Category Archives: Cool stuff

Cool things: the Japanese language

“Ah, we soon get old.”

Moeagare, moeagare, moeagare Gandamu!

The intelligentsia among you will, of course, know that I’m not expressing a midlife crisis (I’ll be in my twenties forever, dammit!): it’s a mnemonic to remember the five Japanese vowel sounds, aa ee oo eh oh, which (thanks to Hepburn romanisation) we represent in the Roman alphabet as a i u e o.

This, of course, is why the classic video game Ninja Gaiden is “ninja guy den”, not “ninja gay den”, so stop sniggering at the back, baka!

(Leaving aside, of course, the fact that the game is supposed to be called Ninja Ryukenden, “legend of the ninja dragon sword”; gaiden means “side-story”, and thus has no business being in an original game’s title!)

After a long time, I seem to have rekindled my enthusiasm for translating Japanese text, and helping Japanese people with their English — just when my brain was about to atrophy from lack of use outside work (where it’s moulded by the stress of having people rely on me), I’m back enjoying Nihongo.  I guess it’s a bit like how I stopped watching Doctor Who almost entirely in the early 2000s, but then got my own DVD player, and disposable income…

It was back in 2003 that I got hold of the original, unedited version of Space Battleship Yamato (as opposed to Space Cruiser or Star Blazers) and in a weird way, it made me feel like I might actually be able to learn Japanese if I put my mind to it (perhaps hearing phrases like senkan sentou haiji! and hadou hou hassha yoi! repeatedly); my Japanophile mother (sorry, hahaue) was also inspirational in this, as she was the one who taught me some basic Japanese words she’d picked up when I had a Japanese friend at school (imagine my delight at hearing warakimashita in one episode!).

I made fledgling attempts to study the language myself around twelve years ago, as well as getting hold, by (ahem) any means necessary, of subtitled Japanese-audio versions of animes I liked (Macross, ChobitsEvangelionX and the classic Science Ninja Team Gatchaman), as I wanted to enjoy them in their original form: not just to hear the language being spoken so as to familiarise myself with it, but also because I can hear American voice artists any time (Family Guy etc. etc.), and have no interest in “dumbing down”.

However, it wasn’t until 2008 that I finally began taking proper Japanese evening classes, and meeting actual Japanese people here in London, which meant I formalised my existing knowledge and built upon it.  Our sensei recognised that I wasn’t an “absolute beginner”, despite starting at level 1… and although real life later interfered, for the first couple of levels I was so enthusiastic that I used to do my homework during the last couple of minutes at the end of the lesson in which it was issued!

(By an astonishing coincidence, “best mate” joined one of her classes as well, at a different time to me, and thus was her Facebook friend as well — chiisai sekai, ne?)

One thing that’s really helped me get used to Japanese has been to translate Japanese text, including that in children’s books that hahaue bought for me on her many visits to Japan, or that I bought from sensei when she was having a house sale.  Obviously I need translation tools to assist with this (I highly recommend the Firefox add-on Rikaichan), but more to translate the words individually, and then figure out the grammar and context on my own, sometimes using the Inter-thingy to look up weird phrases and verb endings.  My Japanese friends over the years have also helped me with this, which is only fair as I try to help them with their English!

Getting the Japanese text off the paper and into a computer document in the first place is another matter: I used to have to copy and paste the characters, one by one, doing my best to figure out which kanji I was looking at by estimating the number of strokes, but Microsoft helped out here with the Language Bar, enabling me to type out the kana, and either hand-draw the kanji (something my Japanese teacher taught me), or type out any available furigana and cycle through the possible forms.  Boy, did this ever speed up the process — though I can’t help but miss those evenings when I’d copy out characters laboriously, while Star Trek: Voyager played on TV…

(And by an astonishing coincidence, Voyager came on TV this morning, as I translated a Japanese story… Sutaa Torekku to honyaku ga issho ni omoshiroi!)

At one point in 2008 or 2009, I was telling my boss that I was thinking of becoming a Japanese interpreter as a career change from local government admin; obviously I’ve never been quite that good, and one aspect I still find difficult is hearing Japanese when real people speak it.  I know enough to be able to tell when anime subtitles are being dumbed down (this is why I couldn’t finish Bleach — the subtitlers weren’t even consistent!), but I can hear that because Japanese seiyuu, like American voice artists, speak clearly into microphones; understanding Japanese people speaking to me in normal life is definitely an area where I need to improve.  I do try going to Japanese meetup events, but they become so crowded and urasai so quickly that I can only stay a short time before giving up — so it’s all the more essential that I make Japanese friends and engage in “language exchange” regularly.

And on that topic, my original Japanese female friend from 2008-9 (when I was just starting out) is coming back to visit London in May, and I’ve recently made a new Japanese female friend (should I say atarashii Nihonjin onna no tomodachi?) — I’m helping her with her English, and I’ve even taken her climbing at the Castle!  Don’t worry, I’ve had male Japanese friends too, including one who was working as an unpaid intern in my first proper IT job, in September 2014.  However, I do prefer female company as a rule, which is why my knowledge of Japanese is something I mention in my dating profiles!

Finally, yes, I’m still watching anime, as you know from my previous posts — Gatchaman and Chobits on my morning commutes recently, not to mention Yamato many, many times in the past; at the moment I’m revisiting the original Mobile Suit Gundam, with a view to possibly moving on to Armored Trooper VOTOMS after that (a show I discovered after hahaue got me a T-shirt with the protagonist, whom she reckons I resemble)… or perhaps I’ll even rewatch the gigantic, 110-episode epic Legend of the Galactic Heroes.  Hey, I’ll be in a public place, so I won’t watch anything involving magical schoolgirls in ludicrously-short miniskirts, or dutifully-amorous maids… or indeed the hideously gruesome Elfen Lied, which starts with a naked woman literally tearing security guards limb from limb with her invisible arms!

I could always go back to doing what I did when I was in local government admin, and watch anime while taking comfort breaks… okay, too much information, mo ii!

Cool things: The War of the Worlds (most versions)

It seems totally incredible to me now that everyone spent that evening as though it were just like any other.  From the railway station came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling, softened almost into melody by the distance.  It all seemed so safe and tranquil.
—Richard Burton, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds

as_wotw

Since this old cover was in my sci-fi encyclopaedia, this is how I always imagined the Fighting Machines to look, not the album or computer game version

It’s about time I posted about something I enjoy, isn’t it?  Two years without a proper “cool things” post is more than long enough — and since I listened to the musical version over the weekend (while travelling to and from Worthing), this particular franchise came to mind.

I’m not sure when H.G. Wells’ masterwork first came to my attention, but I suspect I knew about the 1953 George Pal movie before any other version, thanks to clips on TV and images in my childhood science fiction encyclopaedia, but it was Jeff Wayne’s musical version which I first experienced properly, somewhere around 1988 or early 1989, when for no apparent reason I was looking through my family’s vinyl (back before it was cool, you understand).

This version certainly captivated me when I got my folks to put it on for me (which I had to do, as I was scared to put records on myself); because of this they got me the original novel, which proved to be highly interesting when I realised I lived in the general area in which it took place!  Indeed, Walton is mentioned by name at one point, and I was going to school in Weybridge — and imagine my surprise to discover Horsell Common is a real place…

It wasn’t until November 1991 (according to the BBC Genome project) that the 1953 movie happened to be on TV, and I recorded it; during the latter half of 1993 (by which time we lived in Worthing, a podunk town only mentioned in a lesser work, The Importance of Being Earnest), both versions proved important to me.  During the summer holiday I tried, repeatedly, to get a decent recording of the musical onto an old audio tape; and during the run-up to Christmas (when my folks got me a proper official tape copy of the album), I had a working VCR for the first time since we’d moved there, and watched and rewatched my recording of the film version, staying sane during a difficult part of my life.

(I didn’t realise at the time how the movie twists one of Wells’ original lines, about the bacteria that kills the Martians being put there by “God in His wisdom”, and implies that instead of evolutionary immunity saving us, it’s a literal deus ex machina thanks to Christian prayer!)

A year earlier, in December 1992 (a few months after Ghostwatch did something similar on TV and really scared me), I was able to enjoy the 1938 audio version of the story performed by Orson Welles (no relation) and the Mercury Theatre on the Air; I’ve also since obtained (ahem) an MP3 version, and listen to it occasionally.  While the last third is Welles’ character narrating his journey through the wreckage of the eastern United States, even knowing that the first part is fictional and not a live radio broadcast doesn’t soften the palpable fear of hearing the reports of the Martian invasion as it happens — especially that final radio broadcaster in Manhattan being suffocated by the Black Smoke (as all the klaxons and horns of the evacuating traffic are silenced), and a surviving military man plaintively calling out to anyone left alive in the world… isn’t there anyone on the air?

wotw_martian

“The chances of my train getting out of London are a million to one”, I thought until I made it to Woking at Christmas 2013 and took this pic

And then came late 1998, when I was Christmas shopping with my “second family” in Michigan, and in a computer shop saw there was a PC strategy game based on the musical; when I came back to Britain, my old school friend let me have his unwanted copy (you could do that back before DRM, kids), and I spent the entire summer holiday — in which I was housesitting with my mother in, of all places, Woking* — playing it to death, though I had to start off as the Martians in order to really “get into” it, and it notoriously crashed a great deal.  I ended up with the game’s soundtrack, a set of instrumental arrangements of the album’s famous songs, stuck in my head as I worked in a dead-end data entry job before returning to university, perhaps the only thing that kept me sane.

(* Well, technically Knaphill, though it’s mentioned in the book, and we visited the main town and the above-pictured statue several times!)

With a lot of franchises that have multiple versions and reboots, I normally find myself choosing a “definitive” incarnation — the BBC TV version of Hitch-hiker’s Guide, the 1990s cartoon version of X-Men, the only versions ever actually made of The Wicker Man and Total Recall (yeah, I went there) — and in this case, while I enjoy all the other aforementioned versions of The War of the Worlds (and yes, even the Tom Cruise movie version in 2005, though I can’t comment on the others around the same time), I have to pick the original novel.  Somehow it’s always spoken to me the most, perhaps because I spent my formative years in the general area.

When we moved to Worthing, I found myself trying to locate the various places in the atlas, and on old maps we’d brought down from Walton.  Google Earth has made this an awful lot easier, and I’ve been able to visualise where the cylinders came down, where that one Fighting Machine was destroyed in Shepperton, the extent of that mighty crescent of Fighting Machines spreading the Black Smoke over every possible artillery position in Surrey, and how enormous that crowd of evacuation shipping must have been around the mouth of the Thames.  And, since I’ve been living in London for the past (let me see) 13 years, I’ve been able to locate a number of places mentioned at the book’s climax… making it seem more real, perhaps?

Ah, I even remember walking home from school in late 1991 and early 1992, fantasising that Martian Fighting Machines (tripod versions faithful to the book) were laying waste to Walton town centre with their Heat-Rays (sounding like the ones from the 1953 film version).  Weird though it may seem, I guess that shows how much I liked living in that area — as I never bothered to have such thoughts about Worthing, a town far more deserving…

(P.S. Why that opening quote?  Well, think how everyone’s carrying on with their lives despite the world-ending disaster hanging over us: Trump’s inauguration on Friday…)

Cool Things: The Revenge

ss_ffIt’s been a good long time since I posted a blog entry about the cool things that cheer me up, hasn’t it?  Although I started this blog as a way of charting my rise in spirits after the blackest depression of my life, its original subtitle was “for all the little things that keep me going” (before I put in the current joke about cats), and so posting about the things that make me happy made sense back then.

You’ll be pleased to know that all the things I’ve posted in this category still delight me in their own ways — see, they weren’t just random things I happened to be thinking about at the time:

  • I pet strange people’s dogs whenever I get the chance — it’s one of the few things I can do when visiting my folks in Worthing (such as this weekend just gone, in which I petted more than my fair share along the beach walk);
  • I rewatched both seasons of Space Battleship Yamato during my daily commutes in 2015, when I was in the early, scary stages of the two jobs I did that year (and, as you know, watched the whole of Gatchaman after the second season);
  • At night I’ve been reading through my old Judge Dredd comic strips, including numerous appearances by the dreaded Four Dark Judges, who were my gateway into the franchise;
  • Naturally, having finished the classic Doctor Who, I’ve continued watching the 21st-century seasons (interspersed with Torchwood), and aim to get the later seasons in Blu-ray format.

But what’s the most significant to me?  It’s not Beavis and Butt-head, which I watched through in 2013 and continue to quote amusing lines from with “best mate”; I’ve still got the series, but like the Doctor’s parents, they “sleep in my mind” for now.  It’s also not thunderstorms, because there still just aren’t any for me to watch — though if one starts while I’m at work, I can always fink off to the top floor and get a nice panoramic view of London…

And, believe it or not, it’s not Gwar, despite the ludicrous amount I go on about them in these hallowed pages, and despite the fact that putting their music on shuffle is my default fallback position when I run out of new music to listen to during the walking parts of my commute.  It’s not even Eminem, the guy whose example has encouraged me to keep trying after all these years (and who I’ll be playing in my mother’s car at some point this year, as I’m putting the finishing touches to three mix-CDs of his music).

No, the most significant of the “cool things” I’ve nominated in this blog so far is… Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  The scariest video game of all time (though Outlast comes a close second), one of the few things that can genuinely terrify me… but it’s not so much the game itself (though I occasionally replay it) as the music, which I, er, continue to use as my morning alarms, and have done for virtually as long as I’ve owned a smartphone in 2012 — the year that marked the beginning of my journey.

At the moment I wake with Chris Evans on the radio at 7am every working day, only to be jerked back to wakefulness 15 minutes later when my phone plays the “screaming madness” sound effect that means a Gatherer has seen you and is running towards you, and at the weekend I have the “nice” music (from the “blue room” at the back of the castle you reach just after being pursued by the invisible water monster), and don’t expect me to change either any time soon.

(I even have a Gatherer’s growl as the notification noise for my mother texting me from her mobile… sorry, Mumsy!)

Phew!  I’m not sure why I stopped these posts back in late 2014, unless it was simply that I was in a very, very bad place during my early career change days, and have only just recovered now (or only just realised that I’d already recovered).  Well, I guess I’ll have to get back into the habit of telling you goons about all the little things that make me happy…

But what can I focus on next?  The Mass Effect games, Game of Thrones, the works of Stephen King (especially the Dark Tower series), the music of Prince (which, as you know, I was collecting before he died — does that make me a hipster?!)… I’ve been watching South Park during my daily commutes, but I still catch new episodes of Family Guy even if I’ve stopped watching it (and American Dad!) every night since BBC3 went off the air… and I still watch old Columbo episodes at the weekend… oh, decisions, decisions!

Cool things: Thunderstorms

lightning

Even this is more than I normally see

You’ll probably think I’m some kind of Swiss Toni-style chauvinist, obsessed with women and comparing everything to them… well, you probably already did, but anyway, stop distracting me — I think of thunderstorms as very similar to women: part of their mystique is that I never seem to encounter a good one, and either miss them entirely, am left disappointed, or watch them go to someone else less deserving.  How so?  Let me count the ways…

  • All too often it’s a no-show: many’s the time I’ve updated the weather report only to see the thunderstorm symbol disappear from the forecast, or watched dark clouds pass by my window (as is happening a lot in August) without any kind of interesting outcome, much as occurs with attractive women in summer dresses on the Tube.
  • A sub-type is when instead of disappearing entirely, they visibly go to someone else; we all know how hot chicks inevitably have boyfriends (who are of course total jerks, simply for existing), but in thunderstorm terms this happened to me in 2004 when I was at university in the East End.  I watched helplessly as a big thunderstorm ignored me and went towards the centre of London… oh well, at least the people queuing up for the premiere of Catwoman in the West End had something interesting to watch (okay, maybe they needed it more).
  • When one does come into my life, mostly it’s over before it’s even really begun — one crack of thunder and then nothing but rain and dark skies, or one date and then nothing but unanswered text messages.  This happens too often in either case to give an example.
  • Very occasionally one will come into my life that seems pretty good, but for whatever reason I’m unable to see anything — be it a powerful thunderstorm in July that I could barely see due to surrounding houses, or the (allegedly) pretty girl I chatted to via Tinder in Michigan who lived too far away for me to go and see her (it was my last night and I couldn’t impose upon my “second family” to drive me from Fenton to Lansing at such short notice)!

Of course, the analogy breaks down when you consider that I witnessed some spectacular thunderstorms back in the 1980s and 1990s (since this coincided with the rise of hot summers, I imagine global warming had a part to play), long before I got interested in girls.  Unfortunately, with me being a timid child (and later teenager), night-time thunderstorms scared the hell out of me if they woke me up — I still recall all those times I cowered, covering my ears, whenever lightning flashed through my curtains, as I waited in trepidation for the inevitable deafening crash… at one point in my childhood I used to spend the night in my mother’s room, on the ludicrous pretext that my bed was between two power sockets, and thus if lightning struck the house, I’d be electrocuted!

(Obviously nowadays, as a mature, sensible grown-up, I spend the night in your mother’s room, heh heh heh…)

Our dog Scraps was also scared of thunder (and fireworks), and since my mother was her favourite human in the family, she tended to do the same thing.  During a nocturnal storm in the summer of (I think) 1994, when we lived in Worthing but my mother worked in Surrey during the week, I heard Scraps scratching at my door; she’d clearly been scared by a particularly loud roll of thunder (which sometimes vibrated very loudly against the patio door in the room where she slept), and was seeking comfort wherever she could.  As she trotted into my room, she refused to look up and make eye contact with me, almost as though she was ashamed of having to resort to me instead of her mum, and was saying: “Don’t say a word, we both know what this is!”

Going abroad has frequently led to superior thunderstorms — not Michigan recently, alas, as they kept avoiding me (my old roommate’s brother-in-law says the same thing happens to him when he comes over from Washington), but certainly when I was there in 1998-9, and I saw sparks emerging from a street light!  Years before that, my mother and I saw lightning in the distance from a high-up hotel room in Florida (I worried we might be in danger, but my mother just breathed: “It’s spectacular!”), and before that, during a holiday in Spain for the whole family, we witnessed an awesome day-long storm.  That one led to leaks in our villa and the power being out for most of the next day, so it was a mixed blessing…

Oh, and I should mention the fact that “female best friend”, who was once terrified of flying, actually asked to look out through the window next to my seat as we flew over a night-time thunderstorm in 2008, on our way to Turkey.  How’s that for bravery?  But I suppose it highlights how hotter countries get far more spectacular thunderstorms than the damp squibs with which we are frequently insulted in this country.

I know, be careful what you wish for: lightning is dangerous and can start fires, and tornadoes (the very idea of which scared me as a child, and still scares me today) are created by thunderstorms.  But even so, nature’s fireworks are far more interesting than the boring old gunpowder-based ones that chavs like to fire at people in town centres, so you’ll forgive me for continuing to hope and pray for a good thunderstorm… and to continue playing video games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, which fills the void to some extent (as games often do).

(And just to return to my opening theme: yes, video games also help me cope with the lack of a girlfriend — especially ones where you can get laid, like Mass Effect and The Witcher!)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to staring out the window at the dismal, overcast sky, wishing it would erupt into dazzling violence… well, not right away, I have to go to the shop…

Cool things: Gwar

Through the space, through the stone
Where the Master grows his clones
Where legions wage eternal war
We were born in this place
Slaughtering race after race
We were part of the Scumdogs of the Universe!
–Gwar, “Death Pod” (Scumdogs of the Universe)

L-R: lead guitarist Flattus Maximus (RIP), bassist Beefcake the Mighty, drummer Jizmak da Gusha, lead vocalist Oderus Urungus (RIP) and rhythm guitarist Balsac the Jaws of Death

Yeah, c’mon, you didn’t really think I was serious on April Fool’s Day when I said I’d faked being into this band just to be “ironic”, did you?  After I did that touching tribute to the late Dave Brockie, a.k.a. Oderus Urungus?  I’m frequently too lazy to post in this blog, yet could I really have managed to weave such a web of deceit over the past year just to sneer at a band that’s not even famous outside the USA?

Okay, maybe part of their allure is the fact that virtually no-one in Britain has heard of them (and most of those who have, heard of them from me) — but perhaps I got into them the same way I got into the Bee Gees: they were bigged up on a beloved comedy show.  With the Brothers Gibb it was that Kenny Everett sketch; with the Scumdogs, however, it was Beavis and Butt-head.  An “air guitar” section in their book, This Book Sucks!, inspired me to listen to some tracks from their second album (and first decent one), Scumdogs of the Universe, and I ended up listening to the whole thing, and eventually buying it on CD!  (So there, all you anti-piracy people — they actually got a sale because I tried before I, er, buyed!)  Before this, I’d seen them review two of their music videos, “Jack the World” and “Saddam a Go-Go” (which I also watched on YouTube in their original form), but I recognised the band at the time because even before that, in 1996, they’d featured on The Big Breakfast one morning, performing “Meat Sandwich”…

(It’s not on YouTube any more thanks to damn inconsiderate copyright vultures, but the Internet equivalent of a white line around a corpse indicates that the exact date was 22nd February 1996, which was a… let me check… Thursday!)

(Oh, and even more creepy: searching Google for “big breakfast 1996 gwar” leads right back to this blog… I’m on Google!!!)

What do I like about them?  Well, I could go on about the hideous costumes, the offensive lyrics, the disgusting stage antics and the bizarre backstory (they’re evil alien barbarian demigods with a base in Antarctica, yet they have a mailing address in Richmond, VA?), but really, it’s the music that I love — the rip-roaring guitars, bass and drumming that make me go “yyyes!” whenever they come on in my general music rotation, and sit there bobbing my head and tapping my feet while I’m typing some drek or other into my computer at work.  Eminem may help me with my emotions, and inspire me to carry on when things are at their worst, but Gwar just basically rock out, and cheer me up when I’m down.

gwar_charity

Flattus and Balsac in the movie “Skulhed Face”; note the older versions of their costumes (and that Flattus was played by a different person back then)

I’ve already spoken at length about how I listen to them in a cycle with my other music, so there’s no need to go over that ground again, but suffice to say, when I was waiting in the cold for my mother to finish her Nuts Challenge mud run, I had them on rotation as a way of staying (in)sane.  I also had them on rotation when I was in America last year (even though I only had four albums at the time), and found they helped me get to sleep when my fellow trekkers were staying up late.  Hey, I found myself drifting off during “The Obliteration of Flab Quarv 7”, a song in which Oderus sings so loudly and incoherently that Balsac the Jaws of Death has to translate, so there you go — I’m not saying they’re boring, I’m saying they’re soothing!

(Yes, there’s a couple of songs whose lyrics have caused me a little ethical dilemma, being of such a nature that Ian Watkins of Lostprophets would doubtless consider “mega lolz” — put it this way: the “B” in “B.D.F.” stands for “baby”, and the “D” and the “F” also stand for four-letter words… I wouldn’t play them in the car for my mother, but hey, they’re just songs sung by fictional aliens, get a sense of perspective!)

Of course, Dave Brockie dying means I’ll never be able to see him in concert as Oderus Urungus, but I’m too much of a wuss to go to concerts anyway (and being sprayed by the Biledriver, or worse, the Cuttlefish of Cthulhu, sounds like more of a spectator sport to me — blood is, ironically, the least disgusting fluid they dispense).  However, after I’ve bought their last few albums there’s still the prospect of tracking down their live albums and concert DVDs (such as You’re All Worthless and Weak)… and who knows, perhaps the band will find a replacement for Oderus, as they did for Flattus?  A band this awesome can’t be allowed to die, merely to mutate…

———

Oh, you want me to post an actual video?  You are never satisfied, are you?  All right, here’s one of my favourites — it’s from their early days, and features early versions of their costumes (and indeed, two different versions of Flattus Maximus!), as well as some characters who left later, Sexecutioner (the one who looks like an orc in bondage gear) and Slymenstra Hymen (the girl in a metal bikini).  This is a song Dave Brockie used to like on stage because it meant the show was over and he could finally rest, and it’s also a song my mother enjoys…

Cool things: Doctor Who

“The time has come, but the moment has been prepared for…”

dw_8

Yes, it’s a picture I got off of Google, tough tortillas, it’s staying up!

The 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of the world’s longest-running sci-fi TV series, and the day of the broadcast of the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor”, seems like as good a time as any for this post; but this isn’t going to be yet another look back at the show’s history (as such), because there’s already a thousand of those on the Interthingy, such as this one at The Register, and a load of material at BBC News.  Oh no, as with my other “cool things” posts, this is all about my personal experience of the thing in question, which is the only point of view that matters.  (Hey, it’s my blog…)

So, how did it all begin?  Well, growing up in Britain, you’d be hard-pressed not to have even heard of the show, and being (a) a boy and (b) a geek-in-training, naturally I was hooked from an early age.  (I also watched Star Wars and Star Trek from an early age, don’t worry!)  My earliest memory of the show may well be the 1979 Fourth Doctor story Destiny of the Daleks, as I definitely recall Daleks breaking through a black wall that looked to my young eyes like bin liner (I was only able to confirm this in 1994 when I got the story on video), though it may have been a repeat or even a clip on a different show!  I was certainly watching by Tom Baker’s final season, as I remember the Marshmen from Full Circle, and also the Doctor regenerating into Peter Davison at the end of Logopolis (another story which was repeated).

Thus, the Fifth Doctor is the one I spent my formative years watching — an experience I apparently share with Tenth Doctor actor David Tennant, who indeed went on to marry Davison’s daughter after she played his own daughter (albeit a genetically-grown one) in an episode of the show!  As Tennant’s Doctor would say: timey-wimey…

There was also Peter Cushing’s non-canonical version of the Doctor (despite the lies on video/DVD casings, he wasn’t a “Time Lord”, just an eccentric inventor named “Doctor Who”) in two 1960s movies, Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150AD; while the first was a bit dumb, the second, ever since being broadcast on TV in the 1980s, remains perhaps my most-watched film ever…

I also had the chance to experience the First, Second and Third Doctors courtesy of that thing people are always complaining about the BBC doing nowadays: repeats (reruns if you’re American) — and though William Hartnell died before I was born, I was able to see his one-off replacement, RIchard Hurndall, together with Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee in the 20th anniversary special, The Five Doctors.  Blimey, 30 years ago today (give or take)!  Novelisations (mostly by Terrance “wheezing, groaning sound” Dicks) and the fledgling VHS format also enabled me to experience old stories during the 1980s, and even more so onwards into the 1990s…

Although I didn’t like Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor so much at the time, I was still sad to see the show get almost-cancelled in his time (thanks to BBC1 controller Michael Grade), a general anti-sci-fi policy at the Beeb which also clobbered another favourite of mine, The Tripods (just in case any of you remember that show and thought it was Doctor Who as well).  However, when Baker C. returned in 1986, we were treated to a whole season called The Trial of a Time Lord, though stupidly I ruined my recording of episode 9, something I wasn’t able to rectify until getting the DVD set in 2009!

(It’s worth noting that Grade admitted that he tried to cancel the show not due to falling audience figures or increasing violence, but because he personally didn’t like it — so when I become BBC1 controller, can I get rid of all sports coverage?!)

And while Sylvester McCoy had some awful stories as the Seventh Doctor, he also had some gems: I still feel lucky that, in September 1988, we figured out how to set the video so I could experience the first episode of Remembrance of the Daleks the morning after I’d had to miss its broadcast due to joining my grandparents picking my mother up from the airport.  Mind you, it was a close thing: my recording started midway through the opening titles, and it wasn’t until I got a proper video version in 1995 (it was in a boxed set with a 1960s story, The Chase) that I found out it had a pre-title sequence teaser…

It was, again, sad that the show ended entirely in 1989, aside from a (sadly futile) attempt to bring it back with American backing in 1996, in a TV movie with Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, of whom it would have been fascinating to see more (I have to content myself with the short preview episode, “The Night of the Doctor”, that was made this year).  However, my fandom of Doctor Who certainly helped me make friends with fellow geeks at university, not to mention one guy who enjoyed watching both this and my Star Trek recordings!  Obviously neither impressed any girls, but hey, English women are too boring to like cool stuff like sci-fi…

Scandalously, there’s quite a long period in the early 21st century — when I was living at home with my folks, no less — that I hardly did anything Who-related, apart from getting a couple of “missing” stories from the 1960s in audio format (and let me tell you, The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Web of Fear kept me sane during my five-hour stopovers, both ways, at Cincinnatti airport in 2003 when visiting my friends in Michigan!); I wasn’t even able to experience Scream of the Shalka, the online story, because we were on dial-up (ecch!).  At least I got a couple of DVDs when we finally embraced the format in 2002, but at that stage, saving up for my post-grad course, the thought of getting the entire series was far from my mind…

I was pleased when the show was brought back in 2005, but not too enamoured with Chris Eccleston, who I felt was a bit too coarse as the Ninth Doctor (and he quit after his first episode was broadcast — what the hell, man?!).  David Tennant, however, I felt was utterly definitive in the revitalised series as the Tenth Doctor, and I’ve also enjoyed Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor (though I find it quite sad no-one’s linked his fez-wearing with Tommy Cooper — not even a “jus’ like that, ahaha!”).  John Hurt has also been excellent tonight as the “Eighth-and-a-half” Doctor (they’re not renumbering them, apparently, because that would just be silly).  Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor?  We’ll see…

However, it’s still the “classic” series that interests me the most.  In 2011 I began watching the entire show from its humble 1963 beginnings, all in order, generally one episode per weekday night over dinner.  This was partly due to my folks getting me a collection of audio reconstructions of missing stories, which meant I could consider the first two seasons of the show complete from the point of view of my collection.  I’m proud (yes, proud, in a geeky way) to state that I’ve kept going this whole time, with only occasional breaks to watch anime, the last season of 24 (perhaps a future “cool things” post?) and the first season of Twin Peaks.  I also delayed starting the Fourth Doctor’s time until after my holiday in May, because, well, I could!

There was a sad moment in 2012, when I watched my old video of the Pertwee classic The Mind of Evil on VHS, and vowed it would be the last Doctor Who video I ever watched… because if and when I watch it again, I’ll have it on DVD instead, right?  (Or some kind of online…)  I’d specifically rescued that, and also the Troughton story The Krotons, from my general purge of VHS at the end of my “worst month”, January 2012, when moving out of Caledonian Road, because I knew at that point I’d be needing them due to the random releases of the show onto DVD.  Watching the show every night kept me sane during the horrible transition of 2012…

In 2013 (just after my holiday) I started Tom Baker’s time, and have now come full circle (no pun intended, that story is another three seasons away!), as I’ve reached the stories that were broadcast around the time of my birth.  Indeed, I was born literally the day after the faithful robot dog K-9 made his debut, in episode 2 of The Invisible Enemy.  Next week it’ll be The Invasion of Time (resonating slightly with tonight’s special, in fact!), and after Christmas, I’ll be on to the “Key to Time” season…

I haven’t as yet seen the 1960s episodes recovered from Nigeria (why the iTunes exclusive, Beeb?  Apple sucks!), but word on the grapevine (I have a source who has a source, let’s say) is that there were a lot more missing episodes in that haul, and that the stalwarts at the Doctor Who Restoration Team are busy working their collective mojo to restore them to broadcast quality before their recovery is officially admitted…

Since I have only three more seasons of Baker T. to go, and then a few more of Davison, Baker C. and McCoy (and the McGann TV movie), I expect to be finished before the end of 2014, though in all probability I’ll get the revitalised series on DVD (or indeed Blu-ray) as well.  Watching the show nearly every night over dinner (though this has been harder with my, ahem, regenerated social calendar!), has been an experience over the past couple of years, and it’s not over yet…

(And yes, I’ll get back to that C++ Dalek strategy game one day!)

If you’ve made it this far through my interminable ramblings (both in terms of this post and my blog in general), you’re probably wondering who my favourite Doctor is.  Well, I like them all in their own ways (I’m sure I’ll even enjoy Eccleston’s stories more when I watch them again, but oddly I’ve never seen them repeated on BBC3 — it was just Tennant’s ones ad nauseam!), but I reckon Pertwee is my favourite in the classic series, and Tennant in the revitalised series.

The first two Doctors, however, have a fascination for me, perhaps because so many of their episodes (especially in Troughton’s case) were lost in the 1970s.  This era also includes my favourite story, Troughton’s very first, The Power of the Daleks — again, probably due to it being missing (apart from soundtrack, John Cura “tele-snaps” and odd clips).  But oh, perhaps it’s been found in Nigeria?  Now that’d be a Christmas present…

(Phew, this post took a lot of work, and I haven’t even looked for clips on YouTube — stuff it, you can do that yourselves!)

Cool things: Dogs

“The more I know people, the more I love my dog.”
— Apocryphal, but attributed to Mark Twain

eddie_dog

Eddie, the dog from “Frasier” (played here by either Moose or Enzo) — because Jack Russells are the best dogs of all

Yes, let’s balance out yesterday’s moany post with one of almost unalloyed joy: Canis familiaris (or C. lupus familiaris as it’s been since the 1990s), a.k.a. “Man’s Best Friend”.  Today it seemed singularly appropriate, because I’ve been out and about in Worthing, and if there’s one good thing about this town (and trust me, there is only one good thing about it), it’s that lots of people walk their dogs along the seafront and through the town centre, giving me ample opportunity to pet them!

I truly feel sorry for anyone who is afraid of dogs, or for some reason doesn’t like them, and I denounce any culture that treats them like vermin (oops, there goes my South Korean readership), because they are the superior beings on this planet, and we are but their humble servants.

I think that a good 49% of dogs I meet in public are friendly to me (sometimes too friendly, perhaps — my glasses have been knocked off or covered in slobber on a number of occasions!), while another 49% or so are well-trained enough to ignore me as their owners lead them along.  Only the remaining 2%, possibly less, are ever aggressive to me, and that probably says more about the owner than the animal. My mother reckons I have a gift, a “dog mojo”, which means almost all dogs either like me or aren’t intimidated.

In addition, I’ve never med a Staffie that wasn’t thoroughly nice to me, and outside my workplace I once bravely approached a gigantic Rottweiler that turned out to be a big softie (but nonetheless difficult to manage).  Dangerous dogs?  Pah!  Dangerous owners more like — I’m certainly of the opinion that we should be neutering humans. or at least the unrepentently horrible ones…

Until 1999, we had a dog in my family from my earliest memories — the first I remember being an elderly Yorkshire terrier named Minnie, who was sweet but not very active any more; one day my mother said she was dead because she was old and sick, which was a sad moment.  The weird thing is, in later years she showed me a photo of a black working dog that she said we’d had before, but which now “lived on a farm”; this is a classic way of concealing the death of a beloved family dog, but since I had no memory of it whatsoever, and since she’d told me straight out that Minnie had died, without trying to cloak the truth…

scraps

Best. Dog. Ever. But sadly she left us before the age of digital cameras

Somewhere in early-to-mid-1984 we got a Jack Russell puppy named Scraps, who, after a shaky start (house training especially), became the best dog who ever lived.  She was my companion through no less than three house moves, including the one that brought me to Worthing (admittedly the third one was basically up the road from there to the place where we now live), and it was a milestone in my development when I was able to take her for walks alone, during the summer of 1991.  I teased and tormented her all the time, and it was clear she loved my mother more than me (dogs tend to choose one particular family member to follow), but we still had fun together, and she was always happy to see me when I came back from university…

Unfortunately, dogs grow old, and she became increasingly decrepit in the late 1990s, finally losing her personality entirely when I was away for eight months in Michigan; when I returned, she was like a ghost (and weighed about the same), and it wasn’t entirely regrettable when she was finally laid to rest.  My mother especially still misses her, and I think of her all the time… but, alas, I can’t have a dog of my own while I live in rented accommodation.

It’s for this reason that I have to live vicariously through other people’s dogs.  While on the aforementioned trip to Michigan, I met my roommate’s family dog, which I (apparently wrongly) thought was a Red Setter; she was very friendly, and recognised me when I came to visit in 2001, even though she only had a few months left (she was better off near the end than poor Scraps was).

mali_wilson

A rare moment of calm for the dogs I nicknamed “Shock and Awe”

After that, my American “second family” got a golden-haired Labrador, which I first met in 2003 along with a black Labrador that they were raising to be a helper dog; the two of them, who I encountered after a long and difficult journey, were instantly taken with me and wouldn’t leave me alone, leading me to nickname them “Shock and Awe”… the black Lab would even clamp his jaws around my neck, which the mother of the family claimed was his way of “kissing”.  Ew!  By the time of my visits in 2006 and 2007 (for two weddings), this dog had moved on and his replacement was a sleeker, female equivalent, who was also crazy about me from the get-go.  Unfortunately I haven’t been back since then, and I miss both these dogs badly (as apparently they missed me, the equivalent of a grandparent spoiling their favourite grandchildren).

It really does seem that I have a way with dogs; not always, but when it counts.  One time I was visiting my folks in this very town, when I saw a Husky-type dog running loose through the streets while on my way to the shop; at this point our old neighbour, a nice “animal lady” who used to let me look after a somewhat over-enthusiastic dog of hers, said that she was trying to catch this dog, which had broken its leash, with the aid of a young man who I’d seen running after it.  I and the gentleman managed to corner the dog in someone’s front garden; it wasn’t scared, just having fun running around, but somehow I managed to bring it to heel simply by telling it: “Sit!”  It was quite happy to let me hold it by the collar after that, but we weren’t able to figure out where it lived, and so left it with a family in a street where some Huskies were known to live.  I never found out what happened after that, but I can only hope the dog was reunited with its owners…

churchill_nodding_dog

Could we get a bulldog, like the CGI mascot of Churchill Insurance? “Ohh yus!”

My mother says we can get a new dog if we move to the Surrey area (she’s as sick of Worthing as I am, but has the disadvantage of not being able to live anywhere else for the time being), so the question remains: what sort of dog do I want?  Well, another terrier would probably be the best bet (the aforementioned neighbour’s Labrador-mongrel, who I met in the winter of 2005, kind of soured me towards the idea of owning a big dog), but I’d really like a spaniel of some kind.  Mumsy says they have a lot of health problems due to inbreeding (in dogs as in humans, racial purity is stupid and self-defeating), but still, as a child I really wanted a Cocker spaniel.  No, stop sniggering!  It’s because this is the closest breed to the little plush toy dog I was given for Christmas, possibly in 1983, and which I immediately named Benji (which gives you an idea of how old I am — hey, at least I didn’t call him “Littlest Hobo”!).

And before all you “cat-persons” out there give up on me, don’t worry, I like cats too — though they frequently don’t seem to like me.  Many I see in the street run at the very sight of me, and one work friend’s cat even went so far as to hide under furniture, hissing and scratching at me… but on the other hand, I was able to befriend the tabby cat owned by my “second family” in Michigan, to the point where he was pleased to see me when I visited in 2003 (albeit because he was having to deal with those two crazy dogs), and actually climbed into my lap the first time he saw me.  Of course, being a cat, he did it with a kind of “I’m going to sleep here now, wake me when it’s dinner time” attitude!

Another notable exception is the cat that my mother was looking after in 1999 while living in her absent friend’s house (up in Surrey, where they have half-decent wages); I lived there between Michigan and my final year at university, and made friends with this cat, mainly by feeding him (what choice did I have, he used to jump on me at 5am and purr incessantly!).  It got to the point where we’d even rub foreheads together in a sign of friendship… it’s very rare to find a cat who does that the first time I meet it, though it did happen with the cat owned by a friend of “best mate” earlier this year.  And the other weekend, when I was trying to find “female best friend’s” new home in Sheffield, I encountered a very “talkative” cat in the street that kept nagging me to stroke it.  Perhaps cats are friendlier outside London, or perhaps I’m developing a “cat mojo” as well…?

(P.S. I’ll try to add pictures of family pets in the future, but for now, since I’m not on my own computer in London, it’ll have to wait!)  Update: all done!