When the revolution comes…


Brand Che – what the fashionable rebel is wearing… for the last 50 years.

“When the revolution comes, marketers will be the first against the wall. Closely followed by lawyers.”

It’s a pretty strong statement to be throw-away, but it was thrown away in my direction a couple of weeks ago and, to be honest, I was in a quandary as to how to respond.

I was at a cast party held to celebrate the end of the run for a play that my wife had starred in, hosted at the theater owner’s home, when my wife mentioned that I worked in marketing. Out of the blue, or maybe red, the significant other of one of the actresses decided that it was perfectly okay to inform me, someone he’d never met,  of my rank in the revolutionary firing squad.

Despite having only a short tenure in the world of marketing, I felt the urgent need to defend myself and attack him. I wanted to tell him that his choice of jeans was the result of that manufacturer marketing the brand as the ‘western” jean and that he fell for it. I wanted to point out that his “skate” shoes were a statement he’d made because of of the way the shoes were marketed to hipster skate-y type people and not over-aged teenagers eager to hold on to fading youth. I really wanted to point out the huge marketing that went into his choice of a Dickies shirt and how, despite his feelings about marketing, he’d entirely bought into it with his money and earnings and mixed-up image.

But I didn’t.

I didn’t even point out that the smartphone he was flipping through, browsing his iRebel app, was demonstrated him buying in to the millions of dollars of marketing that put his phone in his hands. I didn’t even mention his stupid greasy haircut with some hyper-marketed hair product in it that, even when brushed forward, still didn’t hide his receding hairline.

I did nothing. I just ignored him.

And it’s still eating at me.

What I did was to ignore him and continued talking with the theater owner about why the shows suffer from (sometimes) low attendance, what efforts are made with connecting with a larger audience and letting them in on the fun, and why the local chamber of commerce seems to be ineffective in better demonstrating the town’s charm and appeal.

I ignored the statement in part because I didn’t want to cause a scene or create an argument in someone else’s house. That’s poor behavior regardless of almost any provocation. The larger reason for not responding, however, was that I was conflicted.

You see, for a long time I may have said the same thing. “Come the revolution, advertisers will be the first against the wall.”

Notice I said “advertisers.”

It’s a common belief that advertising and marketing are the same thing and, probably due to my relative inexperience in marketing, it’s not easy to see the dividing line. It took me a while to really come to some sort of idea about why I am in marketing.

So, why am I in marketing? It wasn’t a path I decided upon when I was a kid, that’s for sure. When all the other kids wanted to be train drivers and firemen, I didn’t stand up and declare my intention to be a marketer. I kinda fell into it.

But that’s not to say I’m not fully invested in it. I am. And the reason I am is because I believe in the things I market.

I market a couple of things for two distinctly different products, for want of a better word. One of them I am paid to market and one of them I do on my own time. But the one common theme is that I absolutely, 100-percent, believe that by marketing these two very different products I am fighting for the rights of the consumer to be absolutely aware of and educated about their choice and to provide them with the best possible product that gives them the best available outcomes.

Both of the things I market are, to a degree, misunderstood and/or not well-received because there has been a vested interest in keeping the status quo. But I’m driven by a core belief that I’ve always had the rights of the consumer, the underdog, the individual are more important than the profit motives of the big corporations. In doing what I do, I believe I am fighting for the rights of the individual by showing them what they are not seeing, illuminating their choices, showing a better, more empowering way of doing things and forcing industries that hitherto ignored those consumer rights to recognize them and do things differently.

And if I can show the consumer to the corporations, and the corporations to the consumer, and make that mutually beneficial connection, or build that collaborative relationship, then the market will improve. Consumers will be better served and the service providers will prosper by it, not despite it.

That’s why I am in marketing.

So why am I not in advertising?

Funnily enough, or maybe not if you’re in advertising, I’m probably about to piss a whole lot of you off because the only real ethical differentiation I can make is that, apart from the advertising segment of a whole marketing campaign, I perceive advertisers, certainly agency advertisers, as money-driven mercenaries unafraid to push a poor product for the cost of a cup of coffee or a new BMW. Perhaps advertising needs a pr campaign?

I’m not saying that advertisers necessarily disbelieve any product they advertise, but I can’t really see that there’s a relationship-building element behind the campaigns. It’s a monetary rush to create an unnecessary market or exploit an existing one without an ethical belief in the mutual advantage to producer and consumer or a regard for the consumer beyond the necessary handing over of large amounts of cash.

I’ve just painted a whole lot of you with the same broad brush, haven’t I? Sorry, but I saw this definition that describes the difference between the motivations of advertisers and marketers:

Advertising: The paid, public, non-personal announcement of a persuasive message by an identified sponsor; the non-personal presentation or promotion by a firm of its products to its existing and potential customers.

Marketing: The systematic planning, implementation and control of a mix of business activities intended to bring together buyers and sellers for the mutually advantageous exchange or transfer of products.

It’s the bit in bold that’s really the clincher for me. I could never do what I do for a product or service that I don’t believe is mutually advantageous. Please correct me where I am wrong.

Meanwhile, when the revolution comes, middle-aged Brand Che teenagers grasping feebly onto a rapidly diminishing youth by shopping the grunge brands and combing and gelling their hair forward while being flippantly unenlightened about their own choices and in denial of their susceptibility to advertising will be the first against the wall.

Andrew Gold


Just found out that Andrew Gold passed away last month at the age of 59. Music can bring back strong memories and feelings that are indelibly linked with a particular time or place or person and I can’t ever hear this song without experiencing a surge of that delicious, fuzzy lovesick feeling from my early teen years.

RIP Andrew and thank you for providing a part of the rich soundtrack to my early adolescence that, 30 years later, I still blush at.

Apocalyp$e $till on $chedule


http://youtu.be/_eyFiClAzq8

Radio host now says Judgment Day coming in October – US news – Life – Faith – msnbc.com.

Seriously fella, give it up already. The only thing that was raptured this weekend was the last remaining shred of credibility you may have had amongst your hard-of-thinking followers. Oh, and the top hose on my Dodge and $260 from my account. But I suppose $260 was a small price to pay compared to the $100 million donated to Harold Camping and the Church of the Invisible Rapture over the last 7 years, some of it representing the entire life savings of a few of his adherents.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not for one moment blame Camping for these people’s losses. That blame must lie with the individuals gullible enough to buy his spiritual snake oil. But then, by extension… Nope, I’d better not go there.

There are calls for Camping’s Family radio group to give back the money. Why? I mean, not only has he spent most of it anyway (although he could probably sell the 70+ radio stations and cover the refund) but what lesson would that teach? That it’s okay to buy your redemption rather than just being a good person anyway? Mind you, that’s not exactly new or unique behavior. It’s been happening for at least a couple of millenia.

There are a few ads on TV right now that elevate consumerism above accomplishment, so it’s hardly surprising that people want to buy their way into heaven. In one, the first of two women can speak 6 languages, a couple of degrees etc, but the second woman declares her superiority because she just vought 3 dresses for $20 or something like that. Another ad has a voice-over about who cares if you have never been to the moon, won a world series, cured an illness or some such, so long as your car looks like a million bucks with the application of a no haze car wax.
What. The. Frog!

It is no surprise, then, that a tranche of morons want their money back because the Rapture was invisible. What’s the big deal? To 90% of the world, every other guy’s religion is invisible. You paid to promote something you believed in, so believe in it. Who cares if no one else believes it? Most of us didn’t anyway.

No, these people, sad as it may be for them to have lost all their money, jobs, houses through NO ONE’S FAULT BUT THEIR OWN, should learn the lesson that it’s not okay to be an idiot. In fact, where it has caused real hardship for their dependents, they should be investigated for criminal neglect though, also without doubt, their children are just a few in a long, long list of people to suffer at the hands of religion.
There are also calls for Camping to be prosecuted for false promises, failure to deliver, and fraud. Why? He said there was a Rapture coming. He didn’t promise to deliver it. He promised to advertise it. And he did. He may be a deluded old fool, but anyone with half a brain knew that anyway.

No, if anything, the only action taken against Camping should be a lawsuit that prosecutes him for the waste of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, for advertising everything and delivering nothing. But, despite the hospitals and schools and medical research and medicines for the poor, and homes for the homeless, and food for the hungry that the money Camping wasted on advertizing the end of the world, that would be extremely dangerous and politicians would never allow it. They would never vote to prosecute a man guilty of the egregious waste of millions of taxpayer money because it would declare open season on every religious organization in the world. And every politician.

From The Ledge · May 21, 2011 Judgment Day!


From The Ledge · May 21, 2011 Judgment Day!

I must run with a bad crowd. Rapture Day arrives and not one, let me repeat, NOT ONE, of anyone I know has been taken home to Jesus today as part of The Reckoning. I guess that means that the Tribulation (the 5 month period of disaster leading up to the big Good Bye) has also not started.

Which means that my life is just normally a load of bollocks.

For no reason.

Crap!

Happy Rapture Day folks.

May 21, 2011 Judgment Day!


The second coming of Debbie Harry-The Rapture starts Saturday.
Blondie – Rapture

I think I have two weeks vacation to use but apparently Judgment Day begins next Saturday so I can only fit in 5 days. I wonder if I can be paid out for the remainder or if I’ll just lose it. Why did no one tell me this so I could plan my time off around the end of the world? Just why do they call it The Rapture anyway? Personally, I’m not too thrilled about it.

Actually, reading through it a bit more, Judgment Day starts next Saturday, but The End Of The World doesn’t happen for another 5 months. Phew! That means I can still go to San Antonio next weekend and enjoy myself. Just a thought… am I the only one that hears  Da! Da! Daaaaa! when I read the words “The End Of The World” as though it’s part of an episode of The Goon Show? Eccles and The End Of The World! Da Da Daaaaa! Neddy Seagoon and the Phantom Rapture Blower of Old London Town! Da Da Daaaaa! Thrrrrrp!

Anyway, I digress. What I’m really curious about though, is why it takes 5 months between Judgment Day and The End Of The World? Is there an appeals process? Is there a small problem with the omnipotent/omnipresent thingy? Or is that who long it takes to persuade all the men to castrate themselves, put on white sneakers and drape themselves in purple? (The order is important here, I think. After all, if you’re headed for The Rapture, and you’re about to meet your maker, I don’t think you want blood spatters on your shoes. First impressions and all that.)

Not that I’m complaining, of course. In that extra 5 months I’ll accrue another week and a half vacation and I’ve been wanting to go home to England for a visit for about 16 years now, so maybe I can squeeze it in.

So, errm… yeah, Judgment Day starts Saturday folks. Do everything you’ve always wanted to do ASAFP… and then repent like mad before October 21. I don’t know what time October 21, but I know it’s a Friday so I think it will probably be okay to leave work early.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

What's Up, Papa Doc?


Prince Harry - following in the family's goose steps.
I’ve been asked a few times lately what I thought of The King’s Speech. I’ve been told there are some fantastic acting performances by Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush. I can’t answer that question on a critical level because I haven’t seen it and have no intention of seeing it. Ever.

My wife is an actress and through her expertise and critical eye I’ve learned a lot about why an actor’s performance is good or bad, effective or not. Her expert knowledge has enabled me to crystallize those vague evaluative feelings into specific thoughts as to what I did or didn’t like and provide reasons for those opinions. In many ways, learning why I feel something works, or does not, has opened my eyes to movies I never would have watched before. Films that I would not normally enjoy because of the theme or storyline become engaging because I can examine the performances detachedly, while movies that I like often become doubly enjoyable for the same reason.

Even so, would be more likely to watch a musical comedy about Papa Doc Duvalier than I would be to watch The King’s Speech. I can’t help but get the feeling that somewhere the spirit of Max Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel in The Producers, has been channeled and created a Springtime for Hitler for the 21st century.

To all intents and purposes, The King’s Speech is a light-hearted tale of an ordinary, everyday, impaired and abused member of the monarchy who is thrust onto the throne by the abdication of his brother who ran off with a divorced American woman leaving the crown behind. The new king struggles to overcome a stammering stutter to deliver an important radio speech to the nation at the outbreak of the war against Hitler’s Nazis. And he does it by employing a, gosh… he employs a commoner. And an Australian one at that!

Those poor old royals, eh? Struggling with ordinary impairments just like us common folk but with the added weighty burdens of privilege and power and public expectation. Oh, those poor suffering royals. How awful it must be.

Not only is the idea of a monarchy, constitutional or otherwise, anachronistic, unfair, and unsavory in this modern age, that their lives are financed by taxes on workers and the inherited wealth of dubious inbreeding adds injury to insult.

Oh, but it’s nice to have a royal family, eh? It’s nice to have a national figurehead to bring in tourist dollars and to sing about in anthems at sports games. And of course the British film industry would be much worse off if it didn’t have a film about the class system and the inconsistencies of privations of nobility to portray.

Of course it’s not just about being angry that a family enjoys privilege at the expense of the rest of us. It’s the Nazi sympathies and connections I object to. George VI, the king whose speech is the subject of the film, was christened Albert Frederick Arthur George Saxe-Coburg-Gotha but was endearingly known as Bertie to his family. At the outbreak of World War I, the family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor to counter the rising anti-German feeling in Britain.

Of course renouncing a name doesn’t renounce sympathies. At a time when Jews were being rounded up and placed in concentration camps, Bertie didn’t need a speech coach when he entreated Lord Halifax to encourage the Germans to stop Jews fleeing the country. The Jewish Chronicle, in an article written in October 2010 stated that good old Bertie “tightened the noose around German Jewry’s neck” and details a list of the royal family’s Nazi connections.

More notoriously, his [King George VI’s] brother, the former King Edward VIII, who became the Duke of Windsor after abdicating in 1936, was sympathetic towards Hitler. Even in 1970 he told one interviewer: “I never thought Hitler was such a bad chap.”

Other royals also had links to the Nazis. Baron Gunther von Reibnitz, the father of Princess Michael of Kent, was a party member and an honorary member of the SS. And the brother of Princess Alice, a great-aunt to the Queen, was a Nazi who said that Hitler had done a “wonderful job”.

But surely that’s all in the past now. Let’s just ignore the Nazi connections and enjoy a nice little movie. 70 years is a long time to forget such grievances even if Prince Philip, the notoriously racist husband of Queen Betty the Second, still occupies Buckingham Palace. And Windsor Castle. And Sandringham, etc, etc. This is the same Prince Philip (whose family name was Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburgs) who once said on a state visit to China “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.” And the same Prince Philip whose nieces were married to Nazi officers and weren’t invited to the wedding in 1947 in case the public found out. (Philip’s youngest sister, Princess Sophie of Hanover, had married Prince Christopher of Hesse-Cassel, who was an SS Colonel attached to Heinrich Himmler’s personal staff and became head of the sinister Forschungsamt – a security service under Hermann Goering’s command that carried out surveillance on anti-Nazis.)

But surely the next generation will be better. We’ll have the pomp and circumstance of Prince William’s royal wedding coming up soon and what better way to show the world how regal we are than to flaunt the unearned wealth of a family of inbred Nazi’s learning to live again. The next generation will provide a much better example. Prince Harry’s a bit of a worry though. He seems like a chip off Philip’s block. Let’s hope he never has to make a speech to the public denouncing Nazis and racism because, well, he’s got a little bit of a track record there, referring to people as “pakis” and “ragheads” as you can see in this YOUTUBE link.

Still, in a few years time I’m sure it will make a nice little film. And I won’t be watching that one either.

What’s Up, Papa Doc?


Prince Harry - following in the family's goose steps.
I’ve been asked a few times lately what I thought of The King’s Speech. I’ve been told there are some fantastic acting performances by Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush. I can’t answer that question on a critical level because I haven’t seen it and have no intention of seeing it. Ever.

My wife is an actress and through her expertise and critical eye I’ve learned a lot about why an actor’s performance is good or bad, effective or not. Her expert knowledge has enabled me to crystallize those vague evaluative feelings into specific thoughts as to what I did or didn’t like and provide reasons for those opinions. In many ways, learning why I feel something works, or does not, has opened my eyes to movies I never would have watched before. Films that I would not normally enjoy because of the theme or storyline become engaging because I can examine the performances detachedly, while movies that I like often become doubly enjoyable for the same reason.

Even so, would be more likely to watch a musical comedy about Papa Doc Duvalier than I would be to watch The King’s Speech. I can’t help but get the feeling that somewhere the spirit of Max Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel in The Producers, has been channeled and created a Springtime for Hitler for the 21st century.

To all intents and purposes, The King’s Speech is a light-hearted tale of an ordinary, everyday, impaired and abused member of the monarchy who is thrust onto the throne by the abdication of his brother who ran off with a divorced American woman leaving the crown behind. The new king struggles to overcome a stammering stutter to deliver an important radio speech to the nation at the outbreak of the war against Hitler’s Nazis. And he does it by employing a, gosh… he employs a commoner. And an Australian one at that!

Those poor old royals, eh? Struggling with ordinary impairments just like us common folk but with the added weighty burdens of privilege and power and public expectation. Oh, those poor suffering royals. How awful it must be.

Not only is the idea of a monarchy, constitutional or otherwise, anachronistic, unfair, and unsavory in this modern age, that their lives are financed by taxes on workers and the inherited wealth of dubious inbreeding adds injury to insult.

Oh, but it’s nice to have a royal family, eh? It’s nice to have a national figurehead to bring in tourist dollars and to sing about in anthems at sports games. And of course the British film industry would be much worse off if it didn’t have a film about the class system and the inconsistencies of privations of nobility to portray.

Of course it’s not just about being angry that a family enjoys privilege at the expense of the rest of us. It’s the Nazi sympathies and connections I object to. George VI, the king whose speech is the subject of the film, was christened Albert Frederick Arthur George Saxe-Coburg-Gotha but was endearingly known as Bertie to his family. At the outbreak of World War I, the family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor to counter the rising anti-German feeling in Britain.

Of course renouncing a name doesn’t renounce sympathies. At a time when Jews were being rounded up and placed in concentration camps, Bertie didn’t need a speech coach when he entreated Lord Halifax to encourage the Germans to stop Jews fleeing the country. The Jewish Chronicle, in an article written in October 2010 stated that good old Bertie “tightened the noose around German Jewry’s neck” and details a list of the royal family’s Nazi connections.

More notoriously, his [King George VI’s] brother, the former King Edward VIII, who became the Duke of Windsor after abdicating in 1936, was sympathetic towards Hitler. Even in 1970 he told one interviewer: “I never thought Hitler was such a bad chap.”

Other royals also had links to the Nazis. Baron Gunther von Reibnitz, the father of Princess Michael of Kent, was a party member and an honorary member of the SS. And the brother of Princess Alice, a great-aunt to the Queen, was a Nazi who said that Hitler had done a “wonderful job”.

But surely that’s all in the past now. Let’s just ignore the Nazi connections and enjoy a nice little movie. 70 years is a long time to forget such grievances even if Prince Philip, the notoriously racist husband of Queen Betty the Second, still occupies Buckingham Palace. And Windsor Castle. And Sandringham, etc, etc. This is the same Prince Philip (whose family name was Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburgs) who once said on a state visit to China “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.” And the same Prince Philip whose nieces were married to Nazi officers and weren’t invited to the wedding in 1947 in case the public found out. (Philip’s youngest sister, Princess Sophie of Hanover, had married Prince Christopher of Hesse-Cassel, who was an SS Colonel attached to Heinrich Himmler’s personal staff and became head of the sinister Forschungsamt – a security service under Hermann Goering’s command that carried out surveillance on anti-Nazis.)

But surely the next generation will be better. We’ll have the pomp and circumstance of Prince William’s royal wedding coming up soon and what better way to show the world how regal we are than to flaunt the unearned wealth of a family of inbred Nazi’s learning to live again. The next generation will provide a much better example. Prince Harry’s a bit of a worry though. He seems like a chip off Philip’s block. Let’s hope he never has to make a speech to the public denouncing Nazis and racism because, well, he’s got a little bit of a track record there, referring to people as “pakis” and “ragheads” as you can see in this YOUTUBE link.

Still, in a few years time I’m sure it will make a nice little film. And I won’t be watching that one either.

I was a mail order bride


Mick Fleetwood pioneered the British "male" order bride business.
An article from the Association of Psychological Science got me thinking about accents. To make myself more easily understood to American work colleagues, I’ve made a conscious effort to adapt my speech. Consequently my family thinks I sound American while most Americans think I sound like a Brit—although one they can generally understand. I soften my natural Liverpool accent and use American words rather than British ones and, generally, I don’t have much of a problem being understood. It’s an effort but it’s worthwhile to avoid repeating myself half a dozen times to make myself understood.

The one thing I absolutely don’t do is try to sound American. For one thing, I do a horrible American accent; it sounds like Eric Idle in a bad Monty Python sketch. The second reason. More importantly, is that I consider it insulting when strangers hearing me immediately launch into a fake, Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins” accent that they seem to think is amusing and, worryingly, accurate.

While those occasions are more overtly offensive, although most certainly innocent in intent, I’ve worked with a couple of Germans here in America and never once heard an American start saying things like “Yah vole, mine hair.” I dated a French woman and never once heard an American launch into “Wee, wee, ooh lah lah.” And I’ve certainly never heard an American start talking like Apu from the Simpsons when meeting someone from India for the first time. Why? Probably because it would immediately be construed as racist to make fun of someone’s accent like that. So perhaps I should take it as a complement when people start talking about the funny way that “other” people pronounce words. By forgetting that I’m also a foreigner, maybe that’s their little way of accepting me. I once had a work colleague, oblivious to the inherent racism and any possible insult to me, ask for my help rather than the on-call programmer, who happened to be Indian, because, “You’re one of us.”

Consequently, while it’s not usually overt or deliberate, it’s almost impossible to forget that I’m a foreigner living in the US so it’s nice to get out fishing with my friend, Keith, who is also a Brit. I can relax doing something I love and don’t have to worry about whether he’ll understand my natural accent and any particularly British idioms. I also don’t have to translate any British references into an American equivalent.

It’s relaxing to drop the almost continuous effort to fit in, so it was particularly unwelcome when some idiot, who’d bothered him before because he disliked people who fish, told Keith to “Go home!” And then ran away. Kids, eh? Except that this fella was probably older than me and as offensive as they come.

It was quite a shock actually because in all the years I’ve been here, with the exception of the in-laws, I can probably count the number of times when I’ve been made to feel unwelcome. For the most part people I meet while out fishing are friendly, interested in the fancy equipment I use for fishing, and welcoming. The only real problem I have is, apparently, pronouncing the word “carp.” For such a simple word, it’s amazing that I simply can’t pronounce it in a way that is understood.

“You’re after what? Cop?”

“No, carp.”

“Cap?”

“No, CARP.”

“Corp? What are they?”

“No. Carp. C-A-R-P. Caaaarp.”

And then the realization finally hits. “Oooooh. Carp. Do you eat them?”

I’ll sometimes try to avoid this frustrating exchange by saying “Smallmouth Buffalo.”

And then they’ll sometimes be a bit funny, at least I hope they’re trying to be funny, saying“You don’t catch buffalo in a lake.”

“You do if they’re water buffalo.”

It does get a bit frustrating but I realize that for the most part the intent is innocent and, after all, I’m the foreigner here. Something I am made tediously aware of whenever I go to the shops, or Starbucks, or anywhere else where I have to speak. More so in Texas than anywhere else I’ve lived, people seem insatiably curious about why a Brit should be living here. When you’ve explained the story of your being here at least once a week for 15 years, it tends to get a bit old, so I started having fun with it.

“How did you get here?” I’ll be asked.

“I drove. I only live up the road.” I smile as I respond.

“Nooo, how did you get to America?”

I’ll push it a bit further. “Well, they have these things called airplanes. They’re like big shiny metal tubes with wings, like a bird in the sky, but big enough to carry people.”

“Okay, but are you visiting?”

“Oh no,” I’ll say. “Apparently America got over the whole revolution thing and allow us to live here now.”

Eventually they get the message that I’m still not American enough to want to spill my life story to complete strangers… yet.

But even a bit of light-hearted fun gets a bit old after a few thousand times, so, being the storyteller (i.e. habitual liar) that I am, a few years ago I started making stuff up.

I’ve informed a lady at the local grocery store that I was kidnapped by pirates and shipwrecked off the coast of Florida. Another clerk was told that I escaped the draft in Canada by slipping across the border. I think she actually believed that one. Another passerby, having watched me land a good sized carp (C-A-R-P), was wide-eyed as I spilled the story that I was working as a biologist for the British embassy, on a special assignment to study American fish. I once convinced a US marine in a bar in San Diego that I was here to set up a dairy for my family back in Italy. I didn’t even change my accent. On a stag night in Denver (honest!) I told a stripper that I was an Oxford University professor writing a paper about the American adult-entertainment business. There have been a few stories told and usually people take it all in good fun.

I do this, of course, to hide the fact that I’m really a transgendered mail order bride.

Naming the Ghost


What sadist places a maze of pre-fabricated, high-rise flats to re-house the inner city slums between two wealthy golf courses?

I consider myself a skeptic and, in the absence of the dis-proof of a “God”, an agnostic rather than an atheist. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t believe in a higher power, I do. And she manages the money, pays the bills and tells me when I forget to put stuff away. But while I don’t tend to be the hard-nosed “show me the science” type of naysayer, at least not anymore, the fact remains that I don’t put any faith in a conscious spiritual power that is responsible for my existence and capable of helping me win the lottery. But equally, that skepticism about taking an absolute stance on matters of our spiritual and physical selves means that there are things I believe in at which, perhaps, other skeptics would scoff. Like ghosts.

But then, I find ghosts easier to believe in because I’ve seen one.

At ten years old, I was already displaying proto-atheist tendencies and refusing to go to church with my Mum who, accidentally, had rediscovered her own faith when she decided the kids needed the moral guidance of a church she’d stopped attending. We were Catholics, of course, as many Scousers of Irish heritage were, so I attended St Cyril’s Catholic primary school.

Cyril’s was lodged in Naylorsfield, the more westerly of a string of three council (for which, read “public,” “government,” or “cheap houses paid for by the local authorities to keep the poor people from dying in posh neighborhoods”) housing estates. Netherley, where I lived, sat between Naylorsfield and the snooty-sounding “The Woodlands.” St Cyril’s Junior School wasn’t that large, perhaps 300 children (75 children to a year spread across 2 classes, and ages from 7 through 11) and we were all from one of the three council estates. Posh kids had their own schools up the hill in Woolton and Gateacre and Allerton.

The council estates were fairly new-built on the outskirts of Liverpool, abutting farms and open countryside. They were built to house the people who had previously lived in the inner-city slums and, perhaps, to get them out of sight. Being poor isn’t very pretty, apparently. Or very smart either.

One of my two best friends, Martin Humphries, still had an imaginary pet spider named “Bidey” at age ten, and it happened to be smarter than Martin. My other best friend was Steven Harris who was the fastest runner in the school and marginally smarter than Bidey. Stephen Harris lived in “The Woodlands” and occasionally I’d go to see him during the holidays. Stephen wasn’t allowed to come to my estate to see me because Netherley was too dangerous, but that was okay because it wasn’t too far a walk Stephen’s house. All I had to do was turn left out of our house, turn left down the street past my Nanna’s house (she lived at number 22 and we lived at number 7), past a school, past Skellington Fold (which was just the coolest name for 4 blocks of flats!), and walk through the underpass (honest, Mum, I didn’t go across the main road) under Caldway Drive, and from there it was open fields.

Kind of.

There were houses to the right, off Wood Lane, which formed the lower part of The Woodlands, but in front of me, and

Halewood Plantation and Workhouse used to be adjacent to where Netherley was built a century later.

 to the left, was open fields and farmland. I had escaped the world of Liverpool council estates and could almost hear the birds coughing. The field in front of me was, perhaps 200 yards long and bounded on the left by a small brook (Netherley Brook?) and trees and brambles. At the end of the field the trees on the left joined with a copse on the right, leaving a narrow gap. Beyond the gap. The fields opened out again even wider for another 300 or 400 yards with woods and farmland on the left, and Wood Lane and houses on the right. Stephen lived at the very end of the field, at the corner where houses met Netherley Brook and the woods. (I’ve decided that this must be the same Netherley Brook I’ve seen pictures of and named as such.)

Stephen and his sister, Jane, who was a year younger than me and a little hottie, for as much as I knew what that was, would play in the woods and near (and sometimes in) the brook. We’d swing over the brook from overhanging trees, play hide and seek, and sometimes we’d just tie Jane to a tree and go play football. We didn’t, however, ever threw bricks at a hornet’s nest while someone’s brother was urinating on it, requiring hospital treatment for many, many, many stings in sensitive places. No. We didn’t, but my cousins did!

So after a long day’s playing and climbing trees and tying little sisters up, it was time to go home. Back through the top field, through the gap in the woods, across the bottom field, under the underpass (I told you already, Mum, I didn’t run across Caldway Drive and that Shaun’s a liar!), past Skellington Fold, past the school, past my Nanna’s house and home.

Half-way down the top field, there was a tree-stump. At least a hundred yards from anything. I know, because it was the starting point where we used to play hide and seek sometimes, and it was at least a 30 count before you got to the woods to hide. One day I noticed a kid sitting on the stump as I was walking home. In Netherley, you generally learned not to look twice at any kid you didn’t know so I tried to pay him no attention and carried on walking, studiously looking down. As I passed within, maybe, 30 yards of him, I looked up. He was just another kid, a little older than me perhaps, but by no more than a couple of years. He was wearing the oddest clothes. Brown pants that finished at the calf. No shoes. An off-white shirt that would later become popular with the New Romantic movement of the 1980s but which, when I first saw it, looked more like the 1880s’ vintage. I smiled a tight “I’m tough” smile and nodded slightly. Unfortunately I also waved in a very “Oh Shit! I just blew my cover about being a tough-guy” kind of way. That could be fatal in the Netherley I grew up in, but he just smiled and nodded back. I remember thinking it was best to take no chances though, so I put my head down and walked on a few paces more staring at the grass three feet in front of me. Wary, I looked back after 10 paces or so to see if he was following.

Gone.

He was not on the tree-stump. Not crouching behind it either (it really wasn’t that big of a stump) and I spun to see where he was. There was nothing to hide behind for at least 100 yards in either direction but he was gone. It had been maybe 6 or 7 seconds since he nodded at me and there was no way he could have just vanished like that. I got scared and started running. In seconds I was into the darkening woods, through the closing gap, across the lower field that had grown to six miles long, over Caldway Drive, (Okay, so yeah, I did run across it that one time, Mum. Honest, it was only once.) past Skeleton Fold, past the school where I had nightmares about Roman legions marching, torches blazing, over the playing fields in the dead of night, past the scary Alsatian that was tied up by a heavy chain so that it only ate one kid a day, past my Nanna’s who was developing Alzheimer’s and went a bit crazy sometimes, and into the house and my bedroom and my bed.

I may even have peed a little.

I don’t remember telling anyone because, of course, I didn’t want to be laughed at, but I do remember that I only ever went back to Stephen’s once. And I walked the long way round through the lowers Woodlands estate were we once found my Dad’s missing car, glass smashed and minus an engine.

After that summer, I went on to grammar school because I’d passed the Eleven-Plus with good-enough grades to get into St Edwards College. Stephen and Martin Humphries went to the local comprehensive school. Bidey, I seem to recall, went to St Francis Xavier and then on to Oxford, but I may be mistaken.

It was haunted by druggies and addicts during the 1980s, but was the Haunted Wood given that name for older reasons?

So here’s the odd thing. Okay, another odd thing. Years later when Al Gore got around to inventing the internet, a whole new world of nostalgia opened up. People started taking pictures of where they lived and posting them on the web, and genealogists and amateur historians and people like me who had nothing better to do started feeding the world-wide web with data, and more data and more and more data than had ever been accessible from one place, any place, ever before. And one of those pieces of  information is a black and white photograph of the woods where Stephen and I and Shaun and Richard and the hornets used to play. And the photograph is titled, “Haunted Wood.” There it is, right there on the left, see?

Taken by Paul Farley on a visit back to Netherley. There is a fascinating piece written by Paul and Naill Griffiths (from where this picture is taken) about how Netherley came about and what it was like growing up there and it’s definitely worth a read, if even for its social history value. Sadly, I can find no other explanation as to why this wood is called Haunted Wood other than a reference to it being haunted by druggies and addicts. But it seems right. It fits.

I’ve searched more and more into this over the last few years, and still cannot find out why the wood may be so-called, but as soon as I heard the word “Haunted” I remember that I’d heard it called that before when I was a kid. It was something the older kids used to say and maybe it was just a generational thing that stuck for kids of my age and continues to resound in middle age.

Another odd thing is that where Netherley and The Woodlands estate were built was the site of a Victorian dump. Previously a part of Little Woolton, the part of Woolton down the hill from Much or upper Woolton Village, it also bordered Halewood Plantation and the Workhouse, where poor people went when to work off their debts. (see map) It stands to reason that kids would work the plantation and the workhouse in the 1800s, just like my ghost perhaps.

So now that I feel I know much more about where my ghost might have lived, and worked, I was determined to give him a name. Looking for period names, I searched through the archives of burials registered in Much Woolton and came across Joseph Cragg, aged 12, buried January 28th, 1835. His brother, Thomas Cragg, was only 7 when he was buried the very same day.

Haunting, isn’t it?

Links that provided images and research information:

http://www.workhouses.org.uk/index.html?/Prescot/Prescot.shtml

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=41306

http://www.flickr.com/photos/41557568@N04/sets/72157623618731084/comments/

Black Friday Smackdown


http://columbiachronicle.com/life-size-scavenger-hunt/
You can park but you can't hide. Credit: Andrew McArdle THE CHRONICLE
Here in the USA, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and is so-called because it traditionally marks the first day of the year that retailers operate wholly in the black. Until that point, any gap between cost price and sale price of goods simply covers the annual cost of doing business. At the behest of merchants, various US Presidents have moved Thanksgiving over the years (from the third Thursday to the last Thursday to the 4th Thursday of November) to coincide with Black Friday. From Black Friday on, retailers are making 100% profit on everything they sell. Which means sales. Big sales. And where there are sales, there are bargains to be had, making Black Friday the single biggest American shopping day of the year.

Even after 15 years in the States, I’d never been to a Black Friday sale. The doors open at 5am, which is way too early to go shopping, and you hear stories of insane people physically fighting over bargains. Last year, an employee opening the doors at a Wal-Mart in New York was trampled to death as people surged past him to be first to get the best deals. Undeterred, this year I decided I’d give it a go. There were a couple of things on offer that I wanted and could save maybe $200, or more, just by getting up a little early. Besides, I live in Round Rock now, a suburb of Austin, with low-crime rates, high employment, and a million miles away from where I lived last year in Santa Maria, California’s rudest city and nirvana for illegal immigrants, unemployed farm laborers, petty crime, and Wal-Mart Supercenters.

I woke up at 4:30, got dressed, checked my e-mails, grabbed my keys and wallet and headed for the local Wal-Mart, which opened at 5am. The roads were quiet, the traffic minimal and, as I approached the store at just about 1 minute to 5, I thought to myself, “Oh, this is gonna be easy. Breeze in, leisurely select my bargains, and breeze right out again.” Was I right? Was I hell!

As soon as I turned into the parking lot, it became apparent that this was going to be a little troublesome. Cars were honking horns, the parking lot was full, and people were waiting in a disorderly queue from the front door of the store right around to the Auto Service dept at the side of the warehouse-sized building. It took me 15 minutes to find a place to park. Actually, it took me 5 minutes and then 8 minutes to find a spot, but the first two times I was too slow and some other, more experienced, Black Friday maggot had wriggled into the parking space ahead of me, leaving me speechless the first time and foul, abusive and ranting like a lunatic the second time. The third time I played chicken in my truck with a girl in a small car and won only because I was prepared to park my vehicle right up her arse if necessary.

Having tasted my first victory, I felt sure I could deal with a few people huffing and puffing round the shopping aisles. I’ll just go in, pick up a $300 Sony PS3 bundle of fun, a few other things, and leave. I’m not gonna hang around and make it any more difficult than it has to be. And anyway, at least the queue has gone now so I don’t have to wait to get in.

The Japanese have a very popular train system that requires the train company to employ people to push commuters into the trains, packed as tight as sardines, so that travellers can go to work, get home again, and get felt up by anonymous strangers while being entirely unable to slap the roving hands away. It’s a fetish of some kind, I’m sure. If these train packers ever wanted to make a few extra dollars over here, they could work for Wal-Mart on Black Friday and utilize the exact same skill set.

It was hell inside. A seething mass of consumerist maggots swarmed, writhed and wriggled over the carcass of economic recession, picking it clean of $2 bath towels, $10 blu-ray movies, and $400 hi-def televisions. The luckiest maggots had commandeered each and every one of the shopping carts, including the electric ones usually used by the disabled and terminally fat. These shopping carts were everywhere, piled high with TVs, DVD players, bicycles, furniture, clothes, picture frames, cameras, camcorders, and, in one case, a fully assembled table that must have been the floor model and the last one of its kind left to sell. At times it seemed that the carts were not exactly being pushed by shoppers but rather they’d captured a shopper and were loading themselves with bargains while pulling their helpless victims along with them. I pushed on, swept in by the crowd behind me and the hope that surely the whole store can’t be this bad, shuffling along like someone hobbled at the knees, slowly inching towards the electronics and games area.

I was caught in a tide of people oozing towards my destination when suddenly the movement ceased to avoid a speeding family of five. Mum, Dad, and three small children careered recklessly by, each of them blindly pushing an overloaded shopping cart in the general direction of the checkouts. I watched as the convoy parted the waves and was almost knocked down by the shopping cart behind me attempting to cut me down at the ankles. I grabbed the shoulders of the man in front of me to stop myself from hitting the floor and he laughed as I shouted “F**king HELL!”

Turning round to express my dissatisfaction with the way my achilles had been attacked, I found the offender to be a short lady, probably in her 60s.

“Excuse me, lady, watch where you’re going will you?”

She stared straight at me, her expression blank, her eyes blank.

“Do you mind? You just ran into me.” Still nothing. No expression. All humanity dead.

“F**king hell!” I said again, to no one in particular. Before I turned away, I swear her expression changed ever so slightly. Her new look said, “Get the hell outta my way, pussy boy. I have shopping to do.”

I shuffled on again, less concerned about getting out of people’s way than I had been previously. The rule that I’d grown up with about there being a 3-foot “personal space” exclusion zone was of no use to me now. I decided I was getting out of no one’s way and, if I could, I’d squeeze my bulk into that narrow gap ahead of me and push people back as much as they pushed me. I’m a big guy, very broad in the shoulder, and because I’ve just bought a house and have had a lot to do, I hadn’t taken a shower in a couple of days and I’d forgotten to brush my teeth before I left the house. This should be easy, right? People should be diving out of my way.

Except that I’m a push-over when it comes to being pushy, a rube when it comes to being rude, and novice in the “It’s all about me Wal-Mart Stakes.” I was pushed, jostled, beaten for pace, and carved up and cut-off every step of the way. Mostly by women and small children. When I got to the video games section the special PS3 bundles were gone and I was almost happy about it because it meant I didn’t have to try and carry one to the checkout. 10 minutes later I was out the door, metaphysically battered, bruised, bloody and beaten to a pulp. If I’d been wearing a straw hat the brim would have been snapped off and resting around my neck. It was 5:40 already and I’d achieved nothing but still needed a coffee and a shoulder to cry on. I guess I’m just too polite to get a Black Friday bargain.

At 6am I’d been through the Starbucks drive-through, finished my latte and now sat outside Home Depot waiting for the door to open at 6am. I saw that they had Christmas trees, real ones, for less than $30. I figured I might as well get one while I was in the area and surely a hardware/home improvement store wouldn’t be so busy. Well, the queue outside was nowhere near the size of the Wal-Mart one so I was optimistic. I watched from my car as the minutes ticked towards 6 and, three minutes early, the door opened and the queue quickly vanished inside. I took my time, walked in, grabbed a cart (My second victory of the day!) and turned towards the garden center. While everyone else around me whizzed by with carts laden with BBQ grills, washer/dryer combinations, ovens and other appliances, I found myself alone, in the dark Garden Center, looking for a Christmas tree. After a few minutes a store assistant appeared and helped me select a tree to be trimmed, netted, and placed on my cart. While those inside raced around in a strange demolition derby version of supermarket sweep, I browsed through the Christmas tree lights, bought a stand, and some pine tree conditioner to add to its water. When I was done I prepared to pay for my purchase and leave.

“You’re the first one,” said the assistant when the tree-wrangling was over.

“The first Christmas tree sold today, eh?” Well, I thought, that’s something I suppose.

“No,” he replied. “The first one we’ve sold this year.”

And with that final victory, I left the store, took my Christmas tree home, and I’m about to take a painkiller and go back to bed. It’ll probably be another 15 years before I join the Black Friday maggots again. If ever.

Riots Cure the Summertime Blues


As May approaches, clocks begin to wipe their faces, sweating hands grasp for summer months, and calendars simmer and melt away. When not beguiled by promises of lethargy, the just reward for months of stress, the human mind naturally turns to thoughts of what to do with summertime. Hazy fantasies play out upon the mind’s eye until the heartless voice of reason demands something a little more productive than months at the beach.
Only the lucky few can get away from it all and spend the summer traveling, drinking Mai Tai’s on Daddy’s yacht, castigating the servants for incorrectly chilling the Chablis. The rest of us need a vacation! With Exxon and Chevron bloated like artery- striking leeches, gas prices rule out the chance for a cheap trip to Puerto Vallarta or even a weekend road trip to Vegas.
The economy is a mess. Pay rates would be laughably insulting if our stomachs weren’t busy rumbling. Foreign wars and trillion dollar deficits haunt our daydreams like Banquo’s ghost. What can we do to relieve the stress?
It’s time for a riot!
Riots are destructive, costly to society, bad for morale, and morally reprehensible. They can also be a great deal of fun when done properly and can provide the perfect antidote to summer’s ennui. However, even a riot takes careful preparation and meticulous planning.
To organize the perfect riot one must ideally live in France. The French are the undisputed masters of cuisine, champagne, and riots. In fact, the French habitually riot over bread, labor laws, immigration, bad Champagne harvests, social integration policies, and silly things like the Brits trying put boeuf de la vache folle on Parisian menus.
Tagging along on a prêt à porter civil dispute can provide for a perfectly enjoyable time but these do not happen along on a regular basis. Do not despair. You can organize a perfectly fun-filled riot right here at home.
It is not necessary to have a cause, dispute, or grievance to organize a riot but without one, they will become tired and dull and unlikely to feature on CNN. Even more dangerously, you will become a social pariah, and future events will be met with the same enthusiasm as fund-raising casino nights and keg parties.
Luckily, with the economy in the tank, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Ukraine, school loans about to come due, Trump, the rise of right-wing popularism, and rights, healthcare, and and immigrations issues at the top of the summer’s hit parade, devising a theme is not difficult. However, one must beware of cliché. Themes like tea, taxation without representation, and sports have been done to death. Be inventive. Take a risk. Try organizing a “Free Melania” riot in honor of our nation’s First Lady. It may not attract many participants but cachet is often more important than popularity and the more bizarre your themes become, your reputation as a niche riot organizer, and attendances, will grow. However, don’t be too tame. There’s nothing worse than a riot that only reaches the level of civil disobedience. It looks bad on your record.
For the less status-conscious among you, attendance may be key. A less elite riot can be just as enjoyable for the more gregarious but, like a surprise party, cannot succeed unless plenty of people attend. This means inviting more than your parents and strange Uncle Mildred. Unless your name is Oprah and you have a daily TV show and a monthly magazine, mere word of mouth is not enough to garner the attentions of the riot-favorable public. Here is where being a cyber geek becomes advantageous. Maintaining a blog, a social media profile, or any form of Internet presence are an investment that cannot be underestimated. Twitter and a roster of “friends” longer than the Hollywood blacklist is a winning lottery ticket just waiting to be cashed, but be careful for anarchists and revolutionaries that are really undercover FBI agents or Uncle Mildred. Even worse, make sure they are local to you and able to afford the bus fare to the venue. A PayPal or Venmo account is useful if you need to subsidize the rioters’ transport costs. The creation of flyers is accessible to anyone with access to a computer and a hacked copy of Photoshop. Often these can be found at your college, dead-end job, or dead-end college job, and a selection of eye-catching colored paper may be readily purloined. What you lose in selectivity by randomly handing out flyers is often gained by the diversity of rioters you attract. The inherent unpredictability of mob-mentality can be a thrill in itself.
Select a location far enough from your home so that flames from torched SUVs won’t singe the herbaceous borders or dry out the soil crucial to a begonia’s welfare. Remember, begonias have a delicate fragrance that can often be spoiled by the pungent scent of burning tires. The downtown of large cities are popular spots for riots due to the prevalence of corporate offices, news media, and the inner-city poor that will often join in if there’s a possibility of sticking it to the man or obtaining a 42-inch plasma for the two-room, three-family tract home.
Dress for success. While showing up to a riot in an elegantly tailored, lightweight Van Gils suit may make a statement, you may find yourself the target of your very own riot and there’s nothing worse than scuffing your favorite Cesare Paciotti loafers while trying to escape the great unwashed. Similarly, don’t dress in sweats or camouflage, as you are likely to be featured as “person of interest” number one on the local news. The best bet is to dress in smart jeans, a designer polo, and Reeboks. This outfit is guaranteed not to attract too much attention and the sneakers may be useful if things get nasty and a rapid exit is required.
Some extra tips may also be useful. Have a lawyer on speed dial on your cell phone. If the theme of the riot is civil liberties, the ACLU number is especially beneficial. Getting to the riot may be tricky as public buses often refuse to negotiate burning asphalt. Instead, park your SUV or station wagon where the riot is least likely to spill over. Contrary to popular perception, more prosperous areas of town still provide the safest parking. Riots tend to either be quickly contained or migrate to poor areas of town.
Scheduling can be a tricky area. Try not to organize your riot to coincide with Superbowl Sunday, or games five, six, or seven of either the Stanley Cup or the World Series. Similarly, if the World Trade Organization is in town, hold off for a week or two or you run the risk of losing the credit for all your hard work. Better still, go along and take notes. You can always learn from the mistakes of others.
Try not to feel guilty for organizing, attending, or simply enjoying a riot. Remember, even as long ago as 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to James Madison, “I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms are in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people, which have produced them. … It is medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” Jefferson was serving as the U.S minister to France at the time!
If a vacation if beyond your budget this summer, try a refreshing riot. With the right amount of effort, planning, and wholehearted participation, a riot invigorates and infuses the soul with enough joie de vivre to last until Halloween.
Even Jefferson would approve.

Underworld: Evolution Really Bites


“Underworld: Evolution” stars Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman, reprising their roles as Selene and Michael from cult hit, “Underworld.” If you didn’t see the first movie, you may need a little background detail to get you started.
Selene, you see, is a vampire who, prior to meeting and falling in love with Michael, used to be a death-dealer (it’s similar to being a drug dealer but with less repeat custom) bent on assassinating as many lycans (werewolves) as possible, all while wearing skin-tight rubber, corset, and black leather storm trooper boots. Meanwhile, Michael is a doctor who doesn’t realize that he is the direct descendant of a man whose wacky genetics spawned both the lycan and the vampire bloodlines. Michael subsequently becomes a bit of both but Selene loves him anyway and the couple proceeds to irritate both lycans and vampires, jealous of this unnatural love affair.
Unwilling to sit down, have a friendly chat, and work out their problems with this inter-species coupling, the vampires and lycans become a little boisterous in their objections and Selene and Michael are forced to do the only decent thing left, which is to shoot, stab, slice, dice, shred, disembowel, eviscerate and decapitate as many of them as possible. The course of true love never did run smoothly, even for blood-sucking immortals, and so the first movie ends with Selene and Michael facing an eternity of squabbling in-laws intent on making the lovelorn duo a tad uncomfortable.
Ah, love. It’s a classic tale, a bit like Romeo and Juliet with fangs, and the star-struck duo are undead in the end.
So there’s the background. However, if you didn’t see the first movie, don’t worry because “Underworld 2” repeats everything you need to know in a series of grainy flashbacks and “blood memories.” What’s more, it only takes ten minutes!
What “Evolution” doesn’t explain, however, is how the story shifted from a gothic American city to a rural Eastern European setting replete with communist-type soldiers. Nor does it explain why Selene is still wearing the same stunning outfit that looked great on the dimly-lit mean streets of underworld America but which must be a little chilly in the snowy mountains of Czechoromangary. (Not that I mind, of course.)
Instead, the sequel starts six hundred years before the end of the first movie. Apparently, the sequel-that-starts-as-a-prequel is meant to introduce some new characters, including Willie the Werewolf and Marcus the Big Bad Bat, the ill-fated brethren spawn of simpering Alexander Corvinus, and to explain the deeper reason why Selene and Michael are going to be having a spot of bother for the next 90 minutes.
Setting the scene for the rest of the movie, “Underworld 2” opens with a battle between the lycans and vampires. The lycans are as scary as semi-claymation animatronics can be, while the vampires are real actors but less lifelike than the lycans. The blood and gore is so overdone it becomes laughable within the first 15 seconds. The comedy does not stop there, however. In one shot, a lycan jumps from a roof, completely misses his target, and then appears to feel somewhat foolish about the whole affair and walks away shaking his fuzzy head as if wondering if he can catch a gig in a John Carpenter movie instead.
The role of a simpering Alexander Corvinus is played by great Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi, who seems a little embarrassed to have been caught with his hand in the Hollywood cookie jar. Marcus the Big Bad Bat, the son of Corvinus, is played by Tony Curran. I used to work for a builder named Tony Curran. I think he was more menacing than Marcus. Even though Marcus has incredibly dexterous wings that do double duty as implements of torture, Tony Curran had a fiery Irish temper, an assortment of fierce-looking tools, and a randy daughter named Maria who was secretly teaching me the building trade in her own inimitable way!
Willie the werewolf, Marcus’ brother, is played by… Oh, I really don’t care by this point. He’s hardly in the movie anyway and he has a fuzzy face. You’d never recognize him in the street so it really doesn’t matter.
I won’t ruin the plot because the writer, Danny McBride, and director, Len Wiseman, have already done that. Wiseman and McBride were responsible for 2003’s”Underworld,” a sleek, stylish and subversively sensual work that delivered an interesting twist to the vampire movie genre. The sequel, unfortunately, is a formulaic exercise in special effects and overkill, overt sexuality rather than implied sensuality, and finding as many different ways as possible to terminate the in-laws.
“Underworld: Evolution” really is a bad movie. However, that’s not to say that you won’t be entertained. The action is spectacular, the unintentional humor keeps you giggling when you’d normally be yawning, and the rapid pace keeps you gobbling the M&Ms and Starbursts until finally you think you’ve seen everything: a helicopter pulled from the sky, two spectacularly inventive deaths that cause the audience to applaud rather than gasp, a flying vampire being outmaneuvered by a Soviet truck traveling at five miles-per-hour up a mountain road, and Michael emulating Jackson Pollack. Quite what the symbolism is behind pulling a chopper into a cavern through a very tight hole followed by ripping someone’s head off, I’m not really sure but I’m glad I suspended my disbelief before the movie started or I’d have been tempted to rip my own head off before I’d even finished my candy!
There’s even a gratuitous sex scene that somehow manages to be less sexy as the clothes come off. Wiseman and Beckinsale married after the first “Underworld” movie so maybe he just didn’t want her to look like she was enjoying her sexual tryst with Michael too much while still putting his wife’s nudity on display to a paying audience. “Look what I found! That’ll be $8.50 please!”
“Underworld: Evolution” is a truly awful movie. The acting is terrible, the story is silly and convoluted, character development is non-existent, and the plot has more loose ends than a half-eaten bowl of spaghetti. Will I be going to see it again? You bet! Why? Because Kate Beckinsale is outrageously sexy and spends another fine 90 minutes dressed in the kind of outfit normally reserved for aficionados of underground fetish clubs or mistresses of TV evangelists.