Thursday, 14 July 2011

True Crimes




I know I'm not alone here, simply because of the popularity of true crime TV programmes and books, but I am a fan of the 'genre;' particularly stories of murder. This still does not make me feel entirely comfortable with that fact, as killing somebody in cold blood is clearly horrific. However, I also do realise that the phenomenon of straining to see the car crash you're driving past is also human nature, and to some extent we cannot resist these urges.

This is all to explain in a roundabout way my choice of book lately when I visited my local library: Ripper Suspect by D J Leighton.

I think it is safe to say that even if you're not interested in true crime stories, the Jack the Ripper tale must hold some fascination. From my own knowledge of the era, this was partly due to the fact that it was so widely reported at the time due to advances in technology and journalism; but obviously mainly because the killer was never caught. This has of course, led to many writers speculating on who the killer was, to varying degrees of success. The list of suspects ranges from East End Jewish migrants, to even the Duke of Clarence (King Edward VII's eldest son) and Lewis Carroll.

The book I read concentrated on one of the lesser known suspects: Montague John Druitt. He was a barrister who was born into a well-off family in Dorset, who moved to Blackheath to become a schoolmaster to supplement his income. This immediately raises questions as to how he ever became a suspect; two separate coroners believed the killer had surgical experience or was even a practising doctor and the killer clearly had a local knowledge of the Whitechapel area, neither of which he seemed to have.

Upon reading the book, he became a suspect based on the fact that the Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Melville Macnaghten, believed him to be the killer - two years after the murder of Mary Kelly. Oh, and because Druitt killed himself by drowning himself in the Thames shortly after her murder.

The evidence is pretty flimsy to be honest, especially because many people believe that Mary Kelly was actually not the last victim. She certainly suffered the most extensive mutilation, which may have lead people to believe the killer had reached his climax. However, there were a further four murders that have been attributed to Jack the Ripper. Therefore, it would have been impossible for Druitt to be the killer unless he had found a way back from his watery grave.

All this preamble is leading me to one thing: the pointlessness of this book. The main narrative is less than 200 pages long, and the first 100 concentrate on Druitt's adventures on the cricket field and the connections he made through playing matches with the aristocracy. Yes, he was a keen cricketer and a member of the MCC, which apparently means the Marylebone Cricket Club. Throughout the whole book, this is never mentioned, as if someone who is reading about Jack the Ripper should already know this. If I had deigned to read the inside back page about the author before even starting the book, I would have seen that he has had a lifelong interest in cricket. That's right, he didn't write this book because he had an interest in the Whitechapel murders, he wrote it because one of the (tenuous at best) suspects was a cricket fan too. The back 20+ pages even have Druitt's cricket scorecards!

It is clear early on that Druitt wasn't the killer, not least because of the few reasons I mentioned above. Therefore, in my opinion, he wasn't a suspect in the traditional sense of the word. He wasn't questioned by police and he couldn't defend himself against these allegations as he was conveniently dead at the time.

All this to basically say that I feel cheated by this book; enough to write a whole bloody blog on the thing. I went to the True Crime section of the library, not the Sports section. And if I was going to read about any sport (unlikely), it certainly wouldn't be cricket; the most boringest sport ever created.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A Town Called Panic




A Town Called Panic (2009) is a Belgian-Luxembourg-French stop-motion animated film directed by St├ęphane Aubier and Vincent Patar. According to Wikipedia, it was also the first stop-motion animation to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

The story follows a cowboy (Cowboy) and an Indian (Indian) as they try to find a birthday present for their friend Horse – who is a dog. Ha! Just kidding, he’s a horse. When their order of 50 bricks to make him a barbecue for his birthday accidentally turns into an order of 50 billion, a series of wacky and confusing incidences occur with seemingly no end in sight.

Well, where do I begin? The film is basically 75 minutes of this:





In fact, I would say that the film is about 158% crazier and for the first 15 minutes you’re left wondering how on earth they can keep this pace up for over an hour. To be frank, it’s exhausting, because I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. One particular moment that had me grinning like a loon, was when Horse received a letter and he announced “It’s from my brother-in-law.” Whenever there is any let-up though, (which doesn’t happen that often), I found myself willing something to happen as it seemed totally out of character.

Speaking of characters, they do actually talk in that mad half-shouty, half-screeching way all the time, just like they do in the Cravendale advert, and the fact they’re speaking in French somehow makes it more hilarious. There are a few characters (mainly women) who aren’t suffering from hearing loss though, so it doesn’t grate on you as much as it probably should.

This film is very popular with the children in our film clubs, but you don’t have to be three feet tall to enjoy it. Apart from the sheer escapism of it, there are some moments in it that adults can relate to. For example, at Horse’s birthday party (complete with DJ and disco lights in the living room of his house), the farmer gets a little tipsy and starts threatening the postman (or is it the policeman?) who is dancing with his wife. Not a lot of children would ‘get’ this beyond the silly drunken man causing a scene, so it was a nice little touch for us older viewers.

The animation is basic to say the least. Cowboy and Indian walk like the soldiers in Toy Story on acid, as they have the same stands holding them up. There are little to no expressions on their faces, beyond mild terror and the backdrops look like a project I tried to make in primary school when I was 10. However, this just makes the film more magical and it somehow wouldn’t be the same without it.

You can view the whole film on YouTube, if you don’t mind watching it in six parts, so you really have no excuse not to watch this film.

5 out of 5.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Life in a Day




Life in a Day (2011) is an experimental film of sorts. YouTube announced the project on 6th July 2010 by asking its users to submit films of themselves on 24th July 2010. It was produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin MacDonald, so not only was it ambitious but it was definitely taking itself seriously.

Now, this could have gone one of two ways; a poignant, funny and eye-opening look at what people deem important in their lives, or a pretentious United Colours of Benetton advert (yes, they still exist).

I am somewhat pleased to say that it definitely fell into the former category and the hour and a half seemed to whiz by in no time. Despite the 4,500 hours of footage from around 140 countries, the editors and director have done the impossible by creating a strong narrative throughout.

And it doesn’t just fall into the pattern of following expectant mothers, then babies, then children until the inevitable shot of an old man in a hospital bed; but it also makes a pretty compelling story out of the everyday routines we all take for granted.

That isn’t to say that the filmmakers ignore the dramatic, as to do so with such a project would be stupid of them. Something quite significant happened on that day, and we’re taken through the chaos. We see the family with a son struggling to come to terms with his mother’s illness, the young woman who is trying to find herself and the man telling his grandmother some very important news. But this is all interspersed with the shots of people just waking up; their faces in the mirror as they’re getting ready. And this is no bad thing. To have a constant barrage of ‘important’ moments thrown at you would have missed the point of it all. Life doesn’t always have to be significant or meaningful and this film manages to convey that beautifully.

The cynics among you may find it all a bit tedious. Why do I need to see children frolicking on a beach when I can’t stand the sight of my own? Well, I will agree that some moments do feel forced and/or set up. It is not hard to see why people would want to be seen in a certain light or be defined by their actions or clever witticisms on screen. But these are in the minority (I can only recall one or two of them now) and apart from a roll of the eyes, they do not have enough of an impact to affect the whole.

This film set out to capture what it was like to be alive on that day, and put simply, it did a damn fine job. I truly believe that it will still be around in hundreds of years’ time, helping our descendants make out what the hell it is we were up to.

A very respectable 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

I Think I May Still Be Drunk

Well, it's been over a year, so any title for this post is as good as any other. And it's true.

I will be honest with you, the reason I've resurrected this blog is because it is very quiet at work at the moment. Before deciding to write anything though, I had a read through all my previous posts.

I can only apologise people. Self-indulgent? Me? I suppose that's how blogs started, but I think I was taking the piss a little.

So I have decided to make a point to this blog, but unfortunately the only thing I can think of is films.

Now, there must be millions of film blogs out there, and Darren and our friend Lee even do a podcast on them (which I have had the pleasure of guest starring in). But I now work for a film education charity and have decided to make more of an effort in discovering new films.

Therefore, I will write a review on each new film I see and hopefully add something a little different along the way to make it a bit more special. It's got to be an improvement on my moaning about something or other (usually work or lack of), which was initially not my intention when I decided to start writing.

I will also try and get at least one post in a week, to keep my brain working.

Right, I'm off to stare blankly at my Inbox.

Friday, 29 January 2010

New Year Post

Gosh! I didn't realise my last blog post was in August!

Well, some stuff has happened since then, but nothing which will surprise any of you (since any readers are probably my mates anyway)!

I did eventually find a temporary position in November after 3 months of being out of work. Saying it now, it is an awful long time, yet last year seems to have flown by. It is coming up to a year since I was made redundant and my weird year began. However, I now find myself out of work again after that age-old excuse which both hits me like a lorry, yet doesn't manage to surprise me one bit; 'we have no money/we are re-structuring so we don't need you anymore.' I was about two and a half months into a supposedly six month contract, so I know that for whatever reason they wanted rid of me and didn't actually have the grounds to do so. I was looking for a new job anyway - but at least I had regular money coming in when doing so. Now I have to sign on again, which is always depressing.

On the up side of last year's small traumas, I now know that I don't want to be a teacher, which is quite amusing to me now since I was so disappointed I didn't get a chance to study at the time. I want to continue along the line of administration, but floating around the outskirts of media/creative companies which is where I've had my experience. One of the job agencies I am signed up with is putting me forward for a job in a museum which I think would be pretty cool, so fingers crossed for that one.

I set out to be more positive this year, but finding myself out of work so soon into it has put me on a bit of a downer! However, I shall endeavour to have some happier (more interesting) things to talk about this year that will have the minimum amount of 'woe is me' contained therein.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

I Pity the Fool

Well, as some of you may know already from forums I frequent or Twitter posts, I have been well and truly shafted by a money laundering scam disguised as an amazing job opportunity. I shall attempt to explain it all here:

I have missed out on teaching this year (see previous blog entries), so I am now looking for a job that will take me until at least this time next year. I was doing some temp work when I received an email from someone who saw my CV on Monster.co.uk which is a job site where employers can look at CVs if they are made public. But as the employer has to pay for this privilege and sign a contract with Monster, I wasn't initially suspicious. In this email, they explained that they were an intermediary company that works with people who don't have time to sell their stuff on Ebay and my job would be to make sure each seller received the correct amount of money for their product and report back to them with financial information and reference numbers for transfers (I even made a spreadsheet). I checked out the company and they do exist as a registered trading partner of Ebay, but unfortunately the person who emailed me has nothing to do with them...

Looking back, this seems like an obvious scam but I only had a vague sense of what money laundering was. They had even written out a contract which explained my role and their role in a two month trial period and what they could do to reasonably help me in passing it successfully. I promptly sent to this my mother for her advice (she isn't a lawyer or anything, but mothers know everything) and she has been unsure from the start looking back but she was taken in by the level of detail that went into the agreement. Of course, I signed it and so as well as having my address from my CV, they have my signature and bank details now which means I have to look out for any unsolicited mail now if they attempt identity theft on top of their other crimes.

At the time, the thing that sucked me in was the 'too good to be true' element of the work. In the email, they detailed the working day which would be 3 hours each day from Monday to Friday at £1,800 a month plus 5% commission on each successful transaction. Yes, I am so desperate for work that I fell for this hook, line and sinker. And yes, I am so desperate to reduce my commute and the cost of it every month (over £140) that I was willing to believe a job like this could exist and boy do I feel stupid. It was like winning the lottery when I read that email and I should have realised something was up then. But the fact they had written a contract and found my details from a legitimate source convinced me enough. You know, if they put as much energy into real work as they did on this scam, they would be running Microsoft by now.

So yes, I was working out how much money I could save (and make) each month and the time I would have to do lots of...stuff. But the thing is, I wasn't making ridiculous and unreasonable plans and now I feel robbed of the opportunity to do these things as well as obviously robbed of a job (which I know didn't really exist, but hey ho). I was going to finally get the dodgy window replaced, sort out the damp/mould problem we have in the flat, get new carpets and redecorate, get someone to help with the garden (it is mostly gravel, but Mother Nature has slowly taken over this summer) and even start my driving lessons again. In my afternoons I was thinking how I could help out in a charity shop or an after school club and I would finally be finished work in time to give blood at the community centre that they keep sending me letters for. I was even contemplating joining a gym again. I know! Now, I am hardly a saint, but you know, I was going to help make a difference in my little community instead of spending 3 hours each day on a train and not being able to get home in time for anything other than dinner and some telly. And I know people can do this on top of full time jobs, you don't have to be a superhero or anything. But come on, who wouldn't jump at the chance of not having to do it all on evenings and weekends without having to take any time off work?

So of course, on Thursday this was all shot down when I couldn't access my account online and I rang the bank to find out they have frozen activity on my account because of a payment that was made into it that is expected to be fraudulent (don't ask me how they know these things). So I called the job website with a heavy heart and they said: 'Oh, we have a record of that company, but there is more than one here so I'll email you back with the details once I have found the right one.' So, I felt relieved and still thought the company was legit - maybe the buyer was the dodgy one. But no, after telling me that it all seemed okay they send me an email to say that they have nothing to do with the email that was sent to me and that they have just used the recognised name as a way to get to people. People like me who still think the best of everything despite all the crap that is thrown at them.

I should be angry at them. I have had to go to my bank and try and sort everything out. I had to call the police to let them know I was taken in and that I'm not in on it and above all else, I have to look for another job now. But most of all, my wonderful plans have been well and truly scuppered. But you know what? I am so fed up I am past that now. I am mostly embarassed that I got sucked into this and I felt so stupid explaining it to the bank manager. I had that horrible dread feeling in my stomach before I went to the bank but that's being sorted now - they will cover any losses and once the £2,000 of dodgy money sat in my account has been dealt with they will probably close the account and give me new numbers. But now, the thing that is bothering me is that I have to really concentrate on finding a 'proper' job - none of these temporary contracts that don't help my development in any way just to get a couple of hundred pounds a week. But I'm sick and tired of looking for a job - since February I really haven't had a serious job interview, only temporary contracts or informal arrangements. If I don't get a job soon, I would have spent half of this year out of work which is depressing to say the least.

So, this year has turned out to be one of the worst of my life. Being made redundant, losing another job for no apparent reason, realising a dream but having other people make the life-changing decisions for me and now this. The thing is, I don't think I am clinically depressed or anything, I don't feel I have changed my outlook on life much despite what has gone on. And I am certainly not out for sympathy, I'm just documenting the shit that has happened to me, and it just so happens that it makes an interesting blog. ;o) I still have the same friends (although some of my ex-workmates have really disappointed me), I still enjoy the same pursuits, I still go out and get drunk, I'm always still trying to lose weight (7lbs and counting) and I am still a generally positive person (when I'm not commuting), so I don't think I have done too badly considering.

I apologise for the length of this post, but it has been a while so I'm making my word count up.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

More Disappointment

Well, last week I was hit with a bit of a bombshell and I was asked to leave work. I wasn't officially fired, just asked not to come back and they are at least giving me a week's worth of money (I have just been paid as well so that's not too bad). The problem with the job is that the contract has one job title and the person who did the job before me used another - basically Administrator for the former and PA for the latter - and if you've done either job you'll know that the two are very different.

The job was as an administrator for the projectionists department in a very popular film institute in London, i.e. a glorified cinema. So my job included ordering in equipment for them, as well as making sure the casual staff were paid and any overtime was paid on time each month for the permanent staff. But I also did anything and everything that the head of the department asked which I know is one of the reasons why one of my predecessors left, as it wasn't made clear before the job started that it would turn into basically a PA role rather than as a support to the rest of the team. Now, the reason he said the job 'wasn't for me' is because he wants someone more technical which is a bit of a crap excuse to be honest with you. I didn't have any trouble ordering in equipment and no complaints from the projectionists (in fact, one or two of them were very grateful for my help) so I don't see why he would need someone technically minded when someone with a background and an interest in the creative media (which I have) is surely more important than knowing the ins and outs of the Xenon lamp I'm ordering surely? That's the projectionists job, not the Administrator/PA's. And if he doesn't work out what exactly it is he wants from the job, he is not going to get a PA with technical knowledge at the salary they're offering.

Oh, I should have mentioned that I am the 4th person to work at that job in the last year and a bit.

He did raise some issues with me about a week and a half before he got rid of me. He said that any new scheduling notes from a weekly meeting I attended were not passed on - when I still had the emails in my 'sent' box to prove I did. He said I needed to be more involved with what the projectionists were up to on a day to day basis when I was stuck in the office doing spreadsheets and stats that he had asked me to compile. And most infuriatingly of all, he would ask me about something he had asked me to do weeks ago which I had already sent him an email about and this translated as me not doing my job properly (as obviously, I should have been his babysitter too).

This wasn't supposed to be a rant on what happened with my job, but I do feel extremely hard done by as he didn't even want me to stay long enough to do a handover, or even until the end of my contract which was only until 31st August anyway. And I don't think a week and a half is enough to give me to improve and question the problems that arose I suppose. My continuing anxiety is whether or not I will get a place at university because I am at a difficult time now - do I look for a job that goes on past September and just give notice if I get a place or do I admit defeat and look for a long-term solution? One of the temp agencies I am with is putting my CV forward for a job that starts on 10th August and ends on 9th September to cover someone who is going off to get married, so that would be perfect if I get a place. But if I don't look for something longer-term and I don't get a place then I'm buggered for money unless I get something straight afterwards. Oh! This all feels so familiar!

Anyway, I had to blog as I am up at a ridiculous time and I need to justify the title of my blog. I am sorry for repeating myself and if you're bored just say so, but what is the point of a blog if not a little self-indulgence? Okay, a lot of self-indulgence. ;o)