Friday, October 04, 2013

From Russia With (No) Love

Oliver arrives in Moscow. Briefly.

Tuesday, 1st October started off reasonably well; I left the house at 8.10am with my suitcase, marched to the train station and sat down the on the train that would whisk me to the airport in just under an hour. I was feeling good - I was off to Moscow to attend a conference (where I would be giving a keynote speech on the future of Higher Education) and an academic fair. Little did I know that, exactly sixteen hours later I would have returned to exactly the same place (minus my suitcase)...

Things went fairly smoothly at the airport - a bit of luggage reshuffling (it turns out promotional brochures are pretty damn heavy) and I was checked in and had time to enjoy a relaxing latte at Starbucks. I ran through how the day would unfold - the flight to Moscow, the high speed train from the airport to the city, grabbing a taxi to my hotel, getting myself registered and then having time to catch a metro out to eat some authentic Russian food. It all sounded perfect.

The flight with KLM also wasn't too bad, although - as ever - the standard of food wasn't particularly impressive; some kind of strange pasta and cheese type dish that I ate more out of habit than anything else (although, it must be said, the white chocolate profiteroles were wonderful). And, just over three hours after departing the gate, we were touching down into a grey and rather miserable looking Moscow. But, while the weather was miserable, I was already enthused and energised and marched at a swift pace towards the customs. Not knowing I was only minutes away from the beginning of slow disaster.

I picked the queue with the least number of people in and after a few minutes took my place in front of the glass cubicle, sliding my passport with a smile through to the girl who sat behind the desk. She looked back at me with a sort of studied suspicion. Oh well, I thought, she probably looks at everyone like that. She looked at my passport photo. She looked at me again. She flicked through my passport. She looked at me again. She looked back at my passport. And then she brandished it, pointing her finger at some sellotape (scotch tape, for the non-UK residents) that was partially holding the cover in place.

I  must explain. Almost three years ago, a few months after I got the passport, the overly eager grabbing hand of someone young and excitable managed to partially detach the cover of my passport. Since I'd only just renewed it (and paid about £150 for the privilege) I figured the easiest thing to do was fix it with some tape - problem solved. I rang up the UK passport to check that it would be ok and they were of the opinion that, as long as the passport itself wasn't damaged, it should be ok. And it was. In the three years that followed I used it to travel internationally on about a dozen occasions with no problems whatsoever...

I tried to explain to the customs girl, but her English was on par with my Russian so I resorted to trying to mime. Which didn't really manage to achieve anything other than for her to call over her supervisor, who joined her in the booth and began examining my passport at great length - holding it up to the light, running her fingers across the tape, etc.

"You need to wait over there." says the supervisor and points me in the direction I have just come from before disappearing into a nearby office with my passport.

I move out of the queue and stand back a little, before a security guard (whose only English appeared to be the word "Mister" said in varying tones and volumes) politely requested, with a point and a brief "mister", that I move off to the side of the immigration hall.

What Oliver had to look at...

So, I sat down. Above, you can see my view. I figured it would take a couple of minutes for them to figure out everything was ok and they would send me on my way.

Five minutes later, nothing.

Ten minutes later. Still nothing.

After about fifteen minutes, things got interesting. But only because another plane had landed and a whole bunch of people joined me in the corner of the room, having also been pulled up for one reason or another. I am sure it was only coincidence, but I was the token Caucasian in the corner.

Thirty minutes and I was beginning to worry. My fellow companions in the 'naughty' corner were coming and going with alarming regularity. They'd be pulled out of the queue, their documents would be taken from them, and then ten minutes later they'd be escorted to the customs booth and they'd go on their way. All except me.

Time dragged on. There was very little to do and the nervous tension ensured it wasn't really possible to relax. All attempts to wander over to the office where the supervisor had long-ago disappeared were met with various versions of "Mister!" and indications that I should get back behind the line.

After an hour I started worrying about my poor suitcase, endlessly circling the baggage retrieval conveyor belt with no one to rescue it. I tried a bit of mime with the security guard, who after some head scratching, realised what I was on about. "Is ok" he told me, but I wasn't particularly reassured. Still, not wanting to be called Mister again, I slunk back to my bench in the corner.

Finally, just over two hours after I'd first made the mistake of going to the wrong custom booth, a new security guard came out of the office with my passport. Hurrah, I thought to myself, they took their bloody time but at least they've managed to sort it out. Perhaps, I rationalised, they'd had to get an expert to verify the authenticity of my passport or check with the UK or something. Either way, emergency over. Although I was going to be late to my hotel and I might have to miss out on that Russian food...

"Here is your passport, Mr Davies. We have arranged with your airline for you to have a ticket on the next flight back, I will escort you to the gate."

Those of you that know me will know that I am rarely lost for words - but, in this moment, all I had was slack-jawed silence. Before my brain processed what was going on, realised I was being deported, and began running through a checklist of reasonable questions - such as why? (the passport is not valid), because of some tape? I've travelled all over Europe on it! (we have different rules in Russia), can I appeal the decision? (no), is there someone else I can speak to - a manager, or supervisor? (it is on paper, no, you must go). Finally, after several minutes of frantic attempts at negotiation I realised that there was nothing - absolutely nothing - I could do in the face of bureaucracy.

"Don't worry, Mr Davies - we don't think you're a terrorist." said the security guard as we headed for the gate. Which, while intended to be reassuring, didn't particularly console me at that moment in time.

Finally, I am left at the gate with my boarding pass. I have been here just over two hours, my flight departs at 20.55, Moscow time. I will spend less than three hours on Russian soil.

Oliver waves goodbye to the blurry lights of Moscow.

The flight back, I was filled with a mixture of shock, frustration, anger. Then I look at my passport and I begin to worry - the tape has been peeled off on one side and then restuck back on haphazardly; on the other side the tape has been entirely removed. Oh, and to help matters, the cover seems to have been leveraged off considerably more than the original damage. In short, my passport looks like crap. What, I worry, if they won't accept it as valid when I land?

I head straight to the Immigration Office when I arrive - not wanting to queue up at the customs booth and then find out I have a problem - and show my partially mangled passport. Is this, I ask, going to be a problem? The officer looks at it 'It's no problem - if they say anything at the window, tell them I said it's fine. I'm the chief of immigration."

Sure enough, the window has no problems. They hardly even look at the passport, don't even notice the cover that is hanging off. I trudge wearily to the baggage retrieval. Only to find that - contrary to my security guard friend's words (and the Aeroflot assistant at the gate in Moscow) - things are not ok and they've lost my suitcase. Where seems a bit of a mystery but it would seem to still be in Moscow somewhere.

I then get on the train and come home. I am, by this point, feeling utterly exhausted and generally crappy. It's been fifteen hours since I left the house. Then, like the icing on the cake, I am treated to the joys of the rudest train conductor I have ever met...

Wait...what did you just call me?
He comes down the train and I pass him my business card. He checks it and asks me quite aggressively for my supplement ticket. There must, I tell him, be something wrong, I use this train quite often with my business card and I've never had to buy a supplement ticket. He looks at me with undisguised disgust - "If that's your story," he sneers, "but I'm going to make sure there's a fine on your ticket."

Anyway, the day I've had is catching up with me and his tone and generally aggressive attitude pushes me a little over the edge. "Look, can I have your name please as I'd like to register a complaint."

"I'm not giving you my name."

I have my phone in my hand already. "Fine," I say, "I'll take a photo of you so I can identify you to the train company."

The train conductor is livid, "You put that on the internet and I'll sue you! You stupid motherfucker...."

At this point, being called a stupid motherfucker by a train conductor in his late forties, I realise just how stupid this day is and I burst out laughing. He glares at me and strides off down the carriage, my laughter still ringing out quite loudly. It really is, I thought to myself, not my day...

And so, sixteen hours (to the minute) after I stepped through the door of my apartment on my way to the train station, I step back through it having only accomplished being deported from Russia, having my suitcase lost (it turned up two days later) and being called a stupid motherfucker....

Friday, September 20, 2013

Story competitions, live TV, and other such nonsense...

Way back, deep in the mists of time, there was a TV show called Richard and Judy that ran on Channel 4 in the UK and - in 2003 - they decided to run a competition to publish a book of 25 children's stories. Now, at the time, I was busy in the world of freelance game design but the idea of having a go at writing a children's story was quite appealing as it wasn't a genre I'd tried to work in before, and so I sat down at the PC and tried to think of something...

After mulling for a few hours, I hit upon an idea that I thought would be quite fun and - after a few hours more - I'd written it. I called it Un-bearable Behaviour and sent it off to the show, and then gave no more thought to it at all. You see, while it was ostensibly a children's story, I figured it would probably be a little too satirical to be a genuine contender. Which only goes to show how much I know about these things as, a month or two later, I found out from a variety of people who were watching the show that - when they'd read out the names of the 25 winners - my name had been among them. At first I thought people must have been mistaken but, a few days later, a letter arrived confirming the fact and invited me down to the TV studios.

My first experience of appearing on live TV was - it must be said - somewhat disappointing. Firstly, I picked the world's worst shirt to wear - something with stripes that seemed a good idea until they did a screen test with me and the cameraman started wincing at how bad it looked - and then (because of my wince-inducing shirt) I got shoved as far to the back of the winner's group as they could manage. You might have been able to see my hair, briefly (although I had it cut short back then so it wasn't particularly noticeable) if you'd been looking in the right place at the right time. And that was that. My fifteen seconds of fame was up and they were already moving onto the next item.

The aftershow was more fun, I spent it talking to a couple of authors (such as Anthony Horowitz) who had been judging the contest and found that the general consensus, when it came to my story, was that it wasn't really a children's story at all, but it was far too good not to be included. So I was quite pleased with that.

Now, should you want to see it in print, you can still buy the book - it's called Richard and Judy's Winning Stories and it's available on Amazon for 1p now - but, since I ran across it only recently while looking through old files and still quite enjoyed reading it, and since it's 10 years since the book came out, and since I don't think anyone will care, I'm going to publish it here so you read my first foray into children's fiction...


Now once upon a time, in a house in a forest, there lived three bears.

            Wait, I hear you cry, not this old turnip! I’ve heard this story a million times before, why should I be bothered to sit down and read it again?

Well, you may think that you’ve heard this story before but I can assure you that you’ve never heard the full story. Today, we are going to be looking for the truth behind Goldilocks and the three bears – and nothing but the truth.

So, let me begin again. Once upon a time, in a house in a forest there lived three bears. There was a Daddy bear, a Mummy bear and a Baby bear. Now, at this point, I really should point out that bears are not entirely suited to living in houses. Indeed, most bears have accepted this to be a fact; which is why you will find the majority of bears living in caves or other such places. Most reasonable bears would accept that they are not fully equipped to deal with a house and the appliances within.

But not these bears. You see, these bears had the impression that it was natural for bears to live in a house. A life of foraging for food and snaring wild salmon from streams was not for them; instead they preferred to sit around a table and eat porridge. And not even porridge with honey – which would at least border on understandable for a bear.

Our story begins one morning when Mummy bear, having done her best to cope with the disadvantage of furry paws, cooked a saucepan full of boiling hot porridge. We have no true record of the conversation that went on inside the house that day but we can hazard a guess that it went something like this. The bears, sat waiting for their porridge, realised that their breakfast was likely to be too hot to consume. It is well known that bears have an aversion to scalding their tongues and so, one of the bears – we believe it to be Daddy bear – suggested that all three of the bears should go out for a walk.

“If we go for a walk, the porridge will have cooled down by the time we return.”

The bears accepted that the porridge was too hot - this is important and we shall return to it later. They dressed themselves in coats, hats, boots and mittens (again, an act that is quite un-bear like) and set out for a walk in the woods. They shut the door behind them but did not lock it.

Now, no more than two minutes after the bears had departed their house, a little girl called Goldilocks came skipping down the forest path. Goldilocks was a good girl – with excellent character references – who came from a good family and had never been in trouble with the law previously.

She noticed the bear’s house and she noticed that the door was open. Not just unlocked but open – gaping ajar so that Goldilocks was able to see all the way into the bear’s dining room. At this point, Goldilocks’ neighbourly instincts set in. Seeing an open door, she couldn’t help but investigate. Why, perhaps a little old lady was trapped inside a wardrobe with a wolf in her bed – Goldilocks had heard about these sorts of things on the news and so, showed immense bravery by stepping hesitantly past the heavy wooden door and over the threshold. Bravery which, I believe should be commended.

Well, having stepped inside the bear’s house, Goldilocks called out.

“Hello? Is there anybody there?”

The house was silent.

Creeping further inside, Goldilocks noticed the dining room table for the first time and the three bowls of porridge lined up across the tabletop. She’d walked a long way through the forest and, being a little girl, was extremely hungry. We must, therefore, excuse her behaviour in trying the food laid out before her.

Picking up a spoon from the side, she took a large scoop from the biggest bowl at the head of the table (this was the bowl belonging to Daddy bear but, at this point, Goldilocks was not to know this). She took a mouthful of porridge and discovered, to her horror, that it was burning hot. Instinctively, Goldilocks spat the porridge out but, already the damage had been done and she had suffered a number of painful blisters to her delicate mouth.

Let me remind you again. The bears knew that the porridge was too hot which was why they went for a walk in the forest. They knew it could scald but, nevertheless, they left the door open and placed no warning about the likely heat of the porridge – clearly an act of criminal negligence on their part.

Now, at this point, Goldilocks was dazed and confused. Who can say what mental state she would have been in when in such excruciating pain? All we know is that, in this disturbed state of mind, Goldilocks tried the porridge of Mummy bear and ate the entire bowl of porridge that had been set aside for Baby bear. Perhaps this was a desperate attempt to ease the agony of her inflamed mouth. We may never know but it has resulted in Goldilocks developing a profound phobia about porridge.

Nevertheless, after this distressing incident, Goldilocks felt the need to sit down and so entered the sitting room.

First of all she tried Daddy bear’s chair, but she found that the cushion was much too hard and uncomfortable. Next she tried Mummy bear’s chair but found that was the exact opposite – a squidgy, voluminous cushion that sucked her down like quick sand. Finally, her eyes settled on Baby bear’s chair.

Now, some back history on Baby bear’s chair. It had been constructed by Daddy bear and, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, a bear is hindered by his claws when trying to use a hammer and nails. I’m sure he did his best but, quite frankly, his best just wasn’t good enough.

So Goldilocks, spying this chair that appeared to be just the right size and looked extremely comfortable, sat down. There was a moment where everything seemed alright and then suddenly, without warning, the wooden chair splintered and fell to pieces, sending Goldilocks sprawling to the hard stone floor where she landed most awkwardly. Independent medical experts have said she was extremely lucky not to incur a permanent injury to the spinal column and Goldilocks herself has privately voiced fears that she may never again be able to play netball because of the muscle damage.

And so, a girl’s life is damaged by a poorly constructed chair – a chair that any reasonable bear would not even have considered trying to construct.

However Goldilocks, being a plucky sort of girl, recovered as best she could but – possibly due to some form of concussion sustained in the fall – felt the urgent desire to sleep and so began exploring the upstairs of the house.

She found a room containing three beds and from the clothing and items beside each bed, determined that the first belonged to Daddy bear, the second to Mummy bear and the third to Baby bear.

Of course, being tired, she immediately tried the first bed she came to but found that the mattress on Daddy bear’s bed was far too hard, its springs digging painfully into her already bruised back. In her confused state, she regrets that she did get into the bed still wearing her muddy shoes, but this is not something which she should be judged upon.

Next she tried Mummy bear’s bed but, here, she found that the mattress was much too soft for a little girl and so turned finally to Baby bear’s bed.

The smallest of the three beds, Baby bear’s bed was the perfect size for Goldilocks and, as soon as she slipped between the sheets, she realised that it was also perfectly comfortable. Before her head had even touched the pillow, Goldilocks had fallen into a deep and peaceful sleep.

It was at this moment that the bears chose to return from their walk in the woods. They ambled their way into the dining room and quickly spotted the half-eaten porridge. Each bear noticed that some of their porridge was missing; with Baby bear pointing out that his had been eaten all up.

Next, the bears moved to the sitting room where they realised that someone had been sitting in their chairs. Noticing the broken wood on the floor, the bears realised that Baby bear’s chair had been broken but, rather than being concerned as to the health of the person who had suffered at the hands of his poor carpentry, Daddy bear at this point grew angry.

We believe the bears stormed upstairs to the bedroom, examining the three beds in turn. Daddy bear noted the disturbed sheets on his bed, Mummy bear noticed the muddy footprints in her bed but Baby bear noticed that someone was still asleep in his bed. The three bears moved across the room to have a look.

Goldilocks awoke to the sound of growling and found she was looking up at three wild-looking bears. Their teeth were bared, their eyes glinted evilly and their claws looked sharp enough to rip a little girl into a hundred pieces. It was a purely natural reaction that she should scream loudly and dive through the nearest window. I think any one of us would have done the same thing if confronted with that appalling sight.

Goldilocks was quite fortunate to land amongst a bed of shrubs for they broke her fall and meant she only sustained minor ankle injuries (which, nonetheless, have since held back her physical development) rather than more serious – potentially fatal ones. In this pitiful state, poor Goldilocks managed to limp home through the forest.

Now, the three bears have since argued that Goldilocks committed an offence of breaking and entering by going into their house, that she stole their porridge and that she caused criminal damage by breaking their chairs and damaging their bed linen. In short, they have tried to make this whole incident look like Goldilocks’ fault, which is complete nonsense.

Goldilocks was the victim in all of this. She entered a house through an already open door in an attempt to be a good citizen. Through criminal negligence, she was scalded by boiling porridge and has since suffered a phobia about porridge. Through negligent craftsmanship, she suffered a grievous back injury when their chair she sat on fell apart. And then, as a final straw, she was confronted by three fierce and vicious bears and had to flee for her life through a first floor window.

Since all of this, Goldilocks has suffered a deep fear of bears – indeed she cannot even stand the sight of even the smallest of teddy bears for fear that it might attack her. A young life has been permanently damaged by a series of wilful and negligent acts by a family of bears who have refused to accept the limitations of their species.

That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And it was on that evidence that I managed to secure Goldilocks an out-of-court settlement for £60,000 against the three bears. Hopefully, that money will help her rebuild her shattered life.

Now, must dash, I’ve got a Big Bad Wolf sitting in my office with an excellent case of post-traumatic stress against three little pigs…

Monday, September 16, 2013

Job No. 96 - Rapper

Now it has been, I'm sure you'll agree, quite some time since I last managed to make an unsuitable job application but the desire to find, and apply, for an unsuitable job has been growing and growing and - after doing my level best to resist for long months - I finally snapped when I saw the ad below on craigslist:

This was, I was certain, surely the moment that I had been waiting for. Why, only the other week I had been bemoaning the lack of diversity in the world of rap and hip/hop - particularly when it comes to British rappers. You see, it would seem that in order to be a British rapper you really need to come from the East End of London and I felt that this was a job application that would not only allow me to push my own artistic boundaries but also one which would allow me to lay down a marker for all future rap with a distinctly upper class accent.

Of course, I mused, I needed a moniker. All good rappers, it would seem, have one - from 50 Cent to Slim Shady to Snoop Dogg (Lion?). So I needed a name that really summed up everything I aimed to be. The answer, in retrospect, was blindingly obvious. I needed to do exactly what I said on the tin. I needed to be The Posh Rapper.

With my moniker thus carefully selected, I needed to select a track that would enable me to show off my lyrical chops and which would be familiar enough that it would be possible to see how much I'd improved upon the original. I, therefore, chose Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' Thrift Shop.

I had a listen, it all seemed easy enough. Of course, I didn't have any decent recording equipment. And nor did I have much time, so I recorded the verses and chorus separately on my phone and then dropped them in over a karaoke track. This rapping lark was nowhere near as difficult as I'd imagined and I was certain that this was exactly the type of unique style that would get me noticed. I decided the icing on the cake would be to make a small video to go along with it - so they'd be able to see I wasn't just pure vocal talent but was also a creative visionary. So that you too can enjoy the fruits of my extensive rap labour, I've made it available below:

So, with the video carefully crafted I knew I needed one last thing. An application letter that would show them that I meant business, an application letter that demonstrated I knew my rap. I realised that, if I was going to successful blend in with the other applications from more seasoned rappers I would need to use the rap dictionary.

However, the problem was that whoever constructed the dictionary had a problem with their spelling. On numerous occasions I found words missing their last letter (kickin', bumpin') so, while the dictionary was useful, I ended up having to fix numerous typos along the way meaning that it didn't save me anywhere near as much time as I hoped. Nonetheless, by the time I had finished, I had an application letter that said, in capital letters, that I was certainly not whack:


Now I know you're going to find this straight-up kicking because I'm up in here stunting. There will be no doubt that I murk this track (which, incidentally, is a reworking of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' rather successful 'Thrift Shop). I think you're going to find this both dope and bumping but check out my game, listen to my flow, and then hit me up so we can both make us some cheese. You know what I'm saying?

Best Regards

The Posh Rapper

This, I'm sure, is the application that finally brings fame and fortune to my door and, in the words of Curtis '50 Cent' James Jackson III, we're going to be watching the money pile up...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Dalek Substitution Scandal - Part 1

Now, this represents something a little different from me...

You see, recently I finally got around to watching BBC's Sherlock and I absolutely loved it. Well filmed, fantastically acted, with some great scripts, clever plotting, and a wonderful chemistry between Holmes and Watson. And part of me began thinking - wow, Benedict Cumberbatch would really make an awesome Doctor Who (although, with his Hollywood career now taking off, it's highly unlikely he's going to be hanging around for such roles).

And that thought led me to a second thought of how it would be even cooler if we could get Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who together in one story. But, I said to myself, it would have to be David Tennant's Doctor Who (with his companion, Donna) as he was always my favourite Doctor...

The idea of putting these two geniuses together - one all manic grins and boundless enthusiasm, the other brooding and more phlegmatic - seemed way too good an opportunity to pass up. So I decided I would do something I've never done before (with this exception) and have a go at writing some fan fiction. But, as I began writing it, it dawned on me that this was going to turn into something rather mammoth and so I decided I would write it in an episodic fashion.

Stephen Moffat, the creative force behind both shows, has apparently said in the past that said he didn't want the shows to cross over as he felt that Doctor Who's appearance would ruin the Sherlock Holmes canon (which I totally understand). So I needed a way to sate my imagination and yet not break the rules of Mr. Moffat. I hope you'll find the solution vaguely elegant (if perhaps a little obvious).

And, with two such geniuses at hand, it was going to take a very special opponent to make them work their very hardest; an opponent that would be capable of pushing them both to their very limits. There could really only be one choice...

The Dalek Substitution Scandal - Part 1

“Next one – a woman who thinks her husband has been replaced by a robot.”


Watson sighed and shuffled onto the next paper in the stack.

“How about a garden centre that wants to know how someone snuck in and built an extra shed in their grounds during the night without being caught on CCTV?”

“Really, John? That’s the very best you’ve got?” said Sherlock without even bothering to look up from his cup of tea. “Help us, we have too many sheds?”

“Well, there is this one,” said Watson and shuffled the papers again. “The UK Defence Department’s satellite system was hacked into for several seconds for no apparent reason last night…”

Sherlock looked up from his chair by the fireplace, his blue eyes suddenly and keenly in focus.

“Mycroft put you up to this one.”

Watson pursed his lips.

“John; if Mycroft wants my help he needs to stop snaring you and asking you to pass on his little messages. He knows where I live.”

“I told him that; he said you’d say no.”

“Well I would. Obviously. And I still am. Next.”

“Wait, don’t you even want to hear more about this? Mycroft seemed pretty concerned; this Skynet 6 system was meant to be utterly unbreakable.”

“And the Titanic was unsinkable; John, Mycroft has more than enough cronies to deal with it. What I need is something more interesting, something that’s going to challenge me.”

“Well, that’s all we’ve got in at the moment.”

“It’s boring, John. Boring.”

Watson put the papers down and drummed his fingers on the desk.

“I’m sure something will come up eventually.”

Sherlock placed his cup on the table in front of him and stood up, pacing slowly back and forth within the limited confines of the living room before looking out of the window.

“Well, of course something will come up eventually John. But that doesn’t really help me now, does it? That doesn’t stop me being hideously bored, right now.”

John took a deep breath and counted to five. Dealing with Sherlock in these moments took the patience of a…

“Saint, John? Patience of a saint?”

Watson’s eyes widened.

“Oh come on John, it’s obvious. Intake of breath, slightly sharp. Eyes rolling ever so slightly to the right. Oh, we’re accessing an auditory construct. What could it be? What could it be? You have a fondness for idioms. What would fit the situation? A few possibilities, but John’s thinking about how infuriating it can be in my company. Patience of a saint. Like I said, obvious.”


“Remarkable? Amazing? Yes. So find me something to do, John.”

Holmes stared out of the window in silence, which was broken after several seconds by the sound of Watson’s mobile phone ringing loudly in his pocket. He fished it out and looked at the Caller ID on the screen.

“It’s Lestrade. Maybe you’re about to get what you wanted.”

                    *                                             *                                             *
“A holiday, that’s what you said. I’m going to take you on holiday, Donna, you said. Arctavalias IV and its seven suns. Waterfalls that flow backwards, the most beautiful sunsets in the Universe; you deserve a break Donna.”

“Yeah,” The Doctor grimaced slightly, “I did say that didn’t I?”

“So why, instead of looking at the seven suns of Arctavalias IV, am I looking at the four chimneys of Battersea Power Station?”

The Doctor prodded a selection of illuminated buttons on one of the banks of the Tardis’ central control console but only managed to elicit an unconvincing bleeping sound from it.

“That,” he said, “is a very good question.”

“I know it’s a good question,” said Donna.

The Doctor pulled his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and pulsed it back and forth across the console, which sighed audibly in reply.

“Oooh,” said the Doctor, eyes darting suddenly back and forth. “That’s not right.”

“What’s not right?”

“Everything.” said the Doctor and ducked quickly beneath the console, sonic screwdriver in hand.

“You’re not making much sense, Doctor.”

“That,” said the Doctor, his voice muffled, “is because nothing is making sense.”

“My God,” sighed Donna. “You are so lucky I put up with you talking nonsense like this all the time.”

“Ah-ha,” exclaimed the Doctor and slid himself back out again, a huge smile painted across his face, “Well, that is unusual.”

“Anytime you feel like telling me what’s going on, it would be appreciated.”

“Well Donna, there’s good news and bad news.”

“Hit me with the bad.”

“We’re on Earth, but this isn’t our Earth. In fact, it’s not even our Universe.”

“What do you mean it’s not our Universe?”

“Exactly that. It’s another Universe, a parallel Universe.”

“And how exactly did we end up here?”

“I don’t know,” grinned the Doctor, “Isn’t that marvellous? We could have been pulled in by some kind of space-time eddy. Or maybe we just took the wrong turn at a singularity. Oooh, or maybe we dipped into Calabi-Yau Space and exited a portal into a semi-connected Multiverse.”

Donna whistled and passed her hand over her head.

“Yeah, you do realise that makes no sense to me at all? So what’s the good news?”

“Oh, the good news is that it should take me more than half an hour or so to backtrace our temporal and spatial shift and reverse the process and be on our way again. Still, it’s rather curious isn’t it?”

“Oh, fascinating.” said Donna.

A monotone alarm sounded from somewhere within the bowels of the Tardis; a dull, deep sound that echoed through the very bones of the vessel. The Doctor looked up, startled, and listened for a few seconds.

“Make that good news, bad news and worse news.”

“Worse news?”

The Doctor flicked his gaze over an array of data being displayed on a holographic spectrometer. When he finally looked up at Donna, all the gleefulness seemed to have drained from his face.

“The Tardis has just detected a Dalek energy signature.”

               *                                             *                                             *

They had erected a white tent in the midst of the wasteland in order to protect the scene from the elements and cordoned off everything for hundreds of feet in all direction with streams of blue and white police tape.  Yellow jacketed police stood looking outwards, keeping back a loose gaggle of interested bystanders and a smattering of local press. Floodlights illuminated the area around the tent as the daylight faded and a line of police, on their hands and knees, moved slowly across the ground as they searched for evidence.

Sherlock stood off to one side from the tent’s entrance, seemingly oblivious to the gusts of wind that tugged insistently at his purple scarf. He had been standing like this for more than twenty minutes.

 “Is this normal?” asked Lestrade. “I mean, he hasn’t said a word since he went and looked at the body.”

“I’m not sure Sherlock does normal,” said Watson, “but, I have to admit, it’s not often he’s short for something to say.”

“If you ask me, we’re wasting our time having him out here.” said Sgt. Donovan, “We’re losing time to catch the killer.”

“Look,” said Lestrade, forcefully, “surely you’ve seen for yourself what he can do by now. So, if you can think of someone with a better chance of understanding what we’ve got here then, by all means, you let me know how to get hold of them. But, until then, let’s give Sherlock time to look at the scene.”

Sherlock ceased his reflections and strode across the mud and yellow grass to where they all stood waiting for him. His face was, as usual, a mask that Watson couldn’t read.

“I need Molly to have a look at this,” he said. “I have a few questions about the wound to his chest.”

“As do we,” said Lestrade, “in fact, that was rather what I was hoping you’d be able to help us with.”

The body of the security guard had been found in the middle of the field by some trespassing teenagers a few hours earlier, a hole the size of a golf ball punched directly through his chest. John had briefly inspected the body upon arrival and the size of the wound had reminded him of fatalities he’d seen in Afghanistan, the results of high calibre rifle fire. But, what had been most unusual about this scene was the fact that the victim appeared not to have bled a single drop.

“Cauterised.” said Sherlock. “The wound was caused by something that burned at such a high temperature that the surrounding blood vessels were cauterised shut, thus no bleeding. But I need to know the exact temperature in order to determine what could have done this.

“Maybe a welding torch?” suggested Donovan.

“Excellent!” said Sherlock, “A welding torch! Why didn’t I think of that?”

Donovan smiled.

“Oh, wait. Maybe I didn’t think of that because an oxy acetylene welding torch only burns at a temperature of 3,500 centigrade. Which means it could not have caused this type of wound. It would have taken considerable time to burn through a torso with a welding torch and we’d have seen ample contact burns and damage to both the clothes and the skin. Which, of course, we don’t see on the body. What we do see is a large, clean cauterised wound, which means that this was something far hotter that was effective almost instantaneously. Which rather rules out a welding torch, I’m afraid Sergeant Donovan.”

“So what could do that?” asked Lestrade.

Sherlock turned away from them again and gazed off into the middle distance, his next sentence almost lost to the wind.

“I don’t know.”

       *                                             *                                             *

“I’m afraid you can’t go through here sir, this is a police scene” said the yellow jacketed policeman, holding out his arm to bar their path.

“Military Intelligence,” said The Doctor, flipping his wallet open and flashing it directly into the policeman’s face.  “Now, step aside.”

“Yes sir, very sorry sir,” said the policeman and immediately lifted the blue and white tape to allow The Doctor and Donna to duck beneath it and access the crime scene. Donna lifted her hand to her mouth to disguise her smirk, the psychic paper never failed to amaze her.

A white tent stood in the middle of a patch of wasteland, a cluster of people standing off to one side of it and The Doctor strode purposefully towards them, Donna following closely in his wake.

“Right, who’s in charge here?” he asked loudly as he approached, causing the group to turn towards them in surprise.

“I am.” said a grey haired man in a trench coat, a look of confusion etched across his face. “I’m Detective Inspector Lestrade, and who might you be?”

“I’m The Doctor,” he said, flashing the wallet again and sweeping it in a slow arc so they could all take it in. “Military Intelligence. I need you to tell me exactly what we’ve got here.”

“Male victim, mid-forties. We’ve identified him as one Allan Green, employed as a security guard. Time of death looks to have been in the early hours of the morning but his body lay here for some time before it was discovered by a group of teenagers. Cause of death appears to be a large wound in his chest but we have not yet determined the weapon that caused the wound. Nor do we currently have a motive for his death.”

“Show me,” said The Doctor and invited Lestrade to walk him to the tent. “You stay here Donna, this isn’t going to be pretty.”

“Whatever you say Doctor,” said Donna, briefly rolling her eyes at him.

Lestrade walked ahead of The Doctor, opening the flap of the tent for him so that he could get inside, while a second man in a dark coat and a purple scarf fell in closely behind The Doctor without saying a word. Although Lestrade had said that he was in charge, The Doctor noted that he gave the same level of deference to the second man that he had afforded The Doctor. He decided to file that curiosity away for a later date.

The body was lying on its back on the grass, eyes wide open and staring vacantly at the sky. The Doctor could see a large hole, approximately four centimetres in diameter, in his chest.

“Cauterised wound,” said The Doctor, shaking his head. “Don’t like the look of this.”

“You’ve seen this before?” asked Sherlock.

“Once or twice,” said The Doctor, “and you are?”

“Sherlock Holmes.”

“Wait?” said The Doctor, turning to look at him properly for the first time. “Sherlock Holmes? As in the detective, Sherlock Holmes?”

“One and the same.”

“Well I never; I must say I never thought I’d run into you out here.”

“I take it that my reputation precedes me.”

“Oh definitely,” said The Doctor enthusiastically. “I mean, I’ve read all your cases.”

“Well, frankly that’s John’s little hobby; updating the blog. I’m more interested in actually solving cases and I’m very curious as to what you think could have done this.”

“Oh,” said The Doctor with the pained expression of a surgeon giving relatives the bad news that their beloved Uncle had not made it through surgery, “it’s probably just some kind of welding gun.”

“I’ve already ruled out a welding gun.” said Sherlock flatly. “The wound is totally inconsistent with either the temperature or necessary duration.”

“Well,” said The Doctor with some exaggeration. “Obviously not a common or garden welding gun, of course. No, this is military tech. Advanced stuff.”

“Right.” said Sherlock, and his voice positively dripped with sarcasm. “An advanced military welding gun.”


“Inspector Lestrade,” said Sherlock, “could you perhaps do me the favour of asking John to come and join us for a moment.”

                   *                                             *                                             *

Sherlock watched Lestrade leave the tent before turning to face The Doctor.

“So; who are you really?”

“What?” said The Doctor, an innocent look on his face.

“Who. Are. You.”

“Military Intelligence,” said The Doctor and flashed his wallet.

“That’s a blank piece of paper.”


“That’s a blank piece of paper. I don’t know exactly how you ‘re doing it – I’m guessing some kind of chemically-derived suggestive agent – but everybody except me seems to see it as some kind of official document.”

“You really don’t see it?” asked The Doctor.

“No. I can only guess your agent isn’t sufficient to affect my intellect.”

“Well, sometimes it doesn’t work on people with limited imaginations either.”

“So who are you? You’re not military intelligence; posture is all wrong, far too relaxed. Not to mention your attire; the suit and waistcoat might just be able to pass but the footwear? No one working on behalf of Her Majesty’s Secret Service would be seen out in a pair of grey trainers. But it’s obvious you’re not a journalist either. You’re a mess of contradictions. When you first saw the body you weren’t surprised. In fact, there was a clear expression of recognition that you worked very hard to supress.” Sherlock winced slightly. “Not hard enough. So you know something, maybe more than anyone else here but you most certainly are not military intelligence. ”

“Oh, you’re good,” grinned The Doctor, “I’d heard you were good but you really are good. No, I’m not military intelligence and, yes, I have seen this before.”

“Care to enlighten me?”

“Look,” said The Doctor, “you are just going to have to trust me when I say that you are way out of your depth with this one, Mr. Holmes. All I can really say is, back off and leave this one to the experts.”

“And that would, I assume, be you?

“Exactly,” said The Doctor, flashing a smile and then ducking back out of the tent just as Lestrade and Watson arrived. “Must be going – reports to file and all that. You carry on the good work here. I’ll be in touch…”

He gave Sherlock one last wink and then was gone, hooking Donna under the arm and marching off across the field in the direction he had come from.

“He was a strange one.” said Watson.

“Yes,” said Sherlock, watching him as he vanished in the gloom. “A strange one, indeed.”

               *                                             *                                             *

“Wait, you’re trying to tell me that was the Sherlock Holmes?” asked Donna when they got back to the Tardis.

“In the flesh.” said The Doctor, “Amazing.”

“But Sherlock Holmes isn’t real! He’s a character in a book.”

“Not in this Universe.” said The Doctor, “It would seem that, in this particular Universe, there really is a detective called Sherlock Holmes with remarkable powers of perception and deduction; honestly it’s fascinating.”

“It doesn’t seem possible.”

“Well, when you have an infinite number of alternate Universes to play with, there’s very little that isn’t possible. Why, there’s even a Universe in which we’re just fictional characters as well.”

“Doctor, are you trying to make my head hurt?” said Donna. “So look, that body in the field. It was definitely Daleks that did it?”

“Oh, it was Daleks all right,” said The Doctor. “I’ve seen too many wounds like that over my lifetimes not to recognise the signs immediately. The energy signature was unmistakable and, when I scanned the area, there were minute traces of Silcronian…”

“I’m going to have to take your word that that means something.”

“Silcronian!” emphasised The Doctor and whirled around the central console, madly hammering at buttons and pulling levels. “An element, found in the Dalek gunstick that’s native to only one place in the Universe – Skaro!”

“Well, that’s no good is it,” interrupted Donna, “I mean, are the Daleks even supposed to be here on this Earth?”

“No,” said The Doctor, “No, they are not. In fact, I’m beginning to think that we got pulled in here by the residual effects of their multiversal transwarp drive.”

“Again, in English?”

“A multiversal transwarp drive,” said The Doctor, barely able to contain his excitement, “It punches a hole not just through space-time but also through reality; think of it like pulling the plug in the bath. We must have been caught in the whirlpool when they opened the plug…”

“So, what do we do now?”

“Well, going home is no longer an option, at least not until we’ve found out what it is the Daleks are upto here and put a stop to it.”

“You’re worried Doctor, I can tell.”

“Yeah, I am.” he said as he paced around the console, his mood seeming to darken with every passing second. “You’ve got to remember; this is a Universe that’s never seen the Daleks; it’s a Universe without the Time Lords, a Universe where the Daleks weren’t defeated in the Last Great Time War. It’s a Universe that’s sitting here utterly defenceless…”

“Don’t be daft Doctor,” said Donna, “It’s not defenceless anymore. It’s got us.”

The Doctor grinned, mood lightening in an instant. “You’re right. It has.”

“So,” said Donna slowly “What say we go find the Daleks, stop them from doing whatever it is that they’re doing, and then go and get on with our holiday?”

“That, Donna,” smiled The Doctor, “is the plan.”


Monday, May 27, 2013

Fast and Furious 6 Review

When we dream, it would appear that are whole sections of our brain that we just can't call upon. For example, have you ever noticed how easy it is to transition from one place to another in a dream? One minute you're in a train carriage, the next you're in a rain forest; and yet your mind calmly accepts this leap of location without so much as asking 'erm, did that just make sense?'. There is probably a proper scientific term for this, but I like to refer to it as dreamlike naivety. And if you're wondering why it is that I'm rambling on about the way dreams work when you were expecting me to be reviewing Fast and Furious 6, well it's because - in my humble opinion - Fast and Furious 6 is a movie best watched while in a state of dreamlike naivety...

Fast and Furious 6 follows on directly from the events of Fast Five (2011), during which the team successful separated a drug lord from his $100 million, and sees the various members of the crew enjoying a life of luxury and a life without crime. Now, of course, if things were to continue in this vein for the rest of the movie then it would be a pretty tedious movie but they don't because Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is soon tracked down by Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) who has a photo that suggests that Dom's former girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), is not as dead as she appeared to be in Fast and Furious (2009) and is actually alive and working for an ex-special forces soldier by the name of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). It's enough to convince Dom to reform the team and they all head to London to try to stop Shaw from stealing a complicated set of ingredients he needs to put together some mcguffin or another (that always stays fairly vague, even when it's directly explained). And from then on it's a veritable feast of stunt driving, wise cracking, gun fighting, and ass kicking that not only defies belief but also pretty much all known laws of physics...

...and I liked it.

I will freely admit, this is not the kind of movie you should go and see if you pick at the contrivances and wince at the merest hint of what might possibly be a tiny plot hole. This is a movie that is basically a set of plot holes stitched together in a smorgasbord of insane action. It's a roller coaster of a movie that assails you with scenes which can only truly be enjoyed if you've set your brain to dreamlike naivety mode and can just watch them unfurl across the screen in wave after wave of automotive abandon. Forget that the villain's plan makes little or no sense, forget that the team seems to have gone from a bunch of street racers to a team that can challenge Ethan Hunt and the gang, forget that cars are not indestructible and that rolling one several times will likely result in more than a few bruises, forget that the decisions made by the team (and the villain) are exceptionally bad throughout much of the movie . Forget ALL that.

If you can do that, you can really enjoy it for what it is. If you can't you're going to hate this more than I hated Prometheus (which is to say, an awful damn lot). Thankfully, I had no problem switching my brain to autopilot and just enjoying the sheer ridiculousness of it all. I was going to give this a seven out of ten but the ending was surely worth an extra point on its own (you'll see what I mean if you go watch it). Fast and Furious 6 is like a supercharged muscle car - all horsepower, nitrous-oxide, and gleaming chrome - a product of pure brawn and not too much brain. But fortunately, a bit of dreamlike naivety can sometimes be just what one wants...

Rating:  8 out of 10

Monday, May 13, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - first thoughts

First things first, I want to congratulate Disney on really going all out to try and make Marvel (or, at least, the Marvel properties it owns the movie rights to) a true transmedial property. I am something of a comic geek so it's great to see that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really starting to spread out and take shape...

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is the first foray into television for this new incarnation of the Marvel Universe - with Hulk possibly following in 2014 (although the rumours are that development has stopped on that while Disney evaluate a few things) - and sees us join Agent Coulson. Yes, that Agent Coulson from The Avengers. It turns out Phil's not quite as dead as Nick Fury would have had us believe...

Set to première on ABC in September, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D will follow a team, led by Coulson, that operate at the periphery of the superheroes, "working the cases that S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't classified" and the first 30 second trailer is here:

So, what stands out...

Well, it all looks slick and as well produced as one would expect from a Marvel/ABC tie-up but the most interesting thing looks to be at 13 seconds (and again at 19 seconds) in when we get a look at J.August Richards who's currently down as playing an 'unspecified' role.

Unspecified? Unspecified? That is surely Luke Cage - aka Power Man. Please don't let me down Marvel - a TV or movie role for Luke Cage is long overdue! With skin as hard as titanium steel, superhuman strength, durability and healing, he's developed to become one of the more interesting characters in the Marvel Universe (over the last decade especially).

The flaming thing at 21 seconds is also interesting - it made me think of Dormammu. I'm kind of hoping it could be as this show would be an excellent way to drip feed us elements that will eventually lead to other Marvel movies (such as Doctor Strange and Ant Man).

Either way, I am excited to see what they do with this and how it connects with the other Marvel Cinematic Universe properties...

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen Review

Redemption is an all too familiar theme of movies. In this movie, we join a secret service agent who has failed in the past with fatal consequences yet now finds himself in a position where he can redeem himself for his previous failings...oh, no wait. That's In the Line of Fire...and this is Olympus Has Fallen in which we join Mike Banning (played by Gerard Butler) a secret service agent who has failed in the past with fatal consequences yet now finds himself in a position where he can redeem himself for his previous failings. When terrorists take over the White House, it just so happens that Banning is the only person left who can possibly save the President...

On a side note; it has to be said that the White House is really not a great place to be this year if you're paying attention to Hollywood - not only does it take a severe beating here, but it will also come under similar attack when White House Down (starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx) launches later this year. It's like buses. You wait years for a movie about terrorists taking over the White House, and then two come along at once...

So, anyway, back to the review. Our protagonist, Mike Banning, used to work as the head of the President's security detail - that is, until a tragic road accident, in which the First Lady died, saw him demoted to a desk job working at the Treasury department (where he gazes longingly out of the window at the White House, sitting only yards away). But, when a terrorist attack rocks Washington DC, Mike finds himself on the scene and soon is the only man left inside the White House and the only man capable of saving the President (played by Aaron Eckhart) from a gang of highly armed and trained terrorists.

This is an out-and-out action movie that makes no pretence of being anything else; there is very little attempt to flesh out any of the characters involved and enjoying the movie does tend to rest on you not questioning some elements of the plot too hard. The method of the terrorist attack, and the utter ineffectiveness of pretty much everyone on the outside of the White House that subsequently follows, does stretch the bounds of plausibility a little, but this really isn't the movie to go and watch if you're expecting anything less than black and white morality and lots of violence.

It's predictable. And I don't say that necessarily as a criticism; after all, predictable can be fun. A roller coaster is predictable - we know what's going to happen; this turn, this dip, this loop; but we can still enjoy that wild, predictable, ride. So, if the conclusion of Olympus Has Fallen is never in doubt to anyone, is the ride at least a wild one?

Well, it has its moments. There's enough gunplay, martial arts and knife fighting to keep most people happy -although I did find some of the brutality felt a little out of place; not that I have anything against brutality in films as such, it's just that it's all about context. Some of the violence that was depicted, particularly to women, seemed rather callous - which, obviously, was the point that was being made about our villain but I felt it was rather a blunt means of demonstrating it and seemed slightly at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie.

Mike Banning is also no John Mclane; witty one liners are few and far between in this movie and I think it perhaps suffered a little for that. I find that humour serves as an excellent tool alongside action - to provide contrast against the darkness of the action, if you like. Having very little humour meant very little contrast, and so all the scenes sort of spilled up against each other haphazardly.

Olympus Has Fallen is not a bad movie. But I'd have a hard time telling you that it's a good movie. It's a very, very average movie - a composite of Hollywood clichés and tropes that are assembled professionally and then executed reasonably well. If you are looking for something to waste two hours on and are prepared to turn your brain off at the door, then this is reasonable entertainment. If you're looking for something filled with twists and turns, with revelations and intrigue, and characters that you can get invested in, then this isn't the movie for you.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10