Category Archives: Leisure

Time for Horror

Funny thing, time. And not funny ha-ha. It’s the one commodity you can’t buy, yet is by far the most valuable. And anyone who says that money can’t buy you love has obviously never been to Bangkok. It’s often said that a dying millionaire will gladly give up all his riches in exchange for just a few more minutes of life. Since I’ve never died or been a millionaire I can’t vouch for it’s veracity, but it certainly sounds plausible. The vast majority of people don’t want to die, and do anything to avoid it. That’s why you read about murder victims being stabbed 130 times or something. I’d wager the person doing the stabbing didn’t want to wield their blade that many times, either. Imagine how exhausting stabbing someone 130 times must be. I need a sit down after chopping up a chilli pepper. The stabber would probably much prefer the victim keel over and drop dead with a soft, world-weary sigh after one strike the way they do in movies, but that rarely (if ever) happens. I once saw someone get stabbed at a football match. It just pissed him off.

It grates on me when I see people complain that they’d love to write something, but just haven’t got the time. Not enough that I’d want to stab them 130 times. But close. The reason is, we all have shit going on. Day jobs, night jobs, kids, pets, hobbies, demanding relationships, drug addictions, all of which we balance with the countless other responsibilities that come with being grown up. However, the harsh truth is that we always find time for the things we really value. Things we really enjoy doing. Things we can’t live without.

We all have the same 24-hours in a day. You, me, Stephen King, Lady Ga Ga. The only difference is what we do with those hours. Most writers seem to be ‘morning people.’ I know, right? The mere thought is enough to make most people’s blood turn to ice. The aforementioned Sai King is a shining example; his routine involves getting up early, going for a walk, getting the bulk of his writing done before midday, then slacking off as the day grinds on to its inevitable conclusion.

One of my most productive times as a writer was in my early twenties when I worked full-time at a local packing factory. It was my job to put the little bar codes on boxes of pills. Hundreds of boxes a shift. Thousands. You probably know the score. Your supervisor sets you a target of 15,000. You bust your balls to hit it, and when you finally achieve as much, they simply raise the target to 15,500. this, I’m told, is management.

At its best the job was fraught with difficulty, like when the bar codes won’t go on exactly as they should, or they were blurry or something. And at its best, when everything was going well, the work was mind-numbingly boring. I was alone a lot, meaning that I had hours and hours every day to think about what I was going to write about when my shift ended. I’d run through endless scenarios in my head, putting my characters through all kinds of shit and filling in ever conceivable plot hole. It helped pass the time. When I finally got home I could easily knock out 1500 words or more in an hour or two before going to bed. No messing around. No hesitation marks. No gazing off into space waiting for the perfect word to pop into my head.

Later, when I left the factory and writing became my actual job, and I could spend all day writing if I wanted to, I just didn’t. You know what it’s like; you get wrapped up in a juicy news story or disappear down some rabbit hole or other and everything else fades into the background. Recently, I wasted almost half a day reading about Biffy Clyro b-sides and CD bonus tracks. I don’t even fucking like Biffy Clyro. Who does? They haunt that horrid middle ground between indie and rock without ever fully committing either way, trying to be all things to all people and only succeeding in being nothing much to anyone. So yeah, as my deadline looms ominously closer I procrastinate and generally do anything except write. And it’s not just me. I’ve worked with dozens of writers, and we’re all the fucking same. Well, most of us. There’s always that one guy who does everything on time, and perfectly. Don’t we all hate that dude? The rest of us just watch the clock tick down until, when we can put it off no longer, we start writing. At least that’s my modus operandi. And guess what? I never miss a deadline.

The point I’m trying to make is you can achieve anything you want if you put your mind to it. You just have to put your mind to it. I don’t want to look back at a life of wasted time and missed opportunities, being all bitter and resentful. If only I’d done that, or this, if only I’d found the time. Don’t wait until it’s too late, and don’t you dare point fingers and blame other people for your own shortcomings. Take control of your life, take responsibility, and most importantly, figure out what’s important to you and then spend as much time as is humanly possible doing it. If your thing is horror, immersive yourself in it. Read books, watch movies, explore abandoned mental hospitals, sit in graveyards at midnight. Hell, tie yourself to a chair and force yourself to watch the Star Wars Christmas special from 1978 on repeat if you have to. Trust me, it’s probably the most horrible thing you will ever experience. Savour the dread and soak in the blood.

It doesn’t even need to be good horror. If you’re a writer, for example, you can learn just as much from reading a terrible book as you can from reading a classic. You just learn from the other end. You learn what NOT to do. What’s deemed ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ is subjective, anyway. Have you seen Death Ship from 1980? About the tourists whose cruise ship sinks and are then picked up by a WWII-era German prison ship controlled by a mysterious dark force? No? I’m not surprised. Not many people have. TV Guide called the movie “ludicrous” and gave it a one-star rating. Me, I loved it. Fuck the TV Guide. What’s not to love? Shipwrecks, Nazi zombies, Richard Crenna from the Rambo films. And if all that wasn’t enough, look at that poster!

I advise you to seek it out immediately while you still can, before a rogue terrorist cell nukes the internet or something and you won’t be able to stream it or order it from Amazon. All this calls to mind a depressing yet entirely accurate line from Iron Maiden’s classic tune The Clairvoyant, “Isn’t it strange that as soon as you’re born you’re dying?”

Like I said, it’s a funny thing, time. And not funny ha-ha. We should make the most of it because as someone much smarter than me said, ‘time we enjoy is not time wasted.’ Or something. And if you’re reading this I am 100% sure you’d enjoy Death Ship. By the way, you can read about more hidden cinematic gems, both old and new, in my RetView series.

This piece was first published in the Terror Tract ezine.


Bruce Blogs #3 – My Top 10 Live Recordings

Any Springsteen aficionado will tell you that his official studio output only tells half the story. The Boss has been touring for over 45 years and played many thousands of shows, most of which have been meticulously logged and recorded by his fervent fanbase. Make no mistake, venturing into Springsteen live recording land is a daunting prospect, and no place for the faint-hearted. For that reason, I’ve decided to make this list to help you navigate. This isn’t supposed to be a definitive list of the best Springsteen live recordings available, because I haven’t heard them all. Instead, think of it as my personal Top 10. Like any list, it’s subjective, but hopefully it will give you a starting point.

Five or six years ago, this would’ve been a list of bootlegs. But then The Boss, or more likely one of his management team, saw a huge opportunity and started selling professionally-produced and packaged live concert recordings on a variety of formats virtually as and when they happen. This had the simultaneous effect of virtually wiping out the bootleggers overnight and creating another considerable revenue stream in one fell swoop. They are even opening up the archives and releasing classic concerts remastered and, where necessary, restored. Genius. It’s a winner for me, because now I instantly download bunches of MP3 files which cost less than £8 for over three hours of music instead of paying £60-plus for a bootleg which sounded like it had been recorded in the back of a van and took seven months to arrive by post. You can check out the existing archive of live recordings HERE.

  1. Brooklyn, New York, April 25th 2016

Let’s start proceedings with a show from The 2016 River tour, and I think the first I ever acquired from the (then) new-fangled Springsteen Live Archive site when it first went up. Having listened to so many sketchy boots over the years I was dubious at first, but blown away by the sound and overall production quality. During this leg of the tour, Bruce and the E Street band were playing the seminal River album (which Bruce refers to here as his ‘coming of age’ record) in its entirety from start to finish, with a few hits and deep cuts tacked onto the end. A bit predictable perhaps, even though many of the tracks are arranged differently and extended far beyond their studio limitations, and Bruce himself evidently soon got bored and started mixing things up. This show is notable for being the last with that rigid format. Oh, and a primo Prince tribute in the form of a storming version of Purple Rain.

  1. The Schottenstein Centre, Ohio, 31st July 2005

One from leftfield. Devils & Dust was a weird tour. The stripped-down album had a lot in common with its predecessors Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, but the tour, mostly played in intimate theatres, was something else entirely. It was virtually a one-man show, apart from a few guest appearances, with Bruce re-imagining songs from his expansive backlist and playing every instrument needed to bring them to life. Some were almost changed beyond recognition (Reason to Believe) while other interpretations veered off into experimental territory. As a spectacle, it was okay. I understand the need to shake things up from time to time. But as a document, the Devils & Dust tour is little more than a WTF side-note. When the distortion fed into the recordings that surfaced afterwards, it was sometimes difficult to tell what was deliberate and what wasn’t. Still, this effort, with its rarities in the form of Lift me Up (never played before) Cynthia, and a trio of Tunnel of Love tracks (One Step Up, When You’re Alone and Valentine’s Day) is well worth looking up.

  1. First Union Centre, Philadelphia, September 20th 1999

I could’ve picked any show from the Reunion tour, especially the first half, as most were epic and the setlists didn’t alter much. The E Streeters were just glad to be back, and the crowds fed off the energy. I settled on this one, released on bootleg as Backstreets of Philadelphia (Polar Bear Records) for the simple reason that I was in the crowd that night, so it has a special kind of resonance with me. It’s a long way from south Wales to Philadelphia. Plus, the Boss opened with Candy’s Room, which he doesn’t do often, if ever. In fact, the entire set was heavily reliant on material from Darkness on the Edge of Town, with five of the first dozen tracks lifted from that album, which I personally consider his best. On this tour, the newly-reformed and re-focused E Street Band were at the top of their game and they absolutely kille dit every night.

  1. Olympic Stadium, Helsinki, Finland, 31st July 2012. Released on Vigorous Records as The Finnish Finish

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Lauded as the night ‘the myth became reality’ this show is included not only on the basis that it is Bruce’s longest gig to date (well over four hours, not including the five-track mini acoustic set he performed in the afternoon) but because the set-list fucking rocks. Kicking off with a cover of Rockin’ all Over the World, we are treated to a riotous opening section culminating with the ’78 intro version of Prove it all Night. Deep cuts like Be True, Loose Ends and Back in Your Arms also make rare appearances, sitting well alongside material from then then-current Wrecking Ball album. There was just something special about that night, which Bruce himself alludes to before We Are Alive. That’s one of the truly great things about Bruce gigs; the spontaneity. Literaly anything can happen, at any time. No disrespect to Helsinki, but if this was contrived at all, he would have undoubtedly chosen to play his longest ever show at a more prestigious venue, maybe in London, Milan or New York. That’s worthy of another tip of the hat.

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  1. Berlin Night, 19th April 1996

The Boss didn’t tour the Nebraska album. The closest he came was performing nightly mini-acoustic sets as part of the main show on 1984-85 Born in the USA tour. Taking the stage alone must be a daunting experience, especially for an artist so accustomed to having a full backing band behind him, but Bruce rose to the occasion. Of course he did. This show, partially broadcast on the radio in some countries before being released in its entirety by famed bootleg label Crystal Cat, is perhaps the pick of the Tom Joad shows. Less experimental and more folksy than the Devils & Dust recordings, as you would expect, the setlist is dominated by tracks from the ‘solo acoustic’ albums. However, Bruce still manages to throw a few spanners in the works, as he always does, stripping down Murder Incorporated, Bobby Jean and Adam Raised a Cain, to name but a few. He also deserves some kudos for trying to speak German.

  1. The Spectrum, Philadelphia, September 17th 1984

This might be sacrilegious to some fans, but the Born in the USA tour is probably my least favourite. Most of his concerts are timeless. You could listen to one from 1976 and another from 2016 and have difficulty telling which is which. But the Born in the USA shows (like the album) are instantly recognisable as a product of their era. All elevated keyboards swirling around vast stadiums and tinny production values, they couldn’t be more eighties if you wedged them into a pastel-coloured tank top with shoulder pads . It doesn’t help that not much quality material emerged from that tour, with most examples being audience recordings taken on those old cassette recorders. This show, the penultimate night of a mammoth six-date residency at the Spectrum, is a rare exception. It was released on bootleg as Tramps Like Us, and then in a remixed form as Perfection At Last. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s not far off. Opener Born in the USA segueing into Out in the Streets is simply breathtaking.

  1. Hammersmith Odeon ‘75

And now we’re going back. Way back. The Hammersmith Odeon now goes by the less auspicious name the Eventim Apollo, but this still stands as one of Springsteen’s legendary gigs. This is the sound of a band captured just as they are hitting their stride. After a low-key Thunder Road, you can feel the bristling intensity during the intro to Tenth Avenue Freeze Out. Shows from this era were generally shorter, barely scraping the two-hour mark, because more often than not the band would play two a night. Boasting definitive versions of It’s Backstreets and Jungleland along with a killer 17-minute rendition of Kitty’s Back (featuring an improv section and a few bars of Van Morrison’s Moondance) this gig was so good it became one of the few to be granted a long-overdue official release.

  1. Coliseum Night (29 December 1980)

Before the pomp and extravagance of the Born in the USA tour, many would argue that Bruce & the E Street Band peaked on the 1980/81 River tour. The shows in general were more geared toward blasting out a succession of 3-minute crowd pleasers (as was the album) than the more indulgent focus of past tours. No 17-minute versions of Kitty’s Back here. Of those currently in circulation, most people would probably choose the famous NYE bootleg, recorded a couple of nights later at the same venue (these shows collectively make up a significant proportion of the Live 1975/85 box set), but a combination of the quality of recording and a slightly superior set-list takes this one for me. Over the span of a 37-song performance Bruce expertly moves the audience through the gears, from openers Night and Out in the Street to the sombre Factory and Independence Day a few songs later. It’s like being on an emotional rollercoaster.

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  1. Washington, 26th September 2016

Despite the band missing some big hitters in Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, the second half of the River tour of 2016 is probably my favourite run of Bruce shows ever. I love the way the band sounds, and the quality of the recordings on these later sets is incredible. Listening to them is like having Bruce and the E Street Band perform in your living room. Most stateside shows kicked off with a jaw-dropping 13-minute orchestral version of New York City Serenade and generally favoured older material, mostly taken from the first two albums, giving the whole thing a glorious retro summer vibe. Some of those tracks, in particular Kitty’s Back and Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? feature a lot of lyrics and chord changes. They must be a nightmare to play live, which would explain Bruce’s apparent reluctance to do so over the years. Why set yourself up for failure? The 34 track set list performed here also borrows heavily from Born in the USA (six tracks), and throws up the odd surprise like Because the Night, Trapped and Secret Garden. Sublime.

  1. Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ

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The one and only. Released on various bootlegs, most famously as Piece de Resistance, this is a near-perfect recording of the second in a trilogy of triumphant shows running from 19-21 September at the Capitol Theatre, New Jersey, again on the Darkness tour. For many years, this was considered the king of bootlegs. The show has recently been given the archive treatment so it’s now available in better sound quality. During my ‘research’ for this articles, I listened seven or eight Darkness shows virtually back-to-back, and apart from varying sound quality (dependent on sources) there is very little to choose between them. I very nearly went for perennial favourite Winterland recorded in San Francisco a few months later, but this one takes top spot firstly due to the near-mythical status it has deservedly earned in the intervening years, and on the strength of a scorching Incident on 57th Street, which surprisingly enough wasn’t played too often on this tour. It comes at the expense of Streets of Fire, but everything has a price. The only thing I dislike about this show is the inclusion of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Why. WTF? It was September.

If you enjoyed reading this, you might appreciate my previous Boss blogs about my experiences following the Boss around the world and a more detailed account of my first Bruce gig.


Loose Ends @ 34 Orchard

I generally try to avoid literary fiction. In my experience, it is a path lined with pretentious smugness and people all trying to sound more clever than the next. On rare occasions, though, I stumble across a literary magazine which is filled with quality writing but less elitist and altogether more accessible. 34 Orchard, edited by the incredible Kristi Petersen Schoonover, is one of these. Its tag line, “The most frightening ghosts are the ones within,” sums up 34 Orchard’s ethos nicely, in that it deals more with uncomfortable and no-less terrifying topics like grief and abandonment, rather than the usual horror tropes. Also, it doesn’t cost the earth. You can get the e-version for free, or you can pay a voluntary donation. Trust me, it’s worth it. 

34 Orchard is published biannually, and you can find my contribution, a short story called Loose Ends, in issue two. Loose Ends is about a young couple who fall in love, and are forced to confront the hopelessness and sheer futility of it all. They are isolated in a small village, their parents don’t agree with the relationship, and they are stuck in dead-end jobs. They can see no way out, no route to happiness, and come to a horrific final decision.

The title, and the general concept of the story, comes from a Bruce Springsteen track of the same name from his Tracks compilation. It carries many of the same themes as my interpretation, and is just the kind of dark, self-destructive love song The Boss is famous for. Check out the lyrics:

“It’s like we had a noose and baby without check
We pulled ’til it grew tighter around our necks
Each one waiting for the other, darling to say when
Well baby you can meet me tonight on the loose end.”

The rope in the song is clearly intended as being metaphorical, perhaps not so much in my story.

Issue 2 of 34 Orchard featuring Loose Ends is available now.


The Bookshelf 2019

As is now customary, below is a complete list of all the books I read, from cover to cover (or from 0 to 100%, as is increasingly the case) last year. I gave up on more than a few, which I won’t bother to name. Life’s too short to read a shitty book.

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked in the first half of the year, but in my defence a couple of entries in this list are absolute monsters. I actually started the longest, Sleeping Beauties, weighing in at 702 pages, about eighteen months ago. I kept drifting in and out of it. All things considered, let’s just say that it was far too long and meandering. A good editor could cut at least 30% off the word count and not lose anything from the plot. I had high hopes for the Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, but I rolled my eyes so much reading it that by the end it was like a physical affliction. Amy Cross hit another couple of home runs, but probably the best book I read last year was Lost at Sea by British journalist Jon Ronson. A selection of essays and investigative reports, it’s not my usual thing but I found it both insightful and refreshing.

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I’ve been making a conscious effort to read more widely, which is why I gave some new writers a shot. At least, writers new to me. And I fell back in love with the short story and read a bunch of anthologies, the pick of which being Body Horror: Trigger Warning. And I’m not just saying that because one of my stories is in it. Ultimately, however, I returned to Dean Koontz after a long break. I actually forgot how good the guy is. At first, anyway. But then a dog and a demented serial killer turned up like they do in all his books and I had to suffer yet more preachy, religious overtones. Sigh.

 

Signal Failure by David Wailing (2016)

Private Number/claws by Derek Muk (2018)

Stranded by Renee Miller (2018)

The Lighthouse by Amy Cross (2015)

The Last Days of by Jack Sparks Jason Arnopp (2017)

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (2017)

Filthy Beast: Diary of an English Teacher in China by White Buffalo (2018)

Bad News by Amy Cross (2019)

Body Horror: Trigger Warning by Various Authors (2019)

Living After Midnight: Hard & Heavy Stories by Various Authors (2010)

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King (2017)

The Nowhere Men – The Unknown Story of Football’s True Talent Spotters by Michael Calvin (2014)

Room 9 & Other Stories by Amy Cross (2018)

Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson (2012)

The Neighbour by Dean Koontz (2014)

Take the Corvus: Short Stories & Essays by Luke Kondor (2018)

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels by Joe Hill (2017)

The Corona Book of Ghost Stories by Various Authors (2019)

The Taking by Dean Koontz (2007)

Zombie Punks Fuck Off by Various Authors (2018)

You can check out last year’s bookshelf HERE.

 

 


You Don’t Always Have to Start at the Beginning.

You may wonder why I don’t post more about writing and/or publishing. After all, I’ve been doing this a long time. Well, the answer to that is that I jealously guard any knowledge and information I’ve gleaned on my journey and file it away for my own personal use. Find your own knowledge and information!

I’m kidding.

Kind of.

I have written about some aspects of writing on this blog before, most recently writer’s block and indie publishing and do so occasionally for various publications like Writer’s Weekly and Funds for Writers. But thinking about it, the reason I don’t do it more is because writing is such a subjective topic that it’s very difficult to impart any actual bona fide wisdom. What works for you, might not work for anyone else. I can give an opinion, sure. Maybe even an informed opinion. But at the end of the day, it’s still just an opinion, and as the saying goes, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. You like the way yours smells, but everyone else’s stinks.

Anyway, from an altruistic point of view, I probably should blog more about writing and publishing in the hope that someone somewhere might take something from it. So today I’d like to address what I see as one of many rookie errors, and that is the assumption that when writing a story, a novel, a novella, or even a feature or article, you have to start at the beginning and work diligently through to the end.

It’s bullshit.

That’s right. You can start in the middle if you want. Fuck it. If you have a killer final scene, write that first then work backwards. Obviously, I don’t mean write the words backwards. I’ve never tried it, but I imagine that would not only be ridiculously taxing, but satanic as fuck. Plus, editors won’t appreciate it.

Moving on…

It genuinely amazes me how many people start a writing project full of optimism and the very best of intentions, only to grind to a shuddering halt for some reason, abandon the project, then just moan about how hard it was instead. It’s easy to blame writer’s block but c’mon, you know that’s just an excuse. My advice is, if you are struggling with a particular scene, or have some plot issues to work through, or have plain hit the wall, just pick up the story at a later point (on the other side of said wall) and continue from there. When it’s finished nobody will even notice, much less care.

For example, imagine you are writing a murder mystery and the victim has just been found dead in the kitchen with their own intestines stuffed in their mouth. Maybe you aren’t sure about the order of events leading up to the murder, or the weapon used, or what day of the week it was, or even who the killer is. Maybe you can’t decide on the time frame, motive, or any number of other technicalities. Don’t sweat it, just let the story hang there for a while and move to another section. Believe me, sooner or later things will fall into place.

Personally, I often start short stories with little more than a single scene in my head, then I write around the scene. If I’m lucky, I’ll have several semi-related scenes floating around. Then it’s just a matter of stitching them together. Sometimes the initial scene doesn’t even make a final cut. It’s there as kind of a sign post or marker, and when it has served its purpose I might pull it and throw it away, or use it in another story.

How you write is up to you. That’s the beauty of it. You are the master, and the page is your domain. Own it. The important thing is the end result. The story. How you arrive at the destination is irrelevant. You don’t always have to follow convention, and you certainly don’t always have to start at the beginning.

This post first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.


The Bookshelf 2017

As per tradition, behold!

Here’s a list of every book I managed to read cover-to-cover in 2017:

The Cabin by Amy Cross (2015)

Wrong Attitude: A Brief Guide to Living In & Visiting Thailand by Steve Price (2015)

An Introduction to Thailand: The Ultimate Travel Guide by Robert Halstead (2014)

The Beach by Alex Garland (1996)

To Travel Hopelessly by English Teacher X (2012)

Cold Call by Jon Hillman (2016)

Appetite for Destruction: Legendary Encounters by Mick Wall (2010)

The Kennedy Conspiracy File by David Southwell (2012)

Meat by Michael Bray (2012)

Lost Signals by various authors (2016)

We Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea (2017)

The Printer from Hell by Amy Cross (2016)

I Am Haunted by Zac Bagans (2012)

Accidental Agent: Behind Enemy Lines with the French Resistance by John Goldsmith (new edition, 2017)

Unit 731 by Craig Saunders (2016)

Sinister Scribblings by Matt Hickman (2017)

DOA 3 by various authors (2017)

Battlefield by Amy Cross (2016)

Scavengers by Rich Hawkins (2016)

Preppers: Survival Basics by John Adams (2014)

Part Reptile: UFC, MMA and Me by Dan Hardy (2017)

Abandoned by Blake Crouch (2009)

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (2016)

The Housemates by Iain Robb Wright (2011)

Church by Renee Miller (2017)

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For previous year’s lists, check out these links:

2016

2015

2014


No More Chinglish?

The Chinese government, anxious that certain unfortunate ‘Chinglish’ phrases are showing the country in a bad light, are trying to stamp out comically bad translations by introducing a national standard for English language use in public places. That’s right. Come December 1st 2017, China’s Standardisation Administration and General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (an actual government department) will oversea a clampdown and introduce strict new guidelines which could mean the end of Chinglish as we know it.

This makes me sad, because while some Chinglish in nonsensical, other examples are hilarious. The crux of the problem is that English and Chinese are so vastly different, not all the words ‘match.’ Heck, some don’t even come close.

Luckily, during my five years in the Middle Kingdom, I managed to capture lots of evidence of classic Chinglish at work. Here are some of my favourites.

I’m sure there’s some good advice buried deep in this notice. But…

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From a shopping bag in Tianjin…

‘Ainol’ is actually a legit brand name. I just don’t think they realise how close it is phonetically to ‘Anal.’ My teaching assistant couldn’t understand why I thought this was so funny, and i didn’t have the heart to explain it to her. Especially as it probably would have necessitated the use of diagrams.

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Er… no.

As it turns out, it seems describing toilet habits pose a particular challenge to translators.

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They have a tendency to, er, overstate things. Fantastic.

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And some make no sense whatsoever.

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RetView #1 – The Lost Boys

Title: The Lost Boys

Year of Release: 1987

Director: Joel Schumacher 

Length: 98 mins

Starring: Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz

It’s a conversation which comes up every so often. There you are, semi-drunk with a group of colleagues, or on one of those awkward Tinder dates, when in an effort to lift the tension and find some common ground, somebody asks, “So, what’s your favourite film?”

Obviously, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s entirely subjective. But it’s still a bit of a loaded question. Say the wrong thing, and it could cloud someone’s opinion of you forever. What would your peers and prospective lovers think if you gave the accolade to Human Centipede 2? Or even worse, the Adam Sandler disaster Jack and Jill?

For me, there are a few contenders (neither Human Centipede 2 or Jack and Jill is among them, you’ll be glad to know). But for as long as I can remember, my answer has always been the same.

The Lost Boys.

It’s not always a popular choice. Horror buffs and 80’s film aficionados usually nod with appreciation, while others, especially the younger crowd, invariably frown and say ‘You what?’

Given that The Lost Boys came out exactly thirty years ago (July 29th 1987 to be precise) I suppose that’s an acceptable reaction. Upon release it was a modest hit but was no Top Gun or Dirty Dancing, and has since passed into the ranks of ‘cult classic.’ That said, it has certainly aged better than most 80’s movies. Have you seen Weird Science recently? Didn’t think so.

Anyway, directed by Joel Schumacher and made on a budget of just $8.5 million, the Lost Boys was a triumph of style over substance, in many ways encapsulating the 80’s as a whole. It was big, brash, gaudy, and ever-so-slightly camp. A bit like a 98-minute 80’s pop video. Yet by the same token it was funny, slick, and immeasurably cool. In the case of Kiefer Sutherland, it might also be one of the very few times a lead character rocks a mullet and gets away with it.

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The producers originally wanted to call the town where Lost Boys is set Santa Cruz, because during the 1970s Santa Cruz gained a reputation as being “the Murder Capital of the World” after three infamous serial killers (Kemper, Mullin, and Carpenter, aka the Trailside Killer) hunted victims there. However, the Santa Cruz council ‘strongly objected’ to the town being portrayed in such a negative manner and allegedly withheld filming permits, forcing the producers to change the name to Santa Carla.

For the uninitiated, The Lost Boys is the story of two brothers, Sam (Corey Haim) and Michael (Jason Patric) who move with their recently-divorced mother (Dianne West) to stay with her eccentric father in Santa Carla, California. Cue lashings of teen angst and despair about feeling isolated and not fitting in and stuff. At a local comic book store, Sam bumps into the Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) who warn him that the town has become overrun with vampires and give him comics to educate him about the threat, while big brother Michael falls in love with Star (Jami Gertz) who happens to be in a relationship with a local gang leader called David (the aforementioned mullet-sporting Sutherland). Yup, you guessed it, David’s gang is actually made up of the very same vampires that have been terrorizing the town and making people disappear, and they want the star-struck (sorry) Michael to join their ranks. The story builds to an epic showdown between good and evil featuring a few fantastically creative kill scenes and some better one-liners.

At the time, Lost Boys represented something of a gamble by Warner Bros. Horror comedies aimed specifically at teenagers was an unexplored genre. To make things even harder, at the time, the main cast was comprised mainly of untested wannabes and even director Joel Schumacher was a largely unknown quantity with only The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) and St Elmo’s Fire (1985) on his resume.

Even with the benefit of having 30-years to think about it, it’s hard to pinpoint what makes Lost Boys work so well. The plot itself is a little thin with not many surprises, but the script is sharp and witty. A piece of marketing genius, the slogan (‘Sleep all day, party all night, never grow old, never die. It’s fun to be a vampire’) captured both the imagination and the mood of a generation, while the sleek MTV-style visuals are positively spellbinding, Kiefer Sutherland made the coolest villain ever, and Jami Gertz playing the little girl lost role sent pulses racing. As sultry and vulnerable as she appeared, you just knew she was as dangerous and ruthless as a coiled cobra. The haunting soundtrack, an essential component of any 80’s movie, was also a contributing factor. Even the dog Nanook deserves special praise for several show-stealing scenes.

However, despite all this, Lost Boys was much more than the sum of its parts, making an undeniable impression on the psyche Generation X and paving the way for everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Twilight saga. The movie did spawn two low-key sequels of it’s own, Lost Boys: the Tribe (2008) and Lost Boys: the Thirst (2010) but neither set the world on fire, and a rumoured proper sequel, the Lost Girls, also directed by Joel Schumacher and which sounded fucking amazing, failed to materialize. The enduring legacy of Lost Boys ties in neatly with the source of the title, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan who, just like vampires, never grew up. To my knowledge he didn’t end up dissolving in a bath of holy water and garlic or being impaled on a fence post either, so there’s that.

Trivia corner:

Actress Julia Roberts started dating Jason Patric just days after cancelling her wedding to Lost Boys co-star Kiefer Sutherland in 1991. Ouch.

This is the first installment of the RetView series.


Coming Soon… RetViews!

Regular visitors will know I post (or have posted) about whatever takes my fancy. In the past I’ve written about topics as diverse as Bruce Springsteen gigs and animals that shit coffee, but most of my posts are in some way related to teaching, sport, China, horror fiction, music or films. Sometimes, two or more of those categories bleed into each other, which makes me happy. What all these topics have in common is the fact that they’re all important to me. They make my world go around.

I realized some time ago that as our lives trundle on and we get ever older, our perceptions change, as well as our tastes. As our reserves of life experience swell, we come to see things in a different light. This logic applies to a lot of things. You could probably argue that it applies to everything. But it is especially noticeable with regards to music and films, these being the spheres where fads and fashions are most prevalent. For example, how many people were into Johnny Hates Jazz or the Christians in the late 80’s? And how many of those people still play Shattered Dreams or Harvest for the World? Probably not that many. Let’s not forget, the arts also serve as open forums for social commentary, which makes them especially relevant.

This is just one reason why I thought it might be interesting to revisit some classic cinematic moments, and take another look at them in a ‘modern’ context. Or at least, with the benefit of knowing some stuff I probably didn’t know before. Older movies have also generated more academic research, comments and opinions, which I can draw upon as I endeavour to provide some valuable insight, rather than a simple ‘It was rad!’ review.

I’m going to call this my RetView series. Short for Retro Review. See what I did there?

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I’m starting with films. Horror films, to be precise, and have earmarked such classics as An American Werewolf in London, the Evil Dead, Eyes Without a Face, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing and one of the Alien films (haven’t decided which one yet) for the RetView treatment. I will also re-visit some more modern examples, like the Blair Witch Project, Train to Busan and [REC]. In time I might branch out into other genres, or even music. Hell, I might even dig out some cassettes and fire up my old Sony Walkman. I might leave Johnny Hates Jazz and the Christians out of it, though.

I am well aware that this site needs some structure, so I am going to be aiming for a new a new instalment every month. On the 13th, to be precise, in keeping with the horror theme. Each RetView will contain essential information such as the year the film was released, who directed and starred in it, and a synopsis. Where possible I’ll also scratch beneath the surface to provide a bit of context, make observations where appropriate, and uncover a bit of light-hearted trivia to make the whole thing more slick. The fun starts next week with Lost Boys, one of the greatest 80’s films ever made.

I hope you read my RetViews and take something from them. Like I said, for one reason or another, these are all films that deserve some recognition. Comments, likes, shares and blow jobs are always very much appreciated, and don’t forget to sign up so you never miss an installment.


Reading Habits

Like a good little writer, I read a lot. You might say obsessively. All things considered, I guess I read between 2-4 hours a day. I read widely, across a lot of platforms and topics, but mostly in sport, lifestyle, travel, crime, history and the paranormal. These are the areas I usually work in, so being knowledgeable helps me follow trends and keep my finger on the pulse.

Newspapers

Yeah, I know they are going out of style, but I’m keeping the dream alive. For me, The Times is the best newspaper out there. I don’t agree with all their politics. In fact, I usually skip those sections. But they have excellent writers and the articles are usually not only newsworthy but informative and often a bit quirky. It’s not unusual to find articles about dinosaurs or owls occupying column space with scientific breathroughs or the latest poison the Russian are using. There’s something quintessentially British about The Times, and I love how it treads the line between broadsheet and tabloid. My ‘happy place’ is a quiet pub on a rainy afternoon, with a pint of craft ale and a copy of The Times.

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If I can’t get a copy of The Times, the Guardian will do. Or the Observer on a Sunday. I never get The Sunday Times because it’s like a metre-squared fucking Argos catalogue. My tabloid of choice is The Sun. It gets a lot of bad press (ho ho!) but it serves a purpose and the sports pages are outstanding. Wales on Sunday and the Western Mail are my regional newspapers when I’m in Wales but I rarely buy them these days. The quality of local journalism has nosedived. It’s largely due to less people reading newspapers and consequently their resources taking a hit, but you could argue that one reason less people are reading newspapers is because the quality of the product isn’t what it used to be. It’s the chicken or the egg scenario. My most hated newspapers would be the Metro, because it reads like it was written by a bunch of 6-year old’s, and the Daily Mail, because that’s why.

Magazines

Ten years ago, there were eight or more different magazines I bought religiously every week or month, depending on their frequency. Sadly, most of them are gone now. Of the few that remain, the only one I subscribe to (and I have done for twenty years or so) is Fortean Times. I like the crazy. I also buy Classic Rock almost every month, and either GQ or Esquire. Both are slightly pretentious, but they are the closest thing remaining to FHM and Loaded, and they make decent toilet reading. I also like going to large newsagents and impulse buying whatever catches my eye. I grab Kerrang! Empire, Fighters Only, All About History and Mojo semi-regularly, along with the occasional travel title or hobbyist writing magazine. One day I woke up hungover, fully-clothed in my bed, covered in about £35 worth of mags. What a glorious day that was. When in London, I make sure I pick up whichever free mag is being distributed that day, Sport (when it was about), Time Out and Shortlist being pick of the bunch, with Escapism and Red Bulletin not far behind.

Websites

I spend a lot of time surfing the net, but there aren’t many websites I use on a regular basis apart from Facebook and WordPress. Does Wiki count? How about Bet 365? Otherwise, MMA Fighting, Louder Than War and BBC News are probably my most visited. I habitually used Wales Online a lot until recently. But this outlet is suffering in much the same way as the print products Media Wales oversees is. In an effort to maximise profits, the quality of reporting has declined to laughable levels and the site is literally clogged up with advertising. It often takes several minutes to load, and when it finally does you are inundated with pop-ups. Sometimes you have to participate in a survey before you can even read the article you clicked on. I understand they have to (try and) make a profit, but that’s just intrusive. Life’s too short.

Books

I try to read widely, both fiction and non-fiction. I love sports autobiographies, travelogues, and rock memoirs, along with a healthy dose of true crime and the occasional tale of survival-against-the-odds.

The fiction I read is almost exclusively in the horror genre (as broad as that is). If there are no ghosts or zombies, or at least a demented serial killer on the rampage, I get real bored real fast. I’ve never been the kind of person to read one book at a time, but only when I wrote this post did I realize how bad things have got. I really should show some more composure, but there are just so many books and so little time. At the moment, I have no less than seven on the go. For the interested, these are:

Physical copies:

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen

Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, Neil Strauss

PDF’s on the PC:

DOA 3, various authors

Wild Talents, Charles Fort

And on the Kindle:

Sinister Scribblings, Matt Hickman

Unit 731, Craig Saunders

Battlefield, Amy Cross


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