Friday, 26 August 2011

The Talking Dead

In March this year I put up a post called Bring Out Your Dead in which I worked myself up into a lather over psychics and mediums.

I became so enraged that I ended up standing in the garden with no shirt on, bellowing incoherently into the sky until I was tasered by the police.

Ok, not that last bit.

Now I wouldn't normally revisit a subject that I have already posted about but I recently had a conversation with a work colleague who had visited one of those medium shows.

She said that the medium had 'known things she couldn't possibly know'.

These turned out to be how her grandmother had died, what her name was what had happened to her grandad.

However my friend said that the medium askd a lot of questions before coming out with these facts.

This technique is called cold reading, where the medium throws out vague questions into the crowd like bait until someone bites and says they know someone called Trevor or something.

The medium will then ask questions, eliminatng any dead ends or questions that aren't leading anywhere by saying that another stronger message is coming through or something, until the person he is asking has unwittingly given the medium all the information they need. People tend to forget about all the leading questions and focus on the ones that hit home.

So other than stuff that my friend already knew, what did granny have to say? Basically nothing other than don't worry about me now, I'm alright.

Now as far as I'm concerned, being dead is as far away from being alright as anyone can get, so what was the point of this excercise other than the medium trying to prove that they can talk to the dead?

My friend defended the medium by saying that she brought comfort to the grieving.

Grieving people want to believe that their lost loved ones still somehow exist somewhere and that we will meet them again. I lost my mother and the aching hole that is left inside takes a long time to heal and never truly goes away.

Now imagine that you discovered that you could talk to the dead, you have proof that there is an afterlife.

What would you do?

I bet most of you would not take your gift out on the road, charging grieving and vulnerable people £20 for a theatre seat where you would tantalise them with vague statements and platitudes. It may bring comfort but it isn't right.

Like I said before, if mediums are so confident of their power then why aren't they aproaching the scientific community and saying, 'I can talk to the dead, hook me up to whichever machines you think can help and together we can prove there is actually an afterlife. That way I can really provide comfort to the grieving'.

But they never do. When confronted with a sceptic who puts them on the spot on a talk show or something and asks them to talk to the dead their usual line of defence is that they cannot turn their power on and off like a tap.

Unless they are in a theatre full of paying customers, then the power flows just fine.

It says something about how strong the need for comfort is within us all when we tolerate this level of opportunistic bullshit and is a worrying sign of our increasing tendency to disregard rational thought in favour of unthinking, emotional response.

Anyway, next week I promise I will post something a bit more light hearted, about when I got run over by a car perhaps or when my mate shot himself in the bollocks with a crossbow.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Master of Puppets

The other night I had a nightmare in which ventriloquist dummies Cuddles the Monkey and Orville the Duck were in a room illuminated dimly by a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

Orville lay motionless on a table beneath the bulb while Cuddles lay on the floor, slumped against the wall.

Without a ventriloquist to operate and give them a character and a voice they looked like the corpses of murder victims. Then, without moving, they began to speak.

At this point I woke up sweating, glad that I had done so before hearing what they had to say.

So spare a thought for the ventriloquist, in this instance Keith Harris who operates them. He sees them in this state all the time.

What must this do to his brain? Look at his face next time he does his act, I know that he is operating all sorts of facial muscles to get the voice out without moving his lips but the fixed grin and staring eyes make him look as though he might one day secrete a gun inside Orville and halfway through his act begin firing wildly into the crowd through the doll's squeaky little beak.

Sooty and his gang were even worse. Although hand puppets rather than ventriloquist dolls they still had a human handler, poor old Matthew Corbett who had to try and keep this mob of anti-social, fabric bastards in check.

He would try and organise something nice, like a birthday party only to see it all smashed up by Sweep who would flail around squeaking like a rusty door hinge in a hurricane.

The silent Sooty was invariably the manipulative ringleader but would only communicate by whispering into Corbett's ear, who would deliver Sooty's message to the audience and turn back to Sooty just in time to receive a faceful of water pistol from the ungrateful, silent little sneak.

Puppets and dolls are not funny, they freak people out and their operators have the look of people who have realised that they have gone down a showbiz deadend and will be forever associated with the inanimate object they give life to.

If puppets are such good entertainment for kids then why are there so many films about dolls coming to life and stabbing people or ventriloquist dolls taking over their operators?

People used to use dolls to cast spells on each other and they are grotesque caricatures of ourselves.

So think about that the next time you plonk your kids in front of Sesame Street.

And don't get me started on clowns.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Blame Lindsay.

The lovely Lindsay N Currie has recently been given an award where she has to write about five movies/books/ TV shows that she has recently enjoyed.

Now I have to plead ignorance as to how the award system works in the blogging world and am too lazy to find out. However she has kindly asked myself and several others to compile a similar list and as I like Lindsay it would be churlish of me to refuse.

1. BOOK. The Circuit by Bob Shepherd. A factual account by Shepherd who is a retired SAS soldier now working in the private security business, protecting CNN journalists in Afghanistan. Not as gung-ho as it sounds, he shows that training and meticulous planning are the key to keeping his charges as safe as possible and there isn't a firefight in the entire book. He makes an effort to get to know the locals and this gives him local knowledge and a lot of insight.

Reading military histories and sporting biographies must be a middle aged bloke thing, I never used to read them when I was younger but I read loads of them now. I'm turning into Alan Partridge.

2. TV SHOW. Sirens. This is a comedy drama involving a paramedic team in the city of Leeds. As I live in Leeds I spent most of the series pointing at the screen and saying ‘I’ve been in that pub/street/restaurant’.

Also a friend of mine was an extra on it and he told me it was originally going to be called ‘Naked Apes’ which is what ambulance crews call the mass of drunken pillocks lurching around Leeds city centre at night.

3. MOVIE. Blue Valentine. A great film about a blue collar romance that jumps from the beginning of the relationship when they are both fresh faced and eager to six years down the line when they both look knackered. With two outstanding central performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. One of those films that you think about for days afterwards and a nice change from wizards, robots and exploding helicopters.

Sadder than watching a dying horse.

4. ALBUM. Kaos Legion by Arch Enemy. A European thrash metal band I have seen a couple of times, most recently at Graspop Festival in Belgium where they were gathering a lot of interest despite not been on the main stage.

You either love or hate this stuff as it is very fast, very heavy and the lass who sings sounds like a cat being thrown off a cliff.

I love it.

5. TV SHOW AGAIN. The Wire. Ok, I'm cheating here as I haven't watched this recently but as it is the best TV show ever made I think it deserves a mention.

It's set in Baltimore and charts the drug dealers, their bosses, the cops that chase them, the cop's bosses, the journalists chasing everybody and the politicians running the show.

Every character is totally believable it it really is the best drama I have seen. I could go on about it all day but instead I urge you to try it.

Be warned though, it sets the benchmark so high that everything you watch afterwards will be found wanting.

Full of Wirey goodness.

So there you go, that's some of the stuff that has recently been distracting me from doing more useful stuff like learning to play the bagpipes or picking the cat shit out of my flowerbeds. Enjoy.

Monday, 1 August 2011


The letter I was reading was nearly 100 years old and was from a wife to her husband, an English soldier in the First World War. It was behind a glass case containing many other letters between soldiers and their famililes.

All the panels containing letters and personal effects were lit from within and provided the only light in the darkened room. Through a speaker a young girls voice quietly listed the names and ages of the dead soldiers, relentlessly and endlessly.

The letter ended with the wife saying how much she loved him and missed him and hoped he would come home safely. I counted eight kisses at the bottom of the letter.

He never got back to England, he was buried just outside among the rows and rows of pristine white headstones on Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. The cemetery is filled with British and New Zealand soldiers who had died during the unimaginable slaughter of the Battle of Passchendale in 1917, there was a small museum annexing the graveyard and the rear wall of the cemetery was carved with the names of the 35,000 Commonwealth troops that had died during that battle.

They were buried on the low hill overlooking flat farmland that they had died for, a lump of ground considered strategic enough to send them all to their deaths.

The countryside in this area of Belgium is filled with graveyards containing the dead of the two World Wars. They are kept in immaculate condition by the Commonwealth War Graves Commision. My own grandfather, Gordon Porch lies in a small graveyard in Tunisia, he was killed in North Africa in World War 2, inside the museum you can bring up his details and pictures of his grave on a computer.

In the nearby town of Ypres there is an enormous stone arch stretching across the road into the town square called the Menin Gate. The Gate is inscribed with the names of the 57,000 men whose bodies were never identified.

It was through this town that Commonwealth soldiers passed on their way to the frontlines and now, every night at 20:00 the town stops and a crowd gathers beneath the Gate.

The Last Post is played by four buglers, a wreath is laid, a poem is spoken and the buglers then play Reveille. Then town resumes it's business as usual. This has happened every night since 1928 apart from during the Second World War for obvious reasons.

When I witnessed this there was a large crowd, coach loads of European school children arrived and stood watching in silence as the ceremony was played out.

The UK was never invaded during the World Wars and I know some people in my country that have never even heard of these wars. But Europe suffered terribly during both and they have not forgotten.

I once visited a town in Northern France called Oradour. During the Second World War a high ranking German officer was killed near there by the French Resistance and the Germans suspected they had assistance from the people of Oradour.

They sent a squad of SS soldiers, fresh from the brutal conflict of the Russian Eastern Front to make an example.

They wiped out everyone in the town they came across and set fire to the whole place.

The French have left the town as it was after the carnage, bodies removed obviously. There are rusting hulks of cars and trucks in the cobbled streets, the remains of sewing machines and cooking pans in the kitchens. the personal effects of the townspeople are in a small museum nearby.

The Europeans have not forgotten what happened and they are right to do so , the cost of these conflicts is brought sharply into focus when you are faced with the physical reality of the aftermath. The lessons of history are there to be learned and have not being bulldozed to make way for profit.

Seeing these things was a humbling and emotional experience that I will never forget and also unexpected as I had only gone to Belgium to watch the Graspop Heavy Metal Festival.