Monday, May 29, 2006

Anything You Can Do ...

Whilst everyone is having a jolly good laugh over the BBC interviewing the wrong guy (Guy Goma) on May 16th, let's just remind ourselves of the expression "people who live in glass houses" ... eh CNN?

From November 2005: this, according to Atlanta's finest, is a map of France.

Hmmm ... one world, five letters. And to give you a clue, it starts with 'AT' and ends in 'LAS'.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Last Orders …

The last pint has been poured, the final shot has been measured and all the glasses now rinsed and stacked away on the shelves. Soho’s infamous Coach and Horses pub has been sold and the rudest landlord in the UK, Norman Balon, has finally retired.

For 62 years, Norman travelled from his home in Golders Green, to work in his Greek Street pub. Yesterday, Monday 22nd May, he handed over the keys and walked away.

He blames his age and Westminster Council policy for his decision to turn of the taps. Norman first arrived at the pub on February 1 1943, aged 16 and began by helping his parents Jack and Annie run the business. It's the only job he has ever had.

The Coach and Horses, in London’s Greek Street, is notable for its association with the columnist Jeffrey Bernard, the staff of Private Eye magazine, other journalists and as a haunt for Soho personalities. Landlord Norman has become famous too, presumably because of his proximity to writers who document his actions and anecdotes. The interior of the pub was recreated on stage for the biographical play about Bernard's life ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’. Norman, himself was immortalised in the play when the eponymous writer and regular of the Coach and Horses finds himself locked in the pub for a night after falling asleep.

78 yr old Norman once said: “A pub is a reflection of a landlord’s personality. I believe that by and large you should have people in there that you could talk to at home. So I can’t stand bores. I can’t stand people who annoy me.”

He added: “I have a great diversity of customers, from street-sweepers and shoplifters to some of the highest people in the land. They all seem to blend and mix in very well.”

During his time he has hosted the Private Eye lunches every other Wednesday for more than 40 years. “I am getting too old. Everything in life has a season, I have had a fantastic life from it”, he growls.

As an 18yr old making his way in the big bad world, I worked just around the corner from the Coach and Horses. I first popped in to the pub with my workmates, just to see who this ‘rude man’ was. We went back many times. It was close to work, convenient and the only thing Norman had was a gruff exterior: you piss him off and he’d tell you. That’s not a crime, is it?

You’re barred, you bastards!

God bless him and may a gentle froth be ever settling on his retirement.

Plein Vitesse ...

Now out on DVD is a French aerial-action flick packed with fast jets, quick tempered pilots and some trouser bloating totty. Many have compared ‘Les Chevaliers du ciel’ to the 1986 US box office blockbuster, Top Gun. Film fans bang on about ’this lax French copy’ - but it‘s not a copy, it’s a completely different film altogether. Different plot and different characters. It just happens to feature the French Air Force, whereas Top Gun was based on the US Navy.

In my honest opinion, ‘Les Chevs’ (it’s international title being Sky Fighters), is a very plausible film. If you ignore the totty-factor and their individual inter-woven story-lines, then the 97 minute film motors along quite happily. Then you discover that the director is one Gérard Pirès, the man responsible for delivering ‘Riders’ and >‘Double Zero’. For anyone who saw either of these stable-mates may recall British actor Bruce Payne’s fingernail scraping American accent in ‘Riders’ and then there was the farcical ‘Double Zero’ - a French spy comedy film. It was obvious that a large slice of the combined budgets went towards lunch.

‘Les Chevaliers du ciel’ has a fairly reasonable story: a new French fighter jet, the Mirage 2000 is hijacked on the tarmac at the Farnborough Airshow in the UK.

Two French fighter jets are sent to intercept the stolen aircraft as it flies towards the French coast. Our two heros are flying the interceptors, Benoît Magimel as Capt Antoine "Walk'n" Marchelli and his sidekick, Capt Sébastien "Fahrenheit" Vallois played by Clovis Cornillac. They end up in a multitude of trouble but go on to save the day when a naughty little inter-governmental plot is revealed.

Such is the advancement in filming technology and special effects in the 19 years since Top Gun was made, this particular flick contains some very impressive aerial sequences. What many fail to realise is that the flying sequences in Top Gun were mainly filmed from the ground, whereas in ‘Les Chevs’, it was mostly airborne. With 21st Century kit like the Spacecam and the Vectorvision Jet Camera, what you see is what actually happened. By strapping this new technology to the underbelly of another fighter jet, the aerial sequences have you in the Martin Baker seat of ejection happiness. A pod containing 4 cameras captured the forward, rear and side-to-side action, making for a fascinating insight into the sheer joy of punching your way through a cloud bank.

The film, naturally, has to have a love interest - or 3 - as in this case. Géraldine Pailhas plays Maelle Coste, the French Prime Minister’s defence advisor, Alice Taglioni plays fellow pilot Lt Estelle 'Pitbull' Kass and Rey Reyes (who she?) as “Stardust”, an American Air Force pilot on an exchange programme. I must say that Ms Reyes took a leaf out of ‘Riders’ by delivering a shockingly bad US accent and also managing to corner the market in pouting and posing. A character somewhat far fetched and unbelievable.

The inter-weaving sub plots keep you thinking and Fiona Curzon, a Paris-based English actress, makes an appearance as a certain Mrs Redgrave, a British arms dealer from Gibraltar. Sadly, she too seems to have been struck down with a case of the ‘awful accents’.

Overall, ‘Les Chevs’ seems to have lifted Gérard Pirès out of his funk and is well worth a viewing. So brush up on your French, open the taps and prepare for the rush of the afterburners.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Bugger Off Home Sharon, You Don’t Belong Here …

If we're all sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin …

There's only so much one can take and after a week of sheer hell with a vomiting child (including a virtual day-return to Morocco), you would expect that life would get a little easier: the steam-iron of life gently removing the creases of stress and your renewed form, once again, back on the hanger of normality.

Like f**k.

A friend of mine is, how can I say, a chap who works very closely with the British tabloid newspapers. A fellow lens-jockey. From time to time, he sells a few of my stock-shot images to far away magazines and newspapers. The return over 3 months is just enough to cover my pension plan for a month, so we’re not talking telephone number here. Over the weekend, he asked if I would be interested in half a day’s work, “they don’t pay very much but at least it’s something, you’ll get a credit and expenses paid”. Like any freelancer, I needed the money so leapt at the chance.

For obvious reasons, I am not going to name the paper nor the subject directly, suffice to say that it involves a relation of a certain ‘housemate’ in a popular TV show. I was not party to the whole story but the job required me to drive 200kms, meet the relation in question, photograph them, wire the pictures to the newspaper in the UK and then drive 200kms back. Job done and back home by 16:00.

Pretty straightforward.

The shoot was set up for 11:00, so I set off at 9:00 on the dot. Whilst on the motorway, I rang the phone number I had been given, asked for the person by name and introduced myself and the paper I ‘represented’. “Eh? Ooo r ya?”, said this shrill voice with the raw diction on the other end. “Oim gettin‘ con-foosed naa. I don’t ave yer name ‘ere and oim not doin nuttin for vat paper”, she continued. “Yoo speek to moy frend, she naas orl abat i”.

The ‘frend’, as I was to discover, was the one who a) put this person up to it in the first place and b) knows more ‘abat’ dealing with pounds for stories than she was letting on. Yes, a she. They both were.

“Ellah? Ooos vis ven?”, the ‘frend’ gently enquired. I went through the same rigmarole, patiently explaining who I was and that my ‘editor’ had arranged this with the subject the day before. “Eh? We not got yor name ‘ere, b‘sides, we dun unexcloosive deal wiv somwun els naa. Yoo ring your peepoo and sor it arr!”


Beep. Beep. Beep.

“Ahh,” I thought, “so we’re not dealing with BBC Newsnight or the Queen’s Speech here, are we?”

I rang my ‘editor’ who told me to carry on to the location and sit tight while they ‘sor-id it arr’. At 11:15 I arrived in the town centre and found a cyber café where I waited. And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I waited from 11:30 until 16:30 - a full 5 hours. Drinking coffee, eating a good lunch, drinking tea and soft drinks then taking as many trips to the little boys room as my bladder deemed necessary. I eventually arrived home 12 hours after I set out to photograph this waste of space. The little minx had been playing everyone off against each other and my ‘editor’ was furious.

If we’re going to call a spade a spade, then this bloody council house Sharon who’d been oh so pleasant to me on the phone earlier had strung us all along, knowing full well that her ‘frend’ had sold out to the highest bidder. Fine. Go to where the money is. But these money-grabbing pikeys actually LIVE here in France, and in a nice little town too. Can you imagine what impression they give of us Brits? I’ll be having nightmares for years to come.

I can only hope that ‘Sharon’s’ little darlin’ gets voted out of the programme and goes on to do something publicly embarrassing … then they’ll have to move back to Ilford.

My apologies, but I’m not in the mood to deal with such vacuous, self-promoting tabloid junkies right now.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

24 ... no, make that 26 hours in Marrakech ...

I have just finished watching 2 teams of grizzling, spoilt, overpaid teenagers running around after a football in the final of the Champions League. After 90 minutes they're all tired and worn out, bless their little cotton socks. For the full effect of total exhaustion, they should try spending five days with a 4yr old child who's contracted gastro enteritis - and you don't earn a penny either way.

What started off as a 'little break to get away from it all', quickly turned into a brutal mixture of 'Carrie' and an SAS selection course. With suitcases packed, we settled down for a Saturday night's sleep before the following day's lunchtime flight to Marrakech. At 1am, little Marie woke up crying. Well screaming, more like. She was as hot as a hob-ring and about the same colour. At 1.30 we called the emergency doctor, who arrived 30 minutes later. "Oh she'll be fine - it's just a virus" he announced. "Yes, but is it advisable that we take her to Morocco in this state?" we asked. "Sure! Go ahead, stick her on the plane, she'll be fine", the doctor repeated. The nocturnal parasite charged €75 for his services and he slipped back out into the night. Marie, on the other hand, was still in pain and crying her tear ducts dry. No-one slept after that, and as morning broke, vomiting was next on Marie's repertoire.

We wandered through the airport with a purple plastic bucket ready for the next deluge and reluctantly boarded the plane with the doctor's words "stick her on the plane, she'll be fine" echoing in my head. The 4yr old was now in shock and as white as a sheet and thirsty. Very thirsty. That day she got through as much water as we could give her - even Coca Cola was a good stomach settler. But wary of a slight reversal on the old adage 'what goes down must come up', whatever she swallowed soon made a reappearance. Marie spent the 3 hour flight with her head on my beloved's lap, groaning and crying. I was beginning to think that we had made a terrible mistake.

The only medication we could give her was liquid Advil, which is superb at reducing temperatures and calming fevers but does nothing to quell the cause. On arrival at Marrakech, Marie seemed to perk up. She sat between the pair of us in the back of the taxi, looking around, pointing at the scenery and taking in the unfamiliar sights.

At the Riad, she happily took me to see our room and take a tour of the roof-top terrace. We drank a glass of mint tea and stepped out onto the hot and dusty streets.

This was not for Marie. Scooters and bicycles were hurtling through the narrow lanes, beeping their horns and swerving to avoid pedestrians. A multitude of tiny single-roomed businesses lined our route: barber shops, pointy-shoe makers, tailors, bakeries, fruit stalls and my own particular favourite, the butchers. Such was the heat, the meat was only visible once the flies had been waved away. Great swarms of them.

I find it quite extraordinary that such a level of public hygiene is so readily accepted. In the developed world, we would all be struck down with some form of intestinal sickness, but north African's readily accept it, their natural immune systems can easily cope. Another thing that I couldn't help notice was the sheer number of disfigured and handicapped adults. Not those sitting around begging as much as those actually working. One chap in particular rode a scooter, delivering bread, was piled high in a large metal box fixed to the machine. Both his feet were turned 90° inwards. He had spend a lifetime in this condition and it didn't bother him, happily jumping on and off the scooter, taking orders from his customers and greeting his friends. There were others with facial tumors, under-developed limbs and spinal problems. Pediatric care for the masses appears only for the privileged, so the afflicted just have to deal as best they can in getting to adulthood.

The road emptied out into Djemaa el Fna square, a sprawling tourist trap with street vendors a-plenty. Orange juice stalls, a motley collection of open-fired restaurants, henna artists and potions for the well being of your body. I could never quite figure out what it was they were actually selling but it didn't bother me in the slightest. Marie seemed fascinated by the melee but was less interested in the teenagers hawking bendy wooden snakes, "for zee chilllrenn" was their sales pitch. It only made Marie scream in terror, thinking they were the real deal. The 'real deal', however, was only a matter of feet away. Djemaa el Fna square has it's fair share of snake charmers who, for the price of a second class stamp, will blow their noisy high-pitched reed instruments and taunt their pythons. For a few coins more, they'll drape a 2m comatose specimen over your shoulders.

Little Marie was now tired and in the arms of her Mother but I ought to point out that we were joined on this little excursion by Marie grandfather, who works in Marrakech. On he strode, we merely followed. The Souk was next on the list. A veritable rabbit warren of stalls and passageways. Whatever you wanted, you'd find it here: spices, traditional dress, teapots, fabric, gold, leather goods more bloody pointy shoes. We needed to eat, so back along the crowded covered market we went. Djemaa el Fna square is surrounded by terracotta buildings with roof-top terrace restaurants. As it happens, Marie's grandfather is very matey with a Frenchman who's opened such a restaurant. With the long history that France and Morocco share, it's hardly surprising that the place is full of foreigners come sundown. The waiting staff are local Moroccan with a French chef. The owner and his wife made an enormous fuss over us and got us seated. As soon as we were settled, Marie whispered "I want to be sick" and in an instant, I was reminded of Elvis Costello's "A Good Year For The Roses", as Marie emptied what liquid she had left in her stomach all over the floral displays. Subconsciously, I was also reminded of the doctor's face of the previous night and how I'd like to strangle the bastard. A good dose of magic liquid Advil, and within 30 minutes, Marie was a happy little girl once more.

Neither my belovèd nor I had slept since Friday night, so we were keen to get a spot of shut-eye and hit the sights the next day. Back at the Riad, we got Marie settled and stripped the bedding down to a single sheet. My head sank into the soft pillow and I was finally admitted into the land of nod.

Our itinerary was to stay in Marrakech for the Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday morning, pick up the hire car and drive west to Essaouira on the coast. After a few days by the pool, we'd drive back to Marrakech on the Friday and take a late afternoon flight back to Paris. We'd read up on the subject, bought the right tourist book, invested in a map and paid for the hotel by the beach, in advance. All was in place.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Marie woke us up. It was a repeat of the Saturday Night Fever, all over again, except this time she was hallucinating. The poor little mite was breathing like a race horse after the Grand National and was boiling like a chip pan, so I took her off for a cold shower. Wrapped in a wet towel, we did all we could to get her temperature down. Cold flannels on the forehead and the back of the neck. My belovèd and I discussed what we should do next. The airline we flew with didn't have another flight out until the Wednesday, 48 hours later. I was in no mood to be mucked around by local doctors and my belovèd's face was quickly becoming an example of sheer terror. It was at this point that I made an executive decision "we go home tomorrow!" A child with a 40° temperature in a 40° environment is not an ideal situation to be in. The three of us dozed in and out of conciousness until day-break.

The flight home was difficult for all of us and Marie slept for the entire trip. Another bout of vomiting at Orly airport and another broken night followed. It wasn't until the following day did my belovèd get an appoinment to see her regular doctor. He pronounced a case of gastro enteritis and issued a prescription full of potions, sprays and syrups. Between Saturday night and Tuesday morning, poor Marie didn't have any treatment for the gastro, just enough medication to reduce the fever.

She's well on the mend now, though she has a rotten cold which is a common side-effect with gastro in a child. She's fed up of being ill and having a blocked face. We, on the other hand, are totally exhausted and need a holiday.

Back in Paris, a friend of mine gave me a small gateau which was made by a baker here in the capital. It is to commemorate the Champions League final between two teams of millionaire rich kids: Barcelona and Arsenal. Who better to give it to on the eve of her 5th birthday, but Marie. It only goes to show that you can have your cake and eat it ...


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Flight Of Fancy …

Scientists have embarked on a new project; tracking dragonflies as they search for warmer climates.


The team, led by a bunch of high-fiving lentil-eaters from Princeton University, attached tiny radio transmitters to the insects and tracked them from ground-based receivers and receptors attached to aircraft. They have discovered that the insects are capable of flying up to 85 miles (137 km) in a day.

Bugger me.


But I have to ask, how much did it cost, for heaven's sake?? Was it really necessary??? There are diseases that have yet to be cured, the hungry litter wastelands, yet a bunch of bespectaled tree-huggers are given a pot of cash to do this?!

I hope the dragonflies bloody well appreciate it.

Fine. I'll be applying for a government grant this afternoon as I wish to track farts as they leave my trousers in search of pastures 'phew' …


Monday, May 08, 2006

Drax Industries Floats …

For those of you who know Alfred de Turris, I need not go any further.

But for those of you who do not, let me give you a brief CV: he played Lebel in 'The Day Of The Jackal', Jean-Pierre the doctor in 'Ronin' and most famously, James Bond's nemesis, Hugo Drax, in 'Moonraker'.

It is actor Michael Lonsdale's real name.

Born in Paris in 1931, he's perfectly bi-lingual in French and English (hence the multi-national roles) and is one of those character actors who's face is known but the name doesn't always spring to mind.

I was enjoying a drop of May sunshine by the river when this small river boat chugs it's way against the flow. On the foredeck sat 2 actors, a 16mm camera and operator (light meter in hand), and a sound recordist. As the boat drew level, I noticed the remaining technicians crammed into the small cockpit behind, crouching to remain out of shot.

As my camera's shutter rattled it's way through 5 frames a second, I recognised the chap with the trademark beard. But could I remember his name? Nope. As it happens, he noticed me and shot me a glance right into my lens, gave a slight grin then turned away and went back to work.

I waited a further hour for the return of the boat, hoping for another chance to grab a few frames up close and personal-like, but it was not to be. His name still escaped me so I rang a mate in the UK. No luck there. It wasn't until I got home and did a search for 'James Bond Baddies' did his name pop onto the screen.

"Oh, it's HIM!"

He may not be an A-list celeb, but he’s still working flat-out - and on a Sunday to boot. What I had seen was the crew shooting a sequence for a new French film "Une Vieille Maitresse", due for release next year. I enjoyed Lonsdale's performance in 'Ronin' - a superb Anglo, American, Irish, French terrorist movie, starring Robert de Niro, Jean Reno and Jonathan Pryce and as for Bond ... a classic.

Fascinating, what you see if you keep your eyes peeled …


Friday, May 05, 2006

Tin Opener Time …

For any of you who remember these fellas from the 60's/70's and 80's, will be pleased to hear that they are set to make a return.

Their first appearance was in the 1966 series 'The Tenth Planet' (above) which was the last episode to feature William Hartnell in the role of the Doctor. In 1983, the Cybers finally met their doom in 'The Five Doctors' during a special episode (below) produced to celebrate the show's 20th anniversary.

Living abroad means that I cannot receive the new super-hyped-up Dr Who series, but it’s good to see that the metal-menace has had a make-over and that the Cybermen are set cause merry-hell. The Doctor's very existance will be turned into a living nightmare once more.

I'm sure that the redesigned versions of these evil characters will have another generation of youngsters rushing for safety behind the sofa … ahh, my childhood …


Monday, May 01, 2006

Copycats …

Back in 1971, a British film was released which changed the face of gangster flicks, after which all gangster movies were judged: 'Get Carter'.

6'2" Michael Caine, given such a juicy role, made it his own. He had previously been seen in Zulu, The Ipcress File and Alfie, so he was not exactly an unknown, but this role was his and he went to town with it. Coarse, brutal and sexually uninhibited, the censors must have had a field-day. Still, the film was released and it made Caine into a huge star and filled Britain’s smokey cinema's of the early 70's.

As a new century chimed, our American friends decided to remake 'Get Carter'. This time, 5'10" Sylvester Enzio Stallone (with the acting talent of a wardrobe) was to play 'Jack' but the storyline remained (almost) unchanged: 'when his brother dies under mysterious circumstances in a car accident, gangster Jack Carter travels home to investigate and deal with those responsible'. In the original film, Carter is gunned down on a beach. However, in Tinsel Town's version, they let him live ... to drive off into the sunset.

The 1970’s version is full of drama, northern grit and frequent acts of violence, all wrapped in the grim locations of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The remake is quite the reverse - slick cars, sunlight abounds, sharp clothes, shiny surfaces in every scene and classy locations wherever you look.

When the original opens, Carter is with a group of Cockney gangsters watching porn. However, the voices of the 'Cock-er-nees' were re-dubbed for the US market as the accents were too heavy for American audiences to understand. Funny, because every movie 'Stumpy' Stallone has ever made, made me wish the Americans had done the same for us.

The remake just doesn't have the same 'oomph' as the original and one has to ask, why do they do it? Why not just leave the original film to rise to the rank of 'classic', leave well alone and go off and shoot something else instead? Something, err ... original?

Hollywood did the same in 2004 with another British classic, the 1955 film 'The Ladykillers'. This time Tom Hanks took the lead role as Professor GH Dorr (Alec Guinness' Professor Marcus), a carbon-copy even down to his bucked teeth …

How about we remake 'The Longest Day', 'U-571' and 'Saving Private Ryan' ... in which the Brits won the Second World War ... single-handed. Fair?

Please, Hollywood, you keep telling us how fantastic and talent-rich you are, surely someone has an original idea out there?

Tumbling Dice …

Holidays … relaxing by the beach. Drinking long cool refreshments. Gently tanning. Reading. Dozing. Falling out of a coconut tree. Eh?

62-yr old walking skeleton and Rolling Stone, Keith Richards, was taken to hospital in New Zealand recently after suffering "mild concussion" when he fell out of a coconut tree on the island of Fiji.

A hospital spokesperson said: "Following treatment given locally, and as a precautionary measure, he flew to a hospital in New Zealand, accompanied by his wife, for observation" the spokeswoman said. No doubt the hospital could do with the drugs.

It’s not the first time he’s been out of his tree.