Monday, 30 December 2013

Image'ing all the people

Social media marketing is becoming an ever more visual creature. While the likes of Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat provide a terrific outlet for agencies to create unique and imaginative content, consumers are also hard at work on their behalf, sometimes without even knowing it. 

Images uploaded to social media sites can declare a person's interest in a product, similar to the way likes, tweets and comments can. Snapping selfies with your favourite brand of ginger biscuits isn't just providing a visual treat for your admirers, it's supplying a business with a nice free endorsement. What if the PR professionals could measure and analyse visual data, such as who is discussing what picture of which brand, as effectively as they can measure text?

Enter Curalate, the "only marketing and analytics suite for Pinterest and Instagram." Like other analytics tools, Curalate allows users to discover, track and measure engagement with their products and services. The twist here is that instead of crawling through URLs, keywords and hashtags, Curalate can automatically discover which people are posting about a product, even where the product is not explicitly mentioned.

Sure, there are other analytics tools for Pinterest, but Curalate is touting an unparalleled "pixel level" of visual identification (i.e. it can spot a "pin" in a haystack) and has gone to great lengths to ensure interaction with consumers is as intuitive as possible. 

Marketing agencies currently making use of Instagram and Pinterest are likely to be familiar with the almighty power of consumer engagement. Thankfully, the Curalate dashboard allows companies to dive straight into their fans' conversations and start interacting. This is a business win/win: The punter receives a lovely, personalised message from their favourite T-shirt designer, and their friends can see how cool and hip Hertfordshire Skull Apparel Ltd really are! (Though, if they existed, appearing "cool and hip" might be a big ask!) 

The PR and marketing implications of this tool are huge. Social media "scientist" Dan Zarrella argues that Facebook photos create more comments, likes and shares, than videos, links and text do. Combine this with Shareaholic's blog that states Pinterest "outpaced Google Plus, LinkedIn and YouTube combined" for share of referral traffic for businesses in February, (and beat Twitter in a straight head to head) and it seems that understanding the target market in this visual sphere will become invaluable to marketing agencies in the future.

The power of the written word is waning. A mere declaration of fondness is incomparable to the marketing effectiveness that a humble smartphone shot can hold. Is the writing on the wall for, er... writing?

Probably not. But shared images are becoming valuable currency, and Curalate can count what is being spent. And, if nothing else, it's providing businesses with yet another way to "cu-relate" to their consumers.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

SEO is bigger than SEO

Process of SEO

When prominent search engine resource SEOmoz retired their name, it struck me as a sign of the times. Moz, as they are now known, had built their reputation around the importance of SEO techniques and analysis. So why did they amend their title?

Though a number of reasons have been cited, the association of 'search engine optimisation' with a narrow set of ageing practices is clearly something they wanted to avoid.

The times they are a-changin' (sang Dylan, on the subject of online marketing. He was so progressive...) and it's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a high web-ranking, or at least high end-user engagement, based on traditional link building alone.

The SEO practices of old are still viable, to some extent. (Although search engines have curbed blatant exploitation of their algorithms, they are yet to safeguard against lack of integrity.) I suspect there are countless examples of articles created solely to boost search rankings that offer more interesting content than those without such an intention. But how long can we continue in this vein?

As of the last few years, ranking factors have come to be less concerned with keyword, domain and link data and more with "offline data potential". "User and usage data". "Brand and social graph signals".

Search engines are forever becoming more sophisticated. All the keywords, tags and headings that were once oh-so-important can lose value against our will. This is the transformative landscape marketing agencies stand upon. To survive this evolution, marketing and PR companies are having to rely less on keyword research, and more on audience research.

Ask yourself "who is our market?" And "where are they consuming content?" Target your material at them and their influencers with more than just links and text alone. Produce webinars, podcasts and videos. Offer free tools and resources. Create appealing content which will attract an authentic audience, and then connect with that audience. Generate the kind of material that consumers want to link and share organically.

The (admittedly brief) content marketing ideas outlined above are easier to suggest than to implement, and will not befit all businesses or marketing strategies. Tried and tested SEO remains a foundation that should not be overlooked. But as time moves on, it is growing more important that this remains a foundation, and not an end goal.

Moz weren't casting aside SEO when they removed it from their name as much as they were accepting it as part of a larger set of practices. "SEO is bigger than SEO", they said. It's just one aspect of effective online marketing that now encompasses a whole range of services. Services which can escape the clutches of restricting engine algorithms.

Change is coming, and the result of this inevitable development of the search engine will be greater writing, higher customer satisfaction, and more traffic to creative businesses. Change is coming, but why wait for it?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Embarrassment on the bus

It began when my ten pound note was blown off the driver's dish and onto the floor...

I exclaimed "shoot" and it sounded a bit like "s***". An old woman gasped. (It might have been a hiccup, but it occurred curiously close to my supposed profanity.)

I sat at the front. There was a bottle rolling along the floor. The scene looked something like this:

Bottle on a bus

The bottle hit a young girl and she pretended it wasn't there. "Just pick it up," I thought. It continued its journey and bounced against my foot with a perceivable thud. I followed the girl's hollow lead.

I've actually never been on a bus that swayed quite like this one, it was smoothly tilting left and right. The tricky Dr Pepper bottle tumbled forward against an old man's sandal. He looked down at a forty five degree angle. That was all.

I couldn't get it off my mind. Why did I care? Why did I care so much about this damn bottle?

It's weird, I think it's just because it was litter. It was litter on a bus, and litter should be picked up. Everybody could see it, choosing victims, but nobody wanted to be a hero. Who was next in line to be humiliated by a mischievous bottle clinging to their boot?

Me, obviously. I was the one panicking and it had sensed it the little git. I could feel passengers staring down the bus as it lay next to me. The scene looked something like this:

I thought a woman said "are you gonna' pick that up, son?" but she actually said, "yeah, it was a big gash down his arm" to her friend.

Dr Pepper travelled on towards a tough looking woman - face like a burst soufflé. It didn't even get close, she practically jumped off her seat to pick it up and put it in the 'take your free newspaper' basket.

Problem solved? Not exactly. How was I going to enjoy the rest of my journey knowing there was a Dr Pepper bottle in a basket designed for newspapers?

"You know what, Scott? Don't worry about it," I thought, beginning to see sense. "Someone is going to get off one stop early today..."

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Embarrassment at the Bus Stop

Bus Stop Embarrassment

I learned to drive just to avoid the embarrassment that comes with public transport...

I guarantee it's not just my own social ineptitude that results in these awkward experiences, I've seen it happen to others too. Once, while on a bus which was stuck in traffic, I watched an old lady lean forward to see what was causing the hold up. She had been sitting on one of the those folding chairs near the front. She leaned just far enough to let the seat creep silently back to its native position, before she found a new seat, on the bones of her arse.

On another occasion, my mother clutched a man's hand for the entire journey believing it to be the hand-railing.

I do my best to narrow the opportunity for these conditions, but it's not cost effective to park in the city while I go to work. Instead, I must ride the cold morning bus with the rest of the chumps, and something uncomfortable usually happens...

The most recent example of this being my attempt to flag down an uncharacteristically fast moving coach which was bounding towards me. As I threw my hand into the air to catch the driver's eye, I launched a stream of glistening coins out in front of me. I then stood aghast as the number 58 to the city centre rested snugly on top of them, a sleeping dragon guarding a golden egg.

I still had enough change to pay my fare, as it happens. But in the commotion, between picking up the remaining scraps and smiling awkwardly at the girl staring, I had put it back into my pocket.

Which pocket? Well, who knows? It all happened so fast.

To add insult to injury, I was the first to arrive at the bus stop and consequently first to climb aboard (punctuality be damned) to meet the anxious and disappointed looking driver. (He looked like a man who didn't have a very nice personality on account of him not having a very nice family, but this was purely conjecture.)

I asked for the city centre and placed a pound coin on his tray - the only coin I had retrieved. A pound has never looked sadder.

The driver grimaced.

I rummaged through my pockets in search of further remuneration, navigating the wiry traps of my headphones, and managed to touch upon a pleasantly thick, round surface. I withdrew it triumphantly, only to discover it was a ten pence piece.

"How much is it?" I asked.


"Oh, one-eighty is it? I thought it was one ninety five?" An unhelpful rebuttal.

I began thinking that, contrary to popular belief, buses are on a schedule, and I was causing a hold up as I fidgeted and patted. My pockets were grandparents, withholding money I rightly deserved.

Success! A pound coin!

Nope, just another ten pence piece. Strange how ten pence can feel like a pound when you're desperate.

The driver's eyes bore down on me. Glum zombies sat unimpressed (as if the job I'd made them late for even mattered). I was sweating, distressed. "Check the back pockets again, Scott." Still empty.

Like a cruel fairground game, my pincer fingers were failing to hoist a prize. But then, as my hand squirmed through my ever tightening pocket, a real, honest to goodness, British pound coin appears at my fingertips. Relieved, I handed it over and scampered to the back of the bus.

The girl I'd smiled at earlier was on my mind as I slumped in my seat. I didn't like her. As sure as I was going to blog about this, she was going to tell all her friends about the funny man who threw all his money under a bus.

I'll throw her under a bus.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Interesting feedback on boiler repair service

As a call centre worker, you have to learn to enjoy the little things...

The excited laugh of an older woman when she's presumed to be half her age. An answer phone message featuring a crude Dolly Parton impersonation (Mrs Peters wasn't working 9 'til 5 as a sound-alike, that's for sure).

Discovering a name like 'Titshaboner'. 

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that life in the call centre can be very dreary. But, on a rare occasion, a person's response makes me want to keep my job forever.

Case in point. I was gathering feedback from a lady about her recent boiler repair. She'd had a lot of nice things to say about the way in which it was dealt with, and halfway through my survey I quizzed her on the attitude of the repairman who serviced it.

When I came to ask "why were you 'very satisfied' with his attitude?", what was her response?

"Because he was pleasant"? "Because he was efficient"?

No. Her response was "because he wasn't abusive"


Because he wasn't abusive? Because he wasn't abusive?

Because he wasn't abusive.

I feel like this lady's expectations regarding boiler repair people are uncommonly low. Honestly, you've had to have some bloody miserable experiences when you've praised a workman's lack of abuse. Who the hell has been doing jobs at her flat? Is she at one moment reporting a faulty oven fan, and the next being chained to the radiator?

I wonder if she'd be surprised to learn that very few boiler repair people actually are abusive to residents. Or have I just been incredibly lucky with handymen my entire life?

Across the nation, are housewives bound and gagged before the engineer fits a new Sky Box? Maybe you can't get a leaking tap sorted without the plumber pushing you down the stairs first.

"Can I make you a cup of tea or anything?" - Tenant.
"Yes please, you fat horrible turd. Milk and two" - Worker.

The poor woman, no wonder she was so eager to complete my questionnaire - probably thought I'd torment her with nuisance phone calls if she resisted.

I probably would have. All in a day's work.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

In defence of Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies

Channels 4's Embarrassing Bodies has been compared to a modern day freak show. Unwitting and distressed members of the public are the subject of ridicule on this opportunistic and cruel show.

While I find the above statement to be a tad dramatic, the number of criticisms are numerous, and most are hard to deny. There are some side-affects of this television programme, however, that may outweigh its flaws.

The notion that Embarrassing Bodies is "exploitative" is a tenuous one. Any T.V. documentary could be considered exploitative because the motives are first and foremost to garner an audience (if a documentary is unlikely to attract viewers it will never get commissioned). I don't think this alone means Embarrassing Bodies uses its participants unfairly, though; they are aware that they are being filmed and of the nature of the show. In some cases these people have never seen a GP before, yet they are willing to seek treatment and inform others of their circumstances through this outlet. For what reason do they feel comfortable to do this on TV, but not in private, I can't say with any certainty. Nonetheless, the participants receive free, quality care, and are educated about their illness. They are not being used unfairly.

I concede that the display of unusual conditions is Embarrassing Bodies' main hook, and I suspect most of the audience tune-in to see graphic images of some "gruesome" disease. But because the show is popular, if only for this reason, it has the possibility of reaching a relatively high number of people (it's broadcast on television, on a terrestrial channel, after all) and it gives those people access to some genuinely good advice. Embarrassing Bodies is not just an exhibition, it discusses the nature of each condition it features and frequently recommends self-examination and visits to the local GP. I feel like I've gained more useful advice on health from this show in the past twelve months than anywhere else. (My testes have never been so frequently inspected - this should be routine for all adult males!) But aside from the obvious benefit of raised awareness, Embarrassing Bodies has another feature which I find extremely worthwhile. However accidental it might be to the show, its focus is on people with "flaws".

The media is dominated by artificial images of supposed beauty, images which are impossible to compete with. This is a longstanding tradition based on what networks/film studios/magazine publishers believe an audience likes to see. Do we want news presented by those with the bumpy, pasty skins of the average Englishman? Apparently not. This is why there are dedicated departments designed specifically to enhance the look of people who will be displayed on camera.

Embarrasing Bodies

Though the presenters of Embarrassing Bodies are clearly no exception to this (quite visibly made-up), and the patients who arrive on the set are likely to undergo a similar makeup routine themselves, the programme still portrays some hint of real life - it shows that everybody has problems.

I'm not suggesting that this is the intention of Channel 4, that Embarrassing Bodies was created purely to educate, or to give us a slice of "real life". I'm just simply saying that it does. The men and women featured often look different to me, different to most people I see on TV or the movies. My eyes have been opened to the number of conditions we can have, and how little I suffer personally. This not only makes me feel incredibly lucky, but it makes me appreciate my partners body and mind more, too.

TV generally shows an idealised version of life, happiness, work, relationships, human beings e.t.c. I am grateful to be in a culture where I have a significant opportunity to see the issues I'm so fortunate enough not to have, a culture where members of the public are brave enough to let the world see their "defects".

It is the opposite of what Hollywood tells us. The opposite of what most mass media tells us (at least in visual terms). Sure, there are probably a ton of programmes that offer a more authentic and compassionate display of humanity than Embarrassing Bodies. But I'm not aware of them - and that's the point. For all its foibles, I discovered it, I watched it, and in the process learned much about personal struggle and diversity.

My biggest issue with Embarrassing Bodies? The name.

Yes, it's marketing. Yes, it's used to gain viewers. But when I watch it, I see normal people with difficult circumstances they are trying to deal with. Even the application page of its website has the quote "remember there’s no shame we’re all the same".

"Bodies", then, seems like a more appropriate title.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The hairdresser's

I'm not someone who needs a huge amount of personal space. I can recall occasions when there has been a particularly lack of it, and I've quite enjoyed myself. I'm perfectly on board with a friendly nudge on the arm every once in a while, too.

But whenever I visit my hairdresser he smacks me in the face.

I had speculated that it was an attempt to remove loose hair. That was until today, when I'd barely finished tucking in my gown and he was trying to knock me unconscious. (As soon as he commented on my new beard I knew only too well where it was going...)

In all seriousness, it doesn't really hurt. There are no traces of blood or bruising (he's so smart). It's more peculiar than it is painful. Still, I receive a flutter of back-handed slaps multiple times throughout a haircut, and I'm completely oblivious to its reasoning.

Maybe my hairdresser ('Petey', from now on) has some kind of Napoleon complex? He is a small man. Not a dwarf, if that's where your mind had wandered. Just a Northerner.

But it doesn't quite fit his M.O. He's not overcompensating, he's not an exaggerator, never trying to prove himself or his achievements. He's quiet, really.

The actual haircut itself is never anything to blog about either (really brought an out-dated term into the modern era, there). Nor is it particularly cheap, at least not while physical abuse is included as standard. 

So why do I return?

Because I am completely mesmerised by the guy.

What would he want to do if not hairdressing? Exactly. Making thatched roofs.

What did he do previous? Right once again. Street racing (bicycles, apparently).

There's something addictive about his approach to hairdressing; his professionalism is so engaging throughout every aspect of his service, whether it's the handshake when I greet him, the way he takes my coat from my shoulders, or the diagram he draws of my hair to illustrate his intentions.

His minimalist use of tools impresses me also. With only a comb, a clip and a pair of scissors (usually they have at least some electrical equipment and the zigzag clippers, right?) he reshapes my messy locks, and almost to my satisfaction.

Those who abandon modern technology in favour of the old-fashioned approach have always impressed me, ever since I watched Rocky IV. In the training montage, Drago has all the bad-ass equipment, the treadmills and the weight-machines and the punching bags (those clichés will give you an idea of how much time I've spent in a gym myself.)

Then there's Robert Balboa. (His actual name is Robert Balboa? That is absolutely ridiculous.) He doesn't need all the mod cons, just give him a steep hill and some bits of timber - he's a World Champion in the making. (You must check out this Rocky scene because it is breathtaking, but I think the foley artist was having a bit of an off-day. I've never heard a sack of boulders fall on a wooden floor, still, wouldn't have thought it sounded like a hand grenade...)

Petey isn't just a professional though, he's thoughtful. Today he offered me a job. No joke. I'm currently out of work and he reckons he could help me get into the hairdressing game. I had not the slightest interest in the profession when I arrived this morning but I've been seriously considering it since I left (if only to discover why he physically attacks a paying customer). Obviously, I do fear he is trying to groom me, he seems to have taken quite a serious interest. But hey, if it's mutual?

After cutting my hair he gave me a discounted rate on account of it being "just a trim" and, as always, refused to accept a tip. You've got to love his ethos. He decides a reasonable price for a service and I'll keep coming back for more, whether I'm being maimed or not.

I'd been telling him about my relationship/employment woes of late, and he walked outside and gave me a pep talk before I left. "Follow your heart". "Chin up". If my old hairdresser tried that, I'd ask him first to stop offering me "cheap Bulgarian wine - £3 a bottle", just so I could entertain the notion that he has his own life completely in perspective.

All of this makes me think about something else Petey said last year. To enjoy your work you must be good at it, or at least believe you are, otherwise you will be left unsatisfied. I'll write about this more sometime, but it certainly rings true for me.

If I want to be happy, I'm going to have to believe I'm good at what I do, and providing something to the best of my ability. This means taking pride in my own work, and it's something I've never been comfortable with.

Right now, I want to be good at writing. And someday I want to charge for it. In the meantime, I'll take Petey's approach, a fair price for an adequate service.

Thanks for reading, that will be 'sod all', please. Come again.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Another problem at the doctors surgery

I recently blogged about a visit to my local medical centre. Here is what else happened there...

After investigating the threat of the mole on my forehead, the doctor concluded that it was benign. However, it seemed to have grown over the past few years and I wanted to halt its progression before it enlarged further. This is not a vanity thing, aesthetically I could care less. (Though my ex-girlfriend did describe the mole as her "nemesis". Her whole personality was my nemesis.)

The doctor prescribed 'bazooka gel'.

I was sceptical.

Not because she held a quite unsettling resemblance to a Moomin. Nor because her empty paper tray had undermined an otherwise completely professional visit. I was concerned because bazooka gel is NOT to be applied to the face and NOT to be applied to moles.

"It's alright," she reassured me. "It's not a mole, it's a facial wart."

Perfect! The fear of applying acidic jelly to my face had suddenly vanished.

I used the bazooka gel that night, and while I certainly experienced a unique tingling sensation, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The gel was nursing my forehead back to full strength, idly smoothing my 'facial wart' down to nothingness.

The mole was a black scab come morning.

Several days later the scab washed away in the shower and the wart began to bleed. It continued to bleed for most of that evening actually, sadly coinciding with a formal dinner party at my cousin's house. (No interesting stories came from this, telling of the evening in general.)

It continued to bleed and re-scab for another few days.

Perturbed by this run of events, I returned to the doctors surgery and met another GP. To my astonishment, I recognised her...

It was Little My! Another character from 'The Moomins'! They've got the whole bloody kingdom working at the Village Green surgery. Her pink bow tie was missing but the untrusting scowl was firmly in place.

After another facial wart investigation, I inquired about the directions on the bazooka gel tube and how they seemed at odds with how I was using it.

"Yeah, I'd stop using the bazooka gel," said Little My, though she offered no explanation as to why I was prescribed the gel in the first place (Wikipedia tells me this is not uncharacteristic of Little My).

Probably good advice, I thought. But was she was prepared to fork out the fiver I paid for stuff...?

I didn't ask. I don't think they use pounds sterling in Moominvalley.

As it turns out, the only way they will surgically remove my mole is at my own expense. These are perfectly acceptable terms. As long as it remains at a reasonable size in comparison to my massive head, I'll keep it. If only because it exists as a bizarre anti-hero to my former partner. She was nuts.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

More about the best day ever.

"It was that easy... you just emailed him?" Said my unimpressed friend, upon reading my previous (and mind-meltingly brilliant) blog post. "Couldn't you have just done that ten years ago... YOU COMPLETE IDIOT?" I heard him thinking.

Well, of course, I had tried that before. I wasn't like a lost father on a family camping trip, driving aimlessly through Welsh countryside, too proud to ask the only dog walker in sight if this was definitely the correct way to Crymnthynllewnlynfd. Of course I'd tried emailing the bloody writer.

In fact, my brother and I have tried many things before. Search 'John Ondrasik' on IMDB. One of the questions on the message boards (unanswered, and under the crushingly bad username: the_explainer) is from myself.

I might reply to it. Yeah I should, it will be like sending myself a valentines card. Just with nobody around to see. (Actually it's not really worth it when it's put like that.)

Here is an email I found from September 24th, 2007, which I sent to the old Five For Fighting website. That's nearly six years after I first read the lyrics. It went like this:


A few years ago after performing at the 'Concert for New York' septemeber 11th memorial event on October 20th 2001, John wrote the lyrics to a song called "The Night of New York".

I read the lyrics (can't remember where I found them) and thought they were beautiful but I've never seen them since.

Any chance you can find them? It would quite possibly make me the happiest guy on Earth.



I think my writing style has gone beyond "simple but effective" and straight on through to "drivel", here, and I probably wasn't taken very seriously. I couldn't even spell September correctly. (The usernames aren't getting any better either.)

Nevertheless, it shows I have been on the hunt for these lyrics for a long time. Stating they would make me the "happiest guy on Earth" was a big claim (was I planning to marry them?) but I can confirm I am very happy to have them.

Before I post them for all to see, I do want to share another story...

Glenn and I are from the UK but my last girlfriend was from the US. I was sitting with her once, talking about Five for Fighting, quoting her lyrics. And, tentatively, she says "Scott, you know... over here... Five for Fighting are a different... kind of... thing"

What the hell was she talking about?

"It's like. You hear the songs everywhere. At weddings. At graduation. On the radio..."

And it became clear. Like a ubiquitous Celine Dion circa 1997, Five for Fighting was the scourge of America's ears.

"But...surely people still think it's good music?" I said, hopefully.

"I just think that if you had lived here all of your life you'd have a different opinion"

I understood the point. She was right, my musical tastes would be completely different had I lived elsewhere. Yes, she was right.

But the truth is it doesn't matter if my taste would be different. I can't change it now. If liking one type of music makes me less 'cool' in one culture, then that's alright with me. (Honestly, my musical taste won't be considered cool anywhere - I actually like Celine Dion.) I can take more meaning from a Five for Fighting song than any other. Hell, I can take more meaning just from the name 'Five for Fighting' than I can most other songs.

It's about how we interact with our favourite music. Not what it means to everybody else. Five for Fighting is important to me. That's all that matters.

Anyway, whatever your opinion of Five for Fighting is.

Without the music...

Without the name...

As only black and white words on a page.

I think 'The Night of New York' has universal appeal.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Best day ever?

I awoke to a text message from my brother, Glenn, that said "ring me as soon as u get this!"

I didn't know what to expect. Glenn gets excited very easily and I often receive similar messages, but I called him right away.

"Scott, guess who I've just got an email from?"

My immediate thought was Hollywood talent agent Beth Swoffard.

"No, not Beth Swoffard"

I was out of ideas.

"John Ondrasik," he said.

For those who don't know (read: for those who haven't met me or can't hear things I say), John Ondrasik is the person who writes under the name Five For Fighting. He is also my idol.

I knew what the message was about.

"I got in touch with his manager... he said 'here are lyrics - direct from John'"

My heart skipped a beat.

Back in September, 2001, the whole World was shaken. I was too young (I still am) to understand exactly what had happened or why. A benefit concert was held a month later, dedicated to the brave men and women involved.

The event was called 'The concert for New York city' and among the many charitable performers was Five for Fighting. Soon after this, Ondrasik wrote about the experience and shared the lyrics to a song inspired by that concert.

I read those lyrics.

Five for Fighting's new albums came and went, and each time I waited for the track list, waited to read those words again, waited to hear that song.

'The Night of New York'

It never came. Along the way the lyrics were lost and despite many efforts, neither Glenn nor myself could ever find them. 

I understand what an emotional back-drop the song has and how the feelings it evoked may be completely accidental to Ondrasik's words, whatever they were. But the emotion elicited, for whatever reason, was enough to keep this song firmly in my mind over the next decade. 

And today, I can read them once again.

Glenn forwarded me the email. Before he hung up the phone he said "best day ever". I told him, for once, his hyperbole was not misplaced. This just might be the finest day of our existence.

And then he addressed the fear I'd had since I discovered the nature of the message. After over ten years of imagining... how could it possibly live up to my expectations?

It's like returning to Disney World once you're all grown up. Will it still be as magical as all those years ago?

"Scott..." he said. "It's as good as I remembered"

I can barely recall a single word, but I can recall the importance of every one. After twelve years, I have it. In my inbox. Waiting.

I think it's time to take one more ride on the runaway train...

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Problem at the doctors surgery

There seems to be a conflict of interests at my local doctors surgery...

I was sitting in the foyer, waiting to have my mole investigated. My gaze drifted along the walls (mainly to avoid catching eyes with the plague victim on my left) at various posters and ad campaigns regarding the threat of obesity. Heart disease. Diabetes. High blood pressure.

And there, beside these blown up warning signs, was a vending machine.

A vending machine waiting to charge the next desperate soul for some gallstones. (No, they're nothing like gobstoppers.)

Make your mind up, NHS. Do you want us to avoid eating Mars bars or not?

It's just confusing. Some poor, fat sod with gout is going to walk all the way to the surgery, nearly pass out from the pain, and pick up a Wispa Gold for his efforts.

It's like holding an A.A. meeting in an off-license.

The items sold in vending machines are bad for us. Not just if they're eaten on occasion (being 'treat-wise' is a marketing ploy. If you only smoke crack once a fortnight you're still smoking crack more than you should), they are bad for us all the time. They contain a concoction of ingredients that are impossible to recreate in nature. Early homo-sapiens did not survive on Revels.

However, until we develop foods which are as healthy as they are nice tasting, chocolate and crisps will rule. A person should have the right to choose when and if they buy junk food. I do accept this.

But right next to the obesity posters? Behave. I could sympathise if this was the USA, where the moment people stop getting fat is the moment the economy collapses.

But the NHS is like a black hole - there will never be enough money, and the money saved from obesity related illnesses could help other causes a great deal.

Hell, it might even be enough to buy a drinks machine too! Dr Pepper, anyone?

Monday, 27 May 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness - what I would have liked to see

(All opinions expressed here are based upon my one-time viewing of Star Trek: Into Darkness at the cinema. I cannot remember the exact dialogue)

At the beginning of the movie, when Kirk asks Bones what Spock would do in the same situation, Bones replies "he'd let you die".

At this point, Kirk should have said "that's why I need him". Because Kirk chooses to save Spock, the audience is allowed to believe that he respects Spock's decision-making and values the opposing thought process even more than his own life. By adding "that's why I need him", we can get a larger dramatic payoff from a later scene, which will strengthen the idea of their core relationship.

I would have cut the part where Spock asks Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) for help. I've got no time for senseless crowd pleasing. The scene added nothing.

Instead, Khan should present the terms "hand over the soldiers or the Enterprise  and all its crew are destroyed". Spock will consider this, look around to his despondent crewmates, and tell Khan that he cannot hand over the soldiers.

Kirk, while still aboard the opposing ship, will smile as he realises Khan's bluff has been called. Khan needs the soldiers, so he can't destroy the Enterprise where they reside. The Enterprise crew will relax.

Khan will then propose a counter-offer: send the soldiers, or he will kill Kirk. Spock has ten seconds to reply, and as Khan puts the gun to Kirk's head and begins to count down, Kirk will tell Spock that it's okay, that he knew this moment would arrive, some day, and he needed Spock to be in captains chair to ensure the rest of the crew's safety (thus fulfilling the "that's why I need" him presupposition from the beginning of the movie).

To Kirk's outrage, Spock will cave. He will tell Khan to return Kirk in exchange for the pods.

Kirk will arrive on the Enterprise and run at Spock, shouting that he gave him the captains chair to make decisions that weren't based soley on his heart, to make the most logical decision. And he'll ask "how could you throw it all away, just to save me?" and Spock will reply "I didn't."

The opposing ship will blow up and we find out about the plot to remove the soldiers and send the missiles armed.

In this version of events, we get a moment to feel that Spock was trying to save Kirk, which, hopefully, as human beings, the audience should empathise with. But the twist comes from Spock admitting to Kirk that he didn't act purely to save him - it was incidental. It's a cold sentiment but one that Kirk values. His decision to reinstate Spock was the right one, and the idea that Kirk needed to save Spock at the beginning of the movie is fulfilled. Spock chose the logical answer that did the greatest good, it's just by chance that Kirk was saved to accomplish that. Had another route have created the most good but lost Kirk's life, that route would have been chosen instead.

I'd want this idea to be reiterated at the end of the movie also. Maybe at that inauguration/ceremony/funeral thing (whatever that was) or back on the Enterprise. Kirk can say something like "you know, you could have just sent the warheads over at the first time of asking, before he threatened my life..." (so he addresses that potential plot hole of not sending the armed warheads on Khan's first time of asking) But then he'll add, "ahh but then Kirk here would have bitten the dust aboard the ship with Khan... and you just couldn't let that happen could ya?" (But something less terrible!) He'd be teasing Spock, to Spock's humourless expression. Then Spock will turn solemn and say "one day, a decision I make may end your life, Kirk", and Kirk will say "on that day, it will be the right decision".

This way more weight is added to the characters' relationship. Spock and Kirk are mutually inclusive. Two sides of the same coin. We see a thought process from Spock that means Kirk is not the priority, the greater good is. This is tinged with sadness, the thought of Spock being so brutal about Kirk's death and Kirk's apparent satisfaction with that notion. But that's why it's dramatic.
In the real film, when Kirk is dying and he congratulates Spock on his decision to send the armed warheads onto the other ship, the part where Spock says "it's what you would have done" falls completely flat. There is no previous suggestion of this line of thinking. It does not offer an emotional pay-off without convincing the audience that he has a reason to believe it. Why is that what Kirk would have done? Why does Spock believe he should act in the way in which Kirk would? A few additional lines of dialogue could have completely rectified this and made the film that much more enjoyable.

I'd also remove the unnecessary display of Alice Eve, semi-naked. Kirk can still be a player without shoving it in the audience's face.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness and JJ Abrams

I can't imagine JJ Abrams ever making a film which, on a fundamental level, does not work. Mission: Impossible 3. Star Trek. Super 8. They're all completely functional movies. Highly entertaining, too.

Into Darkness is one more to add to the list. It features a number of terrific edge-of-your-seat action sequences, stunning visual effects, and spicy dialogue between the conflicted leads.

I am giving it a full recommendation. Star Trek: Into Darkness, is a highly entertaining, completely functional movie.

...But that is all.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, per se. I suppose I wish all movies were as good. And, honestly, there is no reason why they shouldn't be. It was far from original (big bad villain out to destroy the big bad world yadda yadda yadaa blah blah zZzZzZ). It is a very traditional three-act 'buddy picture', set in space.

All films should be as good, narratively speaking. But Abrams' films are so quickly digested that I'm never satiated. Their surface so shiny. Their innards so hollow. Into Darkness had moments where I was meant to feel something - no doubt I did at the time. But it doesn't linger.

This is what is stopping Abrams' movies from being stone cold classics. They are lacking in the replay value that Spielberg's have/had. They're lacking in depth.
The disconnect stems from the writing. Though I hesitate to say that it's a bad script, or that the movies I prefer have better ones, I know I want nothing more from Abrams' in a visual or audiological context. Nor do the films I prefer have superior CGI or action sequences.

My problem is with my emotional connection to his films and this is a writing issue. The Into Darkness script works from a technical standpoint but there are entirely flawed movies which have more impact than Abrams' back catalogue, and, for me, these are the more worthwhile pictures.

Abrams' next movie will be Star Wars: Episode VII and I have no doubt he will produce a very entertaining movie. But I want more now. I'm done with great movies.

Great movies are so last year.

Fortunately, as neither Alex Kurtzman nor Damon Lindlof (Abrams' long time writing collaborators) have their nauseatingly pristine mitts on the script, I think we just might see something special. Something memorable. Something to arrest.

Come on J.J., give us a new hope.