Wednesday, 27 April 2011

They may be drinkers, Robin, but they're still human beings.

I'm not an anti-royalist. I just want to get that clear from the start. I'm pretty sure they're all nice enough people, and they do some good things with charities and what not. It's just, as an average British citizen who does average British citizeny things (Gee Note: Which means drinking warm beer and living in a castle if you believe Yahoo Answers), the Royal family generally has no impact on my day to day life. Yes the Queen's face is on the piece of paper I hand over to the barman to get my room temperature pint of bitter, and at many a sporting event you hear a crowd of people imploring the maker above to rescue the poor lass. But really, if somehow the Royal family ceased to exist tomorrow I probably wouldn't bat an eyelid. Unless they all turned in to Werewolves or 9 ft tall reptilian aliens or something. At that point I'm locking myself in the basement with a crossbow and a can of spam.

So it goes without saying that I don't think about the Windsors all that often. They're like music in an elevator I guess. They're in the background somewhere, but they make so little noise and are so fantastically dull that they're hardly worth paying attention to. Except for this week. This week the Royal family has been a pain in the arse.

It's all to do with Prince William and his rapidly receding hairline (Gee Note: No really. Have you seen that thing? I've lost money on greyhounds that moved slower than that).Young Wills will one day be crowned King of this great nation, providing a piano doesn't fall on his head or something. And seeing as this is real life and not a Tom & Jerry cartoon, that's quite unlikely. This coming Friday the prince will marry his long term squeeze Kate Middleton in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey. So yeah. Good for them. I mean if it was me and I had their money I'd have probably gone to Vegas and had the best wedding involving strippers and pirates ever. But each to their own I guess.

Here's the thing. Even though their both better looking and undoubtedly better people than I am, I really don't care about the Royal Wedding.

It's not that I wish them ill fortune or anything. In fact I hope they have a long and happy marriage. Or at the least a quick divorce should things go pear shaped. But I have as much enthusiasm for their pending nuptials as I do for any other two people I have never met. People get married all the time. In fact I myself would be married right now if we hadn't have had a baby instead (Gee Note: Not that it's an either/or choice you understand. It's just that, well, I'm not really what you would call "A Planner" and the idea of having to organise a wedding and the arrival of a baby girl would have made my head explode. By the way for those of you keeping score, my daughter is the most awesome thing in the universe. Yeah that's right. Move over "that museum which has the great big mechanical Tyrannosaur". You just got bumped down the list buddy). Seriously it's not that big of a deal.

Unless you happen to pick up a newspaper and watch television here in the U.K. Then all of a sudden it becomes a very big deal, especially over the past seven days or so. With such fervour has it been reported on by all and sundry you would swear the event was being staged on a glass palace on the surface of Mars.



photo via rdujour.com


Not a day, not one single day, has gone by recently without the airwaves and print journals being flooded with articles on the Royal Wedding. Sadly however, there's nothing to report because… IT'S JUST A F***ING WEDDING. I mean really, the only thing you can say at this point is "It's Tuesday 7.22 am and as of this moment the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton is still going ahead.". That's it. There is nothing else to announce. Nada. Zip. And so instead we've been stampeded upon by opinion piece followed by bloody opinion piece fluffed out with the most ridiculous twaddle. Sample headlines include:

"What will they be wearing?" (Gee Note: Answer - Clothes. Probably nice ones)

"Who will be conducting the ceremony?" (Gee Note: Answer - Some dude)

"Who will be attending?" (Gee Note: Answer - Family, friends, and the occasional celeb like Elton John. Yeah I know. I can't remember the last time he was relevant either).

"Can you look like Kate Middleton without spending a lot of money?" (Gee Note: Answer - No).

"What does the man on the street think about the big day?" (Gee Note: Answer - AAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!)

“Do you want to know everything about William and Kate?” (Gee Note: Answer - What, you mean like when they pork and stuff? Not really. Unless they do something weird, like dress up as dinosaurs. Even then I'm pretty sure I can live without it).

And on and on it goes, slowly driving you insane with the inane drivel that a 24 hour news cycle generates when nothing is happening. Amazingly, people get sucked in to the tedious mash and start believing it's a big deal. I had a conversation with a woman today in which I mentioned I didn't get what all the fuss about and her reply was "Oh. But he's a Prince. It's like a fairy tale". Well no. No it isn't. Unless one of them is cursed by a witch and has to marry the other one or they'll turn in to a giant salamander while being chased by a crazy old man who makes shotguns out of pastry, this couldn't be anything less like a fairy tale.

The worst thing about all of this is that the genuinely intriguing news stories have been buried under a slush pile of fruit cake and confetti. For example, in news you may have missed the first time around, did you know that JFK was shot because he started asking too many questions about extra terrestrials?

(Gee Note: Yep. Bet you didn't see that one coming did you? For I am Gareth, King of the segues. All ye lesser segue makers bow down before me.)

This juicy little blighter was picked up by The Daily Fail Mail, a newspaper so ridiculous in it's right wing agenda it makes Fox News look fair and balanced. Occasionally The Mail will abandon their seemingly life-long mission of scaring pensioners by telling them that foreigners are moving in down the road and as a result house prices are going down, and instead throw in something completely bonkers. More often than not these will be along the lines of "Boy, 6, wins chess tournament while sleeping", or "Brave humpback whale saves woman's bag from being stolen". But once in a blue moon they go for a big one, such was the case on April 19 this year.


“WAS JFK KILLED BECAUSE OF HIS INTEREST IN ALIENS?” screamed the headline.

No!” screamed the readers.

But wait, don't throw the paper down and pick up something more respectable just yet (Gee Note: Like a copy of JUGGS magazine for example). There's wild speculation and gigantic leaps of logic to be had in them there column inches.

According to the esteemed organ:

An uncovered letter written by John F Kennedy to the head of the CIA shows that the president demanded to be shown highly confidential documents about UFOs 10 days before his assassination.


The secret memo is one of two letters written by JFK asking for information about the paranormal on November 12 1963, which have been released by the CIA for the first time.

Wow! Hear that my friend? That's the sound of your reality being EXPLODED beeyotches!! Your bible is wrong. Everything you believe in is a lie. Jim Corr was right dammit. Or David Icke. One of those bastards who howl at the moon at any rate. Your mind is being used by overlords intent on doing something nefarious with it. Exactly what that is nobody seems to know for sure. But they're doing it I tells you. They're hiding free energy from us. They're hiding aliens from us. THEY MURDERED JOHN F. KENNEDY.

Moving along...

Huh? You want to see the actual memo? Why? Didn't you hear? The President was killed by CIA operatives because he was on to them hiding Little Green Men in obscure military bases in Nevada. Why aren't you calling the police? Wait. They're probably in on it too. Shit. I know. Throw up the Bat signal. Get Adam West on the case. Not only will he defeat the evil doers, but he'll teach his young ward a valuable lesson along the way.

Fine. Have it your way. Here then is the “smoking memo” (Gee Note: See what I did there? I took the phrase “smoking gun” and replaced the word “gun” with “memo”. I know. I'm like some kind of word play magician).



Hmmmm.


OK it might come out as pretty small so I'll break it down for you.


Hey CIA guys. J to the Fizzle here. Listen you know those UFOs that farmers in Idaho keep talking about? Well anyway could you send any files we have on those my way ASAP? A couple of flying saucers have been seen in Russia recently and you know how twitchy those communists get. We don't need ol' Nikolai Warski reaching for that red button do we?!? LOL. Anyway I want to have something to show them should they start pointing the finger at us. So be a star and pop those over. Oh and any statuesque brunettes you might have in the office. You see the missus is out of town for a couple of days and... nevermind.

Cheers m'dears

Jack.


The Mail goes on to say.


The president’s interest in UFOs shortly before his death is likely to fuel conspiracy theories about his assassination, according to AOL News.


Alien researchers say the latest documents, released to Mr Lester by the CIA, add weight to the suggestion that the president could have been shot to stop him discovering the truth about UFOs.

OK, let's think about this for a moment. President Kennedy requests that the CIA send him files regarding UFO activity. The CIA gets spooked (Gee Note: GEDDITT?!?!?) because they've been secretly hunting/hiding/selling pebbles claiming they're rare earth resources to Aliens. JFK blindly asks about gathering some information on the UFO phenomenon and rather than, oh I don't know, get an intern to make something up under the pretence of a training exercise or simply hand over the files that don't contain such phrases as “then we gave the aliens the codes to our national defence grid in exchange for some Cuban cigars” they decide to shoot him in the face. He even gave them three months to work on it. If the best they can come up with is “blow his chuffin' head off” then I'm not sure the CIA are crack operatives we think they are. I mean I can't imagine that it didn't come up in the meeting.

“So it's settled then. We will kill the President of the United States of America”.

“Hang on a minute fellas. I've just had an idea. What if we lie to him instead?”

“Well, I'm sorry Chad. I've already picked up the phone and starting dialling Killers 'R' Us. It hasn't connected yet but, still, Diane is making clam chowder tonight and it's just not the same cold.”

Look I'm not saying that there isn't some sort of conspiracy surrounding the assassination of JFK. I'm not saying that there is either. But I can almost guarantee that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was not killed because of this memo. Nobody, not even a group of shadowy spies, is that psychopathic. However the problem with the whole “third gunman” syndrome is that a subsection of society are so desperate to believe that someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger that they'll jump on anything that even remotely resembles proof. You only have to look at the comments section under the article's online version to see that. It's like a flame war extravaganza.

And you can't really blame them. The whole situation to me is best summed up by an episode of the hit Sci-Fi television show Quantum Leap. Sam Beckett leaps in to the body of Oswald a few days before the President is killed, and muses that the reason why people created a conspiracy theory was because otherwise those same people would be forced to accept that the American ideal of democracy and freedom can be turned completely on its head by one man with a rifle.

Maybe it was a single soul who killed JFK. Maybe it was a thousand. But it wasn't because the President of The United States asked for some files to be sent to him about UFOs and the CIA hit the panic button. The world doesn't work like that. No matter how much you want it to.

Anyway I'm off to celebrate the Royal Wedding in my own way. Namely sitting on my sofa in my underpants, drinking rum, and listening to the Sex Pistols at ear bleed volume. Because until those Aliens turn up, there really isn't anything worth talking about.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

And you should know that everyone runs from Shere Khan.

Television shows are strange creatures. Living and dying by how popular they are they tread a fine line between trying to be innovative, and trying not to alienate an audience by being too unfamiliar. Stray too far in to the former territory and you'll be branded as "weird", too far in to latter and it'll be "boring". As such television shows are always trying to find unique selling points, something that distinguishes them from the herd without turning off viewers in droves. Probably the most basic and yet amazingly effective example of this is "Jeopardy!" which is for all intents and purposes a run of the mill quiz show. Except that, unlike standard Q&A routines employed by similar programmes, contestants on "Jeopardy!" must provide an answer in the form of a question. It's only a simple deviation and yet it has made "Jeopardy!" phenomenally successful, the show having picked up a record 29 Daytime Emmy Awards since 1984.

Which brings us to The Beast Hunter on National Geographic, and it's host Pat Spain. (Gee Note: Or The Beast Man as it's known in the UK, due to copy-write reasons. Which I'm guessing is news to this guy:)




The show itself is a simple enough concept. Woovy bezerk animal is supposedly kicking around somewhere. Pat is dispatched with a camera crew and tasked with launching an investigation in to the wee beastie. And yet it turns out that Spain himself is an incredibly rare find, one that would make a television producer weep with delight. Looking a-bit-but-not-really-like Justin Timberlake he's articulate, youthful, and enthusiastic with genuine scientific chops to back up his camera friendly attributes. He's also the great nephew of a certain Charles Fort. Yes that Charles Fort. Godfather of all things wacky and wonderful. The man who put unexplained phenomena on the map. Seriously, the only way Pat Spain could be any better as far as the TV execs are concerned is if he was also made from cocaine and rainbows.

Before the show aired in the States, Pat was interviewed by a host of publications and crypto-friendly websites. One of which, Weirld.com, asked how the show differed from others such as the now defunct "MonsterQuest". 

Spain responded with: I feel like a lot of these shows rely on the "we just don't know" factor, quick camera turns and "what was that?" Blair Witch style stuff. It's a quest for an animal without doing the upfront work. I'm not saying it specifically about Monster Quest but a lot of these shows really bother me, like when it’s a diurnal animal and they go out with night vision cameras, looking for it at night, And they don't call it by the correct regional name. What's different about our show is that we're doing an initial reconnaissance mission. We’re saying "Should science look closer at this creature? Is their real evidence that this is there?". On the investigations we were doing, if we stumbled across something it would be great but we didn't go out with collecting kits. This is more about learning the plausibility of this creature.

Which sounds A-OK as far as I'm concerned. Indeed one of my major criticisms of the last ever MonsterQuest episode was that, despite the fascinating story of the Gable Film hoax and Steve Cook getting verbally bitch slapped by Linda Godfrey, the majority of the show was devoted to three lunatics wondering around the woods trying to find a werewolf by looking at poo and random indentations on the ground. In fact if I never see another night vision sequence featuring someone loudly whispering that they can hear something moving just off camera again I'll be a happy chappy.

Sadly the first episode of The Beast Hunter doesn't quite live up to that ideal.

It's not that it's a bad show you understand. But after all is said done it's no more scientific than jumping up and down while flapping your arms to see if you can fly (Gee Note: C'mon. We've all done it. Hell I give it a bash every fortnight just in case I'm like a super cool mutant with magic flying powers or something. So far, no, it hasn't worked. But it will one day. People think I'm crazy, but I'll show them. And when I'm flying around and racing pigeons I'll be all like "Who's crazy now huh?" And then I'll laugh "Hahahahahahahahahaaaa!". And then a Swedish supermodel will want to do the sex with me. You just wait. I'll prove you all wrong). Despite it's best intentions The Beast Hunter is more about entertainment than about a legit search for cryptids.

For example the first episode is all about the search for Orang Pendek, a ground dwelling bipedal primate around 4 ft tall said to inhabit the forests of Sumatra  (Gee Note: If it helps picture Orang Pendek as I do, a drunken homeless midget). The Orang Pendek is one of those cryptids that a lot of people think might actually exist, despite the fact that there's little or no evidence to support it. This is probably due to the fact that unlike Bigfoot or Nessie, Penny is not a Wookie nor is it a bloody great big lizard fish. Instead it's a wee monkey that just happens to walk upright, and inhabits the notoriously unfriendly Sumatran Woods.

It kicks off with Spain strolling through a local market and asking natives about the creature with a simple "Orang Pendek?". Alas part of the problem with using the "correct regional name" is that Orang Pendek literally translates as "short man", which leads to much confusion as to why this pasty foreigner is trawling the stalls looking for someone with a small penis.




Dick jokes aside, the market is a bust as far as first hand information goes. And so Spain meets up with Debbie Martyr, a woman who claims to have seen the creature with her very own eyes. She provides a detailed description of the animal and even points out the closest match to its fur colour on a chart Pat carries around with him (Gee Note: NERD!!!). However Spain, citing the lack of hard evidence and the unenthusiastic response from the folks at the market, isn't entirely convinced that the creature exists. So to find out once and for all Spain chops down all the trees in the area forcing the bastard out in the open goes and talks to the local Shaman. "If anyone would know if Orang Pendek really is out there" he says, "it's him".

Hold up. What?

OK. Let's see if I can get this straight. In this seriously scientific venture for seriously scientific people the decision was made to search for an unknown animal based entirely on the word of a Witch Doctor (Gee Note: Hey Witch Doctor give us the magic words! Alright. You go ooo ee oo ah ah. Ting tang walla-walla bing bang. Allllright! Man I love that record. Largely because playing it at an obscenely loud volume and jumping around like an idiot annoys The Future Ex-Mrs. Davies quite a bit. It's the little things in life that please me). I mean, you know, I'm not sure that groundwork would stand up to rigorous examination when presented to room full of boffins. Not that I don't think the world wouldn't be a better place if the scientific community wasn't a little loser in that regards. Testing schmesting I say. People should just come up with a theory, gather a room full of clowns, give them numbers and get them to fight to death. If the last clown standing is a 5 or higher, the theory stands and will be taught in schools forever more. Any lower and it's back to drawing board for you Mr. Science-Guy.

Eventually, after watching the Shaman do a dance with some sticks, Spain quizzes the enlightened one on the existence of the Orang Pendek. "Dude. The Orang Pendek is, like, totally real man. I've absolutely connected to it with my mind powers, even though I've never seen one" says the Shaman (Gee Note: Or words to that affect. I lost my notes with the Shaman bit on it if I'm honest. Luckily my photographic memory never lets me down. Otherwise I'd probably end up looking rather foolish). Oblivious to the blatant contradiction of stating "I feel like a lot of these shows… [are] a quest for an animal without doing the upfront work." and asking the Shaman "Have you been able to spiritually connect with an Orang Pendek?" as some sort of proof of existence, Spain gives a hearty clap of his hands and heads off to the woods in search of a big surprise.

Taking with him a handful of slaves helpers and a British wildlife photographer as a guide, Pat heads in to the dense forest hoping to track down the elusive ape. Noting that his guide - a chap by the name of Jeremy Holden - had once photographed a rabbit in this region that was previously believed to be extinct, Spain hypothesizes that it is indeed possible that a small creature could live amongst the trees and go undetected for centuries. And it's not hard to see why, as most of the remaining footage involves Spain forcing his way through dense foliage, falling over, getting back up, swearing, and falling over again. It's a bit like watching a Buster Keaton movie, if of course Buster Keaton had a pierced ear and dropped the F-bomb like a sailor.

As such hard facts are difficult to find. At one point Holden finds a tree branch covered in moss except for a small patch in the middle, and claims that Orang Pendek probably used it as leverage to navigate the trees. Spain, releasing his inner six year old schoolgirl, grabs the branch himself and almost squeals with delight. "The missing moss could be where Orang Pendek placed it's hand!" he says excitedly. Which, sure, I guess that could be the case. But then the moss could also have been licked clean by a stranded, starving donkey. (Gee Note: Ah the lesser spotted Moss Eating Donkey. A curious creature indeed.) Compelling evidence it was not.

Deciding to knock things up a notch, and once again contradicting his previous statement, Spain and his crew choose to spend the night outdoors, complete with the now obligatory night vision footage. Setting up a series of camera-traps and moseying through the wild, we're treated to "Blair Witch style stuff" as Pat wanders in to a clearing, freezes, turns to the camera and whispers loudly "I can hear… there's something moving behind those trees!". Even spookier, a bunch of gibbons start hooting and hollering in the distance as Holden explains "Gibbons aren't nocturnal. That means that something must have alarmed them. They wouldn't be like that at this time of night normally". Cue a series of quick camera shots as Spain worries about the possibility of being attacked by a tiger.

Fortunately Pat manages to avoid being munched by Shere Khan and his pals and lives to search another day. Unfortunately the camera traps pick up no images of unknown animals and the hunt for Orang Pendek ends with nothing tangible found. Still, as Spain himself puts it in a passionate summing up "We don't have the time or the resources to search for this creature" (Gee Note: Which begs the question "Why have I just spent an hour watching you do just that if there was never any chance of you finding the sodding thing? Man, I haven't felt this ripped off since I bought that ticket to watch Michael Jackson at the 02 arena in 2009. There I was standing in the middle of London by myself. No Michael. No supporting acts. In fact I was the only person in the entire building. Waste of goddam money if you ask me."), "but if someone like Jeremy was given the right financial backing, there's no doubt in my mind he would find the Orang Pendek".

So ends the first episode of The Beast Hunter and despite it's problems, it actually makes for some terrific viewing. This is in no small part due to Mr. Spain himself, which is surprising to say the least. You see when the show first started and Pat came in to view I immediately hated him. "Bah," I said to myself "This guy has obviously only been chosen to front this show because he's a scientist who doesn't look like a mangled troll. In fact I would go so far as to say he's quite handsome. If you like that sort of thing that is. I mean, sure, I'm way better looking than he is. But I could see how he might get the odd girl here and there. Anyway I bet he's rubbish.".

But the truth is Pat Spain is charming, knowledgeable, and a legit knowledge geek, and within ten minutes he'd won me over. Much like Prof. Brian Cox, he's one of those people that makes you wish you spent less time in school staring out of the window. He makes fumbling around a remote and dangerous jungle for an animal that probably doesn't exist seem fun and exciting, without ever degrading in to the macho bullshit that dogs programmes such as Destination Truth. And as it stands The Beast Hunter is a thoroughly fine piece of entertainment.

Just don't call it “science”.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Florence The Mystic Wonder Hippo.


Hiya! My name’s Florence and I’m a psychic medium! I’m also a large semi-aquatic mammal weighing in excess of one and half tons! I’m so excited that I’ve been given an opportunity to share my gift with you. In fact when I was told I would be doing a guest spot on “I Saw Elvis In The Woods” I nearly snorted mud all over the hippo in front of me. Which I’m sure would have made them very grumpy!

Ever since I discovered that I could contact the spirit world I’ve been trying to think of ways to help people. That’s when I decided to charge people a small fee for telling them their grandmother is proud of them.  Seeing the joy in people’s faces on receiving such news makes it all worth it. That and the 50 pounds for half an hour’s work!

Anyway I’m here to answer any questions you may have, with a little help from my (dead) friends! If you have a question, feel free to leave a comment or mail it to me at mysticwonderhippo@gmail.com

Let’s dip in to the mailbag shall we?

Dear Florence, 

I am a middle aged woman who recently started dating an older man. He’s kind and gentle and really gets me. Also our love life is amazing! The only problem is I think he wants something more while I’m quite happy where we are. I really like him but I’m afraid I might lose him if I tell him I’m not ready for anything serious. I also don’t want to be pressured in to doing something I won't be comfortable with. What should I do?

Leslie, Wathington-On-Kettle

Dear Leslie,

I have spoken to spirit and they’ve confirmed what I already suspected. Your man is nothing more than a psychopathic killer, intent on harvesting your organs under the pretence of a romantic weekend away! My advice would be to get out while you can! Or better yet perform a citizen’s arrest and use the reward money to do something you’ve always wanted. Maybe that trip to Egypt you’ve talked about for years!

Dear Florence, 

I’m a stay at home mum with a teenage son. Recently he’s been acting strangely, dressing all in black, telling me to “suck it”, writing poetry about how rubbish the world is. He used to be such a bright and bubbly little boy! Is this just an adolescent acting out, or is something more sinister going on? Is my son possessed? 

Charlene, Basingcake-upon-Summat

Dear Charlene,

Your son isn’t possessed, nor is this just a result of those pesky teenage hormones. After consulting with mystical energies it has been revealed to me that your son is dabbling in dark magical practices. I don’t mean to alarm you but this can be very dangerous. Not just to him but also for those close to him. My advice would be to make a cup of weak green tea, sit your son down, and have a nice long chat about it. Make sure you calmly explain how what he is doing may seem “cool” and “groovy” but it will surely end in disaster! If that doesn’t work then there really is no hope for the boy. In which case, instead of dealing with the headache of having a Warlock son, sell him as a slave to Somali pirates and put the money towards that holiday in Egypt you’ve been dreaming about!

Dear Florence, 

I have a pet hamster named Steve. Normally Steve would love nothing more than to be let out of his cage and run for his life as I chase him around the living room with the hoover. Recently however Steve has become very lethargic, and the other day it took me over two hours to extract his paw from the nozzle. Is Steve ill or in pain? Should I take him to the vet? 

Barry, Cardiff 

Dear Barry, 

Having psychically contacted Steve the first thing he wanted you to know is that he loves you very much. Also that the new carpet cleaner you have makes his nose itch. Secondly Steve is perfectly fine physically. Mentally it’s a completely different story! Alas Steve is in what you would refer to as a “funk”. The novel he’s been working on hasn’t panned out the way he wanted, and even his daily routine of desperately avoiding death by suction has failed to lift his gloom. Rather than take him to the vet maybe you should try brightening his mood. Play some uplifting music around the house! Place some colourful flowers or balloons near his cage! A little TLC and before you know it Steve will be as right as mud. Maybe a change of scenery would do the trick? Steve suggests a warmer climate with a big river and some pyramids.

If you have a question, if no-one else can help, and if you have way too much time on your hands why not drop Florence a line? She can be reached at mysticwonderhippo@gmail.com