Thursday, 31 July 2008

Kingdom of Fear - Hunter S. Thompson

On the 20th February 2005, Hunter Stockton Thompson committed suicide after shooting himself in the head at his notorious Colorado compound, 'Owl Farm'. In a nearby room his daughter-in-law accompanied his grandson whilst Thompson's own son was also in the house. It was the end of a remarkable life, one lived above the speed limit (in every sense of the phrase) before finally going over the Edge he so fondly spoke about.

Thompson's autobiography, Kingdom of Fear, is typical of the man himself. Never one to play by society's mundane rules or to adhere to vapid normality, his life here is presented as a series of letters, newspaper clippings and anecdotes which would make the most seasoned raconteur green with envy (and sickness).

The autobiography is notable by its absence of Thompson's childhood. He only ever mentions his formative years in brief, blink-and-you'll-miss-it sections and it would appear to the reader at least that life truly started when the art of writing took hold. We get accounts of his time in the army where he honed his writing skills before moving onto a variety of newspapers and magazines, sent to report on obscure sporting events which he seemed to embrace with relish.

The cast is pretty much as expected: enraged lawyers, colourful prostitutes, violent foreigners and famous actors, all of whom had their lives changed, for good or ill by Thompson, like a drop of LSD in your morning tea. However, for all of Thompson's vibrant stories, he saves his main reserve of energy attacking George Bush Jr's administration. Published in 2003, Thompson has a lot to aim at; post-9/11 America was ample fodder for Thompson's bile, a country led by a man who he calls 'the child-president' and a 'whore beast'. Indeed, it would seem that Thompson, a man who had seen and reported on Richard Nixon's tempestuous Presidency, felt more aggrieved by Bush's shambolic pastiche of a Presidency than any other he reported on - and that was quite a few, earning him his stellar reputation as a fine political writer.

Now to the good stuff. The autobiography features a selection of booze-, gun- and drug-fuelled tales. Amongst the more memorable is his late-night excursion to Jack Nicholson's house, celebrating the Hollywood rogue's birthday. From a vantage point overlooking the actor's house embedded in an Aspen valley, Thompson decided to set up an amplifier and proceeded to play a tape of a pig being eaten alive by bears. At 119 decibels. After the lights went out in the Nicholson home, Thompson opted to make the small trip down to the house and place his present on the porch of the movie-star - a bleeding elk's heart. The next morning Thompson received news that his good friend Jack was in trouble. Apparently in the early hours of that morning there were sightings of a crazed stalker lingering menacingly around the Nicholson compound, intent on committing barbaric acts on the Nicholson clan...

Other moments include Thompson and his vicious Dutch friend, Geerlings, beating up the Brazilian war minister's son in Rio de Janeiro, a lion (yes, a lion) finding itself in his convertible and on the receiving end of Thompson's impeccable decision-making, his infamous campaign running for Mayor of Aspen, his time reporting on the Vietnam war and his well documented court case involving a rather interesting feminist in the porn industry (what really happened in that hot-tub?).

Despite the abundance of hilarious tales, I found the book failed to deliver on what Thompson is ultimately defined by: his lifestyle. Those who have read his works will find this hard to digest. For all his brilliant writing, be it political journalism, sports journalism or first-hand accounts of the scaly underbelly of America, Thompson is best known for his 100mph lifestyle. If anything, there were not enough drug stories, trouble-making and general bad behaviour, but maybe I'm just one of many who have bought into the Thompson myth, setting standards for the man which, in reality, are beyond the capabilities of most men. Although I enjoyed reading his autobiography and experienced a sense of a life lived to exhilerating extremes, I felt that it revealed a rather uncomfortable truth: that his life is dominated by obsequious myths which are part and parcel of any larger-than-life character. A fun, multicoloured read, but to quote the great man himself, 'It never got weird enough for me'.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The Dark Hype

Excuse me for a few minutes whilst I get something off my chest.

I don't think I can take the eternal gushing poured forth by people over the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight, any longer. Firstly, I must point out that I haven't seen it. Secondly, I have no desire to see it. Frankly, I thought Batman Begins was a teensy bit over-rated. I was, and still am, truly amazed by the amount of people who used such adjectives to describe it as 'dark', 'brooding' and 'deep'. The hype surrounding it was dispelled for me as soon as the first in a vast volume of one-liners was delivered. And was I the only person who found Christian Bale's voice, when in full Batman regalia, absolutely hilarious to the point of depression?

When it comes to The Dark Knight, I have often found myself telling people that I am looking forward to seeing it. This is a complete lie. As with many other films and television series, around which people organise their lives, I am simply not interested (just like people I know who aren't interested when I tell them they have to read, for example, The Collector by John Fowles. But that's just a book and not a $999bn film). Dismissing such amazing must-see events can make you come across as a miserable old fart, but in terms of not kidding yourself it is a small price to pay.

A bit about Heath Ledger. I know it is wrong to put a man down when he is not here to defend himself but I have only ever seen him in one film, A Knight's Tale, which was a largely forgettable affair. Yes, I've heard that he is fantastic in Brokeback Mountain and that 10 Things I Hate About You is a bit of fun, but I can only judge him on the one film I have seen him in and my judgement is that he is neither here nor there as a actor but really really really good-looking, so thats ok. I wonder, if an uglier actor died in the same circumstances, would there be similar outpourings of grief (from females between the ages of 16 and 35)?

Maybe I'm just a bitter soul annoyed with the world-at-large, unable to focus my bile anywhere else except at something which brings joy to a lot of people. Maybe the ghost of a Generation X-er has infiltrated my bones, telling me to fight against the masses purely on principle and at a cost of discovering new things. Whatever the case, I keep hearing the echo of Johnny Rotten in my head, singing the lines 'Don't be told what you want, Don't be told what you need...'

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Five go Paintballing

About a week ago I received a message on facebook from an old school friend who I hadn't seen for quite some time. In his message he wrote that because another friend of ours was getting married in a few weeks he had organised a Stag event for the following weekend. He had booked a day of paintballing.

When I saw the word paintballing I instantly visualised packs of sweaty men running around a wooded area shouting and barking in a mist of testosterone and atavistic rage. Intense physical exercise isn't one of my favourite pastimes but because it was for our friend I decided to cast my reservations to one side and said I'll be there.

For the next week I kept getting rather apprehensive about the whole thing. I had been told that it hurts when you get hit by a paintball and that some people take it quite seriously. I disguised my worry with light-hearted banter, telling friends that they'd better watch their backs and making the point to one friend in particular that I was going to hunt him down like the dog that he is.

The night before, me and a few friends went into Bath city centre for a few drinks and discussed what the next day might yield. After a few drinks I started to feel incredibly excited about the whole thing and couldn't wait for the following day.

I was picked up from my house at 8:45 the next morning on the orders that we needed to be there at 9:15 with a 9:30 start. I didn't feel too hungover but I got the feeling that was because of the grip of nervous energy. Once we arrived I thought my nightmare had come true. Shaven-headed, surly men were wandering around the entrance of the complex in camouflaged overalls and mean, black boots. You don't have to be on the front-line, you can always lay low, I told myself.

After dealing with the administrative side of things (collecting our overalls, goggles, dog-tags et cetera) the mass of people were separated into three smaller groups. Our group was placed with another two parties who, to my relief, were of similar age to us and also didn't look like serious paintballers.

And so to the actual paintballing itself. It was fantastic. Not for a long time had my heart beat with such reckless abandon nor my poor legs been tested so much. There was the sweat, the scrapes, the agony and the ecstasy, and in the mini-games we played I usually ended up behind a barrier of some sort, exhilarated by the swarm of paintballs whizzing overhead whilst popping up sporadically, like a meercat, to let off a few paintballs at the opposition. My crowning glory, the zenith, of my day came when I had a one-on-one shoot out with a mystery opponent. I was behind a tangle of branches and logs whilst he was under an old Jeep. I kept poking my head and my gun around the side of my cover whilst he kept waiting for me to do so before firing at me. Eventually I managed to shoot him and take him out of the game. The satisfaction came in shooting him in the head, a direct head-shot. Once you were shot you had to make your way back to the safe zone where you would wait with your fellow wounded for everyone else to come back. When I entered the safe zone after this particular game it emerged that it was one of my good friends who I had shot in the head, leading to a bout of Immodesty.

I hit a few people and was hit a few times myself (no, it doesn't hurt - its like being punched on the arm/shin/lower back by the big kid at school). After all was said and done, we paid up, compared war wounds and parted ways, arranging to meet up in town later for drinks and a session of reminiscing. The whole day was a huge amount of fun and something I would suggest anyone to do. There was such a vast range of people there (rotund males, young children, svelte girls), meaning there was no danger of exclusion or being singled out due to inexperience.

The next morning I could hardly get out of bed such was the lethargic weight of my legs, but it was worth every hobbled footstep around the house.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Roper Rhodes, or, A Funny Old Week.

This past week I managed to get my claws into some temp. work courtesy of the agency I signed up with last summer. I got a phone call from them asking me if I would like to work at a company which sounded like Rofer Rowe. They described the job as simply re-packaging bathroom furniture and accessories. Being incredibly skint I said I would and was even more happy to hear that it paid £7 an hour. I eventually got an email clarifying the details such as where it was, what time to turn up, who to report to et cetera. The company turned out to be called Roper Rhodes.

On the Monday morning my Dad gave me a lift down to this place which was on the way to the hospital where he works. They were expecting me to turn up at half past eight but I turned up fifteen minutes before just to give a good impression, to give the illusion of zeal. I was waiting in the reception when a man walked in. He asked me if I was a temp and after I told him yes, he said he was temping for the week aswell. His name was Steve and he was forty-eight. He had an almost cartoonish cockney accent and, as we continued talking, it turned out he was from Milton Keynes and had only recently moved to Bath. Eventually someone from the company came in and asked us to sign a contract before telling us that the actual warehouse where we were working was just along the road and not part of the more admin. bit that we were currently in. The guy from the company asked if I wanted to get in his car for the short drive to the warehouse but Steve offered to give me a lift instead. In his car I noticed that he had two Brian Adams cds to which I thought Shit, this week is going to be terrible.

Once we were in the warehouse it turned out that it would only be me, Steve and another man named Paul who would be occupying the whole warehouse. Paul would be driving the fork-lift truck around whilst me and Steve would be tucked away in the far corner of the warehouse. We were shown what to do with regards to the job. It was impossibly easy work which consisted of opening large boxes, sticking labels on the smaller boxes within and adding labels to tap display stands. The tap models had names like Aero, Wessex, Storm, Neo and Insight which made them sound more like Gladiators than taps. We were eventually left to get on with the job in hand.

After getting to grips with the work I asked Steve what music he listened to apart from Brian Adams. He wondered how I knew he liked Brian Adams and seemed briefly unsettled by my knowledge of this before realising he had left the cds on display in the car. It turned out that he, like myself, was a Beatles nut and was similarly obsessed with them. He also was a big fan of David Bowie and told me that he went to see the man himself in an Odeon theatre in Chatham when he was 12. We talked about The Beatles a lot, comparing albums, discussing the impossibility of choosing a favourite track and also talking over various myths and legends which surround the band. We got on really well and he told me that he thought I was born forty years too late.

For the rest of the week we got to know each other more and more. He told me about his failed marriage and two children and how he believed he was going through some sort of a midlife crisis, whilst I told him about my lack of direction and various worries. We talked a lot about football aswell. He was a Chelsea fan and the mickey was subsequently taken.

Throughout the week we were crossing our fingers that they might offer us some more work, something to tie us over the week after. On Thursday the same guy who had shown us the basics came in and told us that there wasn't any work for next week. Once he left Steve said that they should have told us that tomorrow, on our last day, because now (and he had taken the decision on behalf of both of us) we were going to do next to no work on our last day. I was fine with that. We had also been listening to the radio all week and it was starting to grate. It was the same songs everyday, each sounding more like the last and there was great irony in that over the cacophony of some dance song we would talk about whether disc one or two was better on the 'white' album. Late into Thursday afternoon, after we had been told we weren't needed next week, Steve suggested that tomorrow should be a Beatles Day and that we bring in some albums to listen to. I told him not to worry and that I would bring in some albums tomorrow.

On our last day I brought in about eight Beatles albums and the best of David Bowie just for good measure. The Beatles albums were played chronologically, in keeping with Beatle diplomacy, and by the end of the day we had just about enough time to listen to some Bowie.

That week would have been a lot less bearable if it wasn't for Steve. On our last day we went for a couple of drinks after work and swapped mobile numbers. I like to think that I made a friend amongst all that monotony and that was the last thing I was expecting.