Monday, 24 June 2013

The Purging of the Pouch

Hello there. You catch me in a light mood today, as I've just had a bit of a purge. A jolly good clear out. Nothing like flushing the old system out to put a bounce in your step. Even as I type, I am glancing down with pride at the large pile spread out at my feet. Ahhh.

I don’t mean that, you filthworm. I mean I've been decluttering the place.

With Herself’s imminent return from the Western Marches after 18 long months providing musculo-skeletal care to the good folk of the principality next door, the Ocelot’s Lair is in need of a little pre-emptive space-making. It’s going to be like moving in together all over again, with all the attendant fun of arguing about how many spare duvet covers we need and who has the best kettle. Thus to avert any unclassy domestic issues before they arise, we have both resolved to junk our junk now and so aid the smooth reintegration of our two households, alike in tat and stuff.

Herself has already set the bar high, with an impressive pile of old clothes and CSI DVDs for the chucking out. Can you imagine, in these days of Sky Living and Channel 5 and TiVoPlayer+ boxes, a time when anyone needed to see CSI that badly that they went out and got them on DVD? Believe me, younger readers, those innocent times did exist.

Anyhoo, encouraged by her wardrobey sacrifices and expunging of Grissom et al of the Las Vegas crime lab, I too have bent myself to the task of purging the place of stuff I can do without. This is no simple task for me, as I am one of life’s hoarders. Not an extreme hoarder you understand; you won’t have to shove the front door open and sidle past towering piles of old newspapers in my stinking cat-infested suburban semi, but I do find it hard to throw things out. Especially books and films and stuff like that. My bookshelves are like personal showcases, like my life’s CV rendered in flat-packed wood. Someone can come in, mooch on over to the row of ceiling-high Billys, cock their head on one side and check out the spines of my book collection. I do much the same at other people’s houses. In residences where there are no books, I find myself at a loss and increasingly panicky.

I have little problem ridding myself of non-readable/viewable tat though; darling little ceramic things that older relatives of a certain age tend to give me for Christmas, the collection of stuffed sheep I have been inexplicably presented with over the years, the half dozen glass vases that came with various Interflora deliveries. The nice people of the local charity shops will be taking receipt of them in short order, I can tell you. I guess it just depends on what you’re into, what you like and what you want to surround yourself with.

For myself, I could never part with my tattered paperback of Brian Hildreth’s How To Survive, nor the Usborne bumper hardback of Monsters, Ghost and UFOs. I can never quite convince myself that I will never need to read those books again, nor want to watch some old comedy series one more time. So hopefully you’ll understand how difficult it is for me to part with any of this sort of stuff. It’s especially hard if it was a special present from someone. I have a copy of Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad given to me by my dad many years ago. He’s written something nice inside, so even though I was a bit too young and never got more than a couple of chapters in (it’s one of the three books I've never finished along with The Lord of the Rings and Three Men on the Bummel), there’s no way I can dispose of it, because it meant so much to the person that gave it to me. In fact I'm beginning to suspect that subconsciously I'm writing this entire piece purely so my dad can read it and lift the obligation upon me to read the damn thing, like some kind of papal pardon.
The three great topics in the modern school curriculum
Contains actual diagrams about gutting and preparing deer

Still and all, space must be made afore the triumphant of Herself to the Shire of Opportunity, so I have just jolly well knuckled down for the last few hours and chucked some stuff out.


Well, it’s in piles all around me and hanging from doors, ready for the chucking out. Or giving away to friends. Or ebaying. In some cases I may present the local library with selected items of my superfluous reading material so that in the years to come, like giving away a loved but overly demanding dog to a friend, I can visit them now and again.

Here then is a run-down of stuff that is on the out-pile, followed by fascinating snippets of what each item means to me. It’s going to be like a mass psychometry session, or a time-filling series on Radio 4. Should you feel the urge to take any of it out of my hands, and can promise it will go to a good home, do get in contact.

* * *

The original Star Wars trilogy on VHS ‘in wide screen’. Yes, VHS. Brace yourselves, for there will be more video tape to come. This trilogy was given to me by a workmate many years ago. If I remember rightly, he was (and possibly still is) as much if not more of a hoarder than I. He obsessively collected videos of certain genres, or with certain stars. Somewhere in the Ocelot’s Lair I still have the exercise book he once gave me, filled with delicate entries on every line of every video he possessed, so that I could request to borrow anything I fancied, like an early version of LoveFilm. I seem to remember that he was a fan of certain actors and would track down everything they had ever appeared. Thus he was one of the few people to own a copy of Grease 2, starring the young Michelle Pfeiffer (and Maxwell Caulfield off The Colbys).
Grease 2 was originally a live-action Gelfling adventure 

Silverado. VHS. I'm not sure why I have a copy of this. Possibly I got hold of it as background research for a Wild West freeform (dressy up and pretend) game I played some years ago. Not a massive fan of Silverado. It’s got lots of unshaven guys in long coats riding around a lot as I recall. Plus John Cleese as an unlikely sheriff. For what it’s worth, my character in the freeform was based on Danny Glover in the film. Yes, I know.

Sleepy Hollow. VHS. The one with Depp and all the British character actors. Perfectly good Tim Burton film. It’s just that I've seen it a bunch of times and don’t need to actually own it. In retrospect it always bugs me that the Johnny Rico guy gets killed in this (sorry, spoiler alert) since he puts up a good fight against the headless horseman. Also, whatserface from The Addams Family is in this, all growed up (kinda) with blonde hair and the most incongruous ‘child’s head on a woman’s body’ I’d seen until Lily Cole came along. She looks like a Cluedo piece.
Her from Sleepy Hollow

Hammer House of Horror. VHS. This is the 1980 TV series, an anthology show along the lines of Tales of the Unexpected and well, Hammer horror films. Lower budget than the movies, but still boasting an impressive British cast like Denholm Elliott, Peter Cushing, Diana Dors and so on in thirteen 50-minute chunks. Nothing wrong with this, but I just don’t have the space.

The Ultimate Ball Juggling Video. VHS (unsurprisingly). I think my parents got me this after we saw a juggler at some living history place. He was probably dressed in motley doing a bit of shtick in the grounds of a stately home. Or maybe he was just busking at Covent Garden. My memory betrays me. At any rate, I was taken with learning to juggle, and with the aid of this video, 6 weeks of almost breaking every window at the back of the house, and a lot of dropped tennis balls, I got the hang of it. Never managed four balls though, or any of the tricky reverse cascade stuff (or was that a dangerous space manoeuvre in Star Trek: The Next Generation?). But I am still indebted to Max Oddball and Sean Gandini for their wise tutelage, though they know it not. This and my ability to come up with punning shop names are what will stand me in good stead come the inevitable collapse of civilisation.
An actual shop selling actual juggly things

Home taped stuff. My God, the stuff we used to tape. All of us used to, didn't we? Only I've never got round to chucking it out, unlike the rest of you with your iTabs and Skype+ boxes and what have you. Remember what it was like when there wasn't any TV on demand? No YouTube, no DVD boxsets? Sure, there was video - VHS and Betamax - but the chances of anyone actually selling tapes of your favourite programme that went out on BBC2 at 6pm every Thursday or ITV at 11pm every Friday were remote. And if you didn't watch it on that day at that time, that was it buddy. No +1 channel, no catch up TV, no naughty downloads. You miss it, for whatever reason, and you just don’t get to see it. 

Thanks to a particularly ill-timed family wedding one Saturday in the 1980s, it would be years before my brother and I would finally see the Robin of Sherwood episode Herne’s Son (part one). I think. Though it may have been Dick Turpin or the all-but forgotten Oliver Tobias vehicle Smuggler. I'm definitely losing neurons by the cupful here.
Dick Turpin about the house and sidekick Swiftnick

My particular treasure trove of home taped telly includes: The Simpsons (can you believe that there was a time when it wasn't on Sky bloody One all the bloody time?), Red Dwarf series one to seven (God, I used to love Red Dwarf. Then Back To Earth cured me of all that) and random episodes of Frazier, Buffy, Smack the Pony and Chris Morris’ out-there comedy Jam.
Jam: Mr Lizard

What I'm not chucking out (and praying that the tapes still play in my antiquated VHS machine) are my lovingly recorded runs of Seinfeld and Larry Sanders, from a time when they were shown on BBC2 back-to-back in the 90s. Happy days. Not the show Happy Days, the BBC2 Sanders-Seinfeld thing. As well you know.

I’m also hanging on to a few select commercial VHS tapes from beloved old series, even though I could probably go out and get them on DVD or just run them on YouTube if I were so minded: the tragic, shocking climax of the BOB plotline in Twin Peaks, and the first few episode of classic Star Trek (including The Cage pilot episode, The Corbomite Maneuver featuring scary old Balok, and Where No Man Has Gone Before, when Kirk’s mate becomes the Beyonder or something).
Balok. Still scary after all these years

I think I was taping a lot of these shows not just for myself, but in the secret belief that at some point in the future they would be needed by the nation. You know, in case all other copies of the programmes were wiped or there was a fire at the BBC or something. Then I would be like one of those guys who audio-taped old Doctor Who episodes back in the 60s and 70s who were now being hailed as far-seeing saviours of our collective cultural heritage. Thus far, I have not been approached by the British Film Institute for my valuable collection of early Simpsons. Amazingly.

I did do nice yellow drawings of Bart and Lisa on the sides of the tapes though.

* * *

OK, so much for the videos, now for the books. Didn't really want to chuck any of these out. I mean it’s not like they’re going to stop working, unlike the VHS tapes. And yeah, I suppose I could just try to get some of these on one of your new-fangled Kimballs or whatever, but I really need to alleviate the bookcases of around two feet’s worth of extraneous reading material that I've been shoving in here and there in a most unattractive fashion, like an eccentric television academic or idiosyncratic detective (both of which I admit are firm role models).

Most if not all of these are in fair decent nick. I tend only to read things once, and since I no longer do the train thing into work and back every day, my books are less likely to look like they've been kicked down the school corridor by the class bully several times.

Charlie Brooker’s Dawn of the Dumb, and The Hell of It All. Writings and news columns from the excellent Mr Brooker, whose various TV commentary shows I have loved (though not the ill-considered panel show You Have Been Watching). My inspiration when it comes to spleen venting of all kinds.
Christopher Lee’s Tall Dark and Gruesome. An autobiography. I do admire Mr Lee’s body of work, but autobiographies really aren't my thing. Unless they’re funny and made up (see Les Patterson’s The Traveller’s Tool).

I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan. Rigorously faithful mock-autobiog of Steve Coogan’s monstrous TV alter-ego (or one of them at least. I rather liked his showcase series Coogan’s Run, much in the vein of the earlier Seven of One from Ronnie Barker. But I digress). Entertaining, but only needs to be read the once.

Russell Kane’s The Humorist. One of many dark stories written by comedians that I've read over the years (Charlie Higson, Hugh Laurie, Adrian Edmondson even). Not bad stuff, but pretty dark, as I say. On the plus side, it weaves Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks and Graham Chapman into a plot involving the deadly power of comedy. He probably wanted to call it The Killing Joke, but that title’s already been used.
"Nein, sagt er..."

Grant Morrison’s Supergods. A cross between a history and an autobiography, this starts off describing the rise of the superhero archetype in American comics, then covers the Scottish writer’s own rise to comic stardom, whilst periodically going off on one about magic and the nature of reality, this being Grant Morrison after all.

John Scalzi’s Redshirts. Entertaining fiction about a group of folks who slowly come to realise that they’re expendable extras in an ongoing sci-fi story. Works well right up to the point that they start time-travelling and going to back to the modern day to meet TV producers, at which point it’s no longer the fun Trek-spoof it started off as. Padded with short stories about secondary characters for the final quarter of the book, possibly to bring it up to some notional minimal word count.

Jack McGee’s Rapscallion. Basically this is Sharpe’s Bow Street Runners. Entertaining historical action. Two of the other books in the series, Ratcatcher and Resurrectionist, dip their toes in the Jules Verne and Gothic genres.

John O’Farrell’s An Utterly Impartial History of Britain. An entertaining enough read (but rather thick) paperback covering 2000 years of British history from the former comedy scriptwriter. Trouble is, I do find myself having to wade through this sort of factual book, rather than lapping it up. Give me a children’s Dorling Kindersley book about the same thing any day, with colourful maps and bite-size factlets dotted about. Or a documentary on telly with moving pictures and stuff. Or even better, Horrible Histories, the greatest educational kids show for adults.
It doesn't matter if you don't have children. Just watch it.

Ed Glinert’s The London Compendium: a street by street exploration of the hidden metropolis. Just one of several ‘hidden cool stuff in London’ books I have or have had. I'm wading through another just now, by Peter Ackroyd. But see the above comments about my inability to absorb factual books (you should have seen me struggling through a whopper on Stalingrad, or one about Thermopylae). By rights, I should have absorbed enough Londonian trivia by now to qualify as a blue badge guide or to knock out a psychogeographical mystery worthy of Christopher Fowler or David Aaronovitch. Instead I struggle to recall the names of the city’s great necropolises and lost tube stations and if Bazalgette built the sewers or hunted the Ripper. But hey, that’s what the internet’s for, right?

Brian Cronin’ Was Superman A Spy? One of many books containing interesting background trivia on American comics. In fact I've just finished reading Cronin’s Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent as well. “You’re throwing out comic book trivia, Ocelot? But surely this is your most favouritest thing ever! Are you unwell?” True, my little Pouch Potato, true, I am indeed loathe to part. Fascinating titbits about the Black Panther and the Howling Commandos are very much my thing, indeed they would certainly form one of my chosen specialist subjects if I were ever brave enough to go on Mastermind (I'm not). But space, our old enemy, is against us here.

Frank Plowright’s Comics Guide. From 1997. One of those price guide things that true investors would have to buy every year to keep up to date. I'm a collector, but not a seller, so I only really bought it for the handy summaries of each comic series listed. In this day and age of wikimatic information, it’s not so important. It does have quite a nice cover from the excellently pseudonymous Frank Quitely though, and because all the characters have their backs to us, we don’t have to see the weird way he draws mouths.
Is it me or does Frank Quitely's Superman look like Terry Christian?

Gary Larson’s Unnatural Selections and Cows of Our Planet. Far Side cartoons, which I love. See also Calvin & Hobbes and Dilbert. Do people still make these sorts of books? Do other people still buy them in this era of hilarious cat videos posted to out Facebook timelines?

John Gray’s Mars / Venus book. Simplistic and prone to stereotyping, but it has proved useful to me over the years, though I cherry picked behaviours from both side of the fence, natch (like when to go into the man–cave).

Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Making Comics. Two clever, weighty examinations of what comic books are all about, Read ‘em a couple of times. Maybe a bit too clever for me, or maybe I just didn't need to know about all the method and philosophy stuff. A bit like when I went to evening classes about appreciation cinema – I started to switch off when the teacher got going about milieus and two-shots. There’s a good diagram on pages 52 & 53 of the first book.
Understanding Comics

Gotham by Gaslight. The first (I think) ‘elseworlds’ comics from DC. Batman vs Jack the Ripper in turn of the century Gotham! Decent enough idea. The artwork by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola hasn't dated well though, but it could mainly be the late 80s colouring process which makes many of the characters look jaundiced.

52, volumes one to four. These are collections of DC comics from a few years ago, just after one of their periodic Crisis events. Not sure why I bought volume one, though the reason for buying the remaining three volumes was simply that I already had volume one. I am sucker for a complete set, and thus the comic publisher’s target audience in many ways. It’s a bit sprawling, covering dozens of characters over a fictional year in the DC universe. Check out the cool double page spread of Rip Hunter’s time lab in volume one, pages 138 & 139. Partially written by mad Grant Morrison.
52: Rip Hunter's cool time lab

Ruth Brown’s The Story of Greyfriars Bobby. Some of you who have read the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe may be aware of my reverence for the noble mutt, who has been immortalised as a statue in the centre of Edinburgh. This slim, ridiculously slim actually, hardback book is aimed at children and maudlin adults such as myself, so that they may periodically torture themselves with the sad tale of the dog that sat by his master’s graveside. Herself probably bought this for me to mock my love of this ‘stupid made-up publicity stunt’ (her heartless words).
Oh the nobility

Countdown Annual 1972. Bought from a charity shop for £3. British kids annual featuring Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who, Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds and other TV shows. Smells a bit funny.  Includes actual science about the Apollo space programme, a badly drawn UFO strip, and a rubbish Who adventure featuring ambulatory master-plants. Smells a bit. Yes, I know I said that already, but it really smells.
Countdown. Very poor indeed

So there you have a list of the crap I'm throwing out. Let the bidding frenzy begin.

Anybody? Anybody? Tch.