Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's a lost child under the reign of King Death?

I’ve been a fan of Adam Nevill’s tales since Apartment 16 made me too chicken to switch off the lights at night. Since The Ritual made me obsessed with Scandinavian folklore and my Germanic  heritage demons that still haunted my mother (there’s a tale there). Since Banquet for the Damned created a discordant homage of twisted love to the dark beauty of St Andrews and the unfathomable horrors of a Lovecraftian mind. Since the cracked hands of my inner evil porcelain doll clapped enthustiastically to the Victorian horrors unfolding in House of Small Shadows.

So far Nevill has ticked all the boxes of my favourite kinds of fears.  It’s like he is an evil wizard pulling all my bad dreams out of my head like a rope of threadbare, rotten knotted handkerchiefs, twirling my demons like Mickey in a Fantasia directed by James Wan or John Carpenter. Only horror fans might appreciate that particular addictive (if not slightly masochistic) joy.

The paranormal is Nevill’s specialty, and I imagine it will always feature to some degree in his tales of doom. But there is a new side to him, which I can only describe as a modern Dickens. Last year, with the publication of No One Gets Out Alive, Nevill dealt with a modern horror that has touched too many of us: unaffordable housing and unstable jobs, leaving us in a poverty so grinding that we are at the mercy of rogue landlords. Nevill might have exaggerated it somewhat (although I have met people like Knacker McGuire, which makes this book all the more terrifying) – but there is illustration in exaggeration, and Nevill’s recent books have become sharp magnifying glasses pointed at contemporary societal ills, not instilling an indescribable horror but stirring up the familiar already there. He’s done poverty, the housing crisis and unregulated rental markets.

His latest, literally, goes more global. It’s not post-apocalyptic, it’s bang in the middle of it. Lost Girl is not just what some called a version of Liam Neeson’s Taken – though if you prefer to read it that way, you certainly can; it makes a damn fine thriller. But there’s more to it than just the Leeson meme we’ve all seen. Set in the near future, in a world that is increasingly crumbling under the effects of climate change in which man has gone past the point of no return – ecological disasters, food shortages and water rationing and the resulting mass migrations to escape their doom to not much more habitable areas – in a Great Britain that is collapsing under the strain of an apocalyptically hot summer, killing pensioners off like flies,  an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, where only the rich can afford to get decent food and protection from an insane organised crime wave so infiltrated in society that the police is as effective as a cocktail umbrella in a super hurricane of lawlessness…  a global horror, a likely horror, a horror bound to happen if one just spins the yarn further from now, a horror along the lines of Soylent Green and The Death of Grass, just more brutal and more likely, where “year after year, decade after decade, always worsening, always leaving things changed after each crisis. The past is unrecoverable. Extinction is incremental. There is no science fiction. Advanced physics, inter-galactic travel, gadgets? An epic fantasy, the lot of it. There is only horror ahead of us now."
In this setting of despair, a family move to Devon from Birmingham to escape the constant flooding, to a quiet, still somewhat idyllic place where self-sufficiency protects them from the worst of the food shortages. And it is just then when they feel marginally safe, that their beautiful little daughter gets snatched out of their front garden in a moment of carelessness, and disappears.

Lost Girl must have been incredibly uncomfortable to write – I had to think of Stephen King’s discomfort with Pet Sematary.  While there are autobiographical elements (a family moving from Birmingham to Devon with their little daughter), the thought of getting your toddler daughter kidnapped from right under your care is every parent’s nightmare. Add to that happening in a world where you can’t expect help from anyone, the law is impotent, a half-hearted investigation is abandoned due to lack of manpower, and the forces you are up against are gigantic. It’s an exploration of the agonies of a father trying to find his child, not knowing whether she is alive or dead, or what horrors might have happened to her. It’s about the lengths he goes to, at the peril of everything he has and is, to save her.

What makes this tale so much better than bland old Taken is how deeply you get submerged into the father’s mind agonising to the brink of insanity with the grief, loss, worry and uncertainty over his daughter’s fate, and the horrific fantasies tormenting him. What adds to the intensity is that he remains unnamed, known only as “the father” through the entire book, making him akin to an archetype that anyone can identify with, where names don’t distract from the state of his soul. It gives it the eerie effect that made McCarthy’s The Road such a haunting read.
The father is not blessed with the skills and coldness of an ex-CIA man; obsessive research and the help of an anonymous agent aids him in tracking down the captors, but often he is tormented by his humanity cracking under the necessity of barbarity to elicit answers from the most callous and vicious agents of his daughter’s disappearance, people so immersed in a world of corruption and violence that the father’s attempts to be threatening at first seem laughable to them. The dilemma the father faces is that in order to save his daughter from the monsters, he has to become one himself. He has to risk losing his ability to be a good father and his own sense of self just to get his child back.

The twist at the end I really did not see coming.  I will not give much more away other than that is left open  like a wound in which an infinitesimally small glimmer of hope  is the only balm on offer – but in times of doom one is grateful to at least have that.
Lost Girl is a relentless study of grief, loss, not just of a loved one but of humanity in crisis. Nevill skilfully puts it in a setting that makes this tale both larger than life and just a mere anecdote in the sea of peril slowly swallowing our planet, a brief zooming in on an individual fate in a flood of many, a new take on awe-inspiring horror.

The almost prophetic descriptions of a vast refugee crisis (considering Nevill wrote this book before the current problems hit the papers) was almost spooky in its timeliness. And the vivid details of his story-weaving sucks you right out of this world into the one he is master of.

As with all of his books, I advise that you read it at your own risk. But at the same time, you will be glad you did. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sexy time with Chicken


Because fucken Facebook is quicker to remove a cat video with a song in it than it is to remove hate- and violence-inciting, racist and extremist groups, I shall upload this incredibly sexy video of Chicken making sweet love to my duvet here and just link to it. 

Thanks, Jamie!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Edinburgh Free Fringe Review: Is he a bit Simon Jay?

Is he a bit Simon Jay is no spring chicken at Great Britain’s fair fringes. It has had previous performances in London, Brighton, Bath, Reading, Oxford and Milton Keynes. And now it’s moved up to bonnie Scotland, like a particularly weird-but-pleasant tingle.

This year’s Edinburgh Free Fringe venue is the Bohemian playground of the Counting House, home of 2013’s marvellous Austentatious. And similar to Austentatious’ downright bonkers improv Austen plays, during the various times I have seen Is he a bit, it has changed, adapted and matured.

Character comedies might be anything but few and far between at the Fringe, and needless to say, I cannot claim to have seen more but a fraction, but this was definitely one of the shows worth coming up for. It’s hard to describe this one: perhaps a wild cocktail of The League of Gentlemen meets Coronation Street on acid, spiced with a pinch of Stephen Fry.

Is he a bit Simon Jay (the character not to be confused with his “puppeteer”, the performer Simon Jay) is the tale of a man of curious biological condition – presented by a floppy claw hand sewn into a jacket draped over a chair, at his own autopsy by Dr Richard Wise, who begins to unravel the mystery of Simon Jay like a morbid Derek Acorah.

Simon Jay’s life spools backwards, revealing his story through the many characters that knew him, loved, hated or love-hated him.  There is his embittered soon-to-be ex-wife Belle, his mouthy chain-smoking tough-love jailbird mother, like a car crash from an EastEnders geriatric gang war, cockney geezer Pete from the Pub (my personal favourite) riddled by his grief for his alien-probed wife Mavis and conspiracy paranoia that caused him to take a gun to his wardrobe, pathological liar creator-of-facts Lee Buxton from the Job Centre, his employer Barry from the sewers, a copper, a priest, a deranged-randy creature called Uncle Terry that somehow strangely rings familiar to most, his tragically deceased sister and even an endearingly stammering Prince Bertie having to deal with a family crisis.

All in all there are 22 characters beautifully distinguished by acting, voices and accents, which culminate in a bizarre, frantic wedding scene in which Simon (the actor) switches between them with a fluid ease, a frantic-comic energy and the humble help of a scarf, which left the audience laughing helplessly. Some might mistake the moments of stabbing satire for crude humour, but it made this here viewer cackle.

Delightful also were the cleverly improvised responses to the noise from the venues next door, providing extra giggles for the audience when it could have easily thrown the performance. Mr Jay knows his role(s) inside out, and he easily charms the pants off his audience.

Is he a bit Simon Jay? is a type of comedy bordering on the surreal that could equally bemuse and bewilder as cause wild hysterics, with an amount of cultural references that tickle older viewers but might easily be lost on the young. Mind, its brief references to sexual deviancy makes it a 14+, anyway. Still, there is plenty of hilarity in it to make it thoroughly enjoyable for a variety of audiences... given that they are willing to let themselves into an experience entirely different from the myriad of bog-standard stand-up the Fringe offers.  Upon first watching it, it evoked a similar reaction in me as my first encounter with The Mighty Boosh did. But the initial “What the fuck am I watching” barrier needs to be broken for full enjoyment and the bonkers embraced in a bear hug, and once achieved, it becomes a thorough delight. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Friends, Depression and Futility

I am writing this as a particularly awful episode of depression is petering out. Slowly. My guts are still in a knot, my limbs like lead, I have lost a kilo in less than two days, but my mind at least isn’t in as much of a fog of agony and despair anymore. For now. I can't promise this won't be confusing and contradictory and downright messy and insane because my mind isn't working very well at the moment.

I’m really only feeling safe on here, partly because I am less likely to be heard, partly because probably the people who read it are only people who care. But I could be wrong even about that. That’s a fun fact about depression. It makes you question the most fundamental securities of yourself. Which I have never had much to speak of, anyways.
It’s not that these securities return. It’s just when the depression recedes – more a dirty oil slick than a wave of water, viscously retreating, rather leaving traces, than washing off clean – these insecurities are less painful, less prominent. I am a little bit more able to fool myself convincingly, I am a tad more able to live with the uncertainty, or ignore it. Pretend I’m fine to not scare or bore people off with my tedious mood swings. They come out of the blue; I can be fine one minute, and the next minute I’m on the floor, screaming, because someone has torn the shades off my eyes and I finally see things as they are.

And I can see how frustrating it must be for others to constantly have to reassure me, to not get through to me, to have to deal with the same shit over and over again.  I’m not the only one in my circle of friends with depression; I know what it’s like to feel helpless and paralysed because all you want is to give them advice, a tool, something to make those feelings go away, but nothing seems to work, there is nothing you can do to fix it. You can’t grasp why they feel a certain way, why they have those awful thoughts about themselves, because you love them and all you see is a wonderful human being... surely it should be obvious to them, too? It is unbearable to watch them suffer, and you feel angry at yourself for being unable to help and, foolishly, angry at them for giving you such a futile task. And then guilty for feeling angry. But that still doesn’t mean you don’t want to help them;  that still doesn’t mean you wish they hadn’t asked you for help.
And knowing about what it's like from the carer's perspective, I should know better when I’m down. But once I am there, I don’t feel like I’m lovable enough to be worth the trouble.

It is odd; somehow you’re not equipped for the job when you know nothing about depression, but when you do, when you suffer from it, which enables you to empathise, you’re weak and prone to get dragged into it, like two drowning people trying to save each other.

Last night it was almost too much. After crying for hours, my mind went cold, somehow, calm and sober (hah) and I went through my options. I considered for a moment to hand myself in, get myself “sectioned”, as they say. But the long term implications of that were too terrifying. What it would mean for my future, my ability to take care of myself even after I was “released”. My employability. Going “inside” would take away the last bits of life that I still enjoyed. Going in would mean losing my liberty, my rights to decide for myself. Is there anything worse? Even at my worst the only comfort I have is that I have the liberty to decide what’s best for myself, despite what the law says. How much liberty do you have strapped to a hospital bed? How much worse is it to still feel the same way, but unable to do anything about it, and even if it is just that final step?

A couple of years ago, when work stress brought me to the brink of a breakdown, I went to see my GP for help. I tried to describe to her what I felt, but I had phrased it badly; instead of saying that I have powerful intrusive thoughts of wanting to kill myself, thoughts that felt like entities that were covering my “true” mind like a blanket, suffocating, arresting, but still controllable and separate from me, I called them “voices”. I didn’t mean audible hallucinations, but boy, did my doc perk up. “You hear voices?” she asked, worried, and I quickly corrected that. Bless her, she was lovely and supportive, but in the end, she is a doctor with duties. And she told me that if she thought I was a danger to myself, she’d have to report it. I still feel a hot surge of adrenaline, of true terror, just remembering this.

So I ditched the idea of getting myself sectioned pretty quickly.

Instead,  I made plans to end it. I tried to figure out where the best spot would be to hang myself effectively from without suffocating slowly. When you’re in a particularly deep pocket of depression, you almost think about suicide methods as a sort of reward – which one would “feel” best, if that makes sense. I don’t know where it comes from, whether it stems from self-loathing, and wanting to inflict pain upon oneself. It’s not that I would want the most painful one. It’s not “want”, like you’d choose a peach off a supermarket shelf. It’s an urge. An ache. I ached for the most...forceful, final one. The one you would do the same way you’d angrily kick a wall, to tell whoever to fuck off. As if death itself isn’t forceful and final enough, the method needs to release the anger, too. Or be an extra kick in the face of the person you hate so much - you. So it’s always been hanging or guns to me (availability not considered). But then you need to balance it against which one would leave the smallest “aftermath”.
I wondered, after reading books about crime scene cleaning, what would be the cleanest and most effective way, least troublesome for T. to  clean up, or whether I should do it in the house or go off somewhere else. You know, if you sit in the bath and slit your wrists, it all sort of just drains away. Easy. I’d have to pack up my shit first, though.
And then I thought about how T. would have to tell my Dad. And how he would have to find a German speaker to write that email for him, or make that phone call.
And this is where it normally stops, my not wanting to put Dad through it. But this time I was cold, and I wanted to be scared about that, but the only thing that scared me was that I wasn't. Is that a sentence? Does that make sense?
And I would feel bad now, but I am still not in my right mind to truly regret it.

Last night I just wanted the slightest sign that somehow I was still loved enough to stick around. I know that sounds pathetic and like a massive pity party. But the thing with depression is that, once in its grip, you cannot feel or absorb love. You cannot imagine why anyone would love you; even if they do, it’s not real to you. Other people almost become an illusion. It’s not meant to demean them, it’s just how it is. And yet you need them to kick you awake, to become louder and more real than that hurricane of gloom in your head. When you’re overcome by that dark wave, your knowledge, your memories, your emotional assertiveness have as much weight and substance as spiderwebs. It takes NOTHING to shred them. This is why people keep crying for help even though they “should know better”, even though they have been reassured a million times before.

Which is why I feel so bad when I finally come out of it and see what I did to others. When they grow back into solid beings, and I see myself as a fool to not have taken or appreciated their affection, or ever even doubted it.

When the wave hits, my first instinct is to go on social media and cry for help. Because my friends are there. The problem is, everyone else is, too. And something like this will inevitably come across as attention-seeking. And then I am disgusted with myself for even thinking of going there. 

Of course you may argue, I could just call a friend. And I know many have offered. But again, as soon as I do that, isolate one particular person, I am giving them a burden they may not want, or it might be a bad time for it, but it’s not exactly something they can or would want to ignore. It’s like I am obliging them... and I am terrified they will resent me for it. Or become distant. Or leave. But I hate being like that. I HATE being needy. I know how it drives people away, frustrates, annoys, and it’s that hate that fuels the depression and self-loathing even more.
Putting it on here feels like I’m putting it out there without “recruiting” someone to help me. It’s all on a voluntary basis. People can pretend they have never seen it. And that's ok. And even if they've seen it, they can stay anonymous. I don't want anyone to feel obliged to help or love me. I'd rather have nothing; it would be an insult.

Then there is the other problem of “crying wolf”.
Now here’s another home truth about depression. No matter how often you cry out, and feel better the next morning, it is never is “crying wolf”. Depression isn’t a solid state of existence, it comes in waves. And coming out of each wave without having drowned is just another time you have survived. And just because it passes doesn’t mean it feels less acute the next time around. And each time it happens, it feels all over again like it will never end. It does because it feels like you have seen things as they really are. And no matter whether you manage to get a grip on the despair, that reality won’t change, so it makes no difference. What creates the agony is not the emotion itself, it’s that you’re convinced you see unalterable reality, something outside yourself you can’t change, no matter how you feel about it. Depression ceases to be a feeling, rather, it becomes a reality. I may feel better the next day, but I know that’s just because I managed to delude myself. And when I'm truly better, I forget that I delude myself. Which is nice. I don't mind that.

Yes, I may come out the other end. And whether I delude myself into happiness or non-depressiveness, I’d rather have the illusion of happiness, and I hang on to it as long as I can. But every time I come out the other end ALONE, the less I will be armed the next time around.

Another thing with depression is that, even though you might become more and more familiar with its pattern and should theoretically be “armed and ready”,  it wears down your resistance at the same rate. It’s like rust that weakens your mental structure and stability.

There is something about crying out when you’re in the deepest pit. The closest I can come to that is that film, The Ring, when they think they have broken the curse, only to realise that it will continue. Because all that girl wants is to be heard. She doesn’t want to inflict pain. She just wants to be understood. She wants to be FULLY understood. Because in utter joy and utter agony, you’re totally alone, and it’s that what’s so terrifying about it.
 And writing this, I come to a realisation. That’s what I wanted. That’s why I write this. That’s why I cry out even though I know it is pointless, I can never communicate what’s going on inside me fully, until someone understands how I feel, but again, that’s exactly what I DON'T want.

When I’m down in the hole, I just want to be taken seriously. I am not a drama queen, or an attention seeker, or a wuss, or having a self-pity party. I don’t CHOOSE to go down there. I don’t LIKE being this way. I’m in genuine pain that I cannot relieve myself.

Maybe this urge is just an echo of the time when I was told over and over again to just pull myself together, when being upset or distressed in the face of violence and abuse I was told to not be a drama queen. When being crippled with depression, I was just considered a Zicke. When being terrified of going back to school because of the amount of bullying I got from students and teachers, I was just told to not make a big deal of it. Like it was my fault to be upset. It’s my default reaction now, to worry that I will be brushed off and not considered worth the time and help. Intellectually I know I am... but the rest of me doesn't.
Of course I want to stop reacting this way. But I don’t know how. It's like trying to stop your hand from flinching from a hot surface.

I can only ask, forgive me for sometimes being needy or difficult.
Yet it makes me angry because I shouldn't have to apologise for that.

I have no final sentence, or clean paragraph, to tie the loose ends of this post. I'm just throwing it out there. Dealing with depression is an open-ended battle, with no answers, with eternal repetition of the same shit, that it seems futile for all involved. Anyone know any answers, I'm all ears.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Review: Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes

Oh the joy when I heard this gem had finally been translated into English! A bestselling phenomenon in mein Fazerland since its publication in 2012, it had tickled my curiosity since I first heard about it, and  delighted me when it was gifted to me by the ‘rents last Christmas.

Look Who's Back is a novel about Adolf Hitler waking up in a 2011 Berlin car park, rescued by a newsagent who thinks him a hilarious and scarily convincing impersonator and promptly introduces him to some media fellers who in turn jump on the chance to line their pockets and boost the ratings by giving him some air time. 
The bewildered Fuehrer, meanwhile, has to adjust to modern society, its gadgets, people, multiculturalism and social media addiction,  and slowly planning, naively, clumsily, but with chilly calculation, his return to power, thus delivering a commentary on modern Germany that is equally frightening and hysterical. Let’s just say, when I read the German original, it was like hearing Adolf speak. I dunno if Vermes studied the speech patterns of Hitler before he started writing, but he did a wonderful job rendering his persona in his book. And the translation, although it inevitably lost the classic Berlin dialect spoken by some of the characters, managed to get incredibly close to the original.

It’s obviously funny seeing Hitler in his 1940s mindset interact with the contemporary age, similar to seeing Socrates and Billy the Kid stumble their way through 1980s mall strip California in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, but at the same time it scathingly satirises an increasingly dumbed-down, historically uninformed or indifferent multi-media generation that is too distracted by Reality TV, sensationalist headlines and Facebook Likes to see the danger the “born again” Fuehrer really poses.

Needless to say, there is a debate whether it is acceptable to make Hitler a subject of comedy. But it’s been done before countless times, with “The Producers”, with “The Dictator”, some more gratuitous, some with enough satire in it to render it more “acceptable”. If anything, “new” about it is only that the Germans are increasingly seen to have a sense of humour about their own history. Not in a belittling or insensitive manner, mind. Hitler and the Holocaust continue to remain a serious subject over there, deeply embedded in the German mentality and Constitution. But the – in my book – ridiculous and unhelpful self-flagellation by people who were barely the glint in daddy’s eye in 1945, undermining any approach of the subject in a grown-up way, is finally starting to cease; Hitler as a subject of comedy becoming less and less restricted to the terrain of risqué Stewart Lee-type German comedians, and is particularly well-balanced in this novel.

Comedy will always remain in the grey areas of acceptability, and perhaps that’s exactly what keeps us on our toes and debating; to speak the truth like a jester, in joke form to escape medieval beheadings or modern censorship. Take from this book what you will. I for one both enjoyed  and pondered it. Thoroughly. 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Preaching to Self

Please include attribution to with this graphic.

The Theory of Awesomeness Infographic

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: Douglas Coupland's "Worst.Person.Ever"

I really really cannot decide whether I like this book or not. First I heard about it when John Niven put a foul quote of it on Twitter, and I was excited! Niven’s made me love the puerile hilarious antihero. It was just a bit odd coming from Coupland... the thoughtful, deep, “what’s it all mean and why are we here” author I had ranked up there with Hermann Hesse, the man who’s induced epiphanies in me with Generation X, Life after God and Girlfriend in a Coma.
It didn’t help that I read this right after Niven’s Straight White Male, and it felt like Coupland had looked over his shoulder and decided he wanted to write something like that himself ("I can do funny! Look! Look!") and just did not manage to be as funny as that. But Coupland’s my hero, so I put it down, read a few different books to cleanse my literary palate off the Niven taste and then gave it another shot.

And yes, I enjoyed it quite a bit more. It’s much more along the lines of JPod and All Families are Psychotic, just a lot more foulmouthed, (perhaps a bit too) full of creatively disgusting phrases which would be funnier if the book hadn’t been drenched in it – it just felt a wee bit like Coupland, like a dorky school boy trying to fit in with the bad guys, tried too hard. The bit that really annoyed me the most was the first chapter: the love-hate banter/battle of the words between the protagonist and his vile ex-wife is just a bit too full of pretentious witticisms, though that might just be characterisation and satire of the TV industry. Once I moved past that, the book, with some concessions, was actually quite enjoyable. 

Mind, I never warmed to Raymond Gunt (though that name – genius?) in the way I love-hated Stelfox in Niven’s Kill your Friends. Making an antihero likeable despite his awfulness is a hard trick to pull off. But Gunt wasn’t even that terrible, despite his raging racism, sexism, homophobia and gleeful dislike and disrespect of everyone but him. He was just a bit of a d**k who had it coming to him, a cringey wannabe, failing at everything to the delight of the reader (cold pity is not sympathy!) while Neal, a homeless guy he enslaves as his personal assistant, is the one bagging the first class flights/ladies/food/champagne chats with Cameron Diaz. Love Neal! Neal is a legend, and the true hero of the story, a loyal, happy-go-lucky friend Gunt really doesn’t deserve.

So they take a trip to a remote island to do camera work for a reality TV show, and it all becomes a massive trip into Absurdistan. If you enjoy insane absurdity, like them accidentally starting nuclear war and Gunt escaping homeland security by means of a macadamia nut, and you’re willing to look past a few irritations, then you will quite love this. I know it’s meant to be satire, but it’s all a bit too grotesque to work that way... rather just enjoy it for its plain insanity. It’s not subtle, it’s downright juvenile in places, but it holds quite a few laughs. I looked up by the end of it and thought “WTF did I just read?”, but not without a crooked grin.

If this is your first Coupland  – please don’t give up on him. Read his older stuff to get a real feel for him, because this is by far not representative of what he is capable of.