Sunday, 31 May 2009

Did you threaten to overrule him?

Jeremy Paxman is one of Britain's most recognisable public figures. Political analyst, journalist, and host of Newsnight, "Paxo" (Gee Note: Who may or may not enjoy being called Paxo) has carved out a reputation in recent times as being both a hard nosed, no nonsense reporter and a self appointed expert on the arts. Paxman's interview techniques have made him something to be feared amongst British politicians, mainly because of stuff like this

Bare in mind that the person being interviewed is none other than Swansea's own Michael "Vampire" Howard (Gee Note: Who may or may not enjoy being called a vampire) a former Home Secretary and leader of the Conservative Party. Now say what you want about the guy, but he does have an awful lot of experience when it comes to dealing with the media. So for him to be bullied in to submission by Mr. Paxman is, quite frankly, remarkable.

The thing about Paxman is despite his heroic brow beating of our nation's parasites politicians it's actually quite hard to like the man. No really he comes across as, you know, kinda arrogant. For example, as well as his Newsnight duties he's also the current host of University Challenge, a quiz show for university students who are both terrifyingly intelligent and terrifyingly ugly in equal measure. University Challenge is, despite a brief hiatus of seven years in the early 90's, one of the longest running programmes on British television. It's the kind of show that harkens back to a more pleasant time, a time where television sought to inform it's audience rather than using a woman's cleavage to sell a car. The programme itself is a bit like a pub quiz for the MENSA crowd, with difficult questions about subjects people like me pretend to know a lot about but in reality don't. For example.

Question: Which Austrian-born composer's last words were reported to be "Harmony! Harmony!", although his work is particularly noted from his free use of dissonance and his development, from the early 1920s, of the twelve-tone scale?

Gee's Answer: Say what?

Actual Answer: Arnold Schoenberg

I don't know why but there's something quite soothing watching pimply faced boffins display a remarkable aptitude for trivia. Well there was when Bamber Gascoine was hosting it anyway. Bamber was (Gee Note: The young prince of the forest who befriends a sexually ambiguous skunk and a rabbit with attention deficit disorder) the quizmaster on UC until 1987 when the show was cancelled. In 1994 the series was reintroduced with Paxman at the helm. Problem is Paxman has brought with him his unique brand of questioning which includes, amongst other things, barking "Come on!" at a team that takes too long to answer a question. And woe betide the silly sausage that gets a question wrong that Paxo himself knows the answer to, as he's most likely to respond with "No. You're stupid and here's the reason why…" or words to that effect. Watching University Challenge is sometimes akin to watching A.C. Slater bench press some nerds.

Paxman can also be rather unprofessional should the mood take him. At some point during 2005 the editor of Newsnight decided that rather than rounding off the show with the usual financial reports they would instead show a brief forecast for tomorrow's weather. Paxman was unhappy with this, possibly under the impression that reading out the weather was beneath him. This lead to statements live on air such as "So finally and controversially - tomorrow's weather forecast. It's a veritable smorgasbord. Sun. Rain. Thunder. Hail. Snow. Cold. Wind. Not worth going to work really." the equally impressive "And so to tomorrow's weather forecast. Take an umbrella", or my absolute favourite "And for tomorrow's weather. It's April. What do you expect?". The weather forecasts lasted all of two weeks before the market news was brought back.

Anyway this weekend Paxman has made headlines by calling the British public “Barbarians”. Jeremy was at the Hay Festival of Literature giving a talk on Victorian Art before conducting a Q&A session with his audience. During this he was asked the question of whether pictures in galleries should be explained to members of the public in greater detail.

Well apparently Paxo thinks we as a nation don’t appreciate art enough. In fact without even the slightest hint of irony Paxman stated "Watching TV is the most popular leisure activity in Britain. I find that very depressing." (Gee Note: Ummm, what is it you do for a living exactly?).

Now don’t get me wrong. Art has it’s place in society. But just what the hell is wrong with television? Great TV is one of the most wonderful things in the world. Seriously I’d put a good television show right up there any work of art from Michelangelo or Da Vinci. Hell, The Wire alone knocks spots off anything Picasso doodled. And “barbarians” isn’t really a fair term to describe the British public. I mean sure, some us might not be the most intellectual of folks, but really it’s not as if we’re a bunch of slack jawed yokels who see the face of Jesus Christ on, oh I don’t know, the lid of a marmite jar and act like it’s the second coming.

Oh wait…

Meet the Allen family of Ystrad Rhondda, Wales. The Allens made headlines worldwide nationally locally on Friday when it was reported that they had, er, seen the face of Jesus on a Marmite lid and were convinced it was the second coming of Christ.

Now before we begin it strikes me that some of our overseas readers might have no idea what the hell “Marmite” is. Allow me to explain. Marmite is a food spread made from yeast extract. It is a brown, sticky paste with a very strong flavour. So strong in fact that Marmite’s marketing campaign is “You’ll either love it or hate it” (Gee Note: Which was deemed a better slogan than “Marmite: It tastes like ass” by the ad folks). Inexplicably some people actually eat the stuff, despite the fact that it’s made from rotten microscopic fungus.

So one day Mrs Claire Allen (Gee Note: Who at the age of 36 really should know better) was spreading this appalling substance on her son’s toast when all of sudden she saw the face of Christianity. No not Chuck Norris. The other guy. She then ran to tell her husband Gareth who had this to say, “When I first looked at it I wasn't sure, but when I moved it away from me it started coming out. I thought yeah, she's right - that's the image of Jesus.”

Here’s the above mentioned image of Jesus.

Claire was quoted as saying “Straight away Jamie said 'that looks like God', and my other boys even said they could see a face. People might think I'm nuts,” (Gee Note: No? Really?) “But I like to think it's Jesus looking out for us.”

See, it’s tough commenting on this story. Simply because it’s so bat shit crazy to begin with that, you know, where can you go with it? I mean forget for a moment that Jesus Christ would plant his face on a lid of a Marmite jar for, er, no apparent reason what so ever. Forget for a moment that an unassuming family home in Ystrad, a town with a population of around 6000, would be the place the Son of God would choose for his grand return (Gee Note: Seriously if that is the case then JC should hire a publicist or something. You know, to book some interviews with the media and raise his public profile a bit. I mean not ALL publicists can be sinners dammed to spend eternity in Hell right? Right?). Instead think on this.

It doesn’t really look all that much like Jesus.

In fact if I’m honest it looks an awful lot like, well, this guy.

Now I’m not sure what the face of Sgt. Floyd Pepper magically appearing on a food spread container would actually mean in a metaphysical sense. However I’m guessing it has less to with divine intervention and more to do with pareidolia, a term psychologists use to explain the phenomenon where people see facial features in everyday objects. According to Carl Sagan this is due to a survival technique where we have been “hard wired” from birth to recognise a human face, even in poor visibility conditions.

The scary thing is though that if people genuinely feel that they’re seeing the face of Jesus anywhere outside of religious texts and church then maybe Paxman is right.

Maybe we should watch less television and learn more about our surroundings by visiting art galleries, museums, and libraries. Oh and looking up witty and informative websites of course. I hear there’s a good one about Elvis hanging out in some woodland or something. You should really check that out.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go. Animals Do The Funniest Things is about to start.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'.

I'm thinking of applying for the next series of The Apprentice (Gee Note: The UK version obviously. I mean don't get me wrong I like the American version just as much, what with that Donald Trump and whatever it is that died and found it's final resting place on top of his head. It's just I'm not sure that when filling out a "Reason for applying for an American Visa" form the answer "I want to be on a reality television show" is grounds for a successful application. Otherwise I'd have already tried to be America's Next Top Model or something. No really, I can see it now. Me flicking my hair back, playfully stroking my beard, while lights flash in the background. "Gareth," Tyra Banks will say, "You own the camera. You OWN it!". "I know dahling," I'll reply "I was born with it. The good looks I mean. The beard I had to grow later").

I don't know, I think I'd be in with a shout of winning it as well. Because despite my lack of experience in "business", it seems to me that the only quality you need to be able to win The Apprentice is to be slightly less useless than everyone else. And that's really not that difficult. Judging by this year's contestants you could have turned up wearing a clown suit and called yourself "Bonzo the Magnificent" and you would have still walked it.

Speaking of being completely useless, the excellent weblog that is Naveed's Realm recently coined the term "couch researcher", i.e. someone who researches from the comfort of their own home via books, television and the interwebz. Which is exactly what I do. I mean I wish it wasn't so of course, and that I was actually able to travel to the deepest, darkest recesses of the Congo where I'd hang out with pygmies and hunt dinosaurs all day. But there's a couple of practical issues with all that. Firstly it would mean living in a jungle, which as anyone who's been camping with me will know is sure to result in my death after about, oooh, 30 minutes (Gee Note: "Hey guys I found this rope on the jungle floor and thought it might come in useful. Look, it's quite thick and has these fang like hooks on the end and it's hissing at me. Guys? Where have you gone? Guys?"). Secondly one would have to build a relationship with said pygmies so they don't spear you on sight. And, honestly, I wouldn't trust myself to be able to do that. I can barely stay on the good side of the postman, let alone an indigenous tribe.

So instead I'm limited to the resources in my home. And normally it's not so bad. In fact considering my daily ritual consists of putting on a record (Gee Note: Today's choice is the Blind Boys of Alabama. We just loves us some of that ol' timey music), making myself a cup of coffee, and cranking up my laptop in order to play a couple of quick rounds of solitaire do a wee bit of research, the whole thing is quite a relaxing experience.

Unless of course your chosen research subject happens to be the Altamaha-Ha. Because if it is then, trust me, it becomes frustrating beyond belief.

Allow me to explain. Last week it struck me that it's been a while since I've posted something about a good old fashioned monster. I mean sure strange psychics and murderous robots are fun and all, but really when all is said done nothing beats a crazy yarn about a bezerk beast tearing up the waters of the Amazon or the jungles of Africa. And so I decided to put my cryptozoology hat on (Gee Note: I don't really have a cryptozoology hat. I do however have a hat I wear when I want to pretend that I'm a pirate) and find a suitable topic to blog about.

As you may or may not have noticed I tend to stay away from "the big four" of Bigfoot, Nessie, Chupacabra, and the Jersey Devil when posting about cryptozoology. Mostly because there's such a wealth of information, speculation and opinion on those cryptids that it would take a man with a much greater attention span than myself to wade through it all. But it's also partly due to my concern that, you know, I'm not sure I could bring all that much to the table other than a couple of lame jokes and a weak hypothesis about one of them being a misidentified horse or something.

So therefore I tend to concentrate my efforts on lesser known mystery creatures. And having stumbled upon the story of a great big lizard fish splashing it's way through the state of Georgia last week, I thought it was pretty much tailor made for this blog. It's at that point though that I hit a snag.

Now I must confess that I know next to nothing about Georgia itself other than Coca-Cola, Laurence Fishburne, Bill Hicks, and the adorable Rainy all come from there. That and the state song is "Georgia on My Mind", having been officially named as such in 1979 (Gee Note: Sadly I couldn't find out what the state song for Georgia was prior to 1979. If it was the jingle from those Christmas Coke ads though that would be mint). But thanks to the internet I am now well aware that the state covers approximately 59,425 square miles, has a population of somewhere near the 10 million mark, and was also the setting for Gone With The Wind. The most interesting thing about Georgia as far as this blog is concerned however is that it is home to the Altamaha River.

The Altamaha River is the seventh largest river to run entirely in one state in the US. It measures in at somewhere near 137 miles in length and is apparently the third largest contributor of fresh water to the Atlantic Ocean from North America's point of view (Gee Note: Wooooo! Go Altamaha. USA! USA! USA!). All of that isn't really important however. What is important is that Altamaha is the alleged home of this critter, The Altamaha-Ha.

Now at this point in the proceedings I usually type something along the lines of "Meet Bill Crazyperson. Mr. Crazyperson was travelling down the Altamaha River in a boat made out of an old kitchen sink and some sausages when, oh gosh, this great big monster reared it's head and scared the bejesus out of him". But herein lies the problem with being a couch researcher. Every piece of information you acquire is third hand, and as such most of the stories that involve this strange beast are incredibly vague. Here's what we do know. The Altamaha-ha is (Gee Note: Really fun to say out loud) allegedly between 10 ft and 40 ft long, has eel like features, flippers, a porpoise like tail, and swims much like a snake would with two or three humps breaking the surface of the water. It has apparently been around since the 1700’s where Native Americans would spy it splashing about willy-nilly. Then at some point during the 1960’s it was spotted by some fishermen, before a rash of sightings leading up to present day.

The thing is for such a often spotted creature there really is very little to report on apparently. In fact the majority of webpages that mention the Altamaha-ha simply regurgitate what you read above. Big eel thing. Three humps. Native Americans. Loads of sightings. Details are annoyingly rare though, to the point where I started crying out for something, anything, that would add a sense of believability to the tale. Instead I came across a lot of vague talk of “boatmen in the 20’s” and “Tama Indians would call them Dragons” with out any dates, descriptions, or even the name of anyone who had claimed to have seen the animal. Which means one of two things. Either Altamaha-ha is an urban legend, promoted by word of mouth via tourism officials, irresponsible parents, and crackpots. Or Georgia is home to some very shy people.

So I was about to chuck it all in and find something else to blog about when finally, finally I stumbled across the following.

Meet Bill Crazyperson Donny Manning. Manning and his brother were fishing one night in July 1969 on their father’s houseboat when Donny’s line got hooked on something. Like a scene from Jaws Donny took out a shotgun, said something cool, and blew that sumbitch up. Well ok not really, but the line did start unreeling at a rapid rate, to the point where Manning thought he had caught a sturgeon. Which isn’t an unreasonable assumption to make. Sturgeons are bloody huge. No really, check it out.

See as far as I’m concerned that’s not a fish, that’s something King Kong would wrestle on Skull Island.

Anyway it turns out that Manning was wrong, because under the lighting of the houseboat the beastie came to the surface. What Manning saw was a gray monster about 20ft in length filled with pointed fangs and a snout like a “a duck billed platypus” as well as the above mentioned horizontal tail fin. Manning tried to reel it in but the creature got spooked and made a hasty retreat, snapping the 40-pound test line in the process. And I’m sure that if I had any idea what exactly a 40-pound test line was I’d be impressed. Or shocked. Or a quivering wreck. Luckily I’m completely ignorant to the ways of fishing so I can type that sentence in relative peace and harmony. (Gee Note: By the way I’d tried getting a screen capture of the shrieking eels from The Princess Bride to go with this paragraph. And by “tried” I mean “blatantly looked for one to steal on Google images”. But alas I couldn’t find one. So, uh, could you do me a favour and just pretend there’s one here? Thanks).

And that wasn’t the only time something strange was seen in Altamaha River. In the summer of 1980 two chaps by the names of Andy Greene and Barry Prescott saw a large leviathan thrashing around on the banks of the river, having apparently stranded itself. The two men watched for about ten minutes (Gee Note: Like watching a large animal squirming in mud, eh? Perverts) before the beast freed itself and drifted back out to the water. They described “a massive eel” around 30 ft long with a horizontal tail fin. Which sounds a lot like the same thing Donny Manning nearly took home for a snack. Or what nearly took Donny Manning home for a snack. One of the two.

So there we go, more than enough for a post on the Altamaha-ha. And I guess the moral of this story is that you should never give up.

That and stay the hell out of the waters of the Altamaha River. Haven’t you heard? There’s a monster in there, man.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Live long and prosper.

Last night I went to the cinema and ponied up my hard earned cash for a chance to see Star Trek on the big screen. Now I have to admit that I'm not a massive fan of the Star Trek franchise.

Oh sure it has it's moments. Such as the episode "The Visitor" from the fourth season of DS9, which in my opinion is one of the finest 45 minutes of American television ever produced. And yes the original series was both iconic and ground breaking and all of that (Gee Note: By the way about a week ago my cable box froze and got stuck on both the Sci-Fi channel and mute for about half an hour. And with me being far too lazy to fix the damn thing I ended up watching "The Enemy Within" in silence. You know, the episode where a transporter accident leads to two Kirks appearing, one good and one eeeeeevil. Problem is that trying to follow the plot without any sound is nigh on impossible it turns out, leading to me shouting things at the television such as "What the hell happened to that dog thing?", "Why is Kirk trying to rape that blonde woman?" and "Why is William Shatner's stunt double trying to shoot him? I mean I know he could be a bit of a jerk on the set if the rumours are to be believed but, really, is violence ever the answer?") but for some reason I've always thought of Star Trek as kind of twee. I don't know, I guess I like my science fiction television with a bit more of an edge to it.

So it was a pleasant surprise that the new Star Trek movie is, well, damn good. No really it is. From the opening sequence where a fairly mundane exploration exorcise is interrupted by all hell breaking loose, it really does deliver on all levels. Rip roaring set pieces, a good dose of funny lines, and enough emotional turmoil to shake a stick at, it is high octane entertainment of the grandest order. Seriously, I cannot recommend it enough. It's like the Star Wars of this generation. And considering Star Wars itself failed miserably to be the Star Wars of this generation (Gee Note: Jar Jar Binks! Lucas! What the hell were you thinking?!?) that's no mean feat.

You know, it's a refreshing change to leave a multiplex with your expectations exceeded. Because if I'm honest with you, with the exception of last year's phenomenal Dark Knight (Gee Note: Which, regardless of what the Academy Awards tell you, really was 2008's best movie), I'm struggling to think of the last time I had my mind blown in a movie theatre. Sure I've seen plenty of OK flicks recently, and of course a lot of really bad ones. But it's becoming increasingly rare that I fall in love with a film at the cinema.

Take The Watchmen for example. Now as I've mentioned previously on this blog I love the comic book and hate the film. The thing was watching this overblown, bloated mess of a production actually made me feel uncomfortable. Because with every tedious conversation that started up, or when an unnecessarily violent fist fight kicked in to gear, or as that bloody ridiculous sex scene to the tune of "Hallelujah" romped it's way on to the screen, I actually felt myself sink deeper in to my chair. I'd waited for this movie for, oh gosh, five plus years and raved to anyone who would listen about how it was going to do for cinema what the comic book had done for, er, comic books. And yet when it was there in front of me it was so awful that I actually felt kind of embarrassed. Kinda. It sure as moxy wasn't a pleasant viewing experience anyway.

Which is why I won't be beating down the door to watch Terminator: Salvation.

See I love the first two Terminator movies. But since then the franchise has taken a downwards turn with a blah third film and the television series The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which loads of people rave about but I could never get in to. (Gee Note: By the way The Sarah Connor Chronicles has just been cancelled by FOX. Sadly it bit the big one when it came to ratings. Weirdly enough so did Dollhouse, which is being given a second season. I guess I’ll have to wait another year for Eliza Dushku to realise that she needs to take some time off and become my wife). And so over the past couple of years my enthusiasm for all things Terminator has kinda waned.

And to be honest with you, even though we’ve had a kick ass trailer for this new movie (Gee Note: And really, when was the last time you saw a trailer that wasn’t kick ass? Seriously it’s the only thing that Hollywood does consistently well) it’s still hard to shake the feeling that it’s going to be rubbish. For a start it’s directed by McG, the chap at the helm for both of the Charlie’s Angels flicks, who for some unknown reason is a 40 year old man who thinks going by the name “McG” is cool. (Gee Note: I mean I’m not even sure how to pronounce it. Is it “Muck Gee”? “Macjah”? “Em See Gee”? Don’t tell me I have to wait for him to win an Oscar before I find out. If previous form is anything to go by that could be a very long wait indeed).

Secondly when the producers of a movie are so worried that their lead star is going to walk out on them that they send the following audio recording to the film’s insurers, things can’t be going all that well (Gee Note: By the way, the following video contains VERY strong language. No really, if you haven’t heard this before then Christian Bale drops the “f” bomb like 5000 times in three minutes. So, you know, if you don’t want to get offended then don’t click on play. If however you don’t care all that much and think that a movie star acting like a complete asshole would make quite enjoyable listening then feel free to go buck wild with it).

Yeah happy campers make good movies right? I particularly love the way that Bale’s accent goes from London, to California, all the way back to London again. Or as I like to call it, “Yankney” (Gee Note: GEDDITT!!!! Part Yank! Part Cockney! AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. I’m a frickin’ genius).

But most of all the idea of fictional evil machines exterminating the human race just doesn’t inspire awe in the way it did 25 years ago. Especially when with every passing year we get closer and closer to The Singularity.

The theory for The Singularity was first put forward by I. J. Good, a British cryptographer. Good was like a geek before geeks existed. He wrote numerous publications on probability theory, played chess to a county standard, help bring the Asian board game Go to a brand new audience via an article in The New Scientist in the mid 60’s, and in 1965 came up with this

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an 'intelligence explosion,' and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.

Oh no he di’ent!

Now while this all might sound like science fiction, a lot of respectable people took it very seriously. Vernor Vinge, Professor of Mathematics, computer scientist, lover, warrior against injustice and Science Fiction author coined the term “Singularity” in an essay published in 1993 in which he wrote

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

The basic concept is this. At some point man will create a machine that is slightly more intelligent than himself. After this point the machine will then be able to diagnose it’s own insufficiencies and design a more intricate and intelligent machine without the need for man’s input. This will in turn lead to a snowball effect where machines become more and more sophisticated, eventually becoming the dominant intelligence on the planet. And at that point we’re screwed.

You see the theory goes that as a machine can evolve simply by upgrading then the need to procreate becomes null and void. And so therefore there is no need for a machine to fall in love. Without love of course you don’t get compassion. The worry is that, without compassion, a super intelligent machine might view us humans as a waste of natural resources and, er, wipe us out.

Now I don’t know about you, but that scares the hell out of me. I mean it sounds all kinds of plausible right? I’m not one to advocate digging a hole in your backyard and building a concrete bunker but, you know, if I had any idea how to do it I’d out there with a shovel and a mixer right now.

So thank goodness for the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Founded in the year 2000, SIAI proposes that all future AI be made “friendly”. Now all this gets very technical, and to be honest with you I'm not even proficient enough to make this blog look good let alone talk about in depth computing stuff. But the upshot of it is that SIAI reckon they, given enough time and funding, can create AI that holds biological life in the utmost respect.

Let’s hope to God they succeed. Because for our species to be annihilated by something plugged in to an AC/DC power supply would be, well, kinda embarrassing.

But then who knows? If in the future there is friendly AI then in fifty years time it could be the machines making Hollywood movies.

And let’s face it. They couldn’t do much worse.

Friday, 15 May 2009

We got totally lied to by our album covers, man.

This weekend promises to be spectacular. The reason? Well Saturday brings with it one of the most hotly anticipated television events of the calendar. It's bigger than the Super Bowl. It's even bigger than the Oscars. Ladies and Gentleman strap yourselves in, the Eurovision Song Contest is upon us.

Man I love Eurovision. I love the terrible songs. I love the amazingly camp performances. I even love the fact that the rest of Europe hates Britain so much that we never get any votes. Because in reality the Eurovision Song Contest isn't about finding the best song in Europe. Instead Eurovision is about sitting around the television with a group of loved ones while getting steadily wasted and laughing at what ever the hell that Spanish guy is doing.

For our overseas readers who have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, allow me to explain. Every year a song contest is hosted in which every country in Europe is invited to take part. A new song is written by each of those countries and then they are performed live in front of a viewing audience of millions. At the end of the contest the viewers are able to vote on their favourite song, not including the one from their own country.

The song that receives the most votes from one particular country gets 12 points, the song with the second highest number of votes gets 10 points, and so on. The song with the most points at the end of the show wins. It's kind of like a continental version of American Idol.

Except where Idol takes itself very seriously (Gee Note: To the point where this years most entertaining competitor Norman Gentle didn't even make it to the final stages. Seriously he was money. I'd rather watch that lunatic charge all over the stage than Adam Lambert screech his way through another "instant classic". But then, you know, I guess America doesn't agree with me. That's fine. I don't agree with their policy of allowing their citizens to legally own deadly weapons. Which I think makes me the bigger person in all of this) Eurovision, er, doesn't. Oh sure, every year a handful of countries try and bring some sanity to the proceedings with a motley collection syrupy pop songs. But with every heartfelt and earnest attempt to get the contest back on track something like this is bound to follow it.

Yeah! Sadly despite the swagger and pomp they brought to the show LT United only managed to finish sixth behind, erm, well this.

Now bare in mind that a traditional Eurovision song should be something like this and you'll discover why 2006 was very special year indeed.

It's not just the crazy songs that make Eurovision great however. When rounding up the results the hosts of the show throw to a live video feed of someone representing their specific country who'll deliver the news of which points go where. And it always leads to an awkward exchange as people try to converse in broken English. Something along the lines of.

"Hello Russia. This is Belarus calling."

"Hello Belarus. Please can you give us the results for your country."

"Yes. Thank you for presenting us with an excellent show this year."

"Thank you. Please can you give us the results for your country."

"I know all of Europe is happy watching this evening."

"Yes. Please can you give us the results for your country."

"And now the results for Belarus…"

See? There really is a lot to love about Eurovision. This year my money is on The Toppers, who will be representing the Netherlands. I haven't heard their song yet, so this may be a foolish bet but honestly their promotional picture is worth a shed load of votes alone. I mean any band that looks exactly like General Zod and his crew is going to be tough to beat in my opinion.

Sadly not everyone shares my love for Eurovision. A common criticism is that if it's supposed to be a search for Europe's best song, why are no serious artists associated with it? To which my answer is that if the songs on Eurovision were any good then it wouldn't as much fun. And it really is as simple as that. I mean say for example every performer on the Eurovision Song Contest suddenly became brilliant over night. Where would the laughter come from? The bad dancing? The insane nonsensical lyrics? Seriously a good Eurovision Song Contest would be rubbish. In all honesty magical music turn arounds are best left to folks like Robert Johnson.

Robert Johnson is commonly referred to as the grandfather of rock 'n' roll. Born in Mississippi in either 1911 or 1912, much of Johnson's life is poorly documented. What is known is that his first wife died during childbirth, and that he had married a second time and was living in Robinsonville in 1930 when legendary blues musician Son House moved in to area. House claims that Johnson was desperate to learn all he could about the blues and would follow House around trying to pick up little bits here and there. House tolerated this odd fellow, but in truth he didn't believe Johnson had the talent required to make it in the music business. “Such another racket you never heard!" said House when discussing Johnson's attempts to strum out a tune "It’d make people mad, you know. They’d come out and say ‘Why don’t y’all go in there and get that guitar from that boy!"

(Gee Note: Wow, people would ask him to stop playing? That's a confidence booster right there. Reminds me of the time I went to see a local band named Limeslade play at the Uplands Tavern. Limeslade are what could be charitably described as a "fusion" band, using electric guitars, flutes, a didgeridoo and bongos. They are of course completely hopeless, but are also blissfully unaware of that fact. Anyway one night they were happily banging out the tunes, including a quite frankly epic version of I Am The Walrus that still makes me laugh when I think back, when a middle aged woman approached the stage and demanded they cease. "You've RUINED our evening. You're RUINING everyone else's evening" she wailed. "Stop. Please. Just stop". Thankfully they carried on, eventually leading to the flute player knocking over a mic stand that in turn knocked over an amp which produced feedback of such volume that most of that evening's patrons promptly left the bar never to return. Really the sight of a bunch of slightly inhiberiated South Walians fleeing a pub with their hands covering their ears is one that will stay with me for a very long time. God bless you Limeslade.)

At some point Johnson left town for a couple of months and upon his return House was amazed to find that Johnson had become a frickin' guitar playing genius. No really, the dude literally came back like he was Slash or something. Even more impressive was that Johnson could now learn how to play a tune simply by listening to it, and had mastered techniques that House himself had spent years trying to get to grips with.

House wasn't the only one to notice a change in Johnson. Willie Brown, another noted blues musician, claimed that Johnson's whole demeanour had changed. When playing with other musicians Johnson would turn away from them as if he had something to hide, and would tune his guitar in unusual ways.

This sudden transformation in Johnson raised eyebrows. How had he become so good so quickly people asked? The answer was simple. Johnson had apparently (Gee Note: Used a telephone booth to travel back in time and take an intensive guitar course so that Wyld Stallyns could win The Battle of the Bands) sold his soul to the Devil.

The story differs depending on who you believe, but the basic premise is this. Johnson was somewhere near Clarkesdale, Mississippi when one night he was driven by a sudden urge to visit a nearby Crossroads. Arriving there at midnight Johnson was met by a man dressed all in black (Gee Note: What was Johnny Cash doing hanging out at a roadside in the middle of the night? ). The man, accompanied by a large dog, told Johnson that he was the Devil and then took Johnson’s guitar. A quick tuning of the instrument later and Johnson had all kinds of woovy bezerk guitar powers.

Johnson's story doesn't end there however. For the next 8 years Johnson toured around the South, wowing crowds wherever he went. A young Muddy Waters, one of the most influential blues artists of all time, recalls Johnson playing in the Clarkesdale area and sights him as a major inspiration. In 1936 Johnson was invited by Ernie Oertle to record some tunes in a makeshift studio at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. This recording session and one a year later in Dallas makes up what remains today of Johnson's career, a total of only 29 individual songs.

Then on August 16 1938 Robert Johnson died, aged 27. Numerous accounts of what actually occurred in the events leading to his death have been put forward. The most common is that Johnson was flirting with the wife of a juke joint owner which, you know, kinda narked off her husband a bit. And so the husband mixed some strychnine in to an open of bottle of whiskey and gave it to Johnson to drink. Three days later Johnson passed away having spent most of that time in sever pain.

This has been hotly debated however. Many toxicologists maintain that strychnine poisoning would have resulted in death after a period of hours and not days, and that strychnine itself tastes so bitter that it would have been undrinkable even if dissolved in a harsh alcohol like whiskey. Adding further confusion to all this is that Johnson is buried in, er, three different places. No really there's three separate locations claiming to be the final resting place of Robert Johnson (Gee Note: And amazingly he may not be buried in any of those as research suggests he was actually laid to rest in an unmarked grave near Morgan City, Mississippi. Or, if you believe a bunch of hardy gravediggers, possibly in Greenwood. Seriously is there nothing about this guy that's just straight forward and simple? I swear Mandrake the Magician was less mysterious than this).

Johnson left behind a legacy that inspired not only blues musicians but artists as diverse as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. In fact it’s hard to find any serious rock ‘n’ roll outfit that doesn’t list Johnson as an influence.

So I guess that means rock ‘n’ roll is actually the Devil’s music. Which in turn means that the opposite of that must be God’s music.

I knew there was a reason I loved Eurovision.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

We are the future, Charles, not them. They no longer matter.

Last month Rob from Generation Minus One departed these shores for America. To cut a long story short Jenny, Rob's darling fiancé and Generation Minus One's other creative force, has had to relocate to her home country for a while due to some unforeseen family issues. So Rob decided to take the opportunity to pack his bags and visit his wife to be, as well as taking advantage of some bargain deals from a collection of second hand game stores.

Anyway about a week ago Rob arrived back home carrying with him a bundle of presents that he and Jenny had picked out for me. Chief amongst those was the graphic novel "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier", a book that for reasons way too silly to go in to here isn't available in the UK. Which was awfully nice of him. No really, it was. It was so nice that I've even abstained from calling him a floppy haired goon for a whole week. Hey, it was the least I could do. Well actually the least I could do would've been nothing, but you know, that would just seem mean.

Amazingly that wasn't all that Rob brought back with him. He also turned up clutching three second hand books, all of which are, well, bloody fantastic. Firstly we have "In Search of Lost Civilizations" by Alan Landsburg with a foreword by Leonard Nimoy (Gee Note: Yes that Leonard Nimoy. You know, Mr. Spock. The guy who once tried his hand at a music career and released a number of albums, the second of which featured "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins". "Bilbo… Bilbo Baggins" he sang, "The bravest little Hobbit of them all". Strangely it wasn't enough to convince the record buying public to part with their hard earned cash). And lets face it, any book where the first line proper reads "All dead cities are inhabited by some kind of ghosts, I think" is most definitely worth a read as far as I'm concerned.

The second book is "No Earthly Explanation" by John Wallace Spencer, which leads with a quote on the front cover that goes "I, John Wallace Spencer, hope to prove, using scientific data, that UFOs really do exist, where the extra terrestrial visitors come from, what they are doing here on earth, and where their hidden laboratories and housing facilities can be located." (Gee Note: Congratulations John. You've just won first prize in the "Longest single sentence I've read this week which uses seven words when one will do" competition.) Spencer, who's previous work "Limbo of the Lost" dealt with the Bermuda Triangle, claims in the prologue that he's been studying UFOs since 1945 and apparently wants to set the record straight on the whole flying saucer phenomenon. Good for him. Although his theory that the Earth is a subject of a "gigantic galactic experiment" by "outer space beings" may very well push the limits of his credibility.

The third book was the one that piqued my interest the most though. I confessed to Rob that I'd never heard of the author, and Rob informed me in his inimitable style that "This guy basically had a nervous breakdown and started banging on about a load of New Age stuff". And with that I was drawn in to the wonderful world of Tuesday Lobsang Rampa.

Rampa first came to prominence in 1956 when the book "The Third Eye" was published by Secker and Warburg. The book, detailing the early life of a young Buddhist monk, was an easy read that seemed to be choc-a-bloc full of ancient wisdom. Billed as an autobiography, it depicts a series events during the reign of Thubten Gyatso, the thirteenth Dali Lama. An adolescent Rampa is discovered because he has woovy bezerk powers when it comes to theological studies, and is subsequently trained to become the Dali Lama's aide. On his way Rampa has to deal with an ever changing political landscape as well as trying to continuously better himself spiritually.

Needless to say "The Third Eye" became an instant sensation, shifting volumes normally reserved for stories involving an incredibly irritating teenage wizard with a funny scar on is forehead. Despite it's success, experts on Tibetan literature expressed their doubts. For example Rampa tells a tale where he and a fellow student fly through the air on the back of some gigantic kites, which scholars argued was, er, nonsense. They were even more flabbergasted when Rampa went on to describe a procedure where a hole was drilled into his forehead to release his "Third Eye", after which the book is named. This operation would not cause brain damage and reduce your intellect to that matching Paris Hilton's, as one would think, but instead grant you with psychic powers. You know, like Charles Xavier from the X-Men. Except Charles Xavier didn't have a sodding great big hole in his forehead. Most folk well versed in this type of thing agreed that such a practice doesn't exist within Buddhism.

Oh and Rampa also met with the Abominable Snowman. Sadly Rampa admits that the Yeti scared the living hell out of him and he ran away. Rather than shoot it with a laser beam from his magic eye. You know, like Cyclops from the X-Men. Except Cyclops didn’t have a sodding great big hole in his forehead.

I don’t know about you but I’m starting to see a trend here.

Sensing that this might not be on the level (Gee Note: Really? What gave you that idea?) noted explorer Heinrich Harrer, author of Seven Years in Tibet (Gee Note: Which was made in to a movie staring Brad Pitt, who sportingly gave us the worst attempt at a German accent ever recorded via the medium of cinema) hired a private detective named Philip Marlowe Clifford Burgess to investigate Rampa. Burgess knocked down doors and kicked some ass until he made a shocking discovery, the results of which were published in the Daily Mail in February 1958.

Not only was Tuesday Lobsang Rampa not an actual Buddhist monk, the dude had never even been to Tibet. Instead the man who wrote The Third Eye was none other than Cyril Henry Hoskin, who was born in 1910 in the exotic location of, um, Plymouth. That’s Plymouth in Devon. That’s Devon in England. The England that’s, oh gosh, about 4500 miles removed from Tibet.

A public outcry was had. Paper’s nationwide screamed things like “Fake!” and “Scandal!” while printing pictures of Hoskin that showed the lack of a sodding great big hole in his forehead. Hoskin however had a perfectly rational and sensible explanation for all this however. He wasn’t a fake, oh no siree.

He was in fact simply a vessel for the spirit of Lobsang Rampa.

Basically Hoskin claimed that he was in a tree trying to photograph an owl one day when the clumsy bugger slipped off the branch he was sitting on a planted himself headfirst in to the ground (Gee Note: Obviously I mean Hoskin and not the owl. For a start owls rarely fall out of trees. Secondly an owl that fell out of a tree would probably be a really funny picture and Hoskin would have instantly found a new career path other than writing the memoirs of a fake lama). Hoskin claimed that when he came to he saw a Tibetan monk coming towards him. The monk offered him a deal, how would he like to carry the spirit of Lobsang Rampa after Rampa’s body becomes to weak to carry on? Hoskin, dismayed at the way his own life had turned out, agreed. Which you can’t really blame him for I guess. I mean if I couldn’t take a simple bloody photograph without cracking my skull open then I’d be looking for a way out too.

When the time came, Lobsang Rampa passed his spirit in to the body of Hoskin via a process called transmigration of the soul. Which is a bit like what Sam Beckett used to do in Quantum Leap. And then Rampa proceeded to ask Ziggy what chance little Suzie had of making the big dance if he didn’t get the photograph of the owl write his life story. If you believe Hoskin. Or Rampa. I don’t know. It gets confusing because by this point the guy has two names. You know like Superman. Do you call him “Super”? Do you call him “Clarke”? I’m just glad I’ve never met him at a cocktail party. I’m bound to get it wrong and make a faux pas.

Of course most folks thought this was a load of old bollocks and called him on it. Hoskin relocated to Canada to avoid being hounded with allegations that he was a charlatan, thinking quite rightly that Canadians are just too damn polite to make the same accusations. Like his latter day counterpart David Icke, upon the revelations of his real identity a lot of people believed his assertion that he was the spirit of a Tibetan monk. An awful lot more didn’t however.

At some point Hoskin legally changed his name to T Lobsang Rampa. And until his death in 1981 he always claimed that his work was not fraudulent and nothing but the stone cold truth.

And it’s quite possible that Rampa believed just that. After all his fifth published book “Living with the Lama” he claims was dictated to him by his blind Siamese cat, Mrs. Fifi Greywhiskers. No really. The foreword of the book reads like this.

“You’ve gone off your head, Feef,” said the Lama. “Who will believe that YOU wrote a book?”. He smiled down at me and rub under my chin in just the way I liked best before he left the room on some business.

I sat an pondered. “Why should I not write a book?” I thought. True that I am a Cat, but not an ordinary cat. Oh dear! No! I am Siamese cat that has travelled far and seen much. “Seen?” Well of course I am quite blind now, and have to rely on the Lama and the Lady Ku’ei to tell me of the present scene, but I have my memories!

Which means one of three things. Either Rampa was a skilled fictionist. Or he was barking mad. Or he really was the reinvigorated soul of a dying monk who could also speak cat.

And, honestly, who wouldn’t want to read about that?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Is there a Mrs. Swamp Thing?

This weekend I celebrated my birthday. Hooray me. The bad news is I spent three whole days drinking Andre The Giant’s body weight in White Russians, and at some point my brain left it’s station and was replaced by a set of fuzzy dice. The good news is that in the UK it was a public holiday yesterday (Gee Note: Oh gosh, you really shouldn’t have. I mean I’m flattered and all, but a public holiday to celebrate my birthday is, you know, a bit over the top don‘t you think?) and so I could afford to sit around all day with a tub of ice cream and a good book and patiently wait for my cognitive functions to become, er, cognitive again.

So my first act of the day was to find something to watch on television. Something that would serve the function of being both brainless and mildly entertaining should the fog clear enough for me to be able to concentrate on anything for more than 30 seconds. After flipping through the television guide on the remote and debating whether I had the stamina for an episode of Diagnosis Murder, I finally settled on the Zone Horror channel. The reason? Well coming up was the 1989 tour de force that is The Return of Swamp Thing.

However Zone Horror doesn’t start transmitting until 12pm and I had approximately 10 minutes to go before Swamp Thing graced my screen. Rather than flick through several other channels trying to find an episode of Futurama to watch for ten minutes, I decided to cut my loses and simply wait for the station to spring in to life. In the meantime I resigned myself to sitting through one of those infomercials about a tool that can both sand and cut wood for the amazing price of just £19.99, or a public service announcement about the danger of rubbing your face with a dead pig. Instead the strangest thing happened.

Rather than the usual fluff about some spade that also doubles as a paper weight or something, between the hours of 11am and 12pm Zone Horror transmit’s a live feed from Psychic TV. Now there’s an unsettling trend on UK cable television stations for, um, phone sex. No really, out of the 900 or so channels available to the British viewing public a good 10 of those are dedicated to that very subject. Basically some buxom young lady (Gee Note: Who may or may not be doing this to pay for her law school fees) will be shown on the screen wearing lingerie and yapping on a phone, while in the background some horrible synthesised music plays on a loop.

I presume the idea is that one can pick up the phone and call to hear what the woman is saying. The channels themselves are given subtle titles such as “Babestation” or “Bang Babes” and the whole thing is ghastly, like an Amsterdam peep show but without the weed, cheap beer, and friendly Dutch people. It’s like we’ve fallen in to a wormhole and have ended up watching a human meat market in some dystopian future world that Sci-Fi movies in the 1970’s warned us about.

Anyway it turns out that Psychic TV is the medium version of a meat market. Basically the screen is split in to three, a main section and two side boxes. On the side boxes you see a psychic in each, both on the phone, both thankfully not wearing any lingerie or tassels, or anything that could even be remotely described as alluring. On the main screen you have a psychic hosting a live tarot card reading show. Viewers call in on a premium rate number, or text a request and Mr. or Mrs. Medium will then give them a reading.

I have to admit, I was hooked.

The reason being that the main medium that morning was none other than John Healey. Now Healey is a physically striking figure. A man who obviously likes wearing his hair long, he has unfortunately been struck with a receding hairline of such epic proportions that his head looks like an ostrich egg with a toupee stapled to the top of it. And, as with all TV psychics, he is as camp as Christmas. But amazingly that wasn’t what kept my eyes glued to the box.

No what held my interest was that for whatever reason, Healey that morning was in a fabulously surly disposition.

By the time I joined the program Healey only had time left for two text message requests for a reading. The first was a query from some daffy newly wed, wondering if their recent union was going to last (Gee Note: Which you would have thought they would have worked out before, you know, getting married. I mean if it isn’t going to last then, um, isn’t a bit late now? You already married them for God’s sake. I mean maybe you would’ve been better off just getting a kitten or something?). Healey took out three cards and dealt them on the deck. Obviously being told to wrap it up by the producer, rather than talk about the meaning of the cards John basically said something along the lines of “Look, this one and this one lead to this card here. Which means, I don’t know, there may be a diamond anniversary celebration in your future”. Which is rather vague, even for a psychic. There “may” be a diamond anniversary? That’s like saying that I, Gareth Davies, may win a Noble prize in the next ten years. Unfortunately my ground breaking work will not quite fit any of the existing Noble categories so they’ll have to create a new one. “Gareth Davies“, they’ll say, “Congratulations on winning the Noble prize for Brilliant Awesomeness“. “Thank you”, I’ll reply, “I really deserve this. Yes. Yes I do”.

Or, you know, it might not happen.

Something must have irked the dashing Mr. Healey as he finished the reading by slamming his hand on the desk and looking off camera with a forced smile painted across his face. Whether that’s just his natural demeanour or he was genuinely grumpy about something I have no idea. But whatever it was continued in to the next reading. A text message came from someone, let’s call her Liz, who had apparently spoken to John only the night before. Liz was worried. She had recently lost a ring that obviously meant a lot to her, and had contacted John in order to help her find it. “Please John”, she said, “Can you tell me when I’ll find my ring?”. Healey being the stand up guy he is immediately put Liz at ease by lazily dealing three cards and again saying something along the lines of “Now Liz, we talked about this last night. You have to stop asking about a specific time when you’ll find your ring. No really, you have to stop. What you need to do is look especially hard for it over the next three weeks”.

No really, without a recording of the show I can’t tell you if that was it word for word exactly, but it’s pretty damn close. On national television a crazily desperate (Gee Note: Or desperately crazy depending on how you look at it) woman had just spent an extortionate amount of money on contacting their program only to basically be told to f*** off by a psychic with a forehead the size of Madagascar.

Now maybe I’m doing John Healey a disservice and maybe a short, sharp attitude is a by product of this speed-date like tarot card reading. But in all honesty, to be greeted with this whilst carrying the hangover from hell kinda left me reeling. In fact I had to ask around the room, “Issa… Wha… Did that just happen?”. Sadly there was no one else in the room with me at the time, my spirit guide and the EVP ghosts apparently taking the day off. I can’t blame them I guess. It was a public holiday after all.

As you can gather, by the time The Return of Swamp Thing came on, I was pretty much a lost cause. It didn’t take long (Gee Note: Approximately ten minutes in to be exact. The point where it’s revealed that the evil scientist is Heather Locklear’s step father, having been previously married to Heather’s dead mother, and that they’ve never met before. How that’s possible I have no freaking idea. I mean what, did either of them go to family home for Christmas? Thanksgiving? The Goddam mother’s funeral?!!?) before I started flicking through the channels again.

The problem is that my cable company doesn’t carry Psychic TV, so I had to search online for the broadcast. By the time I’d logged on however John Healey had gone, to be replaced by half an hour’s worth of “Call us now!” type ads. By the time they’d gone another psychic all together had joined the hot seat.

Still at least I have “Bang Babes” to fall back on. At least I have “Bang Babes”.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Zuul... part 1

I was watching an episode of “The Mentalist” last night and something bothered me. At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. In fact it wasn’t until I slept on it, and awoke this morning after having a dream that I was being chased by a giant orange well versed in the mystical art of Ninjutsu (Gee Note: Not that it had anything to do with The Mentalist but seriously, a big ninja orange? What the hell is that about? And why was it chasing me, rather than acting like a Mr. Miyagi type mentor? I mean something like “Wax on. Wax off. Yes. Very good Gareth-san. Now feel free to cook with me some duck.” would’ve been quite a nice dream to have. But no, I have to get the orange with anger management issues) that I worked it out. “The Mentalist” is a prime example of what’s wrong with today’s television.

“The Mentalist” takes the form of a weekly whodunit with a new case, new suspects, and a new resolution every show. Now it should be noted that I grew up on whodunits. Every week my parents and I would gather around the television for a nightly dose of “Poirot” or “Morse”. They were densely plotted, complicated dramas both finely produced and performed, and made national stars out of their leading actors. Every show we’d discuss the list of suspects and voice our opinions of who we thought was responsible for the heinous crime. My mother would use her natural intelligence and intuition to try and work it out, while my father would try and logically put the pieces of evidence together. Me, I’d just randomly guess (Gee Note: Leading to such conversations as;
ME: I think the milkman’s sister did it.
SOMEONE ELSE: Why do you think that?
ME: Because I… er… um… I don’t like her eyebrows).

The thing about those shows were that they were textbook whodunits. The detectives had to scratch and claw for every scrap of evidence, everybody lied about everything, and a twist at the end always had you kicking yourself that you hadn’t seen it sooner. Most importantly they took their time. Which is in complete contrast to shows like “The Mentalist”. You see in today’s advert driven, remote flipping, executive controlled T.V. land three and four part programmes are considered in the same vain as taking Jessica Simpson to an all you can eat BBQ buffet. I mean it’s not really a good idea. And so instead of a slowly built narrative you get the whole damn thing, murder, detection, confession, all in 45 minutes.

And it’s a struggle to make it all work. Take for example the episode of “The Mentalist” I watched last night. Without giving too much away there was a serial arsonist on the loose and the team had to track down their man before he managed to flambĂ© a local estate agent. But here’s the thing, outside of our regular group of investigators only a handful of other characters were introduced during the entire program. And once the first victim’s widow and teenage daughter had left the screen never to return after about thirty seconds, we were left with only two additional players. One of which was the estate agent. The same estate agent who was the arsonists target. The other one, er, wasn’t. Hmmmm. Which one could the arsonist be? Put some coffee on people, this could take all night.

The problem is that on American television the whodunit has been on a slippery slope ever since Columbo decided that audiences didn't really need the "mystery" part of a murder mystery (Gee Note: By the way, imagine being the guy who stood up in that particular creative meeting and announced "This new show. I like it. I only got one thing to say. Do we really have to keep the killer's identity a secret every week? I mean what if, now think about this, but what if we told the audience who the killer was before the opening credits?". Now anywhere else in world that statement would have been met with the sound of crickets chirping. Not in Hollywood though. No idea is too crazy for those guys. Murder mystery without the mystery? By George, that's some woovy berserk thinking outside of the box). Hell even the last proper American attempt at a whodunit, the fantastic Murder One, lasted all of two seasons before being canned. Which is a massive shame seeing as a quality whodunit is one of the finest forms of entertainment going.

My favourite whodunit of all time has to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles". A Sherlock Holmes adventure, it contains everything a good whodunit should have. Uptight English aristocracy? Check. An isolated landscape? Check. A ghostly demon dog from the pits of hell scaring the bejesus out of everybody? Check.

See, "Baskervilles" is kind of a template for every Scooby Doo episode in existence (Gee Note: I wonder if anyone has ever made the comparison between Conan Doyle and Hanna-Barbera before? I can't be the only one surely. Unless of course I am. In which case I must be a genius. Or, you know, an idiot. One of the two). Basically one of the suspects is using a big dog to scare people to death by dressing it up to look like Rick Moranis out of Ghostbusters. When he's in his red eyed killer mutt phase obviously. Not when he's a small spectacled accountant. I mean dressing up a big dog to make it look like a small spectacled accountant probably wouldn't scare people to death. I'm just saying, if your masterplan for world domination is to dress animals up as the dude from “Honey I shrunk the kids” then you may want to rethink your career choice as a supervillain.

The key to the “Baskervilles” story is of course the hound itself. It’s an iconic image, a big black dog, with piercing red eyes and flames spouting from it’s mouth. And amazingly enough, the demon beast is a commonly sighted creature. Take, for example, the tale of the Black Shuck. Since Viking times a ghostly hellhound has been reported stalking the countryside of East Anglia. Reports vary in size, from an average canine to something the size of horse. Sometimes it appears in a cloud of mist, sometimes headless, and sometimes reading a copy of that morning’s Daily Mail and commenting at how falling house prices are all the governments fault. Probably. One thing is always the same though. It scares the hell out of anyone who see’s it.

Arguably the most famous sighting of Ol’ Shuckey was on August 4th 1577 at St. Mary’s Church in Bungay, Suffolk. During a service a vicious storm rumbled through the clouds above and a gust of wind blew the doors open. Where upon something evil entered the church. According to the Reverend Abraham Flemming “This black dog, or the divel in such a linenesse (God hee knoweth al who worketh all,) runing all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in somuch that even at a momet where they kneeled, they stragely dyed”. Or to put in modern terms “Dude. This bloody great big dog walks in and runs down the aisle. And then it goes past these two people who were on their knees praying, right, and the next thing I know they’ve gone and snuffed it. I mean, what the f***?!!?”.

According to the story Blackie made its escape from St Mary’s and an hour later turned up at the neighbouring Holy Trinity Church in Blyth burgh. Again same deal, thunderstorm, church doors fly open, hellhound charges down the aisle. This time however nobody dies, but as the dog makes it’s escape is bolts through the North door, leaving a set of scorch marks with it’s paw on the door. A lightening strike promptly hit the church, felling a spire which damaged the roof and destroyed a set angelic statues.

Which I think you’ll agree is all kinds of dramatic. More recently on one summer’s early evening in 1917 schoolboys J. H. Harrison and Gooley Craske (Gee Note: Gooley? Is that even a real name? I’m not sure that it is you know. And if it isn’t then why didn’t his parents go the whole hog and just call him Strikewing or something? I mean if you’re going to have a pretend name why not go mad?) were travelling home when they passed an old railway bridge. It was there, on the opposite side of the railway bank, they spied a "great black animal...sort of jumping and gliding quite fast” towards them. Understandably quite scared the pair ran for their lives. Later when quizzed about the animal they gave a description that matched that of the Black Shuck.

And even now, every once in a while someone reports sightings of ghostly dogs in East Anglia. Inevitably they say they’ve seen a big hellhound. All red eyes and fire and spookiness. And oh gosh it was scary. Which, you know, it might very well be. I don’t know I’ve never seen the thing myself. Last time I was in East Anglia I was too busy trying not to make an arse of myself while staying with my girlfriends parents to notice any phantom woofers.

But I tell you what. I’ll take the Black Shuck over “The Mentalist” and a strange dream about kung fu fruit. Because at least with the Shuck, you know you’re not going to be disappointed.