Month: October 2014

On Halloween

Why do us Brits have such a sniffy attitude towards Halloween? Around this time of year I hear all sorts of miserable excuses for not taking a single fang of interest: Young kids trick or treating is nothing more than begging (this gem was from my own Father!), it’s an American thing, it’s all commercial and too expensive, my great grandmother was burnt as a witch and it brings back bad memories. Seriously, I’ve heard them all, and they’re all an absolute crock.

I love it all: costumes, decorations, a good scary movie, haunted house parties with 40% proof spirits, and trying not to lose any fingers on the pumpkin carving. And how about the kids coming to your door dressed up and hopped up on chocolate-covered lumps of bubblegum-flavoured kiddie crack pellets of pure sugar? Honesty, how the hell can anyone call that begging? It’s just a bit of fun… with a hint of type-1 diabetes. Cheer up!

Begging is what those overly friendly charity workers on the high street engage in. Armed with a clipboard, a bright yellow t-shirt and a stupid grin, they try to talk you out of your bank account details, with a guilt-laden script provided by a worthwhile charitable trust that needs every penny possible. However, these efforts fall flat when it transpires that the charity in question is paying said stupid, yellow, grinning bastard an attractive hourly rate so they can annoy the shit out of you.

It’s intrusive, fucking annoying and all perpetuated by adults… and not exactly in the same realm as a seven year-old Dracula asking for a few sweets. If you don’t agree then don’t open the sodding door! Pretty simple isn’t it?

Halloween is also the one time of year I absolutely long to be in Florida. In all fairness, I always want to be in Florida, but it’s more keenly felt around the witching season. That’s not to say I buy into the second excuse mentioned above, quite the opposite in fact. All Hallows’ Eve isn’t just an American thing – they just seem to embrace the tradition more than anyone else, and as a result, do it so much better.

Spooky shops materialise in empty lots, and dematerialise all the money in your wallet – leaving us all with a sense of being robbed by Casper the friendly pickpocket! Spirit Halloween is a particularly good store that appears for a few months in the Orlando suburbs and is usually filled with an array of plastic stuff provided by our trade partners in China. We have similar places in the UK, filled with the same shit. I’ve purchased my fair share of Halloween ‘merch’ from these places, to the extent where I can now read Mandarin and have a desire to occupy Tibet.

Sticking with the American thing for just a minute longer, the Florida theme parks also have their say in the proceedings too, and are again another reason why I would sell a kidney to be stateside during this time of year. The cash registers ring for Universal Studios and their legendary Halloween Horror Nights. Disney has Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (check out the below photo), SeaWorld have their Spooktacular and Busch Gardens hosts the annual Howl-o-Scream event.

And to top it all, you have craft beers with their seasonal brews – Shipyard, Dogfish Head, Blue Point and a hundred others. It’s a time for pumpkin bread, candy corn, pumpkin spiced latte and Count Chocula cereal. Jesus, it’s beautiful!

Yes, I can hear you… “Aha! You have just accepted the third excuse on your list… it is too expensive and disgustingly commercialised!” And yes, you are right; the examples above all have a nice price tag. But it doesn’t have to be all about the money.

How about a little time with the kids making a costume, some candles, a jack-o-lantern, and a few bags of sweets for anyone who knocks on the door? Your best scary stories with a few episodes of Scooby-Doo and you’re good to go. Regardless of which side of the pond you reside, you could do all of this for a fraction of the price a theme park will charge you (in the case of Universal Studios a Frequent Fear pass for Halloween Horror Nights 24 is coming in at $86.99, that’s £54.00 for 16 nights entry – damn good value in its own right!).

As a semi-responsible father to a four year-old, my time dreaming of the theme park scare events are currently suspended, and a cheaper Halloween family tradition is heading my way. This year I have the day off work and I intend to spend every minute of it with my son: making his costume, preparing the house, carving the lantern, trick or treating and doing all things spooky. I have Blackbeard’s Ghost and The Haunted Mansion on DVD, and a few scary stories up my sleeve for when the night comes to a close.

So what’s left on the excuse front? Ah yes, your great grandmother, the sorcerer! Well, this is even more reason for us British folk to gather around the cauldron and celebrate a holiday we hand a fair hand in creating. Whilst originating as a Celtic tradition, centuries of pagan history, Druid rituals and white witchcraft have all recognised the importance of celebrating the dead as keenly as they would the living. All Hallows’ Eve, All Saint’s Eve, Allhallowtide, it has gone by many names and has been consistently observed, in one form or another, since the Roman Empire. How do ya like those (bobbing) apples?!?

In the UK, we have thousands of haunted castles and stately homes, all with their own terrifying stories of grey ladies, headless monks, and blood-soaked servants wailing down the corridors. We gave the world Charles Dickens, M. R. James and Yvette Fielding. Ours is a history steeped in the supernatural – why the hell wouldn’t we take one night out of the year to recognise it? We celebrate a terrorist every 5th November, why not Will-o’-the-wisp?

The truth is there is no attitude, not anymore. I think Halloween for us Brits is a generational thing, which is becoming more prolific within our shops, and more acceptable within our homes, as time continues to bring a new batch of accepting parents. For the record, my parents hated the time of year, and did precious little to celebrate it. I would like to think that my son is destined to have nothing but fond memories of Halloween, and of how the house was always decorated, Mum was usually the casualty of a few scares, and mischief was always encouraged by his stupid Father.

Paul Millard 2014

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A Damn Good Scary Movie

Snarky Tuesday The Conjuring

The importance of a good spooky scare cannot be underestimated. Seriously, think of it like this: in your day-to-day whatever, how many times do you receive a good fright? Something that gets the heart racing and the mind clawing to comprehend what has just caused you to lift a few feet into the air whilst letting out a chicken-shit whimper of terror? I’m guessing not very often. Unfortunately, unless you’re a Ghostbuster or have the sickening pleasure of living in Portsmouth, the chance of bumping into a horrifying spectre to provide such a jolt is pretty slim.

Enter a good scary movie to address this balance.

Now, I’m not talking about the stupid torture porn that passes for scary these days. Hostel, Saw, The Purge – you might be very popular with the popcorn masses, but you can all bugger off to the back of the queue. Why? Because those films just ain’t scary. Vile, ugly and staggeringly predictable, perhaps, but not scary! I’m also not referring to monster movies like The Thing, Jeepers Creepers and The Mist. Yes, they do have some spooky elements and I enjoy them all, but no, you lot also need to wait by the door until called for.

Perhaps at this time of year more than any other, we all need a real butt-tingling film to truly shatter the bone marrow and make us fearful to turn our backs on the open bedroom door. I’m looking at movies such as Poltergeist, the first Paranormal Activity movie (theatre cut), The Grudge, The Orphanage… and more recently, The Conjuring. Yes sir! The Conjuring is a perfect example.

I’m an old hand when it comes to horror and fright flicks. I’m seasoned enough to remember the VHS/Betamax video nasty debates of the 1980’s, and the first time Freddie, Jason and Michael pitched up in the local flea-pit cinema. I’ve sat through Cannibal Holocaust, The Men Behind The Sun, Visitor Q and Audition. From the trendy wave of Japanese, Spanish and Mexican horror imports, to the reinvention of the more tongue-in-cheek creature features such as Piranha 3DD, Sharknado and Big Ass Spider. Whilst they may all have a place within the wider billing of “horror”, not all are quite so deserving of their resting place among the truly unsettling and macabre.

As testimony to this, last Saturday evening I rediscovered the beauty for a simple, no thrills, utterly gripping, good old-fashioned scary movie.

The Conjuring has no bad language, zero sexy moments, and less blood and gore than a typical episode of Casualty. The premise is easy, the story accessible, and the execution right on the money. To be clear, this isn’t so much a movie review but rather a review of how a movie scared the crap out of me!

The film certainly conjures (sorry!), a sense of uneasy companionship within the first few minutes. The opening shot alone cements you into a creepy apprehension on what’s to come, and there’s something to be said for that edgy, uncomfortable feeling you get when in the presence of a balls-out-of-the-bath scary movie. I have to admit, twenty minutes in I was starting to feel the heat and had taken to occasionally looking away from the screen, not out of boredom, but in an attempt to limit my exposure to the scare… when it eventually arrived.

The jump moments in this film are provided in a way that abandons the obvious attempts to catch you unaware, and instead lulls your misplaced trust into a flash of fist-clenching fright. It’s difficult to explain, but there were several moments in which the scare arrived, I jumped and swore, and then immediately re-watched the scene in order to relive the moment with a little more awareness and bravery.

Mid-way through and I was totally engrossed with the story, invested in the characters, and questioning my choice to watch this bloody film just before bedtime! This is embarrassing, but I actually started to laugh at the scares in the hope of taking the edge off. Seriously, such was the nervous energy I was infused with, I felt like I needed to laugh at the craziness in order to get through it. Stupid eh?

Minimal use of tired stereotypes, no “dumb blonde” moments and a cast of mostly believable characters who were making the same choices that I would have made in their situation – this was proving to be a very different movie to the one I had subconsciously predicted. In essence, The Conjuring had some truly unique features towards what has become a quite hackneyed and predictable genre. For my money, it was these aspects that added to my own fear scale, which for the record, was now starting to worry me!

However, the last ten minutes of this film also happened to be its worst, and provides an anticlimactic ending that almost feels out of place when referring back to the previous ninety minutes of painful suspense. Everything is wrapped up nicely (maybe a little too nicely), and whilst it managed to readdress my own levels of stupid apprehension at the time, it has provided a derisive talking point for the horror elite out there – with many taking real issue towards such a cop-out approach to close an otherwise refreshing film.

With that said, it’s been a very long time since I felt this way during a movie, and rarely have I found the need to look away and hide my trepidation from the screen before me. I really should have saved this film for Halloween night, and tested the nerve of my wife (who has categorically refused to watch it as a result of reading this!).

I’m not sure how The Conjuring played in a packed cinema upon release, but in my living room at 1am, with the lights off, and a strong coffee as my only company, I was spooked out like Shaggy in every episode of Scooby-doo.

clap-clap!

Paul Millard 2014

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Feeling Those Magic Balls

So, another £100 million Euro Lottery weekend has gone by, and I’m not a penny richer from it. Damn! After carefully selecting my numbers, and weighing up the pro’s and con’s for having more than three single digits in my choice, I duly purchased my ticket and dreamt of what I would do with all that lovely lolly.

A charitable soul by nature (not that you would notice!), I’m going to bypass the countless good causes I would bless with my galloping philanthropy, and dismiss my altruistic acts towards all the caring foundations that provide dyslexic, one-legged, lesbian, Kurdish transsexuals the chance to build a better life and pursue meaningful careers in event management. Don’t you worry; I’d do my bit for charity and throw a few shekels into their collective sky rockets – you never know I might get a knighthood, or meet Coldplay!

And while we’re on the subject of the alienated and mentally puzzled, I’d make sure my family and friends were sorted – even the ones I don’t like and avoid like a dose of Ebola. All would be provided with a brighter future, a little less fiscal worry, and a lovely new washing machine. I’d even take care of my wife’s side of the family twig… although when I say “take care of” I mean it in the Tony Soprano sense. Bada-bing!

What else? Well, I guess I would also quit my day job. No, let me re-phrase that, I’d scrape my job from the soles of my shoes quicker than Oscar Pistorius can shoot an unarmed door! Seriously, thanks for the budget brand tea and coffee, and for the use of that shitty toilet with the broken door and bogey-covered mirror, oh, and for all those free envelopes you left in the stationary cupboard – thanks a fucking bunch for all of it… but I really need to go now. See ya.

Next I would take a long holiday – for about six years. Myself, my wife and my boy… we’d go everywhere. Experience scores of different cultures, and look into the faces of every nation we could reach. We’d see the true wonders of the world and succumb to the wider embrace our little planet can offer those with a valid passport and the right inoculations. Just think about it for a second – Burma, Nepal, Bora Bora, Guernsey!

And with the world truly encircled, the day job safely exorcised, my furthest and dearest comfortably rinse-cycled, and a glut of questionable charities fairly rewarded, what else would I do with all that free time and loot?

Well, after a brief stint as a megalomaniac, and a few failed attempts to build a working “death ray”, as a means of exterminating the parasitic Justin Beiber from our lovely blue marble forever, I think I would retire into a life of doing nothing. Yeah, that’s right, I would do sod all for as long as possible.

It’s funny, but whenever you get into this type of conversation, everyone barks the same statement,

“Ohhh, you would eventually get bored though wouldn’t you?”

NO! I fucking sure as hell is hot wouldn’t!

I’m serious. I would never be bored again. Speaking from a great deal of personal experience, I’m here to tell you all that working a crummy job is boring, not having the cash to travel the world is boring, not being able to afford a decent washing machine is boring (what is it with me and washing machines today??). But having millions to blow on whatever… isn’t – boring – at – all.

Money doesn’t buy happiness – fuck you! Eight holidays a year, no mortgage, a new car whenever I fancy one and a bottomless bank balance will bring a smile to my face every sodding time. And to push the materialistic shit to one side for a moment, the potential of having a son who gets to see his Dad for a little longer than my current working week allows would certainly make me and mine very happy indeed. Easy money is easy lost… just try me!

Guess what? It’s this fantasy that will drive me to buy yet another ticket next week. I’ll gladly spend £2 on keeping that dream alive for a few more days, until the next draw – because that’s what we do isn’t it? We buy the dream each week and make wondrous plans, and outrageous imaginary purchases, with the immense wealth six random numbers could bring. That sliver of printed paper is truly the stuff of dreams, and until mine is dashed, I’ll continue to surf Trip Advisor, purr over the Audi R8 website, and dribble at the new Hotpoint washer/spinner coming out this winter.

Paul Millard 2014

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Fu’Coffee To Go

Costa, Starbucks, Cafe Nero and all the other coffee dealers along my high street, why do these places give me the Purple Pim? Regardless of the name over the door, everyone of these coffee shop drug dens appear to be stocked with the same freshly pressed employees (all of whom make me feel like The Grinch on laundry day), stupid ceramic merchandise for stupid ceramic commuters, and hillocks of tasty apple pastries – that are seemingly filled with the same preservatives found within the crocodile-like corpse of Joan Rivers (too soon??).

In all honesty, I don’t go into these places that often, but when I do I always feel the same way: like a stupid teenager in a packed supermarket, attempting to buy condoms with his Oyster Card.

So, let’s start with the beautiful people serving behind the counter. Just old enough to avoid tricky child labour laws, these Sesame Street baristas cluster around the complex coffee machinery and chatter about their complex hair products with animated gestures that would usually indicate severe brain trauma. When shambling into these sweet-smelling temples of coffee coolness, desperately trying to disguise my confusion on where I should stand to place my order, I always expect to be ignored by the gaggle of matching polo shirts in attendance. However, in an act of defiance towards the God of Shit Customer Service (a deity who seems to be worshipped everywhere!), these sparkling visions of youth and facial hair take pity on my bewildered form, and cheerfully engage me in light conversation towards what cup of something I should exchange all the money in my wallet for.

Now I can’t speak for my fellow snarkhists, but this kind of enthusiastic welcome puts me on edge right off the bat. Don’t they realise that I’m not one of them? I don’t look nearly as good as them or sound quite so shit-sickeningly odious. I don’t have a skincare regime or an emo girlfriend who’s currently experimenting with self-harming. Have they mistaken me for someone else… someone relevant? I’m 43 years-old and a bit grumpy, I can’t fit into any sized pair of Firetrap jeans, and I’ve never been pierced (intentionally). The stubble on my face is an act of sheer laziness, not because of some hip Movember bollocks, and the closest I get to cutting edge reality TV is the Coronation Street omnibus on a Sunday morning.

However, my uneasiness doesn’t stop there. I’m never too sure what to order, or how to pronounce it correctly. Is a frappachino the cold one? How about a skinny latte, is that the strong coffee that comes in a cup small enough to keep in my left nostril? What about the fruit coolers and the vanilla berry refreshers – are they coffee?!? I would like to think that I’m self-assured enough to ask these questions to iCarly behind the counter, but I don’t. Instead, I order a plain black coffee and hope she doesn’t ask me if I want to ‘husk my own beans’ or something else I’m too square to understand.

And if that isn’t bad enough, I don’t feel comfortable sitting in those places. They all seem to have taken their design inspiration from a 17th century Dorset cottage reworked by the bloke who invented all that iCrap. Exposed wooden beams with antique ironmongery, offset by brushed steel toilet roll holders and subtle LED lighting that provides a cool calm and mild neurological seizures. They have carefully distressed brickwork, monochrome posters of yet more beautiful people and factory- produced aluminium customers.

On rare occasions, usually when I have nowhere better to go, I’ve perched myself on a vinyl stool that is clearly designed to promote spinal damage, and taken my cinnamon-spiced coffee conundrum among the twatlings (collective term) of open laptops, smartarsed smart-phones and wireless doohickies. In short, it’s an awkward beverage from within the Starbucks Batcave!

Now I was about to launch into a few more paragraphs on this subject, and continue my small-minded assassination towards the coffee culture that has left me behind in the local ‘greasy spoon’. However, my wife has just peeked over my shoulder, and within thirty seconds of reading this rubbish, delivered a perfect (ly annoying) suggestion…

“Stop moaning and just buy a coffee machine for the kitchen!”

I hesitated for a second in my response. That could be the solution – I could buy one of those things, try to use it before my 4 year-old fucks it up by ramming Play-Doh into its fragile mechanisms, and be the master of my own coffee. No longer would I need to be bashful in the face of a pretty barista, or exhausted by the espressos on offer. In short, I could reclaim one of last legal highs available and hit that shit like it ain’t no thang, anytime I damn well please! Unfortunately, by the time I had processed all this; my wife had left the room like a shitty Elvis impersonator. I had to shout back something discouraging towards her genius proposal…

“Yeah… well… I don’t like sitting in our kitchen either!”

Whilst I think it’s fair to say that my rapier-like response was devilishly cutting and most fantastic in every way, I’m now waiting for a suitable amount of time to pass before I make the suggestion to get one (from the money I’ll make by selling our kid on eBay!).

Paul Millard 2014

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