Thursday, 23 December 2010

A big fat bah for all humbugs

I noticed a festive meme at Laurie Powers that's been designed to get you in the Xmas mood, and so I thought I'd have a go. Please feel free to use the questions for your own blogs.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
I'm not sure what Egg Nog is, but if it's like Advocaat, then it makes me want to throw up. Hate hot chocolate. Chocolate should be cold and solid, not hot and foaming.

2. Does Santa (meaning you) wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
I'm a bloke. We are genetically programmed to be incapable of wrapping anything. Either way, I don't have a tree, or presents for that matter.

3. Coloured lights on tree/house or white?
Don't have Xmas lights. Hate Xmas lights. Hate seeing Xmas lights on the outside of houses and trees. Hate lights outside houses. Period. Dark is good because then you see the real pretty lights: the stars and the Milky War. Everything natural is beautiful and everything artificial is ugly, especially when it's coloured and flashes on and off.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No, although people who hang mistletoe should be hanged.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
I am pleased to say I have never put decorations up. I am available to tear them down for no charge.

6. What is your favourite holiday dish?
Don't have one. I like beer though.

7. Favourite Holiday memory as a child:
Spending three hours watching the turkey grease congeal while my dad toured the pubs trying to find my gran before she passed out. He failed.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
The day I was forced to spend two hours queuing up in the rain to sit on the knee of some pervy old git with bad breath and a false beard who ignored me and tried to chat up my mum instead. I cried a lot that day.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Nope. We don’t bother with gifts in our house.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
Don't have a Xmas tree.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
Last night we had another inch of snow and it was minus 17C. That's as cold as the freezer and I walked the dog for a mile through the knee-deep snow in the dark when I was the only idiot out there and the only tracks were the ones I'd made yesterday. My beard froze and the hairs in my nostrils clogged up so I had an icicle growing. I've got a numb finger that I'm worried could be frostbite from dragging a frozen log back home to stick on the fire that's been on so much the chimney's clogged up and the house is full of smoke. I've just found out my toilet's overflowing and it's made a ten foot icicle. The shops have no basic food items in them because the A9's cut off and everyone was buying enough stuff for a siege. The gritters don’t come within a mile of my house because the councillor doesn't live in the area and even the four wheel drive owners are struggling, and yet do we get any travel news and sensible weather forecasts on the radio and tv? Heck, we don't. It's all about poor old beleagured Londoners not getting on their holidays because a couple of snowflakes drifted by somewhere to the south of Watford. And for good measure I wrenched my back getting a mince pie out of the packet (honestly!) and so I've spent the last hour lying on the floor groaning and now I'm sitting like a question mark. I hate feckin' Xmas.

12. Can you ice skate?
If falling over and bruising your bum is called skating, then yes.

13. Do you remember your favourite gift?
Never had one. I hate getting gifts. If I want something, I buy it. Although that Tim 'smug git' Minchin dvd sold for good money on eBay and I bought something I did want.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
Getting some work done.

15. What is your favourite Holiday Dessert?
Hate creamy and sickly desserts. Give me beer. Now.

16. What is your favourite holiday tradition?
Being grumpy.

17. What tops your tree?
Don't have a tree. All the real ones have snow on the top and irritatingly cheerful robins bouncing in them. I hate robins.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving?
Neither. I hate wasting money on crap and I hate having to be cheerful about receiving crap from people who probably can’t afford to waste their money on the aforementioned crap.

19. What is your favourite Christmas Song?
Videotape by Radiohead or something a bit more depressing.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?
What the hell is candy cane? It sounds awful, just like Xmas....

Anyhow, Merry Xmas, one and all. Have a good 'un!

Monday, 20 December 2010

The ITV Xmas panto series

The Xmas Pantomime is a peculiar British tradition that is used to introduce children to the theatre, or in my case used to put them off it and instead start a lifelong clown phobia. I don’t think the panto exists in many other parts of the world, but I thought I'd celebrate one aspect of the art form that hasn't been lauded much: the ITV Xmas panto series.

I'd guess every country has an annual Xmas tv tradition, which usually involves watching depressing non-seasonal things such as It's a Wonderful Life or The Wizard of Oz. But in Britain, for a small and content group of people (some of them even being the children the programs were made for), Xmas only really starts when the nightly ITV panto series appears. This year they're on every night this week on ITV 27 or some such minor channel at around 6pm.

Four feature length shows were made around ten years ago featuring the stories of Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington and Cinderella. They stared what were then the top echelon of British comedy talent. Sadly, as all the new tv comedy made in the last ten years has been completely devoid of talent and laughs, they probably still remain the cream of British comedy. They were written by Simon Nye back in the days when he could still write funny sitcoms and he provided a perfect mixture of comedy, story and a well-judged use of the more enjoyable traditions of pantomime. Nearly all the scenes work on two levels, providing custard-pie throwing slapstick to entertain the adults while still providing plenty of risqué double-entendres to keep the children giggling.

In truth they do go downhill with the earlier ones being the best, so the first, Jack and the Beanstalk, is my favourite. Jack is played by Neil Morrissey as essentially Tony from Men Behaving Badly, Ade Edmondson as Dame Dolly is Eddie Hitler in a dress, and Julian Clary camps it up with every possible variation on 'he's coming up behind you'. The humour works from knowing what's not being said because the audience is children. So when Denise Van Outen as Jill asks Jack what he's thinking, Jack will pause for just long enough to let us know he's wondering if she's a natural blond (the best line from Men Behaving Badly) before providing a more appropriate answer. And you know Dolly is only just resisting the urge to whip out a chainsaw and saw Baron Wasteland's legs off. It even captures Julie Walters at a time when she was funny, features the cult figure Peter Serafinowicz and makes good use of Paul Merton's droll delivery as the narrator.

Second up was Cinderella, in which the rudeness was sadly reduced, but which was probably the more accomplished panto. Paul Merton and Ronnie Corbett are the ugly sisters providing traditional old-fashioned comic routines while Frank Skinner is surprisingly good as Buttons, especially as at the time his comic persona involved very adult material. Samantha Janus as Cinderella for once manages to avoid being irritating and, as it was filmed around the time she was involved in the fondly-remembered comedy Game On, her timing is excellent. The only sour notes are provided by Alexander Armstrong, a smug comedian whose popularity escapes me, as a charmless Prince Charming and one-trick pony Harry Hill who makes no concessions to the format as he trundles out his dreary 'comic' monologues.

Those two shows provide excellent entertainment, but the goodwill isn't maintained for the final two shows, which run out of steam quickly. Aladdin is messy, with the other half of the Men Behaving Badly team Martin Clunes not working as well as Neil did and Ed Byrne as Aladdin seeming unsure what pantomine is all about. But Julian Clary and Paul Merton are again excellent and anything with Leslie Phillips in it can never be all bad. The final show Dick Whittington is a chore to sit through and I don’t think I've ever managed it all in one session. By now the comedy had been purged of all risky innuendo for fear of complaints to OFCOM, and instead inexplicably popular kiddie pop stars of the time appeared. Sadly what makes it fall completely flat is James Fleet. His stiff but gormless aristocrat role that worked so well in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Vicar of Dibley fails on stage and just comes over as, well, stiff and gormless.

Despite the diminishing returns, the shows are small and perfectly formed Xmas tv fare. Ten years on, they're still ideal for those times when you have a mince pie in hand, a port in the other, and your expectations are low, especially if you haven’t got any children who can take you out to see a live pantomime!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The story so big they named it twice!

I've just received the complimentary copies of my 20th Black Horse Western, which has been printed in a special version to appeal to those who are in two minds as to whether or not they like the sound of it. The front and back covers claim that the book is called Bleached Bones in the Dust but the spine decided to have a second go and came up with the better title of Bleached Bones in the Sun.

I like this approach. As I mentioned here last year the inspiration for Bleached Dust in the Sun came when I incorrectly remembered the title of tv detective Hamish Macbeth's favourite western novel, which turned out to be Chuck Sadler's Bleached Skulls in the Sunset. Who knows, if I'm lucky and Boney Bleach in the Dust goes to large print it might finally get the title it should have had all along.

Available now on Amazon and all good on-line retailers: Dusty Bones in the Sun, the story so big they named it twice!

For twenty years, bounty hunter Montgomery Grant searched for Lomax Rhinehart, desperate to make him pay for an atrocity he committed during the dying days of the war.

So when Grant's friend, Wallace Sheckley, told him that he had found Lomax, Grant followed him to Sunrise, but Arnold Hays and his gunslingers were holding the town in the grip of fear. Nobody would help him and, worse, Wallace had gone missing and Lomax was nowhere to be found.

With Arnold Hays the key to Grant finding out what has happened to both his friend and his enemy, he must turn to his gun to get the answers he needs...

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Miracle of Santa Maria

I was pleased to get an advance sighting of the cover for my forthcoming Avalon Western The Miracle of Santa Maria. I've been lucky in the past in that Avalon have always provided me with evocative and appropriate covers, but I reckon they've excelled themselves this time.

It has a nice image of the setting with an appropriately miraculous feel and it even uses an interesting font type for the title. Although I hope that anyone who reads it expecting an inspiring Christian tale won't be too put out when they find instead a bishop who makes Bishop Brennan from Father Ted look reasonable, a cowboy version of Romeo and Juliet, a serial killing box and the Wild West's first and worst planetarium. Anyhow the book is out later in 2011 and here's the blurb:

The Mission Santa Maria catered to Sundown’s needs until bandits murdered their nuns. The young Maria is the only survivor, yet the massacre she witnessed sends her into an endless sleep. For two years she lies unconscious in the mission, gradually becoming weaker, before Bishop Finnegan notices. Unsympathetically, he decides to close the mission, which is sure to speed her demise.

With her outlook quickly becoming bleak, the devious snake-oil seller Fergal O'Brien rides into town. Although Fergal is typically interested in making a quick dollar, Maria's plight touches him. He attempts to wake her with what he claims is his universal remedy. Not surprisingly, though, his tonic fails.

An undaunted Fergal vows to help her by persuading Finnegan to keep the mission open. The bishop, however, decides that the lawless Sundown is too dangerous for a mission. The only options are to hope for a miracle or clean up Sundown with fearless gun-toting skills. Unfortunately for Fergal, though, he has never used a gun in his life.

Monday, 13 December 2010

A graceful bow to the muse Calliope

I've posted a short and fairly pointless article on writing serendipity at Avalon Authors Blog.