Blog of Letters of the Week and Science Fiction

The newsdesk here at the gables has been buzzing with feedback all week with comments about the last instalment. It seems that the selective nature of gravity and the universal nature of hotel food have not just been noticed by me. Taking the latter first, a Ms. Walsingham of Berkhamsted wrote in to further add to the mystery of the complete absence of flavour when food is generated by a kitchen built in an hotel rather than a restaurant. Her point-and I’m sure most of us have experience of this- concerns the goo which comes inside a round of hotel sandwiches. This goo can be pink, beige or grey depending upon whether it has been sold as prawn, tuna or chicken sandwich filling, but like most things on the hotel catering menu, has that wonderful exotic taste of bugger all. I reckon it might be council fire regs or something. Maybe too much flavour in one place can become flammable. Maybe one day we’ll find that the Great Fire of London was started by a build up of seasoning in Pudding Lane top critical mass. We know from his diaries that Pepys buried his cheese in his garden when he thought his property was at risk. Perhaps they knew something then which has been lost to most of us in the mists of time, but the secret scroll of knowledge was saved from the flames by the proprietor of the local Comfort Inn, put into a casket and now lies buried under The Monument. It could even be that the film, The Towering Inferno was made as a warning sign to the global hotel trade to not mess about with the spicy foods becoming popular globally in the early 1970’s. The fire starts in the Restaurant, as far as I recall. This would explain why even such promising items as a room service Diavolo Pizza, which on the menu boasts such buzzwords as “Hot! Hot!” and “Only For The Brave!” comes with such a tiny element of essence of chilli that only fractional distillation could prove its existence. Should, by its own peculiar flavour related pyrotechnic physics, the hotel then be razed to the ground by fire, and should the forensic department of Messrs. Snitch and Grabber, Insurers discover that spice had been used in the kitchen to a level higher that one part in eighteen trillion, then there would be the predictable letter to the manager opening with the word “Regrettably”.

While we’re on peculiar physics, there has been quite an influx of gravity-related observations. Mr. Brill of Addington noted that a paint pot on top of a stepladder is way more likely to fall off and deposit its contents all over the one bit of carpet which hadn’t been protected with a dustsheet if he leaves the room. Many have noted that gravity’s aim and timing improves exponentially if there are small children about. My mate Dean was here in the middle of the week, staying in the West Wing between a couple of gigs. He was having a shower, and somehow Gravity managed to coax a stream of water through the bit at the back of the shower screen where the hinges are, and then round a corner and onto the floor, to land in an area about three inches square. Where his trousers and pants were. I myself have had a trouser-related gravity trauma in the week, showing the amazing ability of Madame G. to time her assaults. On Friday, I had to go into town for a meeting. As I had observed the rule, calibrated in minutes that O=g+(gx1.3) where O is the time I need to leave The Gables, and g is the calculated time for getting up, and gx1.3 is the factor by which this estimate was incorrect, I had had to pull on the suit and set off in the Volvo for the station car park at Moor Park to continue the journey in the relaxed charm of the Met Line. The result of this hurried pulling on of the suit was to omit the belt, but as the suit felt that it fitted, I didn’t worry overly. I don’t know if this happens to you, but if I start off from home a bit late, all manner of minor things go wrong, gradually forming into a large bolus of lateness from which often there is no return. If I leave on time, it’s plain sailing. Back in the choppy waters of last Friday, though, I arrived at the station Car Park at Moor Park to find it full of workmen, apparently shoring up the embankment over which the tracks run to make sure that it all doesn’t slide away and into the Costcutter opposite the station. Never mind, I thought, and carried on in the Volvo to the next stop down, Northwood, which boasts a very large car park. By now, I was quite sweaty and flustered, which I’m sure is a device placed in our species to illustrate to the gods clearly which of the Pilgrims are running late and therefore can be good subjects for further divine mischief. Glowing like a beacon, I pulled up in Northwood Station , getting as close to the pay and display machine as the situation allowed. These machines now take credit cards, so equipped with wallet, I ran to the machine, only to find the card slot closed with a metal plaque, and a note sellotaped onto the screen saying “Sorry no cards”. The day’s parking was £4.10. Running back to the Volvo, I had a rummage through the glove compartment and found- £4.10! Running back to the machine, there followed five attempts at getting the money in, and now to add to the fun, I could hear the mobile, still in the Volvo, ringing and ringing. I then noticed another small sign on the machine, saying “Sorry, this machine does not accept the new 5 and 10 pence coins”. It only struck me later that a fee ending in 10p was an unusual choice for machines which couldn’t accept 10p coins. Pay by phone was now my only option. Another 8 minutes of time had been squandered on this machine’s apology notes, and by now, I was very sweaty and flustered. Blotchy, in fact. Running back to the Volvo, I retrieved the phone which stopped ringing the instant I picked it off the seat. The caller was the chap I was supposed to meet. Now a dilemma- do I ring him, or the pay to park people. Running back to the machine, I reasoned that I was probably better off parking and dealing with him in a bit. As I lifted the phone to make the call to the parking company, the phone rang again in my hand. Maximum stress had been reached, Madame G chose her moment, and down fell my unbelted suit trousers in the middle of the car park. At least there was a bit of fresh air around the trossacks to make up for it.

Last Sunday, Her Indoors and I were relaxing in the Home Cinema, or living room, here at The Gables and ITV had put Star Wars III on. I like Star Wars, so Her Indoors indulged me and we sat down to watch it. As a chap, I am used to earning a curled lip by not noticing a new hairdo/clothe/necklace/etc , but here the boot was refreshingly on the other foot when I was asked if we were watching Star Wars or Star Trek. I did baulk a bit when she asked me what the difference was. Basically, for the layman or woman, Star Trek is middle class Americans with latex foreheads, and Star Wars is loads of robots and lighty-up swords that go fzzzzzzzzmmmmzzzzzmmmmmzzzzz.
Star Wars had a huge impact on my early adolescence. For my 13th birthday treat my Mum took me and my chum Richard to see it at the Purley Astoria. As an indirect result of that night out, I became a musician. I bumped into Richard’s dad on the train a few years ago, and it turns out that Richard moved to the States and has made a good living in the explosive and demolition business. Maybe it had a huge impact on him too. As a rule, I’ve never really gone in for mass-culture fads, but Star Wars shook me to my core. It was the first time anyone had ever seen sci-fi that looked completely real, and not like the stiff made out of yoghurt pots, rubber gloves and fablon on Dr. Who. Philosophy played a part too. Alec Guiness dispensing proto-Buddhism in his descriptions of The Force was particularly appealing, especially when he gets onto the bit about stretching out with your feelings. Stretching out with feelings and using The Force enables our hero Luke to drop the laser equivalent of a hand grenade down a small hole in the Death Star whilst flying a small space fighter at trillions of miles per hour and thus save the universe. As a developing young lad with piss poor co-ordination, I can remember trying to stretch out with my feelings and use the force a few days later at cricket practice. The prompt arrival of a cricket ball straight on the knuckles indicated that clearly I wasn’t to be a Jedi Knight for a while. I was also very taken with the soundtrack, especially the jazzy thing played by the chaps in the fly costumes in the bar sequence. Reading up later that the instrumentation for this was three saxes and Caribbean steel pans, I asked if I could have steel pan lessons at school. The old chap at school who taught percussion looked into it for me, but drew a blank, so as second best, I went for sax lessons. With that, my parents’ dreams of an Olympic-standard sportsman/high-powered Q.C. were dashed like the myriad specks of laser light that once were the Death Star.

Two more Star Wars films were produced until 1983, so the whole thing neatly spanned my years at secondary school, and set me up for life. Of course we all wanted more, as the three films hinted at a whole universe’s worth of backstory. Luckily for us, producer George Lucas had a particularly nasty divorce in the early 1990’s and needed some dough. As the only chap in the world with the capability to magic squillions of dollars out of thin air by telling stories about proto-buddhism, robots and lighty-up swords that go fzzzzzzzzmmmmzzzzzmmmmmzzzzz, Lucas promised us a prequel trilogy outlining the tragic tale of the story’s principal baddie, Darth Vader, from innocent boyhood to terminal tumble to the Dark Side. Sunday’s televisual feast was the last in this trilogy, dealing with the final tumble. Although spectacular visually, the narrative thrust of the script has all the verve and flair of a year 9 drama project, with clankingly awkward lines delivered by a cast, for whom the only option seems to be stretching out with their feelings in order to feel the fee. Lucas even blows the pivotal scene, for which we’ve all sat through two and three quarters’ films’ worth of this stuff to see- the horribly mutilated Darth Vader, nearly killed in a lighty-up swordfight that went fzzzzzzzzmmmmzzzzzmmmmmzzzzz with Ewan MacGregor from Trainspotting but on the rather more inviting environment of a planet consisting entirely of lava (it was once a hotel planet which put on a curry night)- being rebuilt into the iconic masked baddie who has loomed over all of us since 1977. In the film Robocop, there’s a similar scene where our copper is having all his bionic bits added by doctors, saying things like “Of course, he’ll never be able to eat real food again” and “With that mechanical heart of his, he’ll not sleep in a way we would understand”. Surely to God this is what we all wanted when it was time to make Darth out of all the spare bits. It’s not as if they were short of a robot or two in that neck of the woods. To be fair, we do see the evil-looking German-Soldier-In-A-Gas-Mask hat going on over the horribly (but not too horribly, it’s a kids’ film) burnt face, and we do get to hear the first drawing of the scuba breath, but I do feel that in a trilogy concerned with the lapse of an innocent soul to a world of mechanised semi-organic evil, we could have done with about thirty five minutes more science and less faffing around with epic battles on remote planets.

The next day, there was a Ray Bradbury short story on the radio called “The Sound Of Thunder”. Half an hour long, it was the very opposite of the Star Wars prequel trilogy- at half an hour long, we got to know , and in one case, dislike, the characters, we had a good old dollop of bogus sci-fi physics, and a rip-roaring alternative timeline good story to boot. But Star Wars is my friend- as duff as that film was, I sat through it all again, willing it to be good, in the same way as you’d be internally egging your best mate Dave, now drunk at a party, to not throw up on that girl he’s chatting up. Disney have bought the franchise now, and are releasing another one next year, called Steamboat Darth or something. Disney are good at films, so hopefully we’ll get a decent story or two. I notice that they’ve got the chap on board who directed the last two Star Trek films- perhaps we’ll have middle class Americans with latex foreheads and loads of robots and lighty-up swords that go fzzzzzzzzmmmmzzzzzmmmmmzzzzz all together for the first time.