No I haven’t". As I'm constantly reminded however not everyone is like me, and there are some folks around who claim to have spied the odd wee beastie here and there.

Well if that's you then the Association of Marine Research would like to hear from you. Specifically if you spotted a critter splashing about in the English channel. I mean obviously if you've seen a big duck or something then they probably won't want to hear about that. Unless it was a 50ft duck of course. But then if there was a 50ft duck doing the rounds I'm almost certain it would have been documented by now. I mean it's quack alone would be pretty damn loud.

Anyway if you think you've come across some woovy bezerk creature doing it's thing then pop over to http://www.thechannelcreature.com and tell them about it. Even if you haven't give it a look anyway. Because, you know, sea monsters are cool right?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The time-traveling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women!

So I was flicking through the May UK edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine (Gee Note: What? Just because I look like I've been trapped under a fallen tree for the past seven months and have survived by living off puddles of rain water and the occasional ant daft enough to wander past my tongue, it doesn't mean that I can't dream of one day being fashionable. I'm like the start of a modern day fairy tale. You know the one where some hairy, badly dressed dude who can't get a date meets a fairy or a wizard or something, and they're all like "Woah man. You need help". And so the magic person waves a wand and transforms this furry chinless wonder in to Freddie Prinze Jr, who always turns up in these type of movies. Freddie then proceeds to heroically woo some woman with his handsome face, before he unexpectedly turns back in to Mr. Fuzz. And he'll be all like "Noooooooo! Don't look at me! Don't look at me!!!!!!!", and then the woman will say "Don't worry about it Freddie. I fell for your nice guy attitude, not your hairless face". Well that's me, pre wizard/Freddie phase. Anyway I digress) when an article piqued my interest.

Now it should be noted that it's not often that Cosmo serves as anything other than a passing distraction. For example the May edition alone has articles such as "Hugh Jackman: How I impress women" which I didn't read (Gee Note: Because if he says anything other than "I'm a movie star. No really. Wolverine baby! See? That's right. I'm kind of a big deal" to impress women I'd be amazed) and "How to decode your man" which I did read (Gee Note: Apparently the fact that my index is longer than my ring finger means that I have better verbal and writing skills than folks who have their digits the other way round. Also I "may be well endowed". Which to be honest with you comes as something of a relief. I mean having spent the past ten years in a Jon Arbuckle like quivering wreck every time I caught a glimpse of myself whilst stepping out of the shower, it turns out what I thought was "mildly disappointing" is actually a Humpback Whale. Thank you Cosmo). Which, you know, are pretty much par for the course with magazines that are obsessed with shoes, diets, celebrity, and sex.



So you'll be surprised to hear that a piece from Cosmo really did grab my attention. But then considering it's title was "It's 2020 and I'm married to a farmer" it's not that difficult to reason why. I mean that's a hell of a hook. It sounds like something Dr. Manhattan would say while kicking back on the surface of Mars. "It's five minutes from now and I let the picture fall from my fingers. It's 2020 and I'm married to a farmer. It's 1966 and I'm pretending that I prefer The Rolling Stones over The Beatles in order to impress that hippy chick in the blue jeans. It's 1987 and I hate Rick Astley. It's 2007 and thanks to Youtube I love Rick Astley. It's fun to be Rick Rolled. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. It's 2010 and I hate Rick Astley again."

It turns out that the woman writing the article, Tracey Ramsden, had been to see a hypnotherapist in London by the name Martyn Wightman. Apparently Wightman is an expert at "Future Life Progression". "What's this Future Life Progression you speak of?" I hear you say. Well I'm glad you asked because, truth be told, I haven't got the faintest idea myself. Actually that's not strictly true. I get the basic premise of it. You’ve all heard of Past Life Regression right? You know the hypnotherapy that's about one step removed from some guy wearing a cheap suit, swinging a pocket watch back and forth, and telling you how sleepy you are (Gee Note: Which if they were doing it with me would be a very redundant point. I'm always sleepy. No really I am. It's part of my charm. I'm like the human version of Garfield. Except, you know, without the tail).

Ok for those not in the know, Past Life Regression is when memories surface from your past lives. You know how you'll occasionally run in to some new ager who claims to have been Benjamin Franklin or Joan of Arc before being reincarnated in to their present form? (Gee Note: True story, I once met someone who claimed to have been Mother Theresa in a past life. Problem is this person was born in 1980. Mother Theresa died in 1997. Words cannot describe how... um... no really they can't.) Well it's more than likely that they discovered these new and insane memories while under hypnosis.

Now the major problem with Past Life Regression is that as any psychologist will tell you it's nonsense memories aren't like a Polaroid camera. Indeed memories that even the most sane of us believe to be accurate might not necessarily be a true depiction of events. Instead they warp and bend over time, influenced by what the rest of our consciousness brings with it to the party. Phobias, personal bias, and alcohol trauma may all leave their mark on one's recollections. Most of the time these are tiny little blemishes, like forgetting what the colour of Jim's jumper was or thinking that you had been having a conversation about Spiderman 3 being an awful film with Sharon when it turns out it was Dorothy who thought you were a moron for not appreciating Toby Maguire enough. Sometimes however whole events are exaggerated, down played, or completely made up. And it's not because the person with these memories is consciously trying to deceive themselves. It's just the way our crazy little minds work. We constantly construct confabulations and cryptomnesia (Gee Note: The latter of which causes Superman to lose his inhibitions and start singing folk songs really badly and at the top of his voice. Which being Superman is, you know, pretty damn loud. That alone is probably the reason it's the last thing left in the box when it comes to the Annual Supervillain WMD Draft). Or false memories to you and me.

The thing with hypnosis is that it opens up the mind like Pandora‘s Box. It's like a totally blank canvas where the slightest nudge or stroke of your paintbrush creates a completely different picture. Put a blue dot somewhere near the top of the canvas and you have a picture of the Earth from a far away satellite. Put another dot next to it and all of a sudden the Earth has become a pair of eyes staring back at you. Under hypnosis you could be asked a leading question or your brain could be stimulated by a smell or a something in your eye line and before you know it in a past life you were a little duck named Clive.

Anyway as crazy as it sounds Future Life Progression is the opposite of Past Life Regression. As in the hypnotist will whisk you forward through the years so you can pow wow with your future self. Which is kind of handy I guess. I mean I sure as hell could do with someone letting me know in advance what‘s going to happen. Advice like “Dude, for God’s sake don’t step on that rake” and “Bro, you know that girl you met in the Tavern? Yeah well, don’t bother. You really aren’t her type” would be invaluable. But here’s the thing. How the hell does it work?



No really, how? I mean I get the idea that past memories resurface because your spirit or some such jazz has already experienced them. But memories that your spirit hasn’t experienced yet surfacing? What? Seriously I’m having a hard time grasping the whole concept. I mean does your consciousness travel in to the future? And if it does, is your future self aware that you are there? I mean it should remember right? In that case why not go the Back To The Future Part II route and (Gee Note: Buy a Goddam hoverboard already) slip some sporting results your way? And if that does happen, does the future you cease to exist? I mean what the hell? Am I the only one asking these painfully obvious questions?

Apparently so, as Tracy Ramsden turned her visit to Martyn Wightman into a piece about, er, herself. You know the type of thing, she’s a modern woman, blah, blah, blah, loves the single life, blah, blah, blah, but just wants a man who isn‘t useless (Gee Note: The good news is that useless men don‘t want her either. Well this one doesn‘t anyway). By the end the only thing I’d learnt was that Ramsden had never thought she wanted to be married to a farmer while wearing a nice dress (Gee Note: I think it was her wearing the dress and not him. I don‘t know, by that point she could‘ve told me she was fighting drunken aliens with lasers and I wouldn‘t have cared), except when she saw herself doing just that of course. There was no questioning of Wightman. No discussions of a potential paradox. No “So dude… how the hell is this NOT a load of old bollocks?”. Instead lovely Tracy had a grand old time pretending to be a housewife in some kind of wooden hut or something.

Now I don’t want to say that Martyn Wightman is a fraud but… ah… well… Martyn Wightman is a fraud. That you could travel forward in time by hypnosis to contact your future self defies everything that would be physically, logically, and rationally acceptable. Unless of course he means that he’ll put you in to contact with what your mind thinks will be your future self. In which case why bother? I mean I could picture my future me now without the need for hypnosis. And to be honest I’m pretty sure I won’t have gathered any sage like advice from ten years sitting on the sofa.

So I guess I should be thankful for Cosmo. I mean I doubt my future self would even have the slightest idea on how to decode my man.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Plant a good seed and you will joyfully gather fruit.

Is it just me or is season five of Lost the television show that hates beards? Think about it. Jack's clean shaven. Sawyer's clean shaven. Sayid's clean shaven. Desmond's clean shaven. Locke's clean shaven. Lapidus, a man who looked like he spent the last seven years in a jungle in Borneo, has been given a Ricki Lake style total makeover to the point where he's now practically hairless. Hell even Faraday, season 4's most prominent new beard, has been seemingly written out of the show (Gee Note: Obviously at that point they'd ran out of disposable razors. Frustratingly ol' Faraday wasn't even given a proper send off, rather just a passing mention from Sawyer that "he, er, isn't here anymore". In one of those annoying moments that happens every once in a while in Lost none of the other characters thought to put their hand up and ask a blindingly obvious question. Such as "Where did he go? No really, where the hell is he? Did he leave a note? An answerphone message? Was he eaten by a polar bear? Come to think of it what happened to the polar bears? No really, where the hell did they go? Did they leave a note? An answerphone message? Were they eaten by one of those Dharma Initiative branded sharks? Come to think of it what happened to the Dharma Initiative branded sha… ah forget it."). When the last man standing as far as chop warming wearers go is that bastion of masculinity Hurley, something's definitely up.

Speaking of beards, Brad Pitt had a cracking one in Seven Years in Tibet. Speaking of Brad Pitt (Gee Note: Ah the mystical art of the segue. Once again it has proven to be my downfall), the April 6th edition of The Jennifer Anniston Weekly The National Enquirer led with the story that he and Angelina Jolie had a bit of a bust up recently (Gee Note: Amazingly Jennifer Anniston wasn't featured on the front cover that particular week. You know if you listen carefully and the wind is still you can hear the sound of her publicist getting fired all the way from Beverly Hills). I don't know why they had a fight, something to do with being in New York and Jolie having mood swings because she's ridiculously thin. It wasn't a very interesting story if I'm honest. In fact good gossip was obviously hard to find that week, as the Enquirer's most intriguing article was that Britney Spears may be pregnant. Or just overweight. You know, one of the two.

Thank goodness for The Globe. As an added sweetener the UK edition of the Enquirer occasionally fills space, especially if it's a slow news week, by including the first six pages of it's sister paper The Globe as a pullout. And boy did that hit a home run. Not only does it lead with the breathless headline "Obama Mutiny!", which brings with it a mental image of the new leader of the free world dressed as a pirate - eye patch and all, but also my favourite published news item in months. Stop the presses kids, it turns out that Roy Orbison's ghost is a pyromaniac.




Now Roy Orbison is something of a legend in music circles. Born in 1936 in Vernon, Texas he became famous for his smooth baritone voice, catchy tunes, and pioneering work in the field of both rock and roll before his untimely death of heart failure in 1988 aged 52. During his career he amassed a string of hits including "I Drove All Night", "Only The Lonely", "Running Scared", and the classic "Oh Pretty Woman". He also picked up several Grammy awards along the way, and was inducted in to both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame.





So you would think that by the time he shuffled off this mortal coil Orbison would have a been a pretty content chap. Not according to The Globe however. In fact they believe that Orbison is at the heart of a deadly curse.

Now undoubtedly you've heard of such curses before, most notably in association with Tutankhamen. You know, the type where a group of amazingly upper class explorers crack open an ancient tomb, and then within three days each of them have woken up to discover their left hand has turned in to a balloon with a smiley face on it or something. However you may be forgiven for having never heard of the Orbison curse. Because, as far as I can tell, nobody's ever mentioned it before the article in The Globe (Gee Note: Which must come as somewhat of a relief to grave robbers in California where Orbison is buried.
"Hey, I tell you what, how about we rob someone famous? Like that Roy Orbison perhaps? He's probably buried with a golden guitar or something."

"No way man, 'aint you ever heard of the Orbison curse?"
"No. No I haven't."
"Actually come to think of it, me neither. Let's got get that guitar.") So what possessed The Globe to create a ghost story involving the Big O from scratch? Well apparently a house that was once owned by the music star had burned to the ground recently. Obviously for a celebrity gossip rag that would only constitute a tiny "Also in the news" three or four line report. But, seeing as we've already established that good stories were thin on the ground that week The Globe had no choice but to run with it. Doing a little bit of digging the mild mannered reporters discovered that this is, gasp, the third house that was once owned by Orbison to have burnt to the ground under "mysterious" circumstances.

And so the paper ramped up the sensationalism to a level befitting that of a tabloid. They even managed to get a quote from the editor of the Globe an Orbison family friend, which went a little something like this.

"This is a real life haunted house story… Roy was such a sweet man, but in many ways his life was so marked by tragedy, It's like his spirit is still unsettled and these horrible things continue." said an unnamed but obviously barking mad source. "There are other forces at play here - it's really a story of haunting, and you can't help thinking that it's still the spirit of the horrible tragedies that Roy endured in his life that haven't been laid to rest."

Now, ignoring the obvious issue that for a house to be haunted it needs to be a, er, house and not a pile of ash (Gee Note: I mean really, what ghost wants their pad burnt down? Unless it's for the insurance money of course. But then there's the problem with trying to make it look like an electrical thing or something. And that's a lot of hard work. Also, you’re a ghost. What good would the money do you anyway?) this all seems to be linked to the fact that Orbison went through some turbulent times during his lifetime. In 1966 his wife was killed in a motorcycle accident, and then two years later his two eldest sons died whilst Roy was on tour. They were apparently playing with fire near some model aeroplane glue which ignited and took the rest of the house down with it.

Problem is the Globe lists this as one of the three houses that were set ablaze under "mysterious" circumstances. You know, those three buildings that point to a "real life haunted house story". Now I don't claim to be an authority on vengeful spirits, but wouldn't Roy Orbison have to be, oh gosh I don't know, dead before his ghost started setting fire to buildings? The second house in question had been previously owned by Orbison and The Man in Black Johnny Cash before being sold on to Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb (Gee Note: Wow that's a bit of a come down huh? I mean Orbison = Great. Cash = Great. Bee Gee = No. Not so much. Maybe the house burnt itself down in protest?). Gibb decided to remodel the house, during which process a construction accident led to it being engulfed in flames. Now, again maybe I'm missing something, but for me a house that catches on fire in calm weather with nobody living in it and with no electrical supply is mysterious. A house catching on fire after heavy machinery and men with blow torches have been ploughing through it doesn't really leave me baffled as to what the cause might have been.

The third house, situated in Nashville, Tennessee, went down on January 25th this year. Sadly I can't find the investigators conclusion as to the official cause online. I'm guessing whatever the results turned up, "Ghosts did it" wasn't one of them. If it was then Tennessee may want rethink it's policy of allowing it's fire inspectors to drink on the job.

See this is the thing with stories like this. They always end up putting two and two together and coming up with twelve. And I don’t know, using three coincidental fires to claim that a man who, like everyone else, went through highs and lows in their life is now haunting every house he once lived in is kind of insensitive at best, downright insulting at worse.

But hey, the Globe manage to get two whole pages out of this tripe. And on a slow news week I guess that’s worth it’s weight in gold...

Ah to hell with it. Let’s leave on high note for once. Ladies and gentlemen it gives me great pleasure to introduce to two of the cutest Japanese women ever and the one, the only, Roy Orbison. Enjoy.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

To Begin at the Beginning

Swansea's most famous son outside of Russell T. Davies and yours truly (Gee Note: I'd argue that I'm even more famous than Russell T. but, alas, that would be a very short argument. Something along the lines of…
ME:
I'm more famous than Russell T. Davies!
SOMEONE ELSE:
No you're not.
ME: You're right. I'm not. Damn.) has to be the poet Dylan Thomas. Born in the Uplands region of Swansea in 1914, he lived there until the age of 20 until the success of his first volume of poetry, imaginatively titled "18 Poems", propelled him to the dizzy lights of London. Whilst there he developed a reputation as a drunk and a hell raiser as well as being a phenomenal talent.

Despite the fact that he put away enough alcohol on a daily basis that could effectively euthanize a large herd of cattle (Gee Note: He also smoked like a steam engine and yet in the bar closest to his birth place there is, or was until the recent smoking ban in Wales, a non-smoking section called "The Dylan Thomas Snug". Ah irony, thy name is The Uplands Tavern.) Thomas had made it all the way to New York by the 9th December 1953. Where he, er, promptly snuffed it. Amazingly it wasn't the drink that killed him, instead a lack of oxygen caused by pneumonia led to a fatal swelling of the brain. As a fitting tribute to the man the BBC aired a production of his radio play "Under Milk Wood" two months after his death with an all star Welsh cast led by Richard Burton.

The reason I bring all this up is that something got me thinking about Thomas today. See Dylan had something of a love/hate relationship with his hometown, and for every beautiful piece of poetry he wrote about Swansea, such as "Return Journey Home" a radio production about walking through Swansea after it had been destroyed by Luftwaffe in a three night blitz during World War II, he could be equally scathing about its faults. One of the most often quoted remarks that Thomas made about his birth place is that Swansea is the "graveyard of ambition". (Gee Note: Partly the reason as to why this is often quoted is because some bright spark at Swansea City Council decided to imprint the message "Ambition Is Critical" in the concrete outside of the city's train station as a "response" to Dylan's criticism. Which is all kinds of daft in my opinion. I mean most cities would have gone for a simple "Welcome to Swansea". Not us though. Oh no. Instead we have gone with an "aren't we soooooo witty" statement that comes across as, well, kind of petty really).



And the thing is it's hard to shake the feeling that Thomas was right. I’ve certainly been struggling with being ambitious recently. It’s partly the reason I haven’t posted in a while. Maybe I need a change of scenery. Like the neighbouring town of Bridgend perhaps. I mean that’s a place choc-a-bloc full of ambition. Take, for example, the case of Paul and Deborah Rees.

Paul and Deborah made headlines recently - most notably in the local newspaper the South Wales Evening Post, a publication for which no story is too small. It turns out the Rees family had been, like most of us, hit by the recent global economic crisis and were looking for a way to make a wee bit of extra cash. So Paul and Deborah took a pro-active approach and decided to go in to business for themselves. And hey, they went the right way about it, getting a grant of £4500 from the British government to help set up their new venture.

This seemingly innocuous act enraged the Evening Post, prompting a call to arms amongst it’s readers against a government gone mad. Why I hear you ask? Did Paul and Deborah want to set up a business where people could hire bazookas with which to shoot new born puppies? Or a stall where you could hire sticks to beat old age pensioners with? Well no, not quite. Paul and Deborah Rees have set up a business teaching people how to better harness psychic powers.

Cue a flood of anger on the Evening Post’s message board. Comments such as “Stop robbing Joe Public!”, “Mediums..what a load of crock!”, the completely incomprehensible “ALL THE MONEY LENDS AND BILLS OWEING COMPANYS WILL EMPLOY THESE I BET SORRY DEL BOY YOUR WORDS” and my personal favourite “I would like to point out that there are a lot of people out there doing voluntary work. Why not give them money? Oh no sorry, if it’s voluntary you can’t get grants.” (Gee Note: Er, yeah that’s why it’s called voluntary work. If you get paid it, er, stops being voluntary. Seriously that’s what it means. Look if you’re having trouble grasping the concept I guess I could draw you a picture or something. On second thoughts, perhaps not). In fact so large was the public outcry that the Post’s message board clocked up an amazing 45 messages. Considering most people usually read the Post for its classified ads that’s nothing short of a miracle.

The Post, sensing it was on a good thing, stoked the fire a bit more with a special “We Say” section, where a booming editorial voice told South Wales’ collective conscience how it should feel about all of this. “If more evidence was needed of how governments waste taxpayers’ money” it thundered, “Consider the couple given £4,500 to set up a business talking to the dead. A spokesman for the Assembly describes the "psychic mediums" business as a "unique venture". That’s one way of looking at it. One of the partners in the venture says: "If you lose a son, you have a medium." That is grotesquely insensitive and insulting to all those grieving parents who have borne their loss without resorting to this nonsense. The cash should be taken back.”

The newspaper obviously wanted to pander to the feelings of people such as Dale in Swansea who commented “It’s official, the government supports swindling vulnerable people. Why don't they invest money into a mugging business? It’s no different.” or “Psychic, my arm. They are cashing in on poor, vulnerable bereaved people. The lesson life has taught me is to treat people well when they are alive, it stops you from feeling the need to hand over your hard earned cash to con artists like the Rees’s. That 4 and a half grand would have been better spent on counselling for people that have lost a loved one.” as CM puts it (Gee Note: CM? CM Punk? No? Dammit that would’ve been so cool. By the way I saw CM Punk wrestle at a small show in my nation’s capital a few years back before he became a big star for the WWE. He was playing a bad guy and started off saying how good it was to be back in England, which was of course met with a loud chant of “Wales! Wales!”. Quick as a flash Punk exclaimed “Wait, you call this place Wales? Well that’s rather apt considering the size of the women in attendance here tonight.” I knew right at that moment CM Punk was going to be a big deal one day).

Which is all very noble. Except here’s the thing. Forget for a moment that £4500 isn’t a lot of money in real terms. No really, the amount the Rees family has been given is about the same as two people would earn over a two month period flipping burgers at your local McDonalds. And forget for a moment that if you’d want to claim back your slice of the £4500 then you’d get, ooooh, about 0.00007 pence. Instead think about this.

The Rees’s business, named the Accolade Academy, is predominantly a training institution for wannabe psychics. Seriously, Paul and Deborah offer workshops and tutorials where budding mediums can hone their craft, as well as offering career advice and guidance. And while the Rees’ will still be practicing mediums in their own rights, as far as I can tell the £4500 will be spent on Academy element of the business.



And really, why the hell shouldn’t the government give money to the Accolade Academy? I mean say what you want about the nature of clairvoyancy (Gee Note: I sure have on this blog previously), this venture is offering folks the chance to learn a new skill that could, conceivably at least, allow them to become self employed professional psychics. And so how is that any different to, say, an online writing course or one of those places where you can learn to be a driving instructor? I mean it might not be the most conventional of career choices, but because of the Accolade Academy somebody one day may be enjoying a successful career that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Which, let’s face it, in this current economic environment might be quite useful.

So if you ask me this outpouring of scorn towards the couple and the government that gave them a helping hand is uncalled for. In fact in my opinion it borders on the downright ignorant. And if this is what ambition brings with it, bad tempers and people blindly belly aching then to hell with moving to Bridgend.

I’m happy being ambitionless right here. In my ugly, lovely town.