The War with Fruit

Ill-informed, irritable defiance. I’ve got loads. Do you want any? It does me absolutely no good at all.

Come to me with a well thought out plan that might save money, time or my life, and explain that plan to me reasonably and in a calm tone of voice and for some reason I will feel an irresistible urge to disagree and to try and prove you wrong, however vast my ignorance. It’s a disease I tell you.

Take the National Health Service’s Five A Day campaign in which we are encouraged to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. Who could possibly disagree with that? Well, me for a long time apparently.

My arguments weren’t even arguments. Just an impotent shake of the fist at someone I thought was telling me what to do and a few sarcastic comments about the Fruit Police.

In a massive recent personal climb-down however I have come to accept that the whole of the NHS is right and I am wrong. In fact they deserve a bloody medal for having to wear a cheerful face every day whilst telling the thickies of the world (me) that two litres of Cherry Coke and 500g of Pickled Onion Monster Munch or Frazzles are not as nutritious as a fruit platter, say, or a nice vegetable stir fry.

So I’m on message now. I like vegetables and I like fruit, but bloody hell fruit’s a struggle isn’t it?

The guidelines are that for the magic five-a-day spell to work in warding off cardiovascular disease and “some” cancer then you have to have a mixture of fruit and veg. No getting by on just strawberries for instance.

This is OK, understandable even, but for the single male shopper who has permanently foregone relationships with women on account of their persistently cruel and mendacious ways it presents a bit of a dilemma. I mean I can purchase a big pile of assorted fruit and then watch weeping as my fructose empire dissolves into blue fur over the space of a week before I get a chance to eat half of it. Or I can buy small amounts of fruit which, by definition, aren’t varied.

Plus, if I’m walking to and from the fruit monger (Tesco in my case) the vastness of some fruit makes the transportation unfeasible. Pineapples are lovely, but wrangling them home and then eating them is like herding and then skinning porcupines.

Once upon a time, when I was buying a melon in Tesco the checkout person, who was just trying to be helpful, noticed that they were Buy One Get One Free. “You’d better go and get another,” she said. Waving off my feeble protestations that I didn’t want another she sat as the queue ground to a halt and I, wracked with humiliation, went back to get another melon.

I had gone in a proud man simply looking for some fruit. I came out looking like an ill-advised Katie Price tribute act. I might have been crying.

And I ended up throwing the second melon away after I’d carried it all the way home.

A sexy fruit lady earlier today.

Current compromise: dried mixed fruit and those plastic trays of pre-prepared fresh fruit, but there’s a stack of plastic waste getting generated this way.

***

Three films quickly.

Starcrash is magnificent: a logic-fucking Italian Star Wars rip-off from 1979 that looks like it was scripted on the hoof. The director Luigi Cozzi (or Lewis Coates as he internationalised himself) would later enhance his career with Contamination (1980) a gooey Alien hack job, and the 1983 version of Hercules with Lou Ferrigno and Sybil Danning.

I adore this kind of filmmaking, but only the Italians seem to do it properly.

There is an American crime writer, one of the best working today, called James Ellroy. His idiom is to interpolate fictional characters into real events (the Black Dahlia murder case, Cuba, the JFK assassination) and have his whole oeuvre stand as an alternative dark history of the USA in the second half of the 20th Century. It’s majestic stuff, scrupulously researched but, even though a lot of it has to do with the film industry, the books do not lend themselves to screen adaptation.

Curtis Hanson just about got away with it in L.A. Confidential, though it’s an insipid experience compared to the source novel. Brian De Palma however did not get away with it in The Black Dahlia. In fact I specifically remember thinking as I watched De Palma’s effort unspool over too long a part of my life, “This is the sort of movie you would get if you let a bunch of eight year old kids watch L.A. Confidential and then filmed them the next day acting it out in the playground.”

And that’s what you get with Starcrash. A luridly coloured collection of things the writers and director remembered liking about Star Wars cobbled together with an effects budget of $30,000 (not that much even in 1979) and the narrative sensibility of a kid hepped up on Refreshers and Red Kola.

But this, as I keep stressing, is all to my liking when the Italians do it. We live in an era of commodified entertainment where the question is never “What is your film like?” but is always “What film is your film like?” And in that context anything that flouts story-telling convention, received acting wisdom or even basic cinematographic competence is something I find interesting.

At one point, just as things seem lost for the heroes, the Emperor orders his flagship to “stop the flow of time!” which it does, duly allowing our guys to escape. The only problem, as the Emperor explains, is that he can only stop the flow of time for three minutes.

Ummmmmm…

Caroline Munro is your contextualiser (if she’s in a film it must be 1971-1979) and ruddy marvellous she is too. Two years earlier she had been unchivalrously blown up in a helicopter by Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me. Two years later she would be co-hosting YTV’s unfathomable game show 3-2-1 with Ted Rogers. I think I love her.

There’s an inappropriately fierce-looking comedy robot sidekick, a lush John Barry score (obtained pretty much by deception) and Christopher Plummer and David Hasselhoff playing father and son. What are you waiting for?

Night Of The Comet written and directed by Thom Eberhardt in 1984 is an entirely lovable enterprise. It has a reputation as a lost classic, and on one viewing I’m going to go along with that.

A passing comet wipes out the world’s population leaving two valley girls, a trucker and a bunch of scientists to fight their way through zombied-up Los Angeles. The trucker, incidentally, is played by Robert Beltran who would go on to play the biro-faced Chakotay in Star Trek: Voyager.

The micro-budget is eked out heroically. Some of the early shots of a deserted L.A. are as thoroughly disconcerting as the deserted shots of London in 28 Days Later.

The script is tight and witty, the actors are wonderful and the whole thing is as evocative of the 80s as Beverly Hills Cop, Weird Science, Young Guns and Lost Boys. Why this is not seen as a key 80s text is beyond me. It’s mega!

Buffalo Soldiers (2001) came as a mild disappointment after the high concept adrenalin rushes described above. Perhaps it’s my fault for bringing too much in the way of expectation to the film, but it does seem like a minor work.

American soldiers, based in West Germany at the time the Berlin Wall was coming down, indulge in black-market, pharmacological misadventures. Consciously or subconsciously referencing MASH and Kelly’s Heroes the film staggers all over the place tonally. It isn’t serious enough to care about. It isn’t anarchic enough to enjoy.

And if you’re going to have a moral centre to your film, best not to have it played by the implacable, unsettling Joaquin Phoenix.

Whither the Blinovitch limitation effect?

My most recent spell of post-romanticism has been characterised by my lying on my couch and staring at the ceiling. Now it’s a nice couch, and it’s a nice ceiling but torpor is just torpor and doesn’t make for much fun writing or reading about.

Also I have lost any ability to write that I might once have had. I mean check out that first paragraph, gangsta. Check it out. Two uses of the word “nice” and a preposition hanging off the end of it. That’s blooming crud that is.

I once read a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs – one of his Pellucidar novels, set in a mythical underground realm – which, even though it was quite short, had an apologetic note from the author as a preface. He was sorry to the reader, in essence, for the amount of scenery and weather he had put in the book.

Any scenery and weather in a book set principally under the Earth’s mantle is probably too much, but I didn’t feel the apology was necessary. Burroughs is Burroughs, and narrative chutzpah carries you through even his lesser work. This is why Edgar Rice Burroughs is a better writer than William S. Burroughs I think. You can read his books.

Sorry about all the weather and scenery here.

So, what am I talking about? The condition of heart-brokenness? Nah. Wouldn’t have a clue. It’s a bit embarrassing. It’s a bit painful. But worse things happen at sea, and anyway that’s suddenly a whole lot more PS3/Blu-ray time on my daily planner, surely.

Well it will be as soon as I’m done with the ceiling-staring.

A long time ago I would have gone off on a prodigious spell of drinking, backed up with a sheaf of self-serving justifications of byzantine complexity. But I don’t do that these days. I’m sure alcohol is still a perfectly charming molecule, and those who like it are right to feel free to enjoy it. It just does not, I concluded some time ago, agree with me.

The last time we had anything to do with each other, me and the booze, it was 2006 and I was absolutely clobbered powerless by it. It’s a funny old thing (in the hideously sad and painful sense of the word funny) is alcohol dependency. Alcoholism – let’s call it what it is. It can reduce you to a decaying, friendless, desiccated wreck, but it still seems like a roaringly good idea when you’re in the midst of it.

Hmm, you (or more pertinently, I) might think. I feel physically wretched, like I am actually going to die. That pain is in my liver. My eyes have the yellow look of very old ivory. I think that thing in the toilet bowl might be my stomach lining. You know what I need? A cheeky breakfast vodka.

Who wouldn’t regard that as something of a wake-up call? Sugar Puffs, milk, orange juice, vodka.

Well, me for one. Millions of other people for two. I had to get help from people who had done the same sort of thing in the past but didn’t do it anymore. I had to learn how to talk about myself (yuck, yuck, yuck) and listen to other people talk about themselves (boooooring). I had to set about clearing the wreckage of my past and minimising the rate at which I gathered new wreckage.

Luckily for me there were good people to help me with that. They weren’t difficult to find either. They are, as Craig Ferguson once put it, quite near the beginning of the Phone Book.

Thanks, those guys.

So no booze then. No sudden domestic or geographical lurches. Except I bought a trumpet. Anyway that is perfectly normal behaviour. Trumpet-buying. Turns out that when the mood came upon me there was only one trumpet for sale in all the shops of Inverness despite what my friend Kay might try to tell you about such clearly fictional enterprises as Trumpetland, World Of Trumpets and Brass Zone!

One trumpet for sale, but luckily it matched all of my expectations which is to say that it looked like every trumpet I had ever seen in my life, and it was priced within my trumpet budget for the month.

Hurrah for valve oil! Hurrah for embouchure (which is basically making a rude noise with your mouth)! But especially hurrah for the educational DVD I got! There is a furious urge within me to reach the point where my incontinent parpings are finally better than the pure, sweet notes the kid on the DVD produces.

I hate kids. They ruin everything. The film industry. Days out to interesting places. Trumpet tuition. You name it and I guarantee that a short, stupid kid with no idea about how the world really works has already spoilt it. Idiots.

The on-going trumpet adventure was a sign that I was probably going to be OK, but the sudden accretion in the last week or so of mind-bogglingly inane DVDs and comics has sealed the deal.

I have almost fully morphed back into the un-marriageable half-man half-compost heap that is my default setting.

Two of the movies I have just seen on DVD, Luigi Cozzi’s fabulously mad Starcrash and Thom Eberhardt’s low budget miracle Night Of The Comet, have reminded me how fond I am of the 70s and 80s. I hope to write a bit about them later.

But there is contemporary stuff to cover too. A thing that children have not yet managed to spoil in complete contradiction of my earlier assertion.

Since I last blogged – gulp – a whole season of Doctor Who has come and gone.

Can I talk a bit about Doctor Who now?

***

There, those three asterisks indicate where half my readers got on and the other half got off.

Doctor Who Season 5, or Season 31 as I prefer to call it. Any good then?

Yup. It was good.

Or at greater length:

Matt Smith is a tremendous surprise as the Doctor. Such was David Tenant’s authority that a few of the things he established as character traits looked as though they might become sine qua non attributes of subsequent incarnations of the character. The youth, the vigour, the sexiness, the gob, the insolence, the mania. These are things Tenant imported to the role but he did it so unquestionably that it is easy to forget that they aren’t typical of previous incarnations.

My concern, prior to seeing any of Matt Smith’s episodes, was that we were going to get more of the same. A string-thin young wannabe poncing round the multiverse shouting.

That’s not what we got though and I have to applaud Smith for running with the more spiky, almost autistic aspects of his character. Tenant played the Time Lord as a geek, but a knowing kind of geek. One who is aware of his own brainy allure.

With Smith, certainly after the regeneration trauma but before the series settled down, it was as though we were sharing the Tardis with Maurice Moss from the I.T. Crowd.

He, the actor, is playing down the looks (and he’s a pretty boy underneath it all isn’t he?). He’s happy enough with the improbable hair and the face like an unexpected ocean liner looming out of a fog bank. It’s subtle what Smith is doing. It’s long-game characterisation. He knows that if we stick with him we will learn to love him despite the alien angularity and the awkwardness. It can be a bit like watching Patrick Troughton, or Colin Baker if Colin Baker had been done right.

There has been some tabloid tutting, doubtless welcome by the writers, at how sexy the show is. Is that an issue? I was more surprised at hearing the Doctor use mild swear words like Bloody and Hell. That felt new and slightly transgressive to me. I mean I’m not going to dispute that there’s a sexual element to the programme, but what’s new?

The first time we met the Doctor in 1963 he was living with his grand-daughter. Over time we speculated that maybe that was just a turn of phrase or a kind euphemism to explain Susan’s presence. But no, the tenth Doctor talked briefly of having had a family in the past. So from Day 1 this is a programme which has at least acknowledged its title character’s sex life. The tenth Doctor spread it about quite a bit actually, certainly compared to the ninth’s slightly hesitant fumblings with Rose and Jack.

But in the classic era sex was never far away. Ian and Barbara? Ben and Polly? Jamie and Zoe? Harry and Sarah? Leela and K-9? (Though I might have imagined that one). And that’s just the companions.

Look at some of the Doctor’s relationships. The third Doctor and Jo, for instance. It was always that drip Captain Yates from UNIT who was asking Jo out, but she always ended up with the Doctor in the Tardis. And how upset was the Doctor when she left him to sail down the Amazon with that hippie from Wales? He was crying for God’s sake.

The Fourth Doctor and Romana. The Fifth Doctor and Tegan. The Sixth Doctor and Peri. The Seventh Doctor and Ace. Don’t tell me you never noticed.

The sexual undercurrents are not new then but I am pleased at the way Karen Gillan has asserted herself. For a while I thought she was overdoing the pouting, stropping and sulking. It looked, particularly when River Song was also in the picture, as though the Doctor was getting a bit hen-pecked.

The inclusion of Rory as the dithery, useless fiancé didn’t help at first, but stone me, as the series progressed and the characters settled down a bit it all started to work.

Once Rory had been written out of the Universe, re-incarnated as an Auton Roman soldier, redeemed and then reintroduced to the Universe as a human in the grand re-boot he started to become appealing.

The current Tardis line-up of the barely socially functional Doctor and the married couple one of whom is a voracious, lunatic, nymphomaniacal, redheaded Scotswoman is quite an exciting one.

Russell T. Davies always did a fabulous job celebrating pan-sexuality in his Tardis line-ups. This current one as constructed by Stephen Moffat could not be more heterosexual. It’s practically George and Mildred in Space.

That isn’t a bad thing.

There were a few things about the series that didn’t quite work I think. The whole story arc doesn’t make much sense once you start following it through. Time paradoxes can be great fun if you’re rigorous about causes and effects. Doing stuff because it’s flashy and then covering over the holes by saying something like “Timey-wimey stuff can be a bit difficult to get your head around” is unfair.

You could see it work well in microcosm with the gag about the Doctor accumulating the Tommy Cooper hat and Norman Wisdom mop we knew he had to be holding when he met Rory. It all fell apart on the macroscopic scale though. I’ve watched The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang through three times now and I’m embarrassed to report that I still can’t understand them.

And whilst we’re here, whatever happened to the Blinovitch limitation effect? I’m sure there was a good reason why you couldn’t keep crossing your own time stream and that was it!

A secondary fault was that there was a slightly solipsistic, constrained feeling to some of the episodes. The empty village in the Silurian two-parter for instance, together with the massive drilling operation manned by precisely three people!

Scale was a problem with the Big Bang too. What a tease Stephen Moffat is mentioning the Draconians, the Zygons, the Drahvin and then not showing them. What did we get? Three Daleks, a sack of Sontarans and some Cybermen. And what is it with these Cybermen anyway? Aren’t they from a parallel universe? Our home-grown Mondas/Telos Cybermen were much better.

Perhaps these underwhelming crowds and this absence of convincing background activity were scripting infelicities, but I’d be more inclined to believe that they were budget constraints. If that is the case then I will just quietly accept that the best job possible was done under the circumstances. Particularly in The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood. I’m glad that they spent the cash on tons of lady Silurian soldiers rather than human extras.

The Silurianettes brought about in me that same cross-species dilemma I had when I saw Helena Bonham Carter made up as a chimp in Planet of the Apes. I know it’s not right, but…

Yes, you would.