Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Set dial to desired level of unease

The Rejuvenique Electric Facial Mask is a ridiculous 1990s beauty treatment which involves putting a scary, serial killer mask over your face and then receiving little electric "impulses" (shocks) from various points over the mask. Even the use of the fluffiest woman in the world - Linda Evans (Krystal Carrington from Dynasty) in the promotional advert doesn't hide the fact that this is an INSTRUMENT OF TORTURE. I'm guessing that she has been kidnapped and forced into saying those lines - the pink scarf round her neck is obscuring the collar-bomb which will explode if she screams "HELP ME!"

Is it even possible to parody such a thing? Fortunately, yes - meet the RapeFear FantasMask. After you've applied the Fet-i-Gel to required "gelmancy levels", wearing the mask takes you into a disturbing alternative reality. And don't forget to turn the dial down to "real" when finished.

The sinister Exorcist music and bizarre text ("They should have listened") are a perfect accompaniment to something which never should have been created in the first place.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Ten Worst Things that My Cat has Done

Larry, my cat is 15 and shows no sign of letting up. He is the Boss of the household.

1. Made me cancel a Christmas holiday to Brighton in 2005 by yowling mournfully in the back of the car when I was taking him to the cattery for a week. "I can't leave him!" I cried. "Oh, just drive us all home" snapped my fella in a resigned tone.

2. Went out, caught a mouse, brought it in the house, chewed off its head and then plopped the remains in front of us when we were had a particularly delicate friend round for dinner for the first time.

3. Waited until we'd had our shiny expensive ensuite bathroom put in, then, while we were out buying new towels, crept into the bathroom, climbed into the bath and christened it by scratching the surface. Irrevocably. Before anyone had had a chance to use it.

4. Contrived a kidney disease two years ago, then sitting on my lap and pissing all over me and the John Lewis chair I'd bought the year before. Do you know how long it takes for the smell of diseased cat wee to disippate from furniture? The answer is never. Not really.

5. Reacted well to the kidney disease medication, costing me an extra £50 a month to keep him alive.

6. Vomitted on a cream carpet. Many many times. You can never really shift the stain.

7. Watched as I'm eating a meal, then reached his head through my arm and brazenly attempted to take my food from my plate.

8. Pretended to neighbours that he is not fed, and wailed pitifully outside their house so that they fed him - giving us the reputation of neglectful pet owners and candidates for a BBC exposé documentaries.

9. Climbed on a sideboard and swished his enormous life-of-its-own tail, knocking off an antique clock and smashing it into bits. Repeat with several other ornaments at regular intervals.

10. Ruined every piece of knitwear I have ever owned by slinking up to me affectionately, climbing on my lap, then catching multiple claws in my clothes and not letting go.

It is probably just as well I don't have children.
Will the phone hacking scandal make Britain any better?

Inbetween researching my family tree, I've been watching the news turn on itself over the last couple of weeks, with a mouting sense of liberal glee and schaudenfraude as the Murdoch empire collapses like a soggy souffle.

It's surprising to see how quickly the Murdoch house of cards has come tumbling down, but also kind of depressing that politicians have had to wait until a clearly awful scandal in order to start fighting back. Nobody could have seen that the abduction of a teenage girl would have had such far-reaching repercussions. Yet nobody who followed news and politics is surprised at the relevations about the amount of political influence that Murdoch and his friends have wielded since the 1980s - because it's been common knowledge. It is pathetic to see how successive governments have toadied around this descipable man, frightened of what would happen if they upset him. Particularly sad is how Gordon Brown had to swallow his feelings when The Sun published information about his son's cystic fibrosis, and then suck up to Rebekah Brooks afterwards. That is the real tragedy of this story - that us Brits have not lived in a properly functioning democracy for over 30 years. Instead, we've lived under a media kingmaker who has controlled politicians through fear. It is not surprising that Murdoch's newspapers have almost always supported the winner of every election since 1979.

I hope that the scandal ushers in a new era of media honesty, and that newspaper editors decide to stick to reporting the news, rather than manipulating readers. But I doubt it. Just as the bankers scandal appeared to change everything for a few weeks, before long it was business and bonuses as usual. Even if the Murdoch Empire is finally vanquished from British shores, there'll be plenty of slimy characters ready to fill his shoes, and politicians will continue to want to be represented in the best possible light in the media.

I have no sympathy for Rebekah Brooks - an intelligent, ambitious woman who panders to the lowest common denominator, whipping up moral panics over paeophiles as well as being homophobic. Yesterday, when she "presented herself" to be arrested, the news showed the few clips they have of her on a loop, which had the effect of making her look as if she was walking around London in a big circle, forever.

However, this is my favourite clip of the scandal so far - "dodgy geezer" Andy Hayman, who was in charge of the initial inquiry into the News of the World's phone hacking, and then went to work for News International as a columnist. Here he responds in an dramtic, bordering on camp, fashion to allegations that he received payment.

He's like a character in a 1970s sitcom. It would be called "Dodgy Geezer". He would drive a white van, work in a scrapyard, have an Irish sidekick called Chalkie, be married to a shrewish, constantly suspiscious Yootha Joyce and have Anita Dobson as his mistress. He'd pacify both women by giving them boxes of Black Magic of course and each episode would end with him being pursued up and down hills, Benny Hill-style by the whole town. But by the next episode, the "reset" button would be pressed. There'd be no character development, no change in anyone's situation. Just a laugh-track fading into a theme tune by Chas N Dave.

And here's my second favourite clip, whistle-blower Chris Bryant, asking for an apology from vile Kay Burley of Sky News. Every gay man needs a High Camp villain with whom to trade catty insults, and the interactions between Chris and Kay are deliciously E.F. Benson.

He'll get his apology from Kay when there are No More Dalmation Puppies left in Hell for her to turn into fur coats, but I'm glad he brought it up.

Chris is no stranger to media bullying, having had a picture of himself in only his underpants, which he naively posted on the hookup site gaydar, plastered all over the trashier media. But just like the Stephen Sondheim song: "good times, bad times, I've seen em' all, and I'm still here", he rode it out and is having the last laugh. I've seen the picture, and all I can say is, he has nothing to be ashamed of. Except his taste in underpants.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Internet solves sixty year old mystery in three seconds

I grew up with three grandparents not four. The missing one was my Dad's father, who disappeared into Darkest Wales in 1949, abandoning his wife and two children (it was one of those probably rash marriages that happened at the end of WWII). My Dad, now 64, has no memories of him, and no interest in finding out what happened. The only remnant of him is his surname (Baker), which is also my surname and two of three wedding photographs which only surfaced when my grandmother died.

The two people sitting down are presumably my great-grandparents. The tallest man is my grandfather. Facially, my father looked very similar to him at the same age. I don't resemble him facially, but I do have the tall thin body. I probably look more similar in terms of face and hair to the chap on the left, who was a brother.

Every so often he comes up in conversation, and so yesterday, my fella typed in his name and the word Wales into Google. And there he was. Ten years ago he choked to death on his food in a nursing home, aged 80. He never left the small mining village he grew up in, although he seems to have married again in 1964. There's a tiny chance it's not him, but he has a fairly rare name, and the middle name matches up also.

Having found out, I felt a bit stunned. I wonder if he had any other children (do I have a half-uncle or aunt?) We had assumed he wouldn't have lived long, so it's surprising to find out he was the last of my grandparents to have died. I was also surprised at how easy it was to find the information, and how it had been there for years, if only someone had thought to look for it.

And then I had a dilemma. Who do I tell? It has always been a bit of a sore point with my father, so should I tell him? Or should I tell my sister and my aunt. In the end I decided to volunteer that I had information and would tell more if asked, or else not mention it again. So we had the strangest conversation. I told my own father that his father is dead. And he reacted as if I'd announced that it was raining outside.

I spent the rest of the evening trying to find out more information about that side of the family. Oddly enough, it turns out that the actor Stanley Baker (from Zulu) grew up in the next village along, about a mile away. I wonder if he's a distant relation.

Any resemblance?