Sunday, 28 December 2014

A question of resolve

Within the next couple of weeks there will be a massive surge in new gym memberships as thousands of overweight people finally feel guilty enough about the state they've allowed themselves to get in to declare that their new-year's resolution is to get in shape. I think what they really mean is that they want to change shape - from spherical to something a little more aesthetically pleasing - and hopefully reap the benefits that accompany being less of a bloater such as reduced heart strain, increased energy levels, less joint pain, and better quality sleep.
It only seems to happen after the annual winter binge-fest when the chair is creaking under the added contributions of too much roast dinner, huge tins of Quality Street, and those silly orange and lemon jelly things that nobody would consider buying at any other time of year. People have done the usual thing of hoarding mountains of unhealthy crap over the preceding three months with the sole intention of consuming it all in two days straight, and then they wonder why they feel like shit and why the scales have suddenly developed a calibration fault.
I must admit to not being completely unaffected by this because any time spent at home with little to do results in boredom, and boredom leads to a significant increase in trips to the fridge to look for beer and cold sausages.

I don't know when or why the tradition of new-year resolutions began, but it's a fortunate coincidence for those with this particular affliction.
So as soon as the gym opens in the new year there will be a queue of sweaty faces and wobbly bottoms waiting to sign up for a membership, stealing envious glances at the long-term gym freaks with their perfectly toned bodies encased in all-revealing lycra and their faces wearing an expression of confident superiority.
The new recruits will sign on the dotted line of the direct debit mandate, with a determination to put all their effort into reversing the last few years or decades of self abuse. The scientific formula for the success rate of this is A/100=X where A is the number of new gym members and X is the number of new members who are still attending after the first month.

Some may feel that the gym is a tad expensive in the long term, and that the lycra-clad tofu and lettuce enthusiasts who frequent the gym are too intimidating, and so they opt to purchase their own gym equipment to use at home. Naturally this is doomed to failure because everyone knows that a cross-trainer will be used twice before sitting in the corner of the room being used as a convenient clothes horse until it finds its way onto Ebay.

Another popular resolution is to give up smoking, and again this is a great idea that meets with limited success, despite all the assorted patches and gum on the market. The problem with these things is that all joking aside, they're a fight against an addiction and addictions are hard to break. Whether it's reaching for a last pork pie before bed time, lighting up after a meal, or watching shite TV like Eastenders every day, to the sufferer the attachment to these habits is very real and requires a huge change in thought processes to see any positive result.

For my own part I need to stop constantly fretting over what will happen if the automatic gearbox on my car fails, what car I want to have to replace it, and why it's so hard to find a record shop these days. I want to stop worrying whether my colleagues have any respect for me, wondering if I'm ever likely to be free of pain, and forever trying to find a sense of purpose. In short I want to learn to still my mind and live in the moment.

Therefore to everyone who's going to make a new-year resolution to change something about themselves for the better, whether it's losing weight, quitting smoking or drinking, using the internet for something other than porn, or simply to greet each new day feeling grateful to be alive, I wish you all the very best of luck in your endeavours.

You go, girl.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Soon be back to reality

Now that the silly season is officially over, I feel I can breathe a sigh of relief.
Yesterday we decided to brave Cambridge as the boy wanted to get some clothes and the sales was a logical place to start. It was with some trepidation that we set off, expecting to be faced with enormous tailbacks forcing us to change our minds and return to the Zen temple of peace and tranquility we call home.
Drawing closer to our destination we became increasingly unnerved as the roads almost resembled that scene in '28 Days Later' when Cillian Murphy is wandering along a deserted Westminster Bridge.
We managed to get done with minimal hassle in very little time and even when we left the city the traffic was incredibly light. So what's happened out there? Has everyone finally realised it's not a bargain if you weren't going to buy it anyway?

The only thing I've got to face now is putting up with every man and his dog asking if I had a good Christmas, which I shall try very hard to answer quickly and simply without launching into my standard anti-xmas tirade which is already feeling a bit worn out from being used on everyone who had the bad judgement to ask that most ridiculous of all questions: "Are you ready for Christmas?".
Ready for what exactly? What preparation does it take to spend one day getting drunk and fat? I can do that any time so why should it make a difference that it's a day when the unenlightened masses are allegedly celebrating the birth of a mythical being to cover up the fact that the only worship really being carried out is at the altar of rampant consumerism.

But enough about all that. I've just made a large batch of carrot and parsnip soup, and am now contemplating getting the pressure washer out to remove the green stuff from the driveway.
I know the whole point of a holiday is to kick back and do as little as possible, but it only takes a couple of days of that before I'm climbing the walls with boredom and desperately seeking something to occupy myself - as long as it doesn't involve painting the house. The biggest question is how long the bottle of Jack Daniels will last....

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Lights, camera, action hero...

My first recollection of the cinema is seeing the original Star Wars in 1977, and it set in motion a lifelong enthusiasm for George Lucas's creation. I still feel that the original trilogy is far superior to the prequels from more recent years, with the newer ones relying a bit too heavily on CG graphics and Hayden Christensen's acting which was more hammy than a ploughman's lunch and about as convincing as an email from Africa offering you a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity.
With a new episode in the making, I can't help wondering where the story could possibly be taken, and the cynic in me is crying out that it's just a shameless cash-in on the phenomenal success of the series, but I hope that idea is proved at least partially wrong. I want the new one to be a worthy addition to the saga so that my affection for Star Wars remains untarnished.
But not every film stands the test of time this way, and the most glaringly obvious examples of time eroding the appeal of a movie can be found in the action genre.
From the martial arts movies of the 70's through the unintelligible grunts of John Rambo to Steven Seagal proving that being a one-trick-pony is no barrier to movie success and a big paycheck, we've seen it all. With a dazzling catalogue of films featuring the dominating presences of Schwarzenegger, Stallone,  Van Damme, Seagal, etc we're shown time after time that there's no point taking out the bad guy with one bullet from 1000 yards when you can blow up an entire city block to achieve the same end. All of these movies are larger than life with enormous body counts racked up by a single hero who suffers little more than a few bruises and a torn vest, leaving a swathe of destruction that would have made the Luftwaffe's effect on London look like a job that could be cleaned up with a brush and dustpan.
When these films were released they had a huge following. Men could sit back and lose themselves in 90 minutes of mindless escapism while women could just about tolerate them for the sake of Van-Damme's glistening muscles when his shirt inevitably fell off during the big fight with Mr Naughty.
At that time - late 80's to mid 90's - I was completely hooked on these films and my VHS video collection began to swell with numerous examples which were watched over and over until I knew all the dialogue and who would be the next bad guy to explode on the receiving end of a 40mm grenade.
Eventually my tastes expanded to cover many other types of movie, but recently the old titles have started to emerge either on Netflix or in the DVD bargain bin in the supermarket.
Unlike the original Star Wars trilogy and countless classics that relied exclusively on a good story and top rate acting talent, the old action movies have suffered greatly with the passing of time and our own expectations of what makes a good film.
The other evening I sat down to watch 'Kickboxer' which I used to enjoy back in the day, only to conclude that it was more cheesy than a French delicatessen. There have been others too which have not survived being revisited years later. The best bits of 'Under Siege' were Erika Eleniak getting her rack out and Tommy Lee Jones proving he was the only actor involved with any real talent.
The first 'Terminator' film still possesses a decent story, but the effects of the fleshless terminator in the last scenes are now almost as laughable as ED209 in 'Robocop'. Almost without exception all these action movies fulfil every cliché, particularly the theme of a one-man army defeating the enemy despite being outnumbered hundreds to one by evil minions (not the purple ones) armed to the teeth with machine guns and heavy artillery. Throw in a few post-slaying witty quips, like Arnie's "Stick around" after pinning his hapless quarry to a tree with a large knife, lots of torn clothes to show off well honed muscles, and a final scene involving our hero walking slowly out of the smoke to a background of American soft rock. You always knew how it was going to pan out. It was as predictable as there being a Bond film on telly on Christmas day, but like a good road trip it was more about the journey than the destination.
That was then, but trying to watch them now is kind of embarrassing. I spot one of these films and say to the boy "Hey, I remember this, it was great - you'll love it!". Twenty minutes in he's giving me funny looks and if he makes it to the end he's in disbelief that I made him sit through such a torrent of nonsense and that I could ever have enjoyed such a thing. Okay, he'll get a bit of enjoyment from the gunfights and blokes kicking the shit out of each other for way longer than they ever would in real life, but that's about it. For my own part I'll sit through it determined to find that spark that made me enjoy it so much twenty years ago, but failing miserably and finding that actually it's a pretty crappy excuse for entertainment.
The recent attempts to resurrect the genre have been patchy at best. I admit I really enjoyed 'The Expendables' as a bit of brain-out fun, but the second one was simply awful so I have no intention of subjecting myself to number three.
Clearly this is why I've moved on. I enjoy watching many kinds of film including some old black and white ones, foreign films, and God help me even the odd chick-flick. I loved 'Breakfast at Tiffanys', although that might have been helped by the delectable Audrey Hepburn, 'White Heat' with James Cagney, and 'Some Like It Hot' with Marilyn Monroe. Even though decades have passed, these film are still as enjoyable today as they ever were, but the action movies were a passing fad that belongs in the history books of cinema.

Arnie felt his mouse problem demanded something
bigger than the standard commercial mousetraps