Those Damnable Nationwide Adverts

Several days ago I read an article by someone whose name I now forget yet have no desire to look up who wrote of the extreme anger they felt towards the man in the PlusNet adverts. At the time I thought this was nothing more than the ramblings of a mad person struggling to deal with the cancellation of Jeremy Kyle. How can somebody become so apopletic with rage over such a non-issue? I thought before I resumed organising the mass protest to order the re-filming of Game of Thrones.  Little did I know that just a few days later, it would be I feeling angst towards an advertising campaign.

That angst is directed towards the Nationwide adverts, which have, for some bizarre reason, chosen to use poetry to advertise its services. Yet at no point in the recited stanzas do they make mention of interest rates, saving accounts, loans, or in fact anything else to do with banking and finance. 

In the early stages of their advertising campaign these adverts were nothing more than simply slightly annoying. A woman alone in a room stood reciting whatever nonsense she was reciting while a sepia-tinged filmed played through her onto the back wall. It was quite dull but fine; and in a way informative, for it at least was on the topic of the origin of the building society. After that, it descends into whatever pompous nonsense it now is. It’s no longer somebody giving some loose form of information, now it’s two people sitting in a camera booth lying to each other about how receiving a phonecall at 3am is sweet and not the most irritating thing in all of mankind. Perhaps this one was to highlight that Nationwide has 24/7 customer support but I wouldn’t know because I don’t care enough to check. But it is the most recent offering that not only makes me angry, but makes me feel that I am on the verge of a breakdown with each subsequent viewing. It’s like having Patrick McGoohan screened directly into your eyes during every waking moment.

The issue is that the advert has nothing to do with anything, and has even less to do with banking. It is simply two men sitting opposite one another telling me how much they enjoy eating meals together. Why do I need to know this? Why should I care? What does your daily lunch meeting have to do with financial responsbility? We the viewers are then told that these two were born a month apart, that they went to school together and were a disruptive influence in the class, and that they really, really, really like eating together. I find it hard to believe these people are friends: I’ve seen more chemistry and less awkward glances between myself and my failed Tinder dates.

I have never taken a class in sales or marketing or advertising but I imagine that one of the first things that is taught is that adverts should entice people, to make them want to use your product or service. All Nationwide has managed to do is make me want to burn all of my money instead of ever using their service.

Still, it’s got me writing about it, which I suppose means their advertising campaign worked. 

When Did I Become Old?

People are living longer these days, which is a sad fact in itself. Medical progress, technological developments and improved standards of living have done their best to stop people answering the sweet call of Death. Every year, the number of centenarians increases. One-hundred is the new eighty, seventy the new fifty. The forties want to be the new twenties but the fifties and sixties are fighting them whole-heartedly for it. The United Nations estimates that by twenty-fifty there will be a whopping three-point-seven million people over the age of one-hundred, most of whom will be trying every way imaginable to end the hell on earth that is living, only to be bound in their fleshy prison of disintegrating joints and melting minds by whatever new pill has been thought up in some cruel laboratory.

But if this is the case, why is it that I, a comparative toddler at the age of twenty-eight, feel so used up and haggard? From mind to body to career to creativity, I cannot help but feel that I peaked in my teens and it has been one long, slow, waistline-increasing descent ever since. My health, my metabolism and my tolerance to nearly every ingredient on the planet is atrocious. Inhaling sugar fumes is enough to add another kilogram to my weight, eating a biscuit or a slice of cake triples that. I have reached a stage where I have to live a life of enforced teetotalism because one small sup of that sweet nectar puts me out of all action for the next week. Mitchell and Webb say the perfect amount of booze to drink on any occasion is slightly less than two pints; for me, it is slightly less than no pints. I long for the days where I could neck a bottle of some spirit or other and cartwheel down some stairs with no issues. Of course, downing a bottle of whiskey is what caused me to think jumping out a second-storey window was a good idea—but that’s a story for another day.

And don’t you, that one reader upon whom I force this blog, tell me that exercise can stave off all of these effects of which I speak. My knees crack when I bend even slightly, my elbows click, my shins splint when walking at any degree above absolute level. I bought a FitBit a while back, in the misguided belief that spending money on a fitness tool would guilt me into working out more. The device became nothing more than an alarm clock, and now I cannot remember where it is because the strap fell off because FitBits are garbage.

Yet I do not have the luxury of claiming that these woes are genetic, that they run in the Lovatt family. This weekend my younger brother is competing in a triathlon. This is as part of his warmup to compete in some Ironman triathlon later this year. Over the past two years or so he has run the London Marathon, the Berlin Marathon, the Tokyo Marathon, and has a spot for one of the American marathons, I forget which. He woke up one day, decided he wanted to run a marathon and then did it. When I wake up, I lament that I am still alive and then go back to sleep. 

‘What about your livelihood?’ I hear nobody ask. A non-entity, the culmination of years of stop-starting and having no idea what to do. I skipped university in my younger days, partly because of that ‘having no idea what to do’ thing, and partly because a great many of my friends had dropped out of their courses citing how much they hated the whole experience. Between the ages of eighteen to twenty-one I worked in marketing, a position at which I was vastly underprepared but got because it was a new company and I was one of the few people who had A-levels and did not have a criminal record. I hated it, absolutely despised it, had no idea what I was doing for most of it, but I carried on because it was security. It was only when my manager said to me that if I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do by the time I was twenty-five then in all likelihood I would be stuck doing the same mind-numbing tasks until I died. I took that as the cue to go university, where I spent the next four years of my life learning about mind-numbing tasks to receive a degree in a field for which I had no particular talent nor interest but chose because it seemed to offer the most choices for future careers.

It didn’t.

What it did get me, was a job in finance, which I very quickly learned wasn’t right for me, because each day I drove to the office, it felt far more appealing to drive off the bridge than drive over it. I quit, changing focus again with a postgraduate course in a field where I cannot get a job because all of my previous work experience is in other fields, and in which I am deemed overqualified for the entry level positions; which is, of course, the most stupid reason imaginable for rejecting somebody. “Sorry, Lovatt—you’ve proven yourself too competent for this. Jog on.”

So here I am, twenty-eight, though the state of my body is probably double that, with zero prospects beyond this blog, which nobody reads. I should be in the prime of my life but I am already on the scrapheap. No present, no future, no hope. Just put me in the coffin, nail the lid shut and put me out of my misery.

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Thoughts on a voicemail

I keep my phone on silent. This means that for the most part I am a very difficult person to contact. Not that many people bother to contact me. On a day to day basis my notifications consist of nothing more than a slue of emails saying my job application has been declined or this guy telling me about his morning poo, which, in its own way, is his body rejecting the job applications of his evening meal. As a result, on the rare occasions that somebody does contact me with something substantial, I am not aware of the call until long after it has been made. Some of those who call me may call again later that day (a call that once again I will not notice), others may send an email to me if they know my address, and others still may opt to leave a voicemail. The smart ones may attempt all three–but very rarely are smart people found in human resources departments or recruitment agencies. 

Today, just shortly after one in the afternoon, I received a phone call. Naturally, for reasons stated above, I missed it. My phone was in the living room at the time and I was in the kitchen deciding on what to have for lunch. I opted for the healthy option: beans on melted cheese on toast. Unfortunately, I got my beans to toast ratio wholly wrong; and even with the melted cheese to provide density my toast was soggy and long gone before I had finished just over half of the beans. My mistake was that the tin of beans that I used for my lunch was a normal sized tin — a tin that can service two people with no fuss or even three, though the portions are of course smaller in that regard and may not be entirely satisfying unless there’s a large quantity of other foodstuffs on the plate. My toast, on the other hand, was the miniature sized bread that you buy to kid yourself that eating a smaller portion of bread will lessen your carb intake and thus you will be healthier as a result. What it does in reality is just make you half-hungry instead of fully hungry and so you put in another two slices of bread and eat them before realising that those four half slices probably combine for more calories and carbohydrates than two normal-sized pieces of toast.

After eating my meal I glanced at my phone. Several notifications were on my screen: a missed call, a text message, and a WhatsApp message that I am sure was this guy telling me how much he hates his life. I did what I always do with the latter and urged on him to end his sad, pitiful existence before deleting the messages to destroy the evidence in case this was the day he actually did it. I then checked the missed call. It was listed as a private number and the time on the phone said that it had only been about two minutes earlier that the call had been made. I then checked the text message notification and saw that it was a message saying that I had a new voicemail, no doubt from this private number that had just called. I dialled the voicemail with a tiny bit of trepidation. I had had a job interview a few days ago and was told that I would know one way or the other what the outcome of that was. Adding to that I am always hopeful that one day a mystery number will call saying that they are a publishing group or some high-ranking Hollywood executive and wish to hand me lots of money for my ongoing projects. The voicemail rang for a ring or two (why it doesn’t connect automatically when it’s an automatic service to a mailbox is beyond me) and the voicemail lady did her automatic spiel.

“You have one new voicemail,’ she said, ‘from number unknown at 1:03pm…’ She cut off and the voicemail began. It went:

Silence.

Twenty-five seconds of silence in fact. After four or five seconds passed I had to take away the phone from my ear to make sure I hadn’t ended the call by mistake. I hadn’t. The seconds count went up. Six, seven, eight, nine… twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five. Then a voice. A man’s voice:

‘Yes, well…’

And then he hung up.

‘Yes, well,’ what? What on earth does that mean? What is it that I am meant to surmise from those two words? Neither alone nor together do those words serve to illuminate anything about anything. Who was this man, why did he call, what did he want, to what was he commenting on? Were those words aimed at me or somebody else around him? If he was with someone, who was he with and why were they so silent? There was no sound whatsoever for those first seconds. If it was an office, he must either be in a very high position and have a large sound-proofed room to himself, or he’s working for such a garbage company that no business occurs and he just sits in an empty vacuum devoid of noise for eight to ten hours a day.

I had my phone on loud for the rest of the day, perhaps for the first time since owning this or any other phone. I tapped on the screen every thirty minutes, looking to see if any new notifications popped up. The only time there was anything on the screen was when this guy tried to convince me that his life was anything other than a monumental disappointment to him, his family, and me by extension for having to suffer through the pain of knowing him.

I don’t know why he called. As he left no means of contact, perhaps I never will. I may go to my grave thinking of the meaning of those two words. They will haunt me until my dying breath.

Or maybe he’ll call again tomorrow and I’ll answer it and discover the meaning of his words. Wouldn’t that be something? Yes, well…

Knife or Death: A Review

The History Channel has taken on somewhat of an ironic name. Indeed, someone who had the foresight to write about the channel several years before I had the sense to learn to read and write dubbed it The Hitler Channel. Outside of the ever-increasing catalogue of documentaries about Hitler and World War II, there is very little else that could be called ‘real’ history. Some shows such as Pawn Stars and its spin-offs Cajun Pawn Stars and Counting Cars for instance, where punters bring in objects, some of which that may have some historical attachment to them, are ultimately more about the families who own the business and the pawn business in general. Others like The Curse of Oak Island and Ancient Aliens take a more laid-back approach to history, by ignoring it altogether and going down the mythological and conspiratorial route of why things are the way they are.

One of the shows with the more tenous links to history is Forged in Fire, in which four smiths (often blade- but smiths of all trades are eligible to compete) forge (in fire) knives and swords in an attempt to become the Forged in Fire Champion (but just for that week). The ‘historical’ part of the show comes in the final round, where the two finalists are tasked with forging a historical weapon; weapons so far have ranged across eras from the Roman gladius to sabres used in the Napoleonic wars. Apparently the ten minutes devoted to swinging these weapons around is enough to categorise the show as a history programme. Not that I’m complaining; I am genuinely a fan of the show, it’s just not a history programme.

It is, however, a doctoral thesis of history compared to its spin off, Knife or Death. In Knife or Death, an assortment of seasoned blade-smiths and weapon enthusiasts and others who LARP as Vikings and Samurai use their blade of choice to cut their way through an assault course of rope, wooden crates, ice blocks and the most difficult of all: a fish.

It’s a very frenetic experience–more so in the commentary booth than the assault course itself. The show’s host, the former–and my favourite–wrestler Bill Goldberg bellows as the competitor advances through the course, hyping up every cut and slice and thrust as if it were Musashi in action. It’s rare and possibly unsettling to find someone who takes so much joy in witnessing a chicken be bisected by a falcion. Goldberg certainly seems to take more of an interest–or at least display more interest–than his co-host, who serves as the weapons expert. This expertise amounts to speaking to the contestant beforehand, asking out of what materials their weapon of choice is made, hitting it against it a mat a few times before saying, ‘yeah, that’ll do’. 

But it is an energy that is needed, because the reality is that the show is rather quite dull: there is only so many times you can watch a wooden crate cut to pieces or some ice chipped off a very large block before the thing becomes mundane; and, for me, that mundaneness came into play by the time the second competitor made their way onto the course.

In tone the show simply takes itself too seriously, and it is a detriment to the experience when looking at what the host is doing and the bulk of the people they have chosen for the show. The very first competitor, for instance, is a middle-aged white man wearing a kimono and wielding a katana while espousing all the of the virtues and advantages the Japanaese katana holds over weapons from the West. The katana promptly breaks on striking a material with a harder edge than rope. It was a person so stereotypically weebish that it had to be a joke. But no, this was supposedly a serious man who had devoted himself to living a lie, where he thought a sword made of pig iron would compete against competition blades. I hope his viewpoint changed when he had to accept the reality that he spent more time on straightening his blade than he did cutting through obstacles. It is the same after that: a few more claim to have studied in Japan at the feet of masters, others pretend they are vikings and come wearing replicas of the war helmet found at Sutton Hoo.

What’s to be made of Forged in Fire: Knife or Death then? It’s not historical, that’s for sure. It’s not educational. It’s not particularly innovative. It’s just… there. But it managed to achieve its objective of having me waste time writing about it, so they have that.

Dating Hubert J. Watergipridget’s Most Famous Work

Of the short stories, poems, novels, articles, and essays written by Hubert J. Watergipridget, it is perhaps The Room With The Light On Even Though It Was The Middle Of The Day that is most open to interpretation. Adding to the confusion is the prevailing assumption that it is not known precisely when Watergipridget sat down to write this tale, nor if he wrote it in one piece or in several sittings.

Tamuel Shreadingham and Marl Karz point to the repetition of the phrase “no matter day or night, rain or shine, dark or bright” as a sign that Watergipridget wrote the piece in one long form, that he used this wording to tell us that he was getting inspiration from staring out of the window, watching the sun rise before giving way to the moon. Aliya Albarracin, Heidi Vignau, and Charles Copperfield conversely argue that Watergipridget wrote the work over a prolonged period of time, so long in fact that he had forgotten that he had used that phrase before so kept writing it down. In this debate, I am in the former camp.

As too is Hubert himself, if he follows his own mantras of writing. In his famous essay Stop Touching My Pencil, he, while on a tangent about which shade of white makes for the best paper for writing, tells us “if you cannot finish writing a story before you make your second cup of coffee you should throw it away. The story that is, not the coffee. Don’t waste coffee.” Assuming that Watergipridget does practice what he preaches, it is almost a certainty that he would not have spent any longer than twenty minutes on the piece — thirty if it was a particularly big mug.

While the year in which Watergipridget wrote the story is not immediately evident, I believe we can with some reason of certainty narrow it down to a particular period by examining Watergipridget’s other works. The town of Oddington is—or, it should be said, was—a real place; Watergipridget was a frequent visitor to the area in the late 1920s up until town’s eventual destruction in 1935. What’s more, each visit to Oddington was followed by a form of prose that mentions Oddington in some capacity, either as the place in which the story is set or the place from where Watergipridget recalls a memory. It is this knowledge that will allow us to date the writing. 

Of Watergipridget’s extant works, Oddington is either directly referred to or indirectly alluded to on a number of occasions. We know for certain that the semi-autobiographical The Man Who Fell Down The Stairs, written in 1926, was written in the town. While the text might appear to the casual reader to provide a very nondescript location, ardent followers of Hubert J. Watergipridget know that the Oddington house in which he resided for a time was the only time Watergipridget ever used stairs. To fall down a set of stairs needs stairs to fall down. Similarly, those who know the geography of Oddington can easily identify the road down which Jenna and Yussef walk in The Man Who Has Baguettes For Dinner, written in 1934, as the same road Emilia travels in The Room. Furthermore, the inspiration for the titular character of Baguettes was an Oddington local who accosted Watergipridget asking him which flavour jam he preferred to put on his baguettes. Knowing this, we can say with near certainty that The Room was written somewhere between 1926 and 1935.

A nine-year gap is still a sizeable one. Fortunately, Watergipridget’s collection of essays hold the key to minimising this time frame. 

Burnell Manor, the “odd looking manor” did exist in a roundabout sort of way. It was not, as the story, or even the name, suggests, a manor—it was a maisonette, situated next to a lightbulb repair shop. This building is referred to in two other Watergipridget works. The first is a 1932 essay titled Banal Bungalows and Mangy Maisonettes, wherein he rates out of ten several houses past which he has walked on his travels. Burnell Manor is described in this essay as an abode he has walked by “very recently on [his] way to buy some cockleberry jam, to which I had developed a fondness, especially when slathered on a crusty bloomer.” How one interprets the time ‘very recently’ is of course subjective, but it does suggest that he was in the area during that year. The second mention is the rather intimate Superstitions which, as one may have already figured out, details the superstitions by which he lived his daily life. Watergipridget’s chief observations was that he would not dare visit a location which had odd in its name on an odd day, week, or year; nor would he visit an area with even on an even day, week, or year. Based on what we know, this would put the years 1930 or 1932 (it can be no earlier as cockleberry jam was invented in 1929) as the chief suspects for the writing of the story. This knowledge of the production of jam, combined with the observation in Banal Bungalows, may make people quick to assume that this makes 1932 the year in which the story was written. However, there is one other piece of information that will shine light on this long unanswered question. This information is not found in an essay or an article, nor is it a poem or a short story or a novel. It is found in a diary — Hubert J. Watergipridget’s own diary.

Until very recently it was not known that Watergipridget had kept a personal diary. Indeed, given his famous speech, commonly referred to as the Castigations of a Skeptic, Watergipridget was outrightly hostile to writing down his own memories. “Autobiographies,” he famously slurred between pints of port and servings of sherry, “are the domain of the narcissist and the simple-minded.” The diary itself was only discovered by chance. As I was rummaging through a collection of books that had belonged to Watergipridget and were now housed in the Hubert J. Watergipridget collection at the University of Cambridge, the diary was found at the bottom of the box. This diary covers the calendar year of 1932. It is a small and ill-kept thing, no bigger than an A5 notebook; its cover is leather but horribly worn, as if moths or ants or some insect had been using the cover for a sumptuous meal; and the diary itself is largely left blank, with entries from January 1 to February 4 followed by a large gap until July 7, followed by a further absence of entries until December 6.

Most entries are of no importance. Most days serve as an indication of what food he had eaten (cockleberry jam on salt-and-pepper baguettes served with a tipple of sherry being his main diet). July 7 details his unsuccessful attempt to kill a very noisy fly. His December 6 entry describes his attempt at creating a Guy Fawkes effigy in his bathroom, only to discard the half-made creation when he has gotten his dates wrong. The most important entry (for the sake of this discussion) is the January 1 entry. It reads:

Today marks the beginning of the leap year. Nothing good in life has ever come from a leap. A leap is to lunge; to lunge is to lose balance; to lose balance is to fall. A man who loses balance may rise again, or he may not; but a planet that leaps, lunges, loses balance, falls, risks the end of all life itself. Sooner or later, the planet will fall when making its leap; and when the planet falls, the men, women, and children walking outside will stumble and fall off the planet. To save myself from falling I have seen fit to blockade the doors and windows of Pridget Hall; for if I cannot fall out of my house, I cannot fall off the planet when it loses balance. Only once this leap year has ended, and if the planet has not fallen while leaping, shall I venture back outside.

Hubert J. Watergipridget.

It is safe to say, as I am writing this and you are reading it, that the planet did not fall over during its leap year and the men, women, and children, Watergipridget included, did not stumble and fall off the planet. While this diary entry highlights one of the oddities of the manner in which Watergipridget thought about the workings of the world, it does, when combined with all the other pieces of information, help to answer the question of the year he wrote The Room With The Light On Even Though It Was The Middle Of The Day. The reference to cockleberry jam, the aversion to odd numbers, the town’s destruction and now this final piece detailing Watergipridget’s location for the entire year of 1932 — all of these facts combine point to the work being written in 1930.

Now knowing the year, historians, biographers, academics, and just those with a general interest of the history of the written work can now move on from the issue of the manuscript’s date. With the timeframe of the work settled, we can begin working out what the story alludes to. But that analysis is best left to another day… 

The House with the Light on Even Though It Was the Middle of the Day

This is a short story written by (un)renowned author Hubert J. Watergipridget. I like it so much that I have uploaded it for your enjoyment. Enjoy.

In the rather odd town of Oddington, Burnell Manor is considered something of an oddity. For a house to be viewed as odd in a town known and named for its oddness, it must be a very odd little place indeed. Everything about the manor was odd: its doors were odd, its decorations were odd, its windows were odd. Oddest of all for the manor, there was on the top floor, on the far left of the building, a room that always had its light on. No matter day or night, rain or shine, dark or bright, the light remained on.

Emilia would walk by Burnell Manor every day on her way to and from school. Emilia was not odd, which, in the odd little town of Oddington, made her incredibly odd! On her walk to and from the schoolyard, she would approach Burnell Manor and wonder to herself if today was the day that the light would finally be off. It never was. No matter if it was day or night, rain or shine, dark or bright, that light remained on. Summer would turn to autumn, autumn would make way for winter, which in turn would give way to spring, and yet the light remained on.

Quite often Emilia would find herself thinking of walking into the garden of Burnell Manor, going up the cobblestone footpath to the big, green-painted oak door at the front of the house. She would think of knocking her hand against the manor’s big door. She would think of the door opening, and of her saying to the owner of the manor: ‘Excuse me, I don’t mean to disturb you but there is a light on in that room, the one on the top floor on the far left.’ Then, having said that, she would think of being thanked by the manor’s owner. Burnell Manor was a big house, bigger than any other in Oddington, and big houses meant rich owners, and rich owners who had reason to be thankful meant big rewards for little girls like Emilia.

Day after day, week after week, season after season, Emilia thought of knocking on that door. On two occasions she very nearly did. The first occurred on a bright October day. She had even gone so far to walk into the garden and step foot on that cobblestone path. But before she could step any further something caught her attention and made her stop in her tracks.

In that room, the one on the top floor on the far left of the house, where the light was on no matter the time of day, Emilia saw — or Emilia thought she saw — movement in the window. The window was very high up, and Emilia was only very small so she couldn’t be too sure, but to her, it looked as if a face was peering down at her. A room has a reason to have a light on if there is a face in there, Emilia thought. A face in a room means there is a head attached to that face, and a neck and a body and limbs attached to that. Emilia did not take another step forward towards the door after seeing that face. Instead, she took many steps back, walking out of the garden back onto the road and continuing on her walk to school. 

The second came months later on a chilly, cold, snowy day. Though it was morning it was very, very dark. Emilia could not see much farther than just her hand in front of her as she walked along the road. Once again Emilia found herself passing by the front gate of Burnell Manor, and once again she could see that bright light on in that top floor room. From her position at the gate, she could into the room, for the juxtaposition of the darkness of the outside world seemed to intensify the light coming out of the room. In that brightly lit room, the one that the top floor on the far left, there was an assortment of decorations. Pictures and portraits and landscapes of men and women and lakeside views could be seen from where Emilia stood. They were so vivid in detail that even though the room was very high up and Emilia was very small, she could make out even the faintest of lines on the pictures and the portraits and the landscapes. What Emilia could not see was a face. With no face, Emilia thought, there was no head. With no head, there was no neck or body or limbs either. No head or body or limbs meant there was no person in that room, and no person in that room meant there was no reason for the light to be on.

Emilia opened the gate to Burnell Manor. She walked into the garden, up the cobblestone path, towards the big green door. She stopped in front of the door and moved her wrist to begin knocking on its oaky exterior. Yet she could not do it. Before her knuckles rapped against the wood, she heard a sound coming from inside –- a sound like none she had ever heard before. It was not as scary sound or a sad sound or even a worried sound — it was a sound of bliss and joy and happiness, a sound so expressive that it sounded more animalistic than human. Somebody is so happy that they ought not to be disturbed, Emilia thought. So, just as before, Emilia found herself stepping away from the door and walking back onto the road to walk to school.

On the third occasion, Emilia did knock on the door.

It was a muggy autumn day; the green leaves on the trees were beginning to turn to amber and red. Unlike the previous two occasions, Emilia was walking back from school when she found herself in front of Burnell Manor. The light in the room seemed brighter than ever. It was as if the cradle of light and life itself was emanating from that room on the top floor on the far left. Or perhaps the owners have replaced the light with a newer brighter one. A light that is on at all times must surely be expensive on the bill so using a brighter, more energy-efficient bulb would make more sense.

Whatever the reason the light shone brighter than ever before. It was a brightness Emilia could no longer ignore. Like a moth drawn to an open flame, Emilia found herself engrossed by the light’s incandescence. Emilia had to approach the door, even if she knew she shouldn’t. Emilia’s mother had given her the strictest of instructions to walk straight home from school. Emilia’s grandparents would be visiting that evening and Emilia would need to have a bath before they arrived. But all thoughts of walking home and having a bath and seeing her grandparents were not as important to her as knowing why the light in that room was always on. For day upon day, week upon week, season upon season, no matter at day or night, rain or shine, dark or bright, the light had consumed Emilia’s thoughts. Why was it always turned on? Emilia had to know, and today, Emilia decided, would be the day that Emilia would know.

For the third time in her life, Emilia opened the gate to Burnell Manor and walked along the cobblestone path. The cobblestone paving was now littered with fallen leaves. The once green leaves were now squelching under her feet as they turned to amber and red mush. Emilia tried her best to not look at the room; if a face was in the window Emilia would not see it. Emilia tried her best to drown out the sounds surrounding her. If there was a sound, happy or excited or scared and frightened, Emilia would not hear it. To Emilia, there was nothing in the world but her and the big green oak door. The door was her focus; the green became greener, the oak became oakier. Emilia continued walking to the door, one step and then another. No matter how far she walked the door never seemed to get closer. It was as if she was walking on a conveyor belt, unable to walk faster than the machine. But Emilia would not be deterred in her quest. She kept her focus away from the light, she made herself deaf to the sounds around her and her pace quickened so that in no time at all she was once again standing in front of the door.

Emilia cocked her hand and rapped two of her knuckles against the door.

Thud, thud, thud, came the sound of bone smacking against the oak.

Emilia saw no movement. Nor did she hear any sound. For a minute she stood in front of that door without a response. If anybody else had been standing at that door, perhaps they would have determined that nobody was in and went away to carry on their day. But Emilia was not to be deterred. She wanted to know why the light was on and had decided that today would be the day she found out.

She knocked again, harder, sharper. She knocked so hard she even hurt herself and let out a little pang of pain as her finger ricocheted against the frame.

Suddenly, something! What was it? Emilia was unsure. Whether it was movement or sound it was too quick for Emilia to be sure. All that she was able to know was that a movement or a sound meant that somebody was inside the house. And when somebody inside a house hears a knock on their door, they come to answer. Then… a second something. This something was definitely a noise. It was the sound of a latch being lifted or a bolt coming loose from its socket. Whatever it was, it led to the same result: the door was opening.

Now Emilia was fully aware of her surroundings. The light in the room was blinding, so bright and luminous that she could not make out the pictures or the portraits of the landscape, let alone the faintest of lines on those pictures of men and women and lakeside views. If a face was in that window, Emilia would not be able to see. The light was so bright that even just seeing the light from her periphery was enough to momentarily daze her.

The door opened. Standing on the other side, not more than a foot away from Emilia, was the person who had opened it. Emilia took a moment to take in what she was seeing—not because it was some grotesque fiend staring back at her, but because she was still dazed by the light. Inside the house, the light shone even brighter.

‘Can I help you?’ asked the person on the other side of the door.

By now Emilia had regained her sense of self; she was no longer dazed. For the first time, she could get a proper look at the person in front of her. He was a lanky, spindly sort of man; his long features seemed to create an aura of frailty about him. Emilia could not be sure if he was young or old. He had hair atop his head, but in the light it was not clear if it was blonde or white. One of his hands was by his side, the other was resting on the door frame. His fingers were long and thin and unsettling to look at.

‘Can I help you?’ the man repeated.

‘Oh, yes,’ Emilia replied. ‘I just wanted to let you know that your light is on.’

‘Which light?’ the man asked.

‘That one,’ Emilia said, pointing upwards, ‘the one on the top floor, on the far left.’

‘Is it?’ The man stepped forward, coming out of the house and towards Emilia, who bolted back at a very quick pace to get out of his way. ‘Oh, that one — it’s always on.’ The man went back inside and started to close the door.

Emilia didn’t let him. She wanted — needed — to know why the light was always on and had told herself that today would be the day she found out. ‘If you don’t mind my asking,’ she began, ‘why is that light always on? I walk past this Manor on my way to and from school and the light is always on, no matter if it is day or night, rain or shine, dark or bright. I have always wondered why the light is always on. Twice before I have come close to knocking on this green oaken door and asking but have never been brave enough to do it until now. Oh please tell me why this light is always on, no matter day, noon or night?’

The old man looked at Emilia. His face contorted into something, though Emilia was unsure of what. His face was far too gaunt for whichever expression he was trying to make. Emilia did not know if the man was smiling or frowning, thinking or howling.

‘Well, little girl. It seems like you really want to know.’

‘Oh I do sir, truly I do. Not knowing haunts me so.’

‘The reason why the light in that room, the one of the top floor on the far left, is always on is…’

Emilia’s eyes lit up, lit up even brighter than that bright, bright bulb in that room. She leaned in closer to the man. The man leaned in closer to her.

‘The reason why the light is always on is that the light switch is broken.

The man closed the door. All Emilia could hear was the man walking away. All Emilia could see was the bright, bright light.

Patrick, Patrick McGoohan

I am ninety years old. I am sitting in my favourite chair, the one by the window overlooking the horizon of the Suffolk coastline. Due to soil erosion, the coast is now on my doorstep. At my side is my granddaughter, whom was named after her mother, my daughter. The Younger is taking time out of her busy schedule as Empress of the Restored Empire of Anglia to tell me stories about the world.

She tells me that my debut novel has just sold its billionth(!) copy, setting a new record for book sales. She tells me that the Lovatt art exhibition, bringing together for the first time in five decades all of my paintings and sculptures, has been a huge success, bringing together political and religious leaders of all races, religions and creeds together in harmony. She tells me that former writing partner has died, penniless and destitute and unknown to the world. This makes me happier than the declaration of world peace being announced in my name.

Content that the world is healed, I close my eyes, accepting the call from Beyond.

As my eyes grow heavier, I see Patrick McGoohan’s bearded, spectacled face looking back at me.

My day is ruined. 

The Tedious Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a cultural phenomenon. It seems that is impossible to go your life without experiencing his gothic novella in some medium or other. Off the top of my head, I have seen various TV adapatations of the story, with actors such as James Nesbitt, John Hannah, Dougray Scott, and Sam Witwer portraying the titular roles. In film, as well as in their own adaptations, the duo often crop up in films outside of their own story, whenever some form of supernatural or gothic aesthetic is required. Dr Jekyll (but more so Mr Hyde) is recruited into the Victorian Avengers in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, of which the most extraordinary thing about it is just how bad the film is. In the equally as bad but far more enjoyable Van Helsing, Hyde serves as a minor antagonist to the titular character, being killed off almost as soon as he introduced, only to transform back into Dr Jekyll as he dies, to which my favourite line in all of cinema is stated: ‘Van Helsing! You murdereeeeeer!’. During my schooling years I was an unwilling audience member of a stage production of the book, when, for what I only assume were budgetary constraints, a school trip consisted of going to another school and watching the play. 

Despite all of these experiences with the story, it was not until very recently that I read the original source itself. Having now done so, I wonder for the life of me how it became popular to begin with. Most likely that conclusion is due to the fact that I am coming to the story some one hundred years or so after it was written, through the lens of having seen the story adapted and twisted and distorted through the ages. The crux of the story is in the twist, of that there is no doubt, and in knowing the ending before you come in, it does ruin the ‘reveal’. Yet I cannot point to that as the sole, or even an important, reason in why the book doesn’t resonate with me. There are many books or shows or some other form of media where I have been aware of the ending and still found them enjoyable. Peter Falk‘s Columbo is a show designed around the audience member knowing the ‘ending’ and watching the raggedy detective figure out something we already know. With Stevenson, the ending is built up in such a mundane way that I am quite confident in stating that even if I had no knowledge of the story before reading it, my nonreaction to the revelation would have been the same.

The reality is that it is simply poorly paced. Despite its short length (the copy I have comes in at a leaf under ninety pages), it feels much longer than it is, in no small part to its tediously drawn out nature. Of those ninety pages, a good seventy or so are nothing more than descriptions of dimly-lit alley-ways, the narrator Mr Utterson attending and leaving a succession of dinner parties, and stilted conversation between people who we are told are old friends, but between whom the conversations are so dry, stilted and dripping in exposition that they come across as nothing more than shades of characters inserted in to provide Utterson with the information he needs to make his discovery. It’s less Columbo uncovering the clues, more him sitting having his dinner with Mrs Columbo for forty minutes, only for the murderer to knock on his door and give him all the evidence.

Even then, Utterson struggles to make the connection until the final moments of his story. Throughout the story he is told that Mr Hyde boards with Dr Jekyll, that Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll are never seen together, that Dr Jekyll disappears at roughly the same time as Mr Hyde, and that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde have near-identical handwriting. Despite these in-your-face clues, Utterson only makes the connection when he’s standing in Jekyll’s laboratory over the body of Mr Hyde, who is wearing Jekyll’s clothes, reading Jekyll’s suicide note that says in no uncertain terms: By the way, in case you haven’t realised yet, I am both Dr Jekyll and  Mr Hyde.

I must also assume that Stevenson was paid by the comma for this work. There is something about the long running sentences in literature of that time period, the painfully long descriptions of just about everything. Open a tale of Dickens or Hardy or Hubert or Austen or any of the Brontës and you’ll seemingly go pages at a time without a full stop. But those had the greedy excuse of serialisation, of profiting off the length of the book. Stevenson has no such excuse. It doesn’t help that his long-winding sentences describe nothing but those dingy alleys. You don’t need a sentence containing two dashes and three semi-colons to tell me how dirty the street is. Particularly as the picture it paints is so bleak and dark that it is akin to crude, faint, listless strokes on an already jet black canvas.

The prose is poor, the characters are bland, the story is lifeless. Yet, here I am, over one hundred years later discussing it, so I guess he got something right. What that something is, though, I doubt I’ll ever know.

Consistency is for Cowards; Hypocrisy for Heroes: A Literature Review

When Diogenes of Sinope walked through the streets of Athens with a lit lamp in his hand, he was said to be seeking an honest man. Instead, to his dismay, all he found was scoundrels.

In a rather different way, Hubert J. Watergipridget also sought out virtue and honesty in its purest form. Where he and Diogenes differed was, Watergipridget was not disheartened but delighted when finding the most dishonest humanity had to offer. “I’d rather follow an immoral man than an ignorant one” was a core philosophy of the author’s life. Watergipridget and Diogenes did live similar lives in one aspect: both lived in pots in the middle of cities and spent their time harassing those who were merely trying to do their weekly shop.

Deciphering the feelings and mindset of Watergipridget has been a difficult task for numerous biographers, due in no small part to the author’s reluctance to directly discuss in any meaningful detail his politics or general world views. Those who study Orwell know that all of his works are, in his own words, ‘in support of democratic Socialism as I see it.’ Tolkien’s letters and Lewis’s Mere Christianity inform the reader of the political, social, and religious views of the respective authors. Sassoon and Graves wrote intimate (though partly fictionalised to avoid directly naming comrades) accounts of their lives in the most gruelling of circumstances, pouring out their souls to the readers with every carefully chosen word they put to paper. Conversely, those who study or wish to study Watergipridget are often found  desperately searching for the metaphorical needle in the haystack. Much of his work is allegorical, more yet is innuendo. Very rarely does the man ‘shoot straight’. Little can be gleaned from his essays, articles and works of fiction. Less can be found when examining his career, academic or military. 

When war broke out in Europe in the late 1930s, Watergipridget could not decide on which side he would fight. As a result, he fought for all. Over the course of World War II Watergipridget served in the British Army, the Luftwaffe, and the Regia Marina. In the Battle of Pantelleria he fought for all three simultaneously, keeping his spare uniforms in a satchel and jumping between ships as the conflict raged on. This caught the ire of many fellow soldiers on all sides, many of whom would become authors in their post-war life and recount the (mis)deeds of Watergipridget. No learned scholar would fail to notice the thinly veiled depiction of Watergipridget as the cowardly, immoral opportunist Colonel Pells in Joseph Threadingham’s acclaimed Memoirs of a One-armed Signaller.

But do the modifiers cowardly, immoral and opportunist truly apply to the man on whom the character is based? Watergipridget himself may agree to some extent with the claim of opportunism. Indeed, Watergipridget would proclaim that anybody who was not an opportunist or was steadfast in their morals was a brazen fool: ‘Consistency,’ he wrote, ‘is nothing but a great iron ball to which we shackle ourselves.’ Opportunism, then, along with the absence of morality, is the freeing of one’s self from that shackle: opportunism is pragmatism in essence, and pragmatism, more so than a misplaced sense of ethics and morals, is far more likely to see about true progress.

Where Watergipridget would wholeheartedly disagree, as he indeed did so in his essay Consistency is for Cowards; Hypocrisy for Heroes, would be on the accusation of cowardice on his part. In Watergipridget’s view a coward is one who does not expand his mind, one who sticks to their pre-conceived notions of right and wrong, good and evil, and dares never to challenge their beliefs. A person who only experiences one half of a topic is not somebody whose opinion is worthwhile, for how can they claim to fully understand an issue if they are not themselves prepared to experience it fully? Watergipridget sums this up succinctly in his essay:

A man who has let no drug befoul his body warning me of the horrors of drug abuse is mere stuff and nonsense. A man who has consumed all drugs and devolved into a hunched and vulgar husk of a man telling me never to take drugs, in between his daily course of drugs, well… there is something to think about. 

Hubert J. Watergipridget, ‘Consistency is for Cowards; Hypocrisy for Heroes’, The Tinier Compendium of Ridiculousness, I.87, (1932), 13-23 (p. 17).

For Watergipridget to fully know where his loyalties lay during the war, he had to fight on all sides. In his view it was the only way to be sure he truly believed in the cause he was fighting for. To the man on the outside, the sight of a man jumping from ship to ship changing into different uniforms, alternating between friend and foe at the change of his hat may look like the actions of a coward, of a traitor, an opportunist and a cad, but in the inner workings of Watergipridget’s chaotic yet genius brain, these were the acts needed to truly understand his mind and his loyalty. To him, it was an act of seeking knowledge and being honest with himself. 

As ever, Hubert J. Watergipridget remains an enigma and a paradox. Like Hesse’s Siddartha or d’Ormesson’s Alexis, Watergipridget’s quest for the true aesthetic of life and truth led him down many paths. British, German, Italian, socialist, fascist, writer, philosopher, Oxford, Cambridge — Watergipridget was simultaneously all and none. Had Watergipridget lived in the age of Diogenes, would the lamp of the Greek philosopher have shone brightly on the man for whom nothing was off-limits, the man for whom the pursuit of all experiences was the only way to truly discover the true essence of being? Watergipridget’s actions often failed to match his words. That would under most definitions constitute a hypocrite. But Watergipridget is a man hard to pin down under any definition of any word known to man. Perhaps that is why he remains a figure on the outside of history, as a mere footnote to others who considered him their literary and philosophical superior. Hubert J. Watergipridget is the most hypocritical man to have ever lived — and yet, one would be hard pressed to find a more honest man in history.

That, in its own way, may be his most hypocritical act. 

The Wasted Potential of Dead and the Damned: A Movie Review

To waste potential is an abhorrent concept. I see the wasting of my own potential by human resources administrators across this isle as they throw my application form into their bin. In the realm of film, potential can be wasted in a great number of ways. A touch of laziness or lack of attention in a script can ruin what is ostensibly a good idea; bad acting negatively impacts on the dialogue and characterisation; and a lack of budget can make even the most high concept of ideas look like a live action roleplaying session. When it comes to The Dead and the Damned, an unholy cocktail of all of these elements takes what could have been something worthwhile and throws it so deep into the pig swill that not even Jeff can save it.

The Dead and The Damned, or Cowboys and Zombies as it was briefly marketed in an attempt to syphon off some publicity from Daniel Craig’s godawful Cowboys and Aliens, is a Zombie Western film set in California during the height of the Gold Rush. A bounty hunter makes a mining town his temporary residence during his search for a wanted criminal. While exploring the area for clues with the (forced) help of a townswoman, a meteor lands in the town, releasing a gas which turns the residents into zombies. The bounty hunter, his bounty, and the townswoman must survive the zombie onslaught so that he may claim his prize. On a simple synopsis, the plot doesn’t appear to make much sense. On a full watching, the plot doesn’t make much sense either. Oh, and occasionally a rival bounty hunter called The German appears, punches the main bounty hunter then disappears. That’s just a thing that happens.

To begin with, we find ourselves yet again in that age old discussion of what exactly is a zombie. It’s almost as if I deliberately chose to discuss another zombie film just to make this point. In DatD (what a novel concept shortening titles is) there is yet again no resurrection. The zombies are made so by a gas mutating them into savage cannibalistic beings. Incidentally, the film’s own synopsis neglects to call them zombies; referring to them instead as mutants, which is far more fitting. Ergo, like Zombie Women of Satan, it must be said that no zombies appear in this zombie film. Trading Standards is getting another earful.

Secondly, the manner in which the townspeople are turned into mutants is ridiculous and neglects the very setting of the film. The town is a mining town, the townsfolk are prospectors and miners. The dialogue refers going into the mines in search of gold, mines and shafts and mining equipment are seen within the town and in the wider setting. That is a setup if ever there were a setup to miners finding something within those mines that turns them into zombies. But that doesn’t happen. What happens is that from the sky a meteor falls. This meteor, despite visibly leaking a bright green gas, is taken into the heart of the town where it infects the members of said town turning them into the titular (but not actual) zombies. It’s a glaring oversight. I wonder if the writer knew what he was writing or as he wrote it—or if the addition of zombies to the story was a very late one so he just half-arsed a reason for zombies appearing.

A low-budget film is going to struggle to find top talent. A micro-budget film is going to struggle to find mediocre talent. DatD must have had no budget as the ‘actors’ are so deficient in skill that one can only assume the director just happened to cast whoever happened to be walking by while he set up the cameras. There are four main cast members, the rest are a handful of people who get a line or two but are primarily there to transform into mutants and have their faces shot off by the featured cast. The protagonist, Mortimer the cowboy-cum-bounty-hunter, suffers from the expectancy of character archetypes. There are certain traits you imagine when you hear the words cowboy and Wild West: strong, bold, enigmatic The actor possesses none of these: he’s sinewy, weak in the voice, uncharismatic. He’s like Kit Harington without the massive net worth. He noticeably struggles in the gun battles, unable to either hold a gun properly or use it convincingly. His bounty, a Native American, alternates from speaking with a faux-Indian accent to sounding like he just came from filming an episode of The O.C. Like the bounty hunter, he too lacks the charisma—or talent—to carry a scene. When the scenes are just these two killing the mutated townspeople it is not as big a problem; it’s when the script has them talking in darkened room for ten minutes at a time to exposit their backstories that it becomes akin to torture. The townswoman is fine but she suffers the fate of all supporting characters in these smaller affairs. Her purpose is to provide reactionary shots and comments to the words of the main character, and occasionally be in a position where she needs rescuing. 

A good ninety or so percent of the budget went onto fake blood and rubber masks. It’s a gory fest full of blood and splatter effects and actual gooey mush on the floor. I am actually quite surprised that they did use some real blood and gore because despire their low budget. Fake blood is a hassle to clean–my former housemate staining our bathroom in a faded red after he took a shower following a night out at a zombie-themed party is testament to that. The other ten percent must have gone on whatever it is they do to make the guns fire off smoke to make it look a shot has been fired. It looks like they had their fill of doing that. When a six-chamber revolver can fire off a dozen shots before being reloaded, that’s just showing off.

I will highlight one thing I thought was particularly good. There is a scene in which the townswoman locks herself away in a house as protection from the zombies roaming around outside only to discover that there is a zombie inside the house. That in itself is typical horror fare, but a shocking level of originality is thrown in by making the zombie blind. What follows is a genuinely tense at times game of hide-and-seek as the protagonist tries to lure the zombie into a room by throwing items to make noise, while she herself tries to move around quietly enough to avoid being attacked. It is a scene deserving of being in a far better film. In fact, it is at such a higher standard than the rest of it that I wonder who actually came up with the idea. It can’t be the same guy who thought up the meteor falling from the sky plot.

If you are writing a script about a horde of zombies, hire me to flesh (aha!) out your ideas. My genius will be an asset, and my mum might finally stop harping on about me not having a job.