Saturday, November 20, 2010

Issue 14 - I Want To Believe

So many people mistake scepticism and cynicism for intelligence.

From the dawn of time, human beings have searched for truth, reality, knowledge—or have we?

We're a nosey bunch. There's no doubting that. Still, the general population will only explore as far as the wall of its comfort zone. Beyond that, scepticism is rife.

I've found that the vast majority of people will simply believe whatever they've been fed in the greatest quantity, without ever looking too deeply into it. "Because everybody knows that! David Attenborough said so on Blue Planet, so it must be a proven fact scientifically proven by science." And so the media and the internet trolls become the ultimate authorities on truth, while we spend our mental energy being sceptical of the things we're told to be sceptical of, instead of being sceptical of what we're being told.

So many times, belief becomes a Pick 'n' Mix. We take whatever bits of truth and lies we fancy and leave the rest for those weird people that eat Licorice All-Sorts. Actually, it's our tendency to take the stance that is most comfortable for us, the most accepted by popular opinion, where we don't have to be accountable to anyone or held responsible for anything. For example, these days it's OK to have “faith”, so long as we don't specify Who or What our faith is in—which, when you think about it, is the definition of stupidity.

We like to think that, in Western culture, we're accepting and tolerant of others' beliefs – so long as they don't hurt anyone – but go online and give, for example, the merest hint that you support the theory of creation over the theory of evolution and watch for the abuse that's hurled in your direction. Because belief in a creator God is unacceptable in "intelligent society". You'll be treated like Harry Potter, trying to convince people that Voldemort has come back from the dead: "It can't be true, because that would interrupt our cushy lives and mean we'd have to do something about it; therefore, you are an idiot."

It's partly an issue of pride. We'd hate to be seen as stupid and ignorant, or as a Muggle version of Luna Lovegood, wandering around looking for Nargles. [I'm seeing how many Harry Potter analogies I can fit into one Rant.] The more we criticise people who hold a belief in the supernatural, the more secure we feel in our belief that the Darwinian interpretation of scientific fact is the bottom line.

So, it seems we can't believe in an all-powerful God. Well, what about extra-terrestrial life? Stephen Hawking says They're Out There, so that's all right then, because he's, like, freaky-brainy and stuff. So we're justified in spending billions of dollars looking for intelligent life on other planets, instead of using that money to feed, clothe and educate the intelligent life on this one.

All too often, our death-grip on accepted scientific opinion lets plain old common sense slip through our fingers. What I mean is, we're perfectly willing to believe that little grey men with big eyes and anal probes are out there, somewhere, performing embarrassing exploratory surgery on unfortunate loners, but we don't wonder why an alien race that is sufficiently advanced to overcome the problem of infinite mass hasn't yet invented MRI.

(The funny thing is, ideas about alien life aren't exclusive to today's culture. Sure, it's now an acceptable proposition that super-advanced, powerful beings from another place – like us, but not like us – could interfere with our planet, probably with malicious intent, and change the course of the human race, but long ago the ancient Greeks and Romans believed the same thing. Only they called them the gods.

But that's getting a bit too Stargate for this post.)

It's not just UFOlogists who Pick 'n' Mix. The religious – man, that's become an ugly word lately – and/or spiritualists do it too. Your average Muslim will take the early teachings of the Koran about love and understanding and ignore (thankfully) the bits about killing the infidels to gain their heavenly rewards. The New Ager (and Church of Oprah member) will take the most lovey-dovey bits of every world religion and glue them together, ignoring the contradictions at their cores. Christians these days have a tendency to focus on Jesus meeting their needs and forget all the uncomfortable bits like, “You will be persecuted and killed because of Me.” Darwinists conveniently forget that natural selection and evolution are two very different beasts—the former observable and re-creatable in a laboratory; the latter unobserved and un-re-created.

So it would seem that the intelligent way to look at everything is to believe in the directly observable, and treat everything else with a heaping helping of scepticism, right?

Actually, that would be the most blinded, misinformed and ultimately destructive way to live.

And it's just about impossible to do.

To quote John Mayer (not something that should be done on a regular basis), “Everyone believes.” Whether you're an atheist or an agnostic, a Hari Krishna or a Hindu, a Muslim or a Mormon, a Jesus Freak or a Jedi, a member of the Church of Scientology or a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, you believe in something.


Well, the simple answer is “because we want to”, or, more accurately, “because we need to”. We're built that way. We're wired up to think creatively, beyond the bounds of what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. To attempt to deny this is to put common sense in the grave (something our society is already in danger of doing).

Ever have that feeling you're being watched, and turn around to find that you are? (Usually by your cat.) Ever look at someone you've never met and just know they're dodgy, five seconds before they start following you down the road? Ever have that uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach that says, “Don't sign that contract,” or, “Don't lend that person money,” or, “He's lying to you”? Soldiers will tell you that they rely on this sixth sense in combat. Musicians experience a similar thing when a song “writes itself”. You can talk to me all you want about the brain making inferences and calculations at an extraordinary rate based on training, past experiences, a reading of body language and the “evolutionary instinct for survival”, but ultimately there are things in life that you just can't attribute to spending too much time at Hogwarts.

Why do we believe what we believe? Is it because that's what we've been taught? Is it because our beliefs best line up with the evidence? Is it because we've seen it for ourselves? Is it because everybody with an ounce of intelligence knows that it's true? Or is it because we're afraid of the repercussions if we're wrong?

Yes, we should question things—not for the sake of being cynical, or proving our superior intelligence over someone else, but so that we can truly SEE. So that we don't operate out of ignorance and blindness.

To all you snotty internet commentators out there: isn't it time to stop regurgitating those so-called scientific facts you've been taught, lay down your sense of superiority and have an honest think about things? Try directing your cynicism down a different path and see what it comes up with. You might be surprised.

To those of us who do believe in a world beyond human explanation: please remember to keep off the Dirigible Plums.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Issue 13 – The 10 Types of Annoying Bus Passengers

If you've ever taken public transport, you'll know them: they are the mosquitoes in the great bedroom of life, buzzing around at the back of your consciousness when you just want the world to be quiet and let you read for a bit.

They thrive in every city on the planet, living mostly on bus networks, and their numbers multiply exponentially from year to year:


To me, Annoying People are even more frustrating on the bus than they are in the cinema. At the movies, they manifest themselves as Chip-Packet Cracklers and Seat Kickers but at least, in the dark, they never see where that well-aimed Jaffa came from. [Disclaimer: this blog in no way advocates the throwing of hard candy at people's heads...unless they were talking over the top of An Important Bit, in which case, it is permissible.]

Without further rambling, and in no particular order, here are the ten types of annoying people you find on buses:

1. "Everybody luvs my choons, don't it?"

The Gangsta Rapper (A.K.A. Lil Wayne In Training)

They're always there when you're feeling particularly irritable; sitting at the back of the top deck, blaring crappy rap music from their phones (sometimes rapping along), completely ignorant of the death stares they're receiving from the passengers who do know how to pull up their pants.

These people make me want to play Taylor Swift at top volume on my phone and see how they like it…If I had Taylor Swift on my phone, that is…

2. "It's OK – I ate a mint."
The Ash Tray

Well, good for you. You still stink.

When will lovers of the cancer stick realise that the smoke doesn't just go into their black lungs, it also covers their clothes and hair? This is especially true if they've stubbed out their cigarette (on the ground, of course), seconds before getting on board.

As they step through the bus door, they bring with them a cloud of carcinogenic fumes that overwhelms even the smell of the half-eaten curry that someone left under your seat.

For some reason, men in army-green coats are the worst culprits.

3. "You will be judged for your consumerist society and fried chicken."
The Crazy Preacher

There's one on every bus route. Every Crazy Preacher I've come across has had questionable dress sense and questionable personal hygiene and loved to sit at the back of the bus, loudly banging on about Iraq, Nazis and/or Starbucks.

I'm not so sure that Jesus is really all that interested in the great Starbucks Monopoly -v- Independent Coffee Shops debate. I'm absolutely positive, though, that most Crazy Preacher sermons are the result of a brain fried by too many chemical substances, of which a skinny-decaf-caramel-cappu-mocha-frappu-laté-cino-with-a-shot-of-espresso is the least harmful.

4. "I just wanna be close to you."
The Obnoxious Seating-Code Breaker

Yes, there is a code on the bus, and the most sacred – THE MOST SACRED – part of this is "Never sit beside someone when there is an unoccupied double seat available".

Seriously, people: don't do it. I don't care how lazy you're feeling or how strongly you believe you have the right to bother me with your presence; go and sit in a window seat.

5. "I can't play properly without the sound."
The Public Gamer

Contrary to popular thought, these guys aren't geeks. Oh, no. Geeks stay at home to play their games in private; there, via that magical entity known as "the web", they can pit their skills against Russia's or Kazakhstan's finest, and make the best use of their time by simultaneously writing a programme to trawl eBay for Generation One Transformers.

Public Gamers are merely commuters in suits who have been suckered into spending ridiculous amounts of cash on the latest plastic gadget. No serious geek would be caught dead with a Nintendo DS.

This would all be fine (to each his own), except that Nintendo obviously feel they must commission their programmers to find the loudest, most annoying sound effects, and the most repetitive music, possible.

6. "I have to press it…just in case."
The OCBP (Obsessive-Compulsive Button Pusher)

These people really know how to push my buttons, in more ways than one. I mean, come on, how hard it is to look and see if the "STOPPING" sign is already lit up? You don't even have to be literate to do that.

And then we have the Double Clickers, who obviously think the "STOP" button is some sort of mouse button and requires an extra tap. A note to these people: it doesn't make the bus stop any quicker, nor does the resultant "chingching!" make you look cool.

7. "I'm on my way to KFC for breakfast."
The Double Wide

Now, I don't claim to be anything but overweight, but at least I don't take up one seat per butt cheek.

Honestly, though, the fact that I am a little chubby makes it even more of a mystery why overly-large people always choose to sit next to me, squashing my outer thigh beneath their hip and crushing my shoulder up against the window. Wouldn't it make more sense for them to sit next to the skinny person behind me, thereby distributing the weight a little more evenly?

8. "I don't believe in tissues."
The Perpetual Sniffer

Just when you're hoping to catch a nice little nap, along comes one of these, instead – and they're unstoppable. No matter how many times you pointedly turn up the volume on your iPod, they don't take the hint.

I'll never understand why some people find it so hard to blow their nose.

The worst of these are the snorters. This is the point where merely irritating becomes completely disgusting. At least, if it's just an habitual, fairly dry sniff, it's not so bad so long as they do it in time to whatever music I'm listening to, but I do not want to hear them choking and hacking on the entire contents of their sinuses.

This is the very definition of "gross".

9. "Oh my days, like, the whole world wants to know about, like, my whole life, innit!!"
The Motor Mouth Drama Queen

These people are usually chavvy teenage girls with basketball hoops for earrings and "da thickess Lundun accen' yooseva hurd", spouting out their latest tawdry gossip and he said/she saids, none of which you have the slightest desire to hear.

However, they could also be Chinese women of a certain age who seem to enjoy yelling at top decibel down the phone, or English businessmen of a certain age who want everyone to know that they are Doing A Very Important Deal.

Every single one of them, I can guarantee, will sit right behind you, and will continue their one-sided conversation throughout the entire journey.

10. "What's the problem? I took a shower last week."
The Noxious Fumigator

This group is separated into two sub-species: Royalus Odorus Offensicus (The B.O. King) and Royalus Colognus Offensicus (The Deodorant King). You will usually encounter the males of the species; the females do, of course, exist, but are far more rare.

Royalus Odorus Offensicus
frequently cross-breed with Ash Trays. They come in all shapes and sizes, but can easily be recognised by the distinctive pattern down the spine and under the arms of their grey-and-yellow-tinted business shirts.

Royalus Colognus Offensicus
are distinguished by their unusual and highly ineffectual mating practices. Somewhat dim-witted, they hold the belief that baptising themselves in one particularly offensive and, unfortunately, very prevalent brand of deodorant* will attract the female of the species. However, the females are, in general, highly repulsed by the scent.

It is thought that, in time, natural selection will cause a decline in Noxious Fumigator's population and instead favour that of a species known as the Metrosexual.[CITATION NEEDED]

*[I used to work on defamation claims; therefore, the product in question shall remain nameless, but can be found in the possession of most teenage boys.]

Monday, February 15, 2010

Issue 12 – The One About Talking Animals, Fanciful Creatures and Wishing Upon Stars

For once, this is not a rant. It's a tribute. In celebration of the recent Disney release, The Princess and the Frog, I want to take a look at memorable kids' flicks. I say “recent” release because, for reasons unfathomable to me, England has to wait longer than the rest of the entire freakin' planet for new movies to come out. (OK, so maybe it's a little bit of a rant. It's my blog. I'm entitled.)

Everybody's got their favourite kids' movie. I'm not sure why, but for 99% of the population, that seems to be E.T. I'm afraid I somehow missed the boat for that one. I never understood the appeal. Maybe because there were no lightsabers involved; I got bored.

Of course, science fiction and fantasy were massive parts of my childhood, even pre-Star Wars. The majority of the films I remember with fondness fall into one of those categories. Most played in our household were '80s classics like Short Circuit (“Johnny 5 is alive!!”), Mac and Me (mainly because it was on TV every single school holidays), The Neverending Story (“Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh...!” - I desperately wanted my own Falcor), Batteries Not Included and Flight of the Navigator.

The musical was (and is) another favourite genre. But Zac Efron was barely a glimmer in his daddy's eye, so there was no High School Musical or Hannah Montana for me. Oh, no. I was raised on the true greats: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor and Elvis Presley. They weren't exactly kids' films, it's true, but what kid doesn't love a good song and dance? These guys, together with Judy Garland, Debbie Reynolds and Ginger Rogers, were my heroes.

This brings me to another couple of movies of which I never understood the appeal: The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I don't think I've seen either one of them all the way through, because they send me to sleep. The Sound of Music is well and good while it's all drops of golden sun, whiskers on kittens and yodelling goat-herds, but as soon as the war starts....*snore* As for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, all I ever remember of it is Dick Van Dyke, “Truly Scrumptious”, the car itself and a horrible mess of bright colours somewhere in the middle. Just thinking about them both makes me want to go for a nap.

The earliest and clearest memory I have of a movie is going to see Bambi. It was quite possibly my first trip to the cinema, and it was a traumatic experience. Ill-prepared for the fate of Bambi's mother, I recall being so emotionally damaged that I steered clear of animal movies for many years afterwards, in case one of the characters got injured or died.

Two things that children's films (especially animated ones) abound with are great music and quotable quotes. As a kid, “The Sleeping Beauty Waltz” was one of my favourite tunes to play on the piano, and who among us doesn't sub-consciously sing “Hi-ho, hi-ho...!” whenever they pick up a shovel? The Lion King, Tarzan and Shrek are the more recent soundtracks that spring to mind. Despite having a massive celebrity-crush on Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and thinking Simba was beyond cute, I never thought The Lion King itself was anything to write home about (I was obviously old enough, at the time of its release, to not be traumatised by Mufasa's death), but the soundtrack is even now on my iPod. As for quotable quotes, all three Shrek films really take the cake...A layer cake, of course. (Please excuse me; I have a severe case of Compulsiveshrekquotitis, which means I'm constantly telling people, “That's a niiice boulder”; screaming, “Not my gumdrop buttons!”; or wanting someone to, “Play da moovie, yaah.”)

In compiling a list of my favourite children's movie characters, it soon became clear that animated ones led the pack. Pixar are the masters of creating the memorable and unique, but some of the classics are just as unforgettable. Here's my list, in no particular order. Feel free to add your favourites in the comments section below.

Puss in Boots (Shrek 2, Shrek the Third)

Just when we thought Andrew Adamson couldn't top the asinine Donkey, along came an Ogre-killing kitty in thigh-high boots. Voiced with elegance and flair by Zorro himself (Antonio Banderas), Puss is a master of sword-play, charm and getting on Donkey's nerves. His “please take me with you” eyes could melt even the hardest of hearts. He's intelligent, witty, a hit with the ladies and a darn good karaoke singer, to boot. (No pun intended.) Pray for mercy from Puss....In Boots.

Boo (Monsters, Inc.)

Awwww.....Everybody loves a cute kid. Especially a cute kid in a monster suit. She certainly manages to work her way into Sulley's heart with her inane chatter, her cute little pig-tails and her hapless ways. What a treasure.

Wicket (Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi; Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure; Ewoks: The Battle For Endor)

The Ewoks. You either love 'em, or you hate 'em. Personally, I don't mind the little guys at all. They're a bit like Wookiees, but mini. And Wicket W. Warrick (so named in honour of his human counterpart, Warwick Davis, who played Wicket in all three movies) is actually quite endearing. At first skittish and frightened, he eventually shows his brave heart and becomes one of the real heroes of the Battle of Endor.

Falcor (The Neverending Story series)

Who wouldn't want a pink, talking, flying dog/dragon? Seriously! Enough said, really.

Doug (Up)

Talking dogs are nothing new in movies, but a talking dog that still behaves like a real dog is actually something unusual. Doug is a member of a pack of guard dogs that have been given special collars to translate their barks and whines into English. Unfortunately, Doug was not born with the heart of a killer and is frequently the brunt of the pack's jokes and brutality. He is, nevertheless, an invaluable companion, faithful and--

Herbie (The Love Bug; Herbie Rides Again; Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo; Herbie Goes Bananas; Herbie: Fully Loaded)

Eat your heart out, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Flying cars are nothing when compared with the likes of Herbie. Intelligent and very, very cheeky (possibly the inspiration for Bumblebee?), this little VW Beetle has a penchant for chasing bad guys, falling in love and driving off on his own, but he always comes through in time to win the race for his owner, Jim Douglas.

Aslan (The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, Prince Caspian)

I've said it before: my favourite book of all time is The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, so I was both excited and nervous when I heard it was being made into a movie. All sorts of things could have gone wrong, but the most important thing was to get Aslan right. Memories of the dodgy puppet in the old, BBC miniseries immediately sprang to mind, but, upon hearing that Liam Neeson was to provide his voice, relief set in. I should have had more faith in Andrew Adamson from the start – Aslan is note-perfect: kind, powerful, wild, joyful, loving, strong and regal – all the things he should be as King of both Narnia and our own world. The Pevensie children know that everything comes right when Aslan arrives, but his enemies run in terror from his roar – after all, he's not a tame lion.

Ray (The Princess and the Frog)

I fell head-over-heels for this little guy the second he arrived on screen. Looking a bit like Jiminy Cricket's hobo cousin, he's a Cajun firefly with bent antennae, missing teeth and the biggest heart you ever came across. He happily lends his light to Tiana and Prince Naveen, but he shines brightest for his lady-love, the beautiful Evangeline.


WALL●E carries on the tradition of cute robots, but he takes it to the next level. Whereas R2-D2, Johnny 5 and the like are fairly limited in their ability to express emotion, WALL●E has a full arsenal at his disposal. Left on a deserted Earth with only a friendly cockroach for companionship, he spends his evenings in his little home, watching Hello Dolly and dancing with himself...until he meets the sleek and beautiful EVE (the Mac to his PC) and everything changes for him.

Edna Mole (The Incredibles)

Could you find a more flamboyant and brilliant seamstress? Well, I'm sure I don't know, Darling! But I think not. Ed-na MOOOLE (and Guest) is the highlight of The Incredibles, for me. She's a tiny bundle of sheer creative genius; her business is high fashion for the discerning superhero, and she knows it well. Very well. Her suits are lightweight, durable and machine washable (that's very important) – but do not suggest a cape. NO CAPES!!

Jiminy Cricket (Pinocchio)

This little guy is sent by the Blue Fairy to be Pinocchio's conscience as he discovers life as a “real boy”. He has taught several generations of children to, “Give a little whistle! And always let your conscience be your guide.” Good advice for anyone, really. Of course, his most famous song has undoubtedly had millions of kids stargazing as they dream about their futures because, after all, when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Issue 11 - The Man or The Myth?

With all the Twilight-sparked Team Edward/Team Jacob debates still raging, I have caved in and am adding my entirely worthless contribution to the sub-culture (because, obviously, another opinion is needed): realistically, what would be the pros and cons of marrying a vampire or a werewolf – or something else entirely?

Throughout the history of their mythologies, it seems to me that the vampire always gets the girl and the werewolf always gets the rough end of the stick. (Sorry – lame joke. Woof.) I recently read the official sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula (no, he didn't write it from beyond the grave; it was written by his great-nephew, Dacre Stoker, with Ian Holt), and even mean ol' Nosferatu got the girl, after all. I'm still not sure exactly how I feel about that...

Actually, I do know. Don't bother with it.

Moving on...

What about other mythical beings? Surely they must have their merits, as well. I mean, what if Bella had moved to Smallville, not Forks, and met Clark Kent? I guess we'd probably fall asleep from all the earnest wholesomeness if those two characters were together in the same movie.

In any case, here are my rough notes on the subject – in case you ever feel you may be falling in love with such a creature. We'll start with the two big guns: the vampire and the werewolf:


Incredibly attractive. Never ages or loses his hair.
Rich; in possession of large house.
Intelligent, well-read, more than likely a good musician/dancer.

Could accidentally kill you/turn you.
Will eventually look like your son, not your husband.
Summer holidays at the beach = difficult.
Must put up with occasional attacks from The Volturi or Van Helsing et al.


Loyal, faithful.
More fun than vampires.
Cuddly. Makes good hot water bottle.
Good at finding kids if they wander off during family outing to the park.

Could accidentally kill you/turn you.
Hefty clothing bill.
Have to give up wearing silver jewellery.
P.L.T. (Pre-Lunar Tension) = nasty.


Good bodyguard, but quite gentle.
Good with kids.

Drains constantly blocked from all the hair.
Bit daft.


Never an argument over the remote.
Great physique from protein-rich diet.
Keeps annoying house-callers away.

Not a great conversationalist.
Terrible personal hygiene.


Genuinely caring beneath the cynicism.
Great sense of humour.

Very short. Tom Cruise-short.
Cannot risk having a pet cat.


Handsome – looks good in glasses.
Loving, dedicated.
Nice family.
Knows a good photographer – saves costs on weddings/parties.
Good at getting lids off jars.

Too trusting of dodgy friends.
Constantly runs out on dates/anniversaries/important occasions.

Hmm...Considering all of these points, I think I'll stick with a bog-standard, typical, romantic-comedy type: sweet, handsome, witty, heroic, sensitive, totally in love with me – and just as mythical as the rest of them.