New Toys


As I drag myself kicking and screaming into the 21st century, I find the collecting of new technical toys makes the journey less fraught and more enjoyable. That is not to say that this act of self dragging is not without its more stressful  moments. I have been trying to change the password on my new iPhone server for most of the day with no success.

But the culmination of all these new toys: MacBook Pro, iPad, and iPhone is that all my files (and therefore my “work”) are within easy access to me. I now have at my finger-tips, all the information via the internet or applications that utilise the internet that I could possibly use.

The photo at the top of this blog post was taken two days ago in a Norwich Starbucks with my iPad. It was an experimental gesture, which explains why I have such a bemused look on my face. I have “played” with all my new “toys” and found that in some cases that they are very user-friendly and in others, downright hostile.

I am fairly computer literate. Or at least, I once was. Years ago I got in on the ground floor of these “new-fangled” home computers, of course these new home computers were just practice for the office machines that we would soon be getting in our workplace. The “jump” was deemed necessary because we didn’t want to appear stupid. (or at least too stupid)

I remember the first ever work-related computer conference that we were required to attend as part of our foray into this new world. The chap running it initially addressed the crowd with the  words, “And if all else fails? Control, Alt, Delete.” The room exploded into laughter. We’d all been there, done that and had the various tee-shirts. Soon after, we got past the ctrl, alt,del stage of our knowledge, but we never forgot that “newness” and the feeling that we were heading for territory that, once entered, could never be left.

I have, over the years, sort of ‘dumbed” myself down. Many of my peers (and this amazes me) are not computer literate nor do they wish to be. They have the novice’s mistrust of the machine. They still fear that they will do something that will cause it to blow up or crash. This explosion or “death-knell” will be costly and complicated to fix. Better to not depend on these new-fangled gadgets than to waste all that money on something that little Timmy or Ellen can use in their sleep.

I am not sure where this idea came from. This belief that computers and electrical gadgets are for the young only. Sure kids pick it up quickly, it’s in their very nature to pick up new things quickly. Schools teach kids everyday and rely on computers to help handle the modern curriculum.

In the Norwich Apple store today, while I was getting my new phone charged up, I noticed a huge amount of what can only be termed as geriatric’s learning how to use iPads and MacBooks. The average age around that table of learning was about 65 or 70. Old ladies with blue-rinsed hair and old men with canes and comfortable shoes were learning about the intricacies of these modern 21st century toys.

They were, I might add, apparently doing very well. I do know that Apple pride themselves (quite rightly) for their after sales customer service, but I do believe that if the old folks being shown these new (to them) products were having too much trouble, I would have seen the smiles of the staff start to slip. I saw not one smile threaten to disappear nor slide into an exasperated frown.

After today, I don’t feel like “The Lone Ranger” in search of a computer loving Tonto. I feel like more folks my age and older are embracing the computer age right along with me. Of course some of the more arthritic ridden won’t opt for the iPhone, I think that if they had nimbler fingers that they would be joining me there as well.

I tried out my new phone’s camera today, and although my photographic skills leave a lot to be desired (Lord Snowdon has nothing to worry about) I can at least capture the image I am aiming at. Even if I am sharing the shot with my subject via my reflection.

Scary gorilla and some shadowy chap taking his picture.
Scary gorilla and some shadowy chap taking his picture.

The Chief, British Rail, and My End

the chief

I had mentioned doing an episode of The Chief in a previous post Name Dropping Pt 6 Stanley Kubrick, that was the last of my “extra” jobs for my duo of agents in Norwich. It was actually a great morning out.

It paid over £125 for just a half days work and I was “upgraded” from background artiste to getting a bit of business to do in front of the camera. The episode was going to be the opener for season 3 and the plot centred round a bomber. I played an Inspector from the CID who showed a picture of the suspect to an informer and then passed him a few pounds for his trouble.

The Chief was actor Martin Shaw‘s next long running TV series. Shaw, who had made a name for himself in the long running 1970’s television show The Professionals, played the second fiddle in the show until season 3 where he was promoted to the Chief position of the title.

Typically, I did not get a chance to meet him or any of the other “names” in the show. I did get to work with a Shakespearean actor who was appearing in Norwich at the time. He was a lovely chap and we rehearsed our “bit of business” over and over until we could do it without dropping either the photograph that he was meant to look at or the money which I was meant to give him. The director was very pleased that we’d rehearsed on our own and the shot was done in two takes, the second in case the angle was wrong.

I then shook hands with my co-worker and they moved a bit further down and did the second scene without yours truly. I was done. I’d had a glut of bacon sarnies, met A.J. Quinn the director and both of the assistant directors and spent a very pleasant summer morning in a riverside pub in Norwich. Most importantly my ranking as an extra had gone up the scale.

I don’t know where the paperwork is, in a file somewhere I’m sure as I always saved these types of things, but you got a sheet with your pay packet that explained what you did for the production. There were three different “ranks” of extra. It numbered from one to three. A one had nothing to do but be there, either standing about or sitting, you were used to “fill” the scene. A two had something to actually do and you got props to play with, in my case a 50 pound note and a photograph. A three had a line or two. Each rank paid a bit more than the others with the “one” paying best.

*I may have the “rank” backward (it was a long time ago) but the breakdown is correct regardless of the order*

After the job, I’d managed to acquire a London agent and I wrote both agents to let them know I did not require their services any longer. There was no wailing and rending of clothes at my departure, they had a long line of folks who were eager to work as a supporting artiste. The only thing my absence from their books really meant was that I was out of work for a very long time.

My new agent helped to get my mush into Spotlight which was (and still is as far as I know) the UK casting director’s bible. We splashed for a ½ page ad and I waited for the offers to come flooding in.

Part of my half-page ad in Spotlight…a million years ago.

I did get a few offers, but the business was going through a slump. I got a call out for one of those “cinema” adverts with no luck. I’ve already written about my close call with Stanley Kubrick; and I won’t even mention the “vocal coaching tape” I did for what I later found out was to be a porn film.

I did get to meet a few folks and my agent was doing his best. I got a call out of the blue from him. He has a client that had shortlisted me for a role in a Japanese company’s training film. I would go to a hotel conference room in South Kensington and walk around the room carrying a briefcase and delivering my lines in my “native” tongue. According to my agent, it was dead certain that they would pick me.

I was over the moon. I grabbed my one suit and got it cleaned. I checked on the train times to London. I could either go the night before and crash at my agent’s house or I could take a train in the morning. Morning was more convenient and it was decided that night that my daughter would accompany me.

I am pretty sure that I have written about this day before, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. So I’ll trot the abysmal mess out one more time.

By the time I’d argued with my then wife, gotten my daughter ready and took the bus down to the train, we had only one train we could get to London and still meet the audition time. We broke all speed records purchasing the tickets and we were the first people on the train. As we settled ourselves the train started powering up to draw away; then it stopped. It powered up again and it stopped. This went on for ten minutes.

Finally the train stopped making any noise at all and a member of British Rail’s staff came down the aisles and told everyone that as the dining car was broken, this particular train would not be going to London; everyone would have to take the next train. Sorry for the inconvenience, blah blah, blah didi blah.

I was horrified. The next train was not due for another twenty minutes. Add that to the train journey and the time spent crossing London through the underground to Kensington and there was no way that I was going to make the audition in time. Panic stricken, I grabbed my daughter Meg up and ran with her to the nearest pay phone.

I rang my agent and explained the situation. The other end of the phone was silent. I could feel his anger (well rage really) and disappoint me all the way through the phone. “There’s nothing for it,” he said, “I can’t ring them as they’ve started the auditions already. If you show up late they won’t see you. We’ll have to give this one a miss.” He then rang off without saying goodbye.

I then got my ticket refunded and Meg and I slunk home. I was more depressed than words could describe and I was in the blackest of moods. A shot time later, my agent’s wife died and I went to see him and express my deepest sympathy, she’d been a lovely lady and had been in the original cast of the radio show The Archers.

My agent treated me to tea and we had a long chat. He was amazed that my then wife did not support my forays into the business and I believe that the wheels started turning in his head even then. Not long after he sent me a short note to ask about new pictures for Spotlight. My missus insisted that we could not afford any new photos and that was that.

I spun some yarn about it being too pricey my end and said that the next time I was in London I’d find a cheaper photographer. My agent wasn’t having any of it. He sent me a letter two weeks to the day after my porky pie (lie) about the photos. He dropped me. I was not surprised. The lovely man had paid for my advert to run for another two years after I’d place the initial advert. With me earning absolute bugger all, he’d gambled that I would find work and give him a return on his investment.

To say that I was suicidal is not an understatement nor is it an exaggeration. After I received his letter, I sat down and put all my back pain medication out in front of me. I opened every packet and put them in little piles; one for the diazepam; one for the codeine; one for the Tramadol; and two more for the muscle relaxants and the anti depressants.

Before I could take too many, my then wife asked me what she was supposed to tell our daughter. That stopped me. I knew that what I was doing was wrong and unfair, not to mention pretty damned stupid. So I stopped and we rang the hospital to get my stomach pumped.

I had not taken many so the pump was unnecessary. The shrink who talked to me asked was it a cry for help and I said yes and left it at that. It was more than a cry for help though; it was a wail of anguish at a dream ended; a scream of anger and disappointment so deep that I never really recovered from it. I did not die that day, be it was the end of me. I was never the same nor could I even try to be.

When I hear the phrase “the living dead” I smile. I know exactly what they mean, I lived it. But time heals all wounds and eventually I rediscovered my need to be creative and my first love, writing. I am no longer a living dead person and the journey of rediscovery is long and slow but, hopefully, worth the trip.

Down but not out…yet.

Iron Eyes Cody: Living the Dream or a Delusion?

Iron Eyes Cody in full regalia.

A year ago, I bought Iron Eyes Cody’s autobiography in an entertainment specialist shop in Norwich. I’d often wanted to read the book as he was a pretty iconic character after his pollution advert back in the 1970’s. He also had always claimed tribal ancestry not too far from my own and I hoped that by reading the book I’d learn not just about Hollywood in the early years but also about his lineage.

I had completely forgotten that Iron Eyes had been “defrocked” as it were in 1996. A half-sister appeared from the sagebrush and claimed that not only did he not have Indian blood in his veins, he was in fact Sicilian. Even after a birth certificate was produced and records found that substantiated the woman’s claim, Cody denied vigorously that he was anything but a Cherokee/Cree Indian.

He stood up for many Native American causes and was awarded for his efforts. He never left his house unless he was dressed in beaded moccasins, buckskin clothes and wearing his braided wig. Even though the tribes he supported through his efforts ascertained that he was not of Native American Heritage, they still accepted him as one of their own; which he was, in spirit at least, if not through blood.

The question is, was Cody so enamoured of his role as the mistreated red man that he came to believe it? Was this part of his “Hollywood” image that he maintained in order to find more work as an actor? Or had he lived this lie so long that he believed it; the “role” he’d invented for himself in order to ingratiate himself to the acting community?

Cody had a long career as a “screen” Indian. He worked with big names in the western film making crowd. He’d been around Hollywood long enough to be able to “name drop” with the best of them. He knew the old silent film cowboys and stuntmen. He also knew retired lawman and living legend Wyatt Earp (although he maintained that if you asked Earp anything about his past he would just look at you and say he couldn’t remember) as well as some of the other less savoury remnants of the old west.

He also provided a treasure chest of “authentic” props for film makers that were used in other films besides westerns. He appeared in over 200 films and worked quite a lot in television as well. But Cody was more than a celluloid “red man” he also lived his life according to the Cherokee/Cree culture.

Cody’s book, titled My Life as a Hollywood Indian, was published in 1984 and was ghost written by Collin Perry (the book’s jacket actually says “As told to Collin Perry”) and includes a lot of photographs of Iron Eyes and his family and some of the Hollywood “big wigs” he worked with. As I’d hoped the book did have a few anecdotes and stories about some of the lesser known players in the old days of western film making. A lot of the stuntmen and extras in those days were rough and tough real cowboys who found that fist fighting and getting shot off of a horse paid a hell of a lot better that working on a ranch punching cows.

So in that area the book was interesting enough. He tells a bit about his married life and his peccadilloes. He also talks about Native Americans and their battles to retain their heritage and claim back their past.

Of course, as the book was written in 1984, he makes not one mention of his Sicilian heritage. The book is set up to sell the idea that Cody was Native American. He obviously believed it. Writing a biography, even with the use of a “ghost writer,” puts your personal “truths” in concrete form. There is your life story, in black and white, filling pages of a book.

You cannot retract your story. You cannot go to the publishers who paid you for your book and say, “Oh by the way, I may have stretched the truth a bit in the area of ancestry.” They may want their money back or worse sue you. That could be the main reason that Iron Eyes Cody, who was actually born Espera Oscar de Corti in Kaplan, Louisiana the second son of two Sicilian immigrants Antonio de Corti and his wife Francesca Salpietra, continued to deny his “real” roots.

So the idea of lawsuits might well have been Cody’s inspiration for denying his true lineage, but, when you take into account his lifestyle; the life he lead following the traditions of the Native American culture, he believed in his “reel” life completely. He may have adopted the ancestry because it was more romantic than his own or he could have gotten so caught up in the whole idea that he forgot his real life existed.

I guess that perhaps that is another “truth” of one’s ancestry or past; when the pretend memories become real, so real that they take over fact and become a deluded reality.

A delusion that can be used to benefit some and that harms no one. Then it is most likely a truth or reality much stronger and powerful than the reality of a father who deserted his wife and children and ran away to Texas.

The only sad thing is, Iron Eyes Cody never told anyone why he preferred the lie or if he was even able to recognise that it was a lie. The 1996 revelation casts an unfortunate tinge on the biography and the validity of its source. But it is still worth looking up just for some of the photographs and for the stories (true or not) of the characters who filled the backdrop in the early days of western film making.

Shedding a little tear…

Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts: It’s All In the Eyes

Firstly I have to thank the lovely young lady in Waterstones at Norwich. When she found out that I was a Michael Grant fan and was looking for the second of his books dealing with the FAYZ, she was delighted. A  fan of the series as well, she asked me if I’d read Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts. I had to admit that I had not. She highly recommended the book and helpfully pointed out that it was part of their ‘buy one, get one, half price’ deal. I quickly took advantage of their deal.

Thank you young lady, you didn’t lie. The book is scary and creepy. It is also very, very good.

In Jeyn Roberts’ book we follow the trials and tribulations of four teenagers who are affected by the events of the book. Their world has been rocked by earthquakes and school bombings. Some people are going crazy and killing each other. The world is in the grip of an ancient evil that has been released by the earthquakes.

The Apocalypse has started. Or as another character says, “It’s the End of Days.”

Mason’s mother has been in a car accident and while he’s at the hospital waiting to see how she’s doing, he sees that the school he’d been called from just a short time before has been obliterated by bombs. All his friends are dead and his mother is about to join them.

Aries (I’m Aries but I’m a Gemini) is on a public transport bus with two school friends when a massive earthquake causes the bus to crash and kill a lot of the passengers. Luckily for her she meets Daniel, a mysterious boy who seems to know why all this is happening. He helps Aries find one of her friends and helps her to escape the growing mayhem after the quake.

Clementine is in the town hall with her parents. They are attending a town meeting where the elders are saying that volunteers are needed to help assist in the quake stricken areas. Just as the meeting is getting under way two towns people enter cradling guns in their arms. Clementine’s parents tell her to leave the town hall. Now. Going outside, she finds the the place surrounded by armed people and she barely escapes them.

Michael and Joe are riding in Joe’s truck when a motorcycle and a car in front of them start ‘dueling‘ not surprisingly the motorcycle loses the duel and the rider is killed. His body and crashed motorbike cause a pile up on the highway. Michael and Joe crash the truck into a ditch to avoid being hit by a tanker. The police arrive in force and after telling all the drivers to get back into their cars start shooting them if they don’t act quickly enough. Michael and Joe are given a lift by another driver as their truck won’t start.

Roberts does a brilliant job of jumping from each of these four teenagers experiences and the paths they are having to take. At times the four cross paths and temporarily join forces. The people that have become affected by the quakes are known as ‘baggers’ a hunting reference. As in “they are going to ‘bag’ a deer.” People now equate the term bagger with killer. There are several different types of Baggers and the teens and the people they temporarily team up with must avoid them if they want to live.

Baggers suffer from bloodshot eyes, but, instead of their eyes being threaded with red veins, their veins are black.

The young lady who recommended this book to me said she read it at night. She was so ‘freaked’ by the book that she woke her sleeping boyfriend up and checked his eyes.

Just in case.

I had the luxury of reading in the daytime, in the park. I was surrounded by people, but Roberts yanked me out of that park just as effectively as if she’d physically grabbed me. The settings of the book, the main and secondary characters and actions of everyone felt real and scary and pretty freaking awesome.

The ending leaves you with the feeling that this is just the first of what could be a long running series. I hope so. I am dying to find out what the post apocalyptic world has in store for Mason, Aries, Clementine, Michael and that mysterious lad Daniel.

Either way, Jeyn Roberts has become another author that I will keep an eye on. Great stuff, Ms Roberts. Please, may we have some more?

Jeyn Roberts, courtesy of Google Search

Eden Lake (2008) A White Knuckle Ride

Eden Lake

Directed by James Watkins (My Little Eye, Gone) this tale of two young professional urbanites going to the countryside and running into “hoodies from Hell” is a tour de force of white knuckle moments and wincing violence. Watkins uses the film to make a topical statement about juvenile crime‘s increase in the UK and who is responsible for it.

 Kelly Reilly and  Michael Fassbender play the young professional couple Jenny and Steve. Steve has set up a romantic weekend at a lake he remembers from his childhood, It is secluded and a perfect spot for him to propose to his nursery teacher girlfriend. Arriving at the lake, Steve finds that the whole area is to be bulldozed and turned into houses for the “Yuppie” market. He also finds the the secluded area is obviously not so secluded as a gang of local kids seem to be using the area to hang out.
Steve is not best pleased by the appearance of the noisy neighbourhood kids and their dog. Jenny wants to move to another quieter area, but Steve is adamant that they are going to stay. He goes over to the group and asks them to move on. This idea is met with derision and hostility. It is also an open invitation for the youngsters to start harassing the young couple.
Little darlings...not.
Little darlings…not.
The harassment starts with the group just being noisier, before moving off sometime in the middle of the night.  After waking Steve and Jenny find the food they brought has been invaded by insects. They decided to go into town for a meal and to buy provisions. As the couple drive off, they run over something left by the kids and get a flat tire.
Steve replaces the tire and they drive to a cafe in town. While eating their meal they see the kids from the lake in town. Steve asks the waitress if she knows the kids as he wants to talk to their parents about the tire. The waitress becomes very defensive and says, “My kids would never do that.”
Things between the kids and the young couple escalate. Steve angrily confronts the children and one of them takes out a knife. Steve struggles with the boy and during the struggle accidentally kills one of the boy’s dog. The leader of the pack, a lad called Brett (played brilliantly by Jack O’Connell) who is visibly upset, tells Steve and Jenny to go. Steve tries to apologise for the killing of the dog, but the children ignore him.
Steve and Jenny decide they have had enough and start to leave. Brett, however has had a change of heart and has now decided that his gang are going to exact retribution for the death of the dog. So begins a heart pounding, cringe making attack by the children and Steve and Jenny’s attempt to escape.
Deadly hide and seek.
Deadly hide and seek.
James Watkins is another of those British directors that specialises in writing and directing low budget films that grip you. Made in 2008. Eden Lake takes a look at what was considered by  many to be a frighting increase in juvenile crime. The new millennium saw the emergence of the hoodie.
These hooded sweatshirts were the common uniform sported by gangs and other juvenile delinquents who had no problems breaking the law. Their emergence coincided with the courts in England becoming so lenient in terms of punishment for juvenile offenders that law abiding citizens started to fear these young criminals. Watkins’ message seems to be that it is the parents who are to blame.
This film is not easy to watch. I found myself repeatedly getting angry at the “grown-up” characters and their annoying combination of naivety and belief that, until the end, they could solve it all by talking. The calibre of performances was top notch. The location they chose for filming was spot-on, it looked like your average English town.
In fact there is a pub in the film that is a spitting image of a pub outside of Norwich, Norfolk. My daughter and I shiver every time we drive past it and I can’t help but drive a little bit faster.
Not your local friendly village pub.
Not your local friendly village pub.
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