Sunday, November 04, 2012

My friend Ed

This page is normally reserved for fatuous things, but today, unfortunately, the fates have aligned to give me reason to be serious.

My good friend Ed Drummond-Baxter, laterly Lieutenant Edward Drummond-Baxter of the 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, died in Afghanistan on Tuesday. This is obviously a huge shock to everyone who knew him, and a good number of tears are being shed for him by his friends around the world as we speak. How he was killed is well known now, and I'm sure everyone who knows him can speak to the surrealness of seeing his cheeky face plastered on the covers of newspapers, on news websites. Part of me didn't even believe what had happened until I saw him on the BBC website, eyebrow cocked rakishly in a Roger Moore fashion, as was his typical pose.

The news was broken to me by Ed's close friend Henry on Tuesday night, and I took it upon myself to contact everyone I could who knew him in Japan, just to let them know personally, so they didn't have to read it in the papers on Wednesday, or worse, not know at all, until months down the line they google him just to find out what he's been up to, and find out the tragic news.

In his 29 years, Ed covered a lot of ground. He lived in three countries (that I know of), spoke pretty decent Japanese and Nepalese, and had worked as a teacher and a banker before he took up soldiering, his life's ambition. It was the part of Ed's life when he was a teacher that I got to know him.

I think it must have been September 2005 when I first met him, in Gifu, Japan, and I immediately marked him out as a threat. I was getting used to being "the Scottish guy" in town, and was enjoying the latitude having an accent that wasn't American was giving me. People just love a guy with an accent. So when they told me there was another Scottish guy in our area, I started to worry. Imagine how worried I was when Ed walked in, looking like a tonked up Orlando Bloom, all swagger and charm and peekaboo chest hair. He was basically our answer to James Bond. Luckily, his Scottish accent was virtually non-existent, so we became fast friends.

I can honestly say, I have never had a friend like Ed. We grew up in the exact same country, but to me he was frightfully exotic. He was very old-fashioned, like a man out of time - an adventurer from a distant and lively past where the British Empire was alive and well. I found it very amusing, at first, to have an Eton-educated pal who referred to me as "old boy" in a non-ironic fashion. We bonded over a shared love of Bond movies (he'd be really angry to be missing Skyfall) and military history. This, combined with the fact that my girlfriend (now wife) Kaki adopted him as a little brother - women always seemed to want to mother him - meant I saw quite a lot of him.

The more I got to know Ed, the more I liked him. When I first met him, I was awed by his glamorous lifestyle - for instance Ed's verdict on Prince William being simply "he's changed", and the fact that he literally lived in a castle - but after a while I got to know the guy behind all of this. He was a surprisingly vulnerable individual. What I had taken for overconfidence when I first met him was actually just smoke and mirrors, masking an affable, kind, but often awkward young man. I very often felt that when he didn't know exactly what to say, his go-to response was simply to smile and be handsome. And it worked all the time. There was something of the lost little boy to him, which is why I think Kaki took to him so well. It was why I liked him so much, too, because when he let his guard down it was impossible not to be drawn in by his simple decency and old-world civility.

That's not to say being his friend was easy. I have never met an individual in my life who was so singularly bad at correspondence. You could text him and wait weeks for a response. He could be so scatterbrained when it came to simple things like keeping in touch. If I could have hired him a secretary, I would have. That's to say nothing of the instances where he dropped off the grid, sometimes for weeks at a time. One time we didn't see him for a month, and when he eventually reappeared he simply shrugged and told us he'd felt like going to the gym. So he had. Every night. For a month. Without seeing anyone. To know and love Ed was to accept his disappearing act, and after a while we got used to it.

Ed played his posh upbringing for laughs, and enjoyed messing with people's expectations. He was so polite and well-spoken, that it would always raise a shriek when he said something absolutely scurrilous. Kaki was particularly amused once, when Ed was dating a Japanese girl (whose name I forget) and another pretty young lady caught Ed's eye. Although we knew he was not the cheating type, Kaki called him out on his eyeballing the girl, but Ed simply purred "Just because I'm on a diet doesn't mean I can't look at the menu." This was just the kind of occasional ribaldry that kept us on our toes. Other Ed phrases that have permanently entered our vocabulary are "saucy mare" and "minx". My particular favourite catchphrase of Ed's was, quite often, when we were in the midst of some mildly debauched drinking behaviour, usually cackling manically, he would raise his glass like Bacchus, and in his authoritative voice demand "more wine!"

Everyone has their favourite Ed story. I'm particularly amused at the memory of the time at Kashimo when Ed attempted to scale the walls of the wood cabin we were in, and promptly fell off, breaking his arm. He then insisted if he simply kept the arm elevated, it would probably be OK by morning. This was not the case, although he slept all night with the mangled limb hoisted above his head. Another good Ed tale involves his well-known resemblance to Orlando Bloom. Two young Japanese girls, shrieking, rushed over to him, chanting Mr Bloom's name, and demanding he gave them an autograph. Not wanting to disappoint them, Ed simply signed the autograph and posed for photos with the girls.

Ed had wanted to go into the army as long as I had known him, probably as long as anyone can remember. I remember one night in Tokyo, sitting alone with him in a Thai restaurant, drinking continual rounds of beer and talking about his time in the reserves and how much he wanted to serve abroad. I think he was born to be a leader too. I recall, on one occasion, my friend Jason and I drunkenly decided that if Ed were ever to become King of Scotland, we'd be his vassals. When we told him this, he didn't laugh like we thought he would, in fact he seemed strangely touched by the notion.

All good things must come to an end, and after two years, we departed Japan, but Ed continued to drift in and out of our lives like an impeccable ghost. The next time we saw him (after another one of his lengthy off-the-grid periods) was in London. He was working for a "vaguely crooked" bank, and really not enjoying it at all. He told me he'd sold a bunch of uranium to the Chinese, and wasn't really sure he should have done so. First world problems, eh? He was living in this massive five-storey mansion in Regent's Park he was housesitting for a friend. He didn't know how to turn the heating off so we all just sat there, baking, with the windows open, in the middle of summer. That always makes me think of how hapless he could be sometimes. It was good that he could be hapless, otherwise he would have been too perfect.

The last time we saw him in the flesh was when Kaki and I got married in 2009. He took a break from - in his own words - "bombing through central Asia" to come to Fife and see us. It was a whirlwind day, and I regret I didn't get the chance to talk to him as much as I should have. My particular regret is 'humorously' cutting in while he was dancing with Kaki, and interrupting an important conversation.

The next few years were hard for us. Our daughter, Isla, died shortly after her birth in May 2010, and as such we weren't concentrating on keeping in touch with Ed. In fact, we heard nothing from him until 2011, when we heard he was shipping out with the Gurkhas for his first tour. I'd never heard him so happy and excited. He was truly doing what he was meant to be doing. He loved and admired his men and was proud to be a part of the history and tradition of the regiment. The next time I talked to him he had been through the wringer, and although he assured us with the Gurkhas by his side he was in no danger at all, it was clear he had seen some life-changing things. In fact, this new Ed was a very different sort of Ed. It was clear from our conversations he had matured a lot as a person. I think I would have enjoyed very greatly getting to know this new Ed. He was even talking of coming to Toronto to visit us when his tour was over. Sadly it was not to be.

I could share anecdotes about Ed with you all day. I'm writing this primarily to reminisce with those who shared these moments with us, but also in case anyone else who knew him stumbles over these words, and wants to know more about a a period of his life they weren't a part of.

I'm sad, because these memories are all we have left of a fantastic human being, a good, caring friend, a witty, charming, passionate man, who had so much more fun left to have, so many more goals to accomplish, so much more left to give. I'm angry because of the manner in which he was taken from us, angry at the men who committed this act of cowardice.

But I'm also happy, and honoured, because I had the opportunity to know him, to live alongside him, laugh with him, albeit for a short while. I'm happy because he lived, he travelled the world, he saw beautiful things, met people who cared for him and will remember him for the rest of their lives. I'm happy because he had the love of a good woman, and he loved her, even if it didn't end up how either of them had expected and planned. I will never forget my friend Ed, the things he stood for and represented, all the adventures we shared together, and the joy and happiness he gave us. Goodbye to a consummate gentleman, a principled aide to his fellow man, a wry wit and caring friend.

Friday, August 17, 2012

If you kill me in a dream, you'd better wake up and apologise

Rest in pieces, Detective Madsen! Muuhahahahahaha!

I had another weird dream, which I will briefly describe. I was some sort of superpowered criminal, and I was being chased by two superpowered cops, Michael Madsen (playing tough older cop) and Chris Evans ("the rookie"). They were chasing me, and I clearly remember spouting the following snappy dialogue. To Madsen I yelled, "You'll never catch me, I'm always one step ahead of you." Then, gesturing to Evans, I added contemptuously: "And I'm always at least two steps ahead of him!" I flew to the top of a sort of mix between and Aztec ziggurat and the CN tower and proceeded to do battle with Madsen, before I SMOTE HIS RUIN on the ground below. This marks the first time my rampaging, untamed id has assassinated a celebrity in a dream. Go me.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Cinema Bear Assault

Another dream...

No, please. Not the knives...

Last night I had a dream in which Kaki and I were attempting to attend a showing of the film Cloud Atlas. Now, I have never read Cloud Atlas and know very little about it, but I am fairly certain it DOES NOT contain a scene in which a muttering, crazed Tom Hanks repeatededly stabs himself in the sides while a man wearing muttonchops and a chef's hat looks on, grinning horribly.

I wasn't really watching the movie, however, since I spent the entire dream being pursued relentlessly by a massive, hungry bear with golden eyes.

My mind could not be more addled.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Depressing American Disillusionment Family Crime Caper

Jennifer Lawrence, clearly in need of supervision.

I dreamed another movie a few weeks ago, so I felt I had better write it down before I forget it like I did with Sewer Cops.

So repressed.

Jennifer Lawrence is a gloomy teenager whose dad dies, and being an orphan has to be raised by her woefully ill-suited uncles. Joel Edgerton is a repressed widower, who resents the other brother, a philosophical ex-con played by Edward Norton. Together they are charged by whichever middle-American state is willing to subsidise the movie with Lawrence's welfare, but instead they embark on some kind of mild crime spree as they attempt to deal with their individual feelings on loss and family. There will be an atmosphere of barely-contained doom throughout.

Fuckin' burnout.

Monday, April 09, 2012

How to be a manly man

What would Vladimir Putin do?

The other day I was lifting weights and listing to an audiobook of Sun Tzu's The Art of War when I suddenly thought to myself "My god, Blackwood, you truly are a ridiculously manly man." Of course, I feel saddened everyday by the pervasive images of un-manliness that the media drip-feeds our youth of today. Too many of them are growing up to be like Justin Beiber and Twilight. Soon the West will be too puny to put up much of a fight, and the East shall overcome us. So if you don't want to spend the rest of your life scraping before your Chinese Communist masters, please read my short guide to improving your manliness.

1. Real men work with their hands

You work in an office? That's probably why the Men of the Street are able to mug you so easily. Office workers and professionals are mugged frequently, but when was the last time you heard of a lumberjack being mugged? Or a Navy SEAL? Or a pirate? Give up your shirt-and-tie job, and go mine some coal, then when the demander turns up, dagger in hand, you can take it from him, wave it in his eye and telling him you want his wallet.

2. Real men wear camoflage

What's the most manly form of dress a man can aspire to own? Full camoflage battle dress. It doesn't matter whether it's jungle, desert or even urban print. It's important for people around you to know that you are physically and mentally prepared for battle at any time, and the full camo suit is an excellent way to remind friends and foes that you are a tightly coiled spring, ready to appear shirtless from the bushes with a bow and arrow and start fucking shit up at a moment's notice.

3. Real men don't go elves

An orc or a dwarf is a far better choice. But by far the better choice for someone who aspires to be a real man is to go a man. Duh. Look at Legolas for God's sake. Just look at him. How much less manly than Aragorn is he?

4. Real men kill what they eat

This is a no brainer. If even Zuckerberg can do it, so should you. Go forth and kill cows.

5. Real men do Krav Maga

If even the strange female Michael Jackson that is J Lo can learn Krav Maga, you, being in possession of two testicles and a predator's mind, have no excuse. Krav Maga is the best martial art in the world, and it isn't even a martial art. It teaches you to be mean, chew ears and gouge eyes. This is how a man should fight.

6. Real men drive manly vehicles

Leave your Kia at home, please. What you want is a Silverado with so much chrome that it blinds other motorists. Brad Pitt is a true man. Do you know what he drives? A T-54 tank. Bonus points if you are able to park on top of other vehicles.

7. Real men are exceptionally hairy

No, I don't manscape. Deal. And my shoulders look like a Greek werewolf's. This just further demonstrates my manliness. With a few exceptions, the smoother a man's surfaces are, the more female-like he is. Pity the hairless man, for his strength and honour have been stolen.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Hey everybody!

Hey readers! Did I break this blog by adding a new design? I think I might miss the classic black. Sorry about this. Here's a picture of me fighting a giant cat to make up for it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Hungering for something more substantial

Poor, dead Rue.

As you've probably guessed, I'm not terrifically into The Hunger Games. I haven't read the book, regarding it pretty much as a hybrid rip-off of Battle Royale and The Running Man. And, as a caveat to this review, I'll add that I do tend to get pissed off when I see adults reading teen fiction, and have lumped Hunger Games in with Twilight and Harry Potter on a number of occasions whilst bemoaning everything that's wrong with readers - as opposed to writers - today. As a result I also tend to get pissed off when they inevitably make a film of said book and obssessed fans queue for days before the movie opens. I figure it's probably more than a little bit of jealousy - the life of a struggling writer is full of rejection, and seeing someone else's work become universally loved and accepted can rankle, especially when in your own opinion it is just a bit rubbish.

I'm going to try and avoid complaining about that sort of stuff in this review. I said 'try'. No promises.

I was determined to give The Hunger Games a chance, though. I'm trying hard these days to be more forgiving and also not to hate things just because everyone else likes them.

I saw The Hunger Games on cheap night at a large cineplex, a week after its release, and it was absolutely mobbed. Despite that, it was a mixed audience. Some were obvious fans, inhaling in shock every time a character got axed, while others were giggling whenever a particularly bad piece of dialogue came out, and in particular about three quarters of the way through when it all turned into a troglodyte version of One Tree Hill for about ten or fifteen minutes.

The film suffers from the same maladay that a lot of book adaptations do, where it feels like they've tried to cram too much into two and a half hours, and somehow it still feels as if they've missed the point of the film. Characters like Lenny Kravitz's gentle stylist Cinna do nothing to advance plot or particularly develop characters, but have been crammed in for the sake of appeasing fans. Even Woody Harrelson, as Haymitch the carmudgeonly trainer, though he gets a comparatively large amount of screen time and gives a likeable performance, doesn't really move the story along. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket really only serves to make the audience despise the effete upper classes of the film's society, and she does that more by being annoying rather than by being morally repulsive (in actuality, the smaller characters like Cinna and everyone else who is involved in running the games do this far more effectively with their complicity in the children's destruction). Liam Hemsworth could have been cut out entirely, and when the film periodically cuts back to him watching in District 12 I found myself struggling to remember who he was and what was his deal, anyway?

Then there are the tributes. There are 24 of them, but apart from the ever-brilliant Jennifer Lawrence's stoic action-girl Katniss, and Josh Hutcherson's surprisingly dislikable Peeta, we know precisely jack about any of them. This prevents you from feeling anything much when they are inevitably hacked to death. The only time the death of a tribute managed to elicit an emotional response from me was in the case of poor Rue, and that was more to do with the fact that she looked basically angelic than detailed character development. The 'bad' kids are even worse. Yes, we know they've been trained from birth to be utter badasses, but they can't shoot arrows for shit and at the end one of them has a completely unexpected meltdown (hey, it is reality TV, I suppose).

I hate to keep drawing a parallel between the two, but Battle Royale, despite having twice as many characters, somehow does a better job at making you care about these kids that are murdering one another, and it's 35 minutes shorter.

The film does seem to contradict its own message in some ways, though. It is, I've been told, a story about resistance. The thing that I liked best about it, and I don't know if it was intentional or not, is the way that the protagonists almost always end up doing exactly what the dominant social order wants them to do. I think it's interesting that by bringing Katniss into the Hunger Games and forcing her to kill, they've made her part of the violent and oppressive system she hates, while she rationalises to herself she didn't have a choice. It's only by playing the game the way the totalitarian government wants them to that they are able to prevail. In fact, the only time they really attempt to go against the grain is when they threaten to commit suicide, and they don't even go through with it. I'm not sure if the message is that you can't stand up to the system or that you can.

Now that you mention it, the whole fact that they seemed to have kickstarted a revolution with their inspirational young love story seems a bit contrived. Think about it. This is the 74th Hunger Games they've had, right? Is this really the first time people have gotten angry and started rioting when the government had their kids put to death on live TV? I'm no expert on stirring up angry mobs, but if I wanted to stoke a revolution, I think a televised child murder might be a pretty good catalyst.

Overall, I think there was too much paving the way for the inevitable trilogy that we're going to be watching for the next three to five years (I bet they split the third book into two to make more cash). Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who I suspect might have a more prominent role in the next one, could have been cut out altogether, and if I had been making it I would have been tempted just to mash Wes Bentley and Donald Sutherland's character into one to save on time. That would have left more time for us to actually get to know the characters and made the film that much more effective.

Actually, the thing that has intrigued me, far more than the movie itself, has been the online reaction from fans of the book. I'm guessing the people who threw a racist hissy fit because they realised Rue was black aren't regular readers. If they were, they would have been able to extrapolate her appearance by actually reading and understanding the descriptions. I have to say, I have been pretty surprised that many people who don't ever read, let alone read sci-fi, read the book, simply because everyone else was into it. It shouldn't reflect badly on The Hunger Games, really. If it's the only book a moron ever reads, I guess Suzanne Collins has made that moron a better person, if only very slightly.

Dammit, I said I would avoid talking about this sort of thing. I digress - racism is evil, stupid and wrong, and all these people who said Rue shouldn't be black and her death meant less because of it should be sent to the Chamber of Mountain of Knives (my favourite chamber in Diyu). Those guys are idiots. Here at The Crayfish Diaries, we love adorable Rue. That's why she gets the main pic. Go Rue!

And what's all this crap people are spewing about Jennifer Lawrence being overweight? Are you effing kidding me?

This is a picture of Jennifer Lawrence not being fat.

Seriously, no wonder young women today have a skewed sense of what a normal body looks like. She's got boobs, but she's slender as hell compared to the average woman. She kind of has a round face, but fat? Are we so saturated with waifs that a young woman with hips is automatically classified as fat? Fie upon you, sexist critics! They should be forced to climb the Bronze Toaster.

CONCLUSION: The Hunger Games is an average film, at least 30 minutes too long, but reasonably enjoyable, if slightly contrived. Oh, and people are idiots.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Station of Screams

Jude Law wants to electrocute you.

I had yet another one of my dreams last night.

In my dream, I was once again portrayed by Ewan McGregor, speaking in the effeminate Southern accent he uses in I Love You Philip Morris. I was an artist, charged with the task of creating an exhibition, to be unveiled at the opening night of a trendy new gallery, to be opened deep underneath London, in a refurbished underground station.

My collaborator was Jude Law. Jude appears to have been the dominant partner in this relationship, since during the course of the dream I simply went along with everything Jude suggested. So when Jude suggested we place a crosshatch metal sheet across the floor, and over the train tracks, I happily obliged. When we attached dodgem cars to the floor, in lines, facing one another, I agreed. When the art buffs arrived to see our new exhibition, and sat down in the dodgem cars, and the manacles hidden inside snapped shut over their legs and arms. I jumped up and down and chanted "a sacrifice! a sacrifice!"

"A sacrifice! A sacrifice!"

Jude explained to our "captive audience" (giggling impishly while he did so) that they were going to be sacrificed to our master, the Dark Prince Kluh-Ni, the Beast of a Thousand Chins. He informed them that the dodgem cars were attached to the rails that lay below the floor, effectively turning them into electric chairs for every member of our audience. Then the screaming started.

In a final act of sacrifice, Jude Law and I got into one of the dodgem cars ourselves, and I felt the manacles close around my feet, before Jude threw the switch and we rode the lightning. Blue streaks of electricity rushed around us and I felt the shock rising up my spine, boiling my brain in its own fluids. All around me, snooty art lovers were on fire, convulsing, melting or exploding. It was like someone opened the Ark of the Covenenant in there.

And then the Dark Prince spoke unto his, his servants. Standing before us, resplendent in his blood-obsidian armour, his eyes burning with unholy fire, his jaw so square as to break perpective itself, making it appear as one million smaller jaws, was Kluh-Ni himself.

He said: "I am the lord of abomination, the master of treason, the prince of lies and the shepherd of the faithless.

"I am the glint in every rapist's eye, the rock in the plastic bag of kittens, the leech, the spider and the jackal.

"I am the force behind every death-blow from bone knife to H-bomb, through sword, tire iron and electric drill.

"My breath is holocaust.

"My domain is the heads and hearts of men, but the actions of their hands are what pleases me.

"I accept this vile sacrifice."

And Jude Law and I died, happy in the knowledge that we had pleased our master.

"I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

You have been gifted with an ecard

From: Oliver Hulings
To: David Blackwood

someone told me I was drunk. I can tell you right now that I can still drive home because I'm drunk, not with alcohol, but with love for you. I have given you an eCard to let you realize how I feel. view your message Here (link I wasn't foolish enough to click)

This one just doesn't make any sense. Who would even click this? There are none of the standard demands for cash. I wonder where it would have taken me?

P.S. The other day someone called me with the classic "Hello, I'm calling from technical support, and your computer is full of viruses" call. I told him I was concerned and that I wanted to solve the problem as soon as possible. He told me that all he required were my bank details to authorise and pay for the repair (which was to be done remotely). I told him that in principle I was quite happy to do this, but I was having cash flow problems. I explained that I was a Nigerian prince with a considerable amount of wealth invested in oil, however there was currently a freeze on my account due to an administrative error, and I required a refundable deposit of $10,000 US dollars to release the funds. "You... want money from us?" the man said. "Yes," I told him. There was a moments silence. It was clear we had reached an impasse. He told me that he had to talk to his supervisor and put me on hold. I hung up.