Thursday, November 30, 2006

Does this automatically make me an old man?

I've got a hot water bottle. It's rather a cool one, it's semi-transparent plastic so you can see the water in it, which I think is groovy, but nonetheless, I can't help thinking that the really trendy young people don't have hotties in their beds. But then, I like something to singe my toes in when I go to bed at night, so nyah to the lot of you. And thank you, Slavoljub Eduard Penkala.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

To work or not to work

I was thinking of going into the office tomorrow. The agreement is for me to go back on Friday and get on with the November accounts, and possibly show things to my replacement, depending when he's starting, but it would probably avoid a lot of stress and unnecessarily long working hours if I went in before the month end and got some stuff done. Besides, I'm going down to Cambridge this weekend for the Christmas othello tournament, so I'd like to knock off early on Friday if at all possible.

On the other hand, I'm not keen on the idea of getting up early in the morning - I've been lying in bed rather later this last couple of weeks, and I'm pretty sure that's good for you. Maybe I could go in for the afternoon? Or maybe I could not bother and just stay in bed all day. I feel like staying up to watch Match of the Day tonight, anyway.

Growing a third hand and being on that, I have half a mind to not go back to work at all. There are plenty of things I could be doing with my time that don't involve working another half a month at a job I decided to leave months and months and months ago. I'm only doing this so as not to make extra work for my boss, who works too much already, and it probably wouldn't put her out too much if I wasn't there after all this month.

If you were wondering "but what about that NaNoWriMo thing? Has he completed fifty thousand words with a day to spare, so that he can glibly speculate about going to the office and accounting when he would be expected to be frantically trying to churn out the closing chapters?", then don't. I've given up on the thing, I'm afraid. Found that I'd got through all the interesting parts of the story with 20,000 words to go, and just couldn't force myself to drag it out to the required length.

Nonetheless, I choose to see this as a life lesson rather than an abject failure - it's taught me some interesting things about how to go about writing, it really has made me stretch my imagination a bit and brought home the realities of writing something lengthy and cohesive. Not to mention the pressures of deadlines. And even the importance of going back and reading what you've written, noticing that a Thursday morning is followed directly after lunch by a Friday afternoon and fixing the timeline of half the book so it makes some kind of sense. It was a fun experience, and I think I'm going to do it again at some arbitrarily-set time period in the near future, rather than waiting till next November.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

This is what I love about this blog

It really is true that however weird or obscure your interests, you'll always find someone on the internet who's into the same thing. Be it Ken H Harrison versus Peter Davidson, My Own Genie, Coco Pops adverts or even Krypton Force videos, I'm always delighted to get a comment from fellow enthusiasts. I've been collecting these things for ages, at charity shops and car boot sales, but it's years since I've seen a new Force Five one. I'd love to hear from anyone else who's got one.

Well, since I now know these late-eighties video releases have such a big fan following, they deserve another blog post devoted to my collection. I have eight Force Five tapes (the American translations of five Japanese anime series from the seventies), four Videotoons (collections of American public domain cartoons from the thirties and forties) and one other tape that isn't a Krypton Force release but does have art from the inimitable "Marc" on the cover. So here's a gallery of the thirteen, with brief comments. Apologies for the plethora of pictures, making it hard to skip this post if you're trying to get to the interesting ones, but it's my blog and I'll do what I like.

My brother's got about ten more Krypton Force tapes, which I'll borrow, scan and narrate here when I get a chance.

This is two GaiKing episodes, normally called "Protectors" by Krypton Force but here labelled "Formators" like Starvengers. Whatever you call it, this one is probably my favourite of the Force Five series - there's a really great Star Trek feel to it, a team of heroes who fly around in the Space Dragon fighting the evil alien invaders the Xelans. Unlike the other series, which focus on three or four characters, this one has eight main characters, most of them with their own cool mecha vehicle and a big support crew of nonentities. Oh, and an annoying kid. There's always an annoying kid. They use weapons like the Miracle Drill and Giant Cutter. This tape has the final two episodes in the series, and good ones too - the first featuring a super-powerful robot in the shape of a young boy who has to find the courage to sacrifice himself to save the team, and the second an all-out big-explosions fight between all the good guys and the bad guys' most powerful robots and the Xelan leader Darius himself (he has a mouth on his forehead and is fifty feet tall). Plus the line "What's that? Xelans on Mount St Helens?"

The front cover, signed by Marc, is a fine example of his work. The central giant head is a Quintesson from a Transformers book, cut-and-pasted (literally, not computerishly) onto the drawing. The other characters are Marc's usual renditions of still-frames from the episodes, and done quite well, too. The two pictures on the back are more cut-outs from a Ladybird Transformers book, if I'm not mistaken. Remember, the key to Krypton Force marketing was to convince gullible children that they were buying Transformers videos, by fair means or foul.

Moving on to the real Formators, or Starvengers, this series focuses on three heroes, each piloting a plane that combines with the others in three different ways to make three different giant robots. Their enemies are the Pandemonium Empire, who try to steal the source of the Starvengers' power, the Star Energizer, on a regular basis. It's very entertaining stuff.

The cover of this one describes it as volume 4, but these numbers seem to be completely randomly assigned to collections - they certainly don't reflect the order the episodes were originally shown. It's another great Marc collage on the front cover, and on the back we have (on the left) the box art from the Transformer Hun-Grr with the head of one of the Starvengers robots drawn on top of it. This same picture was used as the cover of another Krypton Force video. The other two pictures on the back are screenshots - the right-hand one shows Colonel Fuhrer. That's right, he's Adolf Hitler with horns.

More Formators, and a good example of Krypton Force's bizarre titles for their tapes. One of the episodes on this tape does feature a symbol, I suppose, as a minor part of the plot, but why that suggested the title "Havoc Symbol", I can't imagine. As for the subtitle, they seem to have misheard the name of the robot Star Arrow as "Star Erin". Perhaps they were trying to appeal to the Irish market? There's no signature on the front cover, but it looks like a Marc to me.

This one's probably the best of the Starvengers stories - a thrilling two-parter with a great big fight against the Pandemoniums as they finally launch a full-scale invasion of Earth. The Krypton Force approach to packaging these cartoons makes for interesting viewing here - they chop off the opening and closing credits so the two episodes on each tape are joined together without a pause. In this case, we get part one of the story which immediately jumps to a recap of the first part, then part two.

The Marc cover has two heads, three full-body figures, a spaceship and the Earth! I wonder if he got paid extra? And Europe seems to be shaped very strangely. Must have been damaged by the Pandemoniums.

Now we come to Sci-Bots, known in America as Spaceketeers. It's a very lengthy space quest story in which Princess Aurora and the three musketeers-style cyborg heroes travel through the universe trying to save it from the effects of the Dekos energy and the mutated evil creatures it has created. There are two different American translations of the series, strangely enough - this tape is volume two of what I call "Sci-Bots The Movie", which is basically edited highlights of the series all combined into one short-ish storyline. It has different dialogue and voice actors than the regular episodes, it's not just a director's cut. It's also almost unwatchable, because they cut out about 75% of the storyline and what was left doesn't make a great deal of sense.

No signature on the cover picture. I do wonder if they were all by Marc or if there was another, more modest, artist involved in the process too. Or else they just covered up his signature with little captions like the "Sci-Bots fight on" on this one. On the back, we have some pretty pictures of the Transformers Megatron and Ravage.

This one is two of the normal episodes of Spaceketeers/Sci-Bots. Most notable for the Marc cover featuring... a big demon thing of some kind, in the background. It's not anything that features in the cartoon, and judging by the shading it's not something Marc has drawn himself, but I don't know where it was stolen from.

Most Krypton Force videos are organised enough to have two consecutive episodes of the series on them. This one, in the Force Five series with most continuity from one episode to the next, has one episode from early on, followed (without pause or credits, as usual), by a much, much later one. Another unsigned cover, but that's got to be Marc.

Hey, where did those trademark Krypton Force hexagons go? This is the only KF tape I've seen with this unusual background pattern, and the only one I've found with Grandizer (or Orion Quest) cartoons. It's more giant-robot adventures, but with a central theme of flying saucers. Everyone and everything in this series turns into a flying saucer. The enemies here are the Vegans, and this release probably takes the grand prize for Most Incomprehensible Title. What, exactly, is "The Youngest Eclipse" supposed to mean?

Now we come to the Videotoons branch of the Krypton Force VHS empire. This one, volume 2, is the best if like me you're a fan of old Warner Bros cartoons - it has four of them, and rather good ones too. It has a cover in which Marc valiantly attempts to draw a world-famous and recognisable character in Bugs Bunny, and, well, nearly gets it. The titles listed on the back are mostly correct (the cartoons on these tapes have the title cards cut out and probably came to Krypton Force in that state, so they couldn't check the titles just by watching them), except the third one down. "Clubarable"? The real title is "The Unbearable Bear". What did they think "clubarable" meant?

I'm not sure if the rest of the Videotoons are Marcs or not. The style seems a bit different, and there's no signature.

I haven't actually got the tape that's supposed to be in this box - when I bought it, I didn't check the tape inside, which is actually volume 5 (see below). So I'm just having to take a guess at the cartoons on it. I'm still drawing a blank as to the one they call "Porky & Co" - there isn't a Porky Pig cartoon with that name, and I can't work out from the description or the picture which one it would be. Those pictures, by the way, are home-made by Krypton Force. Several of their tapes feature unbelievably primitive title sequences made on what looks like a BBC micro. These next two Videotoons are notable for featuring unusually hi-tech title graphics.

Not much to add here, but how's that for a Freudian slip? The character's name is Betty Boop, people. Boop with a P on the end. And they sold this to children!

One last Marc masterpiece as the bonus feature in this post. I love this one, because he's drawn the whole background by himself. And although he's just copying a still-frame from the cartoon, the perspective is very wonky indeed. Still, I shouldn't criticise. It's not like I can draw that well...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dogdyke, Tumby Woodside and Trouble House Halt

Part two of the when-I-were-a-lad reminiscences from yesterday - Tumby Woodside railway station, of all things, has a page on Wikipedia. Now, I grew up in Tumby Woodside, and I've never quite understood why it gets listed as a funny place name quite as often as it does. Not when you can walk a mile down the road and find yourself in No Man's Friend or New York, anyway. Lincolnshire is full of sillier names by far. Mavis Enderby, Claxby Pluckacre, Norton Disney, Anton's Gowt, dozens of them.

A book review here of Bill Bryson's book that I haven't read, "Notes From A Small Island", lists the following strange English place names: "Great Shagging, Coldbath Square, Little Puking, Old Toejam, the Buggered Ploughman, Ram's Dropping Bypass, Tumby Woodside, Shepherd's Bush, The Butts". Now, to me at least, good old Tumby Woodside sticks out like a sore thumb from that list. Perhaps there's some double meaning that people who have lived there are just automatically oblivious to?

Not that I'm not grateful to Flanders and Swann for picking the station out of the list of Beeching victims, it gives me another great claim to fame. And speaking of fame, thank you to the person who updated my own Wikipedia page last night and even added a link on the QEGS page. I really wasn't dropping a hint in yesterday's entry, you know. And though I don't want to seem ungrateful, I'm not sure I can allow the assertion that I'm 'one of England's best othello players' to stand. Not to mention the line that I recently quit my job and started a career as an author - that really does suggest much more coherent forward-planning than I can honestly take credit for.

Of course, I'm too modest to amend my own entry to, for example, include my other world records (hour cards and ten minute cards). Not dropping a hint, there.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Those were the days, my friend

I've been feeling a bit nostalgic this weekend. It started out as a more looking-at-wikipedia mood, because I've been increasingly staggered by the weird people and things that have got pages on there nowadays. It turned out that even my old school has a proper page to itself - check out Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Horncastle. It occurred to me that I don't think I've ever mentioned QEGS here before, which seems terribly unfair on the old place. After all, it probably wasn't all bad, despite what I might have thought at the time. Looking at the official website, it seems that it's now got a new Arts Centre with Performance Studio, that looks like a sort of avant-garde garden shed. I'm trying to work out where it is, looking at the buildings in the background, but I'm drawing a blank. Maybe that's a picture of a completely different building, in Basingstoke or somewhere, that they're trying to pass off as part of the school in order to lure thespians.

Until a few years ago, there used to be a bit on the school website about the chess club, mentioning that "doubles chess" was still popular there. That was my contribution to school history - or mine, Noddy's, Jimmy's and Slosh's, anyway, so I hope the young folk are still playing it.

I did consider adding my name to the extensive list of alumnus on the Wikipedia page, but that would probably just make it look even more ridiculous. And it would give the impression that I think I'm as cool and successful as Robert Webb (who was a brilliant comedian even as a schoolboy, by the way). But still, my poor little stub could use some more links to it. I've been meaning for ages to write a page for the memory competition scene (or at least just translate the extensive German version), but I've never got round to it.