Thursday, 27 August 2009

You do not want to get into that man. Too much drama

I don’t know. I just haven’t been in top form recently

For example this week has been less than successful. I had been planning to write a post on flower arranging zombies, after reading a recently published report in which a group of scientists hypothesised how the human race would survived an attack by the shuffling undead. (Gee Note: The results of which can be loosely translated as "Screw trying to cure them. Just bomb the bastards"). However try as I might I just can't seem to make it come together. No really, I've spent the past three nights sitting in front of my laptop with my head in my hands. I'll type a couple of sentences, read them, scratch my head, hit the delete key, stare at the screen for about five minutes and start the whole sorry process over again. I've tried everything I can think of to kick start my brain, including at one point locking myself in a cupboard to avoid any kind of distraction. Sadly the only thing that accomplished was discovering that it's really dark in the cupboard with the door closed.

In short I’m in a funk. What’s worse I’m in a funk over a f***ing piece about zombies. It’s not as if I’m trying to write the Codex Gigas or something.

“What’s the Codex Gigas?” I hear you cry. Well I’m rather glad you asked.


Here's the story. It's the year 1230 and we find ourselves in the Czech Republic (Gee Note: Probably because of the strong beer, friendly people, and reasonably priced strip clubs. Hey, there are worse places to go on holiday). A Benedictine monk who may or may not have been called Hermann commits a dastardly crime which is too horrendous to speak of. You know, like wearing socks with sandals. Or admitting a fondness for High School Musical. Distraught and deeply ashamed by Hermann's actions the other monks pull our boy to one side and politely explain that he's going to be punished by being buried alive. You see, nobody but nobody embarrasses an order of monks and get's away with it.

Hermann, like any sensible chap, freaked the hell out and started to beg for his life. "Guys", he said, "we're friends. I'm sure we can find some way around this. How about if I offer to paint the walls of monastery? After all, the old place looks like it could to with a wee bit of sprucing up. I mean all this bricks and mortar. It's so 1210's. Why don't we add a couple of lamp shades here and there, a splash of lilac, and a doily or two. Drag it kicking and screaming in to 30's? Guys?".

"No dice." Said the monks. "We're monks dude. We don't give a toss if the monastery looks good or not. In fact the uglier something is the closest it brings us to God. Because, um, God doesn't like pretty things. Yes that's it. The more horrendous looking the better as far as our Lord is concerned. In fact after we're done burying you alive we're all going to dress up as Madonna from that music video where she looks about 100 years old and she's wearing spandex and doing all that aerobic stuff. You know, the one that made Brother Lucius vomit the first time he saw it. Oh that Brother Lucius. So crazy."

"Shit!" said Hermann. "Look there's gotta be something I can do. How about… wait… how about I write a book?"

""What you mean like the Da Vinci Code or something?" Said one monk "I didn't like that. It wasn't even that I found it particularly scandalous. It was just, you know, kinda rubbish. I think it lost me right around the time when they introduced an albino Kung Fu fighting monk. I don't know about you, but I sure don't know any monks like that."

"What about Brother Jonas?" replied another. "He's a black belt in Karate."

"Is he the one with long hair that rides a Harley" asked the first

"No" said the second, "That's Brother Mortimus. Brother Jonas is the one with the tattoo on his arm that says "Monks do it quietly".".

"Say didn't he…"

"Look lads" interrupted Hermann. "I don't mean to be rude but couldn't we get back to the issue at hand here. Namely me not dying?"

"Oh yeah sure" said the monks "Well look, we'll make you a deal. If you write us the best book ever created, with like… pictures and fancy writing and all that stuff, we'll let you go. But it needs to be really big and clever, like Wikipedia in book form or something. Also we'll need it by tomorrow morning."

And so Hermann was thrown in to a cell, supplied with enough paper and ink to rival the warehouse of Dunder Mifflin, and set to work. Sadly it turns out that Hermann was about as bad at writing as he was at being a monk, because as dawn rapidly approached Hermann realised that the words “It was a warm summer’s day” alone didn’t really amount to something “really big and clever”. And so a desperate Hermann turned to God for help, praying his ass off, hoping to get himself out of this sticky situation.

God was obviously busy at that very moment. Either that or Hermann was looking too pretty for Him. Because no matter how hard Hermann prayed he was not answered. And so, at the end of his tether, this sunk monk aimed his sights a little lower.

“Ummm… Hi. Hi Satan. Look I’ve got myself in to a bit of a jam here and was wondering if you could help me ou…”

Cue a puff of smoke, flickering lights, and - oh gosh - lots of other woovy bezerk things.

“MWUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I AM THE DIVEL… er… THE DEVIL. TREMBLE BEFORE MY MASSIVE SENSE OF EEEEEEEEEVIL.”

“Oh. Hey. Look you couldn’t give me the power to write this book could you? I mean I’d do it myself but I’ve got a really tight deadline.”

“MWUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I CAN HELP YOU WRITE THE BOOK. BUT FIRST YOU MUST SELL ME YOUR SOUL MWUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”

“Oh yeah sure. Whatever. Anyway this is what I’ve got so far. “It was a warm summer’s day”. I mean I think it’s quite catchy right?”

“MWUHAHAHAHAHAHA… OK. Look I hate to be a stickler here” said the Devil. “But really this selling me your soul thing is quite a big deal. For a start you’ve only got one of them. It’s not like selling a kidney on the Chinese black market or something. Secondly it’s supposed to inspire fear and dread and all that. And, I don’t know, I don’t think your at the requisite level of scared if I’m honest.”

“Well” said Hermann. “Normally I would be scared. But truth is if I don’t do this I’m going to get buried alive anyway. So I guess I’m all terrified out”.

“Tsk. You know I wish you’d told me that before. Otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered with the smoke and flashy lights. So buried alive you say? Man that’s harsh. What did you do?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Oh ok. I get it. High School Musical appreciation huh? Well I gotta say you brought it on yourself in that case.”

“Yeah, make me feel better why don’t you?”

“Not to worry. Pick up that quill and start moving it over the paper, and soon the greatest book ever written will be complete. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am hungry and I’m off to find somewhere that sells hotdogs at 4am.”

And with that the Devil left. Hermann sat back down at his desk and picked up the quill. And then the most amazing thing happened.

He wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And wrote. His hand flew over the paper like an eagle, filling page after page of the most glorious text. Ten pages, a hundred pages, three hundred pages. All filled to the brim with the depths of human knowledge.

In the morning the monks arrived, armed with enough builders tools to put the Extreme Makeover crew to shame. They were amazed to find that the most fabulous book awaited them. It’s contents included the entire Latin version of the Bible, Isidore of Seville's encyclopedia Etymologiae, Josephus' “Antiquities of the Jews“, Cosmas of Prague's “Chronicle of Bohemia”, and various spells designed to ward off demons and the like.

Except, on page 290, where the entire sheet was dedicated to a depiction of Satan himself in full Technicolor glory.




Despite all this the book was a rip roaring success and the monk was reprieved, free to carry on appreciating the work of Zac Effron and Vanessa Hudgens to his hearts content. The monks celebrated what would be surely their most prized possession for years to come. The Codex Gigas.

So where is it now? Well of course the Codex, the largest extant medieval manuscript in the world, resides in Sweden. No really. Sweden. It turns out that at some point Sweden waged war with the Czech's and took the Codex Gigas back home with them as a prize.

Whether or not you believe the above tale (Gee Note: And I know it’s difficult to believe that any man in his right mind would admit to liking High School Musical) the Codex Gigas remains one of the most fascinating documents in existence. Recent studies show there was one single scribe for the entire thing, and that they were likely a self taught writer - ruling out anyone formally educated.

But it’s still shrouded in mystery. “How long did it take to write?”, “Why was it written in the first place?”, “And why the f*** is there a massive picture of the Devil slap bang in the middle of it?” are questions that will likely never be answered.

But then, who cares? After all it’s a great tale to tell. And sometimes that’s all you need.



Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Brilliant but lazy.

I've just made an appointment with my local doctor's surgery. I don't visit the doctor very often and as such there isn't a regular physician I see. So as I was making an appointment over the phone I was advised by the nice lady that I would be seeing Doctor Ock. "Excuse me?" I said. "You'll be seeing Doctor Ock" she repeated. Now I admit it was a very bad line and I may not have heard her correctly, but if I arrive to my appointment and get greeted by this:




Then I'm telling you, I'm getting the hell out of there as quick as I can.

Thanks to the British Governments latest batch of UFO file releases the alternative news scene has been dominated over the past day or so by flying saucer related stories. So you'd think that this blog would be all over it like Joe Jackson's fists on a talented child. But the thing is, we’re not. Partly because I actually haven't had time to read any of the reports yet, and partly because generally speaking Naveed usually beats me to the punch on things like this, and I end up looking like a drunk middle aged loner at a wedding party.

However you may remember in my last post I told you that I'd signed up for a free online tarot card reading via this website whilst very bored one evening. Well I'll be dammed if the medium in question, a woman named Tara, didn’t send me a reply. Here below for your viewing pleasure is said email, edited slightly due to the fact that it goes on forever.

*************************************************************************************
Dear Gareth

Your problem seemed to me to be so important that I spent more than 13 hours performing an in-depth study of your case, so that I could help you more quickly.

I am aware of your most important wish: Love. (Gee Note: Whoops. When filling out the form to sign up for this I actually chose the option “money” instead of “love“. Because, well, there's a sale on Xbox games at our local Asda this week and I can't decide between Street Fighter and Call of Duty).

As surprising as this may seem, I have every reason to believe that it will come true sooner than you may think. I will tell you when and how this will happen.
.
I am also aware of the problem that concerns you most at the moment:

(Gee Note: Is this space supposed to be blank? Or do I really have no concerns what so ever? If it's the latter then wow. How liberating not to have a care in the world. In fact to celebrate my new lease of life, tomorrow I'm going to get on the bus wearing a chicken suit. That's how free spirits like me roll. We don't take life too seriously. In fact everyone out there should follow my example and wear a chicken suit to work tomorrow. Show the rest of the World just how care free we really are. Or... maybe Tara the medium might just want to learn how to properly cut and paste. You know. One of the two.)

You made an excellent decision asking me for help. (Gee Note: Well considering the rip roaring start we've had so far, you'll forgive me if I don't readily agree).

In fact, I see that in the coming weeks you should find a suitable solution for most of your problems. In just a moment I will reveal what I saw happening to you in detail.

(Gee Note: Edit - At this point Tara starts banging on about how she's including me in a book she plans to write and, if all goes according to plan, will send me a cheque for £300. I was thinking of replying noting the irony that I was going to include her in a blog I plan to write but then realised I wouldn't be sending her any money and so decided against it).

You are going to be at a DECISIVE TURNING POINT IN YOUR EXISTENCE.

I can tell you that YOU ARE GOING TO ENTER A LUCKY ASTRAL PERIOD VERY SOON which should definitely be THE MOST IMPORTANT OF YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. (Gee Note: More important than my last lucky astral period? Wowee. Also WHY ARE YOU TYPING EVERYTHING IN CAPS. IT LOOKS WEIRD.)

I ALSO HAVE SOME OTHER NEWS FOR YOU THAT IS A LITTLE LESS POSITIVE. But you shouldn’t worry more than necessary about it. (Gee Note: I knew it! They butter you up with everything under the sun before delivering a bombshell. So what is it huh? Leprosy? It’s leprosy isn't it? Is it leprosy?)

Because even though something may happen that is not very good for you, I can still be there to help you. (Gee Note: If it's leprosy you'd better bring a bucket or something with you. Leave no toe behind).

Above all I want you to know that, as my way of thanking you for the confidence you have shown in me, I made a commitment in my soul and in my conscience to do everything I could to help you, until the moment that YOUR HAPPINESS IS TOTAL AND COMPLETE. (Gee Note: Um OK. I don't really know how to tell you this but I'm not really looking for a "commitment" at the moment. I mean sure we can have fun. Maybe go for dinner and a show. But really that's as far as I want to go. It's not that I'm not open to anything more down the line. It's just, you know, I've had my fill of women who are buckets o' crazy recently).

I have already done this for many people with problems as serious as yours, people who thought that nothing and no one could change their lives. (Gee Note: Wait. I have "serious" problems. I mean I was joking about the leprosy but now you've got me worried).

Now I should tell you about some information that concerns you, and is of great importance for you today:

Your date of birth is: 02 May

That makes you a Taurus. (Gee Note: It also makes me slightly uncomfortable in porcelain based retail outlets).

Your astral chart is strongly influenced by Venus. (Gee Note: Hur hur hur that rhymes with pe… nevermind).

Based on these factors, I will now transmit my initial conclusions to you:

General Introduction


Let’s start with the main traits that make up your psychological profile, the particularities of your character that I find completely exceptional when looked at as a whole (taken separately these traits might seem banal, but in your case their combined effect explains much of the meaning of your life):

Sense of beauty, love of life, simplicity, intelligence, grounded, ambitious, tenacious, loyal, energetic, optimistic... and I should also mention Lucky, since luck smiles down on you naturally, and could become totally amazing if you knew how to take advantage of it! (Gee Note: You left out "tremendous lover" and "the best arm wrestler in South Wales").

Love – Emotions

Here is some important advice that might help you: persevere in your intimacy, don’t let just anyone into your private life, never discuss your problems with anyone, and make sure the people around you leave you in peace as far as your affairs of the heart are concerned, since they concern only you. (Gee Note: So what your saying is that I should bottle up all my emotions so that they fester and cause me deep psychological issues. That sure is sound advice.)

Luck


If you have premonitory dreams – and you should! – 6 is your most auspicious number. It’s also lucky for travel and in financial speculation.

And 11, your number for happiness, can also be used to combat evil spells. (Gee Note: Is that with or instead of my +1 mace?)

Some final advice.

We are in the midst of a period of Great Change, and the opportunities are too good for us to let them go by, without lifting a finger. Your future looks fabulous in all areas of your life: money, emotions and various other activities. And you have the great privilege today of being at the forefront of those who are going to benefit from this new harvest.
With or without my help.

THE DECISION IS YOURS!

(Gee Note Edit - This "final advice" actually takes up about 3/4 of the email. Which, let's face it has already gone on for way too long. Here then are the collected highlights).

You have had some periods of luck and happiness on your journey. But SOMEONE OR SOMETHING HAS BEEN PREVENTING YOU FROM TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THAT LUCK. It has passed you by each and every time. (Gee Note: You mean *GASP* I have a nemeses? I knew it. It's Madonna isn’t it? That piece of work has had it in for me ever since I used one of her CDs as a coaster).

Sometimes, because of a lack of self-confidence, you make decisions that eventually have serious consequences. You may be thinking that this is all your fault.

Well, that is not the case! (Gee Note: Hey do you think I could use that argument in a court of law? "No your honour, I realise that spray painting the words "Yo white swans rock!" on the Statue of Liberty isn't exactly legal but I was forced into it by Madonna. Yes THAT Madonna. You know "Like a viiiiiiirgin". Anyway she hates me, and is using her negative energy to influence me into making bad decisions. She's kind of like a real life version of Gorilla Grodd. Except hairier.)


It’s too bad we didn’t know each other sooner. I could have intervened and told you exactly what to do, and when. (Gee Note: We don't know each other now! I filled in a form. That's it. It's not like our eyes met over a crowded bar or something.)

I see you as an anxious person, a little vulnerable, who doesn’t always know how to defend yourself against life’s injustices. (Gee Note: That's why I carry a gun with me where ever I go. Nobody lies to a .45.)

And while we’re on the subject, I SHOULD TELL YOU A SECRET THAT CONCERNS YOU PERSONALLY:

Do you know that you have a force inside you - Unlimited Inner Power – that you totally ignore and make no use of at all? I saw it clearly on a number of occasions. (Gee Note: I'm not sure I do. Trust me I've tried using the Force before. Most notably when it's a Sunday and I'm feeling sleepy and the television remote is on the floor.)

I can see the future of someone accurately, 97% of the time. Few psychics can claim to do that. (Gee Note: Few bloggers can claim to bench press 400 lbs. But then, you know, I'm more about tone than power. "Hey ladies" I say, "I've got you tickets to the gun show." before I start flexing my arms in front of them. It's a pretty impressive sight let me tell you. In fact most people are so astounded that they simply walk away shaking their heads. And occasionally crying.).

I CAN TELL YOU THAT YOUR PROBLEM OF BAD LUCK WILL SOON COME TO AN END. (Gee Note: Why the f*** is this woman convinced I'm unlucky? I'm not. Why only 20 minutes ago I found a half eaten cookie down the side of the sofa. Does s*** like that happen to unlucky people? Does it?)

Do you know why MANY FAMOUS PEOPLE on television, in politics and in business ADMIT USING ASTRAL PREDICTIONS AND ASTROLOGY? (Gee Note: Because they’re crazy?)

Because according to them it is that, aside from their talent, which helps them avoid failure and enjoy more success. (Gee Note: No I’m gonna stick with my first answer on this one).

That’s also why some of them come to see me, and openly admit that I AM ONE OF THE SECRETS OF THEIR SUCCESS. I could name names, but out of respect for their private and professional lives I prefer that they remain confidential. (Gee Note: Dude if it was me I’d tell the world. Like “Hey everybody. See that Dan Aykroyd? He started listening to me and BOOM bitches, along came Ghostbusters. Then he became all big headed and stopped listening and now he sells vodka for a living. Ghostbusters to vodka. I’m just sayin’.)

A large study was conducted on thousands of people over…(Gee Note: And so it goes on. And on. And on. For another page and a half of extended nonsense while she desperately tries to pitch me her services. I mean the worse thing is it’s the same thing over again. “Let me help you avoid nasty stuff and be all happy and junk”. Actually had she said that in the first place I’d have probably signed up right there and then.)

In all friendship I remain,

Your devoted friend,

TARA
Visionary Medium

*************************************************************************************

So the moral of the story is simply this. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and even if you are really bored don’t sign up for a free online tarot card reading simply because you think it will be a laugh. Because, trust me, it won’t.

Anyway I gotta go and buy a lottery ticket. For some reason I’m feeling really good about the number 11.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

It's a "grunge thing".

I'm bored. Very bored. I’m watching a television show called Time Team where the host Tony Robinson was shown standing in a muddy trench, saying “Hello and welcome to a ditch in Cambridge”. Rawr. What a sexy show this is. A ditch you say? Well blow me down.

Sadly however Time Team's been the highlight of my night so far.

Man, I'm so bored I've even signed up for a free online Tarot Card reading (Gee Note: You had me at the word free). That's how low I've sunk. Reduced to depths of trawling the internet looking for a quick fix for my boredom. I think I need help.

Thank God for iTunes. With my dashing new laptop, my girlfriend is now able to enjoy all the delights her iPod has to offer her, which includes downloading the album covers for songs on the iPod to make it look that little bit snazzier. Which is great. Except when iTunes get's itself in to a tizzy and can't correctly pick out the right album cover. For example, here's what it came up with for the Christina Aguilera album Back to Basics.



No really. That's what it downloaded. I mean either Christina's really let herself go recently or iTunes has gone completely mad. One of the two.

Also thank God for the BBC website. According to a news report on there a Russian woman had been enjoying a day out at the Louvre in Paris earlier this month when she came across Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece The Mona Lisa. Obviously the excitement of seeing such an iconic work of art was a wee bit too much for the poor lass, and she promptly flipped out and threw a cup at the portrait. Luckily ol' Lisa is protected by bullet proof (Gee Note: And cup proof apparently) glass and so no damage was done. Why the woman decided to hurl a ceramic mug in an art gallery in the first place remains a mystery.

All of which has got me thinking about my all time favourite curiosity, the story of Robert Francis Bailey. For those not familiar with the tale, feel free to fix yourself a hot drink, pull up a chair, and put your feet up. This might take some explaining.

Bailey was a homeless man who lived in and around London during the Swinging Sixties. By 1967 he found himself in the South East of the nations capital, and on the 12th September that year he had discovered an abandoned house in the borough of Lambeth in which to take shelter. The house, situated at 49 Auckland Street, would end up being the last place this weary traveller called home, as his lifeless body was discovered in the early hours of the following morning.

Which in itself isn't so shocking. Every year tens of thousands of homeless folk pass away due to exposure to the elements, illnesses that get left untreated, or drug and alcohol abuse. Except, and here's the thing, Robert Bailey Francis's demise wasn't caused by any of the above. Instead according to the coroners report filed by one Dr. Gavin Thurston, Bailey's cause of death was listed as "asphyxia due to inhalation of fire fumes".

Here's what happened. At 5.19 am on the 13th September a call was made to the emergency services reporting a fire at 49 Auckland Street. The call was made by an unnamed female office worker who had been waiting with her colleagues outside the property at a nearby bus stop. The group had noticed flickering blue flames through an upper window in the premises and assumed that a gas leak had ignited.

At 5.26 am the fire brigade arrived with Commander John Stacey leading the charge (Gee Note: By the way when I was growing up there was a Welsh kids TV show called "Fireman Sam" which was ace. It also had a kick ass theme tune. Cos he always on the scene. Fireman Sam. With his engine bright and clean. Fireman Sam. You cannot ignooooore. Sam is the hero next door. YEAH! They really don't make 'em like that anymore). They bust down the door and did all that heroic tumbling around and stuff until they saw what had caused the blaze in the first place. So said Stacey:

"When I got in through the window I found the body of a tramp named Bailey laying at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the second floor. He was lying partly on his left side. There was a four-inch (102 mm) slit in his abdomen from which was issuing, at force, a blue flame. The flame was beginning to burn the wooden stairs. We extinguished the flames by playing a hose into the abdominal cavity. Bailey was alive when he started burning. He must have been in terrible pain. His teeth were sunk into the mahogany newel post of the staircase. I had to prise his jaws apart to release the body. The fire was coming from within the abdomen of his body."



Stacey went on to describe the flame spouting from the body as blue and "just like a blow torch". Bailey's clothing, save for the area around his abdomen, was left untouched by the fire. The rest of the room, with the exception of those parts that were in direct contact with the flame, was also bereft of any fire damage. No sources of ignition such as matches or lighters were found at the premises, and due to it's derelict nature the buildings electricity and gas supplies had been cut off years ago.

So to recap, in September 1967 a London hobo's stomach exploded like it was a dodgy Chinese firework for, er, no reason what so ever and it didn't kill him. (Gee Note: Man, that sounds like one hell of a story. It should be made in to a movie. But who would play the hobo? We'd need someone with a proven track record of being able to act with fire. Hmmm. Wait! I've got it! How about that guy who played Pyro in the X-Men films? Aaron Stanford. He'd be perfect.) However the flame from the resultant explosion emitted toxic fumes that did kill him. There is no doubt that the fire started internally, although no form of ignition was found inside his body.

What the hell?

No really. What the hell?

Only one explanation has been put forward which doesn't sound completely bonkers. Bailey was a renowned alcoholic and had taken to drinking methylated spirits (Gee Note: Or floor polish to you and me). Spirits with a high alcohol content burn with a blue flame. Therefore if the meths in Bailey's system had somehow ignited it would have created a flame that would have looked like a blow torch. But there's a couple of problems with this theory. Firstly, why didn't the rest of Bailey light up like Times Square when the fire started? I mean I managed to set a perfectly nice hat ablaze once while enjoying a mid afternoon cigar. If you've been drinking meths solidly since God knows when, not only is your blood alcohol level going to be a lot more combustible than it should be, but the chances are your clothes are going to have the odd spot of spilt spirit here and there as well.



Secondly even if we take for granted that a human being can drink enough meths to create a pool of flammable liquid in their stomach without poisoning themselves to death 12 times over, what the deuce would ignite that pool in the first place? Bailey was known as a non-smoker, hence the lack of matches or lighters found at the property. So unless he decided to finish of his lethal cocktail by swallowing one of those emergency flares that Nicholas Cage uses at the end of The Rock (Gee Note: You know that bit where he lights up the top of Alcatraz with green smoke warning the US Air Force not to shoot missiles at him, only for the US Air Force to completely ignore it and shoot missiles at him. I love movies that depict the armed forces as bumbling idiots, possibly because it makes me forget for a second that those guys are way more accomplished than I’ll ever be. Also anyone of them could kick my ass without breaking a sweat. But do you see me accidentally dropping bombs on Nicholas Cage? Hell no. I ’aint a moron. No siree. Not like those Air Force goons) then I just don’t see it happening.

But that’s part of the brilliance about things that fall in to the category of “stuff that don’t make sense”. Because if you could rationalise any of it, it wouldn’t be at all interesting. And I’d be sitting here counting the number of times I can throw around a miniature rugby ball without dropping it (Gee Note: Which, considering my amazing lack of grace when it comes to physical activity, is actually a hell of a lot more challenging than it should be), instead of being fascinated by a dead tramp.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve just received an email from Tara the online Tarot card reader telling me that I, and I quote, “can count on her help“. Damn she must be good at that card reading stuff.

I mean how else would she have known that I needed help?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

You know all those dangerous mutants you hear about on the news? I'm the worst one.

So I was reading an interview with Stan Lee, creator of almost every single iconic comic book character under the Marvel banner, and something caught my eye. He was discussing his career and what not when the conversation turned to my personal favourite Lee invention, The X-Men. Lee explained that the initial idea for the X-Men arose from his frustration with having to come up with blatantly ludicrous scenarios in which ordinary schmos obtain the ability to shoot laser beams from their toes or something. And so he decided to develop a bunch of heroes and villains whose super powers were caused by genetic mutations. Rather than, say, gaining the ability to fly after a bus carrying atomic waste fell on top of them, this new breed of heroes were simply born special. That way Lee could devote all his attention to the character itself and not have to worry too much about how it got there in the first place. And to be honest it's actually a very clever way of doing things. Why rack your brains trying to think of something unique and inventive when a one size fits all solution will do? I mean say what you want about Stan Lee, but the dude knows his stuff when it comes to productivity. Genetic mutations huh? That's not working hard. That's working smart.



Speaking of the X-Men, I finally got a chance to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine the other day. And, well, it is what it is. I mean it isn't a bad movie per se. It's just kinda lifeless. And watching it only served to remind me what a massive disappointment the X-Men movie franchise turned out to be. The first film was good. The second was great. And then the studio FOX, displaying the same wisdom that made them give Babylon AD a green light (Gee Note: Current score on Rotten Tomatoes? 7%. No really. Only 7% of all the reviews compiled by the site thought Babylon AD was barely passable. The remaining 93% classed the movie as unwatchable. Which for a movie starring Vin Diesel must be a first. Oh wait…) decided to replace the entire creative force responsible for it's success with writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg and the director Brett Ratner. Three men who, let's face it, have managed to avoid critical acclaim like any sane person avoids Lindsey Lohan. Unsurprisingly five billion people went to see the third movie and most left disappointed. Still it made money so all is right with the world I guess.

It wasn't just the viewing public that suffered from this decline in quality. One of the highlights of X-Men 2 was an actor named Aaron Stanford, who played the angst ridden teenager Pyro. Despite not being the biggest name on set, nor given all that much screen time comparatively, Pyro managed to steal the scene wherever he went. It was as if Stanford had managed to channel the spirit of an angry James Dean and applied it to a messed up kid who had woovy bezerk mind powers over fire. One felt that with just one more performance as this "on the edge" persona under his belt, Stanford would be firmly established as a future star. Sadly, under the direction of Messers Ratner, Penn, and Kinberg, Pyro became a marginalised figure in the third film, reduced to standing in the background and scowling a bit. Hell even Vinnie Jones' Juggernaught was given a bigger role than our boy Aaron, despite the fact that Vinnie can't really act and the only thing they had for Juggers to do was run through a couple of walls (Gee Note: By the way, Nanny from the cartoon series Count Duckula used to do the exact same thing. The difference of course being that it was entertaining when a massive animated hen was doing it. A jacked up ex soccer star on the other hand? No. Not so much).



Aaron Stanford was last seen doing a voice over for the videogame Call of Duty. Which I'm pretty sure won't be listed as one of his career highlights when all is said and done. You can't help but think that maybe he'd be better off if he really could control fire. At least that way he could make a living from variety shows like America's Got Talent. I mean a salesman who can kinda sing opera is all well and good, but compared to a real life Human Torch the guy wouldn't stand a chance. There's loads of people out there who can competently belt out a tune. How many people can make handkerchiefs explode with the power of their mind?

Well, amazingly, there used to be a chap who it was claimed could do just that. Step forward and take a bow Mr A. W. Underwood.

A. W. Underwood was an African American gentleman born sometime around 1855. He was a resident of Paw Paw, Michigan (Gee Note: What a great name. You know the World would be a better place if everywhere had a fun name like that. Think about it. If Baltimore was named something like, oh I don't know, Bouncy Town then The Wire would have been a television series about competitive cake baking or something) and by 1882 had become something of a local celebrity thanks to his unique "talent".

But what exactly was that talent? Allow me to hand you over to Paw Paw's own Dr. L. C. Woodman. The following is taken from the December 1st 1882 edition of The New York Sun, which itself had reprinted the story from Woodman's article in Michigan Medical News some months previously.

"I have a singular phenomenon in the shape of a young man living here, that I have studied with much interest, and I am satisfied that his peculiar power demonstrates that electricity is the nerve force beyond dispute. His name is Wm. Underwood, aged 27 years, and his gift is that of generating fire through the medium of his breath, assisted by manipulations with his hands. He will take anybody's handkerchief, and hold it to his mouth, and rub it vigorously with his hands while breathing on it, and immediately it bursts into flames and burns until consumed. He will strip, and will rinse out his mouth thoroughly, and submit to the most rigorous examination to preclude the possibility of any humbug, and then by his breath, blown upon any paper, or cloth, envelop it in flames. He will, while out gunning, lie down, after collecting dry leaves, and by breathing on them start a fire."

Two things are immediately apparent from this report. One is that Woodman claims to have thoroughly investigated this phenomenon and could find no signs of foul play. Secondly if you were handkerchief salesman in Michigan during the mid to late 1800's then, bro, you were in luck.



Woodman put Underwood through a series of tests, including washing his mouth out with various mixtures and making him wear a clown suit surgical gloves. Regardless Underwood continued to set fire to things by breathing on them, leaving the good doctor in a state of bewilderment.

The case produced much debate amongst the learned medicine men. A common theory put forward was that Underwood was hoodwinking Woodman by using a small piece of phosphorus held in his gums. Phosphorus is a volatile chemical element that ignites in air at around 30 degrees centigrade, which is slightly below body temperature. As a persons gums are external to the body they are a wee bit cooler than the 36.8 degrees centigrade that we humans generally regulate ourselves at. Therefore phosphorus could theoretically be held in the gums without fear of igniting it (Gee Note: Although to be honest with you I'll be buggered if I'm going to try it). Assuming this works Underwood would simply spit the piece of phosphorus in to the cloth or leaves or whatever, and warm it up with his hands. As soon as it hits 88 miles per hour 30 degrees then hey presto instant fire.

Nonsense claimed others. Woodman was a man of science after all, and Underwood was the subject to months of rigorous tests and examinations. Surely if Underwood was concealing a piece of phosphorous it would have been discovered rather early in the process. Sadly, as no one else could come up with another explanation that would be even remotely plausible, the scientific community gave up on investigating this bizarre trait and concentrated on other things.

Nowadays not much is known about Underwood outside of this remarkable report. Information on how he lived, died, and if he had any children is scarce at best. Which means that despite causing quite a stir back in the day A. W. Underwood has now faded in to obscurity.

And in that case maybe he and Aaron Stanford have more in common than just fire.