Friday, 9 August 2013

WESTERN MAGAZINE

'Man's love affair with the West mirrors his love of life itself.'
The opening words written by editor Dennis Winston marked the first edition of the Western Magazine in October, 1980.

The magazine was the brainchild of Dave Whitehead and Mike Stotter - fans of the western from the moment that they were born. Together they had played and made western home movies - they lived the dream in the heart of London's East End.

Between them they had created the George G. Gilman Appreciation Society and knew all the group of writers that were known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. Anyone who has read any of those westerns will know that this pair have turned up as bad guys, inept good guys - you name it they have been there.

Angus Wilson (aka William S Brady amongst many) suggested that Dave and Mike pitch their idea for a magazine to some of the leading publishers. IPC Magazines liked the idea and the magazine became reality.

The front cover of issue 1 shows a photograph of three Texas Rangers against a David McAllister painting.
Over four issues there were new short stories featuring Edge, Adam Steele, Herne The Hunter, Morgan Kane, McAllister, Breed, Bodie The Stalker, Hart The Regulator, and the return of Sudden together with new stories from Louis L'Amour, Will Henry and J. T .Edson.
Articles covered every aspect of the west from the harsh life experienced by 'The Wives' to incidents that involved the likes of Commodore Perry Owens, Tom Horn and many others. The life and times of the American Indians were studied.
No subject was left out as reviews of books, movies and music were reviewed alongside articles about how true life characters like Wild Bill Hickock and Jesse James have been portrayed in movies.

In the back page of Issue 1 there is an interesting article about Ralph Fisher, a rodeo clown who used buzzards to distract bulls away from fallen cowboys. The picture alongside shows Ralph with a buzzard sitting on his head - inspiration for Johnny Depp's Tonto?

Going through the adverts shows how deep we Brits were in to Westerns - guns, hats, gunbelts - all the paraphernalia are there. £16 would buy you a Derringer - but £139 for a Winchester. Nowadays these ads along with the cigarettes would be banned.

Sadly, and despite great support the magazine lasted just four issues.

As for the instigators both David Whitehead and Mike Stotter went on to become western writers both under their own name and a few others.
Even as I write Dave Whitehead has ventured into the world of publishing. Piccadilly Publishing is bringing back the likes of Herne The Hunter, Crow and Bodie alongside new western novels that includes the Iron Eyes series by Rory Black.

Dennis Winston got that opening to his first editorial right - to love the West is to love life.

Monday, 5 August 2013

XBOX ONE vs PS4: Part 2: Decision Time

Well, I think I have read everything there is to on the subject of the Xbox One and the PS4. And there has been a rethink by Microsoft and the guy in charge has wandered off to pastures new. Something that should not really unbalance the argument.

The real issue, when it comes down to it, is what a player wants from a console. After all it is the player who holds the controls (in more ways than one) in their hands.
So I write as a gamer and from that point of view.

As a gamer I want something where I can play solo or multiplayer as I choose. What I don't want is a computer telling me who I should play with etc. That is my number one criteria - always has been. Though the add on of an iPlayer and the ability to play Blu-Ray discs is an added bonus.

Another thing that I don't like is that while Microsoft say that the Xbox 360 will not be abandoned Turn 10 will be structuring 'Forza 5' for the Xbox One only. Activision/Treyarch, on the other hand tell the gamer that new maps for 'Call Of Duty: Ghosts' will be prioritised for the Xbox One. Well, nothing new there as it seems that this is the trend for PS3 gamers at present - treated like second class citizens. Seems like bullying to me - if you don't buy this console then you can't play the games.
Fine, I can go without.

To repeat - the console that a gamer buys depends on what the gamer wants.

It is hard to believe that I began gaming thirteen years ago. It began with two games 'Raw Is War' and 'Tomb Raider' on the Playstation One (PS1). At the time it was an aid to help my hand and eye co-ordination after having a stroke. Still have some of the games that I play on the PS2 - outdated by today's standards but still fun.
Evolution came with the choice of the Xbox 360 and PS3. Bad publicity and problems came with the PS3 and when things like that happen mud sticks (as the saying goes). So my son bought an Xbox 360 and the gameplay was okay and, eventually, I bought one too.
One thing led to another and I found myself going online to play 'Gears Of War 3' and 'Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3' (of the two I preferred the latter and still play from time to time). However, then came 'Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2' and what an online mess that proved to be.
In the meantime, I had picked up a Sony PS3.
While the Xbox 360 was adding apps that had little or no interest for me - the Playstation gave me a different platform. No matter what anyone says there is a difference in gameplay - there is a definite smoothness in the transition from button pushing and gameplay response with the PS3.

The main issue that I have had with the Xbox 360 is with the Live aspect. The number of times that I have switched on only to be told that the console cannot connect to Xbox live. Advice is to disconnect the modem - only I can't as the wife is using it for the PC; my son is using his tablet and my grandsons are having the same problem as I am with their Xbox 360.
When we do get online (without switching off the modem) we then face 'Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2' with migrating hosts and server errors and interrupted connections.

This week made the decision for us. In the middle of a split screen online game my son was disconnected from Xbox Live and he got the message that the console could not connect - while I was still playing solo on the same console.

So we toddled off and bought a copy of the same game for the PS3. He spent the weekend enjoying himself playing a game that seldom migrated hosts and had neither the connection interrupted nor a single server error. Unfortunately, being a better player than me my son has has given me a rep I don't deserve. I am 67 of age, my reactions are slower and if I make double figures that is some achievement. My son is forty years younger than me.
Now, the PS3 was put in the same place where the Xbox 360 had been and the link was not disconnected at any time. He had been online for over three hours at a time - with the Xbox Live we would have had several disconnections during that period.
Microsoft call centre was not that supportive - it wasn't their problem and nothing to do with them. Even suggested that I pre-ordered an Xbox One.  Xbox Live seems to have problems because the same problems that I experience exist elsewhere - my son gets disconnected at home and he has an Ethernet connection.

My son went home, sold his Xbox 360, all his games and bought a PS3.
For me, the Xbox 360 can disappear into history.

Therefore, another decision is made. I want a games console that I can rely on. A console where I have the choice whether I play solo or multiplayer.


I guess I should have stuck with what I knew worked so I will be going for the Sony PS4.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

FELIXSTOWE: A Sign Of The Times

It has to be said that anyone who visits Felixstowe does so because they want to. It is where the A14 ends - there isn't anything else. Here the roads lead to either the port, Landguard Fort, Old Felixstowe or back the way the visitor came in.
It could be said that Felixstowe is an island that faces the North Sea and situated between the Rivers Orwell, Stour and Deben.

Now, the visitor is faced with this new sign. Really, most of the stuff is common sense. No climbing on the groynes; beware of currents and the like while on the reverse it tells people to keep their dogs on a lead; keep the dogs off the beach; clean up after the dog; take nothing from the beach (pocket a sea shell and what....? A fine). No bike riding. No launching boats.
Today the beach is....empty.
Actually, the sign is a waste of money - and it is quick to point out that there are no lifeguards on the beach. What it doesn't say is that for all the rules there is no one to back them up either.

Though this is just a minor irritant there are those who are a tad upset that Felixstowe has been named in a list of the 100 crappiest towns for 2013.
The spokesman has come out with a hopeful expression and fingers crossed behind his back with a list of things that may happen in the future. A new Pier, three new supermarkets....sorry. that is where I am going to stop.
Supermarkets - petitions flying around because no one wants them. Experience tells me that the protesters will be the first through the doors when they open.
Even the Pier has opposition and that from the people who look over the existing pier.

The funny thing is that Felixstowe has outlived the Romans, the Dutch, the Italians and the Germans.

Henry the 8th built a fort where Landguard Fort stands today guarding the estuary of the River Orwell and the North Sea. Just as well, because in 1667, the Dutch invaded England when they landed on the beach. 1,500 Dutch marines attacked the small force of The Duke Of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot under the command of Captain Nathaniel Darrell. Despite the odds Darrell's artillery fired into the pebbled beach creating instant shrapnel. Eventually, the Dutch called it quits and went home.
The fort remained in occupation through the Napoleonic wars; under the walls and guns 'The Mayflower' began the famous voyage to the New World; in 1913 it saw the port become the home of seaplanes. During the First World War Felixstowe was bombed by German Zeppelins and, in the second world war, by Italian aircrews.
Between the wars as before it was a holiday destination. In 1933 Billy Butlin opened up one of his fairground attractions on the sea front.
1953 saw Felixstowe hit by one of the most devastating floods.

Felixstowe has been home to the likes of John Mills; T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) was stationed at R.A.F. Languard under the name of John Ross; and Wallis Simpson stayed here while she waited for Edward the 8ths abdication to be completed.

On film the movie 'The Sea Shall Not Have Them' not only uses the port and seaplane hangers as a location - but the German battery that fires on the Air Sea Rescue boats are in fact the guns of Languard Fort.
The River Orwell doubled as the Yangtse River in the Richard Todd movie 'Yangtse Incident' the story of the escape of H.M.S. Amethyst.

This is a resort that, in it's time, has attracted the likes of Status Quo, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Slade. Yet those days are gone and with it the Spa Pavilion Theatre.

So, Felixstowe has a lot of history - centuries where the town has been shaped by the events that have gone on in and around it.

In modern times shops have closed - big names have gone. It is a sign of the times and I don't see that three new supermarkets will change that. Felixstowe needs - and this is just my opinion - to re-focus and re-brand itself.
Opening supermarkets will not bring in visitors. Nor will opening up new restaurants and coffee shops (cafes even). Not without a sea front to attract visitors. More is needed.
OK, so the gardens by Town Hall are being re-designed but then that wasn't an area in need of a fix.
South of the Pier needs to be re-vamped to be in keeping with the rest of the sea front. Put the term pleasure with the word beach.

In 1997 a town up in Scotland - Wigtown - re-invented itself. It had a couple of second-hand bookshops but it re-branded as a Book Town. Something like Hay-on - Wye. With many Book Festivals it has thrived and, still does, despite the coming of the e-readers. Adaptability is the key to survival.
Felixstowe did put on a book festival but there were mixed feelings.
At least each year Felixstowe can boast a Vintage Car show and Hot Rods on the Prom and a decent Motorcycle Show. Also, there is the Art On The Prom Festival that draws a crowd. This year there will be an air display (weather permitting) to celebrate 100 years of the seaplanes and RAF Landguard.

As for stores and shops. Why not something like Ikea instead of a supermarket? And one of my own bugs is where in Felixstowe can I buy the latest CDs without having to go to Ipswich? And a bigger bookshop.

Isn't it a shame when you hear about Detroit - Motorcity - home of Motown and Packard going to the wall. Some of those still living there say the signs were there for all to see - they did too little too late. Money wasted on the wrong projects.

Don't get me wrong I like Felixstowe - I am happy where I live - but it needs to change to survive.


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

RED DAWN (2012)

This 2012 movie is directed by Don Bradley based on a screenplay by Jeremy Passmore and Carl Ellesworth (which is based on the original Kevin Reynolds and John Milius script).

Red Dawn is a re-make of the original Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen movie.

Chris Hemsworth (Thor) plays a US Marine, Jed Eckert, who is home on leave while Josh Peck plays his brother, Matt. The relationship between the brothers is strained as Matt believes that Jed abandoned the family after their mother's death.
The movie starts with Matt failing to score the winning points that would see the college football team, Wolverines, with the football match. The after match party is brought to an abrupt end as a power failure shuts everything down.
Come the dawn, the sky over Spokane, Washington is full with parachutes as North Korean forces invade the American Pacific states.
The premise is that one day the North Koreans will do exactly what they threaten - the rest of the world might just dismiss it all as another show of sabre-rattling. They attack while the rest of the world are dealing with their own problems. A recession that leaves the US vulnerable with forces engaged in other theatres over seas. The EU in disarray over financial problems.
America is ripe for invasion - the Koreans to the west and the Russians to the East Coast.
The Eckert boys and a bunch of college kids manage to escape but are unable to rescue Matt's girlfriend, Erica. They are joined by a couple from San Diego who were on their way home and Toni, an old friend of Jed's.
Under Jed's leadership the Wolverines become the by-word for resistance. Matt, doesn't take to Jed being the leader and puts everyone in danger when he ignores orders to do his own thing by rescuing Erica during a daring raid - actions that causes the deaths of others.
This is a movie that has a logical script, good if clich├ęd characters and well directed action scenes that drive this movie on.
Critics may have hacked it to death but this is a movie that grossed close to $49 million.

Now for the stuff that the critics and reviewers didn't mention - because, I don't think that this is just a remake.
The moment that the montage began at the beginning of the movie I smiled. I had seen it before. With a couple of tweaks the montage was almost the same as that which begins the video game 'Homefront'.
'Homefront' is scripted by John Milius who directed the original 'Red Dawn'.
'Homefront:The Voice Of Freeeom' was the companion novel written by Raymond Benson and John Milius.
In the 'Red Dawn' re-make there is a clear reference to another video game 'Call Of Duty' which showed a small town in America being invaded by Russian paratroopers.
As in 'Call Of Duty' so the Russians have invaded the Eastern seaboard as per 'Red Dawn' re-make.
To my mind 'Red Dawn' is not just a remake but a reworking to make a movie that should have been called 'Homefront: Red Dawn' or the other way round. Whatever it fits into the mould as it were.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

KILL ZONE by Gunnery Sgt Jack Coughlin

Although this first novel from a retired US Marine, Gunnery Sgt Jack Coughlin with Donald A. Davidson as co-author, was published in 2007 I have only just come across it.

The story follows the hero, also a Gunnery Sgt, Kyle Swanson a marine sniper.
Swanson is on holiday in the Mediterranean aboard the luxury yacht owned by Sir Geoffrey Cornwall, a former SAS officer turned designer, producer and seller of high-tech weaponry. Cornwall needs Swanson aboard to help sell a new type of sniper rifle known as 'Excalibur'.

In the US of A National Security Advisor Gerald Buchanan is quietly disposing of all who would oppose him as he plots a new order that would see certain aspects of the military made redundant while multi-millionaire Gordon Gates' private security corps (highly paid mercenaries) took on the 'black ops' roles.

In the Middle East, General Bradley Middleton is kidnapped and held hostage in Syria under the threat of being beheaded.

A rescue squad, that includes Swanson, is sent out on a clandestine mission to rescue the General - but it all goes wrong as the team are wiped out. It is the survival of Swanson that throws a spanner in the works for without his body it cannot be shown that it was the sniper who killer Middleton in a botched rescue attempt.

Questions arise like the fact that the operation was only known to a few so informed the captors? For General Middleton, a man confused, when he overheard his captors speaking in American English.

It is up to Swanson to find and arrest a General for whom he has no respect.

This novel rattles on at a fast and furious pace. Great characters that hold the attention.

I was impressed enough to track down the rest of the Kyle Swanson books.

For purists 'Excalibur' might be a problem - but it is a sniper rifle and that is all it needs to be. Just read and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

WITHOUT WARNING by John Birmingham

Without Warning is an alternative history style story that opens on 14th March 2003 where the US Army is grouped in Kuwait poised to invade Iraq.
Then, without warning, the USA, parts of Canada, Mexico and Cuba just cease to exist as a wave of energy settles over the continent wiping out all forms of life.
In Seattle, city engineer James Kipper and his family struggle with what has happened; questioning why this small section of America still survives.
In Paris, covert agent Caitlin Monroe, is close to cracking a terrorist cell.
In the Middle East correspondent Bret Melton is preparing to cover the invasion.
Admiral James Ritchie based in Honolulu and General Tusk Musso stationed at Guantanamo Bay try to hash out what has happened. With the Cubans taking the vanguard an attempt is made to discover what the anomaly is - but the researchers are swallowed up and disappear.
Out at sea is the gunner/drug runner Pete Holder and his female crew of Lady Julianne Balwyn and the vivacious Fifi.
 While the emphasis lies with the threads of these characters they are seen against a backdrop of world changing events. While some countries take stock and re-evaluate their politics and their borders others go on the rampage.
Without a central command the Americans continue with the invasion of Iraq. At the same time Syria and Iran join forces with the Iraqis. Israel, no longer under any restraints unleashes Armageddon on all it's enemies - completely forgetting about simple things like wind direction and radiation clouds.
It is the individual storylines that drives this novel along - it is 560 pages long - but there is a lot of action sequences from shoot outs, car chases, and a boat chase.

The book has received mixed reviews with most sticking to something like middle ground.
One reviewer was disappointed that there was no scientific investigation into the energy wave. Probably, skipped the bit where it was discovered that that the edges 'billowed like the wind in the sails' that made it a bit impossible to get near. But, then again, maybe he just hadn't read John Wyndham's 'The Midwich Cuckoos' - there was no scientific investigation into the cloud.
What I got from that was that something unexplainable had happened - a statement of fact - and the result was chaos.

Still, this is the first book in a trilogy written by Australian author John Birmingham. It is, also, a scene setter for the next two books in the series, 'After America' and 'Angels Of Vengeance'.
My own first impression was a good one and I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

Monday, 8 July 2013

FINALLY A BRITISH TENNIS CHAMPION - Andy Murray

Seventy seven years ago Wimbledon saw Fred Perry become a British Tennis Champion.

It has been a long wait but, at long last, Andy Murray lifted the Cup after a straight sets victory over Novak Djokavic. Not an easy task - this was nail biting stuff right down to the wire as they fought it out on Wimbledon's Centre Court.
Everyone was on their feet both inside and outside, on Henman Hill, cheering - and a little stunned. I know I was. I hoped but I wasn't a true believer - not until the last point was made.

Way to go, Andy, and congratulations.

But amidst all the cheering did anyone notice the date?

Guess we have a different reason to remember 7/7.

And tragedy marked the young Andy Murray's life. If circumstances had been different that day on the 13th March 1996 when William Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School and killed 16 children and their teacher; then today may have never have happened. Andy Murray was eight years old and on his way to the gym when the massacre began.

From a traumatic past to a triumphant present Andy Murray is a worthy British Tennis Champion.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

LION COMICS - 1952 to 1976

The Lion comic was published by Fleetway Publications on the 23rd February 1952 and aimed at boys. Also, there to compete with the Eagle comic. On the front cover at that time was another pilot of the future - Captain Condor.  Though in the above 1960 comic Condor looks to have become a double for his rival Dan Dare.
As an aside there is an advert inside the issue for 22nd October 1960 for Rowntree's Liquorice Gums - 16 gums for 3d. So a trip to the newsagents would cost 3d plus two comics (Lion and Eagle) costing a total of 9d. All that for a shilling out of my pocket money of half a crown (2s 6d old money).
Over the years many memorable characters have emerged from these pages. Along with Captain Condor there has been Zip Nolan, Robot Archie and The Spider.
Of them all Paddy Payne - Warrior of the Skies held centre stage from the moment that he took over the front page from 1959 until 9th February 1964 issue. After that the front cover was devoted to 'Badges Of The Brave' depicting various regiments that had distinguished themselves through history.
The Paddy Payne strips were created by Joe Colquhoun (of 'Charley's War' fame) but I have never been able to track down the writers. Though Steve Holland (Bear Alley blog) discovered that some of the stories from 1963/64 were penned by Frederick E. Smith (633 Squadron author). Possibly could have been the author of the story that began in the pictured cover above. Secret squadron formed with pilots close to cracking up; Payne's job is to motivate them into flying a decoy mission on a Rhine dam - the aircraft used are Mosquitos.
Paddy Payne was the universal warrior of the skies though. Not just the usual fighter pilot tales but Paddy could work just as well behind enemy lines as he did from the front. He took on the Germans, Italians and the Japanese. In the latter he was taken prisoner and escaped.
In 1969 the two rivals Lion and Eagle merged but the age of the comic was taking a downward spiral.
Mergers with Valiant and the later rebranding of titles as Battle Picture Weekly in the mid-70s were just a part of that demise.
On a personal note - while nostalgia may be a word to describe it - I still love those old comics. The stories were of every genre (male orientated genre admittedly) and it was that sort of mix that influenced what I read. It influenced play and stimulated the imagination.
Now where can I find some Liquorish Gums.

The cover reproduced above is from my own collection.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

SOMETHING GOOD

As some people know a complete collection of my Jack Giles books were stolen from a private display at a public venue.

The good news is that, today, the person who took them returned them to the table where they had been displayed.

To that person I would just like to say - thanks.

Certainly, putting my books on display will never happen again.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline

It is 2044 and the world as we know it is still in decline - there is no sign of a recovery from the recession that began in the beginning of the 21st Century.
For Wade Watts life exists in the stacks - trailer park vans that are stacked up on insecure scaffolding - on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.
To escape Wade drifts off to his hideout and logs into the virtual world of OASIS. Here, under the avatar name of Parzival he can be who and what he wants. This is where his school is and the chat room that he visits is called The Basement. Here he meets up with his best friend Aech.
This virtual world is the creation of the great games designer and programmer James Halliday aka the wizard known as Anorak - and author of 'Anorak's Almanac'. If anyone wanted to know about Halliday's life and times then this was the book to have.
Halliday's death takes the world by surprise - even more so when his will is read. His fortune and gaming rights pass to the player who can find three keys, three gates and rise to the challenges within to prove that they are worthy of taking on that fortune.
On the trail of this fortune is Innovative Online Industries (IOI) who will stop at nothing to gain control of OASIS to make a profit from it. To them, the person who controls OASIS controls the virtual worlds.
Level One sees the first set of clues and the answer lies in Halliday's 80s childhood and the Dungeons & Dragons game that he created. This is where the almanac becomes the handbook or bible that helps Wade to solve the clues.
It is not long before Wade realises that he is not alone in the quest as friends Art3mis and Aech are hot on his tail.
However, he solves the first of the quatrain clues and wakes up to find himself the centre of attention as he tops the scoreboard. And when he drops a hint to his friends they have the top 3 places and then they are joined by two more 'gunters' (that is what the gamers are known as) from Japan.
But what begins as fun turns deadly as the stack he lives in is destroyed by the IOI who are unaware that their quarry is safe in his hideout.


On the one hand this is a geeky book - films like 'WarGames', 'Monty Python and The Holy Grail' and 'The Beastmaster' are all reference points along with bands like Rush and a whole feast of gaming consoles and games like 'Pac-Man'.

Ernest Cline racks up the tension until the grand finale when everything comes together. Wade Watts is a fully rounded character - a loner who feels safe with his online friends. Though they compete against each other they have, also, got to learn how to trust so that they can work together.

First impression is that the book is supposed to have a target audience - but the deeper I got into the book I felt that it was universal. It is one of the best sci-fi/fantasy fiction that I have read in a long time. The quest may be an old fashioned theme but this is played out in an arena that many can identify with - it is that which makes this a satisfying read.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

XBOX ONE vs PS4: The Battle Begins

Today saw the opening of the big game consoles and gaming event know as E3 and the big names unveiled their new consoles.
First up were Sony with the new Playstation 4 followed by Microsoft unveiling the all singing all dancing Xbox One.
The first thing that was obvious was that contrary to Amazon's listing the price for this new console is £429.00.
For that price you get a Blu-Ray player, a TV player, a computer and a games console. All of which you get by paying an extra £30 to £40 per annum to access Xbox Live to enable players to go online.

The PS4 comes with Blu-Ray player but concentrates on games and gaming and will cost £349.00. Like the PS3 online comes free.

An aspect of the Xbox One that I don't like is a) some games will continue to play while a player is offline or asleep; and b) other players will be able to just jump into your game.

Early feedback seems to infer that the Xbox One has failed to galvanise the gaming public. As current figures show that over the last few months Xbox 360 sales which stands around 75 million sales have been overtaken by Sony's PS3 with 77 million sales (both figures are worldwide).

As a gamer my leaning is towards the PS4 and Sony hasn't given me the problems that Microsoft's 360 has, And do I want all the extra junk that comes with the Xbox One - I think it is obvious that I don't.
Nor do I think either console will compete against the growing 'app' craze amongst the young. The real gamers today grew up with, possibly, the PS One way back in the mists of time (15 to 20 years ago?) Though there are those who recall Atari, Sinclair, Commodore 64, Sega and early Nintendo.
Now, in modern times, the next generation has arrived.

Still, as I have always maintained there is nothing wrong with the Xbox 360 and the good news today is that it is not going to be abandoned. A new slimmer version is up for sale from £149.00 and Microsoft has plans to keep it going. We shall see but I suspect this will be so until the new Xbox One drops to an affordable price.

Now does that mean that there will be a 'Forza 5' for the 360?

(A new Part 2 added today Aug 5)

Friday, 7 June 2013

FELIXSTOWE BOOK FESTIVAL - 15th and 16th June 2013

Next week sees the very first Felixstowe Book Festival and there is quite a line-up of authors, artists, poets and literary people ready to talk books.


Mind you had I gone by the articles that I have read recently then it looked as though it would be an all singing, all dancing female fest broken by breakfast with Stephen May (author of 'Life! Death! Prizes!'. However, after a good chat with local librarian, Debra, and armed with a programme guide things became a lot clearer.

Still all things considered I will look forward to Mark Mower on the subject of true Suffolk murders. I have a copy of his book.

Also in the frame is Martin Edwards - author of the Harry Devlin novels with titles straight out of the sixties Top Ten ( 'All The Lonely People' and 'Waterloo Sunset' for example) and the Lake District Mysteries.
Barbara Erskine will be there too along with several local authors like Ruth Dugdall who impressed with her novel 'The Sacrificial Man' which was reviewed on this blog.
Talking of blogs - Simon Thomas of 'Stuck-in -a-book' (http://stuck-in-a-book.blogspot.com) and Elaine Simpson-Long of 'Random Jottings (http://randomjottings.typepad.com) will be along to talk about their blogs and how to set one up and explain some of the pitfalls of doing so.

All in all it looks as though organiser, Meg Reed, has put together a pretty good programme that includes events for children.
If I have a gripe then it is that the spectrum is narrow but this is just the first year and I hope that next year will see the inclusion of other genres like horror, fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers and adventure.

The venues are:
The Orwell Hotel,
Felixstowe Library,
The White Horse,
Delicious-Nutritious
Write The Blurb bookshop
Landguard Fort.

All in Felixstowe, Suffolk.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

XBOX ONE: A GAME FOR A LAUGH

So here it is the new games console from Microsoft - the Xbox One. The next generation that will cost, according to Amazon, £599.99. Nor will the games come cheap either as they are listed at a price of £89.99.
No incentive there to buy this product.
The games will cost over double the current game discs.
And if my current gaming experience is anything to go by then there is little to encourage me to even think about investing in a new console.

Currently, I get messages from Microsoft to say that my Xbox 360 cannot connect to Xbox Live and that I should turn off my modem for 30 seconds and then retry only to get the same message. In reality I cannot turn off the modem for the simple reason that it is up and running okay because my wife is using it for the PC.
Switch off the Xbox and put on the PlayStation 3 - not a problem with connection.
So will things change with the new Xbox console? I doubt it.

With the new console comes 'Call Of Duty: Ghosts' game.
Again not the greatest advert for a new console - not when you have 'Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2' as an example.
A sample game in online multiplayer goes like this:
In order for a game to begin there is a list of players (12 Max)
Need more players to balance teams (there are 12 players listed)
Migrating hosts (whatever that means)
Need more players etc.
The game is about to begin.
Need more players (no change there)
The game is about to begin.
Eventually, and after time to visit the loo, the game does start - then as you start the game goes black and the message 'Migrating Hosts' appears and the player finds themselves back at the title screen.
To add insult to injury the player is told that if they leave a game then they will face a penalty - but the player didn't leave the game.
Countless 'Server Error' messages turn up.
Then there are the glitch issues - avatars that don't take bullets; or move slowly or just plain disappear.
Not the way to sell a product for a new game in the 'Call Of Duty' saga.

As it stands - I'm sticking with what I have.
There is an old adage that says that fools and their money are soon parted.
And another that says that if it isn't broken then don't fix it - the current Xbox still has a lot of unexplored potential and I don't think that producing a new console will improve things.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

WHERE 'THE WEST' WAS BORN

This is a view across the River Orwell - this river divides Essex (opposite) from Suffolk.
To the left of this photo is the Port of Felixstowe. On the other side where the sheds are is the town of Harwich, Essex.
Christopher Jones lived in Harwich and parked up outside his cottage was a small ship that usually plied a trade with Europe with wool and wine.
In 1620, with Christopher Jones as master, that little ship - the 'Mayflower' was set to change the history of the world. With a crew of Essex and Suffolk men he set sail with 120 passenger pilgrims for the New World.

Now, close to 400 years later plans are afoot to build a replica of the 'Mayflower' - hopefully, it will be ready to sail to 'The New World' in 2016.

As a footnote: Essex and Suffolk are home to some of the British western writers. George G. Gilman the creator of 'Edge', 'Adam Steele' and 'The Undertaker' was born in Essex.

Friday, 15 March 2013

'EASTENDERS' GOES WEST

'EastEnders' is a British soap but last Monday's episode produced one of those 'magic moments' when the mundane storylines were interupted by a nice touch of brilliance.
Tamwar Masood is a geeky, insecure young man (late teens/ just turned twenty - if you get the gist). Out of the blue this young market inspector announces that he is a fan of westerns - people, he believes, think that it is an outdated genre but he doesn't think so. Mind you it is the first that I have heard that Tamwar is interested in westerns which may explain why his impassioned speech made me prick up my ears.

The story didn't end there for our timid, intrepid market inspector in the tradition of James Stewart (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence) and Gary Cooper (High Noon) faces down a bunch of teenage vandals who back down and leave.

Then real life kicks back.

Tamwar's speech and storyline came from scriptwriter Michael Begley.

Friday, 8 March 2013

JUDGE ANDERSON: PSI DIVISION

It is no co-incidence that artist Brian Boland drew John Wagner's creation to resemble Debbie Harry (Blondie).

Judge Cassandra Anderson first appeared in the 2000 A.D. comic in 1980 - and then only as a back up in the Judge Dredd story 'Judge Death'. At the time Anderson was the only psychic Judge and her abilities played a vital part in containing Judge Death - that was until the Dark Judges rose to engineer Death's release.

From about 1985 writer Alan Grant took over the storylines with the art coming from Arthur Ranson.

Although Judge Anderson shares Dredd's dedication to the law she is not afraid to see the weaknesses in the system and voice them. She also has humanity and a sense of humour - but is a forminable foe to those who break the rules. Maybe, that is why she and Dredd make such a good team.

Although Judge Anderson has appeared as Cadet Anderson in two stories and as Judge in 'My Name Is Death', her stint in the 2000 A.D. comic ended in 2001 - only to resurface in the 'Judge Dredd Megazine'. She has also 'guest appeared' in 'Judge Dredd and Batman'.

Having faced so many trials and tribulations in the fight against the forces of the Dark Judges and saving Mega-City One Cassandra Anderson became disillusioned and quit. However, as is often the case something wicked would come along that would draw her back.

The story 'Something Wicked' contains some more insight into her character. She wears a uniform that cages her in and, with the combination of the gun, also gives her power. That people fear and respect her but do not know anything of the person behind the uniform.
Up for assessment she finds that her assessor is to be Judge Dredd who is critical. She quips that she and Joe (Dredd) had known each other for twenty years - he tells her that she is quite delusional if she thinks that there is anything between them and that he is her senior officer. Oh, well, someone's in denial there.

In 2006 and 2007 saw the publication by Black Flame of three Judge Anderson novels written by Mitchel Scanlon and appeared in the Judge Dredd novels 'Dredd Dominion' and 'Dredd vs Death' (and as a playable character in the videogame of the same name).

Olivia Thirlby plays Anderson in the 2012 movie version of 'Dredd'.

The character of Judge Anderson has also won two Eagle Awards.

The 2000 A.D. comic was written for boys - or a predominently male audience - and a difficult market to crack. Somehow, Judge Cassandra Anderson managed to break through that barrier and, over the last thirty odd years, has made her mark.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER

She's back.

Lara Croft was conceived back in 1993 and emerged on the gaming scene wearing a green tank top, brown shorts, brown knee length boots and a pair of pistols tied down on the the thighs of her tanned long legs. With a long pigtail flying out from the back of her head she climbed and swung her way into action as she solved puzzles to find hidden artefacts in a global tour of architectural sites.

Tomb Raider changed the way that women were portrayed. The first genuine heroine of gaming that became a household name - and became the subject of 'serious' debate. In one respect she brought girl power to gaming in another (the feminist view) was that men were able to act out some sort sexual fantasy.

Over the years she has been developed, re-imagined and re-mastered. Eidos the original creator gave way to Core who actually 'killed' her off in 'Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation'. But was brought back to life by Square Enix with an Anniversary edition that re-created scenes from the past. This was followed by 'Legend' and 'Underworld'.

'Legend' gives more of the back story to Lara. Her mother is killed following a plane crash in the Himalayas leaving a young nine year old Lara fighting for her own survival. Rescued by her father who never leaves her side until he disappears in the wilds of Cambodia when she is fifteen.
The story picks up with Lara's search for the legendary sword of King Arthur - a story that continues into 'Underworld'.

During these games Lara Croft evolved. The tank tops and shorts remained but were of different colours. Camouflage trousers and evening gowns were added to a growing wardrobe.

The legend of Lara Croft has grown - publicity wise the actress Rhona Mitra and the model Nell McAndrew have given her a physical form. Shelley Blond was the first voice actress and Keeley Hawes voiced Lara in the last three games. While Angelina Jolie brought Lara to life on the big screen in two movies (a third is being planned).

Add to the statistics the Tomb Raider comics that ran for 50 editions and three novels - then Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has been an icon in many ways.

Now she is back.

The image has changed - a darker Lara Croft has emerged.

This is billed as a prequel to a time when Lara was 19 years old and had joined a party aboard the ship Endurance who are searching for the lost kingdom of the Yamatai. As the ships enters the notorious Devil's Triangle a freak storm occurs leaving Lara shipwrecked. Frightened and alone she must find other survivors and unravel the island's dark secrets.

The clean cut Ms Croft is replaced by someone closer to reality. She gets cut, bruised and dirty and has to learn new survival skills. But, then, this is a kid who survived the everything that the Himalayas could throw at her ten years before. But then she hadn't faced anything that was as life-threatening as another human being.

I like this re-imagining but that doesn't mean that others will - Lara Croft will always be the heroine who broke the mould and led the way for other heroines to emerge.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

VIXEN by Ken Bruen

Ken Bruen is one of those names that appears in blogs and often recommended by various authors.

Vixen is one of those rare novels that hauls the reader into the narrative and pins them into the chair until that reader reaches the end.

The plot is simple - Angie James with the help of Ray and Jimmy Cross has an explosive plan to extort a modest six figure sum from the local cops. The first that Sergeant Doyle hears about it is when a man rings the police station and advises the copper that a bomb is likely to go off at the local cinema - which it does during the conversation that creates an 'oops' moment. Still, if the cops don't want more of the same they had better pay up.

And so the fun begins as D.I. Roberts and Brant get on with the detecting while Porter Nash has a heart attack; WPC Falls tries to mentor a new WPC; and the Superintendent goes down in a blaze of not so glory as, in a wave of publicity, arrests the wrong man.

The strongest member of the cast is Angie James - devious and manipultive she plays both her partners and the police. Clever enough to get one police officer in the frame as her alibi.

Something did niggle as I struggled with the Nash, Brant and Falls characters - then it clicked - the movie 'Blitz' with Jason Statham is a previous story in the series. Also another Ken Bruen book turned into a movie is 'London Boulevard'.

Vixen was a great read - and I loved it even better for the political incorrectness.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

ON THE ROAD - 2012 (dvd)

No one ever said that it would be easy to bring Jack Kerouac's iconic novel of the Beat Generation to the screen.
Jack Kerouac would have liked the idea of himself playing Sal Paradise with Marlon Brando as Dean Moriaty - but that never happened.
Then Francis Ford Coppola stepped onto the scene for he too wanted to film the book with the idea of casting Brad Pitt and, later, Colin Farrell in the Moriaty role and Ethan Hawke as Sal. An interesting combination.
In the end it came down to Walter Salles directing Jose Rivera's script; the stars Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriaty, Sam Riley as Sal Paradise and Kristen Stewart as MaryLou.
The movie boasts a pretty good cast that includes Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen.

The opening line of the film doesn't (I say in a pedantic way) correspond with that of the books. In the past that sort of deviation means that someone is basing the movie on the book.
That bias did not last for long though as the essence of the autobiographical novel soon asserted itself.

As far as I know the movie was not released in the UK and I only discovered the fact that it was coming out on dvd was because I wanted to know when it was coming out - after all the movie of a book that was so influential in my youth was of great interest.

However, I came away from the movie a touch confused. It was one of those movies that worked - yet didn't at the same time.

Garrett Hedlund brought Dean Moriaty to life. Drugs, sex and jazz - live now, pay later; freewheeling rebel and take responsibility for nothing. Never tied down to one place - never mind the odd woman/wife and children. Life is for the living.
Dean Moriaty dominates this movie just as that character did in the book.
Sal Paradise on the other hand plods through the movie more as an observer, note taker and narrator than the actual participant of the book. With his solo road trip the movie comes up with a series of snapshots rather than the reveal aspects of Paradise's character. An example is the flat bed truck full of young men and the celebrated 'piss call' - memorable from the book but dismissed with a vision of a man peeing from the back of the truck because he hadn't been when the piss call stop had been made.
MaryLou is a beautiful free spirit - but, sometimes, just there for decoration - even then her facial expression tells a story.

At 124 minutes I expected a lot - but there are flat moments and repetitive scenes that slow it down. Once having established the drug and drink scene I didn't think it necessary to keep producing lengthy close up are lengthy closeup. With a little more thought more of the book could have been brought to life.

Sam Riley had been pretty good as Pinky in the 'Brighton Rock' re-make so I did expect him to bring a rounded Sal Paradise to the screen. Given the script he did a good job.
After seeing Kristen Stewart play Joan Jett in 'The Runaways' - yes, a good piece of casting for the role of MaryLou. Again there were script limitations.
Garrett Hedlund - he dominated the screen as Dean Moriaty. The downside is that the movie is dominated by this one character.
Moriaty was the role model - a flawed role model. Paradise does live in his shadow for Moriaty is the man that he wants to be. Until Paradise begins to see the cracks and flaws in Moriaty's character and Sal discovers his own true self.
None of that comes through in the movie. In the last five minutes of the film Dean Moriaty turns up as a down and out, whining hobo that a well off Sal Paradise dismisses.

'On The Road' is one of those hit and miss movies (more hits than misses - just) that makes me both like and hate it.
This is a US, Canadian, French, Brazilian and UK (Film 4) co-production.
On the plus side it is better than the last attempt to film a Jack Kerouac novel - 'The Subterraneans' - that starred George Peppard.

Monday, 25 February 2013

CHILDHOOD'S END

Last Wednesday Sony announced the imminent arrival of the Playstation 4 and I was geared up to do a write up about it.
Then I read 'The Digital Man' over on Gary Dobbs 'The Tainted Archive' and my sort of enthusiastic piece did a flyer out of the window.

So, the PS4 - a games console that is user friendly and links to your mobile and tablet. It enhances social networking to the point that your friends can drop by and watch you play your games. Also, it encompases your blu-ray dvd player, iPlayer, You Tube, Netflix - you name it your new console (whether Sony or Microsoft) will put just about everything in one place.
So far, the PS4 will allow you to try games before you buy - but is that a download buy or a disc. Like seeing the prototype console there was no information about that. However, there is a dual control that comes with a touchpad - bond with it and it becomes yours (like Bond's Walther PPK which only he can use).

So there you have it - a couple of hours of presentation reduced to a couple of paragraphs - but then I've not detailed all the technical stuff that I don't really understand.

There was a time when things were so much simpler.

We went to school and made friends with whom we played - pirates, cowboys, spacemen - whatever was popular at the time. TV was black and white and didn't become popular until the Queen's Coronation. Electric windows were for the well off or on American cars. And Paul Temple, Jeff Arnold in Riders Of The Range and Journey Into Space were the staple diet on the radio.
Comics like the Beano and The Dandy; Eagle and Girl; and, later, the prose comics like Adventure, Hotspur, Wizard and Rover were our weekly must read.

By my teens the prose comics disappeared - the stories like 'V For Vengeance' that fired the imagination were replaced bt comic strips. Television had evolved from  a single station (BBC) to three with BBC 2 and ATV (later ITV).  The old 78s had been replaced by vinyl records and the birth of the Long Player.

As time progressed, the TV became the centre of everything. Broadcast lengthened to the twenty four hour service we get today. There seems to be one in every room these days and far from becoming obsolete it has become a 'must have' necessity.
Even the flat screen in front of me as I type is a TV screen. Via my computer I can watch TV.
The TV was needed for the Atari; the Sinclair Spectrum; Commodore 64; Sega and Ninendo consoles; PS 1, 2 and 3 (and 4); GameCube; DreamCast; XBox and the subsequent generations together with the XBox 720.
And the dvd/blu-ray player also needs a screen - but then again the PS3 and 4 and the XBox 720 will make that redundant.

The telephone too has evolved. From that black phone with a silver dial that stayed put in the hall to the one we carry around with us. That original mobile brick has become small and slim; not only can you phone home but text message; send e-mails; watch movies; interact with the internet and read a book. And, of course, the likes of Samsung are about to compete with their version of the next generation of smartphones.

So my home may seem like a museum piece - it has bookcases filled with books, dvds and cds.
 As I look at movies and cds these days I see the words digitally re-mastered and wonder what it means - but then the Beatles 'Abbey Road' cover is digitally re-mastered as Paul McCartney loses his cigarette or the poster of Winston Churchill minus a cigar. Or a copy of 'This Sporting Life' by David Storey that omits one word from the description of a doll. Then there is the call sign for the breaking of the Moehne Dam, digitally re-mastered so as not to offend. I am waiting for the Blue Meanies to become the Purple Ogres in case any Conservatives should be offended. However, joking aside it does make me wonder what else The Digital Man has re-mastered.
This political correctness thing had to be part of the reason that 'The Dandy' went the way it did.

So, the new generations of mobiles, consoles and computers are all linked to the gentle art of social networking. One look at my Facebook page and I seem to have a lot of friends - but I have never met any of them socially. I guess that answers Gary Numan's question: "Are Friends Electric?"

Evolution, according to Motorhead, is a mystery. It is because it creeps up on us in such a way that no one can grasp it. Anyone against is just so out of touch - just accept or rather surrender to the inevitable.
With more and more people working from home Digital Man is becoming isolated. Shops online; downloads a lifestyle in books, movies and music; eats ready meals from a microwave and drinks whatever is the flavour of the month and chats with electric friends.

If not now then the future.








Thursday, 21 February 2013

THE AVENGERS

 
It is hard to believe that in September of this year it will be the 50th Anniversary of the formation of The Avengers.
The main villain of the first story is Loki who has been banished to the Island Of Silence and plots his escape by using the Hulk. Everyone thinks that the Hulk is the villain but the green one winds up saving a train from disaster.
Realising that the Hulk is an innocent party the Teen Brigade send out a message to the Fantastic Four but Loki manages to intercept it but it is received by Thor, Iron Man, The Wasp and Ant Man.
And so the foundation stones of The Avengers are laid.
Tired of being hunted the Hulk, eventually, becomes the fifth Avenger.
Captain America did not appear until issue number 4 and was made an honorary Avenger.
Over the years the make up of The Avengers had varied with even 'the bad guys' like Sandman joining forces.
The Avengers are the creation of Marvel Comics Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. In the strip it is The Wasp -the only female Avenger at that time - that named the team as The Avengers. 
The movie 'Avengers Assemble' has, in my opinion, come along at the right time and ensures that The Avengers still have a lot of life left in them.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

SKYFALL: The Train Now Standing.....

The East Coast line from London to Edinburgh has unveiled the new Skyfall train. The train's original number was 91007 and leaves London from Platform 007 (where else?)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE

So there I am sitting with the boxset of Bond movies but never watched the last two 'Casino Royale' and 'Quantum Of Solace'. The main reason for this is that every reviewer and his grandmother have made negative comments.
In the light of 'Skyfall' I dragged both movies from their niche and watched them back to back. Quite a revelation that was too.

CASINO ROYALE - First off the full essence of Ian Fleming's novel is there. As with the book so the centre of the story circles around the clash between Bond and Le Chiffre at the card table of the casino. Of course, in the current climate, Le Chiffre's back story had to be changed but the result is the same.
Set against this is Bond's relationship with Vesper Lynd. As with the book there is a frosty chauvinistic moment that develops into something deeper.
Simply put 'Casino Royale' brought the original novel to life.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE - Continues from where 'Casino Royale' left off.
Bond is a driven man looking for revenge and needs to get Vesper Lynd out of his system. There is a new menace out there - an organisation that MI6 know nothing about. Enter Dominic Greene and his Green Earth project and embrace gullible corporations and governments to bend to his will. He counts on the greed of others to back him and not interfere in his projects. Create a drought and take control of the water - charge high rates (something that we see happen every day).
Whereas, his country seems to turn their back on him, Bond still serves his country and is patriotic in his own way.
The saving grace for Bond is in the character of the feisty Camille who, too, is looking for revenge.

The fortunate thing is that the consistency of Daniel Craig's Bond is in 'Skyfall'.

I really cannot fathom the negativity that went with the first two films.
I'll re-phrase that - the Bond that we are used to is Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan; gimmicks, gadgets, jokes and a host of Bond girls. All light hearted action/adventure movies and that is what we are used to.

Nor are the new batch of movies darker. The 'he disagreed with something that ate him' wry humour is still there. Nor is this a re-birth or a re-born version; this is the real James Bond - the one that Ian Fleming created.
And, maybe, now that the third movie is out there people are getting a touch more comfortable with this image.

'Casino Royale' was written way back in 1953 when kids like me should never have got their hands on that sort of book. Though, to be honest, it was perhaps a couple or more years later when I got the paperback. At the time, though, it both fascinated and was hated for the sex and sadism that has always ridden with it.
One of the key scenes was the torture of Bond by Le Chiffre - and in itself explains why the movie version has been a long time coming. Back in 1962 such a reproduction on film wouldn't have got by the British Board Of Film Censors. Nor can I see any of the previous Bond's getting their kit off - they would have a gadget and a one liner to get them out of the situation before the the seat was cut out of the wicker chair.

I suppose that the thing here is that the 'purists' didn't get the Bond that they wanted to see - and I did. In the process, I discovered that 'Casino Royale' could develop from a book to film - but it needed the right actor and climate for it to happen.

James Bond is moving on - the three movies together have announced that this is the end of the 'old' and the new is on the way. All this is in the 'Skyfall' script. Meanwhile, Mr.White is still around and the question remains who is with Quantum and who is against.

And I liked the tip of the hat to Goldfinger in 'Quantum Of Solace' - the bit where Strawberry Fields learned that The Rolling Stones meant every word of that song.
If there was anything bad about 'Quantum Of Solace' it is the lousy title song - not really a Bond theme.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

SKYFALL (dvd) 2013

Here I sit with dvd in hand turn my face to the telly - yes, it is retro time. Bond and Beatles both turned up about the same time.

My wife couldn't see Daniel Craig as James Bond but after last night's viewing she has changed her mind.
No more gadgets? 'Did you expect an exploding pen?' asks the new geeky nerd Q. 'We don't do those anymore.'
That is until the famous Aston Martin comes into play and M dares Bond to use the ejector button.

'Skyfall' wasn't what I expected. I suppose that it should have been like all the rest; all that had gone before. But this film is pure adventure and despite the over the top villain Silva (Javier Bardem) who is a well thought through character - this was James Bond as written.


To be honest I had doubts about the script. M (Judi Dench) is in trouble as the sins of her past catch up with her. This puts the lives of MI6 agents around the world in danger. Politicians decide whether a secret service is needed in today's climate and the new Chairman of the Intelligence Services doesn't look as though he's on side.
My doubt was simple 'Colonel Sun' by Robert Markham. All the write ups that I had read seemed to hint that 'Skyfall' was something similar. As back in the day of 'Colonel Sun' we didn't believe that Ian Fleming would put M at risk in any way, shape or form.

On the other hand M wasn't a woman either.

Naomie Harris, as Bond's sidekick Eve, is an excellent partnership even if it does get off to a 'bad' start.

'Skyfall' is like a good slice of retro action movie. The script is a good one and Sam Mendes is in charge as director. If this is a representative of the new face of Bond movies then no 24 has to be just as good.

While Ralph Fiennes played an excellent character as the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committe, I couldn't help but smile at the choice of name - an ex-military chap called Mallory; son of the guy who destroyed 'The Guns Of Navarone' maybe?

'Skyfall' hits the shops (if any are left open) tomorrow.

XBOX 360 - The Future? An Update

Back in March 2012 I wrote a piece about the future of the XBox 360 and the evolution into the XBox 720.

With the technological advances I could see some way to an arguement for such a games console but was bothered that games could only be downloaded without any redress for the purchaser of those games being either able to get a refund for an unplayable game or sell it on in the second hand market.

Almost a year on and the same problems have been aired by 'The Edge' magazine. They too talked about one game/one machine. However, XBox 360 the official mouthpiece immediately refuted this as saying that it was rubbish. Instant denial, in my book, means that there is some accuracy in both 'The Edge' and my way of thinking. In this months XBox 360 magazine Edwin Evans-Thirlwell (online editor) though agreeing with one hand that trade-ins are desirable says, on the other hand, do we need them?

One can argue about the digital age and that 'downloads' are the 'in' thing but the whole idea of trade-ins is that games can be traded for a new one. Somehow that simple thing gets lost in the gushing throes that demand 'something' new.

And to download - you have to have an XBox Live membership.
So I would not only have to pay for my XBox 720 but pay out for the privelege of using it.
The counter-arguement is that you have to have an XBox Live account to play on the XBox 360. Not strickly true. If I want a games console - I don't have to have an account - simple. With an XBox 720 it would seem that no one would have that choice.

If Microsoft choose to go down that route - then they could be on the road to join the likes of HMV. But, I think, that it will all depend on what Sony do next. At the moment it looks as though the PS4 may be giving players the freedom of choice and would not want to jeopardise their market. The PS3 lost out to XBox last time around and if they want to come out on top again then they have to produce a better deal.

The debate will, no doubt, go on.

Whichever, as it stands I won't be in the queue for the new XBox.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

3 D - Or How To Wreck A Movie

Back in 1953 we kids who enjoyed Saturday morning cinema were given a treat. We were handed a pair of cardboard glasses with a green lens and a red one. When we were told to put them on we went 'wow'. There was a guy whacking paddleballs at us - girls shreiked and boys ducked. All manner of things came at us from golf balls to snarling tigers.
It was a great experience and we would get to experience more.
'Mighty Mouse' comic in 3-D; books with pirates, dinosaurs and westerns with Indians firing arrows straight out of the page.
Of course, the adults got to see the movies like 'The House Of Wax', 'Hondo', 'I,The Jury' along with some horrors all done in three dimension.

For us kids the phenomenon was short lived - like all good things we moved on. 3-D movies didn't though.

Each decade that has followed has attempted to revive this type of movie. Comic wise has seen 'Batman 3-D' and movies cropped up in the 1990s and still persist in their droves to the present day.
With some films it is an interesting experience but seen it once it becomes monotonously boring.

In this modern technological world these movies have not moved on. It is 1953 all over again - chuck something at the screen again and again. Surely, there is someone out there who can use 3-D to create depth inwards rather than outwards.

While I am ducking, because my brain is telling me that there is an axe coming in my direction, I am missing the action.

As far as I know there are no sequels planned for movies like 'Priest', 'John Carter' and 'Dredd' - all three pretty good movies when seen in a normal format - but they were in cinemas in 3D and flopped because, in reality, hardly any 2D screenings were available.

Of course, we now have 3D tv and 3D Blu-Ray players - but like all things even they last only until the novelty wears off.



Wednesday, 6 February 2013

ALEXANDER BARON AND 'THE HUMAN KIND'

Joseph Alexander Bernstein was born during 1917 in Maidenhead, Berkshire but this was due to the fact that his mother had been evacuated from the family home in London's Bethnal Green because of the Zeppelin raids.
During the 1930s he joined the Labour League of Youth before moving further left to the Young Communist League though he never became a member of the Communist Party. At the time many in London's East End were following this route purely to stand up against the growth of the 'Blackshirt' fascism that made the Jewish community the prime target.
The young Alec wanted to join the International Brigade and fight Franco's forces in Spain but, as his later attempts to join the R.A.F. were to prove his eyesight failed him.
Despite this drawback Alec was conscripted into the Pioneer Corps and to fight a war not with a rifle but a pick and shovel.
As one of those who were first ashore in the D-Day landings in Normandy he did not realise that within a few years his experiences were going to lead to three of the best known war novels.

In 1947 Alec Bernstein received an advance of £50 from Jonathan Cape with the promise of a further £50 on publication for his first novel.

'FROM THE CITY, FROM THE PLOUGH'

This was the novel that changed the whole concept of the war.
It was a story of the 5th Wessex and of the men who lived and died. The ordinary soldiers who were farmers and rural tradesmen from the country and the clerks and office workers from the cities. It was a novel that was lauded because it was written by a former army corporal about ordinary people who trained together, arrived on the beaches and fought their way to Mount Pinchon where they were decimated.
Reality was the instances of sudden death - follow a character's thread and then nothing. Killed in action and you feel the sudden loss.
Also this book dismissed the celluloid stereotype of men on board ship writing home, looking whistfully back, or playing mournful tunes on harmonicas. Anticipation and fear of what lay ahead yes but not the other.

From The City, From The Plough' was a well received novel both sides of the Atlantic.
And it would go on to inspire other like Elleston Trevor and the Australian author, Eric Lambert to write in a similar vein. This is the original band of brothers.

'THERE'S NO HOME'
This 1950 novel was a change of pace.
The invasion of Scicily was over and the assault on Italy had yet to begin.
Weary from the battlefield a battalion arrive in the bombed out city of Catania where they are greeted by women, children and old men.
In a moment of peace lives begin to intertwine and unlikely relationships begin to form.
At the centre of the book is the love affair between Graziella, a young mother and Sergeant Craddock.
What this book does is highlight the impact  of war and emotions.

'THE HUMAN KIND'
A sketchbook of short stories and like the previous books containing elements of autobiography. These stories not only traverse the journey through Scicily, Italy, France and on to Berlin but the final story is set against the backdrop of the Korean War.

'The Human Kind' was turned into the movie 'The Victors' written and directed by Carl Foreman. Sadly, the exploits of the British soldiers became American.

This trilogy of war novels set the benchmark and sixty odd years on from their first publication it seems that someone has woken up to their importance for all three books have been re-published by
Black Spring Press and Sort Of Books.

Also, on re-release are Alexander Baron's East End novels 'King Dido', 'Rosie Hogarth' and 'The Lowlife'.

Alexander Baron went on to write a total of 14 novels between 1947 and 1977.
He wrote the screenplays for 'The Seige Of Sydney Street' and the Australian western 'Robbery Under Arms'. He, also, wrote for the BBCs 'Play For Today' along with episodes for the TV series 'Poldark' and serials 'Jane Eyre' and 'Vanity Fair'.

Alexander Baron died in 1999.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

THE ORPINGTON HISTORY ORGANISATION

It is no secret that most my formative years were in Orpington, Kent. So the discovery via Facebook that there was now a site devoted to the history of Orpington was around came as something akin to a happy event.
Orpington is famous for a couple of events - like it was the last place hit by a German V2 rocket. This was up by Kynaston Road and the only person killed was a Mary Millichamp who was the last civilian casualty of the Second World War.
1962 - and Eric Lubbock won the seat for Orpington from the Conservatives. Many record this as the start of the resurrection of the Liberal Party.
And no one can forget that this is the place that was the origin of the Buff Orpington chicken.
One of the most intriguing photos on offer is an ariel view of my old school. The huts are missing so the photo has to be pre-1955 but the chimney is prominent and I had fun testing my knowledge of which classroom belonged to which teacher.

This site, though in the early stages will always be a work in progress as both the oral and photographic images build up a picture of both past and present.

I still wander down the High Street from time to time.

The doorway (and read nothing into this) where I first met my wife has gone - but not the shop. Divito's the coffee bar where I hung out has gone and my old school is now a housing estate. Gone too are the old air raid shelters that stood for so long after the war in Spur Road one of which was home to a branch of the Young Conservatives.

And as my wife reminds me there was the celebrated 'Iron Curtain' - The Who and Tina Turner - Swinging Blue Jeans but not The Rolling Stones all played live there.

The Orpington History Organisation can be found at www.orpington-history.org - and they have a Facebook page.

WANDERINGS IN THE BLOGOSPHERE

Every so often I wander off into the blogosphere and have found three new sites that are worth checking out.

First up is AGE OF UNCERTAINTY (http://ageofuncertainty.blogspot.com) - The blogger known as Steerforth is an interesting guy. I only found his blog because I was looking up something about James Barlow. He has a lot of interesting things to say about his locale and about books, many of them old books.

Next is CONFESSIONS OF A WESTERN WRITER (http://confessionsofawesternwriter.blogspot.com) Neil Waring has a wonderful slant on the art of writing westerns - he also has another couple of blogs one of which is about Wyoming.

Third is RAYZER SHARPIE (http://rayzersharpie.blogspot.com) - Not much there at the moment but the pieces that he has done on Reacher, Deep Purple and 'Slay Bells And Six Guns' are interesting.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

FELIXSTOWE: THE 1953 FLOODS

Walking along the beach at Felixstowe today and despite the stiff breeze and the rushing waves it is difficult to believe that 60 years ago it was a completely different pictures.
On the 31st January 1953 the combination of hurricane force winds from the north and a high spring tide produced an 18 foot storm surge that swept down the east coast of England at a high cost to life.

Of course, I was an eight year old kid when this happened and I lived miles away in North London totaly unaware of this tragedy. That was until my dad took me to see 'The Snows Of Kilimanjaro' at the local Odeon.

Normally, there would have been a 'B' movie but, instead, was a black and white newsreel that showed the devastation that this storm had brought to places like Hunstanton, Felixstowe and Canvey Island. The opening words: "We are sorry that you were woken in the early hours of the morning...." somehow have stuck with me over the years.

In Felixstowe alone 41 people died and thirteen of those were children. Not all of them were drowned, some died in their parents' arms trapped in the freezing cold weather shivering inside their pyjamas as they huddled together on the roofs of their homes.

Most of the homes were of the pre-fab design that were destroyed by the floodwaters and when you walk along Langer Road today you can only imagine what happened there.

But it was the suddeness of the storm - a policeman knocked on one door and told the occupants that they should get out but within seconds of waking their daughter they were fighting the floodwaters to escape their home and climb to the roof.

I can only imagine that it was as sudden as the tsunami that hit Thailand - but even so after 60 years I can recall the images that I saw in the cinema.

Today a memorial (pictured above) stands at the junction of Langer Road and Beach Station Road - the blue line at the top of the wall shows the height of the floodwaters.

Although there are walls and new sea defences there now I doubt that they could halt another eighteen foot surge. On the other hand there appears to be an early warning system in place to evacuate the area if needs be.

The sea is a force that can never be underestimated.





Monday, 28 January 2013

DEVINE by I.J.Parnham

Lieutenant Governor Maddox Kingsley intends to clean up the county so hires Pinkerton detective Nimrod Dunn to infiltrate Cornelius Lee's gang and bring them to justice. Just as it seems that the job is done so the detective's cover is blown.

Marshall Jake T. Devine is sent in to bring the gang to justice - but Devine is a law unto himself.

Devine is a man who acts as Judge, Jury and Executioner who is totally committed to the law. Against him is Nimrod Dunn who is anxious to regain his reputation yet proves to be the perfect foil for the Marshall. And as long as the Pinkerton man does his job then he is the one walking around with a target on his back.

Bounty hunters, hired guns, crooked politicians all are subject to Devine's law - and life changing moments do occur.

If you read the original 'Devine's Law' then this book will not disappoint. Devine makes Edge seem saintly - a great character and a towering prescence.

Publisher: Black Horse Westerns (Robert Hale Ltd)

Friday, 25 January 2013

CHATO'S LAND - 1972 - dvd

The late Michael Winner directed Charles Bronson in this 1972 western.
At the time of release the film was panned by critics and, in my opinion, if I took them at their word would have missed out on a pretty good story.
Charles Bronson plays Pardon Chato, an Apache half-breed, who walks into a saloon to have a quiet drink. Sheriff Eli Saunders follows him in and orders Chato out. Much to the amusement of the saloon's only other customer and the bartender, Saunders takes up station behind the half-breed and draws his gun ready to backshoot Chato. Only Chato is ready and the Sheriff winds up as the corpse.

As Chato rides out of town, so the sole saloon customer rushes off to report what has happened to the harness and saddle maker, Quincey Whitmore (Jack Palance).  Whitmore, a former Confederate Captain takes command and rounds up a posse that includes Richard Basehart, Simon Oakland, Ralph Waite, Richard Jordan, William Watson and James Whitmore.
At first, Chato plays with the persuers by running off their horses and cutting their water bags while, all the time, leading them deeper into hostile territory.
Instead of being put off, the merry band of hunters push doggedly on until they come across Chato's home and rape his wife.
After he rescues his wife the tone of the story changes as the hunters now become, well and truly, the hunted.

While Bronson's Chato is more of a bit part who makes his prescence felt. Some of the later camera angles have the viewer searching the ridges for this elusive half-breed. It is the posse that holds the centre stage with Quincey Whitmore and Jubal Hooker (Simon Oakland) fighting for control.
Jack Palance's character has a depth that I doubt if anyone would have picked up in 1972 and it is when he talks about Chickamauga and still able to hear the screams of the wounded and dying that I realised that he was suffering from what we call 'post traumatic stress syndrome' - just something that is not associated with the western genre.

This film, in many ways, is far better today than it was back when first released - and, therefore, worth another look.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

CONTROL IS IN OUR HANDS

BBC News at One - 21st January 2013.

Now it is official and out there for everyone to see.
That image that everyone has of teenagers armed with games controllers glued to their TV sets has been proved to be a myth.
It is us - the older generation that have control and the games industry are waking up to that fact.
Hilda Knott is 86 years old next birthday and plays GTA on her PS3 - in fact she has been playing computer games for over 40 years and still plays regularly with her 96 year old aunt.
And when she's not playing on the console then she has an iPad.

Well, I've never considered myself too old to rock n roll - and it is nice when you meet a youngster online who shows respect when they discover the age of this opponent.

Friday, 18 January 2013

JUDGE DREDD: THE CURSED EARTH

The Judge Dredd tale The Cursed Earth was, for its time, the most ambitious comic strip that lasted 25 issues of the 2000 A.D. comic from May to October 1978. The premise was simple the 2T(FRU)T virus was flooding Mega-City Two situated on the west coast of America. An attempt to get an antidote, that had been developed in Mega-City One, had failed due to the airports in Mega-City Two being overrun by violent plague victims. So a bunch of Judges led by Judge Dredd set out in a Land Raider across the treacherous wastes of the cursed earth. If anyone finds this story vaguely familiar then think Roger Zelanzny's novel 'Damnation Alley' transformed into a Judge Dredd adventure. Although the storyline has a continous thread it is also a series of short stories where such 'baddies' as The Lawgiver, Brotherhood Of Darkness and the Alien Finder General discover that when Judge Dredd says 'I am the law' he means it. Of course, it wasn't all plain sailing as the publishers encountered some enraged fast food moguls who objected to the way Ronald MacDonald and Burger King were portrayed in the two part story 'Burger Wars'. Eating the wrong burger or spilling a milkshake could lead to a bloody execution. I don't think I could stomach a 180lb Judge Burger. Five issues later and the intrepid Judge found himself in a kind of Dr.Moreau world with a green giant and Mr.Cube (as in Tate & Lyle's mascot) but the green giant was not so jolly when, once again, the publishers found themselves back in court over the story 'Soul Food'. Even Judge Dredd couldn't get them out of the mess and an apology was issued and a promise made that the offending parts 11 & 12 and 17 & 18 would never be republished. This was, of course, in the days before the internet where these stories can now be found intact. But the best 'baddie' has to be Satanus, a tyrannosaur from the Dinosaur Theme Park. This was 12 years before the movie 'Jurrasic Park'. And the conceived world of Las Vegas where the Hall of Justice Casino was run by mafia style Judges who believed that it was foretold that there would be a Second Coming and that a God Judge would rule over their world. Dredd declined the offer - after all there was still a vaccine to get to Mega-City Two. With all this macho stuff going on the most sympathetic character has to be Tweak - a sort of kangaroo with pincers - who reveals that he can speak. Rescued by Dredd from the Alien Finder General Tweak repays his rescuer by becoming a pivotal character towards the end of the story. The writers Pat Mills and John Wagner between them, with the help of illustrators Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland, have created one of the iconic stories in comic history. Maybe, it is because I'm that bit older but I can see some hidden stuff like racism, a swipe at the history of slavery, DNA and genetic engineering - and was 'Burger Wars' just about trademark violations? Maybe, maybe not - and maybe, it is just my imagination. The Cursed Earth forms part of Volume 02 of The Complete Case Files (or should that read 'Incomplete' as four parts are missing).

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

BLOCKBUSTER - Another Casualty

My wife and I had never been to a midnight release of anything. Harry Potter books; a new movie or game was something that we had never done.
So, on the night of 12th November armed with a thermos of coffee we arrived at the local branch of Blockbuster. The shop was crowded out and we stood around talking to people who were waiting for the midnight release. Everyone there were local - people who had passed in the street were now engaged on common ground.
Some may dismiss the idea of going to a midnight launch but, at least, we had been there and done it.

The local Blockbuster in Felixstowe is not just a store that rents and sells dvds and games but a place where you actually meet people. And when you think about it this branch of Blockbuster is the only place that sells the latest dvds and games in town. The alternative is to trek 17 miles into Ipswich and visit HMV and Game. Except even their fate appears to be sealed along with that of Blockbuster who went into liquidation today.
Listen to the BBC interviews and nobody seems to be bothered - all citing, streaming and downloading as their preference. Still, I wonder what they will do when all the stores have gone and they can only buy online on laptops and computers that are out of date and cannot be replaced because a) there are no stores to buy replacements from and b) they cannot access the online stores.
Indifference can be so self-defeating.
Not everybody has a computer - let alone know how to use one.

I don't know the solution to this one but I can see the end of the High Street as we know it. Instead it will be Supermarkets laughing all the way to the bank while you eat horsemeat burgers.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

HMV - The End Of A Era?

It has been a weird day. The country appears to be covered in snow with difficult driving conditions. But I was able to travel to Ipswich, Suffolk with no problems and little sign of snow. While I was in Ipswich I went to HMV (it is the nearest store to where I live) traded in a voucher and bought some CDs and DVDs. When I got home at about 2pm two things happened at once. The first was that it began to snow - the second was the news that HMV had gone into administration. Sadly, it seems, my purchases had done nothing to save this business.

HMV has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It was a notable record label and a big store in London's Oxford Street that I visited, often, as a child. In my teenage years and twenties it was the place to go for the simple reason that if a recording existed then it would be found in HMV.  HMV was to music what Foyles were to books in those days.

Time moved on and HMV expanded but, like any business, times change and the reason given is that HMV failed to move with the times and couldn't handle the competition from the supermarkets. Sounds good....like the pseudo-intellectual man on the street who dismissed the whole thing with the words:"No one buys CDs these days." Like the e-reader lobby who claim that nobody buys books (there are exceptions to that rule). Or those literary folk who claim that the western is dead. Problem is say it enough times and people begin to believe it.

The death of HMV is not down to people downloading music or movies; nor is it a failure to tackle the supermarkets. 'Dredd' in HMV today was cheaper than that in Morrisons and Sainsbury's but 'Lawless' was more expensive.

Then there is online purchasing - both HMV and GAME have online stores and the CDs, DVDs and Games on offer are cheaper than in-store. Game may not be out of the woods but with both these companies competing against their own high street stores - then the high streets are going to empty.

The second reason that I can see is that most of the HMV stores that I have gone to I walk into what looks like a jumble sale. This is meant to display offers etc but is far more confusing than than regulated displays.  More often than not the latest films and CDs are not available - big sellers and blockbusters yes - but where is say 'The Man Who Never Was' either the limited edition or the Blu-Ray version that was released just before Christmas.
This leads to - staff. A little basic knowledge about music and films would come in handy. Kristina Train is a female singer - not a three man group called 'Train'.

Online, HMV, is not a lot better. 'Pre-order now' seems to be handy. At least, that is a problem out of the way. Then there is an e-mail from HMV advising me that the item I had ordered is out of stock. So telephone them and say that item ordered is a pre-order. Response is that the item is out of stock. But, I point out, don't you have to be in stock before you can be out of stock? Re-instate order, then? No, sir, you will have to re-order the item.
OK, no I'll wait until it comes out or maybe go to Play.com.
Then there is a similar e-mail from HMV - I telephone and say that this has to be an error. No,sir, we are out of stock. Me: Not according to your website.

Nor am I alone there.

So, reality is that HMV have no one else to blame for going into administration.

I download music but I, also, buy CDs. I love music but I don't want to be tied to earphones all day long. And my iPod holds only a fistful of favourite tracks. Nor do I want to watch a movie on a mini-screen (on a coach or train journey it's ok) not when I have a big screen.

So, I do hope that someone does buy up HMV who can operate it as a proper business. Yeah, I can dream.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

DEAD MEDIUM -update

Dead Medium - for one day only free to download on 13th January 2013.

DEAD MEDIUM by Peter John

May Elizabeth Trump disliked the company of others and death did little to warm her spirit. With a dead cat her only companion, she roamed the living world trying to come to terms with her new condition. Her path crossed with that of another of the newly departed. Penny Saunders needed May's help and May was in a unique position to offer it. For she was a dead medium, a ghost with the power to speak with the living and her services were to become in great demand. Spirits with long awaiting messages were not the only ones to take an interest in May's activities. Something dark was lurking in the shadows, stalking her. Even the dead are not left to rest in peace. Highly addictive and readable with moments of deadpan humour. £6.99 paperback or Kindle version @ £3.20 via Amazon