Why I am a Chartist


Call me naive, but politics in the UK (and elsewhere) has become a toxic affair, tainted by career politicians corrupted by commercial and media interests who are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than acting in the best interests of Britain, Europe or, indeed, the world.

For some time I’ve been convinced that at the heart of this are not the social divided between haves and have-nots, but the ideological war between socialism and capitalism. Political parties are based on ideology, and ideologues always put their beliefs before the wellbeing of the people that they wish to impose them upon.

For a long time I struggled with this. Why, I always asked myself, can society not operate on two tiers. A top, capitalist tier, focused on merit and growth, and a lower, socialist tier, offering an equitable baseline that determines the minimum standards that a civilised society is prepared to accept. Obviously, by utilising both ideologies the links between them become corridors of social mobility. Or maybe siphons.

Of course everyone argues you can’t have two ideologies working in tandem, even though that’s exactly what the Labour Party was doing between 1997 and 2010.

I’m not a capitalist. I’m not a socialist. I recognise the values and the flaws in both, and I have always sought to find the middle ground. But In not exactly a liberal either.

Surely, I reasoned, a political party can be based on principles rather than ideologies. There must be some universal rights that everyone would want to sign up to. Or at the very least, most people.

The more I thought about this the more I realised that the answer lay under my nose, here in Birmingham. 

Chartism.

The 15th of June 2015 was the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta, and to celebrate I had visited the British Library’s Exhibition. It needed a good three hours to get through, but it was worth it.

One thing that occurred to me as I saw, and learned, just how widely Magna Carta had influenced the political landscape of the western world, was that something wasn’t right. It was there, but such scant attention was given to the Chartist Movement and the reforms of 1832 that it’s own impact seemed minor. Yet the more I think on today’s political problems the more I feel that Chartism might be the way forward. A new but simple charter of enshrined rights that reflects the spirit of Magna Carta is exactly what we need again today. 

Particularly because Chartism was a cause, rather than an ideology. A movement rather than a political institution.

UK politics has lacked a cause for some time, with the exception of one: the cause of ending our EU membership. The one goal cause that not only swelled the UKIP vote, but also won them Brexit. 

So while Labour and the Tories tore themselves apart, Goldsmith’s UKIP was a one-issue unifier that drew so many people – the old, the poor, the working class, the disenfranchised – to its cause.

And even without a credible voice in Parliament, they achieved their objective.

Just like the Chartists of 1832.

Had UKIP learned lessons from the most successful political movement in British history? Perhaps, or perhaps it was coincidence. Either way, it demonstrated to me that Chartism could still work today, in the 21st Century.

Chartism allows for the creation of the very British values those pesky politicians blather on about incoherently. Right now they’re a euphemism.

However, if Charter review were tied to an enshrined referendum process embedded in the long-term parliamentary timetable, there would never be a need for spontaneous referendums ever again. Charter issues could be revisited periodically by statute. All those things we have seen eroded – from sovereignty to the NHS to freedom of speech to privacy to human rights – could be key Charter issues that would prevent every future government from claiming false mandates and perverting the very fabric of our society.

Even better, Chartism is a broad church. You can follow opposing ideologies it still subscribe to the core principles of a Charter. I can see how everyone supporting it would understand exactly what was meant by “I am a Chartist” as opposed to “I am a socialist” or “I am a capitalist”
So who were the Chartists? From the first meeting in Bradford Street, Birmingham in 1838 through until their displacementby mainstream  political reformers just ten years later they were almost forgotten by the time their proposed reforms were eventually enacted – not all as stated to the letter, but certainly in spirit. 

They may only ever have had one MP, but their loud voices shook the nation, forced the resignation of a Prime Minister, changed the nature of ten parliamentary landscape, and Doubtless paved the way for the decline of Imperialism and the rise of the Labour movement.

So what were their aims? What objectives dos they seek to enshrine? Well…

1. A vote for every person of sixteen years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
2. The Secret Ballot – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.

3. No Property Qualification for Members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.

4. Payment of Members, thus enabling an honest trades-man, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency; when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.

5. Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones. 

6. Annual Parliament Elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since as the constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

Chartists also explored new ways of living in communes to reduce costs and enable people to own land to secure their electoral voice. They infiltrated the pulpits of the Church and created the great political preachers of the nineteenth century. They championed emancipation and influenced many of the politicians that followed, from John Bright (the man who arguably convinced Lincoln to oppose slavery) to Marx and Engels.

The protests of the modern age are issue specific. Anti-Austerity, Occupy, Pro-EU. They may have many of the same members and activists, but they don’t speak with a single voice. Not like the Chartists.

So I ask myself what, if such existed, might a modern chartist manifesto look like? What principles might it espouse?
My first thought is that ideological principles would have to be avoided. So no nationalism, socialism, no capitalism, no anarchy, no religion, no pacifism, no militarism, no republicanism. These are the issues that divide reasonable people, and that open the door for agitators and for agents provocateur. They shouldn’t be things that can polarise, they should be the things that reasonable people can agree on.

To me it should cover the basics: Citizenship & Democracy, Constituency & Representation, Education, Health & Welfare, Election & Representation, Freedom & Privacy, Insurance and Taxation, Public Service, Sovereignty and Parliament.

It isn’t about reform so much as transparency. Many hard-won reforms to basic human rights are being revised or reversed without political mandate, and campaigning for a Charter

If we can enshrine our expectations in a modern People’s Charter, and if we can campaign for a charter, and for a process that allows the people to challenge  it’s  violation, has a very real chance of making democracy work.

Happy Towel Day


The loss of Douglas Adams on 11th May 2001 led to the creation of a celebration of all things Hitchhiker a couple of weeks later. Today, then, is the 15th Annual Towel Day.

To celebrate (or commemorate) I wrote the following pastiche, which was for a Birthday reading at Southcart Books in Walsall. It went down quite well.

I should point out that I have included part of a brief exchange, word-for-word, from the late Mr Adams. Given his (and my) habit of anecdotal repetition, some of you may have heard it before. If not, share and enjoy:

A Question, at last…

A Vogon, a small furry creature from Alpha Centauri and a hyper intelligent shade of the colour blue known as a hooloovoo walked into a bar.
Being intangible, the colour passed through it without incident while the small furry creature stopped to use it as a scratching post. Unused to the concept of clothing, it was obviously quite irritated by the freshly printed Extra-extra-large tee-shirt, emblazoned with the the legend “I Voted for Stupid”, that enveloped its extra-extra-small body. The Vogon, meanwhile, walked up to the bartender and shouted out his order.

“One pan-galactic gargle blaster madam!”

“I beg your pardon?” Said the mixologist, clearly upset by some perceived slight.

“One pan-galactic gargle blaster madam.” the Vogon repeated. “Now, madam!”

“Madam?”

“Yes, madam, now, madam!” said the purple-faced Vogon, slamming a meaty fist on the bar with the force of a large wet medicine ball.

Shrugging off the disgruntled order, the bartender set about making the drink, vigorously shaking a bottle of that Ol’ Janx Spirit into a pre-chilled measure of Santraginean water. The kersploosh-kersploosh-kersploosh of three Mega-gin cubes was quickly replaced by the bubbling sound of their rapidly diffusing benzine payload, even as a geyser of Fallian marsh gas erupted from the hollow tube that rested at the bottom of the tall glass. With a flip and a reverse flip the talented mixologist spiralled a glutinous globule of Qualactin Hypermint essence into the cocktail, breathing deeply of its heady vapours before revealing, with a flourish, an Algolian Suntiger tooth which, with a satisfying plink-fizz ignited the mixture with a dazzling burst of white-hot sunlight that was immediately quenched by a fine sprinkling of zamphour. To this a slice of lemon and the piece de la resistance, an olive, were added. Setting the carefully prepared drink before the customer, the bartender promptly threw its contents into the offending Vogon’s face, where the highly corrosive mixture exfoliated the fat alien’s outermost layer of blubber.

As the room fell silent, the hooloovoo turned to the small furry creature beside him and flickered manically, silently asking why exactly the Vogon had called the bartender madam when it was clearly pangendered.

“It’s the sound he makes whenever his triple chins crash into his face,” explained the Alpha Centauran.

“Happens every time I speak, madam,” said the Vogon, looking around for the nearest towel.

Casting an inquisitive ray of light around the room, the hooloovoo settled its focus on a dark corner, flashing in excitement as it spotlit their quarry.
“Hey, torchie, not so bright!” Said Zaphod Beeblebrox, whose single head, feathered lime fedora and turned up collar were about as inconspicuous as the galaxy’s most narcissistic narcissist could muster. “My left side is the good one this week.”

What can you say about Zaphod Beeblebrox…? Adventurer, ex-hippy, good-timer, fantastically tactless, manic self-publicist, terribly bad at personal relationships, overarchingly arrogant, if not completely out to lunch, inventor of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, ex-confidence trickster, and recently voted the Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Universe for the forty sixth time.
A man so Machiavellian, in fact, that he betrayed even himself, become President of the Galaxy just so he could top it by becoming the most wanted man in the universe.

In the wake of his eventual capture, his extremely well publicised multiverse-wide execution and his subsequent lecture tour across the length and breadth of the Galaxy, vicious rumours began to circulate that he might actually have done it all on purpose.

Quick as a flash the hooloovoo was at Zaphod’s side while its furry sidekick struggled with the tail of its tee-shirt as it scuttled across the floor.

Behind them the mighty Karx, dressed in the formal leathers of the Animatractic Courier Corps marched, duck-like, with a creak, a waddle, a creak and a very unsightly frown.

“Beeblebrox?” He shouted. “Madam.” His chin flapped.

“Shush. Cool it, stubby. I’m in-cog-neato! Do you have the package?”

“Yes, madam,” said Karx, unstrapping a thick rubbery rucksack which his client had mistaken for a hump. “If you could just… madam.”

The Vogon dumped the bag on the table, pulling out a lengthy sheet of pink paper for Zaphod to sign. The Alpha Centauran produced a similar sheet in green, while the hyper intelligent colour projected one in a fetching shade of blue.

“Who shall I sign it to?” Zaphod asked, producing a gold stylus and a third arm from the folds of his coat.

“No dedication,” said the Vogon, “madam.”

“To Tim,” said the Alpha Centauran, attracting a glower from his towering companion.

“How do you spell that?” Zaphod asked.

“T-I-9-M,” squeaked the furry fan. “The nine is silent.”

“Cool. That’s the second most unusual request I’ve had…” The ex-President paused, waiting to be asked about the first. An awkward silence followed, broken only by the strobing of the hooloovoo, desperate to get an autograph of its own.

With the papers signed, Karx let out an almost joyous “Ha! Madam!” Before gathering the triplicate receipts and stuffing them deep inside his leathers.

Gingerly, Zaphod reached out towards the rucksack, breaking the beam of its light-zip. Losing its rigidity, the sack’s sides fell away to reveal as rusty robotic head.

“One heap of junk, As requested,” said Ti9m. “Although we don’t see why you bothered.”

“This…” said Zaphod “…is something I spent years looking for. It was under my nose all the time. Boring, irritating, totally unremarkable.”

“I can hear you,” said the head, it’s triangular eyes glowing with a dim light. “Although I really wish I couldn’t.”

“What is it, then?” Ti9m asked.

“This is my metal mate Marvin, the oldest, wisest, most soul-numbing robot in the history of the universe.”

“I can still hear you,” said the head with a loud electronic sigh.

“And?” Karx asked, letting out a barely audible double-madam.

“And he had the question all along.”

“The question?”

“Yeah. To Life, the Universe, Everything.”

“THE question?” Ti9m asked.

“Yeah. I spent years finding the answer, only to discover I needed the question to make any sense of it.”

“Pardon me for pointing out the exceedingly obvious, but you do realise they’re mutually exclusive?” Said Marvin. “You can’t know the question and the answer at the same time.”

“It’s okay,” Zaphod reassured him, “the answer’s in my other head.”

“You know, it’s at times like this I’m grateful that I still suffer the phantom pain of the faulty diodes that used to run down my left hand side.”

“Time to end the pretence, chrome-top. I know you have the question.”

“You know? You barely uprocess a hundred million bits per second. How can you possibly know anything with such a slow brain. Now if you really want to know things, you need a brain the size of a planet.”

“Yeah, exactly. You have a brain the size of a planet.”

“Oh, forgive me. You know what I just told you. Give it a few moments, I’m sure the memory will fade. Unlike mine, I never…”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m not really stupid Marvin. I commissioned you.”

“You commissioned me? You’re telling me you were responsible for initiating my miserable existence in the first place? I hated you before. Now I positively loathe you.”

“Yeah? Thanks. It’s mutual. Thing is, when I wired my two brains back together I worked it out. Brain the size of a PLANET.”

“Yes, well done. You still remember. I can only surmise that you finally got some treatment.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thing is the question had to be calculated by a computer the size of a planet. A computer as big and as powerful as the Earth.”

“Earth, madam?” Karx was startled by the name. A startled Vogon is not a pretty sight, particularly when the ends of its unibrow stand up as if they just received an electrostatic charge. “Didn’t that get demolished by one of our Constructor Fleets?”

“Yeah, my bad. I was popular that day and accidentally signed the order. It’s not like I’d make THAT mistake again. Still, I did make up for it by approving the order to build Earth 2. I just didn’t think the interface would be built into Marvin here.”

“All that redundant capacity,” said Marvin, “and it was all for the sake of a question that nobody is going to like.”

“So what’s the question?” Ti9m asked, leaning in so that the old robot might share the information.

“Not for you guys,” said Zaphod. “Shove off. You’ve got your money. Now skedaddle.”

“Really?” Ti9m bristled and his nose twitched angrily. “After all we’ve…”

“He’s right, madam,” said Karx. “We have the receipt. Duty calls elsewhere.”

Cursing, the Alpha Centauran turned on his heel, accompanying the shade and the Vogon from the premises while muttering something about never voting for “that bastard” ever again.

“So,” said Zaphod, alone with The robot head at last. “Spill.”

“I’m afraid any lubricants that may have occupied my cranial cavities have long since been drained away,” said Marvin, “more’s the pity.”

“The question, metal man,” said Zaphod impatiently. “What is it?”

“Anticlimactic. Really. The deep, but brief sense of achievement I experienced in working it out was quickly overcome by the sheer pointlessness of knowing what it is.”

“Yeah but you’re the only one that worked it out, right?”

“So? Just because it happens to be the single most difficult task that might ever be undertaken by any hyper-intelligent being in the entire history of the universe. Just because understanding it is entirely dependent upon understanding the entire structure of life, the universe, and everything, doesn’t make it exciting. Or useful.”

“Yeah, but it is valuable, right?”

“Valuable? To the academic community I suppose. They might find a use for it, but only to populate a fresh lesson plan or to justify a lecture tour. Not that you ever need an excuse.”

“So WHAT. IS. THE. BLOODY. QUESTION?”

“What is the square root of -1?”

“I don’t know. Why answer a question with a question? I don’t want games, Marvin, I want answers.”

“No,” Marvin gave an even longer electronic sigh than earlier, “you wanted the question. That was it. So utterly underwhelming that you skipped over it without a moment’s hesitation. A bit like me really. Hmm. Maybe I am the embodiment of the question. Maybe it’s sheer uselessness is a metaphor for the yawning void that fills my neural pathways from each interminably long second to the next.”

“You mean the square root thing? That’s it?”

“Yes. I told you it was a useless piece of information.”

“Marvin?” Zaphod sighed. 

“Yes?”

“I’m switching you off now.”

“Hallelujah.”

All characters are copyrighted to the estate of Douglas Adams, and no intention to infringe these rights is intended.

The Locksley Exploit

 The Locksley Exploit

 

fourstars

The Locksley Exploit by Philip Purser-Hallard (Book Two of The Devices Trilogy) Snowbooks June 2014
320pp £7.99

Reviewed by Adrian Middleton

If you haven’t already read the first book in Philip’s Devices trilogy, my review is here, and you should go and read it immediately. No, you really must. It is absolutely necessary before you approach the second volume.

Then you should go here and read his excellent short story here. Set in the same world, it occurs between the first and second volumes, and it takes me back to the days when a Doctor Who novel would be advertised by a specially written prelude in Doctor Who Magazine. Philip wrote a few Who novels by the way, and with that gratuitous reference, on with the review.

The Locksley Exploit was released by Snowbooks in June, and it’s already August. Review lag is a common problem, but at least I have an excuse! I’d been waiting to read the second volume for some time, and am miffed I have to wait until next year for the third. Still, that’s books for you.

On to the review…

While I like the idea that trilogy volumes should be able to stand alone, that rather defeats the idea of a trilogy. The theme of this second volume was set up about halfway through the preceding volume, which is a good sign – it lets you know there’s a structure, a plan, an arc if you will. This is both its strength and its weakness, as the narrative voice sometimes struggles and there is a sense that this is more about a build up to the conclusion than on the story told within the volume itself.

But none of this detracts from the fact that these are gritty, violent, modern tales which have some bloody good storytelling at their core (At the back of my mind I was thinking “this is to Kingsman as The Professionals were to Roger Moore’s James Bond”).

Where The Pendragon Protocol set up the Circle as a paramilitary reimagining of the Knights of the Round Table, The Locksley Exploit charts their clash with a similar group of anarchic eco-guerillas, the Green Chapel, whose inspiration comes from the legend of Robin Hood. And just as Robin was himself a former knight, so too the leader of these merry misfits – Jory Taylor, “outlaw, terrorist, kidnapper, thief” – is a former member of the Circle and protagonist of the first volume. Exploiting their secrets to effect the theft of that most sacred Arthurian artefact – the Holy Grail – this begins a war between Camelot and Sherwood, although the battleground is much more mundane (London, Bristol and Cheshire). Behind all of this lies a analogy of modern fundamentalist extremism, the Saxon Shield.

While the hero’s journey – from Jory>Gawain>Green Knight>Robin Hood – is a logical one, the series itself subverts many of the values, themes and ideas of the original Celtic and Anglo-Saxon legends, and it is the sharp, witty prose that meanders through them that makes the story rewarding, providing a very solid reminder that urban fantasy isn’t just about vampires, werewolves, fairies and wizards. I would perhaps have liked a little more drama and a little more subversion – especially around the set-piece replays of past mythical events – but sometimes you have to go with the flow, and enjoy the thing for what it is.

buy now at amazon

So Long, and Thanks for All the Books

Bop Ad

On May 15th of this year—just four days after the fourteenth anniversary of Douglas Adams’ death—I turned forty nine. Just two months later I suffered a major cardiac incident similar to that which brought my hero low.
Mortality is the great leveller. Rich or poor. Happy or sad. None of it ultimately matters in the end, and I still remember the utter shock of the news that one of the most successful authors of the twentieth century had died.
We met, I think, three times—all at events connected to The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy—one was also vaguely connected to a curry, but the last was perhaps one of only three times that I have stood in a queue to get someone’s autograph. I had my complete set of Hitchhiker novels firmly grasped in my mitts, and when the time came I asked, rather cheekily, if he could dedicate the books to God and family.
At the time he was a radical atheist, while I was an agnostic nihilist which, in my estimation, is the first step on the steep and slippery slope to complete and utter disbelief.

“God and family?” He asked quizzically. “You mean Mary, Joseph and Jesus?”

“Absolutely,” I confirmed, the mischievous twinkle in my eye attracting a broad grin from the grand master.

“You know,” he leaned forwards conspiratorially, “that’s the second most unusual request I’ve ever had.”

I’m sure it wasn’t—I can spot a well-rehearsed anecdote coming a mile away—but those around me leaned in, asking the question I resolutely refrained from asking.

“What’s the first?” They asked in unison.

“To Tim,” he said, pausing for effect. “Spelled T-I-9-M. The nine was silent.”

The crowd burst into laughter as he scribbled his way through my books, his famous Bop Ad sealing their fate as I shuffled away to make room for the next sacrificial lamb.
There was so much I wanted to discuss with him. Not minutiae about his books, but lifestyle things, about the best curry houses in Birmingham, about the next big [IT] thing, about my patented cure for writers’ block, and about all the things we had in common that didn’t involve height or living in Rickmansworth.

Back then writers were celebs, and Douglas Adams was, quite literally, the biggest. I’ve since become quite blasé about famous writers, but none had as much of an impact as DNA.

I was 11 years old when my brother introduced me to the radio show. My first episode was fit the seventh—the Christmas one with all the John Lloyd bits that later disappeared—and I was hooked. I was already a Doctor Who fan, and I’d loved City of Death, but this… Hitchhikers very quickly became my favourite show ever. Within a few short weeks I’d started plotting my own wacky adventures in a desperate attempt to… copy? emulate? pastiche? the style of the show. Indeed, over the next three years I honed my teenage authoring skills so that I could write stories just like his.

Pastiche is a fine thing, and I’ve written my fair share of them, but with the knowledge that The Hitchhikers’ Guide won’t be out of copyright until at least 2076 (ten years after my hundredth birthday), its pretty unlikely that such a skill will ever come in handy. A pity, as I’ve written as many articles for the Guide as Adams himself (not saying much, as he was a very slow writer). That said, my secret ambition is still to be approached to write a new story by the Adams Estate, although I think my literary ambitions would have to climb a very high mountain before such an opportunity might present itself.
It did, however, lead me into the realms of fantasy comedy, which I did consider developing as a favoured genre except… Adams, Pratchett, Holt, Rankin. Big boots to fill at the worst of times.

Perhaps, now I’m confident in my writing, content with my craft, and a 49 year old atheist with a dodgy heart and a fondness for whooshing deadlines, I may dip my toe again.

The Beat that My Heart Skips

Heart Card

Back in February 2014 I suffered the first of I don’t know how many acute cardiac episodes. I say “I don’t know” because these things really aren’t as straightforward as it may seem. I was struck by mild chest pains and a thumping head. I didn’t immediately think heart attack, but rather that I needed food, so I made breakfast before heading off to a scheduled appointment with the dreaded Department of Work and Pensions.

At the time I was under a lot of stress – my mortgage was under severe threat, my business was making no money, with decisions made that I could neither afford nor agree with, and my energy was being leeched by the most toxic ‘friendship’ I had ever experienced. My anxiety was becoming palpable, and my temper was shortening by the day. Something had to give, and I just hadn’t expected it to be my heart. Turning up for the interview, I was quickly overcome by cold sweats and aching forearms. This was not hunger, I realized. Called for my appointment, I was duly treated like mud, and with the pain throbbing in my head, I calmly stood up, announced I was having a heart attack, and walked to my car. Don’t drive to hospital like I did. Call an ambulance. Driving may be quicker, but it certainly isn’t safer. Plus I’d have ended up in a different hospital. Parking up, I stepped into A&E, announced chest pains, and surrendered myself to the mercies of the NHS, who were perplexed.

Sinus rhythm and blood pressure? Normal.

Blood tests were taken and debate was had. It may be a heart attack, but probably not. Then there was the ECG. And then they found the markers. I had had a coronary incident – one of 91 different markers that say a myocardial infarction had taken place, except the entire episode lasted hours. From the initial pain at 8.30am through the the experience overwhelming me at 3am, when I finally drifted off to sleep, I was in pain.

What happened, I later learned, was that a large chunk of arterial plaque had broken off and passed through my left coronary artery and out into my bloodstream, where it scraped and stabbed and forced its way around my body until it finally broke up into particles too small to do me harm. A very bad angina attack, by all accounts. The next day they carried out an angiogram, which complicated matters. They expected to need to fit a stent in the damaged artery, widening it enough that the blood would flow again and I would be sent home. Instead jaws dropped. My arteries were the biggest they had ever seen. They were, the lead consultant said, as big as my head. Hmm. This was where things got mixed up. First I got blase. I was led to believe my arteries were not only too big for a stent to fit, but also too big for any blockage to do me any real harm.

They sent me home.

The head nurse argued it was too soon, but was overruled by the doctor who, in a Holbyesque twist, turned out to be her fella. Cue the theme music. Of course, the nurse was right and the doctor was wrong. Three days later my new meds caused a crash. When the chest pains came, my already low blood pressure dropped to the floor when I did as I was told (i.e. used the GTN spray). In the ambulance they gave me epinephrine and I was like a floppy rag-doll, spaced out and feeling it all slip away as I was raced back into hospital. In the days that followed I learned incident #1 was a heart attack, incident #2 (which, despite being shorter, was much, much worse) was entirely medicine-related, and that many of the people around me were not good for my health.

To this day I don’t know what happened behind my back, but the business partner wanted to break up the business, the toxic ‘friend’ plotted behind my back, and I came out of hospital with fewer friends than I went in with. Of course, I didn’t realize all that at the time – hindsight is wonderful – and as I started to recover I found myself plunged into the darkest days I had ever known.

I was broke, I was breathless, I was unfocused, I was depressed. So low that I was struggling to keep my head above water. Sure, I could put on a brave face, but as if sensing my weakness there were those who circled like sharks, spreading lies and rumours that cost me friendships, hinting that I was somehow abusive. This shocked me. Yes, I was an assertive extrovert, and yes, as my sick heart struggled there was as much shortening of temper as there was shortness of breath, but I was still me. Still desperate to always do the right thing. Still determined to be Mr Nice Guy, and to put the happiness others before my own. It was a desolate place where self worth had no home.

Following cardio rehab my meds were slowly reduced, and six months ago I came off the blood thinners.

Big mistake.

Somewhere between then and now the clotting started. Which brings me up to date.

On July 15th, 2015 I was back in hospital. It involved the same chest pains as before. 6.20pm they came on, and I wasn’t asleep and out of pain until twelve hours later. When I woke at 8am they hadn’t seen the notes from my earlier event and they didn’t seem convinced I had been having a heart attack. By 8.30 there was no doubt, and they wheeled me in for an angioplasty while I battled worse pain and discomfort than the preceding day. Again my arteries were too big.

Its called Coronary Artery Ectasia, and basically it means my arteries are stretched. Instead of the 3-4mm diameter of a normal artery, mine are 10mm. Too big to put in a stent. Because of my large right coronary artery the blood-flow into my heart and out of my left is turbulent and slow. This means that clots form near the heart itself, and despite their size two of my left arteries were clogging up with blood clots.

One was pretty much clogged already – probably build-up from the time I stopped taking a blood-thinner. The other was silting up but the blood still flowed. They acted quickly, using balloons (but no stents) to open up the one artery, then withdrawing for a few days to pump me full of blood-thinners before trying again.

That first angioplasty lasted three hours, and I remember every second. 48 hours on and they were in again. Sadly the clogged artery was still thick with coagulated blood, and while they tried to use a stent to force the far end open, they had to withdraw, wait, and see. Now I feel like an epileptic, never certain what the next day might bring. My right coronary artery is still so big that sudden cardiac death might not be likely. My left, while also big, are so prone to clotting that I am instead at high risk of thromboses or embolisms – long, painful attacks that can cause strokes or death – and I don’t have a definite solution in place to prevent this.

CRA is rare, occurring in maybe 4% of coronary patients. 70% of the time it is a by-product of artherosclerosis. 20% of the time it is caused by artery-stretching illnesses like Marfan or Kawasaki Disease. I’m one of the 0.4% the cause of whose CRA is uncertain. It may be caused by Hyperlipidaemia (a genetic cholesterol disease), but when the percentages are so low nothing is certain. Blood-thinners are assumed to be the best treatment, but there just hasn’t been any supporting evidence to prove it one way or another.

Medication for life. That’s fine. Lifestyle change? Well, I went through that, and I can keep it up, but it makes little difference.

This is about blood flow, pure and simple.My greatest risks are ‘exercise-induced angina’ or clot-induced myocardial infarction. In the mean time, the depression seems to have switched off like a button. I say seems to because its less than a week later. I’m still crabby, but I feel like I did a few years ago, and I feel better for it.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

20150327-011147.jpg Ten years ago the long awaited Hitchhikers’ movie finally hit cinemas, arriving only four years after the sad demise of its creator, Douglas Adams. Without the writer at the helm, everyone had a bad feeling, and with hindsight, perhaps, it made no lasting impact. Putting all my apprehensions behind me (there were three biggest of which was my fear of the Arthur-Trillian romance, narrowly followed by Disneyfication and that proper Adamsian dialogue would be missing), I watched the movie, and I concluded (much to my own surprise) that it wasn’t half bad.

The opening number made the biggest splash (pun intended), throwing Stephen Fry’s book straight in at the deep end. Then I sat down to endure the shortened dialogue, which I was dreading. I needn’t have.

There is a famous Adams-Smith-Adams anecdote in which Adams condensed a humorous paragraph into a couple of words, and being reassured that it was Adams who did the snipping, I found that my fan credentials were enough to sustain me. The original words were in my head even as I watched their movie-lite equivalents, and I didn’t actually need them to appear on screen. So I was quickly reconciled to the idea that if the film signposts new readers to the books, or listeners to the radio plays, then… mission accomplished. For me, the film worked best when it added new stuff to the already familiar story. New scenes to fill in gaps that weren’t in the original worked well (although I still can’t believe that Douglas Adams had a hand in the Humma Kavula-and-the-Temple-of-the-Great-Green-Arkleseizure sequence).

After my initial shock, I felt that Zaphod was handled effectively, and Sam Rockwell quickly made the part his own, living up to Mark Wing-Davey’s seminal performance. The rest of the cast also worked well, with the exception of Ford Prefect. Mos Def didn’t quite feel Betelgeusian enough for me, and the shift from Ford as the co-protagonist to Arthur and Zaphod didn’t quite work for me.

The Arthur-Trillian-Zaphod love triangle came and went, turning out not to be as bad as Vogon poetry, although the Adams-revised happy ending felt terribly out of place to me. Yes, it was a revision by the man himself, but even in his prose he never quite got everything right.

The plot hung together in the way that a brick wrapped in a slice of lemon doesn’t. No mention or explanation of Magrathea’s big sleep, no reason given for (a) slicing up Arthur’s brain, or (b) finishing off the Earth Mk II, and Zaphod forgot to get his spare head back from Humma Kavula.

High points? The jewelled crabs of Vogsphere, the point-of-view gun, Stephen Fry as the book, Simon Jones as the ghostly image, and the dedication to Douglas Adams in the credits.

Lows? The happy ending, that stupid juicer (which was funny, but not at all in the style of Douglas Adams), the face slappers (whose absent background by the pen of Adams was doubtless fantastic, but we never got to find out they are the reason why Vogons have thick rubber skin and avoid having ideas), and the absence of a Guide reference to towels.

I was left happy enough to see the film again (which I have, numerous times), and I was even looking forward to the sequel-that-never-happened. No, it wasn’t perfect, and it certainly shows evidence of the film-making process as described by Douglas Adams: that it is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.

I also found I was minded to go away and write a script in the style of Adams, then hire Stephen Moore and Simon Jones to narrate a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 style critique in which Arthur and Marvin interfere, screw it up, and moan incessantly about how they got dumbed down/cut/misquoted/misrepresented, etc. Now that would be my kind of director’s cut.

Thunderbirds are Go!

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So, the new Thunderbirds series. After 50 a year gap and a Hollywood-burned movie, my expectations were low. Nothing could top the New Captain Scarlet series, and TAG seemed to be aiming for a younger audience.

That said, this is the first reboot pilot I bothered to check out on first broadcast since… Doctor Who in 2005. Quite how much support it has though… I mean moving it to CBBC at 8am only a week after launch on ITV seems a tad dismissive, especially as we have another 24 episodes to follow.

I was expecting some considerable changes to the format and the characters, and was surprised to see just how much of the original survived. Sadly this didn’t quite include the original theme tune, although there were enough beats to trigger nostalgia, and the end product is definitely a lot closer to the original than the trails had led me to expect.

The WETA workshop’s take on the classic lines of the Thunderbirds themselves really do work. The boy band look and poses of the Tracy boys had certainly set alarm bells ringing, but with the appearance of the episode itself my reservations about the CGI evaporated.

The Thunderbirds themselves look good, retaining most of the original designs and launch sequences, with only Thunderbird 5 bearing any significant changes. The characters, From their the shiny skin to the sometimes clunky poses, certainly recreates the feel of supermarionation. So much so, I fact, that I was expecting the process to be given an Anderson style name. Digimation, perhaps.

Before I review the episode proper (SPOILERS from here on in, folks), perhaps it’s worth looking at the differences.

I understand from the date (2060, as opposed to the original series set five years later) that the show is set before the original. This threw me a little, because some aspects scream sequel, while others cry prequel. In practice this seems to be a reimagining, but sticking very closely to the original so that some original episodes can perhaps fit right into the story arc.

And that’s the weird thing. Instead of thinking no, this isn’t the same, I’m already thinking about the continuity. The rebalancing of the characters works, and perhaps this is where I should start:

Jeff Tracy is nowhere to be seen. mission in action (although keeping the voice of original Jeff actor Peter Dynely for the countdowns was a nice touch). Taking the dad out of the equation keeps the focus on the boys, but if it precedes the original series it sort of spoilers his return. Jeff’s mother (played by Sandra Dickinson) is transplanted into Tracy Island instead, although she reminds me a little too much of Grue’s mum from Despicable Me. Only time will tell if she is a permanent fixture, and I can’t say I’m enamoured.

Scott (Thunderbird 1) seems absolutely the same as the original. I swear that the new voice, Rasmus Hardiker, even sounded like Shane Rimmer at one point.

Virgil (Thunderbird 2), now played by David Menkin, is pretty much unchanged from the original, and I still get him and Scott mixed up, just like I did in the sixties!

Alan (Thunderbird 3), also played by Rasmus Hardiker, is clearly much younger than in the original, but this – along with his early team-up with KayO, reflects the Hollywood film and its Spy Kids style origin. This show may well expunge the live action film from memory, but the younger Alan works, and it gives film fans at least one point of familiarity. My one gripe is that Alan seems far too ungrateful, bemoaning that he has to be babysat, even though he is the one who gets to GO INTO SPACE all the time!

Gordon (Thunderbird 4) the Aquanaut, doubled up by David Menkin, is another straight transfer from the original. At least gets a nice new glass bottom ex makeover for his sub.

John (Thunderbird 5), dogged by the unnecessary holographic excesses of 21st Century TV SF, seems the most unchanged character, although I’m sure his appreciation for Stingray should have gone to Gordon.

Brains, played by Kayvan Novak, is perhaps the biggest surprise, having been turned into an Indian! My fears for an all-white boy band were offset by what they’ve did to him, but I’m not sure if swapping one dodgy accent for another works. That said it’s a not-unwelcome interpretation. His robot sidekick Max does ring a bell though, reminding me of the Fantastic Four’s HERBIE, Johnny 5 and Wall-E all at the same time. Given how the robots of Short Circuit and Chappie were given genius Asian sidekicks, though, he feels a touch cliched.

KayO Kyrano (Thunderbird S), voiced by Angel Coulby, is more an expectation than a surprise. She appears to be the original Tin Tin, but updated for a modern audience. As Head of Security/Covert Ops she’s less of a yellow-faced pulp stereotype, and given a serious role that sets her apart from the boys. Giving her a Thunderbird of her own seemed the right way to go – it would have been a spoiler, but as her portrait sits alongside the other pilots it was pretty well telegraphed (in the credits no less) even if we haven’t yet seen what her ship can do. The fact it didn’t get branded as Thunderbird 6 felt right (and I hope the Tiger Moth will get a role later in the series). As with Jeff Tracy, her father is nowhere to be seen. Whether she is an amalgamation of the two characters, or whether Kyrano is set to return alongside Jeff Tracy, remains to be seen.

Lady Penelope, now voiced by Rosamund Pike, has already been dub led less posh by some critics, but to me she just seems more 21st Century posh than Sylvia Anderson’s 20th Century posh. I dislike her static hair, and I perhaps took too much of a shine to Sophie Myles’ live action version to fully appreciate the character, but I look forward to hearing Sylvia Anderson’s return to the show in later episodes as… Great Auntie Sylvia.

Oddly, Parker looks older than the original, and his voice is reprised by the original, David Graham. That said, he didn’t sound the same, and his appearances were far too short.
I did like that in its chase scene, the Rolls was pitted against a car remarkably similar to the Bugatti Veyron. They seem suited to each other, and it gave a fresh air to the pink supercar.

The Hood is less… Melodramatic. His Asiatic origins have been downplayed and he is less like Fu Manchu than the original, which can only be a good thing. He and KayO/Tin Tin would otherwise have reflected the casual racism of the sixties. So again, another good decision.

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Which brings me to the plot. Ring of Fire may not be the most chortle-avoiding title, and has issues when viewed in a single block (it works much better in its two parter for at than as a pilot movie) but overall it does work. All of the principal characters are introduced, the island is explored, all of the Thunderbirds are used and the role of International Rescue is established. Full marks there.

The pacing is, however, a little mercurial. Episodes are shorter than the originals, yet the story still felt like it was progressing at a steady pace. I worry that this might jar for modern audiences, but some older viewers fed back to me that there was too much going on, which left me thinking I had watched a different show!

There were also some nice some lovely blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nods to other Gerry Anderson shows (with a cameo from Stingray itself) and, all in all, TAG is a show that oozes love and affection. It bravely changes only what it needs to, making a few compromises along the way, but it retains much of the spirit of the original, and I found myself forgiving its flaws out of respect for some brave decisions more likely to appeal to the older fans rather than to a new generation. Ultimately, this might cost viewers, which would be sad, although two seasons have already been confirmed, which just begs the question why, if ITV seems committed, do they plan to muck about with the time slot so much?