Bowling is a Strenuous Sport Now?

My daughter Meg and her significant other Max invited me to a night of bowling; Max’s treat. As I am completely unable to turn anything down that is free; I leapt at the offer.

I was a bit hesitant at first though. I had not bowled in more years than I care to remember and back then I was not a great bowler, but a capable one. I could bowl almost silently with no loud crashes as the ball hit the middle of the lane. Things have obviously changed since I’d been an almost regular bowler. In the old days, you got told off for hurling the ball halfway down the lane.

Not now. I was about the only person who was bowling “quietly.” I was surrounded by the thuds of balls chucked ungracefully down the lanes. It almost sounded like bombs hitting, so much so that I felt like ducking for cover.

Still it was an enjoyable night and despite my protestations over my lack of practice and skill I managed to win two games and was well on the way to winning the third when our time ran out.

During the evening I only had one reminder of my age and that was when my knee “went” and I sort of hobbled my way to the line as I approached, ball in hand, to hopefully get a strike. I discovered that I wasn’t that bad even with the dodgy knee and I marvelled at the fact that I could even bowl at all. The last time I’d been down to a bowling alley you could still smoke as you played.

So the pleasant part of the evening was realising that I could still get the odd strike without smoking and without the aid of Anheuser Busch‘s Budweiser lager (beer). I guess it is sort of like riding a bicycle, you never really forget how to bowl.

The unpleasant part of the evening came the next day and the day after the next day. I felt like I had run the London marathon, twice. I went to roll out of bed the morning after our “bowl-a-thon” and wound up having to creep out slowly.

My catalogue of aches and pains started with my hips and moved on down my legs to my knees. I felt about a thousand years old and had definitely passed my “sell by” date. After taking my back pills it eased up enough that I was able to take my daily “heart” walk.

This morning, aka the day after the next day, I had the exact same experience upon waking. Creeping slowly out of bed was once again the order of the day and I was so sore that I actually cut my “heart” walk in half.

I am still amazed that the end result of such a non-strenuous activity could cause so much discomfort. A painful reminder of just how far I really have to go before I am even close to my old fitness level. It is a bit disconcerting.

Just as I am getting used to the steady daily improvement of energy levels and endurance levels, I go bowling and have a muscular set back that is as disturbing as it is amusing. I guess that before I go bowling again, I’d better train myself up for it.

Of course I could try something even less strenuous like competitive knitting although the damage to my wrists could guarantee that I never play the violin again. Perhaps Tiddly Winks or Jacks just to be on the safe side.

In reality though, I can be as competitive as I want on an on-line multi-player video game like COD or Black Ops II (which is just COD under a different name) and I will probably do that as soon as I’ve rested up from my one way excursion to Tesco.

I really would like to write more on the subject of my bowling night but it’s time for my session with some Deep Heat.

Now where did I put my Zimmer Frame

I may need this to get to the Tiddly Winks match…

Ghostquake: Haunted High (2012) TV Movie Rubbish

One of the “advantages” of living overseas is the ability to watch made for TV movies that are disguised as normal feature films. It is probably my own fault. I have a list of things I watch for: favourite directors, favourite actors, and whether the film is a horror film or not.

I am a sucker for horror films. The only other genre that comes close on my favourite’s list is westerns. But with westerns I am cynical and leery of new ones. Ever since the 1970’s when westerns became a gaunt shell of their former glory (mainly the introduction of the psychological element spelt the death knell of the western) I look at them with a jaundiced eye that wants to be surprised and pleased with what Hollywood has to offer.

Sometimes I get lucky; the Coen brothers and True Grit, their modern western No Country for Old Men and their noir western Blood Simple. Clint Eastwood and his film Unforgiven, or the cross genre film Cowboys and Aliens. All good and not a bit of dross anywhere, but, I do not take on face value anything that Hollywood trots out as a western as being good. Not, at least, until I’ve researched it…a lot.

But horror films are different. I invariably see a horror film and I’ll decide, like some overgrown wide-eyed Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, that this film is going to be good. “Look at who is in it,” or “Wow look who directed it,” or “That trailer is awesome.” And just like that, I walk into the world of the crap film all innocence and fresh-faced gormlessness.

Of course, these imported made for TV films are doubly disguised. At least in the US, you know from the get-go that it is a TV film. The real giveaway is that it is on TV and it is a “new” film. I don’t know if they have the quaint Movie of the Week anymore, but I’m sure there must be a modern equivalent.

I saw the title of this movie, Ghostquake and saw that one of my old favourites Danny Trejo was in it and that lovely alumni from Buffy and Angel Charisma Carpenter was in it as well, and I thought, “Well this must be pretty good, I mean, look who is in it.” And just like that, I paid a grand total of 3 pounds sterling for the film. New mind you not used or “pre-viewed” but new from Tesco’s; where most films go for between 10 and 20 pounds.

Danny Trejo one of the few times he’s not locked in the janitor’s closet.

I know what you are thinking, “Surely, the fact that it was only 3 pounds should have tipped you off.” But in my defence, I will state for the record that I have found some great films for mere pennies, thank you.

But not often and very rarely, okay?

A great clue as to how dreadful this film is can be gleaned by the fact it has taken me over 500 words to get around to talking about the thing.

Believe me when I tell you it is more than dreadful, it is almost beyond description. But in my attempt to save anyone else from the horror (pun intended) that is Ghostquake (or Haunted High as it was called on its television premiere, presumably on the Sy Fy channel) I will gamely try to discuss the film.

The film takes place in the fictional high school of Halloman. It is a preppy type “school uniform” school and it is haunted by the apparition of the old principal who was the leader of a satanic cult who killed students. His grandson is now attending the school and his presence combined with some cursed gold coins has caused his grandfather (and his evil sidekick, a demonic ex-student with a horrible complexion and very sharp teeth) to manifest and start killing the hapless students who are in the school after hours.

I had a good idea that this was a disguised made for TV film when I realised that there were no lingering shots of the dead students. There was not even a lot of gore. I knew for sure, when I started inadvertently putting in commercial breaks.

The level of acting (if you could even classify what most of the “actors” did as acting) was execrable and apart from Danny Trejo, who has a certain level of believability in most of what he does, the only other actor who even came close to “acting” was Charisma Carpenter.

Oh look! It’s Charisma Carpenter, now don’t blink or you’ll miss..Ah ya blinked.

Unfortunately Mademoiselle Carpenter was in the film for exactly one minute and thirty-two seconds. I know, because I timed it…twice. After meeting her maker by being half swallowed by a portion of the floor that looked suspiciously like that marshmallow stuff that comes in jars she never appears again, except as another name in the end credits.

Trejo made out a bit better as he made until the last reel, coming back as a ghostly avenger to drag the demon ex-principal to the hell that awaits all bad actors. Sadly he could not drag the rest of the cast with him.

I could spend another 1000 words talking about continuity lapses and sound problems (the main one being that the entire film sounded “looped”) and plot holes that were big enough to fly a Boeing 767 through. Not to mention the dreadful combination of over acting and wooden acting.

Most “bad” horror films have the slim redemption of at least being so bad that they are funny. I have seen quite a few of those and, oddly, they become favourites; almost as revered as the really good horror films. Ghostquake did not even come close to the “it’s so bad, it’s good” category.

In fact, I felt strongly like going to Tesco’s and demanding my 3 pounds back.

Final verdict: Avoid at all costs and if you see it, drive a stake though the packaging and burn it.

A rose under any other title would still stink like…NOT a rose.

The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert: David Ash Revisited

I don’t know why I didn’t realise that I’d read this book before. I mean the odds were in favour of it most definitely; published in 1994 by an author I adore. It should have rung a bell, but did not. So when I saw a hardback version of the book for sale in Tesco’s book section, I got excited.

When I got home and googled the book I saw that it was another David Ash book, the first since his appearance in Haunted. I did think it odd that the book had been published in 1994. This fact alone made dredge my aging memory banks and nothing came up. So I excitedly reserved a copy with my local Library and within two days, it arrived.

Unfortunately, the first paragraph of the book brought memories cascading back and I knew before I’d finished the second sentence that I’d read it before. I was not too upset; I am, by my very nature, a “re-reader” of books. I will revisit my favourite author’s offerings again and again. Usually finding something I missed the first ten times I’ve read the book. I read very, very fast and tend to “skip” read a lot; I get caught up in the action and  furiously flip pages to reach the end of the story.

The Ghosts of Sleath features David Ash who, when we last saw him, was in a bit of a bad way. For the Ash novice, David is a psychic. He works for a paranormal institute and has an on-again-off-again affair with his boss Kate McCarrick. He’s an alcoholic whose speciality is debunking ghosts and haunted places. The vast majority of the paranormal “professional” world; psychics, mediums and seers hate him.

David is very good at what he does.

This is the second of the David Ash books and we can only hope that Mr Herbert has a few more Ash tales up his sleeve. His character is interesting and flawed and not especially nice but, like his boss Kate you find yourself drawn to him. His sister drowned when he was a small boy and he has been haunted by the incident and her ever since. It was his connection with his sister that got him involved with the hauntings at Edbrook; hauntings that threatened David’s sanity and his life. (Haunted 1994)

The beginning of the book sees David waiting for the ghost of the Sleep Angel at a retirement care home. The “angel” has been responsible for three deaths in the home so far. David catches the “ghost” who is in fact not dead but very much living in the guise of a staff member of the home. Objective accomplished he reports to Kate and is told to visit Sleath, a small village that is being plagued by several spectral visitors.

When David arrives at Sleath, he finds a picture postcard rural English village that is almost hostile to outsiders. When he sorts out lodging for his stay he finds the owner of the pub/inn is pleased at the prospect of having no more than one guest. Visitors to Sleath are not welcome. In fact, as David finds out from the local vicar’s daughter Grace, they purposefully stay out of tourist tracts. They want no visitors of any sort.

The atmosphere at the village is not hostile, it is just non-caring. They don’t interact with strangers. The people emit a sort of secretive feeling to David, who senses that the village may have more than one thing to hide.

While investigating the spectral visages David will: fall in love with Grace; realize that his sister still haunts him; meet an Irish psychic named Seamus Phelan who seems to know a lot about Sleath and David. He will also find out that ancient evil never really dies. As events begin to escalate, he also learns that Seamus only shows up when an area is about to suffer mass casualties of the living sort.

By the end of the book, David will find out what it is that haunts Grace and the village; and now him.

This is a great little read. Nothing spectacular or else I’d have remembered reading it the first time, but it is typical Herbert. A dash of gore, a few frights and a lot of  “looking over your shoulder”  moments in the book; The Ghosts of Sleath is a good follow on from the book Haunted. If you like a good scare, pick this one up and read it.

Author James Herbert circa 1994.

**This is the next to last post before the big 500. It’s your next to last chance to give me a suggestion for my 500th post. Just sayin’.**

When Retired Doesn’t Mean Retired

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So, I have been “medically” retired. I am now Michael Smith Prison Officer (retired). But I’m not. Not really. My medical retirement pension is on a lower tier which means two things: 1) I’ll get the pension until I shuffle off this mortal coil and 2) It is a damned small amount.

Not enough to live on and the amounts of benefit I am eligible for are very small and not at all certain. I am eligible for a lump sum, but taking that will drop my yearly pension payment by well over 1500 pounds per year. I also have a slight financial problem that is not going to go away and if I take the lump sum, my situation being what it is, said lump sum will disappear into my creditors’ pockets.

Dear me!

I have gone and spoken to the “not-so-helpful” folks at the Citizen’s Advise Bureau (admittedly it was not their fault, it was my circumstances) and found that I seemed to fall into a giant crack where no real benefits actually applied. I cannot get any of my state pension as a “top-up” as I am under even the earliest age where you can retire. I have a feeling that I will get the same response from the American Social Security folks.

I have often used the phrase “between a rock and a hard place” and each time I used that phrase I honestly felt that I was “in” that metaphorical place. It is amazing how naive we can be in our lives. I now truly understand what that phrase really means; I have only now come to realise that my lack of understanding was normal and I am now in that place.

I have always been a flexible chap, not exceedingly so, but flexible nonetheless. I always knew that I could bounce back from almost anything and I could usually turn my hand at anything.

But now?

I am completely utterly lost.

The one problem with my current circumstance is the heart problem. Because of the condition of my aortic tear, my local cardiologist won’t even assess my fitness for cardio rehabilitation. Not until I’ve had my second follow-on appointment with my surgeon in February. So I have no idea what I can or cannot do in the area of work. I do know I cannot do my old job in the prison service because I cannot have any contact with prisoners; hence my medical retirement.

But the heart problem aside, I don’t even have a CV (resume) on file to apply for work. I have not had a CV for ten years. My last “game plan” was to retire from the Prison Service. We all know how that turned out.

I have learned to my consternation that being medically retired is not the same as being retired. In fact, if you look at it from the benefit point of view, I’m not. I don’t know about the disabled side as I cannot really fill in any forms or get a straight answer until I get my medical retirement paperwork and monies finalized. That will not happen for at least six weeks.

Theoretically, I now have six weeks to get things sorted out, but that is not likely to happen, either. I have discovered that you cannot plan for benefits or income support. I also don’t know if I will get my next pay packet as promised so that I can pay for another month’s rent or even eat. I will be able to contact the financial folks who were helping me to sort my finances but since I’ve no longer got a job, will have to cease ( I suspect) their efforts on my behalf.

I now have to “update” my CV (which of course means writing from scratch) and tailor it to meet the latest CV requirements. I have already look to see what jobs I might be qualified for (not a lot) and who might be interested in hiring a 54 year-old ex-prison officer with a dodgy aorta.

I would consider busking (that quaint English custom on standing on street corners and singing or dancing for coins from the general public) but I don’t think my voice is in fine form and the dancing could be dangerous to my heath; not to mention my inherent lack of coordination in relation to dancing. I briefly considered applying to Tesco as a shelf stocker but I’m not sure they’d have me.

My YouTube channel has not even made enough to warrant a payment yet; there is a threshold of 60 pounds that I am miles away from. I have held onto a “deliver pamphlets” job advert where I could, according to the advert, make up to 500 pounds a week. I am not sure how many pamphlets I would have to deliver for that huge sum of money, but I suspect it is way more than I could deliver in my current state of healing.

But I will continue to look on the bright side. Any other alternative point of view is just not going to happen. As one wise man once said, “You’ve got to laugh, ain’t you? Otherwise you’d cry.”

So as another wise man once said, “Laugh? I nearly paid my television license.” I know, it’s something of a “local” saying, but strangely appropriate.

So I’ll leave you with this little fact: Retired doesn’t really mean retired when it is a medical retirement; at least in this country and if you are under the age of 55. I hope this proves to be helpful to someone who may be facing a similar situation. If not, they say that misery loves company and I have lots of room here in the space between a rock and a hard place; so welcome to my little world.

I’ll put some coffee on and get the cards; I’ll deal.

5 card stud anyone?

By the Power of Quorn

I kind of feel like He-Man at the moment; not super strong with a magic sword or a giant tiger dressed in armour to ride around, but I do feel pretty damn powerful. Like the cartoon’s opening, I can envisage myself raising a packet of some Quorn product over my head and yelling, “By the power of Quorn!”

I cannot envisage any of the rest of the opening montage applying here, but what the heck, the first part is good enough. Because I feel like I owe a lot to my present state of health to this “fake” meat product that has become a part of my everyday diet. It’s allowed me to eat healthily and to avoid fats; fats that would have been counteracting all that surgery and would have been like pouring salt on a wound.

I am lighter than I’ve been in years. My weight at the moment wringing wet is under 165 pounds or 11 stone 7 pounds. My average weight for the last ten years hovered around the 14 stone mark (or 196 pounds) considering that I’m not tall (I’m roughly 5’9 ½”) I was a hefty fellow. My waist has dropped from 34 inches (plus) down to around 32. I am not exercising too much at the moment; to be honest I’m slightly afraid to push myself too much until my second visit with my surgeon.

But everyday my energy level is rising and I can now scamper to the Metro and back and rather than trundle up the stairs, I can trot. My back has improved quite a lot, although I still have to take the pain medication that I am no doubt rapidly becoming immune to. In a nutshell though, my physical health is great!

I feel good! *cue James Brown music here*

Besides I can always tell when I am feeling better or getting more energy. The signs are apparently the same whether it’s recovering from a standard illness, like the flu for example, or recovering from ass-kicking surgery and a heart attack. The minute I start feeling more like the “old” me, I get fidgety. I start to whittle (another word for fidgety but more on the verbal and mental side of things) and think of a million physical things that I should be doing.

For example; I will fret and whittle if I have not gone for at least one longish walk throughout the day. My eager and energetic mind will start to worry and an inner dialogue will start:

“How do you expect to keep getting better if you don’t exercise every day? You should have walked through the cold and the snow down to the Metro and back…at least twice. The weather’s not going to hurt you, ya big baby.”

“Well, I did go shopping to the big Tesco and I walked all over it very quickly and I trotted up and down the stairs at least twice.”

“Not good enough! If you want to keep improving you need to stretch yourself. You know that! Now quit looking longingly at your bed and run up and down the stairs a few times…NOW!

When I’m feeling better after an illness I have this drill sergeant appear in my head who harangues me until I start doing more than I am willing to. I do listen to him, a little, because I know that deep down I am doing better. The knowledge that I could walk through the snow and cold down to the Metro and back, twice makes me feel more powerful and fitter than I felt the last week. I can even envisage myself jogging once spring decides to show up.

But until that time, I’ll listen to my drill sergeant alter-ego or subconscious or whatever you want to call it, with a grain of salt. Because I feel like He-Man and “by the power of Quorn” I’ll continue to eat and lose weight healthily and I’ll dance down the road of further recovery.

Now if you will all excuse me, it’s time for my nap.

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