Why are you voting Conservative?

 

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So… Polling Day tomorrow, huh?

I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m voting Labour.
I’ve been called “lefty” a few times over the last few weeks, but like most people in 21st Century Britain, I imagine I am probably closer to the middle when all views on all things are taken into account.
Generally, I am not in the habit of asking people who they vote for; it’s really none of my business. But this time I am genuinely curious. Because for a society to thrive in any era, two things are more important to the population than all others: Healthcare and Education. So what I’m wondering is this: how can anyone vote for a party that continues to underfund BOTH to the point where they begin to collapse?

Look… Did the last Labour Government make mistakes? Yes. Would Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Government? Of course. Every Government in every era makes its share of mistakes. I don’t particularly care for accusations that Corbyn is “just to the left of Marx”, and I think that comparing Theresa May to Margaret Thatcher simply shows a lack of imagination. It’s just lazy.
But the current Conservative Government has made twice as much mess as the last Labour one, in half the amount of time. They talk about strength, but most of what little influence this country had left, we gave away when the Tories manoeuvred us out of the EU. They talk about stability, but most of our public services are now at breaking point. They talk about unity, and “tackling enduring social divisions” but this country has been more divided in the last few years of Conservative rule than I have ever seen it in my lifetime.

If you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn, try to see past him to the Party, the future, and the good of the country. If you don’t like Labour or their policies, fine. Don’t vote for them. But for crying out loud, don’t vote Conservative! Vote for someone else. Vote for ANYONE else but the people who have driven our public services into the ground in just 7 years with nothing to show for it but a continually rising National Debt.

You can’t talk to me about MPs like Diane Abbott, because Theresa May appointed Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary, which is a bit like putting Jim Jones in charge of refreshments… (and actually, as I posted this, news broke that Abbott is being replaced
EDIT: NO! Actually… by way of an apology to Diane for even bringing that up, I would like you to read this article about Diane Abbott. Go and read that FIRST… I’ll wait).

You can’t talk to me about Domestic Security, because the Tories have reduced the number of Police Officers by 20,000 since they came to power, and there are plans for further cuts…

You can’t talk to me about Healthcare, because the Tories are tearing the NHS apart day by day; pretty much the greatest institution this country has ever had, and it is now in a worse state than I, or anyone else I know, has ever seen it…

You can’t talk to me about Education, when the Tories are cutting school funding, and threatening to take away free school meals…

You can’t to talk me about Anti-terrorism, because under the Tory Government there have been 3 attacks on British soil in as many months…

And, you can’t talk to me about National Debt, because it’s higher now, after 7 years of Tory Austerity, than it was in 2010.

So you tell me: why are you voting Conservative?

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On Social Media people aren’t really having a discussion about this, they just fire angry remarks at one another. But I am genuinely asking: Why?

Obviously I don’t for one second believe that everyone voting Conservative is evil, stupid, the CEO of a huge corporation, or a complete lunatic. Most Conservative voters are presumably perfectly normal, hard-working, rational human beings. And this is what puzzles me…

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Every political party offers something to make you put a little ‘X’ by their name on the ballot paper, so what is it that is making you ignore Healthcare cuts, Education cuts, Welfare cuts, Police cuts…? What is so much more important than the health, safety and education of your children? Of your parents? Of yourselves?
Why do you not seem to care about the erosion of those things that have been the foundation of every successful society since the abolition of slavery?

I do not want another argument. There have been far too many of those in the last 6 weeks, and not nearly enough progress. I’ve said my piece. Now I want to listen to you. At the time of writing there are just over 24 hours until polling closes; not enough time for bickering and capitalised internet insults.

I really want to know, so tell me, please.

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A New Dope

 

Well… where to begin?

I shall try not to move anything in here lest the resulting dust cloud cause a local storm scare or something.

I’ll go into more detail in a later post, about all that has happened in the past 18 months, but… long story short: I got really busy with lots and lots of other things after returning to England.

If there are any remaining readers of this blog who can remember its very early days, then I’m sure I don’t need to explain who The Swedish Flowerpot is. However, since most of my original readers ran away when I was foolish enough to untie the ropes and let them out for 5 minutes of fresh-air (rookie mistake!), I should just explain that The Swedish Flowerpot was a lady living in Newfoundland, who began writing her blog at roughly the same time as I did before moving back to her home country of Sweden. A mutual appreciation for one another’s  writing and sense of humour led to a “WordPress friendship”… then later a “facebook friendship”… then a “Skype friendship”… then a meeting in real life… then a romantic relationship (I’ll skip the quotation marks for that one)… then an engagement… then a move to Sweden… then a marriage… then a move back to England… and, now… an impending Sleepless-Flowerpot-Knight-Swede-WordPress baby!

Yup! I am writing this because the tiny little newborn product of this complicated and exciting romance is due to drop into our lives at any moment…

No… literally… any moment. That was not hyperbole. The child of Sleepless Knight and The Swedish Flowerpot is now six days overdue.

So that’s where we are. In limbo. The flat has been tidied and re-tidied; the garage has been cleaned out; the flat has been re-painted; the nursery (well… alcove really) has been set-up; all the shopping has been done. I daren’t take on another audio-book project at the moment because they usually have fairly tight deadlines, and there will be a screaming, newborn baby in this house any day now, which I think deserves at least a week of my undivided attention before I get back to work.

Just an hour ago, I was playing “The Imperial March” to the bump, in an attempt to imply that Lord Vader and/or The Emperor, were most displeased with her apparent lack of progress, but evidently she found my lack of faith neither disturbing nor amusing. So… I’m here talking to you people (or, more likely, myself).

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I actually had the opportunity to return to this blog a few weeks ago, but I started making an image for my triumphant return and, as usual, got waaay too carried away making a whole “epic scene”. I then became unwilling to return properly until I had made the image as amazing as I hoped it could be. Wait until you see it… you’ll love it. Actually you probably won’t even notice, but if the adulation of others was my reason for doing things I think I would have stopped getting out bed the first time a teacher said to me “Stop that! It’s not big and it’s not clever!”

I mean Donald Trump is not big… and 25 seconds of listening to one of his speeches will certainly cure you of any notion that there is anything clever about him, but look where he is. And from nothing! Starting with nothing but a “small” loan from his father of $1,000,000!

Well… I promised myself this post would be about nothing but the baby so I will go now before I get sidetracked still further.

I have just finished recording a book for an author on Amazon, so I will put in a link to that once it goes on sale, but until then… get on with your lives as normal and await further instructions.

Mad World?

MadWorld

The EU referendum is less than a week away; fighting (again) at the European Cup matches in Paris; 49 people shot dead at a nightclub in Orlando, a week ago; Donald Trump knocking on the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue… and 3 days ago Labour MP, Jo Cox, was killed outside a library in Birstall.

It’s tempting to think that the world is coming apart before our eyes. So, I have taken to these pages, for the first time in 18 months, in the hope of encouraging you to resist that temptation with every ounce of willpower you posses.

Yesterday, I noticed people posting and commenting on facebook statuses and memes, that the world is a dreadful place. In one instance I read that the world was “at least fifty percent terrible”. Now, it’s true that last one was in a poem of positive messages, but I still take issue with it.

Perhaps I should rephrase: There’s a tendency, at times like these, to believe that human beings are inherently bad. And, moreover, that violence is escalating; that the world is more dreadful than it has ever been.
My dear readers, this is simply not true. A look at any reliably sourced statistics on violence and war… hell, just a glance through a few history books, should be enough to convince you that this view of the world is nonsense.

Muslims are not all out to kill you… Gay people are not trying seduce your children/dog/mother/brother… Migrants are not about to take your jobs (if they have a monopoly on certain jobs, chances are they’re doing a job you would refuse to do, for pay you would refuse to get out of bed for, and consequently helping the local farmers you’re all trying to save, from having to pack it all in and work at Starbucks).

Now, it is certainly not my intention to devalue the losses we have seen in the news this week, nor to make light of genuine concerns about violence or government policy. I write because at times like these it is more important than ever to remember that, as useful an evolved mechanism as it can be in immediate life-threatening situations… spoon-fed by the media in exaggerated doses, fear is a recipe for bad decision-making.

Fear threatens to put Donald Trump in the White House. Fear threatens to break the UK away from Europe. Fear led Omar Mateen to gun down innocent patrons at an Orlando nightclub. And, fear played a large part in motivating Thomas Mair to shoot Jo Cox dead on Thursday afternoon.

I was going to go into the various reasons why I believe you should vote to stay IN the EU on Thursday, but I think common sense and a brief look through history should tell you all you need to know about that, so I’ll simply state something that has been said so many times before, and that I think anyone reading this is already aware of: The world is getting smaller every single day.

We will only make more progress by accepting that we are a global community. Breaking existing unions into smaller and smaller pieces is going in the wrong direction.

Fear, as I said before, has its uses; we would not be here without it, and sometimes it has been a helpful tool. But if you scare a man into thinking that the world might end, he is more likely to build a shelter and buy a gun to keep you out of it, than he is to try to stop it from happening.

We are not the only creatures on Earth to do damage to our environment, but we are the only ones capable of recognising that, and the only ones currently trying to reverse the damage. The English countryside is now dotted with wind turbines, almost wherever you care to look. More and more houses and office buildings have solar panels providing at least some of their power, and the number of hybrid and electric cars in showrooms increases year after year.

Violence is part of the lives of every species on Earth, but human violence has shown a steadily decreasing trend (with the exception of one or two very minor hiccups on the graph) for centuries, and humans have never been safer, or lived longer than they do at this point in history.

I am expecting another child in September, and that child is fortunate enough to have the kindest, warmest, brightest, most life-affirming woman that I have ever met, for a mother. I cannot hope to compete with that. But for my part, I will teach this child what I have tried to teach my others:

The world can be a dark and dreadful place. But closing your door and burying your head in your hands only ever makes it darker. There is hope and goodness in abundance, the world over. If you can’t find it, my guess is that you’re trying really, really hard not to.

A week ago, one man killed 49 people who were simply trying to enjoy a night out. On Thursday one man shot dead a kind-hearted young MP from West Yorkshire. In response to these dreadful incidents, the internet practically melted down as millions of people flocked to news websites, blogs and social-media sites to offer their sympathy, to share messages of love and hope, and to stand-up against bigotry and hatred.

The world is a better place than you give it credit for.

 

**If you really need convincing that humans aren’t so bad, I recommend giving this a read: “The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker

 

 

The Final Countdown – Zero

Well… that’s it. I’m leavin on a jet plane, and all that other Jonny Denver type stuff. As they say where I come from: “It’s all over bar the shoutin'” Of course, in this particular case, “the shoutin” involves packing my few remaining possessions; dragging 50kg of luggage (each) in 3 seperate cases (each), through the deep snow to the subway station; catching a train, then a bus, then a plane; being picked up from the airport, and living under someone else’s roof for the next week or so until my wife and I find somewhere to live. So if we’re gonna stick with the fighting analogies, I haven’t even spilled the other bloke’s drink yet. But it’s all over as far as the blog posts about my moving are concerned. I am writing this post on Monday the 26th, and it is scheduled for release at the exact minute we are due to land in the UK. Plane landing by sunrise So… once again, you must endure the anguish of my absence. At least for a little while. What will I be blogging about when I return? Your guess is as good as mine. Well… I suppose I could make a slightly more educated guess than you guys and say that it’s likely to be about my new house, and my new job (back to being self-employed now). I do have one or two things in the pipeline to keep you occupied until next we meet, and they have been a very long time coming. So, I will see you again soon. If you don’t believe me… take a look at this video. And the next time someone hears me say “Hmmm… I think I’ll kill myself off in this weeks video. I just want to try out this new effect!” STOP ME and say: “Jimbot… don’t do it. The storyteller in you is a perfectionist monster, and you know where this will lead.” Normally I sign off by saying goodbye, but on this occasion I will just say those 3 little words I have been desperately waiting to say for almost 3 years: I’m back baby!!

Interstellar: exploration or extinction

It has been a long time since I visited these pages… far too long.
I had when I last wrote here, many varied and detailed plans for a new, brighter (ironically more regularly updated) blog site. And I hope that eventually I can return to those ideas and make them a reality, because I really do miss this. But, as those foolhardy enough to have been reading this blog since early 2011 will know, my mind has the boundless energy and restlessness which so many tracksuit-wearing gym-goers seem to have applied to their physical bodies, but which has long eluded my own decrepit husk of an excuse for one.
As such, new ideas, new games, new books, new addresses, projects, toys and adventures are ever vying for an audition to stand, however briefly, on the crumbling stage of 3 minute farce which is my attention span… before being kicked out into the wings to make way for a man on a Segway, juggling flaming sea-sponges.

So, why now?

Well, I will give you a brief update on my ever-changing circumstances (many of which will relate to – and serve as updates for – previous blog posts) a little later. But, more importantly, I want to talk to you once again about a subject very close to my heart. An issue far too often ignored or dismissed, but about which I nonetheless feel very strongly indeed.

It should be made clear that, although I have had the itch to return and update you on progress several times over the last 2-3 months, this post was prompted by several coinciding events which, each in their turn, brought this issue once again to the front of my mind, and I thought I might quiet “the voices” by listing those events here.

The first is that, by the end of today, my wife and I will, more than likely, have an actual definitive, unalterable date for our permanent return to England… though I should more properly say: My permanent return, and my wife’s (hopefully) permanent migration to.

The second is that sleeplessness (what else?) has compelled me once again to the pages of the various works of Dr. Carl Sagan; not only one of my favourite authors, but (in my opinion at least) one of the most enlightened and brilliant men the 20th century ever gave us.

The third is that in 4 days from now (Nov 12th, 2014), one of the exciting firsts of human space exploration, which Dr. Sagan foresaw and wrote about at length but sadly did not live long enough to witness, will actually happen. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta Spacecraft, after travelling 4 billion miles over the span of 10 years, finally caught up with comet 67P/C-G in August, and will send its Philae lander down to the surface on Wednesday.

If you wish to follow the event live on Wednesday, you can do so at www.esa.int. In the meantime you can watch a wonderful short film, inspired by humanity’s first landing on a comet, here.

The fourth is that I have been playing extensively, and making many YouTube videos about, Elite: Dangerous over the last 3 months; a game for which I waited 3 decades, and about which, more later (if you can’t wait until later… more here)

Lastly, and perhaps most poignantly, this week sees the release of my most anticipated film of 2014: Christopher Nolan’s, Interstellar – which I wrote a brief preview of at the beginning of this year, in my 2014 film preview (it might be interesting to revisit my previews and see how accurate I was in my predictions).

The reason I say “most poignantly” is because, although I will not be going to see the film until next week, I understand its central theme to be the very concern which drove me back to these pages. A subject on which I have touched several times before; that of Interstellar travel, and the absolute necessity for it.

Amongst the above listed reasons are my personal heroes. From the realms of astronomy and space exploration: Carl Sagan; filmmaking: Chris Nolan; and video-gaming: David Braben. All of them – Nolan, apparently; Braben, so far as I can tell; and Sagan, definitely and outspokenly on many occasions – share/d my concerns about space exploration; namely that the necessity for it does not seem to be widely accepted or understood.

That’s the second time I’ve referred to it as a necessity (actually the 3rd or 4th if you read my earlier blog posts. Particularly this one), and I absolutely, whole-heartedly and as loudly as the internet will let me, refuse to apologise for doing so.

Again and again I have heard the same tired old arguments against spending large amounts of money on spaceflight and space exploration…

The first comes most often from that percentage of the human population who seem not to concern themselves with life outside the confines of their local pub, or the studios in which their favourite reality TV show is filmed, and it usually goes something like this:

“What d’ya wanna go t’space for? I mean what’s the point?”

The second is usually (though not always) from the demographic I think is most diametrically opposed to the first; those intellectuals who concern themselves almost entirely with metaphysics, and start conversations with such openers as “Wasn’t it Sartre who said…” and so on. Their argument goes something like this:

“Why should I care?”

The third comes from those of a religious disposition, and ranges from:

“I just try to be a good Christian/Muslim/Jew etc.”

to

“Accept Christ and you will all be saved.”

and at the more extreme end…

“HERETIC!”

The fourth group constitutes perhaps the largest and most often encountered percentage of space-exploration naysayers, and their argument at least tends to be the most rational. It goes something like this:

“Aren’t there far more pressing concerns right here on Earth?”

To answer each of these groups in turn, in the fewest words possible, I would have to say…

Group 1: “Are you a moron?”

Group 2: “Do you think I’m a moron?”

Group 3: “Are you a Mormon?”

Group 4: “No.”

However, since brevity is as foreign to me as a second anniversary is to an iPhone, I shall now give slightly more carefully considered responses.

Group 1

G1: What d’ya wanna go t’space for? I mean what’s the point?

SK: Have you ever looked up at the night sky? Did you know that all those little twinkly bits in that really big black thing above your head are gigantic nuclear reactors… many with their own system of planets? And did you know that, though we can only see about 10,000 from Earth, with the naked eye, there are actually about 400 billion of them in our galaxy alo…

G1: …

SK: Are you texting?

G1: …

SK: Can’t you concentrate on what I’m saying for five m… wait… are you texting ME?
What does ‘UR borin m8’ mean?

G1: …

SK: Oh for crying out loud! Go on inside then. X-factor starts in 5 minutes. Here’s a ball of string to keep you occupied during that long wait.”

So… no help there then. What of group 2?

Group 2

G2: Why should I care?

SK: Fair point. But all the great art and literature you DO care about (or claim to) will be lost if SOMEONE doesn’t. No humans will remain to read  and appreciate it. All the Peruvian yoghurt farmers you are always banging on about trying to save will perish anyway when the planet is inevitably over-populated, or the magnetic field which protects them (and us) from the intense radiation of the sun is decimated by a coronal mass-ejection.
Still don’t care?

G2: Nope

SK: Okay. Can’t say fairer than that. I don’t much care about  homoeopathy, and locally grown, organic gooseberries to tell the truth, so I guess we’re both content.
By the way; I found a brilliant article about how to get Quinoa out of your beard while I was looking up Quasars on Google. If you’re having trouble reading it… take off the ridiculous fake glasses! Your eyesight is fine.

Never mind. To each their own. I figured it was a losing battle, but there might be some hope for that group as fashions inevitable change.
Onto group 3… I guess… *sigh*

Group 3

G3: I just try to be a good Christian/Muslim/Jew etc.

SK: Er… yes but…

G3: Accept Christ and you will all be saved!

SK: Erm… okay… I’m not entirely convinced that’s true, but let’s say that it turns out you’re correct, and there really is a magical being who created everything… doesn’t the endless space, full of countless worlds and wonders make your creator seem even more magnificent than you first thought?

G3: …

SK: No? You want your magnificent God to remain confined to this tiny, tiny, insignificant corner of the universe?
Y’know… I think that’s probably for the best.
Incidentally, I will be celebrating Christmas, and my love of it has everything to do with cosy happiness and goodwill, and nothing to do with your god, beyond both his and Santa’s shared love of beards.

By the way… I found this great article on how to get Quinoa out of…
…what’s wrong?

G3: HERETIC!

SK: Get your foot out my door. I have Satan on speed-dial

Oh well. I didn’t expect that one to end well, if I’m honest. Man, am I gonna look stupid when the Tribulation comes.

I think there is hope for group 1. As long as we start setting our reality TV shows on space stations and asteroids, they’ll sell the idea for us, and tell us it was their’s in the first place. And as long as we put a Starbucks up there, selling organically-grown coffee… group 2 will turn up whether we want them to or not.

But let’s turn our attention to Group 4.

“Aren’t there far more pressing concerns right here on Earth?”

I stand by my original, simple answer: NO!

But allow me to expand upon it…

Are the starving of the world more important?

Not if they are wiped out by asteroid strike, coronal mass-ejection, super-volcanic eruption etc. before we figure out how to feed them all, no.

Shouldn’t we be trying to put an end to poverty, rather than pursuing science-fiction?

Absolutely we should! But you can do both at the same time. In fact, the answers to many of these earthly problems have been, and are still being, addressed by the human exploration of space and its derivative technologies.
Besides… what’s the point of saving people from poverty if we ignore all the very real dangers which could wipe us all out at any moment?

It’s too dangerous!

It certainly is dangerous sometimes. Last week alone there were two accidents (it’s worth noting that this was the single busiest week for spacecraft accidents in the history of human spaceflight); Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed, killing one person and injuring another… and an unmanned Antartes rocket exploded as it left the launch-pad. However, although I wouldn’t even risk spilling my beer to stop a bar-fight, I would risk my life without question to advance human space exploration. And judging from the 200,000 or so applicants who signed up for the chance to earn a one-way ticket to the Red Planet, with the Mars One project (this project plans to send people to Mars, starting in 2023, but will not be bringing them back), it seems that plenty of other people are willing to risk their lives too. If you’re not, stay at home. No-one is forcing anyone to risk their safety. All the people who have so far gone into space have jumped at the chance, in spite of the risks.

It’s too expensive!

Yes, it certainly is expensive. But the US military budget is approximately 30,000 times more expensive.

We need to put a stop to war!

Definitely. And I can’t think of a better way to do that than focussing the attentions (not to mention the money) of humanity on something much bigger, brighter and more exciting out there.

We need to stop over-population!

How?
Other than sterilising the whole of humanity, and dooming it to extinction anyway, how exactly are you planning to police such an action? That snowball is already out of control folks. There are twice as many people on this planet now as there were when I was born, 40 years ago.
On the bright side… they call it “space” for a reason.

The tools of human spaceflight are bound to be perverted into tools of war and destruction, or have some other long-term negative consequences for humanity!

Yup. Very likely. Wernher von Braun’s rockets were used to bomb London during WWII, and there has been fear and speculation for some time in the world of astronomy, that the technology necessary to deflect earth-bound asteroids could just as easily be used to push one TOWARDS us.
But here’s the thing… the technological developments of humanity have often had un-forseen consequences no matter WHERE they come from. In fact many of the solutions to the very earthy problems this group confronts us with, end up being the things that group 2 sit in their coffee houses complaining about a generation later.
2 solutions to the problems of world hunger and food shortage for example, have resulted in 2 of the biggest scare-stories in the modern era.

The need for cleaner, non-toxic refrigeration technology led to the development of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Considered completely safe because they were non-reactive… we later discovered that it was precisely that inert property which led to them destroying our protective ozone layer (a problem, I hasten to add, which was only discovered – accidentally, and with the support of NASA – through studying the atmosphere of Venus).

The development of GM crops… an ingenious solution, or so we thought, to the problem of world hunger. Here were crops that thrived where others could not; allowing millions of acres of food to be grown on land which would previously yield none… but people gathering outside the headquarters of Monsanto with catchy slogans and placards would probably tell you that didn’t work out quite as we had planned either.

The advancement of technology often has drawbacks… but it has so far saved millions more lives than it has cost (sorry, Group 3, was I staring?).

So, what of that final, tired old argument closer:

You’ve been reading/watching too much science-fiction?

For this one I shall simply answer tired old rhetoric with tired old rhetoric:

Science-Fiction writers have been writing about visiting comets and landing on them for well over a century. On Wednesday, you can watch it happen.
Right up to the late 19th and early 20th century, most physicists believed that rockets could not function in a vacuum.

Look… we can argue backwards and forwards all day long about “what ifs”, so let’s stick with something that we can guarantee.

At some point in the future, an asteroid or comet big enough to wipe out all life on Earth WILL hit this planet.

This is not speculation. It is a mathematical certainty.

Less than 2 years ago, Russia had a near miss of underwear-changing proportions when a meteor just 15 meters across exploded over Chelyabinsk. This happened in the same week that astronomers were busy watching how closely we had been missed by the very much larger Asteroid, 2012 DA14. Twenty short years ago, Jupiter was hit by Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, leaving a scar the size of our entire planet on its surface.

Asteroid & Comet impacts are just the most likely threat. Super-volcano eruption, Coronal mass-ejection… pick your apocalypse. I’ve said it many times before: Mother Nature is a cold-hearted bitch! She cares not one iota what the human-race has struggled through, or how much history would be lost.

Dr. Sagan, in Pale Blue Dot, reckons:

“There’s something like one chance in two thousand that [a globally catastrophic asteroid collision] will happen in the lifetime of a newborn baby… for commercial flights the chance [of crashing] is one in two million.”

He puts it better, and certainly more succinctly, than I ever could when he states the case for space-exploration by simply stating:

“Exploration or extinction”

So make your choice. Every single day that passes without such a global catastrophe brings us one day closer to the day when it DOES happen.

I hate fear-mongering, and I am not suggesting for a second that we all build bomb shelters and tell your Priest/Psychiatrist/Chemist that you have secretly always had a fetish for Eskimo-porn before it’s too late. Living in perpetual fear of what MIGHT happen is no existence at all (I can hear my wife laughing as I write that). There is one group that I left off the list, and it is populated by those people who live in a constant state of disappointment; constantly whining about how evil humanity is and how we all deserve to die for the things we’ve done to penguins. I left these people out because there really is very little point in arguing with them. Yes, we have done, and are still doing shitty things all across the world, and yes, some humans would undoubtedly continue doing shitty things on other worlds, and in other times. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath-water… just try to be one of those people who does nice things, and to discourage others from doing bad ones.

My own interest in space travel has little if anything to do with the threat of asteroid impact, mathematical certainty or not, but if that doesn’t sway you, just go outside on a clear night and spend half an hour with your phone turned off, looking up at those twinkly bits. You may surprise yourself.

xl1XYq8

In other news…

I am nowadays working as an audio-book narrator, and will be pursuing similar work when returning to the UK next year.

I have made several Elite: Dangerous gameplay videos for YouTube in the last 3 months, and will continue making more, as the BETA stage of development draws to a close, and the game approaches its retail release date: 16th December, 2014.

braben
This game has exceeded all my expectations so far, and there are grand plans going forward from release. One of my videos was featured in one of the game developer’s recent newsletters. It should go without saying that I was very proud indeed, and my wife and I had a lot of fun making it. If you’re a fan of either Quantum Leap or Elite: Dangerous, you should check it out, HERE.


That’s it for now. I will try to be back soon, but given how this post started, and considering that I will shortly be relocating to another country, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me for a while.
You can still keep up with developments by watching my videos, or following me on TWITTER or FACEBOOK.

Until then (although this may make little sense to those who do not regularly read my posts) consider this:

Bending over for the soap would not be necessary in zero-gravity

40 Years of Planet Earth

Life Begins

This Friday, my life began… so they tell me. And I don’t want to speak too soon, but it certainly seems to be an improvement on last year.

2013 saw me with kidney stones, glandular fever, an exploded computer, and a broken wrist, all by the end of March. 2014 is looking a lot better so far. I have written more than usual for the time of year. I have a new and exciting plan for the next 12 months, which starts with a new blog (about which, more later). I entered the Jameson-Empire Done in 60 Seconds Competition, and was flown to Norway earlier this week, for my first professional voice-over work, in which I was the narrator of a documentary about Maria Falconetti; star of the 1928 movie, The Passion of Joan of Arc.

So that’s 2014 so far… but, since Friday was my 40th birthday, how has the world changed during my lifetime?

I was born in the same month as Peter Benchley’s: Jaws. The same month in which Patty Hearst (Grandaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst) was kidnapped. In a year which marked the end of Richard Nixon’s career, and the beginning of Stephen King’s; whose first novel, Carrie, was published in April of that year… while the above mentioned, Ms. Hearst was holding up a bank with her new “friends”; yelling and pointing an M1 rifle at terrified patrons of the Hibernia Bank, at 1450 Noriega Street in San Francisco.

15 of 007’s 23 (official) outings have been released during my lifetime. Mr. Bond himself has had 4 faces in that time, while The Doctor has had 9.

648 episodes of Star Trek (including movies and animated episodes) and all 6 Star Wars movies to date have been filmed since I took my first steps.

1974 saw the opening of the ill-fated World Trade Centre in New York, as well as the birth of Rubik’s Cube, the VW Golf, Bar-Codes, Dungeons & Dragons, Hong Kong Phooey, Connect Four, Hello Kitty, Bailey’s Liqueur, Happy Days, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Little House on the Prairie… and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Quite a combination there.

Muhammad Ali reclaimed the World Heavyweight title; defeating George Foreman in the eighth round of the famed Rumble in the Jungle. And while Ali was knocking Foreman on the ground in Kinshasa, Anthropologist Donald Johanson was busy discovering the 3.2 million year old fossilised remains of our earliest known ancestor to walk upright; 2000 miles away, in the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia.

The world has seen a lot of changes in my lifetime… it’s had to. Most of the things that govern modern life nowadays didn’t exist in any real sense when I was born; mobile phones, personal computers, the internet, video-games, GPS, and social media. Technology moves so fast now, that many of the things first used in my lifetime have already become obsolete: The Space Shuttle, Floppy discs, VHS tapes, CDs… Concorde.

There are twice as many people on this planet now than existed when I was born. Some of them that were born in my 20s now have driving licences for crying out loud… but I’ve been lucky enough to have seen the dawn of a new millennium. We have telescopes now that can detect far off worlds, orbiting distant stars. And whereas most believed in 1974, that of the stars in our galaxy, only a very few would have planets, it is now known that roughly 1 in every 5 stars has a planet capable of supporting life in some form or another. No human being has walked on the moon in my lifetime, but there is now an International Space Station, and commercial organizations all over the world now plan to have human-beings on Mars in the next 10 years.

Our planet got a great deal smaller during the last 40 years… but the universe got bigger, and I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.

Now, since that all went a bit serious for a second, I threw together something a little bit more fun for you; especially those who used to collect Top Trumps card sets when they were younger, as I did.

I thought it might be a nice 40th birthday treat to see how I would measure up against other things my age. So here, for your enjoyment, is the Sleepless Knight “Born in 74” Top Trumps series.

Jaws + Jim

Golf + Cube

C4 + Baileys

HKP + UPC

Lface + Kitty

King + D&D

In other news… the new blog should be appearing over the next couple of months. I have had trouble narrowing what I talk about down to a single subject, but I have managed to narrow it down to a single theme, so the new blog, when it arrives, will be exactly that: A new blog… on a new site.

I will keep you updated on that as things progress.

Sleep tight,

Sleepless Knight

Elite: Dangerous – Game Preview (Extensive)

EliteDangerous

Over the next 2 months there will be more experimenting, and many updates about which direction I have decided to take my blog. As I said in last week’s post, my biggest problem with sticking to one topic is that I enjoy commenting on anything that makes me happy, or frustrates me in a way impossible to describe without diagrams and explosives.
I am currently toying with the idea of making a completely separate, humorous web-comic/diary type thing, written from the POV of a space traveller, but I am still considering other options.

This week though, I have decided to do a video-game preview, because not only is this game very close to my heart, but when my brother asked me on facebook the other day, if there was more to it than what was shown in the online gameplay videos, I found that facebook didn’t provide me with adequate room for a response.

Since I am of the first generation of computer gamers, there won’t be many people reading this who can understand what it is like to see actual gameplay footage of a game you waited 30 years for! To see the game you never ever thought would arrive, being played by real people! I have honestly only been this excited on 2 other occasions in the 40 years of my life. Christmas didn’t hold this much excitement when I was 6 years old. Generous and Jolly as Santa might have been, he’s got nothing on Mr. David Braben; one of the creators of the original Elite.

David Braben (left) and Ian Bell (right) in 1984

David Braben (left) and Ian Bell (right) in 1984

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about: Elite was to gaming what The Beatles were to music, and David Braben and Ian Bell were Lennon and McCartney. Elite came along, and the rules about what we could expect from computer games changed overnight. Every space-sim, RPG fantasy or sandbox video-game can trace its roots back to Elite. In fact, if you have ever played any open-world game, you have Braben and Bell to thank for it. No matter what any 30 year old hipster with an unhealthy love of the handlebar moustache might tell you, kids… Braben and Bell did it first!

In a time when video games looked like this…

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Elite looked like THIS

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Okay… maybe that wasn’t really the best way to illustrate the differences. So, what do we do when a picture does not say a thousand words? We use a thousand words…

more or less…

probably more…

…okay, definitely a lot more.

What you can’t really tell from the image above is that, firstly, Elite was the first real 3D game available for home computers. You could move around in 3D space instead of just walking/running/jumping over crocodiles/swinging from one side of the screen to the other. If you doubt how much this game shook up the video-games industry, check out this video.

Now, in a hipster culture, where guys like to play retro games and tell you about the good old days of Mario; their fat little friend whose fault it probably is in the first place that an entire generation has returned to the the porn-style soup-catcher, and who probably knew even less about which end of a spanner to hold than they do… the difference between 2 dimensions and 3 might not seem like a lot. But for those over 35, who actually remember the dawn of computer games, this was a very big deal (I can never really understand why people who grew up in the 90s are nowadays considered to be the first generation of computer gamers… when the birth of computer games was actually about 15 years before that).

More so than the 3D though (at least for me), was that open-world angle. This was not a linear, upward/sideward-scrolling game, where safely crossing the road and jumping across a few logs in a river was all you had to do. The objective of this game was… pretty much whatever you wanted it to be, within reason. You started the game inside a space station, with 100 credits and a spaceship to your name, and the aim of the game was to earn a living, somewhere out there amongst the 8 available in-game galaxies, each containing 256 planets.

That’s over 2,000 planets to visit!

In 1984!

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How you made your money in the game was very much a personal choice. You could trade goods; buying at one price and then finding out everything possible about the worlds within range, and gambling that certain goods might be in higher demand in certain places, and as such fetch a higher price. You could even trade illegal goods like slaves or narcotics, if you were willing and able to take on any law enforcement you might run into (which in the Elite world usually meant dozens of Viper police ships, spewing out of a space station as you approached it with a cargo hold full of illegal merchandise… or accidentally leaned on the fire button whilst coming in to dock). You could lurk about in dangerous systems, hoping to encounter criminals, whose charred corpses would then net you a healthy bounty. You could equip your ship with a mining laser and mine asteroids for precious minerals. You might decide to accept jobs for one or another military factions in the game. You could even just sit inside a space station and play the stock market; gambling on prices to go up or down over time. I’m fairly certain I never met anyone who would buy the world’s first 3D, open-world, sandbox space simulator and then do this, but the choice was there if you wanted it. The really unscrupulous types could lie in wait for innocent trading ships and blow them apart before using their fuel-scoop to pick up the cargo cannisters floating amongst the debris. They might cross their fingers and wait for the word LUXURIES or COMPUTERS to pop up on the screen; indicating what they had just collected. In fact the absolute utter bastards out there could use the same scoop to pick up their victim’s escape pod, and rub their hands together in supervillain-like glee, as the pod entered their hold and the word SLAVES appeared on the screen.

To drag players even further into the Elite experience, a novel entitled Elite: The Dark Wheel came packaged with the game. I still have my somewhat battered original copy, sitting in a box of books back home.

The scope of this game seemed limitless.

Of course, time and technology move on and people quickly demand more bang for their buck. Sure the game was big, but every system had only one planet with an orbiting space station. You couldn’t land on the planets, you couldn’t walk around in the space stations.

Answering at least some of these wishes, David Braben then spent 5 years creating a sequel, entitled Frontier: Elite II. In Frontier it was now possible to land on planets…

It's like actually being there!

It’s like actually being there!

Take on crew members, like the dashing, if rather confused Mr. Dixon here; making this request on the bulletin board…

Frontier-Crew

Space stations didn’t all look the same any more…

That's no moon! Look, it can pick up FM radio.

That’s no moon… it’s a Christmas tree bauble!

Planetary systems often had more than one planet to visit, and many of those had space stations of their own…

Welcome to the 30th annual OCD sufferers, planet arranging conference!

Welcome to the 30th annual OCD sufferers, planet arranging conference!

Although you still couldn’t actually leave your ship and walk around a space station, you could at least check the bulletin boards for jobs, and interact with the other people on the station…

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And there was EVEN MORE space to explore…

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One of the more exciting aspects of Frontier was that at least one of the planetary systems was a real one… ours! You could land on Earth, look up into the night sky, at the same stars you can see if you go outside on a clear night right now… pick one of those stars, and actually go there!

Unfortunately, this game was waaay too enthusiastic about the level of realism involved, and if your autopilot was damaged during a dogfight you needed to be a fucking astrophysicist to reach a planet… because of course all the planets and stars were moving all the time. So you couldn’t just point your ship at a planet and accelerate towards it, because it wouldn’t be there when you arrived. Your autopilot, as it turns out, was doing much, much more than simply keeping your ship in a straight line. It was plotting the speed of a planet through the cosmos; calculating orbits and axial rotation; calculating exactly how long your ship would take to accelerate to a certain speed, and at precisely what point you would need to start slowing down again, so that you weren’t going so fast when you reached the planet that you crashed into, or flew straight past it at 255,376 KPH and had to start the whole stupid business all over again.

Frontier then, although mildly successful, never quite reached the dizzying heights of the original… and the 3rd outing; 1995’s Elite: First Encounters, was a flop, mainly because the publishers GAMETEK, insisted on releasing the game before Braben and his development team had finished working on it, and it was consequently riddled with problems.

After First Encounters, David Braben became disillusioned with publishing companies and the world of Elite went dark.

Elite was the game I dreamed of… the one I always droned on and on about whenever conversations about computers and video-games would arise. I played the second game, but it didn’t really live up to my expectations. All I wanted was the original game, updated to account for advancements in graphics capability, with the possibility of landing on planets and walking around stations as a bonus… possibly a few more ship designs. But what the sequel delivered was too much complication. I watched and I waited. I grew up… a bit. I moved house… a LOT. I had many jobs in many places, and video-gaming fell from my mind. A new millennium came; I got married (for the first time), and discovered Sony Playstation. Games had moved on in bounds, but there was still nothing to match my beloved Elite. I inherited a step-son (Good old Richard), and taught him of the long-forgotten days of Elite: A more elegant game, for a more civilized age. Before the dark times… before the GameBoy. He often nodded and said “Cool.” before going back to his Pokemon.

In 2001 I discovered the internet for the first time. A friend of mine built me a PC out of old PCs and after writing and submitting endless short stories, and spending too much time in internet chat-rooms, talking to Australians (the only people awake when I was), I started looking for news that David Braben had decided to revive the Elite franchise.

Nothing.

I moved several more times, had a daughter, wrote a novel, and finally I heard news that David Braben would start working on a new Elite game in 2009. It never happened. I re-discovered film-making through the magic of YouTube… set up this blog and BOOM! My life changed so quickly and dramatically over the next 2 years that my head was spinning for quite some time. I got married again and moved to another country. And then… last year, whilst considering a blog post about video-games and how they had changed, I put those five letters into an internet search engine for what seemed like the hundredth time in the 12 years since I had first discovered the net… and the internet was suddenly alive with the word Elite again. And the new word after the little colon was: Dangerous.

Elite: Dangerous? What the hell is Elite: Dangerous? Can it be? Have my years of fevered dreaming finally sent me over the edge, or is this really a new Elite game? I clicked the link at the very top of the search page and arrived here.

David Braben; the patriarch of the 3D open-world adventure, and seasoned doubter of the games publishing industry had discovered kickstarter. At last he had a possible means to not only fund the Elite he always wanted to make, but to assure a market before he even began coding the thing, by asking the franchise fans to fund it. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I didn’t hesitate to join in and pledge my support. True… Amki and I were mostly living on Marmite sandwiches by then, so I was able to pledge only the smallest amount, but I did what little I could, and the game is now in Alpha testing; to be released in completed form by the end of this year!

Following the kickstarter link in the previous paragraph, or any of the videos I will link from here on, you will see that Mr. Braben is not quite the fresh-faced Cambridge student seen in the black & white 1984 photo above, but he has certainly retained his boyish excitement, and what follows are just a few of the things that he promises to deliver with his new game.

The first and most obvious thing about Elite: Dangerous is how pretty it looks.

CapitalShip_FlyingInside

Flying inside the superstructure of a Capital ship

Even to a computer numbskull like me though, it is perfectly obvious that making this game look better than the original was not going to be very difficult. 30 years is a long time by any measure… in computer terms, it might as well be an ice-age. And, as my brother was right to point out, and as I tell myself whenever I am unfortunate to catch sight of myself in a highly reflective surface: Looks aren’t everything. I’m sure I don’t need to name names, if I refer  you to the cautionary tale of a young film-maker who broke the science fiction mould and, in doing so, created one of the most revered film franchises of all time… only to return 20 years later and take a big, “pretty” shit, all over it and the cherished childhood hopes of his long-suffering fans, who quickly realised that giving this man total creative control was something which should never have been allowed, and scribbling all over something with 21st century crayons is no substitute for a damn good yarn.

Don’t think for one moment I don’t have this at the very front of my very tiny mind while awaiting the arrival of Mr. Braben’s new baby.

The cockpit looks very nice, and the flight controls seem fairly intuitive from the gameplay videos I’ve seen. The game will support Oculus Rift, allowing you to look around the inside of your cockpit, completely oblivious to the giggles of your wife and children, who are presumably busy uploading a video to facebook, of you looking like an intellectually challenged cyborg with the co-ordination of a character from an early Gerry Anderson show, and a visor that only picks up the porn channel.

But aside from the grand spectacles of the game, and the decidedly ugly ones prescibed for deeper immersion within it… what can we expect in terms of actual game mechanics? What will we be able to do? 2000 planets doesn’t impress anyone in 2014. Especially if they are only big red blobs on the screen.

Well, obviously you can’t make an open-world game these days which doesn’t support online multiplayer options, and this game has plenty of those, but it’s the little tiny bits of detail that have been put into this game already which excite me.

Cockpit design will be an indicator, to anyone viewing your ship from the outside, of which in-game company designed your craft. This is covered in more detail in this E:D newsletter. If you can’t be bothered to follow that link, here is a photo to give you some idea of what I mean.

cockpit_styles01l_zps6c792284

Your cherished vessel will show signs of wear and tear as you go about your business, so viewing it from the outside will also give people an idea of what you and your ship have been through together. If you are the kind of pilot who upsets the harbour-master by scraping the side of the docking port on every landing, your ship will wear the signs of your carelessness all over its once pristine paintwork, as well as blast marks, which those regularly engaged in fire-fights will no doubt wear like a badge of honour.

Sidewinder_ruggedPO_02_zps588afb8b

Example of a well-worn Sidewinder fighter

But no matter how much you love the old bird, you aren’t going to get very far in the universe bouncing around in the same Sidewinder fighter with which you start the game. The Sidewinder is one of the many snake-monikered fighters which have been carried over from the original Elite, and extensively redesigned (save the basic shape) for the 2014 version… but we are promised a wealth of other choices, as long as you can stay alive long enough and make profit enough to afford one.

From heavy-hauling freighter workhorses…

Freighter Comp

…to all manner and shape of fighters; some familiar to players of the original Elite, and some new.

Fighter Comp

A new addition to this version of Elite, is that if you fancy the life of a luxury liner captain… you can even work your way up to that, as David mentions in this video.

But what about walking around outside your ship? I keep talking about what your ship will look like to others, but what good does all this prettiness and attention to minute detail do you? What about those long held dreams of walking around on the space stations?

Well, once again, a tremendous amount of thought has gone into all these questions over at the Elite offices, and the short answer is yes. This wonderful little docking animation shows how the game developers plan to use simple, real-world mechanics to add a level of realism to a game grounded very solidly in the world of science-fiction

But David Braben cautions people that this ability to walk around stations will not be available in the initial game release. Instead, these kinds of things will be released in updates and expansion packs for the game. Landing on planets is another long desired part of the Elite universe which he promises will come in time, but there will be many, many planets in a galaxy promising 100 billion stars… and even the detail of these has been carefully considered, to the point where, from the night side of a settled planet, you will be able to recognise the planet’s faction from orbit, by looking at the layouts of the cities far below.

UrbanPatterns

Elite: Dangerous… putting a positive spin on light pollution since 2014!

Mr. Braben further promises that the Elite Galaxy will evolve over time. Not only with updates and expansion packs but through the actions of the players themselves. I will let the man explain for himself how the galaxy will evolve, with outer worlds becoming inner worlds; the frontier expanding (meaning you pesky pirates will have to travel further out to find lawless systems in which to lurk); planetary cities becoming bigger and bigger, and space stations growing from skeletons to massive behemoths, with all kinds of different modules attached, such as the ones shown here

agri_01

Here he is, explaining these things in much greater detail, but this all seems very exciting to me.

Ultimately I think the measure of this game will be in the amount of thought that has gone into every single aspect of it, and 30 years is a very long time to think about the fine details of a game. The dynamics of hyperdrive alone are enough to make my mind boggle; with residual openings allowing hyperspace tail-gaters to follow you to wherever you planned to escape to, and damaged hyperdrive units, poor timing, tailgating, galactic map malfunctions, hyperdrive-slaved or engine damaged teammates, certain spacial anomalies and any number of other problems likely to cause a mis-jump that could leave you twisting in a complete absence of wind… out in the middle of backward-ass nowhere! The possibilities of that alone seem endless to me, and it doesn’t stop with interstellar travel…

Artificial gravity has been ruled out by big Dave, who apparently likes to stick with things that science at least has an idea how to do, in order to maintain some semblance of realism and a suspension of disbelief. With this in mind, stations with gravity will only be capable of it by means of enormous rotating sections, and therefore different types of stations in different parts of the galaxy will offer differing experiences.

stationtypes

As if walking around on a station wasn’t enough, we are promised you will be able to walk around your ship in later updates to the game; visiting the cargo hold to check on your goods

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Or perhaps simply visiting the little astronauts room…

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I could go on and on about this game for another 2 or 3 blog posts, but I’m not going to. If after reading this you still have the enthusiasm to find out more (or indeed the will to go on living), then visit the Elite: Dangerous website. Read more about it, visit the forums, read the newsletters, watch the development diary videos. Answers to every question you can think of are there to be found… Life-Support Systems, Trading, Bounty Hunting, Military Factions, Death-penalty rules, Capital Ships, Asteroid Mining, Passenger Carrying, Pirates, Cat Names… it’s all there.

This game obviously has a lot to live up to, and a very fine line to tread between immersive, and overly complicated. If you want to play a game that requires you to be accompanied by an accountant, a stockbroker, and an astrophysicist, look no further than Eve Online. But David Braben freely admits to treading dangerous waters, and is quite open and even outspoken about the problems that the game faces going forward from release. This could all end in tears. I will be more than happy if the game is a carbon copy of the original with slightly better graphics, so anything else is a major bonus to me, but I live in a time of much more discerning gamers than myself; moreover, ones who don’t have the same pair of rose-tinted 1984 specs that I do, so I fully expect that Mr. Braben and his team have their work cut out for them. But living in the shadow of The Phantom Menace has made us all cautious of expecting too much, and I don’t imagine that the thought has never crossed young David’s mind either…

And hey… If Peter Molyneux’s promises were anything to go by, the Fable franchise would have ended world hunger and created anti-gravity by now, and people still buy his games. Go and buy David Braben’s. I promise you it will be better.

If you don’t like this kind of game, fair enough. It’s certainly not my place to judge you for your empty, soulless existence. As for everyone else… keep an eye out for me at Lave station.

EDIT 3rd August 2014: You can now watch me play the game, in the 30 minute video below (or click this link to open in a new window), in which I cover the basics of flight, hyperspace/supercruise travel, trading, and docking.

P.S. I couldn’t possibly fit all the artwork I have on ED into this one post, but if you request it in the comments section, I will post a few dozen more in an image gallery post later this week.

2014 Movie Preview: Pt III

SK2014MovRev

All the best things come in threes, so I’d better make sure that I don’t drag this out over yet another post this week. Also, since the movies I’m previewing are getting further and further away (these ones start in October 2014) as we go down the list, it is getting much more difficult to find images relating to the production… so I may start improvising a little now.

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Dracula Re-named

Dracula Untold  –
October 17th

So, Dracula, became Dracula: Year Zero, and now Dracula Untold. But is it? Haven’t we been told this story before? I seem to recall that no-one really much liked what Francis Ford Coppola had to say on the subject. Well, if a Hollywood giant like Coppola can’t get it right, what else is there to do but give the project to a man who has previously only directed commercials.

Gary Shore is not really treading entirely new ground; drawing on the widely held belief that Bram Stoker based the character of Dracula on real-life 15th century overlord, Vlad Tepes. From interviews I’ve seen however, it does sound like Shore is telling a much more interesting story than Coppola, who pretty much tried to tell us that Dracula wasn’t all that bad before he fell out with God and developed a bit of an O+ habit. The truth of the matter, if the stories of the inspiration for Dracula are to be believed, is that Stoker took Vlad III and toned him down a bit.

For those of us who remember vampires before they went all glittery and pouting, the thought of having your blood drained by an immortal bastard while we slept was a fairly horrifying prospect… but that is a peaceful, dizzying drift into a warm (if rather too permanent) bath, compared with what Vlad tended to do with people who didn’t laugh at his jokes. I’m not going to go too deeply into it here (as much as I am tempted to), but as many of you will be aware, Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, is usually referred to by the much more evocative epithet, Vlad the Impaler. In case you were wondering: No, this was not just a clever 15th century nickname for a well-endowed gentleman. He was so called because he is rumoured to have used over 40,000 people as life-sized pencil toppers… holding their legs apart and oiling a large stake, which was then… I think you get the picture. I’m sorry if you were eating a hot-dog or something while you read that. I should have put a disclaimer, or a spoiler-alert or something at the top of this post. Anyway, Vlad used to arrange these impaled people in concentric circles outside cities he planned to attack, or as a deterrent to his enemies (I don’t know about you, but this tactic would deter the fuck out of me), and the story goes that this lovely fella was the inspiration for Dracula; hence the stake through the heart, I would imagine.

Okay, maybe I did go too deeply into it, but if you wish to know more about the charming Vlad, check this out.

As far as the movie goes, it should be worth a watch. Just, maybe go without snacks for this one, eh?

The things some guys will do to get a date with Megan Fox...

The things some guys will do to get a date with Megan Fox…

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles –
October 17th

Once again, Megan Fox finds employment in a franchise based on a cartoon. Turtles are mutated by toxic stuff that we flushed; someone makes a movie about it; we flush that, and so goes the never-ending life-cycle of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

It shouldn’t be hard to discern my feelings about this film. If you can only see one film this week, make it the one with the stakes up the bottom. Unless you have kids. In which case… cover their eyes when it gets to that bit.

I have to admit, that looks like a hell of a maze.

That looks amazing… c’mon, someone had to say it!

The Maze Runner –
October 24th

Nope. This is not leaked CCTV footage of a thief who took a wrong turn after nicking a novelty tankard from the Hampton Court Palace gift shop, but the latest adaptation of dystopian fiction, this time from author, James Dashner.

A young boy with no memory wakes up in a community of 50 teenage boys, surrounded by a deadly maze. A day later, the first ever girl arrives.

Well, you certainly couldn’t ask for a situation with more tension. Throw in a box containing only one After-Eight mint and I think most cinema patrons would need chain-mail gloves to save their fingernails.

This will be the directorial début of Wes Ball, so it’s a very difficult one to call, but I think it would be difficult to mess up such an idea, so I’m gonna risk saying: Hit

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Interstellar –
November 7th

Those who are superstitious leave now. Especially if, like me, you are a fan of Christopher Nolan.

For me, this is the big one of 2014. I simply cannot wait to see this movie. And not necessarily because I think it will be an instant hit, but because I think Chris Nolan is one of the most talented directors working right now… and I’m kinda wondering when this ride is going to end.
You see, in my opinion (and I need to stress that not everyone agrees with this), Chris Nolan has never made a bad move as director or writer, but let me explain the problem with expecting too much from this movie:

The film revolves around a group of explorers and scientists from a resource-depleted Earth, poking their heads through a newly discovered wormhole to see what’s on the other side. All very good so far. Then, in an unsurprising move from Nolan, it stars Michael Caine. Excellent; no problems there. Anne Hathaway also joins the very interesting cast list, along with John Lithgow and Wes Bentley; all of whom are watchable and usually dependable. Sounds great. Then the first teaser trailer combines images of historical, pioneering moments in human history, with a beautifully written monologue which goes directly to the very heart of everything I feel most passionately, about human-beings and this little planet we inhabit, in a single line of dialogue I would love to have written myself “…our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.” And the monologue is read by….  Matthew McConaughey.

Oh…

I’m being tremendously unfair to poor Matthew here, I know. It’s a very, very minor point in an otherwise perfect-sounding premise. I just get so nervous whenever a new Chris Nolan movie comes out, because I have come to expect so much from him.

I suppose if there is one thing I should have learned by now, it’s this: When a fantastic cook tells you they are making a mouth-watering dish, but they’re going to use an ingredient you don’t ordinarily like… trust them to know what they’re doing.

Will this be a hit? Absolutely!

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Paddington –
November 28th

Paul King directs Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in this big-screen outing for Michael Bond’s beloved bear.

Paddington bear arrives at Paddington station from darkest Peru, where he is found and adopted by the Brown family. He is politeness in a little duffle-coat, and loves marmalade sandwiches; which he presumably eats from exactly the kind of paper-bag that Nicole Kidman couldn’t act her way out of!!

Paul King: Paddington was found with a note attached to his duffle-coat, which read “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” and you let Nicole Kidman onto the cast… Shame on you, Paul King… Shame on you. You just better pray my sister doesn’t find out.

Home2014

Home –
December 5th

Adapted from a children’s book entitled The True Meaning of Smekday. An alien race called the Boov have invaded Earth and renamed it Smekland. Whilst being relocated to Florida, teenager, Tip (so nicknamed because her first name is Gratuity) befriends one of the aliens, and adventurous stuff happens.

The Wikipedia plot summary for this book left me more confused than a vacuum-sealed horse, so I went over to the website for the book, at smekday.com (set up by the book’s author, Adam Rex), and was more confused than I was to start with, but at least I was confused and laughing. I recommend a visit.

Having visited the website, I am certainly tempted to buy the book… er… for my daughter, and with a plot as mental as this I believe the movie will be a hit; even with a cast which includes both Rhianna and J.Lo (coincidentally also the name of the alien befriended by Tip in the book).

I will definitely go and see this movie… with my daughter.

Also: Steve Martin as captain Smek? Where the hell did you find Steve Martin?

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That looks nothing like me! You are un-fucking-believable! What’s your name?

Exodus –
December 12th

Yep. From the book of the same name. I told you this was going to be a year of biblical epics, and with Ridley Scott in the director’s chair, it certainly will be epic. Captain serious has become the modern day David Lean, when it comes to epic movie-making… hardly surprising, since the briefest glance through Scott’s movies is enough to tell you that he set out to be exactly that. Kingdom of Heaven is so obviously his Lawrence of Arabia, it’s a wonder he didn’t call it Balian of Jerusalem.

Anyway, with one big ego in the director’s chair and another in the lead role, I’m surprised there hasn’t been an on-set explosion already… seriously, Christian Bale as Moses? If that isn’t like using plutonium fire-lighters I don’t know what is. I mean the man went bat-shit (see what I did there?) playing John Connor, and you give him Moses!! What’s gonna happen when he stands atop Mt. Sinai, screaming at God for interrupting him while he was writing “adultery”?

As I said in part one of this preview; Atheists appreciate a ripping yarn just as much anybody else, and I am quite a fan of biblical epics. A biblical epic directed by Scott? I’m there.

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Dumb and Dumber To – (Check the movie title out before you write and correct my spelling)
December 19th

I like both Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. And the Farrely brothers have made me laugh in the past, but I’m afraid the original movie did nothing for me. If you liked it, by all means go and see this one… but The Hobbit: There and Back Again gets it’s UK release on the same day…

just sayin.

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The Hobbit: There and Back Again –
December 19th

What did I just say?

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The Giver –
Release TBC

Hold the sniggering at the back there, you childish imp, the title refers to a giver of memories – specifically history – played by Jeff Bridges. The receiver, Brenton Thwaites, is selected to hold all the past memories of the time before Sameness, but is conflicted about his future within The Community after learning what the giver has to tell him.

Yet another adaptation about a seemingly idyllic community on the verge of discovering just how isolated they are from reality. The children’s novel, by Lois Lowry, upon which this film is based, has received a fair amount of criticism because of concerns about its suitability for young children, but that hasn’t stopped it selling over 5 million copies, or winning several literary awards.

Director, Phillip Noyce hardly has what you might call a golden touch, but Jeff Bridges has been one of my favourite actors since I first watched Tron, back in 1982, so on this occasion I have to agree with Empire, who said:

“We’d go see Bridges and Streep sit and stare at the floor for two hours, so this would have to be pretty terrible to skip it.”

However, my wife said:

“Then again… it’s got Taylor Swift in it.”

She raises a good point.

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Black Sea –
Release TBC

Jude Law plays a freelance submarine captain (there are such things?) who searches… you guessed it… the Black Sea, for a submarine full of… NAZI GOLD!!

Sorry, since watching Bill Bailey do a sketch about UBS, I can’t write or say the words NAZI GOLD!! without doing that. You can imagine how this has hampered my lifestyle.

So… this Jude Law movie then. Whaddaya think then?

I’m going to reveal a decidedly weird and freaky fact about myself here, previously known only to my wife and one or two others: I watch submarine films when I’m poorly!

There. I said it.

I have no idea why this is, although, since I also tend to enjoy movies where the action is mainly confined to the inside of a spacecraft at such times, I suspect it’s because I’m a bit of a claustrophile. For the hard of thinking, that just means that I feel more secure in confined spaces. You might say I’m a closet claustrophile if you wanted to make a really bad pun (turns out I also like making really bad puns), but all this really means for the movie is that I’m very likely to watch it whilst coughing through a duvet. Since this is hardly the sort of endorsement that directors and production companies like to see on the backs of their DVD cases, I suppose I’ll have to say something like… This movie will get a 6.5 out of 10 with most audiences. Once again, Jude Law is another one of those actors who is worth watching in most things.

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Well, as a certain speech-impaired, porcine thespian was fond of saying: That’s all folks. Regular blogging on slightly more varied subjects will resume within the week. I don’t know how long it will continue, since I have another film to edit over the next month, but I’ll try to get ahead with my posts, so that I can at least release one-a-week for… a couple of weeks.

I will certainly keep you updated about Sleepless Knight’s entry into the Empire: Done in 60 Seconds awards. If you want to find it in the meantime, and you live in the UK, go to jamesonempirediss.com and look for The Lord of the Rings – In 60 seconds –  by James Moors (that’s me, in case you’re one of the 3 people reading this blog who doesn’t know me personally). If you don’t live in the UK, just go to the same link and pretend to be from the UK.

Take care.

2014 Movie Preview: Pt II

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Welcome back. Unless you are discovering my blog for the first time, in which case go back and read this first. In the highly unlikely event that you are obstinate enough to refuse to go back, but still interested enough to go forward… you will require the following information: Empire magazine’s recent list of 100 Movies You Should See In 2014 inspired me to write my own previews of the ones which stood out for me, for good reasons or bad. I am trying to give a clear decision on whether or not I think these movies will sink or swim, and I encourage you to do the same in the comments section of this blog, which you can reach by clicking the little speech bubble thing (hopefully it will have a number in it by the time you read this).

For those who were here last time: this is where the fun begins. Because if you thought part 1 of this list had some weird ideas in it… you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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Edge of Tomorrow –
May 30th

Watching the trailer for this movie sparked off a discussion between my wife and I, where I found myself defending Tom Cruise, so I think we can all agree the world has fallen right off its little wheels and into the bath (don’t ask me. I just write ’em as they spill out of my brain), but hear me out. Tom Cruise started out playing pretty action heroes, and he got along quite well at it until his marriage fell apart, Nicole Kidman (hardly Olivier herself if I may say so) slammed him in the press, and he seriously over-played his “affection” for Katy Holmes, using Oprah’s sofa (how scared am I right now that the WordPress spellchecker doesn’t recognise the word blog but it has no problem with Oprah?). One viral video about Scientology later… and his career looked very, very dead. But, he went into hiding for a while, did a few slightly self-deprecating roles, in a fairly unconvincing attempt to show us that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and now he’s back to playing the action hero. Look… he’s not my favourite person, and if he ever finds a woman willing to marry him again, I don’t think we’d be too paranoid to insist on checking her brain for circuit boards, but otherwise, he’s paid his dues… let’s just watch the movie.
Which reminds me: This one involves a time-loop, try-until-you-get-it-right, alien war… type thingy. The trailer sells it quite well for me, even if it is just Groundhog Day in an alien-repellent, mechanised prom dress.

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Maleficent –
May 30th

Did you ever wonder at the harrowing story behind the evil queen in Sleeping Beauty? Did you ever stop to think how she was feeling… or what drives a queen to evil, infant-cursing madness? Well, the writers of Maleficent did, so that you don’t have to. And, on May 30th, you can watch this Sleeping Beauty prequel and presumably have your eyes opened to what those smug fucking Disney Princesses aren’t telling you. The times they are a changin’… it’s not good enough any longer that the pretty people get their happy ending, and the uglier ones slink back to the forest with their forked tails between their legs, or get their heads blown open with oxygen tanks because they took a few little bites out of some humans… and Robert Shaw. Admittedly, Angelina Jolie in the role of Maleficent does make it kind of hard to argue the whole Uglyness Rising angle, but if you’re the sort of person who always felt bad for the poor henchmen in Bond movies; trying desperately to make us understand how hard it is to get a regular job when your dentist moonlights as a welder… then this is for you. I am one of those people, and I have to say that this movie looks pretty damned good, so I’m going to risk looking stupid and say: Maleficent will be a hit.
If nothing else, it’s nice to start seeing movies that tell the villain’s side of the story. I mean, where’s the harm in learning about Dracula’s traumatic past, or why Darth Vader became twisted and evil?

Wait…

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A Million Ways to Die in the West –
June 6th

I seem to be one of the only people who thought that Seth MacFarlane’s Ted was a steaming pile of crap. Mildly amusing for a second, if it seems to resemble Justin Bieber… but I don’t want to crouch down close enough to smell it, and then watch it for 2 hours!
With that in mind, you may not care what I think about A Million Ways to Die in the West, but surprisingly, I think it may just be watchable. For one thing, it takes place in “the west”, where Sheep farmer, MacFarlane loses his girlfriend after he backs out of a gunfight. For another, Charlize Theron is the wife of a gun-slinger, who then teaches him to fight back.

Also, Liam Neeson’s character has special skills which involve shooting things… imagine that.

Personally, I find MacFarlane’s brand of comedy hit & miss to say the least. His occasional genius shows through in superbly executed pieces of observational humour… which unfortunately sit atop a mountain of dick jokes and fart gags. He’s messing in my territory here, since westerns are my favourite genre of movie after science fiction(yes; I loved Firefly), so I think I’m being more than generous when I say: this might be surprisingly good.
There’s certainly no room for middle ground here. It will either be an instant comedy classic, or The Lemon That Killed Manhattan. (if you’ll excuse me I’m off to write that screenplay)

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Transformers: Age of Extinction –
July 10th (UK)

Michael Bay: Please stop making these movies.

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Why so serious?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes –
July 17th

After 10 years, Caesar and his hairy buddies from Rise of are still smashing things and being violent to humans, to teach them a lesson for smashing things and being violent to everything else.

I avoided watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes for a few months, because I heard those immortal words “Don’t bother… my dad saw it and said it was shit!”. I heard these words again the other day, and admittedly the latter case was a little more complicated than “…said it was shit”, but I tried to imagine if I stopped watching or doing things that my parents or friends thought were rubbish, boring or stupid. In my case, this would probably mean having never done very much at all…
…Oh.
I am writing a movie preview list, but I openly encourage you to go and see these films for yourselves, and make up your own mind. I will be doing.
We’ve all said things like “That’s 2 hours of my life I will never get back.” after watching a movie we didn’t much like, but what were you honestly going to do with those 2 hours? Cure cancer? Save polar bears from extinction? Needless to say I eventually watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes… and okay, it wasn’t great (for one thing James Franco didn’t lose any limbs), but it wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. If you want to see a really bad movie you don’t have to look much further than the original Planet of the Apes sequels. These are better, even if they don’t have Roddy McDowall in them.

I’m pretty sure this movie is not going to break any box-office records, but it won’t be the worst 2 hours you’ve spent.

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I told you not to stand there if you insisted on showing-off your nail-polish, Mila!

Jupiter Ascending –
July 25th

Now here’s where things get really weird. And for this movie I’m going to start by directly quoting Empire’s own plot summary, because… well… see for yourself.

“An unlucky Russian janitor called Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) meets pointy-eared interplanetary warrior Caine (Channing Tatum) who has been sent by the Queen of the Universe to kill her. It turns out that Jones has an extraordinary destiny because of the way the stars aligned when she was born, and now her DNA could mark her as the universe’s next leader.”

I think you can see from that description, that on the face of it, this sounds like the lamest, laziest, most idiotic plot for a Sci-Fi movie you ever heard. This sort of thing is the reason that Science Fiction isn’t taken more seriously. This is precisely the sort of thing my mother means when she says Science Fiction is lazy writing. This sort of thing makes my favourite movie genre very difficult to defend.
Empire start their preview by saying “This all seems bonkers, but…”. But what? It’s “original and ambitious”? So is trying to raise £300 million to make a movie with an all-child cast, about a man who grows a mobile phone where his head should be, and takes over Sainsbury’s in a desperate bid to control the life of Jamie Oliver… but you wouldn’t want to go and watch it (seriously, if someone makes this now, please don’t watch it). Ambition and originality are no guarantee of success. If they were, we’d all be driving Sinclair C5s by now. No, some ideas are just shit, no matter how original or ambitious they are. On top of all that, this is a movie from the Wachowskis, who, lest we forget, also gave us the second 2 Matrix movies, and Cloud Atlas. I don’t care that they gave us The Matrix and V for Vendetta. By my reckoning, that still puts them at least one movie in the red. Why do we trust these people? George Lucas gave us THX 1138, American Graffiti, 3 great Star Wars movies & Indiana Jones… but he makes 3 terrible movies and everyone wants his head on a spike! I am going to watch this movie simply because Sean Bean comes from my home city, and I need to see what he does with a “Han Solo-type” character. But that’s just the morbid curiosity of a fellow Dee-Dah… it is NOT a reason for anyone of sound mind to go and see this movie.

Ask yourself: Would I put my money on a movie made by George Lucas these days?

No?

Then don’t watch this!

Next!

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Fifty Shades of Grey –
August 1

I don’t think you really need me to tell you if this will be any good, do you?

Fifty Shades of Grey, is a movie, based on a book which started life as Twilight Fan-fiction…

I’ll say that again: Twilight Fan-fiction!!

This twitter feed is much more entertaining

Do what you like. Personally, I’m tempted to start carrying a parachute and an inflatable life-raft onto planes, in case this is the in-flight movie.

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Guardians of the Galaxy –
August 1

Marvel comic adaptation in which Vin Diesel will play a tree.

Erm… I am not as familiar with Marvel comics as some other members of the Sleepless Knight team, but from what little reading I could bear to do on the subject, the back-story for these guys is more complicated than translating the plot of Fight Club for an ancient and peaceful race of fist-less sea-creatures, with no concept of Brad Pitt… Seriously; read this. If you couldn’t get through that either, some of the highlights are: Universal teleportation… A space-station with a telepathic, Soviet space-dog as its chief of security… A fire-resistant tree-being with a more limited vocabulary than most washing-machines… and characters with names like Starlord, and Rocket Raccoon; who is… a raccoon.

I’m not really capable of thinking too much about this. I think it will be rubbish, but a film with a premise this weird has to have cult appeal at least.

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The Expendables 3 –
August 15th

How this franchise has been allowed to get this far is an absolute mystery to me, but there are apparently people who will watch a reality TV show where Tattoo artists from across the USA compete in “extreme” tattooing challenges… so I guess there’s an audience for everything.

If you like explosions… save your money and buy some fireworks.

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The Equalizer –
October 10th

The only reason I used to watch former CIA operative-cum-vigilante, Robert McCall, in the 1980s TV show, was because, in case you hadn’t worked it out by this point, Sleepless Knight is not simply a random nickname, assigned to me by Seventh Sanctum. I never slept well, even as a child, and watching Edward Woodward gun down pimps at 4am was marginally more interesting than watching static go beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep… for several hours; which is all the other UK channels did at that time in the late-80s. As for the movie version? Well, McCall will be played this time by Denzel Washington, who, even in his worst roles, is at least watchable.
I imagine this movie will occupy the same space in your collection as John Q and Man on Fire. If you don’t understand those references, you’re probably not going to like this film.

Now… I did warn you that the second half of Empire’s list was a lot crazier than the first. So, as much as I hate doing  this to you again: I’ll see you in part 3.

Get over the rainbow

It’s not very often I get the chance to bash religion, homophobia and politics all at the same time, so I will join other bloggers, journalists and newsreaders around the UK in thanking the great and powerful Wizard of Oz (or whatever your particular religion calls him) for Councillor David Silvester of the UK Independence Party.

I consider myself thankful for David Silvester for two reasons:

  1. He gave me something more interesting to write about than the 007/Harry Potter fusion dream that I had last night.
  2. Because of the joy I felt in seeing virtually the whole of the United Kingdom, join together in mocking Mr. Silvester for being a bigoted, God-bothering, lunatic.

Before anyone reacts to my wording there, I use the term God-bothering because I am quite certain that if, against all suggestion of common sense, it turns out there actually is a God… I am quietly confident that he would be just as embarrassed by Mr. Silvester’s comments as was the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage.

For the enlightenment of those readers of this blog, living outside the United Kingdom: floods are a fairly common thing in our country these days. It used to be that the only people over the age of five who wore wellies in the supermarket, were people with horse-boxes attached to the backs of their Land Rovers. Then, in July of 2007, Britain suffered its worst floods in 60 years… followed, a couple of years later, by the worst floods in… well, 2 years. After that it seemed to become a regular thing, and a pretty good reason not to live in Cornwall, in case you didn’t have a good one already.
Anyway, it seems that not all UK residents are convinced that Global Warming is behind the recent surge in flooding incidents. Councillor Silvester is entirely convinced that we would need far fewer umbrellas and inflatable rafts, were it not for the Prime Minister’s decision to legalise gay marriage.

For those of you not living in Texas, I’ll let the shocking 16th century-ness of that statement sink in for a moment.

Yes, you read it correctly; Councillor Silvester believes that God is punishing the United Kingdom for legalising same sex marriages. In a letter to his local paper The Henley Standard, Councillor Silvester said

“The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.”

He claimed to have warned the Prime Minister about such an unchristian move, and blamed him for the floods… saying

“…the lesson surely to be learned is that no man, or men, however powerful, can mess with almighty God with impunity and get away with it.”

Apparently “…everything a nation does is weighed on the scales of divine approval or disapproval…” which makes me wonder how we weren’t buried under an avalanche of fire and brimstone during the reign of Britain’s Got Talent, but I guess even The Almighty finds it difficult to take Simon Cowell seriously.

So, how does Councillor Silvester respond to allegations of homophobia, following this public denouncement of the Government’s decision?

Well, he told BBC Radio Berkshire in a recent interview, which can be found here, that he loves gay people enough to pray for them to be healed.

Once again… I think we’ll have a moment of silence while the monumental bigotry of that comment sinks in. Feel free to break something if you like. I’ll play some elevator music until you come back…

..*$??!!&*£?%!!**….

Are you ready to continue? It’s almost over.

The reason this blog post has only just been published; several days after Witchfinder Gene Councillor Silvester made himself look so very stupid, is that (as regular readers will know) I usually try to make some sort of cartoon to accompany my blog posts…

The problem with making memes/cartoons about bigoted stupidity of this magnitude, is…

Emergency

It’s so very, very easy.

Brokeback

And once I got started…

Birdcage

I found it hard to stop…

Moses

I had 2 or 3 more, but if I had carried on much longer, no-one would even have remembered David Silvester’s name by the time I got this blog post finished. So I suppose I’ll leave it there and allow you to stew over all that has been said.

In other news, Sleepless Knight’s entry into the 2014 Empire Done in 60 Seconds competition is now up on Empire’s website. You can find it HERE… If you live outside the UK, you may have to visit the jamesonempirediss.com FIRST, and claim to be from the UK by selecting it from the drop-down menu. Then either click this link again, or simply find The Lord of the Rings – Done in 60 Seconds (by James Moors), on the webpage. If ALL these thing fail, do not fear, I will post a straightforward YouTube link to it, as soon as it is up on the jamesonempirediss YouTube site.

Next time I will post about something much more fun. Until then… it occurs to me, that without the original context in which it was said, my customary farewell might always have seemed rather odd to my readers, and with that in mind I shall stop using it from today onwards. So, for the very last time: Whatever you do David Silvester… don’t bend over for the soap.

Back very soon.